I awoke, to giggling this time.
"Merry Christmas, Daddy!" The twins, Irma and Irwin, jumped onto the bed, and I grabbed them in a terrific bear hug. Diane must have snuck off to start breakfast and sent them back for me.
"Merry Christmas, you two. C'mon, let's get downstairs."
As each of these holidays pass, I'm continually reminded of the togetherness of the season. The cozy rooms, the conversation, the sheer joy of being with your family and spending special times together. This Christmas went like clockwork: our breakfast building anticipation, until the kids were told they could begin by opening one present at a time, and then the flurry of wrapping paper, the shrieks, the scampering off to play with their new things.
After dinner, I found myself alone in the den, admiring the well lit tree. From behind me, I began to notice a glow. It turned out to be two glowing lights: one pure white, and one with a Christmas tree in it, different from the one next to me. I stepped towards the image of the tree.
I awoke, to a gentle shaking this time. I smiled at Sarah and admired her strength. This would be our first Christmas without Sonya, yet she gave me the best present of all that day: her smile. "Merry Christmas, Daddy."
Abagail had prepared her famous thin pancakes—she called them 'crepes,' but why get fancy?—drenched in syrup and butter. We engaged in small talk over the meal, the fourth chair empty and conspicuous.
The holiday went like they mostly do: presents, phone calls, a rich meal to finish. I found myself alone in the den after dinner, admiring our tree, still radiant, even without presents underneath. When the glowing appeared behind me, I wasn't surprised this time. Something inside of me recognized that this would happen. It always happened right after our dinner. The white glow was tantalizing, but the Christmas tree opposite held too much that was tangible, real. I stepped forward…
I awoke, to a carol. Sara, Sonya and little Timothy were singing "Up on the Rooftop," with Timothy keeping up as best he could. He so admired his sisters. In the back of my mind, a number appeared: 493. Odd. What could it mean? We spent our holiday as we had in years past, celebrating the good, preparing for another year ahead. I was in the den, admiring the tree, and almost anticipated when the glow behind me was to begin.
I awoke, to giggling. 494, I thought. But Matthew and Micah were at the foot of the bed shaking me awake, so I joined in the laughter and let them lead me downstairs, where Anne was preparing her famous buttermilk pancakes. After a day filled with family and celebration, I stood alone in the den, admiring the tree, knowing that the glow would soon appear.
"Dr. Jonns?" came an unfamiliar voice. I turned, and in front of the two glowing spots was a young man I didn't recognize. "Dr. Jonns, I'm Hank, one of your research assistants. This is a recording of me to remind you that you entered the Reality Helix over 20 minutes ago, and you didn't want to stay more than 30. Please enter the portal on the left to return to our reality." Then he paused, and stood perfectly still.
Twenty minutes… I thought. That can't be. The next number was 495—that much I knew. The two glowing portals shimmered before me, each beckoning.