First Gift, by Natalia Krasovskaya

It’s starting to cost a lot like Christmas. You check your credit score and hope there won’t be any big expenses in January.

This used to be your favourite time of the year. Your absolute favourite.

Now you dread it – the red’n’green, the “Jingle bells”, and gift hungry attention monsters you call family.

You need to relax. You buy the first gift for yourself – the cheapest whiskey. You take a large swing from the bottle and join the other zombies crawling between shops.

You know one day you’ll get to like the season again … just maybe not this year.

Peace In Jerusalem, by Sankar Chatterjee

Just recently, Max stood in front of the Western Wall, the holiest place of the Judaism. That afternoon, he had a chance to visit nearby Dome of the Rock, one of the holiest Islamic shrines, on top of Temple Mount. The very next day, he traveled to next-door Bethlehem to visit the Church of Nativity, birthplace of Jesus Christ. Three world religions flow in harmony in Jerusalem, Israel.

Now, a madman, to distract the world from his misdeeds, has been getting ready to rattle the peace in the region. “Will the world hold him responsible for the aftermath,” wonders Max.

The Burning Monk of Saigon, by Guy Fletcher

Mike the Marine watched the burning monk with a mixture of fascination and horror, finding it quite impossible to avert his eyes from the gruesome scene.

“My God. Isn’t there enough death in this country already?” he asked his friend. “I wonder if he’s high or perhaps it’s meditation which has caused him to discover such a radical way out of this cruel world.”

The monks were persecuted by the Catholic rulers, a much easier target than the North Vietnamese. Someone took a picture; it would make the photographer’s name. It seems there’s always a silver lining!

The Calendar Never Lies, by Tony Sharma

Yet again it’s Christmas Day, not on 25th Dec. … “It’s impossible … !”

I shift my gaze below …

New Year’s Eve … not on 31st Dec. … My mind boggles.

Valentines’ Day … not on 14th Feb. What’s wrong with the calendar?

An unfathomable pain pierces my brain as my world tumbles. I drop on the floor … !

Forty eight hours have passed. I lie down like a newborn in a cradle. The gentle breeze flips another calendar … My world is restored as I glance at 25 Dec., with red inscription ‘Christmas Day’.

With trembling lips, I say, “Thank you, Doctor, for removing my brain tumor … !”

The Discovery, by Jo Gilbert

I write a letter to Santa for Star Wars stuff.
Those things are for boys, snaps Mother.
I rake everywhere. Not even a snifter of wrapping paper. I do my best thinking.
The loft!
I climb through the hatch. A Sindy dollhouse. It has been her all along.
Feelings are easier to hide than presents.
Will you build it with me, Daddy?
Aye, after our dinner.
The click of the beer bottle ensures the box lies unopened.
I look after my brother like I am told. We play Star Wars.
I don’t want to make any more discoveries.

Lavender, by Natalia Krasovskaya

(Christmas Competition 2017: Highly Commended)

The room is perfumed heavily with lavender.

The Empress sits on her throne, silent as always. She gazes through walls, people and time, immersed in the Empire of the unknown size. Around the Empress’ world there’s an eternal tussle for prolonging life.

The nursing home is an Empire, too.

The nurse mumbles that the pay is not enough, and the doctors are weary of long hours.

The Empress knows eternity and weariness, but the impenetrable borders of the Empire wouldn’t let any words in or out.

If it could, she’d tell the nurse that lavender has never been her favorite.

Two Fishes, by Faseehullah Irshad

(Christmas Competition 2017: Highly Commended)

Everything which we can quantify is outcome of everything we can’t quantify.

Once we sat on a river bank, clutching fishing rods in our hands like holding falling lighthouses. We glimpsed at a frangible wooden hut on the other side of river. Grabbing fish before me, she said to go see what’s there.
A blind, quiescent old man lived there all alone, whose only son was consumed by river. With sodden eyes, she gave her fish to him.
After life abandoned her, I started visiting that old man. I always gave him two fishes: mine and my wife’s.

Pest Control, by Charles Boorman

“That the nest?” asked the interplanetary pest control officer.

“Yep,” replied the technician. “Planet Earth.”

“They the problem?”

“Yeah … humans. They get off that planet, they could do serious damage to the galaxy.”

“Invasive species?”

“You bet. Look what they’ve done here already – polluted the atmosphere, poisoned the rivers, oceans filled with plastic.”

“Hey! What was that?”

“I.C.B.M., potentially nuclear. Been a few recently. What they call North Koreans have problems with this creature: P.O.T.U.S., a.k.a. Trump.”

“I can see why. Yuck!”

“Doesn’t like aliens, either!”

“That so? Let’s do it then. Laser ready?”

“Ready. Here goes.”

“Good riddance, humans!”

Christmas Time, by Eric Smith

It was quiet, almost empty, in the hotel bar. I ordered a vodka martini with a twist. I couldn’t place the woman beside me at first; then I recalled.

“You’re a barber, right?”

“Yep, what of it?” She looked simultaneously bored and suspicious.

“You cut my hair, maybe three times, a year ago in Andalusia.”

“I did work there. How come you remember me?”

“I thought you were overly friendly, physically and otherwise, like maybe you were working me for tips.”

“Did you complain?”

“No, I liked it.”

“How about now. Would you like more?”

“I’m alone.”

“So am I.”

Kitchen-Table Discussion, by Eric Smith

After heating up his dinner, Frank sat across from Gloria so they could discuss their dispute—so things wouldn’t explode into another argument.

Frank started. “All the kids are gone; at least there’s that.”

Gloria’s eyes misted over. “Yes, I thought about that all day.”

Frank pushed his peas around. “Over the past twenty-five years I occasionally anticipated we’d bust up—they say money or infidelity typically does relationships in.”

Gloria wiped her eyes. “Yeah, but I didn’t see this coming. I always figured we had the same political views, at least when we first got together.”

“Elections have consequences.”