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Tidings of Comfort and Joy

By Gina Mae Callen

Other / Mystery

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

1980. December.

Callen ran as fast as his little ten-year-old legs would take him.

There was no way he was staying in that house a moment longer, he'd had enough of Mr. McDonald beating him with a broom for an hour and then telling him that he wasn't going to be getting a visit from Santa as Santa didn't come to little boys who didn't have parents. He'd had enough, Mr. McDonald had locked him inside his room and gone downstairs laughing. 

Callen had waited until the whole house was silent and then with tears streaming down his face, he had climbed out of the window and down the drainpipe, to drop to the ground the wind and rain covering his escape as he ran.

He didn't even see the direction he was running in or where he was running towards until he stopped. His breath was burning in his lungs and he coughed a few times as he tried to get air into his lungs. He was cold and shaking and tired.

He looked around him, he had no idea where he was, and he'd only been in this new placement for a month. Running past the baseball diamond of the high school he got to the end of the road. He looked left and right and didn't know where to go. It was dark, as it would be at 2am and he looked for somewhere to hide in-case Mr. McDonald came looking for him again. 

Then he saw it, a small light on in front of what looked like to be a small animal pen. He shook with the cold and he walked toward the light.

There were plastic figures of people and the floor was full of warm straw. He grabbed a pile of it and moved out of the wind, huddled in the corner and fell asleep.

Father John Fitzpatrick woke up early, he wanted to see if last nights wind had caused any damage to his church; Bakersfield had experienced it's worst storm for a decade that night and walking around the corner he noted with a smile that the church was unharmed, there were a few bits of windblown straw and the Nativity scene was a bit messed up, but it was still standing. He sent up a prayer of thanks and walked over to tidy the scene before that evening's carol service.

He picked up a shepard which had blown over and went to straighten the straw when he heard a small noise. He looked to see a bundle of what looked like rags in the corner.

Maybe a kitten or a puppy had snuck in looking for shelter from last night's storm.

"Come on little one," he said moving the rags.

"NO!" Callen whimpered and moved out of the reach of the strange hands.

Father Fitzpatrick jumped back as a small blond headed boy moved to the back of his nativity scene grabbing the baby Jesus from the crib and brandishing him like a weapon to protect himself.

John put both hands up so the small boy could see he didn't hold a weapon, "It's ok son, I won't hurt you, what's your name?" he asked.

The boy looked at him with terrified eyes.

"My name is John I'm the pastor here at St. John's would you like to come inside and get out of the cold?" he asked.

"C…Can't…." Callen said and then sneezed.

"I won't hurt you." John said again and gasped as Callen turned the large purple bruise from last night's beating visible on his face. "You need help." He said.

Callen shrugged, "Don't, just need…sleep…" he yawned again.

John reached out and took the doll from the boy's hand and placed it back in the manger.

"Come on son; let's get you inside, maybe a hot drink and some food?"

Callen followed a step behind, he didn't want to but the offer of food was too much to resist. 

Mrs. McDonald was a lovely woman who had fed him every morning, but her husband hated him with a passion and he had been looking after Callen on his own for a week since her mother took ill and he hadn't offered the boy food once, in fact when Callen had been caught stealing a cookie from the kitchen Mr. McDonald had lost his temper which had resulted in last night's beating.

Callen walked into the small kitchen of the house behind the church, his eyes widened at the sight of the tray of cookies that had been made for refreshments for that evenings carol concert.

"Sorry about the mess," John smiled as he moved a bowl of icing into the sink. "Christmas cookies for tonight's concert." He told him.

Callen stood with his back to the wall and his eye on the door and as far away from the cookies as he could get.

"So hot chocolate?" he asked.

Callen shrugged. He'd never had hot chocolate so he didn't know if he'd like it.

"How do you have yours young man?" he asked.

Callen watched as he took some white fluffy things out of a jar and popped them in his mug.

He put a bowl of Marshmallows and the mug on the big oak kitchen table.

"Here sit." He said.

Callen moved over to the table and put his hands around the warm mug, letting the heat flood through him.

John sent a prayer up hoping that the boy would talk to him, "Would you like something to eat?" he asked.

Callen shook his head but his stomach growled and betrayed him.

John smiled. "You may say no but I think your stomach said yes."

He made a sandwich noting that the boy watched him like a hawk and then placed it in front of him.

For a second Callen watched him and then he dove into the sandwich eating like hadn't eaten for a week, which in fact was a reality.

John sat at the other end of the table watching as the skinny child ate. He looked on in surprise as the boy took a handkerchief from his pocket, wrapped it around the second half of the sandwich and slipped it into his pocket saving it for later.

"I've not seen you around here before, where are you from?" he asked.

Callen shrugged, he really didn't know so he couldn't answer.

"My name is Father John Fitzpatrick, would you at least tell me your name?" he asked.

Callen looked at the older man, he had fed him and he hadn't hurt him yet, so he decided he could at least answer his questions, the safe ones anyway.

"Callen." He said.

John nodded, "first or last name?" he asked.

Callen shrugged, "Just Callen, they don't call me nothing else." He said.

John nodded at the boy, he looked poor, maybe he was from one of the migrant camps up the road, but he didn't sound or look like he was from Mexico.

"Are you staying at the migrant camp up the road?" he asked.

Callen shook his head.

John sighed, "So why were you sleeping in my nativity scene?" he asked.

Callen looked up, "I…a what? I thought it was a shed. I didn't mean to mess with your things…I wasn't gonna take nothing." He said quickly.

John smiled, "I know that lad, and it was a nativity, a scene to show the birth of the baby Jesus in a stable."

Callen looked at the man, "Why would a baby be born in a stable, couldn't his mom go to a hospital?" he asked.

"Have your mom and dad never told you this story?" John asked, "It's the Christmas story, it is told every year here before the children go home and wait for Santa Claus to come."

Callen flinched at that and John noticed.

"Are you not looking forward to Santa Claus coming to see you?" he asked hoping to see a smile on the small face.

"I don't get a Santa…" Callen said quietly.

John looked at him, "Why ever not?" he asked.

"I was at school and they told me Santa Claus comes to your home after your mom and dad put you to bed with a story. I don't have a home, I leech off of good folks who give me a bed but I'm not a normal kid so I don't get that…Mr.…he told me." He said nearly telling.

"Mr.?" John asked.

Callen yawned and shrugged.

"You want more hot chocolate?" he asked.

Callen shook his head; he knew he should never ask for more lest he was told he was ungrateful.

"Do you want to keep me company?" John asked as he picked up a cleaning cloth, "I have to clean the church."

Callen nodded and followed him in the big building he was struck by the colors of the sun on the windows through the stained glass. He walked down the long space between the pews and looked up at the sad looking figure hanging on the cross at over the altar. He stood transfixed at the sight.

"Who's that?" he asked.

John walked up behind him putting a hand on the boys shoulder and making him jump.

"That is our Lord, Jesus Christ." He said solemnly.

"What did he do?" Callen asked, "Why is he sad."

"He died for us," John said, "To save our sins." He explained.

"Why?" Callen asked.

"Because God ordained it to be."

"Is he the baby in the Na…Na…stable thing?" Callen asked.

John nodded, "He was God's son and he was born so he could die for us."

"Shouldn't have bothered." Callen said moving away to sit in a pew. "I'm not worth it…" Callen thought and looked at the man, "How did he know he was God's son?" he asked.

"He just knew, I like to think an angel told him." He said.

"What's an Angel?"

"A being of light that gives comfort and hope to the people on earth before Jesus was born and even now at times they appear."

"Do I have an angel?" Callen asked.

"I would like to think so."

"Would the angel know my name?" Callen asked.

"Of course," God would tell the angel and he knows everyone's name.

"Would he tell me?" Callen asked.

John looked at the boy, "You don't know what your name is?"

Callen shook his head, looking thoughtful. John watched as the boy sat down and crossed his legs his head in his hands staring at the image of Jesus on the cross. He let the boy process all the information he had been told. "Father…Mr. John?" he asked.

"Yes son?" he said sitting next to him as the boy stared at the huge Christmas tree that adorned the front of the church.

"Did Jesus have to go into foster care?" he asked.

John looked at the boy, "In a way, God gave him to Mary and Joseph to raise him."

Callen looked sadly at the figure on the cross on the wall, "Did they hurt him?"


"Mary and Joseph?"

"No they loved him."

Callen went silent, "So what did I do wrong? I tried to be nice for Mrs. McDonald, and she was nice to me; but Mr. McDonald beats me with a broom…I mean, I know I shouldn't have hit him back with it…but I just wanted it to stop." He said softly.

Now Father John understood, He'd met Bradley McDonald a few times, the man drank a bit, but not to excess. His wife when she was around was a lovely woman who loved the children in her care. But he was a bit unpredictable.

"How long have you been with them?" John asked.

"A month…but he's said that I ain't to stay with them anymore…He said…" Callen stopped and bit back a sob.

"You will stay here, for Christmas; I will call your social worker and arrange it?"

"Why?" Callen asked.

"Because you helped me and I owe you." John said, he had seen foster kids before and knew that Callen wouldn't take help unless he thought he'd earned it.

Callen smiled, "I did?!" he asked amazed.

"Yes you did." John told him. "Now while I make the phone call would your put those hymn books out on the pews like this?" he placed a few on the seats about 5 inches apart.

Callen nodded solemnly and did as he was asked.

John went back into the vicarage and made his phone call. Callen's social worker was a kindly lady whose heart was in the right place, but had too many children to keep track of; she agreed to the temporary two day placement and was pleased to find Father John and his wife Sylvia had already been accepted as emergency foster parents with the state. He called upstairs to his wife and told her of the boy he'd found in the stable and how he had touched his heart and had asked the boy to stay. Sylvia smiled and stroked her own swollen belly as she listened to her husband, she knew in a few months he would be a wonderful father to their own child.

A few hours later, tired but happy Callen leant against Sylvia his eyelids closing as he listened to Father John's sermon.

"Today it is Christmas eve, the season of Goodwill to all men." 

He began, looking at the small boy curled up with his head on his wife's lap. 

"Today I was reminded of exactly what that meant. Through the actions of a small scared child. A little boy who didn't know what Christmas was or who Jesus was, a boy who thought kindness was reserved for other people not him. A little boy who, like the child who's birth we celebrate tomorrow, reminded me that it isn't the presents or the tree that makes the spirit of Christmas, it is love, kindness and giving selflessly to others…in that spirit I am reminded of a carol, we do not sing in church very often, but I think it's appropriate tonight. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen."

The congregation stood and sang as John looked at his pregnant wife and the sleeping boy. Whom he was determined would be the focus of his Christmas.

Callen looked up as the Hetty entered the bullpen. "Mr. Callen you have a visitor." She said.

"Here? Hetty? But you don't allow visitors to OSP."

"SecNav cleared him, he's a chaplain in the Navy, he's been looking into your background and it was decided that as he is dying and his last wish was to meet you that we should accommodate him."

"Me?" Callen asked confused.

The team looked up as a white haired man, with a younger man walked in, his cane holding him up and showing his age.

Hetty walked forward. "Father, Welcome to the Office of Special Projects." She said extending her hand.

The old man smiled, "Henrietta Lange, Thank you for allowing this…is he here?" he asked haltingly.

"It's very important to my father, he has told me all about the year he met the boy who changed his life, the boy I am named after." The younger man said, "Sorry I am Gabriel Callen Fitzgerald." He said and the others stopped and stared at the old man and then at the shock on Callen's face.

"Father John?" he asked looking at the old man.

"Callen!" John smiled, "You got bigger!" he held his arms open and Callen jogged the few steps between them and hugged the old man.

"What? Why are you here?" Callen asked worried.

John sighed, "I am old Callen, my Sylvia passed on last fall, I am dying, but I never forgot the boy who changed my life and gave me purpose. 

I ran a shelter for homeless children after you left, I named my son after you, I knew your name began with a G and after all that talk about angels I though Gabriel seemed appropriate. 

I just always wondered about the little boy asleep in my nativity scene I wanted to know how he turned out." He said.

The other looked at him as Callen looked guilty. "I turned out ok Father John…You helped me and I am grateful. You taught me it was ok to hope…and you gave me the best Christmas I ever had. Thank you." He said quietly.

"Did you ever find your family?" John asked remembering the little boy who had sat at his table during Christmas Dinner and had asked God to help him find his family.

Callen smiled and turned him towards the bullpen.

"I did, Let me introduce you…." He said leading the old man towards his co-workers and family.

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