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Bi-Weekly Story Prompts

Writing Prompt “A Christmas Miracle”

Theme: A Christmas Miracle.

Stories must end with the line: “With that, he/she walked into the snowstorm, never looking back.”.

(Does not have to be a human, can be a pet, an elf or anything else you can think of.)

Story Requirements:

  • Christmas Tree(s)
  • Snow

Word Count: 1,210 (1200 plus the 10 required words.)

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Please Note: Comments may be considered “published” in regards 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 Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.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.

Voting starts Wednesday morning at 9:00am PDT / 12:00pm EST / 10:30pm IST / 5:00pm WET/GMT/ 4:00am AEDT (Thursday) and ends the same time on Thursday / 4:00am AEDT (Friday).

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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.

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241 thoughts on “Writing Prompt “A Christmas Miracle”

  • Alice Nelson

    Read the stories here:

    (If you don’t see your story linked here within 24 hours after your posted it, please let us know as we may have missed the comment.)

    • Adrienne Riggs
      Love the topic! How did I miss it when it came out? I’d better hurry and start writing! Adi
      • RM York
        Hurry, Adi, Hurry.
  • ‘Does not have to be a human, can be a pet, an elf or anything else you can think of.’

    A snowball? A sasquatch, a roving band of zombie chipmunks, a hungry, hungry hippo, a string of polo ponies, ‘a fish called Wanda’, a mime, a persistent mime, a repeat offending mime, a weeba wack, a glotissimal, a Victorian secret. (This is easier than it looks.) A dog, a devil dog, a deviled egg. A hot air balloon. A card carrying member of The Diogenes Club. A pimpernel. (Only comes in one color.)
    I give up. I can’t think of anything.

    • Carrie Zylka

      I literally thought you wrote “A Victoria’s Secret”!!!! 😂😂😂

  • Ken Frape
    Christmas Gold!
    (1206 words)

    Christmas Eve around 4pm. Darkness had not yet fully descended but decorated Christmas trees bedecked with twinkling lights already dazzled in every High Street window. The much wished-for White Christmas was becoming a distinct possibility as the first few, reluctant flakes of snow performed their zig- zag dance from the sky, settling on the pavements and melting upon the excited upturned faces of delighted children.
    “Cappuccino, extra shot, Americano, Cinnamon syrup and almond croissant.”
    In the coffee house, the baristas bustled busily and efficiently as the orders were fired across the counter. Single customers waited, steaming in the moist air, eying the seating to see where best to perch or nodding to their friends who had already made that choice, spreading coats and bags to secure their prize.

    An old man entered the coffee shop, his ragged, russet-brown coat dripping melted snow onto the floor. He sucked a blast of winter air in his wake as he shook himself, a dog- like shake that seemed to start at the top of a mass of iron grey hair, continue down through his grey-white chest length beard and finish at the toes of his scuffed boots, scattering water drops like exploding sequins, glittering as they fell to earth. His back was hunched, perhaps from the accumulated wear and tear of a lifetime of heavy manual toil. I remembered the coal man from my youth, his skin blackened by the ever present coal dust but his eyes still bright and twinkling, piercing that darkened complexion. As I looked at this man, I thought, this could be him now, only old.
    All around in the fug people were settling themselves down, some with their top lips already coated with coffee froth, others spooning the golden bubbles into their mouths or fidgeting to get comfortable, cats circling their mats by the fire.

    My daughter and I were fascinated by this old man, as we hunched over our own cappuccinos at our seat by the window, indulging our family hobby of people watching. The old man studied the menu boards with their promise of “100% Columbian coffee beans” and examined the day’s selection of cakes under glass. Then, with a final sniff, he turned to the counter and I watched as he pointed to the menu board. The Barista screwed up her eyes, her brow furrowed in concentration in the noisy room as she turned her head to the side, offering her right ear, the better to make out his words. I watched her carefully, trying to lip read and I am sure I saw her clearly and slowly enunciate the query “Christmas Gold?” as she followed his pointing finger. He nodded, producing a handful of loose change which he placed casually on the counter’s shiny surface, in the manner of a foreign tourist, uncertain of the local coinage. The young barista selected the correct amount and placed the rest back in the old man’s open palm, her previous routine smile now warm and fulsome.

    He scanned the room, choosing where he might sit. Would it be near us, I wondered? No, nothing nearby was vacant but there was a suitable space at the far end of the room, an inviting round two- seater with faux-leather tub armchairs. He waited for his order, tapping his toe to some favourite tune heard only inside his nodding head. His fingers drummed on the counter top, his lips pursed in a soundless whistle, apparently oblivious to the seasonal “musak” being gently extruded through the coffee shop speakers, if Noddy Holder could ever be played gently, or extruded.
    The place was crowded and the air was redolent with the aromas of coffee, cinnamon, syrups, chocolate sprinkles and wet clothing drying quickly in the overheated air. Into this mix were added the promise of Christmas with Yankee candles, perfumes for Mums and aftershaves for Dads and stocking fillers for the kids. The shoppers relaxed over their steaming beverages and examined their purchases.
    The object of my curiosity, for that was what he was to me, collected his order and moved down the room, passing assorted coffee drinkers, some in groups or couples, some, father and child, like me. Carrier bags overflowing with Christmas shopping were strewn around the room, some on the floor, some beside the feet of the customers and others sitting triumphantly on unoccupied chairs. The occasional glister of gold and silver wrapping paper was visible as people chatted or hummed along to the music.
    The old man smiled benevolently as he picked his way with care through the Christmas shopping obstacle course to his seat. He seemed to catch every eye and people invariably smiled in return, that spirit of Christmas which had been there but hidden by their habitual reserve was now activated by his smile. Like those automatic lights in office buildings that light up as you approach so, this gentleman seemed to light up a swathe of Christmas cheer as he made his way to his seat. He carefully balanced his cup and saucer as if it was some precious heirloom and then set it down on his table.
    I was shaken from my observations as I heard an excited shout from a child and his mother at a nearby table. They were both holding small, golden- wrapped parcels that glinted in the bright lights of the coffee house. The child had, excitedly and in typical child-like haste, ripped open the wrappings on his package and was holding up a bright and gleaming gold coin. His mother’s package was the same and their faces shone with surprise and delight. Then other shouts erupted around the room as more and more people discovered that they too had small golden packages containing a gold coin. I watched in amazement as these events unfolded before me and then I too saw a package on our table that I know had not been there a few moments before. The coin shaped gifts inside our parcels were the size of a two pound coin and much heavier than chocolate. It was gold! Christmas Gold!
    All around the room, people were now laughing and turning to their neighbours in delight, their previous reserve and reticence to talk to strangers now melting away like snowflakes on the tongue. People began to ask each other, “Who is it from?” They hunted for evidence on the gold wrapping paper. Before long we all discovered that each and every gift had a tiny tag attached and each tag had our own name written on it but gave no clue as to the gift giver.
    I was now wondering if the old man had also received a gift but I could not see his table through the throng of celebrating people as they milled to and fro. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of him by the canopy over the coffee shop doorway. I heard my daughter gasp with surprise as her eyes momentarily met his. He offered us a conspiratorial wink and placed a finger upon his white-whiskered lips as he pulled up his russet hood and hefted a heavy sack over his shoulder.
    With that, he stepped out into the snowstorm, never looking back.

    • Mr. Frape,

      Fabulous. That first paragraph is crack, the rest of the story is platinum (or gold, if you like.) The clarity of the images you project is astounding, certainly worth absorbing and emulating. (If only I knew how.) Certainly your style is distinctly colorful without going too far. (Although you push the envelop once or twice.) You make excellent use of sights, sounds and smells to pull me into the scene.

      I think the most beguiling aspect of your story is that it was really about everyone, inclusive. It truly, and brilliantly embodies the spirit of holiday cheer and the spirit of giving without any reference to religion or its dogma. (Thank God.)
      And of course, the ending is perfect.

      Four (and a half) suggestions, ‘All around in the fug people were settling themselves down…’ I’m not sure what a ‘fug’ is. Whether typo or not it should be changed.

      Two: ‘In the coffee house, the baristas bustled busily and efficiently as the orders…’
      (That sounds like a ‘little darlin’ doesn’t it? ‘the baristas bustled busily’?) It’s redundant. I think bustling is definitely a form of busy, whether its efficient or not… well, I’d change something there.

      Three: The sentence that starts with: ‘My daughter and I were fascinated by this old man,…’That phrase is redundant. I’d delete it. Your interest in him is already obvious. (you’re people watchers.) And it makes that sentence awkward. It’s very informative, but awkward. Removing the redundancy would make it easier to fix that sentence.

      Four: I’d exchange ‘extruded’ for some other word. I get what you’re trying to do, (extruded has mechanical connotations,) and I agree with the strategy, its just that extruded isn’t the word to do it with. (I have no replacement suggestions.)

      I would drop or change the Noddy Holder phrase too. I don’t know who he is or what that means. This cultural reference does not inform me. Is the music loud, tinny, intrusive, hardly worth noticing? I have no idea and I’m not looking it up.

      Keep in mind all these suggestions are optional, and I wouldn’t bother if I didn’t think this story was absolutely brilliant already. Honestly Mr. Frape, I loved it.

      One last thing, I just read Roy’s comments, and I disagree with him substantially. I thought the description of the old man was near-perfect, the phrasing, ‘…at the toes of his scuffed boots, scattering water drops like exploding sequins, glittering as they fell to earth.’ THAT,,,, is EXCELLENT. BECAUSE, it cleverly conveys the notion of magic and the supernatural without actually saying so. The arrival time of the storm is inconsequential to ‘like exploding sequins, glittering as they fell to earth.’ That, my friend, is an eloquent sequence of words. (I would change, –forgive me— the word ‘earth’ for ‘floor’ or ‘ground.’ But nothing else. Like I said, I love this story. The only thing you really NEED to change is ‘fug.’ (!!!!)

      • Ken Frape
        From Ken F to Ken C,

        I really appreciate constructive criticism, the notion that people can be bothered to not only read my work but also to take it in and understand it. For this, I really thank you. I don’t think my writing is perfect and I can always improve.

        You are right in that there is a cultural reference, which may not travel well. Noddy Holder is a very well-known British pop star from the 1970s. His Christmas song is played hundreds of times every Christmas and he earns over half a million UK pounds from royalties EVERY YEAR! His style is best described as very loud and shouty ( or, as you suggest, loud, tinny and obtrusive) but a very popular oldie nonetheless in the UK. I used the word extruded to suggest a mechanical delivery of in-shop musak, which most people seem to hate and generally, we tuneout. It could certainly be replaced by another word. I know you say that you will not look him up but go on, give yourself a treat and look up Noddy Holder “It’s Christmas!” You will either love him or hate him. Then you can hear what we have to put up with every year at Christmas!

        Fug is a word with which I am entirely familiar. It means ” a warm, stuffy atmosphere” so I stand by the word as it perfectly describes my local coffee shop on a wet winter’s day.

        I like the notion of the rule of three ( baristas bustling busily) but you are right in that bustling suggests busily so perhaps I will exchange one of these words for an aliterative alternative if only I can find one!

        Your third point regarding people watching is well made and could easily be implemented although I’m not convinced that anything is lost by its inclusion.

        Thanks once again, Ken

        Regards and have a great Christmas.

        Ken Frape.

        • Ken F.

          This is a de facto multi-cultural global on-line writing site, which I’ve been following since October of 2014 with few interruptions. That means on average I’ve read and critiqued approximately twenty stories a month, often more, but even at that minimal estimate, that’s at least 200 stories a year, for over four years. In all that time, and words, I’ve never encountered the term ‘fug.’

          For many contributors, English is a second language, and for them, mistakes in usage, grammar, syntax or spelling may be annoying, but they’re completely understandable. On the other hand, writers who think it behooves me to resort to the dictionary I have on my coffee table whenever the notion strikes them, are grossly misinterpreting my priorities.

          Embedded cultural references, especially those that relate to food, are the bane of my literary existence and as such, I suppose they qualify as pet peeves. British words that have no American counterparts are another. Insertions of foreign phrases put me off as well, as I only speak one language. (Despite efforts to address this shortcoming, I remain a relatively crude unenlightened brute by international standards.)

          So, I hate to seem truculent, but your story, and your writing style are both distinctive and original, as well as highly enjoyable. And it is with that sense of pleasure and affinity that I offered such a lengthy and comprehensive critique.

          You wrote: ‘Fug is a word with which I am entirely familiar. It means “a warm, stuffy atmosphere” so I stand by the word…’ (In other words, you really think ‘fug’ is better than warm, ‘cozy’ atmosphere.)

          Okay. You stand by the word, and I stand by my advice, which was, “Whether typo or not, it should be changed.”

          Merry Christmas to you too.

      • RM York
        That’s the nice thing about critiques. As an author, one can disagree with them, choose those critiques they like and so on. While I understand what you are saying, I will stick with my feeling that all Mr. Frape has to do is make the storm line read
        “The much wished-for White Christmas was becoming a distinct possibility as the first few, reluctant flakes of snow that had performed their zig- zag dance from the sky, settling on the pavements and melting upon the excited upturned faces of delighted children, was now accumulating.” instead. To make enough snow for the next few lines and add credence to his “drop scattering like sequins”, and russet coat dripping with melted snow. That’s all. And it makes sense for those two well written sentences. Maybe it’s just me, but I like continuity. I wasn’t critiquing his words, or his writing, just suggesting he make his storm more intense to match his other words. Fug was not a word I was familiar with, so I looked it up, and thought it worked. It’s not a word I would probably use, but hey, people in England probably understood without having to resort to a dictionary.
        • Roy,

          I just want to assure you that I’m not being difficult for the sake of making me less popular than I already am. I’m being difficult for the sake of improving Mr. Frapes’ story. (Not that he will appreciate it either.)

          If you simply cross the street from a parking lot in a drizzle you won’t get much moisture on your coat, but if you’ve traveled a great distance in an open vehicle, (like a sleigh, for instance) then there’s no telling how much moisture your coat would collect. It’s not just a minor point, when you really stop and think about it, it’s another subtle clue, and one that is so eloquently presented I was highly motivated to urge Ken to preserve that aspect and phrasing of his story. That’s the way I viewed it, and the reason I addressed your criticism of that particular aspect of his story.

          While I felt that this was a clever reference point in his story, one that should be preserved, there were a number of other details in Ken Frapes story that did, in fact, bother me. (Which I wasted no time in pointing out.)

          • Hey Roy,

            I wanted to add that, when I read Phil’s critique of your story I found myself in complete agreement. Your story has just the right touch. It’s like a delicate balancing act, between too little and too much, and I also found it touching, without being maudlin. You really nailed it.

            As for errors, one time, after sternly admonishing all the other writers to be extra diligent about removing errors from their first two or three paragraphs, I left a glaring error on the last word of the last sentence of the very first paragraph. Typical perfectly timed brain fart. I think Maud Harris caught it. No one else said anything. Lately it seems as though I always have at least one mistake.

            You and Mr. Frape have set the bar awfully high this week.

            I’m afraid I may have to resort to something zany or incredible just to compete with the runners-up. One story is about gifting, another about hope, what does that leave? Midget vampires? A were-squirrel? A demonic three-legged Chihuahua? It was dark out. I’ll never forget the look in the eyes of that blood-thirsty Chihuahua. I think he was possessed. Then again, it might’ve been the medicine they gave me.

            You get the idea. (It sucks.)

          • RM York
            Yours is a point I hadn’t considered, and as someone who has made a few dollars acting as Santa the past few years, I should have realized the old boy came a great distance (in the twinkling of an eye, perhaps) to make this stop of the coffee shop. I still think Ken had a chance to tug at heartstrings with a father and daughter in need and Santa came through with a Christmas miracle. Still, his story is very eloquent and has high marks from me.

            I think offering different viewpoints on critiquing stories is what makes this site unique. Remember we warn people, if you don’t want to be critiqued, don’t enter a story. I had a friend drop out of this site once over a critique and I not only thought she was being thin-skinned, but petty. She had entered at my urging because I thought she was a fairly good writer as she has several successfully published books. She lasted one story and quit in a huff. Cie la Vie or as my old pal Arnold likes to say, Hasta la Vista, Baby.

            I have learned much from this site and you sir, are a big part of that. You and Phil are pretty good about critiques, and Ilana, when she’s around. And, I love hearing from Carrie and Alice. Nam and Rathin are usually fair, but seldom offer distinct custom criticism and I understand why.

            I once had a beta reader ask me why I was changing my stories so much, and I said because of the critiques, which were right, and I listened. She went on to tell me she felt the same way but was afraid of hurting my feelings, even though I had assured her otherwise. So, I said, just pretend it’s someone you don’t know. Now, she’s much better at pointing out my shortcomings. My wonderful wife, however, doesn’t have any problem telling me where I went wrong. I usually listen, but not always. For example, you remember the telephone story ending she convinced me to change, and last story she wanted me to not have Nancy drop her top. She thought it was too ‘far’ and these days no one would act like that. You saw that I left it in.

          • RM York
            I can’t reply to your comment written below underneath it, the site won’t let me, but rest assured, I’m looking forward to something from you. C’mon man, you can do it. A demonic, bloodthirsty. three legged chihuahua sounds intriguing, but what’s the miracle, oh, I see, that’s the rub. Go for it.
      • @Ken C – “Is the music loud, tinny, intrusive, hardly worth noticing? I have no idea and I’m not looking it up.”

        Sorry, we can’t let you get away with that. Unavoidable part of the soundtrack of Christmas in the UK
        Especially the yelled “IT’S CHRIIIISTMAAAS” near the end (about 3 minutes into the following clip). It’s a cultural necessity to know this, and now a literary one too. 🙂

        • Phil Town
          Timeless magic. I never tire of this.
          • Please, Ken, say what you really mean, lol 🙂

            I’ll post an antidote below …

    • Phil Town
      This is a lovely story, Ken. I really like how you dive into the scene right from the word ‘go’ (“Christmas Eve around 4 pm.”) No messing! Your descriptions are delightful, giving a clear visual picture but also transmitting the mood. They might just be a little OTT perhaps? e.g. Is the paragraph beginning “The place was crowded and the air was redolent” totally necessary, since we already get the feel of the place? But that might just be me. The question of the boxes … it’s a really magical idea, of course, but might a tweak be made? Perhaps if the narrator sees a box on his own table, wonders what in heaven it is, goes to pick it up, then hears the little boy and his mother, sees what happens to them, then opens his own box? It’s all the same action, but might just add a little to the suspense. And I do know (and love) Noddy Holder as I’m British too. It will depend on your readership, I suppose, whether you should include him or not.

      Really great story … and welcome!

      • Ken Frape

        I am playing that film clip of Noddy Holder as I type this message. A musician certainly doesn’t earn over half a million in royalties every year without having something to commend the music. I also love Jonah Louis and “Stop The Cavalry” but Noddy will do for now.

        I have been really impressed by the quality of the feedback that I have received as a relative newcomer to this site. I certainly will not be put off by a bit of literary criticism and I am determined to take the comments in the spirit in which they were intended and, where necessary, defend my corner, as I would in my local writers’ group. As Ken C says, he has read a huge number of stories and this considerable amount of knowledge carries weight. I am glad that I was able to introduce him to a new word “Fug” which, of course, could be replaced, should I choose to do so. My further research suggests that it may have unfortunate other connotations that might make it unsuitable in other parts of the world.

        There are some real improvements which I think I could make following on from the comments I have received. If I have the opportunity to read this story again in public at some future Open Mic event, then I may include some of these.

        There has been some discussion about culturally specific references and once again there are changes I could make. As it happens, I did not write this story with the USA or the wider world in mind but I am familiar with sidewalk, diner, Realtor and other non-UK terms so there should be a degree of flexibility here, I feel.
        Ken F

    • Carrie Zylka

      Lovely story Ken,
      I love a feel-good story this time of year and loved the seeming transformation of an old homeless beggar to the benefactor to so many.
      Not sure what a fug is, I’m sure it’s been clarified in the comments. But absolutely delightful story and I loved the imagery of the coffee shop and the people in it. Your attention to detail was superb.

      • I agree with Carrie and the appreciative comments above by everyone else.

        ‘Fug’, btw – Brit English for a warm, stuffy or smoky atmosphere in a room. Probably not used so much any more, due to the ubiquity of another word that sounds very similar…

        Ken F, I really enjoyed the story, the laying of image over image to build the magical picture in the room. And a story that builds to a happy ending without there having been any prior conflict is hard to do successfully, but you do.

        A few (arguably) missing hyphens. And a couple of tautologies (e.g. ‘decorated Christmas trees bedecked …’)

        Should the story be culturally smoothed out for the sake of non-British readers? I’m not sure. There are some distinctively British features that add a certain flavour, not just the fug in a coffee shop on a winter’s day, but also the references to the coalman, the £2 coin and of course Noddy Holder. But then on the other hand, a warm, steamy coffee shop on a winter’s day could as easily be in Stockholm, New York or Toronto so does it need the Britishness to succeed? Noddy could be Bing who’s known across the world … and so on, to internationalise the cultural references. But for me the cultural centred-ness adds some magic.

        Probably half the fiction I read is by non-English-speaking authors or people from other cultures writing in English. And I love all the diversity of viewpoints, settings and cultural references. And looking things up, too. So, homogeneity or diversity – which should we aim for in a contest with writers from several countries?

    • Nice story Ken F, In the beginning I enjoyed with dancing of snow before darkness. As old man entered I followed his behavior. I refereed dictionary for the words meaning many times. Towards last paragraph only I remembered that there has to be some miracles.
    • Peter Holmes
      Too many compliments to list, but I love your story.
    • Sarig Levin
      Most jolly, heartwarming and entertaining, Ken. In short, a true Christmas tale. It also seemed to me to be somewhat of a fast transition between a few reluctant flakes of snow and a full blown snowstorm, but that might very well be another part of the Christmas miracle.
    • Amy Meyer
      I loved the originality of your language and metaphors, particularly the way that the man shakes himself off like a wet dog. And the description of the people lighting up like office lights. It really lit up the scene for me.
  • Ken Frape
    Second version of Christmas Gold! with a correction by the author.
  • RM York
    Great story, Ken. Good descriptions . As I read the story I thought ah, there’s a little error. He’s there with his daughter in the first couple of paragraphs and then, later, he’s alone. Then, I saw the second story and realized you corrected that little bit, so I don’t really have a lot to critique about. Welcome to the little group we have here and look forward to seeing more from you. I like what you did and how the story flowed. The only thing I saw that comes to mind without going back over the story looking for things was the storm seemed to be reluctant in coming with only a few flakes of snow hitting the ground and melting, yet as the old man enters the store his russet brown coat drips with melted snow. I didn’t get the impression there was enough snow to do that, or for his boots to scatter drops like exploding sequins. You always have to be on the alert for ‘blue prose’ which can be too much of a good thing. And your descriptions are good, just don’t over do it. Just my humble opinion mate; feel free to discard as you wish, or think about.
    • Ken Frape
      Thanks for your comments which I have studied carefully and can see how I can improve my story. It is always useful to receive positive feedback but very easy to dismiss it as not relevant.Writers can be very sensitive!
      What your comments show is that you did take the time to read my story and I thank you for that.
  • RM York
    The Real Deal
    (1198 words)

    When I was a kid, I totally bought into the Santa Claus thing. You know, the old “you better be good, I’m telling you why – Santa Claus is coming to town” business. I dutifully wrote my letter to Santa every year and every year the guy in the red suit would come through. Great stuff when you’re a kid.

    Christmas, even with all its glitz and trappings, is my favorite time of the year. Always has been. We start playing Christmas music the day after Thanksgiving. Cheerfully, we decorate a Christmas tree, and put lights on the house. I love Christmas. As I grew older, my beard turned white and I look an awful lot like the man who brings the toys in his sleigh.

    I started working part time in a chain grocery store, and my new boss started calling me Kris Kringle the day I joined his crew. It got so no one called me by my real name, but Kris, St. Nick, or even Santa. So, when Christmas rolled around, I wore a red and white Santa hat and a red shirt to work.

    The manager loved it so much he put me on special duty to just walk around the store and hand out candy to the little kids and act like I was the real deal. It worked. Kids flocked to me like bees to honey.

    I had a knack for it and would go around being the jolly ambassador for Christmas loving it as much, if not more, than the children and their parents. I was able to convince them I was the real thing and I reveled in it. More than one parent told me their children were better behaved because they thought they actually knew the real Santa and knew that I was watching.

    Things were going just swell until the day a little boy about seven years old came up to me. He told me his name was Lincoln, and asked If I was the real Santa Claus. “What do you think?” I asked.

    “I think you are.”

    I told him the stock answer I had thought up for occasions like this. “Well, Lincoln, I’m as real a Santa Claus as you are ever going to meet. How’s that?”

    He looked at me all somber, and I saw a darkness fall over him. I knelt down to his level and look him in the eye. “So, what do you want for Christmas?” I asked.

    He said, “I don’t want any toys or anything; maybe just something for my little brother, he’s over there.” He pointed to a young boy about five standing by a man with a grocery cart.

    “Is that your dad,” I asked.

    “Yep,” he answered softly. “He takes us to the store all the time now.”

    “I’ll bet he’s a good dad,” I said.

    “He is. He’s a great dad.”

    “Well then,” I said, “What do you want for Christmas and I’ll see what I can do.”

    “I want my mom to come home from the hospital. She’s pretty sick.”

    I straightened up, my mind was racing. I hadn’t expected this and didn’t have an answer for Lincoln. “Let’s go talk to your dad.” As we walked over, for the first time since I put on the Santa hat, I had doubts. How was I going to fix this? I had just told him I was the real thing. He was convinced I was the real thing, and since he’d put in a personal request to the jolly fat man himself, believed I was going to deliver.

    As we approached, I said, “Hi there, Dad. Lincoln just told me what he wanted for Christmas, and I wanted to talk to you about it.”

    “Well,” said Lincoln’s father, “Lincoln’s got some big ideas. What did he ask for?”

    As gently as I could say it and in a low voice only he could hear, “He wants his mom to come home from the hospital.”

    The man was visibly affected by my answer. “It’s going to take more than a wish from Santa to deliver that.” He motioned to Lincoln, “Take Emerson over to the dairy department and the two of you pick out some chocolate milk.” He turned to me as they left. “The doctor thinks she may not come home at all.” He started to choke up. “She’s been sick for a few months now, in and out of the hospital, but this last time, I … I just don’t know. I don’t want the boys to know that, so I don’t know what you should tell him.”

    About that time Lincoln and Emerson came back with the milk. I knelt down to Lincoln’s level again. “Look, Lincoln, this thing you’re asking; that’s not something Santa can do. Santa brings presents and I’ll sure do that, but I can’t tell you if your mom is going to be home for Christmas. What you need to do is to be a big boy for your dad and to help him take care of Emerson. Can you do that for me?” He nodded, but you could read the disappointment on his face. I was his last chance. “Never give up hope, Lincoln. Never, and I’ll see what I can do.”

    After they left the store, I seriously thought about giving up this Santa thing. It broke my heart to see that little boy who’s only Christmas gift request was for his sick mom. That night I prayed for the first time in over 50 years. There was no other way I could help.

    Dad would come in every few days with the boys and I would talk to him about how things were going, but it wasn’t going well. And then, several days passed without seeing them.

    Finally, it was Christmas Eve and the store closed early. Snow had been falling all day and it was turning into a real storm. I was just ready to get in my car and head home when I saw Lincoln’s dad walking across the parking lot. He spotted me and signaled for me to wait. He walked toward me slowly with his head down. My heart sank. He had told me he would keep me posted during our last visit, and I dreaded what he was going to tell me.

    “I’m glad I caught you before you left.” he said. “I just want you to know …”, he paused and the tears came and he wasn’t able to talk for a few seconds, “I want you to know my wife was accepted for a new experimental drug trial. It looks very promising and the doctor says there’s a good chance for remission. Lincoln doesn’t know yet, but she’s coming home tomorrow for a few days.”

    I wan’t able to talk. I just grabbed him and hugged him, tears running down my cheeks. I pulled away. “You know I had nothing to do with this…”

    “I’m not so sure,” he interrupted, “because tomorrow morning, Lincoln is going to get the Christmas present he asked you for. Thank you … Santa.” He shook my hand. With that, he walked into the snowstorm, never looking back.

    • Dear RM, Some story take me very smoothly with out being any kid of barrier. I flow with the sentimental level attached to the story and at the end it gives feeling of some kind of amusement. This story is of that kind. You have handed the conversation of Santa clause (That is you) and boys so practically with out being guided by superstition. You presented the X-mas miracles as required by the criteria so nicely that is scientifically possible.
      • RM York
        Thank you, Nam. I appreciate your comments.
    • Roy,

      That’s a wonderful story Roy. Beautifully delivered. The writing is fabulous and the story is great too.

      ou have one mistake: In the paragraph that begins with ‘He looked at me all somber… I knelt down to his level and look(ed) him in the eye.’

      Other than that minor ‘fug’, I think your story is fabulicious.

      • RM York
        The mind works in funny ways. In all my readings and rereadings and editing and more rereadings, I didn’t catch that, nor did my beta readers. In retrospect, I wanted it to say ‘to look him in the eye’ but either way, with a simple change from ‘and’ to ‘to’, or simply make it looked, it fixes it and I thank you for that. You are absolutely correct. Dang.
    • Phil Town
      A brilliant story once again, Roy. It could have been mawkish, but you dealt with the idea with just the right dose of sentimentality. The light beginning, and how the narrator gets his nicknames and the Santa job, and then the flip into the serious story, is expertly done. I think it was a good idea to have the mother’s recovery only a possibility. Maybe when Lincoln’s dad is speaking to the narrator in the car park (“I’m glad I caught you …”) you could have the narrator interrupting him with a mistaken “I’m sorry.” after the dad pauses (?) Then the dad cheers up and corrects him. Just to break that little explanation up a bit.

      But a great story. Like Ken F, I had something in my eye by the end.

    • Carrie Zylka

      I mean seriously.
      Friggin seriously. Probably shouldn’t have read this story in public for goodness sake, now everyone is staring at me blubbering away.
      My goodness this story is well crafted. I really can’t say much else except good job at giving me “the feels”.

      • RM York
        Thanks so much, Carrie. Glad it accomplished what I wanted it to do when I wrote it, but it was easy to write. Not that I’m that good, it’s that it’s a real life story based on a real life incident with Lincoln and I and his dad. I cannot even begin to tell you how happy that Christmas Eve was for me. I can only imagine how happy Lincoln and his dad were.
    • Peter Holmes
      I see little error, beautifully written
    • Well, you could almost see that as a family Christmas movie, Roy. As Phil says, just the right level of sentimentality, and anchored by the store Santa’s believable dilemma. Very good job.

      The only words I’d change are – not yours! It’s the ‘never looking back’ right at the very end. The situation and dynamic of the story seem to demand either a cheery wave over the shoulder, or a final thoughtful, puzzled look. Maybe both. But that’s something not under your control to fulfil the prompt.

      • RM York
        It’s a real life story that I had to modify to put in a snowstorm and the ending line because of the prompt. I had about 1500 other preferred ending sentences I would have liked, but the use of an ending line prompt was my idea originally on this site about 5 years ago and you live by the sword and you die by the sword. I wanted writers to stretch themselves. I think of ending lines like “Hello, Darling” (Pet Semetary) and “After all, tomorrow’s another day” (Gone with the Wind) and everytime I hear them I think of the story.

        It works in a sort of way, but hey, thanks for the nice comments. I loved writing the story and it was a heart warming event in my life as well.

    • Sarig Levin
      A beautifully written modern twist on a classic Christmas miracle theme. Oh, how enchanting Christmas must be for children. Made me wish I would have had a chance to experience Christmas with the heart and mind of a child.
      • RM York
        Thanks, Sarig, Christmas is all of that to me, and I’m fully grown now. I still look at it with the eyes of a child. Thanks for your wonderful comments, and I truly wish you could experience the magic of Christmas morning.
    • Dear Roy,
      It is 2.37a.m. I have just woken up from my tossed and turned kind of sleep. I have always been a bad sleeper. I knew I wouldn’t sleep for the next hour or so. Then again, I’d doze off for the next half hour or so. I have heard it told that insomnia is a disease. But things have kept happening and I have had little time to worry about my health.
      So, to spend the next waking hour productively, I turn to F2C and decide to give your story a reading. God! What a story it turns out to be! Believe you me when I say that I have read some real good stories in life and yours belongs right up there.
      Because of my suspicious nature, my mind kept telling me during the reading that I’d read something similar somewhere. When Lincoln met his Santa, I could tell straight away that he’s going to ask Santa to bring his sick mother/father/brother/sister suffering from some kinda terminal disease home for Christmas. When Lincoln pointed to Emersion and dad, I chucked to myself. It’s gone to be the cancerous mom then. As my guess proved nearly correct, I thought you were just beating around the bushes. But as I continued reading, I got the first shock when I stumbled upon the line: ‘Never give up hope, Lincoln. Never, and I’ll see what I can do.” Wai I told myself. Hold on a second. Roy IS NOT employing the usual staff here. This sounds more real than real! You know what I’m talking about, buddy, don’t you? And then something happened. My mind started praying. Oh, this is brilliant staff, man. Let it stop here. Please, please, please, God.
      But the first line of the next pararaph popped up on my scene and all I could do was heave a long sigh. No, Roy is sure gonna spoil the party.
      Yep, I thought I was right, when Lincoln’s dad choked while talking about his wife. Gone, Roy, you made the greatest blunder, mate. The death of the mother will signal the death of the story. But wait There is something unfolding, something being revealed through his talk- the twist:
      “I want you to know my wife was accepted for a new experimental drug trial. It looks very promising and the doctor says there’s a good chance for remission. Lincoln doesn’t know yet, but she’s coming home tomorrow for a few days.”
      I want you to know that you were not the only one grabbing and hugging with tears running down your cheeks, but so was I as a reader. But what is even more interesting was the fact that my heart was leaping up, praying for the author, his health, success and long life. That’s the impact of great writers, buddy. God bless you and Merry Christmas in advance.
      • RM York
        I hardly know how to answer your critique, except to say thank you.
    • Amy Meyer
      This story was a real tear-jerker. I had to stop reading because I was in public! I wondered whether the ‘little boy who only wants for his ill mother to come home’, was a little cliqued as a concept, but the shop santa viewpoint gave it a fresh spin.
      • RM York
        Thanks, Ann. Unfortunately, as cliched as it may be, this is based on a true incident in my life a few years ago as the part time Santa in the story. I had no answer for the little boy when he told me what he wanted. I was worried it may be read that way. I never did find out if the mom went into complete remission, as I didn’t see Lincoln and his brother but one time after that, and we didn’t talk about his Mom, although she was there with him. It was nice to meet her, but we never discussed the gift Lincoln asked for, and I don’t know if they ever discussed it. He might have told her he asked Santa and got his wish, but I doubt she thought it was me, because I no longer had the hat and longer Santa type beard.

        It really did make me stop and consider what kids believe and how much power they put in others. And, we adults are the ones who fill their heads with this. I had to change a few things like add snow – this happened in Las Vegas. It didn’t change how I felt and writing this story down was actually cathartic for me. Yes, there’s a bit of artistic license involved, as in all memories repeated over and over, which simply get better with time and the telling.

  • Ken Frape
    My word, the tears are running down my face as I type this message.
    Great writing creates emotional responses in its readers and this has really hit me.
  • RM York
    Thak you for your kind comments Ken. The story is based on a true event, (with some artistic license – I had to add the snow because of the prompt, and I took some liberties with the dialogue because I can’t remember it exactly). Lincoln and his brother Emerson are real people and so is their Mom and Dad. I worked at Trader Joe’s for 4 years and that was the only incident of it’s kind or even close to it.

    All the rest were taking photos, promising that skate board if a parent standing nearby nodded their approval and saying “Santa can’t deliver that X-box, they come from Best Buy, not the North Pole”, when a parent frantically shook their head “no”, and explaining why my reindeer weren’t parked outside the store. Little kids are sharp, but very gullible. It only has to make sense to them. (Because their food is at my house, not the store.)

    I was emotional writing the story (with tears running down MY face)as I recalled it, and it was my goal to create that emotional response in my readers. Thank you for letting me know I succeeded.

    BTW, I really didn’t tell you how much I liked your story. I did. I thought you brought Santa Claus to life in your story and made it believable. Although, yesterday when I was talking to my wife, I told her I thought you missed a chance to make the guy and his daughter a little bit on the ‘desperately needing an influx of cash for some noble purpose’ or something similar, and then, have them be the only recipients of the ‘miracle of the gold’, instead of everybody. That, in my opinion, might have made your story unbeatable. As it is, it’s a winner no matter where you finish.

  • Brown Wolf
    Words: 1075

    Noel wanted to become a writer. Disappointingly, his writings never touched people to the point from where wow factor become active. There was occasional feeling of heaviness of that unsatisfied need in his mind. He wanted to clear it out.
    Christmas was approaching. Noel wanted to test whether Christmas is a cultural event or inner connection with Jesus, the son of God. If It is a simply culture, joy comes from the environment created by the people as an event, activities, and excitements among the people. Hence, He wanted to go away from the people, infrastructure created by them. He wanted to go to the place close to the nature for this Christmas. He imagined the places and search around the world. In the end, he found the place close to his imagination. The place was the Yellow Stone Valley.

    Noel was eager to see a magnificent scene of nature around the Yellow Stone Valley. He visited one after other collecting all treasures of nature in one place. After visiting the key places of the large park, He decided to take a sweet memory. It was the proper Christmas day too. He sat under a shade of tree and opened his art book. He wanted to capture the scene; however, none of the sites would fulfill his need to be included in the memorable art he imagined. Knowingly or unknowingly, he wanted to include all features that were alluring and spread around the park. It was practically not possible. Art paper remained blank. Art formed his imagination did not transform into the paper. He closed the book as it is.
    He then opened the notebook and started to imagine a poem that would well describe the scene around him.
    First, he closed the eyes. A gloomy scene appeared from nothing. He thought that it must be the impression of the scene and light what was persisting there when the eyes opened. A pattern of the gloomy scene changed and disappeared. It was just a blank. He concentrated his mind and activated himself in the poetry field.
    He gradually opened the eyes, real scene started to appear gradually. There was a Clearwater flowing in a stream. Water flowing in the stream was perfectly clean that touched the heart with purity. It was a rocky bank with an amazing form look like a mixture of copper and gold making the various pattern. As the stream was flowing from the sloping bed with obstruction of blocks of rocks, that generated a typical sound following a rhythm.
    The first stanza begins:

    Eyes gazed on the bank
    Pattern paint and its glow
    Silently tapping sound
    Jumping water and its flow

    At the distance away from the other side of the bank was multiplication of grey hill. Noel could see volcano erupted at various point in the hill. As he focused on the point, noticed that the volcano was not active. It stopped already may be a long time ago. However, shape depicts how it might have erupted.
    The place is very cold now. He could see snow in the cluster of Christmas trees in his right side in the other side of the stream. At the far sight, he could see steam blowing upwards from the geyser and rising to the sky. His eyes skipped from the stream and focused on an old volcano and Christmas trees
    The second stanza appeared:

    The volcano erupted and stopped
    Created magnificent shape for free
    Thanks to coldness and falling snow
    Hanging on Christmas tree

    The sky in the background was blue and completely opened. Sun was shining glowing the sides of the scene facing sun. In a near site on the bank to the left, there was a wildflower looking different with red color. It was leisurely shaking with the gentle wind. He looked for a long time on architect and color of the flower. Snow was not there may be already melted.
    The third stanza developed:

    On the top of glossy and green leaves
    Colored with extract of copper and gold
    Petals forming fold and crease
    A different flower looking soft with bold

    It was getting colder and colder. Droplets of snow were falling continuously with more and more densely. Sun disappeared. From the distance, abruptly storm of snow started. It was a beautiful scene until it was getting colder than what my body could resist. Beauty did not persist for a long time. The coldness caused pain, drawing attention to the whole body.
    The fourth stanza arisen:

    Droplets of snow moving
    Flying on the air
    Eyes wanted enjoying
    However, pain flew tear.

    On my side over the colored bank of stream, a brown wolf spread all of sudden. Covered with droplets of snow it walked sluggishly. When it took position in my front, stretched its body with head upward and tail downwards in a slope. Four feet appeared standing boldly. It started howling. Noel guessed that it is enjoying for the storm of snow. After all, wolf also has life may be it is crying with coldness beyond capacity of its skin. Maybe it is trying to create extra energy to tackle extra coldness. Maybe it is warning its friend not to come in the area. As the brown wolf started to cry in that magnificent posture, Noel suddenly felt warmness over the coldness. The brown wolf appeared brighter and became Icon over the whole scene. The snowstorm was still there but it was no colder.

    Noel remembered the Jesus who hung on that cross dying and suffered for others sins.
    Noel murmured, “Oh, Jesus, you appeared again in the form of a wolf for my mistake to stay in this cold place for the stupid idea to make it memorable. You do not want people to face pain and agony. You want to suffer for other depicting kindness. Oh, Jesus, you wanted to teach people not to make beloved god pain and agony for their sin. People look one side of your story. You actually wanted people to avoid any kind of sin and help other people. Sorry, Jesus you again suffered for me today.”

    Brown wolf jumped to another side of the stream hauled again and moved away. Noel remained watching with the gentle motion of wolf away from him towards the center of blizzard. He lost the self in the whole scene. Wolf cried for the last time.
    “With that, the wolf walked into the snowstorm, never looking back.”.

    (Note: I have not visited Yellow Stone Valley)

    • Carrie Zylka

      Nam, as always you take me to places with your writing that I’ve never been but the traveler in me wants to go.
      Absolutely fabulous story and I echo everyone’s sentiments, your writing is improving a hundred-fold.
      I loved the symbolism between the wolf and Jesus and absolutely thought the poetry/song was beautifully crafted.
      Great job with the prompt!

    • Carrie Zylka

      P.S. I changed “grey wolf” to “brown wolf” in the story for you. 😉

    • Nam,

      Your story oddly mirrors the raw unfinished essence of Yellowstone. Despite your usual errors, you’ve conveyed the mystery, power and grandeur of that wonderful place.

      I’ve been there, and I consider it one of greatest natural wonders of the world. The geysers, the multi-colored hot springs, the sulphur pits, the herds of enormous bison, the grand vistas, canyons, rivers and valleys.

      The gray wolf should be the symbol of Yellowstone: A wild creature, fierce, deadly, beautiful and dignified. (And sadly, much misunderstood.) Your story pays homage to that magnificent place, its beautiful inhabitants and the powerful force that created the whole thing.

      I guess I can forgive you for the poetry.

    • Sarig Levin
      What an enchanting tale. What I particularly appreciate about your writing, Nam, is it’s unique voice. I feel both challenged (which I enjoy in reading, as in life in general) and privileged to be allowed a glimpse into a mindset that is so different to mine, both for the way you see the world as a unique person and the cultural backdrop your writing reflects.
    • Intriguing and ambitious story, Nam. I like the concept, and it conveys a mood well.

      Also bold to include poetry. I like the idea of a person searching for connection to the world around him (and mystically beyond) who struggles to find a way to express this, then takes in the sights and sounds and expresses it through poetry.

      However, I think you might have made life hard for yourself by including a kind of rhyming pattern.
      As the poetry does not have a consistent metrical or rhythmic structure, i think it would have been better to go for free verse and abandon the rhyme. That would free up your choice of words, as the choice of words you’ve used for rhyming seems a bit forced. Without the rhyme or a set number of syllables, you could also focus more on the ‘beat’ of the words which you would feel if reading aloud.

      • Nam Raj Khatri
        Thank you Andy for review. regarding poem as you suggested I could write with free verse and avoid part of the story itself. Poem intentionally challenged my self try some rhythm and add this as additional. I know that poem is not well expressed.
    • Dear Nam,
      Hope you haven’t forgotten me already. I have read your story rich in imagery, twice. Let me get to the point straight away. You started your story in the third person by introducing Noel (I like the use of this symbolic name), but then you changed the PoV in the paragraph with the sun disappearing and YOU feeling cold, into a First Person narrative. Now, my friend, in the art of story writing, this is absolutely not permitted. You have to maintain consistency as regards the POV.
      The next thing that caught me off guard, was your mistaking the wolf for Jesus. Though my knowledge of Jesus is very limited, for some reason I did not like the idea. Of course, my idea doesn’t matter much in this regard.
      I like your idea of using chunks of poem in between the narration. The stanzas let me have a glimpse of your poetic side. Keep writing, buddy. You are doing great. All the best.
      • Nam Raj Khatri
        Dear RNB, thank you for reading my story critically. Regarding POV I am getting confused now. I am not sure whether POV changed or not on the para you mentioned. But I noted that in the next para ” on my side—” there i made mistake. I suggest senior writers to advise me. Thank you for pointing.

        Regarding Jesus. I amused Jesus as god ( or son of god, same as god). Prompt is in the context of Christmas. If it was Eid may be I would use Allaha and so on. We can see god or his spirit everywhere created by him if we have assumed god even for the story. I think I have not mistaken.

    • Susan WM
      I find it amazing that you have never been there. I have, and you captured it beautifully. I do not normally like/appreciate poetry, but you made it work nicely. Well done.
    • Amy Meyer

      I thought your story was wonderfully poetic. I agree with the others about your grammar: keep going you’re really improving. I liked the wolf and thought the whole story profound and intriguing. Well done!

  • RM York
    Nam, even with the grammar mistakes, and some misplaces words and meanings, I found your venture into Yellowstone National Park (had to think about that when I first read it) as real as if someone had actually been there. I loved what you did with the poetry and am pretty impressed with this little venture of yours. Nice job; nice job indeed.

    You did refer to the wolf as grey at one point, as I think there was only one wolf, and also referred to it as brown. (It would be grey, by the way) and that needs fixed.

    Enjoyed your story and the emotion that you conveyed for the ‘spirit’ of the season.

    • Thank you RM for nice comments. I wrote grey wolf instead brown wolf once and you caught. This means you wanted to enjoy each words. I can realize how inappropriate use of words and placement causes problem in such reading. I am gradually improving. Thanks again for suggestion.
      • RM York
        You are definitely improving. I can see it, and was impressed with the difference in the first few paragraphs of your story. I imagine you paint beautiful images in your own language, and having tried to learn two languages (Italian and Russian) I can see how difficult it really is to read and write in a language, even though one can speak it. Ears and eyes are two different organs and sometimes do not communicate well with each other when the brain is over taxed.
  • Ken Frape
    Hi Nam,
    Pretty much in agreement with RM’s comments. You paint some beautiful images with your words. I have not been to Yellowstone but I almost feel that you took me there.
    I note that you are from Nepal so does that mean English is your second language? I don’t wish to patronise you but if that is so then your work is even more impressive.
    Great stuff Nam.
  • Phil Town
    Very nice story, Nam. As Roy and Ken F say, the reader gets a good impression of the park – the park’s a little miracle in itself. Good that you included sound in your description (the river). I like the idea that Noel (neat choice of name) can’t reproduce the beauty by drawing/paining it, but can by writing about it (I don’t really ‘get’ poetry in general, but I quite like yours). The appearance of the wolf, and its moving away (which was the last line we had to use, but it fits your story perfectly) are lovely, magical (spiritual) images.
  • Peter Holmes
    Jesus Justice by Peter Holmes – Word Count: 1210:

    My 14th Christmas. You think I’d be prepared, but I wasn’t ready this year.
    So, we all mostly know ‘bout Santa, right? I’d always wait for Santa. Every year it was doses of “I’m going to stay up” or “I’ll catch Santa.” I’d fall asleep and wake up disappointed at my failure.
    This year I rolled into bed, thinking the same thing – “I’m older now, I have more power over sleep.” I stayed awake this year but didn’t see Santa. Instead I met a very interesting person. You’d probably like Him. Usually with a beard, walks on water and wears a robe. I met Jesus. How cool is that? Sadly, I couldn’t tell anyone I was BFFs with the Son of God. He was rude at first, but He really knows how to make friends. Okay, I can tell you need an explanation. Buckle up kiddos, here’s what happened. Let me set the scene:
    It smelled like roast turkey and Christmas pudding. Not at the same time obviously. Unless… No, never mind. Each year we devour a plateful of roast dinner, and oh my word your taste buds learn the very definition of merry. I’ll have to stop talking about that otherwise I’m going to start drooling. Moving on to the decorations – if the bauble reflections didn’t put your retinas out for business, the jolly beams of the street’s wall lights certainly would. Every Christmas, you could probably see our lovely houses from space. I just hope the astronauts don’t go blind.
    The presents under the tree were more than happy to greet me but I immediately zoned in on the biggest one. Plain red wrapping paper, but it was hiding something. “Dear David, I hope you enjoy this gift. Merry Christmas. Love, your Auntie Sally.” She’d always been my favourite auntie. The floodgates of my joyous tears had been ripped wide open.
    I realised I’d been staring at the presents for quite a few minutes now, so I stood up to get to bed. My curtains were on the verge of closure, when I saw a light looking like an army of fireflies. Only it burnt brighter against the glowing black satin behind layers and layers of serene clouds above my head. At the time, I thought it was Santa’s sleigh. Boy was I wrong. Admittedly, it began to scare me because looked very close. It targeted our street and fixated into my house. As if it went into our house. But that’s stupid, right?
    Without further hesitation, I dashed downstairs, and there he was.
    The Beloved Son of God. The Author of Eternal Salvation. The Consolation of Israel, Desire of the Nations, etcetera. You get the gist. It was Jesus Christ. A Christmas miracle. Or so I thought.
    “Are you J-J-Jesus?” It was as if my mouth was too stunned to form words.
    “Uhhh. Nope. Just a regular dude.” The ‘regular dude’ had to hold back His smirk.
    “Then why are you glowing?”
    “Nice try.”
    “Fine, yes, I’m Jesus. It was nice meeting you, but I’m here to take your presents. Christmas was supposed to celebrate my birth, and you’ve mutated it into your own celebration. So, I deserve this. Consider it karma. I’m sorry, and goodbye.”
    Levitation was a cool superpower and Jesus had seemed to master it. He drifted away from my house, with my biggest present. You know the big red one? It just disappeared from my view. I figured I had to get it back. Jesus was right to be angry, but this was not the way to get over it. So, I did what any rational child would do. Strapped into my skiing gear, filled my backpack with essential equipment, with a frying pan and spatula hanging off my belt. I wasn’t planning on hitting Jesus, but if school had taught me anything, it was that you should always be prepared. I opened the door and welcomed the bracing winds. Just before he escaped, I managed to see Jesus’s flight path. He was headed for the garden store, currently full to the brim with Christmas Trees.
    “Hey kid! You looking for me?!” The angelic voice erupted from somewhere within the garden. It looked like we had a classic game of hide ‘n’ seek on our hands. The stakes – Christmas. You think it’d be easy to find someone that literally shined brighter than a firework, but I guess it was something He could turn on and off. I brushed past the branches, not caring how the leaves felt like needles against my skin. I needed to hunt down the Holy Child. First and last time I ever said that. “You’re getting closer…” I heard the softest whisper. I whipped around, spatula in hand. And He was gone. I had to study His movements, think like Him, focus onto the shape of anything.
    It took me a full thirty minutes until I got a solid grip onto His robe. I shook His hand and He admitted defeat. Well, up to when He flew away again, still with my present. I tracked Him to Hestia’s Hill (I often went sledding there, it was the biggest snow depository you’d ever seen). I wondered why Jesus would go there. Other than to make snow angels.
    I arrived to the sight of Jesus stood at the top of the hill. It had a strong cowboy standoff vibe. I walked in, trying to keep my cool. Though even with ski wear you could clearly see me shivering. I tripped over a pile of snowballs, realising why Jesus had tricked me here. I grabbed the snowballs, prepared for whatever was going to happen.
    A ball of anger smacked me right in the stomach, teaching me how this game was going to be played. I got a few good shots in, but it really hurt when Jesus accidentally turned the snowballs into ‘wineballs’. As in, solidified wine. That hit me as a glacial pang of pain like the stab of a dagger of ice frozen from a poisoned well. Or maybe I’m exaggerating. Well it gave me bruises either way. The snowball match went on for even longer than the hide ‘n’ seek game. A full forty-five minutes of pelting snow back and forth, ’til I finally won.
    I’d hate to go into the soppy details, but I had a nice chat with Jesus. I felt obligated to explain how we still appreciated Him at Christmas. I proceeded to ask if he’d like a nickname. I suggested “Floaty Toes”, but he decided on “J-dog”. He healed my ‘wineball’ bruises for me. He carried me through the clouds on the way home, which topped off the best day ever. As he left, he asked – “Hey kid, I never asked for your name. Tell me and I’ll put in a good word for you on the Entry to Heaven list.”
    “It’s David. Thank you.”
    “Oh good name. I was friends with a David a while ago. Actually I knew a lot of men called David. If you live up to your name, which I’m sure you will, you’ll grow up to be a fine man.”
    With that, He walked into the snowstorm, never looking back.

    • RM York
      Gotta admit this may be one of the most ‘off the wall’ or should I say, ‘off the cloud’ stories ever written for this site. Still kinda looking for the miracle, other than being BFF’s with the Son of God. There’s a book out about a guy who was Jesus’ best friend growing up that is almost as irreverent as yours is – not that that is a bad thing – no, indeed – I thoroughly enjoyed it. Nice flip on a Christmas story.

      Others have already mentioned the ‘blue prose’ issue, and you will learn like most good writers that less is more. You’ll figure it out. You also seemed to be writing in a stream of consciousness manner; again, not that it’s bad, but it seemed like synapses were firing off and you were just writing it down as it came. You might want to clean that up a tad. Then others may disagree with me thinking, I kinda liked the ‘wineball’ thing, I mean he is the Immaculate Conception after all.

      And, welcome to the site.

      • Peter Holmes
        Firstly, I’m glad you enjoyed it. Secondly, thank you for your tips, I’ll definitely be keeping them in mind.
        And of course, thank you for welcoming me.
    • Wow. The Divinity who Stole Christmas!
      Maybe the most original encounter with Jesus in literary history!
      I didn’t know which way the story was going at any point. And I kind of get the feeling you didn’t know exactly either, Peter 🙂
      Hunting down the Holy child in a garden centre full of Christmas trees … We need to get Tim Burton to film it , and it will be on TV every Christmas.
      I think I’ve run out of things to say … except it was a fun ride, though I sit here waiting for the thunderbolt to strike
      • Peter Holmes
        Thank you so much for your comments on Tim Burton and the originality of my idea.
        And yes, my thought process was very hectic haha.
    • Hi, Peter … and welcome!

      That’s a really fun story. As Andy said, it seemed in places that you might have been making it up as you went along, but there’s nothing wrong with that in my mind – adds to the sense of surprise. I like the direct addressing of the reader – breaking the fourth wall, as it were – and the conversational tone – quite fitting given the content of the story. ‘Floaty Toes’ had me grinning like a fool. A couple of suggestions: there could be some kind of transition just before “Hey kid! You looking for me?!” – the narrator is at his house one second then at the garden store the next; the Christmas trees scratch his skin, although he’s wearing full skiing gear …; and maybe the second escape to Hestia’s Hill is one too many – the hide’n’seek and the snowball fight could happen in the same location.

      But I really enjoyed the story for its originality and wit.

      • Peter Holmes
        This’ll seem repetitive at this point, but thanks, I appreciate it a lot. I am fully aware of how some parts didn’t flow very well, but it helped to hear a second opinion (and certainly one with advice attached to it).
        I loved your story too by the way, can’t wait for further competition entries from you.
    • Amy Meyer
      This is a completely whacky ride. I thought it was funny and quirky. I loved the ‘wineballs’
      • Peter Holmes
        So kind, thanks! And it seems you got the quirky vibe I was going for haha
  • Ken Frape
    Hi Peter,
    This is a most unusual take on the Christmas story, in my opinion. It made me smile in places and I have picked out a couple of phrases that I particularly enjoyed;
    “I am older now, I have more power over sleep.” I wish I had! Unless I am dressed as Father Christmas for the kids and grandkids, I always miss him.
    “BFFs with the son of God.”
    “Buckle up kiddos,here’s what happened…” Suggests a kind of conspiratorial whisper, taking someone into your condidence etc.
    “Every Christmas you could probably see our houses from space.” We’ve all seen those over the top Christmas decorations.
    “I opened the door and welcomed the bracing winds.” A lovely image.
    “Consider it karma.” I love that.

    I know I can be (rightly!) accused of some over the top prose and I think there are a couple of examples in your story too. That’s not to say you shouldn’t use them, of course. My examples,
    “The floodgates of my joyous tears had been ripped wide open.” That’s a lot of tears!
    “That hit me as a glacial pang of pain like the stab of a dagger of ice frozen from a poisoned well.” There’s a lot packed into this sentence. My wife really liked this but it does need to be read several times to take in the imagery.

    So, a Christmas snowball fight with Jesus? Totally original in my experience.
    A really enjoyable read.

    Ken Frape.

    • Peter Holmes
      Thank you so much, it really means a lot to me, as someone who one day hopes to write actual books. I appreciate your enjoyment of those phrases, and your (constructive) criticism of those few ‘over the top’ sentences.
  • Phil Town

    Lawrence pressed the ‘prepare meal’ switch and the processor whirred into action, cutting and mashing protein cubes into the paste that would be breakfast.

    He left the machine working while he checked the meteorological forecast: minus 20 max, blizzards, improving late tomorrow. The snow had been falling on and off for two weeks now. The airstrip was covered, and tall drifts had formed on the north side of the main building.

    He returned to the kitchen, adjoining the operations room, and switched off the processor. He pressed ‘deliver x3’ and three plates rolled out of the base of the machine and onto the stainless steel bars that served as a shelf.

    Lawrence took the three plates to the table, then moved to one of the walls. An electronic eye triggered a full-length panel that hissed opened, revealing a darkened room beyond. Lights on the ceiling flickered into life; three figures lay on separate bunks, all apparently asleep.

    Lawrence entered, singing softly:

    “Wakey wakey
    Rise and shine
    The day’s begun
    It’s wake-up time.”

    He repeated the little song half a dozen times until one of the figures stirred, turned over and sat up: a bearded man in his 40s.

    “Thanks Lawrence. That’ll do.”

    Lawrence stopped singing immediately.

    “Good morning, Captain Scott. And how are you feeling today?”

    “You ask me the same thing every morning, Lawrence, and I tell you the same thing: I’ve just woken up, so I feel like shit.”

    “Ha ha. That is a good one, sir.”

    “All right, Lawrence,” Scott laughed. “That will be all. I’ll wake the others.”

    “Very good, sir.”

    Lawrence swivelled round and left. Scott got up, went over to the other two figures and shook them gently by the shoulder.


    Breakfast over, the three colleagues sat round the table, finishing their coffees.

    “Weather’s breaking tomorrow.” The captain sipped from his cup, peering over it at the other two – Wilson, a scientist in her 30s, and Corporal Evans, a little younger than Scott. “I think they’ll be able to land finally – we can clear the runway when the snow stops. They’ll be bringing the new unit.”

    The captain put his cup down and ran his fingers through his hair. The three looked at each other.

    “And they’ll be taking Lawrence with them.” He lowered his voice to a whisper. “Scrap.”

    Lawrence was standing in a corner, his arms folded, his eyes dull. He showed no reaction to the conversation.

    “No need to whisper,” said Evans. “He’s in down-mode.”

    The three looked over at Lawrence.

    Scott shook his head. “I wish I didn’t have to be the one to do it – to disconnect his CPU.”

    “I’ll do it if you like.” Wilson’s offer was as tentative as she could make it; she didn’t want to do it either.

    “Maybe we can draw lots,” Evans suggested.

    “It’s an idea,” said Wilson, relieved that her offer might not be taken up.

    “He’s been a good old boy, though,” said the captain, something catching in his throat.

    “He has,” agreed the other two.

    “But hey,” reasoned Evans, “he’s a machine. Okay, I admit I’ve been kind of … anthropomorphising him myself. But come on. He’s just metal, plastic, wires, circuits … He’s got no real feelings, has he? He won’t know that he’s being switched off.”

    “Exactly. ‘He’ …” The captain left the idea hanging.

    “Come on,” said Wilson, jumping up with forced enthusiasm. “Cheer up! It’s Christmas! Let’s get that tree decorated.”

    And the three of them, dark thoughts momentarily put aside, busied themselves hanging coloured lights and draping tinsel on the plastic Christmas tree that stood in a corner.

    In the opposite corner was Lawrence; on the back of his head, under the synthetic hair and out of sight of the three colleagues, a green light was flashing.


    Lawrence pressed the ‘prepare meal’ switch and the processor whirred into action, cutting and mashing protein cubes into the paste that would be breakfast.

    He was humming softly to himself the little tune that he’d sung the morning before, and which he sang every morning.

    Leaving the processor to do its work, he went to the table. He picked up a pen and began writing rapidly on a clipboard.

    The processor had stopped. Lawrence took the three plates from the machine and placed them carefully on the table. He removed from the clipboard the sheet of paper he’d written on and hung it on one of the branches of the tree. He stood there for several moments, delicately adjusting the tinsel.

    Then he moved to the main door. He punched a switch on the wall and the door slid open. Outside it was still dark, but the wind whistled by, the floodlights on the outside of the building lighting up the heavy, almost horizontal snow.

    Lawrence turned, taking in his home for the last time. And with that, he walked into the snowstorm, never looking back.


    • Nam Raj Khatri
      Hi Phil, Some time we slow down the reading story with the fear that it will finish if we go fast. I read in that way. To wards the end i was thinking what would be the mode of miracle. May be Lawrence would be changed to real life or three people would be something else. Nothing happened. Lawrence moved to the place where some one from story would have to go pausing the flow of thinking on the part of the reader. Nice one.
      • Phil Town
        Thanks, Nam!

        “Nothing happened.” Well, something happened, but whether it was a miracle or not … depends on your definition of ‘miracle’, I suppose. There’s a gentle one there, I think. 😉

    • And the note said, “I am just going outside, and may be some time”.

      Nicely done, Phil.

      • Phil Town
        Thanks, Andy!

        (And well spotted!)

    • RM York
      Phil, thanks for your critique of my story and your idea was well taken. I have a similar suggestion for your story. First, well done. Very well done. It had an Asimov feel to it, and he is my favorite ‘robot’ writer of all time. Your lead in was smooth, and the ending was flawless (even though we had to imagine if Lawrence’s note said, “It’s been great, but I’m not going back” or even “I could hear you morons discussing scrapping me so go f*&^ yourselves, I’m outa here’. Here’s my suggestion: Somewhere make him look human. Until I got to the line about ‘under his synthetic hair’, I envisioned him as more of a true ‘robot’ than an android, and that made it difficult for me to imagine what he looked like.

      The line “anthropomorphising him myself”only lends me to that belief, for it indicates he didn’t look human by the definition of anthropomorphise. In my humble view, that is. I have no beef with your writing which is clean and well done. Very good, as usual.

      • Phil Town
        Thanks, Roy, for your always constructive comments. I agree with everything you said – the hair was a mistake, I think.

        (My idea of what was on the note was more in line with Andy’s comment, but it’s open to interpretation.)

    • Ken Frape
      Hi Phil,

      I thoroughly enjoyed reading “Lawrence” and, in fact, I have now read it several times. It certainly captures the spirit of the future and puts me in mind of Philip K Dick.

      The wake-up call in the morning is perfect. I can picture the scene with the same banter and the same laughter every morning in the same tone of voice at the same joke between Laurence and Scott.. “Ha, Ha. That is a good one, sir.”

      The notion of becoming attached to an object such as a robot or android is not far-fetched in my mind, especially as they are often so human in shape. What did we expect? I suspect people ascribe all sorts of imagined personality traits to machines that serve us and certainly to our cars. We often even name them. We certainly miss them when they’re gone.
      My first car, in 1969 was called Oldie as the registration number was OAP 17F. True! She was small and neat and there was something indefinably female about her.

      Is there just a small suspicion at the back of our minds that these creatures, or machines, made by us, to serve us, may have a tiny trace of personality? If so and with the ever increasing use of A I, then we had better look out!

      Love the note on the Christmas and the endless possibilities that this provides bearing in mind the names of the crew and Laurence. I like the comments about going out and being some time and the less polite versions. My take is,

      Dear Captain Scott,
      The most excellent Christmas tree lacks holly.
      I must exit the building and seek some out.
      I may be gone for some time.
      You won’t be needing me, will you?”

      Cleverly done, Phil.

      Poor, poor Laurence! I am going to miss him.

      • Ken Frape
        Sorry about my inconsistent spelling of Laurence and the missing word “tree” next to Christmas. So much for proof-reading!
        Ken F
      • Phil Town
        Thanks very much, Ken. My car, which I’ve had for 25 (!) years, is called Fred, and I talk to ‘him’. He needs a bit of encouragement these days – getting tired and slow. I’ll be very upset when I have to part with him. Your idea for the note is a very good one! It’s not my idea, but that doesn’t matter!
    • Sarig Levin
      Hey, Phil. Excellent story, as always. I like it when you fiddle around with sci-fi. There’s a charm to your writing that eases rather than forces me into a futuristic or outer-worldly scenario, allowing me to figure out (showing) that Lawrence is an artificial being before actually telling me. Personally, it feels like this particular story has so much unexplored potential It should be extended, especially the ending.
      • Phil Town
        Thanks, Sarig! Yes, I think I agree – I was well within the word limit – I could have developed the relationships between Lawrence and the others a little further, perhaps.
    • Phil, every time I read your story, I get to see the sharp mind behind. I learn from you that story writing is more than mere ‘time pass’. I wish I could have your kind of mastery over the language. Your language is like a sparkling, free-flowing river that makes the onlookers thirsty.
      So, Lawrence was a robot. No, sorry, he was more than ‘just metal, plastic, wires and circuits’. He knew what others were planning to do with him with his purpose having been been already served, and preferred life over death like any normal human.
      I am just curious to know what he might have written on the clipboard. What would a human write in his place? MERRY CHRISTMAS.? But doesn’t that, I mean, HIS sudden disappearance, make Christmas a bit poignant for the others?
      Whatever it may be Lawrence wins my heart. Your story has also an implied message of human cruelty and selfishness..
      Want to share a secret? Give me some tips? How do you write such stories like changing your napkins?
      Good job, bro. You are one of a kind and your only competitor. Good luck.
      • Phil Town
        Thanks very much for your kind words, Rathin – always so positive. I didn’t have Lawrence’s motivation as this, actually: “… and [he] preferred life over death like any normal human.” – but it’s one of those stories where the reader’s interpretation will always be valid, as with the note. I don’t change my napkins ( 😉 ), but ideas? Well, your story ideas are always good – where do you get YOUR ideas from? What we’ve experienced, studied, read, seen on TV/ in films etc. etc. It’s all there, lying dormant, ready to be activated. This one came from: snow > walking into it and ever looking back > a story from British history > how to make that different … et voilá. These prompts are brilliant because if you just use them as the kernel, you can kind of extrapolate (probably the wrong word) from it in an infinite number of directions. You just let your mind wander and the ideas will come (at least they do – but not always – with me … I do a lot of mind-wandering …).
    • Susan WM
      Hi Phil. Great story! I like the dialogue and the ending. You make it easy to picture and follow with the nice realistic flow. Very nice.
      • Phil Town
        Thanks very much, Susan!
    • Amy Meyer
      Loved it! you had me really rooting for Lawrence.
      • Phil Town
        Thanks, Amy!

    ‘Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose …’

    Liam sang heartily as he brought the turkey to the table. He looked at the tree, more dazzling than any previous year. The fire blazing in the hearth, chestnuts roasting. Through the window he saw the snow gently falling, the lights outside reflected by the frost on the trees. Opening the door, he felt the chill as winter air rushed in. But it was all good. Perfect.

    ‘Come on in now,’ he called through the open door. ‘It’s all but ready. I’ve just got to get the potatoes and parsnips on the table …’

    Before he could finish the sentence they were rushing in with the wind, the three of them, all laughter and chatter. The children’s cheeks shone and there was snow in their hair. And Eva had never looked more lovely as she chased them through the door.

    ‘That smells … unbelievable! Just like home. You’re a marvel, Liam.’

    They sat at the old wooden table, fussing over food, pulling the crackers, laughing at terrible jokes. Liam clinked glasses with Eva, as he pronounced, ‘Yes, this is truly the best Christmas ever.’

    ‘You always say that,’ said his son with a roll of his eyes.

    ‘I do indeed, my boy, and I always will.’

    ‘Programme OFF!’ barked Kaspar as he stalked into the room, shaking off Mei’s arm as she tried to hold him back.

    Liam’s family disappeared instantly, leaving Liam startled, pausing mid-sentence.

    ‘This shit has got to stop, Liam,’ said Kaspar sharply. Then, softening his tone a little, ‘You’re doing yourself no favours holding on to everything like this. I know it’s been tough, but after all this time – you’ve got to snap out of it.’

    ‘Kaspar, go gently. You know what he’s been through,’ said Mei softly.

    ‘How can I not know what he went through? I preferred it when he was ranting about the unfairness of the universe. At least that was a normal kind of crazy. But this – idiocy?’

    Liam looked blankly from one to the other, then his eyes lit up again. ‘I’m glad you came. I’ll call them back. We’ll all sit together and have a wonderful time, just like the old days.’

    ‘Just stop!’ shouted Kaspar, thumping the table. ‘You can’t go on deceiving yourself with all this crap. Come on man, we need you, and your technical wizardry. Just focus, huh? They’ve gone. It was terrible. Awful. But this is not real. None of it. It’s only yourself you’re fooling.’

    ‘Don’t be so harsh, Kaspar,’ said Mei.

    He yielded to her tugging, and slowly left the holosuite. ‘It’s the only way,’ he protested. ‘Sometimes you just have to be cruel to be kind. I’m going to keep at him until –‘

    ‘OK, sure. But that’s enough tough love for one day, yes?’

    Alone again, Liam waited a moment. Then in an instant, his family was together again, laughing and singing …

    * * *
    In the next room Kaspar threw himself down on the sofa.

    ‘I’m sick of his make-believe world. Doesn’t he know where we are anymore? Does he know what we’re facing on this goddam ice-ball planet? And it’s such a waste. The guy’s a genius to conjure up these illusions – but we need him to get his head together so we can all survive and get out of here.’

    ‘Maybe deep down he doesn’t want to go. He’d have to leave them behind,’ said Mei.

    She thought for a moment, then added. ‘Don’t you think he’s looking better, though? And walking better too. Those creatures that ripped his family apart took half his leg before we got there … Seems he’s getting his strength back.’

    * * *
    In his makeshift bed at the back of the holosuite, Liam glanced through the one-way transparency of the fake holosuite wall he had programmed. From there he controlled the bittersweet illusory scenario being played out.

    He watched as his fit and healthy self shared Christmas with all his family, while in the darkness he slowly starved himself. He smiled at the thought of Kaspar giving lectures about reality to a holographic projection.

    ‘It’s time’, Liam thought. ‘I’ll leave my programme running and slip out into the snowstorm. If the creatures don’t get me, the cold will. I’m so weak now, it will be over in minutes. And then we’ll be together again’.

    With that, he walked into the snowstorm, never looking back.

    [749 words]

    • RM York
      Good to have you back, Andy. I missed the clean crispness of your writing, and your imagination. Loved the images you created just for me (I always assume authors are writing directly to me – if I don’t, it means the story isn’t working for me) and there was just the right amount of tension. Liked the ending, too. At least one of that group is going to have the ‘Miracle’ they are looking for. Good job, man.
    • Sarig Levin
      Good, clean writing all right, Andy. I enjoyed reading your story very much, particularly the twisting into sci-fi that followed ‘Programme OFF!’ That was a smooth transformation that open the door to so many possibilities that this story could have, in my opinion, certainly used at least 450 more words 😉 The only critique I can offer is what I feel to be too revealing to be a natural part of a dialogue in – “Those creatures that ripped his family apart took half his leg before we got there…” Mei is too obviously sharing that information with the reader rather than with Kasper, in my humble opinion.
    • Phil Town
      Hi, Andy … and a warm welcome back!

      This is a very well constructed story. I love the opening – it’s a distillation of the perfect Christmas and really well described. As Sarig says, the transition from the idyllic earth-bound (?) Christmas to something else was very neatly done. The holograph question is an intriguing idea … but I got a little confused, tbh. Are Kaspar and Mei also holographs? And this: ” ‘Maybe deep down he doesn’t want to go. He’d have to leave them behind,’ said Mei.” Why would he? As Sarig again said, you had a bit of room word-limit-wise, so maybe the reasoning for Liam stepping out into the snow could have been a bit less on-the-nose than simply his thought process (penultimate paragraph). An intriguing and well constructed story, then, but a little confusing for me (it’s just me, I’m sure!)

      (Hope you’re back for good!)

      • Thanks for the kind comments and sorry for the confusion, Phil.

        On the confusion – is it about where they are?
        When Kaspar says about Liam: “Does he know what we’re facing on this goddam ice-ball planet? ….we need him to get his head together so we can all survive and get out of here…” – maybe that’s not enough to indicate they’re stranded on an alien and hostile planet, kind of Lost In Space style but with Star Trek-style holodeck facilities in their base (or ship)?

        So if they left, Mei thinks, Liam might feel in his grief like he will be separated from his family a second time. And no, Kaspar and Mei are not holograms – but they are sharing a precarious existence with a man retreating further and further into his fantasy world of perfect family life.
        Anyway, the intent was to have a different treatment of a kind of universal tale of loss and grief, a clash of harsh reality and desperate hope, but in a very different setting. But perhaps it doesn’t work 🙁

        I could use more words for sure, but trying to avoid explaining everything – as Sarig has picked me up on about one point!

        • Phil Town
          Sorry, Andy – it just seems to be me. This is the bit that confuses me: “In his makeshift bed at the back of the holosuite, Liam glanced through the one-way transparency of the fake holosuite wall he had programmed.” (and) “He smiled at the thought of Kaspar giving lectures about reality to a holographic projection.” I’m not getting this little section. (cue lots of “d’ohs”)
          • OK…. It goes like this, Phil.

            1) The first section with the perfect Christmas is a programme running in the holosuite,
            2) Kaspar walks in and turns the programme off and lectures Liam (etc). So we’re back to reality?
            3) Not exactly, because the Liam has evidently anticipated interruptions and programmed the holosuite to have a fake wall at the back.
            4) So the Liam out front is still a hologram, and real Liam is hiding away behind the wall. He’s still in control when Kaspar thinks he’s turning off the programme.

            So it’s a two-stage illusion in the holosuite, and a kind of double trick on the reader perhaps. The scenes in front of the fake wall and behind reveal in stages the state of mind of Liam, hidden away behind.

            Clear as mud, maybe ,,, 🙂

          • (I can’t reply to your other comment for some reason.)

            Wow, Andy! The scales fall from my eyes and that’s brilliant. It took your explanation for me to get it (which either means it was a bit too obscure, or that I’m a bit of a dumbass – my money’s on the latter).

            I stand by my comment about Liam’s thought process being a bit too overtly stated at the end (imho), but the rest is a terrific idea. Soz!

    • Peter Holmes
      Your story is so good, I find myself reading it again and again just for fun. Often I find long dialogue boring, but damn you really changed my mind.
    • Amy Meyer
      You really nailed the ‘surprising yet inevitable’ thing that good stories are supposed to have with this one. I thought that it was all too perfect and that something was going to go wrong at the start, but your twist that it was a holosuite really surprised me. From then on I sat back and enjoyed the ride of the rest of your story. I agree with some of the other comments that a few bits of dialogue were a bit exposition-y. But overall, really fun, but also very sad.
  • RM York
    Amelia – you took us on a journey to another place that is well described in good fairy tale fashion and made us love and hate the characters quickly. A couple notes: grudges are ‘beared’ not ‘bared’, but I will assume that is an unnoticed spellcheck error, because they happen to all of us from time to time. I love the line near the end, ‘where the snow moved in torrents, but fell only on itself’. Nice emotional meeting between mother and daughter. I like the story, I just don’t know if it’s going to match up to some of the stories already posted. We’ll all see come voting day because it will be difficult. The only other thing I noticed was the line, “her dark hair dripping down’ – that was unsettling for me. It conjured a different image than what I think you were trying to get us to see – dark hair spilling down – works a little better, I think. Good story and welcome. I’m not sure if I’ve seen any of your stories before.
    • RM, thanks for the welcome. I found this contest online this week, and the Christmas prompt had interesting prospects. Fairy tales are what I write, and I had one swimming around in my head. Thanks, too, for the critique. Actually, I did mean ‘bare.’ Traditionally, grudges are beared, or born. But when revealed, they can be bared, as it were (i.e. revealed to the world), as a snowstorm can sometimes seem. However, it could very well have been ‘bear’ in the traditional sense, but been without the word-play fun. I did notice another typo in my work, though, which is irksome. But, as you said, we all have them, and I’ll try and bear it :). ‘Dripping down’ was meant to unsettle, but ‘spilling down’ is definitely another choice. Perhaps a better one… Its good to note the impact of words. Thanks for reading my story!
    • Here’s an alternative Christmas Song for you, Ken – hopefully can help you recover from the one I posted before …

      • Ken Frape
        Beautiful and so smooth!
        Ken F
  • sandra woolf
    Please help. How do I copy and paste so that my formatting stays the way I wrote it. I am using Google docs.
    • Carrie Zylka

      I can do it for you.
      It usually takes some behind the scenes manipulation.
      Email us the formatted story and I can get it posted this evening if you don’t mind waiting.

  • Hi,
    This Miraculous Christmas:
    (1198 words)
    Mary looks out the window. She smiles finding two little children busy gleefully making a snowman. A thick white sheet seems to have covered the entire universe. From the walnut tree snow keeps dripping on the ground of sea-snow. She looks at the glassy wall clock with the tiny dancing bride and groom at the base. It is ten to six. In ten minutes, Partho will be here. Thinking about Partho, her mind goes back to the wintry Christmas Eve of the previous year. Partho and she were walking side by side along the path still thickened with the snow of the morning. They were heading towards Dasho Maurier’s Guest House to attend the farewell of a colleague.
    It seems so long ago. The mistake was hers. She should have known Partho better. Her mind goes back to the day they met for the first time on the Orientation Day at JHS….

    As Mary was sitting down on a chair in the semicircular row behind Principal’s cushioned seat, she caught him staring at her. She was always conscious of her extreme good looks. Not more than five feet three, she was a bit on the plumpy side. But her face! Oh, God, wasn’t her face angelic? It was difficult for anyone to take their eyes off. She had, in short, the most hauntingly beautiful face. It was no wonder therefore, that people fell flat for her.

    Principal introduced her as the new VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) teacher from Ireland to the gathering in the auditorium. She would teach computers to standard eleven students and stay in Bumthang, known as ‘the Switzerland of Bhutan’, till December of the next academic session.
    What had to happen, happened between two expatriates far away from home. They became friends, Partho, who was working as an English teacher from Kolkata, India by the Government of Bhutan, was staying all by himself in a thatched cottage just outside the school premises. Mary was lucky to be allotted one of the vacant staff quarters inside.
    Their friendship did not happen overnight. In the first few months, they would run into one another in the market downtown or at the birthday party of a colleague’s daughter, wave a quick ‘hi’ and get lost among their own groups of friends. She would be seen in the company of the female teachers, laughing at a joke, making faces to the delight of the children, or going outside for a fag. At such times, she looked devastatingly arrogant.

    One evening Partho had a problem with his desktop. He had an important presentation to make the next day in connection with the Reading Week. It was almost getting dark. He stopped fighting with the monitor and thought of Mary. She could be of help. He went out through the trail between the orchards with the early buds sprouting on the apple trees by late August. He found his way to her quarter and hesitantly knocked on the door. He came from a conservative family, so knocking on the door of a lady who was staying all by herself on a lonely evening was not exactly his cup of tea. She opened the door of the wooden quarter. In sky blue casual jeans and a white pullover with her ocean blue eyes, she looked more stunning than he could remember. Outside, around the school campus, lights were flickering in the girls’ hostel and Principal’s residence.
    “Yes, Mr. Dey?” she asked a bit inquisitively.
    “Ms.Mary,” he mumbled out. “There is something wrong with my desktop. I’s just wondering if you could come and help.”
    “Right now?” There was a mischievous glint in her eyes.
    “If that’s not a problem…”
    “Just hang on. I’ll turn the oven off,” and then as if remembering that she hadn’t even invited him in, she turned back, ”Why don’t you come in, Mr.Dey? Poor me, I forgot to ask you in,” she chirped.

    The problem had something to do with the ram in the CPU. She took out her toolkit and got the desktop going after a while.
    That’s how it all began. When she didn’t refuse his offer of a simple dinner, he wasn’t that surprised either. Friendship is a queer thing. Can happen even between two total strangers within no time.
    That was the beginning. From then Mary would drop in whenever she passed by his cottage. He, used to being all by himself for so long, let himself drown in her companionship. They spent a lot of time together. They became the butts of juicy jokes in the friend circle.
    A severe winter set in around Christmas Eve that year. The Farewell Party was arranged at the Guest House. It had been snowing like hell since morning. For some reason, Partho took his own time. His best friend called to inform that the bus trip was called off due to heavy snow. Everyone would have to walk up to the venue if they wanted to. Partho put on his thick, furry overcoat with the hood tightly tied around his neck. As he hit the trail leading down to the main road, he bumped into her. She was walking alone briskly. Though they had a misunderstanding lately, he caught up with her. She didn’t seem to mind either. They got involved in small talks. Partho heard a familiar voice in his head screaming: Partho,Come on, be a man. Women want their men to be brave, protective, jealous and possessive. Take her into your arms on a night like this. What are you waiting for…?
    That’s when be decided to take things in his hand. As he turned Mary towards him and cupped her chin, he could see the shock in her eyes. Then she ran back in the falling snow without giving him a chance to explain. That night ended a beautiful friendship. Mary never tried to find out the hurt in Partho’s heart though.

    That was exactly a year ago. She has received word from her organisation about her return to Ireland with the return ticket booked. She is leaving in the first week of January. She has invited Partho to her quarter for the first time. She was wrong about his intentions. She would tell him tonight. She is prepared to spend the rest of her life on the Himalayan foothills if she has to, for Partho. From behind the glass window, she finds Partho, all wrapped up, heading towards her quarter. The makeshift Christmas tree of pine she has made with the help of a student the previous night, looks sheen less despite the twinkling lights and other decorations.
    “Hi, Mary,” he greets her, a bit low on confidence. Mary points him to the round table with the glasses on. She serves him his favourite drink called ara and pours some white wine into hers with her eyes fixed on him. The proposal does not come out forthwith but doesn’t take long either. There is a look of utter relief on Partho’s face. He takes a little time to recover before saying:
    “Sorry, Mary. I got married during the term break. With that, he walked (out) into the snowstorm, never looking back.”

    The end

    • RM York
      OK, Rathin, no more chances. This proves you can write. For my money this is the best story you’ve written, and the best written story you’ve submitted. It had the best flow, followed the prompt, had a decent, if not great plot (a well worn plot, but great just the same), and was technically as good as you’ve done. Well done. i could find things to critique, but this is Christmas and I’m going to cut you some slack. You’re busy anyway.
    • Sarig Levin
      You must truly be a romantic at heart, Rathin, which made the twist at the very end even more potent and surprising. Good job and merry Christmas to you.
    • Hey, Rathin! I go away for a few months and come back to find such a huge step forward in polishing your output. Very good!

      I liked the framing of the story, with the introductory paragraph, then the telling of the story to bring the reader back to the starting point – only not the outcome expected!

      Central to the story is a moment, and a mindset: “Partho,Come on, be a man. Women want their men to be brave, protective, jealous and possessive. Take her into your arms on a night like this. What are you waiting for…? That’s when be decided to take things in his hand. ”

      That very much sums up an issue of the moment doesn’t it?

      And the story is also pretty poignant. There’s a big ‘What if?’ at the end of it, that must remain with the characters as it does with the reader. I’m sure most of us have some ‘what ifs’ like that …

    • That’s a very good story, Rathin. As Andy says, the introduction establishes a great bit of suspense: Who is Partho, and what does he mean to Mary? I really like the slow, carefully constructed, tentative build-up in the relationship, leading to – again as Andy says – a crunch moment that goes badly wrong … for both of them. The ending is obviously cruel for Mary, and it seems that Partho is resigned to being married to someone else … but is he happy? What’s that “relief” all about? At the beginning you have two “Her mind goes back to”s – maybe one would suffice (?) I really enjoyed this. As others have said, it’s one of your best.
    • Amy Meyer
      You managed to put a lot of story and really paint a picture of these characters lives and I was swept along by the story. I have to say I was quite irritated by the story’s implication that the way things turned out were Mary’s fault rather than Partho’s for making a clumsy pass at her. An engaging story anyway.
    • Rathin,

      You rascally Bhutanian varmint. (Feel free to correct me on your actual origins. I’m American, so obviously I wear my ignorance like a crown.)

      Nice story, well written. Clever ending. I thoroughly enjoyed this story. You have a knack for describing your characters through their relationships to others. You’ve done it before a few times, but it has taken me until now to fully grasp this aspect of your writing. I would be lying if I claimed to know exactly what it is or how you do it, I just know that I like it when I read it.

      This is a lovely, understated, well-written story.

  • Dear Carrie,
    You know me, right? At present, extremely busy. I doubt it if I’ll have enough time to read at least five stories. You will get to know from my comments. If I can’t, just take my story out of the contest and do not wait for me to vote.
    Love you always.
  • Sarig Levin
    The Misplaced Heart
    By: Sarig Levin
    (928 words)

    Hanukah tightened the grip of his fur coat around a body otherwise bare, but for worn out undergarments holding his rattling bones together. He leaned into the wind, forcing lanky legs buried knee-deep in snow to take a step forward, then another, and another, through the blinding blizzard. His mind was the dazzling blankness that surrounded him, but for a single purpose for which it fought – to get as far away from the place he used to call home.

    The place Hanukah used to call home was once a peaceful little town on the coast of the Black Sea, where Jewish merchants seeking silkier roads had chosen to settle back in the days, bringing prosperity to the entire region. Their presence tolerated by their Crimean neighbors, these Radhanites had been spared the prosecution that was the lot of so many of their Israelite kin, until one fateful night in the middle of the Jewish month of Tevet, when Hanukah suddenly awoke to the horrific sounds of women screaming and babies wailing.

    Hanukah’s heart leaped into his throat and there it remained, cutting off the blood flow to his brain. Thus, incapable of coherency, he grabbed the coat that lay by his bed, stumbled out the door and nearly got himself trampled by a mounted Cossack – a frightening bear of a man, clad in beard and furs. The rider reined his horse, brought it around and swung his bloody shashka. The blade would have cut Hanukah’s head clean off, had the barefoot man not slipped on the frosty ground and quickly crawled through the narrow space underneath his family’s house. Like a craven he hid underneath the house, while his parents and siblings were being slaughtered in their beds. Through a town in ashes he later crawled on his yellow-belly, forsaking everything and everyone he had ever cared about so as to save his own skin.

    And now there he was, mindlessly ploughing his way up the snow-covered hill after a sleepless, foodless, timeless eon. And the ticking of time did not echo through the caverns of his mind, only senseless silence upon the face of the deep. For in what had been metamorphosed from a beating heart into an icy lump in his throat there existed the a priori certainty that allowing any sensation to seep in might collapse the barrier keeping him from drowning in a bereaved flood of despair and self-loathing.

    Had he been able to pick up on a sound that had hung for a spell on the verge of earshot – the sound of hooves galloping through the snow, Hanukah might have been able to seek cover, though none would have been in sight other than a solitary oak that stood its ground like an island besieged by an ivory sea. Had he but turned his head to gaze back toward his lost paradise, like Lot’s wife had done so long ago, he too would have turned into a pillar of snow that might have perchance gone unnoticed. Alas, by the time their presence finally permeated the inner-mist that ruled supreme over his mind, a band of Cossacks had already caught up with the ill-fated man.

    And as the mist began to part, it left in its stead air too thin for him to breathe. Hanukah fought for breath, a stark-naked man wrapped in a blanket made of animal skins and sewn together by threads of ancient dreams. And as the mist parted further, he felt frosty fingers wrapping themselves around his throat, squeezing the life out of him.

    With hearty laughter and true seasonal merriment, the Cossacks pulled on one end of the rope they had swung over a branch atop the great oak tree. At the other end of said rope, Hanukah could feel himself levitating further and further away from the domain of earthly burdens and into the star-sprinkled heavens, supported solely by the rough noose tightening around his neck.

    Now lo and behold, ladies and gentlemen – the world’s most grotesque Christmas tree, soaring from the top of a snow cladded hill somewhere across the vast Tarkhan Highlands, with Hanukah as its one and only ornament.

    All night long did the jolly ruffians enjoy their Christmas festivities, singing and drinking and telling one another boastful tales of ravishment and carnage. And only when they have finally had their fill of beguilement and vodka did this band of ruthless marauders mount their horses and ride on, leaving yet another dead Jew in their wake.

    Only that Hanukah was, in fact, neither at the Garden of Eden nor the Valley of Hinnom. He should, by all means, have given his soul back to the creator in time for Midnight Mass by the forces of gravity and mortality that govern our world. Instead, however, the frozen heart still stuck in his throat had miraculously save him from strangulation and his neck from snapping under the pressure of the noose he was wearing. And as the thumping of hooves against snow could no longer be heard, calm blue shutters to a lucid mind finally opened and Hanukah broke out laughing.

    He laughed all of his bereavement and desperation away, allowing them to sail away with the dawn of a new day and forgiving himself for his cowardice the same way God had forgiven him. And as he was climbing down the tree, his heart became lighter and lighter still, until it finally dropped back down to its proper place and Hanukah could again breathe easy.

    And with that, he walked into the snowstorm, never looking back.

    • RM York

      So, you really mixed your metaphors. Seriously. Or should I say mixed your metaphor and reality. Nice job of putting the guy’s heart in his throat, both literally and figuratively, which of course, then saves his life. Never would have thought of that in a million years. And, at first you were a little hard on him for saving his skin, instead of staying and getting slaughtered, but you made up for it at the end. The only real fight I have to pick is this guy surviving a snowstorm basically naked while walking for miles, after no food or water, then hanging all night from a tree, and barefoot, uphill, both ways. Otherwise, it’s a perfectly plausible story with the miracle of the leaping heart coming to his rescue. And, in the spirit of the Christmas season, no critiques on the picky stuff. But, there are a few things that could be fixed. Well, maybe, a teeny one. Your last two sentences both begin with And. Neither of them need to. There, picky, but I think you should think about that and eliminate it from your writing unless it’s absolutely necessary. Just so you know, I find myself guilty of the same thing. I’m working on it.

      • Sarig,
        Not a tale to be taken literally, and yet, the narrative is so vivid and realistic it demands to be taken literally. Splendid if savage imagery. I cannot really add any more useful observations than those already made by Andy and Phil, except to say that your writing strikes a perfect balance between too much and too little.
    • Sarig, there are so many things I like about your story. It has some of the feel of an East European folk tale, a vivid tale of terror and inescapable evil, with a turning point of magic. But not a magic that is good overthrowing evil. Instead the escape route is to have a heart of ice, cutting the hero off from all feeling and sympathy. There’s a psychological truth in that experience. And then a redemption in its own way.

      I also loved the Biblical allusions and language – “senseless silence upon the face of the deep” is one of many phrases to take your breath away, with its echo of Genesis and here, the complete absence of God.

      I also really liked the sense of place, very well conveyed.

      The seasonal miracle here is a Hanukah one, with Christmas celebration providing a festival of death and slaughter as a backdrop. A powerful tale, with several layers it in and some exceptional writing.

      (Couple of language points: “Like a craven” – ‘craven’ is an adjective, not a noun, so really needs a noun to follow or use of a different word. ‘Prosecution’ should probably be ‘persecution’ in this lawless context.)

    • A very rich story, Sarig. You seem unable to describe anything without making it poetic, always finding vivid ways to say mundane – and not so mundane – things. There are so many turns of phrase I like here, but this one caught my eye for its beautiful simplicity: “His mind was the dazzling blankness that surrounded him.” And then there’s the story per se, beautifully rendered, and the other-worldly get-out – the frozen heart. Despite the bleakness, there’s an uplifting ending – God has forgiven Hanukah (although is cowardice a sin to be forgiven?). Lovely stuff.
    • Amy Meyer
      I really loved your poetic language. Well done!
  • Sarig Levin
    This is a marvelous story, Amelia. I love fairy tales and found myself ensnared by the masterful strokes of your prosaic brush from the very start. I admire the careful, thoughtful choice of words with which you guided my imagination; with which you triggered my emotional reactions. Wonderful. Simply wonderful. The only critique I can offer is that I personally felt that the story would have ended more naturally briefly after he led the girl out of the mansion. The part that follows, though beautifully written, adds nothing new to the story, in my humble opinion (like Peter Jackson’s last 2 hours of Lord of the Rings:).
  • Sandra S. Woolf

    Ode to Trigger
    The Voice of The North by S. Woolf

    We will run today. Alpha Dog comes. The pack starts to bark when they see him. Excitement erupts. It is not my way. I let them greet him. He has the leathers. We will run today.

    It’s a brisk morning, -20 degrees C. Perfect weather for a run with his dogs. The man walks into the yard where the dogs are penned amid loud barking. He will try for a fast run of 20 miles if all goes well. His six Siberian Huskies can do it in two hours. They are excited, the instinct to run is what drives them. His lead dog Trigger, with his quiet, reserved personality sits back. He watches him say hello to each dog first, before approaching him. This is their way, the way a Musher treats his dogs. He is an intelligent dog with a quiet dominant personality that is needed for a lead dog. He knows what the man expects of him.

    Alpha Dog’s voice says. “Go Trigger.” The wind is with us, the pull of the sled is our work. The white is crisp and cold under us, we dig in and run for the joy of it. After a few miles along the frozen water, the young dogs settle down. I am Team Leader. I will guide them. I will let them know by a look and by my voice when they are not pulling their weight. Keep the ganglines taut I tell them. Concentrate, think of the miles we have to go. Enjoy the wind, the feel of the sled, the smell of the white. This is what we are here for. This is what we are bred for.

    The man always marveled at the strength of the team. They are strong and sleek as wolves. They can and will run until he gives the command to stop. The day is clear, and the lake is frozen completely. He doesn’t have to worry about open water anymore. After a few miles across the snowy lake, he gives the command, “Trigger Go Gee.” The dog turns the team in a slow arc to the right. The first trail they are heading to leads into the bush. The dogs know the way, and with a surge of speed, they race to the tree line. Trigger turns and gives the pack a look, The man knows he has them under his control. The new dog, Wahka, named for the northern lights that chased across the sky the night he was born, is doing well. The man knows he has the potential to be a team leader in a few years.

    I smell the wind, something has changed. I smell the blood of man. I look back at Alpha Dog. He looks too. “What is it Trigger?” The smell is stronger now. I slow the team, listen I tell them. Listen and smell. Alpha Dog, can you see?

    The Musher realizes something is wrong. This morning the radio told of a pack of wolves, close to the community. Closer than they have been for a long time. Is that it? He slows the sled, drags the claw to stop.

    “Whoa Trigger, stop now.” He listens. Nothing. Again. “What is it Trigger?” Suddenly he sees a Skidoo amongst the trees. He can see a snow machine. It is not moving. Every dog is alert now, they know something is wrong.

    “Go Trigger,” he says, and they move closer to the edge of the lake. He stops the team again, sets the claw and gives the command to stay. As the man approaches the machine, he sees a body lying in the snow, a tree across his legs. The man is hurt, but conscious and there is a lot of blood in the snow.

    “Thank God, I didn’t think anyone would find me.” He is barely able to form the words.

    “What happened? The man asks, “Where are you hurt. Don’t move till I check you over.”

    The man looks back over his shoulder to check on his team. They have all settled down in the snow, patiently waiting for him. It’s as if they know this is something different.

    “It’s my head. I was trying to chop down a Christmas tree for my family,” is the man’s ragged reply. “The damn thing came down on me, and I hit my head on a rock when I fell. I’ve been here for hours.”

    “I’ll just get my emergency blanket and make a call to the RCMP.”

    I watched Alpha Dog stay with the man. I hear the sound of the machines, coming fast, bringing help. There is a new smell now, the white and wind are coming soon. We need to leave here. Alpha Dog. We need to go.

    The EMT tell the man it was a good thing he found the guy. “He would not have made it through the night with that kind of head wound.”

    “It was my team who noticed something was wrong,” the Musher explains. “I could see my lead dog Trigger sniff the air, he wanted me to come this way. I wouldn’t have seen the snow machine otherwise. He told me.”

    “Your dog told you?” The EMT says with a laugh. “You mushers are a strange lot, but I have heard that before. Well, this guy is very lucky you have dogs that talk to you. But right now we should get this man loaded and off to the hospital. I heard on the radio a bad storm is coming and it’s coming in fast.”

    Just then snowflakes start to fall. Thick and heavy they are carried on a strong wind. A sure sign this was going to be a bad one.

    Alpha Dog shakes the men’s hands and comes back to us. Our work is done here, we must go now and go fast. I smell the white world coming. Knowing they are the lifeblood of the north, e turns the team, and they start to run out into the storm, never looking back.

    • RM York

      Nice story, interesting. I like the way you weave between the lead dog and the musher, but I was unsure at first if there was a narrator or not. I finally decided there wasn’t. Nice use of the miracle requirement.

      You need to fix the last line. It’s one of the reasons we do this ‘prompt’ thing. The story HAS to end that way. You’ve time to fix it, also. I don’t know how picky the two young ladies who run this will be, but I think you should. just in case if you want it to qualify for voting. You can just put your last sentence in with the sentence before it, with a little reworking and it will be fine.

    • Sarig Levin
      Beautiful story, Sandra, and beautifully written. Clean and crisp as the Arctic air, one might say. I loved the concept and delivery of the duality in narration. It feels like you posses a deep understanding of this particular environment. I loved the concept of the smell of the white, for ‘the white’ being Triggers concept of snow, but even more so for the idea of a color having a smell in a smell oriented world. The only critique I can offer is in regards to the line that follows, as the perception of the concept of being bred strikes me as being beyond canine grasp.
      • sandra woolf
        Thank you Sarig for your kind words. I have come late in life to this amazing adventure called writing. But with all the help and advice I have received from this website, I feel I can continue writing some of the adventures that life allowed me to experience .
        I lived in the NWT for some time and my brother is a documentary film maker there. For the past 35 years he has had dog teams and is well known in Yellowknife for running his dog team dressed up as Santa, at this time of the year. LOL.
        Trigger is his current lead dog. I asked for some dog knowledge from him, but most I knew from having my own dog team, many years ago.
        The pursuit of knowledge is never ending, no matter what your age.
        • Sarig Levin
          Aye, this story has a Canadian feel to it alright. I met a woman in White Horse who was breeding dogs and found that world fascinating. Thanks for allowing me another glimpse into it and merry Christmas, Sandra.
    • Ken Frape

      A fascinating story and one that took me out of my realm of knowledge and experience. I just loved the picture you painted of this cold land where -20 is a perfect day and every sense is alive, where there are clues all around about the weather, the type of snowfall expected and scent on the wind.

      The method of switching between human voice/ narrator and dog voice works well for me. Even if we cannot say exactly what dogs think, they are man’s best friend so we can probably describe their feelings with a degree of authority.

      This story flows really well and the interaction of the voices helps with the flow of events, each giving a slightly different perspective to the action then blending them together into the whole story. The effect is of a kind of intuitive dialogue between man and dog.

      In the end, the expression “man’s best friend” is proved to be true as it is the lead dog Trigger who senses the man in trouble and they solve the problem as a team, which is exactly what they are.

      I love the terms, “sets the claw”, “he slows the sled, drags the claw to stop”

      Lovely work, Sandra.

      Ken Frape.

    • Ah, this is a really satisfying read, Sandra. The two narrators work well. At first I thought Alpha Dog was another dog, but then I twigged and thought, ‘Of course, how clever’ and a subtle insight into dog social behaviour and dog/human interaction.

      There’s a feelgood feeling, like a team Lassie rescue in the frozen north. And really well-written.
      You have a great surname for this kind of story too 🙂

      BTW, about the last sentence being exactly as the prompt. You write the story in the present tense, which I think helps to convey the dog-sense of living in the moment. The prompt uses the past tense, however, which I think would betray the story. So you have to do something else to preserve the tense, and integrity, of the story – so I’m with you in slightly changing the required prompt while preserving its sense.

    • Nam Raj Khatri
      Hi Sierra Lima, Story went very fast. It was like somebody saying “Roger”, “Roger” from inside. At the end question came who is that Alpha dog in dim font. I went second time with intention. Is it radio voice coming from unknown place or from inside of dog Trigger to dog Trigger? Any way I enjoyed.
      • Nam Raj Khatri
        I t should be ‘Sierra Sierra Whiskey’
    • What a beautiful story, Sandra! You evoke the scene so well – the “white”. I was constantly reminded of possibly my favourite short story – Jack London’s ‘To Build A Fire’ (although that one doesn’t end so happily …). The understanding between dog and man is very well portrayed by the two-way perspective (how did you do that thing with the fonts?! Lovely!). At one point you suggest that the dogs enjoy pulling the sled. Is that so? (I imagine your brother believes so.) I always worry about that – animals used for man’s convenience. One small thing (or big thing maybe) that detracted slightly, for me, was that the finding of the man didn’t feel dramatic enough. But the story is told so well that this becomes a detail almost.
    • Susan WM
      Wonderful story. The back and forth worked very well. I was thrown at first with the “Alpha Dog” and then reread it slower realizing that is the musher. I think you have to put the prompt at the very end though, which would work. Very nicely done.
    • Amy Meyer
      Great story, Sandra and very well written. I liked the switching between the two points of view.
    • SS Woolf,

      Your comments are even more intriguing than your story. Which, I’m sure you know, is a high compliment.

  • Susan WM
    The Stranger – 1198

    Mary rinsed the dishes and watched the children outside throwing snowballs. She looked up at the dark sky. The snow was getting heavier. She rapped on the window to get Staci’s attention. Being the oldest of the three, Staci gathered Tim and Michael and led them inside. It was Christmas Eve and even though Mary had downplayed gifts this year, she wanted to make it magical.
    “Mom, Tim threw snowballs at my face and you said he wasn’t supposed to”, Whined Michael.
    “Ok. Take off those wet things. Let’s finish decorating the tree”. Mary knew that would distract them and stop any arguments forthcoming.
    They frantically pulled off coats, hats, mittens and boots. Mary took the popcorn from the table. Her manger had given her a few past date bags from the convenience store where she worked.

    “Staci, bring the needle and thread from the sewing kit.” The children raced to the front of the house and gathered in front of the small Christmas tree. Mary hadn’t been sure if the tree would last another year. She and Bob purchased the fake tree before the kids were born. They packed it away and then bought only real trees. Now Mary was glad they had kept the old tree, which saved money. After Bob died, that tree was one of the few things that made her smile as she remembered those early lean days. Lean days aren’t fun when you have children. It’s not a romantic adventure, but a struggle.
    “String the popcorn like I showed you and I’ll make hot chocolate.” Staci settled on the floor with the boys and handed them each a threaded needle. Staci was wise beyond her twelve years and Mary relied on her. Nine-year-old Tim was the witty one, Michael the mischievous trickster at seven. She could hear them singing Christmas songs and reached for the instant cocoa mix.

    As she carried the hot chocolate into the living room, she could hear someone walking up the front steps. She wondered who would coming to visit in this snow. The nearest house was a block away and the roads were treacherous. The children stopped singing and stared at the door as someone loudly knocked. They all froze and looked at each other confused by the rare visitor on Christmas Eve.
    Mary set down the cups and went to the door.
    “Yes? Who’s there?” She called. There was no peep hole.
    “Hello! I’m looking for some help. My car broke down. I just need a phone. My cell died.” It was a woman’s voice. Mary hesitated. It was freezing cold and the snow was coming down hard. But this woman could be anyone.
    “Are you alone?” It sounded like a silly question as she said it. But she was a woman alone with three small children.
    “Mom! It’s cold out!” whispered Staci. Mary shook off her cynical fears and opened the door, keeping the chain on. The cold air and heavy snow blew into the entryway. She could see a small young woman bundled up and blowing on her hands which were covered in thin leather gloves. She closed the door, removed the chain and opened the door.
    “Please come in!” The small woman smiled at her and came in, dragging a suitcase with her.
    “Thank you. Whew, it’s freezing. I didn’t want to leave my luggage because the car door won’t stay completely closed suddenly. The lock froze.”
    “Come in and sit down. Let me get you come chocolate.” The children all stared at the newcomer as if she’d come down the chimney. “Children, don’t stare. Be polite.”
    Staci introduced herself and her brothers to the stranger.

    Mary gave hot chocolate to the woman; whose name was Trudy.
    “I’m heading to Center City. I thought I could make it to my sister’s house in time for Christmas morning”. Her voice was soft with a slight accent that Mary couldn’t place.
    “The way that snow is falling it’s not safe even with no car trouble.”
    “You look like the lady from our bible stories book”, said Michael.
    “Why thank you, Michael, right?” He nodded, entranced.
    “No one answers at the only garage in town. I’m afraid you’re stuck here tonight” Said Mary, disconnecting the call.
    “Oh no. Are you sure it’s okay?”
    “Goodness, of course. That couch is comfortable, and I’ve got extra blankets. Air comes through those windows.”
    “How kind. I’ll take you up on that.” They chatted for a while.
    “Children, say goodnight.” Before leaving, Staci hugged Trudy’s hand and the boys shook her hand.

    “It’s just you and the children?”
    “Yes. My husband Bob passed away two years ago. Its’ been hard but we’re okay.”
    “Your children are adorable, intelligent and well-behaved. You should be proud.”
    “Thanks. Working two jobs I don’t get to see them as much as I’d like. Once I get my teaching certification, I’ll have more time though.”
    “Quality of time is what matters. Looks like a lovely Christmas.”
    “Christmas will be lean this year. They never ask for much, but When Bob was alive, we always gave them at least one thing they asked for. Though it’s always about being together as a family, this year I hoped to give them each one special gift.”
    “What do they want?”
    “Staci wanted a locket and a diary, after first saying she didn’t really want anything. She knows money is tight. She’s so thoughtful. Michael wanted this huge collection of magic tricks and a model car set. Tim wanted a transformer, which I think is a car that turns into something, and anything having to do with sports. I don’t know if he remembers or just looks at the pictures of his dad holding a football with him.”
    “Well those are perfectly reasonable” said Trudy.
    “Yes, but still out of my range. I had a locket that belonged to Bob’s mother but can’t find it. I have a bracelet instead, a book of magic tricks and a mitt. I know they’ll be happy with those.” Mary attempted to sound convincing. Do you have children?” Trudy shook her head, and her eyes teared. Trudy’s reaction could mean no children or a lost child, but Mary chose not to pry.
    “You’re a terrific mom, doing a fantastic job. Believe me, things will look up soon. You’ll make a great teacher. Your patience will serve you well.”
    “Thank you, Trudy. You seem so familiar to me. I feel like we’ve known each other for a while.” Trudy smiled and patted Mary’s hand.
    “I’ll take that as a compliment.” Trudy yawned. “Sorry, I’m beat.”
    “I’ll let you get some sleep. The kids will be up early I’m afraid.” Mary gave her the extra blankets.
    “Can we leave the tree lights on?” asked Trudy. “I love the twinkle lights.”
    “Of course. Goodnight.”

    Mary went to her room, feeling warm and reassured. Trudy opened her suitcase. Beneath the small threadbare tree, she placed a large box of magic tricks, a football, a model car, a transformer, a pink diary and a locket containing pictures of Mary and Bob. She put on her outer garments and with that, she walked into the snowstorm never looking back.

    • RM York

      I see I’m not the only writer who can cause a little bit of heart tugging and the need to reach for a tissue, although you telegraphed your miracle from the minute the knock came at the door and a young lady with a suitcase was standing there. And, of course, you telling her in detail what the children wanted. Still, knowing this, you drew me in and elicited the mistiness in my eyes you were going for. Well done.

      One teeny thing – Mary heard the visitor coming up the walk in deep snow with enough wind to blow in through an open door. Really? I think a surprise knock is better.

      And, I think if you foretold in recall prior to Trudy’s arrival, what the children wanted, then a little misdirection might lead readers to believe the miracle you were going for was Mary’s house being there for Trudy. You might even have averred to Trudy saying it was a ‘miracle’ she found the house at all (with the nearest house being miles away, not blocks) completing the little bit of misdirection and then keep the last paragraph as written. That might have helped turn what is an already great story into something even more terrific, in this writer’s humble opinion. I know you have the limit of 1200 words and it would take some effort, but I think worth it.

      • Susan WM
        Thanks, Roy. I went back and forth on hearing her arrive in the snow. I heard my sister banging up the stairs with her roller bag on the wood porch in the snow, which was the only reason I kept it in. I like the idea of “miracle I found the house”. And definitely miles away would be better than blocks away! My city upbringing is showing. 🙂
      • Ken Frape
        Hi Susan,

        A most endearing story that certainly meets the “miracle” prompt. It flowed well for me as a reader and there were no occasions when I had to stop and wonder what you were saying.

        I do agree with RM York though on a couple of points regarding plot not the quality of the writing.

        The house needs to be miles from anywhere rather than a few blocks as a few blocks, to me, suggests a fairly heavily populated area. If it was the only house for miles then the reader could have been led to believe that finding it was the miracle in the first instance, especially if the lost traveller, Trudy in this case, was in real distress.

        Surprise knock is good as snow tends to deaden the sounds of footsteps.

        As we are talking about magic and miracles, then the suitcase may be a give away although when I read the story I accepted Trudy’s reason for having it.

        The ending worked for me and I didn’t see it coming.

        A most enjoyable story. Thanks for writing it.

        Ken Frape.

        • Susan WM
          Thanks, Ken. I appreciate (and agree with) the feedback.
    • I hoped to learn more about Christmas by joining this site. Christmas has always had some hypnotic charm from me. The way my Australian sister-in-law, my nieces would talk about Christmas, would leave me longing wistfully for more. I was also terrifically impressed with the spirit of Christmas as portrayer in some movies like ‘Autumn in New York’ starring Richard Gere. Naturally, I was straight away into your story just by reading the first few lines, Madam Susan. There is a smooth flow about your story, the language is crisp and the characters delineated realistically.
      I come from not so rich a nation. When poverty stares at you hard, when asking for more is taught to be a greedy act, inspite of your being famished and starved, showing manners may be the last thing on your mind. It takes a lot of good upbringing and careful, cautious parents to raise decent children. So Mary is a winner for me from the start. Besides, she is a widow with a lot of common sense and practical wisdom. If good things happen to good people, good things are bound to happen to Mary too. So the give-away conclusion is kinda foretold from the time Trudy stepped in. I was also enjoying the story knowing Trudy to be the saviour. But then I had my first pinch of suspicion, when Trudy kept exactly all the things the children wanted under the tree.
      Now, I don’t know much about the occasion or event, so I am not sure, if Trudy was meant to be the airy-fairy figure she turned out to be . If that is the case, the story would lose much of its charm for me. I like real things, realistic people and so on. Fairies and Santa Clause are for others, not for a man like me whose hands and mind are always full.
      Sorry, if I sound to be unworldly or impractical, a big pain in the a… The story would have been a stunner, in my humble opinion, but for the dreamy conclusion. Forgive me for sharing my opinion so freely. This is your second story that I have read and I do so like your writing style.
      All the best wishes.
      • Susan WM
        Thank you for reading and providing feedback. I had a hard time with a surprise ending linked to that prompt. I leave it to the reader to determine who Trudy was, but I did insert a few vague hints; her resembling a the woman in the bible stories, her tearing up when asked about having children. I gave the name “Mary” to the other woman so as not to be obvious. I’m glad you liked the character of Mary. I’d like to think there are more like her in real life.
    • Sorry, this was my comment on Amy’s story, but I got distracted and addressed it to Susan 🙁
      I got as far as Susan’s story on this page (also a touching story), then read Amy’s in my inbox …. and got myself all tangled up.
      If Carrie or Alice can delete I’ll return and post comments on the last few stories …
    • A lovely, feel-good story, Susan (I’ve just written something similar, although not quite as upbeat). The mood – with the kids playing and the decorating of the tree (with popcorn? obviously an American thing) is nicely established. I saw the other comments and I think I agree about the house having to be a bit more remote to enhance the miracle. I think maybe the fact of Mary’s husband dying could have been addressed a little more obliquely. But the appearance of Trudy, the ‘little miracle’, and her silent exit, are all really well delivered.
      • Susan WM
        Thank you Phil. Yes, the house needs to be remote. Stringing popcorn for the tree is an American thing, although I don’t see it anymore. We did that when I was much younger.
    • Touching story, Susan.
      Both Mary and Trudy the Intruder are interesting characters – Mary struggling on her own with young children, and there’s some mystery about Trudy who place s role somewhere between Father Christmas and the Mother of Christ.
      Though it’s implied, I don’t think she can be the latter, as Mary had at least 5 other children apart from Jesus, according to the gospels – and she would know it turned out well for her other son too in the end…. But of course we shouldn’t take this too literally! It’s about a woman identifying with another woman’s loss and suffering, which is a good message for the time of year.
      • Typo: should say ‘plays a role’ …
      • Susan WM
        “intruder” – that’s funny! thanks for the feedback Andy.
    • Nam Raj Khatri
      Dear Susan, I some time slow down for reading story so that it does not finish quickly and some time i do so for not loosing track. I read this story for both reason. It was interesting. I was thinking that Trudy will leave the suitcase with some ornaments but it leave the things needed for children. Very comfortable ending.
      • Susan WM
        Thank you Nam.
    • Amy Meyer
      I enjoyed this sweet and heart working story. I think you quickly painted a picture of the characters circumstances, like that her manager had given her popcorn from the store where she worked. I thought the stranger with mystery presents wasn’t such a strong story line, as I felt it was a little well worn as a trope. But I thought your writing was really strong.
    • Susan,

      For me, the most moving passage in this story is when the Mother, Mary, is reluctant to open the door to God only knows who, and her daughter Staci says, “Mom, it’s cold out!” That, is real life.

      The story is okay. Your writing is perfect, beyond exemplary. The dialogue is flawless.

      • Susan WM
        Thanks, Ken! I have to confess, “warm and fuzzy” stories really aren’t my thing. I really struggled to come up with something. I was going to skip this one but need to step outside my comfort zone to get some feedback. I appreciate your words which mean a lot, coming from you.
  • Niall Richardson
    Outsourcing Santa

    Word count: 1209

    ‘Christmas has as much to do with religion as my left toenail these days’ the boy’s dad would say. ‘It’s all about getting idiot-brained shoppers to buy pointless presents for people they hardly know.’ The others would call him cylindrical, or something similar, and proceed to argue over which of the posh people were ‘ruining this country’ at the moment. All these comments made little sense to the bewildered ten-year-old, not least since his father resembled a sphere more than any tubular object he could think of.

    This year the family had driven to visit his dying grandma. She had been dying for as long as he could remember, but they insisted he be nice to her because this could be her last Christmas. As far as he could see, they couldn’t wait for their last Christmas. If his mother wasn’t crying by the end of the night, she was passed out drunk, something which always looked preferable to opening numerous badly knitted scarfs.

    It wasn’t that he hated the idea of Christmas, more the misinterpreted realisation of that idea which his parents thrust upon him. The children in the adverts seemed to have a wonderful time, opening toy after toy. The last time he remembered getting a toy for Christmas it had been a mistake in labelling; his Grandma had taken all of five minutes to fly that drone into a tree.

    As he sat there now, the Christmas tree twinkling in the corner of his eye, he wondered how long this would go on for. How many years it would take before he had his own Christmas, back home with his friends. With Alice. Suddenly he realised that he had forgotten to wish her a merry Christmas. He didn’t have to of course, but he had promised and if there was one thing his mother hated more than fun, it was insincerity. He wasn’t exactly sure what this meant but guessed it had something to do with keeping promises. Quietly he excused himself, unnoticed by all.

    Alice was a girl from back in his village that he liked to hang out with. They liked each other in that way ten-year-old outcasts like each other. Hurtful remarks and violent playfighting were the foundation of any good friendship at that age. Walking softly to avoid wakening the creaking beams, he slid into his room and shut the door.

    Sitting on the four-poster bed he picked up the landline and dialled the number he had memorised. As it rang, he prayed for her to pick up the ‘phone, opposed to one of her other bullish family members.


    ‘It’s me’

    ‘Oh, hi’

    ‘Merry Christmas’

    ‘Merry Christmas’

    ‘Thanks.’ He paused, thinking of something meaningful to say, ‘I hate it here’

    ‘Yeah, same. They’ve all started singing’

    Outside it was snowing heavily. The fields were covered in an undulating duvet of powder. Somewhere downstairs his mother was calling him.

    ‘I think I’m need back in hell’s living room, sorry’

    ‘Good luck. See you soon’

    ‘Yeah, hopefully’ He put down the receiver and was turning to leave when something outside caught his eye. If it wasn’t for the whitewashed landscape, he would have missed it. Down on the drive, right by where their car had got stuck this morning, someone was waving at him. They didn’t look particularly happy with their predicament, and at first he assumed it was another relative come to join in with the sombre celebrations. Until, that was, the man called out his name.

    Shocked, he looked around for some explanation. None came. Seeing the energetic beckoning of the figure he cracked opened the window and peered out. Immediately he was hit by an onslaught of bitter wind. A wind, he noticed, which seemed to pass straight through the man below.

    ‘For goodness sake, please come down.’ The voice had come out of nowhere, forming itself in his mind as if part of his thoughts.

    ‘W- what was that?’

    ‘Look down, I haven’t got long so can you please come down here?’ Again, the words sliced through into his head.

    ‘Umm… how?’

    ‘The ladder’

    A ladder was now hanging precariously from the windowsill. His father had said not to talk to strangers, and he thought that this would especially apply to ones which can produce object from thin air, but something in his adolescent brain told him that this was different. Afterall, it was Christmas, and no one would hurt a child at Christmas.

    Opening the window further, and with all the grace of a blind hurdler, he manoeuvred himself onto the ladder and began to climb down. The wind struck viscously at his arms, threatening to throw him off. Once on solid ground he looked around, almost toppling into the man who was now standing with a warm smile not two feet away from him.

    ‘Thank you, nice to meet you’

    ‘You teleported’

    ‘No I didn’t’

    ‘Who are you?’

    ‘Who do you think I am?’

    ‘I don’t know, the plumber?’

    The man laughed, ‘no I’m Father Christmas’

    ‘No you’re not’

    ‘Yes I am’

    ‘Alright, where’s your reindeer then?’

    ‘Reindeer are out of fashion. I’ve got Yorkshire terriers now’

    ‘No you haven’t’

    ‘Look, I have but I’m not here to have my existence questioned, I’m told you’re getting rubbish presents for Christmas’

    ‘Maybe, how do you know that?’


    ‘What do you mean God’

    ‘It’s a long story but basically I outsourced all the character checks on children to God since he had been getting a bit bored of late and he told me that I should come and give you a nice fun present. Sound good?’

    ‘I- I suppose so’ this was too much to take in.

    ‘Okay, what do you want?’ He reached behind the ladder and picked up a large ASDA bag for life which had been sitting there for what could only have been a few seconds.

    ‘Umm… what have you got?’


    ‘I’ll take everything then’

    ‘Well, when I say everything, I mean everything that would fit in this bag. We used to use bottomless sacks but what with the recent budget cuts we’ve had to resort to stealing these things from supermarkets. Here, take it’

    ‘All of it?’

    ‘That’s what you wanted isn’t it? Besides I can’t be bothered to carry it home, my back is killing me.’ By this time the boy had started to shiver. He wondered whether the cold was playing some kind of trick on him. Who was he really talking to?

    ‘Where do you live?’

    ‘Camden. I don’t normally come out this far anymore, that’s what the international satellite projects are for, but I took pity with your case’

    ‘Don’t you live in Lapland or something?’

    ‘Used to, when I had the reindeer, but the dogs don’t like flying that far so I moved down here to be nearer the action. I really am in a rush, so sorry I can’t stay’

    The snow began to build, almost obscuring the figure from view. He had so many questions. Is magic real? Could he take him with him? But as the man turned to leave only one made it out.

    ‘How come I can see you?

    ‘You can’t’ and with that, he walked into the snowstorm, never looking back.

    • Susan WM
      I think you last line is meant to read “…he walked into the snowstorm…” (instead of she). I had to read it twice to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I absolutely loved this story!
      • Susan WM
        sorry your last line (I’m prone to typos).
        • Niall Richardson
          Ah yes thank you I will try and get that changed. I have never posted anything I have done anywhere like this so thank very much for the kind words!
    • Interesting story, Niall. I really liked the first half that provides a worldview very much from a child’s perspective. And then we have the magical set-up of the encounter with the man in the snow.

      The dialogue that follows is quirky and funny, but maybe a bit directionless? As if you’re not quite sure where to take this promising set-up, I felt.

      Typo: The wind struck ‘viscously’, rather than viciously – probably autocorrect doing its thing …

    • Phil Town
      Really liked this, Niall – for the wit and off-the-wallness more than the ‘story’ itself, perhaps. “Cylindrical”, “They’ve all started singing”, and “Camden” especially tickled me. The situation is funny, the tone is great, the little scenes are really well done … but at the end, the boy’s left in the snow with a bag of prezzies. I just felt it needed a little bit more punch at the end there somehow (although your last line is great in itself!) I enjoyed the journey very much, though.
  • sandra woolf
    I don’t like to critique, feel I don’t have enough confidence yet. But I do know what I like, and I like this very much.
  • RM York
    Niall, your story was interesting, imaginative, but needs some work. I realize you have never posted before, and this is new to you, but there are some things you could tighten up. I’m not sure a ten year old would climb our a window in a snowstorm, and you could have as easily made it more plausible if once we found out it was Father Christmas (who uses magic all the time – I mean you were using telepathy) he simply had the young man stand next to him with a snap of his fingers, instead of using a rickety ladder that appeared out of nowhere. Still, I liked the story and I loved the ideas of Yorkies instead of reindeer. (We Yorks would be pleased if that were the case, at least this one would be.) Good job. Not sure if Father Christmas would have to resort to stealing bags from supermarkets – perhaps the term ‘order’ them would be more appropriate than resorting to crime to obtain them. Otherwise, we might start thinking all the toys he delivers could have some sort of nefarious history in their origin, instead of hard working elves. Welcome to the group. Hope to see you again.
    • Niall Richardson
      Thank you for taking the time to comment, I definitely agree with what you have said. I tend to get too engrossed in the words and individual sentences, perhaps a proof read from a more detached perspective would have helped.
  • Well-paced fairy tale, Ameila, and I enjoyed it. Has some novel takes on the standard ingredients like a wicked witchy stepmother and a male her rescuing a vulnerable female, but with some novel twists. I had the feeling that these characters might be drawn from a longer piece, as I think there’s an interesting backstory to be told about the hero’s relationship to his step-mother and her vampiric behaviour.

    Could it have ended on leaving the mansion? Not sure about that. I think the structure of the story works well with balance being restored, and Christmas lights coming on, life and love restored after loss and fear, etc

    (There’s an ‘Its’ which needs an apostrophe. Then a ‘The’ that should be a ‘They’ … Tiny typos hardly noticeable)

  • Ken Frape
    Hi Niall,

    A really interesting take on a familiar story of the downtrodden at Christmas. It is so easy to think about the good Christmasses that many people enjoy and forget that millions are having a pretty misearable time.

    I like the reality of some of your reported comments, especially Dad’s “cynical” take on the whole event, a view not uncommon amongst those who pick up the tab each year. It has become a commercial event that may bury the real meaning under layers of wrapping paper.

    The use of telepathy is a nice touch and a bit of magic could have dressed you in a nice warm coat as I felt cold for you as you shivered in your 10 year old’s skin.

    I loved the replacement of Yorkshire Terriers for Reindeer and why not? And why does Snta need to live in the cold all year when Camden is so up-and-coming. Mind you, Hackney would probably really suit him too.

    So, a few minor tweaks here and there, at your discretion and Bob’s your uncle!

    Ken Frape.

  • Hi, Amelia … and welcome.

    This is a masterfully told fairy tale. Right from the excellent first paragraph, we’re fully in this world, and our inherent (innate?) knowledge of fairy tales takes us on, expertly guided by you. I love the snow bearing (I think it should be ‘bear’) a grudge – even the elements are evil. The whole of the first half of the story is delicious suspense and questions to answer: who is this figure, why is he going to the house, who is the old woman, who is the little girl, *where* is the little girl? Then a nice, warm happy ending. I think because of space, the showdown between good and evil seems a little perfunctory perhaps. There’s a bit of repetition (“But the man knew better.” – perhaps intentional?) But it’s a very neat, brilliantly-told tale.

  • Susan WM
    I loved your story Amelia. I could picture the characters and the setting vividly. I also appreciate the detailed descriptions. Often times with limited word counts those are the first to be cut. Fantastic.
  • Amy Meyer
    by Amy Meyer (800 words)

    Even though everything had changed, Angela decorated the Christmas tree the same way we had always done. The same tree, a ceiling-scraping artificial Douglas fir; in the same corner of the living room by the window; and the same glass and ceramic decorations. I had been an artist, a craftsman, and I made all of the ceramic baubles in my own workshop. The firelight leapt across the glass as Angela reverentially unpacked each decoration and placed it on the tree. Outside the window, the street lights painted the snow with an orange tint.
    Mandy rocketed into the room with a jangle and tremble of the decorations.
    “Be careful,” said Angela, not looking up from the next decoration, a beautiful red-painted ceramic bauble.
    “Can I decorate the tree Mummy?” said Mandy, seizing up a clear glass egg-shaped ornament, adorned with gold-lace.
    “Not that one! Be careful,” Angela screeched, snatching the fragile ornament from Mandy’s chubby little hands and gently placing it back in it’s tissue-paper nest.
    My mother-in-law, Shelia entered the room. “Come on dear, it’s Christmas! Just the time for children putting up decorations,”
    “Each of the ornaments has it’s own place on the tree,” said Angela
    “Which I’m sure you could explain to—”
    “And they are really delicate. I’m not having any of them get broken,” said Angela
    “Tom wouldn’t have wanted—” said Sheila.
    “You don’t know what Tom would have wanted. He made the ceramic decorations and he was very proud of them,”
    “Tom would have loved Mandy playing with his decorations. You know he wasn’t precious about them. You need to include Mandy. It’s Christmas!” said Sheila.
    “So what? This isn’t any of your business Mum,”
    “Tom was Mandy’s father and my son-in-law. It is very much my business,”
    “I don’t want—” said Angela.
    She was interrupted by a thump. The Christmas tree lights winked out, there was a shattering sound, and then a cry. Sheila rushed over to scoop Mandy off the floor and unwound the Christmas tree light cord from Mandy’s leg. She plugged the lights back in. A wreckage of decorations smattered the floor.
    “I told you to be careful!” bellowed Angela, her fists clenched.
    Sheila took one look at Angela’s livid face, picked up Mandy and they left the room.
    Angela swept up the crumbs of the decorations, carefully inspecting the pieces. Her eyes were filled with tears. The wind whipped up the snow outside and it howled against the windows, and obscured every shape through the glass. As Angela brushed up the shards of broken ceramic she picked out a rolled-up piece of paper that had fallen out from the cracked red ceramic bauble. I knew what the note said.

    To my dearest Angela,
    Happy Christmas! I hope this bauble gave you years of pleasure. But if you’re reading this that means that it’s broken. Don’t worry about it— I always thought of it as more of a piñata than a decoration.
    Lots of love from Tom xxx
    P.S. Give Mandy a big hug from me

    Angela sat down hard on the floor. Her lip trembled as she read and re-read the note, gently flattening the paper out. She put her head in her hands and her body shook with sobs. It broke my heart that I couldn’t reach out and comfort her. After several long minutes, she took a deep breath and stood up, sweeping the shards of decorations off her clothes. She left the room and returned with Mandy in her arms, and Sheila following close behind.
    “I’m sorry for snapping. Will you both help me finish decorating the Christmas tree?”
    “Of course dear,” said Sheila, patting her gently on the shoulder.
    Angela hugged Mandy tightly to her. Then she picked up a box of felt decorations and handed it to Mandy.
    “Here you go, you can put these ones up here,” Angela said, gesturing to the lower part of the tree.
    “The reindeer is my favourite,” said Mandy, holding up a piped-felt decoration. Angela kissed her on the head.
    “It’s lovely isn’t it,” Angela agreed.
    As the three decorated the tree together companionably, I finally knew that my family were going to be OK. Holding myself together was a constant strain, like trying to run up hill. All that was left of me was a ghostly shadow: incorporeal and insubstantial. It was time to let go.
    The snow outside rushed through the trees, battering at the windows. It was a blinding whiteness, coming for me. I took one last long look at my family and with that, I walked into the snowstorm, never looking back.

    • Susan WM
      Wow. At first I thought you went from third to first person by mistake. What a wonderful touching story. I simply loved it. I read it twice (as I do all the stories). The first to get the story and second to be able to provide feedback. I read this a third time for the enjoyment of it.
      • Amy Meyer
        Thank you so much!
    • WONDERFUL,AMY. You couldn’t have given us, the reader, a better story as a Christmas gift.
      Initially, I got a bit mixed up about the relationships. If Angela was Shelia daughter in law and Tom, her son, who was the narrator? A spinster sister? Another brother? But the story was more gripping and didn’t let my mind ponder over the issues for long. Then came Tom’s letter to Angela, followed by the breathtaking ending.
      I read the ending twice. At first , I thought I was right in my assumption of a disabled, spinster sister. But no, the last line wouldn’t make sense then. I couldn’t keep myself from reading the paragraph. Then the realization dawned on me. It was the ghost of Tom and his ghostly presence made a lot of sense. You made your story very believable despite the use of the supernatural.
      God bless you, my friend. You are fated to GI far as a writer. Thank you for the gift, thanks for your superlative writing.
      Happy Christmas to you too.
      • Amy Meyer
        What a lovely comment. Thank you so much.
    • Lovely story Amy. I thoroughly enjoyed the ending. (It made me do a double-take.)
      • Amy Meyer
        Thank you! Glad it worked for you.
    • Poignant story, Amy, written from the other side, as it were. Very visual – it’s like we’re looking into the room and can see everything happening, and it’s through the eyes of the person missing.

      Clever the gradual revealing of the reasons for Angela’s (apparently) obsessive and controlling behaviour about the tree decorating, and how the readers sympathies will change as she herself gains a new understanding.

      It did remind me a little of Ghost with the viewpoint of the deceased, and his wanting to protect and comfort. Or – what’s that film where the dad writes letters to his kid for several years ahead, to keep the contact going after he’s gone?

      I think it was Spielberg’s definition of a good film being one that leaves you with a smile on your face and the tracks of tears on your cheeks . And that’s what your story does.

      • Amy Meyer
        Thank you, I love your Spielburg comment. What a lovely thing to say.
    • Ken Frape
      .Hi Amy,

      A lovely story that really creates a clear mental picture for me. In some ways it was a little like an onion that gradually revealed its layers as we started off feeling empathy for the child and a little irritated by the mother and, perhaps by the interfering mother-in-law. As the true reasons for the mother’s anger were revealed we became more sympathetic towards her.

      Then, it gradually dawned on me ( a bit slow maybe?) that it was another voice telling the story and the whole scene fell into place. Then I read it again and really appreciated what you had done.


      Could you have used more of your word count? Perhaps but it could be argued that when it’s done, it’s done.

      Well done.

      Ken Frape.

      • Amy Meyer
        Thank you so much for your feedback and kind words!
    • RM York
      A wonderfully crafted story with no mishaps I wanted to find, even with the second reading. I just wanted to enjoy it as I reread it. Loved the 1st person to 3rd person switch, although I had to go back to realize it wasn’t an error. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and I loved the writing. The minimum of words to make this work is a miracle in itself. Although her anger bothered me, I can also understand it. If I have to give a critique, it would be to modify the clenched fists into something a tad more mellow. Maybe, an “I’m sorry, honey.” follows, and Grandma still grabs Mandy and removes her.
      • Amy Meyer
        Thank you. I think I’ll make a slight tweak to the beginning to make it clearer that it’s an observer-narrator from the beginning, whilst still hiding the main reveal about who the narrator is, as a few people have commented on that.

        Really helpful on the ‘clenched fists’ I’ll come up with something else.

    • Peter Holmes
      I absolutely love it, well done on wrotwri one of my favourite short stories
      • Peter Holmes
        Oh god,
    • Phil Town
      This is a beautifully crafted story, Amy, from the very first sentence (What had changed?, we ask ourselves). Ken F’s comment about the onion is a good one – little by little. The device of the message in the bauble (© 😉 ) is brilliant. And of course, there’s a smashing arc for Angela as the bitterness of loss become realisation and love. It’s hard to find anything to criticise, but I’ll give it a go! I think this line was unnecessary: “All that was left of me was a ghostly shadow: incorporeal and insubstantial.” – your careful construction had left us in no two minds already about the nature of the narrator (imho). But smashing stuff!
    • Ken Frape
      Hi Amy,
      Well done on the success of your story.
      Have a great Christmas,
      Ken Frape.
  • Dear Alice,
    I thought it didn’t matter whether my story features in the list or not. This time I will vote and quietly withdraw from this site. But after going through Roy’s story, a sudden, momentary change has come me. Yes, I do want my story featuring in the list .
    So, what I am trying to say is it is more than 60 hours since I posted my story but it has still not found a place in the list among the other stories. Please do something about it, Alice before I commit harakiri.
    Love and best wishes.
  • Alice Nelson

    Hahaha, Rathin my friend, I’d hate to see you commit harakiri, so I have rectified the matter, and you are now on the list . This was simply an oversight on my part, so sorry. 🙂

    • Thank you, Alice. God bless and Merry Christmas to you.
  • Side Trip.
    By Ken Cartisano
    Word Count. 1195


    The tires spun.

    The snow was falling heavily now. “We’re not moving, Kim.”

    “I can see that.” She said, staring straight ahead. Her words were like heat-seeking missiles.

    We were stranded on ice, a good long patch of it. A flat spot, rain, days of sub-zero temperatures. It happens. And the ice rendered the car immovable in any safe way: the more I spun the tires, the closer the car slid towards a steep embankment, overlooking an eighty-foot drop to a boulder-laden creek. We’d be dead before the car stopped rolling.

    Now, before you smirk at our stupidity, we had our cell phones, four-wheel drive, plenty of gas, gloves, a bag of nuts, gum and a bottle of water: But no tire chains, no cell reception.

    We were hunting for a free Christmas tree, my wife and I, and headed for the mountains, not too far off the beaten track. There was an uncanny lack of small evergreens so we continued driving further into the woods, onto a random side road that unexpectedly went on and on, up and up, with no place to even turn around.

    Just as we began to appreciate the futility of our quest, and the need to turn back, we hit the ice. And that’s not the final irony, a moment later I realized I’d forgotten to bring anything to cut down the tree. No chainsaw, no clippers, no machete, nothing but a three-inch utility knife. ‘Merry Fuckin’ Christmas,’ I thought, as I divulged this detail to my wife.

    She questioned my astronomical origins.

    “Earth,” I replied, unconvincingly.

    Her expression did little to bolster my self-confidence.

    But the lack of any kind of fearsome tool didn’t really bother me until I looked up and saw a strange man standing in the middle of the road. He was large, and wrapped in a ragged coat or a partial pelt. His hair was disheveled. Behind his long, unkempt beard, the man gave no hint of his intentions.

    I was about to make some disparaging comment when I realized Kim, my wife, was already out of the car and walking towards the stranger. That’s the way she is. Impetuous. Friendly. A terrible combination. If she saw Frankenstein, she’d walk over, pull on his ill-fitting jacket and ask for directions to the nearest electrical sub-station. Afterwards she would explain: ‘Didn’t you see the electrodes in his neck? I just figured he would know.’

    I got out of the car, cursing her under my breath, (Yes! I saw the electrodes…) Grabbed my jacket, slipping it on oh-so casually to hide the Leatherman knife on my belt, and, trying to look as confident and lethal as possible, I inched forward carefully over the ice.

    “Hi,” I said, swallowing noticeably. “We appear to be stuck,” I boldly declared, “for the time being.”

    This admission seemed to have no effect on the large unkempt stranger.

    I persisted. “Is there, any-way, you can (gulp) help us out?”

    “Sure. Lot’s of ways.” He looked thoughtful. “The thing is, I think you’re going to have to spend the night out here. Sun’s about to set.” He paused to let that sink in. “And once the sun goes down, it gets really dark…”

    I smiled. His logic was impeccable. And he was articulate. At least we would enjoy witty conversation with our eventual murderer. “Mmmm, I suppose we could spend the night in the car.”

    “Oh…I don’t know.” He eyed the precarious perch of our vehicle and shook his head. “It’s your choice of course, but I wouldn’t risk it.”

    If he was afraid of our car, then that’s where we would sleep. “What other options do we have?” I said, hiding my jubilation, projecting despair.

    “I’ve got access to a small shelter just a little ways up the path here.” He said, pointing to a spot that moments earlier I could’ve sworn was an overgrown tangle of thorns, but now seemed to reveal a worn and inviting path off the dirt road.

    As Kim started for the path I reached out and grabbed her by the upper arm. “Umm, why don’t we let our friend lead the way? Hmm?”

    As he moved sedately ahead of us, my wife and I exchanged a nervous glance before we followed at a discrete distance.

    The small shelter turned out to be a cozy bungalow with a small fire glowing in its hearth. Its only room was sparsely furnished but well endowed with pelts and furs and the occasional cloth comforter. A simmering pot filled the room with a savory smell and we were each served a large bowl of delicious stew. The bowls and spoons were made of wood.

    Before the question had formed on my lips, our host supplied the answer: ‘Bear fat, a careless squirrel and assorted mushrooms, herbs and spices.’

    “It’s delicious,” my wife cooed.

    It was—but, is it strange to confess that I was still exceedingly suspicious of this mysterious character? “My name’s Ken.” I said. “and this is my wife, Kim.”

    He nodded as he sipped his stew, then observed in a gentle voice, “You’re not really married.”

    I recoiled visibly, and deliberately, for a couple of reasons.

    At my reaction he leaned toward me in a conciliatory manner. “I’m sorry. It was just an observation. Believe me, I couldn’t care less.”

    I think I chuckled nervously. I indicated our accommodations and said, “Clearly, convention is not your thing…” at this point I’m sure I frowned. “But how did you know?” And he did know, his tone reeked with certainty, even though we both wear rings.

    He changed the subject. “I have some ‘hunting and gathering’ to perform.” He made the quote marks in the air. “Nothing dangerous or interesting, I’m afraid. You’re welcome to make yourselves comfortable.” His smile was the essence of comforting. There’re more candles in the nook, cheese and grog on the shelf, and cups in the cupboard.” He paused at the door before leaving. “Don’t burn the place down and, please, no hanky-panky.”

    With that, he walked into the snowstorm, and never looked back.

    A moment later, as I recall, my ‘wife’ and I looked at each other and laughed—hard. I think we even howled. We’d been holding in a lot of nervous tension, but even still, I almost suspected there was something in the stew. My whole body felt happy.

    Believe it or not, we forgot all about the snowstorm, or the stranger. We talked and giggled and eventually fell asleep in each others arms. We both woke at the same time the next morning, fully rested, alert, glowing. I took a peek out the door to find a fluffy snow had covered everything but a clear path back to our car, which had done a neat, and impossible, ‘one-eighty’ and was facing the way we had come. The keys were in it, as well as a small tree.

    It’s freshly-cut scent filled the car with natural cheer as I put it in gear and idled down the hill towards home.

    My wife suddenly grabbed me by the arm. “Oh my God,” she said. “We didn’t even get his name!”

    • Susan WM
      I love Ken’s character (reminds me of this witty writer when he critiques stories ;-)). I was confused that he referred to Kim as his wife twice to the reader, but it turns out they aren’t really married. I enjoyed the positive twist. Is there a way you can add the prompt to the very end while still maintaining the surprise tree in the car? Like they go to the car and then see his from a distance walk into the snowstorm? Great tale.
    • Carrie Zylka

      Ken, you forgot the last line.
      If you’d like I can add it for you!

    • RM York
      This was about as Cartisano a story as we could get. Everything you need to know about Ken C. is rolled up this dark comedy with a happy ending, and I agree with Andy that this story has more basis in fact than fiction. And, I absolutely loved the paragraph about the electrodes and Frankenstein. Laughed out loud, in fact. Please fix the prompt for the vote.
    • Thanks very much to those of you who left me feedback on ‘Side Trip’.

      Regarding the ‘last line’ prompt: The ‘required last line’ arrives at the end of the encounter in my story, where it belongs, rather than at the end of the story, where it’s required by the rules. Despite my initial opinion that this is a fluffy piece that disqualifies itself, I’d rather not change it. This is one of those (rare and questionable) occasions where (I feel) that the story takes precedence over the rules. (For me, not for others.) I’m okay with being disqualified. (‘In keeping with the situation.’)

      To Andy in particular, thanks for pointing out all those errors (you jerk.) No, no, no, I’m just kidding Andy. Thank you. I had no idea. I’ll wait a few days and then revisit the story to fix those typos and other errors. (My excuse is that) I really had no ideas for this prompt and confabulated this thing at the very last minute of the last day. I was Out of TIME! And had no chance to polish it. Which doesn’t make me any less proud of it, oddly enough. (Is that normal? Well, who cares. I’m not normal anyway.)

      Those music videos were classics. Your posts and comments always crack me up, Andy. Was Phil kidding when he said he liked that ‘Slade’ video? Please, please God, tell me he was. (Even if you have to lie to me.)

      If there’s anyone still reading this at this point, Congratulation! This is the part of my comments where I tell the truth. Being intelligent and diligent as we all know we are, (by reading this far,) we all know, and completely agree, that my story is the best, with the possible exception of, well, the six of you who are still reading this. To those of you I say, don’t waste a vote on my story, (despite the fact that we all know its the best,) as it wouldn’t be fair and it can’t possibly win. (Because of the Coriolis effect and that last line problem.) I hope we can all agree on that. I know I (me) won’t be voting for my story. Not THIS week. I give you all my word on that.

      p.s. I’ve been a bit busy lately so I apologize for not burdening everyone with my long, ‘deep tissue’ critiques this week. Maybe after the holidays I’ll have more time to devote to trashing everyone’s egos. Yes, yes, I’m bummed out about it too, but it’s the holidays. Things will be back to normal in a few weeks. Rest assured. Cheers!

      I expect two likes on this comment. Really, I do. Two! The things I do for this group. Pah! Humbug.

      • RM York
        What made you think there were still six people reading at the halfway point? Merry Christmas to you and Kim. Along with a positively wonderful and Happy New Year.
        • Alice,
          My optimism always leaves me disappointed.
      • Carrie Zylka

        Well ok poopy pants I’ll delete the last line then.

    • Phil Town
      At last, Ken! A story by you that uses all the style and wit you always show in your incidental comments here (Not that your normal stories are any less than great, obviously). It’s just that you have ‘funny bones’, and here you give them full rein. As early as this line – “Now, before you smirk at our stupidity, we had our cell phones, four-wheel drive, plenty of gas, gloves, a bag of nuts, gum and a bottle of water.” (‘gum’!) – I was lol-ing, and my reactions never dipped below a broad smile. And the ending, with the little favour from the stranger … smashing, too. Personally, I don’t really care if the rules weren’t exactly followed (you had the last line, only it wasn’t last) … but then again, I’m not the ref. A blast, this.

      Oh, and by the way: ‘discreet’, and yes, of course I love that Slade song – I’m British, of a certain age. But then EVERYbody in Britain loves it. The Queen has it playing on loop at Buck Pal around this time, I’m led to believe.

    • Nam Raj Khatri
      Dear Ken, Firstly story was clear and interesting. Regarding errors in view of prompt requirement there could be two options

      One, you could stop after after last line(—-Never looked back). In that case readers would assume first after this line in their won way about your comfort but not second part about position of car.

      Two, you cod remove that line from that position. Seeing the position of car you could go back to his home to thank and ask name. That he would be already out of home. You could see from far away and the last line would work.
      Any way story is ok as it is if prompt designer do not mind.

  • I’ve got a feeling this story is at least half based on an actual Cartisano experience, but woven into a shaggy mountaineer story. Good tension based on the misjudging of character.

    I do like the idea of an unexpected kindness (or set of them) that expects no return – a fine and uplifting story, with a touch of mystery.

    Just wondering if you’ve forgotten something at the end .. like the prompt??

    (A few minor typos – missing quote marks, unwanted apostrophe in “it’s” – nothing life-changing …)

  • Ken Frape
    Hi Ken,
    A thoroughly enjoyable read. It certainly kept me interested and your choice of language is great.
    It really flows and has a natural feel to it. I have a very clear mental picture of the scene from your words.
    I especially loved the dialogue between husband and wife ( Ken and Kim). So true to life or, perhaps it rings a bell regarding conversations in my married life.
    Andy mentions a couple of points in his comment and they are there but I wouldn’t have seen them ( except for the prompt issue) unless he had mentioned them.
    Great stuff,

    Ken Frape.

  • Ken, as far as I know, while writing a prompt-based story, you have to stick to the prompt. If the prompt asked you to start your story with a given line, you have to do the same. Here. the concluding line was given and you should have concluded the story with the large, mysterious man walking back in the snow.
    I agree that your conclusion is just so Cartisinoian. Does Cartisinesque sound better? Your stories are always juicy, full of suspense and thrill. But mind you not, my fren, when I say that I don’t think you really put your soul into your role as a tale-teller, do far as “Side Trip” is concerned. I like the natural dialogue, the great sense of wit and humor and the practical portrayal of the characters though.
    All the best, mate, and Merry Christmas.
    • Raff,
      Cartisano-esque has a nice, unpronounceable ring to it. (Personally, I prefer ‘brilliant’ but, I’m not proud.)
  • Carrie Zylka

    A Christmas Angel by Carrie Zylka
    (1200 + 10 words)

    DECEMBER 2, 2018

    The little girl stood shivering in the cold, tears brimming in big blue eyes.

    She wasn’t sure where she was, but she was sure this was NOT the North Pole.

    It was much too quiet, no bustling of elves, no jingling of sleighs, no… whatever sounds reindeer made.

    The bus dropped her off at the stop and she’d watched it drive away, with nothing but the clothes on her back, she wasn’t sure how to make her way to Santa’s workshop.

    She wandered the streets for some time, trying to find anyone who could point her in the direction she needed to go. But it was a ghost town.

    It had been so easy to log on to her mother’s tablet, go to the website, and purchase a ticket to the North Pole using her mother’s credit card conveniently saved in the autofill. Her nine-year-old mind had no concept of round trip or one way, all she knew was Santa could help.

    For days she wandered the streets of this cold little town, she learned to avoid people after a near disastrous encounter with an older man, who’d invited her into his warm car with promises of helping her “find Santa”.

    By the third day she was frightened, alone, hungry, and panicked. She knew she should find a policeman and get some help but she was afraid he would send her home before she could find Santa.

    And Santa was the only one who could help her mom.


    Nicholas watched the little girl who had run away from home.

    He’d watched for years as her mother accepted the beatings by a man who was not the girl’s father, but who had provided a home, a roof over their head, food in their belly.

    It wasn’t until Megan ran away, leaving a note stating she was going to get help from Santa; that her mother had realized the desperate situation. It had been a wakeup call.

    Nicholas had asked and been denied permission to intervene on the lost little girl’s behalf.

    Now, the child, a year older, a year wiser, sat huddled in the doorway of a factory closed for the season.

    Nicholas decided he didn’t care about repercussions, he needed to help her.


    Megan pulled her coat closer, trying to shield her skin from the bitter wind. She closed her eyes, dozing in the cold, when she heard a voice whisper “the diner”.

    She sat up, looking around for the voice, on full alert for danger. Seeing none she relaxed as her stomach made a loud gurgling noise.

    She thought about the little restaurant and wondered if she could find some food in the dumpster that’d helped to keep her fed in the last year.

    She slowly made her way towards old diner. She stood looking through the large front window for a bit. The place was vacant, but the beautiful Christmas tree somehow filled the emptiness.

    She almost fled as the waitress waved Megan inside

    “Well aren’t you a skinny little thing.” The waitress stated hands on her ample hips. “Ain’t you got a home? Why aren’t you at home?”

    The waitress must have seen the blind panic in the Megan’s eyes. “No, none of my business anyway. You hungry?” The little girl nodded. “Well, we got chicken noodle soup, it’s just going to go to waste after tonight anyway. You want a bowl? No charge.”

    The girl nodded, stepping forward to sit at the counter. She ate the soup so fast she burned the roof of her mouth but didn’t even care.

    The waitress chuckled, refilling the bowl, watching the girl eat a bit more slowly. “What’s your name hon?”

    “It’s Megan.”

    “Well Megan, my name’s Dottie. Nice to meet you. You don’t have to tell me but I’d really like to know why a little girl is running around in a snowstorm by herself, looking all scrawny and homeless. Do you have a home?”

    Megan stiffened.

    “Oh I ain’t judging, we all gotta do what we gotta do. Guess I’m just more curious than anything.”

    Megan looked down for a few minutes. “I live in Minneapolis. I came to find Santa. I got a ticket to the North Pole but they dropped me off here instead.”

    Dottie nodded. “You got a ticket all by yourself?”

    Megan nodded.

    “What did you need to find Santa for so badly? Was a new doll that important?”

    Megan’s eyes flashed angrily. “NOT a new doll. A new step-dad! I was trying to find Santa to ask for a new step-dad. Because mine is mean and broken and my mom needs a new one.”

    “Oh jeez child.” After a moment. “Have you called your mom since you’ve been here?”

    Megan shook her head. “No, I was too afraid to.”

    Dottie’s heart ached for this little girl and the situation. “Well, it’s Christmas Eve, maybe you should call your mom just to let her know you’re ok?”

    “No, he’ll answer the phone and will be so mad at me and he’ll hurt her more.”

    Dottie thought for a minute. “Well, maybe I could call, I’ll say I’m selling makeup and get your mom on the phone. Your step-dad wouldn’t even have to know you were here. How about that?”

    Tears sprung into the child’s eyes. “Oh yes please, I miss my mom so much!”

    Dottie dialed and a woman answered the phone. “Hello, my name’s Dottie. I’m a waitress in North Pool, please don’t react to the news I’m about to tell you but I have your daughter sitting with me, she’s alive and well and she misses you. She tried to get to the North Pole to ask Santa to bring her a new step-dad. She’s very concerned that you will be in harm’s way if she calls. Having been married to an abusive sonofabitch the courage this little girl has shown is blowing my mind.”

    Megan sat, anxiety nearly causing her to flee. She heard Dottie say: “Oh my, yes, that’s wonderful news, hold on just a moment I’ll put her on the phone.” Dottie turned back to Megan. “Child, your mom has some wonderful news to tell you and she’s very excited to speak to you.”

    Megan took the phone and Dottie went to see to the customer who’d just sat down at the counter. She poured him a cup of coffee and he nodded towards the little girl. “What’s her story?”

    Dottie smiled. “Well that little girl had a down right rotten step-dad, she ran away from home to find Santa to ask him to bring her a new one. Somehow ended up here and has been too scared to call her mom. Who, ironically had a come to Jesus moment and kicked him out right after the girl ran away and has been looking for her. So, in this old broad’s estimate, it’s a darned Christmas miracle.”

    “Well, I hope she finds her way home.” The man said finishing his coffee. “This should help.” Winking, he handed her a five-dollar bill and an envelope.

    Dottie’s eyes widened as she realized inside was a one-way bus ticket to the little girl’s hometown.

    With that, the angel walked into the snowstorm, never looking back.

    • Phil Town
      Really good situation you have here, Carrie – the little girl wishing for something practical, and searching for the only ‘person’ she can trust at that age. As you say elsewhere, the cutting you had to do probably took out an earlier introduction of her guardian angel (I agree with Rathin about that last line), which makes his sudden appearance a bit brusque. The eviction of the abusive step-dad is a relief, and the ending is a nice, happy one. And thank God for people like Dottie, too!
    • Nam Raj Khatri
      Dear Carrie, you have nicely framed the story and well connected. When Dottie tole story to Angel (as you defined) about Megan I was thinking how Dottie know that. I went back to telephone conversation between Dottie and Mum then it was clear. You have added extra interest by making old man as Angel instead of Dottie.
      By the way you wanted every one to write story in 1200+10 words or that was the max limit ?
    • Nam Raj Khatri
      Dear Carrie, You have nicely framed the story. I was confused when I Dottie told story of Megan to Angel ( as you defined). I came back to telephone talk of Dottie and Mum and it became clear. You have added extra interest by making old man as Angel instead of Dottie itself.
  • RM York
    Carrie, I love the writing, the flow, dialogue and everything about this story, including the plot, BUT, and this is a big but, I had trouble with the year from 2017 to 2018 and the ‘little nine year old’ girl surviving during that time. Personally, I don’t think it would take away from the story one bit, if it would have been a week, two weeks, a month, but an entire year gave this story an implausibility factor for me. I kind of understand why you did it, but I don’t think this otherwise wonderfully written story (In my humble opinion) needed it.
    • Carrie Zylka

      Thanks for feedback Roy. I couldn’t agree more.
      Before I butchered it from about 1,800 words down to the 1200 it probably made more sense why there’s a year gap in it.
      I probably should have changed it from December 1st through Christmas Eve or something along those lines.

      • RM York
        I have found I sometimes do the same thing in editing a story and wasn’t able to see it until someone pointed it out. I’m sure in those 600 words you sliced out there was a very good reason she survived a year, especially under the watchful eye of (St.) Nicholas. I still liked the story.
        • Carrie Zylka

          Weird fact….

          I didn’t even make the St. Nicholas connection until you mentioned it.
          I literally (and apparently subconsciously) chose it at random!

          Or perhaps the Christmas spirit moved me hahaha!

          • Telling that the story is good, will take away the credit of the story, Carrie. But. in my humble opinion, the story that promised so much half way through, somehow faded towards the end, especially with the last line:
            With that, the angel walked into the snowstorm, never looking back.
            As a reader, I was prepared to look upon Nicholas as some kinda angel for his act of kindness, the five dollar bill and the one way ticket meant for Megan. If you had just concluded the story with the sentence ‘With that, he ( instead of using ‘the angel’) walked..’, it would have heightened the suspicion and interest of the story. This is just a personal opinion, friend, and might not make your story any less interesting for many.
            Keep writing for it comes naturally to you. Good luck and Merry Christmas to you.
            • Carrie Zylka

              Ah yes Rathin my friend I can definitely see your point. I had explained more about how he was an angel, and he had been watching over Megan, I wish I could have had more words LOL. I think we all did for this prompt!
              thank you for the feedback and the great advice and have a merry Christmas to you and the family!

      • Carrie,
        I often find that while in the creative mode of concocting a story, I inadvertently offer details and conditions that, once the story has taken a more definite form, turn out to be completely unnecessary, or worse yet, contradictory. It’s just a matter of recognizing those things. At other times, particularly with this story, I feel like there was so much more to this story and the characters that ended up deleted due to the word limitations.
  • Carrie Zylka

    Ok writers!
    What a turnout!

    Time is up and it’s time to vote!
    Remember you must vote for your story to count, you may not vote for yourself and you may not vote more than once.

    Be sure to take time to read through ALL the stories as we have several submitted this go-round.

    **If you are unable to read through all stories before voting in the next 24 hours just let us know, we can extend the voting time period.

    Here is the link to the voting page:

    Good luck to all!

    • Ken Frape
      Not sure if I was successful in posting my votes. First time I tried I could see that I had made an error and the screen was highlighted giving me the option of going back and correcting.
      The second time when I had made the changes the screen was still highlighted. Have my votes been received?

      Ken Frape

      • Hi Ken, yes it went through both times. 😊
  • RM York
    Fifteen stories, and not one from our dear leader in partnership with Carrie. I’m talking ’bout you, Miss Alice.
  • Daniel Schleder
    Hello all! I’m new here (shout out to Phil for introducing me to this group), and I can’t wait to read and share stories with you all in the future! Unfortunately, I didn’t finish my story in time to submit for this week, but hopefully I’ll be able to get one across next time. I’ve already read a few, and it’s so exciting to see so much talent in one place! 😀 Good luck to everyone who submitted!
    • Phil Town
      Good to see you here, Daniel. Hope you can get a story in next time.
    • Welcome to ‘Le Group,’ Daniel. Next time, type faster. (Some computers have a turbo button. Oops, I’m sorry, that was back in the nineties.) As far as I’m concerned, any friend of Phil’s, must have amazing patience. With this bunch, you’ll need it. Toodles.
      • Daniel Schleder
        Thank you! And you’re correct, as a teacher, I’ve got lots of patience to spare… time, on the other hand, I might need to borrow…
  • Carrie Zylka

    Just waiting on Peter, Amelia and Sandra’s votes!

    • Apologies for not voting. The email link didn’t go through to me.
  • A Merry Christmas to all,

    Not that anyone cares, but…

    I’ve been having a slight problem with my main pc, ‘Mother.’ I have dozens. (I don’t really call it ‘mother.’ That’s a joke.) It shuts itself off whenever it wants to. So, I can be right in the middle of a moving tribute to a favorite writer, or just wrapping up a scorching diatribe against an offensive (something.) Anyway, I’m all worked up into a frenzy of wrath, or fawning ‘philo-literary’ affect, and zzzt! The computer locks up. Nothing changes.

    Yea though I walk through the valley of the mouse doesn’t move, I shall see no screen change, for thou art the keyboard that does not clack, nor comfort me, anon, forever and ever. Amen. Power off.

    Nothing is saved. All wrath is gone. Love evaporates. Fawning fizzles. Fate, that singular fickle finger has exacerbated my eczema once again.

    I did not intentionally withhold feedback from anyone this week. So…if I failed to comment on your story this week of all weeks, BLAME IT ON THE GODS! (Bill Gates and that other asshole. What’s his name. Farragut? Faraday? Farrakhan? The guy who invented Facebook. You know who I mean. Kurt Vonnegut!)

    Anyway… great stories this week. Hard to pick a top five, or ten. My apologies to those writers who received none or limited feedback from me this week. (For all I know, and often suspect, you might consider yourselves fortunate.)

  • Carrie Zylka

    Just waiting on Amelia, as a new writer, I emailed her and I’ll give her a little time.

  • Carrie Zylka

    And without further ado the winners are:

    1st Place – A Christmas Carol by Amy Meyer
    2nd Place – The Real Deal by Roy York
    3rd Place – The Stranger by Susan WM
    4th Place – The Christmas Victory by Amelia Brown
    5th Place – Lawrence by Phil Town
    6th Place – Ode to Trigger by Sandra S. Woolf
    7th Place – Christmas Gold! by Ken Frape
    8th Place – The Misplaced Heart by Sarig Levin
    9th Place – Chestnuts Roasting by Andy Lake
    10th Place – Outsourcing Santa by Niall Richardson
    11th Place – This Miraculous Christmas by Rathin Bhattacharjee
    12th Place – Brown Wolf by Nam Raj Khatri
    13th Place – Jesus Justice by Peter Holmes
    14th Place – A Christmas Angel by Carrie Zylka

    Story with the Favorite Character: This Miraculous Christmas – Partho
    Story with the Best Use of Dialogue: A Christmas Carol by Amy Meyer


    Anyone who would like to get their vote totals may send an email to liflashfiction(at)gmail(dot)com to request details.

    • RM York
      Congratulations, Amy. As I read your story, I knew my chances were in trouble. Great job.
    • RM York
      And, to all other writers on this Christmas topic. Congrats for being part of this, good job everyone. Merry Christmas to all. Great Stories this week. Loved it.
    • Congratulations Amy!
      Well done to everyone – a sugar-filled Christmas stocking-full of stories 🙂
      Merry Christmas everyone and every success for 2019
    • Amy Meyer
      !!!!!!! I’m so thrilled!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
      Thank you!
    • Phil Town
      Many congratulations, Amy – a lovely story.

      Happy Christmas to all (those who celebrate it)!

    • Susan WM
      Congrats Amy!! Well done!
  • Carrie Zylka

    Agreed Roy, I was impressed with the caliber of story telling this time around, and with so many writers and people voting is was not an easy win.
    Merry Christmas to all who still believe in fictional jolly good men who bring you everything you ask for!

  • Carrie Zylka

    Ok peeps, we normally take the holidays off but decided to try and keep the momentum going.

    So in the spirit of the holidays the next prompt is posted:

    December 20, 2018 – January 2, 2019 Flash Fiction Contest “New Year’s Eve”

    Theme: New Year’s Eve
    Stories must take place on New Year’s Eve, the rest is up to you.

    Story Requirements: Glitter
    Word Count: 1,200

  • Sarig Levin
    Merry Christmas everybody 🙂

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