Christmas Under Fire

By: Michelle Karl
ONE


Cally Roslin stepped out of the small airplane and shivered as a blast of icy northern wind cut through the dampness in the air. It seemed to slice into her heavy winter coat and snow pants and cling to her skin like a layer of frost. She’d experienced a Canadian winter before, but the late December temperatures in Toronto had felt nothing like this introduction to the climate of northern British Columbia. It made her miss the dry warmth of her homeland, the Kingdom of Amar. She clutched the edges of her puffy jacket’s hood around her face to keep her cheeks from taking the full brunt of the cold and gripped the railing with her other hand. The thick glove she wore squished against the metal, and she had to squint to keep her eyes open as she descended the metal staircase to the tarmac.

She sighed in relief as she reached the bottom step. An attendant wearing an airport ID badge quickly ushered her inside the main building—which was the only building for passengers, as far as she could see. Cally had checked out the website for the Rocky North Regional Airport before boarding the tiny aircraft in Vancouver for the second leg of her journey, and so she’d expected the rural, unsecured facility to be small and sparse. But she hadn’t realized how sparse until seeing it with her own eyes.

The terminal consisted of one open concourse with a few benches, vending machines, workstations and two side rooms marked as Gate One and Gate Two. The waiting areas for these looked about as large and exciting as her dentist’s office—which was to say, not at all. She saw no other passengers and only one other attendant working behind a service desk. At least the place was clean and warm, with bright lighting to counterbalance the diminishing daylight outside and a selection of garish Christmas decorations to celebrate the season. Despite only being around four o’clock in the afternoon, the sun looked ready to call it quits for the day.

Cold, dark and a little lonely. It’s what I wanted, isn’t it?

Cally scanned the room a second time. In an email exchange, her local friend, Ellen, whose wedding Cally had used as an excuse to get away from her life in Amar for a little while, had mentioned that a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer would be arriving to chauffeur her to a rental cabin in Fort Mason. The cozy place was to be her home for the next two weeks or so until the wedding, and she was looking forward to spending Christmas with her friend and finally having some blessed respite from everyone and everything else back home.

Cally had also received official communications from the RCMP before leaving for Canada, but was trying not to think much of it. The message had called her a foreign dignitary and said she’d been assigned a personal concierge for the duration of her trip, a federal law enforcement officer who she assumed was the same person Ellen had mentioned would be playing chauffeur.

But standing in the nearly empty terminal, Cally felt a twinge of relief at the absence of anyone waiting for her. She was no dignitary, and certainly not deserving of any special attention. Yes, she technically belonged to Amar’s royal bloodline, but her claim to the throne was so distant that it barely counted. Back home, it afforded her the lowest possible level of privilege, in the sense of a title and special designation on official forms and documents like her passport—and it got her into certain special events on the guest list—but she lived an average, everyday life. Especially after the sudden death of her husband eighteen months ago in a tragic car accident.

These days, she spent most of her time taking on freelance graphic design projects and binge-watching home renovation shows, in an attempt to hide inside her small apartment and avoid unwanted advice and “help” from her overbearing family. Not that the strategy worked most of the time. They’d never approved of her marrying Esai, a non-Amaran she’d met as a university student, in the first place. She couldn’t recall the last time she’d gone a full night without her mother or another relative phoning to tell her what she should do now that she was “free” and “back on the market.” She’d tried to explain how much their words hurt, but they either ignored her pleas or refused to understand. Some days she almost missed the rigid schedule and isolation of Amar’s compulsory year of military service.

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