The stories

It was Christmas Eve and the Lord looked down from above at all His children. It had been nearly two thousand years since the birth of His son and turning to His youngest angel the Lord said: "Go down to the earth and bring back to me the one thing that best represents everything good that has been done in the name of this day."

The Angel bowed to the Lord and spreading his wings, descended from heaven to the world of man, all the while contemplating his mission. So much had been done in the name of honoring the birth of the Christ Child. For this day, wars had temporarily ceased, cathedrals had been built and great novels had been written. With so little time, what could he possibly find to represent all this?

As he soared above the earth, he suddenly heard the sound of church bells below. Their tone was so beautiful that it reminded him of the voice of God.

Looking down, he saw a small church whose bells were ringing out the carol, Silent Night. As the final note died away, it was replaced by one lone voice singing inside the church. It was shortly joined by a second voice that embraced the first in perfect harmony, and then another and another until a choir of voices rose through the night. Enchanted by the magic of what he was hearing, the Angel found himself listening until the song was finished. As he resumed his flight through the night, he was delighted to hear these sounds everywhere, from the largest cities to the smallest villages. He heard melodies from massive orchestras and in the voices of single soldiers alone at their post. And any place where he heard these songs, he found hope in the hearts of men. Grasping a song out of the air, he held it in his hand (angels are able to do this) and thought that maybe, these songs could be the one thing that best represented Christmas. They seemed to give voice to man's greatest joys as well as hope to those deepest in despair.

But, though at first glance it appeared to be the answer he sought, his heart told him that this music was not enough. There had to be something more. So, he continued his flight through the night until he suddenly felt the touch of a father's prayer on its way to heaven. Once again looking downward, he saw a man who was praying for his child whom he had not heard from in a long time and who would not be home that Christmas. Seizing upon the prayer, the Angel followed it until it reached the lost child.

She was standing on a corner, in a quiet snowfall, looking very small in a very large city. Across from her was on old city bar, the kind that only the lost seemed to know how to find.

The patrons of this establishment rarely looked up from their drinks and so seemed not to notice the young woman. Now, the bartender in this bar had been working in there longer than anyone could remember. He believed in nothing except his bar and his cash register. He had never married, never took a vacation and as a matter of fact, had never been seen out from behind his counter by most of his patrons. He was there when they arrived and he was still there when they left. He gave no credit and for seventy-five cents, served shots of un-watered whiskey to people who used their drinks like a moat around their lives. For them, he provided a safe, unchanging world. Suddenly, the door opened wide and into this world walked a small child. The bartender could not remember the last time that a child had been in this place, but before he could ask the child what he was doing there, the child asked him if he knew that there was a girl outside their door who could not get home. Glancing out the window, he saw the girl standing across the street. Turning back to the child, the bartender asked him how he knew this. The child replied: "That on this night of all nights, if one could be home, they'd be already there. "The bartender looked back toward the young woman as he reflected on what the child had said. After several seconds of thought, he slowly went over to the cash register and removing most of the money, came out from behind the bar and followed the child across the street.

Everyone in the bar watched as he spoke with the girl. After a few moments, he called over a cab, put the girl inside and told the driver: "J.F.K. Airport." As the cab pulled away, he looked around for the child, but the child was gone. And what was stranger still, even though his own tracks leading from the bar were still clearly marked in the snow, the child's were nowhere to be found. Returning back inside, he asked if anyone had seen where the child had gone, but like himself, no one had, for they also had been watching the departing cab. And then, some would later say that the most miraculous thing of all happened, when for the rest of the night, no one paid for a drink. Later that night, the Angel returned back to heaven and placed in the Lord's hand, the wish of a soul for the happiness of another. And as the heavenly host looked on, the Lord smiled.

- Merry Christmas!

Somewhere in this universe between reality and dreams, the Lord's youngest Angel sat upon a star lost deep in thought. Once again the Lord had given him a quest, to return to earth on the night of Christmas Eve and this time, to leave the one thing behind that would most benefit all of mankind. At first he thought that this would be easy, for the Kingdom of God was filled with countless gifts that would be embraced by all humans, but then the Lord gently told him that as part of his mission, he could bring nothing with him from the heavenly world. Like the race of man that he would be endeavoring to help, he must arrive and leave the earth with only his soul. "Lord," the Angel humbly asked, "If I may take nothing with me, how can I leave something behind, especially a gift so great that it will benefit all of mankind?" But the Lord only smiled and pointed out that he should leave swiftly for his time was quickly passing. And so the Angel now found himself lost deep in the labyrinth of his problem. But as he sat there pondering, the Angel suddenly felt his soul being touched by the prayer of a child. Now this was quite unusual, for on this night most children were long asleep in the anticipation of all the magic and possibilities the next morning would bring. However, earlier that day some older children had told her that Christmas was not real. That it was a holiday made up to amuse small children like herself and that no adults at all believed it was anything more. It had no other purpose except for the possibility of helping stores clear away overstocked merchandise. When she protested that her parents themselves had told her that everything about Christmas was real, they laughed and said that parents were the ones most deeply involved in this conspiracy.

So on this normally most anticipated of nights, she found herself unable to sleep as she tried to figure out what the truth of this situation was. Then all at once, the shadow of a child's idea started to form in her mind. There was one person who could solve this dilemma, for his presence alone in her home would confirm that all that was said about this night was true. Now, this man was very rarely seen for he usually only arrived when all were fast asleep, but with so much at stake she had decided that she would sneak down to the living room and stay awake until he had arrived to deliver his gifts. But on her way downstairs, she remembered that earlier that year her father had walled up the chimney after some bricks had fallen.

After a moment's hesitation, she decided to alter her plans and finding a candle for light, she climbed up the stairs to the attic where she would have a clear view of all that would occur that night on the roof. Unsure of when, or even if he would arrive, she found herself saying a small prayer before sitting down to wait.

Now, the Angel was concerned because his remaining time to complete his mission was so limited, but like all angels he was unable to turn away from any soul in need and moments later was at the young child's side. As the Angel stood in the attic of that old Victorian house, he could not help but feel the numerous shadows of Christmases past that inhabited this room and he immediately formed a plan to help this child believe once more. Noticing that these Christmas shadows were deepest near an old trunk, the Angel gently turned her eyes in that direction. Then while softly running his fingers through her hair, he whispered to her that exploring it might be a good way to pass the time as she waited.

Minutes later the child would discover that the trunk was filled with numerous items that evoked memories of Christmases from long ago. Ornaments, toys and old records were piled one on another, but the most interesting thing in that trunk was a small stack of yellowed letters and Christmas cards from long before she was born. Fascinated with this window to seemingly forgotten lives, she sat down on a small pile of books and began to read.

The letters were all from different individuals each with a different story of how Christmas had touched their lives. There was a father witnessing Christmas through his child's eyes, a young man who had found his life turned around for the better, but the one that she found the most interesting was one she recognized as being from the lady who had once owned this house. The woman now lived next door and rarely had any visitors. It was accompanied by an article about a successful businessman, and a picture of the both of them together at a much younger time in their lives.

For the next part of the night the Angel would carefully walk beside the child whispering suggestions to her heart. Now angels do this with humans quite often, but for reasons unknown, children, especially on this night, tend to listen better than the rest of us.

So, the child suddenly had another idea, and going back down the stairs, she called information to find the phone number of the man in the article. Then calling that man up, she told him that this night someone would be waiting for him at their town train station and then she quickly hung up. After repeating the same call to the lady next door she then returned upstairs to continue waiting. Later that night she would see them from the attic window slowly walking, hand in hand back towards the lady's home.

After several more letters including that of one young man who had found redemption within a Christmas dream, she realized that there was something magical about this day. Her friends had obviously been wrong for grownups clearly did believe in this day as much as any child.

Feeling somehow exhilarated and very tired she was convinced that she had her answer and there was now no need to wait any longer. But, just as she was about to leave, she noticed that someone had left a present for her right by the trunk. He must have arrived when she was downstairs. Picking up her gift she headed back to her bedroom where she was soon, happily, fast asleep. The Angel noticed that the night was now nearly over and he had very little time left to complete his mission when he suddenly realized that his quest was already finished. Returning to the heavenly kingdom, he appeared before the Lord and showed him a child safely asleep in her bed, a child who realized that the world was magical, and that as magical as it was that she could make it better. A child who once again believed. And the Lord smiled at the Angel and took him into his heart.

On a late night in the spring of 1827 the city of Vienna is experiencing the largest lightning storm in its long history. Within a large disheveled room, Ludwig Von Beethoven is slumped over his piano and on the piano sits the just completed manuscript for his Tenth Symphony. It is his final, and he is certain, his greatest work.

From the shadows a beautiful spirit, Fate, and her deformed dwarf son, Twist, emerge to inform Beethoven that this is to be his last night on earth. They are accompanied by numerous spirits and ghosts from his past, and he finds their babbling unbearable. He begs them to leave, but Twist tells him that as shadows they only exist by the light that Beethoven's life has cast and that light is slowly dimming. With each successive crack of lightning the spirits all draw closer.

At the stroke of midnight, Mephistopheles suddenly appears and informs Beethoven that he is there to collect the composer's soul. Beethoven, faced with eternal damnation, is terrified and claims that it cannot be his time, that he has yet to complete his Tenth Symphony. Mephistopheles looks at the manuscript and then, with seemingly uncharacteristic generosity, offers to give him as much additional time as he needs as long as he will tell him now what parts he plans to add or change. His bluff called, Beethoven is forced to admit that he would not change a single note.

The Devil nods thoughtfully and then makes the composer another offer. If Beethoven will give him all his music, allowing Mephistopheles to wipe it from the memory of man, he will return his soul to him. Beethoven is overwhelmed by the situation. Fearing an eternity of damnation and torment he is desperate to reclaim his soul, but the thought of losing his music, his life's work, causes him to hesitate.

Mephistopheles, sensing his confusion, offers to leave for one hour before returning for Beethoven's answer. As the devil is turning to leave Beethoven notices that the hands of the clock are moving faster than normal. When he points this out to Mephistopheles, the devil replies that the maestro should consider it a final favor because where Beethoven is going, they never turn at all.

Crushed by the dilemma he finds himself in, Beethoven tries to recall the particular actions in his life that have led to his damnation. In anger, he confronts Fate for having dealt him such a cruel hand. Taken aback, she asks what he would have her change. Forced to review his life, he discovers that the removal of what he considers the most painful moments of his life would also remove the inspiration for what he considers his finest works. He also realizes that his music is who he is, the reason for his existence, and decides that he would rather suffer for eternity than have it destroyed. He cannot remove this music that he has seen bring so much joy to so many.

When Mephistopheles returns to find his offer refused, he quickly replaces it with another. If Beethoven will only give him the un-released Tenth Symphony (which no one else has heard, so he reasons it will never be missed) he will return the maestro's soul. Beethoven agonizes once more and after conferring with the ghost of Mozart, again decides that he is unable to destroy his music.

In a final desperate attempt to obtain the Tenth Symphony, Mephistopheles points out through a window to a child sleeping in the gutter. He tells the old man that he, Mephistopheles, owns this child's life and in great detail lists all the horrors and suffering that she will experience in her short existence. If Beethoven will release to him this final musical creation, then Mephistopheles will give up all claims on the child, irrevocably removing himself, all his evil and unhappiness from the child's life.

Beethoven turns away from the sight of the little girl, determined to pronounce a firm and final no. But before the words can leave his mouth he finds himself once more looking towards the child. He desperately tries to convince himself that she means nothing to him. Besides, she is not his responsibility and even if he does save her there are millions more like her. This single life will make no difference while his symphony will bring joy to countless generations.

Despite his best efforts he can not bring himself to leave the child to this evil and collapsing on the piano bench, he tells the devil that he has a deal.

Mephistopheles dances with delight as he picks up the manuscript never noticing Twist who sneaks over and whispers in Ludwig's ear, "How do you know that Mephistopheles will keep his word?" Beethoven sits up and repeats the question aloud. Mephistopheles, never looking up from examining his prize, replies that Beethoven can draw up his own wording for a contract that they will write on the back of a page torn from a bible. Beethoven glances questioningly towards Fate who is still watching from the background. She nods her head for even the shadows know that a contract written on such sacred paper is unbreakable, even by the devil himself.

Beethoven, totally exhausted, mutters his consent but is unable to write the words that will bring about the destruction of his beloved Tenth. Fate, seeing his dilemma, offers to write down the agreement for him and he hands the paper to her. As he stares out the window Fate writes,

It is agreed upon this night, March 26, 1827, between the undersigned, that the music of the Tenth Symphony, composed by Ludwig von Beethoven, first born son of Johann and Maria von Beethoven, in the city of Bonn, shall henceforth be the property of Mephistopheles, Lord of Darkness and first fallen from the grace of God. It is also understood that it is his intention to remove any signs of this music from the memory of man for all eternity. In exchange for the destruction of the aforementioned music it is also agreed that Mephistopheles and all his minions will remove themselves from the life of the child presently sleeping in the gutter directly across from the window of this room. This removal of influence is to be commenced immediately upon signing and to be enforced for all eternity.

_________________________
Ludwig Von Beethoven

               

_____________________
Mephistopheles


Mephistopheles reads the paper, signs it and pushes it in front of Beethoven. Without even looking at the document the composer signs the paper. Immediately, Mephistopheles reaches over the piano, seizes the Tenth's manuscript and thrusts it over a lit candle. It is engulfed in a wall of flames. But when the flames have died down the devil is stunned to find that not only does the manuscript still exist, but it is not even singed. Thrusting it back over the candle it is once again engulfed in flames only to emerge unscathed.

Sensing that he has been tricked, he screams for an explanation but Beethoven's expression tells him that he is as shocked at the turn of events as the devil himself. As Mephistopheles is glancing once more at the manuscript he hears a giggling from the darkness. There he sees Twist who is poorly concealing his delight.

"What are you laughing at you wretched troll?"

"The composer's parents gave birth to a son prior to the maestro's birth. They named him Ludwig von Beethoven but he died within the year. The man before you is Ludwig Von Beethoven, second born of Johann & Maria. You have purchased the Tenth Symphony of Ludwig Von Beethoven, first born of Johann & Maria, if he ever writes one." Mephistopheles glares at Fate, who smiles back at him demurely. Then, throwing the music back at Beethoven, he screams in frustration and disappears in an explosion of smoke and flame.

Beethoven is surprised by Mephistopheles' rapid departure and asks if he is not coming back to collect his soul. To which Fate replies that he never had any claim to his soul.

"But Mephistopheles said..."

"He is the devil," Fate replies, "He lies." And with those words a warm feeling of peace spreads throughout Beethoven's body and across his soul.

When he asks Fate what is to happen next, she tells him that it is time for him to rest, for tonight he will dream a new dream within the gates of paradise. As the words weave their way into his soul, Beethoven lies down on the couch near his piano and begins a new dream.

With the departure of his soul the storm begins to break and a stillness settles over the room as one by one the ghosts and shadows fade away. All seems at peace until the sudden re-appearance of Twist returning through a window. He gazes about the room, a look of mischievous delight spread across his face. Scampering over to the piano, he takes the manuscript for the Tenth Symphony and then climbing up a bookcase, carefully slips it behind a wall. Here it will remain hidden, the world blissfully unaware of its existence, until that one day in the future when it will be discovered and it will once more live again.

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