I stood by the counter, watching the girl scream at her mother. I really hoped that no one else had heard enough of the screaming to understand what was going on. I couldn't believe it. All my life, I'd thought I was the last living believer, and here was a girl just as passionate about Him as I was.

"Kid?" The lady at the counter asked. "Kid? Here's your food. Hello?" I turned around and took the red and white bag from her hand, barely seeing as I made my way to a table. I loosened my scarf and pressed a button on my holophone, intending to reply to my best friend's last word message. Another one was in my inbox. I guess he got tired of waiting.

Malachi? Hello? I asked if you were doing anything tomorrow. The message read. I pressed REPLY and the keyboard appeared in front of me. I typed out a response.

Sorry Joel. I was getting some lunch. Yeah, I'm free tomorrow. What's the plan? I replied. I pressed SEND and waited, taking a bite of my fried chicken. It was really good, having been first smoked, then breaded, then fried. I turned back toward the table, where the mother was scolding the girl for screaming. I rolled my eyes. Obviously, this girl was the only Christian in her family.

Snowball fight? Or hot cocoa and a Wizard of Darkness tournament? Your pick. Joel suggested. Before I could answer, another message came in. Oh, wait! I forgot I promised my mom I'd make Santa Claus Day cards for the nursing home. They're having some sort of party or something. Still up for the cocoa?

Sounds good. Make sure there are marshmallows. I'll be there at 11:00 AM. I answered.

"Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way..." I sang as I opened the front door the next day. I swung my backpack onto my shoulder and stepped onto the salted pathway.

"Hey, Malachi, could you check the mail before you go? I'm expecting a package!" My mom called.

"Sure, Mom!" I replied, pulling the door shut. I headed to the mailbox, the mail-truck just pulling away. The steam from its steam-pipe billowed out behind it. I couldn't imagine cars that ran on gasoline, like in our history textbooks at school. The only cars that I knew were powered by salt. Salt water went in, salt was filtered out, clean precipitation evaporated out of the steam-pipe. The remaining salt was then burned sort of like gasoline. A special solution was added to the salt water so it wouldn't freeze in the wintertime, like now. Stupid past-people, ruining the ozone with all their carbon dioxide.

I pulled open the mailbox and peered inside. A brown box sat on top of a stack of envelopes, the Saturday newspaper sitting next to it. I pulled them out, sifting through them, looking for anything addressed to me. Two envelopes bore my name, so I brought everything back inside.

"Bye, Mom! I'm heading to Joel's!" I called, setting the mail on the table. I plucked a candy cane out of the bowl on the table and unwrapped it, sticking the straight end in my mouth. I was intercepted by my sister, Nina, as she jumped in front of the door.

"And where do you think you're going?" Nina demanded, her hands on her hips and her head cocked to one side. She was only nine, so the stretched-out sleeves of her multicolored sweater and her big, blue boots made her look pretty funny. Not to mention the chestnut pigtails.

"Move, Nina, I'm going to Joel's house. He and Connor and I are making Christmas cards, and then we're going to play Wizard of Darkness." I explained, shoving my sister aside.

"Can I come? I want to play dollies with Margot." Nina begged.

"Not now, Nina." I replied.

"Malachi, take your sister along! She's been cooped up in the house all day pestering me!" Mom yelled.

"Fine, grab your stuff, Nina." I muttered.

"And I want a candy cane, or else I'll pester you."

"Here, now go get your stupid dolls." I replied, shoving a peppermint candy cane into her outstretched hand. She grinned and raced back into her room.

While Nina was gone I stepped out onto the porch to look as the decorations. None of the lights were on, but the bells and the wreaths gave the house a very merry effect. I pulled my holophone out of my pocket and put the little speakers in my ears, finding my audio files.

During the holidays a few years ago, I'd discovered a cardboard box in the attic while I was looking for wrapping paper. Apparently, Mom and Dad had kept some illegal family heirlooms up there. I'd found The Christmas Story, and a few things called "CD's" tucked away in a box in the far corner of the attic, with lovely tunes about Jesus. I'd also found one of those old-fashioned things called "laptops" and had discovered that I could connect my holophone wirelessly to it. The laptop was now sitting on my desk in my room, loaded with music I'd been able to access through the internet.

"I'm ready!" Nina called, closing the door behind her. I looked around the yard as we headed down the salted pathway, seeing Nina's snow people. We turned onto the sidewalk, Nina doing her best at skipping merrily as her boots sank into the snow.

Thunk! I stopped when I heard the sound of a snow shovel scraping a driveway. The girl I had seen yelling at her mom in the mall yesterday stood in the driveway across the street shoveling snow while her brothers flung balls of it at each other. A yapping black and brown Yorkshire terrier ran around them barking enthusiastically.

The girl stopped shoveling as soon as she spotted me. She just stood there staring at me, her head cocked to one side. I thought I recognized her from school, but I couldn't remember her name.

"Hi, Darin!" Nina called, waving. The taller boy turned and waved back, grinning.

"You know them?" I demanded, looking at Nina.

"Yeah, Darin's in my class at school. He's ten. He's got a five-year-old brother named Charlie, and a fifteen-year-old sister named Niagara." Nina explained.

Niagara. That was the girl's name. Niagara Jones. She was in my history class, and I had a free period during her lunch. Suddenly a ball of snow exploded on Niagara's back. She spun around and yelled something at her brothers. I decided it was time to get moving.

A/N: Well, there you have it! There's Chapter 2! And now you know a bit about Malachi. Chapter 3 is in progress, so if you want me to write faster, review with ideas!