circa late 1890s
Ashley watched as the snowflakes continued to fall from the sky. A sad smile adorned his perfect lips. He had been unable to sell any of his handmade wood carvings, which meant he would go hungry again this evening. Ashley tried to ignore the hunger pangs he felt as he passed the shops that displayed their roasted hams and chickens. It had been so long since he had last eaten anything. The aroma wafted past him; he inhaled deeply, hoping it would fill his empty belly. Instead, memories assailed him, so vivid that he could taste the salty ham with tangy glaze filling his mouth. Giving himself a shake to regain his senses, he clutched at his growling stomach as he continued trudging through the snow.
His shoes were torn and offered little protection against the slush and snow as they flapped and squelched with each step. His tattered coat and scarf did not keep out the cold that embraced him so bitterly. Vagabond patches decorated the thin threadbare coverings in a painfully ineffective attempt to rectify the matter.
Ashley had spent many hours out in the frigid weather, and now that night had fallen, the wind cut straight through him, chilling him to the bone. He pulled at the lapels of his frayed coat for warmth, looking pitiful as he meekly asked the passers-by if they would care to buy one of his hand-carved ornaments.
He had hoped that since today was Christmas Eve, he could have at least sold one, giving him enough money to buy himself a small hot meal. But everyone that walked by continued on their merry way, ignoring the young man who shivered miserably against the biting cold.
Disheartened that this night had proven to be fruitless, he slumped to the ground, tears burning in his eyes. He buried his head in his arms and wept softly, the snow falling off him as his shoulders shook from the onslaught of tears.
Ashley had no family to go home to, and the tiny attic that was rented out to him proved no warmer than this street corner. His street corner, where he stood day after day, night after night, selling the small wood carvings made by his own hand in the hopes of earning a meager living.
Cheery Christmas decorations sparkled from every building, sending a wave of melancholy throughout Ashley’s slender frame, reminding him of his solitude. He could hear the carolers in the street, happily singing their holiday songs, and children laughing as they passed by with their parents. Ashley had lost his parents in a fire when he was just a small child. He had never known the joy of Christmas or the warmth of family. After Ashley’s parents had passed away, his greedy relatives, who had taken him in, squandered his inheritance until there was nothing left; and when the money was gone, they had abandoned him.
Ashley wiped his tears with the back of his hand and pulled at his fingerless gloves to try to warm up the rest of his hand. He felt feverish and thought perhaps if he were to build a small fire it would help to fight off the cold. There could be no harm in that, could there?
Ashley looked around for something to build a fire with, but all there was available were his wooden carvings. With a heavy sigh, he sat down and collected them into a tiny pile. He pulled a single match out and stuck it against the building, making a scratching sound as it ignited. The smell of sulfur and char filled his nostrils as the small flame flared to life. Ashley placed his hand over the tiny flame, shielding it from the wind as he tried to light his ornaments. However, it flickered out, and eager to feel warm, Ashley lit another match without hesitation.
As he struggled to keep the tiny fire aflame, he began to dream of a warm home with a beautiful Christmas tree decorated in festive colors and a table laden with holiday foods. His fevered mind confused the daydream for reality. Ashley smiled at the vision as tears streamed down his sooted face. Was he dreaming? He reached out tentatively to try and touch the image, but it scattered like ash upon the wind.
Ashley found himself returned to the bitter cold. He stared off into the crowded street as those more fortunate stepped over him as if he didn’t exist. “Oh Father, I wish you’d take me with you to heaven; there is nothing for me here….” He whispered the prayer almost brokenly.
His dark eyes gazed at the night sky and saw a shooting star. He closed his eyes and wished for so many things. He wished his parents had not died when he was so young; he wished he wasn’t so cold and hungry; and he wished there were someone on this forsaken earth who loved him.
Ashley opened his eyes and caught the glimpse of dove’s wings fluttering above him. “Take me with you, please….” He reached out toward the dove and heard a soothing voice in his head. “What’s that? You will take me to a place where I will no longer suffer cold or hunger?”
He watched as the dove began to fly away and caught a glimpse of a handsome man approaching him with angel-like wings. Ashley fell into unconsciousness believing he was on his way to heaven while his body slumped to the ground, no longer able to withstand the cruelty of the elements and the demands of the fever.