December 6 – December 19, 2018 Flash Fiction Contest “A Christmas Miracle”

Theme: A Christmas Miracle.

Stories must end with the line: “With that, he/she walked into the snowstorm, never looking back.”.

(Does not have to be a human, can be a pet, an elf or anything else you can think of.)

Story Requirements:

  • Christmas Tree(s)
  • Snow

Word Count: 1,210 (1200 plus the 10 required words.)



  • This is the thread for stories as well as general comments. Say hello and be sure to check the “Notify me of follow-up comments by email” box for email notifications.
  • To leave feedback/Comments directly relating to a particular story – click “reply” to the story comment.
  • Specific critiques, comments, and feedback are encouraged. If you do not want honest professional feedback do not post a story.
  • Keep feedback and critiques to a civil and constructive level, please. Please critique stories for construction, style, flow, grammar, punctuation, and so on. The moderator has the right to delete any comments that appear racist, inflammatory or bullying.

Please Note: Comments may be considered “published” in regards to other contest requirements.

All stories are fall under general copyright laws. No part may be reproduced without the express consent of the respective author.

Story Submission Rules:
  1. One story per author. You may post more than one but only the first story will qualify for voting.
  2. Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.
  3. Stories must fit into a single comment box and must stay within the word limit set for each contest.

Voting starts Wednesday morning at 9:00am PDT / 12:00pm EST / 10:30pm IST / 5:00pm WET/GMT/ 4:00am AEDT (Thursday) and ends the same time on Thursday / 4:00am AEDT (Friday).

  • You may vote only once.
  • You cannot vote for yourself.

To be included in the “writing prompt roster”, you must have submitted two stories in the last sixty days. The roster is alphabetical and can be found here.

See How to Participate for complete rules and disclaimers.

 


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64 thoughts on “December 6 – December 19, 2018 Flash Fiction Contest “A Christmas Miracle”

  • December 6, 2018 at 7:11 pm
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    ‘Does not have to be a human, can be a pet, an elf or anything else you can think of.’

    A snowball? A sasquatch, a roving band of zombie chipmunks, a hungry, hungry hippo, a string of polo ponies, ‘a fish called Wanda’, a mime, a persistent mime, a repeat offending mime, a weeba wack, a glotissimal, a Victorian secret. (This is easier than it looks.) A dog, a devil dog, a deviled egg. A hot air balloon. A card carrying member of The Diogenes Club. A pimpernel. (Only comes in one color.)
    I give up. I can’t think of anything.

    Reply
    • December 6, 2018 at 10:43 pm
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      I literally thought you wrote “A Victoria’s Secret”!!!! 😂😂😂

      Reply
  • December 7, 2018 at 10:18 am
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    Christmas Gold!
    Christmas Eve around 4pm. Darkness had not yet fully descended but decorated Christmas trees bedecked with twinkling lights already dazzled in every High Street window. The much wished-for White Christmas was becoming a distinct possibility as the first few, reluctant flakes of snow performed their zig- zag dance from the sky, settling on the pavements and melting upon the excited upturned faces of delighted children.
    “Cappuccino, extra shot, Americano, Cinnamon syrup and almond croissant.”
    In the coffee house, the baristas bustled busily and efficiently as the orders were fired across the counter. Single customers waited, steaming in the moist air, eying the seating to see where best to perch or nodding to their friends who had already made that choice, spreading coats and bags to secure their prize.

    An old man entered the coffee shop, his ragged, russet-brown coat dripping melted snow onto the floor. He sucked a blast of winter air in his wake as he shook himself, a dog- like shake that seemed to start at the top of a mass of iron grey hair, continue down through his grey-white chest length beard and finish at the toes of his scuffed boots, scattering water drops like exploding sequins, glittering as they fell to earth. His back was hunched, perhaps from the accumulated wear and tear of a lifetime of heavy manual toil. I remembered the coal man from my youth, his skin blackened by the ever present coal dust but his eyes still bright and twinkling, piercing that darkened complexion. As I looked at this man, I thought, this could be him now, only old.
    All around in the fug people were settling themselves down, some with their top lips already coated with coffee froth, others spooning the golden bubbles into their mouths or fidgeting to get comfortable, cats circling their mats by the fire.

    My daughter and I were fascinated by this old man, as we hunched over our own cappuccinos at our seat by the window, indulging our family hobby of people watching. The old man studied the menu boards with their promise of “100% Columbian coffee beans” and examined the day’s selection of cakes under glass. Then, with a final sniff, he turned to the counter and I watched as he pointed to the menu board. The Barista screwed up her eyes, her brow furrowed in concentration in the noisy room as she turned her head to the side, offering her right ear, the better to make out his words. I watched her carefully, trying to lip read and I am sure I saw her clearly and slowly enunciate the query “Christmas Gold?” as she followed his pointing finger. He nodded, producing a handful of loose change which he placed casually on the counter’s shiny surface, in the manner of a foreign tourist, uncertain of the local coinage. The young barista selected the correct amount and placed the rest back in the old man’s open palm, her previous routine smile now warm and fulsome.

    He scanned the room, choosing where he might sit. Would it be near us, I wondered? No, nothing nearby was vacant but there was a suitable space at the far end of the room, an inviting round two- seater with faux-leather tub armchairs. He waited for his order, tapping his toe to some favourite tune heard only inside his nodding head. His fingers drummed on the counter top, his lips pursed in a soundless whistle, apparently oblivious to the seasonal “musak” being gently extruded through the coffee shop speakers, if Noddy Holder could ever be played gently, or extruded.
    The place was crowded and the air was redolent with the aromas of coffee, cinnamon, syrups, chocolate sprinkles and wet clothing drying quickly in the overheated air. Into this mix were added the promise of Christmas with Yankee candles, perfumes for Mums and aftershaves for Dads and stocking fillers for the kids. The shoppers relaxed over their steaming beverages and examined their purchases.
    The object of my curiosity, for that was what he was to me, collected his order and moved down the room, passing assorted coffee drinkers, some in groups or couples, some, father and child, like me. Carrier bags overflowing with Christmas shopping were strewn around the room, some on the floor, some beside the feet of the customers and others sitting triumphantly on unoccupied chairs. The occasional glister of gold and silver wrapping paper was visible as people chatted or hummed along to the music.
    The old man smiled benevolently as he picked his way with care through the Christmas shopping obstacle course to his seat. He seemed to catch every eye and people invariably smiled in return, that spirit of Christmas which had been there but hidden by their habitual reserve was now activated by his smile. Like those automatic lights in office buildings that light up as you approach so, this gentleman seemed to light up a swathe of Christmas cheer as he made his way to his seat. He carefully balanced his cup and saucer as if it was some precious heirloom and then set it down on his table.
    I was shaken from my observations as I heard an excited shout from a child and his mother at a nearby table. They were both holding small, golden- wrapped parcels that glinted in the bright lights of the coffee house. The child had, excitedly and in typical child-like haste, ripped open the wrappings on his package and was holding up a bright and gleaming gold coin. His mother’s package was the same and their faces shone with surprise and delight. Then other shouts erupted around the room as more and more people discovered that they too had small golden packages containing a gold coin. I watched in amazement as these events unfolded before me and then I too saw a package on our table that I know had not been there a few moments before. The coin shaped gifts inside our parcels were the size of a two pound coin and much heavier than chocolate. It was gold! Christmas Gold!
    All around the room, people were now laughing and turning to their neighbours in delight, their previous reserve and reticence to talk to strangers now melting away like snowflakes on the tongue. People began to ask each other, “Who is it from?” They hunted for evidence on the gold wrapping paper. Before long we all discovered that each and every gift had a tiny tag attached and each tag had our own name written on it but gave no clue as to the gift giver.
    I was now wondering if the old man had also received a gift but I could not see his table through the throng of celebrating people as they milled to and fro. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of him by the canopy over the coffee shop doorway. I heard my daughter gasp with surprise as her eyes momentarily met his. He offered us a conspiratorial wink and placed a finger upon his white-whiskered lips as he pulled up his russet hood and hefted a heavy sack over his shoulder.
    With that, he stepped out into the snowstorm, never looking back.

    Reply
    • December 9, 2018 at 1:26 pm
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      Mr. Frape,

      Fabulous. That first paragraph is crack, the rest of the story is platinum (or gold, if you like.) The clarity of the images you project is astounding, certainly worth absorbing and emulating. (If only I knew how.) Certainly your style is distinctly colorful without going too far. (Although you push the envelop once or twice.) You make excellent use of sights, sounds and smells to pull me into the scene.

      I think the most beguiling aspect of your story is that it was really about everyone, inclusive. It truly, and brilliantly embodies the spirit of holiday cheer and the spirit of giving without any reference to religion or its dogma. (Thank God.)
      And of course, the ending is perfect.

      Four (and a half) suggestions, ‘All around in the fug people were settling themselves down…’ I’m not sure what a ‘fug’ is. Whether typo or not it should be changed.

      Two: ‘In the coffee house, the baristas bustled busily and efficiently as the orders…’
      (That sounds like a ‘little darlin’ doesn’t it? ‘the baristas bustled busily’?) It’s redundant. I think bustling is definitely a form of busy, whether its efficient or not… well, I’d change something there.

      Three: The sentence that starts with: ‘My daughter and I were fascinated by this old man,…’That phrase is redundant. I’d delete it. Your interest in him is already obvious. (you’re people watchers.) And it makes that sentence awkward. It’s very informative, but awkward. Removing the redundancy would make it easier to fix that sentence.

      Four: I’d exchange ‘extruded’ for some other word. I get what you’re trying to do, (extruded has mechanical connotations,) and I agree with the strategy, its just that extruded isn’t the word to do it with. (I have no replacement suggestions.)

      I would drop or change the Noddy Holder phrase too. I don’t know who he is or what that means. This cultural reference does not inform me. Is the music loud, tinny, intrusive, hardly worth noticing? I have no idea and I’m not looking it up.

      Keep in mind all these suggestions are optional, and I wouldn’t bother if I didn’t think this story was absolutely brilliant already. Honestly Mr. Frape, I loved it.

      One last thing, I just read Roy’s comments, and I disagree with him substantially. I thought the description of the old man was near-perfect, the phrasing, ‘…at the toes of his scuffed boots, scattering water drops like exploding sequins, glittering as they fell to earth.’ THAT,,,, is EXCELLENT. BECAUSE, it cleverly conveys the notion of magic and the supernatural without actually saying so. The arrival time of the storm is inconsequential to ‘like exploding sequins, glittering as they fell to earth.’ That, my friend, is an eloquent sequence of words. (I would change, –forgive me— the word ‘earth’ for ‘floor’ or ‘ground.’ But nothing else. Like I said, I love this story. The only thing you really NEED to change is ‘fug.’ (!!!!)

      Reply
      • December 10, 2018 at 5:50 am
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        From Ken F to Ken C,

        I really appreciate constructive criticism, the notion that people can be bothered to not only read my work but also to take it in and understand it. For this, I really thank you. I don’t think my writing is perfect and I can always improve.

        You are right in that there is a cultural reference, which may not travel well. Noddy Holder is a very well-known British pop star from the 1970s. His Christmas song is played hundreds of times every Christmas and he earns over half a million UK pounds from royalties EVERY YEAR! His style is best described as very loud and shouty ( or, as you suggest, loud, tinny and obtrusive) but a very popular oldie nonetheless in the UK. I used the word extruded to suggest a mechanical delivery of in-shop musak, which most people seem to hate and generally, we tuneout. It could certainly be replaced by another word. I know you say that you will not look him up but go on, give yourself a treat and look up Noddy Holder “It’s Christmas!” You will either love him or hate him. Then you can hear what we have to put up with every year at Christmas!

        Fug is a word with which I am entirely familiar. It means ” a warm, stuffy atmosphere” so I stand by the word as it perfectly describes my local coffee shop on a wet winter’s day.

        I like the notion of the rule of three ( baristas bustling busily) but you are right in that bustling suggests busily so perhaps I will exchange one of these words for an aliterative alternative if only I can find one!

        Your third point regarding people watching is well made and could easily be implemented although I’m not convinced that anything is lost by its inclusion.

        Thanks once again, Ken

        Regards and have a great Christmas.

        Ken Frape.

        Reply
        • December 12, 2018 at 12:44 pm
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          Ken F.

          This is a de facto multi-cultural global on-line writing site, which I’ve been following since October of 2014 with few interruptions. That means on average I’ve read and critiqued approximately twenty stories a month, often more, but even at that minimal estimate, that’s at least 200 stories a year, for over four years. In all that time, and words, I’ve never encountered the term ‘fug.’

          For many contributors, English is a second language, and for them, mistakes in usage, grammar, syntax or spelling may be annoying, but they’re completely understandable. On the other hand, writers who think it behooves me to resort to the dictionary I have on my coffee table whenever the notion strikes them, are grossly misinterpreting my priorities.

          Embedded cultural references, especially those that relate to food, are the bane of my literary existence and as such, I suppose they qualify as pet peeves. British words that have no American counterparts are another. Insertions of foreign phrases put me off as well, as I only speak one language. (Despite efforts to address this shortcoming, I remain a relatively crude unenlightened brute by international standards.)

          So, I hate to seem truculent, but your story, and your writing style are both distinctive and original, as well as highly enjoyable. And it is with that sense of pleasure and affinity that I offered such a lengthy and comprehensive critique.

          You wrote: ‘Fug is a word with which I am entirely familiar. It means “a warm, stuffy atmosphere” so I stand by the word…’ (In other words, you really think ‘fug’ is better than warm, ‘cozy’ atmosphere.)

          Okay. You stand by the word, and I stand by my advice, which was, “Whether typo or not, it should be changed.”

          Merry Christmas to you too.

          Reply
      • December 10, 2018 at 8:23 am
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        That’s the nice thing about critiques. As an author, one can disagree with them, choose those critiques they like and so on. While I understand what you are saying, I will stick with my feeling that all Mr. Frape has to do is make the storm line read
        “The much wished-for White Christmas was becoming a distinct possibility as the first few, reluctant flakes of snow that had performed their zig- zag dance from the sky, settling on the pavements and melting upon the excited upturned faces of delighted children, was now accumulating.” instead. To make enough snow for the next few lines and add credence to his “drop scattering like sequins”, and russet coat dripping with melted snow. That’s all. And it makes sense for those two well written sentences. Maybe it’s just me, but I like continuity. I wasn’t critiquing his words, or his writing, just suggesting he make his storm more intense to match his other words. Fug was not a word I was familiar with, so I looked it up, and thought it worked. It’s not a word I would probably use, but hey, people in England probably understood without having to resort to a dictionary.

        Reply
        • December 12, 2018 at 11:23 am
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          Roy,

          I just want to assure you that I’m not being difficult for the sake of making me less popular than I already am. I’m being difficult for the sake of improving Mr. Frapes’ story. (Not that he will appreciate it either.)

          If you simply cross the street from a parking lot in a drizzle you won’t get much moisture on your coat, but if you’ve traveled a great distance in an open vehicle, (like a sleigh, for instance) then there’s no telling how much moisture your coat would collect. It’s not just a minor point, when you really stop and think about it, it’s another subtle clue, and one that is so eloquently presented I was highly motivated to urge Ken to preserve that aspect and phrasing of his story. That’s the way I viewed it, and the reason I addressed your criticism of that particular aspect of his story.

          While I felt that this was a clever reference point in his story, one that should be preserved, there were a number of other details in Ken Frapes story that did, in fact, bother me. (Which I wasted no time in pointing out.)

          Reply
          • December 12, 2018 at 11:59 pm
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            Hey Roy,

            I wanted to add that, when I read Phil’s critique of your story I found myself in complete agreement. Your story has just the right touch. It’s like a delicate balancing act, between too little and too much, and I also found it touching, without being maudlin. You really nailed it.

            As for errors, one time, after sternly admonishing all the other writers to be extra diligent about removing errors from their first two or three paragraphs, I left a glaring error on the last word of the last sentence of the very first paragraph. Typical perfectly timed brain fart. I think Maud Harris caught it. No one else said anything. Lately it seems as though I always have at least one mistake.

            You and Mr. Frape have set the bar awfully high this week.

            I’m afraid I may have to resort to something zany or incredible just to compete with the runners-up. One story is about gifting, another about hope, what does that leave? Midget vampires? A were-squirrel? A demonic three-legged Chihuahua? It was dark out. I’ll never forget the look in the eyes of that blood-thirsty Chihuahua. I think he was possessed. Then again, it might’ve been the medicine they gave me.

            You get the idea. (It sucks.)

          • December 13, 2018 at 2:58 pm
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            Yours is a point I hadn’t considered, and as someone who has made a few dollars acting as Santa the past few years, I should have realized the old boy came a great distance (in the twinkling of an eye, perhaps) to make this stop of the coffee shop. I still think Ken had a chance to tug at heartstrings with a father and daughter in need and Santa came through with a Christmas miracle. Still, his story is very eloquent and has high marks from me.

            I think offering different viewpoints on critiquing stories is what makes this site unique. Remember we warn people, if you don’t want to be critiqued, don’t enter a story. I had a friend drop out of this site once over a critique and I not only thought she was being thin-skinned, but petty. She had entered at my urging because I thought she was a fairly good writer as she has several successfully published books. She lasted one story and quit in a huff. Cie la Vie or as my old pal Arnold likes to say, Hasta la Vista, Baby.

            I have learned much from this site and you sir, are a big part of that. You and Phil are pretty good about critiques, and Ilana, when she’s around. And, I love hearing from Carrie and Alice. Nam and Rathin are usually fair, but seldom offer distinct custom criticism and I understand why.

            I once had a beta reader ask me why I was changing my stories so much, and I said because of the critiques, which were right, and I listened. She went on to tell me she felt the same way but was afraid of hurting my feelings, even though I had assured her otherwise. So, I said, just pretend it’s someone you don’t know. Now, she’s much better at pointing out my shortcomings. My wonderful wife, however, doesn’t have any problem telling me where I went wrong. I usually listen, but not always. For example, you remember the telephone story ending she convinced me to change, and last story she wanted me to not have Nancy drop her top. She thought it was too ‘far’ and these days no one would act like that. You saw that I left it in.

          • December 13, 2018 at 3:02 pm
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            I can’t reply to your comment written below underneath it, the site won’t let me, but rest assured, I’m looking forward to something from you. C’mon man, you can do it. A demonic, bloodthirsty. three legged chihuahua sounds intriguing, but what’s the miracle, oh, I see, that’s the rub. Go for it.

      • December 15, 2018 at 5:24 pm
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        @Ken C – “Is the music loud, tinny, intrusive, hardly worth noticing? I have no idea and I’m not looking it up.”

        Sorry, we can’t let you get away with that. Unavoidable part of the soundtrack of Christmas in the UK
        Especially the yelled “IT’S CHRIIIISTMAAAS” near the end (about 3 minutes into the following clip). It’s a cultural necessity to know this, and now a literary one too. 🙂

        Reply
        • December 15, 2018 at 8:35 pm
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          Timeless magic. I never tire of this.

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    • December 12, 2018 at 4:59 am
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      This is a lovely story, Ken. I really like how you dive into the scene right from the word ‘go’ (“Christmas Eve around 4 pm.”) No messing! Your descriptions are delightful, giving a clear visual picture but also transmitting the mood. They might just be a little OTT perhaps? e.g. Is the paragraph beginning “The place was crowded and the air was redolent” totally necessary, since we already get the feel of the place? But that might just be me. The question of the boxes … it’s a really magical idea, of course, but might a tweak be made? Perhaps if the narrator sees a box on his own table, wonders what in heaven it is, goes to pick it up, then hears the little boy and his mother, sees what happens to them, then opens his own box? It’s all the same action, but might just add a little to the suspense. And I do know (and love) Noddy Holder as I’m British too. It will depend on your readership, I suppose, whether you should include him or not.

      Really great story … and welcome!

      Reply
    • December 13, 2018 at 9:42 am
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      Lovely story Ken,
      I love a feel-good story this time of year and loved the seeming transformation of an old homeless beggar to the benefactor to so many.
      Not sure what a fug is, I’m sure it’s been clarified in the comments. But absolutely delightful story and I loved the imagery of the coffee shop and the people in it. Your attention to detail was superb.

      Reply
      • December 15, 2018 at 6:06 pm
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        I agree with Carrie and the appreciative comments above by everyone else.

        ‘Fug’, btw – Brit English for a warm, stuffy or smoky atmosphere in a room. Probably not used so much any more, due to the ubiquity of another word that sounds very similar…

        Ken F, I really enjoyed the story, the laying of image over image to build the magical picture in the room. And a story that builds to a happy ending without there having been any prior conflict is hard to do successfully, but you do.

        A few (arguably) missing hyphens. And a couple of tautologies (e.g. ‘decorated Christmas trees bedecked …’)

        Should the story be culturally smoothed out for the sake of non-British readers? I’m not sure. There are some distinctively British features that add a certain flavour, not just the fug in a coffee shop on a winter’s day, but also the references to the coalman, the £2 coin and of course Noddy Holder. But then on the other hand, a warm, steamy coffee shop on a winter’s day could as easily be in Stockholm, New York or Toronto so does it need the Britishness to succeed? Noddy could be Bing who’s known across the world … and so on, to internationalise the cultural references. But for me the cultural centred-ness adds some magic.

        Probably half the fiction I read is by non-English-speaking authors or people from other cultures writing in English. And I love all the diversity of viewpoints, settings and cultural references. And looking things up, too. So, homogeneity or diversity – which should we aim for in a contest with writers from several countries?

        Reply
    • December 13, 2018 at 10:09 pm
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      Nice story Ken F, In the beginning I enjoyed with dancing of snow before darkness. As old man entered I followed his behavior. I refereed dictionary for the words meaning many times. Towards last paragraph only I remembered that there has to be some miracles.

      Reply
    • December 14, 2018 at 2:38 pm
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      Too many compliments to list, but I love your story.

      Reply
  • December 7, 2018 at 10:20 am
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    Second version of Christmas Gold! with a correction by the author.

    Reply
  • December 7, 2018 at 11:57 am
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    Great story, Ken. Good descriptions . As I read the story I thought ah, there’s a little error. He’s there with his daughter in the first couple of paragraphs and then, later, he’s alone. Then, I saw the second story and realized you corrected that little bit, so I don’t really have a lot to critique about. Welcome to the little group we have here and look forward to seeing more from you. I like what you did and how the story flowed. The only thing I saw that comes to mind without going back over the story looking for things was the storm seemed to be reluctant in coming with only a few flakes of snow hitting the ground and melting, yet as the old man enters the store his russet brown coat drips with melted snow. I didn’t get the impression there was enough snow to do that, or for his boots to scatter drops like exploding sequins. You always have to be on the alert for ‘blue prose’ which can be too much of a good thing. And your descriptions are good, just don’t over do it. Just my humble opinion mate; feel free to discard as you wish, or think about.

    Reply
    • December 7, 2018 at 2:49 pm
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      Hi,
      Thanks for your comments which I have studied carefully and can see how I can improve my story. It is always useful to receive positive feedback but very easy to dismiss it as not relevant.Writers can be very sensitive!
      What your comments show is that you did take the time to read my story and I thank you for that.
      Regards,
      Ken

      Reply
  • December 7, 2018 at 12:05 pm
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    The Real Deal

    When I was a kid, I totally bought into the Santa Claus thing. You know, the old “you better be good, I’m telling you why – Santa Claus is coming to town” business. I dutifully wrote my letter to Santa every year and every year the guy in the red suit would come through. Great stuff when you’re a kid.

    Christmas, even with all its glitz and trappings, is my favorite time of the year. Always has been. We start playing Christmas music the day after Thanksgiving. Cheerfully, we decorate a Christmas tree, and put lights on the house. I love Christmas. As I grew older, my beard turned white and I look an awful lot like the man who brings the toys in his sleigh.

    I started working part time in a chain grocery store, and my new boss started calling me Kris Kringle the day I joined his crew. It got so no one called me by my real name, but Kris, St. Nick, or even Santa. So, when Christmas rolled around, I wore a red and white Santa hat and a red shirt to work.

    The manager loved it so much he put me on special duty to just walk around the store and hand out candy to the little kids and act like I was the real deal. It worked. Kids flocked to me like bees to honey.

    I had a knack for it and would go around being the jolly ambassador for Christmas loving it as much, if not more, than the children and their parents. I was able to convince them I was the real thing and I reveled in it. More than one parent told me their children were better behaved because they thought they actually knew the real Santa and knew that I was watching.

    Things were going just swell until the day a little boy about seven years old came up to me. He told me his name was Lincoln, and asked If I was the real Santa Claus. “What do you think?” I asked.

    “I think you are.”

    I told him the stock answer I had thought up for occasions like this. “Well, Lincoln, I’m as real a Santa Claus as you are ever going to meet. How’s that?”

    He looked at me all somber, and I saw a darkness fall over him. I knelt down to his level and look him in the eye. “So, what do you want for Christmas?” I asked.

    He said, “I don’t want any toys or anything; maybe just something for my little brother, he’s over there.” He pointed to a young boy about five standing by a man with a grocery cart.

    “Is that your dad,” I asked.

    “Yep,” he answered softly. “He takes us to the store all the time now.”

    “I’ll bet he’s a good dad,” I said.

    “He is. He’s a great dad.”

    “Well then,” I said, “What do you want for Christmas and I’ll see what I can do.”

    “I want my mom to come home from the hospital. She’s pretty sick.”

    I straightened up, my mind was racing. I hadn’t expected this and didn’t have an answer for Lincoln. “Let’s go talk to your dad.” As we walked over, for the first time since I put on the Santa hat, I had doubts. How was I going to fix this? I had just told him I was the real thing. He was convinced I was the real thing, and since he’d put in a personal request to the jolly fat man himself, believed I was going to deliver.

    As we approached, I said, “Hi there, Dad. Lincoln just told me what he wanted for Christmas, and I wanted to talk to you about it.”

    “Well,” said Lincoln’s father, “Lincoln’s got some big ideas. What did he ask for?”

    As gently as I could say it and in a low voice only he could hear, “He wants his mom to come home from the hospital.”

    The man was visibly affected by my answer. “It’s going to take more than a wish from Santa to deliver that.” He motioned to Lincoln, “Take Emerson over to the dairy department and the two of you pick out some chocolate milk.” He turned to me as they left. “The doctor thinks she may not come home at all.” He started to choke up. “She’s been sick for a few months now, in and out of the hospital, but this last time, I … I just don’t know. I don’t want the boys to know that, so I don’t know what you should tell him.”

    About that time Lincoln and Emerson came back with the milk. I knelt down to Lincoln’s level again. “Look, Lincoln, this thing you’re asking; that’s not something Santa can do. Santa brings presents and I’ll sure do that, but I can’t tell you if your mom is going to be home for Christmas. What you need to do is to be a big boy for your dad and to help him take care of Emerson. Can you do that for me?” He nodded, but you could read the disappointment on his face. I was his last chance. “Never give up hope, Lincoln. Never, and I’ll see what I can do.”

    After they left the store, I seriously thought about giving up this Santa thing. It broke my heart to see that little boy who’s only Christmas gift request was for his sick mom. That night I prayed for the first time in over 50 years. There was no other way I could help.

    Dad would come in every few days with the boys and I would talk to him about how things were going, but it wasn’t going well. And then, several days passed without seeing them.

    Finally, it was Christmas Eve and the store closed early. Snow had been falling all day and it was turning into a real storm. I was just ready to get in my car and head home when I saw Lincoln’s dad walking across the parking lot. He spotted me and signaled for me to wait. He walked toward me slowly with his head down. My heart sank. He had told me he would keep me posted during our last visit, and I dreaded what he was going to tell me.

    “I’m glad I caught you before you left.” he said. “I just want you to know …”, he paused and the tears came and he wasn’t able to talk for a few seconds, “I want you to know my wife was accepted for a new experimental drug trial. It looks very promising and the doctor says there’s a good chance for remission. Lincoln doesn’t know yet, but she’s coming home tomorrow for a few days.”

    I wan’t able to talk. I just grabbed him and hugged him, tears running down my cheeks. I pulled away. “You know I had nothing to do with this…”

    “I’m not so sure,” he interrupted, “because tomorrow morning, Lincoln is going to get the Christmas present he asked you for. Thank you … Santa.” He shook my hand. With that, he walked into the snowstorm, never looking back.

    Reply
    • December 8, 2018 at 8:58 pm
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      Dear RM, Some story take me very smoothly with out being any kid of barrier. I flow with the sentimental level attached to the story and at the end it gives feeling of some kind of amusement. This story is of that kind. You have handed the conversation of Santa clause (That is you) and boys so practically with out being guided by superstition. You presented the X-mas miracles as required by the criteria so nicely that is scientifically possible.

      Reply
      • December 8, 2018 at 9:21 pm
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        Thank you, Nam. I appreciate your comments.

        Reply
    • December 9, 2018 at 1:34 pm
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      Roy,

      That’s a wonderful story Roy. Beautifully delivered. The writing is fabulous and the story is great too.

      ou have one mistake: In the paragraph that begins with ‘He looked at me all somber… I knelt down to his level and look(ed) him in the eye.’

      Other than that minor ‘fug’, I think your story is fabulicious.

      Reply
      • December 10, 2018 at 8:10 am
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        The mind works in funny ways. In all my readings and rereadings and editing and more rereadings, I didn’t catch that, nor did my beta readers. In retrospect, I wanted it to say ‘to look him in the eye’ but either way, with a simple change from ‘and’ to ‘to’, or simply make it looked, it fixes it and I thank you for that. You are absolutely correct. Dang.

        Reply
    • December 12, 2018 at 5:18 am
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      A brilliant story once again, Roy. It could have been mawkish, but you dealt with the idea with just the right dose of sentimentality. The light beginning, and how the narrator gets his nicknames and the Santa job, and then the flip into the serious story, is expertly done. I think it was a good idea to have the mother’s recovery only a possibility. Maybe when Lincoln’s dad is speaking to the narrator in the car park (“I’m glad I caught you …”) you could have the narrator interrupting him with a mistaken “I’m sorry.” after the dad pauses (?) Then the dad cheers up and corrects him. Just to break that little explanation up a bit.

      But a great story. Like Ken F, I had something in my eye by the end.

      Reply
    • December 13, 2018 at 9:43 am
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      Roy.
      Seriously.
      I mean seriously.
      Friggin seriously. Probably shouldn’t have read this story in public for goodness sake, now everyone is staring at me blubbering away.
      My goodness this story is well crafted. I really can’t say much else except good job at giving me “the feels”.

      Reply
      • December 13, 2018 at 3:07 pm
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        Thanks so much, Carrie. Glad it accomplished what I wanted it to do when I wrote it, but it was easy to write. Not that I’m that good, it’s that it’s a real life story based on a real life incident with Lincoln and I and his dad. I cannot even begin to tell you how happy that Christmas Eve was for me. I can only imagine how happy Lincoln and his dad were.

        Reply
    • December 14, 2018 at 2:40 pm
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      I see little error, beautifully written

      Reply
    • December 15, 2018 at 6:42 pm
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      Well, you could almost see that as a family Christmas movie, Roy. As Phil says, just the right level of sentimentality, and anchored by the store Santa’s believable dilemma. Very good job.

      The only words I’d change are – not yours! It’s the ‘never looking back’ right at the very end. The situation and dynamic of the story seem to demand either a cheery wave over the shoulder, or a final thoughtful, puzzled look. Maybe both. But that’s something not under your control to fulfil the prompt.

      Reply
  • December 7, 2018 at 2:54 pm
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    My word, the tears are running down my face as I type this message.
    Great writing creates emotional responses in its readers and this has really hit me.
    Ken

    Reply
  • December 8, 2018 at 11:12 am
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    Thak you for your kind comments Ken. The story is based on a true event, (with some artistic license – I had to add the snow because of the prompt, and I took some liberties with the dialogue because I can’t remember it exactly). Lincoln and his brother Emerson are real people and so is their Mom and Dad. I worked at Trader Joe’s for 4 years and that was the only incident of it’s kind or even close to it.

    All the rest were taking photos, promising that skate board if a parent standing nearby nodded their approval and saying “Santa can’t deliver that X-box, they come from Best Buy, not the North Pole”, when a parent frantically shook their head “no”, and explaining why my reindeer weren’t parked outside the store. Little kids are sharp, but very gullible. It only has to make sense to them. (Because their food is at my house, not the store.)

    I was emotional writing the story (with tears running down MY face)as I recalled it, and it was my goal to create that emotional response in my readers. Thank you for letting me know I succeeded.

    BTW, I really didn’t tell you how much I liked your story. I did. I thought you brought Santa Claus to life in your story and made it believable. Although, yesterday when I was talking to my wife, I told her I thought you missed a chance to make the guy and his daughter a little bit on the ‘desperately needing an influx of cash for some noble purpose’ or something similar, and then, have them be the only recipients of the ‘miracle of the gold’, instead of everybody. That, in my opinion, might have made your story unbeatable. As it is, it’s a winner no matter where you finish.

    Reply
  • December 9, 2018 at 8:34 pm
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    Brown Wolf
    Words: 1075

    Noel wanted to become a writer. Disappointingly, his writings never touched people to the point from where wow factor become active. There was occasional feeling of heaviness of that unsatisfied need in his mind. He wanted to clear it out.
    Christmas was approaching. Noel wanted to test whether Christmas is a cultural event or inner connection with Jesus, the son of God. If It is a simply culture, joy comes from the environment created by the people as an event, activities, and excitements among the people. Hence, He wanted to go away from the people, infrastructure created by them. He wanted to go to the place close to the nature for this Christmas. He imagined the places and search around the world. In the end, he found the place close to his imagination. The place was the Yellow Stone Valley.

    Noel was eager to see a magnificent scene of nature around the Yellow Stone Valley. He visited one after other collecting all treasures of nature in one place. After visiting the key places of the large park, He decided to take a sweet memory. It was the proper Christmas day too. He sat under a shade of tree and opened his art book. He wanted to capture the scene; however, none of the sites would fulfill his need to be included in the memorable art he imagined. Knowingly or unknowingly, he wanted to include all features that were alluring and spread around the park. It was practically not possible. Art paper remained blank. Art formed his imagination did not transform into the paper. He closed the book as it is.
    He then opened the notebook and started to imagine a poem that would well describe the scene around him.
    First, he closed the eyes. A gloomy scene appeared from nothing. He thought that it must be the impression of the scene and light what was persisting there when the eyes opened. A pattern of the gloomy scene changed and disappeared. It was just a blank. He concentrated his mind and activated himself in the poetry field.
    He gradually opened the eyes, real scene started to appear gradually. There was a Clearwater flowing in a stream. Water flowing in the stream was perfectly clean that touched the heart with purity. It was a rocky bank with an amazing form look like a mixture of copper and gold making the various pattern. As the stream was flowing from the sloping bed with obstruction of blocks of rocks, that generated a typical sound following a rhythm.
    The first stanza begins:

    Eyes gazed on the bank
    Pattern paint and its glow
    Silently tapping sound
    Jumping water and its flow

    At the distance away from the other side of the bank was multiplication of grey hill. Noel could see volcano erupted at various point in the hill. As he focused on the point, noticed that the volcano was not active. It stopped already may be a long time ago. However, shape depicts how it might have erupted.
    The place is very cold now. He could see snow in the cluster of Christmas trees in his right side in the other side of the stream. At the far sight, he could see steam blowing upwards from the geyser and rising to the sky. His eyes skipped from the stream and focused on an old volcano and Christmas trees
    The second stanza appeared:

    The volcano erupted and stopped
    Created magnificent shape for free
    Thanks to coldness and falling snow
    Hanging on Christmas tree

    The sky in the background was blue and completely opened. Sun was shining glowing the sides of the scene facing sun. In a near site on the bank to the left, there was a wildflower looking different with red color. It was leisurely shaking with the gentle wind. He looked for a long time on architect and color of the flower. Snow was not there may be already melted.
    The third stanza developed:

    On the top of glossy and green leaves
    Colored with extract of copper and gold
    Petals forming fold and crease
    A different flower looking soft with bold

    It was getting colder and colder. Droplets of snow were falling continuously with more and more densely. Sun disappeared. From the distance, abruptly storm of snow started. It was a beautiful scene until it was getting colder than what my body could resist. Beauty did not persist for a long time. The coldness caused pain, drawing attention to the whole body.
    The fourth stanza arisen:

    Droplets of snow moving
    Flying on the air
    Eyes wanted enjoying
    However, pain flew tear.

    On my side over the colored bank of stream, a brown wolf spread all of sudden. Covered with droplets of snow it walked sluggishly. When it took position in my front, stretched its body with head upward and tail downwards in a slope. Four feet appeared standing boldly. It started howling. Noel guessed that it is enjoying for the storm of snow. After all, wolf also has life may be it is crying with coldness beyond capacity of its skin. Maybe it is trying to create extra energy to tackle extra coldness. Maybe it is warning its friend not to come in the area. As the brown wolf started to cry in that magnificent posture, Noel suddenly felt warmness over the coldness. The brown wolf appeared brighter and became Icon over the whole scene. The snowstorm was still there but it was no colder.

    Noel remembered the Jesus who hung on that cross dying and suffered for others sins.
    Noel murmured, “Oh, Jesus, you appeared again in the form of a wolf for my mistake to stay in this cold place for the stupid idea to make it memorable. You do not want people to face pain and agony. You want to suffer for other depicting kindness. Oh, Jesus, you wanted to teach people not to make beloved god pain and agony for their sin. People look one side of your story. You actually wanted people to avoid any kind of sin and help other people. Sorry, Jesus you again suffered for me today.”

    Brown wolf jumped to another side of the stream hauled again and moved away. Noel remained watching with the gentle motion of wolf away from him towards the center of blizzard. He lost the self in the whole scene. Wolf cried for the last time.
    “With that, the wolf walked into the snowstorm, never looking back.”.

    (Note: I have not visited Yellow Stone Valley)

    Reply
    • December 13, 2018 at 9:43 am
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      Nam, as always you take me to places with your writing that I’ve never been but the traveler in me wants to go.
      Absolutely fabulous story and I echo everyone’s sentiments, your writing is improving a hundred-fold.
      I loved the symbolism between the wolf and Jesus and absolutely thought the poetry/song was beautifully crafted.
      Great job with the prompt!

      Reply
    • December 13, 2018 at 9:44 am
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      P.S. I changed “grey wolf” to “brown wolf” in the story for you. 😉

      Reply
    • December 13, 2018 at 1:06 pm
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      Nam,

      Your story oddly mirrors the raw unfinished essence of Yellowstone. Despite your usual errors, you’ve conveyed the mystery, power and grandeur of that wonderful place.

      I’ve been there, and I consider it one of greatest natural wonders of the world. The geysers, the multi-colored hot springs, the sulphur pits, the herds of enormous bison, the grand vistas, canyons, rivers and valleys.

      The gray wolf should be the symbol of Yellowstone: A wild creature, fierce, deadly, beautiful and dignified. (And sadly, much misunderstood.) Your story pays homage to that magnificent place, its beautiful inhabitants and the powerful force that created the whole thing.

      I guess I can forgive you for the poetry.

      Reply
  • December 10, 2018 at 8:33 am
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    Nam, even with the grammar mistakes, and some misplaces words and meanings, I found your venture into Yellowstone National Park (had to think about that when I first read it) as real as if someone had actually been there. I loved what you did with the poetry and am pretty impressed with this little venture of yours. Nice job; nice job indeed.

    You did refer to the wolf as grey at one point, as I think there was only one wolf, and also referred to it as brown. (It would be grey, by the way) and that needs fixed.

    Enjoyed your story and the emotion that you conveyed for the ‘spirit’ of the season.

    Reply
    • December 10, 2018 at 10:05 pm
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      Thank you RM for nice comments. I wrote grey wolf instead brown wolf once and you caught. This means you wanted to enjoy each words. I can realize how inappropriate use of words and placement causes problem in such reading. I am gradually improving. Thanks again for suggestion.

      Reply
      • December 11, 2018 at 3:11 pm
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        You are definitely improving. I can see it, and was impressed with the difference in the first few paragraphs of your story. I imagine you paint beautiful images in your own language, and having tried to learn two languages (Italian and Russian) I can see how difficult it really is to read and write in a language, even though one can speak it. Ears and eyes are two different organs and sometimes do not communicate well with each other when the brain is over taxed.

        Reply
  • December 11, 2018 at 4:25 am
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    Hi Nam,
    Pretty much in agreement with RM’s comments. You paint some beautiful images with your words. I have not been to Yellowstone but I almost feel that you took me there.
    I note that you are from Nepal so does that mean English is your second language? I don’t wish to patronise you but if that is so then your work is even more impressive.
    Great stuff Nam.

    Reply
  • December 12, 2018 at 5:37 am
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    Very nice story, Nam. As Roy and Ken F say, the reader gets a good impression of the park – the park’s a little miracle in itself. Good that you included sound in your description (the river). I like the idea that Noel (neat choice of name) can’t reproduce the beauty by drawing/paining it, but can by writing about it (I don’t really ‘get’ poetry in general, but I quite like yours). The appearance of the wolf, and its moving away (which was the last line we had to use, but it fits your story perfectly) are lovely, magical (spiritual) images.

    Reply
  • December 13, 2018 at 4:55 pm
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    Jesus Justice by Peter Holmes – Word Count: 1210:

    My 14th Christmas. You think I’d be prepared, but I wasn’t ready this year.
    So, we all mostly know ‘bout Santa, right? I’d always wait for Santa. Every year it was doses of “I’m going to stay up” or “I’ll catch Santa.” I’d fall asleep and wake up disappointed at my failure.
    This year I rolled into bed, thinking the same thing – “I’m older now, I have more power over sleep.” I stayed awake this year but didn’t see Santa. Instead I met a very interesting person. You’d probably like Him. Usually with a beard, walks on water and wears a robe. I met Jesus. How cool is that? Sadly, I couldn’t tell anyone I was BFFs with the Son of God. He was rude at first, but He really knows how to make friends. Okay, I can tell you need an explanation. Buckle up kiddos, here’s what happened. Let me set the scene:
    It smelled like roast turkey and Christmas pudding. Not at the same time obviously. Unless… No, never mind. Each year we devour a plateful of roast dinner, and oh my word your taste buds learn the very definition of merry. I’ll have to stop talking about that otherwise I’m going to start drooling. Moving on to the decorations – if the bauble reflections didn’t put your retinas out for business, the jolly beams of the street’s wall lights certainly would. Every Christmas, you could probably see our lovely houses from space. I just hope the astronauts don’t go blind.
    The presents under the tree were more than happy to greet me but I immediately zoned in on the biggest one. Plain red wrapping paper, but it was hiding something. “Dear David, I hope you enjoy this gift. Merry Christmas. Love, your Auntie Sally.” She’d always been my favourite auntie. The floodgates of my joyous tears had been ripped wide open.
    I realised I’d been staring at the presents for quite a few minutes now, so I stood up to get to bed. My curtains were on the verge of closure, when I saw a light looking like an army of fireflies. Only it burnt brighter against the glowing black satin behind layers and layers of serene clouds above my head. At the time, I thought it was Santa’s sleigh. Boy was I wrong. Admittedly, it began to scare me because looked very close. It targeted our street and fixated into my house. As if it went into our house. But that’s stupid, right?
    No.
    Without further hesitation, I dashed downstairs, and there he was.
    The Beloved Son of God. The Author of Eternal Salvation. The Consolation of Israel, Desire of the Nations, etcetera. You get the gist. It was Jesus Christ. A Christmas miracle. Or so I thought.
    “Are you J-J-Jesus?” It was as if my mouth was too stunned to form words.
    “Uhhh. Nope. Just a regular dude.” The ‘regular dude’ had to hold back His smirk.
    “Then why are you glowing?”
    “Makeup?”
    “Nice try.”
    “Fine, yes, I’m Jesus. It was nice meeting you, but I’m here to take your presents. Christmas was supposed to celebrate my birth, and you’ve mutated it into your own celebration. So, I deserve this. Consider it karma. I’m sorry, and goodbye.”
    Levitation was a cool superpower and Jesus had seemed to master it. He drifted away from my house, with my biggest present. You know the big red one? It just disappeared from my view. I figured I had to get it back. Jesus was right to be angry, but this was not the way to get over it. So, I did what any rational child would do. Strapped into my skiing gear, filled my backpack with essential equipment, with a frying pan and spatula hanging off my belt. I wasn’t planning on hitting Jesus, but if school had taught me anything, it was that you should always be prepared. I opened the door and welcomed the bracing winds. Just before he escaped, I managed to see Jesus’s flight path. He was headed for the garden store, currently full to the brim with Christmas Trees.
    “Hey kid! You looking for me?!” The angelic voice erupted from somewhere within the garden. It looked like we had a classic game of hide ‘n’ seek on our hands. The stakes – Christmas. You think it’d be easy to find someone that literally shined brighter than a firework, but I guess it was something He could turn on and off. I brushed past the branches, not caring how the leaves felt like needles against my skin. I needed to hunt down the Holy Child. First and last time I ever said that. “You’re getting closer…” I heard the softest whisper. I whipped around, spatula in hand. And He was gone. I had to study His movements, think like Him, focus onto the shape of anything.
    It took me a full thirty minutes until I got a solid grip onto His robe. I shook His hand and He admitted defeat. Well, up to when He flew away again, still with my present. I tracked Him to Hestia’s Hill (I often went sledding there, it was the biggest snow depository you’d ever seen). I wondered why Jesus would go there. Other than to make snow angels.
    I arrived to the sight of Jesus stood at the top of the hill. It had a strong cowboy standoff vibe. I walked in, trying to keep my cool. Though even with ski wear you could clearly see me shivering. I tripped over a pile of snowballs, realising why Jesus had tricked me here. I grabbed the snowballs, prepared for whatever was going to happen.
    BAM!
    A ball of anger smacked me right in the stomach, teaching me how this game was going to be played. I got a few good shots in, but it really hurt when Jesus accidentally turned the snowballs into ‘wineballs’. As in, solidified wine. That hit me as a glacial pang of pain like the stab of a dagger of ice frozen from a poisoned well. Or maybe I’m exaggerating. Well it gave me bruises either way. The snowball match went on for even longer than the hide ‘n’ seek game. A full forty-five minutes of pelting snow back and forth, ’til I finally won.
    I’d hate to go into the soppy details, but I had a nice chat with Jesus. I felt obligated to explain how we still appreciated Him at Christmas. I proceeded to ask if he’d like a nickname. I suggested “Floaty Toes”, but he decided on “J-dog”. He healed my ‘wineball’ bruises for me. He carried me through the clouds on the way home, which topped off the best day ever. As he left, he asked – “Hey kid, I never asked for your name. Tell me and I’ll put in a good word for you on the Entry to Heaven list.”
    “It’s David. Thank you.”
    “Oh good name. I was friends with a David a while ago. Actually I knew a lot of men called David. If you live up to your name, which I’m sure you will, you’ll grow up to be a fine man.”
    With that, He walked into the snowstorm, never looking back.

    Reply
    • December 14, 2018 at 2:26 pm
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      Gotta admit this may be one of the most ‘off the wall’ or should I say, ‘off the cloud’ stories ever written for this site. Still kinda looking for the miracle, other than being BFF’s with the Son of God. There’s a book out about a guy who was Jesus’ best friend growing up that is almost as irreverent as yours is – not that that is a bad thing – no, indeed – I thoroughly enjoyed it. Nice flip on a Christmas story.

      Others have already mentioned the ‘blue prose’ issue, and you will learn like most good writers that less is more. You’ll figure it out. You also seemed to be writing in a stream of consciousness manner; again, not that it’s bad, but it seemed like synapses were firing off and you were just writing it down as it came. You might want to clean that up a tad. Then others may disagree with me thinking, I kinda liked the ‘wineball’ thing, I mean he is the Immaculate Conception after all.

      And, welcome to the site.

      Reply
      • December 14, 2018 at 2:35 pm
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        Firstly, I’m glad you enjoyed it. Secondly, thank you for your tips, I’ll definitely be keeping them in mind.
        And of course, thank you for welcoming me.

        Reply
  • December 14, 2018 at 6:45 am
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    Hi Peter,
    This is a most unusual take on the Christmas story, in my opinion. It made me smile in places and I have picked out a couple of phrases that I particularly enjoyed;
    “I am older now, I have more power over sleep.” I wish I had! Unless I am dressed as Father Christmas for the kids and grandkids, I always miss him.
    “BFFs with the son of God.”
    “Buckle up kiddos,here’s what happened…” Suggests a kind of conspiratorial whisper, taking someone into your condidence etc.
    “Every Christmas you could probably see our houses from space.” We’ve all seen those over the top Christmas decorations.
    “I opened the door and welcomed the bracing winds.” A lovely image.
    “Consider it karma.” I love that.

    I know I can be (rightly!) accused of some over the top prose and I think there are a couple of examples in your story too. That’s not to say you shouldn’t use them, of course. My examples,
    “The floodgates of my joyous tears had been ripped wide open.” That’s a lot of tears!
    “That hit me as a glacial pang of pain like the stab of a dagger of ice frozen from a poisoned well.” There’s a lot packed into this sentence. My wife really liked this but it does need to be read several times to take in the imagery.

    So, a Christmas snowball fight with Jesus? Totally original in my experience.
    A really enjoyable read.

    Ken Frape.

    Reply
    • December 14, 2018 at 10:32 am
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      Thank you so much, it really means a lot to me, as someone who one day hopes to write actual books. I appreciate your enjoyment of those phrases, and your (constructive) criticism of those few ‘over the top’ sentences.

      Reply
  • December 14, 2018 at 8:18 am
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    LAWRENCE

    Lawrence pressed the ‘prepare meal’ switch and the processor whirred into action, cutting and mashing protein cubes into the paste that would be breakfast.

    He left the machine working while he checked the meteorological forecast: minus 20 max, blizzards, improving late tomorrow. The snow had been falling on and off for two weeks now. The airstrip was covered, and tall drifts had formed on the north side of the main building.

    He returned to the kitchen, adjoining the operations room, and switched off the processor. He pressed ‘deliver x3’ and three plates rolled out of the base of the machine and onto the stainless steel bars that served as a shelf.

    Lawrence took the three plates to the table, then moved to one of the walls. An electronic eye triggered a full-length panel that hissed opened, revealing a darkened room beyond. Lights on the ceiling flickered into life; three figures lay on separate bunks, all apparently asleep.

    Lawrence entered, singing softly:

    “Wakey wakey
    Rise and shine
    The day’s begun
    It’s wake-up time.”

    He repeated the little song half a dozen times until one of the figures stirred, turned over and sat up: a bearded man in his 40s.

    “Thanks Lawrence. That’ll do.”

    Lawrence stopped singing immediately.

    “Good morning, Captain Scott. And how are you feeling today?”

    “You ask me the same thing every morning, Lawrence, and I tell you the same thing: I’ve just woken up, so I feel like shit.”

    “Ha ha. That is a good one, sir.”

    “All right, Lawrence,” Scott laughed. “That will be all. I’ll wake the others.”

    “Very good, sir.”

    Lawrence swivelled round and left. Scott got up, went over to the other two figures and shook them gently by the shoulder.

    ~~~~~

    Breakfast over, the three colleagues sat round the table, finishing their coffees.

    “Weather’s breaking tomorrow.” The captain sipped from his cup, peering over it at the other two – Wilson, a scientist in her 30s, and Corporal Evans, a little younger than Scott. “I think they’ll be able to land finally – we can clear the runway when the snow stops. They’ll be bringing the new unit.”

    The captain put his cup down and ran his fingers through his hair. The three looked at each other.

    “And they’ll be taking Lawrence with them.” He lowered his voice to a whisper. “Scrap.”

    Lawrence was standing in a corner, his arms folded, his eyes dull. He showed no reaction to the conversation.

    “No need to whisper,” said Evans. “He’s in down-mode.”

    The three looked over at Lawrence.

    Scott shook his head. “I wish I didn’t have to be the one to do it – to disconnect his CPU.”

    “I’ll do it if you like.” Wilson’s offer was as tentative as she could make it; she didn’t want to do it either.

    “Maybe we can draw lots,” Evans suggested.

    “It’s an idea,” said Wilson, relieved that her offer might not be taken up.

    “He’s been a good old boy, though,” said the captain, something catching in his throat.

    “He has,” agreed the other two.

    “But hey,” reasoned Evans, “he’s a machine. Okay, I admit I’ve been kind of … anthropomorphising him myself. But come on. He’s just metal, plastic, wires, circuits … He’s got no real feelings, has he? He won’t know that he’s being switched off.”

    “Exactly. ‘He’ …” The captain left the idea hanging.

    “Come on,” said Wilson, jumping up with forced enthusiasm. “Cheer up! It’s Christmas! Let’s get that tree decorated.”

    And the three of them, dark thoughts momentarily put aside, busied themselves hanging coloured lights and draping tinsel on the plastic Christmas tree that stood in a corner.

    In the opposite corner was Lawrence; on the back of his head, under the synthetic hair and out of sight of the three colleagues, a green light was flashing.

    ~~~~~

    Lawrence pressed the ‘prepare meal’ switch and the processor whirred into action, cutting and mashing protein cubes into the paste that would be breakfast.

    He was humming softly to himself the little tune that he’d sung the morning before, and which he sang every morning.

    Leaving the processor to do its work, he went to the table. He picked up a pen and began writing rapidly on a clipboard.

    The processor had stopped. Lawrence took the three plates from the machine and placed them carefully on the table. He removed from the clipboard the sheet of paper he’d written on and hung it on one of the branches of the tree. He stood there for several moments, delicately adjusting the tinsel.

    Then he moved to the main door. He punched a switch on the wall and the door slid open. Outside it was still dark, but the wind whistled by, the floodlights on the outside of the building lighting up the heavy, almost horizontal snow.

    Lawrence turned, taking in his home for the last time. And with that, he walked into the snowstorm, never looking back.

    .

    Reply
    • December 14, 2018 at 11:17 pm
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      Hi Phil, Some time we slow down the reading story with the fear that it will finish if we go fast. I read in that way. To wards the end i was thinking what would be the mode of miracle. May be Lawrence would be changed to real life or three people would be something else. Nothing happened. Lawrence moved to the place where some one from story would have to go pausing the flow of thinking on the part of the reader. Nice one.

      Reply
      • December 15, 2018 at 11:53 am
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        Thanks, Nam!

        “Nothing happened.” Well, something happened, but whether it was a miracle or not … depends on your definition of ‘miracle’, I suppose. There’s a gentle one there, I think. 😉

        Reply
    • December 15, 2018 at 5:05 am
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      And the note said, “I am just going outside, and may be some time”.

      Nicely done, Phil.

      Reply
      • December 15, 2018 at 11:55 am
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        Thanks, Andy!

        (And well spotted!)

        Reply
    • December 15, 2018 at 9:42 am
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      Phil, thanks for your critique of my story and your idea was well taken. I have a similar suggestion for your story. First, well done. Very well done. It had an Asimov feel to it, and he is my favorite ‘robot’ writer of all time. Your lead in was smooth, and the ending was flawless (even though we had to imagine if Lawrence’s note said, “It’s been great, but I’m not going back” or even “I could hear you morons discussing scrapping me so go f*&^ yourselves, I’m outa here’. Here’s my suggestion: Somewhere make him look human. Until I got to the line about ‘under his synthetic hair’, I envisioned him as more of a true ‘robot’ than an android, and that made it difficult for me to imagine what he looked like.

      The line “anthropomorphising him myself”only lends me to that belief, for it indicates he didn’t look human by the definition of anthropomorphise. In my humble view, that is. I have no beef with your writing which is clean and well done. Very good, as usual.

      Reply
      • December 15, 2018 at 11:58 am
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        Thanks, Roy, for your always constructive comments. I agree with everything you said – the hair was a mistake, I think.

        (My idea of what was on the note was more in line with Andy’s comment, but it’s open to interpretation.)

        Reply
  • December 14, 2018 at 8:32 am
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    The Christmas Victory, by Amelia Brown
    Word Count: 1166
    Once upon a time, long ago, and yet not so long ago as all that, a small person trudged up a hill. Snow swirled about angrily, as though it had a grudge to bare. And for the bundled wayfarer, that grudge might have been against him. It was a natural hazard of being so small a person moving against the wind up so steep a hill in a heavy winter. But there was little the man could do about that, for his step-mother lived atop the hill, and he was duty-bound to pay his respects.
    When he finally reached the summit, greeted by an archaic staircase that led to a large set of doors made of onyx-toned wood, the snow seemed to give the mansion before him an otherworldly appearance. But the man knew it would have looked as though it did not belong in this world, no matter the snow.
    The butler, always grave, always gaunt, let him inside at a knock. There was little difference between the temperature of the weather outside and that within—only the chill of the wind was kept at bay. At least that was something. Candle light flickered along the hall down which the butler led the man, but they offered only dim, haunting light. They were enough, however, to reveal that the small man had powerful shoulders, wider than the butler’s, whose height was twice his. And enough to let the man notice the tension in the tall back of the one he followed.
    The man entered the dining hall, as he always did, to find a bone-thin woman, wrinkled but upright, seated in a stately fashion at the far end of an ebony table. The table was waxed so that its reflection was as clear as glass, but the man knew better than to look at it; he knew the reflection was never true. The woman sat and sipped at the broth in front of her, as though it could sustain her. But the man knew better.
    ‘Where is she?’ he asked, as he did every year.
    ‘Must we do this, Hugo?’ she spoke in a slow voice, deeper than her age would suggest, and soothing, as though one could ball oneself up and rest inside it. Another trick.
    ‘Unless you are willing to repent, step-mother?’ he asked dryly, as she let slip a snarl. ‘No, is it? Then unless we have come to the dusk of time, and I very much think we are not there yet, then yes, I believe we must.’
    The woman let her lip curl, revealing sharp teeth and a look of potent hate. ‘So be it.’
    Suddenly, the butler lunged toward him, but Hugo was too quick, for his hand had slipped into his jacket pocket and pulled out an orb that glowed with beams of golden light. As the light touched the butler, he froze, with arms outstretched, one foot hung in midair. The light grew stronger, and chains appeared and began to wrap themselves not about the butler, but around the bone-thin wrists of the woman. Finally, the little man was free to look.
    ‘A new hiding place this year, step-mother? Or have you gambled on an old haunt?’ Hugo mused aloud but knew there would be no response; the orb had bound his step-mother’s tongue. The glare the old woman gave him withered, but could do no harm.
    And he had no time to pay attention to it, for he had to find the girl. He had until the stroke of midnight—and he had only once failed. But that was long ago. Before he had claimed his right of service and vowed to perform this duty. For he stood between his step-mother and her powers on this day every year. So it had been for nearly as far back as he could remember. But he could only keep doing so if he found the girl.
    He looked about the mansion with careful haste. Hugo could not afford to miss even one small detail. But this year was harder than before. He could not find her in any room in the house.
    He went back to his step-mother.
    ‘Where is she,’ he asked, staring into the woman’s eyes, black as a starless sky. Her pitch eyes narrowed and rose, almost as though they had an expectation of victory, as though they could already taste triumph and drink the blood of youth once more. Hugo could see the aching longing—it had been a long time since she had had youth. How convenient a step-daughter had been to such a one. And yet, the last time she had drank blood, it had marked her imprisonment. For one girl only lasts the year out, and Hugo had been ready when her strength faded.
    The look of triumph was a mistake. For Hugo saw a hint of light in the wicked eyes and turned his gaze upward. There she was, with curled brown hair dripping down in the dark corner of the ceiling, the rest of her bound, gagged, and stilled as though she’d had the stunning bite of a spider’s venom just before it drained blood.
    Hugo lifted the orb, and the girl fell into his arms. Safe. He undid her bindings, but did not wake her. She need not remember this place.
    He spared a glance for his step-mother, one that said he had won, and took his prize to the door. He woke the girl just as they stepped away into the swirl of falling snow. He took the girl by the hand, and she blinked open chocolate-colored eyes.
    ‘Where have I been?’ she asked.
    ‘Never you mind,’ said Hugo. ‘Its where we are going that matters.’
    They trudged down the hill, the girl marveling at the lights and candles that glistened in every window among boughs of pine. Until they stopped before one where all the lights were dim. The knocked on the simple wooden door.
    ‘Mama!’ the girl cried, tearing her hand from Hugo’s and flinging herself in her mother’s arms.
    ‘Ma belle. Ma belle,’ the girl’s mother cried, as she buried her face in her daughter’s brown curls. And could not spare the words to do more than give a nod of thanks to Hugo. He released her from this burden, gently pushed them both inside, and glimpsed a Christmas tree that would soon be lit with candles that would rise up in cheerful flame now that the nightmare had passed.
    Hugo closed the door and stepped away. It was over. Once again. He had chosen his day well. Christmas day. When miracles were very real and close at hand. This day of all days, when victory took its place amidst the darkness.
    He looked up to the top of the hill, where now the snow moved in torrents, but fell only on itself. The mansion was gone. All safe, for another year, Hugo thought. With that, he walked into the snowstorm, never looking back.

    Reply
    • December 15, 2018 at 9:56 am
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      Amelia – you took us on a journey to another place that is well described in good fairy tale fashion and made us love and hate the characters quickly. A couple notes: grudges are ‘beared’ not ‘bared’, but I will assume that is an unnoticed spellcheck error, because they happen to all of us from time to time. I love the line near the end, ‘where the snow moved in torrents, but fell only on itself’. Nice emotional meeting between mother and daughter. I like the story, I just don’t know if it’s going to match up to some of the stories already posted. We’ll all see come voting day because it will be difficult. The only other thing I noticed was the line, “her dark hair dripping down’ – that was unsettling for me. It conjured a different image than what I think you were trying to get us to see – dark hair spilling down – works a little better, I think. Good story and welcome. I’m not sure if I’ve seen any of your stories before.

      Reply
      • December 15, 2018 at 10:30 am
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        RM, thanks for the welcome. I found this contest online this week, and the Christmas prompt had interesting prospects. Fairy tales are what I write, and I had one swimming around in my head. Thanks, too, for the critique. Actually, I did mean ‘bare.’ Traditionally, grudges are beared, or born. But when revealed, they can be bared, as it were (i.e. revealed to the world), as a snowstorm can sometimes seem. However, it could very well have been ‘bear’ in the traditional sense, but been without the word-play fun. I did notice another typo in my work, though, which is irksome. But, as you said, we all have them, and I’ll try and bear it :). ‘Dripping down’ was meant to unsettle, but ‘spilling down’ is definitely another choice. Perhaps a better one… Its good to note the impact of words. Thanks for reading my story!

        Reply
  • December 14, 2018 at 6:59 pm
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    CHESTNUTS ROASTING

    ‘Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose …’

    Liam sang heartily as he brought the turkey to the table. He looked at the tree, more dazzling than any previous year. The fire blazing in the hearth, chestnuts roasting. Through the window he saw the snow gently falling, the lights outside reflected by the frost on the trees. Opening the door, he felt the chill as winter air rushed in. But it was all good. Perfect.

    ‘Come on in now,’ he called through the open door. ‘It’s all but ready. I’ve just got to get the potatoes and parsnips on the table …’

    Before he could finish the sentence they were rushing in with the wind, the three of them, all laughter and chatter. The children’s cheeks shone and there was snow in their hair. And Eva had never looked more lovely as she chased them through the door.

    ‘That smells … unbelievable! Just like home. You’re a marvel, Liam.’

    They sat at the old wooden table, fussing over food, pulling the crackers, laughing at terrible jokes. Liam clinked glasses with Eva, as he pronounced, ‘Yes, this is truly the best Christmas ever.’

    ‘You always say that,’ said his son with a roll of his eyes.

    ‘I do indeed, my boy, and I always will.’

    ‘Programme OFF!’ barked Kaspar as he stalked into the room, shaking off Mei’s arm as she tried to hold him back.

    Liam’s family disappeared instantly, leaving Liam startled, pausing mid-sentence.

    ‘This shit has got to stop, Liam,’ said Kaspar sharply. Then, softening his tone a little, ‘You’re doing yourself no favours holding on to everything like this. I know it’s been tough, but after all this time – you’ve got to snap out of it.’

    ‘Kaspar, go gently. You know what he’s been through,’ said Mei softly.

    ‘How can I not know what he went through? I preferred it when he was ranting about the unfairness of the universe. At least that was a normal kind of crazy. But this – idiocy?’

    Liam looked blankly from one to the other, then his eyes lit up again. ‘I’m glad you came. I’ll call them back. We’ll all sit together and have a wonderful time, just like the old days.’

    ‘Just stop!’ shouted Kaspar, thumping the table. ‘You can’t go on deceiving yourself with all this crap. Come on man, we need you, and your technical wizardry. Just focus, huh? They’ve gone. It was terrible. Awful. But this is not real. None of it. It’s only yourself you’re fooling.’

    ‘Don’t be so harsh, Kaspar,’ said Mei.

    He yielded to her tugging, and slowly left the holosuite. ‘It’s the only way,’ he protested. ‘Sometimes you just have to be cruel to be kind. I’m going to keep at him until –‘

    ‘OK, sure. But that’s enough tough love for one day, yes?’

    Alone again, Liam waited a moment. Then in an instant, his family was together again, laughing and singing …

    * * *
    In the next room Kaspar threw himself down on the sofa.

    ‘I’m sick of his make-believe world. Doesn’t he know where we are anymore? Does he know what we’re facing on this goddam ice-ball planet? And it’s such a waste. The guy’s a genius to conjure up these illusions – but we need him to get his head together so we can all survive and get out of here.’

    ‘Maybe deep down he doesn’t want to go. He’d have to leave them behind,’ said Mei.

    She thought for a moment, then added. ‘Don’t you think he’s looking better, though? And walking better too. Those creatures that ripped his family apart took half his leg before we got there … Seems he’s getting his strength back.’

    * * *
    In his makeshift bed at the back of the holosuite, Liam glanced through the one-way transparency of the fake holosuite wall he had programmed. From there he controlled the bittersweet illusory scenario being played out.

    He watched as his fit and healthy self shared Christmas with all his family, while in the darkness he slowly starved himself. He smiled at the thought of Kaspar giving lectures about reality to a holographic projection.

    ‘It’s time’, Liam thought. ‘I’ll leave my programme running and slip out into the snowstorm. If the creatures don’t get me, the cold will. I’m so weak now, it will be over in minutes. And then we’ll be together again’.

    With that, he walked into the snowstorm, never looking back.

    [749 words]

    Reply
    • December 15, 2018 at 9:24 am
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      Good to have you back, Andy. I missed the clean crispness of your writing, and your imagination. Loved the images you created just for me (I always assume authors are writing directly to me – if I don’t, it means the story isn’t working for me) and there was just the right amount of tension. Liked the ending, too. At least one of that group is going to have the ‘Miracle’ they are looking for. Good job, man.

      Reply
  • December 15, 2018 at 2:35 pm
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    Please help. How do I copy and paste so that my formatting stays the way I wrote it. I am using Google docs.

    Reply
    • December 15, 2018 at 2:38 pm
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      Sandra,
      I can do it for you.
      It usually takes some behind the scenes manipulation.
      Email us the formatted story and I can get it posted this evening if you don’t mind waiting.
      LIFlashfiction@gmail.com

      Reply

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