I first started following Jared Sexton a few years ago after we both had short stories appear in the same lit mag. But, I think, looking back, it was really only a matter of time before I became interested in his work in any case. During the wild election season of 2016, Mr Sexton bubbled to the top of my social media feeds as he started live-tweeting un-sympathetic dispatches from Donald Trump rallies. These boots-on-the-ground journalistic forays painted a fascinating (if disturbing) portrait of what was really happening in Trumpland.
I followed along, riveted, as the tone of these rallies grew uglier under Sexton’s watchful eyes; I watched as his political pieces started getting picked up by increasingly prestigious outlets like The New Republic and The New York Times; I sat mesmerized as he struggled with a growing backlash from the emboldened right-wing online fringe (and it’s newly initiated non-fringe as well). I felt like we observed the whole train wreck together. Every unbelievable, exasperating, exhausting moment of it.
So, of course, when I saw that he was going to be putting out a book based on his earlier reporting and research, I was damn near first in line.
The main thing to make clear about The People Are Going to Rise is that Mr Sexton has a point of view. This is a less spectacle-based form of gonzo journalism than that popularized by the likes of Hunter S. Thompson, but no less compelling. Sexton is as much a character in the book as Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. He tries different things, he gets deep into discussions with people he doesn’t understand, and he injects himself into the narrative. He’s not shy about pointing out where he stands, and that means some people who fundamentally disagree with Sexton’s take that Trump is a boil on the ass of American politics (and America itself) will probably not be able to see past their “fake news” (oh, the irony) take on the book.
And that’s to their detriment. Because this book is as critical of Bernie Sanders and Bernie Bros as it is of Trump and his bewildering supporters. It pulls no punches in analyzing Hillary Clinton. And, fundamentally, this is a book where the central theme is not “Trump is bad,” but that Trump is just one symptom of a plague of rage and disenfranchisement. One stand-out moment in the book is where Sexton takes a staunch conservative stranger with him on a road trip to a Hillary Clinton rally. The person-to-person exchange characterizes the tone of what the book seems to be saying: what we have now isn’t normal, but there is a normal that doesn’t involve hatred and destruction and violence and death. To get there, Sexton seems to say, we need to close our mouths and open our ears.
This is a remarkable book. Its immediacy is breathtaking (I had no idea how much I was still stinging from the devastation of election night—less than a year ago!—until I read Sexton’s eerily reminiscent account of it), but the scope feels like it bears the weight of history. Perhaps this comes from the care put into contextualizing events, at least those which are not still outstanding (like Trump’s increasingly obvious ties to Russia, which is still breaking news regularly). Sexton’s voice is clear and engaging, the writing strong and passionate without being dogmatic. I tore through this and even though every event it recounts is still fresh in my memory I never felt it was disposable; on the contrary, it felt fresh and significant. Highly, highly recommended.
I correctly guessed, before beginning this book, that despite the dozens and dozens of times I’d listened to the Hamilton cast album, there were sections of the dense lyrics I had missed or misheard. So, honestly, it was the libretto portion of the book—and its insider footnotes from show creator Lin-Manuel Miranda—that held the most interest for me. Being able to pick out tricky lyrical bits from rapid-fire deliveries and frenetic arrangements was a true highlight of the book. But even that paled against the delight of Manuel’s annotations, which surpassed even my high expectations. I would happily read a book in which he broke down every single lyric in the whole show.
What genuinely surprised me about the book was how moving and affecting it was, particularly in the essay sections by Jeremy McCarter. My assumption was that I’d read the libretto and footnotes, skip the essays, drop the book on my coffee table and read one or two sections every now and then when I had a minute to kill. I figured these would be either dryish, in-depth Broadway nerdgasms or, perhaps, fluffy self-congratulations about how amazing everyone involved in the production was. In fact, the essay sections are both inside baseball and fawning, but like Miranda and Hamilton itself, their earnestness and sincerity are infectious. Instead of skipping them, I devoured these pieces. I ended up reading the book cover-to-cover in about three long sessions.
The part where this all shocked me was in how deeply I let the whole book affect me. Exactly like Hamilton itself (which I still haven’t seen as a production, another testament to its inherent power as a story, a vehicle, a movement) the book worked into my heart. Discussions of creative challenges, personal struggles, opportunities, and even philosophical topics like ambition, legacy, and history have real meat and genuine soul. Of course, the already weepy song It’s Quiet Uptown comes with an absolutely heart wrenching essay that absolutely wrecked me, as I struggled through the song lyrics in a full on slobbering ugly cry. But every part of this book is top-quality and ridiculously readable.
The book is beautiful in its presentation, full of glorious photos, masterfully typeset (and yes, I do notice stuff like that), the kind of book that I don’t think works in any other format (as much as I like ebooks and audiobooks). It’s pricey, but I think totally worth it. There is no hesitation in my recommendation of this book to Hamilton fans, and I think reading this can elevate even a casual interest in the play. I’m sure there are Hamilton haters out there who would get little from this, but those are the kind of people I’m not sure I care to know enough to be recommending books to anyway.
Trying something a bit different with this post. This was pitched and provided by Sarah Jones to be of interest to ironSoap.com readers on her subject of expertise, sleep health. If you enjoy this article, please leave a comment below and I can look into providing more guest features like this.
Many writers plunge through the depths of the nighttime darkness trying to finish writing their novel. In order to complete a word count for the day or a chapter or two, sleep often times becomes the one thing we give up as we chase our goals. But should you?
The Effects of No Sleep
Productivity and creative thinking are directly affected by sleep, or lack thereof. Our mental performance as writers is challenged by the amount of sleep we receive each day. Harvard Med has studies that show that lack of sleep stunts our creative thinking and our mental performance and quick-thinking cognitive abilities. In short, no sleep means dull and thoughtless writing.
Lack of sleep has negative effects on our creative processes as well as our mood and our health. No sleep often creates a foul mood as fatigue and sleepiness set in. During hours of sleep at night, our bodies recuperate and systems restore themselves. Not getting enough sleep challenges our health, mood, and cognitive abilities and can stunt the writing process instead of flourishing creativity.
When to Write, When to Sleep
The challenge we writers have is to make time for everything. Sleep is a must, as is carving time for writing our novel. Both can be achieved by practicing some techniques for a healthier and more restful experience.
Designate your writing times. Often times writers procrastinate and avoid writing, even if we have a novel to finish. You can either bully yourself and charge through to accomplish your writing, or listen to the passive procrastinator that doesn’t “feel” like writing today. A writer writes! Push through and treat it as a job and get that word count in so you can sleep tonight. Accomplishing daily goals in your writing will ease stress and anxiety and allow for a restful evening.
The Magic of Yoga Nidra
If you are getting a good amount of sleep at night, but still feel tired, consider trying yogic sleep. Yogic sleep or Yoga Nidra is a technique used that attains a “restorative sleep,” otherwise a sleep where you are completely relaxed and rested but are still fully aware during the process. Yogic sleep may take some practice, but once it is completed successfully, the benefits of a rested mind and body will help you finish your novel.
To try Yogic sleep, we first must engage in breathing exercises to steady our breathing and lower our heart rate and blood pressure. The next step is to create a resolve, or attempt to manifest a factor that we wish to have in our lives such as peace or courage. The next steps involve separating the mind form the body, embrace the awareness of any feelings and emotions, and then to visualize as the process concludes. It is said that 45 minutes of this type of restorative sleep equates to approximately 3 hours of regular sleep, the benefits of sleep can be achieved in a much shorter period.
Yogic sleep is an excellent option for our bodies and minds to rest and recuperate without the hours and hours of sleep that we have avoided. Breathing exercises, organizing and planning, and getting proper exercise are also researched and proven elements that help de-stress our lives and increase productivity.
We need sleep to think, and we need our thinking to write. Shoving hours of sleepless writing into a novel will get you closer to completion, but may make for a massive editing headache. Sleep and rest increase our brain activity, which is the heart and soul of a writer’s world, so don’t stay up too late tonight, because you need your rest.
Sarah is the Editor of Sleepy Deep. Feeling the repercussions of being an irregular sleeper for far too long, she decided to do something about it. She learned why sleep is so important and how to maximize it, and is now helping others who are struggling to find their right sleep routine.
The central event in Big Little Lies is something that, in a different book or story, could be summarized in two or three pages of exposition. It’s a dramatic sequence, to be sure, but the trick of Liane Moriarty’s cunning novel is to tease this moment, then back away and rewind, then slowly peel back layers until the full context and complexity of the moment can be understood. Thus, when the scene finally happens, the impact of it and the shocking, fascinating, deliriously entertaining chaos of it are keenly understood and richly felt. It’s a master class on building tension.
The event in question is an unspecified tragedy that takes place at a fundraising function (a Trivia Night) for a public school in a small Australian beach town. The introduction teases the Trivia Night from a remote point of view and then backs up six months and focuses on the stories of three of the night’s key players, each of whom take turns with a deeply intimate third-person narrative style that I can only describe as arresting. As the story unfolds from these distinct points of view, Ms Moriarty takes great care to skip to just the most pertinent or character-revealing moments, and while the book is long and detailed, it has short, punchy chapters and is never, ever a slog to read. Throughout, reality-show-style confessional transcripts appear, discussing the events leading up to the Trivia Night, the night itself, and its aftermath in cleverly obscure language from the perspectives of some of the people involved.
These flashback-y transcripts are a gimmick, sure, but they’re one of the most effective gimmicks I’ve seen. The book reads like a screenplay, with sharp directorial cuts and a phenomenal sense of pacing. But don’t mistake this book for a disposable summer beach page-turner quickly forgotten once the back cover is closed. Ms Moriarty uses her ability to capture the reader’s full and suddenly ravenous attention to open the door wide for her remorselessly bladed and often downright hilarious insights. This may be one of the finest satires I’ve read since Vonnegut’s “Breakfast of Champions” and the book’s commentary about the politics of public schools, the collective hallucination of suburban existence, and the messy necessity of true friendship is so on point it pricks and draws blood. It’s scathing, laugh-out-loud funny, and absolutely horrifying all at once. There are so many insights on the inner lives of women: working mothers, single mothers, stay-at-home moms, women with supportive husbands, women in terrible marriages, directionless women, women with dark secrets, dark pasts, dark thoughts, personas, nuances, layers, contradictions, fears, truimphs. Big Little Lies’s characters are alive in ways most authors only wish they could manage and it’s all done in such an insightful, delightful manner that you don’t see it happening until it’s done.
The book is not utterly flawless. Ms Moriarty takes liberties with her three central protagonists when several of them appear on page together, hopping sometimes confusingly from viewpoint to viewpoint. She occasionally structures sentences in ways that tripped me up, and I found a bit of the transcript gimmick and a lot of the early character-introduction sequences needlessly confusing and overwhelming with lots of new names and relationships. Eventually the key names and connections did sort themselves out but there are places where a minor character reappears at a key moment and there’s a few minutes of disorientation until something re-contextualizes them. But it’s worth noting that there is another version of this novel that could have been written at twice the length wherein it might rival a Russian novel in terms of characters with their own point of view chapters. And next to the scope and skill on display everywhere else in this book, these are very minor complaints indeed.
I’ll say simply that I loved this book. I tore through the last two hundred pages at a breakneck (for me) pace, completing them in a single evening, and was thrilled to see the conclusion met every one of my sky-high expectations. I’d recommend this book to anyone, but I kind of especially want to recommend it to male readers specifically for the way it draws attention to the multifaceted ways that women view each other and themselves. After so much pop culture time spent distilling and generalizing women down to a set of simple stereotypes for the sake of “comedy” it’s so refreshing to see the real unpacking of women’s thought processes and self-aware complexities. And, it happens to result in genuine laughs that are much funnier than any of that other reductionist crap you usually see. It’s refreshing, dark, honest, hilarious, thrilling, heartfelt, and completely satisfying. Put it on your to-read list and thank me later.
At the end of last year, we pulled into the station on a full twelve months of the 200 CCs experiment. The safest thing I can say at this point is that it’s been quite a ride and nothing like what I expected. It feels like it’s worth reflecting a bit and being as forthcoming as I’m able to be about the future of the endeavor.
I learned an awful lot last year as an editor. The first is that editing is richly rewarding, but also that it’s powerfully demanding. My own writing suffered in 2016 as a direct result of my work on 200 CCs. Now, that was a possibility I considered going in, but way back in December of 2015, my writing wasn’t going very well anyway so I felt good about the change of pace.
But, writing is (for me) a cyclic undertaking. By the time I felt like I was starting to get my mojo back, I was well embedded in the commitments of the 200 CCs project. The way this manifested was a total ball-drop of the zine aspect. I don’t know how many readers were enjoying the monthly issues, but once I hit the mid-point of the year (which I had been calling Volume 1), I could no longer maintain the schedule. Volume 2, Issue 1 slipped behind, then Issue 2 slipped behind that, and the collected Volume 1 edition stumbled as well. By the time it was late in September I was four issues behind and had to sort of quietly resign myself that zine editions would probably not be coming for Volume 2 at all.
Part of that slow burial behind the mounting work was a fresh output of new writing I was producing. I still liked the idea of the monthly issues, but I had the mounting sense they were redundant. The stories were already available here on the site. The tighter layout controls and guest editorials and so forth were fun and (I hope) aesthetically exciting, but it wasn’t always clear how much value those digital-only versions added.
The other factor that cannot be overlooked is that I bit off just slightly more than I could chew financially speaking. Sure, I had funding for the project as it was initially conceived: a weekly microfiction story and a few themed contests. But as the scope grew to twice a week and the contest prizes grew to accommodate the large number of wonderful entries, I had to dip past my reserves to cover costs. Given that the whole thing had zero revenue potential (and was originally just an excuse to keep fresh content on the website—paying for freshness with cash instead of time), there was no way to offset any of the expenses.
I don’t mean any of this as a complaint or an excuse. Most of the pitfalls I foresaw as possibilities and wasn’t blindsided by them. But, they do play into the future of 200 CCs as an entity and I’d be stupid to ignore or downplay their significance.
As much as I’ve loved having lots of great stories to post on the site and have enjoyed the increased traffic to ironsoap.com, I have to admit that none of it has made this site—ostensibly devoted to my own writing—a better place to come and find out about the writing of Paul A. Hamilton.
But a few things remain as true today as they were nearly a year ago when I cooked up this idea. One is that I still love microfiction—in particular the loose 200-ish word format that I’ve focused on. Seeing the expertise at which my contributors have displayed in wringing every last bit of pain and beauty out of those precious few sentences never ceases to thrill me.
Another is that I still crave a collaborative creative outlet where I can stretch beyond word-monkey and exercise my visual design skills, my eye for talent and execution, my photography, my editorial instincts. And lastly, I still crave the means and opportunity to pay writers for strong work that speaks to me (and hopefully others).
That all being said, I can confidently say that at this point I know I have one final trick up my sleeve for Year One of 200 CCs and beyond that any further exploration of this kind of endeavor will have to involve the following:
A sufficient infusion of cash to maintain the minimum semi-pro rates I’ve offered to date.
A separation of the microfiction stories from the ironsoap.com site.
A new schedule, format, or process that does not involve a nonstop cycle of twice-a-week publication (plus any other format variations).
What’s To Come
The one sure thing is that Year Two of 200 CCs won’t look like this past year. I don’t know exactly what that means, only that you shouldn’t expect twice weekly microfiction stories posted on ironsoap.com. My early visions include a lot more guest editors, zine editions first, and more like a bi-monthly schedule.
But all of it depends on that final trick I mentioned above. I’m currently putting together a 200 CCs Year One print edition, featuring (nearly) all the stories from the entire year. There will not be an ebook edition available to the public. The only way to get all these great stories in one place will be the book.
And the catch is that the proceeds will determine the funding for (or even the existence of) 200 CCs in 2017.
The experiment is pretty straightforward: if enough people buy the book to fund another year, I’ll make 200 CCs Year Two happen, in some form or another. If not, well, that’s the way it goes.
I hope it’s successful, but in a way there’s no chance that it won’t be. Even if nobody buys the book and we can’t fund future forays into 200 CCs, there will at least be a collection of last year’s wonderful experiment available, and I can’t think of a more fitting legacy to the project than that.
I force myself to meet the cleaning staff’s bemused gaze. “If I were you,” I say, “I’d go home, climb into bed, and not emerge for a week.”
I don’t tell them the banknotes I’ve handed out will have no value come dawn.
Picking up a half empty bottle from a confetti strewn table, I totter from the Ballroom, Mia following in my wake.
In the empty corridor, Mia wraps her arms around me as I shudder and quake, buffeted by memories of what is about to happen.
“Why do you stay with me?” I ask, “Why not try and change your fate?”
She kisses my forehead. “You are my fate,” she says. “You’ve convinced me of that much.” She glances towards the Ballroom, the scene of such recent joy, celebrations of a New Year. “Do you—does your advice—save any of them?”
Stale air claws at my throat. “I don’t know. After… there are no records, no traces.”
“Yet still you try,” she nods. “Where to now?”
I wish I could share her serenity, wish I didn’t know her future. “To Parliament Hill,” I say, “We watch it burn, you and I.”
“Come then.” She plucks the warm bottle from my grasp, takes a sip and grimaces. “But let’s leave this behind.”
Liam is a London based writer and host of the award winning monthly literary event, Liars’ League. He was a finalist in Sci-Fest LA’s Roswell Award 2015 and has had work published at DailyScienceFiction and in Sci-Phi Journal. More via http://happyendingnotguaranteed.blogspot.co.uk/.
She wondered if – after you were dead – you ever dreamed of Earth?
Her papers whirled through the scanner, giving her a few moments to think. It was usually too hectic to think. But while the machine gave her the opportunity, she looked outside the big office window. It was 5 pm and the commuters were hurrying home. The sky was periwinkle, large cotton ball clouds assaulted by the heavy orange light of the setting sun.
There was a smell of autumn in the air, thick wet leaves falling from the oaks. She had been very upset recently, stress from work, from relationships, from impending holidays. And then she remembered: her father’s last consciousness had been in autumn. Before the cancer had claimed him. Mind, body, spirit.
She had dreamed the night before, her father appearing to her in the dream, speaking comfort and giving her the most reassuring hug she had in years. They say that when you dream of a dead loved one, they are in Heaven thinking about you.
She wondered if the dead remembered the smell of autumn, the wind brushing dead leaves from the trees, the autumn sky becoming heavy with the setting sun. Did the dead dream of the living?
The scanner stopped, its task complete. The world swallowed her again.
Laura Campbell lives and writes in Houston, Texas. She is an internationally published author, with over two dozen short stories published in the dark fiction, horror, and science fiction genres. She also has two novels (Blue Team One and Five Houses) currently in publication. In 2008 she won the James Award for her short science fiction story 416175. Her husband, Patrick, and children, Alexander and Samantha, support and encourage her daily in her writing.
The annual ritual always left Saint Nick shaken and exhausted. That’s why he used the workshop. This necessary act was not to be seen.
“I’ll clean up, sir. You get some rest,” Chief Elf Elroy said.
Most people thought the reindeer were born with their special abilities. If only that were true. Santa’s magic elixir gave them the power to fly, the stamina to travel the world in one night. But that potion carried a hefty price: madness at sunrise. And only a blow from Santa’s ax could prevent that transformation from taking place.
“Thank you, El. I’m going to the house.”
Mrs. Claus was waiting at the front door with hot chocolate and a tray of cookies. Bless her heart, she had no idea how every Christmas night came to an end.
“Welcome home, Papa.”
Santa kissed her warmly on the cheek.
“How was your night?” he asked.
“Oh, fine. After all these years, I still don’t know how to pass the time while you’re away. So I finally tried some of that concoction you always make. Can’t say I cared for it.”
Santa stood dumbstruck. Dawn was breaking over the horizon, and his eyes shifted toward the workshop.
Michael Balletti lives in New Jersey. By day, he’s a copy editor for a marketing research company, and by night, he tries to write as much as time permits. His work has appeared or will soon appear in Theme of Absence, The Last Line, Postcard Shorts, Sanitarium Magazine, Illumen, Black Satellite, MindMares and The Threshold.
The Christmas Key
He held out an unwrapped present that rattled like a pocketful of quarters. “Thirty seconds.”
She threw back the lid and plunged her hands into the familiar box. There were a hundred silver keys inside, maybe more.
Their first Christmas together, she’d taken too long to decide. She’d thought it was a joke and wound up empty-handed. That seemed so long ago.
He let her keep the keys that didn’t fit, and she spent the year studying them, learning which patterns were wrong.
She seized on two that could be right, neither had the same pattern as her pile of rejects. But which one was right? Were there multiples in the box? Decoys?
Was the right key even in there?
She held them up to compare. The left key had a thinner larger first tooth. Was that wrong?
She dropped it. Heart pounding, she scrabbled for the lock fastening her ankle chain to the furnace pipe. Her chosen key slid in.
She cranked her wrist to unleash freedom.
The key didn’t budge.
With a moan, she collapsed backward, striking her head hard on the cellar floor.
“Zero.” He clapped the box shut with a sigh. “Ah, well. You tried. Better luck next Christmas.”
Johnny dragged a chair away from the kitchen table, as quietly as he could. His father’s snores came from the bedroom down the hall, and every time the sound trailed out, Johnny paused, heart racing. Finally, the chair bumped against the kitchen counter. He clambered up and stretched on his tiptoes, just barely able to slide out the largest blade from the knife block.
When Johnny had asked for a super soaker last Christmas, what had he gotten? A duck, that’s what. A crappy wooden duck. Still optimistic in those days, he had brought it in for show and tell. The other kids in preschool had laughed at him, and laughed even harder when he ran to the teacher, crying.
Johnny shook off the memory. This was no time for weakness. The lights on the Christmas tree twinkled and flashed merrily, reflecting off the cool, smooth metal in his hand. He waited patiently by the fireplace until he heard jingling bells and heavy footsteps on the roof, and then he hefted the blade.
Boy, was Johnny ready for him. This time… this time, the fat man would pay.
Alison McBain lives in Connecticut with her husband and three daughters. She has over forty publications, including stories and poems in Flash Fiction Online, Abyss & Apex and Once Upon a Scream. She writes book reviews at www.bewilderingstories.com, blogs at alisonmcbain.com and tweets @AlisonMcBain.
by Jen Gniadecki
A low growl on the other side of the oak door catches her attention. She sighs and thinks how lovely a vacation would be. To get away from all this sorrow gone mad. Caring for them is no problem. They’re lovely, really. Until one can’t take it anymore and goes feral. This is when she doesn’t like her job so much. You cannot expect an elf to work forever, of course, but she had to agree with her husband when he says they should be able to last ten years. They really should be content knowing they give joy to so many children. Yet, the living conditions are awful and there are always going to be weak ones who can’t cope. The growl intensifies and Mrs. Claus knows it is time to act—before he becomes too strong to subdue. She reaches for the cattle prod next to her armchair. It is a shame her husband won’t listen when she suggests a rehabilitation program but he just goes on about the cattle prod and the incinerator. With the abundant supply she can see his point but changes should be made. She raises the cattle prod, turns the doorknob, and vows—as she does every year—to make improvements next season.
Jen Gniadecki enjoys dark stories and strong coffee.
Another Day in the Life
by Holly Schofield
Determined to make today special, Marnie hung dusty tinsel from the mantle at dawn. The Krawn Occupation had ruined the last four Christmases. Cate had spent them huddled in her wheelchair, battle-ruined fingers stroking her empty stocking.
This year, Marnie had found a gift. She slid the pair of shiny knitting needles into Cate’s stocking then slumped on the sofa, exhausted from her predawn excursion digging through the fabric store’s rubble.
The front door banged open. A Krawn, all gleaming armor and claws. “Marnie Greenlove? You are arrested for treason.” One eyestalk glared down at her.
“Who’s there?” Cate’s weak voice from the bedroom.
“Go back to sleep, it’s just me.” Marnie’s shiv was in the kitchen.
“Stand up.” The Krawn touched its holstered laser.
In one motion, Marnie rose and jabbed the knitting needles into the Krawn’s armpit, aiming for that sweet spot between the armor plates. The Krawn sagged, more quickly than if she’d used her knife. She’d have to tell the others about how well knitting needles worked.
She dragged the corpse behind the sofa and tossed the gore-slicked stocking and broken needles on top.
The creak of Cate’s wheelchair made her turn. “Merry Christmas, Marnie dear!”
“Merry Christmas, love.” She settled Cate next to the fire. Just an ordinary day, after all.
Holly Schofield’s stories have appeared in many publications including Lightspeed, Crossed Genres, and Tesseracts. For more of her work, see hollyschofield.wordpress.com.
Tied Up With Strings
by Rachel Anna Neff
Joseph worked his way through the crowded mall, ignoring the whispers and stares. Past the three-story Christmas tree, a little girl ran into his leg. She looked up at him, gasped, and pressed a green envelope into his hands. He looked down to see the letter was addressed to “Santa” in the kind of handwriting only a second-grade teacher or parent could love. When he looked back up, he couldn’t find her.
“I don’t want this,” he muttered, looking for a trashcan. He hated being mistaken for Santa. No, he hated being reminded that his grandson Clark loved thinking of him as Santa. His son’s girlfriend had taken off four years ago on New Year’s Eve. With Clark. Without a trace.
His grief was a splinter that dug deeper and deeper each passing holiday. He loved his full, well-groomed white beard. But the recognition as Kris Kringle was too much for the sharp prick he felt in his heart.
“Dye it red, then,” his wife, Edna, had decreed. “I don’t want to hear you complain about this for the next twenty Christmases. You think I don’t miss him too?”
He found a trashcan and set the envelope on top.
Rachel Anna Neff has written poetry since elementary school and has notebooks full of half-written novels. She earned her doctorate in Spanish literature and recently completed her MFA. Her work has been published in anthologies, Dirty Chai magazine and Crab Fat Magazine. You can find her on Twitter as @celloandbow or check out her editing venture at www.exceptionaleditorial.com.
by Mary Casey
The bishop has done it before.
This year’s soul is dressed in a sagging red and white costume and sporting a soiled beard. The bearded man is standing over a black kettle while ringing a bell as though he is calling for heaven’s notice. He approaches the man and slips a ten dollar bill into the kettle.
“Don’t do it,” he whispers to the man. “Think of your children finding out what you are planning to do. Remember why you ring the bell and who it is for. It will work out. Trust me.”
He smiles and pats the man on his skinny back and walks off into the crowd.
The bearded man calls out. “Wait! It is because of my children I need to do this!”
The bishop stops and turns. “Trust your better nature. Merry Christmas to you, son.”
The bearded man feels a lump in his pocket. He pulls out a wad of cash, exactly the amount he needs to buy his children Christmas presents. Tears fill his eyes and he picks up the bell. “Bless you!” he calls. “What is your name?”
A deep chuckle sounds through the parking lot. “Nicholas,” he answers. “You may call me Nick.”
Mary Casey writes from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, where she is inspired by her surroundings and two Tibetan Spaniels.
Peace on Earth
by Vaughan Stanger
On Christmas Day 2019, billions of Hildreth fell like snowflakes from their orbiting bauble-ships. Summoned from their homes, most of Earth’s population floated up into the sky without saying farewell. Abandoned by his wife and daughters, Bill Dennison contemplated a life as vacant as the chairs
surrounding his dining table.
One year on and Christmas Day delivered sporadic gunfire, also a knock at Bill’s door. Lonely enough to accept the risk, he tugged back the bolts. Three Hildreth stood on the doorstep: the tallest chin-high to him, its companions identically shorter. Golden skin notwithstanding, the trio resembled his family closely enough to make him shudder. “Merry Christmas!” echoed in his skull as he slammed the door. He dismissed subsequent visitations from the sanctuary of his armchair.
On the fifth anniversary of his family’s departure, Bill noted the lack of gunfire and his depleted stock of food. The knock came. He heaved a sigh and opened the door.
“Merry Christmas,” he said.
The twins’ smiles set off fireworks in his head.
“Please come in.”
Bill began spooning beans onto biscuits.
The twins spoke in unison. “We’ve something for you, Daddy!”
Hearing another knock, Bill shuffled to the door with tears prickling his eyes. He knew what to expect.
Finally, it was his turn.
Formerly an astronomer and more recently a research project manager in an aerospace company, Vaughan Stanger now writes SF and fantasy fiction for a living. His stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Abyss & Apex, Postscripts, Nature Futures and Interzone, amongst others. He has recently released a new collection of short stories as a Kindle ebook: Sons of the Earth. You can follow Vaughan’s writing adventures at vaughanstanger.com or @VaughanStanger.
The little tree sat out, overhead light reflecting off its shiny, plastic, needles. There were boxes packed full of dishes and clothes, being donated before their departure, but the fake tree didn’t have a destination. Jenny caught her wife looking at it and asked, again, if there was a reason it was still in the living room.
“It was ours,” Sarah said, again. “Everything else is just stuff, but Christmas was ours.” Jenny sat next to her, and put her arm around Sarah’s shoulders. “We can still have holidays in space, baby.” “If we’re assigned to the same ship. If we don’t blow up leaving orbit.”
“That’s the plan, Sarah. We’ll be together.”
“But we won’t have our tree.” Jenny smiled a little, and pulled Sarah into a hug. “I will find you a new tree.”
“You’re going to find me a Christmas tree. In space.”
“If that’s what you need to feel better about going, yes, yes I will.”
They both smiled at that, and Sarah relaxed, leaning in toward Jenny.
“Goodbye, Christmas tree,” Sarah said. “Take care of the Earth for us while we’re gone.”
Carrie Cuinn is an author, editor, college student, and geek. In her spare time she works toward a degree in Creative Writing, listens to music, watches indie films, cooks everything, reads voraciously, and sometimes gets enough sleep. Find her online at @CarrieCuinn or at http://carriecuinn.com.
He caught up to her outside, lit her cigarette before his own. They stood close, silent at first, keeping warm beneath the glow of the marquee.
“Do you remember our first apartment?”
She thought for a moment, “Of course. The tiny cottage by the beach.”
“It was tiny, wasn’t it? The kitchen was practically in our bedroom.”
“Didn’t matter to us then. Remember the smell of the ocean?”
“We’d leave the windows open every day, that salty breeze billowing through the sheers.”
“That’s how the stray cat got in.”
“But never left. Windows wide open, she chose to stay.”
“Tell me what else you remember.”
“Lazy nights tangled up in bed. Tasting moonlight on your shoulders. And you?”
“Waves crashing against the shore. Making love with the ebb and flow of the tide.”
“In time, the sea’s rhythm kept pace with the ebb and flow of us. Our love changed an ocean.”
Inside the lobby, the lights dimmed twice. She left their cottage first. At the bar, she took her husband’s arm and disappeared into the theatre. The stranger watched her go, fed the cat, closed the windows. Once inside, he returned to the stage, still brushing sand from his feet as the curtain parted.
Kathryn McBride is the author of an anthology of short stories currently featured in a boxed set (literally a set of boxes) under her bed. She is delighted to finally let them see the light of day. She welcomes feedback and craft beer suggestions @finishwhatyou.