Bi-Weekly Story Prompts

December 16 – January 5, 2022 Writing Prompt “Christmas Tree”

Theme: Christmas Tree

Driving through the country one night, you spot a lone Christmas tree trimmed and lit, but you have no idea who decorated it or where it’s getting its power.


  • none

Word Count: 1,500

*Note this is a special holiday prompt. The deadline is three weeks instead of two weeks, and has an increased word count. Story deadline is January 5, 2022 at 12:00pm CT.

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

Please Note: Comments may be considered “published” with regard to other contest requirements.

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

Story Submission Rules:
  1. One story per author. You may post more than one, but only the first story will qualify for voting.
  2. Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.
  3. Stories must fit into a single comment box and must stay within the word limit set for each contest.
  4. You may vote only once.
  5. You cannot vote for yourself.
  • Stories must be posted no later than Wednesday morning at 6:00am PDT / 8:00am CST / 9:00am EST / 8:30pm IST / 2:00pm WET/GMT/ 4:00pm CET/1:00am AEDT (Thursday)
  • Voting starts Wednesday morning at 10:00am PDT / 12:00pm CST / 1:00pm EST / 11:30pm IST / 6:00pm WET/GMT/ 8:00pm CET/5:00am AEDT (Thursday) and you have 24 hours to vote.

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

See How to Participate for complete rules and disclaimers.

83 thoughts on “December 16 – January 5, 2022 Writing Prompt “Christmas Tree”

  • Well, alrighty then. This could be interesting. Tear jerker, heart breaker, joy and happiness, or something else entirely. It’s already got me to thinking about that tree, what it means and why it’s there.


    • Roy,

      It’s a puzzle, wrapped inside of an enigma, rolled up inside a burrito… It’s definitely a mystery. It’s your prompt too, isn’t it?

      Part One. (First Draft.)

      It’s a bioluminescent alien come to earth to find a mate. It knocks on your door, uses a universal translator and tries to give you a hand-held (fill in the blank) as a dowry for your imitation Christmas tree. You balk, so it ups the offer to include a two-ton pile of nickel which appears in your living room. It’s a rare element in his part of the galaxy but does nothing for your living room.

      He misconstrues your dissatisfaction as skillful bargaining and throws his wife into the deal, but she doesn’t look anything like a Christmas tree. Alas, they’re an inter-species couple, and she happens to be a (fill-in-the-blank), a race of (fill-in-the-blanks) that look more like a (fill-in-the-blank) with a (fill-in-the-blank) where its (fill-in-the-blank) ought to be. And she’s too slick and slippery to toss back, if he can even catch her!

      (I’ll be back later. I have a lot of blanks to fill in before I go any further. It’s all just a slight, intergalactic misunderstanding anyway.)

    • Yup, it’s a great prompt, Roy. You can go in any direction with this.
      • Ken, actually, it isn’t my prompt. It was supposed to be, but Carrie did it and explains it’s a bonus prompt and is three weeks instead of two. My prompt will come after the first of the year. I seemed to have screwed up somewhere, because I can’t confirm and get comments, so I have to check in every so often and see if anyone is responding. I’ll keep trying, of course, but we’ll see.

        Ah, I just found out what happened. It’s when I updated my picture and profile, I had to revert to a previous email address. Should have tried that the first time. That is me in the photo above, really.


        • Roy,
          You look Jolly as all hell. I only have one question for you. What am I getting for Christmas, Santa? NOt your prompt eh? Its intriguing, that’s for sure.
          • Ken,

            You are getting what you told Kim you wanted … according to my sources.


            • Really? A forty-foot boat with training wheels? Well I’ll be a dadgummed, reptilian hermaphrodon, in leotards.
              • Well, did you get what you told Kim you wanted for Christmas?

                Did Santa deliver?


  • I seem to have a problem confirming this. Will try a few things before I ask for help.


    • Carrie Zylka

      We can see your comment if that’s what you’re trying to confirm.

      • Thanks, but I think it’s fixed for receiving future comments. I will show up with a different picture than my icon previously.


  • Trish
    Signing in. Great prompt!
  • You crack me up, John, Were-Santa.
    Not a mere were-Santa, a rabid were-Santa. Wait a minute, shouldn’t all the elves and reindeer be were-creatures?


    “Right there, get a picture why don’t you.”

    “No, I’m not asking where they are, I’m saying they’re were-elves.”

    “I know they are. Now will you get a couple of pictures?”

    “But they’re were-elves.”

    I didn’t like the tone of his voice and stopped what I was doing. (Taping the explosives to the struts under the sleigh. “What bothers you most,” I asked, “their blazing red eyes, or the fangs?”

    “Neither, it’s the size of their (fill-in-the-blank)s. They’re only three feet tall, how could they have such long…”

    “I don’t know, I just know it’s all the more reason not to get caught. Hand me those blasting caps, will ya?”

  • ilyaleed

    THE TREE TIME FORGOT (1472 words)

    Miriam had never liked nor celebrated Xmas. She had worked with a lot of people who did in her nursing career. Nevertheless, she joined in the festivities and did the Kris Kringle thing because that was the expected and done thing to do. She also did the day shift every Xmas day and Boxing Day as well. Most people were grateful for people like Miriam who chose to work on this traditional day off for all, except those who had to be on duty like ambulance workers, police officers, doctors and nurses.
    “She’s only doing it for the money.”
    “Well, you can’t expect people to work for nothing. Especially not on Xmas day.” Her friend Anna had replied to the speaker, a new nurse at the hospital.
    “But you know, she’s Jewish. And you know how they like money…” The speaker trailed off when Anna cut in fiercely.
    “What bollocks!! Liking money has nothing to do with it. Miri doesn’t celebrate Xmas because she’s a Jew. It makes sense that she would be called upon to work so the rest of us who do celebrate can do so.”
    Miriam chose that moment to walk into the nurses’ station. Anna’s face was furious at the implied slur. The new nurse was from Sydney. She was finding it difficult to settle into the regional hospital and looked quite taken aback at the response she had gotten.
    “Hi, Miri. This’s Bronwyn. We’ll start handover in about 15 minutes. Ok? Busy?”
    Miriam looked at Bronwyn whose face was set in a hard frown. She decided to ignore what she had just heard and give the woman a chance to work peacefully with her. She would finish this shift and have two days off before working a double shift on Xmas day and night so Anna could spend time with her family. It was a good swap, because then Anna would cover for her when there was a Jewish Holiday especially on Yom Kippur when Miriam liked to take the whole day off.
    She remembered a time twenty years ago. She had accepted a three-year contract in a small country town hospital with an aged care facility.
    She was coming home from her evening shift on the 21st of December when she saw it. A lone tree lit up with several sparkling lights. She had not noticed it the previous evening. There appeared to be no house close by unless the dilapidated cottage about 400 meters back from the road was inhabited. She doubted that anyone could live in it. The tree was eery, glowing with colour, out there in the moonlit paddock halfway between the road and set aside from a line of cypress pines that nearly hid the cottage from view from the roadside.
    The next evening at work she asked about the tree and the house.
    “What house are you talking about? There’s no house on that road.”
    “The cottage after the turn off to Dubbo. It’s a small place. Looks abandoned.”
    “Oh. That. That’s the place of an old German woman hasn’t been lived in for years. Doubt that it’s even habitable.”
    “So, who used to live there?”
    “A family lived there in the 1930’s up to the turn of the century. Some tragedy happened. Only the mother and a daughter-in-law left. I think she is still alive. In the aged care. She must be in her nineties now.”
    “So, who would decorate a tree and put lights on it in the middle of nowhere?”
    A young doctor shrugged, but one of the nurses, a local, looked a little perturbed. She asked Miriam, “You sure it was a Xmas tree? Not some devil lights? Maybe Min Min lights?”
    The next night she saw the tree lit up again. It seemed to be closer to the road. She slowed down to get a better look. The tree seemed to shimmer in the misty dusk, and she wondered how the lights stayed lit out in the paddock. She stopped the car and thought about getting out and walking over for a better look. The door of the car was half open and she had one leg on the ground when the cry of a Mopoke owl overhead startled her. It was followed by the grunting bark of fox. She withdrew back into her car and continued home. It was 11.23 pm. She decided if it was there tomorrow night on her way home, she would investigate it further. She made a mental note to put her torch in the car.
    The next day one of the nurses Monica who had been there the first time she mentioned the lit tree caught up with her.
    “You know that old woman who used to live at the cottage near the place where you said you saw the tree lit up? Well, she died last night.”
    “Oh. That’s sad. Does she have family?”
    “Well, that’s the sad part. But I’ll get to that? Did you see the tree again?”
    “Yes. I was going to have a closer look….”
    “And did you?”
    Miri shook her head. She didn’t want to say that she had an uneasy feeling about that tree.
    “What time did the old lady die? What was her name?”
    “Her name was Karmella. But the story is really about her mother-in-law.”
    “What time did she die?” Miri didn’t know why but she felt compelled to ask.
    “11.23 last night. Why?”
    “Nothing. What about the mother-in-law?”
    “Well, the mother-in-law was a Jewish girl called Elisa who came out in the early 1920’s. She had gotten pregnant at 17 to a wealthy family’s son over in Austria. She had twin girls who were taken away from her at birth. Austria is a very Catholic country and unwed mothers were frowned on. They were not allowed to keep the children. She came out a couple of years after the twins were born. One was being raised by the father’s family and the other was in foster homes. She used to send things over to both girls, but especially the one in foster homes. She was a heart-broken woman when my grandmother knew her. She had tried to contact both daughters and kept a correspondence up with one of them. The daughter raised in foster homes hated her for giving birth to her as an unwed mother and blamed her for not having a good home life.”
    “Did she marry someone out here?”
    “Well, not exactly. She took a job as a housekeeper for a much older bachelor. She had two sons with him. One of them was killed in the second world war in Europe. The other married Karmella after his father died when he was in his late teens. They were very happy for a couple of years. Elisa lived with them on the farm and worked it together. They had had a son. Karmella was pregnant with their second child when tragedy struck the family. Her husband had taken a load of sheep to the train station for market and was returning home when a drunk truck driver hit them head on. The little boy and his father were killed instantly. The drunk driver survived.”
    “Oh God that is so sad.”
    “Yes. Elisa went quite strange after that. She tried to renew contact with her daughters. One of them in Austria would write to her, but she was having her own troubles as her son committed suicide around the same time. Elisa never got to meet him. The other daughter Greta raised in foster homes was very bitter. She ignored her letters even though she was also in Australia and married with three children.”
    “So, what happened to Karmella’s second child?”
    “She miscarried. It was a little girl.”
    “Oh no. That is so sad.”
    “Yes. Then Karmella and Elisa her mother-in-law began to decorate a tree every year about Xmas, and they would hang lanterns on that tree for eight days close to the road. Strange thing is that sometimes it wasn’t even Xmas when they would put up that tree. It would start with two lights and increase until there were 9 lanterns hanging on that tree. A lot of people tried to guess the significance of the lanterns and why they did it. No one ever found out why. Karmella would always say, it’s for Elisa. Maybe it was for the children and the grandchildren?”
    Miri nodded. An idea was beginning to form. She looked down at her phone and googled Chanukkah. Tonight, it was the eighth night of Chanukkah. She remembered the tree had had lights but that she had not thought to count them. She would tonight. She turned to Monica.
    “You know there is a Jewish festival. It’s called Chanukkah. It occurs in the Jewish month of Kislev which is usually around Xmas.”

    • ilyaleed
      I will probably edit this. First draft and I am rusty as I have not been doing much writing as I have been too busy at work and too many politics. Does my head in and I do not get time to write much.
    • Trish
      Ilana- Beautiful story chock full of interesting details and creativity. Some nice sentiments for the holiday leavened with some ugly parts of life make for a realistic balance. I enjoyed your story, thank you for giving me a good read this morning!
    • I’m holding out for the edited version, Ilana.
      • ilyaleed
        Yeah doing it over the next few days. Glad there isa comment but I am waiting for new stories to appear? What’s up with the Santa stand-in – you know, the bloke that started all this, HRH Roy boy. I am missing him and his wise owl comments. And by the way Mr Cartisano where is your story? I have seen nary a scary nor otherwise story in days…….
    • Ilana,
      A bit too many names and characters to effectively pull me in from the start. There was a lot of history in this story, which I like, but none of it seemed connected to anything. I can’t critique it with any authority because I don’t know how to do it myself.
    • Hi Ilana, I enjoyed your story. Your writing is quite engaging. It’s something I’m still lacking.

      For a short story though, I would try to keep the cast as small as possible to adequately give each a face, a voice and some depth. The beginning of the story made me think it’s about Jewish discrimination, but at the end it’s about misfortune and discrimination against unwed mothers, right?

      The story did hit home for me though. I think each of us set a path for ourselves. Most of our actions are lost among the normal day-to-day actions but some can’t be undone and map out the rest of our lives.

  • Ilana,

    A really interesting take on this prompt. I wonder how much of this story is personal experience for you. I hope not too much as it is so full of sadness.

    The new nurse on duty seems to sum up much of the current world situation….too many people lacking the will or even the common sense to try and understand people from a different culture or way of life. Where is the understanding? I used to teach in a school that had RAF officers’ children , local children and about 30% Jewish children whose parents wanted them to have a secular Monday to Friday education and keep their faith in more traditional ways. It worked really well as there was never any Us and Them, just understanding and acceptance. In the UK we were split almost down the middle by Brexit and this rift has only grown wider since then. So sad. Many RAF – Jewish friendships were forged in that school and not just amongst the children.

    I think you did a great job in putting the Christmas tree ( or was it Min Min lights, whatever they are?) at the centre of the story with the notion of going back each day to check it out and count the lights. I would really like it if the narrator had gone back again as I think the ending is rather flat, or rather inconclusive. Personally, I would have preferred a resolution although not all good stories have to have them so who am I to say it?

    The family story is harrowing. So many such awful experiences to overcome.

    I know you mentioned to Ken C that you may edit and resubmit but is there still time? Very little action on the site over Christmas but I’m glad that at least one of us got something written although it won’t be much of a competition.

    Wishing you well for 2022.

    Kind regards,

    Ken Frape

    • None of it my personal experience, but an interweaving of others experiences. It’s actually a longer story bursting out at its seams. Yes, ending needs work and the dialogue.
    • Wishing you also a happy new year of health. At least Phil got in a crackling story with great dialogue and I do hope some of the others have a story in too. Roy and Ken C and other two Kens along with all MIA writers !!!
      • Ilana,

        Happy New Year. Just want you to know I’m still alive and kicking. Will be putting in a story tomorrow. I will also be discussing your story and Phil’s then, also. In the meantime, I hope other, as you put it so well, missing in action writers submit something, too.

        • Ilana, like Ken I was really into the characters of your story, but was also dismayed at the rather ambiguous ending. Otherwise, a good story, with a good shot of teaching the differences in how different people celebrate holidays. Hope you have a chance to fix it.


  • Phil Town


    The snow ploughs had been through, and banks of white were piled by the side of the road. The headlights picked out flakes that seemed to hurtle over the car as it made its way through the darkening countryside. Outside looked very cold. Inside, the heater was on, but the atmosphere was icy.

    Julia gazed out through the passenger window at the fields of snow stretching away, becoming grey in the twilight. Her eyes looked puffy and she sniffled occasionally. Stuart’s knuckles were white on the wheel. A muscle in his jaw twitched. The only sounds were Julia’s sniffles, the intermittent wipers squeaking across the windscreen, and the sweep of the wheels on the gritted tarmac.

    “It’s only one day,” Stuart said finally.

    Julia turned to take in his profile, dimly lit by the dashboard lights. She shook her head.

    “It’s not the day. It’s what it means,” she said, half sobbing.

    Stuart glanced round to connect with her, then returned his gaze to the front; the conditions were atrocious, and maximum care was needed.

    “It means the birth of Christ,” is all he said.

    “It’s not that either,” Julia replied, returning her gaze to the grey fields that flowed past.

    “What then?”

    “It’s what it means about us. We HAVE to go to your parents’ … again. You always get your own way.”

    “It’s a tradition!”

    “It’s YOUR tradition.”

    “My parents expect it.”

    “And mine? You never think what mine might expect. Or what I might want.”

    “We talked about it!”

    “No, Stuart. YOU talked about it. And YOU decided.”

    Stuart was silent now, digesting what his wife had said. When he finally responded, it was to repeat weakly:

    “But it’s a tradition.”

    “Jesus!” Julia muttered.

    “You–” Stuart began, but the rest of his argument remained in his throat; different words came out.

    “What the hell is that?!”

    Ahead and on Stuart’s side, a triangle of colour stood out from the greyness.

    The car slowed down and pulled into the side of the road, the tyres crunching the snow.

    Julia sat up and looked back.

    “It’s … it’s a Christmas Tree!” she laughed.

    x x x x x

    The great forest prickled with pines, all tall and slender, pointing proudly to the sky. All, that is, except one. This poor little fellow had grown from a seed that had fallen too near its parent, so that most of the goodness from the soil around was absorbed by the bigger tree, which also shielded the youngster from the light.

    Somehow the little tree survived, happy to be surrounded by its family … until that fateful winter’s day when the men came.

    They came with axes and saws, and they sawed and chopped, and chopped and sawed, and pretty soon the little tree’s family lay dead in the snow. The men cut the branches off the once-elegant pines and dragged the trunks to the road where they were loaded onto long trucks. And then they were gone.

    The little tree didn’t know it, but it had been saved because it was stunted; the men only had eyes for money, and there was no money there. It didn’t feel happy about being spared, though, because now it was all alone in the snow, cowering amidst the sorry, sap-bleeding stumps of its family.

    And so it spent several days and nights; if it could have cried, it would have. But in fact it wasn’t completely alone; the forest had been home to many animals, birds and insects, who had fled when the men came – the ones that hibernated had been forced awake by the brutal men. They’d hidden in bushes and hedges, and little by little they re-appeared: squirrels a-scurrying, hedgehogs a-snuffling, moths a-fluttering … all manner of little creatures showed their faces.

    They were in total agreement: the arboreal carnage was tragic. And they all empathized with the little tree; a couple of blackbirds even perched in its branches, trilling their exquisite song to try to cheer it up, without success.

    Then an owl, who liked to think it was in charge, gathered the creatures and conducted a meeting that went on through the night, illuminated by fire-flies.

    The following morning they got to work: the birds brought bright red and yellow berries, the squirrels and foxes dead leaves of brilliant hues, coloured by the change to autumn. All set about hanging the berries and leaves on the little tree, and sure enough, it felt much better. As dusk approached, though, the colours dimmed and the melancholy returned, but the fire-flies volunteered to stay with the tree during the night, clinging to its branches.

    To complete the decoration, one of the magpies that had been helping sprinkled over the tree some golden dust, which it had found somewhere; it was a wondrous finishing touch.

    “There,” said the owl to the tree. “Now you look perfectly magical.”

    The tree couldn’t talk, of course, but the breeze in its branches whispered a sincere “thank you”.

    And so the creatures left the tree for the night, chattering their satisfaction at a job well done. And the tree slept safe in the knowledge that while its family was gone, it did have a whole host of new friends that cared for it.

    x x x x x

    Julia and Stuart stood side by side, contemplating the tree. The fire-flies flitted from branch to branch, giving the little tree an almost liquid quality and lighting up the colours of the dust, leaves and berries.

    “I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Julia.

    “It’s … different, I’ll give you that,” Stuart replied.

    “Almost makes you believe in a higher power.”


    And as they looked on, their hands almost touched.

    “Come on,” said Stuart finally. ‘We’ll be late.”

    He trudged back to the car. Julia took one last look at the tree before joining him. She pulled out a tissue and dried her eyes.

    They sat in the car, silent.

    “Hang on,” Stuart said and got out again.

    “You and your bladder!” Julia’s tone was jocular; the worst of the argument appeared over. She heard the boot open but thought nothing of it. She settled into the warmth of the car, feeling warm inside now, too.

    A couple of minutes later, Stuart got back into the driver’s seat.

    “That’s that, then,” he said.

    “That’s what?” Julia asked.

    “Well, my mother told me they didn’t have one, so …”

    Julia didn’t understand, but then the penny dropped. She craned round to look back at the tree … which wasn’t there anymore.

    “You didn’t …” Julia began, realising at once that was exactly what Stuart had done.

    “I told you, my parents don’t have–”

    “You bastard!” Julia began punching Stuart on the arm.

    “It’s only a tree!” Stuart yelped, fending off the attack.

    “Only a … Jesus!” was all Julia could manage now, going back to gazing out at the grey fields.

    After a few moments, Stuart started the car and they drove away.

    Left behind was a thin stump, poking forlornly through the snow.


    • ilyaleed
      Beautiful story Phil. Loved its bittersweet ending and yes, he was a bastard. That poor little tree.
      • Phil Town
        Thanks, Ilana!
    • Ken Frape
      Hi Phil,

      You have done it again, old chap. This is an exquisite story, making full use of the prompt.
      For a start, it is quite simply a lovely story that cleverly sets out the Christmas challenge that affects so many families…….who to have for Christmas this year or where to go? I had forty years of this and then when the children get their own partners it gets even more complicated.
      However, I wanted to break through the fourth wall and punch Stuart in the eye , twice. Once for his selfishness and then again for his desecration ( I don’t think that’s too strong a word ) of that little tree.
      True, it was only a tree but you gave it life, thoughts and feelings and I loved it as if it was more than that. Almost a person.
      I have a longtime friend who is very good at batting away other people’s arguments and just ploughing on regardless . This guy reminded me of him.
      Well done, Phil. It’s a real shame that here aren’t more stories in this prompt to give you and Ilana more competition.

      • Phil Town
        Thanks once again, KenF!
        “True, it was only a tree but you gave it life, thoughts and feelings and I loved it as if it was more than that. Almost a person.”
        Yes, it seemed to chime with people, which I’m very pleased about.
    • Phil,

      I could have sworn I wrote something about your story, but apparently, if I did, it didn’t go thru. So here goes. The first part of your story is so on target with it’s dialogue and character development, it was like being there.

      I was going to get all nit -picky with the moths all a-fluttering (in the snow? – really? – and, of course, the fireflies – which only exist in June and July) but then, I had to suspend my belief when you went all magical with the wise old owl taking over and all the animals working together (I could hear Disney music in the background as they decorated the tree) and I felt just all warm and fuzzy inside.

      Then, reality poked it’s head back into the story and for a second, had me believing the little tree had performed it’s warm and fuzzy magic on on Stuart. Then, like a hungry coyote on a discarded steak bone, you brought all of the nastiness in Stuart out for all of us to see again. As Julia is gazing at the grey fields, I hope she’s thinking of contacting her lawyer and taking Stuart to the cleaners. Of course, I have to wonder if the moths are a-fluttering and the fireflies still sparkling their magic when Stuart sets the tree up in his parents living room.


      • Phil Town
        Thanks, Roy! Yes, you have to suspend a lot of disbelief to get past that middle section!
        (I’m hoping that when Stuart gets the tree home, all the needles have fallen off…)
    • Phil, (spoiler alert!!!)
      Brilliant writing, a prophetically sad, but beautifully presented story. The first two paragraphs are incredible, the rest is just amazing. And the story! The construction of the story is amazing. It starts off all too real, and mundane. Then, it becomes like a high-flying trapeze act, one can hardly believe the magical wonder you’re creating, and as soon as you have us hooked?… It’s like watching Dumbo as he learns to fly, and then he gets decapitated by high-tension power lines. I feel like I deserved what I got for thinking elephants could fly in the first place.
      • Phil Town
        Very kind, KenC. Chuffed the story got the Kim thumb-up. Tell her “thanks”.
    • Phil Town
      Cheers, Rumples.
      (Is that ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’? Can’t remember if I’ve seen it or not.)

  • Snowlight.

    by Ken Frape

    w/c 1480

    Marty had loved every minute of his delivery round as he knew that each parcel he delivered would bring joy to the household. He didn’t mind the twelve hour days for eight hours minimum wage leading up to Christmas or even the fact that every parcel he delivered was the same. Why would he when he considered that he was delivering the perfect Christmas gift? When he left the depot at five o’clock that morning he tried to imagine the faces of the children in each home as they undid the packaging. He knew children would be delighted but he also tried to see the other recipients too. The elderly, the lonely, the distressed, the battered and bruised and the frightened. His delivery would bring a touch of happiness he hoped, a few moments of joy and relief from their troubles and woes. That’s why Marty did this job every Christmas.

    Marty was always very careful to check his cargo manifest but on this day, after his final delivery there was still one parcel in his truck. He checked and rechecked but there was the parcel, lonely and unwanted, apparently. Marty couldn’t think how this could have happened but he was sure that this final parcel could be put to good use. He knew a number of people in the street where he lived who would be delighted with such a gift.

    There was a forty mile trek from his last delivery back to the depot and as he drove through open country the snow, which had been threatening all day, began its journey from the leaden sky. Within minutes, the fields on either side of the road had assumed a white uniformity, disappearing into the gloom. The road also became increasingly treacherous and Marty found himself staring into the whiteness looking for the road margins.

    It was almost inevitable that Marty would either have to stop or he would slide off the road. The thought of his wife and children sitting at home the night before Christmas waiting for him made him press on.

    When the crash happened, it was like a slow motion affair as the truck slid sideways across the hidden grass verge and then down into a deep drainage ditch. Marty was uninjured but the doors were jammed shut by the sides of the ditch. Within minutes, the roof was covered in snow and the truck was hidden from view. Marty managed to remove the panel from behind the driver’s seat and with difficulty he wriggled into the back of the vehicle. He was able to force the sliding rear door open and escape. As he did so he remembered the last package. He grabbed it and scrambled onto the roof of the vehicle and out of the ditch.

    It took Marty only moments to discover that in the crash the phone in his pocket had been crushed against the door handle. The package was a cardboard box four feet tall and six inches square at the base and as he opened it he thought, “this will be a great way to use it. People will see it and know I am here.”

    Inside the box was an artificial Christmas tree, ready dressed with tinsel, baubles and battery operated lights ( batteries supplied, said the instructions) so within minutes Marty had unfolded all the branches , attached the base and switched on the lights. He planted the tree firmly by his feet and packed snow around it to keep it in place as the winter storm raged around him. The whole effect warmed Marty briefly as he shivered in his thin jacket.

    Surely anyone passing who saw the tree would see it as a sign that he was there, he said to himself as he hurried back to the relative shelter of his truck. Then he wriggled back into the driver’s seat and ran the engine to power the heater. Within minutes he was warm and asleep as the fumes filled the cargo hold and then crept insidiously into the cab.

    Hours later, a solitary vehicle, a snow plough, approached the little Christmas tree. Arnie Flynn had just got the call to head for the depot and clear Route 91. It was Christmas overtime pay but nonetheless he mumbled and moaned as he threw on his warm clothing and headed out to his plough. He was still in a foul mood since he knew that this was the year he had to spend Christmas with his wife’s family. He pictured three days of forced camaraderie, too much rich food and not enough booze. He knew he would go as he dearly loved his wife and kids but he knew it would be a trial that he must endure.

    As he drove the snow plough along Route 91 he saw a sudden flash of coloured lights. He slowed down as he saw that it was a Christmas tree right there at the side of the road, shimmering like a mirage in the desert. It was a strange place to see such a thing, all lit up too. It cheered him up and made him think that perhaps Christmas should be about more than just where he spent his time. Rather, it should be about the people he spent it with, not where. He suddenly felt guilty about his ungracious thoughts and at that moment, he was determined to be more cheerful about his Christmas and perhaps a little more thankful.
    He gave the little tree a wide berth so as not to cover it in snow and slush. He hoped others on this road, although there wouldn’t be many, would see it too and smile a Christmas smile.

    Arnie was right about the smile. The next vehicle on Route 91 was well equipped for snow as Barny and Esme Kravitz had just fitted snow chains on their long wheel base Land Rover. What with those chains and the powerful 4 wheel drive, they were confident that they would reach their son and his family well before nightfall, for Christmas as planned. The road had already been cleared by a snowplough some hours before although much of that good work was rapidly being obliterated by the continuing snowfall.

    Barny was in pensive mood as he drove steadily yet carefully through the storm. He loved driving to his son’s house. It was the house Barny had been born in and it had been kept in the family until his son renovated it and moved in with his young family. That house and that town held many precious memories for Barny and one of the best was the memory of his lifelong friend Davis Thompson. But sadly, this would be the first time for nearly seventy years that Davis would not be there.
    A sudden splash of colour like lights underwater caught Barny and Esme’s attention. They slowed down and drew up beside the little Christmas tree, fully decorated and lit.

    “Who on earth would leave a Christmas tree here of all places, in a snowstorm? Esme asked.

    “I really don’t know, dear but I’ll tell you something.”

    “What’s that?”

    “I can’t think of a better place to put it and it has really cheered me up.”

    “Why do you need cheering up? It’s nearly Christmas and we are spending it with our nearest and dearest.

    “Davis won’t be there,” Barny said as Esme laid her hand upon his wrist, understanding his loss. Moments later, the snow started to cover their tracks as the little tree continued to flicker and twinkle in the snow.

    All across the county, those little Christmas trees that Marty had delivered with such joy continued to twinkle and glitter. In some of those homes there was joy and love and happiness. In others, there was still sadness and loneliness but those little lights did their best to bring something positive to every house.

    A few more cars passed that roadside Christmas tree. All those people who saw it were surprised and delighted and even uplifted by its sudden appearance but gradually it was buried as more and more snow fell and eventually the lights went out.
    In the Spring thaw, as the snow gave way to rain and the first new shoots pushed their way to the surface, the tree reappeared, still standing proudly at the side of route 91, holding out its branches to the pale light. That’s when they found Marty. It was then that the Police who had searched so hard to find him, finally realized that it was Marty who had left that Christmas tree as a marker to say, “Here I am, please help me.”

    That same little tree now stands proudly in Marty’s house every Christmas as a reminder, if any was needed, of the man who loved to deliver hope and joy to so many every year at Christmastime.

    Ken Frape 4th. January 2022

    • What a beautifully sad story. You wrote the main character so realistically and so winningly that I truly cared about him and found myself rooting for him throughout the story. Your descriptions provided just enough detail that I could picture the scenes…and it seemed quite real. Just lovely bu deeply sad. Well done!
      • Ilana Leeds
        Such a sad story Ken. But uplifting in parts. I got from the fact that fumes started to fill the cabin he was not going to survive and people seeing the tree were oblivious to his plight.
    • Ken F., I’m going to hold my comments on your story until I have published mine. It’s in the hands of my beta reader at present. It will be posted shortly. You’ll understand why when I post. I hope your holidays were merry and bright.


    • Ken Frape,

      Poignant, and bittersweet. You took a tragic moment and gave it a bit of warmth all because of the selflessness of your character Marty.

      I just took down all the twinkling lights and ornaments from our Christmas tree and packed all that joy and happiness away for another year. And, there’s about 6 inches of new snow falling outside my picture window, everything packaged up in white. Including my driveway and sidewalks. I’ll be cranking up the old snowblower tomorrow, for sure.

      Thanks for giving me a positive note to think about as I wonder why we all can’t be a little bit more like Marty.

      I have no quibbles with your story’s grammar and punctuation at all.

    • Ken,
      A cautionary tale of generosity in extremis. Nice writing. A bit fluffy. Not your usual, (high-quality train story writing), but it has that Ken Frape aura of elegance around its anointed head.
    • Johnny Le
      What a story!

      I know it’s not real but I keep wishing Marty had left a window open just a little bit. I feel like I lost someone I know, a nice neighbor. I think each delivery truck has pens and markers since some packages require signatures, right? So I’m a little mad that Marty didn’t use the cardboard of the Christmas tree to make several signs and stick them onto the tree asking for help.

      As for storytelling goes, at first with the minimum wage stuff, I thought Marty was a delivery kid for a local store, possibly on a bike, since he seems to know faces of children in each home. Then we found out he had a struck, and then in paragraph 4, during the accident, he had a wife and kids. Since he died, personally I would have made his wife and kids more central to the story both before and after his death for more emotional impact. However, you already did a great job on the emotional impact, so I guess it’s not so essential.

      Voice though – you have a distinct voice, a great voice. I’m new here, so I don’t know if this is just the voice specifically for this story or your writer’s voice, but either way it’s great to have a distinct voice.

  • Seeing the Light

    Flakes of snow whipped themselves in a frenzy as they dashed across the windshield only to be replaced by a silent horde of crystals in a blinding band of white. “Shit,” Paulie Jansen muttered as he tapped his foot on the brake pedal, hoping he didn’t swerve into a rut or hit something as the car slowed.

    The wipers couldn’t keep up with the snow as it piled up. He checked the rear view mirror as the car slowly creeped to a stop. He looked at the temperature on the dash panel: four below zero.

    Nothing he could see behind him yet, but he knew they would be coming. He figured someone had to have stopped by now and notified the cops about old man Zeke lying on his gas station floor. If only the old man hadn’t tried to reach for the gun he wouldn’t have shot him. ‘It’s his own fault,’ thought Paulie. ‘Why do people do stupid stuff like that?’

    He left Zeke on the floor as he carefully stepped over him on his way out. ‘Sixteen lousy dollars in the register, what a rotten haul. Doesn’t anyone deal in cash these days?’ he thought.

    The sound of the shot still rang in his ears. ‘Goddamn manufacturers who make faulty guns. Why’d the gun have to go off?’

    The back window was covered with snow. He opened the door of the car and looked back. Then he saw it — a flash of red, blue, then another red — on a hill in the distance behind him, then nothing. ‘Cops. I need to get off this road before they see me.’ He reached down and turned off his lights and put the gear in park. He walked away from the car with the door open and saw a shadow ahead through the snow that looked like it might be a road turning off to the right.

    Paulie stumbled back through the snow half running and got back in the car. Keeping the lights off and the door open with his head sticking out, he cruised ahead slowly until he came to the road. He turned right and drove a hundred yards or so and then the road curved to the left. He took the curve and stopped the car just out of sight from the highway. He left the car running and got out of the car.

    Carrying the gun in his hand, he stomped his way through the accumulating snow back to where the road straightened. He waited a few minutes and saw two beams of light stabbing through the night, then swallowed by the blackness, accompanied by red and blue flashing lights reflected in the whirling snow. The car sped past and Paulie waited for a few minutes. He was pretty sure there was only one police cruiser.

    He made his way back to the car and got in. ‘Might as well forge ahead. No sense going back to the highway.’ He reached down, put the car in gear and started to pull away. The car was sluggish at first, not wanting to move as the tires spun in the snow. Angrily, he stomped on the accelerator and realized his mistake as the car fishtailed to the right. He cursed as the back tire slipped pulling the car down into a ditch. He gunned the engine frantically trying to get the car out, but only succeeded in getting the car in deeper.

    “Just friggin’ perfect,” he said to himself. It was dark and getting late. “Maybe I should just hunker down for a while. I could sure use the rest. It’s been two days since I slept, hardly anything at all.” Using the control he put the seat in a reclining position and laid back. He was asleep within minutes.

    * * * * *

    Paulie opened his eyes. He felt warm and comfortable. ‘Must’ve fallen asleep,’ he thought. He slowly sat up. He felt like he was in a dream; colored lights sparkled in the distance.

    He turned off the key and got out of the car. He looked around. The lights were just up ahead on the road he was on. He stood there a moment wondering what he was seeing.

    The snow began to diminish slightly and he stared at the lights. ‘Those aren’t cop car lights,‘ he thought. ‘What the hell are they?’ Paulie walked toward the lights. As he got closer he realized it was a stubby Christmas tree, three feet high, all lit up in the middle of nowhere. ‘How’s it lit,’ he thought.

    Kneeling by the tree, he started looking around for a cord. ‘If I find the cord and which direction it goes, maybe there’s a cabin close by,’ he thought. As he searched through the base of the tree he thought he heard a noise and stood up, drawing the gun out of his pocket. ‘Nothing,’ he thought. ‘Just nerves. Pretty soon you’ll be seeing pixies running through the woods.’

    He looked around. Then, through he trees, he caught a flash of light. He started moving toward the light and realized he was on a pathway. He followed the path and as he got closer, the light got brighter. Through the trees he could make out the shape of a window with a light in it. ‘Must be a cabin there.’

    He was right. He made his way quickly to the cabin and knocked on the door. “Hey, anybody home?” He banged on the door with the butt of the gun. “Open the goddamn door,” he shouted. There was no answer. He tried the door handle and the door swung open. He looked around. A fire was going in the fireplace and the only other light was the lamp that had beckoned him by the window.

    ‘Hope there’s some food.’ He looked through the fridge and found a piece of fried chicken. Grabbing it and after gobbling it down, he pulled out a can of beer and popped the top. “I could get used to this,” he said. He sat down in the chair next to the fireplace.

    He sat his beer can on the table next to the chair and noticed the handwritten note. “If you are reading this, you must be in need of help. Feel free to eat the food you find, and make yourself more. There’s plenty of other food and drink. You are welcome to stay until you are recovered. Please close the door when you leave. Your host, Zeke.”

    ‘Zeke, that was the name of the old man.’ The scene of the old man lying on the floor of the gas station he robbed flashed before his eyes. ‘Maybe he’s not dead,’ thought Paulie. ‘So what if he is, it was his own fault.’

    Paulie sat back in the chair, picked up the beer and sipped it. ‘What a break,’ he thought. ‘I’ll just hang out here for a few days. I got plenty of wood, food and hopefully something more to drink.’ He walked to a cabinet and opened the door. A bottle of Jameson’s Irish whiskey sat on the bottom shelf.

    He quickly opened it and poured three fingers worth into a glass. He didn’t bother to check if it was dirty and took a big sip. He walked by the fire and sat down. He pulled the comforter on the chair around him and took another sip of his whiskey. He felt the warmth roll down his throat and pulled the comforter tighter around him. Drowsiness overtook him and he could feel himself fading into nothingness as he watched the flames of the fire slowly flicker.

    * * * * *

    With their guns drawn, the two cops approached the car which sat there idling in the morning light, exhaust steam barely curling up from it’s exhaust pipe, which was buried in the snow. “Can you see anything?” one of them whispered.

    The other motioned with his hand and pointed at the driver’s side. “He’s right there. I can see him. Looks like he’s asleep.” Holding his gun and pointing it directly at Paulie, he banged on the side of the window with his baton. Paulie didn’t move.

    The cop banged again. “He’s out. I’m going to try the door. If he makes a move, shoot him.” The cop carefully reached down and opened the door. As he did, Paulie’s hand slid down from his lap, gun intact and dropped toward the ground the gun falling into the snow.

    The cop nudged Paulie with the gun. He lifted one of Paulie’s eyelids, then felt for a pulse. “He’s dead.”

    The other officer questioned, “Suicide?”

    “Not with his gun, anyway. He’s purple. Looks like he died of carbon monoxide poisoning trying to keep warm. For what it’s worth, I’ve heard it’s not a bad way to die.”

    “Too bad he didn’t know about Zeke’s cabin, just the other side of that Christmas tree.”

    “Just as well he didn’t know, I guess … considering what happened to Zeke.”

    • Hi Roy,

      You were right to post your story as you say, each of us highlights a different side of the good / bad coin. How strange though that both of our main characters die in the same way. Or is it? I have certainly heard of people stuck in their cars in a blizzard who put the heater on full blast, keep the engine running and the exhaust gets blocked by snow. Perhaps that’s what prompted my train of thought.

      Anyway, I loved your take on this prompt. It’s relatively easy to see only the good in this season of jollity ( as I did) but harder to go down the bad boy route ( as you did.)

      Yours is a really well rounded tale with that mystical element, the dream, the magical realism shall we say, as Paulie “finds the cabin” and hunkers down. I guess we could rationalise all that by the effects of carbon-monoxide poisoning and the dream-like effects it has on the brain as it gently tightens its grip on the human body before death. Very good last paragraph too. That really makes you think.

      As I have mentioned in another comment, it is nice to see many of the old gang back in harness for this prompt. My contribution suddenly came to me when I thought there was nothing doing and in the end I sat and wrote it in one sitting.

      Happy 2022 Roy.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

      • My best stories have almost always come to me as a thunderbolt, complete (usually) with a beginning, a middle and an end. But as long as I have a starting point and an end, I can usually fill in between the lines. Glad things like that happen and it’s good to see you contributing quality stories.
    • Roy,
      I didn’t like the first sentence, it interfered with the second, which had a lot more going for it. I feel like the snowstorm/chase scene at the beginning was cluttered and confusing, and had the potential to be so much more entertaining. (The guy is trying to get away from the cops in a blizzard? Shades of ‘Fargo’ come to mind.) I’d excise that chase scene and start it over, have a couple of drinks first, have fun with it. A very clever story and ending though.
      • Ken C.,

        Thanks for your comments. I tried to inject a little more opening line drama and thought it worked, myself. But, then again, it might have been just a tad too much. I was just trying to get in touch with my literary side.

        Uhh, yes, the guy is trying to get away from the cops in a blizzard, mainly because he’s not the brightest crayon in the box. Everything is everyone else’s fault, The old man, the gun manufacturers, never his, and he’s just exactly the kind of stupid criminal who would think twice about robbing a store in a blizzard.

        I needed more words but ran into the limit. There would have been more if I could have done it. I’m just wondering why you felt it was confusing. Living in Michigan now, and in Illinois in my younger years, I’ve driven in plenty of blizzards with the door open and my head sticking out slowly to stay on the road. That’s where I was going. This idiot figured the cops were on his ass and he needed to get off the road. After they went by, he didn’t want to put himself back on the highway so he used his new road, got himself stuck and then went to bye-bye land, but not before he had his dream sequence. This occurs, I understand to people who have recovered from carbon monoxide poisoning. They actually dream very pleasant warm thoughts.

        So I mixed a little reality and Morpheus together and got the story.


    • Johnny Le
      Wow, too many people died of carbon monoxide during Christmas 🙂

      I thought 1500 words are too few to tell a complicated story, but wow, you have it all, gun, robbery, dead bodies, cops, cabin, blizzard, and of course, a Christmas tree.

      I quite enjoyed your story, but I noticed that you never let us know the intention of Pauline’s actions, and therefore, they were just series of steps. They bog down the story instead of creating vivid images. I think if you add the intention, the images would come alive in reader’s mind.

      • Thanks Johnny, one of the things that happen when you run out of words, is exactly what you are saying. But, in my defense, and as I’ve explained above, Paulie was an idiot, doing what stupid criminals do, so he didn’t have any goal in mind, just a series of steps that unfolded as he took each obstacle on as it appeared. His goal was to rob gas station and use the money for his habits, and, of course, get away. I thought I had some pretty vivid images, but I could have done better with more words.

        You’ll find that out if you join us, and the new one – Momma Drama – is only 1200 words. 20 % fewer words.

        Thanks for your comments,


    • Thanks Rumple, You are right, that wasn’t where I was going, but thanks for the thought. He didn’t know where he was going either.. He’s was just a down on his luck guy (all by his own doing, of course, so no sympathy there) who was too stupid to get out of his own shadow, and when he did, bad things almost always happened. I had to kill him off, one of the things I really like about writing. He was beginning to get on my nerves and I’m a nice guy, as you know, so I put him out of his misery. No one to blame now, but himself … well, except for the tire manufacturers for not making better tires, the car manufacturer for not making better posi-traction and, of course, the careless car owner who left his keys in his piece of shit car for Paulie to steal.


  • So there you go. I considered not entering the contest but figured, Ken Frape’s story dealt with goodness and mine dealt with anything but, so I decided to go ahead and post it. No spoilers here, so if you haven’t read the two stories, now’s a good time.


    • Ilana Leeds
      I’m glad you did enter Roy. I for one, enjoyed your story. I agree with Ken cut the chase scene. I did wonder how they would see in heavy snow blizzard and went not start the story at the cabin and tell it in flash backs then two police find Paulie’s body and we find out about the cabin he’s been near? Anyway I did enjoy the read.
      • Thank you Ilana. But, my character robbed the gas station and killed a guy in a blizzard. It only made sense for him to try and get away, then he got stuck, THEN the real story occurs, but that’s how he got there.d Maybe I should’ve just used fewer words to get there.


  • Rumples- what an imaginative tour de force! I loved your premise and thought you unfolded the story very well. Your narrator’s aside at the end perfectly capped the story. Very well done!
  • A Sky-Blue Indian. (Matchmaker.) 1219 Words.
    By Ken Cartisano

    He spelled out his name, ‘Ronnie’, in the dew collecting on his bike’s massive gas tank.

    Our friendship seemed inevitable: Two teetotalling bikers at a New Year’s Eve party. We spent most of the evening loitering in the parking lot, smoking cigarettes, sharing a joint, admiring each other’s leather, and bikes. He was large, but shy and quiet.

    I introduced myself and told him I was thinking of leaving well before midnight and he wanted to know where I lived, so I told him. He was a little young for my tastes, but it’s nice to meet a man who doesn’t drink. It turned out that we both lived in Bennington, less than a mile from each other. He didn’t know anyone at the party either, and offered to escort me home.

    “I know a ‘shortcut’ to Bennington that’ll add about twenty miles to the ride,” I said with a wink. “You game?”

    He nodded and smiled. I doubt that anyone saw us leave.

    Both bikes were built for comfort. He rode an ancient, classic, sky-blue Indian, a massive old motorcycle with a suicide shift, manual spark advance, and a saddle where a seat should’ve been. I wouldn’t even know how to start it, much less ride it. My bike was new, quiet and powerful, a touring machine with excellent balance and handling.

    The road I chose wound its way through a densely wooded forest of towering Redwoods, we used our fog-lamps to penetrate the mist. Ronnie noticed a strange glow coming from a clearing up ahead. We pulled over and stopped, killed our engines and were ensconced in darkness.

    Except for the clearing, which possessed its own natural phosphorescence. A much brighter source of light came from a small, dazzlingly-white evergreen tree that stood at its center, trimmed with strands of silver, dappled with twinkling gemstones and draped with strings of pearls. All of this illuminated from some unknown source within or under its wispy boughs.

    Ronnie shot me a quizzical look, as if I might know what it was.

    “Beats me,” I said, “but it sure is dark out here. You got a light?” I lowered my kickstand and dismounted. Ronnie did the same, tossed me a pack of matches, then mimicked the jagged shape of a Christmas tree in the air.

    “I can see it’s a Christmas tree Ronnie, but what’s it doing here?”

    He shook his head.

    The forest felt menacing, looming over us. The wind made a lonely sound blowing through its upper branches, but there was no wind down here, not even a breeze. It was quiet too, no crickets, no hum of distant traffic. We stood at the edge, of the road, gazing at the apparition.

    “Are you as weirded out as I am?”

    He nodded, then crossed himself, mockingly.

    I said, “It’s not the who or the why that baffles me, but how?” I added, “You think those pearls are real?”

    He squinted at me suspiciously.

    “You know what one of those strands would be worth?”

    He showed no interest in the value of the pearls. This observation sent a wave of gratitude over my soul for some unknown reason, but he showed no interest in leaving either.

    My springs squeaked as I got back on my bike. “It’s creepy,” I said. “Let’s get out of here.” I turned the ignition key, stabbed the start button and the engine roared to life.

    Ronnie held up his index finger and mouthed the words, ‘Hold on a second.’

    My headlight was pointing right at him, I kicked the bike in gear. “What for?” I shouted.

    When Ronnie turned to answer—his eyes were like two pools of fear, his visage flickered and blinked, along with his bike.

    I freaked, popped the clutch and took off so fast I damn near ran him over. I was afraid to look back, and for a few awful minutes, I thought he might be chasing me with his lights off. I don’t know what came over me, but I was so scared… I drove like a maniac.

    As I rode to more populated surroundings, I began to feel foolish and to think more rationally. ‘So much for that friendship. People don’t disappear right in front of you.’ What was it about that clearing that so freaked me out? Was there something in the weed? Did somebody spike the punch bowl?

    The next day I drove down the street where he claimed to live, what I found was an abandoned chicken farm and a few warehouses. I went to the police, who patiently listened to my story without laughing, but chided me for having a missing person with no last name.

    Curiosity compelled me to return to the clearing, which wasn’t that hard to find. The small white tree was there, an albino evergreen, but there were no pearls, lights or decorations, nothing of interest.

    I put a cigarette in my mouth and fished in my pocket for a light and found the matches he’d tossed me the previous night. A pristine pack with the name of a bar, The Shipyard Tavern. It even had the address.

    I rode the bike down to the wharves that same afternoon. It was cold and overcast, a stiff wind blew in from the harbor. Most of the businesses were closed or boarded up. There was no Shipyard Tavern, but there was a Yardarm Inn across the street. I went in, showed the matchbook to the bartender who shook his head but pointed to a patron sitting in one of the bar’s rare booths.

    He wore an authentic blue mechanic’s shirt, the grease was embedded in the fabric, and his name, Ron, was embroidered on the classic nametag. I know he saw me coming and still tried to radiate indifference. He pretended to focus on his drink, which was nearly full.

    I remained standing and dropped the matches on the table.

    He picked them up. “Where’d you come across these?” He said, showing some interest.

    “Got ‘em from a guy driving a sky-blue Indian.”

    He tossed the matches back on the table. “Tha’ place has been closed for twenty years, ya know.”

    “No. I didn’t. What about the guy who rode the Indian? You know him?”

    “What’s it to you, Miss?” He looked at my boots and then my face.

    “I almost ran him over last night and I just—wanted to make sure he was alright.”

    “You’re worried about his health?” He took a tiny sip of his drink.

    “Look,” I said, “I’m sorry about disturbing you. I’ll just go.”

    He held up his index finger and said, “Hold on a second.”

    When I stopped, he said, “I own a sky-blue Indian, inherited it. He pointed to his name tag, ‘Ron.’ How do you know I’m not the guy you’re looking for?”

    “Because, the guy I’m looking for is a ghost, I’m guessing. And you’re no ghost.”

    He raised his glass in a somber salute.

    “I’m sorry,” I said. “Was he your son?”

    He nodded. “Aye. A gentle handsome giant he was. Died twenty-nine years ago, Miss, on Christmas Eve, and every year since, someone comes looking for him with a pack of those damned matches in their hands.”

    I slid into the seat across from him. “Let’s talk about that, then.”

    • Hi Ken,

      Great story and one that chose not to go down the Christmas tinsel and presents route too far. In other words, it took place around Christmas but it wasn’t about Christmas.

      I really liked the way you set the scene as two bikers got together for what could have become a beautiful friendship / relationship. Clever the way Ronnie named himself using his finger in the condensation on his petrol tank, whoops sorry, gas tank. You carefully held back the gender of the narrator and only dropped in the “Miss” word well into the story so that it would have a greater impact as, by that time, I at least was thinking of two guys. That’s a really clever ploy, Ken. There were, of course, clues set down in the earlier part of the story that I picked up on my subsequent readings.

      You have also educated me regarding the bikes mentioned. My older brother was a biker in his youth but that particular lust for speed eluded me, especially after he took me for a ride and scared me half to death! I rode a scooter ( a Lambretta – arguably even more unstable that a bike due to the small wheels and awkward centre of gravity) for a couple of years when he was a “Rocker” and I was a “Mod.” After I came off my scooter in the wet I went straight to four wheels instead.

      The central theme of the ghost is great and the backstory is convincing, or as convincing as talk of ghosts can be to someone who has never been “spooked” by one.

      It has been a strange few weeks within our little circle of writers and it is really great to have most of the gang back in harness.

      Kind regards,

      Ken Frape

    • Ilana Leeds
      Good story Ken. Thank God everyone is back now.
    • Ken C.,

      A classic retelling of the mysterious person in the woods plot, and I found it well done, althoughI was pretty sure where it was going. Especially when you got to the bar. I liked the way you did that, however, and I found that inventive.

      I enjoyed your tale; it was an entertaining read, and I admit you surprised me with it being as generalized as it was, but I loved the style of writing and how you took this retread to a new depth, and the very last line. Nice ending. It’s what I liked most about the story.


  • The Wrong Turn
    1500 words
    By Johnny

    We were rolling down a dark mountain road of West Virginia on the way home in the freezing cold the night before Christmas Eve when my seven year-old daughter Lucy, in the back seat, suddenly pounded on the door. “Stop the car, Daddy! Stop the car!”


    Throwing a quick glance in the rearview mirror, I saw her face and hands glued to the window glass. What in the world had she seen?

    “Please, Daddy! Hurry!”

    “Alright. Alright.”

    I saw a open spot right ahead, and so I complied with the little lady’s request and pulled over.

    “What’s going on?”

    I asked as I shifted the gear to park, but Lucy had already pushed the door open.

    “Isn’t it wonderful, Daddy?”

    She jumped out and shut the door behind her.

    “Woah woah, what is?”

    At least it was something wonderful and not someone dying on the road. Grabbing my phone, I scrambled out of the van and raced over to her side.

    “Lucy! Lucy!”

    The temperature had plummeted, and amidst the excitement I didn’t think she would have properly zipped up, but there she was, all bundled up in her ski jacket and scarf, beanie on her head and hands in mittens. A mixed feeling came over me, half pride and half dread that my little girl no longer needed her daddy to zip her up. She turned and beamed at me, clapping her mittened hands excitedly. “It’s so beautiful.”

    I looked at her, puzzled. “What is?”

    “The tree.” She pointed to the forest on the side of the road, barely illuminated by our van’s headlights.

    I let out a frustrated sigh. “Lucy, you made me pull over to see a tree? A tree in the forest? In the middle of….?”

    “I want to see it!” she declared, and then suddenly turned and ran up the steep inclined dirt wall away from the headlights of the van.

    “Lucy! Lucy! Come back here!”

    I tried to grab her, but she was already far ahead. What was going on in the head of this child?

    “No, Daddy. Come on.”

    In a flash, she was already over the wall and disappeared deep into the woods above.

    “Lucy, Lucy!”

    I hurriedly pressed the fob to lock the van, racing after her while fumbling on the phone searching for the flashlight app, completely confused. Thoughts swirled in my head. What tree was she talking about and how could she see it in the black of night? Not a wild child, never been, though my pride and joy, she never took off running like that, much less in the woods and in the middle of the night. Something was wrong.

    She was way ahead of me, running through bushes, dodging branches, climbing over fallen tree trunks as if she could clearly see the path. All I could do was try to catch up to her.

    Then she stopped in the middle of a dark clearing, looking up and walking around a giant Virginia pine tree. My heart leaped out of my chest. Something was definitely wrong with my child. Did she fall and hit her head earlier while skiing? Today or yesterday? Could a concussion cause hallucination?

    “It’s so beautiful, right, Daddy?”

    Her giggles so innocent, so youthful, broke my heart into a million pieces. She was only seven years old. She deserved a much, much longer life ahead of her. Please let it be nothing wrong with her.

    “Why is it beautiful?” My voice cracked.

    “Daddy!” she said as if I was asking the most silly thing in the world. “It’s so bright. So many lights, so many stars.”

    The words ran chills down my spine. The only light source in this dark forest was the flashlight from my phone, barely illuminating her face on the other side of the tree. Did I just kill my child by taking her skiing? Just a little bit of fun, just a little bit of bonding time, and now I might not be able to see my child grow up.

    Just as I was about to grab her to run back to the van and head straight to the emergency room, a moan broke the air.

    I jumped, pulling Lucy into my arms and flashing the light frantically searching for the source of the moan. There I found a figure slumped at the foot of a tree, a woman, face ashen and eyes closed, head drooped to one side and legs scrawling out. She wore a light blue jacket and hiking boots, but no head gear, neither scarf nor gloves, clearly inadequate for the deep freeze.

    She had trails of frozen snot running down to her lips. I shook her shoulder, and she drew a deep breath, eyes narrowly open. She whispered, “Lucy, they came.”

    Both Lucy and I scrambled back. Did the woman say “Lucy”?

    “Do you know her?”

    Lucy shook her head.

    I tried to wake the woman again, but no luck. The temperature was still dropping, so I couldn’t leave her there. Handing the phone to Lucy, I pulled the woman up, and all three stumbled out of the woods.

    I put the woman in the passenger seat, cranked up the heat, and gave her some water. She opened her eyes, murmured a few incoherent words but shut her eyes again.

    I searched up the nearest emergency room and drove us there, for both her and Lucy. Luckily all the test results came back normal for Lucy.

    In the morning we came to visit our unexpected friend of the night at her hospital bed.

    “Your name is Lucy too?” She smiled. “I met another Lucy last night as well.”

    I was too curious not to ask, and so she told us her tale. Her name was Hannah. She was going through a bad breakup. Her loving partner of seven years wanted to have a child with her, but she didn’t want one. She didn’t want to be held back.

    Not in the mood to spend Christmas with other “happy” families in her circle, she decided to come here, a place she had been several times before, to relax and take her mind off of things.

    When the sun was high the previous day, Hannah wanted to hike up the mountain. She wanted the cold, to feel liberated, but just for a three or four hour hike. So she didn’t take the phone, didn’t wear much and brought little water. Loving the open air of the summit, she stayed there a bit too long. When she headed back, it started to get dark, and in her hurry, she must have made a wrong turn. Then the temperature plunged. Too cold, too tired, she collapsed by the pine tree.

    Moments later she was woken by a little girl, one Hannah had never seen before. When she opened her eyes, she couldn’t believe how she could have missed the little house behind the pine tree. The little girl wore a Christmas hair bow, red and green, said her name was Lucy, and invited Hannah in for hot tea.

    The forest Lucy talked nonstop about Christmas as if she hadn’t talked to anyone in ages. She kept telling Hannah that help was coming. She then ran around the pine tree, adding more ornaments, and turned it on. Hannah had never seen a Christmas tree so tall and with so many lights. It lit up the whole forest.

    “I saw that,” my Lucy interrupted.

    “You did?” She looked at Lucy adoringly.

    “Yeah,” I chimed in. “She led us there.”

    At this point I was the minority, the only one who didn’t see the tree light up. So after Hannah checked out of the emergency room, we headed back to the forest.

    There stood the pine tree, easily the tallest all around, and there were Christmas ornaments on it but few and far in between, old and dirty, clearly shown many years have passed. There were no lights, wires or electricity. Hannah showed us where she saw the house, and after poking around, we found a few stones suggesting the possibility of a house foundation.

    My Lucy called us from the pine tree. When we came, she lifted a branch, and revealed a tombstone hidden at the foot of the tree. We crouched down to look. It read:

    Lucy Felix
    April 12, 1914-December 25, 1921
    May the light of Christmas always be with you.

    “She didn’t have a chance to grow up.” I pulled my Lucy close to me.

    Hannah saw something among the dry twigs nearby, went and picked it up. It was a Christmas hair bow. The red and green colors had gone almost entirely, just the deep color of dirt now.

    Hannah went and tiptoed on the foundation stones, juggling the Christmas hair bow in her hands.

    “I made a wrong turn,” she said, “but maybe it wasn’t wrong after all.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “Maybe it isn’t too bad to see a child born and grow up.”

    • Johnny,
      A good story, well told, with great dialogue. I didn’t get the last three lines, but I didn’t need to. (Welcome to the ‘tar-pit.’)
      • Johnny Le
        Thanks, Ken. Wonder if you could help me make a stronger ending. Basically Hannah broke up with her boyfriend because she didn’t want a child. When a child’s life was cut short (as in the case of Lucy Felix), we all naturally wish that she could have lived out her full life. So Hannah thought about her child, a child she didn’t allow to be born. Its life too was cut short, to the point that it couldn’t exist at all. Since she wished Lucy Felix could live out her full life, she thought she should let her own child to be born and live out its full life.

        I thought “the idea of a child” being conceived goes well with the Christmas theme. At first, I explained the ending clearly, but felt it weaken the story. If Hannah says, “I’m ready to go home to spend Christmas with my boyfriend now,” would that make it clearer?

    • Ilana Leeds
      Hi great use of dialogue in the story as you reveal much about your characters. I really like the way your story unfolds and you keep your readers anticipating and wanting to know more.
      Your ending was a little flat. I would think about maybe a different ending or express it in another way, but overall excellent writing.
    • Johnny,

      I just reread our story and the disclaimer you posted originally was gone. I don’t think you give yourself a lot of credit. You have a great imagination, good descriptive phrases and a good grasp of grammar and punctuation. Although there were a few (let’s call them typos) such as ‘I saw a open spot.’ I’m going to assume you missed a keystroke because there’s no other similar gaffs.

      I felt there were a few things that need tightening up. For example, when your protagonist tries to awaken the woman (to no avail) and then lifts her up, and she manages to stumble out – I’m assuming unconscious – which is pretty tricky to do.

      The phrasing was a bit off when you wrote ‘and all three stumbled out of the woods.’ Wouldn’t ‘the three of us stumbled out’ work as well. Just a bit stiff I thought in first person.

      Like Ken C., I didn’t understand the last three lines. You could have ended it just as well with “I made a wrong turn,” she said, “but maybe it wasn’t wrong after all.” She turned and looked at Lucy.

      I hope to see more of your work in the future. I think there’s some talent there.


    • Wow, big compliment. Thank you.
  • Hi Rumples,

    This is an intensely interesting take on the prompt. You highlight the issues facing humankind very cleverly. It seems that our natural diversity in tastes is also our biggest problem in that no one can agree on anything. That is certainly echoed around the world at this time of war, plague, arguments and selfishness.

    I felt that I was being educated as I read this and that’s no bad thing as my knowledge is as full of holes as Swiss cheese. However, I also want to be gripped and perhaps entertained when I read our stories and this one didn’t quite manage this.

    You really are a seriously good writer so don’t take any notice of my minor criticism regarding entertainment. It doesn’t have to be your intention when you sit down to write. Your writing is crisp and clean and extremely imaginative and we don’t all achieve all that every time we write.

    I am looking forward to see what our fellow writers say as well.

    Kind regards,

    Ken Frape

  • Hi Johnny,

    Welcome to our little band of writers. I hope you stay and add to our number.

    There’s no need to worry about receiving negative comments as we genuinely try not to be negative. We offer positive critiques in the hope that we can help each other. If we don’t like something, we say so but nicely, with compassion and honesty.

    So, I really like your story. You flesh out the close relationship between the parent and the child and you meet the requirements of the prompt and the word count, so there’s a good start.

    Hannah is an interesting character. She is quite central to the story, a woman who didn’t want to be “held back” by giving birth to her own child but who ends up with the words, “Maybe it isn’t too bad to see a child born and grow up.” My feeling is that Hannah may just be reevaluating her future plans in the light of these events.

    Your writing is clear and concise and I haven’t picked up on any obvious typos or grammaticals. If there are any, others may point them out. The plot works, especially after a second reading.

    It’s good to see the work of a newcomer to our group and I wish you much happy writing in 2022.

    • Thank you, Ken, for the welcome. I’m actually looking for negative comments. I’m getting older, and I feel like I’m running out of time to master the art of writing. So I’m looking for anything that could help me improve as fast as possible. Positive feedbacks are nice, but I don’t know how to grow with those. So if you have any tips, tricks to help me grow, please let me know.

      Yes, Hannah is quite central to the story, and that’s the problem because as readers we think the story is about the father and daughter, but at the end it’s about Hannah. I couldn’t figure out a meaningful way to tie the daughter/father back in at the end. If you have any thoughts on this, please let me know.

    • Carrie Zylka

      Just waiting on Johnny’s votes!

      • Hi Carrie, I voted about 4 hours ago. Unfortunately I closed that window, so I can’t confirm. Should I vote again? It was under the name Johnny with same email that I submitted my story.
  • Rumplevision,

    Hilarious, from the title to the ‘final solution.’ (Eek. My bad.) A sophisticated comedy blend of Woody Allen and Terry Pratchett, and that is no meager achievement. I don’t know where this failed with the other Ken, because I found it to be short, tart, and wonderfully entertaining. (Maybe he read it too many times. I only read it once.) Great goddamned story, John.

    Bonus, by some miraculous and probably mystical force beyond my understanding, your story transformed itself from black ink and 14 different typestyles, (I tend to exaggerate sometimes) to BLUE ‘ink’, and ONE, yes, One Typestyle. (This is more than a miracle, Sam. This has the whiff of technology about it.) I don’t think–anybody actually said that, that’s why there are no quote marks around it. But somebody COULD have said it. That’s the thing. Somebody could have.

    You do whimsical weally well, Wumples.

  • Johnny Le
    752 words. How can someone say so much in so few words?

    Wouldn’t the story work better if it begins with “The United Nations held a secret meeting that night” though? I think if you started with that paragraph and then weave the origin of the gifts into the story, you would be able to do more showing and less telling.

    The beginning of the story is an external force, but the ending is an internal force. Quite a genius way of flipping a fantasy into a sci-fi story.

  • Rumple,

    I’m going to gloss over the fact that your story did’t really follow the prompt, although I guess with the Tinkerers (loved the name) planting Christmas Trees all over the globe, I assume some of them were in the country or a ‘country’ and someone was driving through it and noticed them. I guess you read it different than I did.

    Here’s what I like about your story and your writing in general. You take me places in your story that I find entertaining, esoteric and strangely coherent. You beat around a lot of bushes to suddenly spring up with some general concept. Nice. I’m always entertained.

    I loved your last paragraph, even though I am not one of those people who believe in the devil. Human kind cause all their own problems. It’s too easy to say “The devil made me do it,” and then ask for forgiveness. I have no quibbles with your grammar or punctuation.

    Nice Story Rumple.


  • Alrighty, without further ado here are your winners!

    1st Place: A Chance of Magic by Phil Town
    2nd Place: A Sky-Blue Indian by Ken Cartisano
    3rd Place: Snowlight by Ken Frape
    4th Place: The Wrong Turn by Johnny
    5th Place: Seeing the Light by Roy York
    6th Place: The Prance Of Darkness by Rumplefinkies
    7th Place: The Tree Time Forgot by Ilana Leeds

    The story with the favorite character was “The Tree” in ‘A Chance of Magic” by Phil Town.

    And the story with the favorite dialogue was “A Sky-Blue Indian” by Ken Cartisano

    Congrats to all!!

    • ilyaleed
      Congrats to all. A great bunch of stories and it was hard to choose the placings except for the winner as I felt that Phil’s story stood out. Congratulations all.
    • Phil Town
      Very pleased, especially given the great bunch of stories. Sorry I didn’t get any critiques in; postings all came in a bit of a surge in the end so no time (for me) to do them justice, and I wouldn’t like to just critique with a line or two (nothing wrong with that, but it’s not my style).

      Anyway, it’s got my year off to the best possible start, so thanks all!

      And … Feliz Ano Novo!

  • Congratulations Phil. I read your story to Kim and she agreed that your story was better than mine. She looked pretty heart-broken at the ending too, (you bastard.) Anyway, I agreed. (Duh. I think I said.) But remember, she wouldn’t have said that if I hadn’t insisted on reading your story to her. Really excellent writing, Phil.
  • Rumples, I read your story to Kim as well, she laughed out loud about four times. Seriously, out loud. (Usually, I have to take my clothes off for that to happen!) We both really enjoyed it and I think it was better than mine as well. Not sure what everyone else was thinking on that score. (Don’t make fun of the devil? Please? Possibly? Or… Get away from me with that Covid weed bean cure stuff. I don’t need that. I live on stress. And blood-sports. Yeah. Heee-haaa!)

    I was watching a Tractor-pull contest last week, (on TV.) Some of those beasts generate the power of 4,000
    horses. Four thousand! I admit, I think they’re crazy, but I love watching that stuff. Bull riding? Every watch that? Can any sane person not have doubts about the sanity of human beings?

    If you met Mike Pence, would it be wrong to say, “How’s it hangin’?”

  • Ken Frape
    Well done to Phil and Ken C,
    Top of the heap once again guys.
    Happy writing in 22
    Ken Frape
  • Congrats writers, especially Phil, Ken C., and Ken F. Looking forward to the new year, and some great writing.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: