Deck the Halls

Someone is standing by the path. Looking towards our cottage. I can’t see who it is. Just this shape. Someone tall. Looking towards our home. I’m sure.

“Get away from the damn window, Tess,” mum is angry.

“But …” I don’t know why I try, there is no way she is going to let me finish when she is this angry.

“No but,” she shakes her head, “you stay away from that window and you keep the drapes shut,” I can see it, even if she doesn’t want me to see it, the nervous way she is swallowing, her shaking hands. “You hear me?”

I nod. She gets this way. Every year. Around New Year’s Eve. Almost like our own, stupid tradition.

“I can’t stay inside the whole day,” I look at the fireplace, “soon there won’t be any more wood left.”

She bites her lip. Looks at the fire that is still burning strong. Keeping us warm. It has been very cold these last few days, if there is no fire we will be freezing.

“Mum, just let me go out and get some more,” I try my best to sound convincing, “I’m sure that whoever that was has already moved on.”

She shakes her head.

“No, you’ll stay inside.” She looks at the fireplace, “I’ll get more if we’ll need it.”

She won’t. I know her. She’ll have a drink and then another one and soon she won’t even notice if it gets cold. I don’t drink. It gets cold for me. Jonah and Hayley feels it too and before I know it I am up all night with those two kids crying, and it will be cold as ice in here. All because of mum getting scared over nothing.

“You promise me that you won’t go out?” Mum looks at me almost like she gets what I’m thinking. I nod. She looks worried. Like she knows that a promise never really can be good enough when it comes from me. “A friend of mine will be stopping by,” she looks down. Soon she’ll have that drink, I get it. Same routine every time a friend comes to visit.

“I thought we said no more friends in the new year?”

“I know,” she is still looking down, sometimes it feels like I’m the mum and she’s the daughter. “I do know that, and there won’t be. This will be the last one, before the new year.” She swallows, “there are just so many bills to pay.” She is right. There are. I sigh. Just can’t shake this tired feeling.

“It’s okay mum,” I’ll look after Hayley and Jonah while mum entertains her friend.

She hasn’t looked at me once while we have talked about it, she just nods, still looking down. Mumbling something that I think must have been a thank you. I am not stupid. There are worse things than getting cold, worse things than being drunk, there are things that you really can’t control at all. Mum knows it and I do too.


“Who do you think it was?”  Holly is curious. Walking in front of me on the snowy path. She turns and looks at me as if the dark shape can be something good. Like an adventure.

“I don’t know,” I hesitate, “Mum seemed scared at least.”

“Do you think it could be your dad?” Holly still doesn’t seem to grasp the reality of it. She talks about it like it is some puzzle. All she needs to do is just to put the pieces together in the right way.

“No, I don’t think so,” I really don’t hope so at least. It’s been years since he’s been home.

“But your mum was scared?” I have no idea why Holly sounds excited, as if fear is something she really can’t comprehend.

“Yeah, but not that kind of scared.”

“What do you mean?”

Holly stops. Picks up some of the snow. Forms it into this snowball.

“You know, she wasn’t scared for herself, more scared for me.”


Holly throws the snowball at one of the trees. The forest is all covered in white. Still it feels dark. She stops. Looking towards the tree she threw the snowball at. “Did you see something?” she turns towards me. I shake my head. The first time her eyes have shown any sign of understanding that this really isn’t some fun adventure.

“Has your dad said anything about the factory?” I don’t want to ask, but I guess I have to. Mum is right, bills are always coming. Hayley and Jonah need stuff all the time.

“What do you mean?” She knows what I mean, so I guess I already have my answer there.

“If they need more people again?”

She picks up more snow, trying to make another snowball.

“No, I don’t think so.” She throws it towards a different tree this time.

“Mum could really use some work, and maybe I could start working there after school.”

They won’t take me. I know. I have asked before. You have to be older to work there.

“I don’t know about your mum’s old job,” Holly seem to struggle, doesn’t really want to say it, but the funny thing is that I already know. People talk. “Even if they did need more people again, you know,” Holly swallows, looks away.

“What do you mean?”

“There has been some talk about her drinking.”

“Oh,” I say it like this is new to me. Like this is one of those rumors that I haven’t heard. Holly looks awkward. Even starts making a third snowball as if all the problems in the world could be put into that white, round thing and then be thrown away.

“And that there are too many people at your cottage,” she says it quickly, like she really doesn’t want to say it at all.

“Mum has friends over from time to time.”

“Okay, yeah,” Holly throws her third snowball and then stands there looking at the tree she threw it against. Like she thinks something is moving in the dark forest that is covered in white. Almost like all the white is some disguise. We really shouldn’t live out here so far from everyone else, except from Holly’s parents big house on that hill. It is hard to believe that a family of three really needs such a big house. Those hallways look like they were made for a giant. I am not allowed to come to Holly’s house. I get why. I’m not stupid. They think I will steal some of their beautiful things and they are not really wrong. I would.

“Maybe she shouldn’t have so many friends over then,” Holly says it as if she gets it, as if life is just about deciding. Just decide that Jonah and Hayley are not going to get new clothes, just decide that the bills will be paid and just decide that you don’t want to have friends over anymore. If those friends leave you money, all you need to do is decide that you won’t take those money. Later you can decide that it’s okay that your children go hungry. No big deal. Holly really doesn’t get it.

“I still think that it was your dad,” she even tries to smile, “maybe he has changed for the better.” She loves that, believing in the impossible, going on adventures in her head. Imagining things while she is safe in that big, warm house. Who wouldn’t want to go on adventures if it was safe, but they aren’t. “Any plans for New Year’s Eve?” I just shake my head. Can’t say the truth, that I need to watch Hayley and Jonah when mum can’t. “I could ask mum and dad if you could come over,” she smiles, “you know, to the party?” I shake my head. They would all be staring at me. Me, coming there in my old dress, would really make their new year. Oh how things can change, they would say. Really a lesson for the new year that you shouldn’t take things for granted, someone might add. Maybe one of them mockingly even would go as far as, oh look how the mighty have fallen. I have heard that many times. Although I don’t even remember much from our “fall” so it’s hard to feel like they’re talking about me.

“What do you think of my dress?” she opens her coat. It is pink. Full of these glittering stones. Very beautiful. Holly is too. She always has been. Not like me.

“It is perfect for you,” I say and smile.

“You know, I could lend you a dress,” she looks down, knows that she is kind of pushing it, “it might be fun.” She pulls her coat together. “You could have it for the party.”

“No, I don’t think so,” I smile, “but thank you.” I turn around, before Holly can say something more. “I need to get back.” I shouldn’t have gone that far from the cottage. It is getting dark. Mum will get angry. She doesn’t like me hanging out with Holly either. You see there are always stories to be told, and there have always been stories about our family, even before we “fell.”

Once upon a time a long time ago we used to own that stupid factory. It was my grandma’s and we really didn’t need to ask anyone for anything. We lived in that house. The one that could be the home of giants, filled with beautiful things. Same, big house that now belongs to Holly and her family, same as the factory. Once upon time they were right, we were mighty, even though I barely remember it. To me it seems like fairytales, hard to believe that they’re true. They will be even harder to believe when I’m back in that freezing, old cottage. Singing for Hayley and Jonah as they go sleep, trying to shut out the sounds of mum entertaining her friend.


The trees look so tall. Tall and white. It is already getting dark. I am walking quickly to get back home. I shouldn’t have gone for such a long walk with Holly, but I just really needed to get out of the house. Better to do it now when mum is sober enough to look after Jonah and Hayley.

Deck the halls with boughs of holly

It sounds soft, as if someone is singing in the forest. Sitting next to one of the trees, singing that song and it is almost like I can hear drums. I really don’t get where the drums are coming from, but they are definitely there.

Fa la la la la, la la la la

It is something about that song that makes me take a step away from the path. Trying to get closer to it, I guess. No idea why. It just feels so light and I have felt heavy for such a long time.

Tis the season to be jolly

I just get this urge to sing it myself. Just feel better about everything. Feel cheerful. Just for a while

Fa la la la la, la la la la

I take another step away from the path. Is there a dark shape moving by that tree?

Don we now our gay apparel

I turn my head, trying to figure out where the song comes from, but it feels like it comes from everywhere.

Fa la la la la, la la la la

A part of me wants to sing it too. The part that leads me further away from the path, I guess.

Troll the ancient Yuletide carol

What a strange song. I hear myself laughing, and then I do it. Sing the silly line out loud so that it mixes with the song around me.

Fa la la la la, la la la la

I can hear mum shouting. “No Tess, you need to run.” I turn towards the trees again and for a moment I’m sure I see something in there. A large, dark shape moving towards me. Then I run.


The door is locked. Jonah and Hayley are silent for a change. Sitting there looking at me and mum. None of us are saying anything. I can still hear it, the fa la la la la. Over and over again in my head. I open my mouth, want to let it out, but mum is looking at me with such a frightened expression on her face that I close it again. No singing. It feels important to not sing.

“Wha tis it?” Hayley is whispering. Jonah just sits there with big, blue eyes staring at the door.

“Oh it’s nothing.”

It really is nothing. Since me and mum came running in the door. Nothing has happened. No one has knocked on the door. No one had tried to get in. Nothing. I am almost starting to think that I might have imagined it all. That it didn’t really happen. It couldn’t have been real. No one would have been singing like that in the forest. No drums. No rhythm like that. It sounded like a good song, didn’t it? Meant to lure me out there. I swallow. Something fun. Something that might get me to go dance in that dark forest filled with snow. Dancing and singing. Harmless, if it hadn’t been for that dark shape.

Mum is sitting in that old rocking chair. Moving in that slow rocking rhythm. Grandpa’s rocking chair. I almost can’t remember him. Just these little bits. He died when I was five, around this time of year, I think it was. He used to sit in that rocking chair at Christmas looking at that door waiting for grandma who would be out in the forest. Seems so long ago. When everything was different. Before dad got mean. Before mum lost her job and had to start drinking so she could meet friends. Seems like it never really happened.

“Grandpa used to sing that song, didn’t he?” I look at mum, “When he waited for grandma.” She doesn’t say anything, just shake her head. Her eyes are so big. Bigger than Jonah’s. “I remember, particularly that fa la la la la- part. He would sing that like it was important.”

I get up. Quickly, but mum is even quicker. She is in front of the door.

“You’re not leaving this cottage,” she says, sounding more determined than I ever have heard her, “What your grandma did in that forest is not something you need to think about.” That year grandma got sick we moved to this cottage. Not because we had too, but grandma wanted to be even closer to the forest. I just always thought we would move back.

“It was today, wasn’t it?” Grandma got sick. Couldn’t go to the forest. I remember. “Grandma died on New Year’s Eve.” Mum didn’t want to go outside and then we all sat here and waited for some decision to be made that I probably didn’t get. Go to the forest, Sally, grandma whispered, over and over again, before it’s too late.  In the end I guess it was too late. Mum didn’t go anywhere, and finally grandma stopped saying it. Got really quiet. The new year was going to start, without anyone going out into the forest. I didn’t know about death back then. I thought it was more like sleeping, like something you could wake up from. I remember pinching grandma, sitting by her bed, waiting for her to get annoyed and tell me to stop. She just didn’t.

“They dragged him outside in the snow,” I whisper, don’t really want Jonah and Hayley to hear it, but they really did drag him. The day grandma died the people from the village came and got grandpa. Dragged him outside in the snow. Mum was screaming, but screaming rarely helps. I was screaming. Even though I don’t think I really got it. When they were done grandpa just lay there outside in the snow. Never got up. It definitely wasn’t the start of a happy new year. Not at all.


She has fallen asleep. Sooner or later we all have to sleep. I have pretended for a while that I have been sleeping, but I was just waiting. They are all sleeping now. Mum in her old rocking chair. Jonah and Hayley curled up next to each other on the floor. I get up quietly. Soon it will be a new year. A brand new year, and I need to for this new year to be something different. More of the same really isn’t an option.

It is so dark outside. Dark and brightly white from the snow at the same time. Moon looks heavy in that dark sky. Looks like it could could fall down on me any minute now.

“So there you are?”

He is waiting by the tree. I cannot see him clearly.

“Here I am.”

“And you must be Tess?”

“I guess I must be.”

I don’t like talking to someone like this when you can’t see their face.

“You look very much like your grandmother,” he says, “do you know that?”

I nod. I have always been told that. Kids throwing things at me. Spitting at me. Telling me exactly how much I look like my grandma.

“And who are you?”

“Is that important?” he smiles, “the important part has always been who you are?”

“I don’t get it,” I look at him. How old could he be? Mum’s age? I’m not sure. Probably older. There is something about him, something I really can’t put my finger on.

“No, I’m sure you don’t, but you soon will.” His skin is very pale, reminds me of the snow. Makes me think that if I would touch him he would be all cold, but that is probably not true. “Can you sing?” he suddenly says.

“A little bit.”

He laughs.

“Oh sweet Tess, then you’ll just have to try harder.”

I almost expect mum to wake up. Come out here and stop me, but she doesn’t. Mum is sleeping and I’m outside. All alone with this person that I can’t really see clearly.

“So we need to get going.”

“We do?”

“Of course we do,” he starts moving away from me further into the forest. I hurry after. Strangely afraid to lose sight of him. “You know the song, right?” He whispers. I nod. “Well, no reason to be shy then.”

Fa la la la la, la la la la

I try. Don’t really remember all the words yet.

“Good,” he says, “Now louder.”

Fa la la la la, la la la la

I can feel it. Like a shiver through the ground. Like if something big is moving. He turns towards me smiling and to my surprise he looks so normal despite his snow-white skin. Just like this normal man with his normal face, walking around in normal clothes and a cloak. Doesn’t even look like much too be afraid of. “Just like your grandma,” he says, “a natural.” He looks into the forest as if he expects to see something. “Now troll the ancient Yuletide carol,” he whispers, and I finally get it. I finally get what that silly song really means, as I can see the large shape in front of us rise above the treetops.


I have been sitting by the fireplace. Humming that song. Mum is still sleeping. Jonah and Hayley as well.

“Sally,” someone is knocking on the door, “are you awake?” I get up. Open the door carefully.

“Hi, Mr. Johnson,” I say. He smiles at me. “Is everything okay with Holly?”

“Oh Holly is fine,” he is still smiling, “I need to talk to your mum.”

“Mum is busy.”

Holly wouldn’t believe it, but sometimes her dad drinks as well. He does. Drinks and then he wants to become friends with my mum.

“Sally,” he shouts.

I can hear mum move in the rocking chair.

“What is it?” she says as I turn towards her.

“Oh nothing,” I try to say, but he pushes the door open.

“It’s not nothing,” he laughs, “It is me.”

Mum and me look nothing alike. Her hair is blond, mine almost black. Mine is like grandma’s. Jonah and Hayley’s like mum’s.

“Not now, Bill,” she says. Jonah and Hayley have gotten up.

“But I got money,” he throws them on the floor, they fall down next to Hayley.

“Not now.”

Mum has always been beautiful. Always. Not like me and grandma. I know. Dark eyes, dark hair, nothing really cute about us. Strong, though. I guess I prefer it, I think sometimes life is easier when you’re too strong than too beautiful.

“It is time for you to go,” I say, but I know it doesn’t work that way.

Fa la la la la, la la la la

I already feel like I have gotten better at this singing part. He turns towards me.

“Oh so we try to be all tough, do we?”

I smile.

“It is a new year, you know,” I say, mostly because it is true. It is a new year.

He just stands there looking at me, but he can feel it now. The shiver through the ground. “Troll the ancient Yuletide carol,” I say, still smiling. It is a big one. He moves towards the sound of my voice. Pushing the treetops aside. “I would run if I were you,” Mr.Johnson looks frozen, just stands there with big eyes looking at me. “You know he has just woken up,” I whisper, “and you know how hungry those trolls can get.”

Fa la la la la, la la la la


I hope you have enjoyed ”Deck the halls”, the story as well as the song, and I really hope that you would like to hear more songs and read more stories.

About the song:  This is my strange cover of the Christmas carol “Deck the halls”.

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If you like the images that have been used to illustrate this short story, they are all from All the photos have been edited, but the first photo is by mettem, the second photo(SoundCloud) is by GaborfromHungary, third and fourth photo is by Koan, the fifth photo is by lauramusikanski, the sixth photo is by sebastiano, the seventh photo is by beat0092 and the last photo is by embalu.

© Hilde Therese Juvodden, MyStoriesWithMusic, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Hilde T. Juvodden and MyStoriesWithMusic with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. – Simply don’t steal my stuff 😊


  1. jdcampbellauthor

    The way you put everything together is a work of art in andof itself. The pictures are beautiful and the song is just off enough to make you wonder, which sets the tone for the whole piece. It very much has a Norweigen feel to it. I also love how you took a song lyric and interpreted it in a delickously twisted way.

    Liked by 3 people

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