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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Mourning’s Light

Written based on the Today’s Author Write Now! prompt on January 4, 2013, in which we are asked to write about an unnaturally foggy bay.

For most people, silence is empty. I, however, have found silence to be full of stories – more stories, in fact, than the noise surrounding it. To me, the breaks in the noise of life provided a soundless symphony, spinning tales of joy and agony, elation and misery. But lately the silence has become a deafening roar threatening to overwhelm me as I sit here alone, with you by my side.

“Remember the day we got married?” you whisper, breaking the silence for the first time in hours. You speak so quietly I can barely make out the words over the other sounds in the room. It is as if you are speaking from oceans away. You look up over the edge of the newspaper you’ve been pretending to read all day. “I wish we still felt… like we did that day.”

The doctor bursts into the room as she and countless others of her kind have done innumerable times before, thwarting my attempt to respond. She smiles as she forces a bucketful of pills—my main source of calories for the day—into me. I know she is trying to help me, yet I stare at her blankly, wishing my silence could make her understand that I’d trade all the pain killers, anti-inflammatories, steroids and stool softeners in the world for a chance to actually live the life these pills are supposedly extending for me, instead of watching each day slip away through a foggy, chemical haze.

“Remember when we had dreams?” you say after she leaves. “Imagine the stories we could tell if we’d followed even a few of them. Well… it doesn’t matter anymore…”

“It does matter!” I want to scream, but your gaze has drifted so far off you wouldn’t hear me anyway. So I remain silent. We seem to communicate better if I stay quiet.

But the truth is I do remember. I remember our unfulfilled dreams of seeing the world as well as the dreams we did realize before I fell ill: a happy, healthy family, playing catch with the kids, building tree houses, singing songs on the front porch and eating ice cream on days so hot we were really sipping a chocolaty-milk soup.

I remember because—despite what your silence says— I’m not dead yet.

Here in the nursing home, surrounded by swarms of doctors with their fistfuls of pills, I float from one appointment to the next and tolerate wave after wave of tests. Through these long months you have been my lifeboat, my beacon in the night. But you don’t tell me about life outside these walls anymore, presumably so I won’t miss it. You don’t mention the news or politics or—anything. You just sit here quietly. The story your silence tells is of a world grown distant and cold, a world no longer within my reach.

Still, I try to stay connected. I know who won the election. I know my beloved New York Mets will find new ways to snatch defeat from victory again this year. I know the kitchen staff are serving me decaf coffee even though they say it is regular. I know they still haven’t found enough programming to fill the 313 channels on my television.

And I know that none of this matters.

At the end of the day, all I really want is to know your thoughts and feelings. I want to know how you are doing. But your silent stare out the darkening window tells me that even these things are unimportant. All that matters is that the hours have grown short on me.

“I love you,” I say breaking the silence as you prepare to leave. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

You turn away silently and I see, for you, the mourning is already here.

My day waning, I turn off the light and rest my head on the lumpy pillow. I’ve never before been afraid of the nighttime, but the sudden darkness makes my heart race. Lately the night just seems to be a little bit darker—and a little bit quieter—for a little bit longer.

I feel cold despite the thick blankets covering me. As I drift off, I hear doctors and nurses talking frantically in the distance, but even their noise cannot keep the silence at bay. It fills me with memories of things I said when I should have been quiet. It reminds me of times I remained mute when I should have spoken. It spins tales of you and me and the days we thought would last forever.

But no matter what we do to stave it off, day eventually succumbs to night. And the night, when it comes, will be dark.

The silence tonight seems empty. I see myself alone on a raft, drifting silently through the night into a foggy bay. The air feels damp and cool against my skin, the fog so unnaturally thick I can hardly see what is ahead of me. I turn to look behind me. Only shadows and faint echoes of the distant ocean remain. Ahead of me, far across the bay, I hear a mourning dove, its cry telling me not to fear the darkness. For even after the darkest night, in the morning there will be light. And the light will be something to behold.

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Release Announcment: Deck the Halls

I am pleased to announce that Emergent Publishing will release Deck the Halls: festive tales of fear and cheer worldwide on December 6, 2012. My story, “Yuletide Treasure” is included in this anthology.

front-cover-dthDeck the Halls: festive tales of fear and cheer
Editor: Jodi Cleghorn

Original Artwork: Andrew McKiernan

Cover Design: eMergent Publishing

ISBN: 978-0-9871126-4-­4 (paperback)
978-0-­9871126-­5-1 (eBook)

Pages: 226

DECK THE HALLS traverses the joy and jeopardy of the festive season, from Yule to Mōdraniht, Summer Solstice to Years’ End. The stories journey through consternations and celebrations, past, present and future, which might be or never were.

Along the way you’ll meet troll hunters, consumer dissidents, corset-bound adventurers, a joint-­toking spirit, big-­hearted gangbangers, an outcast hybrid spaceship, petrol-toting politicians, mythical swingers and a boy who unwittingly controls the weather.

Heart-warming and horrifying, the collection is a merry measure of cross-genre, short fiction subverting traditional notions of the holiday season.

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Coming Soon to a Paperback Near You

Within the next few weeks, you will be able to purchase your very own paperback copies of not one, not two, but three anthologies in which I have stories.

First up, we have two books in the Chinese Whisperings lineup:

REDBOOK-front-cover-132x202yandycover-136x202

My story, Out of the Darkness, appears in Chinese Whisperings: The Red Book; my story, Thirteen Feathers, appears in Chinese Whisperings: The Yin and Yang Books.  The Chinese Whisperings books are mainstream fiction anthologies consisting of inter-related short stories which were written sequentially – each subsequent author wrote based on what had been written previously.  Twenty-two authors from around the globe contributed stories (ten of us in The Red Book and all twenty-two of us in The Yin and Yang Books).  The Red Book was released in eBook format on January 1, 2010 while The Yin and Yang Books were released electronically on October 10, 2010.  And now, after many, many visits and pranks from the entity lovingly known as the CW Fairy**, the paperbacks are finally shipping!

See those links above? The ones that serve as the title for my stories in these anthologies?  Click them.  They bring you to a story teaser as well as behind the scenes commentary about the stories.  I’m told the excerpts, and the behind-the-scenes details, are must read material!

The paperbacks were supposed to be available on October 11, 2011.  But the aforementioned CW Fairy decided another prank was in order and as a result the date slipped a bit.  But now you can pre-order the paperbacks directly from eMergent Publishing right now.  And as long as Amazon.com can keep the CW Fairy at bay, you’ll be able to order from them in the next week or so.

The third book coming out in paperback form this month is the Literary Mix Tapes anthology called Eighty-Nine:

front-cover-EIGHTY-NINE-125x202

My story, “All I Wanted,” appears in this anthology.  The Eighty-Nine anthology has twenty-six authors from around the world creating stand-alone stories inspired by specific songs from the year 1989. The song which inspired my story is “Funky Cold Medina” by Tone-Lōc.  This anthology is speculative fiction.

I don’t have fancy links to an excerpt or behind-the-scenes commentary for this story… but I do have a link that might be even better:  For a limited time, you can enter to win one of three free copies of Eighty-Nine.  That’s right—between now and October 25, 2011, all you have to do is click on that link and then the button in the middle of the page that says “Enter to Win” and you may win a free copy of this anthology!  Good luck—and if you win a copy, stop back and let me know!

I also have a fancy link to a video book trailer for this book, too.  It’s only the teaser trailer at the moment, but it is still fun!

Eighty Nine releases officially on October 25, 2011.  You can pre-order it now through the Literary Mix Tapes website.

As always, I thank you for your support of these projects.  I’ve been blessed to work on these anthologies with some amazing emerging authors. I hope you get a chance to pick up one or more of these books and if you do or if you have already done so, I’d love to know what you think of them.  Post comments here or, even better, on Goodreads.

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**The CW Fairy is a filthy, awful, vile beast that no one has ever seen, but most everyone involved with Chinese Whisperings has interacted with from time to time. Trust me—you do not want to meet the CW Fairy in a dark alley.  Or in an airport lounge.

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Hidden

(A note about ‘Hidden’) 

I initially posted a draft of this story several years ago. I wasn’t a big fan of it, so I reworked it significantly and re-published it today. I hope you enjoy it.

“This is the perfect hiding spot, isn’t it?”

The teenage boy hiding behind the big oak tree along the edge of the park nearly jumped out of his skin as the man’s voice broke the silence of the wooded ravine. “Shhh!” he hissed as he peeked around the tree to try to see if any of the other kids who were playing Hide and Seek had heard the noise. “You’ll give me away!”

“I wouldn’t want to do that,” the man whispered, joining the boy in peeking around the tree.

The boy looked at the man suspiciously for a moment before setting his focus back to the open field of the park on the other side of the big tree. “I’m going to win this time. Jimmy Falloner always wins these games, but this time will be different. This time I won’t be the first one they find.”

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Mercury Marshmallow Men

by Nick Diaz and Rob Diaz

(A note about ‘Mercury Marshmallow Men’) 

My son has been struggling in school with writing.  He has been putting together extremely brief answers to essay questions and largely not enough details about anything.  The other day, he got a ‘D’ on a story he had to write. This was because he was supposed to write a complete story and he, instead, wrote three or four sentences.  His ideas were very good, he simply didn’t explain them or explain what happened before or around the ideas.  He acknowledged that he really didn’t do the work but he didn’t know how to expand the simple ideas.  So, I decided to try to help him learn how to build a larger story, essay or answer from a brief idea. We sat down and took the last email I received, which was an update on NASA’s MESSENGER probe.  I said, “So, MESSENGER gets to Mercury and finds flashing lights.”  We built up the concept of the story from there over a 10 minute conversation in which we asked “okay, why?” and “Okay, what did it smell like?” a lot.  Then, based on our brief notes, we started writing.  This story is the result of our efforts.  We both worked on this and in spots it is probably clear who was leading the effort.  But ultimately this was collaborative.  And, it was a lot of fun. We’ll probably do it again.

It had been only thirteen days since NASA’s MESSENGER spaceship first went into orbit around Mercury on March 17, 2011. Scientists on Earth were studying the data being sent back from Mercury when they noticed that the spaceship had recorded several bright flashes of light on the dark side of the planet. Over the next few weeks, the scientists directed the spaceship to spend more and more time focusing its cameras on the crater where the light was coming from. They used the spaceship’s cameras to zoom in and take close up pictures. They were surprised – shocked, actually—at what they saw.

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