F.F.F. Stories – Sunday 3/28/21 (B)

5. Happy Factory! by John Cooper

Just like last year, everything ran late.

The designs had taken an age to finalise, the mock ups had failed to perform anything like adequately, and to cap it all, just as production was due to go into full swing, a flu outbreak had left the main production line idle for weeks.

It really was touch and go right to the end.

But as ever, when the big day came, everything ran like clockwork. The deliveries all got away on time and the senior elves gave a collective sigh of relief and swore it would definitely be better next year.

4. Here They Come A-Caroling, by Nicky Johnson

The holiday season always was the highlight of Jenny’s year. Of the many merrymakings, she looked forward to the carolers the most.
The troop was rumored to be around town again. Last year’s performance was flawless; each member’s part was executed in pristine fashion.
Jenny opened the front door, beaming. “I was hoping you would return this year.” She offered a thermos of eggnog with paper cups. The carolers obliged.
Suitably, they opened with Silent Night, for the tranquilizers would soon take effect. The caroling crooks truly were magnificent singers, but Jenny wasn’t having a repeat performance.

3. The Forgotten War, by J.J. Landry

The snow fell heavily around me as I crawled between dead bodies, those killed and frozen to death. I’d been there for several months, fighting a ruthless enemy I’d never forget.

I was only nineteen, but remember it well. This damn sure wasn’t my older brother’s Marine Corps. His war was hot and tropical. Mine was a frozen hell.

I took a deep breath of cold mountain air, held it, and then exhaled. I aimed my M-1, squeezed the trigger. A young North Korean soldier in the distance collapsed into the red snow.

How could anyone have forgotten this war?

2. Green-Stuff Stuffing, by Lisa Miller

My second Christmas Eve dinner, cooking for the in-laws with all the trimmings. But it must be flawless this time. Last year the cat was nipped and knocked over the Christmas tree, making a big mess. And I burned the flank steaks.

This year, my mother-in-law insisted I use her oyster and spinach stuffing recipe for filling the turkey. And it was perfect. Saying grace, thankful, we finished our feast. Afterward, I stood up to make a toast when my glass slipped, spilling champagne. I further continued to spoil my image, talking with spinach — that dreaded green stuff in your teeth.

1. She’s Done Crying, by N.T. Franklin

She wasn’t crying today. First day in years. All dolled up with makeup and wearing her fanciest dress, she was going somewhere. And she looked good, so good, that even her children smiled a little. Friends had been expecting this, and some stopped to see her. Daniel wasn’t there. He never was. His love for her was long gone. After being gone for fifteen years, even the kids didn’t care about him anymore.

It was time. A loud thump signaled the end. The latches sealed and locked; the casket closed. The finality of it was unmistakable. She was done crying.

F.F.F. Stories – Sunday 3/28/21 (A)

Sorry for the lack of recent updates. Things have been busy on our end. However, we hope to have more frequent stories in the future. Thanks, as always, for reading.

5. The Night Before Christmas, by Charles Boorman

The outside temperature displayed on the digital weather station dropped another half degree, but the sounds from upstairs signalled rising tension: the high-pitched whine of a hairdryer, the staccato of frantic footsteps.

Shaved, showered and already wearing his boots, anorak, hat and gloves, he stood in the hallway and awaited his womenfolk. The bonhomie fuelled by two large medium sherry seeped from his pores with the sweat.

Rod the dog yawned and sighed in resignation as the minute hand flicked relentlessly past the top of the hour. It was the night before Christmas and as usual they were late for dinner.

4. Making Christmas Great Again, by Gordon Lawrie

The main thing about the new Santa Claus was that he was likely to deliver on his promises. None of this child-centred soppy romanticism. Out went the un-affordable train sets and overpriced high-heeled boots. From now on it would be Adults First: kids’ presents could wait.

Rednecks loved him. This Santa fired all the reindeer, employed truckers instead, and built a wall between the U.S.A. and Lapland which the reindeer paid for. And kissing under the mistletoe? Hey. This guy didn’t mess; he knew what to do!

Why did nobody think of using The Apprentice as a selection tool before?

3. Theme Park Nightmare, by David Erdey

When Ronald asked what her happy place was, he never expected this. The theme park poked at his psyche, extra-frail this time of year. Chinese lanterns hanging down from the dark, tauntingly reminding him of the family Wongs that Christmas so long ago. Further down the path was Santa’s hut. Outside sat a grinning elf. The second Ronald saw the dwarf, he wanted to kick him in the head. He reminded himself he was not responsible for the present nor the past. Ronald swallowed every bad memory, smiling, remembering: This was her happy place.

2. Dear Mr. Claus, by Marjan Sierhuis

Dear Mr. Claus

Regarding the full-time position of elf on Santa’s got news.ca, please find attached a copy of my resume for your consideration.

One of the first graduates of an accredited toy making college, I have l5 years of experience working in the toy shop of one of your large competitors, a certificate in team leading, one in time management and an elf of the year plaque.

I have been described as highly motivated and a team player.

If you would like to get in touch to discuss my application form and resume, you may contact me at:

reggie@snail.com

1. Snow Day, by Lisa Miller

5 a.m. Anna watches the snowflakes swirl around, hitting the rooftops and blanketing the ground. Promising, a snow day.

Outside, she looks up at the gray clouds with wide eyes and snowy lashes, flurries of newly fallen snow bringing out her inner child. Owning the day and nowhere to go! She falls back on the snow, moving her arms up and down, legs side to side. Angel poses. Next, a snow fort when she sees little faces inside grinning ear-to-ear.

Frozen with a runny nose, she salts the porch … then, shovels the powdery sidewalk into a snowman before starting her day.

F.F.F. Stories – Monday 3/15/21

5. Dutch, by Pamela Kennedy

I read his thoughts: “How dare that bitch get a cookie bone and I get none!”

Ladybug was extremely happy, but Dutch’s large brown eyes turned into cauldrons of indignation. His cheerful wagging tail became a highly metered thumping drumstick.

Joy returned to his face with the sound of the refrigerator door opening. That meatball is mine, he thought. As that little treat meant to be shared between him and me slipped from my fingers onto the floor, it was gobbled up by Dutch before I could even swear.

There were now two bitches in the house!

4. Leaves, by Pamela Kennedy

It was the chitter-chattering of crispy leaves sauntering along the sidewalk that made us more determined to move on. They unto themselves offered a bouquet of brilliant colors, appreciated by some, unnoticed by others.

Aren’t we like those leaves … once budding, then turning into a magnificent display of fruits and foliage. Still we refuse to be swept away. Instead we show the world we continue to have a worthy act to put on. But curtain calls come and though this performance is almost over, our voices can still be heard before we turn into dust.

3. A Christmas Miracle, by Guy Fletcher

A menacing rain whipped into Jack, huddled into a damp sleeping bag, scant protection against the elements. Then he heard the sweet sound of “Oh, Holy Night” emanating from the church opposite he used to regularly attend. Now all he wanted was money for another “fix”. He drifted asleep.

“There are more important things than money,” said a beautiful voice. “Follow me!”

He awoke and felt compelled to enter the church.

“Jack, you’re coming home with us.”

It was a couple he had once known well. A wonderful thing called hope re-entered his soul.

2. Keeping the Wheels Turning, by Roddy Scott

Fourteenth deer spotted … Fifteenth, stop for chow.
Stay awake!
Damned alimony, lawyers sucking him dry.
Death by spouse, ice-filled veins.

Land’s End tae Groats. Nearly his bonus. Beside him, 500
for Danny’s holiday.
Ach, need a break. Mebbe try thon wee trout
lochan. Gettin’ too auld fur tents, bejesus.

Working sixteen gears, climbing. ‘Dawn Raider tae Betty
Boop?’
’10/4, hollow drum?’
‘Aye Raider, pit-stop Corncrake Alley.’
Kirkpatrick smiled.

​Finally downhill, mirror’s blinding flash: bang!
Eyeballs the deer rising; hooves smash the windscreen.

Underneath, dripping diesel,
watching banknotes drifting towards Tyndrum.
Kirkpatrick blinked.
Another day, another deid deer.

1. Smoke Screen, by Mark Drews

I nodded for the umpteenth time, throwing in a supplementary “Yes, dear” to signal attention-paying. Smoking is a bad habit. My dear wife warmed even more to her topic. The worst thing about this conversation and all its predecessors was that there was nothing really to disagree with. All the points she made, approached as they were from a wide variety of angles, made sense, as indeed they had done the day before, and the day before that…

When I, a wrung out dishcloth, returned to my study, I found my secret packet of cigarettes. She meant well, I knew.

F.F.F. Stories – Friday 3/12/21

5. Robert Ford, by Richard Comerford

Much has been told about Jesse.
Depending on whether you were Blue or Grey, he was a thieving outlaw, or a patriotic hero. I think some Union folks secretly admired him, though.
Sure, he rode with Quantrell and Bloody Bill Anderson, but he did it for what he believed in: Missouri and The South.
He and Frank just couldn’t fully give up the life when the War ended.
Brother Charlie and I rode with him, and admired a fine man.
A better man than me ….
For the reward, and amnesty, I shot Jesse James in the back.

4. Ghetto, by Richard Comerford

[Shortlisted]

I was eleven when the Nazis came.
They built a wall around the Ghetto. Some of it was brick … some barbed wire. Whatever it was, it was there to contain us.
We wore white armbands with blue Stars of David. The soldiers wore black uniforms bearing the lightning bolts of the Schutzstaffel. They shouted orders and beat anyone they chose with whips and Mauser rifles. They called us Juden and shot us in the streets with their Luger pistols.
We had to walk in the gutters and bow to the S.S.
I was twelve when I shot two and escaped.

3. Door to Hell, by Richard Comerford

The slashes around the door had healed from livid to dark scars, where blood from the blades had dried to black.
A lock replaced the one wrecked by the battering ram.
So long ago. When the townspeople hunted him …… hacked his men down at the door.
The door he had locked behind him, to begin his solitary flight.
They mutilated the corpses and smashed the door …. to find an empty room.
And now, years later, his Master, displeased with him, had banished him to that room.
Ghosts of the betrayed beat on the door.
There was no escaping their vengeance.

2. Beating Time, by Rona Fitzgerald

The lad in the record shop looked amazed when Esme asked for reggae.

What kind? he asked. She’d thought to say most popular.

Archie was low; she’d read that stressed dogs like reggae.

He’d kept her going during the treatment, licked her face in the morning, a paw on the knee at bedtime. He hated her being in the hospital.

Now they’d released her; she thought Archie would be delighted. He was lethargic … sat beside her looking sad.

The CD worked a treat.

Archie was quieter than usual but they had a wee dance morning and evening.

1. Just Having a Quiet Christmas, by John Cooper

As he stood at the postbox he knew back home everything was ready.

Same as every year … she had been planning for months and now, with only a few days left, all that really needed to happen was to send the invitations.

To make his ‘only chore’ easier they had even been colour coded and packaged up in a carrier bag.

Wearily he pulled the first bundle out at random; but then, as his hand reached the dark slit on the front of the box, he froze.

What he really craved was a quiet Christmas … and the Post was notoriously unreliable …

F.F.F. Stories – Sunday 3/7/21 (C)

5. The Snake, by Ronald Larsen

Professor Harold Wilkins was a stickler regarding correct English usage.

One morning he and a colleague went golfing. Both men drove their first shot into heavy rough … then went over to comb through the underbrush.

“I see mine,” Charlie called. A second later as he bent over to pick up the ball, he let out a bloodcurdling scream. “A snake bit me! Do you see it? Is it poisonous?”

“No,” Professor Wilkins replied.

“But my arm is red and swelling up!”

“That snake isn’t poisonous; it’s venomous. Poison is ingested, while venom is injected. There is a difference, you know.”

4. Uriel’s Task, by Jan Jorgensen

The woman woke … then closed her eyes again.

She felt paralyzed. What is this?

It said, “I am Uriel. Defender of the innocent. I’ve come to show you how you appear in the spirit realm.”

She shook her head. But fear forced her eyes open. The wall before her was a mirror.

“Look. You’re bloated with the tears she’s wept. See, each pound she has lost weighs on your heart.”

She shrieked at the strange protuberance on her chest. Her sobbing gave way to silence.

“And here is how your love, her husband, truly sees you.”

The mirror was empty.

3. Gabriel, Giver of Dreams, by Jan Jorgensen

“What are you? The Ghost of Christmas Past?”
“No. Gabriel, giver of dreams.”
“A dream,” she murmured, relieved.
“Tell me about your cousin Pamela.”
“She was a silly little hoarder.”
“You made a great show of concern for her sister at the funeral.”
“So what?”
“Do you covet her possessions?”
“Those two squirreled away their money, never helped anyone.”
“They were kind to many people. That’s your grandfather’s resentment rising in you. He was furious that conventional decency compelled him to help his widowed sister and her daughters.”
She gaped.
“His words reinforced in them a lifelong terror of loss.”

2. It’s No Man, by Steven Holding

Flakes drift gently … intricate crystals, each one perfect, each unique.
Like you.
Through misty glass, pastures disappear beneath pure white sheets, lazily draped like a cheap conjuring trick. A Christmas we all wish for.
Try as they might, tinsel, carols, and a roaring fire cannot disguise your absence; no present can replace your presence.
Tired of T.V., I slip outside.
Billowing clouds of panted breath, rolling snow into giant spheres, shaping ice with broken twigs. Your scarf, unused, my final addition.
Embracing the sculpture, there are no frozen tears.
Until tomorrow, come the morning sun, and you’ll be gone again.

1. View of Dover Castle, by Guy Fletcher

Admiring the view of Dover Castle from the deck of the ferry, James remembers a young woman from many years ago.

They were both on deck observing the castle and snowy cliffs, talking and laughing. He sensed a chemistry. Maybe it was his imagination. In those days he smoked and their smoke disappeared into the ether-like ghosts.

He recalls that her name was Julie and wishes he had asked her for her number. James often thinks of her yet knows she has probably forgotten about his existence. Perhaps his mind has formed a false memory.

F.F.F. Stories – Sunday 3/7/21 (B)

5. The Endless Bastard, by David Erdey

“REALLY?”

I asked my “spiritual advisor” as he had presented himself.

“Yes.”

… he said and smiled. It was a lot to take in. First dying, and now this.

I cast a coward’s glance at the endless orbs of light hanging from thin air, then back at my feet, swallowing.

“Each of those glowing things has been … ME??”

“YES.”

“And every time I … ”

“ … was a foul, annoying, bastard,” he completed for me.

“And every time you get here, Frank … ”

… he said, now clenching his fists.

“You promise you`ll behave better in your next.”

4. The Christmas Store, by Liz Tassone

I stroll through the little specialty store, which has transformed its entire stock to Christmas items.

I delight at the intricately decorated trees and shelves full of ornaments. Some are whimsical; some elegant. All are delightfully appealing to the eye.

The smells of Christmas are there, too. Cinnamon and pine fill the air, stirring a fondness for the Christmas season deep inside me.

I circle the store twice, searching for the one item I need this year. But there is no sign of it. I spot a clerk.

“Do you have a Nativity set?” I ask.

“No,” she replies. “None.”

3. The Pediatrician’s Daughter, by Laura Kuhlmann

The frozen morning sun flows in through the hallway window. The doctor quietly removes her coat.
Her husband emerges from their bedroom. “When are you going to remember I exist?”
“We had an emergency. A little girl … “
He locks the bedroom door behind him.
She sighs and walks to the empty room at the end of the hallway. Their little girl’s picture smiles on top of the otherwise empty desk. The doctor lies in the tiny bed and whispers in the cold pillow.
“That girl went back to her family this morning.” She buries her tears in the pillow.

2. The Pill, by David Erdey

Life had pulled out our teeth, which we handled okay, since hope was pulled out long before, anyway.

When news of that pill came, our hope was re-instated.

We have both been taking it for some months … its effect, so astonishing. Our pension got taken away and our will got declared illegitimate by our lawyers. The kids hate us. We don’t give a damn. They’ll forgive us in time–which we have a lot of now. We joke about how someday, our teeth may even grow out again, but we keep our dentures just in case.

1. More, Please … by Charles Boorman

Farmer Brown leaned on the gate and scratched his head. How come that light is on again? Albert, his 900-kilogram prize bull, stood in the middle of the pen under the solitary light bulb and watched him closely.

For the second time that evening, the farmer grabbed a handful of pellets and tossed them into the corner. With Albert engrossed in eating, Farmer Brown slipped into the pen and pulled the cord to switch off the light.

He had just sat down to Christmas pudding as Albert, masticating with quiet contentment, ambled to the light switch and signaled for more pellets.

F.F.F. Stories – Sunday 3/7/21 (A)

5. Christmas Eve, 1945, by Patti Normile

Click. The lock on the door of Russ’s dry cleaning shop snapped shut early for the holiday. I had gone to work with Daddy on that no-school day. I spent the morning making clothes hangers sitting in the shop window. Okay, but not much fun.

“Want to go downtown with me to buy Mommy a Christmas present?” Did I!?

Jumped in the Studebaker next to Daddy. So close after he had been gone so long in the War.

Downtown. Christmas glowed. What did we buy Mommy? Who knows. The gift was Dad—home!

4. The Lure of Santa, by Nicky Johnson

“I’m pretty sure that last kid urinated on my leg. This isn’t what I expected when you said we were going undercover.” Santa, himself, couldn’t have worn it any better than Detective Franklin.
“Well, you’re the fattest man on the force, and I’m the shortest. Seems logical.” Detective Jansen was no slouch of an elf, either. “Keep cool … about thirty families back now. Remember, no action until the kid is on your lap.”
Detective Jansen knew: even the most elusive jewel thief couldn’t resist taking a child to a run-down mall to visit Good Old Saint Nick.

3. Cookies, by Dave Jordan

I was in second grade the last time I sat with a bag of lunch between my legs. Mother always packed dry cookies. Cookies that would find their way to someone else’s stomach: the stomach of the trash can, perhaps; the belly of eight year old Louisa, if she was receptive to my gifts.

Now new trees drip onto me; cookies have escaped my sack for good. A gaunt, slouching man has taken Louisa’s place, and we share a cigarette-regretful break and thoughts of cookies under an oaken tree that could not have been alive when I was in second grade.

2. Father Christmas, by Don Tassone

At Christmastime, he always thought of his father.

When he was a boy, at Christmastime, his father would take him to the grocery. They would buy a cart full of food … then drive to a house in the poor part of town. He would help his father carry the bags to the back door and hand them to the smiling people inside.

He asked his father why they did this.

“They don’t have much, and we do.”

Now he sat on the cold sidewalk and smiled as a man dropped change into his basket.

“Thank you,” he said. “Merry Christmas.”

1. The Nursing Home, by David Erdey

She sits on a giant swan. She can’t see the ground. Only endless layers of pink clouds wrapped into each other infinitely. Right next to her, dear ones come flying, waving hello. She puts up her hand, waves back, a tear on her eye. The old woman snores. V.R. glasses on her eyes, sensors on her body, like other elderly people lying in a long line in the same dark, lit room. In the nurses’ headquarters, a screen keeps reminding of several urine alarms. Engaged in a game of Scrabble, their decision fell on snooze, for the fourth time today.

F.F.F. Stories – Monday 3/1/21

5. Happy New Year, David Erdey

Her little knees shake with anticipation. A crowd is heard counting: “10!” She gets up, and runs. On the move, she grabs a coat with her. She puts it on, puts on her shoes in a hurry, pushes the door open. There’s no one outside. Only her. The crowd counts; their hopeful faces lag on the screen. The tape continues, in the apartment she left.
Above her, the night sky is covered by gas clouds. She realizes she forgot, and puts it on her face. Way too big for her, the gas mask barely stays on.

4. Virus, by Henry Bladon

(Note: This story was originally published in December 2018, but its topic is quite relevant today.)

I got up and lit a fag. She was engrossed.
‘What are you reading?’
‘Just a book.’
I took a long drag.
‘What’s it about?’
‘How to conquer anxiety.’
‘Why?’
‘Because I hate spiders.’
I nodded. She did have a thing about spiders. I always thought that strange for a microbiologist.
‘What about people?’
‘I hate them, too,’ she said.
‘Is there a book for that?’
‘No, you just have to ignore them.’
‘And what if you can’t?’
‘That’s easy,’ she said. ‘You invent a deadly virus.’

3. Unhappy Christmas, by Henry Bladon

He throws his hands into the air.

Christmas! Commercialised crap sold by stores cashing in. Christmas tunes fed into unwilling ears. Then there’s the gifts. Endless organising so that nobody gets left out. It all gets to be too much. I’m sick of giving out presents to ungrateful brats who rip open their gifts only to move to the next one. And you’re telling me it’s not all bad?

A pause for breath.

And they always leave me mince pies. Why? I hate mince pies. Well? What you got to say?

You ever thought that maybe it’s time to move on, Santa?

2. This Year in Particular, by John Cooper

Every year at this time they gathered to reminisce.

Recollecting the happy and the sad; the good and the bad.

This year, however, they saw there was much more significance in their assembly and that they should undertake a special act of commemoration to make a proper connection with the past.

They decided, therefore, to travel to the one place that they most associated with those they felt were the most worthy of remembrance this year in particular.

A journey to a landscape, scarred by the old war and where many of their friends and family still lay buried.

1. Sacrifices, by David Erdey

We killed ambitions on the spot. I bought a tie, took that job I hated. and she found one she hated too. A short while into the mess, news declared homelessness the new American home model. We made one more sacrifice. She booked an appointment at the clinic. I don’t remember when, but sometime after they had removed it from her, we established the bedtime ritual, which was saying “fuck him”, every single night. He was the culprit, we agreed. We had expected him to guard the economy better than this; a president who happened to be an ex-businessman.

F.F.F. Stories – Sunday 2/28/21

5. On the Road, by James B. Revell

‘Last call for Wardair Flight 410 to London Gatwick!’

We quickly made our way to the departure gate …

Three days earlier we had been on the Alaska Highway heading North.

‘We’re in the Yukon,’ I had told Dad, just before he dropped the bomb-shell about his cancer.

‘Don’t change your plans,’ he had said. ‘I’m sure we’ll have other Christmases together.’

The washer kept getting blocked, so I had to keep stopping to clear the windscreen with handfuls of snow. Huge logging trucks deluged us with slush as I tried to banish distractions and concentrate on the road ahead …

4. Hope, by Jude Hayland

The place … cavernous, enormous … is dim.

Only altar lights punctuate the darkness. Manger, child, angels, kings.

She wonders why she is here, picks up a thin candle, lights it, sticks it into the circle of sand. And prays.

Not believing, but wanting to believe. Like a superstitious wish on a birthday cake.

And she struggles to dismiss hope since the time of year offers it so freely. Joy seems intrinsic in tinsel and dressed trees.

In those plastic, static crib figures.

And, in particular, that baby.

So that the promise of a child shines out of the darkness.

Reaches her.

3. The Muffin Maker, by Mark Tulin

At 5 a.m. every morning, Alonzo loaded the coffee maker and trays of corn muffins into his car. He drove his ‘92 Camry to factory sites to sell his muffins and coffee. After selling them, he’d bake more for the next day.

A suspicious man, dressed in a dark suit carrying a briefcase, knocked on Alonzo’s door every Friday afternoon. Alonzo would never answer the door, and the man would always leave his card.

“I hope that guy isn’t an immigration officer,” I said to my wife.

“No … he’s probably a salesman.”

A month later, Alonzo disappeared.

2. Takeoff, by Richard Comerford

No way out now. I have to climb the rain-slick steps clutching my boarding card against the wind.
Rain! Wind! This thing will never fly!
The flight attendant is smiling. Pretty? Don’t notice, don’t care.
My seat is on the third row aisle. Is it safer at the front ? Can’t remember.
I’m never doing this again!
Seat belt fastened. What help will that be?
Cabin crew going through safety routine. Don’t watch. What good is it?
Captain says something cheerful. Plane starts to move slowly.
Faster. Not looking out, fists clenched.
Suddenly … We’re airborne!
Nothing to it.

1. The Eagle Has Landed, by Richard Comerford

ARMSTRONG: I want to wait, think about –
LUNAR TELEVISION TRANSMISSION PAUSED
HOUSTON: Eagle, what’s the problem?
ARMSTRONG: Can’t do this! It’s wrong!
ALDRIN (Eagle): Neil! What’s up?
HOUSTON: Neil, you ready? We’ve paused live feed.
ARMSTRONG: Sorry, Houston, this is not right. We shouldn’t be here.
COLLINS (Command Module): You OK, Neil?
HOUSTON: Neil, we have a billion people watching –
ALDRIN: Calm it, Neil. Big moment for everyone. I’ll follow you down.
ARMSTRONG: Why me, Buzz? Mike?
AUDIO MUTED

FULL LUNAR TRANSMISSION RESTORED
ARMSTRONG: That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for Mankind.

F.F.F. Stories – Tuesday 2/23/21

5. Last Haircut Last Mile, by Richard Comerford

“Haircut, thirty minutes,” the guard called. They needed to cut his hair before shaving the top of his head for the electrode.
He wasn’t worried. He was innocent. The Good Lord would spare him.
His execution was twelve hours away. Plenty of time for Divine mercy.
They used the old electric chair, retired years ago, for barbering. He knew it well.
He pictured the Warden bringing good news.
“Time, Lee.”
Guards urged him up, walking him to his haircut.
He touched his scalp.
Shaved smooth.
He had slept after the haircut.
The door opened and the new chair waited.

4. Reflections, by Jane Tulloch

From a place on the wall, I’ve been gazed into by so many people over the years. I’ve seen harried housemaids in the early days, uniformed laddies giving their mothers a last kiss, a grieving mother swathed in black, a mysterious lipsticked lady. So many fleeting faces, each a moment in history, my history. I’m still on the wall. I see the young faces as they anxiously search the charity shop looking for a bargain. They all look past me. I’m invisible to them as I as watch from my place on the wall reflecting life as I always did.

3. Hockey Players, by Mark Joseph Kevlock

In flew the door and out flew Brambs, the point of the exercise, the man sought after, the culprit.

He ran a block or two; then we closed the net.

Brambs, a soon-to-be-extinct life form, the last rapist left on Earth, welcomed the implant.

But what had happened to the eternal struggle — good vs. evil?

Thanks to the Stimulus Control Modules, evil had no chance.

The killers went a long time ago. The thieves. The liars.

Even the lawyers — bless you, Bill — were eliminated.

Simply not born anymore.

Yet somehow we still had hockey players.

2. Shapeshifting Christmas Miracle, by Mileva Anastasiadou

The old lady sat next to me at the bar, when I was ready to swallow the pills.

“Don’t do it,” she told me, as if she’d read my mind.

“You’ll soon feel better. You’ll also look better. But that’ll take more time,” she said, giggling, and vanished into thin air.

Behind her fading figure, she appeared. The girl had the old lady’s eyes, only she was much younger.

“I am what’s left of her,” mumbled the ghost of Christmas Future from afar, when the girl reluctantly held my hand. Or was it the wind that whispered in my ear?

1. The Nudge, by Jim Bartlett

Marty gazed across the lunchroom, but little Lynn caught him staring yet again. She turned and blushed, before giving him a bashful wink. A fiery warmth rose from his neck to his face, and he looked away.

He sighed. Why do there have to be rules against departmental fraternization? Maybe he could transfer from packing over to assembly, or even try the warehouse.

Lynn winked again. He wanted to move over to her table, but the rules …

A nudge from behind caused him to turn.

“Go say hi, Marty,” said Mrs. Claus to the elf. “Santa won’t mind at all.”