The Christmas Goose, by Bryant Burroughs

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The Christmas Goose

by Bryant Burroughs

The goose jerked its head. The voices that awakened him were more odd than disturbing because few travelers stopped at the little inn during the middle of the night.

As the night turned quiet again, the goose shivered with joy when he saw the little girl, her black curls wrapped in a white cap, slipping out to the shed to talk. He couldn’t understand the girl’s soft words nor did the little girl understand the goose’s honks, but they loved each other. They were each other’s companion and secret keeper.

“Did you hear all that?” asked the little girl as she fed the goose some crumbs of bread from her hand. “It was awful! Papa had to turn away a man and his pregnant wife. Too bad every room is filled.”

The goose honked his thanks for the bread and nuzzled the little girl’s hand. She patted his head as she gazed at the bright stars.

“Poor thing, too. She wasn’t much older than I am. She looked so tired… so scared. I wonder what they’ll do now?”

The goose honked his sympathy. Sensing that the little girl was distracted, he climbed into her lap and nuzzled her chin. She absently stroked the goose’s head and beak.

“She reminded me of my mother,” she whispered, talking to herself as much as to the goose. “Or at least how Papa describes her. I curl up with her blanket every night, hoping I’ll see her in my dreams. But even in my dreams I can’t see her face.”

The night sky glittered with pinprick stars, singing of a world unimaginably beyond the little inn, and beyond even the little girl’s heartache. One star, in particular, seemed much closer than the others, closer even than the moon that shone on the other side of the inn. The bright star perched low in the sky above the hills just beyond the shed.

The little girl stirred and pointed to the star. “What is that?” she asked the contented goose. “And I can hear singing from the hills. Can you hear it?”

The goose looked up, and the little girl smiled. “You’re right,” she laughed. “Hills can’t sing.”

“Hey! Are you up for an adventure?” she exclaimed. “Maybe we could walk to that star. It looks so near, doesn’t it?”

The goose honked, causing the little girl to smile again.

“Yes, you’re right. It’s too far for you to walk, but I have just the right thing.” She jumped to her feet and grabbed a rucksack hanging on the shed wall. “This is perfect!” she said as the looped the strap around her neck with the bag next to her chest. “Here you go,” she said as she gently lifted her friend into the bag. He purred like a contented cat because his two favorite pleasures were being close to the little girl and avoiding a walk.

The little girl walked with the goose in her knapsack through the gate behind the inn and into a field of patchy grass. She walked this path almost every afternoon, greeting the cows and donkeys and sheep in the field and then climbing the slope to her special place, which was no more than a ledge with an overhanging roof.

A little girl who has lost her mother carries within her heart a special measure of loneliness. She loved her Papa, but he missed his wife too much to talk about his loss. So each afternoon she sat alone in her safe place in the hills, lost in sadness and trying to recall the face of a mother she had seen only in the first hour of her life.

Walking the path at night, however, was scarier than in daylight, but the moon to her back and the star to her face lit her way. She noticed that the strange star was blazing even more intensely, and its light danced on the rocky hills.

Shadows took shape to her left and right, and nearby a big shape moved with a clanging sound. The little girl froze, looking to the goose for comfort. It was purring as it slept in the rucksack, happy, warm and safe. Well, no help there, she thought. The clanging shadow drew closer as it moved toward the hills in front of her. She stood perfectly still. Suddenly a loud “Honk!” came from the rucksack. She frantically shushed the goose, but it was too late. The big, clanging shadow veered toward her. When it was only feet away, the shadow let out a “Moooo!” The goose honked a greeting as the clanging shadow approached them.

“Whew, Sharda, you gave me a fright,” exhaled the little girl. “What are you doing out at night? Bell-cows should be safe and warm at home.” Sharda licked the goose’s head, then resumed its slow walk toward the hills. The strange star had grown larger and brighter than a full moon, and the little girl could see that the shapes were cows, sheep, and donkeys moving through the field and up the slope of the hills, which were illuminated by the star as if it were an unimaginably powerful lantern.

The little girl marveled at the astonishing scene in the field. The goose was looking around, too, from its perch in the rucksack. After a moment, it looked up at the little girl and honked.

“You’re right,” she responded. “Let’s go.”

So the little girl and the little goose joined the cows and sheep and donkeys, and a few dogs and even a housecat or two, and walked up the slope toward the spot where the odd star was pointing. Birds great and small raced above them.

The caravan followed the very path the little girl walked every afternoon. She knew it well, but she kept her eyes down to step carefully around rocks and holes. She couldn’t see ahead anyway because Sharda and two of her sisters were walking in front ahead of her. The goose fussed in its rucksack, but the cows ignored his honked pleas to walk faster.

After climbing the slope, the parade of animals in front of the little girl slowed and fanned out beyond both edges of the rocky path. “Look!” she gasped to the goose. The animals had gathered around a ledge with a small overhang—her ledge. And on the ledge, illumined by the star blazing directly overhead, were the man and woman she had seen earlier that evening. The man was adding sticks of wood to a small fire, and next to him lay the woman.

Moved by curiosity and a sense of empathy that she couldn’t explain, the little girl crept toward her ledge. The animals gave her room to squeeze through until she stood only a few feet from the flickering fire. She was transfixed by the shining eyes of the woman, who looked pale and tired, yet happy, as she lay beside her newborn, who was wrapped from toes to chin in a rough covering.

All the animals and birds took in the mesmerizing scene of the man, the woman, and the infant. The swaddled newborn seemed aware of the witnessing animals, its eyes roaming from side to side as if to greet each one. At first, the only sound was the crackling of the fire. Then, as if joyously greeting the newborn, the animals began to moo and baa and meow and bark and bray and chirp and caw.

The little girl looked at the goose, her best friend in the whole world, and spoke the words she had said to it every day: “I love you, little goose.” The goose bowed its head when it heard the little girl, and then it said, “Honk,” which meant, “And I love you.”

The woman whispered a few words to the man, who emptied another of their rough bags and handed it to her. She wrapped it around her bright-eyed baby for added warmth.

Two housecats—a golden tabby and the other gray-striped—stepped from the crowd. They lived in the baker’s shop, rolling on the floor at customers’ feet to be admired and petted, then spending warm afternoons sleeping atop the wall that ran behind the inn and the bakery. All the animals stopped chattering as the two cats reached the woman. They nuzzled the woman’s arm for a moment, then flopped down, one on each side of the baby, stretching and plastering themselves to it, purring with joy to be sharing their furry warmth with the newborn.

The little girl and the goose realized at the same instant that they wanted to help the infant, too. “Come on!” the little girl exclaimed. “He needs something soft and warm to lie on.”

They ducked under cows, dodged between horses and donkeys, and leaped over sheep and dogs. “We have important work to do for the baby!” the little girl called behind her as she rushed down the slope toward the field.

Breathing hard as she ran through the gate to the inn, she put down the rucksack and gasped, “Wait here. I have just the thing for the baby.” The goose honked and squirmed in the rucksack. The little girl thought his honk meant, “OK, I’ll wait here,” but instead the goose meant, “I have something to get, too. I have just the thing for the baby.”

The little girl dashed back a minute later, cradling in her arms the blanket that had rested across her bed all her life. Its faint fragrance of her mother warmed her body and soul. The blanket was her treasure.

The rucksack was empty! “Silly goose!” she called out. “Come on! There’s no time to eat your grain!”

With a loud honk, he waddled from the shed, dragging with his beak a tufty wad.

“What is that?” she asked, stooping to feel the material. She looked at the goose in wonder. “But that’s your down from your nest!” she exclaimed. “You can’t give it away. You need it.”

The goose looked into her face and then at the blanket she held neatly folded in her arms.

“Okay, I get it,” she laughed. The little girl stuffed the goose-down and blanket into her rucksack, grabbed the goose under one arm, and dashed out the gate toward the ledge.

The exhausted young mother warming her newborn beside the fire was wide awake. Wonder was all around her. The gleaming star made the air sing like the sound of thick falling snowflakes. The throng of creatures rumbled in conversation. The two cats purred next to her infant. Dogs and wolves had rushed away to retrieve scraps of brushwood for the fire. Calves skipped up and down the path. Lion cubs and ewes happily wrestled and tumbled with each other. And a dozen local shepherds had rushed through the crowd of animals and, drunk with excited amazement, had related a story of singing angels. The woman grasped her husband’s hand.

“Here she comes! She’s coming through now!” The cry echoed through the crowd of animals, and they hushed and made a corridor for the little girl with her rucksack and goose. The woman sat up and smiled.

The little girl stepped to the woman and stood with her head down, dark curls hiding her face. She usually knew what to say, but not this time. The goose looked up and honked soft encouragement. The woman beside the fire reached up and squeezed the little girl’s hand. Finally, she blinked, swallowed, and began speaking very fast. “I’m so sorry that you have to be out here in the cold,” she said to the woman. “But I’m glad that you found my ledge—well, it’s not really my ledge. But I climb up here every day.” The goose interrupted with a honk. “Oh, sorry,” the little girl said. “WE come here every day. But it’s a colder and scarier place at night, even with that strange star.”

She paused for a breath and looked at the goose. “Well, we thought your baby might need these.” She pulled the goose down and blanket from her rucksack and held them out to the young mother. The woman didn’t take them. Instead she smiled and nodded toward her newborn babe. The little girl knelt and gently lifted the baby’s head to slip the soft goose-down underneath. Then she spread her mother’s blanket over the newborn. The baby looked into her eyes and smiled.


Life is about growing up and growing old. The little girl grew into a young woman. She and the little goose visited their ledge every day and marveled at that night of a dazzling star, gathered animals, and a wondrous baby. And the little girl wondered about her mother’s blanket.

A goose is not given as many years as a little girl, and the day came that the little goose passed into the time beyond reckoning. The young woman held the goose in her arms for hours at the end, weeping and whispering words of love. Then she placed her dearest friend in the worn old rucksack and gently placed it in the back of her ledge. She stacked stones around and on top of the rucksack, marking the spot as a hallowed place of memory and love. There were twenty-four stones, one for each year they had shared a life. The memorial glowed softly against the dark wall of the cave, as if the twenty-four stones had absorbed the piercing light of the star on that strange, magical night.

The years passed and the young woman’s life became happily filled with a husband, two children, and the inn. She walked every day to her ledge on the craggy hill, where she sat quietly and felt the presence of her goose-friend. On warm days she invited her little ones to walk with her, and she knew her goose enjoyed their chatter and singing. As she returned to the inn, she would stop briefly in front of a nearby cave in which she had buried her dear papa next to her mother. She had learned that life brings each person a measure of joy and sorrow.

A day came that as she returned through the field toward the inn, she heard her husband shouting for her.

“What’s wrong?” she called as she ran to him.

“There’s a man here to see you!” he cried. “He must be important because there’s a crowd with him. But we don’t have a room.”

As the young woman with dark curls bent over to catch her breath, the man who had asked for her stepped out of the inn. Her eyes widened as she saw the familiar folded blanket that he held against his chest as if it were a treasure. Then she looked into his eyes. He smiled the very smile she remembered from long ago and placed the blanket into her arms.

“Little girl,” he said. “This belongs to you.”

About the Writer

Bryant Burroughs is a writer who lives with his wife Ruth in Upstate South Carolina with their three cats. His work has appeared in online literary sites such as Foreshadow, Agape Review, and Faith, Hope and Fiction.

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Photo Credit: “Drake White Chinese Goose” by Liam Lysaght, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons. Modified by Veronica McDonald.

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