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In 1966, eight-year-old Jack Mason glanced up at a shooting star while
building a snow castle in his backyard on Christmas night. Now in 2048 at age
ninety, he finally learns what resulted from such a trivial occurrence.

Gloria Grant, a new resident at the Harbor View Retirement Home, tells Jack
that she would never have been born if he hadn’t seen that shooting star
eighty-two years ago. But Jack is skeptical since he has known Gloria for only
three months.

So begins
A Christmas Castle, a heartwarming tale of two ordinary people
caught up in a conversation about distant memories and forgotten dreams. And
while most individuals' lives won’t reach meteoric heights, the day-to-day
building of a life and a family can be an extraordinary thing by itself. And when
fate decides to lend a hand, sometimes even forgotten dreams can still
With that one breath, he saw her face.

In the darkness of the theater, her profile was softly illuminated by the glow of
the projector light. Jack noted the outline of her smile and then smiled himself
as Charlene laughed at the chaotic dinner party splashed across the movie
screen, displaying that infectious grin he loved so dearly. He couldn’t help but
join in her delight when Charlene glanced at him while grabbing some popcorn
from the bag they shared. The warm scent of fresh popcorn danced in the air
between them. And at that sweet simple moment, Jack knew he could share a
lifetime with her. She was so easy to be with.

Jack slowly picked up a cold kernel, rolling it between his fingertips. The red
plastic bowl sitting on his lap was nearly empty.

“If you strung more popcorn than you ate, I wouldn’t have had to make another
batch,” said Gloria Grant. She carried a large bowl of steaming popcorn into
the sunroom at the Harbor View Retirement Community’s main building nestled
in the middle of New York State. A rising moon, just past full, cast a bluish
sheen upon the frozen field of snow outside a curtainless picture window.

Hmmm?” Jack Mason glanced up, the kernel dropping from his wrinkled
fingers. An unfinished string of popcorn lay across his thin, ninety-year-old
legs. “My mind was wandering. What’d you say, Gloria?”

“You eat too much,” she replied with a smirk. She sat next to Jack and set her
retractable cane against the cushioned chair. A pair of auto-focusing
binoculars rested on the pine tray table to her right.

“I skipped that chicken something-or-other they served tonight, so forgive me if
I snack on the garland,” he said with a wink as Gloria poured some of the fresh
popcorn into his bowl. Jack’s unkempt mop of thinning hair matched the silvery-
white crystalline snow outside the window. He wore a baggy, navy blue
sweatshirt, some comfortable slacks and a pair of brown slippers. He glanced
at a holographic calendar embedded in the wall, its digital display reading
December 21, 2048 in a cool green glow. “It’s four days until Christmas
anyway. Aren’t you finished decorating yet?”

“I thought the front desk could use a little more pizzazz,” she said, grabbing the
binoculars while the bowl rested upon her lap. She peered out the window
through them, her fiery green eyes still sparkling like stars as they did on the
day of her birth seventy-five years before. “However, I’m comparing the
decorations in here to the ones in my cottage which I’ve decked out to the hilt.
So naturally I win that contest.” Gloria set the binoculars down and continued
to string popcorn. “I just love Christmas.”

Jack started to work on his own garland strand, carefully pushing a sewing
needle through the center of each popped kernel. “For someone who moved
here three months ago, you’re certainly giving the place a personal touch.”

“I like to keep busy and nobody seems to mind.”

Jack grunted in amusement. “Well, Edna Phelps did get her dander up when
they rearranged the furniture in the game lounge after your suggestion.”

“She did?”

“Yes indeed. ‘Why, that Gloria keeps her own cottage and
still thinks she has
free reign in the common building!’ That’s what Edna told me at breakfast one

“But there was so much wasted space.” Gloria placed her fingertips to her
mouth. “I never meant…”

Jack swished a hand through the air. “Don’t fret. Two days later I saw Edna
sitting in the lounge scanning through her reading pad. She said the room
looked quite charming and that you apparently knew what you were talking
about. Just don’t ever expect her to admit that to you.”

Gloria chuckled, glancing at the potted palm plants and some old framed oil
paintings hung about the sandstone colored walls. One shelf contained a
collection of nautical-themed knickknacks–white lighthouses, iron anchors and
some leaping trout–and several red bows were affixed to decorative fish
netting draped over one corner of the ceiling. A three-foot Christmas tree stood
atop a small table near the side window, its sparkling lights reflecting off the
glass panes like gemstones.

“Dear me, but I better not get any ideas for this room,” she said. “I know how
much you enjoy spending time here wallowing in the dreadfully old-fashioned.”

“And don’t you forget it. After I moved out of my cottage four years ago, I took a
liking to this sunroom,” he said. “Hardly anyone uses it since they built the
larger addition on the east side, so I brought in some of my things. It’s cool and
quiet in the evening. And I can read, think and, well–string popcorn.”

“If I’m ever intruding…”

“…I’ll let you know.”

Gloria patted his arm, smiling. “And I know you would.”

Jack grinned as he pierced another piece of popcorn. “By the way, what’s with
those?” he said, indicating the binoculars with a slight twist of his head. “Are
you a spy?”

“It’s a gift from my son.” Gloria moved the cuff of her holly-and-ivy patterned
sweater and looked at her watch. “I’m waiting for something tonight, Jack. It’s
going to happen this very evening, right on the first day of winter. I’ll tell you
about it shortly.”

“Happen out
there?” Jack placed another piece of popcorn into his mouth. “All
you’ll see outside this window is some deer wandering near those woods. Or
perhaps you’d rather look at the moon?”

“Both subjects are worthy of observation, Jack. But I was focusing my attention
down in the valley. Something’s happening in Sage Harbor tonight.” Subdued
delight entwined her words. “Something

“Is that so?” Jack nodded, his eyes fixed on the popcorn as he added to his
string piece by piece. “Well, here’s hoping that you’ll see something
spectacular,” he said, fondly recalling a tucked-away memory.

Spectacular? I guess that would be an apt description, too,” Gloria replied.
“Sage Harbor may unveil some beauties tonight.”

Jack smiled. “Sage Harbor… Growing up, I always liked that city, especially
the small boats on the river. There was this café my father took me to
whenever we visited. Of course, living in tiny East Oaks ten miles down the
river, why, I thought Sage Harbor was the biggest place in the world.”

“My mother Jenny was raised in East Oaks,” Gloria said, “so I had my fair
share of small town stories from her.”

“East Oaks was a fine place to grow up in.” Jack gazed out the window as
winter reached the end of its first day with the moon rising in the east. The
dispersion of light made the tract of snow appear frozen over, as if a sweep of
freezing rain had recently glazed its surface. He studied the subtle sparkle of
light dancing upon the ground as a faraway smile spread across his face. He
was silent for several moments.

“What are you thinking about, Jack?” Gloria looked at him, knowing his
thoughts were miles away in time.

Jack chuckled. “I was thinking about the Christmas night I found that shooting
star stuck in a snow bank.”

Gloria curiously raised an eyebrow. “Excuse me?”

“It was 1966. I was eight years old and the outdoors looked almost exactly like
it does now. Bright moonlight washing over the snow. Clear skies and quiet.”
Jack caressed his chin as he continued to stare out the window, his eyes
focused on memories. “I hadn’t thought about that shooting star in quite some
time. I
followed it,” he proudly said as if divulging a deep secret to Gloria. “It
led me to Charlie and Alice.” He rested his head against the back of the chair
for a moment as he soaked in the view from outdoors. “
Hmmm, I wonder if
those two ever got married.”

Gloria sat up arrow straight upon hearing those two names, looking askance at
Jack. She slowly rubbed a hand across her head of light brown hair. “
Who did
you just say?”

Hmmm?” Jack’s eyes met Gloria’s. “Was my mind wandering again?”

“Perhaps.” She placed a hand upon his arm. “What about Charlie and Alice?
Tell me more. You said that shooting star had led you to Charlie and Alice.
What about them?”

Jack wrinkled his brow, thinking hard. “Something I overheard once.
Something I learned.” He scratched his head. “Can’t remember their last
names, but I can still hear the crunch of snow under my boots. I can still smell
the pine.” He looked at Gloria. “Isn’t that funny?”

“Jack, what did you overhear?” Gloria spoke softly as if asking a dying man to
reveal a vital, life-saving piece of information. “What did you learn about
Charlie and Alice?”

Jack noted the eagerness in her eyes that burst forth like sparks in a blazing
bonfire, unable to comprehend Gloria’s sudden curiosity. “There’s not much to
tell,” he said, taking a piece of popcorn between his thumb and forefinger and
steadily pushing the needle through its center. “I only told my oldest sister what
I had learned and made her promise to keep it secret. I was eight, after all.” His
fingers fished inside the bowl again. “Imagined I’d get in trouble if I told anyone

“You never mentioned you had any siblings.”

Jack nodded. “Yes. Two sisters. And I miss them both.”

Gloria peeked out at the moonlit night before speaking. “Jack, about your
oldest sister. Was her name Loretta by any chance?”

“Yes. But how’d you know?”

Gloria spoke in a whisper. “
Loretta Mason.”

“That’s right,” Jack replied. “Her married name was Loretta Corda. Did you
know her?”

“No. But my mother did,” she said, sitting back in her chair and pondering a
handful of thoughts. Slowly she turned her head, studying Jack as he added to
the lengthening popcorn garland. She observed his aged face and silvery hair,
trying to imagine the boy of eight who once owned that body. “So it must have
you,” she finally said in wonderment, a slight smile germinating upon her
face. “You
had to be the one!”

“The one
what?” Jack said looking up, not quite sure if she was speaking to
him or to the wintry night.

Gloria shifted sideways in her chair, taking Jack by the arm, peering deep into
his eyes. “I just realized something, Jack, and after all these years.”

“What?” he said. “Tell me.”

Gloria Grant bowed her head and took a deep breath before looking at him
once again, a childlike glow upon her face. “Jack, I just realized that… I just
realized that if you hadn’t seen that shooting star on Christmas night when you
were eight years old, then I would never have been born!”

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