'Tis the season for celebrations! The beginning of winter and the month surrounding it is full of holidays: Kwanzaa (begins Dec 26), Christmas (Dec 25), Hanukkah (begins Dec 8), and Festivus (Dec 23). Let's be honest; people will make a holiday for just about anything, but there is something special about these dark, cold days at the start of winter that just begs for some partying to warm everyone up!
Despite being raised a predominantly Christian area, I don't have my characters celebrate Christmas in the standard sense whenever possible. This is partially because I tend to avoid contemporary or historical fiction, but also because holidays, especially a major holiday, are a wonderful opportunity to explore a culture. Why is this holiday special? Is there historical meaning? What practices occur to celebrate the day/week?
As the author, I can twist it in any way I'd like, whether it's a night to screw like bunnies to re-affirm life when everything is dead or to celebrate those who bring light in our lives on the longest, darkest night of the year (which is what I personally do on the solstice every year).
In "Gift of the Familiar," part of the Milk & Cookies & Handcuffs anthology, the world celebrates First Day, a holiday for honoring when the goddess Ferra created the world, specifically humans (because even in a world filled with various beings, humans are still self-centered like that!). It is a time to appreciate everyone in your life, because they have all been blessed by Ferra, but especially Familiars, who live to serve and, as seen in my short story "Mark of the Familiar", can be under-appreciated by their masters.
In my story, William tells the world's creation story, which provides a little more background on Familiars and their relationship to humans and, for the first time, shows why the bond between Ellis and William, the two main characters, is so special. Plus, it gives a look into the magical hierarchy that exists and why the fact that Familiars serve humans is so meaningful. In some ways, First Day is similar to Christmas: There are decorations, gifts are exchanged, the celebration is in remembrance of something's beginning, and traditions have changed over time. And just like any holiday where gifts are exchanged, there can be a focus on the giving (or getting) of a gift and not the purpose behind it, a lesson William works hard to get through Ellis' eager, earnest head. Ellis isn't obsessed with getting presents, but in his desire to make his Master happy, he gets caught up in having to buy things to please him.
Unlike Christmas, First Day marks the beginning of the year, celebrates the harvest Ferra blessed humans with, and doesn't have a man in a big red suit that sneaks into your house. First Day involves hung baskets overflowing with fruits and treats that loved ones fill while the others are sleeping. There's a fun bit of sport to it!
And of course, after the gifts have been revealed, there's eating, lying about, and sneaking up to your room to fully show how much you appreciate the gift your loved one got you—especially if you're a Familiar celebrating your very first First Day and your Master bought you something special that has you, well... all tied in knots!
But that's okay, because your Master is looking forward to unwrapping you. ;)
Happy holidays, and I hope you'll enjoy the excerpt below.
Milk & Cookies & Handcuffs – "Gift of the Familiar" by Alex Whitehall "Blessed First Day!"
Ellis cracked open an eye to see William's boyish grin, and then grumbled and rolled over into the warm spot William had abandoned for Ferra only knew what reason. He pulled the blankets over his head with a paw and closed his eyes, but it was impossible to ignore the excited thump of William's heart when his own kept pace with it. Still, it was warm in the bed. And he enjoyed being warm and comfortable and allowed to lounge even when his Master obviously wanted him up.
The bed bounced when William jumped on it, trapping Ellis beneath the blanket and William's limbs, not that Ellis was complaining. He snuffled, and then wormed his way to poke his head out the top. That earned him a smile and a kiss on the nose. "Good morning."
Mornings were better when he slept in later, but they were pretty good when they started with his Master's kisses. Even if that was every morning. He purred, leaning up for more kisses, stretching his snow leopard neck until it melted seamlessly into a human neck and human lips. William took pity, digging his fingers through Ellis' curls to hold his head as their mouths sealed together, slick tongues sliding, stroking, grinding against one another until Ellis was moaning and squirming in his blanketed prison.
Alex Whitehall may have grown up, but still wants to believe in magic—fairies, wishes, and things that go bump in the night—as long as it has a happy ending. Since none of that seems to exist in real life, Alex creates make-believe worlds where suffering is stopped, passions never cool, and the leads always end up happier than they started. Alex's latest short story, "Gift of the Familiar" can be found in Storm Moon Press' Milk & Cookies & Handcuffs anthology. Alex can be found on Twitter @AlexWhitehall or contacted at AlexDWhitehall AT gmail DOT com.