Townsend, Cathleen

Cathleen Townsend (Unknown – Present) writes fantasy, historical and inspirational fiction.

  1. Twelve Tales of Christmas (2017)

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When Jay and I talked about a word for “The Gift,” I suggested fortitude, a quality we’re somewhat lacking in these days. It’s a trait the “greatest generation,” the survivors of WWII, had in abundance. Several years ago, I sat down with my grandmother, her older brother, my father-in-law, and my husband’s aunt, and I transcribed their life experiences, both in the war and afterward. I came to have a great respect for the strength and utter dedication they had, whether building P-57s in North Carolina, stringing anti-submarine netting off the California coast, or coping with the wreckage when your test pilot husband has crashed and you’re stranded miles away with a baby daughter. Two of those four have since passed, and the world seems a less safe place without their wisdom.

bio pic with dogs

 The Gift

Alisha set the table and lit her red candles, her dark, wrinkled hands quivering as she blew out the match. A roasted chicken filled her nicest platter, and she’d arranged her silverware on a red cloth napkin. She was doing her best to make the holiday special, but the entire day had been a series of going through the motions.

She’d gone to mass that morning, smiling at all the people with families and radiant faces. She could have stopped for coffee afterward, but she didn’t like making other people work on Christmas.

When she’d eaten, Alisha washed the few dishes. Treacherous memories reared their heads as her fingers dipped into the warm, soapy water. Watching her children open their gifts as the joy from their laughter filled the house. Feeling their arms tighten around her as they said how much they loved her. It had always been a day-long marathon of love, food, and gifts. There had never been enough time—the hours flew past on reindeer feet.

No more. When Ed was still alive, it had been…okay. That’s when the two of them had started having chicken instead of turkey. What would they have done with a whole turkey? Afterward, they’d watched movies together, played cards, and opened each other’s gifts.

She’d have never guessed she would miss his snores so much. If nothing else, they’d masked the sound of her neighbors. While grateful for the roof over her head, Alisha fervently wished the walls were thicker. She turned on the television and played A Christmas Carol to drown out the man in number six calling his girlfriend a slut.

It was a relief when the sun set—now she could get ready for bed. She carefully hung up her thrift store find from last week, a still-pretty floral skirt with only a small stain near the hem. She turned the shower on as hot as she could stand and sighed as the water relaxed her back muscles.

When she returned to her small living room, clad in blue flannel pajamas, a box wrapped in green paper with a bright red bow sat on her coffee table. Alisha gasped and leaned against the door frame, her eyes darting around the room. No one else had a key except the manager, a young gal in her forties who minded her own business. Alisha’s breaths came hard and fast, and she staggered to her old tweed couch.

No one else was in the bathroom or bedroom—she’d just come from there. Her tiny front room and kitchen held no hiding places. She was alone. The knowledge was both a relief and a crushing despair.

Her eyes devoured the gift. She’d bought a present to donate at church and told herself that was enough. Christmas was a time to give. Besides, the one thing she truly wanted she couldn’t afford—an apartment that would let her keep a small dog or cat. Someone to love again. She turned her mind firmly away from thoughts of her children. That way led only to tears.

Slowly, with trembling hands, she untied the velvety bow. The nap caught against her fingers, and she brushed it against her cheek. Grandma had used ribbon like this. She’d always had the knack of making perfect bows. Alisha had tried, but she could never quite equal Grandma’s display. She could still hear Grandma’s voice as she plucked a gift from the beribboned pile, saying, “Now, Alisha honey, it’s your turn. I hope you like it.”

The brightly wrapped package had always contained clothes, often a hand-knitted sweater or poncho. And she’d always kissed Grandma’s cheek and told her she loved it. Grandma would smile as Alisha put the ribbon back in her hand to be used next year. Grandma would iron it later.

Funny to think that Grandma had been younger then than Alisha was now.

The box’s lid was wrapped separately. All she had to do was lift the top off. Her heart thudded, and she scrubbed a tear from her face. It was just a gift. A small kindness. Nothing to get so worked up about.

She lifted the lid slowly and sniffed. Cinnamon. And…spring grass? She pushed the lid aside and her lips curved as the warmth of sunshine caressed her face. Was that a tree swing on that hill behind the cottage? A dog barked, and Alisha stood. She took one halting step into the scene and then another. A collie bounded up and licked her hand. She stroked its soft fur and followed it to a gray shingled house, where the smell of spiced cider wafted out onto the porch.

Back in the apartment, the lid rose and settled firmly on the box. The ribbon tied itself back into a perfect bow. The package paused for a moment, as if regarding the neat, shabby room.

And then it was gone.



{Interruption from Jay} How often do you get an opportunity to hear from the author exactly how a story came together… this is a truly motivational message…

This story actually grew out of a hot summer’s day. I had been helping my husband waterproof some elevator pits (our day job), and I’d walked to the nearby grocery store to buy a cup of coffee at the indoor Starbucks kiosk before it grew too hot to drink it.

 As I sat down to wait for my decaf to brew, my attention was caught by an older woman sitting across the aisle. She was black, her dark hair shading mostly to gray, and her hand rested on a wire handcart, the kind you pull along behind you, with a single paper sack of groceries sitting in it. She obviously cared about her appearance; her white blouse was accented with a nice paisley scarf tied in a complicated knot that I couldn’t duplicate. But her yellow skirt was stained—and not from coffee spilled on it that morning, but the sort of stain that someone has tried to scrub out and this is the best they can do.

 My heart went out to her, and I wanted to do something, anything—put more groceries in her cart or at least offer her a cup of coffee—but I didn’t want to offend, either. She carried herself with a quiet dignity. I dithered until my coffee came up, and when I turned around with it, she was gone.

 And since I didn’t know what else to give her, I wrote her this story. I also pray for her now and again, but I still wish I could have done more.


I also offer Dragon Hoard and Other Tales of Faerie and Stolen Legacy free at my site:


Cathleen’s Latest Book: Twelve Tales of Christmas

Christmas isn’t always “Jingle Bells” and “Ho, ho, ho.” In these Twelve Tales of Christmas, even Santa has to deal with unexpected German Shepherds and reindeer who suddenly want to learn the tango. A dryad works feverishly with a teenage boy to save her tree, now in a stand in his living room, and everyone begs Death to hold off for just one more day.

And nobody knows what to do with the fire-breathing dragon. He’s not going on the Christmas card list anytime soon.

Come enter worlds of beauty and dread. Join a house hob as he raises his cup of eggnog high, and enjoy yuletide yarns delicious enough to tempt even St. Nick.

Twelve Tales of Christmas cover copy copy


An avid reader, Cathleen Townsend discovered fairy tales as a child and never outgrew them. Along with her husband Tom, she lives in the beautiful Sierra Nevada foothills of northern California, which is fortunate because this encourages her to leave her computer and take her dogs for walks. She firmly believes the oak and pine studded hills are also home to dwarves, brownies, and trolls, but so far they persist in lurking unseen.

Her short stories have been published in numerous trade anthologies and ezines, and Cathleen’s short story collection, Twelve Tales of Christmas, rose to #8 in its category, making her an Amazon bestselling author.

She loves to chat with readers on her blog (, and she tweets @CathleenTowns.

Therese portrait 2010--med