1. The Hunchbacked Dwarf

If there is anything the quaint little village of Crystal Woods, Asphodel is best known for, it is the overall generosity and goodwill of the townsfolk. Oh sure, there are other things it’s known for, like its spectacular Christmas displays and shows, its small town feel, its antique shops, and it’s the home to the best and world-renowned chocolate factory, Diamond Chocolates. But Crystal Woods is best known for its overwhelming generosity and kindness, a fact that probably led the hunchback there in the first place, searching for some kind of warmth amidst a cold, cold world. He didn’t quite receive it at first, either he wasn’t noticed, or if he was, they apologised after he told them what he needed, they had no room for him in their homes, but always sent him on to another person. Each person he met did give him something, a bit of money here, some food there, a blanket and even an invite to dinner was given him, but no shelter from the oncoming storm.

“Well, hello there! I see you’ve met several of my generous neighbors already,” winked a dark-haired, blue-eyed young man as he indicated the armful.

The hunchback smiled sadly, “Yes, and I have many things now, but I still need a place to stay to get out of the storm.”

“Ah yes, the storm, hear it’s going to be a three day blizzard. Well, if it’s a place you need to stay in, I have a motel not far from the ruins of the old church, and I know I have one left. You want it?”

“Do I want it? Boy, do I ever!”

The man laughed, “Then it’s yours! Follow me, I’ll take you there. Oh, by the way, my name’s Matthew Bleu.”

The hunchback shook Matthew’s hand, “I’m Quincy Mondo, and thank you so much for your generous offer.”

“Hey, all in the spirit of Christmas, and Crystal Woods. Come on, I’ll help you get situated into the cabin.”

“The, cabin?” asked Quincy as he followed Matthew through the town.

“Oh yes, my motel consists of cabins, really, to give the perfect atmosphere for the Christmas season. They’re quite cozy, let me assure you.”

“Oh, I’m sure they are, just, cabins wouldn’t have been the first thing that came to mind when you mentioned motel.”

Matthew chuckled, “Exactly why I said it. Come on, let me get you the keys from the main office, and I’ll take you around back.”

“Oh, hello boss! Back already?” asked the front desk clerk.

“Well, yeah, what does it look like, my evil twin?”

The clerk grinned, “Right, I thought that was me.”

“Yeah, well, can you get me the key to the Emerald cabin?”

The clerk’s eyes just about bulged as he glanced at Quincy, “You, you want to let him stay in the Emerald cabin?”

Matthew shrugged, “Why not, no one else will.”

“But . . .”

Matthew held up his hand, “Don’t worry, Joe, I’ll tell him about why no one wants to stay there for long, but this is basically the only place that’s available, and there’s a storm coming.”

Joe sighed as he got a key, “Alright, you’re the boss.”

Matthew winked as he took the key, “Not for long. And thanks!” He turned to Quincy, “Come on, I’ll tell you about the Emerald cabin on our way over.”

Quincy glanced between Joe and Matthew, “Um, alright, but if I don’t want to stay . . .”

Matthew shrugged, “We can always let you stay in the break room. Not exactly the best place for a good night’s sleep, but it’s something.”

Quincy let out a huff, “Alright, I’ll go with you to take a look at the Emerald cabin . . . and hear the story.”

“Great! I think you’ll do fine.”

Quincy glanced at Matthew as he walked out of the door, “Fine with what?” But the door was already closing behind Matthew, and Quincy sprinted to catch up. “Fine with what?” asked Quincy when he caught up.

“The story, and the cabin itself. I mean, really, nothing ever happens during a snowstorm, so you’ll be perfectly safe.” Matthew’s quick stride kept him a few inches ahead the whole two feet they had to walk.

“So, what about the story?”

“I think it would be easier to show you exactly what I’m talking about. It’s behind the cabin. Follow me!” Matthew came upon the cabin quickly, but instead of walking up to the front door, went straight around to the back, Quincy following as quickly as he could. He gasped when he saw what Matthew was pointing at, it was the ruins of an old church, the bell tower still pretty intact, along with most of the church, except for the rotting front door, a few holes in the walls and the roof, and ivy climbing up the walls.

“It, it’s a church? Why would people be afraid of a church?”

“Well, this particular church has a sinister secret. What it actually is, no one really knows for sure as those who have gone in to investigate have never returned.”

“Bad flooring, most likely,” shrugged Quincy.

“Wow, rather optimistic, aren’t you? What happens if I told you the legend that goes with the church?”

“Alright, but how about we talk about it inside, I’m freezing.”

“So you’ll stay?”

Quincy shrugged, “Sure, I can sleep with an old, abandoned church outside my bedroom window.”

“Oh, once you’ve heard the story, you might not want to,” quipped Matthew as he walked towards the front door.

“We’ll see once I’ve heard the story,” commented Quincy as Matthew unlocked to door.

“We’ll see indeed. After you.”

“Oh, thank you,” replied Quincy as he dashed into the house. He let out a breath of relief, the house was definitely much warmer than the dropping temperatures outside. Matthew closed the door behind them and immediately went about setting up the fireplace while Quincy unpacked in the bedroom. When he came back out, there was a fire blazing away and the table was set up with mugs of steaming hot chocolate and toasted grilled cheese sandwiches.

“Wow, you work fast.”

Matthew grinned, “Nah, you just unpack slow.”

Quincy snickered, “Alright, alright, so I got a little side-tracked in the bedroom. This is the nicest place I’ve ever been in.”

“You’ve traveled a lot, huh?” asked Matthew as he handed Quincy a plate of grilled cheese and a mug.

“Yes, quite a bit. Oh, thank you. I’ve had to, everyone would take one glance at me and run away. This, this is the first town I’ve been in that hasn’t been disgusted with me. And I can tell their concerns were genuine, I’ve actually gotten quite a few invites to dinner, it was just that no one had any room that they could spare. And they weren’t telling me that to be mean or anything, I could tell that they were telling me the truth, they really had no room.”

Matthew sipped his hot chocolate, “Yup, the town gets pretty full this time of year. There have in fact been years where we’ve squeezed whole families into one bedroom, but it’s usually manageable. Now, if you don’t mind my asking, where you born this way?”

Quincy shrugged, “I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember.”

Matthew nodded, “Mmm-hmm, well, why don’t you eat and drink, and I’ll tell you the story of Amethydral.”

“Uh, Amethydral?”

“Yeah, that old church in the back, it was nicknamed Amethyst Cathedral for the longest time due to the purple stained windows, and now it just got shortened to Amethydral to make it easier. Anyway, it was originally known as the cathedral of St Dionysius, another reason for the nickname, and it was rumored to be one of the most beautiful churches in the world. Their piece de resistance, their magnum opus, the cream of the crop, was their statue of our Lady, our Lady of , I believe it was called. It was under a stained glass window depicting the miracle at Cana, which was to the right of the tabernacle. You can’t see the back of it from here, but it is one of the stained glass windows, if not the only stained glass window still intact. Unfortunately, the war practically tore the rest of the church to smithereens, and their beloved statue has been missing ever since. They tried to rebuild it to the best of their abilities, but it never worked, hence they built St. Gabriel’s. And the cathedral of St. Dionysius fell into memory and legend. Until . . .” Quincy paused in his bite as he glanced up at Matthew in surprise.

“Until?”

“Until a few years ago, when the glass coffin of young Agnes Fletcher was laid in the church. They say strange things happen at midnight, the most prominent detail being that there’s an eerie green glow that comes from the church, sometimes it’s by the door, sometimes by one of the windows, other times it has been seen floating around inside the church, and, on occasion, around the outside of the church. Many think it’s the spirit of Agnes wandering around, that much is for sure, but why she wanders is a completely different matter. Perhaps it’s to meet her lover, perhaps she’s looking for something, perhaps she is seeking her murderer as the details surrounding her death were very mysterious. Whatever the case may be, this area is mostly avoided because of it. Crystal Woods is the town of Christmas, not Halloween, that’s Ivy Hollow’s thing. The people of Crystal Woods avoid anything spooky as often as possible.”

“But, what if she really is in need of assistance to find peace in the afterlife? Should we not help her as we would have if she were alive?”

Matthew smiled, “That’s a possibility, that no one’s considered, I’m afraid.”

“Why haven’t you tried to help?”

Matthew laughed, “Now there’s a story for you. Every time I stay here, watching for the green light, I never see it. I guess she’s not looking for my help.”

“So, how do you know that the stories are true?”

“Because even a few of my maids have seen it as they were cleaning up here one night, and I know they wouldn’t lie to me about such things.”

“Alright, well, I’ll see for myself, maybe I can help her.”

“But what about all those people who have gone in, but have never come out?”

Quincy glanced at him wide-eyed, “Oh, right, you did mention that, didn’t you?”

“That I did, and there still is a sinister secret hidden there, whether or not Miss Fletcher is a part of it is still unknown, but one thing’s for sure, that place hasn’t belonged to God in a while.”

Quincy let out a shaky breath, “What, what if I went and figured it out?”

Matthew shrugged, “I don’t know, though you might have a better chance of succeeding than most.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Gargoyles were placed on churches for good reason.”

Quincy gasped, “That’s right.”

“Of course it is.” Matthew let out a sigh as he glanced at the clock and rose. “Well, I’d love to stay and chat more, but, I really need to get going, have some things to take care before heading home.”

“Which you were going to do earlier, but I interrupted that,” remarked Quincy as he too rose.

“Oh no, it’s no big deal. Actually, I’ve been thinking that we were meant to meet each other.”

“You, you think so?”

“Sure! You’ve got a place to stay now, right?”

“Yes! For which I very grateful to you, so, so . . .”

“Yes, yes, I know, don’t over do it. Well, good night, sleep well, you have enough food to last you for a few days, but I’ll be by to check on you tomorrow.”

“I would like that, thank you. Oh, I have to get ready for dinner!”

Matthew chuckled, “Yes, you should do that. Good night! And have fun!”

“Thank you! And the same to you!” Matthew walked out the cabin, but paused a ways out and glanced back at it, the church ruins just barely visible behind it.

“Oh yeah, your whole life is about to change, and for the better. Just wait and see.”

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