Maria lived alone in the loft of an old Catholic Church built in 1857 and, later, converted into a home. Her husband had died of a mysterious illness about ten years ago and she never remarried. Her children were grown and had their own families. 

That evening, she was in her kitchen preparing a warm cup of chamomile, lemongrass tea. Just as she was about to sit down take a sip, she heard a knock at the door. She stood up and said, “Who could that be?”

Setting down her tea on the counter, she slowly opened the door. At her feet was a small package wrapped in duct tape and this morning’s newspaper. She picked up the package and stepped out into the cold, night air. In the sea of powdery snow, no footprints were to be found. Slowly, she turned to go inside, but stopped. Out of the corner of her eye, crouched atop the cathedral, she thought she saw an angel watching over her. “It’s just my imagination,” she said as she hurried back inside.

Staring at the package, she said, “I hope that isn’t just a rock that was thrown at my door.” She carefully removed the tape and paper and found a peculiar thing.  

She sat back down next to her Christmas tree and removed the tape and paper to find a peculiar thing, a Christmas ornament shaped like a wooden door. The little, brown door was decorated with sparkling poinsettia. The frame was covered in metallic green vines and leaves and there was a wooden tab on top of the door with an arrow pointing up engraved on it. Gently, she pulled it and the wooden door slid up through the frame uncovering a small, rectangular mirror. She peered into the mirror and saw the reflection of a pretty woman in her forties with long, silver hair, fair skin, and green eyes. Nina closed the ornament and thought, “Hmm, I wonder who would leave such a beautiful ornament here. There’s no tag, name or address.” Stumped and sleep, she hung the ornament on the tree. Then, she climbed the narrow staircase to the choir loft where she buried herself under the soft blankets piled on her bed and quickly fell asleep.

As she slept, dreams danced through her imagination. Poinsettia shrubs sparkled like stars in a field of grass, a piece of Heaven on earth. A huge door that resembled the ornament stood in the middle of the field. A warm light under the door, as the scent of pine, cinnamon, chocolate, and frankincense filled the air. Maria pushed the door, but saw that she was tiny and couldn’t get in. Instead, the flowers began to hum a sweet song. “That’s my mother’s lullaby,” she said, as she listened and the dream came to an end.  

The next morning, the sun poured in through the stained glass windows accentuating the outline of Jesus, Mary, and the Saints sending light into our world. Maria woke feeling refreshed and decided to visit the grave of her husband.

As she descended down the stairs, she glanced at the ornament, and smiled. “What a lovely gift,” she thought as she remembered her dream. “I simply must tell my husband about it,” she thought as she left for the cemetery.

Maria picked a small bouquet of snowdrop flowers along the way and tied them together with a bit of string as a gift symbolic of her love for her husband. As she walked the short distance to the cemetery, Maria thought, “Heaven, sometimes, seems so far away, but I’m certain that my husband can still hear me there.”

Upon reaching her husband’s grave, she and laid the little white flowers on top of it. She lit a small candle and prayed, “May that message of love in these flowers reach you.” Then, she told him all about the ornament and her dream, the same way she did when he was alive. Suddenly, all of her memories of their time together washed over her. 

“You were a beautiful person, smart, kind, funny, a great father, and fun to be around,” she said. Then she remembered the times when he slipped into depression as he valiantly fought to stay alive. Mournfully, she whispered his words, “Never speak poorly of the dead. They aren’t around to defend themselves,” Tears filled her eyes as she said, “You didn’t deserve to feel worthless and like people wouldn’t speak so poorly of you and to you if you were dead.” As she was leaving she said, “I will always love you.”

Her walk back to the house was a quiet one. People weren’t out and about. There was a disease in her area that caused many to become very ill and possibly die, so she went straight home. Upon arriving at home, she prepared a delicious meal, said, “Dear Lord, thank you and please bless this food that I’m about to eat.” She made the sign of the cross and gratefully ate her meal. Afterwards, she cleaned up and called each of her two sons. She asked them the usual questions, “How are you my wonderful son? How is your wife and the children?” The conversations ended with, “I love you and rest well.” They’d had many similar conversations in the past, but she was always happy to hear their voices and listen to them and, feeling satisfied, she went straight to bed.

That night, when the clock struck three, she woke up for no particular reason and couldn’t go back to sleep. Therefore, she went downstairs to make a cup of champurrado, her favorite. As she merrily drank her champurrado, she looked at the ornament and thought, “Something’s different. Somehow, the flowers and leaves look more alive and sparkle more brilliantly.” Upon closer inspection she exclaimed, “How curious! The symbol on the tab on top of the door has changed.” Instead of an arrow pointing up, it was a music note. She pulled on the tab, but the door would not open. Then, perhaps because of her dream, she decided to try singing her mother’s lullaby:

“Come adventurers,
Through deserts,
You’ll find the way.
Follow the beacon, 
The Christmas star,
Brighter than diamonds,
Heaven’s door,
Love is with you 
Wherever you are.”

The door slid open and she smiled with delight as she saw that the glass on the inside had turned into a silvery mirror made of water. Behind the water mirror was a ship decked out in Christmas lights emanating a dream-like, festive, Christmas music. 

Entranced, Maria touched her fingertip to the water causing a silver line to trace itself down her finger, to her palm, where it formed the outline of a star. Instantly, the room faded to black around her. The floor beneath her feet began to rock back and forth. As her eyes slowly adjusted, the outline of wooden boxes materialized nearby. She looked around and said, “What’s this? A storage room?” The glow from the ornament faded as did the glow of the star on her hand. She found that her night clothes had transformed into a festive dress and stuffed the ornament in her pocket and stumbled towards the exit. She threw open the exit door and was hit by the smells of spicy roast beef with veggies, cinnamon, frankincense, and chocolate chip cookies. She was floating downriver on a ship and a marvelous Christmas celebration was in full swing. Smoothing her long hair and new dress, she climbed out from below deck.

She waded through the crowd saying, “Excuse me, excuse me,” as the ship rocked with the waves. Exotic, but friendly faces met her eyes. Upon reaching the railing of the ship, she exhaled. “Shhhhhhh,” hissed ship’s engine as they floated towards the docks.  

The vessel landed smoothly and, with her feet still feeling unstable, she stepped, lightly, ashore. She swiftly moved through, festive lantern lit, wreath adorned, streets until she came upon a familiar, yet unexpected site, a Cathedral-like church nestled between two buildings with earthen walls, baked tile roofs, and shutters that could open to display goods. As she approached the church, she was greeted by a friendly priest who said, “Welcome! Come in. Look around. This is the oldest church in the country of Kolbe.” The priest continued, “May I interest you in a pamphlet? It gives a detailed history of this church.” Nina replied, “Yes, please,” but, as she reached out for the pamphlet, the priest gasped with surprise. The mark on her hand was glowing.

The priest said, “My dear, how did you come by that mark on your hand?” Closing her hand, Nina said, “This, I, had an accident.” The priest nodded and said, “Do you happen to have an object with you, one that’s shaped like a door?” Maria pulled the ornament out of her pocket and said, “Do you mean this?” Again, a look of surprise came over the priest’s face and he motioned for her to go into the church and out of the door way. Quickly, he said, “You must put that out of sight. That is what is known as The Christmas Star. It is said that the bearer of the object, is special. She has a mark on her hand indicating that it was meant for her. She is someone who comes from a foreign land, who will be sister to the princess, and help us rid our land of the demons who have invaded it. They hunger for that object and wish to destroy our world. Water snakes help to keep them away, but the demons, somehow, keep slipping through and reaping havoc. You must go to the castle! You’ll be safe there. I know a shortcut to the bridge that crosses the lake. Follow me!” 

They ran a short distance between the buildings, and down a dirt road to where the bridge began. Just as they reached the lake, a beautiful, white snake with round pupils in her big, golden eyes swam ashore. The priest lifted the foot-long snake out of the water and showed her to Maria saying, “This one, we call Blanca. She is a type of water snake known as an Enhydris, once misunderstood animal spirits that we, now know, believe in a higher purpose. Blanca is well-known among animal spirits and will inform them and Princess Verde of Castle Kai of your presence. You may, now, safely cross to the other side of the bridge.” Maria said, “Thank you, father, how can I be sister or, anything, to the princess? I arrived here by accident and have no idea what I’m doing here or how to get home.” The priest looked at her thoughtfully with his almond-shaped eyes and said, “Daughter, trust key.” He handed a small chain with a little golden cross on it to her. “Show this to the person who answers the door and they will let you in once you get to the castle. Now, I must be on my way. I will pray for you and you have my blessing.” He bowed his head slightly saying, “Until we meet again,” and waved goodbye. 

Castle Kai sat atop a cliff above the lake and a steep, damp, staircase lead up to the entrance of the curtain wall. Maria saw a white water snake resting on stone lantern next to the entrance and said, “Blanca! You look like you have been waiting forever for me.” Blanca looked at her and slithered towards the open door of the entrance. As she entered the gate she said to Blanca, “What a magnificent Zen garden!” She pointed and continued, “There’s a sea of rocks representing a boat on choppy water. There’s another rock representing a nearby island! I love symbolic gardens!” Further interpreting, she says, “This one says that those who struggle will soon find peace and the way.” Blanca turned her head towards the castle indicating, “This way,” and Nina followed her down the wooden path to the entrance of a towering stone keep.”

Swift footsteps approached and the door creaked open. It was the maid. With an assertive stride the maid and 2 guards stepped out and the maid said, “State your business.” Maria replied as she showed her the cross given to her by the priest, “I was sent by a priest to see the Princess about a sacred object.” The maid looked at the cross, stepped aside, motioned towards the door and said, “Come in.”

Maria stepped inside and saw that Christmas was a little different in the castle. The interior contained a large room with no decorations save for a few paintings. She walked past the moonbeams from skylights dancing among majestic stone columns as she and the maid walked towards the cracked door on the other side.

The maid pushed aside the sliding door and stepped aside. Maria walked into a large room, containing a richly adorned, silk-covered throne, glowing lamps hanging from chains on the ceiling, a roaring fireplace, and a beautifully decorated tree next to a shuttered window. The tree had what looked like a glittering, red, garland spiraling around it. There were colorful balls spread evenly throughout it and it appeared to be crowned by a glimmering, prismatic starburst.

On the throne sat a woman who seemed only slightly younger than Maria. She had large, black eyes, long, dark hair, and was dressed in a forest-green gown, lined with gold embroidery. Atop her brow was an opalescent tiara. 

Maria approached the throne and bowed with respect. The lady on the throne said, “I am Princess Verde of Kolbe. I was informed by the Enhydris, friends of dragons, that you have a sacred object. Is this true?” As she said this, what Maria thought was crimson garland on the Christmas tree, started to shimmer and smoothly move in a spiral around it. The star on top revealed itself to be a lizard-like head as Maria exclaimed, “A dragon!” 

Seeing Maria’s surprise, Princess Verde said, “My dragon will not harm you, but is only there for my protection.” Maria relaxed a little and replied, “My name is Maria. I arrived on a ship earlier this evening from my home where I was teleported away.” She held out the object in one hand and opened the palm of her other hand to reveal the mark etched into it. The dragon gazed at her intently as did the princess. Continuing, she said, “I was told by a priest in town that this is a sacred object of great importance, but I don’t know anything more about it. The priest urged me to see you and told me that I am to be like a sister to you.” “So, the legend is true,” said the princess. “Stay for the night.” The princess rang the bell next to her throne and summoned the maid. She said, “Ready a room for this woman.”

Then, she rose and told Maria, “Follow me. I will show you to your room.” As they walked down the hall princess Verde said, “You may think it strange that, I, a princess, would do all of this for you. However, according to legend, you are to be my sister.” Maria nodded and said, “I see.” They arrived at her room and the queen said, “Good night to you and may you rest well,” as she opened the door for Maria. Maria entered the room and said, “Thank you and good night.”

Rain splattered on the castle windows as Maria fell asleep. She slept soundly, dreaming of the warmth of home. 

The next morning, Maria was shown to the kitchen by the maid. She saw a delicious breakfast of French toast, blueberries, strawberries, bacon, hot tea, and scrambled eggs was set out for them. Maria and Verde seated themselves at the table next to the warm, wood fired oven and happily ate. 

During their meal, Verde said to Maria, “Good morning. Did you rest well?” Nina replied, “Yes, very well, thank you.” Verde said, “I have informed the staff of your presence. You are my guest in the palace. I’m sure that you have much to share with me. Why not start by telling me how you came to be here in the town of Kolbe?” Maria relayed her tale of finding the object, being teleported to the ship, and making her way to the castle after meeting the priest. Verde listened attentively, and said, “In Kolbe your ornament is known as The Christmas Star. This object is a kind of mirror and portal. I have heard tales of it, but this is the first time I have actually seen it. It is said to be able to teleport people away, shine a radiant light, and show you your deepest fears if you were not meant to carry it.” Maria asked as she pulled the mirror out of her pocket, “Would you like to take a look at it?” Verde picked it up, turned it around and said, “It certainly is beautiful, but it does not appear to have any unusual properties. The star on your hand is what tells us that it is that object. Maybe it only works at certain times or, somehow, needs to be activated.” Maria said, “If so, I can’t return home until I figure out how to get it to work.” Verde gave her a sympathetic nod and said, “I will help you utilize the castle library. We have oral legends, but perhaps, there will be more information about it there. We have the finest and most ancient books in all the land.” Maria gave Verde a grateful smile and said, “Thank you.” 

Over the next few days Maria and Verde sifted through a pile of potentially helpful books. As they rifled through the texts, Verde told Maria, “I have always wished for a sister like you.” As Maria looked through a book Verde brushed Maria’s hair aside and started to tie it up in a crown braid, then said, “Being a princess is not so great. I am just a political bargaining tool for my parents. Once, I was engaged to be married to a wonderful prince who I loved, but, sadly, he died when he fell from his horse and broke his neck while hunting one day. My parents have not arranged another marriage for me since then.” Maria said, “I’m so sorry about what happened to your prince. I’ve heard that it’s rare for a princess to find love. You must have been heartbroken.” Verde said, “Yes, but that is all in the past. Tell me about yourself. Were you ever married?” Maria smiled and said, “Yes, I was married to a wonderful man. He was kind, smart, fun to be around, but, at one time, he was a little bit of a Grinch!” Verde asked, “What is a Grinch?” Maria explained, “A character from a television show who was a crabby misanthrope who disliked Christmas. A television is a piece of technology from my home that shows moving pictures that tell a story.” Verde responded, “It sounds fascinating, but tell me more about your husband” Maria continued, “He used to complain to me saying that I had too many Christmas decorations. I would simply laugh at his belligerence and say, “Oh hush, Sanford!” Sanford was another television show character. That character had a tendency to be a pack rat or to hoard things. My husband, with his tendency to hoard things, really had no room to complain about my decorations.” Verde laughed at Maria’s story and said, “Tell me some more about your life!” Maria said, “Well, my husband and I had two handsome sons who are grown and have their own families. I’m so proud of them. I would be living happily with my husband today if it weren’t for a mysterious illness that took him away from me many years ago. Things were difficult after he died and I doubted everything, but I saw my sons and thought, I must continue on. My family needed me even if I didn’t feel as if I were good enough for them. I wondered if I was supportive enough of my husband while he was sick or if I gave enough attention to my children who also missed their father. Perhaps I was disingenuous, just faking things until time healed our wounds. I love my family and hope that my mistakes can be forgiven.” Verde looked thoughtful and said, “You are my sister. That is all that matters. I am so glad to have you here with me.”

Maria and Verde were very happy being together, but, eventually, Verde found a passage in one of the books that she thought might be helpful to their quest. She excitedly ran over to Maria and showed it to her. The passage read:

“If one is swept away by the glowing star, she must become an angel to a kindred spirit in a faraway land. Together they must face their greatest fear on frozen a night of star-made shadows when snowflakes fill the sky. Only then will divinity find her and allow the marked bearer to aid the kingdom and return home.”

After reading the message, she pursed her lips and said, “It’s so cryptic! How will I ever go home?” Upon seeing her dismay, Verde, laid her head on Maria’s shoulder, hugged her, and said, “Do not worry. Everything will be ok.” 

They stopped searching through the books for the evening and camped out on luxurious futons under the Christmas tree. Verde’s dragon slumbered above them quietly, red scales gleaming in the candle light, its soft breathing lulling them to sleep.  

That night, the wind burst through the nearest window, waking the sleeping dragon. Dashing over to the window like the aurora named STEVE, he tried to protect them from the cold, but was too late. Snowflakes filled the air. 

The object lying next to Maria started to glow. Awakened by the chill and mesmerized, Verde opened the glowing object’s door. A look of horror came over here face as she gazed at the scene behind it. The image beneath the water mirror in the object showed her, lying on the ground dying alone, surrounded by an army of shades, shadowy, two-horned demons. She fainted from fear.

The lake surrounding the castle outside was frozen solid along with the Enhydris. Because the Enhydris were frozen, in their room, from the depths of the shadows, the shades crawled forth, wave after wave of them. Verde’s dragon fought valiantly, claws raking through their numbers.

Maria, awakened by the noise, jumped up, bewildered at the sight she beheld. Suddenly, the symbol on the top of the ornament had changed to a star and the mark on her hand glowed. Maria remembered what Verde had told her about the object’s ability to shine a radiant light. Then, as if natural, she grabbed the ornament with her glowing hand. The shades let out an angry howl as a burst of brilliant light emanated from the object, causing them to retreat back into the shadows. It was over. 

Maria ran to Verde’s side. Verde was still incapacitated as Maria said, “Verde! Wake up!” Verde started to wake, but was in shock. Maria held her tight and dipped her hand into object’s transformed water mirror as she sang her mother’s lullaby once again.

“Come adventurers,Through deserts,
You’ll find the way.
Follow the beacon, 
The Christmas star.
Brighter than diamonds,
Heaven’s door,
Love is with you 
Wherever you are.”

The dragon shrunk and wrapped itself around Verde’s wrist. Then, the castle faded around them and they found themselves teleported into
Maria’s home. It was early Christmas morning. 

Maria wrapped Verde in her quilts to keep her warm and bound her wounded arm while the dragon made itself at home, coiling around and through Maria’s Christmas tree like garland once again. Verde seemed distant and shaken as she whispered, “Thank you,” to Maria. Maria went to the kitchen, then returned with a cup saying, “Try this lavender tea. It will help you sleep.” Verde slowly drank the tea without saying a word. Maria said, “You need to rest,” and brought her up to the loft where they fell sleep.

Later, Maria said, “Look Verde! A television!” Verde smiled gently, but said nothing. Maria could tell that she still wasn’t feeling better, so she said, “Verde, I have an excellent idea. Let’s go visit the cemetery and town. The fresh air might do you some good.” Verde agreed and off they went. Maria lit candles and prayed silently for Verde and all of her loved ones. Verde stood next to Maria, quietly staring off into the distance. Next, Maria showed Verde the sights of her town saying, “There’s the candy shop and the bakery,” but they couldn’t do very much because of disease that had ravaged the town. “Don’t go that way,” said a friendly passerby as he pointed to a restaurant where someone was putting up the sign, “Temporarily closed.”

As they walked by, Verde seemed deep in thought when she asked, “Why is life this way? Why is everyone and everything torn apart or taken away?” Maria worried about her dearest friend, but said, “The world is very flawed, as we are, but, dear sister, all is not lost.” Verde said, “I am a useless idiot. How will I ever return home and what will become of you if I leave? Will you stay here alone?” Maria looked a Verde lovingly and said, “We will never be alone. No matter what happens, I’ll …,” but her voice trailed off as she gazed into the distance towards her home. 

The women hurried back find an amazing sight! Verde’s dragon, recently and lovingly named Steve, swooped and parried wildly through the air above Maria’s home, shooting green fire everywhere, as though he were fighting an invisible foe. Then, a terrifying creature materialized before them! It was the demon of shades, a horror with knives for teeth. Somehow, this creature had noticed the glowing object placed on the tree. Steve had fought off the demon until Maria and Verde arrived.

Realizing what was happening, Verde screamed, “No!” and ran towards the object to keep it from the demon. The demon charged after her! A white snake that resembled the Enhydris slithered forth and transformed itself into an angel. Then, towering, looming shadows of animals from within the hallowed ground with white, glowing eyes surrounded them as the sky darkened. Maria thought she saw an outline of an angel atop her home once again.  

The demon arrived next to Verde and Maria flung her out of the way as an angel with a flaming sword suddenly swooped in and chopped off the demon’s head. Maria said, “It’s the angel that was keeping watch from the roof!” The beheaded demon dissipated in a flame. The spirit animals bowed and returned to their homes as the transformed Enhydris angel turned back into a white snake and left and the angel with the flaming sword turned to address the brave women. It said, “Do not be afraid. You have found what was lost.” 

Verde and Maria looked with admiration at the angel. Maria had suspected his presence and wanted to say, “What took you so long,” but thought that would sound ungrateful. 

Then, Verde saw the glowing ornament alight in her hand and decided to ask the angel, “How do I return home? What has happened in Kolbe? What will happen to Maria?” Maria turned to her and said, “I will be fine here. This is my home. You will always be in my heart and things will get better. You’ll see.” Maria’s hope inspired her and Verde’s fears disappeared. Verde said, “You are my sister and are an angel to me. I will never forget you.” Maria replied, ‘Good bye, sister. Until we meet again.” They turned to the angel and he said, “Touch the water mirror in the object with your hand and you go home.”

Shrinking again, Steve wrapped himself around Verde’s arm and Verde gave Maria a hug. Then, Verde opened the ornament and touched the placid water mirror inside the door-shaped ornament, causing it to ripple. Clouds closed in around her as she was transported back to the throne room of her castle. 

Upon her arrival Verde saw that the room was pristine as if nothing had happened. The angel stood beside her and said, “Your servants and the town’s people are safe. You have returned to the instant of your departure, as though no time has passed.” Verde gratefully replied, “Thank you for your deed.” Then, the angel said, “You’re welcome, but I have something to ask of you. Will you return the Christmas Star so I may return it to the sky? It fell from the sky and transformed into that object the night Maria found it on her doorstep, but will be needed in the sky to guide travelers once again.” Verde handed the object to the angel and he said, “Thank you,” as the ornament changed into a glowing ball of light in his hands. The angel said, “It was not this object that brought the two of you together and defeated the demons in battle. It was the love between you. Love is what will keep the demons away.” Verde smiled and said, “From now on, we will always celebrate love in the Christmas season to help keep the demons away.”

The angel walked over the window and the ball of light dissipated, reappearing in the sky, becoming the beautiful Christmas Star. Then, the angel smiled at Princess Verde and vanished in a glimmer of light.

Verde never saw Maria or the angel again in her life. However, in her heart she knew that, Nina, her sister, would always be with her.

One evening, many years later, when the tradition of Christmas and love were keeping the evil at bay, Verde looked up at the sky and saw the Christmas Star shining brightly in the distance. It twinkled as her life slipped away. She felt herself rise up into the air where she walked through an enormous wooden door in the middle of the field of glittering, red poinsettia shrubs. As she walked through the open door, she saw Maria and excitedly called out, “Maria!” They met with a joyful embrace and walked off together into the sunrise to forever be with the ones that they loved.

The End.