"It's a swell day, isn't it kids?" said Peter Jellybean as he passed the village green.
"It sure is!" said the children in unison, smiling. Peter returned their smiles then his expression turned somber.
"I'm sorry to interrupt Pastor John, but it just had to be said!"
"That's quite all right," said Pastor John, nodding and smiling. He smoothed the front of his licorice tunic and turned back to the assembled children sitting on their gumdrop cushions. "Now, where were we?"
"The bearded man in the sky!" said one tiny girl bouncing on her cushion.
"Ah yes, the bearded man. Nearly the beginning of everything," said Pastor John, stretching out the last word for dramatic effect.
Peter folder his hands across his chest. He decided to postpone his walk to his destination so he could listen to his favorite story.
"Well, after the bearded man created our village and placed us here, he disappeared from the sky," continued Pastor John. The children leaned forward. Pastor John started to crouch. "And then....there was a rumbling and a quaking!"
"Ooooooh," said the children.
"And the sky was set in motion. The lights spun overhead! We didn't know what was about to happen next! We thought it was the end of the world."
"No..." said a child.
"Yes!" said Pastor John. "But we were wrong. It wasn't the end! It was just the beginning. When the quaking and the rumbling ended, we found that we faced...the other world beyond the invisible barrier."
"Wow..." said the children.
"Yes, wow. The bearded man, may he appear again," Pastor John looked skyward and folded his hands to his chest, "gave us an unbelievable gift. Amen."
"Amen," said the children.
"Amen," whispered Peter under his breath.
"All right children, it's time for your lessons! You'd better get going," said Pastor John.
"Daisy!" exclaimed Peter, suddenly remembering. The children giggled at him as they hopped off their cushions. Daisy was the schoolteacher and the love of Peter's short life. He had intended to visit her before the children arrived for school. "Oh well," he thought aloud, "I'll walk you there," he said the children.
"Sure Mr. Jellybean," said a the little girl snickering.
They walked past the gingerbread shops dusted with confectioner's sugar. It was everywhere underfoot as well. The children stopped often to pick up fistfuls of it to toss at each other. They arrived at the school in short order, where Daisy stood in the doorway ringing her bell. She greet each child as they arrived. Peter stood in front of her, silent, and removed his chocolate hat. His fingers fidgeted with the rim. As the last child bounded inside he spoke.
"Daisy, dearest," the children inside broke out in laughter, "my dear, would you meet me by the lollipop shop tonight? After you get out of school that is."
Daisy batted her eyelashes. Particles of sugar shook loose and floated down to the ground.
"Why yes Peter, I will," she said smiling and looking down at the bell that rested in her hands.
"Golly!" exclaimed Peter. The children broke out in riotous laughter again.
"You'd better go now," said Daisy.
That night Peter waited by the lollipop shop, his footsteps tracing a circle in the heaps of sugar on the ground. The proprietor of the lollipop eyed him suspiciously as she closed the windows to the shop.
"Better not stay out to late Peter," she said as she locked the front door and started off to her home. "You might catch a chill. Especially so near the barrier. But then again, with all that pacing, you might get so hot you risk melting."
"I'll be fine Mrs. Lemondrop. Don't you worry about me."
"Toodles then," she said as she bustled off.
"Toodles too!" Peter shouted after her, then thought it was a rather silly thing to say. He walked the few steps to the barrier and put his hand against it. It was cold and smooth. Beyond it a few blobs of light moved around. One red blob up in the sky blinked, then it turned off and a green one lit up below it.
"The nebula," said a voice behind him. Peter turned around.
"Daisy!" he said. She grinned, then ran to him and they embraced. He picked her off her feet and twirled her around. They kissed deeply then he set her down. "Wow."
"Minty," she said.
"Cherry," he said, smiling, then he looked down at his feet. She looped her arm into his and looked out through the barrier.
"I wonder what it all is," she said.
"The nebulae," she said, pointing out at the various blobs of light. "You know the children ask me that all the time, but I've never had an answer for them."
"It's better to let Pastor John speculate about it I suppose. Maybe someday the bearded man really will come back."
They both stared out at the beyond in silence. Then Peter found Daisy's hand and squeezed.
"My dearest," he said. "I have something to ask you..." Daisy turned to face him.
"Well, I was wondering..." He coughed then patted his chest.
"I was wondering if you would consent to be my wife?" he said in a rush of words. Daisy stared at him blankly.
"Oh," she finally said, shucking his hand out of hers.
"Oh?" said Peter.
"Well it's just..." she turned to look again at the blobs outside the barrier. She traced their outlines with her fingers.
"You mean, you don't love me?" asked Peter, crestfallen.
"Oh, no darling, I do love you!" said Daisy. "It's just that..."
"It's what then? Don't you want to be my wife? Don't you want me to be your husband?" Peter grabbed Daisy by her shoulders and searched her face.
"Darling, I've always wanted to lead an expedition beyond the barrier. And there's the risk I might not come back if I do..." She turned her back to Peter and started to cry gently.
"An expedition? Beyond the barrier?" He said, staggering backward. He put out an arm and leaned against the barrier for support. He felt dizzy. "But it's a barrier. That means you can't get past it!"
"Yes but I have a theory," she said turning and running to him. She held his face gently, stroking the sugar crystals of his shadow of a beard. "I don't think it's entirely true that we can get past it. I think there's a way around."
"Around?" asked Peter.
"Around," said Daisy. She pointed a finger skyward. Peter followed it up.
"Daisy, dearest, there's no around," said Peter. "There's no way to travel into the sky."
"Only because no one's tried. But the bearded man was in the sky. He must have gotten up there somehow. It must be possible."
"You really think..."
"Yes I do."
"And I can't convince you that an expedition is a bad idea?"
"Dearest, I would still marry you if you went on a thousand expeditions. Even if you didn't come back each time," said Peter.
Daisy burst into laughter then wiped her eyes.
"Darling, that's nonsense," she said.
"It's true nonsense," he said. "Would you reconsider?"
Daisy smiled, then giggled, then bounced up and down.
"Yes! Yes I will!"
They embraced and kissed and spun a second time. Then they parted with copious goodbyes and danced down opposite ends of the street to their respective homes.
As dawn light began to fill their windows and wake the sleepy heads of the villagers, the quake started. Peter was shook out of bed and hit his head on his end table. He tried to stand but found he couldn't. He crawled to his window and through open the gingerbread sash. He looked up into the sky and saw an extremely large face draped with a puffy white beard.
"He's returned," whispered Peter.
"He's returned!" screamed Pastor John with a tone of ecclesiastical ecstasy from the steps of the church opposite Peter's house. Pastor John somehow ran inside and rode the licorice ropes to the bells up and down, whooping and hollering.
Peter slunk down under the window, queasy with the continued motion of the quake.
"What now?" he said.
Just then the quake stopped. Peter peeked up and saw that the bearded man had disappeared from the sky. Pastor John neglected the bells and ran back outside, squinting skyward. Peter quickly threw on his chocolate clothes and bounded down the steps and out the front door. The door slammed behind him, loosening some frosting from the roof which fell on his head.
"Ow," he said, brushing the frosting off.
"Careful there Jellybean," said one of the neighbors. Everyone by now was out in the street. Peter nodded back.
"Daisy!" he exclaimed. He started running down the street towards her house, but before he got halfway the bearded man returned.
"MERRY CHRISTMAS, KIDS!" he bellowed in booming voice. Everyone in the village immediately fell to their knees, clutching their ears.
"He speaks to us!" screamed Pastor John, grinning ear to ear. "He says we are his children! What joy! Hoo-hoo-hoo!" He laid down in the piles of confectioner's sugar and stared up at the face of the bearded man and sighed deeply.
Peter scrambled to his feet, his ears buzzing, and started to run again. Then more faces appeared in the sky. Young faces. Peter stopped and looked up, befuddled. The villagers all started to murmur.
"OH WOW GRANDPA!" said one of the faces. Peter fell to his knees again.
"DIG IN!" said the bearded man.
A massive hand reached down into the village from the sky. It found the spire of the church and broke off. The hand went back up and shoved the spire into the mouth of one of the young faces.
"What? No! Nooooo!" screamed Pastor John. He pounded the ground with his fists.
Another hand came down and picked up Pastor John. All the villagers looked on in horror as they watched Pastor John disappear into the mouth of one of the faces in the sky. They listened to the crunches. Once his licorice shoes were slurped in, the villagers started screaming and running in all directions. Most tried to hide in their homes but the hands kept coming down, pulling apart roofs, and plucking cowering villagers out of their bedrooms.
Peter kept running. Daisy was standing outside her house screaming for him. They were an arm's length from each other when he found himself rising into the sky.
"Peter!" screamed Daisy.
"Daisy!" he replied.
"I love you!"
"I love you too!"
"THIS IS THE BEST CHRISTMAS EVER!" said the mouth, moments before it devoured Peter.