Dec. 24, 1983

In honor of this week's Fiction Contest, an encounter with a mysterious priest

"Yeah, I’ll just walk — no biggie.” Todd’s old Riviera wasn’t going anywhere. We tried pushing, but it was stuck up on the snow berm. Funny, we made it all the way from Seattle — ice above Vantage, blowing snow from Ritzville — but a block from Katherine’s house, we wipe out into some guy’s yard.

Oh well, close enough. It was the last ride home — I waited three days for my make-up test, a last shot at mercy from that hard-ass Hathaway. Hopefully I knew my Emerson better the second time. No way I’m flunking out of UW after one quarter.

Under the streetlight, the fat snowflakes looked like falling stars; my path ahead, nothing but pure white in every direction.

My house would be empty: The clan was out in Coeur d’Alene for Christmas Eve. I needed to walk. I was feeling all pumped after coming down Sunset Hill — the Spokane lights hit me hard. For the first time, I got all that Home, Sweet Home stuff.

I counted the Christmas trees in the windows. In one, a girl — a woman, I guess — paced, a baby on her shoulder. I pretended to adjust my backpack to linger there a moment, out in the cold.

Soon, faintly at first, came my old school — St. Augustine’s, the place my parents got married. I walked up the long stairs to the front doors.

“Young Theodore, you’re home.” Suddenly, a priest — black robe, a wisp of gray hair, gaunt face. I didn’t remember him.

“Merry Christmas, father.” He looked up, eyes closed, flakes bathing his face. “It never snowed where I grew up.”

I didn’t say anything. “That Psalm,” he went on, “The heavens declare the glory of God — I knew what that meant after I got to this Territory.”

He looked down, right into my eyes. “This snow, this night — it feels like the currents of God running through us.” He paused. “That’s a line from Emerson.”

“Hey, I’m studying Emerson…” “I know,” he whispered. “Don’t forget what we taught you: Keep seeking. You’ll find what you’re looking for.”

Just then the doors opened. A nun peeked out.

“It’s just me and Father, uh… Where’d he go?”

I left the lights off in my house and walked slowly through each room — all those familiar knick-knacks just gray outlines. I’d only been gone a few months; it already felt different.

I sat in my dad’s favorite chair and closed my eyes. The city lights. A girl in a golden window. “Keep seeking.” All that white everywhere.

I went in the kitchen and dialed for Coeur d’Alene.

“Hello?!” one of my cousins yelled to be heard over all the Christmas chaos. “Santa?!” “Hello?” my mom grabbed the phone a half-second later. “Is it you?” “Hey mom,” I said, flipping on the lights. “It’s great to be home.”

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About The Author

Ted S. McGregor Jr.

Ted S. McGregor, Jr. grew up in Spokane and attended Gonzaga Prep high school and the University of the Washington. While studying for his Master's in journalism at the University of Missouri, he completed a professional project on starting a weekly newspaper in Spokane. In 1993, he turned that project into reality...