The cabin was clean and smelled of cinnamon and apples. In one corner, there stood a small tree. Small, yet still the biggest potted plant that could clear the doors. Every time he looked at it, his heart swelled with pride. Small, but perfect. The dark green leaves unfolded in the heat, the roots snaked down into the earth in a whirl. He adjusted a blood red ribbon on one branch and sat down on the rug with his eyes closed.

He spent the entire year assembling his gifts, but he checked them all once again. He did not give anything but words for a long time now. He started to collect them, cut them, wrap them as early as January. A long necklace of sunny afternoons, blackbirds, apples from the old apple tree in the garden for his mother. A collection of fairy tales for his father, painted with heroes and disasters, perfect and imperfect miracles.

A raven looked back at him from the woods.

A jug of steaming tea sat on the small clay stand, a tealight under it to keep it hot. The bitter fragrance made his nose twitch. It reminded him of his childhood. All the Christmases they spent fighting. He thought turkey and Bing Crosby were admissions of defeat, and his parents laughed at him saying, all celebrations of love, of miracle, of joy were worth celebrating. How could he have understood it back then? He was just a teenager. He had enough love, miracle and joy in his life not to know their worth.

He got up and stretched a bit. He checked the house, stood in the window for a moment, watching the snow sparkle in the midday sun. A raven looked back at him from the woods. He nodded at it. It was time. He sat in front of the tree and let the sunlight reflected off the snow, the sweet smell of apples and cinnamon fill him. He drank the tea slowly, softly singing to himself, nodding to the rhythm of the song, and slowly, ever so slowly the roots of the small yew tree untangled, the braided snakes of the earth slid apart. Dark and gaping, the Land of the Dead opened up for him.

He sighed and started the long descent. His parents were waiting for him down there.

About the author

Ágnes Körmendi is a writer, artist and the Hungaian translator of Robert Jordan and several other science fiction and fantasy authors. You can find some of her drawings on deviantART.

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