Christmas Magic, by Fliss Zakaszewska

Theresa wiped tears as Terry recited his Christmas list; a single Mum, she couldn’t afford it.

“ … and a REAL train set please, Santa.”

The man in scruffy clothes watched as Terry left Santa. He walked past as they opened their front door.

*****

On Christmas morning, lights snapped on and Terry ran downstairs. The doorbell buzzed.

“Mummy! Santa forgot my train set, but he’s left it on the doorstep!”

The man stared from the shadows, remembering flames that’d engulfed his home and family last December. Christmas magic had gone forever, but for that wee man at least, he’d made it happen.

Breaking Point, by Guy Fletcher

“I feel as though it’s an aorta aneurysm about to burst,” lamented Julia.

“Graphic analogy, but true,” replied her friend.

Julia was dog-tired, weary of long hours and the strain on her marriage. Negative thoughts swirled in her head as she parked her car next to the seaside.

She waded into the cold, uncaring winter sea intent on oblivion, but then thought of her loved ones as breakers splashed onto her face.

The junior doctor retreated from the ocean.

​”I’ll probably get pneumonia now,” she said out loud with gallows humour, laughing maniacally. The waves continued to roll.

The Tattoo, by David Croll

The staccato clanking of the stick along the white picket fence entertained me as I walked home from school. I saw an old lady struggling with a bag of groceries.

“Can I help you, ma’am?” I offered.

“What a sweet child you are. Thank you,” she said handing me the bag.

As we reached the front door, she fumbled through her purse for the key.

“I hope I live to be as old as you,” I said.

“I hope you don’t.”

She found the key. As she unlocked the door I noticed the numbers tattooed on her arm.

The Retelling of a Fairy Tale, by David Croll

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Little Red Riding Hood, who was on her way to Grandma’s house. In the sanitized patriarchal telling of the tale by the Brothers Grimm, she was rescued from the big bad wolf by a huntsman. But in a time of ogres occupying the highest offices of the land, little girls do not need a huntsman to rescue them if they can hunt for themselves. Under her pretty skirt was a pair of combat boots which she used to kick the ass of the wolf. And the hunter served her dinner.

Blythe the Scythe, by Ian Fletcher

“We can’t possibly announce it now, sir,” said Stevens.

“Why not? It’s urgent,” said Blythe.

Blythe, ‘the scythe,’ had been appointed C.E.O. to oversee the downsizing of the company after the merger.

“It’s Christmas!”

“So?”

“Negative publicity! 10,000 staff fired at Christmas!?”

“Oh, yes, quite. The 2nd of January then?”

“Perfect,” Stevens concurred.

“One more thing, sir,” said Stevens.

“Yes?”

“Can you sign this Christmas goodwill message? We scan it and send it out by email to our employees every Christmas Eve.”

“Sure,” said Blythe signing, oblivious to the irony of the message “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!”

Time’s Tide, by Paritosh Chandra Dugar

Enjoying the setting sun on a sandy beach of a foreign land, we eccentrically decided to have some childish fun by counting the familiar marks left by retreating strangers. My wife and I began: one … two … three … nine … twelve … twenty one … thirty … Suddenly, a tidal wave wiped out everything, undoing our mathematical mirth. We began again. This time, separately. “How many till now?” my co-player inquired. I said, “Thirty nine.” She said, “Thirty eight.” “No. Let’s recount.” As we began, a big wave came booming, “No fun in counting the countless. What does time’s tide do?” And we saw the footprints were all gone again!

The Broken Window, by Rekha Valliappan

A habitual daydreamer of fairytale castles and green dragons, Mara was working late. She works out of a broom closet turned workspace high up on the thirtieth floor. One evening she heard a weird tap-tapping at her window. It sounded urgent.

‘Yikes! Zombies! Ogres!’ she yelped. ‘Help!’

It was her manager stuck on the outside ledge, despair on his face.

‘Err … fear not, Sir Lord! Doesn’t it open?’

‘You idiot! … Let me in! … ‘

‘Stand back!’ she yells grandiosely. ‘ … faithful Mara’ll set you free … ‘

‘No-o-o-o-o … don’t … ‘

Interesting, thinks Mara, peering below–window broken open. Now where did he go?

Riding Home for Christmas, by Charles Boorman

Terry’s motorbike skidded into the snowdrift. “Avoid travel!” the met office had warned. But Terry wanted to get home for Christmas. He’d decided to risk it.

He trudged through the snow to the nearby house. The door was ajar. Pushing it open, he saw a body in a pool of blood. He heard something and bolted to the garage. There was a car, but no key, so he crept back into the house.

Terry took the key from the dead woman’s purse and returned to the car. Too late he realised he wasn’t alone. The wire tightened around his neck.

The Insult, by Grant Burger

The generals heard about the foreigner’s tweet. So offensive, the leader had the messenger shot.
They avoided his deathly stare. Stole glances at his finger, poised above the flashing button. Was he testing their obedience?
To a man, they chose inaction as their safest bet. And silent as toy soldiers, observed their raging master’s finger, press down.

People cried into their phones. Asked. “Who?” “What?” “Missiles?” “Where?”
Boom! One city after another. Boom, boom …
Flesh and bones turned to dust. Blown far beyond the city limits. Where the unlucky ones, choke on toxic air. And compassionate parents, smother their children.

A Sunday Afternoon in Philadelphia, by Sankar Chatterjee

Bruce (on phone): Hey, Mark. Come over to watch the quarterfinal against Dallas on big-screen.

Mark: I planned to watch Manchester against Everton in Premier League soccer.

Bruce: A Brit would rather wait for a single goal on the 90th minute!

Mark: Better than players wearing helmets and safety-gears piling up on each other in your violent football.

***

Woodson, in dying minute, would execute a spectacular bicycle-kick in Manchester’s winning, while Wentz, pummeled by two 175kg defenders, would make Philadelphia’s winning score. While city exploded, Wentz remained motionless on grass … his right leg completely smashed, along with city’s championship hope.