Yuletide Treasures

“Why can’t we just buy a stupid tray, Mom?” Ryan kicked at the dust on the attic floor. “I’d rather be… well, anywhere but here.”

Virginia looked up from the pile of musty bedding in the corner. “Ryan, it’s Christmas Eve and we’ve looked everywhere else for the Lancelot Tray. We’ve used it every Christmas since I can remember. Your Great Aunt Rosemary made it as a symbol of peace and hope and—”

“—overcoming the horrors of war. I know, I know. It’s just… the story about her making the tray from Lancelot’s sword—”

“His sword had to end up somewhere, Ryan.”

“I mean… it sounds a bit… made up… that’s all.”

“It’s Tradition! With a Capital T. And that makes exaggeration okay.”

“Whatever. Hey, look.” He picked up a present wrapped in faded silver and gold paper dotted with glittery strawberries. Rosemary was scrawled on a wrinkled gift tag. “It’s squishy.”

“Probably socks. Just throw it away.” Virginia rubbed her forehead. “Ugh! She kept all this… junk… and gave away the one thing we need for the holidays.”

Ryan tossed it aside, returning to rummaging through the remains of his Great Aunt’s life: old books, handwritten love letters and moth-eaten party dresses.

“Why’d she leave all of this stuff to us?”

“She probably thought we’d value her treasures. We should have trashed it right after she died,” Virginia said, tossing a box of old quilts on the to-be-donated pile. She looked up at Ryan, holding the squishy gift again. “Seriously, Ryan—focus.”

“It’s just… I think I saw something like this on WishSpace.” Ryan took out his phone and opened the webpage.

“On WishSpace? You know I don’t approve—”

“Mom, I don’t post. I just like seeing what people want. Look… SamC posted: ‘Seeking a treasure, lost and old, wrapped up in silver and also gold. Fruit adorns its shiny shell, and also an herb on a tiny bell.’

“SamC thinks he’s a poet? He shouldn’t quit his day job.”

“Aunt Rosemary was named after an herb, the gift tag is a bell… and it looks just like the picture. It says to dial #jolly13 from any wireless phone.”

“Probably some creep hoping to rob an innocent old lady,” Virginia muttered, shaking dead bugs from a dirty blanket. “Don’t bother—”

“Too late—it’s ringing.” Ryan switched to speakerphone.

“You have reached the WishSpace Fulfillment Center. If you possess the lost treasure, my friend, place the phone near the package and press Send.

“Like they have an app for sending packages,” Ryan snickered. He pressed Send and a blinding light flashed from the phone. Colors swirled and the floor fell away.

 

*********************************************

 

Wind whipped across a desolate, snow-covered plain. Ryan pulled himself onto all fours, spotted his mother on the ground several feet away and crawled to her.

“Mom? Are you alright?”

Virginia groaned as he covered her with the dirty blanket she still clutched. The sound of bells caught his attention seconds before the wind buffeted him in the wake of two giant sleighs passing overhead, each pulled by thirteen reindeer. The sleighs landed nearby, sending sprays of snow into wispy eddies in the twilight.

A fat, little man dressed in red hopped down from the first sleigh, his cheeks rosy from the wind. His eyes twinkled as he sipped at a latte.

“Sorry about that,” he chuckled. “Last training flight before tonight’s Big Ride. The rookie reindeers are overzealous.”

“Um…” Ryan hesitated, not believing what he was about to ask. “Santa?”

“No! No! No!” the man laughed, his big belly jiggling. “I am Sam.”

“Sam,” Ryan said flatly.

“That’s right, Ryan. I see your mother is—”

“—out cold—”

“—still recovering. Here, let me help her.” Sam pulled a flask from his pocket and placed it to Virginia’s lips.

Ryan lunged at Sam. “Back off old man! I won’t let you poison her.”

“Oh! Oh! Oh!” Sam laughed. “It’s coffee— two sugars, extra cream— just like she likes it. Coffee is the perfect Transport Lag therapy.”

“Transport Lag?”

“The first few trips to the North Pole really shock the system. The coffee’s fresh; she’ll be herself in no time.” Sam looked around. “You have the package?”

Ryan raised his empty hands. “I had the package. I found it in my aunt’s stuff.”

“Marvelous person, Rosemary was,” said Sam somberly. “She always put broken things back together. I remember when she wrote, asking for a broken, old sword…”

Ryan shrugged. “Your package was here—I dropped it while we, uh—”

“Transported.”

“Yeah, transported,” Ryan muttered, looking for the package in the snow.

Behind him, Virginia stretched. “Um… Santa?”

“No, Mom. There’s no Santa. His name is—” The sight of another man stepping from the second sleigh stunned Ryan into silence.

“I’m Nick,” he said, sipping his hot coffee and making donuts in the cold air with his breath. The dim light reflected off his bald head, but not as much as it reflected off the bright tie-dye tee shirt and plaid pants he wore.

“Dude!” Sam whispered harshly. “Your hair! And your—”

“Whoa-oh-oh! My bad,” said Nick, hastily turning and fumbling with a sack on his sleigh. Adjusting a bushy, white wig with one hand, he zipped up red overalls with the other. “Better?”

“Much,” said Sam.

“I must have hit my head pretty hard. I’m seeing double,” said Virginia. “Is this real?”

“Yes, Virginia,” the two men said in unison. “There is a Santa Claus.”

“And we are he,” said Nick.

“Twins?” asked Virgina.

“Well, I hardly see a resemblance,” said Nick. “Clearly I’m taller. And more handsome. And I’d never be caught with a pipe—”

“My beard’s whiter,” said Sam, running his fingers through it. “and I don’t dribble coffee down my front like someone I know.”

“So wait—there are two Santas?” Ryan scoffed.

“Well, no,” said Nick.

“Oh,” said Ryan.

“There are five of us,” said Nick. “Sam handles Europe while I cover the Americas.”

“Claude takes care of Africa,” added Sam, “and Nole manages Australia and Oceana.”

“And then there’s Lao…” started Nick.

“He’s supposed to deliver toys in Asia,” said Sam, “but he…let’s just say, until recently he hasn’t had much interest in the family business.”

Nick leaned in, coffee sloshing out of his cup. “I heard he shaved off his beard!”

“I heard he drinks tea now,” Sam said, pushing Nick aside. The pair shuddered.

“I’m finding this hard to believe,” said Ryan. “Five Santas?”

“You didn’t think one man could deliver toys to all the good little girls and boys in a single night, did you?” asked Sam.

“Such a huge misconception, that is,” said Nick to Sam.

“A gigantic fabrication, it is,” said Sam to Nick. “But it’s late. We should hurry to the business at hand. The package is lost—”

“It’s under the blanket.” Virginia handed the glittery, crushed package to Nick. “It… may have been under me, too.”

“It’s here!” The two men jumped toward each other, attempting a celebratory chest bump but failing due to the size of their bellies. They fell to the ground, laughing.

“What is it?” asked Ryan.

“Open it,” said Nick, tossing it to Ryan.

Ryan tore open the package, pulling out a brown, sticky lump. “A…fruitcake?”

“Not just any fruitcake,” said Sam.

“It’s our mother’s fruitcake,” said Nick.

“We’re talking about a true yuletide treasure,” said Sam. “The best-tasting fruitcake—”

“Nobody eats fruitcake,” said Ryan.

“They’re just re-gifted year after year,” added Virginia.

“Fruitcake used to be what made the Holidays special,” said Nick. “We’d bake it and bring it to all the houses across the world. It was a Holiday Tradition meant to continue forever. And it would have… until somebody messed up.”

“It’s been ninety years since I accidentally baked the recipe into one of the fruitcakes,” Sam took the fruitcake from Ryan, “and never a moment’s peace since. Without the recipe we couldn’t bake it. Others tried… but those False Fruitcakes never matched the magic of Mother’s recipe.”

Sam split the fruitcake in half and steam rose from it. “Fresh as when it came out of the oven! Always perfect with a cup of coffee. And here’s the recipe, right where I, uh, left it. Try some, you’ll love it.”

Ryan and Virginia warily bit into the fruitcake. Colors swirled around them as the twin Santas shouted “Merry Christmas!” and vanished in a gust of wind.

 

*********************************************

 

Virginia awoke on the dusty attic floor.

“Ryan, we fell asleep. I dreamt it was snowing.”

Ryan sat up and rubbed his eyes. “Me, too. It’s drafty up here.” He opened the old notebook which had been his pillow and read for a few moments. “I didn’t know Aunt Rosemary was a silversmith.”

“Just one of her many gifts.”

They talked and laughed as together they dusted off a lifetime of forgotten memories, enjoying each other’s company for the first time in years. When Virginia stepped out from behind a dressing screen, wearing an old prom dress, Ryan laughed. “I think I’m scarred for life now,” he said, looking up in mock torment.

“You just wait young man. When you’re my age, you’ll wish you could fit into your prom dress… well, something like that.”

Ryan stretched. “Hey, I’m getting hungry. Breakfast?”

Downstairs, under the Christmas tree, they found fresh fruitcake and hot coffee waiting on the shining Lancelot Tray.

“Merry Christmas, Aunt Rosemary,” said Virginia.

“Thanks for the memories,” added Ryan.

 


front-cover-dth“Yuletide Treasures” originally appeared in 2012 as part of the Literary Mixtapes anthology, “Deck the Halls”. This anthology was built from stories using the lines of the well-known carol as the inspiration. You can read more about the anthology in the release announcement (note that links in the announcement post may no longer work).

“Deck the Halls” is available for purchase on Amazon. Check it out!

 

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2015 Anti-Resolutions

  1. I will not blame ObamaCare for my son’s unfortunate wardrobe choices.
  2. I will not make judgments about other men based on the size of their coffee mugs.
  3. I will not change the things I say on Twitter just because my daughter thinks I tweet like an old—possibly dead—bird.
  4. I will not make up mysterious theme songs for each of my favorite coffee mugs and sing them whenever they are getting used by guests.
  5. I will not paint random portions of my arms, face and/or legs in a greenish color just to convince the little neighbor girl that I’m beginning to be able to photosynthesize my own energy.
  6. I will not let Lady Gaga make my wardrobe choices for me anymore. She can recommend whatever she wants to my son, though, since ObamaCare failed him so badly on that front.
  7. I will not go on job interviews and answer every question by telling cautionary tales involving coffee, random office supplies, and special undergarments.
  8. I will not post on obscure websites that when I grow up I want to be Wonder Woman because I like her outfits.
  9. I will not be held accountable for my failure to complete any part of my daily to do list when the person who created the list should have used some simple mathematics such as the Gamma Function clip_image019[4] to determine the probability of success for each specific task.
  10. I will not let the squirrels win.
  11. I will not delay in creating a new style guide that codifies the proper usage of the punctuation mark which is as amazing, controversial, and exciting as the Oxford Comma: the Serial Interrobang. You’d like that, wouldn’t you… wouldn’t you‽‽‽
  12. I will not place cheap flip phones in random places throughout the state and use my daughter’s phone to call and leave cryptic messages on them at strange hours of the day and night, just to confuse the NSA.
  13. I will not bring the big, black trash bags and a snow shovel into my son’s room to clean it like my father used to do… I will not bring the big, black trash bags and a snow shovel into my son’s room to clean it like my father used to do… I will not bring the big, black trash bags and a snow shovel into my son’s room to clean it like my father used to do… I will not—

 

Written based on the Today’s Author Write Now! prompt on December 31, 2014, in which we are asked to creatively list ten things we will not do in the coming year. Of course, for obvious reasons I need to stick with a nice, lucky number like thirteen…

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2014 Anti-Resolutions

Written based on the Today’s Author Write Now! prompt on December 31, 2013, in which we are asked to creatively list ten things we will not do in the coming year. Of course, for obvious reasons I need to stick with a nice, lucky number like thirteen…

  1. I will no longer ignore the wise advice spoken to me in whispers by the steam rising from my coffee cup.
  2. I will not introduce myself to everyone I meet as “Zalbon, Prime Prince Extraordinaire of the Zarquan Collective of Ragabond Five”; Some people will come to know me as “The Great Ro-bini, Protector of Mauwg and Hero of Baldador.”
  3. I will not make my son do two pushups for every dollar he receives for his birthday or Christmas when five pushups per dollar would be better for him.
  4. I will not blame ObamaCare for my unfortunate wardrobe choices.
  5. I will not get a set of tattoos featuring The Taster’s Choice couple (Sharon Maughan and Anthony Stewart Head), despite my love of coffee and the assurances that the inking would be tastefully done.
  6. I will not get a tattoo of Juan Valdez, either.
  7. I will not allow Miley Cyrus to talk me into allowing her to dance with the cinderblocks from my garage again this year.
  8. I will not shock my 48 million fans by suddenly tweeting that I am retiring from coffee drinking.
  9. I will not annoy the Little Neighbor Girl by recording dramatic footage of the giant, jumping spiders that live in my basement and then copying the videos onto the various digital devices she leaves at my house all the time even after I tell her to take them home.
  10. I will not torment the cats by putting motorized bird and squirrel puppets outside each window.
  11. I will not torment my son by putting motorized pizza puppets outside each window. Well… at least not every day.
  12. I will not leak to the media the news that the massive mosquito population in our area is actually a secret government research project which is attempting to genetically alter us into a super-powered mansquito army with which they intend to fight off the alien invasion.
  13. I will not distribute treasure maps which lead to my garden just before planting time this spring, in hopes that all the neighbors will end up coming over and digging up the weeds for me as they search for buried treasures.

 

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A Letter of Encouragement to My Son Upon Entering Sixth Grade Math

Dear Nick,

We wanted to wish you good luck and let you know that we’re here to help you on the path to a successful mathematical career throughout middle school. As you know, I (Dad) am and always have been a math geek, so I wanted to give you some helpful advice I’ve learned along the way. Your teacher may get mad at me for letting you know these things, but it’s a chance I feel I must take.

If you see a problem on a test such as:

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the answer is not:

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clip_image006[4]

clip_image008[4]

Etc.

Similarly, the solution to: clip_image010[4] is not:

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1six=?
six=6

Nor is the solution to clip_image014[4] =?:

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Finally, when asked to find x, you’re better off if you do not answer as follows:

Find x.

trianglemath

If you heed my advice, not only will you be successful in middle school math, but soon you will be solving equations like one of my personal favorites, the Gamma Function:

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Good luck!
Love, Mom and Dad

 

Author’s Note: On the second full day of school, an assignment came home from my son’s math class and it was for the parents to write a letter of encouragement to our child as he begins his middle school journey through math.  I figured that if I had to take time away from watching Stargate SG-1, I might as well have a little fun with it. My son, daughter and wife enjoyed this and since it was meant to be for my son, that’s really what mattered.

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My 2013 Anti-Resolutions

Written based on the Today’s Author Write Now! prompt on January 1, 2013, in which we are asked to creatively list ten things we will not do in the coming year. Of course, for obvious reasons I need to stick with a nice, round number like thirteen…

  1. I will not pay $1000 for a Twinkie, whether it is in its original packaging or not, even though I have always wanted to try Weird Al Yankovic’s vegetarian Twinkie-Weiner sandwich.
  2. I will not ask my doctor for a prescription for my daily Starbucks coffee just so that I can submit it to my insurance company for reimbursement.
  3. I will not take all the silly, little sweaters we have for the dog and put them up for sale on eBay… even though the neighborhood dogs, cats and squirrels make fun of him whenever he goes outside wearing one.
  4. I will not tell visitors to my home that the boxes, bags, candy wrappers, shoes and laundry baskets full of intermixed clean and dirty clothes are there so that the cats and the dog who thinks he’s a cat can have a cheap, no-fuss and varyingly-complicated obstacle course to play in.
  5. Likewise, I will not tell visitors to my home that the boxes, bags, candy wrappers, shoes and laundry baskets full of intermixed clean and dirty clothes are there so that my children can learn about what life in college will be like. Well, I probably won’t…
  6. I will not proclaim that I have a five point plan to solve every issue I face in 2013.
  7. I will not ask the police to protect the driving public by blocking off the streets in our neighborhood before I take the teenaged neighbor girl out for a driving lesson in my manual shift car; I may, however, wear a helmet, safety goggles and/or wrap the car in bubble wrap before we go, though…
  8. I will not be a contestant on The Bachelor or The Bachelorette. I have not yet decided about the possibility of appearing on “Married to Jonas”, though.
  9. I will not be a Spice Girl.
  10. I will not be in the running to be the person Jenny McCarthy kisses for New Years 2014.
  11. I will not give up on my quest to ensure that everyone knows that the Mayans were not actually wrong.
  12. I will not include a chapter about my stint as the backup third baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies in my unauthorized autobiography. I will also edit out the chapter about how I was screwed out of my gig to be Fergie in The Black-Eyed Peas.
  13. I will not spend much more time making plans to introduce as many types of insects and fruits to the little neighbor girl as I possibly can.
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The Iliad (in about a Page)

I have ranted about my hatred of summer reading programs many times in the past, specifically zeroing in on how they focus solely on “The Classics”, a term which is defined as “The Stuff Most People Would Never Read If They Had a Choice.” A friend of mine recently lamented needing to write a one-page summary of “The Iliad” and how hard it was to condense everything down to just one page. It has been a long, long time since I read The Iliad but I decided to take a stab at it.  The following is what I came up with — it fits on one letter-sized Microsoft Word page (.5 inch margins on all sides). My daughter enjoyed it and thought I should share it with the world.  Since I live only to make her happy, I’ve posted this, the first in what looks like will be a series of approximately one-page summaries of The Classics (and other things).  Enjoy!

This one time, at Battle Camp, there were these beautiful maidens. The maidens, Chryseis and Briseis, had been captured from the town of Chryse by the Greek army because that’s what armies are meant to do when they finish sacking their enemies. Chryseis of Chryse, cried out to her daddy. Her dad, Chryses, was all too familiar with his daughter’s many crises, but she had him wrapped around her finger so he knew he had to help. Seeing as he was a two-faced priest of Apollo (the god, not the lunar mission) he kindly offered a huge ransom for his daughter’s safe return while also viciously praying for Apollo to destroy the Greek army. Apollo, being a compassionate god, complied and sent a terrible plague into the camp. When Agamemnon, a more important Greek army dude than I am, learned that the plague decimating his people was due to the beautiful maiden, he reluctantly agreed to send Chryseis back to her daddy.

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