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I hope you enjoy this free copy of First Christmas, a short, sweet story from Ryan’s point of view. This story is part of the Day Care for Shifters Shorts series – you can start the series with First Shift, but this can also be enjoyed on its own. Click here to get a copy for your reader, or read on for an excerpt of it!
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There was a tree inside.
Ryan found that very puzzling, because trees were a thing that he usually found outside.
It was also a very confusing tree, with spiky branches all around it like the spinning top toy that he still hadn’t mastered. (But he liked it when Mama spun it, and would laugh at it until he fell over.)
After it was set up in a corner of their crowded living room by the nice-bear-man who made Ryan’s skin feel tickly without touching, Mama cried a little and nice-bear-man picked her up like she was the baby and spun her around. Ryan wasn’t sure what was happening because he thought she was happy and it was still very odd that there was a TREE inside.
It became odder when they wrapped it up in cords hung with colored bits.
They handed him a toy on a string, then called him one of his names, “Don’t-eat-that,” and showed him how to hang it on the tree.
“Is this a terrible idea?” Mama asked.
“Everything is shatterproof,” nice-bear-man assured her. “And it only has to survive a few days.”
“He could still electrocute himself,” she said direly.
Nice-bear-man lifted Ryan up in the air with another toy on a string and helped him hang it way high on the tree as Mama put others all around it. A particularly shiny one caught his interest, but when he grabbed at it, nice-bear-man swung him out of reach and set him on the floor. “It’s a Christmas tree,” he explained.
“Christmas tree,” Ryan repeated, but words never came out the way he meant, so it sounded more like “Is must ee.”
Ryan watched them for a few moments, then gathered up a few of his own toys and thrust them onto the lowest branches, to the laughter of the big people.
Some of them fell through to the floor, but a few remained on the tree itself: plastic food and train cars tilted in drunken directions on green branches.
Mama gathered Ryan up into her arms and stepped back with him. “Isn’t it beautiful?” she said. Ryan squinted at her, then patted her cheek. “Booful.”
Nice-bear-man was watching them. “Very beautiful,” he agreed.
Mama looked happy and red. “I meant the tree.”
“That, too,” nice-bear-man said, and he bent to kiss Mama and put his collar in Ryan’s reach. “Whoops! You want to help me put the star on top, little man?”
Little-man was another one of Ryan’s names, and he nodded eagerly even though he had no idea what the rest of nice-bear-man’s words meant together.
It apparently meant being lifted way up with a star in his hand. Nice-bear-man made him stop banging it on the ceiling and put it at the very tip-top of the very strange tree.
“Just one more thing,” nice-bear-man said, and Ryan was passed to Mama again, and bounced on her hip because he was getting bored and wanted to go see what would happen if he put more toys on it, and whether he could pull the wire of colored things off, and if it would taste good.
Nice-bear-man crawled around on his hands and knees in the corner behind the tree and Ryan, thinking it meant he was going to be bear, gave a squawk and changed.
He liked being a penguin, having his body slick and fat and covered in little feathers. He liked the familiar voice in his head, even if he didn’t understand a single word it said. It was comfortable and funny and fun, and he could squirm out of things better as a bird than he could as a little boy. He squirmed from Mama’s grip now, though she caught him halfway to the floor, tangled in his clothing…