The Smell of Christmas

The coffee shop smelled like Christmas when I walked in—rotten eggnog, burnt pie, and BO. I pinched the bridge of my nose, of all the days he chose to stop living up to my expectations, it was on the day that more than anything I needed to guzzle the world’s largest coffee—as advertised on the chalk signboard—in peace.

I drew in a deep breath—through my mouth, because there are some smells you’d rather not be in your nose—and winded my way through the overcrowded tables to one in the back corner populated by a man in a stained crimson hoodie with the hood pulled up over a baseball cap.

He grunted and pushed one of the cups of coffee closer to me. I watched as it sloshed over the sides of the cup and dribbled onto the table. I clasped my hands in front of me on the table and leaned forward. “What’s this all about?”

“It’s good to see you, Sam,” he grunted. “Thanks for coming out on such short notice.”

“Sure. Whatever. Are you in trouble?”

“Why would you think that?”

“Because the only reasons you’ve ever called me in the past decade is because you needed something.” I tried not to breathe in too deeply in his presence.

“Fine. I was trying to be… nevermind. I finally found it.” He hauled a box out of his rank backpack and dropped it on the table. He’d wrapped it in dark green paper with snowmen and Santa hats all over it. Plaid ribbon wrapped about it several times and finished in an oversized, lopsided bow.”

“Found what?”

It.” He gestured at the box. “It’s in there.”

“A Christmas present? You really shouldn’t have. I didn’t get you anything.” I reached for the end of a ribbon.

“Don’t open it in here!” He hissed, grabbing the box and jerking it toward him.

“Is there something alive in there?” I demanded, watching as the box shook.

Hey pressed a finger to his lips, “Keep it down, don’t want to draw attention to us, do you?”

Ten… nine… I made it to four before I had to release the giant breath I’d been holding. “Everything about you draws attention.” I pitched my voice low so as not to carry. “If this is such a sensitive matter, why did you want to meet in a public location?”

“Too many smells. It’ll make it harder for them to find us.”

“You’re rather easy to pick out in a crowd,” I objected. I dug my thumb into the throbbing ache in my left temple. “I knew you were here the moment I walked in.”

“But you didn’t know which person I was.” I raised my brow and stared at him until he slumped forward. “Yeah, but you know what I look like. What to expect.”

“You think whatever—whoever—is looking for you won’t?”

He pushed the battered box across the table again. “I’m hoping they’ll be too busy looking for me to notice you.”

I slowly pulled the box toward me. “What do you want me to do with this?”

“Use it to open the portal. Send me home again.” He stood up. “Blend in. Don’t get caught.” He leaned over the table and breathed into my face. I gagged. “You have a quarter of an hour until the cloaking wears off. Use it wisely.”

I wrapped my hand about his wrist. “Call me when—”

“I’ll be in touch.”

Knowing my luck he would show up at my work. Or worse, at my dad’s house on Christmas morning. Again.

I waited a few minutes for him to leave them brought the cup of lukewarm coffee to my lips. If I choked in down fast enough I might be able to finish it before the permeating stench overpowered me.

I set the mostly empty cup down on a couple of crumpled ones I found at the bottom of my purse. I balanced the package on my hip and picked my way through the thinning café. Nothing caused as big a stir as bumping into somebody while invisible.

* * *

The package stared me down from my battered kitchen table. I had a fresh cup of coffee clasped between my palms and sat crisscross in one of my rickety wooden chairs. The box jerked and hopped an inch.

Definitely something alive in there.

I took a long sip of coffee. Did I really want to open the package? No. But I’d made a promise. More than that, I owed him.

I unfolded from the chair and swigged back the last dregs. Time to see what was the key to opening a portal to a demon dimension.


At the age of six, Eliza was certain of two things. The first was that she had stories to tell. The second was that she had no talent for illustrating them herself. Talent or no, she still wrote and illustrated her first book, one that should be located and locked away if only to prevent her parents from embarrassing her terribly by showing it off alongside baby pictures. Now she spends her days writing stories that she isn't embarrassed to show off after a little bit of polishing.

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