Snowflakes are twirling down from the thick covering of clouds that smother the blue sky, making it as white as the snow on the ground. It is times like this where it is hard to decide where the land stops and the sky begins. Maybe they are one and the same at this time, it is difficult to tell. More and more snow falls upon the tiny village nestled in the hills, turning the tiny houses into little more than mounds of snow with doors in them, the fields that surround this village into one, hills have shrunk, and the snow keeps falling. Looking up, the snowflakes are tiny swirling, twirling specks between the clouds and the ground. Tiny, icy, sparkling snowflakes that dance and twirl on every hint of breeze that brushes by, that add to the huge glittering blanket of white, powdery snow that has been laid onto the land.
Children play in this beautiful scene, throwing little packed up balls of cold, white snow at each other, shrieking with laughter, and generally enjoying the Yuletime weather. Adults politely stand at the side, secretly wishing to join their children, but thinking it improper to do so. Every so often a child will throw one at their parents, and run away in fits of giggles while the adult chuckles and rubs the snow off of their clothes. It is a peaceful scene, one of quiet and calm, of unity and village happiness. Such is the season of Yule. With Yule only three days away, the children are excited, delighted, and enjoying the wonderful weather.
Wouldn't it be great if I were to write a story about these cheerful, happy people in this winter wonderland of a village nestled in the hills? I know it would! Well guess what? I'm not.
This story is set in a very different place, with a very different mood.
The people in this story are not as fortunate as the children of the village, where the snow falls and happiness permeates the air, as well as the spicy scent of wood-smoke. They do not have much to look forward to, the two teenagers in this story.
Cookie and her friend Dog shelter under any shelter they can, as the rain falls relentlessly down on them. Whatever their birth-given names were, they've chosen to forget. They've both come from similar backgrounds, Cookie has been on the streets for nearly a year, her father's girlfriend kicked her out while her father was sleeping one night, threatening to kill her if she ever returned; the pleas for her to return are only sporadic now. Dog's only been out six months, he ran away when he'd had enough of the foster home, sick of being bounced around from family to family. For them, Yule is a mocking time of year, bitterly cold and hard to get work or buy anything edible. They see families getting ready for Yule, but keep their sadness inside as they fight to simply find somewhere half decent to sleep for the night. Right now, they are just trying to keep warm, but it is hard when they don't have the basics of a hot meal and a warm, dry place to go.
Dog found a five pound note earlier, and they are sharing a fish and chips meal, savouring the warmth it gives them. Survival is key, and Cookie has started a joke this time of year, that she should write to Santa Claus and ask him for a life, she'd share it of course. They'd both laughed bitterly at that, it was so true.
When they first found each other, they had talked about how they would find a way off the streets together, and build themselves a new life, they'd talk about it while huddling together for warmth under an old disused bus shelter. Now they stay up and worry about how they're going to get their next meal. With no home, no family and no identity, they both struggle along, trying desperately to find somewhere to stay until they can get back on their feet. It's especially hard to do that this time of year, people are too obsessed with the holidays and gifts and friends and parties and family to even spare two homeless teenagers a second glance. It's ironic, in Dog's mind, he remembers how his school used to tell him Yule was a time of giving and unselfishness, yet here is the truth, it is a time of selfishness and greed, with no thought to the less fortunate. They've been going from one place to another, trying desperately to keep the weather off of their fragile, exhausted bodies.
Cookie spots an old bridge, it has construction fences around it to keep the general public out. She smiles and pulls Dog towards it, happy they'll have somewhere dry to sleep tonight.
They squeeze through a small gap between the fence and the concrete wall, and hide in the shadows; they both know what would happen if a police officer should happen to see them, and neither of them will go to prison or anywhere like that quietly. After half an hour of uncomfortable cold and fighting the shivers, Dog asks Cookie what her best Yule memory is.
“Well it certainly isn't last year,” she chuckles grimly, it was Yule night when she was thrown out like last week's rubbish. She thinks a minute. “When I was about eleven, when my Ma was still here, we were all decorating the Yule tree, with tinsel and baubles and a huge golden star that was to be placed on the top of the tree when we were done. Da lifted me up to put it on, I was too old to be lifted up, but that was different, that's what he told me. We'd even made this real pretty cover for the stand, it had all our names on it in red and gold and silver, we even put Buddy's name on it, our dog. Ma had even made cookies, her baking was always the best, and they were still warm. We were all so happy, and we even took a photo of us and the tree.” She digs through her jacket, shivering, and pulls out a tattered photo. She shows it to Dog, who looks at it and smiles. Cookie is in the middle, her chocolate brown hair in a plait down her right shoulder, her mother on one side of her, laughing. Her mother's hair is the same colour as her daughter's, you can really see the resemblance, and her father is on the other side, he has greying hair and is smiling fondly at his family. There is even a dog, a big brown spaniel, Buddy. “It was the only time I was truly happy,” Cookie continues, “Six months later, my Ma died.” She whispers, and looks like she's about to burst into tears. “I was never happy after that, it was like my whole world collapsed. And now look where I am, under a bridge in the cold, with nothing in the world to call my own, bar this photo.” Dog feels such a strong pity for her, as well as guilt for so casually running away from the foster home, at least he'd chosen to leave, she'd had no choice.
“Mine would have to be two years ago, I'd finally found a promising family that seemed willing to take me in, give me a home. They had two little kids, a boy and a girl, called Fred and Sarah. They were both little, Fred was six, Sarah was four. They'd already decorated their house, in paper chains and paper snowflakes, it was so pretty. They'd made such a mess with the glitter when I came in, and they ran right up to me and gave me hugs. I read them a load of Yule stories, and even tucked them into bed, they really liked me, and I adored them, they were like siblings to me already.” He smiles at the memory. Cookie watches him closely through her frozen tears. “But, within two months, some people in school framed me for something bad, really bad. They made it look like I'd been taking drugs, they stole my locker key on a locker search and stashed all their drugs in so they wouldn't get done for it. So I got the blame, and the family sent me back in a panic, saying they didn't want Fred and Sarah to be exposed to that sort of stuff. Those little kids cried so much when I left, and I'd never been so sad. I was beat up twice the day I got back to the foster home, by the other kids. They taunted me, said nobody wanted me, not even my own parents, that I was trash that should be left out on the street. It started at school too, there was just no end to it. They continued doing that right up until the day I ran off.” They both sigh sadly. Just another Yule spent in the cold and dark. Cookie missing her mother and father, Dog beaten down to rock bottom by people who were not considerate.
They both get so angry that kids their age sulk and get annoyed because they don't get every gadget they want for Yule, or that their everyday lives don't go to plan, when they'd give anything for somewhere warm and dry to sleep, let alone a decent meal. They huddle in the cold, and try to battle out another night so they can move on tomorrow to hopefully find somewhere warm and dry to sleep.