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Christmas in Love: A Flash Fiction Anthology

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Christmas in Love

A Flash Fiction Anthology

George Donnelly, Editor

Cheverer

Contents

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Romance

1. A Tale of Two Magis

2. I’ll Be Home for Christmas

3. The Christmas Package

4. Green Christmas

5. Mistletoe

6. The Best Gift

7. Just Marie

8. The Wrong Idea

Fantasy

9. The Sugar Plum Fairy’s Rescue

10. Entertaining Unawares

11. The Ice Bridge

12. Naughty or Nice?

13. A (Somewhat) Silent Night

14. The Dad Bureau

Science Fiction

15. Happy Diversidays

16. Angelica

17. Wings of an Angel

Horror

18. Blood Song

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Acknowledgments

About the Editor

Also by the Authors

Christmas in Love

George Donnelly, Editor

***

Copyright 2016 George Donnelly

Shakespir Edition

***

Shakespir Edition, License Notes:

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Shakespir.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. But, seriously, please share this book with your friends.

ISBN: 978-1-941939-13-0

Christmas in Love

Book 3 in the Flash Flood Series

18 Extremely Short Christmas Stories

for your Briefest Moments

From an unexpected twist on a classic Christmas tale and a soldier returning home from war to a pair of girls waiting for an unlikely Christmas wish to come true and a creepy evening in a museum, fill your briefest moments with this collection of 18 flash fiction stories.

Commuting to work? Grabbing a quick coffee? Each story tells a complete tale in but a few short minutes with the added promise of a lifelong introduction to new indie writers.

You never know, you might just find your next favorite author.

Christmas in Love, the third anthology in the Flash Flood series, is a hand-picked selection of master works in romance, science fiction and fantasy themed for Christmas and guaranteed to keep you engaged.

Sign up now to get free copies of book 1, Bite-Sized Stories, and future flash fiction anthologies themed for Valentine’s Day, May the 4th and Independence Day.

A Tale of Two Magis © Carmilla Cross

I’ll Be Home for Christmas © 2016 Alexa Kang

The Christmas Package © 2016 John D. Ottini

Green Christmas © 2016 A.T. Brennan

Mistletoe © 2016 John D. Ottini

The Best Gift © 2016 by Janice Croom

Just Marie © 2016 J. Naomi Ay

The Sugar Plum Fairy’s Rescue © 2016 Laura Greenwood

Entertaining Unawares © 2016 Bill Hiatt

The Ice Bridge © 2016 Jane Cooper

Naughty or Nice? © 2016 Bill Hiatt

A (Somewhat) Silent Night © 2016 Jessie Thomas

Happy Diversidays © 2016 Vaughn Treude

Angelica © 2016 Sam Kates

Wings of an Angel © 2016 Leah Ross

Blood Song © 2016 Jaleta Clegg

The Wrong Idea © 2016 Cecilia Peartree

[_The Dad Bureau _]© 2016 George Donnelly (CC-BY-SA)

These are works of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the authors’ imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All Rights Reserved, but please share this with a friend.

Co-Editor: Alexa Kang

Copyright 2016 George Donnelly, Editor

ISBN: 978-1-941939-13-0

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If you liked Christmas in Love, you’ll ADORE Valentine’s Day, the fourth book in the Flash Flood anthology series, due out Jan 31, 2017.

CLICK THE LINK AND CLAIM YOUR BOOK, FREE.

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Thank you for reading!

To you, our amazing readers, may your holiday season be filled with joy and love.

Part I

Romance

A Tale of Two Magis

Carmilla Cross – Romantic Comedy

Tayler had finally reached her breaking point – on December the 24th, no less.

Brant was not going to be able to make it home for Christmas.

She was in New York – cold, gray and decidedly not snowy – while Brant was in chilly yet sunny California. Of course, Brant was supposed to be living in the Big Apple with her, but due to the demands of his job, he had to go all the way across the country for six months – and it hadn’t even been two yet.

Tayler’s longing for him reached manic levels, especially during their video chats. It became worse after she got back from the early Christmas dinner at her parents barely five days ago.

“Mom, how did you know dad was the one?” Tayler blurted out as she sliced the pumpkin cheesecake pie her mom always baked during the holidays.

Her mom gazed at her tenderly and smiled. “When I realized I just couldn’t make it through the day without him.”

“And that’s how I got her to marry me!” Her dad sauntered into the kitchen and eyed the slices. “Honey, did you put a little bourbon into that sinful looking pie?”

“Yes, and only because I know you’d gobble it up.” Her mom giggled as her dad swooped in for a kiss.

“Oh you guys,” Tayler said, mock-averting her eyes from the sight. “Get a room!”

“Oh shush, darling,” her mom replied. “You’ll be the same way once you and Brant are married!”

“Yeah, and when’s that wedding, honeybug?” Her dad said. “And just when exactly is he moving back to New York?”

Tayler decided to skip more ugly crying over missing Brant and do something incredibly stupid.

She got on a plane to California.

It had taken all of her current paycheck to score a seat in third class, which was a miracle in itself. It was hot, and there was a rancid smell from whoever had taken their shoes off, but all of it was nothing compared to how [_surprised _]Brant would be!

When she finally reached his apartment address and knocked, she allowed herself one small, nervous smile and hoped he wouldn’t be too upset.

Eric, Brant’s roommate, opened the door and froze in place when he saw her.

Tayler’s heart sank. “Hey. Sorry, I think we’ve only seen each other over the webcam. This is kind of weird, huh?”

Eric didn’t say anything. Tayler lifted her arm that wasn’t carrying her duffel bag in a pathetic little wave. “Um, if it isn’t good for you guys right now, I’ll, um, stay at a hotel and come back later…”

“No!” Eric blurted out. “Uh, [_Tayler. _]Does Brant know you’re here?”

“No,” Tayler replied in a small voice. Behind him, she saw a gorgeous raven-haired girl peer curiously at her.

Eric swore and ran his hand roughly over his face. “Ah, come in for now, and we’ll fire up the laptop.”

She followed Eric inside, waving weakly to the girl on the couch, who similarly froze as Eric murmured that Tayler was there to see Brant. She gasped, and gave Tayler a sympathetic look.

[_What if he’s cheating on me? _]Tayler wondered, her heart pretty much broken at that point.

Brant’s room smelled just like him, faintly of coffee, his favorite cologne and holiday cookies. She saw a picture of the two of them on the dresser. It was also the first one that was taken of her wearing the 18th century antique style diamond engagement ring he slipped on her finger when he proposed. So he wasn’t cheating then, but what was she missing?

Eric managed to connect, and a slightly distorted but familiar voice came through.

“Hello? [_Eric?” _]Brant sounded incredibly bewildered. “What’s wrong? Why did you call?”

Tayler drifted into the frame behind Eric, waving at the screen. Brant was there, his brown hair tousled, huge bags under his eyes, which widened to the size of dinner plates. By the jostling of the camera, it seemed like he had been walking, but now he stopped, staring at her through the screen.

Tay?”

“Surprise!” Tayler said, feeling like crying again. “Um, I thought – since we’ve always spent Christmas together–”

“Oh no, honey, don’t cry,” Brant replied quickly. He looked like he was on the verge of tears himself as he moved aside on the screen, gulping hard. “Um, I’m in JFK.”

“What?”

“I’m in New York,” he said. “Just arrived at the airport. I was planning to catch a cab to your place, but, uh…” He forced a grin. “Merry Christmas!”

“Merry Christmas,” Tayler sobbed in spite of herself. After a moment, she burst into hysterical laughter. “Wow, ugh, yeah… Merry Christmas, darling! So, what now?” She giggled. “We’re idiots!”

Brant chuckled, pressing his forehead against his phone. “Well, uh, for right now, you can continue interrupting my cousin and his girlfriend…I’ll try to be there with you as soon as I can.”

“Don’t worry,” Tayler said, smiling. “Even if we’re not together, there’s always the Internet! It’ll work out.”

He pressed his finger on the screen, and Tayler pressed hers against it.

Sighing at their predicament, Eric closed the door to give them some privacy, but not before he managed to get in one last, snide remark.

“Gosh, you guys. Ever heard of Google calendars?”

***

&Carmilla knew& she would write a lot about love and the paranormal once she discovered young adult paranormal romances. She dreams of the day when she will have any or all of her works striking a massive chord with readers and fans everywhere. Then just maybe, they will also get to have successful movie and TV shows of their own. Find her books and get on her mailing list at moonrise-by-carmilla-cross.tumblr.com.

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

Alexa Kang – Historical Romance

In the staff’s dorm car, Evelyn jerked awake to the chugging sounds of the train, surprised to find that she had fallen asleep. The day-old December 23, 1944 copy of the New York Times she had been reading slipped from her lap, its headline reporting the Germans’ sweeping retreat through Luxembourg.

Quickly, she checked her watch. Quarter to five in the morning. Thank goodness. She had only dozed off for a moment but her break was over. She picked the newspaper off the floor and hurried back to the grill car. The Broadway Limited was the Pennsylvania Railroad’s premier sleeper train from New York to Chicago. The dining car steward would have a fit if she was tardy.

In the empty grill car, Agnes, her co-worker, was refilling the salt and pepper shakers. “Oh good, you’re back. My turn to take a break. We should arrive at Fort Wayne in half an hour.” She wiped her hands and left.

Evelyn stepped behind the counter and stared out the window. The scene outside was pitch black. The train rattled along through the middle of nowhere as she stood alone in the void. She turned on the radio to hear some sounds of life. The voices of a choir belting out “Twelve Days of Christmas” reminded her it was Christmas Eve. She couldn’t wait to smell the aroma of the pumpkin bread her mother would be baking for dinner when she walked into her parents’ home tonight.

A young GI entered and sat down at a table across from the menu board. This was unusual. Passengers didn’t normally start to come in for breakfast until closer to six. Evelyn picked up her pen and notepad and walked over to him. “Hello. Can I get you something?”

The GI squinted at the menu board, then shook his head.

“Can’t sleep?”

“No.” He looked around the interior of the car. Frowning, he ran his fingers slowly across the surface of the table.

“Some people find it hard to sleep on a moving train.” Evelyn softened her voice and moved closer to him. “We’re less than three hours from Chicago. That’s my hometown. Is that where you’re heading, too?”

He smiled and eased into his seat. “Yes. I’m trying to get home.” He clasped his hands on the table. The two silver bars on his uniform, symbol of an army captain, glinted under the ceiling’s white light.

“Where were you stationed?”

“France. In Montèlimar. I work in the intelligence unit.”

“You must be on furlough then. Are you excited to go home for Christmas? Maybe you’re too excited to sleep.” She thought the idea would lift his spirits.

Instead, the GI lowered his eyes. “I’ve been trying to get home for a very long time.”

So heartbreaking to hear the sorrow in his voice. The GIs must get homesick often when they were away. “Don’t worry. We’ll be in Chicago soon. How about I get you some coffee?”

The GI nodded. “Yes, please. I’m always cold lately. I could use something warm.”

She started to step away, but halted. “What’s your name?”

“Warren Hendricks.” He gave her a shy glance. He didn’t add a flirtatious remark or two, like many GIs who were eager to chat up girls as they passed through different cities.

Hiding her smile, she glanced back at him. “I’m Evelyn. I’ll be right back with your coffee.” She returned to the counter. While getting the coffee, she watched him sitting patiently at the table. With his ordinary face and lanky physique, Warren wasn’t someone a girl would immediately notice, but he exuded a gentle sincerity that she found endearing. She could see right away he had depth.

Her own grandfather always told her she had an unusual ability to see what others couldn’t.

She scanned the empty car. For once, she decided to break the rules and slack off. She took the coffee pot to his table and filled his cup. He immediately wrapped his hands around it. She then sat down across from him and poured herself one. At her unexpected company, his eyes brightened.

“Your family must be thrilled you’re coming home for Christmas.” She took a sip of her coffee.

“I’ll be thrilled myself. I can’t wait to see my little sister.” He showed Evelyn a photo of a girl in his wallet. The girl looked about twelve. She had gentle eyes like Warren. “Bessie.”

Evelyn smiled. “What a darling.”

“When she writes me, she always asks when I’m coming home.”

“She must miss you very much. But I’d bet she’s proud of you.”

“I hope so. My division fought the Germans for months in Italy this year. Our troops suffered a lot of casualties in Anzio.” He took an ancient coin out of his pocket. “I bought this for her after we liberated Rome in June.”

Evelyn took the coin and traced the outline of the bust of Julius Caesar. “It’s a thoughtful gift.”

His face darkened. “I’m afraid I won’t be able to give it to her. For some reason, I can’t seem to get home. At first, I couldn’t find the right ship to cross the ocean. And now, I feel like I’ve been on this train forever. I don’t remember the ride from Chicago to New York being this long.” He stared at the coin. “All I want is to give this to Bessie for Christmas. Maybe I’m lost. Maybe I’m on the wrong train.”

“You’re on the right train. You’ll get there.” Evelyn gave the coin back to him. When their hands touched, her heart skipped a beat. He must have felt something too, for he glanced up at her. Embarrassed, she pulled her hand back and looked away.

“Evelyn,” he said, his voice uncertain but earnest. “I’m not usually this forward, but would you mind if I call you after we arrived in Chicago? I’d really like to see you again.”

“Sure.” She had hoped that he would ask, even though she didn’t think he would be calling her. She jotted her phone number on her notepad and gave it to him.

“May I?” He pointed at her pen. She passed it to him. He smiled and scribbled down his own number. “You can call me too.”

The car door opened with a loud clack. Evelyn looked over. Agnes sauntered in, her face freshened with a new layer of lipstick.

“Better get ready for the breakfast crowd.” Agnes glanced at the table where Evelyn was sitting. “Were you talking to someone?”

Evelyn gazed at the empty seat across from her. “No. No one.”

“Huh.” Agnes put on her apron. “You were drinking two cups of coffee?”

Evelyn lowered her head. How could she explain to Agnes that she was talking to a GI who was no longer here? Only his spirit was trying to return home. He had been riding this train for twelve consecutive nights. She noticed him immediately the first night he came on board, even though the others didn’t. She had an unusual ability to see what others couldn’t.

She had liked Warren from the start. Tonight, she had finally found the nerve to talk to him. If only they had met under different circumstances.

She looked at his cup of coffee, still full and untouched. A Roman coin sat next to the saucer.

All I want is to give this to Bessie for Christmas.

On the counter, Bing Crosby crooned the familiar lyrics of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” from the radio.

Evelyn checked her notepad. Warren’s phone number was still there. She picked up the coin. “I’ll bring this home for you,” she whispered. “You can rest in peace now.”

The train came to a stop. At the Fort Wayne station, passengers departed as others still heading to Chicago entered the grill car for breakfast. Evelyn cleared the coffee cups off the table and smiled at the middle-aged couple who had just walked in. “May I help you?”

***

&Alexa Kang is& an author of 20th century historical fiction and love stories. Warren Hendricks appears in her debut WWII series, Rose of Anzio, currently available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited. You can find out more about her work on her website at www.alexakang.com.

The Christmas Package

John D. Ottini – Romance

I glance at another boring business proposal, just as my cell phone rings. My brother’s name pops up on the caller ID and I hesitate just a moment before answering.

“Hi Todd. Is something wrong?”

“Does something have to be wrong for me to call my little brother? I just wanted to know how you’re doing.”

“Under the circumstances, I’m doing fine.”

“You know I’m here for you if you need someone to talk to?”

“I know Todd and I appreciate everything you and Marianne have done for me since… well, you know.”

“It really concerns me that you didn’t cry at your wife’s funeral.”

“Jesus Todd, just because I didn’t break down at the funeral doesn’t make me some kind of monster! Why can’t you just leave this alone? I’m not you! I don’t cry at sad movies or when I read sappy books.”

Todd goes silent for a moment.[_ _]“I’ve never once implied that you’re heartless or uncaring. I just want to make sure that you’re okay. I’m worried about you.”

“I’m fine, brother. Stop worrying. I’m a big boy. Is there anything else you called about?”

“Marianne and I want you to come over tonight. It’s Christmas Eve and the kids miss their uncle.”

“I don’t know. I think I’d rather be alone. I’m not in the mood to celebrate.”

“Understandable, but that doesn’t mean you need to be alone. It’s your first Christmas without Janet. I don’t think you should spend it alone. I know we haven’t been close since…. but I’m reaching out, I’m trying to be a good older brother. If you won’t do it for me, do it for your niece and nephew. Don’t be an ass, just come on over tonight.”

“Wow! Don’t I feel welcome?” I reply with a sarcastic tone in my voice. “Thanks, but no thanks. I don’t mean to rush you, but I do have work to do.”

“Suit yourself. But the offer stands. You know where to find us if you change your mind.”

“Right,” I say, ending the call.

“Jesus. It’s been ten years, why can’t I just let it go?” But when I close my eyes, I can still see Mom, frail and frightened, sitting in the hospital bed listening to a social worker inform her that the oncologist decided it would be best for her to be moved into a hospice. A decision had been made not to perform the surgery necessary to save her life and my stupid older brother just stood there and said nothing.

When I opened my mouth to object, Todd turned to me and said, “Stay out of this Matt. You’re too young to get involved; you’ll only make things worse. I’m just trying to do what’s best for Mom.”

The words still carry a bitter sting as I stare at the photograph of Janet on my desk and I swallow the cry building in my throat.

“I’m going to miss you this Christmas, babe. I hope you’re enjoying your life in heaven. If such a place exists, say hello to Mom. Tell her that I miss her too.”

It‘s six o’clock when I finally power down my computer and leave the office. A fresh layer of snow covers the parking lot. I start the engine and brush the cold reality of life off the windshield.

It takes twenty minute to drive home and ten minutes to work up the resolve to get out of the car and go inside my empty house. There have been times in the past two months that I’ve wanted to cry but have fought off the emotion. The fear of letting down my guard frightens me to my core. How will I ever stop the tears once I open that door?

Cut it out, Matt. Think about something else.

I pour myself a glass of wine, throw a frozen dinner in the microwave and sift through yesterday’s mail.

The door bell rings. Who the hell could it be? I’m certainly not expecting company.

I open the door just as the UPS truck drives away. I pick up the parcel from the doorstep and stare at my name on the address label.

“I don’t remember ordering anything from Barnes and Noble?”

Back in the kitchen I use a letter opener to slit the adhesive tape. Inside the box is a beautifully illustrated copy of [_The Night Before Christmas _]by Clement Clarke Moore.

This has to be a mistake.

I reach for the gift card attached to the book. I flip the card open and stare in disbelief at the typewritten note.

Matt

I’m not sure if you’ll get this in time for Christmas (it’s been on back order forever) but I wanted you to have it. I hope that someday you’ll be able to read this to our children on Christmas Eve.

I love you with all my heart

Janet oxoxo

I hear the microwave ding but it’s too late. Tears roll down my cheeks, as my head drops into my hands and I begin sobbing uncontrollably. The memory of my sweet beautiful Janet walking down the aisle on our wedding day flows over me and I feel the undertow dragging me down in despair.

In the midst of my sorrow, I realize what I can do to honor Janet’s memory.

“Hey, it’s me.” I say, adjusting the phone to my ear.

“Matt? Is everything okay?”

“Can I drop by tonight?”

“Absolutely brother, we’d love to have you.”

“Do you read [The Night Before Christmas _]to the kids[ _]on Christmas Eve, just like Dad used to?”

“Yes. I’ve kept that family tradition alive,” he says, as I hear carols playing in the background

“I know it’s a lot to ask, but would you mind if I read the story to the kids this year?”

Todd replies with an emotional edge to his voice. “Mom would have loved to see that, little brother.”

“Thanks, Todd.”

“By the way, what made you change your mind?”

I can barely get the words out. “Let’s just say, a gift from beyond.”

***

[&John D. Ottini& currently resides in Central Florida with his wife and mischievous kitty named Bella. For more Christmas stories by the author, check out, _]A Very Furry Christmas: Holiday Cat Tales[. Find his books and get on his mailing list at[+ ][+jdonovels.wordpress.com]._]

Green Christmas

A.T. Brennan – Chick Lit

I stared at the glowing tree in the center of the room, trying not to think about what would happen when tonight was finally over.

I felt empty, like I’d used every ounce of my energy in the past two weeks trying to project an air of excitement and joy. Faking cheer was exhausting, and I didn’t know how much more I had left.

I closed my eyes and tried to block out the sight of the sun slowly rising in distance. It was morning. No matter how hard I wished for time to go backward, I knew it never would.

How was I going to tell them? How would I look into their hopeful eyes and tell them when I knew the truth would break their hearts?

I blew out a breath and opened my eyes. The sun had nearly risen and the last of the darkness was fading away. It was Christmas morning and my girls would be waking up any minute.

I stood, tearing my eyes away from the window as I headed into the kitchen. I might as well make myself a cup of coffee, it was going to be another long day of faking it until everyone thought I was making it.

I’d just pressed the power button on my coffee maker when I heard two sets of feet running across the floor above my head. The girls were awake, and they were expecting Santa to have brought them the only thing they’d asked for. It hadn’t mattered how many times I’d told them that Santa couldn’t always bring us everything we wanted, they’d kept asking for the impossible.

“Mommy! Mommy!”

I heard Lilly’s excited voice first. Both girls were on the stairs and racing down the living room.

“Mommy?”

Alice’s voice rang out, and I could hear the slight hint of worry in her call.

“I’m here, girls.” I plastered what I hoped was a real and bright smile on my face and shut down the coffee pot. There was plenty of time for coffee later. Right now I had a Christmas to try and save.

“Mommy?”

I came into the living room just in time to see my twins, standing in their matching pink pajamas, staring under the Christmas tree.

“Look, Santa came last night.” I pointed to the tree as I came to stand with them. “He must have thought you were extra good this year.”

The girls eyed the four presents under the tree and then looked up at me with heartbreakingly sad eyes.

“So, Santa didn’t bring daddy home?” Lilly asked in a small voice.

“No, sweetie. I’m sorry.” I knelt between them, wrapping my arms around their tiny waists as I drew them close. “I wish he could have, but remember what I told you? Santa can bring us toys and games, but he can’t bring us people.”

“Not even if we’ve been super good?” Alice asked as she leaned her head against my shoulder.

“We tried so hard to be good. We did what you said, what Ms. Francis and Mrs. Granger told us in class. We listened to grandma and we tried so hard not to fight.” Lilly looked at me, tears filling her eyes. “Were we just not good enough?”

“I’m so sorry, honey.” I hugged both girls close. “You two were so good this year. Better than I could have ever asked. You didn’t do anything wrong. Santa can’t bring you people. As much as we might want him too, that’s just not in his power.”

Both girls pulled away from me at the same time and sat down. I knew they were trying to put on a brave face and they would open their gifts, faking excitement the same as I was. Taking a deep breath I forced another smile on my face and reached for the largest of their gifts, hoping to break their sadness.

I watched as they half-heartedly ripped open the paper on their gifts and looked at the boxes. Lilly had asked for a chemistry set and Alice had wanted a new ballet outfit. Tiny smiles curved their lips as they looked up at me.

“Do you like them?”

They nodded silently.

“Do you want to open the other ones? I know Santa dropped a few more of your presents off at grandma’s so you’d have something to open at dinner tonight.

They nodded in unison and I pulled the last two gifts out from under the tree. They opened them, looked at each other and then put them aside.

I’d hoped the books would make them at least a little happy. Both girls loved to read and their usual response to new books was to open them and start reading right away, or in Alice’s case, flip through them and read a half dozen pages in the middle to see if she liked it.

This time books hadn’t cut it, and other than trying to bribe them with candy or part of the gingerbread house we’d made last night, I was out of ideas.

I was just about to open my mouth to ask which part of the house they wanted to eat first when the doorbell rang.

“Wait, girls!” I wasn’t as quick to jump to my feet and both girls took off into the hallway before I was even standing.

I had no idea who would be at my door just past dawn on Christmas day, and as I heard the door open there were squeals of pure joy and happiness.

“Daddy!”

“Vince?” I rushed into the hallway and stared at the wide open door.

“I couldn’t miss Christmas with my girls,” Vince said as he stood with Lilly in one arm and Alice in the other. His dark green fatigues and the army issued duffle bag at his feet contrasted harshly against the blanket of new snow that covered our porch and walkway.

I didn’t ask how he’d come home, I just soaked in the sight of my daughters beaming up at their father. They’d gotten their Christmas wish, and so had I.  

***

&A.T&. Brennan, a native of Ottawa, Canada, enjoys picking up and moving every few years. A former member of the Canadian Armed Forces and current entrepreneur and author, she enjoys spending her days working on her many projects and her nights writing and not getting enough sleep. She currently lives on Canada’s East Coast with her family and enjoys collecting books and exploring the different aspects of romance in her works. A.T. also publishes erotica under the name Mandie Mills. Visit her online at mandiemillsauthor.com.

Mistletoe

John D. Ottini – Romance

I stepped inside the warmth of the streetcar and waited a few minutes for the feeling to return to my fingers before pulling the envelope from my coat pocket.

“You have no idea how much this bonus check means to me,” I said, staring up at the dirty ceiling. Our comfortable little savings account had recently taken a big hit, between eye glasses for the twins and the untimely death of our furnace.

Excitedly, I tore open the envelope and stared in disbelief. “What the . . .? A thirty dollar gift certificate to Sal’s Bakery? That little shit!”

Instead of the customary two hundred dollars his old man had always given us employees at Christmastime, Dino was giving everyone a stinking gift certificate to his own bakery.

Everybody had known that things would change when Sal died and left the bakery to his son, but this—this was a slap in the face to everyone who worked so hard to make the bakery the huge success that it was.

“Fifteen years of working my ass off on the late shift, and this is what the little shit thinks of me?”

I was about to tear up the gift certificate in frustration when I heard the driver yell, “Hey Dario, you getting off here or what?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m going.” I stuffed the envelope back into my pocket, stepping off the streetcar.

It was 10:30 as I made my way along the dark, snow-covered sidewalk toward my house. The wind was howling and it was freezing, but it might as well have been Florida in June—my mind was so preoccupied that I didn’t feel the bitter cold. I was thinking about tomorrow morning and the disappointed look on the faces of Caira and Melinda when I told them that Santa might not be bringing them the presents they asked for.

There were tears frozen to my cheek by the time I reached the shortcut behind Cosmo’s Market.

As I passed the back door of the market, I heard what sounded like a tiny voice, but I soon realized it was the high-pitched meowing of a cat. It was coming from a small box propped against the building. Inside I found a tiny black kitten, cold, shivering, abandoned—left to die.

I shook my head in frustration. “What is wrong with people?” I picked up the box and carried it home with me.

Daniela greeted me at the side door and raised her eyebrows at the sight of the box.

“Did you already spend the bonus money?” she asked with a big grin on her face.

I kissed her warm lips and dug the envelope out of my pocket.

The smile left her face as she pulled the gift certificate out of the envelope. “Is this Dino’s idea of a joke?”

“Do you see me laughing?” I kicked the boots off my feet and looked up at her.

She saw the tears in my eyes. “Oh baby, I’m so sorry.” She wrapped her arms around me. “Don’t worry, we’ll make it a wonderful Christmas even without the bonus money.”

“I know, but it hurts to disappoint the girls. Thank God they’re asleep; I couldn’t handle facing them right now.”

Daniela wiped the tears from my eyes and took the box from my hands. Suddenly there was a little meow and a tiny paw pushed through the lid.

She whipped the lid off the box and scooped up the kitten. “Oh my gosh. It’s just a baby!”

“Some asshole left it behind Cosmo’s Market. Lucky I heard it, or it would’ve frozen to death.”

“It’s so sweet, you saved her life! I can’t believe someone would just dump her like that! How hard would it have been to leave her at an animal shelter?”

“St. Francis, patron saint of animals, that’s me.” I shook my head. “So it’s a girl? Next you’ll be naming her and I’ll be stuck with another mouth to feed.”

“Look how cute she is!” She held the kitten up to my face.

“Don’t get too attached, I’m taking her to the animal shelter in the morning. Like you say, she’s cute, she’ll have no trouble getting adopted.”

“Alright, Dario. I’ll give her some milk and make litter out of shredded newspaper. Why don’t you head up to bed and I’ll be there in a minute.”

“Sure, babe. I’ll wait up for you.”

That was the last thing I remembered saying; then I woke up, it was morning, and there was a rumbling sound in my ear. The kitten was sitting on my pillow, purring and staring at me. I picked her up and put her on my chest. “How did you get up here, little girl?” I heard giggles coming from the foot of the bed. “What’s going on?”

“No idea,” Daniela said. “Maybe you should ask the girls.”

The twins jumped up on the bed, yelling, “Can we keep her, Daddy, can we keep her?”

“I don’t know, girls.”

“Mommy said you brought her home last night. Mommy said you saved her life! Please, Daddy, let us keep her, please, please, please!”

A huge lump gathered in my throat as I saw the pure joy on their faces. “How can I say no?”

“Yay!” The girls bounced up and down on the bed. “This is the best Christmas gift ever!”

“What will we name her?” Daniela asked.

“How about Bonus!” I said with a wink at her.

“That’s a silly name, Daddy,” Caira said.

“Well, what do you girls think we should name her?”

Melinda said, “Mistletoe.”

“Mistletoe? Why Mistletoe?”

“Because every time I hold her, I want to kiss her.”

“You know . . . that’s the same way I feel about all my girls,” I said, and we joined in a family hug, the kitten right in the middle.

Daniela smiled at me. I told you everything would be alright, her eyes said.

As we hugged, I stared at her beautiful smile, tapped my chest twice and mouthed the words, Thank you.

***

[&John D. Ottini& currently resides in Central Florida with his wife and mischievous kitty named Bella. For more Christmas stories by the author, check out, _]A Very Furry Christmas: Holiday Cat Tales[. Find his books and get on his mailing list at[+ ][+jdonovels.wordpress.com]._]

The Best Gift

Janice Croom

Three days before Christmas, instead of decking the halls, the halls had decked us. My name is Kadence MacBride. My fiancé Terrence and I had barely survived a rock ‘em sock ‘em weekend hosting parties for a hundred juvenile delinquent teens with Mensa IQs. For the first time in too many days to count, the house was quiet, and we had nothing to do until Christmas. Wavering between half asleep and half awake, we snuggled on the couch.

Lying in Terrence’s arms was the perfect spot to figure out one last gift for him. As long as we didn’t stumble on another dead body—we’d been doing that a lot lately—by next Christmas we’d be married. I wanted to give him something that showed the type of wife I would be. The best gifts didn’t come in a box.

“Would you think less of me if I didn’t leave the house for the next three days?” he asked.

“I’ll do you one better. Let’s not even answer the phone.”

“Throw another log on the fire,” he said. “I’m in.” He nuzzled my neck.

Oh yeah, I could definitely stay like this until…I popped up like a jack in the box.

“Way to spoil the mood, Kadence.”

“I interrupt our regularly scheduled program for this special announcement. Let’s see it.” I held my phone high. Terrence held his up too.

“On three we’re turning them off,” I said. “One, two—” before I could fix my mouth to say three, his phone rang. Should’ve counted faster. “Let me guess. You have to take that, right?”

He left the couch and headed to the den. “It’s Mother. I’ll make it quick.”

“Take your time.” A wife-to-be should support her future husband even if his mother’s a —. Little known fact, despite that house killing the Wicked Witch of the East, she lived on in Terrence’s momma, so I’d dubbed her WWE.

Currently she was on her annual shopping trip in Milan where I was sure she’d bought me another ridiculously expensive designer frock that she knew would never fit my “sista girl” butt. A collection of her presents hung in my closet. My rainy day fund. If money ever got tight, they were going up on ebay.

In front of Terrence, WWE treated me like she had good sense. Behind his back, she never tired of telling me I was not the right woman for him.

“Not your fault, darling,” she’d say with a southern lilt. “Your father is only a hired laborer after all. You’re simply not our kind of people.” Luckily Terrence’s parents were always on the go. I wouldn’t have to deal with his momma again until the wedding.

Ten minutes later, Terrence rejoined me on the couch. And now back to our regularly scheduled programming. I held my phone high. Instead of holding his, he pulled me on his lap. Ruh-roh. His strained face said something was up and I wasn’t going to like it.

“Guess who’s coming to dinner,” he said.

&On her way& back from Milan, WWE was having the jet make a special stop on Christmas Eve so that she could dine with her baby boy.

“Nothing’s changed,” Terrence said. “We’ll still have almost two whole days alone before Mother arrives. We’ll take her out to dinner and see her off. She’ll only be here a few hours.”

The best gifts didn’t come in a box. They came from the heart.

“You don’t want to take your momma to some restaurant. They’ll be a zoo Christmas Eve. She should come here. That way we can all have a nice visit.”

“You want to visit with my mother?”

“Don’t act so surprised. Long as we don’t add to our body count, three months from now she’ll be my mother too.” Wow, that was the first time I’d said that. Guess I should start thinking about another name for her other than WWE.

“I’ll call the caterer,” he said.

“This will not be a catered affair. You’ve been to Christmas at my parents’. I might not do it often, but I know how to do Christmas right.”

“I have every confidence in your abilities, babe. Your momma’s been cooking for weeks. You’d only have—”

“Two days. So I’ll do a scaled-down version. It’d still beat anything you could get catered.”

“You’re sure you want to do this?”

“Absolutely sure. The best gift I know for the man I love.”

Cupping my face, he moved closer until our lips were millimeters apart. Even with all we had to do, there was always time for a short kiss and then a longer one and then… An hour later, it was obvious I’d have to be the strong one.

I pulled away. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

“All right,” he said, “let’s go.”

&Amazing& how much two people could accomplish in two days with no sleep. In another twenty minutes, the turkey would come out the oven. The sweet potato pie, German chocolate cake and pound cake were on the counter. When Terrence’s momma arrived, I’d bake the homemade rolls. Macaroni and cheese, greens, dressing, ham, check, check, check and check.

I looked up from basting the turkey when Terrence came in the kitchen. He was supposed to have showered and changed to go pick up his momma up at the airport, so why was he still wearing yesterday’s sweats?

“Mother’s not coming,” he said. “Some last minute party in Aspen she can’t miss.”

My hand flew over my mouth to keep what I was thinking from flying out. I’d lost two days of my life cooking for that woman and WWE not only didn’t have the decency to show up, she canceled an hour before she was supposed to arrive. She better be glad I didn’t have a house to drop on her.

Terrence embraced me in a bear hug. “I’m sorry you went to so much trouble for nothing.”

And then I remembered why I’d done what I’d done. “Not for nothing, for you. I’m sorry you won’t get to see your momma.”

“Can’t be helped,” he said.

It couldn’t be helped because he wanted to spend the holidays with me.

The best Christmas gifts didn’t come in a box. They came from the heart and required self-sacrifice. A big one in this case.

“Since she won’t come here, why don’t we go there the day after Christmas? It’s the holidays after all. Family should be together.”

“You’d do that for me?”

“I’m just getting warmed up.”

“This could become our tradition,” he said. “Christmas day at your folks. The day after at mine.”

The best gifts didn’t come in a box. They came from the heart and required self-sacrifice. That didn’t mean I’d lost my mind.

“Let’s take it one Christmas at a time.”

“Agreed,” he said. “Who knows? By next Christmas, you might be pregnant.”

By next Christmas, he might be right. That would be the best gift of all.

***

[&Kadence MacBride was born& in an eight-week class on novel writing. Our assignment was to write the first chapter of our book. My teacher said mine was really good and wanted to know what happened next. I reminded her that she’d only asked us to write the first chapter, so I had no idea. By the end of the class, I wanted to know what happened next. That quest, to tell my character’s stories, to give them a voice, to learn what happened next, drives me as a writer. I hope you enjoyed this short Christmas visit with Kadence and Terrence. If you’d like to spend more time with them, I invite you to check out the _]Kadence MacBride Mysteries: Death of an Idiot Boss and Death of an Island Tart[. To learn more about me and my upcoming books, visit janicecroom.com._]

Just Marie

J. Naomi Ay

Marie kept on driving. Past the supermarket and Walmart, past the gym, past the school, and even past the last exit to town. Turning on to the freeway, she pointed her minivan north, destination unknown, duration as long as it took.

This wasn’t her intent when she set out to go shopping. In fact, she had pulled into the Walmart parking lot and circled for a full four minutes. Marie wanted a space near the door, but not too near. She hated dodging people and overfilled carts as she tried to back out.

Finding nothing up front, her second favorite spot was near the cart return, but not too near. Marie hated when a cart went wild and inadvertently bumped her car.

If that didn’t work, Marie would head to the handicap spots, even though there was nothing really wrong with her. The disabled placard belonged to her mother, Agnes, who insisted Marie keep it, as she often drove the elder here and there. Marie hated to cheat and tried to avoid using that special spot, unless that was the only space left in the entire lot.

Unfortunately, today, Marie couldn’t find a single space in any of her preferred locations. She almost parked behind the garden center, next to the loading dock, and hidden by an entire grove of scraggly, overpriced Christmas trees, but she didn’t. At the last minute, Marie turned the van around and headed back to the interstate.

Something had triggered Marie into this state of near-madness. Something was compelling her to act rashly, to keep driving, to leave this town, to blow this popsicle stand altogether, and maybe not come back.

It could have been merely the text from Dave reminding her to pick up the dry cleaning and swing by the post office for a book of stamps. Or, it might have been the one from Sarah announcing that she was having dinner at Lisa’s place tonight and wouldn’t be home until late. Possibly, it was the voicemail from Agnes, who didn’t know how to text, and wanted to remind her of the doctor’s appointment the day after tomorrow. Whatever it was, it pushed Marie onward to the next town, and the one after that, fifty miles down the highway, fifty miles further from home.

After driving for a full hour, Marie considered stopping at a Starbucks or McDonalds for a bite to eat. She imagined sitting next to the fireplace, sipping a peppermint latte and reading the free newspaper. Alternatively, she could grab a booth, pig out on French fries smothered in ketchup, followed by a dollar ice cream cone, chocolate dipped for an extra fifty cents. It was totally selfish and almost decadent, completely out of character for Marie. Rarely had she gone to either place without Dave or the kids in tow. Usually, it had been a special occasion, a reason to celebrate, even though money was tight with two college educations to budget for, doctor bills, and an underwater mortgage consuming all their funds.

Marie couldn’t bring herself to stop, even though she knew she deserved a treat. Instead, she kept on driving for at least two hours more. The towns grew further and far between, the countryside seeming to extend forever. Two more hours and Dave would be heading home from work. Two more hours and Marie would be approaching the border towns. Would Canada let her in without a passport, and if they did, what would she do there on her own?

Marie imagined Dave’s reaction if she told him she was gone for good. In her mind’s eye, she saw herself ringing him from some motel, announcing her plans to stay in Canada and start a new life.

“Why?” He would ask. “Did I do something wrong?”

“No, it’s just me,” she would respond, because in truth, it really was. Marie was tired of her life, her routine, her own skin. She was weary of being Marie, Dave’s wife, Jimmy and Sarah’s mother, Agnes’s daughter. She was sick of counting pennies, saving dimes, and paying bills. What happened to those hopeful, carefree days when she was just Marie?

After Dave hung up confused, Sarah would text her, demanding to know when she’d be home.

“Aren’t you coming to the holiday concert on Wednesday night?” Her daughter would ask.

Sarah had a clarinet solo, something that Marie had already heard a thousand times, including all the squeaks and discordant notes as she rehearsed it. How could she miss the high school band’s concert, her youngest’s child’s moment to shine?

As Marie considered this, another text would buzz on her phone.

“Dad just called me,” Jimmy would type. “He says you’re running away from home. Can you do that after I come in for Christmas break? I’ve already booked my ticket and it’s totally non-refundable.”

Despite herself, Marie would laugh, and a seed of doubt would creep in her mind. How could she leave when she hadn’t seen Jimmy since September?

On the other hand, it had been her son’s choice to stay at school over Thanksgiving. He could have come home to see her then. She had roasted an enormous turkey and made his favorite pecan pie, which she later packed in a box and Fedex’d to him overnight.

Lastly, she’d get a call from Agnes.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Her mother would say. “Family is for life. You can’t just run away.”

“Why should I be at the mercy of the everyone’s schedules?” Marie announced aloud to no one, her voice muffled by the swishing of the windshield wipers as they attacked the rain-snow mix. “For once, I’m going to do something just for me. I’m going to be on a schedule that is solely mine.”

Having reached the last town before the border, Marie pulled into a gas station next to a rough-looking man selling trees, ten dollars each, from the back of his truck. It was starting to snow heavily, as had been forecast all day, although Marie hadn’t been worried when she set out this morning. Dave had put new snow tires on the van in October. He also made certain she was carrying two sets of chains, just in case. Dave was good about things like that. He always thought ahead. If Marie got stuck in a ditch, she knew he would drive through the night to rescue her.

The pump pinged, jolting Marie as she dazedly watched the numbers turn. Forty dollars she had spent on fuel, forty dollars for this foolish quest, this crazy drive to nowhere to find exactly what?

“Mom, I’m not going to Lisa’s cuz of the snow.” Sarah’s text buzzed, as Marie reached for her well-worn credit card. “And, I missed the bus. Can you pick me up?”

“Hey Mom.” Jimmy’s text arrived only seconds later. “Would it be okay if my roommate, Chris came home with me next week? His parents are going on a cruise, so I told him he can stay with us over break. I shared your pecan pie with him and he said it was the best he ever ate. See you soon.”

As Marie climbed back in the minivan, her phone rang with Agnes’s caller ID.

“Where are you?” Her mother demanded. “You’re not answering at home. I hope you’re not driving around in this weather.”

“Well,” Marie began.

“I just wanted to tell you I’m bringing the stuffing and my bean salad for Christmas dinner. You know my bean salad is the best.”

“Yes Mom. It is.”

“Make your pecan pie again, dear. I just love it. Bye bye for now.”

Before Marie could start the engine, her phone rang again.

“Where are you?” Dave asked. “I just got home to an empty house. Do you want me to start something to eat?”

“I guess you should.” Marie sighed, turning her car around. “And, could you run up to the school and fetch Sarah? Oh, Dave, I didn’t get a chance to get the dry cleaning or the stamps.”

“No problem, babe. I’ll take care of it. When will you be home?”

“In about five hours,” Marie replied, waving to the man with the trees in the back of his truck. She pointed at a thick blue spruce, its needles glistening with the new fallen snow. At ten dollars, it was an amazing bargain. Opening the minivan’s hatch, she told Dave, “I ran out to pick up our tree.”

“Five hours away?” Dave laughed, “Are you getting one in Canada?”

“Actually, yes,” Marie declared with a smile, handing the money to the man. “I kept going until I found the perfect one.”

***

[&Naomi resides& in the north Olympic Peninsula and loves to dream of space adventures while her dog sleeps under her desk. She is the author of two epic scifi/fantasy series, the sixteen volume _]Two Moons of Rehnor[ series and the six volume ]Firesetter[ series. Find her books and get on her mailing list at JNaomiAy.com._]

The Wrong Idea

Cecilia Peartree – Mystery

Christopher and Amaryllis had more or less stopped giving each other Christmas presents since the incident of the mysterious watercolours had led the two of them to discover a very old crime.

It wasn’t that he didn’t want to buy her something, Christopher reflected, staring at the sparkling window display of the jeweller’s shop near the foot of the High Street. It was more that he feared getting her something completely inappropriate and irrelevant. Something that would give her, and anybody else who happened to be present at the exchange of gifts, the wrong idea.

Somebody slapped him on the back without any warning, and he swayed forwards and almost collided with the shop window, stopping himself by sheer effort of will with his nose only inches from the glass.

“Choosing a ring, eh?” boomed Dave, jovial as ever.

“Watch what you’re doing, Dave!” scolded Jemima, his wife. “Christopher might have done himself a nasty injury then. You don’t know your own strength.” She glanced at the window display, and said to Christopher, “You weren’t really choosing a ring, were you?”

“Of course not!” said Christopher indignantly. “It was just coincidence that I stopped here. I was thinking.”

“Aha!” said Dave. “That’s what they all say. Does Amaryllis know about this?”

“No – I mean, why should she?”

“You should really ask her to choose a ring herself,” Jemima told him.

“Oh, for goodness’ sake!” If Christopher hadn’t been very fond of Jemima and Dave, he would have stormed off in a huff at that point.

Jemima turned her head to look furtively up and down the High Street.

“Look out! Here she comes – quick, move along a bit.”

They shuffled down to the next window and found themselves staring at a tastefully arranged grouping of artificial Christmas trees, on sale at the supermarket.

“That’s no use,” said Dave. “We’ve got one of those already.”

“She doesn’t know that,” hissed Jemima. “Anyway, we might need a new one.”

“But they last for years,” argued Dave. “It’ll see us both out.”

Christopher hunched down into his heavy winter parka. Keeping quiet was probably his best option now.

“You don’t really need a new tree, do you?” said Amaryllis, just behind them. She stared suspiciously at Jemima and Dave. “Yours still had plenty of glitter on it, the last time I looked.”

“Have you been in the cupboard under our stairs again?” growled Dave.

“Not really,” said Amaryllis. “Well, perhaps a little. You could do with some new tree lights. Is that what you’re looking for? I think they’ve got them inside the shop.”

“Um,” said Christopher.

She frowned. “Have I missed something?”

“No,” he said, shifting from one foot to the other. It was too cold to stand around for more than a couple of minutes at a time. He shouldn’t be encouraging Dave and Jemima to do it, at their age. He stared up at the sky, as if he thought he could detect an approaching snowstorm. Maybe he would get inspiration from above too, while he was at it.

They walked to the corner of the building together, moving as one with the assurance of people who had known each other for so long that they might almost have been part of the same family. At the corner, Amaryllis paused and looked back up the High Street. Christopher just had time to see her eyes narrow, and then she flung herself back in the direction of the jeweller”s shop.

There was a loud bang, as if a firework had gone off very close by, but without the sparks or coloured stars, and a crash.

“Was that a gunshot?” said Jemima uncertainly.

“Of course it was, you daft old woman,” said Dave. “Come away now.”

He put his arm round her shoulders and hustled her towards the supermarket entrance. As they vanished inside, Christopher heard her arguing.

“How can you be so sure? What do you know about guns?… Men!”

Christopher turned his attention back to the High Street – to see that the jeweller’s window had smashed, scattering shards of glass right across the pavement. A couple of men wearing balaclavas were scooping rings, bracelets, watches and necklaces into plastic bags. Other passers-by stayed well back, but Amaryllis -

“No!” he yelled, starting forward.

She didn’t lose her focus on the two men, but one of them turned away from the window and advanced on her.

Christopher shot forward, one arm catching Amaryllis, who toppled sideways with a muffled squeal, and ran into the man in the balaclava, who was also caught off-balance and, after a frozen moment during which nobody could tell what might happen, lost his grip on the bag of jewellery.

The other robber was still in the process of turning round to see what had happened as a waterfall of gold and silver poured down on to the pavement, spilling out at last to form a shallow and very decorative pool around Christopher’s feet.

The robbers caught each other’s eyes and evidently shared some sort of silent communication. The one who had dropped the bag of loot recovered his balance by grabbing at the other one’s sleeve, and they scrambled to get clear of the scene.

In the distance the siren of a police car sounded.

Amaryllis, crouching on the ground, picked something up.

She held the ring at arm’s length and said to Christopher, “What do you think?”

He took a step back. “What do I think about what?”

“Would it suit me?”

“How should I know?

She tossed it to the ground again among the rest of the jewellery.

“It wasn’t expensive enough for me anyway,” she told him. “Not enough diamonds.”

There was some laughter and muted applause from the sidelines.

“Just you tell him, Amaryllis!” said Jemima.

Christopher found himself walking next to Dave as they repaired to the local pub.

“You had a narrow escape there, pal,” Dave commented. “Better be more careful in future. You don’t want her getting the wrong idea.”

***

[&Cecilia Peartree is& the mystery writing pen-name of a database manager from Edinburgh. She has been writing since she was six years old (some time ago). Her most popular novels are these in the _]Pitkirtly Mystery[ series, set in a fictitious small town in Scotland. Find her books and get on her mailing list at ceciliapeartree.wordpress.com._]

Part II

Fantasy

The Sugar Plum Fairy’s Rescue

Laura Greenwood – Fantasy

Chris’ heart sank as she read the announcement, her pale wings fluttering nervously; the Sugar Plum Fairy was missing. Without her the Christmas celebrations that were held every year in the Land of Sweets wouldn’t be able to start and that just couldn’t happen. Especially as it was Chris’ first year attending as a mature fairy and she harboured a desire to catch the eye of the Sugar Plum fairy’s son during one of the dances. Even so, she knew it wasn’t likely, her pale colouring made her blend in with her surroundings more than with the fairies around her. But if she found his mother…well no one would be able to ignore her then.

The other fairies tended to ignore Chris and that meant she’d spent a lot of her younger years watching the human world. That was when a brainwave struck; more than once she’d seen an unsuspecting fairy mistaken for one of those fake angels the humans put on their trees, maybe the same had happened to the Sugar Plum Fairy. Dropping her paper, she flapped her wings furiously and flew to the portal between the Land of Sweets and the family home of a girl named Clara. The portal remained despite Clara herself having long since passed and her family no longer believing in the existence of fairies. Sure enough, as soon as Chris had made it through the portal, she spotted a spot of pastel pink and tulle at the top of the tree, without a doubt it was the Sugar Plum Fairy. Now all she had to do was get to the top of the very tall tree.

What felt like hours later, but was more likely to be minutes, Chris was struggling to pull herself up using the string of oddly named fairy lights and cursing the fact that flying this side of the portal was so difficult. The pine scent of the tree was almost overwhelming but she had to work past that and concentrate on avoiding being cut by any of the pines themselves.

Movement caught her eye and she started before realising that she’d only seen her reflection in one of the shiny red baubles that adorned the tree. Despite the bauble’s colour, her stark white hair and unsettling grey eyes were clear. Shaking off her image, she turned back to her climb only to run into something hard and warm. Looking up she found herself looking into the deep green eyes of the Sugar Plum Fairy’s son.

“Hey now, careful.” His voice was deep and steady as his hands gripped her forearms to keep her from falling.

“Sorry,” she stammered.

“No harm. I’m Pine, you?” Further proof of how invisible she’d been, just in case she needed it.

“Chris.” She worried the bottom of her dress as she answered. Pine cocked his head and gave her a quizzical look.

“That’s an unusual name for a fairy.” She cursed inwardly.

“It’s short for Christmas Rose.” She felt a blush start to colour her cheeks. “There are so many Roses and I couldn’t really be called Christmas all the time,” she explained hastily.

“Ah.” His hand moved from her arm and he slid a lock of her hair through his fingers. “I think it suits you.”

“Thank you.” She blushed redder.

“Well shall we?” He dropped his hand from her hair.

“Shall we what?” His attention had stopped her thoughts in their tracks.

“Rescue my mother. I assume that’s why you’re here?” She nodded once and took his outstretched hand with hers. Chris was soon surprised to discover that they worked well together and she was glad for that as they neared the top of the tree. The branches were sparser here and it would have been difficult to manage by herself. She was tired and elated when they finally reached the top, but she felt as if she’d really achieved something. Of course the beaming face of the Sugar Plum Fairy helped, and as soon as she was free she’d magicked the three of them to the bottom of the tree and back through the portal. As soon as she’d arrived home, Chris had fallen into a blissful sleep.

Chris hadn’t seen Pine since they’d returned but meeting him had changed something within her. Instead of looking at her white dress with dread, she actually felt excited and couldn’t wait to go to the dance where it would move and twinkle with her. She’d even woven small Christmas Roses into her hair, the white kind because she no longer worried about who she was.

Feeling like the most beautiful fairy in the room, she drank in her surroundings; glittering lights, soft music and the brightly coloured fairies all dressed in their best, all added to the festive mood. Trumpets sounded and the Sugar Plum Fairy was announced along with her husband, Cavalier and Pine. Chris couldn’t take her eyes off Pine in his military style uniform like his father’s, except that Pine wore green to match his eyes rather than Cavalier’s red uniform. He was beyond handsome and Chris’ heart was beating rapidly at the sight of him. While the older couple stopped, Pine carried on walking and it took Chris a moment to realise that he was heading straight towards her. On arrival he bowed deeply and held out one of his hands.

“Would the beautiful Christmas Rose allow me to have the first dance?” Fairies around them tittered but Chris didn’t notice. How could she when Pine was looking at her like that? Remembering her manners, she placed her hand in his and dipped into a curtsey.

“I would love to.” She smiled and Pine pulled her into his arms to start the dance. And so began one of the most magical nights of Chris’ life.

***

[&I like& to write whichever weird and wonderful tale comes into my head, which makes identifying the genre difficult even for me! My first series, _]Alventia[, are novellas centred around Keira, aka Sleeping Beauty, and her Prince Philip, along with their allies Hansel and Gretel. It’s a tale that very much told itself as I started to write it!  While I’m not writing, I work in catering and am also an assistant Brownie guide leader in the Midlands (UK). I like to bake and I love to read, and like with my writing, I read an eclectic mix of genres, and love every minute of it! You can keep up to date with my writing progress by signing up to my newsletter here at authorlauragreenwood.co.uk._]

Entertaining Unawares

Bill Hiatt – Fantasy

Thomas Calvin was feeling every one of his forty-five years as he pulled himself through his front door. Christmas shopping should be left to the young and energetic.

“Tom, are you OK?” asked Maria, who had been his wife for twenty years, though she always managed somehow to look much younger than he was.

“Nothing three hours of relaxing at home won’t cure,” he replied. He worked up a smile for her benefit and managed to dodge her attempts to help with the shopping bags.

“Some of them are for you, after all,” he told her. “I don’t want you to be tempted to peak.”

She smiled and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. “All right, but just don’t throw your back out! It’s hardly worth it just to keep my presents secret. You know I’m just going to peak when you’re not around, anyway.

“Oh,” she said, trying to sound casual, “by the way, Andy brought a guest for dinner tonight.”

There was only one person their son was likely to invite over, and the very thought of this particular guest made Tom shudder.

He supposed Gabe really wasn’t a bad kid—not completely, anyway. He wasn’t evil. He wasn’t a serial killed or even a drug dealer. He was, however, hands-down the most annoying person Tom knew.

An eighteen-year-old senior, Gabe wasn’t exactly a good role model for Tom’s sixteen-year-old son. Gabe always smelled like cigarettes, had manners that suggested he had been raised in a cave somewhere, and made a big deal about having no college plans whatsoever because he would be pursuing a music career that Tom thought existed mostly in Gabe’s head. Even worse, the kid had a certain amount of charisma, and Andy was fascinated by him. Tom’s biggest fear was that Andy would start acting like Gabe.

Dinner was an ordeal, to say the least. Tom, already exhausted from work and shopping, needed a quiet evening. What he got instead was Gabe shredding his nerves into little screaming pieces.

Gabe managed to monopolize the conversation, which neither Maria nor Andy seemed to mind. Tom figured in Maria’s case maternal instinct was to blame. With Andy, Tom feared it was hero worship, and that worried him.

Tom longed to find some way to interrupt Gabe’s egocentric monologue, but he didn’t want to risk embarrassing Andy, so he did his best to endure the constant flow of delusional prattle about Gabe’s music.

By the end of dinner, Tom’s stomach was so tied in knots he began to worry about ulcers. He wanted to make Gabe shut up by any means necessary. He would never really strangle Gabe, of course, but he got a brief moment of pleasure out of daydreaming about it.

“I’d like to hear you play some time,” said Maria. Tom hoped she was just being polite.

Andy had offered to help clear the table. Gabe as always had not. However, he did catch the reference to his music and looked around the room critically.

“This isn’t the right kind of venue for electric guitar.” Tom breathed a sigh of relief

“I have my acoustic guitar in the car, though,” the musician wannabe added. Tom’s blood pressure shot up like a geyser.

“Go get it, man,” said Andy. “It’d be cool if you played for us.”

Tom thought it would be about as cool as Death Valley in the summer, but again the desire to avoid embarrassing Andy restrained him from saying what he really thought. Gabe, who normally moved lazily, was out the door to get his guitar as fast as if had just been offered a chance to audition for the head of a record label.

During dessert they were “treated” to Gabe’s “performance.” Tom thought calling it music was an offense to musicians everywhere. Raucous and lacking in any kind of melody, Gabe’s guitar playing was not helped by his off-key lyrics, laden with sexual innuendos and thinly veiled drug references. Even Maria looked as if she was having a hard time coming up with a polite response, though she did applaud a little. Andy applauded so enthusiastically that Tom wondered whether the kid had any musical taste at all.

Gabe smiled broadly. “See, that’s why I don’t need to worry about college.”

“Yeah,” Andy said and nodded. “College is a big waste of time if you have talent.”

Something in Tom broke loose at that moment, something primal and savage. Maria, who knew him well enough to see from his facial expression that something was wrong, managed to get him out of the room and into the kitchen before he said anything he’d regret.

“Tom, I know what you’re thinking—” Maria began, using her most calming voice.

“You mean my thoughts about how that juvenile delinquent is corrupting our son?” Tom asked. His whisper had the intensity of a shout.

“There’s something—”

“How his parents could have raised him this way I’ll never know,” Tom said, cutting her off. “I know he’s eighteen now, but still—”

“His parents are dead,” said Maria abruptly. That got Tom’s attention.

“They died last year,” she continued.

“Foster parents?” asked Tom slowly.

“An aunt looked after him for a few months until he turned eighteen. I gather it wasn’t exactly a great experience for either one of them, and now they hardly speak. Since Gabe is eighteen, he can live on his own, and he inherited his parents’ assets, so he has a house and some money, but Tom, he has no real emotional support.

“How do you know all this?” asked Tom, struggling to figure out how he felt about Gabe now.

“I overheard a conversation he was having with his school counselor. I asked him about it later, and his response made it clear he was embarrassed I knew, so I tried to respect his feelings and not say anything, but…well, you just need to know now.”

“He’s still not a good influence on Andy,” Tom pointed out.

“I have faith we can talk Andy out of whatever he’s picked up from Gabe. Tom, Gabe needs—”

“I know exactly what Gabe needs,” said Tom, sounding a bit more ominous than he intended. Though he sympathized with Gabe’s situation, he had to put Andy’s needs first. He turned and hurried out of the kitchen before Maria could stop him.

“Gabe, can I see you outside?” asked Tom, gesturing toward the front door. Behind him Maria was tapping on his shoulder. He ignored her.

“Dad—” began Andy, looking worried.

“This will just take a minute,” said Tom, pointing to the front door again. Gabe, looking nervous for the first time Tom had ever seen, got up and followed him outside.

“What’s up, man?” asked Gabe, looking down at the ground.

Tom had mentally prepared a speech, offering sympathy for the death of Gabe’s parents but explaining why Gabe needed to get his act together—tough love all the way. Somehow, though, with Gabe, still a frail looking adolescent despite his eighteen years, standing in front of him and seeming more uncomfortable by the second, Tom couldn’t get the words out. He’d never been so conflicted in his whole life.

“Yeah? What do you want?” Gabe asked, some of his cockiness returning. Tom just for a moment wanted to slap him.

“Gabe…I know about…I mean—”

“Just spit it out,” suggested Gabe, but not quite as sarcastically as he usually would have.

“Gabe…would you like to come over for Christmas dinner?” asked Tom, surprising himself almost as much as he surprised Gabe.

Tom, not normally impulsive, had suddenly decided he might want to try some emotional support before doing the tough love thing. As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he had second thoughts, but it was too late.

Then Tom blinked, sure his tired eyes were playing tricks on him. Gabe appeared to be glowing!

“Very good, Thomas Calvin!” The voice was coming out of Gabe’s mouth but didn’t sound anything like him.

“You figured out on your own exactly what Gabe needs,” the voice continued. “Oh, and sorry for the music. I can do better—but he can’t.” The glow became a flash, and Tom could swear he saw the shadow of wings. Then the illusion was gone, and it was just Gabe standing in front of him.

“Cool, man,” said Gabe, looking a little surprised at the offer. “I’ll be here. Anything else?”

Tom shook his head, and Gabe ambled back into the house.

Tom could swear he heard a distant trumpet blast.

Gabe. Gabriel. Now it made sense.

He was reminded of Hebrews 13:12: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

Gabe wasn’t exactly a stranger—just strange—but otherwise the verse did fit.

Tom smiled broadly as he walked back into the house.

It was going to be a good Christmas.

***

&As far back as& he can remember, Bill Hiatt had a love for reading so intense that he eventually ended up owning over eight thousand books—not counting e-books! He has also loved to write for almost that long. As an English teacher, he had little time to write, though he always felt there were stories within him that longed to get out, and he did manage to publish a few books near the end of his teaching career. Now that he is retired from teaching, the stories are even more anxious to get out into the world, and they will not be denied! For more information, you can visit his website at billhiatt.com.

The Ice Bridge

Jane Cooper – Children’s Fantasy

Clementine traced the delicate fern pattern across the window pane with her finger. Beyond it was blue sky, as cloudless as a July afternoon. The fields were blanketed in thick white snow, glinting in the sunlight as if sprinkled with crushed diamonds. The black silhouettes of trees were made cheery by their cotton wool cloaks. Lights twinkled in the windows of a distant farmhouse.

She opened her eyes and sighed. Ugly as it was, the grimy city crouched in darkness on the other side of the glass could not dull the beauty of the ice fern, however hard it tried.

A large crow landed on the deep sill and rapped on the window with its sharp black beak. She raised a finger to her lips to signal it to be quiet and turned to look at her roommate. Satisfied that Patricia was still lost in dreams, she opened the window a crack. Freezing air flooded through the gap. She didn’t want to lose what little heat the room retained, for Patricia’s sake. She frowned at the crow.

“Crawford. What are you doing here?” The crow fixed her with a beady black eye and cawed.

“Where?” Two caws, and too loud.

“Can’t you keep it down?” she whispered. “Why can crows do nothing quietly? I asked for a little red-breasted robin with a pretty singing voice.” She glanced again at the dirty black buildings beyond the sill, wearing their layers of soot with brooding resentment in the moonlight. “But then, I asked for a countryside posting as well.”

“There aren’t many children’s homes in the countryside,” said Crawford. Clementine knew Patricia would only hear the caws, but it was a risk even so.

“Let’s go then, if we must. But I don’t see why it couldn’t have waited until morning.”

“He said you’d be awake, and there’s less chance you’ll be missed at this time. Where’s your Jackson ring?”

She hurried to her bed and felt beneath her thin mattress for the tiny hole she’d made in the lining. It was usual to wear the ring at all times but she couldn’t do that here; it would be confiscated and pawned within an hour. The intricate silver filigree gleamed in the moonlight as she retrieved the ring and slid it onto her finger. Hastening back to the window, she opened it wider for Crawford to hop through and then closed it again to keep Patricia as warm as she could. She touched the ring to a smaller one around Crawford’s right leg, and the familiar rush began. She had heard others say they found the experience unpleasant, even sickening, but she found it exhilarating. The world contracted into a pin prick and she was surrounded by a blur of colours before they faded to complete blackness. She always wished it lasted longer, but it was over in moments.

She flumped down into the snow, and the crow landed relatively gracefully beside her.

“Why can we never land inside the palace?” she grumbled.

She had to concede that the view of the Crystal Ice Palace from this distance was almost worth the journey. It was dawn here, and the first weak sunrays glinted off the tops of the magnificent towers, making them sparkle in the clear air. Later in the day, as the sun rose higher in the sky, the whole palace would glitter like a cathedral made of diamonds.

They trudged through the snow and by the time they reached the palace tendrils of weariness were creeping around Clementine’s legs. They were shown into the Frost Hall and told to wait.

The Frost Hall was Clementine’s favourite room in the palace. Where the outside of the palace was sleek, carved from sheet ice, the Frost Hall was rimed with the thickest and most spectacular hoarfrost that existed anywhere in the world. It was her brother’s most accomplished work of art and a labour of love. Every time she came here there was a new wonder to see; a new carving, a new structure, a new intricacy. He would never stop working on the Hall.

“Sister!” he boomed, the sound echoing to the high ceilings. She was astonished that the delicate icicles weren’t shaken from their homes and released like beautiful daggers by the vibrations of his voice every time he spoke.

“It’s the middle of the night, Jack,” she chided, but she let him embrace her. She had many brothers but he was her favourite.

“We need to bring the arrangements forward,” he said. She frowned. This was her first time and she was nervous.

“Not everything is in place.”

“The winter is harsher than even we expected. We must move sooner. Do the children not suffer?”

She sighed. “Yes. They are hungry. And cold. So cold.” As a Frost she didn’t feel the cold but hated to see the children shivering; she couldn’t remember it, but coldness looked so uncomfortable.

“Then we take them sooner. We need new sprites immediately, and their torment need not be prolonged.”

“When?”

“Tomorrow night. You remember the procedure?”

“Not clearly.” It was almost seventy years since she’d been taken and it had seemed no more than a dream at the time.

“You must gather the children together. Crawford will herald my arrival; from then you will have a few more moments. The bridge will appear and they must cross willingly.”

“And if they won’t?”

“Then you must leave them behind.”

&Back in her room&, Clementine watched Patricia’s sleeping face. Slumber was the only time Patricia was happy; the only time she wasn’t freezing or starving. It made Clementine’s heart ache that Patricia still hoped her mother would come for her. Every night Clementine waited for Patricia to fall asleep and then laid her own blanket on Patricia’s bed. She slept so much better for the extra warmth. As dawn broke something tinkled in the street below and Clementine looked down at a large fir tree on a cart being pulled by a stocky horse with tiny silver bells on his bridle. Christmas! So sparse was the joy here that she had forgotten it was upon them. Tears prickled her eyes. No-one would be left behind in this terrible place.

As the day wore on, grey snow lined the dirty streets outside the children’s home. The children shivered in their thin tunics until supper and then headed upstairs to their rooms. Most homes had dormitories; not here. Social connection was not encouraged and although they were only twenty in number it was a challenge to gather the children together. But to them she was a child herself and they trusted her, so they came. But every child was terrified of being caught and punished.

As she explained she saw confusion, hesitancy and fear in their faces but also hope. She had so little time to persuade them, but that sliver of hope that freedom could be theirs won her their consent to cross the bridge. All except Patricia, who set her thin little face in a determined expression and folded her bony arms.

“My mother might yet come for me.” There was a rap on the window. Crawford. It was time.

“Please, Patricia,” Clementine begged. She could not bear to leave anyone here, but especially not Patricia.

There was a loud cracking sound; the movement of ice. The bridge began building itself icicle by icicle, frozen brick by brick, as if it were growing from the next room through the wall. The children gasped, so in awe they didn’t notice the further drop in temperature. Jack appeared, striding over the bridge, resplendent in pale blue robes and dazzling ice crown. He opened his arms and the children walked towards him, over the bridge, disappearing through the wall which was now shimmering like a silver curtain.

“Please Patricia!” Clementine begged again. The little girl stared at Jack in wonder, and Clementine’s own hazy memories of the moment she had done the same became clearer. Tears began to stream down Patricia’s face.

“My mother isn’t coming, is she?”

“No. I’m sorry. No.”

There was a noise from the corridor. Footsteps.

“Now, Clementine!” cried Jack. The bridge was beginning to creak and fade.

She grabbed Patricia’s tiny frozen hand and looked pleadingly into her blue eyes. Patricia nodded, and Clementine ran as fast as she could, pulling Patricia behind her, leaping onto the fading bridge. There was one last loud crack and all was still.

***

[&Jane Cooper’s& prize-winning short fiction has been featured in a number of anthologies and earlier this year she published her first novel. _]The Dragon In The Drain[ is an entertaining fantasy for children and adults alike about finding out that you’re much braver than you think. Visit Jane’s website at janecooperbooks.com[+ +]for more information and the latest news on her next book._]

Naughty or Nice?

Bill Hiatt – Fantasy

Mrs. Claus looked as worried as she had been at any time in the last two thousand years or so. It was about to be Christmas Eve, and Santa was too ill to go out in the sleigh.

“He is not dying,” one of the elven healers assured her, “yet we cannot immediately cure this strange malady.”

“I’ve always said the commercialization of Christmas was making me ill,” whispered Santa. “It was inevitable that one day it really would.” He was sweating, and his skin was as white as his beard. No one could have described him as jolly.

“What are we to do?” asked Mrs. Claus. “What will happen if you can’t make your rounds?”

Of course, Santa didn’t really make physical rounds. He traveled through the realms of dream and imagination, through song and story and a feeling in the heart—but he still needed to have strength to travel that way, and he was almost too weak to raise his head.

The problem was that not just anyone could drive the sleigh, let alone travel through thoughts. In fact, Santa was the only denizen of the North Pole who could do either.

Unfortunately, Santa’s journey, nonphysical though it was, helped keep the Christmas spirit alive. There was the risk that feelings of peace on earth and good will toward men would diminish if he faltered.

“I may have a solution,” said one of the elves. “We are, as you know, kin to the Norse Alfar, who have some contact with the Celtic faeries, who in recent years have struck up a conversation with the Greek nymphs, difficult though that was—”

“I don’t mean to be rude,” interrupted Mrs. Claus, “but time is short. A long tale may undo us.”

The elf looked embarrassed. “I have gotten word to the the dwellers of Olympus, and one of their number is willing to perform Santa’s work.”

“Olympus?” whispered Santa, scarcely able to believe his ears. “The old gods cannot interact with humans anymore.”

The elf fidgeted. “There is a loophole, Santa. An old god can commune with humanity—if he functions as you. I believe the god in question sees this as an opportunity to atone for his past misdeeds.”

“I don’t know,” said Mrs. Claus, biting her lip. She couldn’t help visualizing Dionysus drunkenly swerving the sleigh all over the place, or perhaps Hermes playing tricks along the way.

“I hope I did not presume too much,” said the elf, “but as you say, time is short. The Olympian is here now.”

Santa almost managed to sit up. “What?”

“Is not love an important part of the spirit of Christmas?” asked a male teenage voice.

Santa and Mrs. Claus looked up in horror to see Eros, AKA Cupid, standing in the doorway wearing a bright red toga. Mrs. Claus’s heart beat a little faster.

“That…outfit will never do,” Santa managed to say. The elf who had recruited Eros looked as if he wished the earth would swallow him.

“As you wish,” said Eros, removing the toga in one fluid motion. Underneath he had something that looked a bit like the ancient Greek equivalent of a bright red Speedo. Mrs. Claus’s heart beat even faster.

“That’s even worse,” insisted Santa. “You can’t look like something out of a pin-up calendar.”

Eros sighed and transformed himself into an exact replica of Santa. “If you insist, I can appear in any form I wish.”

“That’s better,” said Santa, still sounding nervous. “Do you know what you need to do?”

“I live on Olympus, not under a rock,” said Eros. “We watch what happens on earth with a great deal of interest. I know what you do forwards and backwards.”

Santa and Mrs. Claus quizzed him for a few minutes. Reluctantly, they had to admit he knew what to do.

Looking as if he would rather die, Santa gave the most reluctant blessing imaginable, and Eros was off.

By the time Christmas morning dawned and Eros returned, Santa’s cheeks were red again—but from rage, not from jolliness.

“Where is that little rascal?” demanded Santa, the Saint Nicholas part of him coming to the surface.

“Here I am,” said Eros happily. He was back to his own form, shirtless but still wearing Santa’s pants, though they looked a bit askew.

“Am I to understand,” began Santa, lips quivering, “that you…that you had sexual relations with numerous women tonight?”

“That depends,” said Eros. “Would you consider 55,372 numerous?”

Mrs. Claus had to grip one of the bed posts to keep from falling over.

“That’s outrageous!” shouted Santa, sounding almost his old self in terms of energy, if not disposition.

“I gave them what they wanted for Christmas,” said Eros in an innocent tone. “Isn’t that really the job?”

“How could you think that?” asked Santa angrily. Mrs. Claus began to worry about his blood pressure.

Now Eros looked puzzled. “Isn’t stuffing stockings a euphemism for—”

“It most certainly is not!” snapped Santa. “You have disgraced the uniform!”

“To be fair, I wasn’t really wearing it most of the time,” Eros pointed out.

“Oh,” Eros added as Santa foamed at the mouth. “I took care of some of the bookkeeping for you. Had to change a few women from the nice list to the naughty list. Those were the ones I needed the switches for—”

“Out!” screamed Santa. “Get out!”

Eros looked even more puzzled. “I was very careful. I didn’t give that particular present to married women—though some wanted it—and no one truly in love asked. I can tell—”

“GET OUT!”

Eros took the hint. Wings fluttered fast as a hummingbird’s, and he was gone.

“How will we ever be able to repair the damage?” moaned Santa.

“Shall I summon Krampus?” asked one of the older elves.

“No need,” said Santa, making a visible effort to calm down. “This evil will catch up with Eros without our doing a thing.”

***

&As far back as& he can remember, Bill Hiatt had a love for reading so intense that he eventually ended up owning over eight thousand books—not counting e-books! He has also loved to write for almost that long. As an English teacher, he had little time to write, though he always felt there were stories within him that longed to get out, and he did manage to publish a few books near the end of his teaching career. Now that he is retired from teaching, the stories are even more anxious to get out into the world, and they will not be denied! For more information, you can visit his website at billhiatt.com.

A (Somewhat) Silent Night

Jessie Thomas – Paranormal Fantasy

A beam of stark white light slipped into the corridor. Jackson’s breath clouded the air in front of him as he pressed forward. Bundled in a down coat, flannel scarf, and a Buffalo Bills hat pulled snugly over his ears, he surveyed the room. He adjusted the delicate package tucked beneath his arm—the station’s most recent acquisition—and maneuvered around a bronze statue of George Washington. Frost on Washington’s uniform glittered in the beam of his flashlight.

“Evening, General,” he greeted as he passed.

Jackson shivered. Though the artifacts in the corridor were safely encased in temperature-controlled chambers to protect them, the museum’s temperature controls were offline for the holiday. A childhood of harsh Buffalo winters should have made the conditions easy to bear, but Jackson hadn’t been home in so long that the warm climate settings had lulled him into their grasp.

His flashlight continued to skitter over the museum’s collection—letters penned by founding fathers, period clothing, furniture, and household items, among others. This wing that housed the history of colonial life and the American Revolution was under Jackson’s care during their regular operating hours. The museum had closed for the holiday, despite the fact that not every planet subscribed to the same archaic customs. They’d needed someone to babysit the place and he’d volunteered, if only because the unglamorous task came with a nice bonus. Jackson didn’t anticipate any trouble, but this station was packed with priceless items on loan from various Terran museums. The thought of something happening to them kept him up at night.

Perimeter checks eased his mind and gave him something to do besides go stir crazy in the confines of his own quarters for two weeks. He’d do nothing but catch up on months old Terran programming he’d missed and gain eight pounds.

“All right, everybody,” Jackson announced, wheeling around to address the corridor. “Sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite. Have a Merry Christmas.”

He’d found that if he didn’t talk at all, he would go crazy.

For a split second, Jackson thought he saw a shadow pass across the corridor beyond the reaches of his flashlight.

“Hello?” His voice echoed off brushed metal walls like he was shouting into a tin can.

Nothing.

He shook off the unease, but the feeling that something peered over his shoulder followed him back to his cabin. Maybe it was just the chill, the nagging loneliness. Loneliness had profound effects on the mind. To fight it, he made a mental note to video call his family later, fill up the space with Christmas music and talk to himself more.

Jackson shed his winter coat and let the warmth of his cabin wrap around him. The bluish-white light from the screens and tablets in the room doused his dark complexion in an unnatural glow. He shuddered once more to knock the remnants of the chill from his bones and padded over to the rectangular window above his messy table. Working for an American history museum stationed in space had its perks; the vista splattered with stars and colorful nebulae and planets beat a classroom any day. The sting of homesickness was something he could tolerate while his job kept him busy, but the holidays made Jackson’s defenses against it weaker.

The electronic coffeemaker whirred in the corner of his kitchenette, drawing him back to present. He sunk down into a chair and carefully unboxed the contents within the package. Hands protected by white silk gloves, Jackson lifted the antique eighteenth century men’s frock coat out of its protective casing. Jackson whistled, admiring the lush garment like a work of art. It was near pristine condition with a few minor cosmetic issues—minor fraying at the sleeves and an errant button. He brought it in front of his face to study the intricate floral embroidery work against the vivid teal silk.

Jackson shook his head. “Damn, Mr. Harlow, this must’ve cost you a nice chunk of change.”

“It did, actually,” a masculine voice said on the other side of the frock coat.

Jackson jumped and the garment fell from his grasp.

“A fine coat, is it not? Well worth the price.”

Jackson’s mouth opened and closed, trying to comprehend the image in front of him. An older gentleman with strong, high cheekbones sat across the table from him, dressed in a lavender ditto suit. A perfectly coifed and powdered wig completed his ensemble. He sat with his hands clasped on the tabletop, wavering in and out like a malfunctioning holographic transmission.

“Where did you…?” Jackson trailed off, eyes narrowed. “Sorry, are you—you can’t be Abraham Harlow.”

Harlow smiled. “I am. Or, rather, the phantom of my former self. And who might you be?”

Jackson recovered his ability to speak. “Jackson Taylor. I work here. Historian.”

“Ah, I see. Could you tell me, then, where exactly I have ended up? Last I recall, I occupied an attic in my estate in Boston.”

“Uh, well…yeah. Your ancestors donated your coat to our museum’s collection. Our museum…it operates in space.” He pointed to the window.

Harlow’s eyes widened, smile deepening. “How exciting!”

“Right.” Jackson couldn’t believe this. An eighteenth century ghost. In space. Talking to him like it was some vacation. “Must be a different…view for you.”

“Very much so.”

“Gotta send a thank you to your folks in Boston. They took great care of this.” He traced the embroidery on the fabric.

“I should think so,” Harlow answered. “I pestered them enough. Your museum had better do the same.”

Harlow rose from his chair, arms folded behind his back, to stare out the window at the foreign scenery. Jackson got up, too, and moved over to the coffeemaker. He filled the uncomfortable silence with clinking ceramic mugs.

“Whatever are these for?”

Jackson glanced in Harlow’s direction as the machine dispensed coffee into a mug with a cartoon buffalo painted on it. A gift from another Christmas. Harlow had become fascinated by the multicolored lights strung on a small faux tree.

“I take it your folks didn’t decorate for the holidays. It’s Christmas.” He lifted a mug. “Coffee?”

Harlow gestured to his body, which was flickering in and out of existence; an eerie image against the holiday lights.

“I am merely an apparition, Mr. Taylor,” he said. “But I do still enjoy the idea of coffee, so I shall share a drink with you. In the spirit of the holiday.” He chuckled at his own terrible pun.

Jackson shook his head and joined Harlow at the window, leaving a second mug on the sill beside his ghostly visitor.

Jackson raised his mug. “Hope you find your new home…comfortable.” He laughed, feeling ridiculous but pleased that he was no longer talking to himself. “Merry Christmas.”

Harlow nodded. “Merry Christmas.”

***

&Jessie Thomas is& a writer of young adult and new adult fiction from Buffalo, New York. An avid reader and history nerd at heart, she enjoys writing historical fantasy and speculative fiction with a historical twist. When she isn’t chasing her muses around Revolutionary War-era America, Jessie can be found playing with her snaggle-toothed cat named Graham. To keep up with the latest releases, check out Jessie’s website at jessiemthomas.wordpress.com.

The Dad Bureau

George Donnelly – Fantasy

“But if you don’t renew my license, they’ll take my kids. I’m a single dad, the old lady’s passed on. And it’s Christmas Eve.”

“You only have yourself to blame, sir. This office sent you the notice of renewal of your dad license more than six months ago. If you want to live in this world, you have to learn the rules.”

“But you sent it to our old address at my dead mom’s house. We had to move. Actually, we were in the streets for a while.”

“Then maybe you’re not ready to be a dad right now.”

The policeman cleared his throat behind me and an icy thread cut through my gut.

“I’m a good dad. I— my little boy, he’s eight. He tells me every morning—”

The lady second chin and jowls rippled. She was laughing at me. She didn’t give a darn about me, my kids, the fact that we had no Christmas dinner, the fact that the only Christmas gift I had for my kids was an extra long cuddle — but this could not stand. I had to renew my dad license no matter what it took.

“Listen, sir, everyone here at the Dad Bureau has a family too and we all want to get home just like you and have our Christmas dinner and spend time with our children and hug them and open our gifts and have a few minutes rest before everything starts all over again tomorrow.” She pointed to the clock on the wall. The second hand ticked unrelenting past the 12. “As you can see, sir, it is now 5:00 PM exactly. On December 24, Christmas Eve. Now, we’ve already given you plenty of our time so you’ll just have to go.”

Bony fingers wrapped around my upper arm and I found myself outside. A snowflake landed on my nose and I shivered. The wind whipped down the street and screamed in my ears. My boy Jimmy had my earmuffs. He needed them more than I. I put one foot in front of the other and found my way to the candy store.

“Daddy!” Chloe sprinted over to me, her thin little arms wrapped in my finest white t-shirt. I’d used the last of my ties to make the shirt fit her snug. She looked like an odd undernourished Christmas tree sapling with crazy bands of blue, pink, red and green running across her body against a background of dirty snow.

I hugged her tight and and ran my hand down her back, my fingers bumping over her bones like a pick across the strings of a new guitar. “Hello, my darlings, did you have a good time?”

Jimmy looked past me and bit his lips. He had a question in mind but he wasn’t going to ask it.

“Guess what, kids? Remember that new place I told you about? Where you’re going to live? Well, we’re going right now.”

Chloe jumped up and down and screamed, clapping her hands together in the air. Jimmy collapsed to the floor, his eyes wide.

“But I’m going with you.” I grinned at Jimmy but I didn’t feel good about it. I was putting a happy face on a bad situation. But if this worked— and it should. No reason why not.

The store clerk eyed me from behind the counter, surrounded on all sides and from head to toe in the narrow little shop by transparent plastic bins filled with an infinite variety of candies in every shape, size, color and texture you could think to want, from the hard red jawbreakers to the chewy little fairy bears.

Jimmy rose from the floor, his eyes reflecting the desperate fear that he’d lose me, maybe forever, in an endless string of uncaring foster homes across Darkland and Narthgar. But I forced myself to grin wider and a glimmer of something else poked through his gloom — the nagging faith I’d seen in him this whole time, that it would all work out. That we’d always be together. Just like I’d promised.

I picked him up and he wrapped his stick-figure arms around my neck. He’d hugged me like this when he was smaller — when he still believed that there were real fairy bears and they weren’t just his favorite fruit-flavored candy that I could no longer afford to buy for him in this world.

But which flowed freely in another.

Jimmy pulled his head away from my neck. “What now?”

I nodded to the clerk, an abnormally tall man whose head nearly brushed the ceiling. His face was pinched, as if under assault from an unpleasant odor. He closed the door behind his last customer, snapped it locked and flipped his open sign to closed.

He frowned at me and looked at his pocket watch. “You’ve got forty-five seconds and the window won’t open again for five months. You have to be certain about this, Gomarth.”

A shadow appeared across the face of the clerk and a sharp rapping caused us both to jump. A policeman — the same one from the Dad Bureau — loomed outside, nightstick in hand. “We’ll be needing those children now, Mr. Jackson.”

Jimmy grabbed my leg and squeezed. Chloe stopped dancing and looked up at me.

The clerk’s face fell and he shook his head. “I’m sorry, I just can’t do it now. Too many people depend on the gate.”

I grabbed his arm and shook. “Just tell me which one it is. Just tell me and I’ll be gone and you can say that you didn’t know.”

He studied the floor, his teeth grinding against each other. “It’s the one right next to the fairy bears. But be careful. If you grab the one wrong one, you could end up somewhere worse even than here.”

“I doubt that.” I grabbed Chloe and pulled her over to the fairy bears.

The store clerk inserted his key into the front door. “Hurry,” he whispered.

“Open this door now! I have a warrant from the Dad Bureau for the seizure of those two children.”

I found the red and blue jawbreakers next to the fairy bears and turned back to the shop clerk. “Is it these ones?”

But the door slammed open and the policeman strode towards me, parchment in hand.

“Now, Gomarth!” the clerk yelled.

I pulled. A blinding darkness enveloped us and we spun. Chloe screamed. Jimmy moaned and I felt my one-cookie lunch getting ready to pull the eject lever.

The new world spun around, full of colors. A new aroma tickled my nose and, for the first time since Margaret died in that beetlejuice factory explosion, I felt fresh again. A new world was taking form in front of my still blurry eyes. Something squealed right in front of us and Jimmy and Chloe hugged tight to my legs.

“Dad, what the heck is that thing?” Jimmy pointed to a black beast that inched towards us, ready to strike. I blinked and it came into focus. A man sat inside the beast behind a transparent window. He yelled something at me and shook his fist.

I stepped to the side and the black beast passed by us. We covered our ears to block out its roar.

“Daddy, is that policeman coming for us?”

“No, Chloe, I don’t think so.”

“I thought you were taking us to Fairy Bear Land.” Jimmy crossed his arms and did his best to give me an angry stare.

So did I, I wanted to tell him. A large picture hung on the red brick building across the street. “World’s highest standard of living,” it said. “There’s no way like the American way.” A family, complete with father, mother, two children and a small, hairy dwarf sat in a beast not unlike the one that just honked at us. In front of the sign, a group of people with dark coats and unhappy faces stood in line.

A man with little circular pieces of glass in front of his eyes and a long black coat strode down the street toward us.

“Sir! I’m looking for Fairy Bear Land. Is this it?”

The man’s face erupted into a smile. “You bet, buddy. That’s where we are. Fairy Bear Land. That’s good. That’s a good one.”

***

&George Donnelly is& the author of space opera, robot apocalypse and dystopian science fiction series. A rebel and unreformed idealist, he believes equally in human rights and abundant hugs before bedtime. Get a new free short story every month at GeorgeDonnelly.com.

Part III

Science Fiction

Happy Diversidays

Vaughn Treude – Science Fiction Humor

Outside my window, a gentle snowfall sparkled in the street lamps and dusted the sidewalk in front of my parent’s home. When I returned to Earth, I could have gone anywhere, but I chose Alexandria, Minnesota, in the dead of winter.

I’d spent the last 15 years on a mining colony in orbit around Jupiter. There I’d married a feisty redhead named Alana. She was a top-notch engineer, a gourmet cook, and an exuberant lover. When she got pregnant, I knew something was up, because a childhood bout with mutant dengue fever had left me sterile. It was a civilized divorce.

Until that time, I’d had no interest in returning to Earth, but Juno Station is a small place. Alana and I knew everybody there. I considered Mars, but it’s Chinese territory. Even if a round-eye like me was lucky enough to get a work permit, I’d always be a second-class citizen.

So I found myself Earthside, in this empty house with my meager possessions. A mixture of nostalgia and melancholy filled my mind. My parents had died years before. Some of my school friends were still around, but all were occupied with their children’s holiday activities.

A knock on the door jolted me from my self-pity. I got up from the sofa, thinking it might be my friend Janice bringing the Christmas cookies she’d promised me. People here have the irritating habit of just showing up at your door. If it was Janice, I didn’t mind. I’d always regretted never asking her out.

“Merry Christmas!” I opened the door to a gust of cold air. My caller was not Janice but a stout black woman in blue trousers and a matching jacket. Despite my disappointment, I was pleasantly surprised. Well into the twenty-first century, Alexandria had always been a lily-white town. Some diversity would do it good.

“Happy holidays, sir,” she replied, as if correcting me. “I’m Lacey James, from the city.”

“Walt Kowalski,” I said. “To what do I owe the pleasure?” I’d been expecting a solicitation for charity, but the city? It probably wouldn’t be good news.

“It’s your holiday display. It’s going to have to come down.”

“What’s wrong with it?” I gazed through the snowflakes at the illuminated plastic Santa in my yard. His sleigh was pulled by four glowing reindeer. My dad had joked that even Kris Kringle had to downsize. “I know the paint is chipped, but I have a sentimental attachment to it.”

“It’s not that. It’s because you don’t have the required permit.”

“Permit? For a Christmas display?”

“Sorry, sir. It’s a city ordinance.”

“Well,” I sighed, “I supposed they have to raise money somehow. I promise I’ll go to City Hall tomorrow and pay the fee.”

“Good. But it still needs to come down.”

“But why?” I thundered. “The Johannsen’s down the block have a Santa Claus!”

She took a step back, her eyes wide. “If you’re going to get hostile, I’ll call the police.”

“No!” I said. “I apologize for my outburst. But I’ve been away from Earth for a while so kindly enlighten me.”

“By the Federal Holiday Diversity act of 2045,” Her words were slow and loud as if she were explaining to a child. “We are required to ensure that a diverse selection of holiday celebrations are represented.”

“So there’s affirmative action for holidays?”

“Exactly. Your display fits under Secular American Christmas, which has filled its quota. There’s a five-year waiting list.”

“Good grief! Do I have to put up a menorah and a star of David?”

“Hannukah would be an option. Would you like me to beam the list of available categories to your ocular display?”

“Don’t have one. We don’t get the all latest tech out by Jupiter. Just text it to my phone.”

“Never mind. I have a few paper copies, for the Amish.” She reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out a pamphlet.

I glanced back at my door. The warm air was escaping into the chilly night. A courteous midwesterner would have invited her in, but I was not in a gentlemanly mood. I shut the door behind me.

I opened the pamphlet and perused the list. “Navidad, Saturnalia, Kwanzaa, Eid – that’s Muslim, right? – Yuletide…” I looked at her. “Isn’t that another word for Christmas?”

“It’s Wiccan,” she explained. “You can have holly, conifers, and a burning yule log, provided you have a licensed fire suppression system and safety barrier. You may also have a tasteful animal sacrifice, providing that you hang the carcass out of reach of any feral cats.”

“No thanks. That sounds like a lawsuit waiting to happen. What if I’m one of those religious types that won’t do paganism?”

“We have the major Christian variants – Protestant, Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox. I’m afraid the first two also have full quotas.”

“What do you recommend? I suppose you celebrate Kwanzaa, right?”

Her face darkened. “I could ticket you for that micro-aggression, but seeing as you’ve been away for a while, I’ll let it pass. For your information, my family celebrates Hanukkah.”

“Mazeltov. I was raised Catholic, but I guess Orthodox is close enough. What do they have in Russia, Father Christmas?”

She nodded. “Good choice. Since Orthodox Christmas falls on January 6th, you’re may keep your display up for an extra week. If I can have your email I’ll send you a document with the accepted parameters. Don’t be tempted to sneak in a Rudolf; there’s a stiff fine for unapproved holiday mash-ups.”

“OK.” I turned and yanked the power cord from the outlet, throwing my family's beloved Santa into darkness. “I'll take it down first thing tomorrow.” As I opened the door, I turned back to her. “Have a merry-- er, I mean Happy Holidays.”

“Schastlivogo Rozhdestva!” she corrected. “There’s a glossary in the files I sent you.”

“Thank you. And now if you’ll excuse me, I have some vodka in the pantry. In the spirit of a Russian Christmas, I’m going to get good and plastered.”

***

&Vaughn Treude grew& up on a farm in North Dakota. The remoteness of his home, with few children his age nearby, made science fiction and fantasy a welcome escape. His favorite writers included Asimov, Heinlein, and Tolkien. He always planned to become a writer, but the demands of life kept his projects from completion. After several years in software, he realized that the same discipline required for engineering could be applied to creating fictional worlds. Find his books and get on his mailing list at vaughntreude.com.

Angelica

Sam Kates – Apocalyptic science fiction

The woman trailed her hand along the rail, transferring powder from her fingers. Off-white to the point of creamy, translucent, more dust than powder. ‘Angel Dust’, she called it, although this was no recreational drug. No drug, at all. Where it had smeared on the handrail, it glistened so faintly in the pale winter sunlight that passers-by wouldn’t notice it unless they were looking for it. But nobody would be; nobody knew about Angel Dust save five thousand others like her. Others who would also be dispersing the powder in villages, towns and cities throughout the world.

Humming along to the tune of [_Silent Night _]playing over the mall’s PA system, she moved to the row of stores fronting the boardwalk. Her purse dangled by a strap from her shoulder, bumping against her hip as she walked. The cover flapped open, allowing her easy access to the container propped upright inside. She inserted a hand and wriggled it through the opening at the top of the silvery canister – it looked a little like a vacuum flask. Her fingers were slim enough to fit down the neck of the canister and dip into the powder it contained.

With a thick coating of Angel Dust covering her fingers, the woman reached out to grip the door handle in front of her. She paused as if debating whether she needed to enter the store, before letting her hand drop and turning away. A young man, muffled against the December chill, stepped aside to avoid bumping into her.

“Oops,” she said, putting out a hand to steady herself and touching him lightly on his forearm. “Sorry.” The young man barely spared her a glance; he grasped the handle and entered the store. “Merry Christmas,” she called after him. He didn’t turn or respond in any way.

“Bah humbug and a merry Christmas to you, too, Angelica,” she muttered to herself with mock crabbiness.

Angelica. She didn’t normally consider her name to be important and changed it every century or so as the fancy took her. But today her name bore significance. Gravitas. Today she was an angel, but not one spreading festive cheer.

No. A very different sort of angel. An angel of death.

She paused at the handrail to glance up at the peaks of the aptly-named White Mountains. An old woman had stopped to catch her breath. Angelica stepped around her, brushing her fingers lightly along the rail, depositing more Angel Dust. The old woman raised a hand and rubbed tiredly at her eyes. Angelica smiled to herself; she couldn’t recall feeling so infused with purpose since she plotted with Glycerius and helped to bring down Rome.

She continued along the store fronts, occasionally dipping her fingers into the canister, grabbing each door handle as though to go inside before, at the last moment, changing her mind. At the bank, she stood in front of the ATM and touched every key. Stroked each one, lovingly.

A young mother, harassed and overwrought, almost pushed the buggy into her.

“Oh, I’m so sorry.” The mother forced a smile to her face.

Angelica peered into the buggy.

“He’s cute. How old?”

“Five months. He’s teething. Keeps me up half the night. Not his father, though…” The smile faltered.

Angelica reached out and stroked the baby’s cheek. A pudgy hand came up and rubbed at the spot, removing the trace of powder she’d left behind. She contemplated the woman.

“Not long, sugar,” she said softly. “In the blink of an eye. Your troubles will just… melt away.”

The young woman frowned, as though sensing an unspecified threat to her child.

Angelica watched her hurry away, allowing a sad smile to touch her lips. Something about the woman made her think of San Diego. Angelica had gone there for a few days early in 1997, curious to hear more about their theories of spaceships and rapture. What a vortex of self-perpetuating delusion and blind faith she’d found. Bewilderment and fear, too. And such longing, such yearning to be chosen.

She wished sometimes that she could go back, hiss into their stupid faces, “You don’t need to travel beyond this world. We already walk among you. Your salvation, if that’s what you want to call it, is coming and you needn’t lift a finger, let alone pour poison down your throats. You will [_all _]be chosen.”

With a sigh, Angelica leaned against the handrail. That’s when she noticed the man standing by his pick-up truck. Watching her. Old, grizzled; a mountain man.

She strolled to the nearest door and tugged it open. A hardware store. Perfect. Many of the local hicks would call in here after loading up with cheap beer and rye.

Pungent odours of paint and creosote made her nose wrinkle. She wandered through the gloomy interior, picking up pots and cans, running her fingers along boxes and plastic packaging.

The mountain man had followed her inside. He stood by the door, his gaze following her. Satisfied she’d left behind a sufficient powdering of Angel Dust, she made to leave. And stopped in front of the man.

Whiskered cheeks, grey hair tied back in a ponytail, creased eyes, he stared down at her as though unable not to.

Angelica looked into his face and probed.

She found a mind dark with old memories: dripping jungles; smoking, mangled children and the raging stench of napalm; fingers pressing against purple, bloody intestines – how did they all fit into that tiny space? – while his best friend screamed; and, most recent, the blessed solitude of a log cabin above the winter snowline.

“Never mind, honey,” she said gently. “All the pain will soon disappear.”

Angelica raised a hand to the man’s leathery cheek and caressed it. His eyes widened.

She stepped past him and out of the door. [_Santa Claus is Coming to Town _]played on the PA. She sang along as she went on her way, her fingers glistening with Angel Dust.

***

[&Sam Kates is& the British author of the apocalyptic science fiction trilogy _]Earth Haven[ in which a manufactured virus, spread by people like Angelica, almost completely wipes out humankind. Sam also writes horror, dark fantasy and general fiction. For details of all his books visit samkates.co.uk._]

Wings of an Angel

Leah Ross – Steampunk Romance

“You’re an angel.” The brown eyes that so reverently regarded him were impossibly large, shining with wonder, brimming with hope and awesome expectation.

“I…” Wyvern stared at the little boy with something akin to horror. He’d never been accused of divinity before. And he’d certainly never been the object of such innocent fascination. Most people looking on him with that level of astonishment wanted something altogether different from him.

“Are you a Christmas angel?” The boy bit at his lip and shuffled his feet. “Your wings are shiny, like gold. They don’t look like regular angel wings. Are Christmas angel wings made of gold? Or maybe sunlight?” He reached out a small hand. “Are they warm?”

Wyvern took a step backward. “Wes?” he called to his partner. “Little help?”

The darkly dashing airship captain stepped away from the crowded table at the far side of the gondola and joined Wyvern, flashing him a radiant smile. “What seems to be the problem?”

“Um…” Wyvern eyed the child warily.

The boy turned to Wes with his question, his eyes still wide. “Captain Sterling?” He pointed at Wyvern. “Did you invite a Christmas angel to our party?”

Wes laughed. “I already introduced Wyvern to everyone, Jonah. You know he’s my friend.”

Jonah leaned up on his toes, prompting Wes to bend down to hear his whisper. Wyvern heard it too. “You didn’t say anything about his wings. Does everyone know he has wings?”

Wes grinned and nodded. “Yes. Everyone can see his wings.”

“Oh.” Jonah’s face fell. “I thought I was the only one who could see who he really is.”

Wes ruffled the boy’s hair. “Why don’t you go decorate some cookies with your friends before all of the frosting and sprinkles are gone?”

Jonah nodded and cast a look of longing over his shoulder at Wyvern. He made his way back to the table.

“There’s no need to be afraid of them, Wyvern. They’re just children,” Wes said softly.

“I don’t have much experience with kids, Wes. Not since I was one.” Wyvern watched Jonah for a moment, averting his gaze when the boy’s eyes met his. “He’s not like the others.”

“I’ve noticed it too. Everyone else is excited about the ship and the ride and the party. Jonah seems taken with you.”

Wyvern gave his partner an apprehensive look. “What do I do?”

Wes smiled widely. “Go be his friend?” He squeezed Wyvern’s shoulder in reassurance. “Trust me. This is one of the best parts about this gig. You’ll do fine.”

With one last helpless look at Wes, Wyvern went to the table and stood awkwardly at Jonah’s side. The young teacher from the orphanage caught Wyvern’s eye and beamed a smile at him. He offered her a wan smile of his own. Then he looked down at where Jonah was carefully piping ribbons of yellow frosting over the golden brown wings of his cookie angel. “Jonah. Listen. I’m no angel, buddy.”

The tip of Jonah’s tongue poked out of the corner of his mouth as he concentrated on keeping his lines precise. Wyvern realized that the boy was mimicking the metal rods of Wyvern’s wings. Wyvern shook his head. How could he make the child understand?

“Christmas angels don’t always see what they are.”

Wyvern had to crouch at Jonah’s side to hear him.

“That’s the miracle.”

“What miracle?” Wyvern could barely get the words around the lump in his throat.

“Some Christmas angels are secret. The miracle is when someone sees them and lets them know who they really are so they can help others.”

“Jonah…”

The boy turned to Wyvern with a guileless smile and handed over his cookie in both hands. He’d copied the number and style of Wyvern’s wing rods and even given his angel cookie chocolate hair. “I see you, Wyvern. Merry Christmas.” He turned back around. “Miss Granger? May I draw for a bit?”

At the teacher’s nod, Jonah got up and dragged his worn satchel to a small table in a corner of the gondola. Wyvern stared at the cookie in his hand, speechless. He had no idea what this child could possibly see in him that was so special. He’d done nothing in his life to warrant such devotion. His brows came together in a frown as he looked up at Jonah. He set the cookie on the table.

“What do you see?” Wyvern asked, somewhat breathlessly, as he took a seat across from Jonah.

The boy didn’t look up from his drawing. “Your wings.”

“Everyone can see my wings. They’re a part of me.”

“Does everyone see the golden feathers? The light?”

Wyvern blinked, confused. “What? My wings are metal and canvas. Mechanical. Not biological. There are no feathers.”

Jonah looked into his eyes. “Yes, there are. I’ve seen them. Your wings are made of gold and sunshine. Of love and hope. You’re a Christmas angel, Wyvern.”

Wyvern just stared. He didn’t know what to say. His gaze fell to Jonah’s paper. “What are you drawing?”

Jonah turned his drawing around. “My family. Celebrating Christmas together.”

Wyvern was confused again. Jonah was an orphan. He didn’t have a family. Then he looked at the drawing and gasped. His eyes widened and he covered his mouth. There were two men. One of them looked like Wes. The other had to be Wyvern. He had wings. Between them was a boy. Jonah. They all had their arms around each other and were smiling. A Christmas tree sat in the corner with piles of presents tumbling out from underneath. The airship floated in the sky, adorned with Christmas lights. And above it all, an angel beamed, with feathered wings spread.

“I’ve dreamed this Christmas,” Jonah said, pointing at the paper.

“Jonah, you just met us.” Wyvern’s head was spinning.

Jonah bit his lip on his joyous smile. “I knew you as soon as I saw you. You’re my Christmas angel.”

Wyvern’s indrawn breath was shaky. He scrambled out of his chair.

Wes caught him by the arms as Wyvern stumbled to his side. “You all right?”

Wyvern nodded, breathing through his bewilderment. “Wes, he…” His gaze shot back over his shoulder. Jonah was watching them, grinning. Wyvern swallowed and stared into Wes’s grey eyes. “Wes. Have you ever considered adoption?”

***

&Leah Ross is& a freelance writer and graphic designer with a penchant for loud electronic dance music and sappy love stories. She has been writing and creating art for most of her life, with works published by the International Library of Poetry and NewType USA. After receiving her BS in Journalism from the University of Colorado at Boulder, she started a family with her soulmate. Leah met her husband online and has been happily married to him since 2001. She believes that love should be unconventional, rules are negotiable, and age is nothing but a number. You can find more information on Leah’s works at her website leahrossbooks.com.

Part IV

Horror

Blood Song

Jaleta Clegg – Silly Horror

“Wookis! We need help to sing the blood song!”

The shout echoed through the snowy forest, shivered down the moonlit paths.

Wookis stirred, deep in his cave. He flung one giant hand to the side before huffing a clouded breath. His eyes fluttered, then closed again. The deep rumble of his snores once more filled the stone cave.

“Wookis!” The call came again, this time from multiple throats. “The solstice is upon us. The night has come. The blood song must be sung.”

Wookis grunted, rolling his back to the entrance of his cave. He was tired of blood, worn from years of ritual. His breath curled the long white of his beard.

Dwarves with stubby legs and pointed caps of faded red crept from the bushes surrounding the cave. Their pointed boots left smudged impressions in the snow as they gathered near the stones marking the entrance. Tall pillars of granite, they had weathered centuries. Carvings shadowed their sides, blurred by time.

“Blood song,” the dwarves whispered.

Wookis grunted as the words wormed into his consciousness.

“Blood song,” they chanted.

Wookis opened his eyes. His jaws cracked in a gaping yawn. He stumbled from his cave. His hands brushed the standing stones, ragged nails traced the markings. Runes glimmered with red fire, but pale and weak. The blood song was dim in his mind.

The little men fell silent, crouching just beyond the glow. Their eyes shimmered in the dark night as they watched Wookis emerge.

“It is time,” the leader whispered. “We need help to sing the blood song.”

Wookis lifted his lip in a sneer, exposing his largest tusk.

The leader of the pointed caps rose to his feet. He barely reached the knees of Wookis. “The time has come. Bring forth the robe. Sing the blood song.”

Dwarves scurried from the forest. A long robe dragged through the snow behind them. Red with white fur trim, blood on the snow.

Wookis crouched, let the small men clamber over his back. The red fur cloaked his hairy, twisted body. He rose to his feet. The robe swirled around him, sweeping the tiny men from their perches to tumble across the snow. They laughed as they rolled, red caps marked with white frost.

“Bring forth the sleigh!” The lead dwarf raised his hands into the air.

Hooves crunched on frozen snow. Runners hissed as they slid over the icy surface. The reindeer snorted clouds of steam into the night. Bells carved from bone added a hollow clacking.

“Blood song!” the dwarves chorused before falling silent.

Wookis shuffled forward, ponderous and slow in his massiveness. The sleigh creaked under his weight as he climbed aboard. The reindeer twitched, hooves kicking snow into spouts of glittering crystals.

“Blood song,” Wookis rumbled. His shaggy head nodded. But the beat of blood moved sluggish and old, faded by years.

Pointed caps were flung into the air, then caught before the stubby dwarves clambered onto the sleigh. “Blood song,” they howled together.

The whip cracked. The reindeer leapt forward. The sleigh lurched into motion.

The wild hunt raged across the snow. Wookis laughed, deep in his belly. Once a year, on the night of winter solstice, he donned his red cloak and rode on his sleigh. Once a year, the world trembled and hid. Once a year, the blood song howled forth upon the land. Once a year, a sacrifice waited in the village.

The sleigh hissed across the snow-packed road.

Golden light spilled across the snow from the open door of the church. The tall building, with pointed steeple and colored glass windows, was new. The stone cross that marked the boundary stood proud. Its runes were deep, sharp, breathing with power.

Wookis pulled his sleigh to an abrupt stop. Reindeer pawed and stamped the icy crust of snow. The dwarves leapt from the sleigh, circling the cross, sniffing the warding magic. They howled a wordless cry to the moon, confused rage. Where was the sacrifice? Where was the blood song’s power?

The red robe brushed the snow as Wookis descended from the sleigh. He towered over the dwarves. His shadow enveloped the stone cross. Still it glowed with a shimmer of blue light. Wookis flared his broad nostrils at the stench of new magic.

Villagers filed from the church, stepping carefully within the golden fingers of light.

“Blood song!” Dwarven voices howled as they capered at the feet of their master.

Wookis glowered at the villagers.

A small girl, yellow hair glowing like gold, walked towards Wookis. She held a carefully folded napkin on her outstretched hands. Something lay within the cloth.

Wookis flung his arm wide, stopping the child next to the stone cross. “I do not eat children,” he growled. “Send another for the blood song.”

The village priest, a new one in a long robe of white, stepped from the crowd. “We do not sing the blood song. Not here. We sing a new song.”

“We demand blood!” the dwarves shouted.

The child stepped closer to Wookis. Her blue eyes were innocent, wide, and totally devoid of fear. She lifted her hands and the cloth bundle they held.

“It is a new sacrifice,” the priest spoke.

Wookis hushed his dwarves with an impatient sweep on his hand. He used one jagged claw to delicately unwrap the bundle. It fell free to expose a crude man figure made of brown dough. Raisin eyes stared upwards. The thing smiled in perpetual joy.

The dwarves muttered, an angry jumble of noise.

Wookis drew the scent of the dough man into his lungs, tasted it on the frosted air. Strong spices bit his tongue, promised new pleasures, new sensations. He swiped the cookie from the child’s hold and bit off the head in one quick motion.

The dwarves froze in place, eyes wide in horror. The villagers watched, silent behind their priest. The little girl smiled up at Wookis as he chewed.

Ginger and cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom exploded in his mouth. Wookis closed his eyes and savored the newness. No tang of copper, no hot rush of blood, but instead a warmth of spice and sugar. His lips curled up at the edges. He nodded his shaggy head.

“Blood song?” the dwarves whispered.

“Gingerbread song,” Wookis answered as he shared pieces of the offering. “Better than blood.”

The dwarves eyed the strange offering. White sugar icing dripped like blood from the ragged edges. They tasted, then nodded. The gingerbread song was accepted.

Wookis swept his followers onto the sleigh, gliding into the night, satisfied with the new song.

The priest smiled in satisfaction as the little girl returned the empty napkin. “Next year, we’ll give him milk with the cookie.”

***

&Jaleta Clegg has& a thing for Santa stories, but not the normal ones. She also enjoys mixing it up with science fiction and fantasy tropes with a big dollop of silly horror on top. She also enjoys listening to accordion disco polka songs and non-traditional carols. Find more of her work at jaletac.com.

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Acknowledgments

Thank you to my fellow authors for your trust, support, patience and ingenuity. It’s great working with you!

A big thanks to KBoards, where the 16 indie authors behind Christmas in Love planned this work.

Fellow author Alasdair C. Shaw suggested the name of our series: Flash Flood.

Much appreciation to my co-editor, Alexa Kang.

Our greatest appreciation goes to you, dear reader, for giving these stories a few moments of your time, and hopefully, leaving us a short review to let us know if you liked them or not.

Thank you!

(And stand by for the next anthologies in the Flash Flood series, themed for Valentine’s Day, May the 4th and Independence Day.)

About the Editor

Former starship redshirt turned rag-clad resistance fighter, George Donnelly is the author of space opera, cyberpunk & post-apocalyptic science fiction series. An unschooling expat dad, George prefers zombies to aliens but is primed for any meatspace apocalypse minus grey goo.

@GeorgeDonnelly

AuthorGeorgeDonnelly

GeorgeDonnelly.com

[email protected]

Also by the Authors

For more books by the authors of this anthology,

visit

GeorgeDonnelly.com/FlashFloodAuthors


Christmas in Love: A Flash Fiction Anthology

From an unexpected twist on a classic Christmas tale and a soldier returning home from war to a pair of girls waiting for an unlikely Christmas wish to come true and a creepy evening in a museum, fill your briefest moments with this collection of 18 flash fiction stories. Commuting to work? Grabbing a quick coffee? Each story tells a complete tale in but a few short minutes with the added promise of a lifelong introduction to new indie writers. You never know, you might just find your next favorite author. Christmas in Love, the third anthology in the Flash Flood series, is a hand-picked selection of master works in romance, science fiction and fantasy themed for Christmas and guaranteed to keep you engaged.

  • ISBN: 9781941939130
  • Author: George Donnelly
  • Published: 2016-12-14 18:20:21
  • Words: 22931
Christmas in Love: A Flash Fiction Anthology Christmas in Love: A Flash Fiction Anthology