Christmas Gone Awry

You’ve invited all your family members to celebrate Christmas at your house. Unfortunately, they all decline with different excuses, which seems highly unusual as you normally spend the holidays together. On Christmas day you decide to drop their gifts off at their houses. When you arrive at the first house, though, you see them all in there celebrating without you. What do you do? Write this scene.

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261 thoughts on “Christmas Gone Awry

  1. TheAwkwardLlama

    Trimmed it down to exactly 500 words, not sure if it’s still clear, but time for bed!

    “I see,” I said acidly. “No that’s quite all right. Merry Christmas.” I whipped my phone from my ear, jabbing the “end call” button with my finger but Nicole had beaten me to it. “DAMN!”
    “She isn’t coming?” asked Sarah.
    “No,” I snapped. “God, Sarah, is that really what you think a Christmas tree ornament looks like?”
    “Sorry,” replied Sarah meekly. “We’re almost out of green pipe cleaners.”
    “JASON!” I shouted. “Where’s Jason?”
    “He’s fixing those Christmas lights that were the wrong shade,” said Sarah.
    “Unbelievable. He was supposed to do that this morning.” I stormed outside. Jason wasn’t even on the ladder; he was standing by the mailbox talking to my cousin. When they saw me coming, my cousin hastily waved and hopped back on his bicycle.
    “Rick says he and Stacy can’t make it,” Jason said apologetically.
    “So everyone canceled. I bought TWO turkeys. What the fuck now?”
    “We’ll figure something out.” Jason leaned down to kiss me.
    “What the fuck is that on your neck?” I asked, feeling as my stomach had suddenly been dipped in an ice-water bath. A faint pink bruise graced his collarbone. “I never give you hickeys! Where is that from?”
    Jason hesitated, then glared at me defiantly. “Maybe you should have. It’s all right, I’m tired of following orders. I was going to wait until after Christmas, but hey, have it your way.” He started walking towards his Jeep.
    “I’m dumping all your shit in the trash!” I screamed.
    He didn’t even turn around.

    Sarah slipped out early Christmas morning. At least she left me a bottle of wine. I hadn’t showered or been sober since Jason left. I fumbled around for the corkscrew, but my sister had apparently left it in the kitchen. Typical.
    I crawled out of bed, bleary-eyed. On my way to the kitchen, I almost tripped headlong over a plethora of wrapped parcels. I picked one up. To Nicole, read the tag. It contained some really expensive bath salts that chase away persistent body odors. Nicole had always been insecure about the way her armpits smelled. I smiled and grabbed my car keys.
    It took five trips to load up my Prius. At Nicole’s house, the driveway was already jammed with vehicles. I blocked my brother’s car in and stalked to the door.
    I didn’t recognize the person answering the door, a woman covered in flour and glitter. “Sorry, I didn’t realize the strip club was open this early,” I said, but Nicole interrupted by throwing her arms around my neck.
    “Thank God you’re here!” she gibbered. “I can’t organize the kitchen! Please help me!”
    My heart didn’t melt, but it might have thawed a little. “Ugh, Sarah’s useless, isn’t she?”
    “Tell me about it!” Nicole sobbed.
    “Wait one minute!” I ran back to the car and grabbed my brother’s present, a fine aged bourbon. I quickly switched the tags and handed it to her. “Merry Christmas, sis. Now let’s get all Martha Stewart up in this bitch.”

  2. Stephen S

    “Uninvited”

    Father Christmas opened another decline, read it and put it on the pile. Looking at the stack he had received; his fear had come true; he realized that the modern world no longer needed Father Christmas. He was sad, but he was not the first holiday sprit to be forgotten. He knew it could be worse, he had seen what had happened to Halloween.
    As Christmas grew closer, he wondered what people would be doing without him. Would there still be joy and the sprit of giving. Would families still come together and present each other with gifts of love?
    Early Christmas morning he got up and decided that even if they declined to come to him he would go to them. So he packed up the sleigh and took off.
    The first house that he came to had Christmas lights perfectly placed around it. The two new cars in the driveway also had lights on them. The curtains in the front window were parted to reveal a beautifully decorated tree.
    Father Christmas went to the door and knocked. From inside he heard someone say, “Can someone get that? I’m cooking.”
    Then other voices, “I’m watching the game, someone get the door.”
    “I’m on the phone, God!”
    “I’m playing a video game someone get the door.”
    Father Christmas stood at the door for a minute, when he was about to knock again, he heard the locks disengage and then the door opened a little.
    An old woman stood in the doorway looking up at him. She smiled and she became 20 years younger. Father Christmas smiled back, as he knew all children young and old he said, “Sally Matson, I see you have been a good girl this year again.” He reached in to his bag and gave the old woman a small gift.
    “Thank you father Christmas, I was hoping to see you.” The old woman said.
    He glanced passed her and saw into the living room. The dad sat on the couch watching the game on a TV that covered most of the living room wall, a young girl passed by with her head down texting on her new smart phone. From somewhere in the house a boy cried out, “I got you bitch!” It was followed by the sounds of video game gun fire.
    From the kitchen the mother called out, “Who’s at the door?”
    “Close the door, your letting the cold air in.” The dad said still looking at the screen.
    Scattered across the living room floor was new clothing unopened, video game boxes, new shoes, wrapping paper and gift open boxes.
    The old woman asked, “Please come in.”
    Father Christmas said, “No Sally, I must be going.”
    “But, what about them are they all naughty?” The old woman asked referring to the others in the house.
    Father Christmas reached out and cupped her cheek in his palm. He said, “Sally, they don’t care if they are good or bad and they have all they want. Merry Christmas Sally.” he turned and left.

  3. Thebe

    Christmas at Helena’s house was always magical – until the people showed up. Then Cousin Bess arrived with her noxious fruitcake, her brother poured bourbon into the eggnog and Uncle Max sang “Silent Night” before “Joy to the World.”

    But this Christmas would be different, Helena told herself as she sealed a cookie tin and addressed it to Bess. Poor Bess had sprained her ankle and couldn’t come this year. Helena’s mother had left early for Florida, and Uncle Max’s truck broke down and he couldn’t make the drive from Cheboygan. Helena was making cookies for all of them, for surely they were devastated at missing her holiday magic.

    The stacks of cookie tins soared higher, until Helena stopped and realized: Everyone was getting a cookie tin, but that meant they wouldn’t be … with her.

    She left the kitchen and walked into the living room, staring at the towering tree. How many hours had she spent creating this year’s bird theme, sewing fabric cardinals and weaving little festive nests? Who would see it now?

    Well, she’d just take pictures. But first she must bring Bess her cookies. It was the Christian thing to do, so sad when people were alone on the holidays, so often they never see how they bring it on themselves.

    Cousin Bess’ little house was glowing brightly as Helena drove up. She had to pound on the door to be heard above some TV special that Bess was undoubtedly watching to fend off the pangs of solitude.

    The door popped open. There was no TV, just a throng of people and Bess dancing with a champagne bottle.

    “Bess!’ Helena cried.

    Bess lowered the bottle and limped to a nearby chair. Her nephews stopped fencing with giftwrap tubes.

    “Are those Christmas Oreos?” Helena cried. “Is that an angel on top of that tree?”

    Bess hung her head.

    “Only stars should top Christmas trees!”

    Silence.

    “It’s a good thing I’m here,” Helena went on. “Let’s get that tree straightened and Bess, I’ll need some red paper for a star …”

    Bess just laughed. “Have some champagne, Helena.”

    “Have some ham,” said Uncle Max.

    “No!” Helena shouted. “Ham is for Easter! Turkey is for Christmas! Stars are for Christmas! This isn’t Christmas! This is a sacred day! A day of tradition, of peace and thoughtful contemplation!”

    Blinded by tears, she fled into the blessed darkness outside, then turned to face the open doorway.

    “This is a desecration!” she shouted.

    She expected someone to run after her, but nobody did. Maybe they were too ashamed. Helena scrambled into her car and shut the door on Max’s voice singing:

    “Radiant beams from thy holy face …”

    But all was calm and bright in the car. Yes, Helena understood the true meaning of Christmas. She drove home, where the perfect tree and lights and dinner waited and then at the proper time she would sing “Silent Night” by candlelight and sleep in heavenly peace.

    1. cosivantutte

      This line sums up the story just about right -> “…when people were alone on the holidays, so often they never see how they bring it on themselves.” Poor Helena. She really needs to let the little details go. 🙁

      On the flip side, I couldn’t help imaging Martha Stewart as your main character. I could totally see Martha freaking out over such small things. 😀

      And just so you know, I love this part -> “Blinded by tears, she fled into the blessed darkness outside, then turned to face the open doorway.

      “This is a desecration!” she shouted.”

  4. lionetravail

    (I’m stuck- it’s like an imperative to finish this. I hope it’s just one more part to follow.)

    Beginning To Look Nothing Like Christmas: Part 6

    His head lurched backwards and to my left, and I saw several white things and a splash of blood fly in that direction in almost slow motion. He fell back against the wall and sagged, but I continued forward, grabbed him by his jumpsuit, and dragged him upright in the low G.

    He was dazed, mouth bloodied, and I looked around and saw no one else. I shoved him to my left along the bulkhead until we reached a doorway. I activated it and it opened, and I pushed him inside and let him fall to the deck as I stepped inside and closed the door behind me. Then I activated the lock.

    I turned back to see him get to all fours, so I moved close and kicked him in the gut hard enough to raise him about a foot off the deck, and flip him over. He fell in the usual grace of partial gravity, so I helped him along with the flat of my hand in his chest and pounded him as hard as I could into the deck.

    He slammed down, spraying blood out of his broken mouth with his exhale. His eyes rolled back, so I slapped him with my right hand, the edge of the knuckle dusters opening a cut on his check. “Hey, stay with me, asshole!” I said in a low voice.

    His eyes began to focus on me. “What the…”

    I punched him again, this time in the belly. “I’m not here for your questions, I’m here for answers. Fuck with me and I’ll beat you to death and start over with someone else, got me?”

    This time he turned his head and spewed vomit and blood onto the deck. I hoped the acid burned his mouth like the fires of hell. I grabbed his chin with my left hand and pulled his head back straight up.

    “Do you read me?” I said quietly, my right fist poised where he could see it.

    He nodded the very little bit my hand let him.

    “My name is Abandonato,” I said. His eyes widened in silent alarm, and told me more than half of what I needed to hear. I brought my fist down before his eyes, and I was happy to see them cross as they tracked me. “Where are the girls now?”

    His eyes flew to mine, then back to my fist, and the dam broke. “We, I… I mean they, they took her, sold her…!”

    “Where?”

    He looked at me, frightened to speechlessness.

    “WHERE?!”

    “One.. one went to Teague’s,” he blubbered. It was one of the sex arcades on station.

    “And the other?” I asked.

    His eye started darting around the room. I brought my fist down like a hammer and spread his nose across his face like meat paste. “SHE WENT TO A MINER WITH MONEY, SHE WENT TO THIS MINER WITH…!”

    I tapped his nose and he screamed. “Name,” I said.

    “Ca…” he gulped, spat bloody phlegm out onto his chin. “Caleb Stone, out of.. out of… Archimedes clu… cluster.” A bloody bubble of saliva grew at his lips, growing and diminishing as he panted.

    I looked down on the broken face below me, and thought about what I had to do next. I looked at the knuckleduster, then back at my victim, and knew that I should just kill him and stuff his body somewhere. I slid my left hand from his chin to his throat, squeezed tightly, and watched him struggle to breathe until his eyes closed…

  5. lionetravail

    Beginning To Look Nothing Like Christmas: Part 5

    I set up a dummy cred account for ‘Del Fontini’: fortunately I had credits of my own plus the family’s to draw on, and right now the family was only me unless I could find my missing nieces. Mr. Fontini started hemorrhaging credits as soon as I stepped into the airlock; power, air consumption, Cee-Oh-two production tax, medical screening, security entry and registration comprised only a partial list of everything Hygeia management planned to gouge out of me.

    Once through the entry rigamarole, I used the maps I’d onboarded to my wrist comm to head to the commercial docks. There I found dozens of ships in berths connected by umbilicals to transfer liquids and gases between vessels and the station. It was also the area where cargo airlocks were kept so that bulky goods could be brought in or out.

    “Hey, what you need here?” asked a thin, older guy in maintenance colors.

    “Looking for pals from Mannheim Mining, do a little business,” I said, and rubbed my thumb and fingertips together.

    “Could be I can help maybe?” he said, and sidled closer.

    I held out my wrist comm, and he held out his. I keyed in a credit transfer which he accepted, then he looked at the tablet he had on a cable at his belt. “Across the bay,” he said. “Row three, slot eight. And you didn’t get this from me.”

    I didn’t say anything but nodded, and he walked away to yell at someone else. I ignored him, and went down the dock lanes to number three, then turned to my left to walk along the broad central structure. Ships were moored both sides, but I paid attention to none except the blocky cargo-ship with the distinctive, laser-etched emblem of the company- a stylized cityscape with calligraphic MM integral to it- ahead of me to my right.

    I stopped and called up the station’s Exchange board and queued a search for Mannheim to see what was on offer, or what they might be in the market for. A subfolder marked ‘Salvage’ beckoned, and within that one, another subfolder was marked luxury items. Without knowing I was holding my breath, I clicked into it and found myself scrolling through a list of items which I knew to have belonged to both Giovanni and myself, along with prices.

    “Son of a goddamned bitch,” I breathed out.

    I placed a call to the ship.

    “Yo?” answered a male voice.

    “I’m interested in some of your luxury items,” I said, striving for calm.

    “You’re solvent?”

    “Yeah.”

    “Flash me your cred account for review?”

    I did.

    “Okay, we can do business, Mr. Fontini,” the voice said in a more eager tone. “What were you interested in, exactly?”

    I gave him the item numbers from the Exchange list which corresponded to some decent quality organics recyclers and an entertainment suite which had recently been Gio’s and which I’d privately envied.

    “When do you want to see the items?”

    “ASAP,” I said. “I’m in just long enough to transfer on and off- station’s fees for every blessed thing is getting old fast.”

    There was an answering laugh. “Come to the ship- we’re in the Cargo Docks.” The voice gave me berth and row numbers. “Use the dockside comm to dial the ship, I’ll be waiting for you.”

    I closed the connection and walked away to the end of the row. Once there I stretched my neck and shoulders, and took the knuckle dusters from my belt and slipped the blunt one over my right fist, then put that hand in my pocket. I inhaled deeply, then exhaled audibly, and didn’t care about the Cee-Oh-two credits it’d cost. Then I went back to the ship, and activated the comm.

    “Yo?”

    “Here.”

    “Come on in Mr. Fontini.”

    The forward port-side hatch opened as I walked up the gangway, and I saw the guy revealed within. He raised a hand in greeting,and I raised my left in answer as I got close. When I reached the hatch, he stepped back with smile on his face.

    I stepped forward and smashed my right fist into his mouth and felt his teeth crack…

  6. Critique

    “Careful Amelia. They’re fragile.” Monica plucked the swinging gift bags from her ten year old daughter’s hands and tucked them in amongst the other packages stacked on the back seat of the ancient mini van. “That’s all of it. Hop in girls.”
    Amelia clambered in behind her seven year old sister Hannah and Monica shut the door behind them and walked around to the driver’s seat.
    “Mama?” Amelia snapped her seat belt on. “Why aren’t Grandpa and Grandma coming to our house?”
    Monica looked in the rear view mirror at the sunlight glinting off of Amelia’s beautiful corkscrew curls.
    “It’s sad Jared and Jordan can’t come to play.” Hannah piped up.
    “There will be another time girls.” Monica said hoping they would let it drop.
    Since the children were babies her step-mother and Dad, her half-brother Darren, his wife Kate and their six year old twin boys to come over the day after Boxing Day to celebrate Christmas. Monica was proud her spotless little house and of Greg’s gourmet dinners and that was saying something considering the tight budget they were on. Everyone exclaimed over the meal.
    Monica turned the key in the ignition. She could remember only one time when they had been invited to Darren’s – a baby shower when the twins were born. Often she wondered if it had something to do with her interracial marriage.
    Greg had the list of ingredients for the dinner in his pocket, the van keys jingling in his hand when the phone call came. The excuses rang false – they weren’t coming. At least they hadn’t wasted money on the meal.
    Greg’s had refused to come with her to deliver the presents. “They don’t deserve a thing the way they’ve snubbed us Monica.”
    There was a loud bang, the engine began rumbling like a jet engine and Monica could see the rusted muffler bounce down the road behind them in the side mirror. Great. Nothing like announcing their arrival in the upscale neighbourhood where Darren lived.
    “Mama what’s that noise?” Amelia asked.
    “It hurts my ears.” Hannah said clapping her hands over her ears.
    Turning down the street to Darren’s house she spotted her parents Lexus parked with other expensive cars in the curving driveway.
    Monica coasted the van to the curb and shut off the engine. A limo pulled up and she recognized Kate’s sister and her family.
    “Is that a limousine?” Amelia craned her neck to see the big car.
    “Where are we Mama?” Hannah asked.
    “I’m letting the van cool down. We’ll go soon.” Monica looked at their innocent faces in the mirror and fought the bile rising in her throat.
    The van started with a deafening roar and she made a U-turn in the street and drove away without a backward glance.
    Downtown she parked in front of Hope Mission and the girls helped carry in the gift bags full of Greg’s delicious homemade goodies.
    The smiles on the faces of the residents would warm her heart for a long time.

    1. Critique

      I apologize for the lack of spacing in this as I know it is harder to read 🙁
      There are problems with my pc system.

      I hope to read some of your great stories and respond in the next few day!!

    2. Kerry Charlton

      Thank you Critique. Not only that but how are they suppossed to explain their family tree? Too many of the roots are suspiciously similiar. I noticed you just posted, I’m to the top to read it. Happy, happy New Year.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Sorry Critique, this is a response to your response to my story. How it got here, who knows. Now on to your story, it’s like a bright jewel sitting on top of this weeks prompt. When I finished it, I said, “Way to go, Monica. They’re not worth the pain.” It’s timely, well written with a social message that needs to be read by all the writers on this forum. For God’s sake, it’s been a hundred and fifty years since the civil war. “When will they ever learn?” as Peter, Paul and Mary sang.

    3. lionetravail

      Your story is lovely in its melancholy, and heartening and uplifting with the final 2 lines- wonderful job here. It’s realistic in its slice of live depiction, but deserves a far longer treatment of it in my opinion. With your skills, I think you could easily expand this into an even more moving piece by expanding on the MC’s emotions, interactions with her husband in person or by cell phone, and the poignant but innocent disappointment and questions of the daughters who don’t realize they’re being snubbed.

      So, I really enjoyed this, and would recommend strongly expanding it 🙂

  7. lionetravail

    ,b>Nothing Like Christmas: Part 4

    I took the sled around Tesoro to the far side, opposite the airlock, then matched rotation and moved in close. I let out a breath I hadn’t been aware of holding when I found the regolith there undisturbed. I entered a code into my onboard which I hadn’t used for maybe six years, and the automatic equipment installed around the time my family had settled the asteroid kicked into action.

    The dusty coating of the asteroid was suctioned away by vacuums at the corners of a large square ten meters to a side. Once clear, the doors split and retracted aside and lights within came on to show the Trieste sitting in pristine vacuum within the dock’s magnetic clamps.

    “I’m coming girls,” I said out loud, and it sounded weak in my own helmet so I said it again, more forcefully. I used gentle thrust to bring the sled inside and docked it at a recharge station, then unstrapped from it and pushed off and floated to the waiting ship.

    The Trieste was a Ceres Station Fabrication Yards copy of a Lunar Dockyards knock-off of an Earth navy corvette, and she was about forty years old. Of course, after my father had purchased her and gotten us out to the steading, she’d never had all that many miles put on her.

    She was the single most valuable object I owned aside from my hab itself, and she’d been lovingly cared for, from fusion generator to acceleration cradles to her military-spec MAHEM weapon system. And she was full up on everything.

    I took her out of the internal dock and closed it. The asteroidal regolith was thrown back out to cover it over again: a few hours and the minute innate gravity of Tesoro would settle it again like nothing had ever disturbed it. I wouldn’t be there to see it, because as soon as I was out I had the onboard set a course for Hygeia.

    The next twelve standard days were almost interminable. I set thrust as fast as I dared, which was about point nine G; living at a max rotational gravity approximate to the moon meant weaker bones, cardiovascular systems, and a whole host of physiological changes which could make high acceleration lethal. At just under one gravity thrust, it was like weighing one and a half times my normal and even breathing was sweaty work.

    I took breaks from full thrust to eat, wash, breathe, and do some advance detective work. Public access gave me downloaded maps of Hygeia station, lists of items and goods on the Exchange there, and services available for hire.

    Humanity had made it out of the grav wells but we’d brought the cesspits with us.

    When I arrived at the station, I put in a docking request and got a berth, then put in and locked down the Trieste . I went to the weapons cabinet and glanced over the pickings. There was no way Hygeia Security would let me carry a slug thrower aboard, so I took a pair of knuckle dusters- one sharp, one blunt- and put them within easy grasp on my belt. I took a long, long inhale, and let the back air out.

    Then I went into the station.

  8. Reaper

    Okay. So, sorry I haven’t been commenting much on the amazing stories this week. I’ve been working a lot of hours at a temp job and very sick as well. You are all amazing and this week is proving it. This story is well over the five hundred, and very far outside of my comfort zone, but when the muse smacks you you better listen right? Hope you enjoy this one. Like I said, this is pretty different for me.

    It’s Christmas Time in America Again

    Amidst chill air and deafening silence I roamed my empty house. The tips of my fingers traced worn wooden backs of benches ready to seat my friends and family. In years before they were packed, filling my home with warmth, love, and voices raised in celebration of the season. This year I was alone.

    Each of my intended attendees had reasons to explain their absence. Each piercing excuse, being forgotten and abandoned, filled me with sorrow. Was it worth putting myself out there for people who would so quickly abandon love for simple pleasures? To have one turn away in your moment of need is painful. To have all do the same at your moment of joy is excruciating. Why would they do it? There was only one way to know.

    Soft snow drifted lazily to concrete as I stepped bare footed onto the street. Roads which once would have been empty on Christmas morning were only moderately quiet. Neon burned the early morning, inviting all to exchange unwanted gifts for mind numbing desires. Restaurants beseeched travelers to step in for an overpriced meal. Gone were the days when the only cuisine to be found on the holiday was of Chinese origin. Gone were the times when the only entertainment available was the moving picture shows. Such was the march of progress.

    The chill in my house was nothing compared to the stabbing cold of knife edged wind cutting through my thin clothing. Soon I happened upon a house belonging to one of my family. Seeking comfort and joy I stepped inside.

    “I bring the presents I offer every day of every year.”

    I spoke but none listened. They looked through me without seeing. Exchanging store bought gifts and plastic smiles they passed the time with empty love and hollow promises to spend more time with each other. All the while they drank to excess to make the excursion tolerable while dreaming of high production video games and internet distractions they were missing out on. How many minutes of this day off were being wasted on family and celebrations nobody believed in anymore?

    Try as I might none of them would look at me, none of them saw. Father, why have they forsaken me? I thought as I tired of tarrying where I was unwanted. On my way to the door I realized it was not all of them. The matron of the clan, a woman approaching a century and a small child not yet school aged would look at me and smile. Their eyes said happy birthday and their hearts nearly screamed it. I delayed my exit to kiss them on the forehead and pray the hearts of the others would open. Upon those two I bestowed my gifts; peace, love, and tranquility.

    Exiting the home I witnessed others in the same predicament as me. The turbaned inheritor of my legacy walked arm in arm with my desert wandering forefather. With them was the elephant headed one from foreign lands. Like me they were unseen, even this time of year, but they walked with a purpose so I followed.

    The air grew warmer as we approached a rundown part of town. I joined my fellows and we looked upon a line of destitute men awaiting a warm meal, hoping there would be enough. Moving amongst the dirty and disheveled were others, not much better off. These shepherds passed out steaming cups of coffee and cocoa. Others imparted blankets they could ill afford to part with to make life a little more bearable. None here were wealthy and yet from their hearts they began to sing the songs of joy that once filled my house.

    I remembered why the trials were worth it. We all knew that amongst the forgotten and the cast offs we had family that would never abandon us. They had no internet to get home to, no home to get internet to. Yet they had room in their hearts for us, more importantly for each other.

    Looking to my brothers an unspoken truth passed between us. There were so many with so little. There would never be enough thin soup to feed them all. Yet these ones did not give up on hope and love. There was only one thing for it, one gift left to give. I smiled to the others, warm for the first time that day as I spoke.

    “I once did this trick with fish and bread. Let us work together and see how it works on soup.”

    1. Bilbo Baggins

      Reaper…. very interesting. This made me think, it really did. It is all too true that our commitments on Christmas are usually not grounded in anything but empty tradition and stark commercialism. I had no idea who the three others you were talking about were (I knew the second one was either Abraham or Moses), but not knowing only made it more interesting.

      1. lionetravail

        I’d guess Mohammed with the turban, Ganesh from Hinduism from the elephant. I think Reaper could have run a long list, but confining it to these identifiable ones sent (at least me) the message of all-inclusiveness in the idea of spirituality, never mind the tenets and differences which might otherwise cause friction.

    2. snuzcook

      I like this, Reaper. It is one of those stories that speaks to a different POV of the holidays, like children singing Happy Birthday instead of Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Your story begins by illiciting so well a feeling of abandonment and helplessness contrasted with the latter part of the story where warmth and empowerment are evident. Well done.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Thank you Reaper for the real spirit of Christmas. You did an amazing job on this story. You should never fear out of your comfort zone for there is no area of ideas,you can not write about.
        This is beautiful prose written with many years of experience jammed into your young life. There are so many rare qualties of your mind I see in your stories.

    3. lionetravail

      Wonderfully encompassing story, Reaper. Rich and sweet in the best of ways. I agree with Kerry, you should not have an area outside your comfort zone, because you understand the essence of good story intuitively- run wherever your ideas take you.

      The spiritual nature of the view from outside is telling; this is a wonderful moral-of-the-story, hey-get-with-the-real-program message worth telling over and over, since we often miss or forget it. Kudos.

  9. lionetravail

    (OMG, thank you so much for all the encouragement. This story has seized control of my typing skills- delaying work on my current novel, grr- and is holding my computer hostage to running with it: largely thanks to the encouragement from you wonderful readers/commentors. On to the next installment:)

    Beginning To Look Nothing Like Christmas: Part 3

    I fired up the ion drive and left for home.

    Anxiety, rage, and fear can only pump so much adrenalin out before you run dry and crash, and so I slept most of the slow and steady accel-decel of the trip back to my place. Once again, my trusty proximity alert woke me in time for arrival, and I found out that the universe wasn’t done kicking me in the balls.

    My hab on Tesoro had been victimized too. I could see that my airlock hatch at the center of the spinning rock was open to vacuum. Losing my entire family had been rough, and knowing my nieces might be suffering at this very moment felt like someone had stuck a blade in my gut, but adding the violation of my cazzo casa onto the rest was what sent me over the edge into actual tears.

    On the plus side, whoever did this wasn’t still here: I didn’t have much in the way of armor or armaments on my sled. On the negative side, the stronzi who’d done this to us had clearly had intel on everything about the family, including the locations of our holdings. In fact, the no’s I’d received over the laser comms to my invites were probably indicators that somebody had set this whole thing in motion in advance of all that I’d found, and had ‘replied’ for each the family to keep me out of the loop.

    If that was true, it meant that they’d left me alive on purpose, to see their handiwork and cause me as much pain as possible. The booby trap at Giovanni’s had to be part of that, but they couldn’t know for sure I’d be taken out by it so they did this too.

    That meant this- every miserable, cubic centimeter of it- was personal.

    The only people I knew I’d pissed off pretty bad were Mannheim Mining: I’m sure the poachers I’d iced had friends. Or family.

    But that only pointed me where I needed to go next: Hygeia. At about four hundred kilometers diameter, it was one of the four largest asteroids in the entire belt, and it was the central clearinghouse for trade anywhere in this sector. If you had resources to sell, you’d find someone who needed to buy it at Hygeia.

    It was also privately owned and policed itself, which meant that if you had money to spend, you could pretty much do or sell whatever you wanted, including stolen cargo.

    Including slaves.

    Add that it had spin gravity, bars, gambling, prostitution, and a thriving internal economy based on sex, alcohol, drugs, and credits, and anybody in the region would want to R&R there. Anyone like corporate miners. Or pirates.

    Now I just had to see if whoever had set this whole pile of crap in motion had found my home’s secret stash so I could actually get there and see what was what…

  10. lionetravail

    (I still have to catch up on all the good stories, but when I got back a bit earlier to see the nice comments on my first posting, I knew I had to take up Cosi’s encouraging challenge and add part 2!)

    Beginning To Look Nothing Like Christmas- Part 2

    Someone was going to pay. I just wasn’t sure how to make that happen. Hell, I wasn’t even sure how to survive the next twenty four standard hours.

    Conventional radio was right out for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that any distress call I might broadcast would most likely be picked up first by whomever had targeted my family. The laser communication we mostly used was all point-to-point, which was great for avoiding interception, but less good as a call for help if you didn’t know where a receiving array might be. My sled’s onboard was a bunch of tapioca right now without a clean computer to reboot it from.

    I took inventory. My suit’s scrubbers and oxygen would be good for another four hours, give or take. I’d planned to top off here at my brother’s before heading on to my cousin Stella’s, but that was so much plasma on the solar wind at this point. Fortunately, ole Santa had brought some canisters of liquid oxygen to leave under some metaphorical chimneys, so suit recharging via standard connections would keep me in enough atmo to get somewhere helpful. Assuming, of course, that I could find a functioning computer. Or a bunch of reindeer with a degree in astrophysics; I wasn’t feeling that picky.

    That meant going inside to where my family’s frozen corpses would be. So I did.

    Death for asteroid miners was, you might say, an occupational hazard. Vacuum was unforgiving, and because human beings weren’t designed for surviving it meant that any little problem that’d be survivable in atmo was the margin between life and being a statistic. I’d seen my share of corpses, even before I’d shot those poachers on our steading. Even with that, entering Giovanni’s hab was not a good time.

    I counted twenty one of my relatives and various married partners, accounting for nearly all of us. I would have preferred to just count them, but every one of them had a face and a name. It looked like they had all just fallen asleep, then frozen: my guess was that whoever did this sabotaged their oxygen cycler and let them all die of carbon dioxide poisoning before stealing their atmo, power supply, and anything useful and portable. It looked like it’d been a peaceful way to go.

    Except my nieces were missing; Giovanni’s twins, Marissa and Clarissa. They’d be almost fourteen by now, and my mind shied away from their probable fates even as I noted all that was missing. The kind of scum who would commit mass murder and piracy would not likely scruple to use the girls in the worst ways imaginable, and following those thoughts to their conclusions almost killed me right then.

    I think I mentioned that in vacuum, speed was not always your friend. I was getting spooked by how calm my dead family looked, and what I imagined might be happening to the absent twins even at this moment. I’d about given up hope of finding anything useful left here, and was getting frantic enough that I’d use dead reckoning and use trial and error to ping my home’s laser array from the sled. Hell, about the only things preventing me from just opening my suit to death-pressure in despair were that the twins might still be in need of help, and that I was going to personally gut whoever had killed us. I was in a hurry to get started, even if I’d most likely get lost and die uselessly.

    That was when I found the discarded stylus. Its screen had cracked; probably had been thrown against one of the hab walls, and its liquid crystal matrix had dripped out and frozen in globules. The rest of it looked intact, though, so I picked it up and took it out to the sled with the reverence due a communion wafer.

    I jury-rigged a connection to power the stylus computer from the sled, and then output it to the onboard’s screen. It wasn’t the most powerful piece of hardware in the solar system, but it was intact and had exactly what I needed- an ephemera of the Abandonato steading. Or what once might have been called a family address book.

    A very careful hour later, my onboard was up and running again, and I’d replenished my oxy from among the presents I’d brought. I set course for home, then stopped for a moment and considered the habitat.

    “‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me’,” I said aloud. “You all deserved better than this. Gio, mi fratello, I’ll find the girls. I said I will fear no evil, but evil will fear me.”

    I fired up the ion drive and left for home.

    1. Manwe38

      This was AWESOME.

      I was drawn immediately into the MC’s world…love his voice, his focus, and his grim determination to go after the killers. Adding the missing nieces was a nice touch, and the MC’s concern over their possible fate was not only believable, but lent a sense of real urgency to the need to get moving.

      I also enjoyed how you upgraded the similes and metaphors for a “space-age” story (plasma on a solar wind, etc). That can be hard to pull off, but you made it sound, and feel, real.

      I’m eagerly awaiting part 3. Bring it on!

  11. cosivantutte

    I was inspired by tydra’s story to do one more take on this prompt:

    This is a fact: My brother killed me. I know it as I stand here and not breathe. Peter, my own brother, killed me. I know it. I remember it. His hands wrapped around my throat so tight, too tight. Can’t breathe. Try too hard to fight him, to fight off Death. I lost the fight and now I am dead. Murdered.

    It isn’t fair.

    My body lies stuffed in a rusty Ford Galaxy’s trunk and he’s celebrating Christmas with the rest of our family. They don’t know I’m dead. They don’t know that they’re celebrating with a murderer.

    Well, dear brother, they’re about to find out.

    I float into Grandma Perkins’ living room. Her Persian, Elsie, sees me come in and hisses her violent disapproval. She bolts, her fluffy white body slung low like a fat mama cat.

    I can hear my family making merry noises in the kitchen, cooking food, having fun. Peter’s braying laugh soars above the other voices. I could go out there and raise a fuss, but no. I’ll sit out here and wait for them. For him.

    It’s a long meal and a long wait, but I am patient.

    My family enters the living room to watch Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer. Peter is the last one in.

    Peter. He’s smart, handsome, and successful. Why did he have to kill me? What did I ever do to him?

    I float over to the Christmas tree. Oh, it’s beautiful. The white lights are like stars. Crystal ornaments. Glass ornaments. Wooden ornaments. Old paper snowflakes. Each one special and meaningful.

    It isn’t easy, but I pluck a round glass ornament off the tree. Words are written in a red, childish scrawl. “To my bestest sister from Pete.” Sadness comes over me. How could he do this to me? My sorrow turns fast into anger. The slime-guzzling rat! How could he do this to me? I spin around. “You rotten sewer rat!” I throw the ornament right at him.

    It hits his upper arm and shatters.

    Peter stands. “Who did that?” Everyone denies it, of course. He scans the room.

    He incidentally makes eye contact with me. I can feel his fingers pressing into my throat. Panic! Fear! Anger so hot the wooden floor should be on fire. I grab a handful of ornaments and fire away at him.

    Everyone screams and flees the room. Peter stays behind. “Who’s there?”

    I don’t know if he can hear me, but I answer him anyway, “You know who I am.”

    His face turns pale. “That voice…Your voice…No!” He grabs a random magazine and rolls it up tight. “You’re dead. Go to heaven or hell. I don’t care. Just get out of here.”

    So, he can hear me. Good. “I’ll leave when you confess.”

    He swats the empty air with the magazine. “No!”

    I grab a wobbly looking snowman ornament and throw it at him. “Confess, you jerk!”

    “Never!”

    “I’ll haunt you until you do. Every day. Every night. Every minute. Every second. People will think you’re crazy. You’ll become crazy. And I won’t stop. Ever.”

    A desperate look gets into his eyes.

    “And if you kill yourself, I’ll personally make your eternity an absolute misery. So, don’t you dare go there.”

    “They’ll arrest me. Throw me into jail.”

    “Well, you should have thought of that BEFORE you killed me, lima bean face!” I throw another ornament at him.

    He swings the magazine and misses the ornament by a mile. “I couldn’t help it.” His shoulders wilt in defeat.

    Mom enters the room. She looks like she’s ready to bolt if any more ornaments go flying. “Peter? What’s going on?”

    “You were always teasing me and calling me names.”

    “Peter?”

    “Sally heard you call me lima bean face and she thought it was just so cute. She started to call me lima bean face. My own girlfriend was calling me names because of you. I just couldn’t take it anymore. I had to make you stop. I had to…”

    Mom is absolutely peaked. “Peter darling, what? Who are you talking to?”

    He looks at her, his face plastered with misery and hurt.

    She backs away from him. “What did you do?”

    Dad comes in. “Has anyone seen Alice? I know we invited her.”

    “Peter. What have you done?”

    “I’m sorry, Mom. Alice isn’t coming home. I’m so sorry. I killed her.”

      1. cosivantutte

        Thanks for the comments! I was originally going to take your ending a step further and have the ornaments explode from her ghostly anger. But then she plucked that glass ornament off the tree and I just knew that she had to throw it. 🙂

    1. lionetravail

      Nice second story, Cosi, and I can see where the inspiration came in. I love everything except Peter’s admission at the end- you’ve set up a wonderfully sick Peter, or else an extremely sick family dynamic: he can bray laughter relatively soon after killing his sister, and it seems like his last line: “I’m sorry, Mom…” is too lukewarm for the character you’ve painted; not only could he kill his sister, but he could act (or be) like it hadn’t affected him except for when he was threatened with a good haunting. I’d love to see him get what’s coming to him in the story, or else see shades of his sociopathy, or something- the “she made fun of me and then others did, and I had to make it stop” makes me wonder if he truly can’t see how evil an act he committed, or that he was able to repress it so well that he’s only now just starting to crack.

      Basically, I think I’d love to know more to help me understand the brother’s character better.

      1. cosivantutte

        Thanks, lion! I will admit that the last line kind of bothered me too. So, I reworked the last half of the story:

        “Well, you should have thought of that BEFORE you killed me, lima bean face!” I throw another ornament at him.

        “I couldn’t—” He swings the magazine and misses the ornament by a mile. “—help it!”

        Mom enters the room. She looks like she’s ready to bolt if any more ornaments go flying. “Peter? What’s going on?”

        “You were always teasing me and calling me names.”

        “Peter?”

        “Sally heard you call me lima bean face and she thought it was just so cute. She started to call me lima bean face. My own girlfriend was calling me names because of you. I just couldn’t take it anymore. I had to make you stop. I had to.”

        “Peter darling, what? Who are you talking to?”

        “Alice.” He looks at Mom. “Can you hear her too?”

        “I don’t hear anything. Peter, Alice isn’t here.”

        “You’re wrong. She’s here. Tormenting me. Calling me names. Throwing things at me. She wants me to confess. I won’t. I won’t.” He shouts, “You hear me, Alice? I won’t!”

        “Have you been hitting the alcohol cabinet again?”

        “This has nothing to do with my drinking habits!” He drags his hands through his hair. “I need to calm down. Calm. Calm.”

        I float to his side. “You need to confess.”

        He shakes his head.

        “Tell her or I’ll throw the tree out the window – lights, ornaments, and all of your presents. I bet I can do it.”

        He slaps his hands down to his sides. “Why can’t you leave me alone?”

        “Because you killed me. I want them to know what you’ve done. I want my body to be found and properly buried. I want you to tell them the truth. Tell Mom now. Or else.”

        “Peter?” Her face is so pale. “Please. Talk to me. What’s going on in your head? Who are you talking to?”

        There’s a wild panic in his eyes. For a few seconds, I see us as we used to be. Dear friends. Brother and sister. Not murderer and victim. But he broke that bond when he killed me. I can’t give up now. “If you don’t tell her, you will never have another good night’s sleep. I’ll be there. Always there. Poking you. Knocking things over. Throwing your Detroit Tigers junk around. Whispering endless words in your ear. Always. Always.”

        “Peter?”

        “Tell her.”

        “Talk to me.”

        “Tell her.”

        “What do you see?”

        “Tell her.”

        “What do you hear?”

        “Tell her. Tell her what you’ve done.”

        “If I do, they call the police. I’ll be arrested. Thrown into jail.” His panic dies down and sorrow takes its place. “Everyone will hate me.”

        “Peter, please.” Mom’s voice was all choked up. Tears run down her face. “Whatever you’ve done…Please look at me. Talk to me.”

        He looks at her.

        “Please. Tell me.”

        “Tell her.”

        His expression hardens. “Fine. Since you want to know so bad, I’ll tell you. Alice is dead. I killed her.”

        Mom backs away from him. Shocked. Horrified.

        He steps towards her. “I had to. She wouldn’t stop. I had to do it. I had to stop her. That voice. Her voice. Always teasing. I made her voice stop. But it hasn’t stopped. I can still hear it. Can’t you hear it? Mom? Can’t you hear it too?”

  12. MatthewTM

    A quick sketch, just shy of 700 words. I wanted to write someone who was a (slightly complicated) a––!
    ————–
    It had been my intention to take the party to my brother but, as I pulled up outside his wooden hutch of a home, I asked Miss January 1957, Miss March 1957 and Miss July 1956 to stay in the Caddy and keep the leather of the back seat warm. I could only guess what the trio of calendar girls would talk about in my absence. I hoped it would feature me and I persuaded myself their words would be as kind as they were to my face. I pulled the single malt from the glovebox and clambered out into the night air. The car sat at a diagonal to the kerb and the tire tracks that slalomed across the snow revealed exactly how close I’d come to hitting the fire hydrant. I wondered if the water would freeze and form a fountain of ice if I had collided with the thing. I smiled at the image as I shuffled along the path to the glow of the kitchen door. I banged on the glass and jiggled my knees as I waited for my brother to answer. I banged again. Eventually, my brother peered into the kitchen from the hallway, ruddy face and gold paper hat perched on his balding head. I waved the Scotch at him and he stopped by the fridge and frowned before slowly opening the door.

    ‘James, you are missing the Christmas Day of a lifetime,’ I said. ‘You could be in a heated indoor swimming pool right now with three up-and-coming Hollywood stars and a police commissioner. The charades are going to be wild.’

    My brother shook his head. ‘Why aren’t you there?’ he hissed.

    ‘I fancied a drive. Anyway, it’s more important that my guests enjoy it. It’s Christmas. It’s about giving. Drink?’ I held out the bottle towards James. He refused to take it so I angled it towards his mouth. He swatted it to one side so I tried to dodge between his flapping hands to force feed him.

    ‘Henry, we’re busy. You should go back to your party.’

    ‘We’re busy? Who have you got in there?’ I edged across the veranda and stretched my neck to see through the lounge window. Huddled inside were my parents, my other brother, my sister and her brood. The fire glinted off baubles and tinsel as they sat around laughing. ‘Oh, I see.’

    ‘We made our own plans.’

    ‘And I’m not invited in?’

    ‘We always invite you. But every year you ignore it and throw a party for whatever dregs of high society you can gather. You’re like a soup kitchen for the rich and beautiful.’

    ‘I asked you to come.’

    ‘Yesterday. You asked us yesterday. Said we should “pop round for an hour in the afternoon”.’

    ‘Well, I’m here now to share a drink with my brother.’ I thrust the bottle toward his face again.

    ‘We made plans. You can’t just turn up here with breath like a cocktail cabinet, half a bottle of whisky and a car full of girls.’

    I looked at our feet. James stood on the warmly lit lino and I stood on the icy concrete of the step. I had never before known a threshold so well defined. ‘Okay. I’ve got guests to entertain. Merry Christmas.’

    My brother softened. ‘Wait, Henry… Perhaps you should stay. You seem a bit too drunk to drive.’

    ‘No. That’s fine,’ I said and gestured back to the Caddy. ‘Miss January can drive. She’s a strict methodist. Well, where alcohol’s concerned.’

    I could feel my brother watch me slide my way down the drive but I refused to turn round. I got back in the car, put the Whisky back in the glove compartment and pressed my forehead against the steering wheel. As I thought about the motley assortment of hangers-on and eccentrics who were ruining the soft furnishings of my rented villa, I felt a little heartburn rising in my chest. I couldn’t go back there – not after my conversation with James. I turned to the three young women behind me. ‘Do any of you ladies ski? I’ve heard Aspen’s enchanting in December…’

    1. lionetravail

      This is a wonderful story, with great flavors to it which I haven’t seen before for this prompt (and I’ve been working my way through slowly!). I love the feel of someone so shallow here that they don’t even know they’ve been hurt or the depths of what they’re missing. Yes, he’s got the barest hint, and then can submerge it beneath the ‘every fun now’.

      Love the line about the methodist girl he tosses into the conversation to deflect the offer to stay with the brother. I can see Al Pacino in a version of his character from A Scent of a Woman as the MC so easily. Nice job 🙂

  13. jhowe

    The lonely writer sat at his desk on the day after Christmas. He often wrote stories on company time and his thoughts often fenced with one another about the righteousness of such acts. He knew nobody else on the Writer’s Digest site would think of doing something like this but he justified his actions by saying to himself, “who gives a shit.”

    Once again, he marveled at the talent assembled on this site and he hoped it would go on forever, but that’s a very long time depending on one’s beliefs on the concept of forever and what happens after the ideas no longer come in the traditional sense. But for the writer, forever is the length of time he chose for this to go on and it suited him.

    The stories this week were exceptional. He wished he had more time to comment on the other work by his fellow writers, but writing on company time is bad enough and a large remodel project at his house took much of his off hour time to complete. But some would say, “This is your second story this week. Why didn’t you use this time to comment on more stories?” That is a very good question and I, I mean he, needs to consider that carefully. Perhaps he would make time for that today. It is Boxing Day for crying out loud.

    Now how does he take this story and relate it to the prompt? He thinks to himself that the wording in the prompt contains an out; it is specific to Christmas day and the celebration that goes awry so he figures this gives him license to deviate from the expected. Or does it? He is unsure so he plods on as he often does even though it sometimes gets him into areas that are somewhat gray and sometimes into a darker shade of charcoal, but he continues nonetheless. So there he was, posting another nonsensical story that most likely makes some cringe, but he goes back to the ending sentence of his first paragraph and he pays it no more mind.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        An innerspective work of genius. I would never have thought about the theme you used, it’s such a great idea. As far as writing on company time , studies have been made on the subject. If someone works for us and does what he is asked to do and maybe 10% more, I could care less.

    1. lionetravail

      Very cute, Jhowe. To follow Kerry’s lead, I might call it an inner-spired story!

      (And no worries: it’s probably more therapeutic to write than comment, and everyone deserves some time ‘off’. Glad you’re finding time to indulge, and happy holidays. Including Boxing day. I couldn’t celebrate it, myself- my arms are too short to Boxing day with God.)

  14. tydra

    okay, i missed the last couple of weeks, too busy at work and at home O_O need to get back into it! so here it goes. please let me know what you think!

    Word count: 701

    So that’s where they are, thought Jake as he stepped into the upstairs lounge at Simon’s house, relieved that he had finally found them. It made him feel all jittery that he was … dead. That was the only conclusion Jake had been able to draw so far. Nobody could see him nor hear him, and he could float through solid objects. But now that he had found Clarissa, his beloved Clarissa, he felt a bit more composed. He was going to get through this emotional turmoil somehow.

    Jake watched his best friend Simon recline in his large chair, gently swirling his Bordeaux wine in its wide glass. “I think we should tell the others soon. Get it over with. That should shut them up finally, too. All that cheerful caroling downstairs is getting on my nerves already.”

    Clarissa leaned her chin into her palm as she sat on the sofa across from Simon. Her red wine was standing on the heavy wooden table next to her. Her perfectly manicured finger nails were tapping lightly against the broad rimmed crystal, ringing faintly as she was contemplating. “I think this plan has worked wonderfully”, Simon stated smugly as he savored his wine. She didn’t react. Simon regarded her silently for a while, then frowned at her. “What’s wrong with you? I thought you’d be more excited?”

    She looked up sharply and waved her hand exasperated. “I spent five years of my life with him, give me a chance to adjust!” Simon sighed at her rebuke and took another sip.

    They are talking about me…, Jake realized. She knows I’m dead! Oh my poor darling, I am so sorry to put you through this… Jake stepped closer to his wife and lifted his hand to her face, longing to feel the smooth skin of her cheek. Just one more time. But this time, as his lifeless fingers drifted through her cheekbone, Clarissa drew away from his invisible attempt and shivered slightly. He balled his hands into fists and threw his arms into the air, wailing miserably. Neither Clarissa nor Simon responded to his sorrow. Nobody would ever know how much he was suffering now that he was dead. All alone.

    Simon got out of his chair and sauntered over to them, setting his glass next to hers and crouched in front of Clarissa. “Look at me”, he said as he cupped her hand into his, captivating her gaze. “The brakes failed just as we have planned, and there is no evidence to trace back to us. I took care of that, trust me. So stop worrying already!”

    Jake staggered back as if hit by an artillery recoil. His jaw dropping slowly, he swayed his head from side to side and stared with wide eyes, sheer horror and denial engulfing his chest. That’s…impossible! Not Clarissa! No way in hell!

    Simon leaned forward and gave Clarissa a peck on the back of her hand. “You got all his money now and we can finally be together. Cheer up!”

    Never before in his life had he felt such pain, such suffocating torment, threatening to swallow him like a wave and drag him down, ever down into the ice cold depths, chilling him to the bone, unable to move, unable to breathe, unable to think.

    But when Clarissa smiled at Simon, smiled her sweet smile, smiled at HIM, the swelling agony shattered like a dam. His shoulders slumped, and an empty void stayed behind.

    As they both stood up and embraced each other, sharing a passionate kiss, an unknown emotion scraped its way inwards. From that bottomless hole the twinkling of a flame came alive.

    Traitors!

    Jake’s knuckles were sticking out ghostly pale on his balled up fists. Glowering at the people he had trusted in front of him, the flickering flame grew into a raging fire.

    Backstabbing cunts!

    The scorching blaze expanded further, fuelling into an inferno, white hot flames consuming him, filling his every thought and every last fiber of his existence. Making him feel alive.

    You will pay for this betrayal!

    His body was shaking uncontrollably.

    That’s when the crystal glasses started a faint jingle as they began to tremble on the wooden table.

    1. lionetravail

      Wow. Very nice writing, and powerful emotions explored well, and the satisfying feel at the end that though the sympathetic MC may be down, he is not entirely out. (“He’s only mostly dead, not all dead. Mostly dead means he’s slightly alive. With all dead, well, there’s only one thing you can do… go through his pockets and look for loose change.)

      Nice story!

  15. igonzales81

    “Wow. This one kinda hurts, folks.”

    A see of faces stared at me, mouths open. For the past ten years, my family had made a point of celebrating Christmas dinner at my place. It was a perfect setting: a large house, centrally located, and situated in an area just rural enough to be charming. Now, apparently, things had changed. And no one had bothered to tell me.

    Dad sighed and came forward. “Son, this isn’t what you think.”

    “Really?” I tried to keep my voice even. “’Cause I think that I sent out the invitations three weeks ago, and didn’t get a peep in reply until two days ago, when the collective host politely declined. Naturally, that made me a little suspicious.”

    Suspicious enough in fact to make a little trip of my own, out to the West Coast where Mom and Dad were enjoying retirement. Imagine my surprise when I walked through the door and found every soul in the clan. Except me.

    Dad grimaced. “This will be hard to explain.”

    “I can see that. What, did my last minute invitation just get lost? Have I been disowned or something?”

    “Well, not exactly,” Dad ran a hand through his thinning hair, looked around the room. “Son, we’re not exactly celebrating Christmas here.”

    I frowned, took another look around the room myself. There was no tree up, that was true. No lights or garland either. And I had to admit that the scene was lacking that festive air, though I’d chalked that up to my unexpected presence.

    “Then what are you celebrating?”

    “Something of the opposite,” Dad gestured, and two of my cousins came over. “You see, I finally decided that things weren’t working out for me. So you could say I found a…different…religion to follow.”

    Something a lot like real fear was getting a grip on me, at just about the same time my cousins grabbed my arms and held me pinned.

    “Hey! What are you doing! Let go of me!”

    “I’m sorry son. I’ve spent the last year bringing everyone else into the fold. But there’s a price to pay for everything. I had hoped to wait, to let you enjoy one last holiday season. I know it means so much to you. I guess that won’t work out now.”

    Now everyone was moving again, their faces showing the joy that I would have expected at a real party. Quickly they formed a circle around me as my captors dragged me forward.

    “On the bright side,” Dad said, smiling now. “The rest of us can make this a real celebration.” He held out a hand, and my Aunt Edna—she made fantastic sugar cookies—slipped a heavy-bladed knife into his grasp.

    I was forced to my knees, unable to do anything but stare up at my Dad as he lifted the knife.

    “You’re doing a wonderful thing for your family, son.” He stepped close and placed the knife against my throat. “Merry Christmas.”

    1. snuzcook

      Somehow, I don’t think an alternative sacrificial candidate will be presenting itself for this particular Isaac.

      A clever idea, igonzales81. Who’d have thought that allowing his family to shun him and wallow in self pity over the holidays would have been the better alternative?

    2. lionetravail

      Yikes. And double yikes.

      If you can write the MC out of this end, I think you should… could make a wonderful extended horror story 🙂

      Powerful, sick, and awful: so wonderful job!

  16. cosivantutte

    Celebrating Christmas with the family…Some people do it. I don’t. For most of my adult life, I’ve weaseled my way out of the whole ordeal with excuses. I’m too busy. I’m too tired. I’m too poor. I’m too sick. The family understood for about three years. After that, they understood. They stopped inviting me.

    This year, however, is different. I don’t know. Maybe it’s from too many viewings of too many Scrooge movies. Or maybe this spiked eggnog is making me sentimental. I don’t want to die alone, unloved, and forgotten. I want to spend this Christmas with my family.

    I search through phonebooks and notebooks and find a scattering of phone numbers. I don’t know how many are still correct. I call all of them.

    “I’m sorry, but we can’t come over.”

    “Gas prices are too high.”

    “The car’s in the shop.”

    “The kids are sick.”

    “I’m sorry.”

    “No.”

    I’m down to the last two numbers.

    “The number that you have dialed has an incorrect number or area code. Please check your number and try again.”

    The last number.

    “This number has been disconnected. Good-bye.”

    Good-bye and that’s it? I’m going to spend another Christmas alone? Not if I can help it. But what can I do? Too many years have gone by. How can I bridge that gap between now and then?

    I fill my glass with more eggnog and chug half of it down. Inspiration thwacks me in mid-chug. A giant Hershey’s bar!

    I am so awestruck by my own idea I drop my glass. They won’t come to me. So, fine. I’ll come to them and I’ll bring a giant Hershey’s bar. No one can refuse such a delectable gift.

    I run out to my car, almost forgetting my keys and my wallet, and drive to the nearest Hallmark store. I open the store’s door and there it is! Sprawled out on the front display — a giant Hershey’s bar. It weighs ten pounds. Awesome! Ten pounds of milk chocolate instant forgiveness.

    I reach for the brown and silver miracle maker, but then I see its fat-hipped cousin sitting on the display table right next to it. A giant Hershey’s Kiss. I lower my hand and stare at the silver wrapped wonder. I’ve never seen such a large Hershey’s Kiss before. It weighs thirteen pounds! I can’t even guess how many small Kisses that would make. Just thinking of how much foil it took to cover that much chocolate breaks my brain. I’m tempted to buy both of them. It would be the most awesome gift ever.

    One small detail stops me: The bar costs $74.99. The Kiss costs $49.99. One hundred and twenty four dollars for basically two things of chocolate? No.

    I stare at the Kiss. How are you supposed to serve it? Cut it into slices? Squares? Smash it with a hammer and tell people to dig in? I don’t get it, but I buy it anyway.

    The perky cashier puts the thirteen-pounder into a golden Cool-Safe box, which has wheels and a retractable handle like a suitcase, and wheels it out to my car. He packs it in the car for me, all the while spieling “How to care for your new chocolate mass”. I close the door and drive off.

    After about ten minutes of mental meandering and dithering, I drive to Aunt Jamilla’s house. I turn the corner onto her street. Too many cars line both sides of the street. The spike in my eggnog stabs my head as I drive through the gauntlet. My head hurts. The cars are taking up too much of the road. Who invited all of these people anyway? It’s Christmas Day. Shouldn’t they be home Christmassing? I can sense the giant Hershey’s Kiss weighing down my car’s backseat. What was I thinking? How am I going to get it out of the car?

    I pull into her driveway and shut off the car. What if she refuses my gift? What if she makes a scene? What if? What if? What if? This was a mistake. I should go home. Yeah, right. Like I want to drive past all of those cars again. I’ll just sit out here in my nice, warm safety blanket.

    I thought of the different Scrooge movies, of him lying on his deathbed. No family. No friends. Just a thieving cleaning lady. I don’t want that to happen to me.

    I get out of my car and somehow uncork the golden box from the backseat. I pull out the extending handle and drag it to the front door.

    I straighten my shoulders, take a breath, and raise my fist to knock. What if? I knock.

    No response.

    So, I try the doorbell.

    Response. The door opens.

    Aunt Jamilla stands before me – her hair tousled up into a fabulous hair-do.

    For a minute, we stare at each other and I can feel the many years separating us. “I brought a giant Hershey’s Kiss for you.”

    She steps forward and, without a word, hugs me. I hesitate for only a second. I hug her back. “It’s been too long, Aunt Jamilla.”

    She releases me and smiles. “Giant Hershey’s Kiss or not, I’m glad you’re here. Come inside.”

    “Thank you.” As I wheel it in, I ask, “Do you know how to serve this thing?”

    She laughs. It is a wonderful sound and I join in.

    1. Manwe38

      I got into an argument with my wife last night, and this story has just told me how to make it up to her:

      Hershey’s. She loves chocolate.

      This was awesome. I hope my wife responds the way Aunt Jamilla does.

    2. snuzcook

      I love the poetic cadence of the responses to the invitation, cosivantutte–it hooked me right in.
      Through the whole story, I was holding the suspense of just how the family was going to fail your MC, how the consequences of years of neglect were going to come back to bite him/her. Then the simplicity of the welcome was a wonderful reminder that sometimes all it takes to make things right is simply showing up.

    3. jhowe

      This is simply wonderful. I loved it when the MC said, “I brought a giant Hershey’s Kiss for you.” It made me smile very widely. How would you serve that thing anyway? Very well done.

      1. cosivantutte

        😀 I have no idea how you’d serve it. A Hershey’s Kiss is such an odd shape. I’m not sure if there is a right way to cut it.

        I’m glad you enjoyed my story. 🙂

      2. Kerry Charlton

        It was a beautiful story of forgiveness like the prodical son come home. Most women would die for a thirtenn pound kiss of chocolate. It’s almost out of my range of imagination as to what it would look like. Certainly one of the most enjoyable stories posted this week.

        1. cosivantutte

          Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

          Originally, I was going to make it an eight pound Hershey’s Kiss, but that didn’t seem quite big enough. Thirteen pounds sounded just about right.

    4. lionetravail

      Cosi, this was so, so much fun to read. Loved the frenetic, anxiety-laden pace of the inner dialogue, and the dramatic slow-down of the person to person interaction at the end. It was sweet, and touching… almost like I’d imagine carrying a thirteen pound “chocolate mass” 🙂

      Great job!

  17. lionetravail

    Beginning To Look Nothing Like Christmas

    Christmas on Tesoro might seem like a long way for Santa and his sleigh to travel; roughly two hundred million miles from Earth to its position in the Belt. This is all assuming, of course, that he and his reindeer could achieve escape velocity, handle the rigors of vacuum, and had an excellent system for managing complex orbital mechanics. And, that I’d been more nice than naughty this past solar year.

    That last part is up for debate. We’d had a number of corporate claim-jumps on the family’s ‘steading’; a cluster of asteroids more or less four degrees above the plane of the ecliptic and encompassing roughly one hundred thirteen quadrillion cubic miles of space. Policing that is challenging since there are, at last count, only twenty four of us in the Abandanato clan out here, and precious little law enforcement. At least the kind that doesn’t come out of a recoilless railgun, and end in a puff of red-tinged atmosphere venting to death pressure. I’d had to do just that to two stronzi who worked for Mannheim Mining in the past year.

    Fortunately, we’re a close family, even if the closest of our homes are about fifteen thousand miles apart.

    The holiday was usually spent here, where we’d all lived when I came out as a boy from Earth’s gravity well. Tesoro had been mined heavily enough to set up a habitat inside the thing, and then spun to give about point six G inside. Most of the ore we’d taken from the asteroid had been nickel-titanium, and it had gone to build a number of homes as the family had spread out through our steading to exploit the rest of our claim over the past thirty years or so. There were still volatiles, carbon, and water ice in relative abundance, and occasional pockets of valuable metals still to find, so I’d happily made my home here as the rest had found their own way.

    But Christmas was looking to be lonely this year; I’d gotten terse, one word text replies over the laser array from everyone: “No.” Oh, they’d trickled in over the last week plus; one or two a day, so I didn’t think that much of it until I’d realized that no one was coming. No one at all.

    So I decided to get together some presents- maybe I’d save Santa the trip this year if I made the rounds myself. No recycle system was perfect, so I packed canisters of liquid oxygen and pure carbon granules for everyone. Giovanni and his family were working a carbonaceous asteroid without any real metals on it, so I put together some ingots of platinum and iron for them. I also had a couple of new books I’d gotten in trade from Noga Yamato for an air recharge when he last came through, and I downloaded them to mem-crystals enough for everyone on my list.

    Once I had everything together, I took it all to my sled; an old-fashioned ion drive jobbie with just enough shielding to prevent the worst of radiation damage zipping around in the big empty. It was slow but made the most of reaction mass; way out here, speed wasn’t always your friend.

    I accelerated halfway, then switched thrust to the front to accelerate the other way to slow down: Newton and Einstein were picky fellas where their laws were concerned. I sent laser signals to Giovanni letting him know my ETA, and fell asleep waiting for a reply with the small amount of light lag.

    My onboard woke me in when I was in proximity, and I spent a few minutes lining up docking at the hub before I realized Gio hadn’t messaged me back at all. Once tied up, I left all the gifts in their cradle in the sled and went to the airlock door.

    The indicator on it was pulsing red.

    I looked inside through the small window, and saw that the inner door was open. I could see a lot of people in the main room of the habitat. I pressed the intercom button. “Hey, ma famiglia,” I called. “It’s Saint Nick, you bastardos! I’ve got presents; close your lock so I can cycle in, heyo.”

    There was no response. I looked in again. There’d been no movement.

    I went back to the sled, my breathing loud in my own ears, and got some equipment from it. I hooked up a long lead to the onboard and went back to the airlock and fiddled with a connection. Once done, I returned to run a diagnostic on the computer.

    I ran it five more times.

    There was no atmo or heat inside the entire habitat. My family was dead.

    Then my onboard, still hooked up to Giovanni’s system, started flashing warnings of viral intrusion just before it suffered catastrophic failure and went dark.

    Someone had killed my family, stolen their air, and then left a computer boobytrap for the first person to investigate.

    My suit alarms began to blare warnings about a rise in pulse and blood pressure, and increased oxygen consumption, but those were the least of my troubles. I was about fifteen thousand miles from my home with a short-haul sled without a guidance computer, not to mention a limited air supply. I’d just lost everyone in the universe I’d cared about. Finally, for all I knew, I was the only human being alive this region of space.

    Ho, ho, ho. I was so fucked.

    Someone was going to pay.

    1. rle

      LT, your second to last line was priceless. Nothing like being stranded in space, I’ll bet it’s a lot like being stranded at my sister-in-laws for Christmas!!!

      1. Kerry Charlton

        This was so dead on, a realistic tale of the future. I didn’t understand a lot of the lingo but that certainly was not necessary for the trip I’ve been on. Magical story telling, to say the least You keep growing in power by leaps and bounds. It’s so awesome to see it happening. .

    2. cosivantutte

      I’d love to see how he gets out of this situation alive, mainly because he’s such a likable character and because of pure contrariness. His chances for survival are so slim (short of a random deus ex machina robot showing up), I’d love to see how he could do it. 🙂

  18. Reaper

    It’s a Snow Globe Life

    “Admit it. You were happy none of them were coming.”

    “That’s insane. Why would I be happy they declined to celebrate at my place this year?”

    “Why don’t you run through the events with me one more time?”

    I called the members of my family to invite them over for Christmas. We always celebrate together so it was no small shock when everyone declined. They each had a reason so I figured, next time. I tried to keep a stiff upper lip but Christmas day I got really down in the dumps.

    I decided the best way to combat the depression was to spread some holiday cheer. I would be a modern day Saint Nick. I piled everything into the car and with renewed joy and a half plastic smile I set about the errands.

    Imagine my shock when I arrived at my mother’s house and saw my entire family inside. A fire crackled merrily in the hearth. Expressions of joy radiated from their faces. What did I do to deserve such treatment?

    My mother (emergency nail appointment at the only shop open on Christmas) was locked in a kiss, under the mistletoe, with my father (getting his hemorrhoids checked.) Mom and dad are divorced and their respective spouses were at the kid’s table. My sister (spending the day with her boyfriend’s family) and my brother (couldn’t get the car working and was going to spend all day on that) were sharing a toast in front of the fireplace. Creepy uncle Sven (spending the day in the tank for drunken disorderly) was over in the corner putting on his Santa costume.

    When I walked in everyone froze. It was childish but they were giving me the silent treatment. They wanted to pretend I wasn’t even there it seemed. Try as I might to make them nobody would come out of it. That’s when I lost it and started busting up the furniture. I guess the neighbors made the call, and you know the rest.

    “So you claim you made these calls on the twentieth?”

    “Yes officer.”

    “Despite that I have your cell phone and there is only one call on that day. To your psychiatrist.”

    “Well that is peculiar.”

    “You’re sticking with this story then?”

    “What else could have happened?”

    “Well, according to the neighbors you have been estranged from your family since you fled the house of your abusive father five years ago. Looking at the evidence, the fingerprints, the stab wounds… I would guess you had some sort of psychotic break. I theorize you murdered the family you hated and posed them into the idyllic Christmas you always wanted. Your mind could not accept their love, even in that situation however, so you forgot everything. That is how I am going to present this to the DA.”

    “That’s insane. My family and I love each other. If you just let me talk to my mother we can get this all sorted out!”

    1. snuzcook

      Very entertaining in the ultimate Bah Humbug kind of way, Reaper! So interesting to ponder the specific way he chose to imagine the family gathering. So chilling the way the defense attorney turns the evidence into a plausible scenario. Well written and actually quite touching story.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Very strong writing, Reaper. When I open your stories, I know I’m really in for a roller-coaster event. This was such a strong ending with the conversation between the MC and the officer. Gives a little peak into insanity, that I don’t think I’m going to forget until after New Year’s.Strile that, probably the middle of next year.

    2. lionetravail

      Very slickly done, Reaper- and as dark as it was, it was entertaining in a paradoxically funny way. Full marks for a very well-written dark comedic holiday story. 🙂

  19. snuzcook

    A PLACE AT THE TABLE

    My invitations had gone out on December 15th. Twelve green envelopes with Santa stickers and festive Christmas postage stamps. My tiny house would be filled with the warmth of a family gathering for the first time in many years. My husband David’s illness and the long months of mourning had prevented me from hosting anything for far too long. There was a real possibility that by next year I might be living in an apartment somewhere. It was with great eagerness I unboxed and dusted off the trappings of the holidays that had been too long neglected and that I might never again have a chance to use.

    The night before Christmas, I set the holiday table up in the tiny dining room. I created twelve place settings with a cute origami reindeer at each one, a spring of holly and a tiny candy cane atop each napkin, my grandmother’s cranberry glass goblets by each plate. My daughter-in-law would be bringing the ham and other hot dishes were being brought potluck by the rest of the family. I had pies cooling on the counter and salads in the icebox ready to assemble and serve.

    The last task in the morning was bringing up four chairs from the basement, and it was almost a disaster. With the last one, I somehow managed to trip and fall and struck my head on the hard concrete floor. The chair broke—apparently it broke my fall. I was just lucky that I didn’t break along with the chair. I could hear my son’s scolding, “Mom, you shouldn’t carry things up those stairs by yourself. Call one of us to do it for you.” He thought I needed to move into one of those assisted living apartments as if I was a frail old lady. I soon would be, if I started to believe him that I was helpless.

    I was unconscious for a little while, apparently, or I was a little dazed by my fall. The morning had sped by and it was late afternoon before I realized it. There was nothing left to prepare and all my tasks were done, so through the dark winter afternoon I waited, pacing through the house from room to room. I indulged myself in woolgathering, reminiscing among the photos and mementos displayed all around the house—holidays past, graduations, weddings, vacations, heirloom portraits; walls and windows sills full of memories.

    I was surprised when I realized that it was well past time for everyone to arrive but no one had come, no one had called. I felt betrayed and angry. This one thing I had set my heart upon, to have my family around me for one more Christmas dinner before I might have to sell my house. Where was everyone?

    I tried to call my son, but my phone was not working. Maybe people had been trying to call but were unable to reach me. Maybe there had been some emergency. I fretted and paced, feeling helpless.

    I decided to walk the ten blocks to my son’s house. It was odd closing the door behind me, leaving the house waiting as it was for a celebration, as if life had been paused, put on hold.
    The evening was mild. I hardly needed my coat as I walked through the neighborhood. There weren’t many people out and about, and those who were rushed by wrapped in their own thoughts, hurrying to their destinations.

    The fresh air did me a world of good. I felt years younger and my hip and knee didn’t hurt. I decided should make a point of getting out for walks more often.

    I was surprised to see a number of cars outside my son’s house. Something must have happened. I hurried to the door, but the doorbell was out of order. I let myself in the open patio door and found everyone gathered in the dining room gathered around the table. All the food that was supposed to be at my house, filling my table, was here. People were sat with their backs to me. Even when I walked in they went on talking in whispered tones, ignoring me, as if to exclude me even further.

    Then I saw my son Davey’s face. He looked terrible. Something must have happened to Stephanie or one of the kids. I looked around. Young Susie and Michael were there. Then Stephanie walked into the room, looking pale. She stood by my son as she always did, a pillar of support and encouragement. I was reminded again how lucky I am to have such a daughter in law. I smiled at her, but she looked right past me.

    That’s when I caught snatches of conversation and began to understand. I looked across the room at the sideboard and saw the pies I had made last night among the plates of cookies.

    “She would have wanted it this way, Davey. I mean, she wouldn’t have wanted to get old and helpless and live in some home.”

    “The paramedics said she probably never felt any pain. She died the second she hit the floor.”

    “That’s right. You saw that beautiful table she had set. Her last thoughts were of us all, together again.”

    “Yeah, and here we are.”

    And so I realized this was how it was meant to be, and that if I had made a wish, it would have been precisely this. I had not been cheated after all. I was hosting Christmas dinner for my family, one last time.

    1. snuzcook

      I was surprised to see a number of cars outside my son’s house. Something must have happened. I hurried to the door, but the doorbell was out of order. I let myself in the open patio door and found everyone gathered in the dining room gathered around the table. All the food that was supposed to be at my house, filling my table, was here. People were sat with their backs to me. Even when I walked in they went on talking in whispered tones, ignoring me, as if to exclude me even further.

      Don’t know what happened with this paragraph, and I had to repost with corrections. ;0(

      1. rle

        Snuz, this was beautifully done. I tried to do something similar to this a couple of days ago but think I failed miserably. You seemed to capture everything here perfectly. Bravo.

    2. snuzcook

      Thanks for reading and commenting. In my own re-read it feels a bit heavy-handed with the sentimental wrap up at the end rather than subtly or elegantly written. Both of my stories this week conclude with a ‘just in case you missed the point’ line. Must be some form of holiday fallout.
      Happy New Year, everyone!

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Just about brought me to tears this afternoon. I finally realized where you were heading before I hit the end. What I always have loved about your writing is the descriptive power of your words.
        There is much detail flowing through my eyes when I read you. It’s always a pleasure snuzcook.

    3. Reaper

      One of my first thoughts this week was of a ghost story. Having read the two that were posted I’m glad I went a different route. This is elegant and beautiful. Yes the end is a bit if you missed it but necessary to wrap this up with joy rather than possible anguish so I think it was warranted here.

    4. lionetravail

      Heartbreaking, but you knew that Snuzcook 🙂 It was a lovely story, and I anticipated where it would go when she first fell, but that’s not what I wanted to comment on.

      What’s really wonderful about this piece is how smooth it was, everything about it felt unrushed, or soft around the edges. It was a lovely and uplifting tragedy.

  20. Bilbo Baggins

    OLD HABITS

    I was always the black sheep in the world‘s flock, and going to jail for four years didn’t seem to help. All I did was hold up the local Jackson’s with a BB gun, but the judge made it out like I was robbing the Fort Knox gold reserves. Now my two sisters keep their kids ensconced behind barbed wire whenever I come over, as if I’m going to contaminate them like radioactive waste from Chernobyl. So, yeah, no surprises when Christmas rolled around and they were conveniently no-shows. Even my Uncle Harris, who smokes a pack a day and got divorced three different times hid behind some stupid excuse about a hailstorm. I switch on the weather channel and it’s in the high 40s. You get the picture. It’s been years of this, and I’m finally at the breaking point.

    But, out of the goodness of my heart, I decide to go to them. At 9:00 AM, after murdering the snooze button, I slip on jeans and a sweater. I have a work bench in the garage that‘s cluttered with wires and screens, refuse from an old job. My mind’s groggier than punched eggnog, but I fumble with the bow and wrapping paper and manage to get the package somewhat presentable. I figure I’ll stop off at Sarah’s house, she lives in the town over. I’m sure she’ll love it.

    My car isn’t exactly what you would call ‘new’. McDonald’s fries and cheap tobacco are the chief odors of the front and passenger seats. Shoving the present underneath the glove box, I throw a couple magazines and empty straws into the back. Wrenching into gear, the old stick shift rumbles out of the packed ice and onto the road.

    “Let’s see what sis is doing for the holidays,” I mutter. Switching back and forth between sadness and anger, I decide to swirl into a lethal bitterness. Tears aren’t my antidote. I’ll just walk right into the living room, yell in their faces until oceans drip from their eyes. So you want to ignore me, shut me out because of my old habits? Well, I might just leave you all for some new friends. They cared about me and my cause long before I walked out of that cell. Those same four stark white walls… the harsh outlines of ruined lives– I don’t care if I’m wrong, I just don’t.

    I’m not surprised to see all six cars cramming the driveway and opposite street. Uncle Harris’s rotting 1956 Chevy, Melissa’s Odyssey, Dad’s convertible. A thought hovers in my mind of slashing their tires, smashing their windshields in, but I shove it away.

    Just give them the gift, Norman. It’ll all work out eventually.

    Getting out of the car, I can smell the snow piled in drifts where the plows didn’t reach, the dizzying freshness. It all reminded me of this house when I was a kid, innocent kids making a snowman. Instead, it has to be these weary boots going up to the threshold, a prodigal making his last appearance.

    I decide to risk a glance into the window, but my chest rips at it. They’re sitting around the tree on the comfy sofas, with full glasses, cookies. The same smiles I know that hide betrayal to me, mother’s loving look directed at her daughters, at the good ones.

    I rub my hands in the chill, almost wish the clouds would move and put these reminding flakes somewhere else. Who needs a white Christmas. Placing the large package on the welcome mat with care, I step back and admire it. Above the door handle is the wreath with red holly and candy canes, a wooden engraving of a heart dangling from the wind chimes.

    I ring the doorbell, hear a scuffle inside, and run over to the patio. My heart leaps as I hear Sarah’s voice. After two years it sounds the same, but there’s no visible face to match to it. Good. I should’ve let them stay as I’d remembered them, pretended like I was hating not my family but someone else who’d let me down.

    “Look what we have here! Mother, it’s a present…”

    The door closes again with a sickening finality. Of course, they’ll bring it in, put in on the table within reach of all of them. I’m never going to see them again, but they can have their fun. They can go on and on without me.

    Walking back to the car, the air still seems to push down on me. I swing into the driver’s seat, light up a cigarette just because I feel like it.

    “Merry Christmas, everyone. And a happy friggin’ New Year.”

    I set the timer for the bomb on the dash, where I can watch the green numerals wind down. Maybe I could swing by the bar, knock back a few shots. I feel utterly miserable. But what can I say? Old habits are hard to break.

    1. snuzcook

      Lots of great lines here, BB:
      Switching back and forth between sadness and anger, I decide to swirl into a lethal bitterness.
      I decide to risk a glance into the window, but my chest rips at it.
      …murdering the snooze button…

      The only thing that left me feeling like I missed something was the gap between his apparent only crime being the robbery armed with a BB gun transitioning to him being an experienced bomb maker.

        1. Kerry Charlton

          I could feel the tension rising toward the end and realized this was probably going on the dark side. The inner description of the MC’s thought and reasoning power, lead me to believe that he had passed go to insanity. The fact that not one forgave his mistake, probably drove him there.

    2. lionetravail

      Boy this was grim, Bilbo! I think the MC proved the family’s concerns about him, though- clearly something was wired wrong in his head, and it began with the choice to do a robbery. I found this a rather salient story, underscoring how often prison does not facilitate reform, but instead a crash course in more crime.

      Effective writing here, even if it was heartbreakingly depressing 🙂

  21. HappyGoLucky

    You know, Christmas is really great and all, but I now officially hate it. H-A-T-E it. Why?, you ask. Why would you hate such a joyous holiday?

    Well, my dearest friends, let me explain.

    My family was always on the weird side. I mean, when your baby son has magical fire powers… You get the idea. My whole entire family was like that- weird, I mean.

    We never knew why. Until Christmas Eve.

    I could control ice and snow. DO NOT START SINGING ‘LET IT GO’! I’m sick of little kids asking me to sing it for them!

    Now, Anna was different, though. She didn’t have any powers, or so we thought. What we didn’t know, was that she actually did. It was worse than any power ever given to our family.

    Anna, poor dear, could control men. Now, she was not kind with this. The amount of children she has, goodness.

    This is why, Christmas Eve, only me and Olaf remained at home.

    “Elsa?” Olaf asked. “Where are they?”

    You’re probably wondering why Olaf wasn’t with Anna. He isn’t a man. He’s a SNOWman.

    “Anna,” I whispered, glancing in my ice ball. “Anna. Even my own husband! CURSE YOU HANS!”

    A crack of ice shot out of my palm and through the sky towards Anna’s home.

    I screamed and stormed to the fireplace. It gets a little cold sometimes. And yes, the cold DOES bother me. I don’t care what the stupid song says!

    Olaf scampered after me. He was worried. “Why does she do that?”

    I scowled. “Who knows!? Disney thought I was evil? Look at Anna! Managed to confuse poor Hans. TWICE!”

    Olaf frowned. “You know, Stitch told me…”

    “I KNOW THE SAYING ABOUT FAMILY!” It struck me like ice. Of course! I just had to make her realize she was being cold.

    “Right,” Olaf whimpered.

    “Yes, you are right, Olaf. For once.”

    He smiled. “REALLY!”

    “Yes. Now call Santa and ask if I can borrow his sleigh. My skates need repairs.”

    *****

    “ANNA! OPEN UP!” I yelled, facing the castle.

    I heard the music go down and glasses shatter.

    “HIDE! THE QUEEN IS HERE!” I heard a guard yell.

    “OPEN UP! I JUST WANT TO TALK!” I yelled.

    “YEAH! JUST SOME CONVERSATION!” Olaf yelled.

    “It gets a little lonely, when everyone SKIPS OUT ON THE ANNUAL ICE PARTY!”

    Anna opened the door. “Hi, sister dearest. Hot cocoa?”

    “Are you nuts? Do you think… yes please.”

    “Sorry. Your invitation must’ve gotten lost.”

    “Right, sure. Where is Hans?”

    “Oh, he’s upstairs,” Anna said, pouring some cocoa.

    “Where, upstairs?” I asked, my voice tight.

    “The bedroom. Marshmallows?”

    “NO! WHERE IS MY HUSBAND!?” I yelled.

    “The bedroom. Now, sprinkles or syrup?”

    “My god,” I said. I threw an ice chain around her neck. “Let him go.”

    She frowned. “Let it go, Elsa. He loves me, not you.”

    And that, my friends, is why ice skating is now considered somewhat dangerous.

    Authors Note-

    Some of the things said in here are Disney’s and I claim no right to the characters nor their powers. Merry Christmas everyone! 🙂

    -HGL

    1. lionetravail

      Heya HGL, this seemed like a lot of fun! I have to admit, I did not recognize the names of Olaf, Anna, Elsa from the Disney pantheon, but that’s likely me and age. Without that knowledge, I found the story confusing without more set up, but I still had fun reading it 🙂

  22. Amy

    I’m a hypocrite this week. I went way over on words. Oh well. Happy holidays to you all!

    “Those ungrateful little shits!”

    An armful of boxes, masterfully wrapped in bright paper and curled ribbon, sank to the snow with a soft crunch. I brushed past them to the driveway, where the cars lined the shoveled path on both sides. One. Two. Three. Nine, in all. Even the elusive cousin Jenny’s Lexus was there, gleaming at me in the midmorning sun.

    “Aww, what the hell?” I turned to Will, brushing the snow from his pants as he made his way toward me. “They’re all here. Every single one of them. No holiday spirit, my ass!”

    “Betty, calm down. I’m sure there’s an explanation.”

    I winced away the sting my nickname almost always elicited. My dad used to be the only person allowed to call me Betty. To the rest of the world, I was Elizabeth. When my boyfriend, Will, adopted the moniker, I couldn’t bring myself to tell him. It was so much easier to hide it behind my red lipsticked smile.

    “Oh, there’s an explanation all right. Mom, the aunts, Bryan and Jimmy; everybody is in there, Buble-ing the day away without me!”

    As if on cue, my brother Jimmy started belting out “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” his voice no doubt amplified by the Pious Punch my aunt Leeann was famous for. She wasn’t admitted in the door without it since its invention in 1999. I hadn’t heard this much cheer at a family gathering since Dad was deployed, again, overseas.

    Will slid a gloved hand in front of his crooked smile, his eyes disappearing into thin, blue slivers. It was a contagious smile I couldn’t ignore, from the moment I saw him ordering his Americano three years ago. Usually, I was the co-conspirator, sharing in his wicked grin. Not this time.

    “Is something funny? I mean, besides the fact that my brother thinks his American Idol rejection was the biggest travesty of 2010?”

    Will bent down and pulled each present out of its hollow in the snow, blowing the iridescent powder from the soggy paper and handed the stack back to me. The smooth leather of his gloves was surprisingly warm as he took my pouting face in his hands.

    “It’s Christmas. Let’s just deliver these like we planned. They’re your family, Betty. You only get one.”

    My eyes narrowed, a reflexive skepticism I had my dad to thank for. God, I missed him.

    “Fine. But I am not going to play Pass the Baster like everything is fine and dandy. Let’s go kill their buzz with kindness.”

    I punched the doorbell and the raucous laughter and music came to a screeching halt. Will and I stood on the steps, underneath a rather frightening array of icicle weaponry, while my family scurried around inside, knocking things over and hissing at each other to shut up. I looked over at Will, standing tall and smiling as though nothing was amiss. What the hell was going on?

    My mom yanked open the door, Santa hat askew on her teased blonde hair. “Lizzy! What a surprise. I was just baking some cookies.” She kissed the top of my head and pushed me inside with a warm hand on the small of my back. “Merry Christmas, Will. Good of you kids to come.” She took the presents from my arms and tossed them to the floor.

    “Good of us to come?” I challenged, looking around at the tinsel strewn over doorknobs and chair backs, the Solo cups of half-drunk punch ornamenting every flat surface. “Ma, either we need to have a very serious conversation about your drinking, or you guys all lied to me about getting together.”

    “I’m gonna go get us some punch,” Will announced, disappearing down the hall to the kitchen.

    “Well, I wanted to invite you, sweetheart, but we all agreed it would be much more fun to surprise you,” my mom replied, practically shoving me after Will.

    “Have I ever made any indication that I enjoyed surprises, Ma? Did you learn nothing from the year we found out the hard way I was allergic to circus ponies?”

    We reached the kitchen and everyone was sitting around the table, well except for Jimmy, who was sitting on the table. All the aunts, uncle Bobby, Grandma Jane, all the cousins, including Jenny, who looked like she stepped out of a Chanel ad. Damn her and her inhumanly shiny hair. But there was someone else sitting among them I didn’t recognize. Not at first. His stiff back and hands placed neatly in his lap didn’t fit with the rest. Clearly, he hadn’t tried the punch.

    He rose from his seat, made his way toward me, and all at once, I couldn’t breathe. My knees wobbled, the tiny heels of my pumps unable to hold me upright for long. I grabbed the edge of the island counter, staring at this man as he reached for me in the gloom of the crowded kitchen. Grasping my arm, his touch was firm and familiar.

    “Merry Christmas, Betty,” he whispered into my ear, pulling me into his arms.

    “You, too, Dad,” I whispered back, smiling through the tears.

    1. Observer Tim

      This is touching, Amy. Though I do have to say this family is either intentionally being cruel or is utterly awful at planning a surprise. I would have to assume Will is in on the surprise, but again that hearkens back to deliberate cruelty. I’m also a little curious how long her father’s been gone, given that she didn’t recognize him.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Inspiring ending Amy. Was the kitchen dark to his daughter’s eyes? I know sometimes when you don’t expect to see someone, many times you don’t recognize them. You have the msakings of a great story, if the back story was set first for the reader, like Dad missing in action or some such thing.

        1. Amy

          Yes, that’s exactly it, KC. She just needed a moment to comprehend the gravity of him in the kitchen. I did say it was gloomy in the crowded kitchen. I also said that Dad had been deployed more than once overseas and the sting every time she heard her nick name was supposed to imply that she missed him terribly. Thank you for reading and commenting!

      2. Amy

        Thanks for commenting, Tim. I thought of them as more dysfunctional than cruel. They wouldn’t set out to be mean intentionally, that’s just a byproduct they wouldn’t fully understand in the midst of their holiday fun. 😉 The part about her not recognizing her dad was more about the fact that he didn’t quite fit with the usual bunch than that he had been gone so long. She was not expecting to see him, so her brain took a few extra minutes to figure it out. As always, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

    2. lionetravail

      HAHAHA, ‘found out the hard way I was allergic to circus ponies?’- brilliantly funny 🙂

      Overall, I found this very enjoyable, right down to the reveal that dad had come home. Heartwarming, fun, and with just enough conflict to make the early part simmer its way to sweetness. Beautiful job, both on the story and its execution!

  23. Observer Tim

    A CENTURY AGO

    Based on true events. Spelling has been sacrificed on the altar of dialect.

    “Ten-hut!”

    “Sir!”

    “Seems rather a shabby Christmas party, Leftenant.”

    “Sorry sir, but this is an advance base, sir. The men are out on guard duty sir, in case Jerry attacks.”

    “Good form, but are there none off duty? Hrrumph! At least some should be able to attend.”

    “I have a man looking into that, sir. Ah, here he is. Out with it, Corporal Witherspoon, where are the men?”

    “Dunno, sir. The barracks are empty except for a couple of night sentries sleeping it off, sir. Oi can’t find nobody. Not ‘ere, not in the trenches. It’s like they’ve all buggered off, sir.”

    “We’ll see about that! Come along Colonel, and you’ll see some discipline in action.”

    (later)

    “Leftenant, why are there no men in the trenches?”

    “I don’t know, sir. Witherspoon, where are the men?”

    “Don’t know, sir. Been all the way up and down the half-mile sir, and nobody’s home.”

    “Well find them!”

    “Yes sir!”

    “Leftenant, don’t your men know there’s a war on?”

    “I’m sure they do, Colonel. They tell me it’s in all the papers.”

    “This is mass desertion! I’ll have heads for this!”

    “Er, Leftenant sir, Oi’ve found them.”

    “Corporal?”

    “Praps you’d best look for yourself, sir. Just up the ladder.”

    “Up the ladder? They’ve gone over the top?”

    “In a manner of speaking, sir, oi think they have. It looks like hand to hand, sir.”

    “Oh my.”

    “What is it, Leftenant? Let me see.”

    “Of course, Colonel.”

    (still later)

    “Sergeant Major, what is going on here?”

    “Morning Colonel, Morning Leftenant.”

    “Sergeant Major, why are all our men in No Man’s Land?”

    “It’s Christmas, Colonel; the boys are on furlough for the day. We’ll have ‘em all back in the trenches by nightfall.”

    “On furlough!? Sergeant Major, this is a war!”

    “Yes, Colonel, it is a war, but it’s also Christmas. And we’re winning, Colonel. The football match is only half over and we’re ahead of Jerry three nothing.”

    “Your men are fraternizing with the enemy, Sergeant Major!”

    “I told you, Colonel, it’s Christmas! This is happening all up the front; the boys have decided to take a holiday and if you try to shoot us all for mutiny you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone to pull the trigger. Just let it be and we can be back at war tomorrow.”

    “I.. I..”

    “Come on, Colonel, join us in a song.”

    Si-lent Night! Ho-ly Night! All is calm, all is bright…

    1. Observer Tim

      On Christmas Day, 1914, troops all along the front called a one-day truce. World War I (the Great War) was set aside while soldiers from both sides met in no-man’s land for Christmas revelry. Both sides shared their meager supplies, drank toasts, and sang carols together. The next day they were fighting again.

      It never happened again.

      1. Jay "The Doc" Wilson

        I’ve heard about this, but I’m not entirely certain I believe it. I might even buy into the fact that there was some very very very loose (old professor John Keating is rolling over in his grave right now) truth to this, but–and maybe I’m too cynical–this is probably a load of heavily romanticized fluff.

        I would like to believe this happened, but I believe the British would be the only people who would act accordingly during such a truce.

        Good story to go along with the myth, though. A fun look how it might have played out.

        1. Observer Tim

          Actually, it is a documented occurrence at several points on the front, though not as widespread as its supporters would like us to believe. In general, where there was a ‘Christmas Truce’ it was initiated by the Germans.

    2. JR MacBeth

      Dialogue is always such fun! But often, so hard to do. I really like this historical event, it sort of gives us a little hope, although today something like this would probably never happen. One little “historical” aside, the term “Jerry” probably wasn’t used in 1914. By the end of the War, it had emerged, but mainly put to actual use in WW2. In WWI, the British still preferred “Fritz”. Not at all distracting to use “Jerry”, unless you know otherwise, and probably most people would recognize Jerry over Fritz anyway. So, probably a good choice. Better than having the modern person scratch their heads. Fritz? Huh? And you know, stuff like this can sure make you think about what’s best to do in the given situation.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Good story Tim. This happened often during the Cuvil War. Both Union and Confederate forces ceased fighting at dark, met on the battlefields to carry off their wounded and those that had died in battle. Never a shot was fired, it a was common experience during the struggle between North and South.

    3. Manwe38

      I remember learning about this in high school. It was always something that simultaneously awed and chilled me, and you did an excellent job of portraying it here. Loved the emotions portrayed here: confusion, disbelief, and finally, cautious relief.

      Nicely done!

    4. lionetravail

      Great fun. I have heard this kind of tale also from the Jewish side- at night, when hostilities ceased, people from each side would get together to say the communal prayers together.

      It was a very strange war by today’s standards… which was likely why the lines had not moved much for many years until the US got into the war and said “WTF?”, and things changed dramatically to the advantage of the allies, and led directly to the end of the age of Empires.

      Nicely done story- great dialogue 🙂

  24. Eimaan Gardezi

    Hi!My name is Eimaan and I am a 14 year old girl from Pakistan.I am not that good at writing but I aim to get better through Writers Digest .Please critique and i hope you enjoy it 🙂

    “YOU FREAKING BACKSTABBERS, BLITHERING BABOONS OF IDIOTS!!”
    Now most people would not say that when they enter their cousin’s house on Christmas Eve, I on the other hand have a very uh “unique” family. Two precious hours spent writing the invitation cards for these unthankful people but apparently none of them could make it .I swear that in my whole life I haven’t ever heard that many excuses ,I mean I have also ditched parties but I would never in a million years say “I can’t make it, my goldfish died”. Who does that??Now let me tell you one thing I am not the most kind or considerate person you would ever meet but I had promised myself to be extra good today so even though I had been exhausted working hard in the kitchen preparing the chicken roast and turkey etc, I grabbed my coat, filled the trunk with the presents (which had been anything but cheap) and drove over to my cousin Sam’s house to deliver his Christmas present.
    The ride to his home was irritating enough in my beaten old car but when I reached his street and saw lights flashing from his windows and the loud music roaring out ,my blood started to boil. If this was what I thought it was, I swear things were about to turn nasty.
    I got the gift, went towards the pavement and slowly opened the door revealing just how genuine my family was .All of them talking ,laughing or dancing having the time of their lives. My mouth fell down ,my chest heaved up and down and I am pretty sure my eyes looked as if they could murder. And that was when the marvelous words erupted from my mouth.
    Suddenly a deadly silence spread throughout the room. Finally it was Uncle John who dared to speak.
    “Let us exp-“
    “Explain what that you were stuck in Italy with diarrhea till morning but now can dance as if you were Beyonce “
    “Please listen to us-“
    “No now you listen to me you ditchers I spent my entire afternoon cooking and slaving in the kitchen making the food and this is what you do”
    “Now honey don’t be irrational” said Aunt Susan.
    “Oh I am the one being irrational what about you Aunt Susan, what about that friend with chemo therapy today you were in the hospital with, is she also here partying with you.”
    “Don’t be rude” I distantly heard my cousin Sam murmur.
    ‘Oh shut up Mr. Oh I can’t come because I broke my back and am on bed rest for a month and don’t laugh Macy, you don’t look as if you have the chicken pox.”These people were just unbelievable.”YOU ARE THE MOST UNGRATEFUL, INCONSIDERATE GROUP OF PEOPLE I HAVE EVER MET. WHAT IN HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU.HAVE YOU NO IDEA HOW MUCH TIME I SPENT ON WRITING THE INVITES,COOKING THE FOOD AND BUYING THE PRESENTS WHICH BY THE WAY NONE OF YOU ARE GETTING ,WASTE OF MY MONEY”
    The anger I felt, I knew wasn’t going to dim any time soon but I forced myself to calm down.My eyes traveled the room but stopped at the delicious chocolate cake, I confidently marched to the table of food picked it up and walked out but before closing the door said “Oh and Sam if someone eggs your house tomorrow don’t be surprised”
    And with that I drove home for a night with cake and my laptop, stopping though at the store to buy a carton full of eggs.

    1. Hiba Gardezi

      Welcome to the party! Muslim,Pakistani girl to Muslim, Pakistani girl ? It feels good to have another Muslim Pakistani girl on this site. 🙂
      Its amazing that you’ve written so well on your first shot! The anger was conveyed perfectly and I liked your MC’s attitude.
      I especially liked your first line!
      Blithering baboons.
      How beautiful.
      I won’t criticize…better leave that to the professionals.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Welcome to the forum Eimaan. I found your story quite amusing even with the anger being it’s centerpiece. I think most of us have been there one time or another. For your first ‘out of the box’ story, I consider a wonderful effort. I look forward to more posts from you, hopefully there’ll be a New Years theme. Being fouteeen is a wonderful time. I’m at the other end of Father Time but I have complete memories of fourteen and my first year of high school. Thank you for the post.

    2. Observer Tim

      Welcome aboard Eimaan!

      You did a fantastic job portraying your main character’s anger and the defensive reactions of her targets; I could almost hear her yelling at them. Also, some of the language is a bit awkward, but that can be fixed by practice and by reading it back to yourself. Keep on writing!

      If I have any criticism at this point, it has to do with structure. For the sake of people like me with lousy eyesight, it helps to put an extra blank line between paragraphs to more clearly separate them. You may have to do this manually by putting in an extra ‘enter’ after the line.

      1. JR MacBeth

        I’ll second that emotion on the need for extra lines. I’m stuck with poor eyesight too, and frankly, I tend to skip stories that look like one massive paragraph.

        1. rle

          Welcome to our little corner of the world young lady. I too noticed a few structural things and a few small grammatical blunders, but overall, for a debut effort, I thought this was pretty good. Something that really helps me is to read aloud before you post, I find this especially helpful when writing dialogue.

          I’m always happy to see young writers giving this a try. I have a 14 year old daughter myself who posts here from time to time. Keep giving these prompts a try. You will find yourself improve each and every week. Listen to some of the wise veterans who post here. I have learned much from their critiques as I’m sure you will. Again, welcome to the club!

    3. cosivantutte

      I love the fact that, after all of that anger and yelling, she went and stole their chocolate cake. It’s like her consolation prize or something. 😀

    4. Reaper

      Welcome Eimaan. I have only two pieces of advice and one of them is an echo. Work on the wording a bit, as some of this reads awkward and could use a little clean up but only a little. This was a good read and had a nice feeling to it. Even with the anger the revenge being the stealing of the cake was kind of sweet. So second, while it is good to think you are not that good, because it will force you to improve even if you’re amazing, stop saying it. Writers learn that words make reality so saying you would like to improve or you could be better is one thing, but if you say you’re not very good that is how people will see you. You either invite harsh criticism (in the rest of the world) or people will do everything to make you feel better about yourself (here on this site) when what you really want is gentle truth. Also, it’s not true, you’re pretty damn good.

    5. lionetravail

      Welcome! It’s nice that in your first story, your character got her cake and to eat it too 🙂

      She seemed justifiably angry, but it would be nice to know what possible explanation her family could have tried to give!

      Nice job 🙂

  25. Hiba Gardezi

    Watching after the baby? Yeah right. I saw him lying on the carpet eating ants just last week. Were you watching after him then Kate? Were you?
    I throw the wooden figurine I bought for her into the flames and ease my body into my big chair facing the fireplace.
    And flying to Hawaii for the holidays? I thought you absolutely loved family Uncle Frank. Didn’t you?
    I pour his favorite blueberry pie into the roaring sea of sparks as well. I smile watching the fire devour the hard work I put into that food the way Uncle would’ve. At least the fire’s more thankful.
    It gives me warmth…whereas my family gave me nothing but betrayal.
    Having a get together with Dicky the Dino, Luna? Oh come on! How old do I look to you? Six?
    I pull out her dolls hair, screaming ‘I am not crazy, I am not crazy, I AM NOT CRAZZYYY!’
    So I end up with Mikes baby unconscious this Easter. So what?
    Not like I knew he had lactose intolerance. ‘You’re going to kill the baby with Hershey’s syrup’ I was told…now please some clarification. What is literal and what’s not?
    So I put accidentally add salt instead of sugar to the Christmas cake and feed it to every one last year. So what?
    I’m a human being. I make mistakes. I put two hours into that thing. Now people some thanks? Some pats on the back? No. No thanks. No pats. Only ditching.
    I hear a knock on the door but don’t answer. Are we gonna have some fun?!
    ‘Katherine?’ I rub my hands together
    ‘Hello ?’ I only smile.
    ‘Anybody there ?’ I hear Sam ask and then the door creaks open. The footsteps move along the hall. Many footsteps.
    Doors creak open. Feet brush over the floor. And then finally they reach the living room
    ‘Katherine! Whats wrong ? no tree? No lights?’
    I use my evil laugh as my fake lightning takes over the sky out the window and a hidden fan outside bsangs the windows just on time. A very weak tube light goes to heaven leaving the room blank. The only light comes from the simmering flames before me.
    ‘Ahhhhhhhhhhh’ terrifying shouts and screams echo off the walls.
    I get out of my seat.Only my figure andnot my face visible thanks to the fire. I dressed up especially for this. For this.
    Frank I say laughing and walking toward him I see you could cancel. I laugh. A short,brittle laugh.
    My body shifts to Kate dressed up in a silver sequined dress. ‘I see the baby’s not here. At home? Where I can kill him?’ She cries as I laugh wickedly.
    I frown at Luna. ‘I already finished off Dino.’
    ‘Before kill you ’ I look at them ‘ I’m taking to all of you , I would like to know how you managed to cancel your parties and leave your children at home to come to your little relatives house?
    ‘We heard she’s about to die’ max pipes up ‘now please tell us where she is’
    And now I see that they’re all in tears
    ‘Please’ Kate says and I find myself crying, too.
    They care about me. They really do. They don’t care if ill feed them salt or kill their children or make some other problems. They don’t care about that because they care about me.
    They love me.
    My family loves me.

    1. Observer Tim

      I’m just a wee bit lost here, Hiba. I can feel the emotion in the writing, but I can’ tell for sure whether they’re coming to save the MC or if the MC has, in her insanity, caused potential harm to a younger relative. Either way you told the tale with extreme emotion and a sense of being inside the main character’s head.

    2. lionetravail

      Your clarification to OT is helpful, Hiba- the story is effective if it’s in the head of an insane girl/woman, as I’d suspect from the “I am not crazy” repetition. I think this could use some smoothing out, however: it’s hard for the average reader to be comfortable inside the perception of someone who is incoherently insane. (At least I found it difficult.) This story sort of moves back and forth and all over, almost like a tempest- it has aspects which seem weird (like the lightning, and light to heaven) stated as ‘matter of fact’, which makes the story jar for me rather than make me feel sorry for the main character.

  26. Cynthia Page

    Bittersweet Revenge

    That day, I pulled onto Joseph’s street and noticed all the cars parked on the street and filling my brother’s driveway. Not only Joseph’s SUV, but also Sissy’s Honda, Kyle’s pickup truck, Ginger’s van, and Kelly’s little hybrid.

    What the hell was going on? They all said they could not make it to my house for Christmas, but there they were gathered at Joe’s house just two miles from my place. My face burned. So much for excuses that seem plausible.

    I pulled into a space across the street, watching them through the living room window. I tried to strategize. I didn’t want to blow up in their faces, not on Christmas. That would be a Christmas we all remembered for the wrong reasons.

    I gathered and balanced fragile packages, like the blue china I bought for Sissy, who loves to entertain and the drone kit for Kyle, a photographer. At top of the pile in my arms were toys for Joe’s kids. I had wanted to see their faces when they opened them, but there was no way I was going to impose on traitors.

    Joe’s wife, Carla, opened the door with a smile, which disappeared when she saw me.

    “Christie, my goodness, you surprised me.”

    I stood there, weighted down by gifts I regretted buying, and my arms were getting tired. I didn’t know what to say. I had expected Joe to answer the door, so I waited to be invited in. She didn’t.

    “Delivery for the Hopewell family.”

    “Oh, well, come in.” Then she yelled into the living room. “Joe, Christie is here!”

    She gestured toward the credenza in the front hall, so I let the top packages drop to the chair beside it. Joe appeared in the doorway with the others peering over his shoulders. They all had guilty looks on their faces.

    Kyle pushed through. “Here, let me help. Wow, that’s heavy,” he said as he grabbed a couple of boxes and set them on the stair steps.

    “That one’s yours.” I stacked the rest beside the credenza. “I planned on going to each of your houses to deliver, but since you’re all here, I guess I’ll save a few gallons of gas.”

    I straightened up and turned to see Joe pulling at his tie, but still silent.

    So I said, “Sorry you couldn’t make it to my place. I sort of had some surprises planned and an announcement to make, but, I guess you had plans that didn’t include me. Care to explain why you didn’t want to see me for Christmas.”

    Sissy, the youngest, was the only one brave enough to speak up. “We didn’t want to end up in one of your stories. Last year’s Thanksgiving dinner was a central part of the short story you sold. We prefer keeping our family holidays private.” Damn, she could be catty when she wanted. I held to my resolve to not ruin their Christmas.

    “I see. Well, I’ll leave you to your celebration, then.”

    I opened the door, walked out, and cried all the way home, and for several hours afterward. Not one of them attempted to stop me or apologize, so to hell with them. They must have eventually found out I sold a blockbuster movie script that year, but I have not spoken with any of them in three years. When they apologize, I may change my mind. In the meantime, I get to eviscerate each of them in my new TV series, a crime drama. But damn it, the holidays are lonely.

    1. Observer Tim

      And yet not one of them thought to say “please don’t use me as a character in your stories” after the Thanksgiving incident. This is a very cold family, and I hope your MC is able to take the steps needed to find a new one. Great story, and very touching.

      1. Cynthia Page

        I thought about that conversation instead, like a family intervention for a writer, but the cold shoulder fit the prompt too well. Revenge was the only answer to being shut out. Thank you.

        1. Kerry Charlton

          I enjoyed it Cynthia. When enough money comes rolling into the MC arms, they’ll be back. The whole group needs to be put on a leaky boat to China. Write ’em off and adopt another family. Try Irish, the fights are delicious.

    2. lionetravail

      Nicely done, Cynthia! I will admit to feeling both sympathy and antipathy for your MC, so congratulations on mixing that complex duality here. The story left me feeling mildly depressed that the characters all chose relatively petty reactions to something a family member did (or perceived they did)- it seems like a painful reality which occurs too often to be dismissed easily. Effective writing 🙂

  27. Saieduzzaman

    I am a . So I will go to my office and write a report like this:
    “Last night of Christmas everyone was celebrating. But for some bad citizen there was some problem too in society. From the aria of …………. (the aria of my friends home) we get many complain. One lady (don’t like to say her name) ware speaking with me last night. She told me that, for lot of sound and drunk people near her home of (Address of my friends home) made a lot of trouble for her. One girl from the home cut little rose tree which she love a lot. Even a boy hit her cat! She is thinking about going to court against those people.”

  28. JR MacBeth

    INTERVENTION

    “I hate Christmas. It’s always the same, insufferable people, never enough booze. Too much money spent on goddamn back-stabbing bastards. And it’s even worse when we’re talking family. Except for you Timmy! You’re the only one who gets me anymore.”

    Timmy was my dog. A beautiful old mutt, mostly golden retriever. I think. Funny thing, Timmy is actually a she, but I like to think of her as one of the guys I guess.

    Anyway, like I said, I hate friggin’ Christmas. And why shouldn’t I? Every year I do my duty, pay for some stupid shit, baskets usually, of crap. Everybody gets something. My loser “secretary” makes damn sure of it. And what do I get? Fucking grief!

    I shit you not. Last year, the so-called family corners me one day. All of them are there, my big sister, the loud mouthed bitch leading the charge, saying all kinds of shit, yelling at me, telling me I’m a hopeless alcoholic. Like that’s supposed to be a huge revelation? Well, they called it something else. Intervention. Yeah, that’s what it was. Anyway, it pissed me off! I’m the one they come to when they need a loan, when their loser kids do dumb-ass shit, crashing cars, and crap like that. And I’m the loser?

    This year, I swear, I’m very, very fucking tempted to just tell them all to fuck the hell off. Do I really need their shit? Oh yeah, and get this, every year, they all descend on my house, since it’s the only one big enough to fit all their fat lame asses, big families, and extended boyfriend / girlfriend bullshit. They eat my food, cooked by my so-called secretary, who can’t give a decent BJ if her job depended on it. Oh wait! I forgot to mention. Even Maria, my little secretary was in on it! They had her saying this that and the other, about what a fucking drunken son-of-a-bitch I am. Yeah. But you wanna know what? This SOB didn’t fire her. I’m the salt of the friggin’ earth, and they shit on me.

    Well, here we go again. Merry fucking Christmas world!

    “Senior Richard, everything is ready. Is funny no? Why no one here yet?”

    “Oh, probably the weather. What a glorious time of the year it is! Snowing like fucking mad, and people running all around like animals. No! At least animals have the sense to stay out of this insanity.”

    Well, another hour passed, and I began to wonder. The weather was bad. Ah, but remember, I am the salt of the earth.

    “Maria, not sure why no one has called, but we have the Hummer. Let’s take it to them! It’s Christmas after all!”

    And there they all were. My sister’s house hardly had a parking spot left for me.

    “Merry Christmas everybody! Was I wrong to expect you all at my place tonight?”

    “Sit down Rich. We’ve been expecting you.”

    “Ah, fuck.”

    1. Observer Tim

      Why do I get the feeling this year’s intervention isn’t going to take either?

      You drew a very nasty character portrait here, JR, and you did it very well. I’m kind of surprised anyone puts up with him. I sure as heck wouldn’t.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Clever write. You pointed out the flip side of the holidays. Real problem here with your Mc is he really hates himself along with his family. Sometimes it takes knees pressed to the ground before any progress evolves.

    2. lionetravail

      Well done, JR! I loved this story, and the final, heartfelt, “Ah, fuck” most especially. Who has never had that reaction to something? I know I have 🙂

      Lots of fun here!

  29. Trevor

    Please comment your thoughts below and be completely honest. Sorry if it’s a bit long. And Merry Christmas, everyone!

    The Greatest Christmas Present

    “Are you sure you can’t make it, Lisa?” I asked my sister, not doing a good job at hiding my disappointment.

    “Yeah, I’m really sorry, Lacey. But I’ve got this really bad head cold and I don’t think I’ll be able to go anywhere tomorrow.” Lisa replied. “I’m just gonna stay at home this Christmas. Sorry. I’ll call you tomorrow, OK?”

    “Thanks. Merry Christmas, sis.” I replied weakly. Once I heard the dial tone, I hung up the phone and laid down on the sofa. I couldn’t believe the luck. I had called all three of my older siblings, and none of them could come over for Christmas. My other sister, Zoe, couldn’t make it because she had to work on Christmas and my brother, Justin, couldn’t make it because his car was being repaired and wouldn’t be ready until after the holidays. It was so weird: We used to always spend Christmas together. We would gather at my house, exchange gifts, and then have dinner. It was my favorite time of the year, but now I was going to have to spend it alone. I sighed and tried to distract myself by listening to some Christmas songs.

    The next morning, I woke up and started making myself some coffee. I turned on the TV I kept on the kitchen counter and a Christmas movie came on. It was the ending of “It’s A Wonderful Life”, my favorite movie to watch this time of year. I could feel tears in my eyes as I watched the touching scene. I felt so lonely having to spend Christmas alone. Then, I remembered something: I had already bought presents for Lisa, Zoe, and Justin. If they couldn’t spend Christmas with me, I could at least visit them to give them their gifts.

    Excitedly, I pulled on my parka, gathered up the presents, and got into my car. A light snow was falling, and the ground was covered in a thin sheet of white. It was so beautiful. My first stop was Lisa’s house, who lived just outside of town. When I saw Lisa’s house, I was astonished. She had really gone all out for the holidays. There were Christmas lights strung on the gutters, several wreaths set up on the porch, and two inflatable snowmen in the front yard. I admired the decorations as I walked toward the house.

    I knocked on the door, but nobody answered. I turned the doorknob and the door opened. As I walked down the entrance hall, I could hear people talking in the living room. At first, I thought Lisa was just watching TV. But when I looked into the living room, I saw that it wasn’t the TV; it was Lisa talking to Zoe and Justin. They were all seated on the living room couch, sipping glasses of egg nog. They were talking and laughing, having a great time without me. I couldn’t believe they had lied to me. But what was worse was that they were talking about me.

    “I don’t get why we always spent Christmas with Lacey. She’s such an ignorant bitch.” Lisa asked as she put her glass down on the coffee table.

    “Because of Mom and Dad.” Justin said as he got up from the couch to get more egg nog. “Now that they’re gone, we won’t have to see her again.” As Justin sipped his egg nog, Zoe joined in. Her harsh words stung the most.

    “I mean, she’s always had her head in the clouds. She has it in her head that she’s this great, successful writer when her books haven’t even gotten on the bestseller’s list. She needs to get a clue and get a real job.”

    I felt like I had been punched in the face. My parents had always been supportive of my writing career, and I’d thought my siblings supported me as well. Sure, I wasn’t as financially successful as they were, but I was still happy with my life and was getting by pretty well. But here they were, laughing at me behind my back, saying my dreams were worthless. I couldn’t hold back my emotions. I pushed the door open, letting it slam against the wall as I stormed into the room. My three siblings gasped, realizing that I had been eavesdropping on their insults.

    “Lacey-” Lisa started as she stood up with Zoe and Justin. But I interrupted her before she could finish.

    “Well, I’m glad you got over your head cold, Lisa. I just came over to give you guys your presents.” With that, I took the presents I’d gotten for Zoe and Justin and tossed them into the fireplace. They were immediately engulfed in the roaring fire, the bright red wrapping paper turning dark black. Then, I took the bottle of wine I had bought for Lisa and tossed it against the wall. The bottle shattered, splashing the white wall with the bright red liquid. It almost looked like blood.

    “Merry fucking Christmas, bastards!” I shouted as tears streaked down my face. I ran out of the living room, ignoring Lisa as she yelled for me to come back. I got into my car and drove back to my house, crying all the way. When I got home, I threw myself down on my bed and sobbed into my pillow. I feel like my entire world had fallen apart. First, my parents died, and now my siblings despised me. I had no one else left in the world.

    As I wiped my tears, I heard a faint ping. It was my cell phone. I picked it up and saw that I had received a text message from my best friend and another struggling writer: Victor Lexson. “Merry Christmas, babe. How’s your holiday going?” The text read.

    I sighed as I wrote back. “Not so good. Could you come over?”

    Almost immediately, Victor wrote back. “Sure. I’ll be over in about 10 minutes. Hang in there.”

    I smiled. I really didn’t want to be alone, and Victor was the perfect guy to have around when you’re sad. He had the best sense of humor and understood me better than anyone. He was more of a brother to me than Justin was.

    A few minutes later, I heard the doorbell ring and I hurried to answer it. Victor stood out on the porch, wearing his trademark black knit cap. When I saw him, I ran into his arms and started to sob. Victor held me, his arms firm but comforting. I feel like I was inside a cloud.

    We went inside and I told Victor everything that had happened that awful Christmas. When I was done, Victor comforted me and told me everything was going to be alright. He was like a guardian angel sent to make my Christmas slightly less miserable.

    “I have an idea.” Victor told me.

    “What is it?” I asked as I wiped my eyes with a tissue.

    “I don’t have anyone to celebrate Christmas with either. How about we have our own Christmas party?” Victor had that look in his eyes he always got when he was excited.

    “That would be great. I mean, we shouldn’t let my turkey go to waste.” I replied, getting up. While I was getting the turkey ready, Victor played Christmas songs on his iPod. They weren’t classic Christmas songs; they were rock versions. We jammed out as I prepared our dinner.

    Once dinner was ready, we said grace together and ate. We talked about everything and anything, from how our careers were going to how disgustingly commercialized the holiday season was becoming. It was almost like a first date. It felt great to be spending Christmas with someone who cared about me. During dinner, I leaned over and kissed Victor on the cheek. He blushed as he grinned at me.

    “What was that for?” He asked, a big goofy grin on his face.

    “For making this the best Christmas ever. I’m glad you came over. After what happened, I felt really down and lonely. I needed someone to tell me that I mattered.” I replied, smiling. Victor smiled back at me and kissed me back-on the lips.

    That Christmas, I got the greatest present ever: Someone who loved me for who I was.

    1. Observer Tim

      This is nicely done, Trevor. It was great that you incorporated the turnaround from what could have been a very angry story to a happy one.

      The only weakness I saw was stylistic, and really only in the paragraph beginning “The next morning”. You don’t really need to start making coffee; ‘I made coffee’ would suffice, which could then be combined with turning on the TV into a longer (more thoughtful sounding) sentence. The entire paragraph could use a minor recast to tighten it up.

    2. lionetravail

      This was a good story, Trevor! I like that the MC got her justified anger out at some pretty cold and cruel siblings…. the backstory you provided for their motivations was good in this short format, and made everything nicely internally consistent, so well done indeed 🙂

      OT’s ‘stylistic’ comment is spot on. I noticed a number of the same things, and since you’ve always wanted constructive feedback, I thought I’d offer some possible insights as well. This paragraph:

      [The next morning, I woke up and started making myself some coffee. I turned on the TV I kept on the kitchen counter and a Christmas movie came on. It was the ending of “It’s A Wonderful Life”, my favorite movie to watch this time of year. I could feel tears in my eyes as I watched the touching scene. I felt so lonely having to spend Christmas alone.]

      Stylistically, OT is write- simplify the prose to make it easier for a reader to fall into:

      “The next morning I started coffee, and as it dripped I turned on the counter TV. “It’s a Wonderful Life” was in the last twenty minutes, and the tear-jerker ending- my favorite part- had its desired effect.”

  30. Kerry Charlton

    LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW

    “What do you think Jezebel?”

    “I have no idea Clem. I didn’t expect them to come to our wedding, that’s why they weren’t invited. But this was a Christmas invitation. Just because I was your step-mother, shouldn’t have made any difference.”

    “I knew Dad would be a sore ass, my stealing you away, but after all, you are younger than me. Do you think it’s my pig farm that had anything to do with it; them not showing up for Christmas?”

    “I doubt it, it’s not so bad when the wind’s from the north. But you changed the subject. Did you know your Pop couldn’t get it up? I was about to go crazy.”

    “You nevr asked me Jez. You knew I was hot for your body, I should have told you, Mom snipped his power cord when he was sleeping.”

    “Is that what what the law suit was all about?”

    “Partly, of course it didn’t help Mom was sashaying around with my uncle Fred.”

    “Is he the one that ran off with your sister Sue?”

    “Yeah but he dumped her after he couldn’t stand her smelly feet. I could have told him, but no, he wouldn’t listen.”

    “It’s a good thing they didn’t marry, he would have been your uncle-brother-in-law.”

    “So what, he and my aunt Clara had a thing goin’ before she suddenly strangled on a ping pong ball.” She left uncle Fred a stash of money from her first husband.”

    “I didn’t know anyone in your family had money. Who was it?”

    “Grandpa Charlie.”

    “Lord Clem, your grandpa married his own daughter? how traditional of your family”

    “Nah, Jez, Clara was his step-niece he married. She was only thirteen at the time. There was a real stink over her age, you know.”

    Sounds a little tawrey, Clem. What’ll we do with all the food and fixin’s?”

    “I have an idea they’re all hiding out at my brother Clem’s house.”

    “Your older or younger brother?”

    “Older, Clem #1.”

    “Why’d your parents call all your brothers Clem?”

    “Beats the hell outta me. The dropped the Clem and called us 1,2,3 and 4. I’m goin’ to the barn and crank up the front-end loader.”

    “I’m not riding in it in this cold weather.”

    “Damn it, then you’ll walk. Get you jacket, Jez and bring the stink bombs with you.”

    “What in hell are you up to, Clem?”

    “Never mind, they won’t forget this Christmas.”

    “I can’t even hear myself think over this damn noise. How much further?”

    “Around the corner, when we get there, hold on.”

    “Clem, Clem, you’re heading straight for their front door.”

    “Never mind, get the bombs ready.”

    CRRRASSHH!! “Throw ’em, Jez, now.”

    “Back out Clem, back out, we’re halfway in their house. I can’t see anything from the damn smoke.”

    “That’ll fix them. Lay low Jez, Clem’s itchy with a twelve gage. Keep your head down.”

    “I can’t believe you destroyed your brother’s house. Gad, what fun. Makes me want to sing a little.”

    “What?”

    “Oh the weather outside is frightful

    But the mess you made, delightful

    And since we’ve got a place to go,

    Let it smoke, let it burn, let it snow.”

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Thank you, Jay. Just because I’m from Philadelphia doesn’t mean I can’t slip into hillbilly heaven. I decided not to do any mush this week. Can you imagine having an uncle-brother-in-law?

        1. rle

          Some of my mothers family are from the mountains of West Virginia and this sounds freakishly like some of the stories she used to tell us as kids. Cute story, Kerry.

          1. Kerry Charlton

            That’s really funny, rle. I was going to set the story in Mississippi but decided to let the reader imagine where it was. West Virginia is certainly a beautiful state and seems to have stayed a century behind the rest of the country. Thank you for the read and your comments.

            Maybe your Mom could elaborate the folk tales and you could build quite a story atound it.

    1. Manwe38

      Philadelphia? Hillbillies? No……

      Seriously, loved this piece. Its mood and tone were perfect, and it really gave me a good laugh, sorely needed on a crazy day at work.

      Thanks for sharing!

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Thank you Manwe 38, I’m glad your enjoyed my hillbilly tale. I was only kidding about Philadelphia hillbillys. I will tell you this, growing up in Philadelphia, I saw my first live chicken at the age of nine. When I moved to Texas I asked my wife while drving in the country,

        “How do they get the running water to the out houses? ” She has never let me forget that statement and we’re on year 48. Oh well, the city boy hasn’t blended yet with Texas.

          1. Kerry Charlton

            Too bad the Cowboys ruined their day. I did get to see the Phillies play when I was a kid. Connie Mack was the manager at the time. I think it was sometime at the turn of the century or there-abouts.

          2. Manwe38

            Wow, lol, I wouldn’t go that far…

            Eagles always break our hearts. Unfortunately, the Phillies and Flyers haven’t done much better.

            Still a fan, though…

      1. Kerry Charlton

        You got me here, Bilbo. Choked is ‘more better’ as they say here in San Antonio. What really happened is this way. She was playing ping pong with uncle Alferd. She was pinched on the ass by her grandson Francis just as Alferd slammed the ball back. She opened her mouth to cuss Francis out at the same time the ball wedged in her mouth. Alfred tried to save her by pouring water down her throat and blowing through her nose to dislodge the ping pong ball. Nothing worked and she passed. It was a closed casket funeral for the undertaker slit her throat trying to get the ball out.

    2. snuzcook

      Oh, Kerry! What a family portrait! And the verses at the end are the whipped cream on the cow pie.
      I guess we can all laugh and be grateful for what families we have, imperfect as they may be.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        I’ve always been happy for the family that I have, including some of my nepherws that run rampent through many women in their lives. I take the attitude my Mother did, she consided her 13 grandchildren and three step grandchildren as participants in soap opera characters, and quit worrying about them.

    3. lionetravail

      Kerry, this was so over-the-top brilliant that I’m smiling ear-to-ear! It puts me in mind of this great improv scene that Ryan Stiles and Colin Mochrie did on Whose Line…. it was the award ceremony for the Best Hillbillery or some such, and Ryan gets up and says: “I’d like ta thank the mother of my children, my mother” (paraphrasing).

      I loved this: I’mma gunna read that thar storee to muh waaaf later.

      🙂

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Thnks David for your thoghts.on my msin characters. These characters I wrote about exist in most of out fanilys but sometime we don’r recognize who they are. Some of the characters here are based on Ma and Pa Kette movies. And then of course, some are pigments of my imagination.

    4. Reaper

      here it is Friday and this is all the further I’ve gotten. Yet I am glad I read this far before going to bed. This is delightful and definitely very over the top in all of the best ways. Awesome stuff Kerry.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Thank you Reaper, aren’t you glad neither one of us, live next door to Jezebel and Clem 2? Personally, I’m afraid of front end loaders, especially the bigger ones.

  31. rle

    It didn’t seem much like Christmas, at least not in the normal sense. Sure, it was still December 24th and the big day was looming large, but each of us still had to make it through it, even though the whole year had been extraordinarily abnormal.

    Traditionally, Christmas Eve festivities had always been held at our home on the upper east side. The meticulously decorated, sprawling Victorian house where my family lived served as the perfect picturesque backdrop for many years of warm holiday memories. This year though, something had changed. This year there were no giant wreaths hanging from the dormers or the garage, no lighted candy canes lining the driveway, no tree, no stockings, no sign of Christmas at all.

    This year, my sister, Elaine, was hosting Christmas across town in her own Victorian home much like my own. This would be the first of many years the family would pile into her home and fill her rooms and hallways with life and laughter. It was the beginning of a new tradition, a new era, one that unfortunately, did not include me.

    As I neared Elaine’s house, it was clear all the family had arrived. Cars lined the street and a warm glow radiated from the large picture windows out onto the fresh snow that blanketed the front lawn. I knew I shouldn’t be here. It was going to be awkward and uncomfortable, but I wanted to see. I wanted to catch a glimpse of the new Christmas tradition, the way things would be moving forward.

    As I neared the front walk I felt a pang of guilt penetrate to the core of my heart. For a moment I thought, maybe I hadn’t fought hard enough. Maybe I should have forged on in an effort to preserve things as they were. It really wasn’t my fault though. I’d done all I could. It was out of my hands now.

    I buried my hands deep in the pockets of my denim coat as I shuffled up the walk and on to the front porch. I stopped just a foot short of the big window and breathed in the joy that was a world away on the other side. Everyone I cared about was there in that room. My wife, my children, my siblings my parents, countless nieces and nephews, all surrounded by tattered shreds of wrapping paper, bows, and ribbons of every size and color. It was truly a sight to behold.

    Suddenly, I saw my wife spring from the floor and lunge for the phone on the end table. After answering, she turned to the others, tears streaming down her cheeks. She crumpled to her knees and let the phone fall by her side. One by one, the family rushed to her and gathered her in their collective embrace.

    I pulled my balled fist from my pocket and gently opened my palm, placing it on the frost that framed the window into their world. “Merry Christmas to all,” I sobbed, “and to all a good night.”

    1. Manwe38

      You know, I can’t tell if the MC is dead or not. Is that what you’re going for here, because if so, you just sent chills down my spine.

      Regardless, it’s an incredible read.

      1. rle

        You pretty much nailed it Manwe. Actually the phone call the wife got was the moment he passed from this world to the next. I would have liked to have built this story up a little more but was afraid it might have turned out too long. Thanks for the read!

        1. tydra

          Aww man! I was just thinking of a death story too, but then i read yours. Now i’ll slump back into my corner and have to think some more, maybe twist it somehow…

          Nicely written rle 🙂

        2. lionetravail

          Was going to go with a story in this vein as well, in the little time I’ve had so far this week. Nice job 🙂 Now I gots to find me another idea.

          One suggestion RLE (because this is a great story idea and nicely executed, but there is the little bit of confusion at the end) would be to telegraph the sense of disconnect of the MC better. For example, the fact that the MC just died and that the new tradition is for Christmas at his sister’s… the plans for dinner there would have to have been made long in advance of his death if that was the reason for the change, but that death only just happened.

          Still, love the idea, and am jealous you got yours done before I went for mine. Nicely done! (And I was skimming through to see if anyone had done it yet, hence the comment out of the usual order I go in for commenting :))

    2. Jay "The Doc" Wilson

      You really should have added a few more words to make this much more solid. Twice I had to read it to get that he was not around his family (i.e. not on his way there) when he died. I was thrown off because a house without decorations, especially with kids living in a house, is super rare for a family that festive, even if the father is away or sick, and it felt like he was dead long before that Christmas (which is what I thought when I first read that paragraph, “this dudes been dead a while I bet”). I felt rushed and disoriented because the flow didn’t exactly lead me down the river but kind of made me get out of the water and walk along the river to look for a good spot to jump back in–if that makes sense.

      I think if you had fleshed this out a bit more you could have had a real winner here, rle! Don’t hesitate to add a few more words to make something really shine, brother (or sister, whatever), I know you have the skill!

      Thanks for sharing, always look forward to reading your work. 😀

      1. Observer Tim

        I’m with Jay on this one. The story is deep and complex enough to justify going over the ‘word limit’. I got that he was dead, but was a bit confused by the phone call. If he’d had some kind of feeling or reaction to dying it would have help, or perhaps you might have got away with just having his wife burst into tears at some unheard expression of sympathy.

        All in all, it’s a very moving story, rle. I hesitate to say this, but it’s one of my favourite kinds in the genre.

        1. Kerry Charlton

          Although I tend to agree with Jay and Tim, it wasn’t hard for me to realize the MC had passed. I loved the descriptive passages as the MC approached the home. You may have noticed, I put aside the limitations of the 500. As long I don’t write an epic, my stories are ranging between 550 and 650 words. I did so many at 500, it’s still easy to do so but if it ends at 600, I don’t disturb the flow of the story and cut it back,so go ahead and join me. You won’t get fired, I guarantee it.

          1. rle

            Okay, I’m a big enough man to admit when I’ve blundered and after re-reading I’ll also have to agree with the masses that I kind of screwed the pooch on this one. I think Jay’s river analogy summed it up perfectly. There just wasn’t quite enough here to constitute a full story.

            Even in high school and college wordiness was always my biggest problem when writing anything. When everyone else was struggling to come up with five pages, I was struggling to keep it under ten. These prompts have done wonders for me. I feel I’ve really been able to tighten my writing up. This time though, probably just a little too much. Thanks for the advice guys. Merry Christmas!

    3. JR MacBeth

      Great story rle! You pulled it off still respecting the word limit, and made this reader want more. I especially liked the set-up in para 2, “…no sign of Christmas at all.” After that, I knew death was in the air, and just hoped it wasn’t something really horrible, like a poor kid. Of course, you had me hooked, and I couldn’t stop reading to the end. If I was to guess, had you been allowed another 50-100 words, the crescendo in your last two paragraphs would have really jerked the tears. Awesome example of tight writing, lots of punch delivered in very few words.

    4. snuzcook

      I am sorry I didn’t get to this story sooner, rle. I often don’t read many of the submissions before I post, so there is always a chance of going down the same road someone else has forged. I think you told this story elegantly.

  32. Jay "The Doc" Wilson

    An Unexpected Christmas

    The fire crackles and the light pulses in the dimly lit room. The dancing flames refract through a glass on the table, warped by the wine sitting still within it. I wait comfortably on my couch expecting at any moment for one of my family members to knock on my door.

    For a good long while, there’s silence. I don’t know why because I sent out the invitation more than three weeks ago. Even though no one replied, I figure at least one person would show up anyway. What had I done? At the very least, why would my parents ignore their only son?

    I stand, run my hands through my short soft hair, and then pace the room. I try to think of all the things I had done the last three weeks—beyond even—but I can’t think of anything that might alienate everyone from me. Had they always not liked me? Had they only tolerated my existence in their lives until they’d finally had enough?

    Nonsense. That can’t be true. I get along well enough with my older sister Viera, and my little brother Gabe—not so little now as he approaches thirty—always comes to me for advice. My dad, though our relationship has always been silently turbulent for some reason, had at least tried to get along with me by talking cars or sports. My mother, bless her good heart, loves everyone, even her enemies. It just doesn’t seem like my family at all to ignore me, especially on Christmas day.

    I find myself standing in front of the phone. I reach out for it to give them a ring to find out what the deal is, but then I retract my hand. If they were truly ignoring me, then they would certainly ignore my call. After all, I’ve done it before, isn’t that what caller ID was for? To dodge unwanted calls from wives, sisters, brothers, errant lovers, and—more importantly—evil telemarketers?

    I decide instead to visit my parent’s house because I suspect if I surprise them, then an answer—perhaps one of guilt—will shadow all their faces with the truth.

    I walk to the closet near the front door to withdraw my coat, but I look down and I’m already wearing it. It’s amazing the things you forget when those closest to you are driving you mad. My lips quiver with a soft smile and then it dies as I leave my house.

    The evening is crisp. Sometime during the day, a light snow coated the small neighborhood. The street lamps glisten off the fresh ice, and the moon glows high and bright in the sky. I don’t live far from my mother and father, and because I find it’s far too beautiful of a night to waste with a drive I decide to walk.

    As I pass through the neighborhood, I feel the warmth from the Christmas lights and the families enjoying their time together through the big picture windows of the homes. Some are eating grand meals, some are watching movies, and some are exchanging gifts. A lot of them are wearing ugly sweaters that either grandma or grandpa thought too cute to pass up, but they all had smiles on their faces. A true reminder of how joyous people are to have the chance to spend a moment of their time with their loved ones, something I wish I could enjoy this night.

    When I reach my family’s house, the lights my father put up are pulsing and reflecting against the white wonderland. A wood Rudolph stands alert in the front yard while a mechanical Santa waves to passing cars. On the other side of the lawn is a small nativity scene that has “Baby Jees” written across the top of the manger thanks to my dad’s humor.

    These are some of my favorite things, I think and then begin humming Andy Williams’ version of the song with the same name.

    I approach the front door, and I immediately hear a lot of talking just above a soft chorus of Christmas music. I recognize all of the voices: Viera, Gabe, momma, pappa, and Uncle Pete. I feel the crushing weight of depression burn in my chest as I realize they’re all together without me. I blink hard to push away the tears and enter the house.

    The sweet aroma of my mother’s fruitcake—that nobody likes but everyone eats—and a hint of pine from the nearby Christmas tree sends a nostalgic chill down my back and raises my skin with goose bumps. I rub my arms as I exit the foyer into the main room where I find my family sitting near the fireplace.

    No one seems to notice me, which is painful but not unreasonable if I had done something to offend them in some way. I take my coat off hoping to feel the warmth of the fireplace, but I’m much too far from it I think because I still feel a bit frigid.

    “Hey everyone.” I say, though my voice is weak and timid. Normally I’m strong and loud, but their denial of my invitation has humbled me.

    Viera and Gabe sit next to each other on a maroon couch talking to my mother who has a glass of whiskey in her hand. She hadn’t taken a drink in years, but I decide it was Christmas after all and there’s no need to bring it up right then. Uncle Pete and my father, who looks a tad pale, sit away from the others. Pete’s hand is on my father’s and they’re talking about something, but they’d gone too low to hear.

    “Guys can I just say something here? I don’t know what I did, but please just—” I start to say, but my sister interrupts me with, “Jesus it’s cold.”

    “Honey, watch your mouth.” My mother reprimands, though she did so with a weak voice of her own.

    Viera stands and walks past me, not even bothering to give me a look in the eyes. So typical of my passive sister. She disappears for a moment and returns rubbing the arms of her cream turtleneck sweater.

    “Someone left the door open.” She says at the doorway, and this time she looks me right in the eyes as if to accuse me—she’s right. I look back at my brother who gives me the same look. The sister-brother tag team, but I suppose I deserve it for some reason. Then, she walks right through me, and sits back down on the couch.

    For a moment, I’m lost. Thoughts seem to fog in my mind as I try to grip what just happened. I look at my brother who gets up and sits next to my mother. He wraps his arm around her and pulls the glass from her hand. She buries her face into his shoulder and weeps. My sister dabs her eyes with a tissue she plucked from a box on the coffee table. I look up at my father, and he has his face buried in his hands. Uncle Pete has both his hands on his brother’s shoulders with a grim though empathetic face.

    I try to speak, but nothing comes out. I take a step into the room, and a glimmer of light above the fireplace catches my eye. I look up. Nestled between two photographs of me—one young and one taken just last year—is a brushed metal urn.

    “No.” I’m finally able to say as the shock relents, and I suddenly realize why my invitations went unanswered.

    1. Observer Tim

      You did a great job setting the scene and capturing the MC’s figuring-out process here, Jay. The first Christmas without a loved one is harsh, but imagine how it must be on the person who was lost. Wait, you just did. Excellent. 🙂

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Such a powerful story, Jay. Grief, mixed with Christmas is as bad as it gets, I’ve been there, although not from the MC’s side, of course. The troubling thing about Christmas sometimes is grief strikes at all times of the year. What makes it untolerable at Christmas, seems to be a double whammy. You illustrated that well here, and the descriptive prose stands as a tribute to your skill as a writer.

    2. lionetravail

      Beautifully done, Jay. The present tense for this worked fantastically well, especially for someone literally living in the moment between all that went before and whatever comes after.

      As I mentioned under RLE’s story, this was my first impulse to go with, and when I saw his I went a different direction. Now that I’m catching up on everything, this was really slickly done and very satisfying.

  33. Pete

    Running on the empty sidewalk, I can’t help feeling that I’m the last person on Earth. But the jog and the air help to clear my head. I have no idea what happened last night, maybe I mixed up plans and everyone got confused. Now no one is answering my calls.

    In the afternoon I drive out to Mom and Dad’s, Heidi’s car is out front, her COEXIST Subaru parked crookedly against the curb. I wonder if she and Dad will play nice for the day, calling a truce like they did last year. I pass Aunt Janelle’s car, Bald Barry’s, and a stream of others lined down the road. I do not feel missed.

    The day is gray and drab and just warm enough for rain. My steps slow as I near the house, where everyone is wearing sweaters and smiles. The window frames the LL Bean commercial taking place inside without me. Am I that awful?

    The first thing I see is the Pecan Pie sitting on the table. Mom makes that for me every year. “Uh, hey guys. Merry Christmas!”

    I wait for them to turn and make a fuss over me. They turn but without fuss. Heidi gives me a look that’s more fear than surprise. Someone coughs. Dad enters the room all jolly and goofy, “Janelle, do you remember when—” he sees me and stiffens. “Uh, can I help you?”

    “Dad?”

    He’s wearing the hideous Christmas tree tie I’d given him years ago. “I’m sorry, can we, help you?”

    Meryl Streep couldn’t pull off the look of horror on my mom’s face. “Okay, guys. Good one,” I chuckle, stepping to Heidi for a hug. She jumps back, spurring Griffin, our pug, to growl at me. “Okay, what is going on? So nobody calls Shane. Look I get it, I’m the black sheep and all, but this is…”

    Right then Justin Cox strides into the room. He’s tall and lean with the same dark eyes and black hair. His grin tilts as we lock eyes. I haven’t seen him in fifteen years but my fingers tingle as Heidi turns to him and calls him by my name. “Shane, do you know this guy?”

    A long ago childhood agreement touches my memory. Justin nods slowly, touching my mom’s arm. “I think I know what’s going on,” he says, setting down his glass. “Could you guys excuse us for a moment, I’ll get this cleared up.”

    He motions for me to go outside, where we leave the range of whispers. When we’re outside, standing in front of the Magnolia tree I climbed as a kid, I grab him by the arm.

    “What the fuck, man?”

    Justin looks down to my hand and then back to the house. When he leans closer, his dark eyes cling to my thoughts until I look away.

    “You don’t remember?”

    I do, but I want him to say it.

    “The pact, right back there,” he says, pointing to the backyard. “God, it must have been nearly twenty years ago,” he marvels, leaning back with his hands in his coat pockets. “We agreed, if I never found my family, I could have yours.” Then he holds up a finger. “Blood brother.”

    I think back to the treehouse, feeling sorry for the weird wizard kid orphan down the street living with foster parents. The year 2014 seemed light years away.

    “Dude, we were like nine.”

    “And it worked!” he says, proudly, still studying the tip of his index finger.

    “How long is the pact?”

    The magnolia leaves clap with the breeze. He puts an arm around me; his eyes shining as he leads me back to the house—where he’s stolen every moment I ever had with the people inside.

    “Well, I believe I have them for the next twenty years. But don’t worry, we’ll take you in. They’re good people, my family.”

    1. Jay "The Doc" Wilson

      The monkey’s paw is the exact reason I don’t “pinky” swear. lol

      I loved these four words together: “The magnolia leaves clap…” because it would have been an amazing place for a little tease: “The magnolia leaves clapped in the frigid wind as if to (add interesting thought here).”

      Nice job, Pete. I enjoyed it. Just goes to show that even good intentions have negative side effects.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        You’re grooving high on this one Pete. It would make a perfect script for Rod Sterling’s Twilight Zone. Boy, this is really good. I’ve a case of the shivers this morning.

    2. JR MacBeth

      Very creative Pete. Not sure how the lives and memories weave together, like alternate universes, but some great concepts here. I can see full story potential. The only small distraction for me was capitalizing Pecan Pie.

    3. lionetravail

      This was a cool take on the prompt- until the reveal, I was thinking less of a magical component than of a war-buddies-you’ve-been-away-so-long-thought-you-were-dead-so-I-took-your-place kinda thing.

      Was well-written, Pete- definitely a direction I did not see coming.

  34. jhowe

    The sun bleached San Diego sidewalks were almost deserted as Henrik plucked a lidded Starbucks cup from the top of an overflowing trash can and swirled the contents. Eureka, it was at least half full; the remains of a chocolate latte, the perfect start to Christmas morning and Henrik hummed a toneless tune as he walked.

    Today they would come at long last. It had been ages since they all had been together. Henrik left the downtown area and walked down a residential street. Cars slowed and people stared from their painted porches and he looked down at his draggled boots; he should have polished them or at least wiped off the mud. He grew warm in his soiled trench coat and he pealed it off and tied the arms around his waist. His undershirt was torn and didn’t smell as good as it could have. Damn it, he should have looked for a shirt instead of wasting his time at the wharf drinking with Sydney and Maurice, the idiots from the Gladys Avenue shelter. He admonished himself once again; he could have picked up a shirt and maybe some different shoes at the Mission if he’d only tried. They were generous this time of year.

    No time to think about that though, he was almost there. He turned the corner onto Sycamore Street and a woman walking a small dog tugged the leash harshly as she crossed to the other side. The semi-familiar neighborhood put a smile on Henrik’s dirt streaked face. The small ranch house was now blue and not white as he remembered. Several cars were parked in front. He wondered who all would be here and he took off his ball cap and ran his fingers through his long greasy hair. He pulled a half pint bottle of Southern Comfort from his hip pocket and tipped it up, drained it and threw it onto the grass.

    From behind him a siren bleeped a brief retort and an officer approached with his hand on the butt of his holstered gun. “Sir, can I help you?”

    Henrik looked around. “Who me?”

    “Yes sir. Where are you going today?”

    “I’m here. This is my house.”

    “Can I see some identification?”

    “I forgot it,” Henrik said moving toward the front door.

    The officer came up behind him and twisted an arm behind his back as he snapped the cuffs onto his wrists. “Sir, you’re going to have to come with me.”

    “What the hell are you doing,” Henrik shouted. The curtains parted in the front window and fell back again. “This is my house!”

    “This way sir,” the officer said as he pushed Henrik toward the cruiser.

    A man of about twenty five came onto the front porch with an older woman behind him. “Officer, what’s going on?”

    “This gentleman claims that he lives here.”

    “Tell him Joey, tell him who I am!” Henrik trembled from an awkward position half inside the police car.

    The young man looked at the unkempt transient and turned the woman back toward the door. “I’m afraid I don’t know him officer.”

    1. Jay "The Doc" Wilson

      A story of tough love. :/ I’ve had to do that to someone… give them a rude awakening. As much as I’m glad for the existence of police, they constantly abuse the vagrants and poor folk in my area. Look a little out of place? Pulled over/arrested/etc… just like when I drive around in my old ’91 Firebird project car. I get followed and pulled over all the time. Drive around in my newer car (that’s just as fast and loud), not a single cop even glances my direction.

      Anyway, great job, jhowe. I really like this story, subtle but powerful.

    2. Observer Tim

      Very nice, jhowe. Seeing the other responses, I note that my mind went the other way, seeing Joey not as someone giving help but as someone deliberately turning a blind eye to his brother in the hour of need. Unfortunately for the human race, I think both understories are possible.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        I read your story as a parable on life itself. For who really knows who are they that ask for help, the downtrodden, homeless people. And why are they homeless we ask. Of course we know, they’re the ones that don’t work, pry on other’s mercy. But is that really true, I don’t think so. These are the forgotten ones that don’t fit.

        Turn away we say, they’re unclean, not socially acceptable. Where is the spirit today? Would the one that brought the living word, turn away? I don’t think so.

    3. snuzcook

      I like this, jhowe. I particularly enjoy the duality of either believing that the man is going home after a long absence to a place still occupied by his family where his welcome is uncertain, or he is going home to a place now occupied by complete strangers choosing to believe that they are his family.

      Any of us who have flung ourselves away from that core that was once home and then come back to a place where life has gone on without us, cosmetic changes have been made, unfamiliar cars in the driveway, can recognize this moment.

      Good holiday story.

    4. lionetravail

      The other comments are all very insightful- I think you could slide this either way with even one additional line at the end, as to whether this was just a transient whom Joey didn’t know, a family member, a friend, whatever. The last line with “…looked at the unkempt transient…” doesn’t give us readers anything of what, if any connection there was. I think you could make it stronger if you chose, but there’s a certain beauty in the ambiguity because we can each see it our own way. Great take.

  35. Observer Tim

    Hopefully this one doesn’t get selected for ‘moderation’ like my last week’s post. That one and this are both posted on my site.
    _____

    The gloved hand pressed a button; a mechanical female voice spoke.

    You have –two– new messages and –one– old message. To listen to your messages press ‘1’.

    **beep**

    First– new message. Received December 26th at 11:30a.m.

    Hello, Steven? It’s Mom. We missed you at the party yesterday. Charlie invited the whole family; I don’t know why you didn’t come. Merry Christmas! Call me when you get this. Love, Mom.

    **beep**

    Second– new message. Received December 29th at 9:14a.m.

    Steven? You there? It’s Ann from work. Mr. Johnson is on a rampage about you not showing up for work this morning. He wanted the Cabersat report. Give me a call when you get this.

    **beep**

    End of– new messages. First– old message. Received December 22nd at 4:35p.m.

    Hey Steve, it’s Charlie. Sorry I can’t make your party, something’s come up at the last minute. Merry Christmas, bro. Stacy and the kids say ‘hi’.

    **beep**

    End of– messages. Press ‘6’ to replay…

    The gloved hand pressed the ‘disconnect’ button and picked up the note. It was written in block letters and neatly folded.

    To whom it may concern;

    They were all at Charilie’s for a big party on Christmas. Apparently May’s out-of-town trip was cancelled, Bert was feeling better, and Mom’s surgery got postponed or something. Typical.

    I stopped by the office on the way home. The Cabersat report is in the upper right-hand drawer of my desk; the key is in the usual place. Tell Mr. Johnson Merry Christmas: I had nothing else to do on the 25th.

    I’d ask you to notify all my friends, but the list dropped from one to zero in November.

    I’m told that painkillers and alcohol together will do the job. The other chemicals were just to make sure. I’m in the bathtub because that’s the easiest to clean; sorry in advance about the smell, and for any inconvenience.

    Steven Aldcroft
    May 8, 1965 – December 25, 2014

    Detective Simmons set the note down and turned to the officer at the door. He shook his head and said to no-one in particular, “There won’t be much paperwork to file on this one. I hate Christmas.”

    1. jhowe

      Chilling OT. That was very well done. Loved the cadence of the messages. Great idea for this prompt. I’m off to your site to read last week’s story. I wondered where you were. What is “moderation?”

    2. jhowe

      Just read last week’s story. I thought that was one of the best entries you have submitted since I’ve been here. I laughed my head off. Too bad we weren’t able to comment on it in the normal fashion.

    3. Observer Tim

      To be ‘moderated’ means I was close enough to a properly formatted e-mail that it got tagged as spam and sent for a human moderator. Brian’s too busy at this time of year to make it through all that stuff in a timely fashion.

    4. Jay "The Doc" Wilson

      Suicide: A Christmas Story

      Anyway, sad but good story nevertheless. I read your story from last week, and I suppose it could be the email formatting… is it back again or completely removed? The reason I ask is because someone else here got banned for a sexually explicit story (and it turns out your story sounds bad even thought it isn’t at all). Anyway, I liked that one, too.

      Thanks for sharing, OT! Always a pleasure to read your work.

      1. Observer Tim

        Thanks Jay. This whole prompt is something I’ve had nightmares about before – I just took one of the more mundane ones and wrote it up. Now to find a totally silly take on what is really a fairly dark prompt…

        Re the other story, it’s up now – Brian was just too freaky busy to vett it before. This is the second time I’ve done this to myself (experiment with a structure that triggers the filters). My best guess is that it was the ‘at-signs’ in the two addresses making it look too much like real web addresses. Too many links will do it too.

      2. Kerry Charlton

        Boy, this was powerful. You hit on an area that most people try to avoid. But it does happen and quite often. About halfway through the story I felt the darkness creep in and take over. I need to go across the street from my office and get some breakfast. You got my stomack turning especially with …”sorry in advance about the smell.”

    5. JR MacBeth

      Very nice OT, creative story. As sad as it is, the reality is that this is a time of year when suicides tick up. That last line rings true, no doubt people in that line of work start to hate Christmas. The line I especially liked was in the suicide note: “I’d ask you to notify all my friends, but the list dropped from one to zero in November.” Dang, life sure sucked for that poor guy. Sort of makes the rest of us not feel so bad!

    6. lionetravail

      Nicely set up, OT, and a powerful story. It’s tight writing, and clearly shows an intelligent, with it, unhappy who did what he did with full awareness and premeditation. It’s effective precisely because he prepared for it so carefully, painting the picture of an obsessive-compulsive depressed person which just amps up the emotion of the tale.

      Well done 🙂

  36. Manwe38

    The driveway was full.

    I didn’t want to believe it, not at first. I even tried to convince myself that the cars belonged to someone else, but there was no mistaking them. I stared at Uncle Joe’s old Cadillac, the long-dead pine-tree shaped air freshener still dangling from his rear-view mirror like the unfortunate victim of a bizarre execution, and felt bile in my throat. The burning was good, in a way; it opened my eyes, grounded me in the moment, kept it real. I needed to stay focused, to hold on to the fire that swept through my chest like a miniature sun, and the reflux helped.

    Hold on to that anger. Oh yes, hold it close. They lied, and I knew the reason why.

    Back on the street, my own little Honda was stuffed full of presents, all of which now would be donated to charity. Leave me out, eh? The flu, eh? The bile crept across my tongue, and my mouth twisted as I swallowd it back. It didn’t want to go down, but life wasn’t fair. A tiny smile touched the side of my mouth. Sorry, stomach lining, you’ll just have to deal. The smile widened. Tastes like shit, doesn’t it? Oh well.

    I hopped up the steps to the waiting front door. Inches away, the circle of dead twisted branches sprinkled with holly looked as dead as I felt–even the bright green leaves and shiny red berries seemed false somehow, as if it recognized my pain and mocked me in silence. From behind the white door, I heard the sounds: laughter, mirth, the endless renditions of the same eight songs blasting from my sister’s old stereo in cacophonous waves. Once, it might’ve made me smile, but not today.

    You lied, all of you, and it was time for a reckoning.

    Tears stung my eyes, but I blinked them back. Oh no, I wouldn’t cry. Not this time, not ever again. They’d made their choice, and now it was time for some collateral damage.

    I reached for the door, the slightest tremble in my hand, and opened it wide. Inside the bright living room, heads turned, jaws dropped, and conversation died. Standing on the threshold, I grinned, then took a step forward.

    “Merry Christmas everyone!” I said. “From the Land of the Gay!”

      1. Kerry Charlton

        We’ve missed you Manwe38. I love your style of writing. Inner=descriptive thoughts are excellent here. Although in reality, the story would fit well set in the 1950’s. Back then it was a plague, today maybe a raised eyebrow but probaly not. Looking for a New Year’s story from you.

        1. Manwe38

          Thank you Kerry! I’ve missed being here…it’s been crazy but trying to come back on a more regular basis.

          In terms of the story, I’d like to think you’re correct, but these attitudes do persist today (sadly).

          Thanks for the compliment on my writing style!

    1. lionetravail

      Great job with this, Manwe! Tight, concise writing, though you spent what felt like luxurious time on the acid reflux and bile, and the very visceral MC’s reaction. Awesome take and great reveal at the end!

  37. snuzcook

    A thoughtful response to the prompt, asclepius. So many families struggle with how to respond when alcohol becomes the flatulent elephant in the room at gatherings. Your MC has the brain cells left to realize he can make a choice. Well done.

  38. snuzcook

    FAMILY CRISIS

    “Oh, hi Rick. Look who it is, everyone.”

    My uncle Floyd stood as I let myself in the front door. My beloved family members looked incredibly guilty. They had all declined my invitation to Christmas Eve dinner with one excuse or another. And here I found them, gathered without me. Aunt Edna began to scratch nervously. I rubbed my own neck out of pure contagious anxiety. I noticed the twins, Fern and Fred, giggle. I was puzzled. I was hurt. I decided to go for tragic comedic display to drive my position home.

    “What transgression could be so horrendous? What faux pas so insurmountable? To be shunned by these kind faces I have always adored. To be left outside the warm center of your gathering. Oh woe. Again, I say, woe!”

    “Knock it off, Rick. Zoe, get your uncle a chair.”

    “A chair? You mean you will deign to tolerate my presence at your table? Nay, I will sit on the floor in the kitchen with the dogs. I will fight with them over the scraps of your feast.”

    “Just sit down. Edna, scoot over a little. Give the man room.”

    “No. Charles, I will not sit next to him. Sorry, Rick. But there are some things I just can’t have.”

    “Now, Edna…”

    “No, Charles. I mean it. I won’t allow it.”

    This was sounding serious. My kindly and slightly reactive Aunt Edna had always doted on me.
    “What did I do? What in the world have I done?”

    “You know what I’m talking about. It’s all over town. Jake down at the second hand store told Mary at the drugstore. And Mary of course told her sister, Jeri at the Post Office. And Jeri told Old Mrs. Garrison who goes there every Monday to pick up her mail because she won’t have a mailbox. And Old Mrs. Garrison told Tom Shultz who mows her lawn, and Tom told my Ronnie at football practice. You know, they were even threatening to suspend Ronnie because of it, can you imagine!”

    “Because of what? What did Jake say?”

    “There’s no sense in denying it. It’s all over town. I think it’s terrible that you did that to poor Jake. What did he ever do to you?” Aunt Edna scratched some more. I noticed that several other people around the table seemed to be trying to hide the fact that they also were having some itchy reaction to the conversation.

    “All I did was take some old oriental carpets down to Jake’s.“

    “And?”

    “And nothing. He thought they were wonderful. Said they would sell for the holidays in no time.”

    “What would?”

    “The red rugs. You know, those big old woven rugs I had with the fringe? They were in really good
    shape. Jake and I made a fair deal on them. I ran into him just yesterday and he said he found a buyer for a good price.”

    “What’s that now?”

    Was everyone suddenly hard of hearing? “I said, I gave Jake my red rugs.”

    “Oh. Red rugs.”

    Uncle Charles snorted. “Edna, you idiot!”

    “Red rugs. Imagine that. Well, then, never mind.” My aunt miraculously transformed before my eyes. She took a breath, straightened her spine, patted her hair, and put on a smile. “Here, let me get you a plate. You poor thing, you must be starved! Clarisse, come give your cousin Rick a hug. Why is everyone just sitting there? Eat up, the gravy’s getting cold!”

    And so ended the short and terrifying crisis that the family will always remember as the rumored bed bug infestation of Christmas 2014.

    1. jhowe

      Pretty clever there snuzcook. I thought theye were getting tired of his Shakespearian like speach pattern, which I myself found to be very appealing. Good response to a rather difficult prompt.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        I’m really into your story snuzcook, because I can’t hear a train if it ran through the middle of my house. Hearing aids help some but God help me if the batteries die and the bed bugs bite. A really fun story with a great punch at the end. Merry Christmas.

  39. asclepius

    As Mark pulled into his sister’s driveway, he couldn’t help but feel disappointed. Christmas eve was always celebrated at his house. But this year they had all declined his invitations, every single one of them. It definitely was not feeling like christmas this year.

    As he knocked on the door, he was surprised by the sound of voices and music coming from inside. I guess she was having some company over, he thought to himself.

    His sister opened the door, and her jaw dropped when she saw Mark.

    “But…why are you here?”, she stammered.

    “Merry Christmas to you, too”, he responded sarcastically and let himself inside. He handed her his gift, a bottle of Johnny Walker Black, and then brushed past her.

    He was surprised to see a house full of people. The entire family was there. And they were all staring at him in shock. After a long moment of awkward silence, they slowly resumed their conversations and began smiling and laughing with each other again.

    Mark walked to the bar and poured himself a scotch. His brother walked up to him.

    “You got a lot of nerve, Mark.”

    Mark took a sip and sneered. “You still upset about that water park idea? You knew that it was going nowhere.”

    “That’s not true at all!”, he responded indignantly. “If you had just shown up sober with the investors we wouldn’t have lost the funding. When we lost that money, we lost the project!”

    Mark shook his head. “Look, it’s christmas. I’m here to celebrate.”

    He refilled his scotch and walked away from the bar. He bumped into his cousin and almost spilled his drink.

    “Hey, Sonya”, he said surprised. “I thought you said you were going to Phoenix for the holidays.”

    She looked at him with sadness in her eyes. “I’m sorry, Mark. We’ve had enough.”

    He felt puzzled as she turned her back and walked away.

    Well, if no one was going to talk to him at least he could drink. There was always an answer in the alcohol. En vino, verities. He remembered hearing that somewhere.

    His went to take a sip, but stopped abruptly as he saw a beautiful young girl standing in front of him.

    “I thought you and your mother were going to your grandmother’s house tonight?”, he asked her with shock on his face. “Why didn’t you come over my house like I asked you to? We could have a great time together.”

    She stared at him for a moment.

    “Would it have been like Easter? Or my birthday? Or Thanksgiving?”, she asked.

    He wracked his brain and realized he could not remember what had happened on any of those days.

    As he looked at the drink he was holding, he realized he had been right. The answer really was in the alcohol.

    He looked back at his daughter, then reached over and poured the drink in the trash. Looking back at her, he offered her his hand. She smiled at him as she took his hand and led him out into the party. There were smiles everywhere. It was beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

    1. snuzcook

      snuzcook
      December 22, 2014 at 9:54 pm
      A thoughtful response to the prompt, asclepius. So many families struggle with how to respond when alcohol becomes the flatulent elephant in the room at gatherings. Your MC has the brain cells left to realize he can make a choice. Well done.

    2. jhowe

      Really well done. I enjoyed reading this. I kind of figured something like this was going to happen when he showed up with the Johnny Walker Black as his sister’s gift.

    3. Jay "The Doc" Wilson

      Interesting, it seems you have a drive to write moral stories. You had a good strong start, but I feel like you ended too soon. In stories like this if you go too fast to the redemption, you’re throwing away the whole purpose to stories like this. If you must, indulge your exposition of the main character with a high word count if you have to, because a story like this can be incredibly brilliant if given the right massaging. Good start, though, asc, can’t wait to see how your stories evolve.

    4. JR MacBeth

      I used the alcoholic theme too, it always seems to fit when it comes to the holidays. A couple observations or nit picks. Para 3, no need to use Mark’s name at the end, “him” would have worked better. Both the preceding paragraphs already made it clear it could only be him. Capitalization consistency, christmas vs. Christmas.

      The Doc’s comment about fast redemption, definitely agree, although it’s so hard trying to get the job done in 500 words.

      On the plus side, I particularly liked our alcoholic’s fouled-up Latin scholarship! It sounded exactly like what a drunk might say (I sort of imagined “verities” being said in a Homer Simpson voice). And then, you brilliantly brought it back to the reader’s attention with the line about the “answer” being in the alcohol (instead of the truth). A nicely played subtlety.

      1. asclepius

        Thanks, but “verities” was actually an auto-correct that I didn’t notice until after I posted. But looking back at it now, maybe that fits better anyways.

    5. lionetravail

      Good job here- I agree with the earlier comments, though for the length I think you handled this well. To echo, you’ve created an unsympathetic character with serious flaws, and you may not have given us enough to understand how he can actually overcome them ‘so easily’. I think that if you want to stay in the same length, I’d lose some of the personal interactions- pare those down to the minimum to show the family’s resentment of the MC, and have him take a smaller step towards redemption: just a hint that he’s making a good choice for a change. I think that’d make him believably redeemable, and send the same message you were aiming for.

      Overall, nicely done.

      1. asclepius

        Thanks, I agree with what you are saying. Probably forced it too much by trying to squeeze that into a 500 word post. I should have set my sights a little lower. Will work on that with next post.

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