Monday, December 31, 2012

The Latest Bzz...Lean Cuisine Salad Additions



If you're tired of the usual lunch choices, you might want to give Lean Cuisine Salad Additions a try. This is one of several current BzzAgent campaigns that I've joined recently. As a BzzAgent, I received a coupon for a free Salad Additions and was super excited to try it out.

Unfortunately, my local Kroger didn't stock this product until the past week. And my local Wal-Mart Supercenter only carried the Asian-Style Chicken variety, which contains sesame. And sesame = terrible hives for me, so that one was a no-go. Luckily, my second home is Kroger, so I happened to find all four offerings last week in a new freezer end-cap display.

My Bistro Chicken salad from Lean Cuisine
I picked up the Bistro Chicken variety and just made it for lunch today (New Year's Eve). With grilled chicken, red & yellow bell peppers, and asparagus, it can't get much healthier. Add the sweet & tangy vinaigrette with bacon and crispy onion straws, and it's a nice combination of color and textures.

The assembly is not quite as easy as picking up a salad from a restaurant or deli, but far simpler than making your own salad from scratch. You simply thaw the dressing packet while you microwave the chicken & veggie pouch. Put your lettuce (this you buy separately) in your bowl or plate, and add everything else on top.

While I can't say the final product knocked my socks off, it definitely wasn't bad. I added it to a portion of a mixed garden green bagged salad. Loved the color and textures of the veggies and onion straws, but overall, I felt the chicken to be lackluster. It tasted a bit bland and several pieces were spongy. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't buy it again without a coupon when I could buy an entire McDonald's salad for not that much more (and they're tastier--sorry Lean Cuisine).


Friday, December 28, 2012

In Honor of the Nickel-Nasties

**ALL spots are now claimed! Stay tuned for a month of romance-inspired articles!**

In honor of my first scathing Amazon review (1 out of 53 ain't bad), I'm hosting a new series for the month of February. I thought about crying and going on a week-long chocolate binge...ok, so I did the latter. Hey, I got chocolate in my stocking for Christmas! Don't judge!

Anywho, I want to honor all the "nickel-nasties", as the trollish reviewer called A Ranger's Tale. I'm assuming this term refers to any stories with s-e-x in them *gasp*, so writers and readers of romance, whip out your pens. Let us unite to inform the world why we write, read, and love the romance genre. 

What I want from you guest posts related to the romance genre, 500 words or less, along with your bio, profile pic, and if you're an author--book cover(s), blurbs, & buy links.  Send your completed guest post (with all the other info attached) in a Word doc to mystiparker@yahoo.com.

 **For the sake of our mixed audience, please keep all submissions PG.**

To make the whole process (hopefully) easier to schedule, here's this little linky I set up so you can just type in your name and your preferred date in February when you would like your post to appear here on Unwritten. 


Just in case, please also leave a comment here with your preferred date so I can make sure things are working correctly.

Schedule so far:

Vallory Vance-Feb 1
Lisa Tapp-Feb 4
Mysti Parker-Feb 5
Leona Pence-Feb 6
Jody Vitek-Feb7
Donna Michaels-Feb 8
Bellakentuky-Feb11
AJ Joseph-Feb 12
Tori L. Ridgewood-Feb 13
L.K. Killian-Feb 14
Josie Malone-Feb 15
Travis Casey-Feb 18
Ruth J Hartman-Feb19
Tara Fox Hall-Feb 20
Cristina Rehn-Feb 21
Sandy Loyd-Feb 22
Jenny Twist-Feb 25
Lindsey Loucks-Feb 26
Von Rupert-Feb 27
Misty Rayburn-Feb 28

Topic ideas:

  • When did you first fall in love with romance?
  • Who have been your favorite romance authors of all time, and why?
  • How do you respond to criticism against your genre or written works?
  • How do you write (or prefer to read) love scenes in romance?
  • Your views on the latest trends in romance (vampires, weres, etc).
  • Your preferences on reviewing and being reviewed.
  • True stories of your own experience with love.
  • Unique marketing ideas for us nickel-nasty authors.
  • Or whatever you wish, as long as it relates to romance!!



Here's to all the nickel-nasties out there, their authors, and readers. Let's make the month of February worth a whole heap of nickels! ~Mysti



Monday, December 24, 2012

Winners of the Christmas Flash Fiction Contest!

Congratulations to these three winners of Unwritten's first annual Christmas Flash Fiction contest!


They've won some fab prizes:

1st Place-1 year Membership to Writer's Village University ($99 Value! Donated by Bob Hembree)
Christmas Collectibles (anthology, ePub or Kindle, donated by Stan Hampton Sr.)
1 Copy of Snowflake Girl by John Steiner (PDF)
1 Print (US) or E-Book (International) of Christmas Lites II (anthology, donated by Mysti Parker)
 2 Hand-Crocheted Snowflakes (US Winners Only: made and donated by Sherry Derr-Wille)
Collectible Ornament (US Winner Only, donated by Leona Pence)
1 Interview Here on Unwritten

2nd Place- $20 Amazon Gift Card (donated by Leona Pence)
Warm Christmas Wishes (anthology, PDF, donated by Mel Jacob)
Collectible Ornament (US Winner Only, donated by Leona Pence)
1 Copy of Snowflake Girl by John Steiner (PDF)
1 Print (US) or E-Book (International) of Christmas Lites II (anthology, donated by Mysti Parker)
 2 Hand-Crocheted Snowflakes (US Winners Only: made and donated by Sherry Derr-Wille)
1 Interview Here on Unwritten

3rd Place- 1 Copy of Snowflake Girl by John Steiner (PDF)
1 Print (US) or E-Book (International) of Christmas Lites II (anthology, donated by Mysti Parker)
 2 Hand-Crocheted Snowflakes (US Winners Only: made and donated by Sherry Derr-Wille)
1 Interview Here on Unwritten

These six stories all made it into the finalist category, so here they are in no particular order:

A huge, heartfelt thank you goes out to my wonderful husband, Bryan, for once again being our blind judge! He wanted to be sure to give an honorable mention to this story, to which he adds, "It didn't make the top three, but it sure wasn't for lack of trying!":



All 34 stories were unique and wonderfully suited for the holiday. I read and enjoyed each and every one, and I'm glad I didn't have to choose the winners! Thanks to everyone who submitted stories, donated prizes, read and left comments. Your support and participation made this so much fun that I'm already planning more contests for next year!

Until we meet again, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Joyful New Year!! ~Mysti

Sunday, December 23, 2012

CFF Update #3



I thought I'd add one more quote from the blind judge (my hubby, who isn't blind at all):

"I've cried three times today. I think my manhood's been compromised."

He's narrowed the pile down to nine stories. Out of those, he'll be picking a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winner. And tomorrow, I'll announce them!

Until then...Merry Christmas Eve Eve! ~Mysti

Saturday, December 22, 2012

CFF Update #2

I think the blind judge is getting down to the wire and will be looking over the "potential" pile soon. His most recent comment:

"Well, now, that's a new one."

Really, I don't envy him. He's got quite a nice potential pile to choose from. Thanks again to everyone who submitted such thoughtful and unique stories. I love all the variety! ~Mysti

CFF Update #1


As I'm wrapping presents and making goodies, the blind judge (my hubby, who isn't actually blind) is studiously reading through the submissions and making interesting comments. I thought it might be fun to note them here:

"It's ok to write out of the box, just don't lose the damn box."

Friday, December 21, 2012

CFF #34: Joy in a Cup by Mariam Smith


**Submissions for this contest are now CLOSED. Look for more contests in 2013!**

What might seem like an insignificant act of kindness can sometimes touch hearts more than we know. I hope you'll let Mariam Smith's story inspire you to find a way to bless others, no matter how small the blessing may seem. Read on, leave a comment, and most of all, I wish every one of you a merry Christmas and joyous New Year! 

by

Mariam Smith

She was nothing more than a scrawny girl in a worn tweed coat with missing buttons.  The wear of her clothes reflected a life of loss, and the lackluster shag of her dirt brown hair matched the dull stare of her dark green eyes.

Her face seemed too young to be written over with an expression of such sorrow.  Never before had I seen such a heartbreaking sight as the form of this child.  Yet, with nobody else had I experienced such a bittersweet moment.

It happened as the holidays were fast approaching, and the bustle of shoppers darting left and right across the shop-lined street created just enough chaos for the extraordinary to go unnoticed.

Normally, I wouldn’t say that I’m one who takes notice of detailed things.  But since the day I did, there seems to be a reason to look for the things that go beyond my understanding.

I was sitting on a bench just outside my wife’s bakery, and the trees, arches, and windows all displayed the usual Christmas decorations.  Though my coat kept me shielded from the cold, a hot chocolate in my hand during the chilly times wasn’t an unfamiliar sight.

Upon bringing the lid of the cup to my mouth, I happened to peer through the rising steam, and lo and behold, across the street, in an alley, leaning slumped against a building, was the slender figure of Amelia Fawkes.  Watching me.

I drew a sharp breath, choking on the drink.  I thought I saw a smile dart across her face, fleeting.  I remember thinking maybe I’d imagined it. Maybe Amelia Fawkes hadn’t found my choking on hot chocolate amusing at all, and it’d been only a trick of light from the store at her side.

Either way, I found myself walking toward Amelia, like she had me in a trance.  As if her sorrowful expression had somehow captivated my heart.  Thoughts flickered as I neared her.  Thoughts of how she was the daughter of the notorious town banker, infamous for swindling new folks, and feasting like a king in the most expensive restaurants, while his family was never in sight.

Oh, yes.  My heart panged when I saw Amelia.  All I wanted to do, then, was get this girl to smile.

“Hey there,  Amelia!” I said, trying to sound cheerful.

She didn’t respond. 

She remained staring at the same spot.

I bit the inside of my cheek, thinking fast. The hot chocolate! Of course, I thought.

“Would you care for some hot chocolate?” I said.

Her eyes flickered to my face, then the cup, then back to the same point.

Encouraged, I knelt to be eye level. “Here,” I said. “You can have it! It’s too chilly out to not have a steaming cup of hot chocolate.”

I smiled.  Hesitance glistened in her eyes.  “Go on, Amelia.  It’s the most delicious hot chocolate you’ll ever try!  I would know; I made it, see? Now, don’t go telling my wife that.  She thinks she makes the best cup of hot chocolate in the world but,” I dropped  my voice, leaning in, “between you and me. . . mine’s better.”

I winked.  Her eyes lit up.  A little giggle slipped out her mouth and she covered her face with a bare hand.  “Here,” I offered again.

She accepted the drink with a tentative grin.  Her eyes positively sparkled, then.  A lush green against the face that was nearly pale as the previous night’s snow.  I had never seen anybody look so delighted by a gift before, even ones that were worth a significant amount more. 

“Thank you,” she said, softly.

“You’re very welcome, mademoiselle,” I said warmly, laughing.

She squinted past my shoulder, then.  “I think your wife is calling you,” she said.

I turned, and the silhouette of my wife lifted an arm and waved across the street.  I waved back, to let her know I’d be there soon.  She turned and walked inside.

I looked towards Amelia again.  The guilt of leaving weighed on me.  I didn’t want this girl to be left again, to stand shivering across the road, while I was grading papers in the cozy backroom of the shop.  Then I got an idea. “Say,” I said. “Amelia, would you like to come warm up in my wife’s bakery?  It’s awfully warm in there, and I bet I could swipe you a few cookies.  What do you say?”

Her smile remained, but with a note of sadness to it. 

“You’ve shown me enough kindness, sir.  I only hope you continue to be this kind, to not forget your kindness.  And, if it’s not too much of a burden, to remember me, and my many thanks to you.”

It was then that I noticed her bell-like voice had a brittle edge.  As though, if she were to cough, the voice could shatter, and be lost.  She was sick.

“Amelia! You’re not- dying, are you?”

She didn’t answer.  Just smiled and said, “Thank you, Mr. Shepherd.  Now go, please.”

My heart felt wrenched, but I stood.  Turned.  And walked back to the bakery.  Snowflakes began to flutter from the sky, and the sun was just sinking under the distant buildings.

I turned one final time before walking inside.

The next day, word got around that the death of a child, Amelia Fawkes, had occurred at approximately 11:52 PM.  Cause of death: hypothermia.  Her coat was found cradling the baby of a mother, living in a shack a few alleys away from her location.  No sign of struggle was noted.

Hearing the news left me stunned.  I remembered Amelia’s wave goodbye, as I turned to look at her for the final time.  The snow, dancing at her palms.  The faint light, fanning from her head.  The star that appeared directly over her form, beaming down. 

Kindness will live because of you.  I won’t forget you, Amelia Fawkes, I thought.

And to that day, countless years ago, I haven’t. 

****
Bio: Mariam Smith is a senior at Oldham County High School in Kentucky.  She will be attending UofL during the fall of 2013, and hopes to explore the realm of writing and the English language.  She attended the Governor's Scholars Program this past summer, and was involved in the focus area of creative writing.  

CFF #33: Close to the Heart by Tori L. Ridgewood


**Submissions for this contest are now CLOSED. Look for more contests in 2013!**

You better have tissues handy for this one. Tori L. Ridgewood will have you sniffling for sure, especially if you ever miss family at Christmastime. You can do it--just read on and do leave a comment!

by

Tori L. Ridgewood
       
      The silence on the other end of the phone revealed more than words would have communicated.  

     ”I’m sorry, Mom.”  She held Anthony’s eyes as she spoke, willing her voice to stay steady.  ”It’s just not going to happen.”

       ”You can’t miss any more family events, Nina.” 

       She watched her husband set the baby in the playpen.  He came around behind her to rub her shoulders, kneading the hard knot that had grown beside her spine.  ”I appreciate how you feel, but our kids have been through enough.  They’ve hardly gotten to see their dad in the last two years, I don’t feel comfortable leaving them with strangers in a strange city.  They need routine, not upheaval.”

      ”We could take turns babysitting, during the wedding.  Instead of hiring a sitter they don’t know.”

     ”That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.  I’m sorry, but I can’t do it.  We’re not going.”
*
     Nina wandered alone through the crowd of happy holiday revelers.  Although her husband’s encouragement and her friends’ cajoling had convinced her that coming out for the last night of the Dark Lake Festival of Trees was better than hiding out at home, somehow she felt more empty among the smiling, flushed faces than she would have if she’d stayed curled up on the couch.  Pausing to look over a tall Douglas Fir sprigged with blue silk bows and pearl swags, Nina hugged herself as waves of conversation rose and ebbed around her.  Conversations not involving Nina Bradford.
     Three months had passed since that last, tension-filled conversation with her mother.  Three months, and not another word had been spoken between them.
     Curling up under a fuzzy blanket on the couch with a cup of tea and a book would have been infinitely preferable to feeling sad and invisible at this holiday party.
     She drifted past a lovely spruce, decked out in traditional Victorian fashion, with tiny battery-operated candles, burgundy velvet bows, lace garlands and spicy scented balls of potpourri.  The hall was lined with six-foot Christmas trees decorated in styles ranging from futuristic to conventional, under swags of cedar boughs and plaid ribbons.  It was simply breathtaking, but Nina couldn’t appreciate it.  She fingered a prickly branch sprinkled with fake snow, gently touched a palm-sized pink feather wreath on the breast cancer awareness tree, trying to arouse some holiday spirit.  Even though it was nice to have a break from the children, she half wished that Anthony had come with her.  No-one else appeared to be alone.  This was an event meant for sharing with a partner, family, or friends.  
*
     ”The wedding, the funeral, and the reunion — it’s an opportunity for your family to meet your children.  It’s all in one weekend, so there will be less travel for everyone.  You should come and see everyone.  It’s hard for your brother, too, you know.”
     ”We just can’t do it, I’m sorry.”
     ”What if we paid for the trip?”
     “No. If it came down to an offer of money, I’d rather have help with the leaky roof and our plumbing.”

*
     Nina rose onto her toes, scanning the crowd for the tenth time in the hopes of sighting someone she knew.  Jenn, Debra, Allison — after all the fuss they’d made about her lack of social involvement, her friends and colleagues weren’t even there to meet her.  She was a spare wheel.  The people here already had their companions, their personal connections and special friends; the evidence was all around her.  It would have been nice to see someone she knew, though.  To have someone to talk to.  To feel like she belonged here, among the happy people.
     The brass band at the far end of the hall wrapped up their set for a five minute break.  ”Still plenty of time left in the silent auction, folks!” The master of ceremonies, a spritely little old man in a tuxedo, spoke into the microphone as the players tidied their sheet music.  ”Every tree goes for charity, don’t forget!” 
     ”I’m sorry, we got held up.” 
     Nina turned around. Deb was standing behind her, smiling. “Jenn’s taking care of our coats,  Allison’s parking the car.  I just had to get in here and bid on this gorgeous thing.”
     ”Really?” Nina couldn’t help her laugh. “Deb, that tree is made of white feathers.  It looks like a goose molted all over it!”
     Deb’s eyes gleamed mischievously. “I know, it’s absolutely darling, really haute couture.  My mother will just die when she sees it!  Aw, honey, I’m sorry.”
     Nina brushed at the wetness that had suddenly spilled from one eye.  ”No, it’s okay.  I’m just — wishing things were different right now.”  The compassion in Deb’s expression made Nina feel uncomfortable.  ”I know she would love this, you know?  I wanted to call her so many times, and tell her all about our project. But the longer she goes without calling me, the harder it is for me to call her.  And I need my mom.” Her voice failed as more tears threatened. “Sorry, I don’t mean to be so emotional.”
     Right on time, Jenn and Allison appeared, lidded containers of tea in hand.  Nina swallowed, trying to smile without much success. “Hooray for the cavalry,” she whispered, accepting a hot cup and the hugs that came with it.
     Her eyes blurring, she didn’t see who the fourth person who embraced her, but she recognized the scent of freesia immediately.   
     “Mom?”   
     “Hi, sweetie.” The voice close to her ear both soothed and welcomed. 
     Nina squeezed her mother more tightly, before stepping back to see if it really was her. “What are you doing here? I’m so glad to see you, but why--”
     “Your friends called me. They said you needed me.” Her mother smiled at her with brimming eyes. “Your dad’s here, too.”
     Nina couldn’t find the words to respond.  Around her, voices were singing ‘Joy to the World’. Instead of joining in, she simply reached out and took her mother’s hand.
****
BioTori L. Ridgewood is a married mother of two and a teacher in Northeastern Ontario.  She enjoys reading a wide variety of classic and contemporary literature, including romances, ghost stories, horror fiction, and fairy tales. Tori began writing short stories and plays in her childhood to entertain, frighten, and gross out her friends. She loves listening to an eclectic mix of music, taking her dog on long walks, and curling up with a hot cup of tea, a good book, and a tasty doughnut during a blizzard. In addition to writing, Tori’s creative past times include needlework (quilting, cross-stitching, and embroidery), making and collecting miniature furniture, traveling, and over-thinking movies. She’s a history buff, a Trekkie, and a practicing Wiccan.



For excerpts, publishing news, and contests, see my blog: 
Romance and Other Dangers, torilridgewood.wordpress.com

I love questions, comments, and feedback! 

Follow me, won't you please?
Twitter: @ToriLRidgewood



CFF #32: Last Christmas by AJ Joseph

**Submissions for this contest are now CLOSED. Look for more contests in 2013!**

Ouch. This bittersweet story by AJ Joseph will surely turn your heart into a pincushion. But, don't take my word for it. Read on and do leave a comment, would ya? 

by

AJ Joseph

23rd December 2011

Margaret tapped her feet on the floor as she sat on the plush sofa while attempting to sing along to Wham’s Last Christmas. She was waiting for Simon, her best friend, to return with the glass of punch he’d promised to get her. That was 15 minutes ago.

“Last Christmas...mmmm...my heart...mmmm...next day....you....mmmm...away. This year...mmm…semi-frontier...mmm -

“- save me from tears,” a laughing voice said next to her. “It’s save me from tears, Mar, NOT semi-frontier.” Simon sank into the sofa next to her and handed her the glass of punch that was now lukewarm. Warm punch, she thought, Ugh. “Only you’d butcher a perfectly good song.”

“I know that, Simon. Semi-frontier sounds better though.”

It was Jolene’s annual Christmas party and she’d invited everyone she knew, including most she didn’t. It was a crush. The music was so loud, Margaret had to shout in Simon’s ear whenever she wanted to tell him something.

She was supposed to be at the party with her boyfriend, Alex but at the last minute, he’d told her that his folks had asked him to help them with an errand. He’d given her a kiss on the forehead, like a little girl and told her that he’d meet her at Jolene’s. She pouted but he’d already walked away and missed it. Something was up. She felt it. He seemed distant.

So, here she was waiting and still no sign of her errant boyfriend. She took a deep breath, let it out with a whoosh and brought the glass of warm punch to her lips. She could smell vodka in it and scrunched up her nose. Oh well, it wouldn’t be a wild Christmas party without a little spiked punch.

As the liquid touched her lips she heard - CLINK! CLINK! CLINK!

“What the -?” Margaret put the glass down and looked around What WAS that sound? Everyone else seemed to be occupied, even Simon. The sound must’ve been her imagination then.

Margaret lifted the glass to her lips again and was ready to take her first sip when - CLINK! CLINK! CLINK! “Jeez! What IS that sound???”

“I think it’s coming from inside your glass,” said Simon next to her. She glanced at him then peered into the glass. Inside her glass? Yeah right. It was only vodka, punch and ice.

She scrutinised the contents of her glass. Wait, one of the ice looked a little more shiny than usual. Ugh. Foreign matter. She fished the ice out of the glass and held it in front of her eyes even as the drips slid down her arms. There was something embedded in it.

Suddenly, Simon exclaimed “It’s a ring!” She startled. She’d forgotten that she wasn’t alone.

The ice melted slightly and she could make out the curved edges of the object. Huh. Simon was right. She was turtle slow that night. She picked at the ice until most of it had melted and eventually pulled a silver ring out from its cold prison. It was exquisite - the setting was a heart-shaped turquoise. It was the exact ring she had been coveting several weeks ago when she and Alex had stopped at Elixir, a jewelery store in the mall. She’d admired the ring in the display and had almost forgotten Alex beside her until he’d tugged at her arm and reminded her that they were going to be late for the movie if they didn’t get a move on. She turned to look at him, her eyes glazed from admiration. He had a small smile on his lips.

Margaret heard someone clearing their throat and looked up, her brown eyes met with Alex’s hazel ones. He stood at the doorway to Jolene’s living room looking down at her, love shone from his eyes, a roguish grin on his lips. “Phew, thought you were going to swallow it. Then my whole plan would’ve gone down the drain.” Margaret was sure that her mouth was opening and closing like a goldfish out of water by then.

He walked towards her and kneeled down. Taking the ring gently from her hands, he slipped it on Margaret’s finger. “Mar, I love you. I’ve loved you since you spilled popcorn all over me at the movies.” She chuckled then, remembering their awkward first date.

“Will you marry me?” The ring fit like a glove, snug and warm.

There was a moment of silence then Margaret flung her arms around his neck shouted “Yes! Oh, yes!”

“Merry Christmas.” He whispered against her lips. Merry Christmas thought Margaret. The merriest Christmas of all.

23rd December 2012

Simon held Margaret’s hand. Or rather she gripped his. Tight. “Are you sure about this?” His concern evident in his voice.

Margaret gave him the best fake smile she knew she had in her. “I’m sure. I’m fine. I’m good, Simon.” She squeezed his hand again in reassurance.

“Don’t give me your best fake smile. I taught you how to do that. It’s good though. You’ve been practicing.”

She let a chuckle slip before the heartbreak slid in place.

“Come on, the ceremony’s about to start.” He pulled her forward as they took their seats in the last pew in the church. As it was, they were late.

She heard the priest say “Repeat after me, please. With this ring, I thee wed.” The glowing brunette with the twinkle in her eyes repeated it and gave her groom a smile rivaling a sunset.

Then it was the groom’s turn to declare his commitment. “With this ring, I thee wed.”

Margaret watched, transfixed as Alex slipped the silver ring with the turquoise heart setting, identical to the one Margaret kept in a box in the drawer in the wardrobe of her apartment, onto the slender finger that was not hers.

Margaret clutched Simon’s arm tight, a lone tear tracked down her cheek. Merry Christmas, she wished herself. Merry Christmas.

****

AJ is a bookaholic, semi-insomniac, unsuccessful recovering java-holic and most importantly, an aspiring writer. Her first writing piece was a poem about stars which she wrote when she was eight years old. She's been in and out of writing since then, trying to fit it in between work and travels. She's recently decided to give writing her all and in the new year will be re-structuring her life around her first love - words. 


CFF #31: The Girl on Christmas Hill by Joseph Jin


**Submissions for this contest are now CLOSED. Look for more contests in 2013!**

We've got a few more stories for you from our last day of submissions, including this whimsical piece from Joseph Jin. Even when the Christmas story has been silenced by a Scrooge of a ruler, the magic lives on, and two lucky children are witness to it. Read on and please leave a comment...

by

Joseph Jin

In the first year of his reign, King Ebenezer II decreed that Christmas and all the "humbug" that went along with it would henceforth be outlawed throughout the dominion. But, being a wise and benevolent ruler, he allowed for a single desolate hill on the outskirts of the capital to be exempt from his decree. There, anyone could celebrate Christmas to their heart's content.

But year after year, nobody dared to set foot on what came to be known as Christmas Hill. Everyone knew that displaying any interest in the outmoded holiday would result in universal ridicule, not to mention a significant increase in your taxes which the king had specified in Article 7 of the Holiday Tax Code, aka The Humbug Tax.

Ebenezer had ruled twenty years by the time I became ten and old enough to understand the matter of Christmas Hill. I could see the Hill from the apartment where I lived with my parents and seven-year-old sister Erika. To my imagination, Christmas Hill was hideous and seemed to be entirely covered in vulture droppings, so I never would have taken the trouble to visit the place, regardless of what the king and his many agree-ers might say about it.

But trouble did come one day. I was standing on the balcony minding my own business and chewing on some chestnuts that had been roasted in a microwave oven, when I heard Erika singing a most peculiar melody:

“Like the sound of bees in winter,
My voice can still be heard;
On Christmas Hill I’ll gather
The youngest of your dreams;
     I’ll sing to you the lot of them
          Without a single word."

“Where did you learn that song, Erika? Certainly not at school?”

She sat on the sidewalk below me. She said, “the girl on Christmas Hill sings it sometimes.”

“Come on. We both know that no one lives up there,” I told her. But Erika did not answer, so I went down to see what was the matter. Normally, she is such a talkative girl.

When I got to her, she was quietly weeping. “We have to go to the Hill. You have to meet her,” she said.

“Erika, tell me what’s going on. Why are you upset?”

“I wrote a poem about Christmas at school today. Nobody was supposed to see it. But teacher took it away from me. Everyone was laughing and making fun of me. I don’t ever want to go back to school again. I don’t care. I’m going to live on the Hill for the rest of my life. When they were laughing, everything became quiet at the same time, and I could hear that song. I know that song. She sings it to me a lot. But that’s the first time I really listened.”

“Look, you’re just upset. Take a little time, and everything will feel better. Let’s go and eat. You haven’t had lunch yet, have you?” Erika followed me without enthusiasm. At the kitchen table, she chewed mechanically at her sandwich while her eyes drifted off to some private microcosm.

Weeks went by like this. And when I looked up at the hill and looked at Erika, it became clear to me that this was not just a phase for her. I found myself packing a bag full of food and clothing and taking her on a long walk - towards Christmas Hill.

We had started at mid-morning and reached the base of the hill just before nightfall. The slope ahead was dark and pathless. The air was bitterly cold. I turned to Erika to see if she needed another jacket, but she only said, “You have to listen.”

All I could hear was the slight whistle of the breeze. My eyes followed the last sliver of sun, and that was when it became quiet enough to feel my cold skin vibrating a little. Though the silence remained, the vibration only grew stronger, until it began to drone with full force throughout my body. The heat was intense, and I was shivering from it. There was a sweet consolation which struggled for resonance in the space which I occupied.

I could feel Erika take my hand, and I dropped my bag. We ran, or flew - I don’t know - up the hill. Erika’s face was a blur. She only said, “I can hear her! She’s here now!”

The top of the hill was nothing like I had imagined. Everything seemed to vibrate and fill itself with light - like stars orbiting from the inside out. The surrounding kingdom below seemed to be an endless panorama of abundance and benevolence. And on the highest point of Christmas Hill was a throne which smelled of pine and was trimmed with a chain of golden pine needles.

I could see her on the throne, the girl I think of as Mother Christmas for lack of a better name. She smiled a little through her eyes, and I felt like I should remember what I had come this far to ask for. My wish had barely taken form when I saw a little notebook in her lap. She handed the notebook to me, and I knew that it held the Christmas poem which Erika had written at school.

At this point, I suddenly remembered Erika. There was only the slightest vibration left in my heart when I noticed her sitting on the throne. I said without thinking, “Erika! I got your poem back!” For a moment, her eyes opened wide in alarm, and immediately we both found ourselves at the bottom of the hill at daybreak.

I looked at her with the notebook in my hand. “Would it be okay if I read it?” I asked.

She opened it to the page where she had written the poem. The page was completely blank.

“It’s perfect. And beautiful,” I said.

Erika smiled, as if she could hear carolers and the melody which warms them in the background.

****


Joseph Jin is a full time pharmacy clerk and dad. He spends way too much time online and would probably starve to death if his wife forgot to feed him.

His interests include spirituality, mythology, analyzing stories for spiritual meanings, and most topics relating to paths of self-realization from an artist's point of view.

Anyone interested in what manner of evil Joe has been up to in the social media sphere can find some satisfaction here:


Thursday, December 20, 2012

CFF #30: Christmas Unexpected by Lisa Tapp


Our 30th (and possibly last) Christmas Flash Fiction is so sweetly romantic, you just might get diabetes from reading it! Don't blame me, though. Blame the writer, Lisa Tapp! Do read on and please leave a comment...
by

Lisa Tapp
         
          “She’s lost all her good sense.”
Felice Day, the she in question, held her tongue and her place in the gathering crowd before Waldon’s large display window. How na├»ve was it to expect the news wouldn’t be all over town in less than twenty-four hours?
She knew the speaker behind her. Seventy-year-old Corrine’s blue-rinsed hair announced her boldness before she ever spoke a word. Meek by comparison, silver-haired Aileen and Clara would be nodding agreement in unison.
The curtain drew back, but instead of Walter Waldon, his son Kurt stepped onto the snowy-white cotton covering the floor of the display.
Funny, Kurt never mentioned he’d do the decorating.
For one brief second Kurt’s golden-eyed gaze landed on her. Felice couldn’t help but return his lopsided smile.
She’d known him forever; they’d both grown up in this small town. But since school, he’d traveled the world. They’d only become reacquainted when he joined the church choir last month. Kurt was playing the trumpet for the Christmas production.
“What possessed her to refuse him?” Aileen, dutiful follower, always chimed in second.
Felice had repeatedly asked herself that very question since leaving the restaurant last night. She and Steven had dated off and on for the past twelve months. Yet his proposal had been as unforeseen as her response.
Through the store window, Felice’s gaze was drawn to Kurt. She held her breath as his long fingers slid over the buttons of his cardigan. Few guys could pull off wearing a cardigan, but on Kurt’s tall, lanky frame, it worked. His chestnut hair, a little long, a little unruly, curled over the rolled collar in a way that shouted bohemian sexy.
When he removed that sweater, every female took notice. His sleeves, folded to his elbows, revealed long, well-toned forearms.
“It’s not like she has other options.” The other two ladies had at least attempted to whisper. Clara didn’t bother.
Felice blew out a short breath. Options. Wasn’t staying single an option? It wasn’t the warmest or coziest choice, but last night, sitting in the cross-hairs of Steven’s expectant gaze, it felt like her best choice.
In the right corner, Kurt completed the Nativity Scene with the soft glow of a golden backlight. The families around her gasped with delight. It was beautiful, just as she knew it would be.
Kurt’s gaze sought hers and she gave him a tiny nod. Beside her, a little girl sitting on her father’s shoulders clapped.
Felice had made that suggestion during one of the choir’s after-practice hot chocolate runs.
He had been listening.
“She crushed that boy’s heart.” Aileen broke tradition and spoke up.
Suffocating heat bloomed over Felice’s cheeks. A quick glance on both sides, however, showed that everyone else remained focused on Waldon’s display. And Kurt.
Steven’s feelings had been hurt. Their night ended in terse words and a final good-bye. But honestly, they’d seen little of each other since the death of her beloved grandmother, two months ago. How could she have known?
Steven was staid and settled, his life planned out. He planned to live in exactly one house, Dottie’s, and have precisely two children.
And she? She needed more. She needed adventure.
In the left corner of the display, the tree stood tall and elegant. Waldon’s Christmas tree was always the largest in any downtown display. Many families had made it a tradition to watch the decorating. Whatever hung on the Waldon tree that year would grace the homes in town.
Kurt reached into the ornament bag and pulled out bowling ball-sized purple ornaments. An antique glaze softened the color, giving them an old-European look. Soft, enchanting. Unlike anything Waldon’s had ever sold. They were too big for home use, but perfect for the display.
Next Kurt pulled out more traditional ornaments in whites, silvers and crystals. The crowd murmured approval. Felice stood mesmerized.
The romance of it called to her. Kurt, weaving back and forth, drew her. His eyes, meeting hers over and over, dared her to look closer.
“I wonder what Dottie would say to all this?”
Corrine’s mention of Felice’s grandmother intensified the liquid warmth swimming through her veins. She knew exactly what the woman who had raised her would say. Grandma Dottie would drop a kiss on Felice’s head, hug her tight, and whisper her favorite advice. “Life can be unexpected, and unexpectedly perfect.”
Dottie’s friends no longer mattered. The thick crowd pressing close melted away. She, the tree, and Kurt were all that existed.
This time there was no mistaking Kurt’s glance. He held her gaze for one long, heart-pounding second. Dangling from his hand was an ornament shaped like the country of Italy. This he hung in the heart of the tree.
Felice couldn’t speak, couldn’t blink.
The crowd waited.
The only thing left was the angel. The prize of each season. Waldon’s would sell out of replicas within hours.
Kurt deliberately rummaged through the bag, his back to his audience. Walter stepped into the display. His bushy brows drew together; a frown marred his face as he saw his son’s choice.
Kurt spoke quietly to his father. Slowly Walter’s gaze lifted to the window. To Felice.
With the angel carefully concealed, Kurt climbed the ladder.
As per tradition, a reverent hush settled over the crowd.
Kurt glanced over his shoulder and found her.
Eyes wide, Felice watched, waited.
A tentative smile crossed Kurt’s face before he turned and placed a singing angel atop the tree. The crowd cheered, then abruptly fell silent as Kurt lifted his hands again.
Beside the singing angel, Kurt hung a trumpeting angel.
A roar rushed around Felice. Children leapt and danced; adults nodded.
Kurt descended and walked forward, his gaze never leaving Felice. Thick glass separated them, but his eyes said everything. His brows raised—Will you?
A strong breeze buffeted her. This—he—was totally unexpected. Did she dare?
Felice blinked back tears. Her quivering lips stretched into a huge smile.
Yes. Yes, I will.
 ****
Lisa lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her dog, Pooka. A nurse by day, she’s been dabbling in writing for years. This is her first attempt at flash fiction.