The Best Christmas Present

As a present for my readers, a story of the season from the pen of my lovely and talented wife, taking place in same world as her CHILDREN OF PROSPERO novels.

The Best Christmas Present

By L. Jagi Lamplighter

It was Christmas Eve. Logistilla Prospero, younger daughter of the Dread Magician Prospero, was about to give her sons the best Christmas present she could possibly give them.

She would leave their lives forever.

Her two boys, about ten and twelve, sat in the large library of her Southern mansion. Teleron, the older one, was reading a book. His large round glasses gave his thin face an owlish appearance. The younger one, Typhon, was athletic with boyish good looks, however, his slumped shoulders betrayed his boredom as he waited for Christmas to come. He bounced a ball against the wooden floor. Neither showed any concern, or even awareness, of Logistilla’s existence.

They would not notice if she left. They would not notice if she never came back.

She would be doing them a favor.

Logistilla looked upon them and renewed her resolve. Two young and growing boys did not need a centuries old enchantress for a mother—an enchantress who was tired and worn, even if she still looked young and beautiful, and who understood animals better than humans. Titus—their father, her ex—was a pleasing fellow, even if he was as big as the bear she had transformed him into for a few years. He could find the boys a new mother, a better one, one who would contribute to their lives instead of subtracting from them. It was a wonder that Titus tolerated her at all, considering how angry he had become when he discovered that his time as a bear had robbed him of two years of watching his sons grow. Who would have guessed a man would be so touchy about children.

Logistilla stared at the brightly wrapped boxes containing the presents she had bought: books for Teleron the reader and a sports Jersey and a lacrosse stick for Typhon. She had been rather proud of herself when she picked them. She had actually remembered that the elder boy liked to read and the younger one played sports.

Only Titus had quickly disabused her of the notion that her choices would be welcome. Teleron had already read all the books Logistilla had chosen, he told her, and Typhon, who was only ten, did not play a complicated game like lacrosse. He only cared about baseball, soccer, and hockey. Logistilla was not entirely clear on whether this was ice hockey or street hockey.

This was only Titus’s second Christmas with the boys since she has released him from his time as a bear, but already, he understood the boys so much better than their mother. Of course, he talked to them, while Logistilla usually just sent cards or maybe a small gift. She did  take time to visit them for a few days each year, but it had been many years since she had stayed for Christmas.

This was not the only mistake she had made. She had accidentally called Typhon, the younger one, the sportsman, Orlando—the name of one of her centuries-dead sons—and then she had yawned while Teleron prattled on about some series he was reading. In her defense, he talked very fast, without ever stopping for a breath, about all sorts of things that made no sense at all, such as assistant pig keepers who jumped head first into thorn bushes. Surely, she had misheard him. No one would write a book about a topic so banal as a swineherd. The idea was farcical.

Then, she had laughed when Teleron had slipped, scraping his knee. In her defense, he had looked ridiculous, flopping like a fish on the floor, his book splayed open, his glasses sliding across the marble. If he had been an thespian paid to make pratfalls, he could not have made it any funnier. Anyone would have laughed.

Only Titus, that old bore, had not laughed. Titus, who was normally so calm, had shook his head in disgust and called her a bad mother. Logistilla fumed. Titus knew nothing of motherhood.

***   ***   ***

Logistilla had borne over fifty children in her nearly four hundred and forty years. She had birthed them, raised them with her own blood, sweat, and tears. All of them, save these two boys, were now cradled six feet beneath the heartless earth. Men had no idea what that did to a mother.

The first time one of her sons had died, she had thought that she, too, would die. Surely, no one had ever suffered so. The pain of it could scarce be borne. Sea level rose that year, so great was the volume of her tears.

Then another had died and another and another: some in infancy, some as soldiers upon the battlefield, some growing old and rotten and forgetful before they tumbled into the grave. And some, worst of all, bitterly resentful of the youth and beauty of their own mother, the woman who bore them—a youth and beauty that her father had forbidden her to share.

All her early children had been sons. When she finally gave birth to a daughter, she had determined that, this time, things would be different. Her Marisa had been the most precious child that ever breathed air, a sweet-natured creature, inquisitive and joyful. Even when she grew up, she did not lose her innocent charm. Marisa had been Logistilla’s world, her heart, the very purpose of her life. Logistilla had resolved to move Heaven and earth to keep Marisa alive. She would find a way to secretly share the source of her immortality.

Logistilla had made such plans for the two of them. Marisa was to be Logistilla’s life-long companion, her bosom friend. They would spend the centuries together, studying magic and raising beasts. She had loved all animals, her little Marisa.

Only, it was not to be.

A single teardrop ran down Logistilla’s high-boned cheek. She wiped at it absentmindedly with the back of her hand. When Marisa was still a young woman, as mortals count years, a mother herself, with two tiny infants of her own, she had been raped and killed by street thugs one night in Edinburgh. Just like that—the most precious thing in Logistilla’s life—snuffed out as one might snuff a candle.

When they buried Marisa, Logistilla had stayed behind after the mourners had departed. Upon her daughter’s grave, she had sworn that she would never again put her hope in children. She had sworn that she would never love the ones that came later as she had loved Marisa and her older brothers. A piece of Logistilla’s soul lay buried with each of those early ones. What soul she had left was cold and tough, like a stringy old chicken. It lacked the breadth of courage necessary to love children properly.

Men. They knew nothing of children.

*** *** ***

Logistilla waited for the others to go to sleep before she slipped downstairs to get her boots, cloak, and her enchanted staff. The boys were in bed, but Titus slumped in a chair in his office, snoring, the plate of cookies that the boys had left for Santa half-eaten on his desk. She tiptoed by the open office door on her way to the foyer.

Once there, she had to search to find her things. Titus and the boys had turned the hall closet that had once held coats and shoes into a storage cabinet for games and sports gear. She wandered all over the first floor, looking in armories and behind doors. There was a clatter upstairs at one point. It sounded as if it came from the roof, but she knew it must be one of the boys. Most likely Typhon had begun bouncing his ball at this late hour. Eventually, she found the closet that now held winter coats, near the back door.

It was not really fair that she should be the one leaving. It was, after all, her house. She had owned it for many decades. But it was the least she could do after all she had done to Titus.

Logistilla was doing them all a favor.

Besides, she did not need this house. She had another much nicer mansion on her island in the Caribbean. She would go there. Only Titus would know to look there. Hmm. If she really wished to disappear, she would have to attempt something she had never done before. She could use her Staff of Transmogrification. She had turned so many others into animals; maybe it was time to try it on herself. The only question remaining was: what kind of animal should she pick?

A cat? A deer? If she went with something too small, her great pets, who roamed free on the island, might eat her. A panther? A mountain lion? If she picked a large predator, would she remember not to eat her pets while she was a beast?

As she was putting on her boots, Logistilla heard a noise from behind the Christmas tree. She paused, one boot on, and moved closer. The cat had knocked over the tree once already. It would not do to have it fall again on Christmas Eve. Perhaps, she should find a way to…

It was not the cat.

A man stepped from behind the tree … or from the oversized hearth beyond. He had bushy white eyebrows, keen blue eyes, a proud kingly nose, and a long bushy beard. She had met him once before, when she had been walking with her sister on the streets of London during the reign of Queen Victoria. He had worn dark green that time, and candles had burned merrily in the holly wreath upon his head. Now his hat and robes were red velvet, trimmed with white fur and clasped about his middle by a shiny black belt. In one hand, he held a tall staff of yew wood hung with bells that rang softly. He smelled of peppermint and soot.

“Father Christmas!” she blurted, startled.

“Ho, ho, ho!” Father Christmas boomed. “Merry Christmas.”

“If you say so,” Logistilla replied tartly.

She began walking back toward her other boot.

“I have a present for you, Logistilla Prospero. Prepare yourself.”

“I am not a child,” Logistilla snapped. “I don’t need a…”

Father Christmas reached out to his left. Light filled the dimly lit room, a beautiful white and golden light that outshone the Christmas tree. A figure stepped forward, shining and luminescent, a young woman whose face and form were so familiar that Logistilla’s whole being ached. The slender, dark-haired young woman had the same thin face, large nose, and overly wide eyes Logistilla remembered from life. She looked much like Logistilla herself, if one were to remove the overly wide eyes and add a widow’s peak.

“Hello,  Mamma,” the luminescent figure said sweetly in Italian.


Logistilla rushed forward to greet her daughter, but her embrace went right through the glowing figure. A stab of pain raked Logistilla’s heart, but she pushed it aside, unwilling to allow anything to mar this most longed-for reunion.

“Marisa? Mia Piccola!” she breathed.

“ Mamma,” Marisa jumped up and down, so great was her joy. “I am so glad to be here! I have something I want to show you, but first, I want to see my brothers.”

Her brothers? Logistilla shifted uneasily. She had never thought of her later children as Marisa’s siblings. It almost made them seem…

She looked around but saw no sign of the old whitebeard. Nodding, she took her daughter upstairs to where the boys slept. They looked so young, so peaceful. The sight would have been enough to twang a heartstring—had Logistilla possessed one. Teleron had fallen asleep reading. Books were scattered across his bed, small ones, great ones, some open, some not. It was a wonder the child found enough room to sleep. Typhon hugged an autographed baseball the way another child might have clutched a teddy bear. Spikles, the dog Logistilla had given the boys for Christmas two years ago, lay asleep beside him, its ears flopping over, its back foot twitching.

“They are so sweet,” murmured Marisa, gazing at them fondly.

Looking back and forth between her beloved daughter and the two boys, Logistilla noticed for the first time that both boys looked a little like their sister. With Typhon, it was his chin. With Teleron, his cheekbones. She frowned.

“Ready?” asked Marisa.

The slender young woman held out a thick, silky rope, red on one side and white on the other. She handed Logistilla the red side.

“Here, take this. We can both hold it. It will almost be like touching.”

Logistilla reached out and touched it tentatively. Sure enough, she could grasp the rope. Marisa wrapped its length once around her hand. Logistilla did the same. If they pressed the red rope against the white rope, it was very much as if their hands were touching.

Marisa met her mother’s eyes and smiled so sweetly. “Ready?”

“For what?” Logistilla asked warily. “I am not sure I want …”

The world changed. They stood in a posh city apartment, New York, to judge from the skyline. A woman stood by a gas fireplace holding two Christmas stockings. Slowly, she hung them on the wall beside the fireplace, a single tear running down her cheek.

Before Logistilla could say a word, the posh apartment vanished, and they were in the house of an older woman holding a tiny fluffy dog. The woman stared at her Christmas tree pensively. Then, they were in a hallway where a woman wept piteously. In her hand was a home pregnancy test. Both indicators on the test were negative.

“Who are these people?” Logistilla asked.

“The barren, Mamma,” replied Marisa. “Those who have prayed and prayed for children, but children have not come. We don’t know why their prayers were not answered by Our Father in Heaven, but you have been given something they have begged for and not received. Don’t you owe it to them to take care of what God has given you?”

“Why would I owe them anything?” Logistilla scowled at the weeping woman in the hallway before them, apparently she could neither see nor hear Marisa and Logistilla. “What are they to me?”

“Mamma,” Marisa pleaded, her wide eyes bright. “Look how they are suffering. Does that mean nothing to you?”

Logistilla thought of her old stringy chicken of a soul. “Nothing.”

Then those around them started changing more rapidly: a woman on her knees praying, tears streaming down her face; a woman sitting by herself, looking out a window at mothers and children playing in a garden; an old woman in a nursing home, lonely and sad; a woman crying before the altar of a stately church, all wood and stained glass.

Marisa turned to face her mother, her eyes touched with sadness but not accusing. “Do you truly think it wise, Mamma, to disregard so callously the great honor you have been granted?”

“You do not know what I have been through,” Logistilla cried. “No other mother has suffered so grievously as I have. They only have to go through this for one lifetime! But me, I have been tortured this way again and again and again!”

Marisa’s large eyes were filled with sadness, but fondness, too. Logistilla was glad to see that Heaven had not changed her sweet daughter. Yet, she felt indignant that Marisa had come all this way just to nag her.

“What do you want of me?” Logistilla scowled the dark wood altar and the high stained glass windows of their current surroundings. “What kind of Christmas present is this meant to be?”

“One where the future becomes better than the past,” replied Marisa.

“Bah! I don’t know what that means. Am I in the role of Scrooge now? Are there to be two other spirits who come to haunt me?”

‘No, Mamma, just me.” Marisa gazed back with a humble look that said am I not enough?

Instantly, Logistilla felt contrite.

“I want you to repent of your vow, Mamma,” said her daughter.

“My …”

“Your vow. Mamma, that you took on my grave. You can’t love one child less than another. It’s … it’s not right,” Marisa pressed softly. “My brothers deserve your best.”

“I am giving them my best,” Logistilla replied tartly. “I am removing a major irritant from their life.”

“But on Christmas, Mamma?” Marina chided.

“Christmas,” Logistilla huffed. “Christmas this! Christmas that! Christmas tree, Christmas stockings, Christmas goose, Christmas pudding! And for what? To celebrate some random day chosen by some dusty churchman to try to woo a few Romans, promising that they could change their religion and still party on Saturnalia? What is Christmas really, anywa…”

Their surroundings changed again. They stood in a cave. Firelight flickered behind them.

“Where are we?” Marisa asked, startled. “This place wasn’t on our tour!”

“Hold on. I know this place,” Logistilla grabbed the rope tightly. The hair on the back of her neck stood up. “It looked different when we came here on our pilgrimage, back when your Uncle Gregor was pope—for the second time. That was mid-seventeen hundreds, if I recall correctly.” She turned in a slow circle. “They had added all sorts of marble and such, but it’s the same pla …”

Next to a wooden trough and two sheep, a lovely young woman nursed a baby. It was the sweetest little baby Logistilla had ever seen. Even her old stringy heart melted a tiny bit beholding its soft cheek and chubby fist.

The tiny baby finished is meal.  He stretched and yawned. Never had Logistilla seen anything so innocent, so pure. Then he opened his blue, blue eyes and looked directly at Logistilla. Goosebumps ran up and down her arms.

The world turned upside down.

Then they was back in the her living room, with its green velvet furniture, its great hearth, and its towering Christmas tree. Logistilla still gripped rope that led to Marisa. For just an instance, a great sadness washed over her that she could no longer see those blue, blue eyes.

“What was that?” cried Marisa. “Were we…?”

“Don’t say it!” Logistilla cried, clutching the red tie with both hands. “Don’t speak it aloud!”

“Mary, Mother of God!” whispered Marina in awe.

“I told you not to say it!”

“I didn’t! I just exclaimed!”

“Oh, right.”

Both women stood motionless for a moment, overwhelmed by the enormouness.

“A most perfect baby,” murmured Marisa.

Logistilla nodded, but she murmured, “Next to you.”

“Oh,  Mamma,” Marisa said happily. She moved the rope so that it gently squeezed her mother’s hand. The two women, mother and daughter, smiled at each other.

“Mamma, I must return,” Marisa said softly. “You will think about what I said, won’t you?”

Logistilla reached out, grabbing her daughter’s hands, even though she could not feel anything but the red portion of the tie. She cried out, “So soon! Must you fade away again? Vanish into nothingness!”

Marisa laughed, such a pretty sound. “Oh, Mamma, it’s not me who is immaterial. You are the immaterial one. This dingy world you live in. It is so much less real than Heaven.” She waved her hand through Logistilla’s chest. “See, you pass through me, not the other way around.”

As her daughter’s hand swept through her, Logistilla felt through her sorrow a wave of sweetness and joy, as she had so often when Marisa had been alive.

Behind them, Father Christmas’s deep voice said, “Concentrate. Think of something wonderful, and you will be able to touch each other.”

Logistilla jumped. Where had he come from? Hadn’t he left? Still, she obeyed. She thought of Little Marisa, so many years ago. She thought of the cave where they had just been, those blue, blue baby eyes. Her hands touched Marisa’s! Her daughter squealed with joy. They held onto each other’ tightly as Marisa slowly grew too bright to see.

“Take care, Mamma! Look after my little brothers! I pray for you all the time!”

Then, she was gone.

Marisa! She had come, and Logistilla had failed to tell her all the things she had been wanting to tell her for so many centuries. But at least she knew her daughter was well and happy. Maybe Marisa could hear her in Heaven and already knew all that was in her mother’s heart.

Logistilla turned back to where Father Christmas was straightening presents beneath the tree. There was quite a mess of them there, all manner of gifts to the boys from their aunt and uncles and grandfather.

“You still here?” she asked, surprised. “Aren’t you in a great hurry tonight?”

Father Christmas shrugged. “Father Time is a friend. He makes allowances for me. After all, it’s only once a year.”

“Explains a great deal.” Logistilla chuckled dryly.

She looked down. All that time, she had been wearing one boot. Her cheeks grew warm. She had appeared in front of the Blessed Virgin with one boot on and one boot off. What must Mary have thought of her?

She  returned to her boots and leaned over to slip the second one on. She would leave. Titus would remarry, and her sons would have a better life. To her surprise, the thought of not seeing them again actually made her sad. She could not blame Marisa, she loved her so. She blamed the baby with those eyes. He did this to her.

When she thought of those two boys upstairs—two boys who looked so much like Marisa—she nearly cried out from the pain. They deserved better. They deserved a mother who could love them. All children did.

Since when had she become so sentimental? Logistilla shook her head in disgust. Next thing she knew, she would be crying and weeping over every tear-jerking news story, blubbering all the time. No one could live that way. And  yet…

“May I take these?” asked Father Christmas.

He gestured a hand, and the nicely wrapped red and green package she had left under the tree for Teleron unwrapped itself and opened.

“As Titus told you,” he continued, “Teleron has read these volumes. I know a young lady who would appreciate them. I’ll take the lacrosse stick, too.” He patted the pocket in his red jacket. “I have a request from a young man for such a stick. He’s been so good this year.”

To Logistilla’s infinite shame, tears pricked at the corners of her eyes. “And leave my sons no presents from me at all?”

That seemed cruel, even for her.

Father Christmas pulled a pile of books from his great red bag. “Why don’t you give Teleron these? They are the books he listed in his letter to me. I even took the liberty of including an extra volume. It’s the sequel to a book he read and loved last year. Hot off the press.”  He put these books into the box for Teleron and winked as the box closed and re-wrapped itself. “Not even in stores yet.”

Letters to Santa. Titus had mentioned that the boys wrote them. It had not even occurred to her to peek to see what they wanted. What a good idea for next year.

Wait. She planned to leave forever. That meant she would not be here next year.

She frowned.

Father Christmas gestured at the long red and white box that held Typhon’s present, which then unwrapped. He removed the lacrosse stick but left the jersey. Then he drew from his bag a baseball bat and glove and lay them in the box. Finally, with a wave of his hand, the box closed, the wrapping paper rewrapped itself, and the bow retied itself.

“By the way,” Father Christmas drew his bushy white eyebrows together. His voice took on just a hint of a Greek accent. “Christmas was not chosen to appeal to the devotees of Saturn. You would think your brother would have clarified these matters for you, back when he was pope.”

“I didn’t pay attention to such matters back then,” she admitted, “but why else would they pick a date so close to the solstice?”

“According to the first book written by St. Luke,” Father Christmas replied, “the whole multitude of people were praying without the temple while Zacharias went in to burn incense, having been chosen by lot. It was there that the Archangel Gabriel foretold the birth of his son, John the Baptist. Only one Jewish holy day requires the whole multitude of people to pray outside the temple while the lighter of incense is chosen by lot. It is Yom Kippur, which falls upon the twenty-fifth or sixth of September.

“When Gabriel next visited a maid named Mary, he told her that her cousin Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, had been pregnant for six months. That pinpoints his visit on March 25th, what we now call Lady’s Day. Nine months later is December Twenty-Fifth.”

“Makes sense, I supposed.” Logistilla blinked, momentarily disoriented. “Why doesn’t everyone know this?”

“Why indeed?” The former Bishop of Myra frowned forbiddingly. Logistilla shifted, uncomfortably. Then, he added quite sternly, “One last thing.”


“Do not leave tonight. Do not ruin Christmas for your sons for all years to come, so that the holiday will always remind them of the loss of their mother.”

Ruin? But she was giving them a gift.

Surely, those poor, neglected boys, who looked so much like Marisa, would be better off without this old stringy chicken in their life.

But She did not feel old and stringy. She felt as if someone had punched her in the heart. She turned back to Father Christmas to answer him, but even as she did so, he laid his finger alongside his nose and flew up the chimney.

She sighed. “Well, I suppose one more day either way will not make much difference.”

*** *** ***

Christmas turned out to be surprisingly nice. It was pleasant to celebrate with Titus who understood how Christmas was supposed to be done, who valued a good plum pudding and a nicely roasted goose. The presents were a hit. Logistilla felt she could take credit for the ones Santa had provided. After all, that was why he had given them to her. She did enjoy the look on Titus’s face when the boys opened them and exclaimed in delight. Titus and Typhon even took the mitt outside and threw a ball around for a bit, while Teleron read a book from his pile of booty.

The day proved busy with Christmas traditions. That evening, the four of them lounged around the hearth, watching the bright blaze and listening to it crackle.

“What was the best part of Christmas?” Titus asked, from where he sat in his great armchair in his new blackwatch bathrobe. Teleron was curled up on the floor near the fire, reading. Typhon slouched on the couch beside Logistilla, the dog at his feet.

“Books!” cried Teleron, his face alight. He forged ahead without pausing for breath. “Books, books, and books! All the books on my list and even more books; why, I might have enough to read for a whole week; two weeks if I get interrupted with a lot of annoying family events to do next week; three weeks if I go slow and read the series leading up to these books again first, before reading the new ones, or even longer—I might even be able to make them last until early February! And of all the books, the ones Mom gave me are the best; she even found a sequel to my favorite series that I didn’t even know was coming out!”

Logistilla looked at his shining face. In it, she saw much of Marisa, but she saw something else, too. Something in her son’s face reminded her of those blue, blue eyes, as if even this silly foolish bookworm of a son of hers reflected the beauty and innocence of the One Most Holy.

A strange thing happened. It was as if she were back, during that split second when the world had turned upside down. The innocence in those blue, blue eyes spread to her, as if she, too, were as suddenly as pure as driven snow at the dawning of a new day. Her old stringiness was there, but from this vantage point, it was merely a thin veneer etched on the outside of a bright, warm heart.

Why this bitterness and grief was hardly her at all!

She felt as if she had stepped out of the shower and mistaken the crude picture drawn in the steam on the mirror for her own reflection. She had never been that picture. She had never been that stringy, stingy old soul.

Her heart melted. The false veneer of an old tired soul just cracked and blew away. Underneath, she felt as alive as she had back …. back when Marisa lived. She could not leave Teleron now, the silly old bookworm. She glanced at Typhon, who sat petting Spikles and paging through a book on rare tropical birds. Realization dawned. For all his interest in sports, her younger son was also an animal lover, just like her and Marisa. There were many large enclosures on the lands behind this house. They could clean them out together and bring some of her precious pets here from her island.

A slow smile cracked her dry lips. She would stay.

“And you, Typhon?” asked Titus.

“Is it the bat and the mitt?” asked his older brother. “I know how much you’ve been asking for one just like Daddy’s. I bet you’re really happy—now you can throw your ball outside instead of bouncing it in the library when I’m reading, which I really hate, but I won’t talk about now, because it’s Christmas. Was it that?”

“The bat and mitt are great,” Typhon allowed with a grin. “I am really happy to get them. They weren’t the best, but they’re great.”

Logistilla looked down, amused at her own expense. How silly of her to feel a tinge of disappointment as if she expected both of her gifts—that had been picked by someone else—to be the boys’ favorites. She was hardly the only person who had given her sons presents. They had all sorts of things from their grandfather, aunt, and uncles, not to mention the gifts Titus had given them.

“What was the best part, then?” Teleron asked his brother, not looking up from his book.

“The best part of this Christmas,” Typhon leaned sideways and rested his tousled head on Logistilla’s shoulder, “is that Mom’s here.”



The End