The Winter Rose

winter rose

© Sue Vincent

Nancy clung to the base of a gas street lamp just across the street from St. Andrews shivering as she listened to the beautiful hymns and organ music late on Christmas Eve. The tiny child’s clothes were too thin to ward off the December chill and wind, and the cloth wrapped around the perforated soles of her shoes did nothing to keep out the snow.

She couldn’t go back but no one else would take her. Papa had never come home from his sea voyage to America where he said he could earn a fortune for their poor family, and Mama had been beaten and murdered on the way home from cleaning the houses of rich folk, all for a few farthings.

Auntie Pierce took in her baby brother Benjy but said she wanted no “dirty little girl” in her home and sent her away to her friend Lady Harrington to work with the maids. The maids said she was too small and weak and would be nothing but a nuisance, so sent her back to her Auntie’s. Auntie’s man servant refused her entry at the door and she found herself alone.

A boy named Charley Bates discovered her begging on a street corner for just a few pence with which to buy bread and took her to Fagin with promises of work and pay. It was then she embarked on her new life as a thief.

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Let the Trees Be Burning Bright

christmas

© Roger Shipp

“I’m sorry but we’ll be needin’ this tree too, younguns.”

“But Pa!”

“Please don’t take it, Pa!”

Jeffrey and Constance wailed at their Father as he and three other large, rough men in heavy coats and workmen’s boots tramped into their one room sod house and took the first Christmas tree they’d ever had in their young lives. Ornaments of paper and tin, woven grass and dried corn shook free and fell to the dirt floor.

Their Ma held them back as the nine-year-old boy and his seven-year-old sister struggled. There were no presents for they were too poor, so their gayly decorated pine fir was their only symbol of hope and magic.

As the men retreated, their wives brought their children in either wailing or mute with terror. The women and their young huddled around the stove, burning hot with buffalo chips.

There were only a few such trees brought in from the mountains leagues afar, but burning them until dawn was the only way they knew to keep the werefolk at bay. Too late had the plains settlers discovered they’d homesteaded on lands cursed by the Heathen gods when the first white men landed in the new world.

I wrote this for the Flash Fiction for the Purposeful Practitioner – 2017 Week #51 writing challenge. The idea is to use the image above as the prompt for crafting a piece of flash fiction up to 200 words long. My word count is 200.

I seem to remember posting stories for this particular challenge in the past, but somehow have failed to do so for several months. I just saw a blog post by someone else which reminded me and also was sorry to see that only one other person responded, even though it first went online on the 20th.

Since we’re just a few days away from Christmas, I have been inundated with Christmas related prompts and it’s getting harder to respond to them creatively. I’ve been writing a lot of vampire-related short stories recently, so I decided to keep with the horror theme though not specifically addressing the undead.

In this piece, I’ve chosen something menacing plains settlers of the 18th or 19th centuries and made up the remedy of burning fir trees, uncommon on the grassy plains, in response to an attack of cursed were-creatures. The joy and glad tidings that Christmas trees symbolize for some had to give way to the practicality of defending against supernatural killers.

To read other stories based on the prompt, go to InLinkz.com.

The Winter Feast of the Children

christmas prompt

© Sammi Cox

Christmas was the perfect time of year, especially in such high latitudes. There were less than four hours of daylight in Nome which meant Tarkik could move around with almost perfect impunity. To the sick inuit children, he came as a Shaman bringing the blessings of Quviasukvik, and to the white boys and girls in town, he appeared as Santa Claus. The doctors thought they merely suffered from tonsilitis but his keen senses told him it was worse. If any of them died by his ministrations, a growing epidemic would be the perfect cover.

Tapeesa and Amaruq trusted the Shaman to be alone with their little girl Yuka. Tarkik took only a little of her blood, she’d never remember it. He had been feeding well this winter and the blood of children was warm and invigorating. He slowly, lovingly licked the last crimson drops from her soft, supple neck before pulling her nightgown and blankets back up. He could afford to be a gracious hunter after all.

Rachel Van Helsing was never kind or forgiving but it would be over another month before she could arrive in Nome, and only then with the first dog sled teams bringing vital serum to stem the diphtheria outbreak. The vampire Bartholomew Crowe confessed his last victim’s name and location under torture when she captured him in Anchorage. Once the daughter of Abraham Van Helsing located the latest threat, Tarkik would come under the tender mercies of her blade and stake.

I wrote this for the Weekend Writing Prompt #34 – Christmas challenge hosted by Sammi Cox. There are separate rules for the prose vs. poetry challenge, but in my case, I could use the image, the word “Christmas,” or both as the inspiration for crafting a Happy Christmas or Horror Christmas flash fiction tale of no more than 250 words. My word count is 249.

Since I’ve been writing a lot of vampire-based fiction lately, I settled on that theme, but needed some sort of Christmas hook. At first I thought of a vampire disguising himself as Santa Claus and visiting sick children in hospitals, but he’d never be alone with the kids in order to “put the bite” on them.

I did a bit of Googling and the idea of making the setting in “Nome, Alaska” popped into my head. I looked up Nome and discovered the 1924-25 diphtheria epidemic among the inuit children and the famous 1925 serum dog sled run which was the only way to transport diphtheria antitoxin to that remote area.

In December 1924, diphtheria had not yet been diagnosed and local doctors thought the first several children were suffering from tonsilitis. I made my vampire an inuit so he could pass casually among the population and found that among the inuits, there is a winter feast called Quviasukvik that incorporates a number of Christmas-like elements. So my vampire could pass among the inuit families as a Shaman and the white Christian families as Santa Claus visiting the sick kids and, once alone with them, feeding on their blood.

I looked up sunrise and sunset times in Nome for December 23rd. The sun comes up at 12:03 p.m. and sets at 3:59 p.m. Tarkik can be active for about twenty full hours in complete darkness, maximizing his ability to feed on many children (and probably a few adults) so he doesn’t have to take too much from any one of them.

Oh, I looked up Inuit names for my several indigenous story characters.

Vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing first appeared in Bram Stoker’s 1897 Gothic horror novel “Dracula.” I figured the elder Van Helsing was a little too old to keep on pursuing vampires and the original canon did say he had a daughter (although her first name changes depending on which source you consult).

Of course, after torturing a confession out of another vampire to discover who and where the next undead predator could be found, Rachel would still have to brave a lengthy and dangerous journey by dog sled on the mission to get the antitoxin to Nome (in real life I seriously doubt she would have been allowed to make the trip), only arriving by early February. That would give my vampire over a month to continue enjoying the winter feast of the children.

To find out more about the challenge and read other stories and poems based on the prompt, click this link.

One Wish

north pole post office

North Pole, Alaska Post Office – Found at PostOfficePhotos.info

“This is your idea of a joke perhaps? I hate Christmas.”

“I’ve never been more serious in my life and you know it.”

“I told you I cannot take lives but neither can I grant them. I cannot save even one, no matter who it is.

“I have but one wish for you.”

“All of them? There are so many.”

“No, not all. Just these.” Meredith wheeled a canvas container in front of Abu Nuh Maimun. She had acquired his services quite by accident and had less than twenty-four hours to exploit them.

He read the label on the side of the voluminous bin of letters, “The Make-A-Wish Foundation.”

“You are Postmaster of North Pole, Alaska for the day. I have exactly one wish and you as a Jinn must fulfill it.” She shook the side of the container filled with letters from children all over the world.

“Grant them!”

I wrote this for the What Pegman Saw writing challenge. The idea is to take a Google maps image and/or location and use it as a prompt to create a piece of flash fiction no more than 150 words long. My word count is 150.

Today the Pegman takes us to North Pole, Alaska. Yes, it’s a real place and every Christmas season, their post office is deluged with letters addressed to Santa Claus. I looked the town up on Wikipedia and it’s decorated for Christmas year-round. Especially in warmer months, it’s quite the tourist attraction (Santa Claus House closes during the week in January and February because of the extreme cold).

I originally thought of a person or supernatural being who absolutely hates Christmas being condemned to live in North Pole, Alaska as punishment for some horrendous crime. But as I pondered the concept and remembered those letters, I considered the idea of granting the wishes of children. I didn’t want to grant them all since I don’t necessarily believe in supporting the Christmas feeding frenzy of consumerism and greed. However, there is one worthy cause, one collection of children who deserve everything they ask for, at least their final wish, which is what the Make-A-Wish Foundation does for children with life-threatening medical conditions.

So Meredith has acquired the services of one of the Seven Kings of the Jinn (in this case Saturday’s) for twenty-four hours and her one wish is for Abu Nuh Maimun to grant what those letters request (I’m playing fast and loose with the “wish count limitation” since there are probably hundreds or thousands of letters in that one canvas bin). Oh, I made up the twenty-four hour limit so that Meredith had to act fast in utilizing her wish. I’m sure given time, she could have thought of a more effective way of applying a single wish for practically anything in order to help the maximum number of deserving children.

I don’t celebrate this particular holiday, but if I had to grant one wish on Christmas it would go pretty much the same way.

To read other stories based on the prompt, visit InLinkz.com.

Beware of Malevolent Snowmen

snow globe

© A Mixed Bag – 2013

“What is it, Noah?”

“A fake Santa guy at the store gave it to me, Rachel. It’s a snow globe.”

“Why?”

“Beats me, Rach. You shake it and this stuff floats around like snow.”

Nine-year-old twins Noah and Rachel Frisch were sitting on the floor in the living room. Mom, Aunt Sarah, and Bubbe were in the kitchen working on dinner plans and Dad went with Uncle Mortie and Zayde to the hardware store to buy a replacement for a rain gutter that had cracked after the last snow.

“It looks so pretty, Noah.”

“Just a stupid Christmas toy. If Mom caught us playing with it, she’d get mad.”

“If Bubbe caught us…”

“Hello.” The snowman in the globe spoke quite clearly for being underwater. His fake coal-lump mouth smiled and his coal eyes glowed red.

“Noah, it’s not a toy.” Rachel stood up terrified.

“Come to think of it, that Santa guy did smell kind of funny, like rotten eggs.”

“Give it to Bubbe.” The kids whirled to see the old woman scowling at them, her hand extended. “I know exactly which orifice on that old Elf to shove this into. How dare he pull this on my grandchildren!”

I wrote this for the Sunday Photo Fiction Challenge of December 17, 2017. The idea is to use the image above as a prompt to write a piece of flash fiction no more than 200 words long. My word count is 200.

I know most people, Christian or secular, consider Christmas in a positive light and it certainly can be for some, but it can also be confusing for Jewish children who see their non-Jewish neighbors and playmates getting lots of presents and otherwise having a terrific time. I suppose it’s why Hanukkah, which is a relatively minor holiday on the Jewish calendar, gets so much attention given its relative proximity to Christmas.

This is my minor attempt to illustrate the dangers of assimilation into the general culture and how it might be a lure to Jewish children (with a slight supernatural spin in this case). Fortunately, Noah and Rachel have a wise Bubbe (Grandma) who will nip this right in the bud.

To read other stories based on the prompt, go to InLinkz.com.

Approaching Advent

vampire

Actress Kat Graham from the television show “The Vampire Diaries.”

The Second Chapter in the Undead Life of Sean Becker

The following story contains “adult material,” so if that sort of thing offends you or is otherwise not your cup of tea, you should probably stop reading now.

“Come on over and help decorate, Marishka.”

Sean was helping several others in his dorm decorate their assigned area of the UCLA Student Union. They’d all be heading home for the holiday break in a week and the girl from his one night class (he’d screwed up his registration and couldn’t get into any of the day classes for Beginning English Lit) was the only person hanging back.

“That’s okay, Sean. I’m not really into Christmas.”

There was something about Marishka that Sean found compelling. It wasn’t typical flirtation or attraction. Sure, he was eighteen years old and it was his first time really being away from home, and he could hang out with girls without having Mom and Dad breathing down his neck, but it wasn’t exactly that way with Marishka.

She was African-American, but not only was her skin pretty light, so was her hair and even her eyes. Sean wanted to ask her about that, but he didn’t know how without sounding rude. Maybe she’d even think he was racist or something. It wasn’t just her looks, but how strangely sad she seemed, like she had some sort of secret, something she could never share with anyone.

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The New Neighbors

the fairy farm

© Eric Wicklund

“What do you think, Pumpkin?”

“I think it’s totally awesome, Grandpa. Thank you so much for making it for me.”

The other houses on the block had Christmas lights and nativity scenes, but six-year-old Aubrey loved Fairies, so he made her a Fairy Farm instead.

She knelt down reviewing everything. “Here’s the chicken coop, the barn, an old log, a bench, a table, a little campfire, and there’s the house. It’s so beautiful, Grandpa.” She gave the gray-haired man a hug.

“Wait, Grandpa. What’s that on the roof?

“It’s a cross, Aubrey.”

“Um, why?”

“It’ll be Christmas soon and I couldn’t completely ignore…”

“Silly Grandpa. Fairies are Druids, not Christians.”

“Tell you what, when the Fairies move in, they can decide if they want to keep the cross.”

“Deal, Grandpa.”

“Let’s go in and see how the Chicken Pies are doing.”

Minutes later, the tiny door to the Fairy house creaked open. “Gawd. Thought they’d never leave, Gertrude.”

“Same here, Andrew. Druids. Did you ever hear of such a thing?”

“Indeed, m’love. Let’s do some proper decorating now. I brought the bulbs and tinsel, do you have the box with the lights?”

“Yes, dearest. It’s right with the Nativity scene.”

I wrote this for the Sunday Photo Fiction Challenge for December 10th 2017. The idea is to use the image above to inspire the creation of a piece of flash fiction no more than 200 words long. My word count is 200.

I’ve probably written something like this before in response to a similar prompt, but nothing else came to mind. What appears to be a cross on the roof of the Fairy House was a bit of a problem in the overall context, but then it also gave me my “hook.” So I thought I’d have a little fun with this being the Christmas season as well as “religious preferences” among both humans and fairies.

As an aside, my wife is Jewish so we don’t celebrate Christmas. It’s easy for me to find my house when I come home from work at night since it’s the only one on the block without lights and decorations. No, I don’t even have a fairy farm out back.

To read other tales based on the prompt, visit InLinkz.com.

Mistaken for Miracles

icy tree

© Dale Rogerson

“I hate Christmas, Stefani. I’m not helping you put lights on this icy tree.”

“You’re such a Scrooge, Austin. Christmas lights bring miracles. Don’t you believe that?”

“I don’t believe anything. Let’s go inside, I’m cold.”

“Brendan will help me.” Flirting always worked with Austin.

“Oh, alright.” The two university students trudged back to the dorm.

“Lights again, Felman?” Arvid complained. “Don’t they know the more they change the world with technology, the greater the curse upon them?” She and her fellow elf were sitting invisibly on the tree’s branches.

“You know humans, Arvid,” rolling his eyes.

I wrote this for the Rochelle Wisoff-Fields flash fiction writing challenge. The idea is to use the image above as the inspiration to craft a small story no more than 100 words long. My word count is 97.

I actually re-wrote my story which originally was more along the lines of environmentalism and global warming, but everyone writes about that, so I was pretty disgusted with my lack of imagination. I changed it, but alas, the theme is largely the same. The more we humans try to “beautify” the world around us, the more we miss out on the natural beauty it already possesses. Forget the lights. Enjoy the ice.

To read other stories based on the prompt, go to InLinkz.com.

The Old Elf Of Christmas

Warning: This is not a tale of heartwarming enchantment.

Seven-year-old Shelley thought it was a little strange that there was a Department Store Santa seated at the far end of the playground. It was Christmas Eve and so much snow had fallen that Daddy had to spend hours yesterday and today just shoveling it all off of the driveway.

After lunch, she begged Daddy to take her to the playground. She could see it from her backyard and there were other kids playing on the snow-covered swings, slides, and other equipment. Mommy had just put her little brother down for his nap and agreed Daddy should take Shelley out to play. She had a lot of cooking to do to get ready for the rest of the family to come over on Christmas, and wanted them both out of the way.

Daddy took a folding chair with him and sat at the edge of the playground with his cell phone surfing the web.

Shelley took off to play with the other kids, but now they were all gone. Instead, there was Santa sitting on a red chair smiling at her.

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Overcoming Conquerers

Earth

Earth as seen from Apollo 17 – Image: Wikipedia

The T’Quenq had conquered the population of the Earth a generation ago and with good reason. On the verge of humanity developing a working Interstellar drive, the T’Quenq, who had been observing our planet for centuries, were terrified that we would spread our propensity for strife, bloodshed, and harsh colonialism to the nearby inhabited star systems. There was only one way to make sure we never got the chance: subjugate us.

In science fiction stories, the aliens are always just humans who look different from us, four arms instead of two, green skin, pointy ears, that sort of thing. In real life, alien means alien. Concepts of cruelty or kindness were foreign to their thinking. They didn’t even have words in their language for “generosity,” “charity,” or “compassion.” They simply administered resources and populations. The people of the Earth were governed but not a great deal of thought was put into our comfort. Neither did the T’Quenq deliberately cause us to suffer. We simply existed under their rule.

We were conquered a generation ago and since that time, a few things have mellowed a bit. Segregation between T’Quenq and humans was no longer strictly enforced. Some of them thought it adventurous to walk our streets and shop in our stores, while a few human beings were allowed in T’Quenq compounds, only as servants, but a smattering of us got a first hand look at how they live.

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