“It’s Not Mama” – Advent Ghosts 2016

dark

 

It’s Not Mama

 

When she was out of town, he slept with Jack..

An unexpected, steady thump. Had she made it home? Christmas Eve. Flipping on the light, he rolled over to see the last wag. His companion’s body went rigid, he lifted his head, his ears flat against the skull.

Beyond the window there was no car. No footprints. No one. Just the snow.

“Quiet, baby. It’s not Mama, yet.”

The animal stood, emitting a nearly silent howl, sound he felt in his stomach.

Jack leapt off the bed, his face to the wall. His trembling body was the only sound now.

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This is an exactly 100-word flash fiction piece for a tradition of writing ghost stories on Christmas Eve. We acknowledge a sinful and hopeless world, and welcome the dawn in full awareness that Christmas day brings us light.

Advent Ghosts 100 Word Storytelling is put on by Loren Eaton at I Saw Lightning Fall. See other entries there.

Bring on the Ghosts: Advent Storytelling 2016

Welcome to Advent Ghosts 2016, the eighth annual shared storytelling event at I Saw Lightning Fall, Loren Eaton’s blog about “narrative, genre, and the craft of writing.” For the uninitiated, Advent Ghosts seeks to recreate the classic British tradition of swapping spooky stories at Yuletide. However, instead of penning longer pieces, we post bite-sized pieces of flash fiction for everyone to enjoy.

Ghost Winter Flower by Henrik Thorn

To learn more about this tradition, read the article here about this “lost tradition.”

This is my fifth year writing for Advent Ghosts. In my first year I pulled some edited lines from a ghost story I wrote about meth addiction. It is called “The Escape.”

In 2012, I decided to try Loren’s model of writing one piece inspired by secular Christmas traditions, and another from sacred texts.

Unwanted explores the terror we feel when an unexplained and damaged presence penetrates the safety of our families and our homes.

For Later is my take on what I’ve always seen as a poetic and disturbing element in the gifts of the three kings to the baby Jesus.

I again used a sacred story’s inspiration for 2013’s “Vacancy.” I’ve always had a fascination with the innkeeper from Jesus’s birth story. I fantasize about a moment in which the larger narrative clicks for him, as it did for shepherds and kings.

2014 found me writing about the last heartbeat of a last creature. As natural as it would be, the feeling of loneliness in even a non-human animal felt very real to me that year.

I took a break in 2015. Before Loren took the reins over the more graphic content, I was feeling out of place with the tone of some of the pieces.

But this year, I’m back. I love the restriction of the 100 words — no more, no less — and how it pares down the writing to something essential. No frills! Plus, there’s nothing quite like being part of reviving a lost or fading Christmas tradition to get my inner nerd all a-tingle. Charles Dickens, I love you.

Enjoy this year’s submission, which will post not long from now, and if you like creepy little tales be sure to visit Loren’s blog, too! Just when I think I’ve read the most shiver-inducing tale, they get, well, more shivery!

 

Halloween Fiction in a Flash: “Treasure”

If you read this blog regularly, you know I’m a big fan of the 100-word flash fiction model. It creates a structure that imposes discipline, as does the sonnet. There are rules. My process is to keep a tight leash on my sentences but not self-edit much in the draft phase. The fun comes when I do a word count and have to start paring down, replacing, refining.

There is an effort to collect 100-word stories on this site, 100 Word Story.

I got started with Loren Eaton’s Advent Ghosts. This Halloween story, “Treasure,” is for my friend Eric Douglas. I like what Eric says, “(T)his particular brand of flash fiction is telling a complete story in 100 words. Not more. Not less. It can be a lot of fun. And it can also be challenging. Sometimes what is most important is what is left unsaid.”

I will share Eric’s full Halloween 2015 round-up on Esse Diem on or after Friday, October 30.

I hope you enjoy my story. I’ve always been fascinated with how simple curiosity can morph into obsession and losing touch with reality.

I’ll leave the rest unsaid.

John William Waterhouse, Psyche opening the golden box , 1903.

John William Waterhouse, Psyche opening the golden box , 1903.

Treasure

It was a place to hide treasures. How what she considered “treasure” changed, she couldn’t remember.

Things from the woods behind the house, the path to school. First leaves or seeds, but soon feathers. What once had a heartbeat. Claws, then tails, whatever could be preserved. That Halloween, the treasures were recent.

“Who’s next?” Seth held a flashlight under his face in the dark.

He passed her treasure box to the left, and Jeff shivered. “I’ll go.”

Then, “EW! I know that’s just spaghetti in there! That’s worse than the peeled grape eyeballs!”

No, she thought. It’s so much better.

Flash Fiction WINNER (There IS Another . . .) : “Not One Stone Upon Another” by Loren Eaton

It is with great excitement that I announce our second winner in the photo prompt flash fiction contest! Congratulations to Loren Eaton for his outstanding story, “Not One Stone Upon Another.”

I will confess, Loren writes a lot of things I don’t understand on the first read. But true to his style and my experience with it, this story snaps into place at the very end in a way that gives you chills and a kind of sudden epiphany that sends you right back to the first sentence to read it all over again, knowing what you know now.

Along with Rob Boone, Loren will receive a gift from Danforth Pewter and my eternal gratitude for sharing his gift with the world on this blog.

Clear your head, take a deep breath, and get ready for how the world ends. I give you Loren Eaton.

“Not One Stone Upon Another”| by Loren Eaton

The vista would’ve made Bosch cringe.

To the south, the smoke of Charleston ascended in a pillar up to heaven. To the north, the horizon writhed with borealis light. Cindered earth stretched west and east in an unbroken plain, the hills thrown down and the valleys thrust up, a zaffre-tinted hue coloring the blasted soil. But here—right here—a 21-acre plot in Sissonville sat untouched by the devastation, its grass green, a loop of road paved with unbroken black, a red-sided barn still standing.

Inside, a trio sat. They didn’t know Bosch from Beethoven or Bart Simpson. Two were deep in animated conversation, and the third was eating.

At least until a fourth joined them.

At the sound of the barn doors creaking open, Lula turned. “I believe we have been discovered.” She tried on a smile.

Tec raised an eyebrow, but continued chewing.

“No, not discovered, we’ve been busted,” Mat laughed.

The fourth figure Had No Name. You could tell by the way The Thing moved. The way light bent around It as though It dimpled the fabric of reality. The way the ribbon of grass upon which it had trod had gone gray.

“See?” Lula said. “That’s exactly what I was arguing. Linguistics is full of subtleties and contradictions. For instance, take—”

this is not the task with which you have been charged.

Had you been there, perhaps you could’ve described the voice. Had you been there, you might’ve said that it tore with the force of cyclonic winds or was as weighty as hadopelagic depths. Had you been there, though, you wouldn’t have been able to. Had you been there, you’d have focused on not going immediately and irrevocably insane.

Tec took another bite. Juices ran down his chin.

“Boss, come on, cut us a little slack.” Matt waved a hand expansively.

“There. Take that word,” Lula said. “‘Boss’ originally designated a protuberance some 700 heliocentric perambulations ago in the sub-continental archipelago of …” She trailed off, brow furrowing. “Rain. Clarified-suet comestibles. Barley and peat and ethane monoxide—”

the constitutional monarchy of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. i personally attended to its reappropriation. An anthracite corona tinged with cobalt bloomed around The Thing That Had No Name. Had you been there, you might’ve described It as seeming irritated and just the tiniest bit self-satisfied.

Tec rolled his eyes and spat a bit of gristle into the dust.

“Yes, England,” Lula continued. “But a few hundred solar circumnavigations later, in this particular supraaquatic land mass it acquired the meaning of … well, what you are.”

it is called the constitutional republic of the United States of America, with which you three were charged and thoroughly briefed. A tendril of smoke began to rise from a nearby bale of straw.

Lula glared. “I know we were. But no one ever explained that ‘boss’ could denote a hump and a—” Here a tangle of syllables rolled off her tongue, and had you been there, you would’ve found that your mouth couldn’t have replicated it. “—and, in that southernmost penal protectorate, a farmer.”

Stamping out the fire, Matt raised a warning eyebrow. “Cool story, brah, but what’s a farmer have to do with the price of tea in, uh, Comoros, no, that’s not right—”

A wind colder than any Arctic blast lashed the barn, whipping up dust motes that writhed in the light striping through board walls. Had you been there, you might said it sounded like a breath huffed out in annoyance. China. but Mathelyous is correct. you have yet to explain your failure to follow the edict ratified by a supermajority of the Harmonious Synarchy, its will be ever praised.

“Its will be ever praised,” the three echoed.

i await your clarification.

Outside, a street sign made a pained squealing, vexed by the vestiges of the wind.

Finally, Lula bowed her head, raised her palms, a gesture of supplication. “Understand, we proceeded according the plan—”

“The most right and true plan, don’t you know,” Matt added.

“We began at the three intercardinal cartographic zones and worked our way here—”

“But then it, like, went all pear shaped.”

“We spoke to one another about what we had seen.”

“For shizzle, boss, like art, civic works, commerce, communications, education.”

i fail to see the relevance.

Tec burped. Then he said, “Culture. Beauty. Creativity. Accomplishments.”

The Thing sighed. No rushing wind, no splitting earth, no kindled flame. Had you been there, you would’ve called it a sigh, plain and simple. they had those things in abundance and yet hardly seemed to acknowledge them.

Tec nodded. Then he held out what he was eating. “Drumstick. Tasty. Want some?”

no. a drumstick comes from the gallus gallus domesticus. which only has four toes.

Tec squinted at the end of the drumstick, lips moving as he counted. When he reached five, he said, “Oh.”

“I told you so,” Lula said.

“Totally grody,” Matt said.

“Shame to waste it,” Tec said.

a shame to waste all of it, The Thing With No Name said. Then It hastily added, but we fulfill whatsoever the Harmonious Synarchy decrees.

“And what has been decreed?” Lula asked.

a trans-galactic conveyance repository.

“You mean, like, an interstellar parking lot?” Matt asked.

yes, a parking lot.

At that, the trio made its way out of the barn. They didn’t look remotely human now. Tec clutched a fan of ribs as if for future consumption. But by the time they reached the road, he seemed to have thought better of it and tossed it aside. The cage of bone struck the sign and snagged on it for a moment. Had you been there, you might’ve described it as some macabre Christmas ornament. Then they fell. And the sign did too. And then the barn. And as the sky turned black as sackcloth, you would’ve been glad you were not there.

Perhaps it was a mercy that no one was.

Scary Ghost Stories and Tales of the Glories

campfire-tales

“An English tradition for hundreds of years was telling stories in front of the winter fire. They did this especially around the Winter Solstice which falls a few days before Christmas. I’ve said for years the winter solstice is my least favorite day of the year. It has the shortest amount of daylight and the longest night.

Imagine what it was like for someone 500 years ago, wondering if this was the year the night finally won over the day and the days kept getting shorter and shorter until it was night 24 hours a day. No wonder they huddled around the fire for warmth and no wonder the only stories they could think to tell had ghosts in them.”

via Season brings out the ghost stories! – Books by Eric Douglas.

Loren Eaton’s annual 100 Word Storytelling is just around the corner . . .

“The Last” — Advent Ghosts 2014

Photo by P. Koskela, Finland

Photo by P. Koskela, Finland

Earth was silent, dark, dense beneath the enormous frame.

Heartbeats grew further apart, the slight tremor of ice shards like glass in long lashes and shaggy coat. A dozen bitter winters, this the first when it is too much to stand.

Thump.

An eyelid raises, cracking its frozen seam to see a bright line in greenish-yellow against the sky’s ink.

No sound or scent of footed life, only the patient gathering scrapes of talon and wing.

The eye is open, the chest is now silent. He draws a breath.

The circle tightens. The sky’s line glows.

One soul rises, absolved.

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This is an exactly 100-word flash fiction piece for a tradition of writing ghost stories on Christmas Eve. We acknowledge a sinful and hopeless world, and welcome the dawn in full awareness that Christmas day brings us light.

Advent Ghosts 100 Word Storytelling is put on by Loren Eaton at I Saw Lightning Fall. See other entries there.

Is any season lonelier than solstice?

From my writing friend, Loren Eaton:

Is any season lonelier than solstice?

The elements shove the sun over the horizon, force the flora into the earth, drive animals deep into their dens. And what of us? We contend with old paths turned treacherous by ice. Well-known tableaus have gone foreign, hills hoary with frost and trees stripped down to bare boughs. Spare a sigh over goldengrove unleaving, just one while rubbing aching knuckles and flexing numb toes, face ruddied to rawness by the cold. Then go home to shelter and faces known — if not always friendly.

We understand why.

The half-full bottle hidden beneath the sink. Bills shoved to one side of the desk. Those hard words muttered in still moments. Breathe in the tired smells of stale coffee, damp cigarettes, and aerosol air freshener. Then pause. The air holds a hint of wood smoke as fire flares up in the hearth. The house creaks, wind whipping around the eaves. Tinsel glitters in the dim light. The person sitting across from you smiles tentatively. Starts to speak. Hesitates. The silence, filled as it is with the ghosts of old arguments, is deep.

What will you say to break it?

Intrigued? Bop over to Loren’s blog, I Saw Lightning Fall, to find out how to be part of this annual 100-word story tradition:

http://isawlightningfall.blogspot.com/2014/12/shared-storytelling-advent-ghosts-2014.html

We have some fun each year. Personally, I go spooky but never gory. Reflecting on my previous offerings, I can see I use a lot of ambiguity to drive an unsettling mystery. Those are the tales I prefer. But the canvas is wide. I hope you will consider joining us this year!

Some of my previous 100 word stories for this event:

2011 The Escape

2012 For Later

2012 Unwanted

2013 Vacancy

2014 . . . Coming December 19!