Saturday, December 22, 2018

Advent Ghosts 2018: The Stories

Fat snowflakes falling in a shifting sheet by the window. The scent of wood smoke as the fire crackles in the hearth. The goodhearted bickering of the twins as the shake and prod the presents beneath the tree. The warm weight of your spouse's arm around your shoulder, the coolness of the wine flute in your hand, the tang of Prosecco on your tongue. The perfect Christmas Eve.

Then the lights start to go. It begins with the fire, the flames stuttering green and purple. Lost in their squabbling, the twins begin to strobe, their outlines sharpening and derezzing in irregular pulsing patterns. You whirl toward your spouse, mouth opening in a query, but your beloved's face is a blur acrawl with writhing glitches. The bedecked pine simply vanishes, its lights and ornaments dangling in the air. The aroma of burning pine swiftly cycles through the stink of spoiled tuna, nutmeg, talc powder, and leaf mold. And the whole simulation seizes and crashes.

A tumble of synesthesia as you slide out the neural spike, the taste of crash blue, the smell of vertigo, and you surface into the clammy wash of humid air. Another brown out. Outside you hear the arcology's inhabitants stir, the sound of mingled exclamations, curses, sobs. You tilt the rainwater catcher, splashing tepid liquid into a mug, and spoon in instant coffee crystals. Then you mount the stationary bike, begin to pedal. The ham radio's lights begin to flicker, the attached generator converting the pumping of your legs into voltage.

And from its speaker the stories begin to pour ...
"The Tramp" by James D. Witmer on James D. Witmer
"Dust" by Dale Nelson (see below)
• "Robert Herrick's Inspiration for His 'Ceremony upon Candlemas Eve'" by David Llewellyn Dodds (see below)
• "Trust" by Becky Rui (see below)
• "L’hadlik Ner" by William Gregory (see below)
"Homecoming" and "Naughty or Nice?"by Patrick Newman on Lefty Writes
"And the Dog Smiled" by Rhonda Parrish on Rhonda Parrish
"Huldufólk" by Loren Eaton on I Saw Lightning Fall
"Bring Me Flesh & Bring Me Wine" by John Norris on Pretty Sinister Books
"Rattle" by Elizabeth Damewood Gaucher on Esse Diem
"The Choirboy" by Kel Mansfield on Kel Mansfield: Write Stuff
"Schroedinger’s Gift" by Paul Liadis on The Struggling Writer
"The Little Toy Soldier" by R.S. Naifeh on Advent Ghosts: Short Theological Fictions for the Dead of Winter
"The Gift" by Linda Casper on Third Age
"Roasting Over an Open Fire" and "Costume?" by Eric Douglas on Books by Eric Douglas
"Protected Speech" by David Higgins on Davetopia: Fragments of a Curious Mind
"Again" by Ken B. on KenBLogic
"Karma" by Lester D. Crawford on Lester D. Crawford Blog
"The Last Christmas" by Michael Morse on Rescuing Providence
"Redcaps" by Ken Leonard on Ken Leonard: Homepage of the Writer
* * *

By Dale Nelson

“Mommy, come see what the funny old lady wrote.”

“Where, Katie?”

“Here in the dust on the windowsill.”

“Can’t right now. What’s it say?”

“….Never mind – the wind is blowing it away.”

Katie was nine. Her mother worked from home.

Each day, Katie found a new message, such as:

“What’s your name?”

(Katie secretly wrote it.)

She never saw the old lady writing, but she saw her peeking and smiling behind the lace curtains across the way.

“Are you happy?”


“Come to my house when everyone’s asleep.”


Katie entered the uninhabited house and she’s been gone ever since.

Note: Dale Nelson is the author of Lady Stanhope’s Manuscript and Other Stories, chosen as John J. Miller’s favorite new book of the year in the Claremont Review of Books, Dec. 2018.

("Dust" copyright 2018 by Dale Nelson; used by permission)

* * *

"Robert Herrick's Inspiration for His 'Ceremony upon Candlemas Eve'"
By David Llewellyn Dodds

All day Their gathering grew, glee and malice mounting — unseen, yet sensed — distracting pressure told: Prew broke a bowl and best cream fed only cats, Tom laid the fire amiss, with bounding ember intercepted just in time.

What a vain, shallow priest! — They squirmed, exulting.

‘Master, I’m afeared.’ ‘Prew, a Holly-sprig’s lurking, there. Tom, start hanging the Box.’ He thought of the morrow ‘…a swift witness against the sorcerers…’, softly prayed the evening collect ‘…from all perils and dangers of this night…’. Terrific blaze of light invisible – and headlong scurry to tangled underwood. He toyed with verse ‘So many Goblins…’

("Robert Herrick's Inspiration for His 'Ceremony upon Candlemas Eve'" copyright 2018 by David Llewellyn Dodds; used by permission)

* * *

By Becky Rui

The shower turned on. This was her chance. Reaching for his phone on the nightstand, she tapped out the passcode she’d spied in a reflection.

Privacy, late-night meetings, work, these were his reasons—excuses—for the distance between them.

His text menu was empty. Odd. Guilty.

She thumbed open his photos, found an album labeled “B.”

Probably for bimbo.

She expected provocative selfies, braced for them. What she saw was much worse.

Anger disappeared as shock cut through her. Fear made her hands tremble.

She didn’t hear him until he stood behind her. And then she heard nothing at all.

("Trust" copyright 2018 by Becky Rui; used by permission)

* * *

"L’hadlik Ner"

by William Gregory

I love the flickering glow. The way light and shadow dance across the room.

The urge to hold my fingers in the flame until the heat becomes unbearable. Singed, but never charred like the lizard mom found in my room.

Or the fourteen lizards, curled up like crispy strips of bacon in the basement.

Dr. Warren said adolescent boys are curious. Experimental. But this was unusual.

Asshole! Mom took away my matches and Swiss Army knife.

Whatever… I’ve still got my lighter (and razor blades).

“David, honey, come downstairs. It’s time to light the menorah.”

“Okay mom, be right there…”

("L’hadlik Ner" copyright 2018 by William Gregory; used by permission)


strugglingwriter said...

Thanks for hosting us Loren. I hope to comment on stories later.

Paul Liadis

Loren Eaton said...


Oh my. You've got me wondering something: Is everything all in the little girl's head?

Loren Eaton said...


Alas, my only exposure to Robert Herrick was his poem "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time." I think I should brush up more on his oeuvre!

Loren Eaton said...


Now that's a violation of marital trust that I didn't see coming. Did you ever see "The Vanishing"? (The 1988 Dutch movie, not the remake with Sandra Bullock.) It has a similar, ah, misunderstanding at the core of its action.

Loren Eaton said...

Mr. Gregory,

Methinks that David's mother doesn't understand that her son's interest in the menorah goes far beyond its traditional significance. *shivers*

Wurmbrand said...

Loren, no, I'm afraid it happened!

Dale N.