First Prize

Santa’s Workshop

by Michael Balletti

Christmas lights and snow

Ruben Nijveld via Creative Commons

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.


Runner Up

The Christmas Key

Shenoa Carroll-Bradd

Once They Unlocked So Many Doors

Viewminder via Creative Commons

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.

“Twenty-one.”

He let her keep the keys that didn’t fit, and she spent the year studying them, learning which patterns were wrong.

“Fourteen.”

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?

“Ten.”

She held them up to compare. The left key had a thinner larger first tooth. Was that wrong?

“Four.”

She dropped it. Heart pounding, she scrabbled for the lock fastening her ankle chain to the furnace pipe. Her chosen key slid in.

At last!

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.”

 

Shenoa lives in Southern California and writes whatever catches her fancy, from horror to fantasy and erotica. Check out more short stories at http://www.sbcbfiction.net/ or in Demonic Visions volumes 2-6 http://a.co/2KcXPH2.


Runner Up

What Johnny Wants For Christmas

by Alison McBain

Milk… check.

Cookies… check.

Stockings hung by the fireside with care… check.

Knife… hmmm…

Dreams or Nightmares? (No. 16)

Nic McPhee via Creative Commons

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 McBainAlison 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.

 


Honorable Mention

Working Conditions

by Jen Gniadecki

Tintin Hull House - small door

Elliott Brown via Creative Commons

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.


Honorable Mention

Another Day in the Life

by Holly Schofield

shiv

theilr via Creative Commons

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.


Honorable Mention

Tied Up With Strings

by Rachel Anna Neff

Somewhere In Between (Re-worked)

Anne Worner via Creative Commons

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 NeffRachel 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.

 


Honorable Mention

The Bishop

by Mary Casey

Christmas Rush

Matthias Ripp via Creative Commons

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.


Honorable Mention

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.

Twins #1

Siyana Kasabova via Creative Commons

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.

 

Vaughan StangerFormerly 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.

by Ahimaz Rajessh

{Fast Forward}

The great ephemeral skin lies splayed out inside the Psi Morgue. Black on the outside and likewise on the inside, not red or white. It must be burning degree six. I consider the minutes before burning degree zero: supple skin pressed against supple skin—warmth given and taken, adrenaline rushing, the moments spent caressing, kissing, suckling of pores, and the kindling of passion, rising and rising upward—the triggering of that unheard of sparkle from the base of spine.

{Fast Forward}

“Tox screen confirms hypercarbic vessels and high alcohol level in the system of the male victim. GI report confirms overly gaseous intestine.”

Guy Mayer via Creative Commons

{Fast Forward}

“Aided by ethyl alcohol and gasses of the male, passion lit up kundalini. Female victim, having sustained burns degree four, could’ve escaped from her lover’s embrace but for male’s upper limb burn contractures. A singular twin case of spontaneous combustion—male source of flame himself, female source of flame male.”

{Rewind}

“Ephemeral skin lies…”

{Long Rewind}

“William Zahida. Paranormal Sleuthing, Inc. Case one.

“My olfaction traces no fuels of any kind, only the whiff of burnt fat. Suspect Kamadeva hypoxyphilia. No visual trace of cigarette butts or electric dildo. Suspect Libido-blocking Agents. I see lovers lying smoked up, Gods charred and embraced.”

{Stop}


Ahimaz RajesshAhimaz Rajessh has been published in Apocrypha and Abstractions, Flapperhouse, The Fractured Nuance, 7×20, unFold, Pidgeonholes, and 200 CCs. His writing is forthcoming in Cuento, Milkfist, theEEEL, and Strange Horizons.

by Amanda Bergloff

I sighed… hoping it would attract some sort of attention, but he was fixated on eating. I thought that dining al fresco tonight would spark interesting conversation, yet we ate our meal in silence.

I remembered how I used to be insatiable for our intoxicating exchanges. However, tonight I didn’t have much of an appetite.

He looked up and burped. “You ready?” he asked.

I nodded. I wondered if he realized I hadn’t even said one word during the entire meal.

During the walk home, I came to the conclusion that all relationships must have a life cycle. The beginning part was very exciting, but the end part was actually quite annoying.

Do not speak unless you can improve on silence.

Lucy Marti via Creative Commons

It was finally time to go to sleep. He lifted the lid for me.

“Good morning,” he said as he helped me climb in.

“You have some flesh in your teeth, dear,” I said, folding my hands across my chest.

He closed my lid with one hand as the other picked his teeth.

I listened to the sound of him opening and closing his own lid.

Before I drifted off to sleep, I thought, “I must talk to Wrenfeeld about moving my coffin to a different part of the abbey.”


Amanda BergloffAmanda Bergloff is a science fiction/fantasy writer who has had stories published by Darkhouse Books (Stories from the World of Tomorrow) and World Weaver Press (Frozen Fairy Tales.) She is also a surrealist artist who loves all things pop-culture, and the interior of her mind looks like 1950s sci fi pulp art. 

Writer’s Website: http://abergloff2.wix.com/abergloffwriter
Artist Website: http://abergloff2.wix.com/artistgallery

by Scarlett R. Algee

He swims out to the reef and waits for her, because hell is empty and all the devils are here and he has not yet learned to be afraid.

She comes: bare and white, hair and eyes and skin, flat feet and webbed fingers and thin mouth stretched in a too-toothed smile—

(the sky is lead and the sea is black and she is white save her gills and more secret places, fringed-rich-red, pulsing, waiting)

—and her mouth is too wide for proper kissing but he does it anyway, warm flesh to cold, his hands slotted into hers, short nails pulling at the membranes between her fingers.

Tempest

Jack Flanagan via Creative Commons

She tastes of rain, of salt, of blood: and he has not learned to be afraid—

(he will be found in three days’ time, neck broken in three places, bitten through to porcelain shards of spine)

—and when she laughs quicksilvery he tips his head back, baring his throat, stars wheeling briefly overhead in his vision before blanking out, and there is hunger raw in the rows of her teeth but something in her eyes like kindness—

And he is not afraid, because hell is empty.

Originally appeared in Cthulhu Haiku II (2013) by Popcorn Press.


Scarlett R AlgeeScarlett R. Algee has most recently contributed to the anthologies A Shadow of Autumn, Zen of the Dead, and The Haunting of Lake Manor Hotel, as well as to Body Parts Magazine. Previously a teacher and librarian, she lives in the wilds of Tennessee with a Hound of Tindalos cleverly disguised as a beagle, and blogs at scarlettralgee.wordpress.com.

by Karen Bovenmyer

haunted-house-1124241_640An empty house lived at the end of his street. Trees like claws stopped other kids, as if they grabbed ankles and wrists and hoods of sweatshirts. He found a way there by looking somewhere else, sidewalk-crack-sidewalk, then dead grass. Up. White oval shapes lingered behind black windows. In. A slamming back door echoed staple-guns putting up his HAVE YOU SEEN THIS CHILD posters. Three years later, after his classmates had grown into pimples and too-short jeans, he came out, hollow-eyed and shaking. He struck the trees, also, with a wet axe from the living house, his body now a man’s body, sweating hard. They took him to a hospital, depressingly white and clean and smelling like medicine, but he still saw the house by not looking. When the demolition cranes came, they were like hands that scooped shingles off the roof, the strange Victorian spires crumbled, broken plaster and creaking timbers screamed, undefined white shapes tumbled down in a cloud of dust. The house at the end of the street died. After, he went home with a face blank as a sheet of paper, something so normal and unwritten, and, in the night, his memories clutched at him, as if they grabbed ankles and wrists and hoods of sweatshirts.

This story originally appeared in Festival Writer and also appeared in Cavalcade of Terror.


Karen BovenmyerKaren Bovenmyer earned an MFA in Creative Writing: Popular Fiction from the University of Southern Maine. She teaches and mentors students at Iowa State University and is the Nonfiction Assistant Editor for Mothership Zeta Magazine.

by Erick Mancilla

The Metro can be a boring ride or an underground trip to Mars. Down there, people can be… anomalous. Going down, I was one of two riders and he creeped me right the hell out. While not staring, he kept shooting looks at me.

I focused harder on my phone. Thank God for game apps.

photo-1448056975861-28196f26abd6

Daniel Roizer

Through my periphery, he began with odd gestures. For the most part, these guys are harmless, but right now, that’s no comfort.

Why does this happen to me? Stay calm, Diana. These things don’t always end badly.

It occurs to me to get off a stop before mine and wait for the next train home. Damn, his gesticulations have become more animated, frantic.

“Mother,” he gurgles.

I’m quick off the train as planned, leaving him riding on. I’m the only one on the platform, what a huge relief. Then, soft footsteps alert me to someone at the far end of the station.

He yells at me, “Mommy, don’t leave me.” His wailing keeps on and on until the train arrives.

Thinking of home, I jump in and pass him by.

Finally, at my stop and stepping off, a woman whispers in my ear a word that makes me sick.


Erick MancillaErick Mancilla works day and night trying to find the door to that Other Dimension. He writes short stories in the hope The Key will be found within one of them. He is a blogger at observationdeck.kinja.com and can also be found @DeapGreanDream.

by Davian Aw

100313TricycleGardens-11

Maggie McCain via Creative Commons

Tom finished the injection and watched her face with bated breath, searching Mara’s lifeless eyes for a flicker of awareness. He grasped her hand, hoping for warmth, but his wife’s body remained as cold and still as it had been since the day she died.

Five minutes passed. Ten. Thirty-five. Rain pattered on the tent of the makeshift laboratory standing stubbornly amidst the sleeping graves.

Tom pulled away with a wretched sob. Fifteen attempts. Fifteen failures. He let out a yell and swung his arm at all his useless, useless science. Test tubes and beakers crashed to the ground. Solutions bled into the soil. A year he had worked, since they’d got the diagnosis; a year, and all of it come to naught.

He collapsed by the coffin and gripped its edge in trembling desperation.

“Mara,” he begged. “Wake up. Please. Come back to me, Mara, please, please…”

She did not respond. Tom swallowed down tears. He touched her face in final caress and left a quavering kiss upon the cold skin.

He pulled the heavy lid back over the coffin and picked up the shovel to bury his wife.

Mara still did not move nor make a sound.

She couldn’t. But she was trying.

She was trying very, very, hard to scream.


Davian AwDavian Aw’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, Stone Telling, Star*Line and Plasma Frequency. He lives in Singapore, and is the proud owner of a tomato plant with no tomatoes on it. Some of his published writing is linked over at https://davianaw.wordpress.com/writing/

by James A. Miller

Commander Adams,

My time as Head Baker aboard Station Imperion has been enjoyable, so it is with heavy heart, I resign.

Flour

cbertel via Creative Commons

These are good! Probably the best Christmas cookies I’ve ever made.

December 21st, 2057 will be my final day. I leave the kitchen in the capable hands of Nicol Truefsky. His work as apprentice over the past two years is commendable.

Maybe just one more. So sweet and light, must be the Glutovian flour–wherever did Nicol find it?

While, in my option, Nicol lacks the prerequisite education to be Head Baker, his experience will allow him to temporarily fill the position until a suitable replacement is found.

I just can’t stop eating these. Down you go little gingerbread man. I can catch you, yes I can. And your brother and your cousin…

Sincerely,

Edwin Dorchester

I finished them. Need more.

As Edwin rose from the chair, Glutovian microbes hidden in the cookies’ flour reached their saturation point and instantly collapsed his ample body into a pile of fine white powder. Nicol entered moments later, sweeping what was left of his boss into flour sacks.

He edited Edwin’s resignation—ever so slightly—before hitting “send.”


James A. MillerDuring the day, James A. Miller works as an Electrical Engineer in Madison WI. At night, he spends time with his family and does his best to come up with fun and creative fiction. He is a first reader for Allegory e-zine and member of the Codex writer’s group. He also has two cats but will resist the urge to say anything cute or witty about them here. He blogs at https://breakingintothecraft.wordpress.com/.

by Alex Creece

Vitality slipped from his dark, calloused fingertips. Blueish, purpleish, and then grey. Stigmata once throbbing raw with rot blackened to an impenetrable void. His palms were a purgatory of coagulate crust. The eyes of the all-seer shrivelled upon the salvationless silhouette of the boulder which obstructed his portal to the next life.

He was dead. Or dying. Or definitely, definitely dead.

Crack

Kenneth Lu via Creative Commons

He stared at the boulder for hours on end, blinking less and less until he no longer felt the need to scrape his sleep-starved lids against eyes so dry and devoid of sight. Rocks and rubble etched secrets and scripture into his back, and eventually he was comfortable enough to settle into his Grotto of Eden as he awaited his exile into a new existence. His nerve endings had ruptured—their own rapture, perhaps—so he no longer felt the searing necrosis of his physical form, nor did he choke on the stench of his own decay. He welcomed rigor mortis eagerly, allowing it to exorcise him of a life left.

A couple of days later, a crack of light seeped through the edge of the boulder. It caught his vacant eyes and singed his peeling flesh. But he remained staunch. He had found his way through days ago.


Alex CreeceAlex Creece is made of dirt and determination. It’s the latter which laces her lungs with grit.

Snow on the Gate

Paul Morgan via Creative Commons

Randy left cold Chicago with flashes of red and white pulsing in his aching mind. Sadie laughed at the trunk full of party favors, like something out of a Hunter S. Thompson tale. Six days into the stash and Randy stopped understanding the world as a place with rules and laws; not just the kind enforced by police but the kind enforced by cosmic forces or deities. He floated and spoke to creatures from other dimensions, he and Sadie made some kind of love in vats of marshmallow fluff and beds of shining light.

Something told him the red and white wasn’t Christmas. The half-memory, half-hallucination made him think of Santa Claus, but the shiver in his spine and the empty passenger seat where Sadie usually sat was less festive. He was coming up on Springfield and the snow was coming down. The snow was white, and fluffy, and it reminded him of something they might have fought about. The sky was gunmetal gray, and that reminded him of something, too.

The backfire from the truck brought back the sound of the gun in his hand, and the puzzle fit together. The cold, white snow. The red blood.