Christmas has always been my favorite time of year, but I find it strange that I haven't penned any holiday scenes into my historical novels. When I stopped and pondered why, I concluded that as I've grown older, the magic has slipped away. People have died, rifts have divided the family, and thinking about those happier times, dims the current season. Or maybe, because I'm a pantser, my characters led me into a totally different season. Yeah, that must be it. (smile) If I'd written a Christmas scene, this might be what you'd read:
Wiping the mist from the window, Sally O’Dell strained to see through the blizzard’s white wall. The barn, only a short distance from the front door, had disappeared in the barrage of snow. The footprints Pa had left only minutes before no longer showed. Though the house smelled of pine needles and cinnamon, she worried that Christmas’ most important guest, Santa, wouldn’t be able to find her in the storm. A chill seeped around the recently installed glass and peppered her arms with goosebumps.
Sally closed the splintery shutters, rubbed her forearms and turned to her mother, who straightened from the cast-iron stove, holding a browned apple pie. “Momma, are you sure Santa can fly in this weather?”
“Don’t fret, Sally, you’ll cause wrinkles in that pretty little ten-year-old face of yorn.” Eliza O’Dell placed her pie with the others she’d baked in the stove she’d received as a gift last year and smiled. “Santa can do anything.” She swiped her hands down her apron, walked to the fireplace, and straightened the stockings hanging there. "Be a darlin' and climb up to the loft and check to see if your sister's awake." ©gingersimpson
But, since I'm lacking the holiday spirit in my writing, I hope I make up for it with some tension and emotions that cause you to feel like you're walking in my character's shoes. Odessa, my latest historical release, tells of a young woman on her way to a new and better life her father has planned for her in Phoenix. Set in the 1880s, their current town has become overrun with outlaws, scoundrels, and her pa feels she needs the influence of her Aunt Susan now that ma has died. Unfortunately, along the way, the wagon overturns, Pa is pinned beneath it and dies. This scene is of Odessa, spending her first night alone in the middle of the Arizona desert:
The thought of being alone at night raised the hairs on the back of her neck. Predators filled this barren land and she had no desire to become a meal for one. Something rustled through the nearby scrub brush. She jumped, but sighed when she heard nothing further. At least if she remained with the wagon, she’d have some sort of shelter and could start fresh in the morning. She’d spent the night with Granny’s lifeless body in the house, so being with Papa was the lesser of her concerns. He loved her in life, and death wouldn’t change that. Perhaps he’d watch over her and keep her safe.
Odessa propped the rifle against the wagon, hung the canteens and pouch from a wheel hub and spread the blanket by the tailgate. Her stomach rumbled. She hadn’t eaten since breakfast. Papa had planned to stop for an early dinner in a good place to camp for the night, but the trip hadn’t lasted that far.
She dropped to the ground, tucked her skirt around her legs, and pulled a sandwich wrapped in a blue-checkered cloth from the basket. The thought that Papa lay only a few feet away stole the taste from the ham and brought tears to her eyes again. While she chewed, she watched the bright orange sun sink lower in the western sky. Her heart hammered with dread of the coming night.
The temperature dipped along with the sunlight. The air grew cold and raised goose bumps on Odessa’s arms. She kept vigil at the end of the wagon and snuggled beneath her blanket. A golden slice of moonlight hovered above. The outline of the nearby saguaros took on a human appearance. Arms and legs and faces masked by darkness. She shivered as a coyote howled in the distance.
Before long, another desert dog launched into a hair-raising cry, only to be answered by yet another. This one sounded too close. Letting go of the blanket, Odessa reached for the carbine and pulled the weapon across her lap. She’d never shot at anything other than a bottle on a tree stump, but having the rifle slowed her racing heart.
Her gaze scanned the shadows for movement. An occasional rustling indicated something small skittering about, but that didn’t frighten her as much as the continued yowling that grew nearer. Her rigid shoulders ached and her eyes blurred from staring. Despite only muted moonlight, being so exposed made her uncomfortable.
What if the remaining food attracted the coyotes? Odessa pushed the basket back beneath the wagon then realized a dead body was more likely to attract scavengers than her meager fare. Feeling foolish, she stood and gathered her canteens, then lay on the dusty ground and inched her way back beneath the tailgate, pulling the rifle in with her. There was not room enough to spread the blanket, and despite the stickers and pebbles poking at her, she’d much prefer the discomfort to the sharp teeth of a hungry animal.
On her stomach and clutching her weapon, Odessa peered into the darkness. She focused on happier times when Granny was still alive and had told stories of her own childhood. Most of them were tall tales, but what she wouldn’t give to be back next to the hearth and a roaring fire, listening to those yarns. Her favorite had always been about the ghost who lived in the pasture, but the fright Granny inspired by telling her spirit story was nothing compared to the lump of terror building in Odessa’s belly. She never realized the night held so many strange noises.
For what seemed like hours, she struggled to stay awake. The day had taken its toll and her eyelids drooped. Her head sagged to the ground. Inhaling dust, she sneezed, and tugged the blanket up between her cheek and the dirt. She settled once more and hoped sleep would come at last.
Somewhere between dozing and consciousness, an angry growl yanked her awake. A pair of glowing yellow eyes stared at her from outside her shelter. Her heart pounded like hooves against the dirt, her breath caught in her throat. Death was but inches away and she couldn’t move.