Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Shared Storytelling: Advent Ghosts 2023

It was only the slightest of exaggerations to say that Quinlyn would've preferred to have a millstone hung about her neck and subsequently be tossed into the sea rather than brave the mall on Black Friday. For her sister, though, the day after Thanksgiving was her high water, and Victoria liked nothing more than fishing for that perfect deal. And, of course, for Quinlyn to putter along in her wake feigning enthusiasm. It was the least that she could do for V given the divorce and custody battle, right?

Quinlyn had tried, really tried, but the outing wasn't exactly set up for success. Victoria prioritized discount percentage over the actual product and preferred to purchase items en masse. A single Louis Vuitton or Cartier would've tided Quinlyn over for years. Not that inflation and the economy left her much hope. A coffee, though? That she could manage.

A tap on V's shoulder, a grunted negative at the offer of Sumatra, and Quinlyn was out of Nordstrom Rack. Bing Crosby assaulted her eardrums as crowds milled around the silvery minimalism of the Apple Store, the flaunty lace of Victoria's Secret, the shut-and-guarded doors of Tiffany's.

Then, almost imperceptibly at first, the stores started to change to ones she didn't recognize. Ones that (she grew to understand) had no place in a 21st century commercial establishment. A wood-walled store offering ribbon and calico, flour and molasses, ax heads and a steel bear trap. A shop filled with piles of dusky paprika, daffodil-yellow turmeric, and carnelian-colored dried peppers. A clothier whose displays proffered hoop skirts. That was when Quinlyn tried to turn back — and struck the crowd's impenetrable mass, always a foot stomping on hers or an elbow in her ribs or a blocking torso.

So she whirled and went on, her pace quickening as she passed farriers and swordsmiths, past cattle yards and feed lots, past a butcher stropping a blade over a bound, bleating goat and painted-and-powdered women displaying themselves in windows and men in togas arguing over the purchase price of other manacled men, and she was running, sprinting, hurtling herself forward ...

Into darkness and emptiness.

No, not emptiness. There was a table and a man seated behind it, and for a moment, Quinlyn wondered how she was able to see him if it was dark. Then she wondered how he could look so old. Then so young. And then he was speaking.

"Why, hello," the man said. "What brings you here?"

"W ... who are you? What is this place? W-where is the mall?" Quinlyn managed.

The man smiled (or frowned) thinly. "Names. Such unimportant things. This place, and the mall are mine. All the kingdoms of the world and their authority and glory, if you must know."

"I ... don't understand."

He chuckled (sighed). "Of course you don't. Why don't you have a seat —" And suddenly there was a seat for her where previously none had been. "— because this story ... Well, it's a lengthy one."

* * *

Writerly friends, once again the year swings close to solstice, and we gather to celebrate the old traditions. Not only trees and stars and managers and the giving of gifts. This Advent Ghosts 2023 marks a continuation of an old British tradition of telling spooky ghost stories right before Christmas, a tradition this blog and a likeminded group of writers has been keeping for well over a decade in our own special way. To learn more about the custom, read History's How Ghost Stories Became a Christmas Tradition in Victorian England" and check out Bustle's Nicholas Was ..." by Neil Gaiman. We welcome all, asking only that you follow a few simple rules:
1) Email me at ISawLightningFall [at] gmail [dot] com.
2) Pen a scary story that’s exactly 100-words long — no more, no less.
3) Post the story to your blog anywhere from Saturday, December 16, to Friday, December 22. Hosting on ISLF is available for those without blogs or anyone who wants to write under a pseudonym. (Don't worry, you’ll retain copyright!)
4 ) Email the link of your story to me.
5) While you should feel free to write whatever you want to, know that I reserve the right to put a content warning on any story that I think needs it.
Please note that we're altering the submission process a little bit this year by providing a more flexible window during which people can submit their stories. Want to see what people submitted last year? Click here.

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