Ave Maria: A Christmas Mystery Short Story

Dec 3, 2014 | 2014 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze, Terrific Tales

by Katherine Fast

Ave Maria won first prize in the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable contest and was published in their anthology, Once Around the Sun in November, 2013. Watch for several more Christmas mystery short stories this month!

“C’mon, Joey. Stand up like a man!” Chuck packed snow around the base of the statue, working quickly in the sub-zero temperature. Six in the morning and he was wrestling with the Nativity scene. Oh joy! Life on Candy Cane Lane. As with so many things–his marriage being a case in point–the early days were the best, the newlywed years when life and Christmas decorations were simpler. candy canes

Chuck and Mary and their neighbors bought into the development the year it was finished. They grew together like one large family, sharing recipes and ice skates, dreams and disappointments. Every holiday was an excuse for a party and decorations–cupids, Easter bunnies, ghouls and goblins, turkeys–but their specialty was Christmas.

Soon the neighborhood blazed with holiday lights. Chuck couldn’t remember whose bright idea it was to post six-foot tall, lighted candy canes along the street. Shortly thereafter, Channel 7 dubbed their street Candy Cane Lane. As children left for college, marriage and careers, the empty nesters built ever more spectacular displays.
Earlier in the week Chuck had mounted Santa, sleigh and reindeer on the roof. Then he crowded four immense toy soldiers, five carolers, and three giant nutcrackers on the lawn and circled them with an animated train set with a five-car LED light display. Because of the wattage required, he’d had to jerry-rig electrical connections and was way behind schedule with the Nativity.

He surveyed his work. Baby Jesus lay in the manger next to Joseph. Outside, three Wise Men bearing gifts approached from the East guided by a star tacked to a pole. A shepherd knelt before the stable surrounded by a donkey, a cow, two sheep, a lamb, a camel, and a goat. The scene, “perfect for institutions and churches,” was built to human scale. Newer fiberglass animals were easy to carry, but the full-sized plaster figures of the Holy Family were heavy and surprisingly fragile. After packing each figure with snow, he sprayed it with a fine mist that instantly bonded snow to statue with a layer of ice. He continued spraying until each figure was encased in ice thick enough to last until spring. cow

His wife Maria hadn’t liked his surprise. He’d knelt before her as he’d done years ago, but this time he offered tickets to Martinique, hoping time in the sun would spice up their fading marriage.

“Actually, I have other plans,” she’d said.” She jiggled ice cubes in her glass.

He topped off her drink and waited.

“I want a divorce.”

He should’ve seen it coming. She’d become colder and colder in the past year. Their sex life was nonexistent. She blamed her lack of libido and general bitchiness on “the change.” No, she insisted. She wasn’t unhappy. Or dissatisfied. Or angry. She was in love with another man.

He yelled. Threw a few things. Yelled some more. She wouldn’t give him a name.

“Doesn’t really matter who, does it?”

He pleaded, hollered and cried.

“I hope these are refundable,” she said. “Will you be able to finish the Nativity by the time Channel 7 arrives tomorrow?”

“You really are the Ice Queen.” He stormed from the house and vented his fury on the nearest statues. “One divorce coming up, chop chop! Finish the decorations, chop–” The last chop sent King Balthazar’s hand sailing. He’d had a problem reattaching it. Glue couldn’t hold the weight. Looking for duct tape, he tripped over one of his wife’s Christmas baskets. She’d stuff them with fruit, wrap them in heavy plastic film, and then blast them with a hair dryer to shrink the film to an airtight fit. Christmas tree

Using a dowel as a splint, he’d wrapped film around Balthazar’s hand and arm. Three layers made a snug, invisible repair. Fixing up Mary had been a bigger challenge. He’d had to wrap film around the praying hands and the lower part of the head.

He placed her gently beside Joseph and gave a sigh of relief. The invisible film clung like a second skin. He packed snow around her and turned on the hose.

A hand clamped his shoulder.

“Jesus!” Chuck whipped about.

Chuck’s neighbor and best friend Jerry jumped aside to avoid the spray.

“What are you doin’ out at this ungodly hour?”

Jerry waved a leash toward a black lab sniffing around the sheep. He rubbed his bare hands and shoved them into his pockets. “Bitchin’ cold. Cutting it close this year, Chuckles.” yard decoration

“I’ll finish before we leave.”

Jerry raised his eyebrows. “Where’re you going?”

“Martinique. I sprang it on the wife last night. Boy, was she surprised!”

“Huh.” Jerry shivered.

“Shoulda seen the look on her face! You know we’ve had problems, but somehow last night everything clicked.” Snowflakes melted on their faces. “I don’t expect honeymoon passion. Probably kill me.” He gave Jerry a playful rabbit punch. “These days I gotta take it slow.”

Jerry’s dog trotted to the manger.

“Get away!” Chuck lunged, grabbed his collar and jerked.

“Easy!” Jerry snapped on the leash and backed off.

“Sorry. I don’t want Our Lady kneeling in yellow snow.”

“Our Lady?” Jerry cocked his head. “When did you get religion?”

“I haven’t. Powerful story, though.” Chuck nodded toward Joseph. “He worshiped his wife. Believed everything she said.” He shrugged, turned to Jerry and grinned. “I’ll think of you freezing your cajones up here. Don’t expect postcards.”

“Better keep moving. Catch my death out here.”

“Jeez, I almost forgot,” Chuck called after Jerry. “I asked Audrey to water the plants. Maria said to use the key she gave you.”

Jerry stopped but didn’t turn. “Sure. Hi to the wife.”

Chuck waved and watched his friend go and then knelt before Mary. He wished he hadn’t lost faith and could believe again. “So beautiful,” he murmured studying her porcelain complexion. “Ave Maria. Pray for us sinners, now … and at the hour of your death.”

Chuck adjusted the spray to a fine mist.

Mary blinked.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section.

Katherine Fast aka Kat is a contributing editor, designer and compositor for Level Best Books, a publisher of an annual mystery anthology. In addition to writing, she enjoys watercolor and handwriting analysis. She and her husband live in Massachusetts with two spoiled cats, Crash and Caddie, and pooch, Maggie Mae.

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