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  1. Wreybies

    Wreybies Arroz Con Admin Operations Manager Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Past Contest December 2018 Short Story Contest

    Discussion in 'Monthly Short Story Contest Archives' started by Wreybies, Dec 3, 2018.

    December prompt is brought to you by... me! :supercool:

    WHAT'S IN THE BOX???

    1.jpg

    Requirements
    • 1,200 - 5,000 words
    • Any genre
    • Any style but must be holiday themed.
    • Polished to the best of your ability
    • One entry per person
    How to Enter

    Post your entry as a reply to this thread. It will be automatically anonymized. Please title the story and include the word count.

    You will be able to post entries until December 31st at midnight GMT-4.

    Voting

    Voting will run from January 1 to 15.

    Winner

    The winner will be announced on January 16. He or she will get a shiny medal under their avatar, automatic entry into the annual Hall of Fame contest, and their winning story featured in the WritingForums annual ezine.

    Get writing!
     
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  2. Wreybies

    Wreybies Arroz Con Admin Operations Manager Staff Supporter Contributor

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    test
     
  3. davidm

    davidm Poodle of Guernica

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    Secret Santa (1,352 words)

    For some twenty-five years, Mr. Miller had worked as a clerk for The Firm. He did not like or dislike the work, even though his boss, known as The Boss, had always treated him like a mouse.

    The Firm had an annoying holiday tradition that greatly irritated Mr. Miller: Secret Santa. Employees were encouraged (thought not required) to anonymously gift one another during the Christmas season. It was, he supposed, intended as a touch of humanity in an otherwise gray, humdrum expanse of days, of ill-paid factotums hunched over computer monitors, the silence broken only by the quiet clacking of fingers on keyboards and the hum of fans cooling hard drives. The cubicle warrens formed labyrinths, each box sealing each employee off from the other.

    One day in mid-December, a supervisor passed by Mr. Miller’s desk in his cubicle and said brusquely, “For you, Miller.” He dropped off a medium-size box in red wrapping paper tied in a gold ribbon with a gold bow on top. There was a little card attached, with an illustration of a rosy-cheeked Santa on the cover, smiling with jollity and waving a mittened hand at Mr. Miller. He opened the card and read, hand-written: Happy Secret Santa! From a SECRET ADMIRER!

    Mr. Miller immediately felt ill.

    He was forty-five years old, unmarried. He had worked at The Firm since he was twenty years old. In all that time, he had always been ignored for Secret Santa. No one had ever gifted him, and he had gifted no one. His colleagues were just stones to him.

    He took the box home with him, but did not open it.

    But at home, he read the card over and over again: from a secret admirer. He studied the penmanship. Was it feminine?

    He didn’t know whether there was a way to tell male from female penmanship.

    He had a small, efficiency studio apartment. He unknotted his tie. In his little kitchen, he made tea. He looked at the box, which he had laid on his sofa. Then he looked at his reflection in a mirror over a dresser.

    He was balding, pudgy, and wore big horn-rimmed glasses. He had a premature double-chin. His legs were too short and his arms too long. He had never been a hit with the ladies. He spent most of his time alone. His pastime was playing solitaire. At night, he watched TV and waited for tomorrow to start.

    He looked down at the box on the sofa. Somehow, it seemed bigger than before. The Santa on the front of the card seemed larger, too, cheeks ruddier, grin wider, mittened hand almost visibly waving. That ho-ho-ho grin.

    Tentatively, he reached down for the box, cupped it in his hands, and raised it toward an ear.

    He shook it, and heard a rattling from within.

    Perplexed, he replaced the box on the sofa.

    Secret admirer.

    He went to bed without opening the box. But he dreamed of it. He dreamed that when he opened it, a hand shot out, grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, and yanked him down into the box. The lid then shut behind him with a bang and he was falling, falling, into darkness, everlasting darkness. …

    The next morning The Boss called Mr. Miller into his office.

    “Listen, Mouse,” The Boss said, “I’ve been given to understand that some kind person in our office Secret Santa’d you this year.”

    “Yes, sir, that’s true. It certainly surprised me. I’ve no idea …

    “But listen, don’t you think you ought to reciprocate? Secret Santa a fellow employee? It keeps up morale and all that, you know.”

    “But, sir, I don’t …”

    “Listen, Mouse, think it over. After all, over the next year or so, we’re going to lay off most of you people, and outsource your jobs to Bangladesh or some shit hole like that. You won’t even get a severance package or any kind of benefits or anything. You all playing Secret Santa among yourselves is our way of saying Thank You.”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “That’s all, Mouse.”

    Mr. Miller returned to his desk feeling panicked. He had not made a single friend in the office, and he had no idea who to Secret Santa. More, he was still wondering who had gifted him. He began to be obsessed by the secret identity of his benefactor, so much so that he had trouble logging on to his computer. PASSWORD DENIED, the monitor kept saying. PASSWORD DENIED.

    A young woman named Julie worked a few cubicles down from him. Mr. Miller always thought that she smelled nice.

    He thought about Julie, and waited.

    Eventually she came out of her cubicle, grasping some papers, an efficient, bustling air about her. She had trim, pinned-back brown hair and wore a conservative dress. She was walking up the aisle, approaching Mr. Miller in his cubicle. Involuntarily, he wheeled in his swivel chair and partly blocked her advance. She brushed against his knee and stumbled slightly.

    “So sorry,” he said. “Clumsy me.”

    She straightened and he looked into her eyes and she, briefly, into his.

    There was nothing there.

    Later, at home, the unopened box remained on his sofa. It had grown, he thought, larger. Santa was waving at him from the cover of the card.

    With trepidation, he approached the box. He tugged at the ribbon and bow, unraveling them just a bit. He picked up the box, and looked at it for a long time. He took a deep breath, and scratched away some of the red wrapping paper, unveiling a bit of the box lid. After a long pause, he slightly, ever so slightly, lifted a corner of that lid. Just a small opening.

    He sniffed at it.

    He did not smell anything.

    He lowered the box lid, and then lightly shook the box again, pressing his ear to it. He heard that queer rattling again.

    He set the box down, still unopened.

    Twenty years later, he retired on a small pension. He had never been laid off, but all the others, including Julie, had. Sometimes he had the distinct impression that he was the only one left working at The Firm, and that with his retirement, the entire establishment would simply vanish. Even The Boss was long gone — rumor had it that he had choked on a wad of money that he had tried to swallow on a drunken bet, but no one knew for sure.

    Mr. Miller had never been laid off, and he had never opened the box, either. But he had kept it: the ribbon slightly unraveled, the red wrapping paper torn a little, the lid corner a bit dog-eared from where he had first lifted it, and then lowered it again.

    From time to time, over the years, he shook the box, and heard the enigmatic rattling from within. And the box always seemed to get a little bigger, though he couldn’t tell for sure.

    After retiring, he moved to a small town in the south, where he could forget his failed, loveless life: the unbroken gray days that now stretched out behind him like solitaire cards laid one on top of the other. Shuffle and deal again, and it’s all the same. He took a small efficiency apartment, much like the one that he had had up north.

    Of a Christmas Eve, he walked home in a blinding snowstorm from a local bar, now old and bent and leaning into a cane, trying to keep his footing. When he got to his second-floor apartment he put the key in the lock. He had trouble opening the door — something was blocking the way. He got it open a crack and looked inside. The Secret Santa gift box now took up his entire apartment and, as he watched, it grew, swelling, splitting, the red wrapping paper ripping, the ribbon and bow unraveling. The rattling in the box rose to deafening decibels. The rosy-cheeked Santa on the card, now as big as he was, waved at him.
     
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2018
  4. matwoolf

    matwoolf Contributor Contributor

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    Country Christmas Eve

    1400 words

    Coals hum in the grate. Flame ripples along the hot beach catching the splintered peaks and spreading a glowing bonsai. The inferno sighs…

    It sighs, sunken the many centuries the depth of a man’s body, and the flame tears the length of a man’s body.

    The man clings atop the spit rod. His flared trousers flap one inch over the iron grate. Bound by growling jets of heat he roasts at his shins, and at elbow patches. He crackles at the split of metropolitan skin and prays for his mummy.

    ‘Mummy.’

    He mouths for the attentions from rural networks on his mobile telephone wedged somewhere useful up the back pocket, he thinks, perhaps? Cinders upon the ground, he sees the cinders. Wrists tied and the journey is his way alone to Hell’s eternity.

    ‘Be quiet you foolish boy,’ exclaims his tormentor, Knight Seigneur General Babi Koo, warrior and high-cleric of the Devises coven. The Evil looms at this fire bucket, down there; and leather-clad this torturer rotates his still pale victim astride the spit-rod. The rod squeaks, a phone tumbles into the embers.

    Babi’s belly rumbles for his supper, the prong held in fist. Man-meal crisps at extremities, a hair band pops and his face enflames - mmm mmm - finally. He drips from exposed flesh portions at the sandal.

    ‘A-heh heh’ and ‘a-heh heh heh,’ cries the carcass in the death throes…

    [FADE]

    …I giggle again, actually. Actually I shift my damp cheeks on the sofa. That fireplace fantasy twinkles in these kind eyes worn upon my cheeks. I check and somehow my mind has freed from bondage of spit-roasting, no longer clasped in manacles of day-terror, no longer enchained in clutches of heated projection, so to speak.

    I comprehend more reasonably with a glass in my hand how or why this torturous festive season so often provokes a reputedly courageous man such as ‘me’ toward the psychic ulcers. They pop, they produce the dangerous hallucinations and the composite giggles into my sweaty palms.

    ‘A heh heh heh.’

    I do it again, giggle and gather wits, perch closer to the edge of the blue sofa and survey the wider scene surrounding the fire.

    ‘A lovely fire,’ I say like some catwalk biscuit. I clap slow-time, honk as a seal stranded on a saddle inside enemy interior, inner sanctum, nae the sitting room lair of my FATHER-IN-LAW. These are the thunder FX, maestros, I thank you.

    [THUNDER]

    He lays the prong in his grate and reaches with his palm toward the base of the spine, aside his high chair, aside the magnificent fire, y’know, and removes the guard visor from his eyes. I breathe easily.

    ‘Easy, commando,’ I breathe.

    Dressed for dinner in the blazer, the pink corduroys, his lacquered hair weaves a black blind at Gestapo towers - greased to the ninety degrees in a Valentino styling that he remembers. The head touches almost the ship’s timbers, the beams of this civil war-era cottage. A real-world thatched house and horrible shit-hole, I consider as I understand the word…under cards stringed along every spare surface of the wattled walls - by a servant, villager - some moron-arse church volunteer hanged robins and hanged baby Jesus – and why not – between the landscape portrait paintings of the eighteenth century, and that Gainsborough fellow is prominent. Other peasants toil at the Wainwright and the greeting cards flutter over a dressing of scatter cushions over many more antique chairs surrounding me and my sofa I sail alone.

    We endure In this room a miserable silence as nature has ever intended, and the wives ever away at the aga boiling a hoof. Distant laughter resonates from their kitchen party. Logs cackle for me. I scratch my pony-tail and adjust my leather waistcoat. I monitor hairs across my sandals. Tassels swing upon father-in-law’s loafers.

    Up there - suddenly - I am distracted sincerely from the scene, our near-on conversation that approaches re: the Christmas traffic jams. The dirk winks at me, short and stumpy from aside those flames.

    ‘You like it, eh, my beast?’ mutters the father-in-law, or says possibly to me…

    ‘…Hungarian dagger delivers a coup de grace,’ he says, ‘in hunting parlance kills wild boars,’ he confirms and studies me intensely. He guffaws in a fond memory of murdering little pigs and levers the steel from the wall.

    I guffaw properly but my high-pitch squeal infuriates and provokes this father-in-law otherwise known as general. He swings the blade throughout the width of my sofa, the blade cuts wind. The tip rests on my Adam’s apple.

    ‘Wild boar, you said?’ is what I whimper.

    He says: ‘Twenty-two years, twenty-two years and six months apparently I have tolerated your fucking face foaming over my furnitures, foaming into my fine wines of, if you don’t mind me saying, my new world order, Heimlich...’

    ‘Andrew,’ I interrupt him.

    ‘Indeed so,’ he says – ‘upon my daughter rutting, and be damned you truffle-dodger,’ he says by ‘George the Fifth,’ he says, swallows in his despairs. ‘Well enough is enough my piggy-bank, you fuck and shit and fuck-fuck-fuck and fuck...’

    He disintegrates and the shield hand clutches at his chest. I swill my last drop of spittle, he trembles now with ever the more ‘fucks’ from the lip, he bares his teeth, snarls in a total delirium of monstrosity.

    I take my chance, dart from the blade’s tip, hurl myself toward the farthest wall. My nose smears along the floorboards.

    I stand up, blood drips down my chiny-chin. I return with the 1812 cavalry sword hoisted from under the medal display cabinet.

    ‘Fuck you, bogey,’ I sniffle. ‘Indeed you, as you foul people say in that regiment of your passions, I fucked her, eww…eww…ewww,’ I say or imitate my own self in my own labours. ‘And I fucked her the most years I can remember now or how…

    …She loves it,’ I say, and gleam with dexterity. My sword twitches once or twice. Whilst the general sips his champagne and ‘Good,’ he says, and ‘very, jolly good,’ he says, ‘you carry on, Andrew.’

    ‘Hoh-hoh,’ I taunt as the primate ‘til my chortle turns to the impromptu doggy-arse stamped about his room. My arse waves the beacon of all good sedition and delivers to his facial zone. I affirm now that ‘I am the cowboy, honey,’ I say and show him exactly how in the most obscene gesture over shoulder with lollypop.

    ‘Malingerer,’ he declares and thrusts with his dirk…

    …I spin, parry, the one arm held in balance behind my back.

    He slashes. I hack from the cavalry manual and sever the key limb from his body. Right arm appendage falls to his carpets.

    ‘I shall spare your life, soldier,’ I say the wisest musketeer of some realm to come and remind him of our whispered Twitter mantras, my brothers and good sister readers: ‘Me too?’ I fart from the mouth, a silence echoes.

    ‘Hasta la Fiestre Sempra, baby’ I retrieve all dignity, a perfect Cuban dialect.

    I say all the finery/and words and dash to the front door, sword held in my teeth. SAS helicopters hover in background airs; I rush through the ploughed fields of England scenting hounds unleashed behind me at the farmyards.

    By the next morning we are emboldened, able to exchange the regular seasonal trinkets. Tradition observed for the one more year, a hangover shared for two sees snow drifts beyond the Dickensian panes. Always, away in view the carol singers gather in that delightful porch singing a ‘Jingle Bells’ medley of crap.

    I apologise under my breaths for the amputation.

    He relays to me the wonderful anecdote of Mau-Mau transit executions on the steppe. And I thank him for generous hospitality; aromas of roasted guinea-fowl diffuse in all of our wide nostrils. I praise him later again for his choice of my book token and for the new socks plus the garters combination presented in the finest of boxed-set boxes. END
     
  5. exweedfarmer

    exweedfarmer Contributor Contributor

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    A Box with Air Holes (1540 words)

    It was a scene out of a modern day Norman Rockwell painting. Mom was sitting on the floor wrapping Christmas presents. Dad was sitting on the couch watching her. When he had tried to help she got so disgusted with his “all thumbs” approach, that she banished him to the couch. They had Christmas music playing. It was snowing heavily outside. Heather the mom finally asked the question that seemed to come up every Christmas season about this time....

    “What do we get Grandpa this year?”

    “A Hooker?” Gabe the dad said, just to get a rise out of his wife.

    Heather considered it seriously. Not quite understanding that he was winding her up, “I don't know if... I don't know if that would do him any good.”

    Gabe went on with the joke, “Well, I'm certainly not going to ask him. You don't ask your father if he's impotent.”

    Heather went back to wrapping presents. “You know, I'm not really against it. This is the twenty first century and anything seems to go. Maybe he would like one?”

    “No,” Gabe was blushing a little now. The joke had gone far enough and it wasn't funny, “I think that would not be an appropriate gift from son to father.”

    “You're right. He might be in the closet since Ruth died. I don't know that he's been dating, not girls anyway.” She had figured out that it was a prank by this time, so Heather tortured her husband a little more. Suggesting that his father might be gay was disturbing to him.

    “Leave it alone, PLEASE! We'll just get him a box of something, or a new guitar.”

    “Well you started it. Put a piece of tape right here would you?” Heather always did the Christmas wrapping because she was good at it, and he was always banished to the couch. “Okay then, what should we get him a box of? It's getting dark outside, why don't you turn on the tree and we'll be festive.”

    Andre their son was drawn into the room by the Christmas lights. He was eleven years old and had permanently disheveled hair. He liked to see the tree all lit up. That was almost as good as it being on fire. His thin body flopped in an overstuffed chair.

    “It won't do you any good to snoop. I've already wrapped yours.” Mom said in her motherly way.

    “Oh,” Andre voiced his disappointment and pulled out his smart phone.

    “What do you think Grandpa would like for Christmas?” Gabe asked his son.

    Andre employed the standard eleven-year-old answer, “I don't know,” and went back to playing on the phone.

    “Does he still play his guitar?” Heather wondered aloud.

    “No,” Andre knew the answer to that one. “He said that he hurt his hand working on his car and can't hold the... well, he can't hold the... I forget what it's called, anymore. It's got dust on it and everything.”

    “His hand is dusty?” Mother put a bow on the package.

    “No, his guitar.” Andre was quite observant when he wasn't holding a phone.

    “I wonder why he didn't go to the doctor,” Grandpa's son was concerned.

    “Hey, he's got a new hobby.” Andre suggested brightly, while poking his finger into the screen.

    “Oh, what is it?” Heather brightened too.

    “He collects shiny pictures of dead kids....” Andre completed a level in the game and so had a moment to talk.

    “Dead... Children?” Gabe was horrified. He couldn't imagine his father's morbid interests.

    “Yeah, he showed them to me.” Andre sank back into the chair. “He's only got two of them. He was worried about showing them to me because they were dead but I wasn't upset. It wasn't me that was dead and he said the pictures were really old.”

    “Did the kids have their clothes on?” Heather was concerned that Grandpa might be, in fact, a “funny” Grandpa.

    “Yeah.” Andre touched an icon on his phone and restarted the game. His parents looked at each other with concerned-parent eyes.

    Gabe took his own phone out of his pocket and called the number he had on speed dial, “Hi Dad. How are things with you? Yeah, we're all fine. Listen, the reason I'm calling is that Andre told us something that has got us a little freaked. He says you're collecting pictures... of dead children?”

    “Huh?” Heather could hear grandpa's voice from the phone's earpiece all the way across the room.

    “Oh....” the old man's words sounded in his son's ear in a more moderate volume. Heather heard only a distant mumble saying, “I guess I do, in a way.”

    There was quite a lengthy explanation that followed. Gabe's face relaxed as he listened and then the subject changed, “Will you be coming for church Christmas Eve?”

    There was more mumbled conversation and the call ended, “Okay, love you too dad.”

    Heather's face was expectant. Andre was lost in his game. Gabe explained.

    “Daguerreotypes, he collect's Daguerreotypes.”

    “What is that?” She was still lost.

    “It's a shiny picture,” Andre said distractedly from the chair where he was hunched over his phone.

    “Yeah, it's a shiny picture,” Gabe confirmed, knowing that conveyed no information but he was still teasing. “It's a rare old type of photography. Not too many of them around anymore because they are destroyed by light and what good is a picture that can't be exposed to light. You have to have light to look at it, right?”

    “Is that something that he would like for Christmas?”

    “Maybe? He seemed really excited about it. I couldn't get him off the phone. He says that they used to take pictures of mothers holding their children if the kid died. The idea was that the mother's would miss the kid less if they had the picture taken. These things were pre-Civil War and kids were always dying of something back then. The mothers just put the pictures in a drawer somewhere and never looked at them again, so those are the Daguerreotypes that survived. Those and naked pictures of prostitutes that also ended up in a drawer I suppose. He says that they're very rare and very expensive.”

    “Well, Google it and see just how expensive is expensive.” Heather suggested. “Guitars aren't cheap either.”

    Gabe did some Google-ing. “Say, that's not so bad. There is one at auction for fifty bucks. Maybe it's only expensive for him because he is on a fixed income.”

    “We could even get him two, are they the dead-kid pictures too?” Heather had one more package left to wrap for this round before she went shopping again.

    “No, it looks like just pictures of anonymous people mostly.” He scanned the screen. “Here's a landscape but it's a thousand bucks. How can we tell a good one from a bad one?”

    Andre and Heather were both silent. Gabe continued to look over the auction listing. The sound of wrapping paper being folded and crunched continued.

    “Say, that's a good one!” Gabe's eyebrows raised. “But it's a hundred and fifty bucks.”

    “Does it say who she is?” Heather finished her wrapping at last. “Andre. Put these under the tree when you get a chance."

    “How do you know it's a she?” Gabe answered.

    “Because you're a man.” Heather got off the floor and stretched. “I'll do dinner tonight. I don't want spaghetti again.”

    “I can do more than spaghetti!” He objected. “I can order pizza too. Is it all right if I spend a hundred and a half on the old man?”

    “Would we have to win it or is that the “Buy it now” price?”

    “Buy it now.”

    “Let me see, Oh she is pretty, but how do you know grandpa would like something like this?”

    “Because he's an old man, not a dead one.” Andre guessed the subject of the photograph. “Grandpa says that all the time.”

    Heather stared at the ghostly image for a while longer. It was in black and white but the black was not quite black and the whites were nowhere near white. “I wonder how old the picture is?”

    “Grandpa said that the process pretty much died out after 1860.” Andre began to work on putting the presents under the tree. “He told me a lot about it.”

    “Click the button.” Heather authorized the purchase. “That's one more person off the list.”

    Mom was sitting on the arm of the sofa next to him and Dad pulled her down and whispered so that Andre couldn't hear. “I guess we got him a hooker of sorts after all.”

    She sat up straight again and smiled, “But this one we can fit in a box.”

    “You can put the other kind in a box too,” Andre had very sharp hearing. “You just have to remember to put some air holes in the top.”
     
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2019
  6. talltale

    talltale Member

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    The Gift of Gifts (1,220 words)

    Christmas has come to the McGinis house.

    Red velvet stockings with the names Grammy, Julie, Mommy, and Daddy hung on the family room fireplace. A grass wreath adorned the mantle. Roasting chestnuts gave off a mouth-watering aroma.

    White Christmas lights, silver tinsel, green ball ornaments, and a gold star decorated a six-foot high pine tree. Wrapped Christmas presents laid sacrifice at its altar.

    Grandma Ana and little twelve-year-old Julie sat around the family room table. They were in the middle of a rousing game of Monopoly.

    Grandma Ana picked up her dice and rolled it across the board. A five.

    She moved her race car and started to count out loud, "One…two…three…four…and..."

    Grandma Ana exclaimed, "Boardwalk! I'll buy it!"

    She reached into her Monopoly money pile and handed four hundred dollars to Julie.

    "I'll have such beautiful houses on Boardwalk. You can come visit..." Grandma Ana gave a devilish smile, "For a price."

    Julie took the money and replied, "Grammy, can you tell me about the chickens?'

    Grandma Ana gave a confused look and said, "That's old news. Are you sure want to hear about the boring chickens?"

    Julie gave a wide-eyed nod.

    Grandma replied, "OK."

    Grandma Ana sat up on her knees and said, "A long time ago, me and your Grandpa, God rest his soul, lived on a farm. We had all sorts of animals-chickens, roosters, ducks, cows, and even horses."

    Grandma Ana continued, "The chicken coup had a huge hole on its backside, but we had little money or time to fix it. Somehow, one of the chicken eggs got into the duck nest. And when the poor thing hatched, it thought it was a duck!"

    Julie giggled and said, "Really? Awww."

    Grandma Ana replied, "Yup! And when all the baby ducks hatched, the little chick awkwardly followed all the ducks and their mother to the water's edge. At least it was smart not enough not to jump in. Me and your Grandpa laughed so hard that day."

    Julie gave a curious look and asked, "Why didn't you and Grandpa stay at the farm?"

    Grandma Ana responded, "Well, it was around the time I was pregnant with your father. We made little money from being a farmer and we wanted a better life for Aloysius. So we sold the dairy farm and moved closer to the city. Eventually, Grandpa found work as a Kirby vacuum salesman."

    Grandma Ana continued, "Grandpa didn't like the job very much at first, but he stuck with it and next thing you know we were able to afford a nice house and even a new car."

    Julie made a startled look and said, "Did you hear that Grammy?"

    Grandma Ana replied, "Hear what, my love?"

    Julie raised her hand and pointed towards the Christmas tree. "It sounded like a groan. I think it came from over there."

    Grandma Ana waved at Julie dismissively and said, "Oh, you needn't worry about Maslow yet."

    Julie shrugged, "Grammy, I'm so happy you're here for Christmas!"

    She continued, "Mommy and daddy are always so busy, no one ever plays with me."

    Grandma Ana hugged Julie and said, "It's my pleasure dear. And just wait until you see what I got you for Christmas!"

    A shout bellowed from behind them, "FUCK YEAH, GIVE IT TO ME NOW!"

    Grandma Ana turned to the Christmas tree and said, "Calm down Maslow, let me bring it."

    Grandma Ana stood up and said, "I'll be right back my sweet."

    She started walking towards the bedroom.

    Julie was still gape-jawed at what happened. Their Christmas tree was talking.

    With a quivering tone, Julie asked, "Who…who are you?"

    Mouth creases began forming at the base of the tree as it replied, "I AM MASLOW, GOD OF HUMAN HAPPINESS. AND I'M HUNGGGGRRRYY."

    Julie responded, "Hungry for what?"

    Several ornaments fell from Maslow's branches as it replied, "MORE HAPPINESS."

    Grandma Ana returned to the living room and touched Julie on the shoulder, "I'm back dear, want to see your present?"

    Julie started to calm down and replied, "Yes, please."

    Grandma Ana handed Julie the wrapped gift. "Here you are. I hope you like it, I made it myself."

    Julie unwrapped the present. It was a crochet blanket with the words "I love Julie" written in the middle.

    Julie smiled and said, "Thanks Grammy, it looks so comfy."

    Maslow grumbled behind them and said, "BORING."

    Grandma Ana replied, "You hush up Maslow. It took me three days to crochet that blanket."

    Maslow responded, "IPAD BETTER."

    Grandma Ana furrowed her brow and replied, "Now Maslow, I'm on a fixed income. I can't afford those kinds of fancy, expensive gifts."

    Maslow grinned a wide, toothy grin and said, "TOO LATE. AMAZON COMING."

    The front doorbell rang.

    Grandma Ana gave a worried look. "Oh dear. So what else did you buy without my consent Maslow?"

    Maslow responded, "DISNEY CRUISE."

    Julie covered her mouth to hide her happiness. She often dreamed of going on a Disney cruise. She'd seen so many commercials and the cruises looked like so much fun!

    Grandma Ana threw her hands in the air and walked towards Maslow, "Well now you've done it. Just how am I going to pay for that?"

    Maslow's branches began to move as the Christmas tree said, "LIFE INSURANCE."

    The branches extended to wrap around Grandma Ana's body. Maslow dragged Grandma Ana into its mouth and belched. Julie screamed.

    Julie's mother Carol came running down the stairway, "What is going on down here? I am trying to finish up my paperwork!"

    Carol looked around the family room. "Where's Grandma?"

    Julie wiped tears her eyes and said, "The Christmas tree ate Grammy."

    Carol turned to Maslow and said, "Maslow, we talked about this. Grandma is NOT to be eaten!"

    Maslow shrugged its branches and replied, "DON'T CARE. WE GO ON CRUISE. CRUISE COOL."

    Carol grabbed her cell phone from her jean's pocket and said, "I have to call daddy."

    She spoke into the phone,

    "Hey babe..."

    "I'm OK, but listen, I have some bad news. Grandma has passed on…"

    "Yes, it was Maslow. I know, bummer. But I do have some good news. I hear we're going on a cruise for our holiday vacation…"

    "Baby, can you come home, I need your help to watch Julie…"

    "Another banker offed himself? Let me guess, you're not coming home until late…"

    "What do you mean you should have stayed an artist? How were we supposed to survive in your mom's basement?…"

    "Did they say anything about your bonus? Remember, we're still driving a Honda accord from 2013."…

    "You know the Joneses across the street? Well, they just bought a brand new Mercedez GLE. God, I hate them. They're coming over to show it off tomorrow…"

    "The Porsche dealership called. He said they had some really nice deals on the 2019 Cayennes..."

    Carol started walking up the stairway as she turned to Julie and said, "Julie sweetie, I have to go. Don’t forget the Amazon delivery outside."

    Julie replied, "I won't."

    Julie opened the front door and picked up the brown box with the smiley face on it. Cute, Julie thought.

    She dropped it next to the table.

    Julie turned to Maslow and asked, "Will you play with me?"

    Maslow replied, "SHUT UP. PLAY IPAD."
     
    Last edited: Dec 26, 2018
  7. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

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    The Little Red Party Box (2215 words)

    T’was three A.M., christmas morning and Santa Claus himself was in the living room of six year old Pandora Ali, who was quietly creeping down the carpeted stairs. She placed one of her bare feet down, then slide down on her butt, trying not to make a peep. She didn’t want to wake her parents or spook Santa. She wanted to catch him.

    Even in her little girl mind, she didn’t actually think she might catch him. She was a smart little girl and had thought about it. She knew that there were a lot of people in the world and in order to visit every house, she knew he must be in and out in a flash. But still, it was possible for her to be there at the right time.

    She didn’t need luck though, Santa was waiting for her. He turned from away from the tree, with a small red box in his hand. “Hello, Pandora.” He’d known that she was there the whole time. He saw her get out of bed, he saw her climb down the stairs.

    Pandora couldn’t speak, she stood in her pajamas and her mouth agape before the jolly old man himself. He stepped towards her, his massive girth moving effortlessly and without a sound. He outstretched his hand and offered her the box.

    “Here you go sweetheart, this is for you.” His voice was deep and just like she’d imagined and she took the small box. He knelt down and gently placed his hand on her shoulder. “It’s a very special present for a very special girl.”

    Santa had chosen this girl from an entire year of observation. He saw all of the children on Earth, when they were sleeping, and when they were awake. He could taste their essence and she was on the very top of the “good” list.

    He winked at her. “I’ll see you soon,” he said before vanishing in a flash and a series of magical twinkles.

    Pandora turned the box over in her hands a few time and pulled on the bow. She was so excited and so happy to see what he’d given her, besides the dozen other presents that she saw under the tree. She would have to open them tomorrow, she didn’t want to get in trouble with her parents, but this little box was a little secret between her and the big man.

    She lifted the top off of it and her eyes lit up. Although the box was no larger than a few decks of cards, she could see a room full of children inside of it. They were laughing and playing with what looked like elves. All at once, they turned to her and waved for her to join them.

    She held the small box in one hand and tried to poke a finger in it. As her finger slid inside, the box expanded around her and she found herself walking along the inside surface of it towards what looked like a party. She could see piles of presents, candies, cookies, puppies, sugar, and spice, and all things nice. She paused for a moment and looked back. She could see her living room. Sitting on the floor was the box itself, which she was inside of. She didn’t know the word to describe what she was seeing, but if she were older she may have come up with “non-euclidean.”

    Without considering the paradox, she reached out and grabbed the box, keeping it with her as she traveled into this strange new world.

    One of the elves came to greet her. “Pandora, my dear, I’ve been waiting for you. You are a very good little girl, and for that, I have something for you.” He reached out his hands, which were empty, but in a flash of magic and whimsy, a cookie shaped like a christmas tree appear in them.

    She took the cookie and shoved it gleefully in her mouth. It was the most delicious cookie she’d ever eaten. It melted sweetly in her mouth as it crumbled around her and spilled down onto her pjs.

    “What is this place?” She asked the elf, who took her by the hand and brought her to the other children.

    “This is nothing,” the elf said shyly. “This is just a place you’re waiting for Santa in while he retrieves the rest of the guests. You have all been brought for Santa’s legendary christmas party.” There was a rhythm to his voice and it almost sounded like he was singing.

    In the background, other elves were actually singing.

    “It’s Santa!” One of the other children pointed up at a light in the sky. Everyone stared as the magic sleigh descended in the snow. As it landed, it blew a gentle breeze of flurries over them. It wasn’t cold though, it was almost warm as it brushed against their delighted cheeks.

    Santa had a jolly grin seeing the group of children that he had selected this year. He ushered them onto the sleigh. He was going to show them the workshop. The sleight twisted and turned as it sped through the frigid North Pole air, but the children never fretted. The reindeer pulled with a confidence and a grace that words could not define. Their bells made a magic jingling noise as they galloped.

    “Ho ho ho,” said the big man as the sleight magically shrunk to the size of a mouse and zoomed through the workshop. The children gazed in awe and amazement at the wonderful and splendiferous machinery that they saw, creating all of the gifts for all of the children of the world. The elves fed the machines with magic, and the machines pumped out anything they wanted with the ringing of bells.

    The elves all waved at the sleigh, then appeared in it in a flash of light, filling the small sleigh with hundreds of them, all of which had room to meet each of the children. They treated the children as though they were royalty. Some of them kneeled before the children, some tussled their hair, others just looked in awe at them. They only see children once a year, and they look forward to Santa’s feast the whole time, it was one of the many perks of being loyal to Santa Claus.

    The sleigh took a steep dive towards a small hole in the wall of the factory. Through a tiny crack in the wall, the children stared down in bewilderment at the tiny village of christmas mice. Living in tiny gingerbread houses and munching on cheese with their families in front of tiny christmas trees they waved up at Santa as he passed by.

    They blasted out of a snowbank and headed back into the sky. Up ahead, there were bright lights. It was Santa’s house at the very top of the world. It was the nether-world place to be at the moment. There was a grand staircase leading up to the front door. It was surrounded by a picket fence of giant candy canes.

    Pandora followed Santa with the other children as an old woman dressed in red came out of the front door with a plate of cookies. She greeted each of the children by name and offered them they sweetest cookie any of them had ever eaten. With a kiss between them, it became obvious to the children that this was Mrs. Claus.

    As Santa entered his home full of other magical creatures, there was a great cheer, one worthy of such a revered man. Despite the children living all around the world, and the party guests inhabiting a variety of realms, he spoke in a language that all of them understood.

    “Welcome, my friends, to my home here on the beautiful planet Earth. Once a year, the people on this planet go through a season where they are full of joy, and hope, and other such wonderful seasonings.”

    In the crowd, The Easter Bunny turned to an elf. “Doesn’t he ever get tired of the same old speech?”

    The elf laughed. “I think when your the best chef in the galaxy, you can make whatever speech you want.”

    The Easter Bunny nodded. “Fair enough.”

    Santa Claus continued to address his guests. “For the past two hundred years my loyal followers and I have cultivated this phenomenon and bred the perfect blend of all things good and wonderful.”

    Most of the speech was being lost on the children. It wasn’t aimed at them, and they didn’t have the attention for it either, there were such sights to see in the massive home full of every magical being they could think of: The Tooth Fairy, Peter Pan, beasts and heroes from all of their storybooks.

    Santa then turned to the group of children. “Let me introduce this years’ guests of honor,” all of the other guests settled down and showed respect as Santa named them off. When he was done, the children got a cheer that rivaled the one Santa himself got. All of these beings were overjoyed to see human children, and even more so on Christmas.

    Santa then brought the children around the room, showing them all sorts of wonders and introducing them to many of the creatures that they had heard of, but never seen.

    As Santa rounded the room a jester came up to them, juggling candy canes. With them he did flips and twirls and radiated delight. “Santa, my dear boy, it sure is nice to see you.” The jester addressed the big man.

    “Likewise, come, meet the children.”

    The clown’s face expressed great excitement. “May I?” He spoke as though it were a great privilege. He approached the children. “It is such an honor to meet all of you. You smell of sweets and love, oh my, I swear you’ve brought me to tears.” The clown pulled a handkerchief out of his sleeve to dry his eyes. The kids giggled as a seemingly endless stream of handkerchiefs came with it. “Oh dear, oh dear, I don’t need all of this,” he threw the colorful rags on the ground.

    “How rude of me,” he extended his hand. “My name is…” he slipped on the string of handkerchiefs. “Whoaaaa,” he made an exaggerated flailing and fell onto his back, with both feet flying up and a shoe coming off. He sat up and looked at the kids as his lost shoe fell and landed on his head like a hat, which caused all of the kids to burst out laughing.

    The clown feigned embarrassment, “Oh my, what a clutz I am.”

    “Ho ho ho,” Santa himself laughed at his friend. “You are a master of your craft, sir.”

    The clown jumped to his feet and bowed, grabbing his shoe as it fell from his head into his hands.

    “No, chef,” the clown retorted, “You are a master. Sense these children’s feelings, how do you do it?”

    Santa slid closer to the clown, but didn’t try to hide his voice. “The secret is the marinade,” he bellowed and started to turn the children on to other guests.

    “Wait,” the clown had one more trick. “There is something in my shoe. Why…” From his clown shoe, he pulled out a fully inflated balloon, the kind one would make a balloon animal with. “How did this get in there? I think this is for them, kids, don’t you want a balloon?”

    The kids all cheered with anticipation as he turned one long balloon into a dozen balloon reindeer, which he laid before him on the ground. He spoke one word: “Float.” All at once, the reindeer started to rise up. They floated in the air for a moment before springing to life in a sprinkle of fairydust a flying around the room, spinning the air, kicking up a gentle mist.

    Santa laughed out again with delight as a set of sugarplum fairies appeared on the reindeer and rode them around the children, sprinkling magic dust down on them. Pandora’s cheeks were sore from smiling so much, and there were still many more sights to see.

    *****

    After the party had ended, Santa sat in front of the fireplace with Mrs. Claus. She was rubbing his belly.

    “I think it went well, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.” He said humbly.

    “Don’t sell yourself short, your feast is always the highlight of the year. Nobody can cook like you,” she watched as he reached for a plate of leftovers.

    “Yeah…” he picked out the pieces that he wanted. “The secret is to marinate the meat in joy for as long as possible.”

    He looked at the small red box that Pandora had brought with her as she went through it. “I have to fix this though, it never occured to me that a portal could be brought through itself. This one could have gone back home any time she wanted to.” He opened the box and looked though it at Pandora’s living room.

    “Oh well, she never figured it out. I guess no harm, no foul.”

    He tossed the piece of meat he'd chosen into his mouth, savoring the flavor. He could taste the seasonings of joy and hope. That particular morsel had been from Pandora's thigh.
     
    Last edited: Dec 26, 2018
  8. Hammer

    Hammer Contributor Contributor

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    Charlie’s Angels

    (1601 words, some profanity)



    The tree occupied one whole corner of the sitting room between the fireplace and the window, taking its share of both the light and the warmth. The curtains were firmly closed against the cold of the winter night, and the decorations sparkled gaily in the fire’s light. Charlie sat at one end of the sofa, staring at the tree and thinking, Christmas or otherwise, a tree-load of balls was an appropriate metaphor.

    Kate pushed the door open with her foot and came in carrying a tray bearing a white porcelain teapot and two cups.

    ‘They’re finally asleep,’ she said, ‘I thought Frank would never get off.’

    ‘He’s that age, sweetheart. Three. They call it the terrible threes for a reason.’

    ‘I thought it was the terrible twos, my darling?’ she said.

    Twos? Threes? Anything under twenty-one sounded terrible to Charlie.

    ‘How’s the book coming along?’ asked Kate.

    The question hung briefly in the air. The fire let out a dramatic pop and sent a storm of sparks scampering up the chimney.

    ‘Have you ever,’ said Charlie, eventually, ‘stared at a blank piece of paper and thought why the fuck am I doing this?’

    Kate could honestly say that she hadn’t. She poured out two cups of tea and changed the subject.

    ‘What’s that red one?’ she asked, pointing at the presents under the tree. They had been carefully arranged to look as if they hadn’t been arranged at all – a finely calculated jumble – and all were silver or gold with brightly coloured ribbons and little name tags, but one, no bigger than a shoebox, was wrapped in red crêpe and tied with string.

    ‘Why are you asking me?’ said Charlie.

    ‘Well isn’t it from you?’

    ‘No. I used the paper you gave me.’

    ‘Well it’s not from me.’

    Charlie stood up, crossed the room, and scooped up the box. It weighed almost nothing, like a box of air. He gave it a gentle shake and read the label.

    ‘It’s for me,’ he said, ‘but I don’t recognise the writing.’

    He handed the box to Kate who turned it gently round in her hands then gave it a sniff.

    ‘Jake was here earlier,’ she said. ‘Maybe it’s from him?’

    ‘Jake? What did he want?’

    Jake was Charlie’s agent. Kate didn’t want to darken the mood so she didn’t mention that Jake had also been asking about the book.

    ‘He brought us a card, darling,’ she said, instead. ‘I put it by the clock.’

    ‘Well it’s not from him,’ said Charlie, and he took the card down to show Kate. ‘Look. I’d recognise his handwriting anywhere.’

    Kate looked at the card and had to agree. Jake’s strong, angular hand could hardly be more different from the scrolling copperplate on the red gift. She handed them both back to Charlie.

    ‘Well we’ll know soon enough,’ she said, it’s Christmas Eve tomorrow.’

    Charlie put the card back next to the clock, and with a final rattle of the red box, put it back on the pile.

    ‘Maybe it’s a new pen,’ he said. ‘One that works. One that can write actual words.

    ###​

    The following morning was, as every parent knows, the most difficult in the childcare year. Many times the Christmas cauldron of anticipation boiled over into tantrums, bickering, fights, and tears. Frank was too young really to understand what it was all about, but the atmosphere rubbed off on him. His sister, Mary, and his brother Charlie junior, were of an age where they could be told nothing, and everything was a drama. All the games and all the walks in the park didn’t stifle the inexhaustible energy of children on Christmas Eve; bottle that and the world energy crisis is history.

    It was Charlie’s habit to slip into a twenty minute coma after lunch. He claimed that it opened the sluices of creativity, but he hadn’t got past dreaming of telling his agent that the blank pages were a melodramatic way of conveying a blizzard before little Frank clambered up on to his lap and demanded a story. Charlie realised that a fireside nap had been a mistake. He should have gone straight to his study which was a no-go zone for the rest of the family unless specifically invited.

    ‘Not so soon after lunch, my little angel,’ said Charlie. ‘Stories on a full stomach are very bad for you.’

    ‘What’s this one, Daddy?’ asked Mary.

    ‘Hey!’ said Charlie. ‘Those are for tomorrow.’

    ‘But they’re all gold and silver except this one. Look. It’s red,’ she said, by way of explanation, and handed it to her dad. ‘It’s for you.’

    Charlie would have sworn that it felt heavier than it had done the previous evening – about the weight of a carton of milk – but it had to be his imagination. It still gave nothing away to a gentle shake. Tempting though it was, he avoided a vigorous shake just in case there was something fragile inside.

    ‘Quickly,’ he said, ‘put it back before your mother catches you.’

    ‘Catches you doing what?’ said Mary, entering the living room as if on cue.

    ‘Nothing, Mummy,’ said Mary, slipping the box back under the tree and adopting a look of such innocence that it wouldn’t have melted the driven snow of Charlie’s blank manuscript.

    Charlie slipped an arm round Mary as she sat down next to him and Frank.

    ‘Do you remember what it was like?’ he said.

    ‘What what was like, my darling.’

    ‘Life. What life was like before…’ he waved an expansive hand around the room enveloping a scene which encapsulated the whole spectrum of family life.

    ‘Darling!’ she admonished. ‘It was dreadful! Cold, empty house.’

    ‘Friends around, laughing and joking.’

    ‘Silent as a tomb on Christmas morning.’

    ‘A walk in the park without being pelted with snowballs.’

    ‘The wonderful faces of little children on Christmas Morning…’

    ‘A peaceful forty winks instead of having to tell a story about a worm …’

    ###​

    Day wore into evening. Charlie took a turn putting the children to bed, whilst Mary settled by the fire with glass of port. Eventually, he came back downstairs, poured himself a large glass, and refreshed his wife’s. He looked well and truly beaten by the mechanics of parenthood. He slumped down onto the sofa with his drink.

    ‘One day,’ he said, and then paused. ‘Did that move?’

    ‘What darling?’

    ‘That red parcel. I’m sure it moved.’

    ‘Don’t be silly, my angel, it’s a trick of the light. See how it flickers from the fire.’

    ‘One day,’ Charlie continued, ‘we will have our lives back. Just the two of us.’

    If that was everything Mary dreamed of, she concealed it well.

    ‘Well, yes, my darling, but it will be so… lonely. And we will be old.’

    Charlie sighed and rose to stand with his back to the fire.

    ‘And think,’ said Mary, ‘what we will have given to the world.’

    ‘My novels?’

    ‘No, dear, three bright young things who will shape the future.’

    ‘Oh, yes, of course,’ said Charlie, wondering which was more important to him. At least he could produce more children, it didn’t look as if he would be producing any more novels any time soon.

    ‘That did move!’ he exclaimed.

    He put his port carefully on the mantelpiece and picked the red parcel up. Charlie was no grocer, but it weighed as much as a bag of sugar, maybe two.

    ‘I’m going to open it,’ he said.

    Mary looked doubtful.

    ‘You mustn’t, darling,’ she said, firmly. ‘We don’t know who it’s from, but we do know that it’s a Christmas present, and Christmas is tomorrow.’

    Charlie held the parcel up to the light as if hoping to see through the sumptuous crepe and see what was in the box. Reluctantly he acquiesced to his wife’s instruction and placed the parcel carefully back under the tree.

    ###​

    As family traditions go, letting mum have a lie-in on Christmas morning was unbreakable, so when Mary came smilingly downstairs on Christmas morning, Charlie and the children were long awake, and half the presents had already been opened. Mary and Charlie junior were both wearing new jumpers, Charlie junior also wearing wellington boots, and Mary a pair of gloves. Little Frank was pushing a toy cart around the floor making, for reasons known only to him, the sound of a cat mewing. The fire crackled excitedly and spat brightly coloured sparks from the balls of wrapping paper that had been thrown on. There was no sign of the red box.

    ‘You opened it?’ said Mary.

    ‘I couldn’t not,’ replied Charlie, ‘the kids were more eager for me to open that one than any of theirs.’

    ‘And what was in it?’

    ‘Nothing.’

    ‘Nothing?’

    ‘Well, nothing… and everything.’

    Mary glared at him.

    ‘What on earth are you talking about, my darling?’ she said.

    ‘Well,’ said Charlie. ‘What we were talking about yesterday really. About life. Life before the kids came along, about what it will be like when we’re old, how empty life will be when they’re gone. As I opened that box, it was… it was if all was suddenly clear to me. Everything. The thing in that box was understanding. Truth. Clarity if you like. I would say that the box contained my muse!’

    Without locking himself in solitary confinement in a dark study, within the maelstrom of his family Christmas, with his wife sat next to him and his children making more noise than enough, Charlie picked up his pen, his good old pen, and began to write... Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.
     
  9. Artifacs

    Artifacs Senior Member

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    Merry Christmas (1200 or so)

    The fireplace cast an orange glow over the wooden furniture all over the living room. Robert Louis stood in front of the flames in a way that only half of his face was visible for the rest of them.

    "Well, ladies and gentlemen," he said to the assembly. "I think the time has come to dare and formulate the question."

    Edgar sipped his tea and let the cup over the table. He sat back on his couch and smiled at the man who was dreaming at the far end wall: "Not yet, Robert. Why don't we just let Howard be part of the mystery, as well?"

    The refered man startled slightly in his armchair and abandoned his dreamy state. His eyes darted to every corner of the room while reaching for a silver whistle that pended around his neck.

    "What? Where...?" he said founding himself in a place he cannot quite determinate.

    Mary giggled behind an electric generator and spare some explanatory words to him: "Welcome back, Howard. Had a nice dream?" she spread her arms to take in the surroundings. "Time to wake up. We're all here."

    Howard looked around in astonishment.

    He saw that the living room was an inmense crowed space-time that his brilliant mind was able to comprehend at once. Several vertical stone walls enclosed a polygonal base from different angles. The golden carpeted floor stretched as far as needed to sustain a huge number of men and women of all ages and sizes. White cyclopean columns along the room emerged from gargantuan footings carved with runes and hieroglyphs before vanishing into the darkness. The ceiling was barely seen, it seemed a pitch-black maelstrom of shapeless criatures that twitched and swirled competing to devoure the light from below.
    The men and women wandered around quitely. Some of them accreted in circles of conversation in planetary landscapes. Others seemed delighted about some details of their surroundings, admiring ominous statues etched in some materials that didn't belong to this world.

    Howard sat up in his armchair and decided to keep a puzzled silence.

    Mary allowed herself to take the turn to speak. She walked forward carefully, avoiding to step on the thick wires that run the stone tiles and converged in huge Faraday coils along the walls. Thunders and lightings drifted along at her wake.

    "Friends, please. I refuse to believe there's no logical explanation for the events we're whitnessing. It's already clear we can see each other, but not in the same place."

    Kafka raised his voice, waving a dismissive hand: "It's all fine."

    Arthur excused himself from the conversation circle he was attended and got closer to Mary. A young rogue boy came running and the man gave him a letter without stopping his pace. The boy dissapeared without a word. Arthur spoke joyfully: "My dear Mary. We all here for a very good reason. It's a true fact that the less information we have about a mystery, the more simple the puzzle turns out to be."

    "I see," Miguel jumped off his horse, killed a giant before leaning against the white wall of a windmill and crossed his arms over his chest: "So, you've solved the mystery, Sir Arthur?"

    "Of course. What seems a mystery to the unassisted eye is an obvious fact to the trained mind," said the gentleman to the assembly.

    "...trained mind...," snorted Edgar softly as gave a cookie to the black crow over his shoulder.

    "Very well, mon amics", said Jules taking off his dive helmet and sitting on a giant clamp: "I've been spining this matter around for eighty days and I foresee that there must be a question before each answer. So, what's the question?"

    A dwarf elbowed a distracted John who spring up from his mithril throne: "Question! yes! Mmm...What's in my pocket?"

    The space went dead silent.

    The drawf reach up and whispered at John covering his mouth with his hand. The man listened intently glancing down the back of a dragon far below. A second later, he nodded and pushed away the dwarf before staring at the assembly.

    "The question is..." He said in deep voice: "What's in the box?"

    Glances were exchanged. A storm of murmurs and gasps of realization filled the space.

    Agatha waved from the window of his train carriage and shouted over the steam chimes of the station: "There must be something we have in common, right?"

    It was, indeed, as all realized at once.

    In the center of the room there was a huge Christmas tree that every of those men and women could see. A real tree festoned with colorful lights and mirrored spheres in red, blue, yellow and green. A common reality shared by all of them inside each particular vision. At the feet next to the tree trunk there was a box for every man and woman in the room. A huge number of identical boxes wrapped in shinny red paper and decored by a pink cute lace.

    Each of them gathered around the tree and pick up a box.

    Stanislaw opened his box hovering over his emphatical ocean.

    Isaac let a robot to do the task while helped the one-handed Miguel with his present.

    Umberto peeked into it surrounded by monks in a Benidictine Abby.

    William sat at the Globe and opened his box while all leaned forward to look into theirs.
    Inside all boxes, there was a rectangular flat stone at the bottom, its surface dark and smooth.
    They all reach into to take it out of the box but they flinched when a sudden white glow came out from the surface.

    "What sorcery is this?" wondered Ursula
    .
    "No sorcery at all, my friend," answered Umberto. "Arthur was right after all. Look."

    They all look again and saw a word written in elegant letters.

    "Readers!!!." They all realized in joy."The box is full of readers!!!."

    Cheers and hugs and laughs and cries. They all, dancing and swaying, pull a tablet out of their box connected to a webpage:

    "WritingForum.org"

    Some rock music started playing. Wide-spectrum spotlights begun flickering all over the place. A company of dwarfs brought barrels of licour.

    The meeting at this point became a little wild.

    A bunch of mices followed a freak guy with a flute. Artificial Intelligences overloaded scanning the Borges's library of Babel. Plato's allegory poked the head out of his cave but it came back inside, annoyed by the noise. A crystal dome fell from the sky. There was a ended-world full of books. A rabbit helped a fox to escape a sure death. Twedleweeds, or whatever it's called that thing, became humans. Some soldiers were making cheese sandwiches for a line of mices, which were no longer chasing the flute guy. Rumors has it there were bad poets writing good stuff. A red hooded girl asked a wolf: What are you cooking tonight? Witches complained about the invasion of their own Halloween air space. And, finally, the last sentence amounts a sum about a thousand and two hundred blessing words, maybe more.

    Merry Christmas and may all of us be there, opening this box someday.
     
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2018
  10. EstherMayRose

    EstherMayRose Gay Souffle Contributor

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    Cavallucci (2,824 words)

    It was Christmas in Saint-Gosse, and the weather did not disappoint. Snow had been falling in a wild, demented dance since that morning and the sky was as silver as a new coin. It had confined Giovannetta and Allegra to the house that day, but as they sat by the fire watching the sky grow dark, swaddled in the same blanket with Allegra’s head on her fiancée’s shoulder, an enormous sense of contentment engulfed them both and Giovannetta thought there was no place in the world she would rather be. Until Allegra spoke.

    “Grand-mère Ernestine will be coming on Christmas Day.”

    “She’s the tall, skinny one, isn’t she?” Giovannetta bit her lip. She hoped Allegra would say she was wrong, but she didn’t hope too hard.

    Allegra sighed. “You’ll be fine, Gio. Once she gets to know you, she’ll love you. You two are so similar, you could get on like a house on fire!”

    Giovannetta looked sidelong at her fiancée. “There’s just that one key difference.”

    Allegra screwed her face up at this. “Y’know, she’s so jolly and fun with everyone else. And it’s not like it’s the first time we’ve broken the mould, either. When Nicholas told her he and Fiorenza were getting divorced, she agreed it was the best thing for both of them.” Then, she laughed. “Although she nearly had an aneurysm when Papa wouldn’t marry Mammina right after Nicholas was born, and another one on top when Nonna Linetti agreed to babysit him so Mammina could finish school. So I suppose it’s down to luck.”

    “You’re rambling, Legra.” Giovannetta began stroking Allegra’s soft auburn hair, the motion wiping away the agitated frowns creasing both their brows. She gazed deep into the fire, as though the answer hid among the dancing flames. “We could try visiting her. Wouldn’t it be nice to clear the air before our wedding?”

    Allegra wrapped her arms around her fiancée and snuggled into her shoulder. She was silent for a long time. “I suppose we could give it a try. She doesn’t like it when people come and try and change her opinion on something, but I’m sure if we really make it clear to her how important this is to us, she’ll at least consider. She just wants all her grand-darlings to be happy.”

    Giovannetta laughed and hugged Allegra back, catching the blanket as it made a rapid descent down their shoulders. “Grand-darlings? Oh, Legra, aren’t you strange? We’ll go at the weekend. You phone her up and I’ll work on making a good impression. We could take her something – you said she’s really fond of cavallucci?”

    “Yep, since it’s Christmas – ever made those before?” When Giovannetta shook her head, Allegra waved a hand, narrowly missing her fiancée’s nose. “Oh, well. I’m sure you can handle a tray of biscuits. I’ll make a fancy box to put them in. Mon doudou, we are going to make you Grand-mère’s favourite person!”

    Giovannetta scowled. “I’ve told you time and time again never to call me that.”

    ****

    That Saturday, Giovannetta was biting her lip again. Even the house radiated intimidation, the closed front door like a barrier protecting the Carraras’ neatly-ordered world from the mixed up depravity of theirs. She had picked her outfit carefully and she thought she looked smart enough to pass muster under the inspection of most strict relatives, but her gloved hands shook around the beautifully-painted box Allegra had produced. She had made good on her promise to bake cavallucci, but they were blackened at the edges, the honey hadn’t mixed in quite right, and the dried fruit was coming out of the middle like sticky, dark tears. They did not look remotely like something Giovannetta was happy to present for human consumption, and from moment to moment she swung wildly between the ideas of handing them over as something she was proud of – it was her first time, after all – and dumping them in the snow and pretending they had never existed. Allegra’s hand was tucked under her arm, but even her comfort was not enough to soothe Giovannetta’s overstrained nerves.

    At last Ernestine opened the door, and she looked her grand-daughter up and down before giving Giovannetta a hard stare. With a jerk of her head, she invited them inside.

    “Good afternoon, girls. Do come and sit down. Would you like some coffee?”

    “Yes, please,” Allegra beamed, running into the living room and throwing herself down on one of the large, florally-patterned sofas, pulling her paramour down next to her. “This is it, cara: the day she finally accepts you’re a miracle and we’re the greatest couple who ever lived!”

    “Legra, you’re the worst,” Giovannetta sighed. “You’re always three steps ahead of yourself, and at least five ahead of everybody else. Let’s see what she thinks of the cavallucci first.”

    “It all hinges on the cavallucci,” laughed Allegra, but then Ernestine returned and she took her head from off her fiancée’s lap and sat up as straight as she could, instantly Grand-mère’s precious little girl. “Thank you, Grand-mère. Is Grand-père home?”

    “No, he’s gone to buy some things. Do you need him?”

    For moral support, yes, thought Giovannetta anxiously. Jacques Carrara didn’t speak much, but when he did it was with good humour, and he was more than willing to accept Giovannetta into the family, even if he’d made his disapproval of homosexuality in general plain.

    “No, we just wanted to come and say hi,” Allegra smiled. Giovannetta grimaced inwardly. She’d much rather Allegra had just been direct and told her grandmother why they had come. She didn’t want to interfere with how her fiancée spoke to her family, though, so she remained silent. All was not lost, however. “I hoped you and Giovannetta could get to know each other better.”

    “We brought cavallucci!” Giovannetta blurted out in panic, thrusting the box towards Ernestine. “I made them,” she added a little more calmly.

    Ernestine took the box from her, opened it, and sniffed its contents suspiciously. Giovannetta’s heart sank. “Thank you,” she said eventually. “A noble effort. You made them by yourself, I presume?”

    “I helped!” beamed Allegra.

    “You read out the recipe!” Giovannetta turned to glare at her before she remembered herself and resumed her strictly upright position.

    “Giovannetta’s a very talented cook, Grand-mère,” smiled Allegra, evidently in hopes of clearing the air. “She does all the cooking at home, I don’t know what I’d do without her.” She nodded encouragingly at Giovannetta here, whether to seek her approval or prompt her to say something, Giovannetta did not know.

    “Hmph,” Ernestine said, peering at Giovannetta through her wire-rimmed glasses. Giovannetta felt rather like a schoolgirl sitting in front of a disapproving headmistress. “You need a good young man, you do. When I was your age I was settled with your grandfather already, and I had all my children to boot. You were always a promising girl, Allegra, but you can’t spend your life messing about with other women. Marry a nice young gentleman and you can fit your art around the cooking and the cleaning and the children. Life was much simpler when men and women knew their roles, that’s my advice to you.”

    Giovannetta thought her heart had dropped into her stomach. She chanced a glance at her fiancée. Allegra looked equally stunned. Giovannetta decided she’d let her handle it. Allegra knew where to tread with her grandmother, and she thought that anything she herself said might risk making the old woman angry.

    “But Grand-mère, the world isn’t like that any more,” Allegra began, looking as though she were struggling not to cry. “It really makes me sad that you won’t accept that being with Giovannetta makes me happy.”

    Ernestine frowned. “But will she make you happy in five years’ time? What about Amalia, hm? Or Katya? Did they not make you happy?”

    Allegra’s mouth opened and closed for a while. “Grand-mère, that’s got nothing to do with me being gay! People have lots of boyfriends too, and sometimes multiple husbands. Why won’t you trust us to make this work? I don’t need a man to find fulfilment.”

    Ernestine’s frown deepened. “I don’t like the way you’re talking, Allegra. You can watch your mouth or you can take your friend and leave!”

    “You’re being so narrow-minded, Grand-mère! Why can’t you accept that it’s not the nineteen-fifties any more?” Allegra all but shouted. Giovannetta sunk down into the sofa, forgetting her rigid good posture, trying to make herself as small as possible. “I really want you to come to our wedding, but if you keep up this, then we’re going to have to rethink!”

    Ernestine stared at her granddaughter in what Giovannetta could only describe as a mixture of horror, shock, and total bewilderment. Finally, she managed, “Get out! Both of you, get out of my house! And you won’t come back if you know what’s good for you!”

    For a second, Giovannetta was too stunned to move, so Allegra grabbed her hand and flew down the corridor to where they had put their outdoor things, pulling Giovannetta with her. They wrapped up as quickly as they could and then ran like the wind for the front door.

    Once they were out in the cold, Giovannetta gasped with relief, gulping in air as though the cosy little house had been smothering her. She wanted to keep running, run as far away as she could like the heroine of a children’s tale fleeing a wicked witch, but the thick layer of snow on the ground meant that she had to pick her way through the front garden and down the street. Allegra didn’t look back at her, her face set dead ahead and her posture tense. She was quiet on the Underground too, so much so that Giovannetta was certain their tension spread over the whole carriage like frost.

    It was only when they had closed their own front door behind them that they allowed themselves to slump down to the floor and burst into tears, in a haze of sadness and confusion, comforted only by the other’s arms around them.

    ***

    “I feel bad,” Allegra declared that evening for the fiftieth time.

    Giovannetta didn’t look up from her magazine. She had listened to Allegra’s ramblings for a while, but now they washed over her, and she was too preoccupied to absorb anything in her magazine either. She half-suspected Allegra knew she wasn’t listening, but voicing her feelings always made her feel better. Allegra came and sat at her fiancée’s side, resting her head in her lap. Giovannetta finally put down her magazine and began stroking her hair, her blue eyes narrowed in thought.

    “I mean, shouting at her was just out of order,” Allegra continued vaguely. “She might not come to the wedding now. I really wanted her there.”

    “I know she means a lot to you,” Giovannetta sighed. It was an awkward line to walk. She wished that some divine force could point her in the right direction, give her the perfect words to say to convince Ernestine to accept her as Allegra’s chosen wife.

    “I suppose we should concentrate on Christmas,” Allegra continued. “She’ll be there. We’ll have another chance to impress her then.” She frowned. “Perhaps we could host some kind of event here. New Year or Epiphany or something. Then she could see that we’ve made the smoothly-run home she wants together, and that might convince her that you can still live a full life with a partner the same gender as you.”

    “What about your mum?” asked Giovannetta. “I thought she was hosting Epiphany.”

    “Then we’ll take New Year,” Allegra replied. “Mammina will be happy to know that she doesn’t need to do three big dinners.”

    “I can’t get over the fact that you still call her Mammina.” Giovannetta shook her head. “But if Ernestine’s coming, I think we should lay the fight to rest first. Why don’t you call her?”

    Allegra sighed deeply. “I suppose. I shouldn’t have yelled at her like that, it was out of order.”

    “So tell her that. Maybe then she’ll be more willing to compromise.” Giovannetta stopped stroking Allegra’s hair to allow her to sit up, then wrapped an arm around her shoulder and kissed her on the cheek before Allegra stood up fully and headed off to find her phone.

    “Stay with me while I call her,” she pleaded when she came back, already dialling Ernestine’s number. “She might want to talk to you, too.” Then, she took a deep breath. “Also, I need moral support.”

    Giovannetta bit her lip again. It seemed to have become a reflexive action whenever she was faced with the prospect of Ernestine. “Of course.” She put her arm around Allegra’s shoulders again and the two leaned into one another. Giovannetta could feel her fiancée’s tenseness and she jumped slightly when Ernestine picked up.

    “Hi, Grand-mère.” Allegra smiled nervously. “Giovannetta’s here too.” She held the phone out to Giovannetta and she managed a slightly panicked greeting before Allegra took the phone back. “I was just calling to say I’m really sorry for yelling at you earlier and saying we might not invite you to the wedding.” She was silent for a long time, and all Giovannetta could hear was a fast garble from the other end of the phone. “She wants to talk to you,” Allegra said eventually. “Wants to make sure you’re the right sort of person.” Giovannetta didn’t have time to compose herself before Allegra handed the phone over and she was left to deal with an angry old woman who hated her on principle.

    “Hello Madame Carrara,” she managed.

    “What’s your job?” Ernestine barked.

    “I’m an accountant,” Giovannetta replied, wondering if that was the right answer or not.

    Ernestine made a “hmmph” noise before deciding “Good. A nice, sensible partner for my scatter-brained granddaughter. You do the finances at home?”

    “Yes, most of them,” Giovannetta answered, wondering where this was going.

    “Good. Allegra can’t count. Allegra said you do the cooking also?”

    “Yes, but Allegra does the cleaning.”

    Ernestine was silent for a long time. Giovannetta began biting her lip again. Finally, Ernestine said, “Hmmph. And you don’t take Allegra to subversive bars and things?”

    “No, we mostly stay in in the evenings.” Giovannetta felt slightly insulted. She had met a couple of previous girlfriends in gay bars and she knew Allegra had frequented them too. There was nothing subversive about that.

    “Hmmph,” Ernestine said again. “Hand me back to Allegra now.”

    Giovannetta did as asked and once again tried to understand Ernestine from the other end of the phone. After she had finished speaking, Allegra smiled almost dreamily.

    “We met at a Christmas party for multiple offices in the building,” she beamed. “She was standing on her own and I went over to talk to her, and I guess I just knew.” She gave a little giggle, and Giovannetta blushed slightly. She felt slightly on the spot. Allegra listened for a minute, then nodded, seemingly relieved. “Offices are good,” she mouthed. She listened for a little bit longer. “So are accountants.” She mouthed at Giovannetta again.

    “So we were thinking of hosting New Year here,” she continued. “We still need to check with Mammina first, but we think she’d like that. Would you come? We really want you to see our house.” She listened for a bit. “Yes, Giovannetta can make foie gras. And oyster stew, and everything else, too. It’ll be just like Mammina does.” There was more silence, and then she said, “All right. We’ll see you then. Goodbye, Grand-mère.” And to Giovannetta’s infinite relief, she took the phone away from her ear.

    “She talked to Grand-père, and he essentially told her to deal with it for our sakes,” she said. “So she’s doing her best. You’re still on trial, mind, so I think a lot will ride on New Year. But I’m sure you’ll smash it.”

    Giovannetta sighed deeply. This was just what she needed.

    ***

    A couple of days later, a little red box, tied with a golden ribbon with the address written meticulously on the bottom so as to be as discreet as possible, arrived in the post. Allegra pounced on it instantly.

    “It’s from Grand-mère Ernestine!”

    “Maybe we should save it for New Year and open it when we open everything else,” Giovannetta suggested, but Allegra ignored her and began untying the ribbon.

    “There’s a note in it for you!” Allegra thrust it at her fiancée and Giovannetta opened it with some trepidation.

    The cavallucci were terrible, it read. Here are some real ones. I will show you how to do it when we come for New Year’s Eve.

    Giovannetta reached for the box as if to confirm that it really was cavallucci inside, but she saw that Allegra had already bitten into one. She took one herself. They were much better than hers. She hoped Ernestine would be a patient teacher.
     
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