A response to Deb Markanton's "Twas the Week Before Christmas" in Flashy Fiction.
It all happened years ago, but the memories come back to haunt me every Christmas. I'd flown to Sweden with Anna, my fiancée at the time who had relatives who lived over there, and we found ourselves in Umeå -- the middle of nowhere -- with no money left. We'd left her relatives to wander through what they call a Julmarknad. It was a perfect place to get a feeling of Christmas when you didn't have any money or at least it would have been if we'd known to look for the älvkors or elven crosses.
It was only early afternoon but already the cloud-covered sky dimmed towards darkness and the wind rifled through our puny American jackets. The booth filled with scarves and stockings looked inviting. An old man with his head stooped like a daisy following the setting sun approached us and we wished we had money for warmer clothes. Many of the booths had älvkors in front of them, but not this one.
"Welcome," said the old man, "I've got the warmest clothes in this market." He spoke to us in English. They all seemed to know that we were foreigners before talking to us. "Can I help you?"
"No, we're just looking," I said, because we had no money. The scarves enticed with their thick wool threads.
"Ahhh, but you are cold. Wouldn't your lady look beautiful in one of these scarves? And they will keep you warm."
"No, we're fine," I said with my teeth chattering.
"No money? That doesn't matter. I haven't met many Americans up here and if you sign my book over here, I will give you one of these scarves gratis." He hobbled towards the back corner of his stall and pulled out a book the pages yellowed and brittle. His smile disarmed us. "Sign here, my little godis," he said. Under his breath, he muttered, "Du kommer att bli min."
We signed of course, and the scarves were as good as he said. Or even better, because just the addition of the scarf was enough to make the cold go away. It wasn't until that evening that the mörkt älvor -- their skin black as a moonlit night -- came to take us away. We had signed our names into thrall and it took Anna's relatives much work to break us free. Those days were filled with pain and I am thankful that their memories haunt me just during the Christmas holidays.