Sunday, November 11, 2018

WINNERS of The Flash Fiction Contest

Congratulations to the contest winners and participants!
Although 3 winners had been chosen by readers, everyone who participated in this contest deserves the recognition for their wonderful stories!



 Our first Flash Fiction Contest had been a success!
Sixteen wonderful stories were submitted by published authors and an aspiring author.
Authors thank you for your participation.
Readers and blog visitors thank you for sharing the contest link and voting for your favorite stories!

PRIZES:
First place: $50 gift card
Second place: $30 gift card
Third place: $20 gift card

The three winners:

S.M. Freed

Find the author on AMAZON
 Illustration by Erika M Szabo
SHAWN’S CHRISTMAS SURPRISE
Mated for a few months, Shawn was speechless when the pack healer had talked to her the other day at the clinic. This was the biggest shock of her life besides finding Remy. Her mate, how would she tell him this? This was impossible for her but there it was in blue and white.
Shawn and Remy had built onto the cabin and made it a four bedroom. The kids, Drew and Sage, each had their own room and Shawn and Remy had theirs with an extra for friends or family. With the help of the pack, the house was ready to move into sooner than expected because after Thanksgiving it was completed.
It was three weeks before Christmas and they decided to go all out for their first Christmas as a family. Thanks to Remy, he had gone out into the woods and found a special Christmas tree for their cabin. Sage and Drew had made decorations for the tree and Shawn had gone out and bought boxes of lights, presents, and other Christmas goodies.
After supper, Shawn and Remy were sitting in front of the fireplace and enjoying the fire while the kids got ready for bed. “What would you like for Christmas, my mate?” Remy asked as Shawn snuggled into his body.
“My love, I have everything I want and then some. I don't need anything else for Christmas.” Shawn said.
“Shawn, you are my mate and I love you with all that I am. You and the children are my life. Please let me spoil you with a Christmas present.” Remy looked at Shawn with love in his eyes.
Thinking this was a good time, “Just a minute Remy. I need to go get something.” Shawn took off upstairs to get a little box she wrapped for her mate. Coming back downstairs, “I have something for you and I want you to open it now.”
“But it isn't Christmas yet Shawn. I can wait for Christmas,” Remy told her with a smile.
“Please open the box now.” Shawn smiled as she held out a small box.
“I will do as you ask.” Taking the small box from his mate Remy carefully unwrapped his gift and opened the small box. Gasping Remy looked at Shawn with eyes as big as saucers. “Is this true? When? Better yet how?”
“Remy you know the how,” she said giggling. “Heather told me a few days ago. Remy are you happy?”
Without saying anything Remy jumped up and grabbed Shawn and spun her around shouting, “We're gonna have a baby!” Suddenly Sage and Drew ran down the stairs, “You going to be a big brother and a big sister!”
This was the best Christmas present for everyone.

Donna Wolz

Find the author on AMAZON
Photo: Pexels.com
THUNKA-THUNKA-WHEE
I watched in awe as the trees swayed as if dancing to the rolling thunder. Suddenly, nature went silent and the trees stood still. An eerie light lit the sky.
Thunka-thunka-whee.
Every nerve in my body fired at once as adrenaline raced through me and my hair stood on end. My legs refused to move.
Thunka-thunka-whee.
Searching for the source of the sound, I sank to the porch as my trembling legs gave way. Lying on the cold concrete, I realized the temperature had dropped. 
Thunka-thunka-whee.
Why in the world had I thought standing outside to watch it rain was a good idea? 
Thunka-thunka-whee.
My leaden arms and legs were too heavy to lift. While my heart galloped in my chest, I tried to force myself into a sitting position. With Herculean effort, I finally succeeded. Frantically, I looked around for something to defend myself. There was absolutely nothing on the porch. Why hadn't I left the broom when I swept?
Thunka-thunka-whee-whee.
If I died, who would care for Kitty and Buster? Scooting across the porch, I inched closer to the door. I grasped the doorknob and turned. How had I managed to lock myself out of the house?
Thunka-thunka-whee.
Using the doorknob, I pulled myself into a standing position. Could I make it to the garage before whatever was out there got to me? Slowly, I moved toward the garage. Edging through the hedge, I reached the garage door opener panel. Lifting the lid, I realized the panel was dark. The electricity was off!!
Thunka-thunka-whee-whee.
I punched in the code anyway. Nothing! Where can I hide? There was nowhere to hide.
Thunka-thunka-whee.
I was shivering in the cold night air. Maybe I'd freeze to death before whatever was out there got to me. Somebody would find my lifeless, frozen body. Not a pretty thought but...
Thunka-thunka-whee-whee.
Was I really going to give up without a fight? I wasn't a quitter. I'd faced tough situations before. Yeah, but I'd never been this scared before. Maybe I could break a window and get a knife from the kitchen. Of course, whatever was out there could also come in through the broken window but I'd be armed...
Thunka-thunka-whee.
Back on the porch, I stood in front of the window when it dawned on me: I had nothing to use to break the window. Once more, my legs gave way and I sank to the floor.
Thunka-thunka-whee-whee.
As something hit me in the chest and tapped my faced, I screamed... and woke up. Kitty was sitting on my chest batting my cheeks. It had all been a dream.
Thunka-thunka-whee.
Every nerve in my body went on high alert! The sound was real!
Thunka-thunka-whee.
The noise was coming from the floor. Holding my breath, I peeked over the side of the bed...
Thunka-thunka...
Relief flooded my body as I realized Buster was the source of the racket. He must be dreaming because his legs were 'thunking' against the dresser...
whee-whee...
...and he was snoring!

Toi Thomas

Find the author on AMAZON
Illustrated by Toi Thomas
THE FALL OF '54
Shay stared at the blank paper and sighed. The bell would ring soon, and she’d have nothing to turn in. “Write something,” her teacher had said, “something that the season inspires in you.” Shay had watched as her classmates, the children who looked nothing like her, all dove into their assignments with glee.
“If only they were me,” she thought, as she turned and stared out the window. Shay fought the smile threatening to lift the corners of her mouth when seeing another class at play. How happy they all looked. Running and jumping around. And then, she saw something that brought on a new battle.
Shay fidgeted in her seat, twisting her frown into the semblance of indifference as she watched the children begin to pick up leaves. Back and forth they ran, sharing and trading, all trying to gather as many unique samples as possible. Two boys gathered close to the window could be overheard, “This one’s almost the color of my boots and this one has streaks of red. “
Shay repeated the words in her head, “the color of my boots and streaks of red.” She looked around the room, for the first time noticing the seasonal decorations. She even dared to glance at the flyer for the Harvest ball to be held at the end of the week, the ball no one had expected her to attend. Who could she possibly go with anyway? No one else looked like her.
The ticking of the clock snapped Shay back to the urgency of her assignment. “Write something that the season inspires in you.” If she didn’t write something soon, she’d be in trouble and sent to detention again. At least this time, she’d actually have done something to earn it.
Shay sighed heavily and picked up her pencil. When a girl nearby looked her way, Shay turned her eyes and focused on her paper. With one more glance at the children outside, Shay began to write.  When the bell rang, Shay turned in her paper.
With his red pen in hand, Shay’s teacher decided to start with her paper.
Red, and yellow, and orange, and more,
All the colors, from sky to floor.
Heaped, and swept, and piled, and raked,
A mother yells, “For goodness sake!”
Floating and flying, drifting on by,
A mosaic scattered across the sky.
Gathered and bundled, twisted, and tied,
A perfect decoration, out or inside.
Smooth or cracked, pointed, or flat,
Tiny and round, thick on the ground.
Brown, and copper, walnut, and cherry,
Gold, and plum, rustic and merry.
Colors and shades, hues galore,
The beauty of fall, they all adore.
The colors of fall on things that don’t speak,
The colors of race, so long left weak.
Colors adored for decoration,
Colors singled out for oppression.
Colors of nature deemed a beauty to see,
Why can’t they see that beauty in me?
When Shay’s teacher was finished with her paper, he placed the red pen in his drawer.
THE CONTEST PARTICIPANTS

Cindy J. Smith

Find the author on AMAZON
 Illustration by Erika M Szabo
SEASONAL ROMANCE
The morning frost etched an icy pattern on Holly's heart. Like the trees outside her window, she felt the coming winter deep within.
Frank, the man she'd met this summer, came to pick her up for their picnic. The sunshine leaving no trace of Jack Frost's morning art.
"Isn't it too cold? Maybe we have waited too late to go to the lake."
"It will be fun Holly, it is warming up and by the time we get to the lake it will feel great! Come on, I have been waiting all week for this!"
Reluctantly, Holly got in his car. Looking out the window as he drove, she was surprised to notice the leaves had already begun changing colors.
"Frank, wasn't the frost this morning the first of the year? Why are the trees already turning?"
"Holly, are you serious?  It is the end of September, Autumn is in full swing. I can't believe you haven't noticed all the pumpkin stuff around."
"Hmm, I guess I was just lost in your smile."
Frank reached over and grabbed her hand, looking at her for a moment. He was not sure what, but something was off. Holly did not seem to be the same fun girl he went dancing with last night.
When they got to the lake, Frank grabbed the basket while Holly carried their blanket. "I'm glad we came, it is so pretty here."
Waves lapped the shoreline as Holly and Frank relaxed. A gentle breeze filtered through the trees. One colorful leaf floated by them.
Laughing, Frank said, "I wonder if that is a warning that things are changing."
Holly turned and faced him. The tears in her eyes told the whole story.  The leaf was an omen. Summer was ending, their new love was succumbing to the chill of the coming winter.

Grace Augustine

Find the author on AMAZON
Photo: Crystalinks
THE COLORS OF LOVE
“How many years have we been coming here?” Sharon asked.
“Sweetheart, you know the answer to that.”
Sharon slowly blinked and smiled coyly at the handsome man in front of her. She put her arms around his waist and laid her head on his chest.
“I know. I just like to hear it from you.”
Todd leaned against the massive maple tree, encircled his love in his arms, and sighed. He and Sharon had been together for twenty-seven years, and there wasn’t an October in that time they’d not hiked the Autumnal Trail. In fact, that’s where they met. He placed a sweet kiss on the top of her head and pulled her tighter to him.
“Well, I remember this sweet, young, high school senior who always had a camera around her neck,” Todd began. “It was mid-October, the colors were at their peak, and you were taking graduation photos of some of our classmates.
“You spotted me through the lens of your camera and quickly turned back to posing your subjects to get just the right shot.”
Sharon nodded her head and looked up, remaining silent as Todd continued with their story.
“I was right here watching you…distracted by your beauty…don’t laugh. I was spellbound. And, yes, I saw the blush that colored your cheeks. I walked slowly to where you were, occasionally picking up different colored leaves until I had what I thought was a beautiful bouquet to present to you. I was nervous, but when you smiled at me, I knew from that moment on we’d never be apart. I think you knew it, too.”
Todd backed up a bit and tipped Sharon’s face, so he could see her sparkling green eyes. He noted they still danced with mischief when she smiled, even though fine lines now formed a frame at their corners. He grabbed her left hand and brought it to his mouth for a kiss.
“I got down on one knee in this very spot, eighteen months after I met you, and placed this ring on your finger. I knew I couldn’t live without you.”
Todd paused as he thought about that day so long ago. Many things had happened, good and bad. The best part was that he and Sharon were together. Their love and strong commitment to each other saw them through whatever life tossed at them.
“It hasn’t always been easy, has it, babe?” Sharon asked.
“Life isn’t easy. We knew that when we recited our vows. When I said for better or worse, I meant it, sweetheart…forever, always, never walking alone again.”
Todd bent down and picked up a bouquet of leaves, as he’d done for the past twenty-seven years. He smiled and touched his forehead to Sharon’s before lightly kissing her.
Sharon took the colorful leaves from Todd’s hands, a tear running down her cheek.
“I love you, Todd. Forever. Always. Never walking alone again.”

Tanja Cilia

Find the author on her BLOG
 Illustration by Erika M Szabo
CALL ME
The calls with the withheld-number continued; always when I was alone.
I began leaving the phone switched off, but when I switched it on again, a call always came through – in real time.
I asked my children and my husband to swap phones. And the calls with the withheld-number switched to whichever phone I would be using at the moment. My migraines grew worse.
The Administration Department of my server told me I had to file a Police report since divulging who was calling me would violate the Data Protection Act.
I went to the Police Station and indicated the screen of the mobile phone, which showed no less than 20 "withheld-number" calls within two hours. The Policewomen was sympathetic but adamantly repeated what the clerk had said. She handed me a form to fill in, but I declined the offer.
As soon as I turned the corner, I smashed the phone against the wall, and then ground the debris my heel. I knelt, scooped up the pieces, and put them in my handbag, meaning to dispose of them bit by bit in each bin I came across.
I caught the bus to town and bought myself a new mobile telephone from a different server, asking each of the four clerks for a random pair of digits to make up my new number.
No sooner was the telephone functioning, then a withheld-number call came through. "See how popular you are?" joked the clerk. I nearly fainted. One of the young ladies ran to bring me a strong coffee; another gave me her chair. I told them the bare bones of what had been happening.  With them, the procedure was the same.
It was time to change my mind.
A trace was put on all the incoming calls to all the mobile phones belonging to the members of my immediate family so that I could continue to switch between using them. Abruptly, on Christmas Eve the calls ceased. But, just in case they began again, I did not report this.
On January 11, I was summoned to the Police Headquarters.
"Well? Did you find the culprit?"
The Sergeant smiled wryly. "Do you remember Rom Houben - that man with the locked-in syndrome, misdiagnosed as comatose for 23 years? Do you remember how he said his imagination helped him survive?" "Yes, but what does that have to do with the calls I've been receiving?"
"Do you remember Marija Refalo?" "Oh, yes.  We were best friends in Primary School… but we lost touch..."
"Marija had been on holiday here - she was the pregnant woman thrown through the windscreen in that accident where the bus overturned..."
"She'd lost the baby and was in a coma…?"
"Yes. At first, her husband had insisted on artificial nutrition and hydration. Then he suddenly decided he should pull the plug on her. Your calls came from her childhood home number...  The house is empty…"
I flinched. "It was Christmas Eve, wasn't it, when she died?"

Andi Lawrencovna

Find the author on AMAZON
 Illustration by Erika M Szabo
SOCRATES STRAWMAN
Snow was falling. Cars honked on the street at the increasingly slow traffic. If there were people walking, they walked with purpose, unwilling to linger in the cool fall air, far too cool for it to only be mid-October, and yet cold it was, and snowing it was, and they had to get from here to there.
A small boy lingered on a street corner.
He was dressed in rags, huddled against a signal post.
The passing cars didn’t intentionally spray him with sleet and salt as they passed, but the same sludge managed to strike him with most of the vehicles that drove by.
No one stopped.
He was crouched at the intersection of two streets. Behind him, not even a hundred yards away was a coffee shop. The rich scent of freshly brewed espresso filled the air. It managed to overwhelm the diesel fumes of trucks and the scent of the dead skunk lying crushed beneath a plow in the lane before him.
Only a dollar and change for a small cup.
But he didn’t turn towards the shop. And no one turned towards him.
That wasn’t quite true. Not entirely.
Inside the building, nose pressed to the window pane, breath fogging the cold glass as she stared, a little girl watched the boy. Her hands were clenched in her short dress. The white stockings her mother had dressed her in were dirtied at the bottom, wet from the snow. She wore an orange jumper. It had a smiling face embroidered in black across the front though Halloween was still days away, and the weather lied about the time of year.
She was warm though, and he looked cold, and though she could not see if he shivered, she could guess that he did.
Her mother patted her head and handed her a cup of hot chocolate. A small cup, barely a sip for an adult, but the treat was just grand for her. Enough for a gulp to warm her stomach and a gulp to share.
“I’m going to run to the bathroom, Amelia. Wait here. Watch Mommy’s coffee for her.”
The mother caused a commotion when she exited the loo and her daughter was missing. Strangers, once rooted to their coffees, stood in a hurry, searched under tables and behind cabinets and counters, not caring that the child wasn’t theirs but doing their best to find her all the same. None had seen her go, none remembered when she’d come either, but the mother was adamant and the patrons worried.
One looked outside.
Amelia stood next to the boy and her mother slid to her knees beside the girl.
“What are you doing out here? I thought you’d been kidnapped!” She hugged her daughter close, rocked the child, ignoring the spilled chocolate on the ground.
“I wanted to share…but he didn’t want any.”
The mother looked at the boy, a scarecrow, wilted with water, a sign on its chest:  Trick or Treat.

Erika M Szabo

Find the author on AMAZON
Illustration by Erika M Szabo
THE SEASONS OF LIFE
Charlotte was surprised when she got a call from her childhood friend, Daniel. She invited him for dinner. When Charlotte, a vigorous woman in her mid-sixties with silver hair framing her lovely face and lively blue eyes, opened the door, her heart sank a little when she saw a stooped, thin, and frail looking man with coiling oxygen tube in his nose.
He gave her an approving look and shuffled into the living room. Charlotte offered him a seat. “How did you find me, Daniel?” she asked trying to mask her sadness. “We haven’t seen each other for almost fifty years.”
“I knew you moved to New York after you married Carl and you have two children. Everyone said your marriage was wonderful. You worked as a nurse manager, and Carl was a lawyer. But now that your husband is gone, my third wife divorced me when I got sick, and my six kids care less what happens to me, I thought I’ll visit you. Two lonely people reunite.” He said gasping for air.
“Carl passed away six months ago,” Charlotte whispered. “I felt devastated and empty but now I’m starting to adjust to being alone.”
“Do you remember? We were best friends since we were babies. We made mud pies as toddlers, went to kindergarten, school and we played and studied together. We were inseparable…”
“I remember,” Charlotte replied. “When we were fourteen, you said you loved me and we had our sweet, first kiss. I was happy. We stopped playing and spent more time taking long walks and holding hands. We watched movies snuggled up close to each other on the couch and our tender kisses felt wonderful.”
“It was beautiful!” Daniel cried out. “I wish we could go back to change the past and stay together.”
“It was innocent and beautiful but as the months went by our relationship changed. Your kisses became longer and more urgent, and you wanted to kiss and touch me all the time. You kept saying, ‘I love you! Don't you love me? It will feel good, promise. Everyone’s doing it and I want you so bad, it hurts.’ It scared me and when you said, ‘If you don’t want me, there are other girls who do. You’re not the only one, you know!’ I pushed you away because I felt uncomfortable and betrayed.”
“I was a stupid teenager and my hormones were raging. Eva was willing and we had a baby boy when we were sixteen. I wish I could change everything… Charlotte, I still love you, always have. Now that we’re both alone, we should spend our old age together.”
Charlotte replied after a long silence, “Our lives are like seasons, Daniel. You made my early spring days wonderful but ruined my late spring. I spent an amazing summer and early fall with Carl. Sorry, I enjoyed our puppy love while it lasted, but now that the winter years are approaching in my life, I want to spend the time I have left with my children and my loyal friends who stood by me through every season.”

Charles Allen Gramlich

Find the author on AMAZON
Illustration by Erika M Szabo
SNOWFLAKE SANCTION
A dream woke Hank Jessup. He’d been a kid again in Minnesota, hearing Santa’s reindeer and sleigh jingling overhead in the sky. Sad that it wasn’t real, Hank took a flashlight and stepped onto his deck for fresh air.
December in southern Louisiana. Christmas Eve. The air hung heavy, humid, warm. Dark pines walled his lonely house. The moon painted his yard in shadows. A few frogs croaked out for love; he envied their hopefulness.
Hank had moved here thirty years ago for a job and a relationship. The latter had not worked out; they never did. The job, he’d kept, though he wasn’t a fan of southern heat. He’d seen two feeble snows that melted faster than ice in a microwave. He missed winter; no one should have their windows open at Christmas. 
Snow and cold cleanse the world.
Something winked, catching Hank’s eye. He looked up. Hundreds of fat white flakes came spiraling down through the moonlight.
Snow! he thought. It’s too warm. But what else could it be?
A smile tugged at Hank’s lips. He flashed back to childhood Christmases with mom and dad. His last happy times. Snow sledding. Warm soup. Tinsel and tree. Shiny presents. If snow cleanses the world, maybe this snow would cleanse his life, his soul.  Maybe, after whatever sins he’d committed to keep him alone at age sixty were whited away, he could start to live again.
Something like tiny voices caught Hank’s attention. He frowned. Hundreds of the white flakes had settled to earth now. Another landed on his deck railing. He reached to touch it, pulled suddenly back. It was no snowflake. He turned on his flashlight.
A tiny being cut away its pale parachute, then drew a silver tube from its belt. Hank wanted to laugh…and shriek. It was a tiny elf, with yellow, pinprick eyes and razor-pointed ears. And sharp, sharp teeth.
“Wait!” Hank said, throwing up his hands as the creature pointed its tube and shouted:
“Merry Christmas to all!”
A wintry blow stunned Hank. He dropped as if axed. He was awake, his eyes open. But he couldn’t move. A horde of tiny elves gathered around. One climbed onto Hank’s chest and aimed its silver tube at his face.
“Time to purge the naughty list forever,” it said.
Hank wanted to whisper that he’d always tried to be good, that he didn’t understand how he’d ever been that bad. He couldn’t make a sound.

All over the earth, the strange snow began to fall.

Tricia Drammeh 

Find the author on AMAZON
THE BATTLE OF HALLOWEEN
“Those monsters won’t sneak up on me this year.” Carol peeked behind from the curtains, ready for what she referred to as the Battle of Halloween.
In the past, the yearly vandalism had been a minor annoyance, but since her husband’s death last year, Carol had become obsessed with protecting her lonely home from the onslaught of toilet paper, eggs – and worse! In preparation for Halloween, she’d had security cameras installed. She also kept a fire extinguisher by the front door, ready to defend her property.
The first egg hit her front door with a splat. Three black-clad figures dashed across her lawn, sheets of toilet paper streaming behind them.
She grabbed the extinguisher, flung open the door, and sprayed one of the vandals right in the face. He fell to the ground. The other kids scattered.
The boy floundered on the lawn for a few moments, slipping in the wet grass.
“Stay right there,” she shouted as he gained his footing. “I’ve got you punks on camera, so there’s no sense in running away.”
The boy, who couldn’t have been much older than twelve, began to cry. “Please don’t call the cops. My stepdad will kill me.”
“Should have thought of that before you trashed my yard!”
“It’s just toilet paper.”
“And eggs. Last year it was garbage. Might not seem like a big deal to you, but that’s because you aren’t the one stuck with the mess.”
“I’ll clean it up. If you don’t call the cops, I’ll even come back tomorrow to do yard work. I swear.”
Carol felt a little sorry for the frightened boy whose “friends” ran away, leaving him to face the punishment they all deserved.
“All right. You might as well come in and get cleaned up if you’re going to be working for me.”
Reluctantly, the boy followed her inside. Carol handed him a towel.
“Why’d you do it? Vandalize my property, I mean.”
He shrugged. “My friends…”
“If they were your friends, they wouldn’t have left you behind.”
“I thought they were my friends,” he mumbled.
“Well, they aren’t.” She watched the boy’s expression change from wariness to confusion to betrayal. “Do you want some cocoa?”
“Um, I guess. I mean, yes please. Thank you.”
Well, at least he has some manners, she thought. He sat at the kitchen table while she made cocoa and warmed up homemade brownies in the microwave.
“I’m sorry,” the boy said. “I really am.”
“Apology accepted.” She stuck out her hand. “I’m Carol.”
“Robbie.”
“It’s nice to meet you. I expect to see you tomorrow after school. We’ll have a nice snack and then get to work.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
When Robbie left, Carol looked at her vandalized yard and smiled, certain there would be one less vandal next year. Maybe life would feel a little less lonely too – not just for her, but for Robbie who certainly needed a friend.
Carol had finally won the Battle of Halloween.

Frances Goodwin Joyce

Find the author on AMAZON
Illustration by Erika M Szabo
AUTUMN’S SOLACE
Sunbeams darted gingerly through the tree branches licking at a carpet of October frost.   The morning air stung her nostrils as she breathed in its coolness.  Veronica shivered as she turned the key and the engine sputtered to life.  The wiper blades groaned softly pushing dead leaves and little icy shards from her windshield.
She looked back at the home that wouldn’t be hers after today. The Realtor’s sign and the fall flowers, strategically arranged in pots that screamed with curb appeal, fading in her rear-view mirror.
Red, yellow and orange leaves crowned the treetops in the tidy yards she passed. Witches and goblins lurked among the pumpkins and hay bales denoting fall in the suburbs.
A lifetime ago they met at a freshman mixer on a balmy night in late September. He smelled of soap; his chestnut hair still damp from the shower. Thirty-five years later, she still remembered how he smelled that night and how the little flecks of gold sparkled in his brown eyes. Escaping the whoops and howls of the warriors at the Quarters tables and the blare of a dozen speakers linked haphazardly across the quad by thin brown wires, they went for a walk. Stan pointed to constellations in the clear night sky. Veronica couldn’t really see them, but she nodded and smiled as he identified Cygnus the Swan and Equuleus the Little Horse pulling her into his orbit with a first kiss.
On a starry fall evening much like that first night, they took forever vows. Time passed, season after season, year after year and the most miraculous things always happened in the fall. Her babies were born. Her children started school and as teenagers, they learned to drive on frosty mornings just like this.
Parents’ weekends and homecoming games were consolations accepted grudgingly for the kids replaced by interesting young adults who returned home to race through Thanksgiving dinner and abandon her for wonderful fall adventures of their own. Building a life…watching it fall to the ground like the autumn leaves she carefully raked and composted to make new and vibrant soil.
The attorneys hadn’t understood her reluctance for a fall settlement hearing. The divorce is happening – just get it over with.  
Stan insisted she was just being difficult – holding up his marriage to Sylvia out of spite. She wished it were spite. She wished she had even a spark of fight left, but “irrevocably broken” played in her head over and over.
The city was alive with color and motion as Veronica exited the Liberty Tunnel and headed toward the courthouse. The sun danced off the Liberty Bridge glittering and reflecting off the chilly waters of the Monongahela. The city trees resplendent in reds, yellows and oranges triggered a moment of clarity or perhaps a gift from above. As painful as this change was going to be she’d get through it because the most miraculous things always happened in fall.

Alan Zacher

Find the author on AMAZON
 Illustration by Erika M Szabo
I BELIEVE
The sun was setting on the choppy, cold water of Lake Winnow on this last day of October. Soon the full moon of Autumn would engulf the land and the small boat that the three middle-aged brothers had been in since early dawn.
“Pass that bottle back, Fred,” Gene, the youngest of the three, stated. “I’m cold.”
Sitting next to him at the rear of the boat, Fred barked: “Here … God-damn-it! Don’t drink it all. That’s the last bottle of the four bottles of whiskey that we brought with us.”
Author, who was sitting at the front of the boat, shook his head again in disgust.
“I won’t; I won’t,” Fred replied but took an extra-long drink. “Hell, there ain’t nothin’ else to do. I ain’t had a goddamn bite all day--hell, we ain’t even saw any fish”
Just then, a large, gold-colored fish appeared from the water; winked at Fred, and then disappeared again under the water.
“Did you see that!” Gene yelled, pointing at the water. “A goldfish just winked at me.”
“You’re drunk,” Gene stated.
“No, really,” Fred exclaimed. He looked up and out across the water. “Damn,” he said, “it’s gettin’ dark--and spooky. Well, it is Halloween--ghosts and witches … Do you believe in God, Gene?”
“Hell, yes, I believe in God.”
“Me too,” Fred replied. “I believe in--”
“You two are just nuts,” Author stated with disgust, shaking his head again.
“You been mean to us all day, Author,” Gene said.
“Yeah,” Fred agreed. “It ain’t our fault you lost your job and your wife left you.”
“No,” Author began, “but it’s your fault that you’re two losers in life. You,” he said, pointing to Gene, “have been in-and-out of jail all your life. And you,” he continued, pointing to Fred, “have had nothin; but shit jobs all your worthless life … I did somethin’ with my life--and what did it get me? NOTHIN”!” he yelled. “Nothin’ … I don’t believe in nothin’ … I don’t believe in witches, ghosts or God. Nothin’. I don’t believe in nothin’!”
Just then, the tip of his fishing-pole began to bend, hard.
“Hey,” Gene yelled, “you got a fish. Reel him in!”
After much struggle, Author caught the fish and got it into the boat: It was that large, gold-colored fish that had winked at Fred. Author removed the hook from its mouth and held it high in his hands and looked at it.
“Kind, Sir,” it said. “If you release me, I shall grant you a wish.”
As if hypnotized, Author gently returned the fish to the water.

Still in a daze, Author said: “Hand me that god-damn bott--hand me that bottle--I believe.”

Patty MacFarlane

Find the author on AMAZON
Illustration by Erika M Szabo
A SECOND CHANCE FOR ELIZABETH
“Good morning,” the angel said as Elizabeth approached the Pearly Gates.
“Good morning to you, too,” she replied. “I expected St. Peter.”
“St. Peter is having breakfast. I’m guarding the gates until he returns.”
“Oh, I guess you have to eat. I’d like some tea; may I go in?”
“I must look in the book.” He opened it and ran his fingers down the list of names, flipping pages as he went.
Taking longer than expected, Elizabeth began to fidget nervously.
“Ah, here you are.” The angel read what was written for quite some time.
“Is there a problem?” Elizabeth asked. “I know I haven’t been perfect; I’ve made mistakes in my life, but I have repented for them.”
“It’s recorded that you expressed great sorrow as you poisoned your husband, and begged forgiveness as you drank the tea that would end your life. It’s not a question of whether or not you can go in; it’s when you can go in.”
“Have I not been forgiven?”
“Oh goodness, yes. You just have a little soul work to do. Some call it penance.”
“It sounds like it’s related to penitentiary.” Elizabeth trembled. “Am I to be locked up? I’m an old woman suffering from arthritis.”
“Are you? Did you feel any pain walking to these gates? Have you looked in a mirror lately?”
“Now that you mention it, I’m not in pain.”
“There is no pain here.” The angel nudged some clouds away to reveal a full-length mirror. “And you are not old. See for yourself.”
Elizabeth gasped as she looked at her youthful image, and a tear trickled down her wrinkle-free cheek.
“Now, we will look at your soul.”
As her reflection faded into a radiant image, Elizabeth saw places where it did not shine. Great sadness overcame her.
“Do not fear. It’s a lovely soul. The beautiful glow represents the good you did. The dark spots, well ….”
“Oh dear, I can’t fix those now. I’m dead.”
“You’re not dead, Elizabeth, but you do have soul work to do.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Because you came before your appointed time, you must go back. Miranda inherited everything you owned. Your mansion will become a beautiful orphanage for children; your country estate will house children with all types of abilities—an enormous task for Miranda and you will help her.”
“But I left everything to my only son.”
The angel opened his wings and wrapped them around her. “Your son arrived before his time also, but it wasn’t your fault.”
Elizabeth sobbed into his chest. “I want to see him, hold him.”
“You shall. Soul work first. Ready?”
Elizabeth nodded. Another angel swept her into his arms, whispered instructions, and returned her to Earth.
Miranda answered the door of the familiar mansion.
“I’m here to help,” Elizabeth said, shivering.
“I’ve been praying all morning for help; there’s much to do. Come in out of this snowstorm, sit by the fire and get warm. You truly are a Godsend.”

Gustavo Bondoni

Find the author on AMAZON
Illustration by Erika M Szabo
FROZEN HEARTS
The Vampiric Inquisition was a funeral thing.  Black drapes hung over black walls beneath a black-lacquered roof.  Everyone wore black. 
The contrast with the Grand Inquisitor’s pale skin and bloodshot eyes was staggering.  He had exactly the kind of face that Jerome would have expected from the man with that particular title.
“Do you know why you’re here?” The Grand Inquisitor asked him.
“The summons said it was for excesses unbecoming a vampire.”
“Yes,” the Inquisitor said gravely—he probably wasn’t capable of any other expression.  “It’s a very serious charge. Vampires are the aristocracy of the undead.  We have a tradition to uphold.”
Jerome swallowed.  He’d heard stories of vampires who’d been found guilty of breaking tradition. 
“Is this about the shopping malls?”
The Inquisitor nodded.
“I was afraid of that… It’s just…”
Jerome bit back the excess of emotion.  Blubbering like some human defendant would not help his case.
“Yes?” the word was a stiletto in the suddenly silent courtroom.
Jerome faced the withering glare.  If this was how he went down, he’d do so with his pride intact.  After all, when he’d been born in Dorset nearly four hundred years earlier, he never imagined he’d live to see the new millennium.
“I’ve always found the holiday season to be a bit depressing.”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Well… it’s the expectation to be cheerful the need to get the perfect gifts.  It’s too much for me.”  He was suddenly angry.  “Don’t look at me like that.  I know a lot of people who overeat during the holidays.  I’ve seen some of our kind looking a little pudgy come January.  Whoever heard of a fat vampire?  Isn’t that also an excess unbecoming a vampire?”
Bodies shifted uncomfortably.  Some members of the august audience were certainly carrying a few extra pounds.
The Inquisitor was unmoved.  His gaunt features showed no signs of guilty eating.  “You murdered and consumed fourteen department store Santa Clauses.  Six elves, too, but we can forget about those.  That is a little more than a case of overeating due to holiday angst, don’t you think?”
“The humans will never suspect it was a vampire,” it was a weak thing to say.
“Of course not.  Humans are like sheep.  It’s the other undead we need to worry about.  How will this aberration look?”
Jerome thought furiously.  His life was at stake.
“We can say we did it on purpose.”
“What?” The Inquisitor was about to fly into a rage, and two bailiffs from a nightmare tensed.
“We can tell them that we did it for the good of humanity, that we kept tasteless men in red flannel and false beards from contaminating their youth.  Of course, I ate them afterward.  No need to waste good flesh.  Think of it, there are fourteen fewer Santa Claus monstrosities out there.”
The inquisitor was torn between amazement and indecision. 
“And six elves,” Jerome said in desperation.
The gavel came down. 
“Case dismissed.” 

A.L. Butcher

Find the author on her BLOG
Illustration by Erika M Szabo
THE LAST DANCE
The Dancer whirled and twirled in the field, clad in nought but leaves of gold, red and bronze, on her skin of moss green and brown. Her legs splayed wide as the roots they were before they snapped together with the crack of wood on wood. Arms weaved, branches all, in the complicated ritual only her kind knew and scattered about acorns for the birds, squirrels and other creatures who knew her secrets. Wind curled around her, laden with moisture and clouds of ash-grey tumbled in the sky. Yet the Dancer had seen it all before, year after year, the Dance continued. Even when the Goddess had become angry at the human meddling and brought the storms which battered human, beast and tree alike. Of late the Goddess was angered a good deal, and the land suffered.

This year, as so many times before she had been Dancing since the Spring brought the thaw, and tentative green coloured her limbs. A slow Dance, unsure, just awakened from slumber yielded to the frenzy of the summer, with her crown of brightest green and the glory of her canopy. Yet she knew, as did all her kind, that such dances could not last. Such power, such energy, such glory called for a price and so once more her dance was closing. Some fell to the wind; some fell to sickness or weakness, and some to the axe. Some fell when the Great Slumber came, the land froze, and the sun hid and when the Goddess slept. Each year the dance became a little harder, the wind a little stronger, and the summer a little shorter and the Goddess despaired all the more.She did not rate the passing of time as you and I might do. Her time was the march of the seasons, the rhythm of the Dance and the Growing Time. Yet each one brought a little less and took a little more.

This Dancer was old, for she’d been born long before the coming of the machines; before the mighty metal birds who roared far above, and before the destructive monkeys wrought their worst. She had Danced when all was young and supple, flicking back and forth – yet not confident. The elders had looked on, and shaken branches which had said – youth of today, no staying power – but one by one they had left the Dance. And now only she remained. She had danced when the wagons had rolled past, and the horses had ploughed the fields to the east. And she had danced when the axes came.

Why she had been spared, the Dancer knew not and so she danced and grew ever larger. But the Great Dance had to end. As the last of her leaves swirled to the ploughed earth, a winding sheet of her own making, the drone of the chainsaw started. The time for the Last Dance was over and the Goddess wept.

BoĆ°vegr Rosenson

Aspiring author
Illustration by Toi Thomas
THE NIGHT BEFORE
“One Galileo. Two Galileo... Six Galileo... Thirty-four Galileo… Alright! Time to go out. I can’t fall asleep anyway.”
Sleep always eluded Chaylor, so this night was no different for him. Slowly, ignoring the pain in his leg from the three metal slugs, he put on his boots, grabbed the grease-stained coat from the chair next to him and headed out. It was colder than usual and even the sentries that were supposed to regulate their shifts at this time were home. Chaylor stretched his back, feeling his backbone crack a few times and looked up at the sky. He was always fascinated by the stars, after all, they helped him a great deal in his job, and seeing the fuzziness around *Boahjenastir made him realize he might need new contact lenses soon.
Walking down Pastry alley, Chaylor put on his headphones loading his favorite audiobook on celestial navigation. He listened and read dozens of them, even wrote a few, but this one was his favorite. It was special- a gift from the missus herself.
As Chaylor approached the hot spring fountain he stopped and stared at the window of Bushy Evergreen’s shop. “One day,” he said. “One day you’ll be mine.”
The object he was staring at was the most beautiful thing in town to him. The golden shimmers entangled around the topaz-dust numbers engraved by the finest craftsmen on the index bar and the telescope, with the F8 telescope mirrors, gave him chills.
“Now this was a fine sextant indeed. One day…”
For Chaylor there was nothing more important than his job. As far back as he could remember he was always fixing things, improving them. The journey from fixing to inventing was a long one, but he was ok with the sacrifices along the way. He did not consider himself a workaholic, after all, his work gave him joy like nothing else could. By the time his favorite audiobook ended, the morning shift bells rang.
“Alright!” he said with a smile. “Time to go to work! It's time to make Mr. Kringle's sleigh fly again.”

*The Sami name for the polaris (north star).

We hope you enjoyed the stories,
click to share the page with your friends. Thank you!

Click HERE to read our previous posts