Holiday Prompt: A Decision, a Laugh, a Howl

Hey writers,

I’m jetting off to the lakes of exotic Indiana for the weekend. I wish you the best of Labor Days, free of any of the prompt-story trauma below.

Also, on the WD Forum, I started up a new poll for the January issue of Writer’s Digest magazine: Which is your favorite type of writing prompt—an open-ended question or scenario, a specific challenge, a photo or art prompt, or no prompt at all? Feel free to weigh in and offer your comments, which may wind up in the next issue of WD.

Yours in writing and Labor Days,


PROMPT: A Decision, a Laugh, a Howl
In 500 words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring:

It’s a holiday, and you make a decision that makes something go very awry—or, very right—depending on how you look at it. Meanwhile, it’s cold but it’s supposed to be hot, someone is laughing and a dog is howling.  

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0 thoughts on “Holiday Prompt: A Decision, a Laugh, a Howl

  1. Air Jordan 1

  2. Bara

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  3. J. Alvey

    Oh, Henry!

    Pulling into a spot in the convenience store parking lot, I noticed immediately the rusted van parked to the left of us. It’s sliding door was gaping open, within it a couple of youngsters who could not have been older than three and four years old.

    A shiver went through me as I realized they were alone in the van while someone who was supposed to be loving them, protecting them, was inside the store, in a best-case scenario. I looked over at my daughter at once, almost as if to assure that she was there.

    She was there, my lovely, my precocious, my precious, daughter, perhaps a year older than the older child in the van, but wearing her Christmas dress, as my wife called it, and her Christmas shoes, as my wife called them, the black patent leather still shining despite enduring a night of her energetic explorations at the company party, the crispness of her blouse still crisp, the crinkled red of her dress still crinkled, still bright and yuletide red, the matching red bow in her hair still red and only slightly askew, while the children in the van were bundled in what amounted to little more than rags.

    I wondered that someone could leave that door open, not just because it was unsafe in the best of circumstances, but because snow was falling along with the temperature, and the two of them, huddled together among stained and tattered blankets in the seatless middle of the van, must have been freezing to death, at least by my estimation.

    Sometimes at Christmas I find myself mildly depressed. I consider it the realization that irony is among the eternal verities of life, of civilization, of humanity. After all, we celebrate the birth of the Christ with great glee and ardor and much celebration and spending, while the death and ascension of same is given relatively shortshrift, relegated to a bunny rabbit distributing colored eggs, when, if we considered it more carefully, without the glitz and the ad machines, the birth would be totally insignificant if not for the death and the all-important ascension.

    On this night, my daughter, as we turned into the parking lot, complained that it was too hot in the truck. "Daddy, can I open my window?" she asked. Irony.

    Sitting in the truck, in the semi-darkness, with snow beginning to cover the windshield, keys in hand, I said, "Honey, I know you really like that new doll you’re holding. And the one that Ms. Rapach gave you. You really do, don’t you?

    "Yes, daddy!" she exclaimed, clutching the little Beanie Baby or whatever they call it closer to her bosom in additional support of her statement.


    "I’m NOT a baby, daddy!"

    "That’s right," I said. "You are not a baby. That is why I am going to ask you to do a really grown up thing, Eliz-tiz."

    "What, daddy?" she asked, her eyes growing wider, her hands clutching tighter to the doll.

    When we left the truck and headed into the store, she was clutching two dolls with her right arm, while I held her left hand, purposefully making a detour past the van’s gaping door as we went in.

    "Did you see those kids?" I asked. She nodded solemnly but said nothing. "Santa Claus may not come to their house tonight, Eliz-tiz."

    "Have they been bad?" she asked.

    "No, sweetheart, I don’t think so. Sometimes Santa can’t find people. But we found them, didn’t we?"

    She said nothing. We went inside. At the counter, a pasty looking fellow in yesterday’s fashions was handing the clerk a torn bill and a clang of change to pay for the 40 he was buying, his hand shaking as he handed over the money.

    "Is that their dad?" she asked. "Yes, I think so," I replied.

    "Has he been bad? Is that why Santa isn’t coming?" she whispered.

    I didn’t answer. I was waiting for a gift, I suppose.

    "Can we give them these?" she asked, thrusting the Beany Babies toward me.

    "We can try," I shrugged, hiding the tears. "Excuse me, sir," I interrupted the transaction.

    He reacted as if receiving a jolt of high voltage, sure, though, to pull his 40 to his breast as he shied away.

    "My daughter here was wondering if she could offer a couple of Chrismas presents to your daughters, assuming the girls in that van are yours."

    He seemed stunned. My five-year old hesitated briefly, then moved in front of me and extended her hands, a doll in each hand. "Here!" she said.

    He took them, exclaiming, "These are them Beany Babies! Damn things worth money!"

    My inner beast howled. Irony is a bitch.

  4. Cindy Morgan Antolik

    The man’s mask twisted into ropes of scars and only one eye peered back from the latex horror.

    George’s five-year-old daughter, buried in the taffeta of a princess outfit, began to cry as she held out her little pink bucket. The beagle’s ruff stood straight up and he turned his nose skyward and howled.

    “Honey, it’s just a mask,” George patted his daughter on the back and urged her forward. “That’s enough, Wookie!” He gave the leash a sharp tug. The beagle stopped howling but issued a long, seamless growl.

    The man in the mask held out a bowl of candy. His hands, also covered in red and white ropes of fake scar tissue, trembled just a bit. A chill had descended upon the warm night.

    “Go ahead, Mindy.” George pressed his daughter toward the man and smiled at him.

    Mindy snuffled, took one step toward the man, sank her hand into the bowl and pitched candy into her bucket. Her eyes never left his face. “Thank you, sir,” she said in the tiniest voice and ran to the end of the sidewalk, the beagle close on her heels with the leash trailing behind.

    “I’m sorry.” George turned to make sure his daughter and the dog waited for him at the mailbox and then faced the man. “That’s just quite a mask you got there.” He took a step toward the man and inspected the mask. There were actual skin pores in the nose and scars even at the hairline of the wig.

    The man’s one eye shifted from the girl and the dog at the far end of the sidewalk and George. “Not a mask.” The eye filmed with tears. “Terrible fire six years ago. Lost my family. Lost everything. In the hospital for a year.”

    “Oh. I…um…” George stood there in his T-shirt that said COSTUME. What could he possibly say to someone who had suffered so much—someone so disfigured that people thought he wore a Halloween mask? How could he apologize enough?

    “I love Halloween.” One side of the man’s face turned up into a grimace, which George could only assume intended a smile. “I really do love it. It’s the only time I can come out of the house and no one notices much.”

    “My name is George Boatright.” He shook the man’s hand and felt the cords of scar. “I know you’re new to the neighborhood. Would you like to come over for dinner Saturday?”

    “Oh. I scare people too much.” He watched Mindy waiting at the mailbox for her father. But one side of his face turned up again.

    “Not us. We’ll see you Saturday at seven.”

    He would explain to Mindy that the new neighbor bore the scars of life on the outside but might really be a prince on the inside. Like that frog story.

  5. Mark James

    I wanted this July Fourth to be end of dad’s annual ritualistic sacrifice of the burgers, turning them into little charbroiled hockey pucks.

    This year, I decided on a professional Chef. I black mailed my two brothers and three sisters for three hundred dollars each.

    With the outdoor thermometer holding steady at sixty, I was almost surprised when the Chef rolled in this big white thing that he said was a portable freezer. The bottom of it was glowing blue. I asked about that.

    “Cold Power,” he said.

    I gotta tell you, it didn’t give me the warm fuzzies when Max, our German Shepherd sniffed at the thing, then backed away, hackles up, howling softly.

    We chose the American Apple Pie menu. It came with pies, burgers, steaks, hot dogs and corn on the cob.

    The Chef was one weird looking dude – tall, thick and muscular like maybe he bench pressed cows before he cut ‘em up into steaks. He looked like Hulk Hogan in a Chef’s hat.

    My youngest sister – Lizzie – came over, marched outside and grabbed a grilled hot dog, and pronounced – “it wasn’t worth no $300 Bobbie Lee.”

    “Then eat a whole lot of them and it will be,” I told her.

    Alvin, my oldest brother came barging through the house, straight out to the back. Words streamed out over his shoulder. “Eighteen hundred dollars. His sauce better have gold dust in it.”

    Lizzie finally asked, “Where’s dad?”

    I hoped she didn’t see the nervous look on my face.

    She sensed it with Little Sister Radar. “Robert Lee?”

    “We got a special deal.”

    Alvin knew how my special deals went. He started laughing. “How special?”

    “They needed a volunteer,” I said.

    Alvin and Lizzie both gave me a blank look.

    “For what?” Alvin said.

    “Freezer runs on Cold Power.”

    “You mean,” Lizzie said, “Dad’s frozen?”

    “It’s called Cold Sleep,” I said.

    When they ran outside, I trailed after them.

    They scraped everything out of the freezer and cleared the glass covering the block of ice on the bottom. There was dad, eyes closed, wearing his favorite fourth of July shorts and t shirt and sandals.

    My brother and sister backed away from me like I was Dr. Frankenstein.

    “What?” I said. “He’s not hurt.”

    A little smile curled dad’s blue lips. His skin was a little grey, but that was probably the glass.

    “Robert,” Lizzie screamed. “He’s dead.”

    “No he’s not.” I turned to the Chef. “Go on tell her.”

    “I’m afraid Mr. Carlson, that your father’s heart wasn’t very strong. He can stay in his current state indefinitely, and the company will certainly pay you for the use of his Cold Power, but he can’t be reanimated. Not with current technology.”

    My jaw dropped. “When can you bring him back?”

    “With current research trends, we estimate six decades.”

    Us Carlsons aren’t violent people, but we certainly hadn’t paid $1800 to have our father frozen to death.

    When we’d all gathered, we each grabbed a knife from the big set the Chef had brought with him.

    Alvin was a butcher. He helped cut him up into pieces small enough to put on ice.

    This fourth of July would be just a little different. We’d tell everyone it was a new recipe for chicken. Alvin said he couldn’t wait to try the ribs. Chef was in good shape; probably nice and tender he said.

  6. Jason Dougherty

    The desert sun blazed above dark clouds but did not penetrate to the earth below. Heavy rain fell where heat had been forecasted. Peter, hoping the meteorologist had correctly predicted the Labor Day weather, sat under the deluge in a lounge chair with nothing but swim trunks on. This, he knew, was a mistake. At eighty-four years of age and already suffering from a cough, pneumonia would quickly take hold if he remained outside.

    After a moment of deliberation, he moved to get up, finally convincing himself that the sun would not peak through the clouds any time soon.

    He couldn’t lift his legs. His back strained forward, but to no avail. He turned his head and called to his wife who sat in the covered patio room a few yards away.

    “Honey? Can you help me up?” His voice contained the usual quaver.

    “You’ll catch your death out there, dear,” she said. She never looked up from her knitting.

    “I can’t move. I think I’ve hurt myself.” He coughed. The pneumonia seemed to be setting in sooner than he’d expected. His head pounded.

    His wife had been hard of hearing for twenty years but Peter could see that she wore her hearing aide.

    He strained again, lifting his arms, but the lower half of his body did not respond. His legs felt heavy like the rain that drenched them.

    “Honey?” He coughed violently for a moment. “Honey, I can’t get up.”

    She knitted. Their shih-tzu, almost as old in dog years as they were in human years, yowled through the screen that separated him and his wife.

    “I need help!” Peter said, growing impatient.

    His wife laughed, stopped knitting, and turned to glare at him. “Perhaps you didn’t hear me, dear. I said, you’ll catch your death out there.”


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