Well, 2015 was a great, but hectic year for me (more on that later). In the meantime, I hope you’ll all enjoy the continuing (mis)adventures of Yule Lad Sheep Cote Clod.
I posted this story last year as a holiday gift for my readers. I’m reposting today with the promise of a new Thunder Road holiday story tomorrow.
My readers have been very good to me. Some of you Thunder Road fans have had images from my work tattooed on your bodies, some of you have taken my work and made art of your own (Like Kevin Madison’s illustration below). You’ve also emailed or tweeted or messaged me to say you’ve enjoyed the stories I have to tell. This has meant the world to me.
So I hope you’ll enjoy “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks” a second time.
My readers have been very good to me. Some of you Thunder Road fans have had images from my work tattooed on your bodies, some of you have taken my work and made art of your own. You’ve also emailed or tweeted or messaged me to say you’ve enjoyed the stories I have to tell. This has meant the world to me.
As a thank you, I wrote you this story for the holidays.
I considered calling it “Merry Christmas, I Don’t Want to Fight” but decided to go with something more traditional. I hope you’ll enjoy “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks” with my compliments.
A few years ago, I extended a challenge to my writing group for our December meeting: write a 500 word Christmas-themed fantasy story. That meeting was mostly going to be a potluck anyway, so we agreed to read the stories aloud rather than critiquing them. Most of us played along, and it was a lot of fun (if you like stories about Christmas slashers and wishes gone wrong–apparently we had some issues with The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year.).
So here is my contribution, which remains the first (and only) piece of flash fiction that I’ve written:
The Gift That Keeps On Giving
Nicholas stepped nimbly over the coals, still smoldering, within the fireplace. He had years of practice, and nary an ash clung to his polished, gleaming black boot.
How do you get to Carnegie Hall. He smiled at the old joke. Practice.
But in all those years, this was something new. It was new, and that bothered him. He pulled the long parchment list from within his heavy coat. Checking it once, he didn’t like what he saw.
He checked it twice.
But there was no disputing it. This house wasn’t on his list. Nicholas shouldn’t have stopped here. There was no longer a reason for him to have stopped here. That poor little girl. He shook his head. There had been nothing he could have done. Not all wishes, he sighed ruefully, can be granted. And not all pains can be soothed with toys. It had broken his heart, what she had wished for, but it just wasn’t within his power to grant.
There were no decorations in this house. No tree. No garland. No mistletoe. Framed photographs lined the mantle of the fireplace, but no stockings dangled beneath the images of a once happy family.
Nicholas turned his back on the unhappy dwelling and started back towards the chimney. A creak on the stairs stopped him in his boots. It was a soft noise, followed by the shuffle of fabric over hardwood.
A child’s slippers.
“Santa?” a weak voice rasped from the stairs.
He couldn’t be seen, unless he chose to be. That was the one rule that governed, and protected him. Him, and the magic of Christmas both.
He often chose to be seen.
“Yes, my child,” Nicholas answered as he turned; ready to flash the hundred watt smile that would bring a rosy cheeked, dimpled grin to the girl’s face. Perhaps the list was mistaken?
The smile died as he saw her, now practically on top of him. She’d crossed the intervening distance between them in a flash. Her breath, coppery and rank, wafted over him, and her grip upon his mittened hand was too firm to shake.
“You didn’t bring me what I asked for last year,” she said petulantly as she pressed her tongue to an oversized canine. A bead of black blood welled up slowly from the small wound. “But someone did.”
Nicholas screamed as she jerked his head down by his snowy white beard. Blood sprayed across the girl’s little face.
She lapped at the arterial spray, like an animal. Her face was a vision of ecstasy. His eyes stopped focusing as she whispered in his ear.
“Now every child in the whole world will get my wish.”
Later, in every house that still believed in such things – and there were many – children left out plates of homemade cookies, and tumblers of milk, beading with condensation. Wherever they had succumbed to slumber a voice whispered through teeth that glinted like knives, and a stained rusty beard.
“I never drink…milk.”