Welcome to what is likely your first advent calendar fantasy novel! Each day is a chapter, and should be read as such, but who am I to stop you from catching up? (This way to Day One!) What follows is the story of one Marzipan Ridner, a young trans girl aching for the fulfillment of the holiday season. When a mysterious wooden Advent calendar shows up she opens the first door, and finds herself whisked away to a world-tree of contrasting deities and binding bureaucracy. She has less than a month to find someone willing to be her spiritual patron, but the denizens of the tree don’t seem very hospitable…
(reading time: 10 minutes)
On the Eighth Day
‘Langcorn the lonely’ they called him. It wasn’t one of the names invented by the people of his home town, no, they had plenty of their own. It was a moniker created in the boughs of the tree, and Langcorn thought it cruel that someone would go to the trouble of concocting and spreading it in just eight short days.
Already it followed him everywhere, painting all of his interactions in a hopeless light. Pagan squirrels and ravens pelted him with it every time he was out on the branching roads, simply taking his time in selecting a door. Word of it had been invited into the households he hoped to visit as well, many saints pointing at him and saying that they had, of course, heard about Langcorn the lonely.
Finally fed up with it, he demanded one of the ravens tell him where the insult had originated. He knew he wasn’t very intimidating, especially to a creature that could fly, but the little beast was surprisingly forthcoming. It told him the culprit was a saint, and even provided exceedingly simple directions for how to reach their branch and their door.
Determined to get to the bottom of it, to meet this person who seemed to know so much about him without ever speaking to him, Langcorn stormed toward the tree’s trunk. There were countless more doors there on its bark, cluttered compared to the sparse doors like buds out on the thinnest limbs.
Staircases of winding wreath-vines and pale young wood crisscrossed the surface like jumbled fire escapes, but he knew he was looking for a red door decorated with white branches, leaves, and flowers. He had no trouble finding it, but some climbing all the way up to it. He made sure to rest frequently between floors; he had to have enough breath left in him to shout.
His last break came just outside the door, leaned against its side. He braced himself with hands on knees, trying to turn his panting into deep breaths so the redness would leave his face. About two minutes away from succeeding, the door swung open of its own accord, nearly startling him over the railing.
A man stepped out, curiously checking over one side before turning and finding Langcorn a mess in the corner. His clothes didn’t look like the other saints he’d seen, more like a medieval hospital gown.
“Ahh Langcorn the lonely!” he spouted. “We’ve been expecting you. Please come in.”
“Wait a minute!” Langcorn spluttered. “I… I have a grievance. There’s no reason to call me lonely! I’m madly in love, whether it be with one man or another, and I currently… one moment… I currently live in both a town, full of people, and a tree full of other things. I haven’t been alone ever.”
“Yes, alright,” the fellow said, blinking.
“Oh, well thank you. I trust you’ll take some action to undo these rumors then.” Langcorn squared his shoulders and folded his arms behind his back. If he was going to have some authority he might as well look the part.
“I didn’t start them if that’s what you mean. How could I? I’m just a pheasant.” Langcorn waited for him to correct himself, but all he got was more blinking.
“I’m sorry… did you mean to say you were a pheasant? Peasant perhaps?”
“I’m certainly not a peasant! We suffer for nothing in here. I’m the happiest pheasant in the whole world.”
“But you are a man.”
“Now look who’s starting rumors,” he chastised. “Why don’t you just come in instead of standing out here spouting nonsense? Christina is the one you want to speak with.”
“She’s the one calling me lonely?” The plucked pheasant nodded, grabbing the door and opening it wider. Langcorn followed him inside, to a decidedly different abode. Most of the saint homes he’d visited resembled grand churches or the occasional school, but this was a den of some animal that preferred comfort above all else.
The halls were narrow, the rooms small. Curtains of red and purple hung over most of the walls, and the furniture was nothing but giant pillows with tassels the size of lapdogs. He was led deep into the recesses, and along the way they passed several other people, all of them men, and few of them looking like they had a whole set of wits about them.
In garments similar to the pheasant’s, they wandered aimlessly or laid, limbs splayed like starfish, on the pillows staring at the ceiling in some kind of absentminded bliss. There was some drooling. One man looked as if he repeatedly forgot how to breathe, only doing so in stunned gasps every fifteen seconds.
“What kind of place is this?” Langcorn finally asked. “Are these men unwell?”
“They were before Christina the Astonishing treated them. We’re all her success stories, myself included.”
“What is it that you were treated for?”
“Insanity. You can wait here. I must tend to my eggs.” The eloquent pheasant left him in a bedroom with several full length mirrors. He noticed the unpleasant scrunched face he was making in them before he recognized its cause. That came a moment later, in the form of a strong smell: some combination of flower petals, oil, and sweat.
“It smells like there’s always been at least two people in here,” he noted aloud, not expecting a response.
“For now it’s just the two of us.” He turned to see a woman slinking out from the curtains surrounding the bed. She was not dressed for church, or like she feared the omnipresent eyes of a god at all, with her thighs, shoulders, and stomach on full display. “I am Saint Christina the Astonishing.”
“And I am not lonely,” Langcorn insisted. He feared stomping to make a point wouldn’t echo as much as he wanted it to, with too many cushioned surfaces to absorb the sound, including several built into the saint’s voluptuous form.
“Are you not?” she asked earnestly. “I’ve heard of your sacrifice. You are not permitted to touch anyone. This implies that it is a great temptation to you, that you are starved for contact. That your greatest desire is the wrapping of another’s arms about you.” Langcorn stared, mouth tensed.
“That doesn’t meant I’m lonely! It just means I like arms. They should’ve just chopped off my arms for this whole affair.”
“That wouldn’t do. Without them you wouldn’t be tempted to hold someone. Resisting temptation is the point, but of course,” she strutted closer, one leg crossing an impressive distance in front of the other, “you don’t have to resist all temptation. People are free to touch you of their own accord.” Her silky smooth hands found his chest, just under the collarbone.
“What are you doing?”
“Giving you what you want.” She moved in to kiss him, lips red and warm as a wax seal. She was beautiful by the standards of his time, most times really, with a defined nimble chin, sneering eyes, and shoulders that seemed to mold to the shape of any arm around them. Despite this, Langcorn was well beyond her reach. He made it so by stepping back and holding out his hands.
“I’m sorry, I don’t- what’s happening here exactly? Have we met?”
“We were destined to meet,” she said breathlessly, “as kindred spirits. You were thrown over your bridge to your death, and yet you live, because god willed it so. I too rose from the grave. More than a hundred people were at my funeral, weeping over my body, when I rose, levitating, to the ceiling and declared I had to stay, to help wash the sin from the masses.”
“That’s… very impressive. Of course, it got you in the end. You are living here after all.”
“My work is far from complete. As long as there is a man in this world with misleading thoughts in his head, I will live, and I will stay busy.” She pounced again, the demand on her lips suggesting she might swallow his head whole. Langcorn yipped and barely evaded her, but there was nowhere to go in the room but onto the bed. He wrapped its curtains about him, displaying only his face.
“You have mistaken me Miss Christina. You are lovely, very lovely, but my tastes skew more… bearded.”
“Do not think I would try to treat you without understanding you completely,” she warned. “Your predilection is why you came to me, and here you will be cured of it.” She was nearing again, so Langcorn closed the curtains completely and retreated to the center of the bed. He sat poised on his knees, having lost her position. The light provided no helpful shadows. The woman could spring her wiles on him from any direction.
“I came here because you were harming my reputation! A deliberate act on your part it seems. Don’t pretend innocence.”
“I am a saint,” she said from a new side, causing him to arch his back like a cornered cat. “I maintain my innocence no matter what I do. Our lovemaking will serve a divine medical purpose, and thus it is sanctioned, free of carnal stigmas.”
“Medical purpose!? I’ve never been healthier!”
“For man to lie with man is a sin, but I know that sin to be caused by an illness of the mind. As the patron saint of the mentally misaligned it is my duty to cure all illness of the mind with god’s love, filtered through my body.”
“You’re saying you plan to mount the love of men out of me!?”
“The technique has never failed. Everyone here has been cured, their delusions rubbed away with the friction of my thighs.”
“What about the fellow who keeps saying he’s a pheasant? Surely he’s not cured?” Christina was silent. “I really think you should reevaluate your other patients! Some of them look quite calm yes, but it’s not hard to imagine intimacy leaving one relaxed while still thoroughly insane!”
“Once you experience my inner revelations around your manhood, you will never desire men again. You may not even desire any other woman. If so, you will of course be allowed to stay here with the others.”
“And become a pheasant! I think not! I assure you, no matter what revelations you force upon me they cannot overpower my own! Men are the most divine creatures to me, and that is how god made me! I don’t apologize for my earnest love, even if it pitches me over a bridge!”
“I’m going to pitch you over and-” That was when Langcorn sprung from the bed and through the curtains, using her voice to determine her position and avoid her. He ran for the door, certain by the fifth step that he’d never moved so fast in his life, even when pursued by pitchfork puritans.
“You need my body!” she howled after him, but that body was too in the moment of seduction to snap into pursuit. She made one last ditch lusty sound to draw him back, but her den was full of only serene mad men and a chain of spaces that had at one point, and would never again, contain Langcorn.
Reputation wasn’t everything, and he wasn’t quite that lonely.