Saturday, December 16, 2023

"Target Priority"

Haywire reconnaissance drone. AWOL corporate killbot. Bolted-together back-alley abomination. 

Whatever the machine was, it wanted P@tr!ck. Him, a scraper with a no-balance blockchain. But it was dialed to his DNA and parted the Night Bazaar crowds with an eardrum-rupturing sonic blast. Vivisected a dealer with a blur of articulated arms. Microwaved a guard, burnt-pork reek. Came on until it had him cornered. 

Bitonal chittering. Sensors sprouting, synchronized tropism. P@tr!ck jerked as a vibroblade sliced a scalp sample. 

The thing snorted. Twitched. Then without ceremony, left. 

And there P@tr!ck stood, unsure if the stinging was his wounded head — or disappointment.

Advent Ghosts 2023: The Stories

Note: You can find an intro of sorts to this text here if you’d like.

The man’s face kept changing.

Sometimes it was old, and sometimes it was young, and sometimes it appeared almost bestial. It was something Quinlyn glimpsed out of the corner of her eye, the flicker of antennae around the temples, a hyena-like flash in a mirthless grin, and his tawny (pale? dark?) hair swung about his shoulders in a leonine sweep. And she kept seeing him from the corner of her eye, because the mall and its idiosyncratic assortment of shops had vanished. All that remained? The stillness and silence of some region dark and deep, the stillness of the inside of a cored stump or the underside of a rock — or the interior of a crypt.

“It’s simple,” the man was saying. “You want something? You have to give something. That phrase, you can say it best in Latin …” He trailed off, stroking his bearded {beardless?) chin.

“You know it in Latin,” Quinlyn said, unsure exactly how she’d come by the knowledge.

The man inclined his head the barest inch. “I suppose I do, that and every other tongue. And what about you? Do you know what you want? That’s why you came to me, isn’t it?” 

She was about to say that she hadn’t come to him, at least not intentionally, but a wave of vertigo twisted her inner ear, and she staggered, reeling, hands stretching out for purchase … 

And Paul — V's Paul — had her, his hands strong, a gold flash at his wrist where his Piguet gleamed, and his smile held neither condescension or self pity, and she straightened, automatically smoothing the satin of her gown, murmuring, “Sorry, sorry, stupid Miu Mius,” but Paul was laughing, and …

The vertigo struck her again, blows to head and belly. The coffee came up, spattering her already stained New Balance trainers, and it went on longer than she thought possible, and only when the last bit of bile had dribbled down her chin could she manage the words.

“What do I have to do?”

“Oh, a trifle,” the man purred (hissed?). “Nothing more than a nibble, really, metaphorically speaking. Here, let me tell you a story …”

• "Baunton Village, A.D. 1522: Room at the Inn – but for Whom, or What?" and "Jemima of The Kilns: A View to a Kill" by David Llewellyn Dodds (see below)
• "For That One Hour" by Dale Nelson (see below)
• "Prey or Predator" by Becky Rui (see below)
• "Effective Amnesia" by Ryan E. Holman (see below)
• "An AI Christmas Story" and "Silent Night" by William Gregory (see below)
"Jonah, 9,000 AD" and "Two Ants" by R.S. Naifeh on Advent Ghosts: Short Theological Fictions for the Dead of Winter
• "Sowing the Seeds of Christmas" by B. Nagel (see below)
"A Warning" by Phil Wade on Brandywine Books
"Second Chances", "The Babas’ Dilemma (Part One of a Four Part Tale)", "Tato’s Mama’s Story: The Adopted Snow Child (Part Two of a Four Part Tale)", "Mama’s Mama’s Story: The Icy Immortal (Part Three of a Four Part Tale)", and "Iryna’s Question (Part Four of a Four Part Tale)" by Paula Benson on Little Sources of Joy
"The Protracted Haunting of Coolduff Manor" by Brian Sexton on AN ROINN ULTRA – IRISH SCIENCE FICTION
"Minnesota Welcomes Mr. Frost" by Joseph D'Agnese on Joseph D'Agnese: Writer, Author
"Target Priority" by Loren Eaton on I Saw Lightning Fall
"What Lies Beneath" by Michael Morse on by Michael Morse
"They Are a Ghost" by Elizabeth Gaucher on Esse Diem
"Here We Come A-Caroling", "Santa's Claws", and "Joy, to the World" by Patrick Newman on Lefty Writes
"A Christmas Lullaby" by Kel Mansfield on Kel Mansfield: Write Stuff
"Reasonable Cost" by Dave Higgins on Dave Higgins: A Curious Mind
"The Likeness" by Yvonne Osborne on Yvonne Osborne's Writing Blog: "The Organic Writer"
"The Christmas Dance" by Jackie Ross Flaum on He said what? No, he did not!
"The Santa-Verse" by Lester D. Crawford on Lester D. Crawford Blog
"Sonata" by Rhonda Parrish on Rhonda Parrish: Creating Books and Stories
"Johnny" by Bart Hopkins on The Creative
"Unsolved Mysteries" by Paul Liadis on Cyborg Menagerie
"White Christmas" and "Krampus Goes Up Town" by Eric Douglas on Books By Eric Douglas
"Bed Fellows" by Iseult Murphy on Iseult Murphy: Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction Author
• "The Shop Without End" by S.G. Easton (see below)
* * *

"Baunton Village, A.D. 1522: Room at the Inn – but for Whom, or What?"
By David Llewellyn Dodds

Tobias was jittery. As an innkeeper, he’d learned to deal with all sorts. But this ‘pilgrim’. Hooded like a cave, gloved – fair enough, in such foul weather. But after hours by the fire? Paid up front. But what queer sounds, drinking his ale, mug disappearing in hood. Polite, but a man of few words. ‘Man’? That voice was scarcely human. Demons could take a steady shape, firm to eye and touch. Bad for custom, too – glances, whispers, how soon everyone had chosen cold and dark to such company. A barking laugh, ‘We Cynocephali can’t be too careful, despite Saint Christopher.’

Note: Reading about Old English accounts of St. Christopher recently, I was struck by the one in the Old English Martyrology, which includes “he haefde hundes heafod” – ‘he had the head of a dog’. The Church of St. Mary Magdalene (formerly of St. Christopher), Baunton, Gloucestershire, has a fine and famous wall-painting of him in his more typical Western form.

("Baunton Village, A.D. 1522: Room at the Inn – but for Whom, or What?" copyright 2023 by David Llewellyn Dodds; used by permission)

* * *

"Jemima of The Kilns: A View to a Kill"
By David Llewellyn Dodds

Up through the Cave-Tree everything was different. Jemima the Chicken surveyed... No! The Wood afire!

No... in the Wood, and a sweet scent on the wind. Jemima fluttered to investigate.

Murder! A cockerel in a bonfire! Burned alive! Who did this? – were They still lurking?! O, not dead! Could she rescue? A dying croak: “Watch till it hatches, help the Worm!”

The skeleton collapsed. Domed in the cinders, a glowing egg! A Trap! A Basilisk! A red-gold-purple Worm with blazing eyes shot from the shell, mouth wide! -

“Thanks!” said the vermiform-Phoenix, “Please take me somewhere safe and I’ll explain.”

Note: As one of the young people evacuated to The Kilns during World War II, Lady Jill Freud née Flewett helped the Lewis brothers and Mrs. Moore look after their chickens, including an adventurous one named Jemima – for whom I have contrived some additional adventures.

("Jemima of The Kilns: A View to a Kill" copyright 2023 by David Llewellyn Dodds; used by permission)

* * *

"For That One Hour"
By Dale Nelson"

Keep the curtains drawn! Don’t peek through the blinds! It’s bad luck if they see you peeking.

People drive home right away after work. All-night diners close at dusk. Riders on the El keep their noses in their newspapers and don’t look down at the streets. Cops don’t patrol then.

The forgotten people come out of their apartments, their tenements, to dance silently, mirthlessly, in the streets, under the canyons of the buildings. The moon is full and the lonely people join hands, part hands, for a dreadful hour, and then like shadows disappear again behind closed doors. Don’t look!

("For That One Hour" copyright 2023 by Dale Nelson; used by permission)

* * *

"Prey or Predator"
By Becky Rui

The driver’s kind eyes twinkled. His white beard couldn’t conceal a warm smile.

The hitchhiker looked away through the windshield at the empty nighttime highway.

“Are you from here?” asked the driver.

“Just passing through,” replied the hitchhiker. His hand touched something tacky on the seat. He pulled away reflexively. “You?”

“Same. Too bad being stuck out here on Christmas Eve,” the driver continued.

“Yeah, but I wasn’t going to celebrate anyway.” The hitchhiker surreptitiously looked at his hand. A bang from the trunk caught his attention just as he registered the rust color on his fingers.

“Oh, I am…”

("Prey or Predator" copyright 2023 by Becky Rui; used by permission)

* * *

"Effective Amnesia"
By Ryan E. Holman

Sometimes the best gift you can give is not a memory, but forgetfulness.

You can forget that annoying song they played a billion times.

You can forget that they never managed to consume their coffee with any action quieter than a slurp.

You can forget that they forgot your birthday, every single blessed year.

You can forget that when you last said goodbye, they said they couldn't recognize who you were anymore.

And sometimes, if you're truly good at it, you forget that you ever forgot anything at all, and you can give this precious gift to yourself.

Happy Holidays.

("Effective Amnesia" copyright 2023 by Ryan E. Holman; used by permission)

* * *

"An AI Christmas Story"
By William Gregory

Mrs. Claus: “Kristopher dear, what are you doing up so late?”

Santa: “Honey, I’m using OpenAI’s GPT-4 to compile a list of children who’ve been naughty or nice based on their web-search history. And GPT-4 is generating the optimal route for my reindeer based on the latest European weather models and the global air traffic control database!”

Mrs. Claus: “Fine dear, don’t stay up too late.”

Santa: “I won’t, honey. Oh, and I got an email from Wells Fargo asking for our social security numbers and dates of birth. So, I took care of that too!”

Mrs. Claus: “Oh Kristopher!”

("An AI Christmas Story" copyright 2023 by William Gregory; used by permission)

* * *

"Silent Night"
By William Gregory

The rhythmic sounds of the ventilator always calmed him. The raspy intake and mechanical exhale of the breathing machine were as familiar and comforting to him as his mother’s womb. Billy had shared a room with his aged Meemaw since he was a baby.

Suddenly, the bedroom door opened. A bright shaft of light cut through the darkness illuminating his beloved Meemaw’s withered frame. She trudged across the room. Her arthritic fingers reaching slowly for the plug on his ventilator. Billy could not believe his eyes.

He gasped. But only once.

Meemaw whispered, “Merry Christmas my child.”

Then silence. Darkness …

("Silent Night" copyright 2023 by William Gregory; used by permission)

* * *

"Sowing the Seeds of Christmas"
By B. Nagel

I listen to the crack of the fire and the spit of fat from the dove breasts. Outside, snow falls. Re-locating our homestead hasn’t been easy. Friday was a nice respite and a chance to freshen up the coops and tidy the bedding for the guests who will begin arriving soon.

I check the prep list from my true love:
Starting Monday, 76 females and up to 40 cows.
Starting Wednesday, 30 males.
Starting Thursday, 34 undetermined with musical instruments.

In spring, they can start earning their keep. I am cautiously optimistic, still remembering the graves on our old property.

("Sowing the Seeds of Christmas" copyright 2023 by B. Nagel; used by permission)

* * *

"The Shop Without End"
By S.G. Easton

The bell hanging on the door tinkled as Kelly entered the dark, dank, dusty room. The little light that managed to filter through the delicate lace curtains was pale and sickly. Upon closer observation, Kelly noticed how surprisingly well-made the curtains were despite their age. The deep, sorrowful tones of a grandfather clock echoed throughout the shop. No one was in sight. Slightly disconcerted at the lack of customers, Kelly searched for an employee or clerk.

"Hello?" she called.

The response was nothing but silence. This silence disturbed her still further, but being the sensible girl she was, she so concluded there must be a legitimate reason for the deserted state this shop was placed in.

An unexpected sparkle caught Kelly's eye. It came from one of the many shelves that lined the rickety wooden wall. Walking over to the shelf, she found the source of the sparkle. It was an exquisite platinum candelabra. The top was encrusted with jasper and lapis lazuli. The base was inlaid with silver.

Dumbfounded, Kelly scrutinized the other trinkets and curios on the shelves. An engraved silver platter. A pair of brocade slippers. An elegantly extravagant white wig. Nailed onto the bottom of the shelf was an additional bronze plate reading: 1400s.

Kelly was momentarily confused, but considering the items on the shelf … She started to race eagerly throughout the shop, discovering ball gowns, furniture, Roman chariots, old-time radios, shelf upon shelf of antique books, and other such things. But after a while, Kelly wore out her interest and attempted to exit the vicinity.

Much to her astonishment, she … could not. It was as if some invisible hand was holding her, inhibiting her from returning. So she simply continued walking, hoping it would end at where she began. She walked. And walked. And walked. And kept walking. And she may be walking still for all anyone knows.

("The Shop Without End" copyright 2023 by S.G. Easton; used by permission)

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.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Advent Ghosts 2022: The Stories

Note: You can find an intro of sorts to this text here if you’d like.

The lights stayed on.

The first night, you suffered through, digging up the old sleep mask you bought for that long-haul flight three years ago. The second night, you popped two Vicodin left over from your months’ long battle with back pain. The third night, you broke every bulb in the house, stripping the tree of its lights and crushing every bulb beneath your feet, then staring in horror as the filaments flared even brighter from where they lay tangled in the carpet.

Tonight (if, indeed, you could even call it night anymore), you go down into the basement and root through tools you haven’t used in years.

You start with the sledgehammer, splintering the tile you laid by hand, turning the concrete beneath into rubble, pounding until you hit dirt. Then you take up the shovel and sink its blade in, turning and lifting and turning and lifting until the shaft accommodates you disappear up to your knees, your shoulders, your head. Then you dig perpendicularly, deepening the passageway until the light mercifully shrinks to a distant dim glow.

You sit in the closest to darkness you’ve experienced for days. You breathe in the scent of dust and try to brush off the grime that must cover your blistered palms. That’s when you hear it. A distant scratching. The clink of metal on stone. The shifting of soil.

You begin to dig again, navigating by sound, not caring that your blisters have burst, that the serum has slicked your hands. They will tell their own story both to you and the other seeking to survive the never-ending light …

• "White Coat Ceremony" by Dale Nelson (see below)
• “The Collector” by S.G. Easton (see below)
• “Upon a Midnight Fare” by B. Nagel (see below)
”Guest Story” by Simon Kewin on Simon Kewin: Fantasy Author, Science Fictioneer, Writer of Worlds
• “A Few Good Elves” and “It’s Beginning to Smell a Lot Like Christmas” by William Gregory (see below)
”3 Siblings” by R.S. Naifeh on Advent Ghosts: Short Theological Fictions for the Dead of Winter
• “A Diptych (with two one-hundred-word panels)” by David Llewellyn Dodds (see below)
• "No Place Like Home” and “Ritual” by Becky Rui (see below)
”I Told You So” and ”Silent Night” by Craig Scott on CS fantasy reviews
”Look To The Sky” by Michael Morse on by Michael Morse
”The Naughty List” by Rhona Parrish on Rhona Parrish: Author, Editor and Hydra-tamer
”Grandma’s Recipe” and ”Bring Me His Head!” by Patrick Newman on Lefty Writes
“仕方がない” by Loren Eaton on I Saw Lightning Fall
”Traditions” by Paula Benson on Little Sources of Joy
”Good Deeds” by Lester D. Crawford on Lester D. Crawford Blog
”The Farewell Wave” by Linda Casper on Third Age Blogger
”Remember Them” by Ben Mann on Ben Mann
”Can’t Even” by Dave Higgins on Dave Higgins: A Curious Mind
”The Ghoul” by Kel Mansfield on Kel Mansfield: Write Stuff
”Midnight, Christian” by Elizabeth Gaucher on Esse Diem
”A Star, A Star Dancing in the Night” by John Norris on Pretty Sinister Books
”What Am I” by Bart Hopkins on
“No Time for Christmas” by Iseult Murphy on Iseult Murphy: Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction Author
“Inside Job” by Paul Liadis on Cyborg Menagerie
* * *

"White Coat Ceremony"
By Dale Nelson

Olson, the retiring Med School chief custodian, advised the new man, Nyquist.

“When you’ve cleaned the auditorium after the grads’ White Coat ceremony, lock the doors but leave the lights on.”


Olson told the truth. “For decades, from what I was told when I took over, lost spirits of the doctors return here, if they betrayed the traditional vows.”

Months later, midnight after the annual ceremony -- Automatically Nyquist turned off the last lights. In the dark, there were white shapes, a rustling. Olson flicked on the nearest light switch, turned all the lights on, locked up, and left.

("White Coat Ceremony" copyright 2022 by Dale Nelson; used by permission)

* * *

“The Collector”
By S.G. Easton

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("The Collector" copyright 2022 by S.G. Easton; used by permission)

* * *

“A Midnight Fare”
by B. Nagel

One last pick-up to pay off the credit card. What’s the harm of one more gig?

Now, the babe lays in my arms, swaddled tightly in a car blanket, weakly testing the limits of her freedom. Sweat drips down my collar and the heat fogs my glasses. The unfortunate mother lays dead across the backseat.

It’s not true. Look, she’s moving.

She crab walks out of the car, dragging blood and viscera, her eyes pure void, clicking and chittering like an arachnid chipmunk.

Without turning her head, the babe swivels the skin of her face to look back at me.

("A Midnight Fare" copyright 2022 by B. Nagel; used by permission)

* * *

“A Few Good Elves”
By William Gregory

Mrs. Claus were you aware that the deceased had a severe nut allergy?


Mrs. Claus are you familiar with the term “Code Green?”

“Enlighten me, sonny.”

Code Green is a clandestine order for the elves to put pistachios in Santa’s cookies.

“Is there a question here, sonny?”

Mrs. Claus, did you order the Code Green? Did you order the Code Green!!!

[Judge interjects: You don’t have to answer that question!]

“I’ll answer that question! You want answers, sonny?”

I want the truth!

“You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth! You’re goddamn right I ordered the Code Green!”

("A Few Good Elves" copyright 2022 by William Gregory; used by permission)

* * *

“It’s Beginning to Smell a Lot Like Christmas”
By William Gregory

I smell pig! The porcine scent makes me salivate uncontrollably. The alpha female, smelling of perspiration, franticness, and wine, gathers the pack. The alpha male reeks of beer and Doritos. (I love Doritos.) The elders, who don’t visit often, emit a fragrant tang of feces, urine, and powder. They smell like baby, but with a foreboding sense of decay. The boy stinks of sweat and cannabis. The girl saturated with her monthly bloody spoor is first to hand me a tender morsel under the table. My eyes roll back in my head. My tail wags in delight. I love Christmas!

("It’s Beginning to Smell a Lot Like Christmas" copyright 2022 by William Gregory; used by permission)

* * *

“A Diptych”
By David Llewellyn Dodds

Saint Nicholas A.D. 1096: Ill-Met by Moonlight in the Ionian Sea

Count Robert (following Bohemond) hired a huge pirate ship and sailed, as stealthily as possible with 1500 men, for Illyrium. Admiral Nicholas, alerted, ambushed him, becalmed by full moon, on Nicholas’ Name Day.

Marianus, bilingual, sailed in full armor to parley for peace – and got a crossbow bolt through his helmet – unscathed. Another through shield and breastplate – only grazed. A Latin priest, grabbing a bow, shot at him repeatedly. The envoys defended themselves – from midnight till noon, when the Franks asked armistice. The wounded priest fought on – quiver empty, with sling-stone shattering shield and helmet, felled Marianus – but he survived.

Saint Nicholas A.D. 1096: The Bread and the Cup

Marianus, up again, took bow and wounded the priest three times. Blood-drenched but undaunted – and out of arrows and sling-stones – he started whizzing barley-cakes: no treat, full-impact on Marianus’ cheek.

Meanwhile, Count Richard surrendered with ship and crew, gladly following Marianus to shore. Peace finally made, the priest went searched far and wide for Marianus, and, finding him at last, embraced him, saying cheerfully, “If we’d met on land, I would have managed to kill a lot of you.” Then, rummaging around, he produced a large silver cup, presented it to Marianus, smiling broadly – and dropped dead at his feet.

Post Script: Based on the Alexiad of Anna Comnena, Book Ten, Chapter Eight (as translated by E.R.A. Sewter for Penguin Books, 1969).

("A Diptych " copyright 2022 by David Llewellyn Dodds; used by permission)

* * *

“No Place Like Home”
By Becky Rui

“Mom, Sally and I are going to the park!”

“Ok, John, but be back in an hour for dinner. Stay together.”

“I know, Mom!”

Chop, stir, knead. Into the oven. Pot pie, Sally’s favorite.

The sky grows dark and the oven timer chimes. They should be back by now.

The doorbell rings. She opens the door to two policemen.

Her hand covers her mouth. “Oh my God, what’s happened?”

Suddenly John pushes forward and she wraps her arms around him.

“Oh, thank God, you’re safe.”

A moment of silence. She looks up into the officers’ grave expressions.

“But where’s Sally?”

("No Place Like Home " copyright 2022 by Becky Rui; used by permission)

* * *

By Becky Rui

He gathers his tools first. He has methods that are almost ritualistic and he likes it that way.

He likes to crack them first, feel the crush and hear the hard break under his bare hands. He is strong and loves using his brawn this way.

Next, he flays the skin. It is thinner than most people think, but he knows. It is thin and delicate and he peels it off with the utmost care, even tenderness.

Afterward, he looks down at what he’s made. Is proud of it.

Then slowly, reverently, he pops one into his mouth.

Yum. Pistachios.

("No Place Like Home " copyright 2022 by Becky Rui; used by permission)


Note: A higonokami is a Japanese folding knife. The title of this piece transliterates into shikata ga nai, which means, “It cannot be helped.”

The limestone cell in which Aki unexpectedly awoke on Christmas morning would’ve thrilled Unit 731, especially how the walls of the countless chambers around her gradually constricted.

The rate varied to judge by the screaming, crunching, dripping. Aki’s cell steadily shrunk by millimeters. She beat her fists bloody against the stone, broke nails, screamed against the impossibility and unfairness.

Eventually, she found the higonokami in her pocket. Opened it. Held it to her throat. Then whipped it into the wall.

She carved kanji slowly:

My blood must be spilled.
With it, I will ink these words.
Stone, my printing press.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Shared Storytelling: Advent Ghosts 2022

And then all of the lights simply went on.

It started with the lamp by your bed, its energy-efficient LED flashing on unprompted at 3 a.m. It remained on even as you toggled its switch and flipped the breaker. You eventually slipped a sock over your hand to insulate it and gingerly pried the bulb from its socket — and still it continued to burn.

Then your bedroom's overheads flared on. And the lights in the bathroom. The hall flooded with brilliance, and the darkness was as light in your living room and kitchen and main doorway.

Rushing to the window, you watched the neighborhood flare like a monochrome nebula, your neighbors' homes light like small suns, the condo across the street flare constellation bright.

It's the talk of every 24-hour cable-news channel despite the early hour, and social media is in a full frenzy, status updates and tweets and shakily filmed shorts increasingly dire and panicked. You hear the sounds of argument somewhere across the street, voices raised near to the pitch of shouting in the unnaturally bright, not-so-silent night.

Even without hearing the words, you know what the argument's about. When every dark corner disappears, where can secrets hide — and what stories will come to light?

* * *

Dear writerly friends, welcome to Advent Ghosts 2022, the thirteenth annual shared storytelling event at ISLF. Thirteen may not be an auspicious number in genre fiction, but it represents something of an enduring tradition for this humble little blog. Over the years, a group of us have celebrated that peculiarly British tradition of telling spooky stories right before Christmas. Smithsonian Magazine has an informative article about the practice, and you can learn more yourself by reading selections such as Elizabeth Gaskell's "Old Nurse's Story," Algernon Blackwood's "The Kit-Bag," or E.F. Benson's "Between the Lights." To get more of an idea of what we do here, though, check out Neil Gaiman’s "Nicholas Was ..." This little story clocks in at exactly 100 words — which is exactly what our tales do as well. We welcome anyone, and the rules are simple:
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 on Saturday, December 17, and email the link to me. 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) 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.
If you’re new to the group and would like to see some examples, give last year’s stories a gander.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Advent Ghosts 2021: The Stories

Note: This post will be updated early and often throughout the day. Check back regularly for more stories! Additionally, you can find an intro of sorts to this text here if you’d like.

There was no possibility of taking a walk that day, Lady Penelope Hill knew. She had wandered in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning, but since dinner, the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds and a penetrating rain. And anyway, Lady Hill thought, who would want to stroll the estate this time of year alone? For though her maid technically remained in the manor, she knew that she truly was, for all intents and purposes, alone.

The realization had settled on her as slowly as the dusting of snow shifting down out of the slate-gray sky. Her letters to her mother, her sisters, her friends had all failed to draw replies by post. Indeed, she could not recall when the postman had last visited. Just yesterday, she had roamed the great hall, calling aloud for the butler, expecting his hunched, turtle shape to materialize from one of the gloomy passageways. Instead, her voice had drawn her maid. “He has left, my lady,” was all that Penelope had gotten out of her.

Perched tipsily at the head of the dining room table, Penelope lifted a third glass of wine to her lips, musing that I seem to be acquiring all of Billy’s trices. Spices. She hiccupped. Bad habits. But as the claret burned in her stomach, she realized that wasn’t precisely true. And so she found herself swaying before the bookcase in Billy’s study, her finger stroking one book’s spine after another, each in turn.

I suppose it’s preferable that he always wanted to touch these rather than me, she thought a tad drunkenly. Easier now without children. She let her fingers fold around a volume. Draw it down and open it. Let her eyes traipse over the archaic Latin. Let her lips form the strange syllables.

A crash jerked her upright, yanked her eyes to the doorway where her maid stood, a constellation of broken crockery at her feet. “Oh no, my Lady,” the girl moaned, “you mustn’t, no, you don’t under —”

The world shivered. Writhed. Tore.

Lady Penelope Hill blinked and shook her head against the ringing in her ears, the only thing she could hear besides the maid’s frantic mantra of “O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Every candle in the room flickered and died.

They died, but not before she saw squamous skin and a mouth like a hole and magnesium-white eyes. Then, through the darkness, hands — too many hands — seized her arms, shoulders, throat.

The voice in her ear was wind-stirred ashes in a dead hearth. L̲͉̏ͨet ̏͆̾n͍͌ot̼̥̅̊hͮḭnğ ͨbuṯ̰͇ͥ̊̃ ̥̪b͓͉̰rë́ͅath ̹̺̪p̫̘̣ͫͫ͛aͪs̤̬͕͒ͮ̍s̥͑ ̇y͙̮ͫͣo̘̘͓ů̫͕͐r ͍̃ḹ̘̾ĭ͖͙̩͌̏p̽̓ͭs͚̾,̩̻́ͧ fo̤͒r͍̥ͧ̓ hë̖̫̀ is al͆r̘̋eaͮdy̜̔ ͌h́̑ͫe̼͚ȑ̯̞̟̌̚e̞͈̥ ̻̞ḁ̚n̎d͓͇̺̑ͧ̌ ͉̼̀̐h̲̣ͧ̌e ̮̘͇̄ͨͣis̮̝ͥ̆ ̳̒l̙is̖̍t̟̪e̮͑ň̪̖̩ͦ̇ing͈̫ͮ̐.̏̈

I do believe, some small, still-sane part of Lady Penelope’s mind thought, that it is trembling.

The voice was dead autumn leaves rasping together. I͂ mͫͫ̈́u̯͍ͬ̓s̲̅t̟͔̒̏ t̗ͮell͉̼̼ͮ̈́ͩ ̝̗̋̄ẙ͂̒o͖̽u̩͕ͩ̚ ̭͈͎a ͖̣ṣ͍̂̽to͙͍̙͆ͯͫr̫̪y̯ͪ ̯͓..͚.

"Grail" by R.S. Naifeh on Advent Ghosts: Short Theological Fictions for the Dead of Winter
"The Plantation" by James D. Witmer on James D. Witmer
• "Frosty the Disappointment" by Geoffrey Miller (see below)
• "Jetzt bringt Nik’laus was für mich" by David Llewellyn Dodds (see below)
"Shortcut" by Simon Kewin on Simon Kewin: Fantasy Author, Science Fictioneer, Writer of Worlds
• "World of Spirits" by Dale Nelson (see below)
• "His Wings" by Becky Rui (see below)
"Sozman Borkstapple’s Ghostly Adventure" by Brian Sexton on AN ROINN ULTRA: Brian Sexton's Stories From Outer Space
"The Yule Cat's Fury" by Paula Benson on Little Sources of Joy
"The Cracker" by Craig Scott on CS fantasy reviews
"The Dreaded Trip" by Phil Wade on Brandywine Books
"I'll Be Home for Christmas" by Rhonda Parrish on Rhonda Parrish: Author, Editor and Hydra-tamer
"Evergreen Altar, Coal Fire White" by Loren Eaton on I Saw Lightning Fall
"The Long Tail" by Ben Mann on Ben Mann
"Life" by Paul Liadis on Cyborg Menagerie
"Despair and Anguish" by Lester D. Crawford on Lester D. Crawford Blog
"The Season of Giving" by Linda Casper on Third Age Blogger
"Dirty Hands" by Dave Higgins on Dave Higgins: A Curious Mind
"Flying With the Angels by Kel Mansfield on Kel Mansfield: Write Stuff
"Presence" by Elizabeth Gaucher on Esse Diem
"Split" by Leanne Stowers on Leanne Stowers
• "Cookies for Santa" and "CONFIDENTIAL: Gates Foundation Project" by William Gregory (see below)
"Tired Eyes" by Michael Morse on by Michael Morse
"The Ghosts of Christmas" by Iseult Murphy on Iseult Murphy: Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction Author
• "Out of the depths, it calls to me" by B. Nagel (see below)
"Who Comes This Night, This Wintry Night?" by John Norris on Pretty Sinister Books
"Untitled" by Ollwen Jones on GitHub Gist

* * *

"Frosty the Disappointment"
By Geoffrey Miller

Frosty was nearly perfect! Just like in the song, the snowman had a corn cob pipe, a button nose, and two eyes made of coal.

But despite Joanna's efforts, he would not dance. Not even Mr. Thompson's top hat did the trick. She wondered if Frosty looked too human. She packed on more snow. Better! But why wasn't the magic working yet? His arms were twiggy enough. That wasn't the problem.

Suddenly, Frosty sighed with life!

A smile lit Joanna's face but soon faded. Blood dribbled from the corn cob pipe. Frosty still wasn't living; Mr. Thompson was just dying.

("Frosty the Disappointment" copyright 2021 by Geoffrey Miller; used by permission)

* * *

"Jetzt bringt Nik’laus was für mich"
By David Llewellyn Dodds

Worse than corpses, what stench from No Man’s Land? Krampus loose! That claw stabbing his shoulder. Fangs nearing neck... Snapped away on shortened chain – by St. Nicholas, smiling gravely. Rudolf leapt awake, told me his dream. I lost track of him as we advanced... realized the Tommys had retreated!... charged after through trenches full of abandoned... everything! Rudolf outpaced me, avoided boobytraps, discovering first where they took their new stand by coming under fire...

Arms and gear cast away, he advanced toward me smiling, shoulder bandaged, flesh-wounded out of combat, good arm embracing a huge sack of pillaged British rations.

Note: Inspired by details of Carl Heller’s memoirs, De oorlogsbrieven van Unteroffizier Carl Heller, ed. J.H.J. Andriessen (Soesterberg: Aspekt, 2003), sadly not available in translation.

("Jetzt bringt Nik’laus was für mich" copyright 2021 by David Llewellyn Dodds; used by permission)

* * *

"World of Spirits"
By Dale Nelson

The first spirit showed him himself as a boy absorbed by Pac-Man. He didn’t want to go outside and play. The second spirit showed him his present-day self, hunched over in his cubicle. Olivia walked sadly past him. The third spirit showed mourners glancing at their smartphones as a coffin was lowered.

"Must these things be?" he cried to the mute and terrible form.

He woke. Snow-light shone up into his bedroom. He leaped out of bed and flung up his window.

"Merry Christmas!" he cried to the street where no one passed. They were all inside with their devices.

("World of Spirits" copyright 2021 by Dale Nelson; used by permission)

* * *

"His Wings"
By Becky Rui

Every time…

The snow crunches underfoot. The railing is icy under his grip. Cars speed by, blowing frigid wind against the back of his thin coat.

a bell rings…

Arm muscles quiver under the strain of pulling, stretching, reaching.

an angel…

The water below seems to rush with the beats of his heart, its dark surface foamy with ice. Numbing.


His loafer slips and he grabs for the metal. Almost fell. He unclenches his fingers. One by one.


He thinks of what the doctor said. His ex-wife. His estranged children.


No bells ring. But he does fly.

("His Wings" copyright 2021 by Becky Rui; used by permission)

* * *

"Cookies for Santa"
By William Gregory

My name is Amanda. I’m seven and the smartest kid in school.

My parents tell me not to be average. I’m better than that.

My mom says I hold a grudge too long. I haven’t spoken to Billy Wilson since he pushed me two years ago.

I’m mad at Santa too. Last year he didn’t bring me AirPods. I’m going to sprinkle rat poison on Santa’s cookies to teach him a lesson. I’m a good baker.

… My daddy died Christmas morning. Daddy ate Santa’s cookies. Why would daddy do that? That makes me angry.

Santa got lucky. This time…

("Cookies for Santa" copyright 2021 by William Gregory; used by permission)

* * *

"CONFIDENTIAL: Gates Foundation Project"
By William Gregory

Code Name: Project Jabberwocky
Status Report: 12/25/21

Vaccination Rates: Global 50.75%. US 74.35%. UK 85.25%. China 92.88%.
Micro-Implant OS Version: Windows 11 ServicePack 25RFID3
Global Satellite Receivers: Online | Ready
Global RFID Status: Ready
Projected Transponder Efficiency: 98.5325%

MissionOps: “We’ve crossed the 50% Global-VR threshold. Global satellites are online and ready. Shall we proceed with the activation sequence?”
Mr. Gates: “Make it so.”
MissionOps: “Microchip activation sequence in T-minus 6:24:52:01…”
Mr. Gates: “We are on the cusp of a historic new frontier in big data. Kudos to our Project Pangolin team in Wuhan, we couldn’t have done it without you.”

("CONFIDENTIAL: Gates Foundation Project" copyright 2021 by William Gregory; used by permission)

* * *

"Out of the depths, it calls to me"
by B. Nagel

The voice from the closet said to bring them or else. Midnight, new moon nearest Christmas. Terrence found wet ditch sludge in his empty closet.

Terrence set the saran-wrapped plate on the curb by the storm drain. A whining laugh rose from the catch basin. The voice thanked Terrence as his sneakers slapped back down the street. A boy crawled from the missing grate and crouched, unwrapping the cookies.

Something wrapped around the boy’s leg and jerked him below the street, head cracking on street, then curb. Another dark tendril crept up for the cookies. ‘Mine,’ said a different voice.

("Out of the depths, it calls to me" copyright 2021 by B. Nagel; used by permission)