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…
On the Fifteenth Day
They never suspected the gruff and furry group of men would be such caring and precise craftsmen. It only took them an hour after Marzipan mentioned it was her birthday to throw together a party and tons of gifts. Even with hands that sometimes had as few as three fingers, with nails like pumice hooves, and breath shooting out of their goat and boar nostrils, they still assembled finely braided twig crowns, delicate drawstring fur pouches, and roasted mushroom caps cut into the shape of snowflakes to snack on.
The pair of visitors were deep in a pagan valley, so deep that it was really more of a hole, the toe of a sweaty holiday stocking. Waterfall trickles kept the deep green all around them moving. Large discs of wood cut from bridge branches stuck out in layers like bracket fungi, providing places for all of them to sit, dangling their arms and legs over the sides.
“So how old are you?” a satyr above her asked. He had horns curled as tightly as cinnamon rolls, and one of his fellows was sat on his back running his nails across their bumps to make some light music.
“Twelf,” Marzipan said proudly through a mouthful of steaming earthy mushroom. The men were stunned to hear it.
“Twelve whole months,” a boar man said gruffly. “So you must be ready to go any day now.”
“The pagan men only live a single year,” Langcorn whispered in her ear, his nose tickled by the large twig and flower crown their hosts had placed on her. She looked at him with surprise, but didn’t stop stuffing her face. He turned to speak for her. “Marzipan is a girl, and is twelve years old.” They gasped. She was content in her food, so he assumed she wouldn’t mind if he foraged a little thunder for himself. “And I am thirty-four years old.”
The response to that was confusion rather than shock. A few of them laughed uncomfortably. What was a man supposed to do with all that time? Just do his life another thirty-three times? Langcorn was hoping they’d be impressed, so he stood and walked along the bark edge of their disc, talking up his long and fruitful life.
“And in those thirty-four years I’ve done much. I’ve ridden horses, raised trees from seeds, taken up letter writing with several enthusiastic men who I do hope look as beautiful as their penmanship, and taken plenty of lovers off the page as well.”
“Letters?” a man who might have been part weasel said with a curled and whiskered lip. “I’ve heard of those. Those are messages that take weeks to move between people.”
“Weeks!” another one blurted as he put his finishing touches on a berry picking basket for Marzi. He snatched a ribbon from where it was wrapped around his neighbor’s tusk and tied it to the handle. “Nothing worth doing takes weeks. Just tell them whatever you want to tell them; it takes ten seconds.”
“Shhhh, she’s opening the presents,” the boar man snorted. Marzipan had indeed run out of mushrooms, her probing hands now only finding gifts. She unwrapped a pair of wooden figurines, connected at the hand, of her and Langcorn. They were fully painted, though she had no idea where they had so quickly sourced such varied dyes from.
“Thank you,” she told them all, as the gifts were unsigned. “These are so cute.”
“It’s so you can touch each other, since you can’t touch people,” a stag said. His antlers were carved with numerous figures as well, running after each other up their slopes and tumbling back down.
“That’s so thoughtful,” Marzi said, tears welling up. She’d never gotten to use that word before. It was on so many of the cards in the shop where Mom worked. She knew it meant that someone was full of thoughts for someone else, thoughts for their holidays, promotions, their deaths and births.
Langcorn had helped open the door. Until him she thought she was at best a stain on the minds of others, a foul-smelling trickle people were eager to wipe off their exterior. That was the face people always made when she told them who she was, the face of someone unfortunately under a passing bird in digestive distress.
They could never be thought-full because they only had the one thought about her. She almost couldn’t blame them; if there’s one bad gross thought around you don’t want it reproducing. What they didn’t realize was that they could have good thoughts about her. Then they wouldn’t mind filling up with her. She knew if they did that they would feel warm, and good, and look at her the way Langcorn did.
The gifts kept coming. The basket. A pouch. A bone flute she tried to play the ice cream truck song on. A doll woven from fur, given by a bear of a man with a suspiciously large bald spot. She piled them all in her lap, hugging them, laughing, but then a bad thought of her own popped up.
“I’m sorry; I don’t think I can keep any of this stuff.” Their faces sank. “I really wish I could!” She pulled the calendar off her back and showed them. “But when I leave anything I take with me turns into ash.”
“Oh that’s alright, just use them before you go,” the carved stag said. “That’s plenty of time.” There were many nods of agreement. “Your boyfriend here won’t become dust since he’s got one of his own.”
“Oh we’re not together,” Langcorn clarified as he scratched a stubborn itch underneath his calendar. The age difference made that obvious, but perhaps not to creatures that matured in two months’ time.
“Yeah I don’t have a boyfriend,” Marzi confirmed. “I’m not old enough yet.” The pagans looked at each other skeptically. “I will one day though. After I go back to school. And make some friends. And get some new clothes. And get a doctor. And hormones.”
“You don’t need all of those things to have a boyfriend,” the weasel insisted. “As long as you’re a girl you’re all he needs.” The others agreed throatily. “There are tons of boys just waiting for you. Dying for you already, and they don’t even know you.”
“Really?” she asked. The weasel snapped his clawed fingers.
“There goes another one. Dead, and he never even knew his beautiful angel.” A few of them sniffled as the weasel snapped twice more. “Dead and deader. No closer to you or Triluna than when they started.”
“Triluna? She’s their goddess isn’t she? Why wouldn’t she help them?”
“She does, by staying away. It just doesn’t feel good, does it boys?” Groans. “She’s too good for us, so the moon keeps to the sky where we can’t get our dirty mitts on it. We can try, and many do, but she only takes one mate a year.”
“Women,” the boar said, frustrated.
“Women,” the stag said, swooning.
“I suppose they have their appeal,” Langcorn conceded. “I think any of you would be just as good company.” Marzipan agreed with him.
“I like being a girl a lot better, but you guys are great.” They looked at her curiously. “Oh I was kind of a boy when I was born, at least everybody thought I was. So I know what it’s like. But then, one December fifteenth, I just got it.”
“Got the girly.”
“What, like the sniffles?”
“No, I got what my feelings actually were. It’s more like… Mom thought I had the sniffles and they weren’t going away, but I wasn’t sick. I was just an… unexpected me!”
“Oh!” Langcorn gushed, suddenly sniffling himself. He turned away. “I’m sorry, do continue. That’s just, so beautiful. An unexpected me! You could write that on a headstone if it weren’t so very alive. Good heavens child, you are a gift to the world.”
“Wait a minute,” the bear man said, narrowing his beady black eyes. A minute was quite the commitment for them, so he must have been serious. “That happened on December Fifteenth? Today’s December Fifteenth!”
“Well yeah,” Marzi conceded.
“You said it was your birthday.”
“It is. I moved my birthday. December 15th is the day I was born as a girl.”
“A precious baby girl,” Langcorn blubbered.
“It used to be April seventh,” she told the men. Collectively they griped and sighed, standing and beginning their ascent out of the evergreen chasm. They climbed the walls, the smaller ones burrowing in and disappearing. “Wait, what’s wrong?”
“The birthday is the day you fall squirming out of the womb,” the boar man declared obstinately. “This is a fake birthday. Maybe the integrity of it isn’t important to you, but that’s because you’ve had bloody twelve of them! We only get one, and rarely meet it again.”
“Oh, I’m sorry!” she yelled after them, but they were mostly gone. She turned to Langcorn instead. “I didn’t know men were so sensitive.” He replied, but she couldn’t separate the words from his appreciative whimpering. To make it clear he ran over and hugged her, squeezing her arms tightly against her sides so she wouldn’t accidentally hug him back.
Her birth day was only one after all, and he didn’t want to cut the others short.