Historical Fiction Fantasy Christmas

It looked like a perfectly ordinary cardboard box. Just sitting there on the floor in the barracks. There was nothing strange or suspicious about it. What was suspicious was the fact that it was there. Its mere existence was strange, and Sergeant Plundell was only just starting to get used to the fact that this place was indeed very strange.

What made things stranger was that the box had his name on it. There couldn’t be any other Sergeant Plundells, could there? And there weren’t any other prisoner-of-war camps with the same number.

Every soldier in the barracks had been staring at the box, which was about the size of a coffee table atlas, for the last several minutes. It hadn’t moved, but Private Kesby kept reaching over with a poker to prod at it.

“It just . . . showed up at the door?” Plundell asked.

“I guess so,” Kesby said. “Corporal Viermitz knocked and said it was there. He said it just appeared. One minute, the doorstep was empty. The next, poof! Package.”

“Why don’t we open it to see what’s inside?” Private Wraight asked.

The barracks fell silent. Plundell shook his head. “Remember the poltergeist in the radio a couple months ago? We don’t need a repeat of that.” He took another look at the package. “Honestly, I’m afraid to touch it.”

“It wasn’t very heavy,” Wraight replied. “I don’t think there’s another radio in there.”

“No, but it could still be cursed.”

“I think you’re overthinking things because of what happened in October, mate.”

“Well, it’s not from the Red Cross. They’re not scheduled to deliver for another two weeks, and there aren’t any markings on it. Could it be from family?” Kesby asked.

“I doubt it. I don’t recognize the handwriting. There’s no stamp, and no return address. That’s what has me worried,” Plundell said.

Wraight shrugged. “Take it to Westheimer. I’m just he could tell you if it’s cursed or not.” He snapped his fingers. “What if it’s from him, though? After all, Viermitz didn’t take it to get inspected when he found it.”

Kesby snorted. “Oh, please, have you just met Westheimer? He doesn’t strike me as the gift-giving type.”

“Good point.”

Sighing, Plundell picked up the package. It wasn’t too light, but it wasn’t too heavy. He shook it, not hearing anything inside. “I’ll be back, then.” He put on his heavy jacket, and tucked the box under his arm before stepping out into the camp yard, which had been turned into a winter wonderland. The trees surrounding the camp were weighed down with heavy snow, and big snowflakes continued to fall from the dingy gray sky. Guards now walked around with shovels along with their rifles. A couple of prisoners were assisting with digging out the vehicles in the motor pool. Snow would occasionally slide down from the roofs of the barracks and guard quarters and Westheimer’s living quarters, creating large piles around the camp.

Plundell hunched in on himself as he trudged through the snow toward Westheimer’s quarters. A part of him regretted bothering the commandant so much, but he wouldn’t have gone out that day if it wasn’t important. He minded the steps, knowing one of the guards broke his hip after slipping on ice a few days ago. He didn’t want to suffer the same thing, nor did he want that package to accidentally break open.

That guard’s replacement, Private Liebermann, gave Plundell a look, then looked at the box. “What is that?”

“Truthfully, I don’t know. That’s why I’m taking it to Captain Westheimer. I’m . . . afraid it might be cursed.”

In any other scenario, Plundell would have been afraid of getting laughed off the stairs. It was still so strange to see how . . . normal magic was here. Liebermann simply opened the door. “Go on inside, and do exactly as the commandant tells you.”

“Thank you.” Walking into the entryway, Plundell suddenly found himself in a maze of old boxes filled to their brims with Christmas decorations. There were little statues of snowmen and mice and birds and deer dancing on a desk. Carefully, placing the box down on the floor, Plundell rubbed his eyes. These definitely weren’t toys. There weren’t any windup knobs on them. How were they moving?

The smell of smoke filled the room and Plundell turned to see Westheimer leaving his office with his pipe in his mouth. The warlock held up his cane, and there was a soft sound, like a short gust of wind. The little figurines on the desk stopped moving. Plundell smiled a little. “I should’ve known.”

“My daughters loved those when they were children,” Westheimer explained. “The hardest part was convincing them not to tell every other child at school about it.” His smile faded. “What do you need today?”

“Well . . .” Plundell knelt down to pick up the box. “This showed up on the doorstep to our barracks. I-I don’t know who sent it, a-and after what happened with the radio . . . I’m afraid to open it.”

Westheimer gestured for Plundell to follow him into his office. “You did not request anything from home?”

“No, sir. And I don’t recognize the handwriting. There’s no stamp, no return address. It’s not from you, is it?”

“If I was going to give you anything, I would have just handed it to you directly.” Westheimer took a long look at the writing on the box. “It is not from one of the guards.”

“Is it cursed, then?”

“The only way to find out would be to open it. Get behind the desk.”

Plundell could imagine the horrible-looking skeletal shadow from the radio crawling out of the box. He drew his legs up to his chest, breathing hard and squeezing his eyes shut. He heard Westheimer cut open the box with a knife, and hugged his knees tighter.

“You can come out, son.”

Plundell cautiously stood up. The package now sat open on Westheimer’s desk. Inside, neatly packed, were tins of tea, hot chocolate, Christmas candies, cookies, a black knit hat, a pair of gloves, and a blue pendant. The stone of the pendant was marred with silver veins. “This certainly wasn’t what I was expecting.”

“What were you expecting?”

“Another radio. A magic book. Human organs. I don’t know. Something dark and evil.”

Westheimer picked up the pendant with the end of his cane. “This was exactly what I was expecting. Something that looks very innocent, but is hiding something very dark and evil indeed.”

“You mean, that pendant is—”

“It could be cursed, yes.” Westheimer brought the pendant closer to his face. “Pendants like this one are often used to protect the wearer from harmful spells. Witches will hang them around the necks of their children until they are old enough to defend themselves. They have to be re-enchanted every so often because the magic will wear off. However, some witches take advantage of these and instead of enchanting them to protect, they curse them. That is why among witches, you will hear them say, ‘Never buy an amulet from someone you do not know.’”

“How can you tell if it’s cursed?”

Westheimer walked the pendant over to the fireplace. He slowly lowered it into the fire, watching the flames dance harmlessly around it. Then he lifted it out, and cupped his hand under it without touching it. “Well, it is not hot, so we have proven that it is enchanted, but now we just need to figure out whether this was done by a good witch or a bad witch.”

“Can’t you reverse it? Put a good enchantment on it?” Plundell asked.

“Oh, I wish it were that easy. No. You cannot just change an amulet’s enchantment by casting another spell on it.”


“That is not how it works. Magic has its own rules. We must strip the previous enchantment before we can put a new one on.”

“I don’t know even know if I want it. There’s no point in keeping it.”

“I can put a protection spell on it.”

Plundell shook his head. “Every time I get mixed up with magic, it makes a mess. Someone sent that bloody poltergeist and now someone’s sending me a cursed necklace. What did I do to upset this person? Why do they want me to suffer?”

“You did nothing, but you harbor painful memories. Everyone here does in some capacity. There are witches and warlocks out there who get their pleasure out of torture. Some like a quick rush. Others prefer a slow, satisfactory burn.”

“Why, though? They don’t gain anything from it.”

“They gain a sense of control. Witches, for centuries, believed the fact that they possess magic should give them control over those who do not. Many still believe that. Others, like myself, do not. I told you that when we discussed my family last week.”

“You did. But . . . why me?”

“Circumstance. You have not left the camp.” Westheimer raised an eyebrow. “Have you?”

“No. Only for work details.”

“I am trusting that you are telling the truth. That eliminates you accidentally disturbing a witch’s territory, which leaves us with the idea that it is poor circumstances. And, perhaps, the use of a specialized crystal ball.”

“I had always thought those were fake.”

Westheimer shook his head. “Crystal balls have a myriad of uses. Some are enchanted to see events in a person’s future. Others can be enchanted to see someone’s dreams as they happen. In my experience, someone being tormented by a witch can almost always be traced back to a crystal ball. This particular witch was likely probing the area—he or she likely has a hut in the woods around the camp—and found you.”

“All because I have nightmares.” Unable to stand anymore, Plundell sunk to the floor, staring into the fire. “It doesn’t help with the poltergeist incident. I keep hearing its voice in my dreams at night and sometimes I wonder if it’s actually gone. Now I’m going to start fearing that there’ll be witches outside the barracks windows.”

“I can promise you that will not happen, but—” Westheimer held up the pendant, “that is why I suggest you wear this, with a protective spell on it. It does not have to be visible. You can tuck it under your clothing.”

“You’re certain it will be safe?”

“Sergeant, do you trust me?”

Plundell nodded.

“It will be safe. I have done this before. It will not be complete until tomorrow morning, so, you do not have to hang around here.”

“Alright.” Plundell stood up, and looked at the box. “What about the hats and gloves and tea and food?”

“I have my concerns that some of those might be poisoned. I will let you know tomorrow morning.”


As the sun set, the snow had slowed a little. From a window in the barracks, Plundell watched clouds of steam rise up from the mugs the guards were passing out to each other. A part of him felt sorry for those who had to patrol during the night, especially in this weather.

“So, Westheimer thinks the necklace is cursed?” Kesby asked from a small table where he and another POW were playing chess.

“He didn’t say whether or not he knew, just that it was highly likely,” Plundell replied.

“Or he’s just messing with you to keep the necklace and sell it,” Wraight said from his bunk.

“I don’t think so. He tested it in his fireplace. It’s definitely enchanted.”

“Still. Maybe he has other witchy friends he’d like to sell it to.”

Plundell narrowed his eyes. “Again, I don’t think so. Besides, have you ever seen him leave the camp?”

“Plundell’s got a good point, there,” Kesby added. “I’ve never seen Westheimer’s car leave the motor pool.”

Wraight shrugged. “He might go when we’re on work detail.”

“I mainly work in the motor pool. Westheimer doesn’t take his car out very often. Frankly, it’s not good for the car to have it sit like that for weeks on end.”

Wraight glanced over at Plundell. “You trust Westheimer?”

“I do,” Plundell replied. “I don’t think that package was a silly prank from one of you or the guards.”

“Yes, but who was the person who said he saw it magically appear on the doorstep? One of the guards.”

Kesby shook his head. “Viermitz doesn’t strike me as the pranking type.”

“Didn’t Westheimer once tell you some of the guards are warlocks?”

Plundell nodded. “He didn’t specify who for their privacy.”

“You don’t suspect one of them gave you that package?”

“I thought of it, but Westheimer didn’t recognize the handwriting.”

“You don’t think for one second that he could be lying to you about that?”

“Why would he? There’s no way any of the guards could have gotten all that tea and candy.”

“Not any of the regular guards, but one of the witchy ones may have. I’m not saying you’re wrong, Plundell, I’m just asking that you think about it."


Icy winds battered the walls of the barracks that night. Plundell could see snow blowing in through the cracks in the window frames. Every soldier had his blanket wrapped tightly around his body, struggling to keep warm. The next several months were going to be hell.

Plundell had been lying awake for the last hour, unable to fall back asleep. His thoughts kept turning to the strange package, as well as Wraight’s comments earlier in the afternoon. Could one of the guards have brought it? If so, why? Did they mistakenly buy a cursed pendant, or had they enchanted it themselves?

In the morning, he got himself out of his bunk with the rest of the POWs to stand outside in the snow for morning rollcall. Dunes of snow had piled up throughout the camp, but as Plundell watched a group of Germans attempt to shovel one of the larger ones, he nearly tripped over a box on the doorstep.

“What is it?” Kesby asked.

“It’s another package.” Plundell picked it up, wiping the snow from the top. “It’s for you.”

Kesby raised an eyebrow. “No, there’s no way.”

“It’s in the same handwriting, too.”

As they got in line, Plundell watched Westheimer leave his quarters and limp over to the camp’s sergeant, saluting before going over to the group of prisoners. Behind Westheimer was an embarrassed-looking Private Liebermann.

“Sergeant Plundell,” Westheimer said, “I tested that pendant last night, and it turns out that it already had a protection spell placed on it. Someone—” He took Liebermann by the shoulder and gently nudged him forward, “was clearly in the holiday spirit.”

“I thought you said you didn’t recognize the handwriting,” Plundell replied.

“At first, I did not. It was not until after I found out that the pendant was safe that I started pondering the idea that possibly it was one of the guards who gave you a gift. I compared the writing on the box to all the records I have, and found a match.” Westheimer looked at Liebermann, who was still looking down at the snow.

“So, I take it this box is also from him?” Plundell held out the package addressed to Kesby.

“It is,” Liebermann said.

“Why didn’t you say so when I brought this to Westheimer yesterday?”

“I wanted it to be a secret. That, and I didn’t think you would trust me.” Liebermann finally made eye contact with Plundell. “I had overheard you had been very scared ever since the incident with the poltergeist in the radio, and . . . I thought a protection amulet would help. Same with Private Kesby, and everyone who saw it. I got amulets for the whole barracks.”

“I think we would’ve appreciated you coming clean with this,” Kesby said.

“We were worried someone was sending cursed items,” Plundell added.

“I understand. I’m very sorry about that.” Liebermann resumed staring at the ground.

“Your heart was in the right place, son.” Westheimer gently squeezed Liebermann’s shoulder, then glanced at Plundell. “The pendant is in my office if you still want it.”

Looking at Liebermann, Plundell said, “You didn’t have to go to that effort for any of us.”

Liebermann shook his head. “I have been haunted by a poltergeist before. It’s not a pain I would wish on anyone.”

For the first time in a long while, Plundell smiled. “Thank you. I guess I should go get that amulet, then.”

November 29, 2021 03:08

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Erica Hampton
17:32 Dec 06, 2021

Hi Catherine! I loved the magical element to your writing. It really livened up the story of the barracks and kept me on the edge of my seat wondering what might happen next. I did wonder a bit about some of the rules of this universe, or why the characters were in a POW camp/what their purposes were there. Is this part of a larger work? Or do you have a larger universe fleshed out for these characters? Great, fun story!


18:54 Dec 06, 2021

The story takes place during World War II. This is technically connected to a larger story I'm working on getting published within the next few months (currently looking for cover designers at the moment), so there is absolutely more to this universe that I can't wait to share. I enjoy alternate history stories and had always wanted to see World War II with a fantasy and adventure element that didn't get bogged down by sci-fi and time travel, because it seems like those tropes have been done to death. I had been thrilled when my entry "Radio...


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