A couple of years ago, I put up a short story for Christmas (which you can find here) which used some characters from my current novel, Go. I thought I’d write another one for this year instead of just cheating and putting up the old one! Enjoy! If you’d like to learn more about the MacMasters, ask me about being a beta reader. I’m hoping the rewrite will be done (very) soon!

“And so man was made higher than the angels, and God said that it was very good.”

It was the first time in five years that the four MacMasters had been in church together. Twelve-year-old Xandri sat between her parents, with Curt, her little brother, sitting on her mother’s other side. It was Christmas Eve, and Xandri could just make out snow swirling around outside the stained glass windows of St. Paul’s Cathedral, in Shadyside, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The huge sanctuary was chilly, but made warmer with its closely packed congregation and the ceremonial candles lit on the altar.

“Humans are in a very unique position,” the priest continued, looking out over the filled pews. “We are the only beings in creation who can neither call ourselves good nor evil.”

Xandri looked over at her mother. Kate’s eyes were fixed straight ahead, but they were rimmed with red, and her hand that clutched Curt’s was white-knuckled. Remembering, Xandri thought. Remembering the only reason why she’d agreed to come to church with her ex-husband.

“The angels were created to be good. They are God’s messengers, warriors, protectors. They follow orders because they are obedient. They are good. We, too, were made good, like the angels.”

Now Xandri looked at her father’s face, taut in the dim light of the candles and lanterns. Tomorrow, the church would be bright, but tonight, the tone was almost solemn. A tone of waiting. The lines in Sebastian’s face were deep. Xandri knew that he was under a lot of pressure–things were hard at the Agency right now. She didn’t know why–it seemed to be financial problems, and Sebastian didn’t really talk about that with anyone–but she saw the fear and the anxiety in his face, his bearing, heard it in his voice. Sometimes, she felt like she knew her father better than she knew herself. She thought for a moment of Astria. Maybe some of her analytical friend’s gifts were wearing off on Xandri.

“But for the angels, the glowing, holy creatures that God created, one act was enough to catapult them out of Heaven, to change them forever from beings of light and goodness to beings of evil.”

This made Xandri think of the glowing creatures–was that the right word?–that wandered so often in the courtyard of the cathedral, the ones she couldn’t find any trace of anymore. She wondered if she believed they were angels. Maybe they were. She had certainly seen enough of other EDIs, short for extra-dimensional intelligence, to believe plenty of them were demons.

“And the demons–they are beings of evil. Don’t let popular culture convince you otherwise. They can do nothing but lie and destroy. Their ability to do good, to serve God, was lost with that one act of greed.”

Xandri didn’t need convincing. Maybe not every EDI was a demon–she didn’t believe they were–but it was obvious that there were many who were irredeemable.

“So, where does that leave us? The creatures that God created good, a little higher than the angels; who, like the angels, chose greed, and fell; and, with our great height of glory, fell to greater depths than even the demons could understand?”

This tweaked Xandri a little. Could Father Steven really believe that? That humans had fallen farther than the demons had? Clearly, he’d never had to deal with real demons. Even the little that she had made her blood run cold just thinking about it. Demons stealing her brother, trying to rip her family apart. Demons tormenting the homeless people on the streets. Demons who kidnapped and wholesale slaughtered fifty of her colleagues less than a month ago. He didn’t know demons.

“But that is not the end of the story, friends. Despite the depths of our depravity, there is something God did for us that he never did for either the angels or the demons.” In an unusual move, the priest walked out from behind his pulpit and down the stairs in front of the altar until he was at the same level as his congregation. “He reached down to the pit we’d dug ourselves,” he began, crouching down and picking up something Xandri couldn’t see, “and lifted us up.” When Father Steven stood back up, he held a toddler who must have been sitting on the floor in the front row.

“So we are the only beings in all of creation who live in the tension. Created to be better than the good, having fallen to lesser than the evil, and held in loving hands somehow in both. Because 2000 years ago, God came to us as a child, in the midst of our evil, to bring us good.” Father Steven handed the child back to his mother. “We are redeemed, but He still restores. We stand with one foot in each world, unsteady as we make the step. But He holds us up.” Father Steven returned to the pulpit. “Let us pray.”

Each of Xandri’s parents slid a hand into hers. It felt like a miracle, like evidence of that tension, that they sat here. The good in the togetherness, the evil in the absence of Nicholas, the other MacMaster child, lost five years ago. The dividing line between the mundane and the unexplainable, already so thin for her family, felt like a breath tonight. But maybe, Xandri thought, evil wasn’t the only thing on the other side.

They finished the service with Xandri’s favorite hymn, its haunting notes following her all the way home.

“Veni, veni, Emmanuel,
Captivum solve Israel,
Qui gemit in exsilio,
Privatus Dei Filio.
Gaude, gaude! Emmanuel,
Nascetur pro te Israel.”