Billy Joe Bob stretched as best he could within the confines of his wheelchair and looked at the young, expectant faces of his grandchildren. The children's parents had dropped them off for a visit on Christmas Day while they went to a party. At age 92 and for the last five years a resident of Moe's Shady Acres Nursing Home in Muleshoe, Texas, the old cowboy wondered if this might be his last Christmas.
His mind wandered a lot these days, and right now he was thinking about how this Common Room sure didn't look very Christmasy. The staff hadn't allowed a Christmas tree inside, something about some residents being allergic to pine needles, and so the busy nurses and orderlies had just strung a few lights onto an ornamental potted tree that had been wheeled in from the patio. In fact the only things in the room now, besides himself, was one old woman snoozing on a sofa across the way, and his three grandkids: Martha, 12; Sarah, 9; and little Luke, 5.
"C'mon, grandpa, finish the story," said Sarah.
"Well darlin', the story is plum finished, there ain't no more to tell."
"Of course there is, grandpa," said Luke. "What happened to the pookas, and what happened to all those other people and ogresses and animals?"
"Well, most of the people got old, just like I done," answered the old cowboy. "Except for Beith, of course, because not only is she of the Sidhe, but she also got blessed by them pookas for her years of service to 'em. She's total committed to savin' em, and she disappeared with 'em into a hidden valley in Ireland. Once in a great while people would see her, and she'd say that Gladys had come to look after the herd for a few hours to give her a chance to get away and see old frens, but mostly people begun to doubt that she ever even existed, and I 'spose she become almost as much of a legend as the pookas themselves. As for everbody else, well, we had lots more adventures, but like I said, after awhile, most everbody started gettin' old and fallin' away, and some folks went to the Summerlands, as we all must do. I don't know what become of ever last one of 'em, but there's some of 'em that I do know about, let's see ..."
Billy Joe Bob thought about all those he'd had adventures with, and the names and faces floated into his mind's eye as if through a fog.
"Let's see now, Crow, he eventually was allowed to retire on account of The Pagan Press went out of business when most folks stopped readin' newspapers. The paper become one o' them TV stations, and that ol' boy weren't the prettiest thing to look at, so they finally packed him off. I heard he went to the Summerlands about five years ago, kickin' and complainin' ever step of the way."
"What about Laurel, grandpa? Was she our grandmother?" asked Luke. "I wish she hadn't died before any of us were born."
"Of course Laurel wasn't our grandmother," answered Martha, who, being oldest, knew at least that much, but was still curious about this other woman she'd heard her grandpa speaking about.
"Martha's total right about that, Luke," answered Billy Joe Bob. "Nope, Laurel weren't yer grandma. That Laurel played me for a fool. Do you recollect when I told ye that when we was at the Burren and a bus droved up? Well a little later, after we was all climbin' out o' that pooka grave, I started lookin' around for Laurel, and there she was, gettin' cozy with the bus driver. I asked her what she was doin', but she just turned her back and walked off with the guy, and I never seen her, nor heard from her agin. She was a real piece of work, that one was. Naw, she ain't nothin' like your Grandma Mary, who was as fine a woman as I ever knowed."
Billy Joe Bob wiped his eyes with a tissue and continued.
"Let's see now, Kat Lady won the lottery and bought herself a tiny little shack way up in the wilds of Montany. She laid in a lifetime supply of Tender Vittles, and she's gone total hermit, they say. I get a letter from little Kat-Storm ever year, and the one this year said that Kat Lady is doin' fine. Little Kat-Storm, by the way, ain't so little no more, and runs a bank in New York City. But he's a good man, Kat-Storm is, and he visits his mama regular and makes sure she's not missin' anythin'. "
Billy Joe Bob's recollections were interrupted as his daughter, Leah, and her husband, Jay, came through the front door to collect the children.
"Grandpa's been tellin' us stories!" said Sarah excitedly to her mother.
"Oh Pop," said Leah. "You're not filling these kids' heads with more of your druid stories are you? You know you were a cowboy, not a druid!"
"I was too a druid, and I still am, dang it!" said Billy Joe Bob. "And yes, I'm a cowboy, too! How do you think I got to know so much about air and earth and water and fire? Who knows the air better than a cowboy, who has plenty of room to breathe it, and who knows more about the earth than a cowboy who spends all day diggin' holes fer fence posts? And who knows more about fire than a cowboy, who works long hours brandin' them cows, or about water, when yer on a cattle drive and ye gotta take the herd acrost a river? And that's where I learnt all about them elements, and how to love 'em and respect 'em , and that's why I am too a druid! I dint just read about that stuff, I lived it!"
"Okay, okay, settle down, Pop, I didn't mean to upset you," said Leah, shaking her head sadly as she helped little Luke with zipping up his jacket. "We've got to run now. Merry Christmas, Pop, and we'll be back to see you on your birthday in June."
The sun was setting as an orderly came to wheel Billy Joe Bob back to his room. His movements awoke the sleeping woman on the sofa, and when she stirred and her blanket fell away, Billy Joe Bob saw that her pumpkin medallion showed the wear from years of hard use.
* * *
It was the middle of the night and Billy Joe Bob was coming awake because someone was helping him from bed and into his wheelchair. He thought he must be dreaming, because it was a young woman who was draped with a string of darkened Christmas tree lights. "Oh drat, " she said. "I thought those nurses would never leave the room! It's late, but not too late if we start now. Come on, here we go!"
Billy Joe Bob sat speechless as he was wheeled down the hall and out the front door. His helper assisted him into a van that was idling there under a portico. Once seated in the back of the van, Billy Joe Bob saw that the old woman was there, too, and she was, of course, Selene.
"What in tarnation is goin' on here, Selene?" asked Billy Joe Bob.
"Not sure," said Selene. "But it looks like as if we're starting on a big adventure."
With a clatter, Billy Joe Bob's wheelchair was pushed against the wall of the nursing home, and after taking a minute to disentangle herself from the string of lights, the young woman climbed behind the wheel and the van roared away.
"Go back to sleep you two," she called over her shoulder. "It's a long drive."
After a time, Billy Joe Bob felt someone shaking his shoulder. It was still dark.
"Wake up, sleepies, we're here," said the driver, who, of course, was Beith.
"Where are we?" asked Selene. "And Beith, if you're here, who's minding the pookas?"
"The pookas are fine, don't worry," said Beith. "My work with them is done, the herd is growing steadily, and Gladys can now provide what little care they still require. I felt that I could finally leave them, and besides, I have some unfinished business here. So come on now, out we go."
Billy Joe Bob saw that Beith was still young and beautiful after all these years, and as she walked between him and Selene, helping to support them both, he reached up and brushed a few leaves from her hair.
With a lonely stretch of highway behind them, the three walked up to a barbed-wire fence that gleamed under the starlight. They stared across open fields, and in the distance soon saw lights marching to and fro.
"Where in tarnation are we?" asked Billy Joe Bob. "And what's makin' them lights?"
"Why, you're a Texan and you don't even know the Marfa Lights when you see them?" laughed Beith. "And do you know what else? Crow's out there! He comes here every night and chases the lights! He never catches them, but he never gets tired of trying, and he smiles a lot these days, which is a big improvement!"
Selene cut the wire with her pumpkin medallion, which in addition to being a flashlight and a GPS device, also had a set of wire cutters. It was a handy tool, and she wondered if she'd still need it where she was going.
But then she heard the happy cawing of a crow, and with Billy Joe Bob and Beith, walked toward the Marfa Lights.