Pepper and Longstreet
A Christmas Tale
Copyright 2011 by JT Lewis
“Silent night my ass!”
Pepper thought this as she looked upon her very noisy companions that surrounded her at the moment. She was not happy; a loud boisterous party was not what she had been expecting when she arrived at her friend Jill’s house tonight.
She had been looking forward to getting together with her friends Jill and Beth for Christmas Eve, as usual. Known collectively as the ‘Three Musketeers’, they would exchange presents and have a nice quiet evening listening to Christmas music and talking.
It didn’t happen that way.
Jill’s fifteen year old brother Joe had decided to take advantage of their parents being gone for the night by inviting his whole class to a party, a very loud and out of control party. There was no place in the small house where they could get away from the hordes.
Pepper had lost track of the other two, so she grabbed her coat and headed outside to get some air. Standing on the porch, she looked out on the moonlit pine woods behind Jill’s house, finding little comfort in the scene before her due to the only slightly muffled noise from within. Taking a deep breath of the cold air, she watched her exhaled breath turned to a frozen fog as she blew it out.
“You don’t look like you are having any fun little lady.”
She was much too annoyed to be surprised by the sudden appearance of her partner, Jacob Longstreet, even though he was in fact…a ghost.
“I’m not!” she said in a huff, “those bratty kids in there have ruined our Christmas! I think I’ll just go home and sleep through the whole holiday!”
A concerned look crossed Longstreet’s face, but was soon replaced by the determination that graced his face most of the time.
“Follow me,” Longstreet uttered as he started stalking off toward the woods.
“Excuse me?” Pepper answered, put-off. I’m sorry Longstreet; I’m just not up for an adventure tonight.”
With that, she turned away from him, leaning against a post and staring at the side yard, ignoring her partner.
Longstreet stopped and turned, a confused look crossing his face once more before he nodded imperceptibly, and then said quietly, “please?”
Pepper looked over her shoulder, somewhat surprised at Longstreet’s asking her to go with him. She shrugged as she mumbled, “Ok,” then turned to follow him as he walked to the woods. He had never asked her for anything before; the least she could do was see what he was up to.
“Where are we going anyway?” she asked as they threaded their way through the sweet-smelling pine trees.
“Almost there,” he said without looking back, “It’s just up ahead.”
A few minutes later he stopped suddenly at the edge of a clearing, silently looking toward the middle. Pepper sidled up beside Longstreet, looking into the clearing and seeing nothing, confused.
“What are we looking at?”
“Shhhh,” he said quietly, still looking forward. “Keep still, you will see soon enough.”
Sighing, she settled in for what she thought would be a long boring wait when the world around her started changing before her eyes. The glow of the moon diminished slowly until it was gone as a small fire in the center of the clearing took its place.
A biting coldness set in then, followed by a nasty mix of snow and rain falling steadily down around them. Pepper pulled the collar of her coat around her throat and zipped her coat all of the way up, finishing by covering her head with her hood.
“It’s gotten really bad out here Longstreet,” Pepper said as she looked up, worried, “can we go back now?”
Longstreet just stood there, looking into the middle of the clearing like he was expecting something when a small smile started forming on his lips. Pepper had never seen Longstreet smile before, and moved her eyes back to the clearing.
There were now three men sitting around the fire, men that looked soaking wet and miserable.
Pepper was amazed, whispering “who are those people?”
The smile still on his face, he turned to face her as he said softly, “that’s my battalion, from the war…this was our last Christmas together.”
“Christmas?” Pepper said, looking up at the skies again, “it’s a lousy night for Christmas!”
“That’s Jeb there with his back to us,” Longstreet continued, pointing out the men with his hand as he ignored her discomfort, “Benjamin’s on the right, and there’s ole Samuel on the left. We call him the Rev.”
“Great,” Pepper thought to herself, “more ghosts!”
“That’s really nice Longstreet; we got to see your old friends, can we go back now…I’m freezing!”
Seeming to ignore her, he continued to stare at the men gathered around the fire before starting off toward the clearing and saying, “let’s go get warm.”
“Wait!” Pepper said as he left the cover of the trees, “dammit Longstreet!”
Her anger turned to wonderment though as she watched Longstreet enter the clearing, his clothes magically exchanged for an old wet uniform before her eyes. She felt a sudden tugging at her soul to walk also into the clearing, finding herself following Longstreet to the fire.
“Evening gents,” Longstreet said comfortably as he approached the other men.
“Evening Sarg,” Benjamin said to Longstreet before looking back at Pepper, “who’s your follow along?”
“That’s little Petey, the drummer,” Longstreet said without looking back, “he just wants to get warm like the rest of us.”
Surprised by his answer, Pepper looked down, finding her down-filled coat replaced by a very wet and tattered blue and gray uniform, an old canvas parka draped over her shoulders. Feeling around her head, she found she was wearing some sort of floppy felt hat over hair that seemed to have been hacked by a knife. The three men around the fire made room for the two of them, welcoming them in muted but friendly smiles.
“Merry Christmas Sarg, Petey” Jeb said while pulling his coat closer around his neck, “a might better than last year I’m thinkin.”
“Yep,” Samuel said, throwing a stick on the fire, “last year we didn’t have any food at all, least wise we got some hardtack this year.”
They all nodded solemnly in agreement, gazing into the fire, everyone quiet for a few moments.
“Back in ’54,” Jeb started off, “I remember my Pa had been working at the mills in
that year. We never thought he would make it home that year; he was a hundred miles away. We hung a stocking for him anyways, but none of them stockings had a stitch of anything in them no how, it was looking pretty bleak. Well, that night a miracle happened boys, as I live and breath. When we got up in the morning, them stockings was filled to the top, and standing next to them was the old man, tending to the fire. Seems he walked two days straight to get home for Christmas that year… that ended up being the best Christmas ever!” Pittsburg
Pepper noticed that Jeb seemed a little more uplifted as he finished his story.
“We always lived in a tenement in
,” Benjamin chimed in then, “Maw worked at a shop where they make dresses for rich folk. Paw had been long dead; it was just me and her for as long as I can remember. Along about December, there’d be no bread in the house anymore, none. I always asked her why there was no bread when I was younger, and she’d tell me she just didn’t have enough flour to make it.” New York City
“Well sir, Christmas morning I’d wake up to the heavenly smell of baking bread, and there’d be cake and biscuits too! Seems she would save her whole ration for the month so’s we could have a feast on Christmas morning. I tell you what…I’ll never forget those days…nosirre!”
Pepper noticed everyone around the fire seeming to reflect on the stories, noticing the cold and pouring weather less, small smiles forming on their lips.
“Well gents,” Samuel piped in then, “I ain’t got no good stories to tell you about Christmas, save one.” Looking up at the heavens then, he seemed to be looking for the right words to say, “For unto you is born this day, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”
Looking back down at his friends, “that’s the one I remember most every December 25th, the first Christmas.”
Everyone around the fire nodded their head in agreement, even Pepper, finding herself moved, the cold rain forgotten.
Jeb started first, quietly singing the beginning of Silent Night, as everyone around the fire joined in, one after the next. Pepper looked around at the ragged and dirty men sharing this fire in the middle of nowhere in the freezing rain, finding comfort in their memories and beliefs. A single tear started making its way down her cheek as she joined in quietly singing with the others…”Holy Night…”
She found herself singing to herself on Jill’s porch, her breath visible as she quietly finished the song.
Looking out toward the pine trees with a smile on her face, she whispered “thank you Jacob.”
“There you are!” she heard Jill exclaim behind her, “we’ve been looking everywhere for you!”
“I lost you guys,” Pepper said with a smile, “so I just came out to get some air.”
“It’s too cold out here to be enjoyable, especially for Christmas,” Beth said with a shiver, “come on inside and we’ll go to Jill’s room for some quiet.”
“Sounds great,” Pepper said as she followed them to the door, thinking about another night long ago as she walked.
“You’d be surprised though,” she thought quietly to herself, “at the memories you can create on a cold winter night.”