East of the Caldera by Beth Cato

the little girl has never seen snow
but she’s old enough to know
it should bring all the glories of Christmas
Santa Claus, presents, happy music

no one’s happy now
mom and dad murmur and cry
the girl pulls on rain boots
paces the front window
waits for them to notice her readiness
to build her first snowman

“that isn’t snow, honey,” dad says
“it’s ash, like from the fireplace”

that doesn’t make any sense
no fireplace could be big enough
to make all that ash
so much it mounds past the windows
world rendered to fierce gray
rooms lit by candles and battery lamps

“there’s a volcano erupting–” dad continues

“no,” snaps mom, “she won’t understand”

they huddle together to sleep
the girl awakens to loud creaks and groans
from high above
“oh god, the roof,” mom whispers

the girl looks up, grinning
Santa must be up there

Beth Cato is the author of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER steampunk fantasy series from Harper Voyager. Her short fiction is in InterGalactic Medicine Show, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Daily Science Fiction. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cat. Her website is BethCato.com.

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