(AUTHOR’S NOTE: This flash fiction was written during a writers group meeting I attended. I was given a postcard with a photo and told to write a story inspired by it. I scanned the image and included it below. I thought at first it looked like a woman’s foot wearing a dance shoe, but then I thought it looked like a foot wearing a Greek sandal. That brought about this little tale. Enjoy!)
Achilles, clad in his best chiton, tapped into his warrior’s training as he rose onto his tiptoes and spun. His partner, Helen of Troy, whose face was ready to launch another thousand ships, spun with him, the skirt of her gold-trimmed white peplos billowing. But as Achilles descended, he stumbled and fell, nearly dragging Helen down with him.
“That’s the tenth time you tried that turn!” exclaimed Helen. “I’m going to need a new dance partner at this rate! The Greek Gala is only a few days from now!”
“I’m sorry,” replied Achilles, cradling his left foot. “I’ve not been the same since that heel injury during the Trojan War.”
Helen sighed. “Good thing I know an excellent podiatrist.”
Anyway, my annual Gen-Con video is an actual, episode of my regular show. I interviewed many of the authors who contributed to the “Missing Pieces” anthology, which is a collection of short stories by authors who sell books at Authors Avenue at Gen-Con.
You can buy the anthology at www.DragonRoots.net or on Amazon.
You read that right—the title of my new book is the same as my website. (I guess I’m just that pretentious. :P)
The familiarity doesn’t end there, though. This book is a collection of “unpublished” short stories spanning my entire career. I put quotation marks on “unpublished” (I did it again!) because many of these stories have already been posted here on my website. I learned at a Gen-Con writing seminar that stories posted on an author’s website are considered published. I may have tom rethink how often I post stories on here, then.
Regardless, I wanted to have this book finished in time for Gen-Con last week, but CreateSpace, the website I use for my self-published stuff, kept being nitpicky about the cover. It took me too long to make it happy. (I still had great sales at Gen-Con, though).
What’s the theme of this collection? I’ll let the back cover copy explain:
From the mind that brought you
Pandora’s Box & Ninjas and Talking Trees
comes…a little bit of everything.
An amnesiac cybernetic vigilante confronting the man he once called “comrade”—after he was murdered by him.
A pro-wrestler accosted in the ring by a mysterious hooded figure the night before his brother takes him to court.
A living gargoyle who protects a young wayward woman from her persecutors—and a demon.
Santa Claus’ race with a flying saucer on Christmas Eve.
A young man flying a hang glider through a ruined city to save his stranded twin siblings from a giant monster believed to be an angry god.
You’ll find these and other fantastical things in this, the first short story collection from Nathan Marchand. This anthology spans the vast breadth of the universe and genre. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and then you’ll do both again. Herein you’ll find adventure, drama, tragedy, and…ninjas (because they make everything better).
Prepare to enter…
The Worlds of Nathan Marchand
That pretty much says it all.
Barring any more unforeseen hiccups, the book will be available on Amazon within the next few days. The eBook should follow soon afterward.
Author’s Note: This is a sequel to “The Christmas Dance,” a story I wrote and posted back in December. Like that story, this one was inspired by a writing prompt from one of my writers’ group, which was to write a sequel story. I enjoyed it so much, I think I might do a series of 1,000-1,500 word stories about this young couple celebrating different holidays over the course of a year. Perhaps it’ll end with them getting engaged the next Christmas. ;P Anyway, enjoy this entry!
Resolution By Nathan Marchand
“Welcome to the New Year’s Eve Bash in Central Park!” booms the emcee over the microphone. The crowd surrounding the stage cheers. I’m always amazed at how the local parks and recreation department finds ways to emulate New York City’s holiday celebrations just because our little city also has a “Central Park.” This year they have a stage with a giant screen showing Dick Clark’s famous giant disco ball.
They’ve outdone themselves, I think. Almost as much as I did last week with Kara.
I hadn’t seen her since she gave me her number at the Christmas dance. The holidays are busy for both of us. But we’d talked on the phone and texted almost every day since. It was her suggestion we come to this event. We were to meet at the park office to rent some ice skates at 8 p.m.
I’d just arrived—at 8:05 p.m.
It’s cold enough for snow, but none falls. I pull my sock cap an inch lower over my frozen ears. The crowd is thick, but I push my way through it wishing I could part this sea of humanity like Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments. I say, “Excuse me,” more times in the next two minutes than I have in half of my life.
I cut through the last of the throng, emerging triumphant.
“Well, well, if it isn’t Goodwill!”
My heart jumps into my throat when I hear that.
“I swear you’re stalking me, Jimmy,” I retort as I look to my left.
There stands my old rival clad in a three-hundred-dollar coat and with a giggling blonde on his arm. He looks as smug as ever.
“No, I’m just Sir Fate’s little way of putting you in your place.” The blonde giggles more.
“Whatever. I have better things to do,” I say, smirking before I let him have it. “Like a date with Kara.”
Jimmy scowls. The blonde glares at him.
I look away and start walking toward the park office, but Jimmy shouts his parting shot: “She’ll be disappointed at midnight when she learns you resolve every year to kiss a girl because you never have!”
I stop dead, feeling like I’ve been hit in the back with an arrow. He laughs at me. I huff and walk on.
It’s not long before I see Kara, the prettiest girl in town, standing at the back of the line for skate rental. She’s wearing a bright blue wool coat with matching leather boots. Her red-gold hair braid hangs out of her hood across her collar bone. Before I can call her name, she waves at me with a gloved hand.
My heart jumps back into my throat.
“I’m so glad you made it, Ethan,” she says when I join her in line. “Even if you are a little late.” Her smile is as radiant as the sun.
“Yeah…sorry. I…ran into someone I used to know.”
Her smile flips. “You mean Jimmy?”
Hesitantly, I nod.
“Ignore him. He’s just jealous.”
Within ten minutes, we get our skates and head to the frozen pond. Dozens of couples, some of whom we saw dancing last week, look graceful circling hand-in-hand around the ice. Kara and I sit on a park bench to put on our skates. She laughs when I pull off one of my shoes and reveal the Superman socks underneath. I blush.
“No, no! I think they’re cute,” she says, seeing my embarrassment. “Besides, I used to watch Lois and Clark as a kid. It made me want to read comics, but I always got geek-shamed when I walked into a comic shop, so I never read any.”
“I’m sorry,” was all I could say.
Her smile brightened. “Don’t be. One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to start reading comics.” She finishes lacing up her skates. “What about you? Any resolutions?”
I bite my lower lip. “Not…really.” I grab her hand to distract her. “Let’s go!” I say, motioning toward the ice. She beams, and we hurry out. Her jacket’s hood flies off, unveiling her beautiful hair.
Now I wish I could kiss her.
The next few hours are a blissful blur. I hadn’t skated since I played junior hockey in middle school, but it was like riding a bike. A few times I had trouble stopping, but I didn’t fall. Kara, on the other hand, despite being a great ballroom dancer, wasn’t as surefooted on the ice. She held my hand for dear life. Well, for balance, anyway. One time, though, she started to fall, but I caught her. “My hero,” she called me. I’ve never felt such awkward excitement.
“I need a quick break,” I tell her.
“Okay. I can take a few solo laps. But don’t be long!” she says, winking.
My heart thunders in my ears.
I skate to the edge of the pond and sit on a bench. My calves are burning, but I don’t care. I haven’t been this happy in a long time. Kara waves at me as she skates by, nearly losing her balance. I snicker, admiring her bravery.
“Only fifteen minutes until midnight!” booms the emcee over the microphone on the stage. “Have your sweethearts ready to kiss when the ball drops!”
Suddenly Jimmy and the blonde appear in front of me, pretending they’re oblivious to my presence.
“Why wait until midnight for a kiss?” the jerk says to the poor girl.
Before she can reply, he grabs her, dips her like a professional dancer, and plants a long-lasting lip-lock on her. I look away like a grossed out schoolboy. They finally come up for air and walk away, Jimmy laughing the entire time. I feel like throwing up.
“Ethan!” calls Kara.
I look up and see her sliding by, so I spring to my feet and jump onto the ice. It doesn’t take me long to catch up and grab her hand.
Minutes later, everyone stops. 11:59 has come too soon. We all turn our attention to screen above the stage. Dick Clark is rattling off numbers.
“It’s the final countdown!” someone belts out, adding a terrible impersonation of the song’s guitar riff.
I glance at Kara. Her eyes practically sparkle. She smiles knowingly, expectantly, at me. My stomach is turning in knots like it did last week. Does she want me to kiss her?
“Thirty!” the crowd cries in unison with Dick Clark.
I should—no, I can’t. I’ll just disappoint her. I can’t start her New Year like that.
“Twenty!” cries the crowd.
But I want to impress her, to make her happy. But should I be that forward? It’s only a first date!
“Ten, nine, eight,” begins the crowd.
Kara wraps her arms around my neck and her jade eyes look deep into mine. I’m breathless.
“…five, four, three…”
I blink. My head hangs.
The crowd screams, “Happy New Year!” Noise and confetti fill the air.
Shame stabs me with a knife. I unclasp Kara’s arms and skate away as fast as my tired legs can carry me, not stopping until I reach an isolated bench. I flop onto it and bury my face in my hands. My tears are barely kept dammed.
You’re a coward, Ethan, just like Jimmy thought you were, I think. Your first date with her will be your last.
But just as I’m about to drown in a sea of self-pity, a soft hand squeezes my shoulder. “What’s wrong?” says that wonderfully lyrical voice.
I glance up and see Kara sitting next to me.
May as well come clean. You owe her that, I think.
“I thought you wanted me to kiss you at midnight. I wanted to, but…I just…couldn’t. I’m sorry, Kara. I ruined everything.”
“Why couldn’t you?”
I look away. “Because…I…I’ve never kissed anyone before.”
I brace myself for her to leave.
After ten seconds of silence, she’s still here.
Her warm fingers touch my chin. She lifts and turns my head toward her, unhanding it when our eyes meet. “You didn’t have to kiss me if you weren’t ready. I wouldn’t have been disappointed.” She snickers. “Honestly, I might’ve been weirded out. It’s jerks like Jimmy who pull numbers like that, and I know you’re better than that.”
“So, you’re not upset?”
Kara sighs, rolling her eyes. “No, silly!”
My hand touches hers on my shoulder. “Thank you.”
She just smiles.
“Tell you what,” she says. “I’m exhausted from all that ice skating, so how about you escort me home and we talk about this tomorrow over lunch?”
“Oh, and one more thing.”
Kara presses two fingers against her puckered lips and then places those fingers on my cheek. I feel it burn.
(Author’s note: I haven’t been posting much this month. It is December, after all, and I’ve been busy with the holidays. Regardless, I couldn’t let the season pass by without giving all of you, True Believers, a little gift. So, here’s a Christmas-themed flash fiction for your enjoyment. As you can see, I can write things other than weird speculative fiction. 😛 Merry Christmas!)
The Christmas Dance By Nathan Marchand
I can’t believe I’m here, I tell myself as I enter the natural history museum’s doors.
A rambunctious crowd of well-dressed people flows through the entry with me. Some of the guys are wearing Santa hats that clash with their fancy suits. “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” belts from the huge speakers at the center of the makeshift dance floor under the full-sized whale skeleton suspended from the high ceiling. With deer-like grace, a few couples are already practicing their dance moves. The smell of cookies and hot cocoa is in the air.
I should be with family, not at some…gala, ball, whatever, on Christmas Eve!
Seeing the practicing couples reminds me why I hesitated to come. I’ve only been dancing for a few months and only knew a few styles, some of which I got mixed up, much to my embarrassment. Worst of all, I didn’t have a steady partner.
My stomach ties itself in a knot as I hit an invisible wall. I start to turn back—when I see my reason for coming.
She stands at the edge of the dance floor about twenty feet away. Her long strawberry blonde hair hangs over her shoulder in an intricate braid. Her holly-green dress hugs all the right curves of her petite figure while its knee-length skirt all but demands to twirl. White open-toe shoes make her look an inch or two taller and as poised as ever.
She turns and sees me.
My face burns.
She waves at me.
My feet are too heavy to run.
Suddenly, someone brushes me aside as he walks past, jolting me from the trance.
“Nice suit, Ethan!” scoffs a familiar voice. “Where’d you get it? Goodwill?”
I glance back and see Jimmy snickering at me. He’s wearing a black suit and tie that probably cost more than my car. I can’t believe I used to be friends with that jerk. As usual, seeing him leaves me torn between running away and punching him. He smirks at this and starts mingling with the girls.
He always has to rub in what a charmer he is.
The emcee welcomes everyone and plays “Jingle Bell Rock.” I look for Kara, but she’s already on the floor with another guy. It never fails. She’s popular at ballroom dance parties.
I sigh as I lean back against the wall. Jimmy runs by me, leading some poor girl—the first of his many conquests, I assume—by the hand onto the floor. He smirks at me again as they partner-up. I feel like I’ve been stabbed.
The night wears on. I dance with a few girls, but they never seem excited to be with me. Is it because I’m a novice or ugly? Or an ugly novice? I look for Kara after each song, but no sooner does she step off the floor does another guy ask her to dance. Even the Flash wouldn’t be fast enough to catch her! All the while, Jimmy goes from one girl to next, charming them onto the floor. He dances as smoothly as he talks. The entire night I’m never sure if I’m red with anger or green with envy.
I look at my watch. Only ten minutes left. Another song starts playing. Where’s Kara?
I glance over my shoulder and see her standing by herself at the food table, sipping cocoa.
I take a deep breath to steel my nerves. It’s now or never.
I cut through the crowd. She sees me coming and grins. I swallow hard and keep walking. She puts her cup on the table and folds her hands as I approach.
I suddenly find myself within arm’s reach of her. I can smell her lavender perfume. Her emerald eyes meet mine.
Jimmy swoops in, grabs Kara’s hand, and leads her away, saying, “Let’s dance!”
Just like that, she’s gone.
I look back at the dance floor. Kara is looking over Jimmy’s shoulder as they foxtrot to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” (Am I the only one who thinks that song is kinda creepy?). Kara smiles awkwardly, her eyes pleading for a rescue.
Clenching my fists, I turn to leave.
“No,” I say to myself. “I won’t let that punk steal another girl from me!”
With newfound courage swelling in my chest, I storm onto the dance floor and march toward them, maneuvering between couples. I tap Jimmy on the shoulder. He glares at me, but I don’t care.
“May I cut in?”
Before he can say, “No,” Kara jumps from his arms and into mine.
Instinctively, we start foxtrotting.
A few seconds later, my courage wanes as I realize I’m dancing with the prettiest girl in the room. My palms are so sweaty, I fear my hands will slip from Kara’s grasp.
The song ends. My arms fall out of frame. “Th-thanks.”
I drop my gaze and step away—but Kara grabs my arm.
“This is the last song,” she says, “and I owe you a full dance.”
I shove the words out: “Uh…sure.”
“All I want for Christmas is You” starts playing. We swing dance to it. I’m so flabbergasted, I can barely do the basic steps and only remember to let Kara turn a few times. Her billowing skirt looks like a blossoming flower each time. She never stops smiling.
The song ends all too soon.
“Thank you for the dance,” Kara says.
I nod. Then I sigh and walk away. The fantasy is over. The clock’s striking midnight.
“Wait!” calls Kara.
I glance back as she rushes toward me. My stomach twists so much, it looks like her hair braid.
“I have a gift for you,” she says, reaching into her dress and producing a card. She takes my hand, puts the card in it, and folds my fingers onto it. “Merry Christmas!” she adds, gazing at me for several long seconds.
She walks past me.
I’m a frozen statue as people clear the floor, but eventually I look at the card.
It’s her phone number!
I turn around just in time to see Kara walk off the floor and wink at me.
Hello, True Believers! It’s been a while since I posted something substantial. I was busy during the holidays, as most people were, but I was working on a new short story. I wanted post it as a Christmas gift to all of you, but I didn’t get it done in time. However, it’s now finished. It’s entitled “In Search of Traction.” I had this idea for a while–a guy trying to get home on a cold, snowy day–since college. Now I’ve put a plot to it. I wouldn’t say it’s my best story, but I like it. You can read it here.
While it takes place at Christmas, it’s still appropriate–perhaps more so–since the Midwest was slammed by the coldest blizzard on record.
A foot or more of snow. Below zero high temperatures. Windchills at -40 degrees. It’s insane. I avoided driving during that time (I heard cops could fine someone if they didn’t have a provable emergency), but I heard about many accidents caused by the weather. If that were one of those unfortunate people, perhaps you’ll be able to sympathize with the story’s protagonist.
So, curl up to your fireplace with your laptop and enjoy “In Search of Traction”!
I shoved my way out of the warzone that is a mall on Christmas Eve. Bags of junk food, worthless trinkets, and stupid holiday novelties dangled from my arms like overripe fruit on a tree. I could barely peek over the four boxes in my arms—which were quickly going numb—to see the crowded parking lot. Jack Frost nipped at my few patches of bare skin. Angry soccer moms yelled at me or shoved me out of the way while I crawled to my car. The sun was setting behind the thick gray clouds, bringing the dark sooner.
Joey, why did you marry a procrastinator? I thought. This isn’t how I wanted to spend our first Christmas together! I hate shopping only a little less than I do cooking!
The thought of Mary “slaving away” in a warm kitchen made me hate this frigid weather even more.
Snow and ice still caked the parking lot! Were the snowplow drivers home for Christmas? I walked where angels feared to tread now. One wrong move, and I’d have a shallow grave under snow and packages. I stepped lightly, tensing every time I slid even an inch. My forehead was cold and moist. I think it took me ten minutes to cross one parking lot.
Reaching the car, I laid everything on the hatchback. My arms tingled as blood rushed into them. I clicked my key fob, unlocking the doors. I opened the driver door and tossed everything inside. With that, I harrumphed and slid into the car myself.
It seemed colder inside. I jammed the key into the ignition and turned it, but the car only whined. Cursing, I tried two more times before it finally started. I flipped on the headlights, but instantly found myself boxed in. A line of cars crept down the lot behind me. I had to wait five obnoxious minutes before a man—a fellow husband, I wager—stopped to let me pull out. Even then, my wheels spun out the first time I hit the gas. That husband’s understanding started to melt. But I floored it again and managed to get out.
It took me ten minutes just to move a quarter-mile and get onto Main Street. I narrowly avoided rear-ending the car in front of me. I knew I should’ve had the brakes repaired, I thought. But I was too busy with Christmas! The sun was now gone. Storefronts were going dark. The street wasn’t much clearer, but at least I wasn’t sliding. For now.
Mary and I live in the countryside just outside of the city. Which meant our roads would be the last to get plowed, if ever. Anger surged through me, warming my body. All this for last-second gifts for her least favorite nieces and nephews and supplies for a party she was throwing tomorrow! I gripped the steering wheel so tightly, the cover was indenting my palms.
A few turns and traffic lights later, I reached the city limits. Now I was where snowplows fear to tread. Or where they didn’t care to plow. Regardless, the roads were ice rinks now. I felt the car’s tires slide underneath me and manically gripped the steering wheel. Snowflakes the size of cotton balls fell from the clouds, obscuring my vision. My intense concentration could barely see far enough ahead to avoid immediate hazards.
Even then, I didn’t see the first stop light that came into view. Not until it was too late. I slammed on the brakes, but the car slid, threatening to jackknife. I held my breath. My heart stopped. I wrestled with the steering wheel to keep it straight. Five harrowing seconds later, I realized I was in the middle of the intersection.
Now I just need another car to skid into me to make this perfect! I thought. But Mary still probably wouldn’t forgive me for being late!
I pressed gently on the accelerator, but the tires spun, unable to grip the road. I let up and tried again. The same. Cursing, I hit the steering wheel. Despite planning for extra time to get home, I was beyond punctuality now. I’d get nothing but nagging if and when I reached home. So much for holiday cheer!
The third time was the charm; the tires gripped the road and inched forward. I was out of the intersection in a few seconds.
What followed is a blur. I was focused like a laser on the road as I crawled along. I plowed through just-formed snowdrifts. The brakes reminded me of their need of repairs every time I skidded to a stop at an intersection. A pothole nearly broke my concentration and sent me into a snow-filled ditch. But I refused to break. Each little victory bolstered my confidence. A smile slowly crept up my face. Do your worst, Old Man Winter!
Suddenly, out of the darkness to the left sprang a buck. I swear it even had a red nose, but that might have been a cell phone tower in the distance. Anyway, he leaped in front of me, just a few feet from my bumper. I gasped and reflexively swerved to the other lane. I narrowly dodged the buck, which vanished in one leap, but the car wouldn’t straighten. Slamming the brakes did nothing. Tires screeched. Adrenaline was oil on my fires of panic. Against my will, the car veered off the road.
I suddenly found myself staring at the white ground at an awkward angle. A ditch. I was in a ditch. A snow-laden ditch. Hopelessly, I shifted the car in reverse and hit the gas pedal. The wheels spun, but the car didn’t budge. In fact, I felt it dig an inch deeper into the snow. I was stuck.
I smacked the steering wheel, cursing a blue streak. Slipping on gloves and a sock cap, I ventured out of the car, the cold air biting my bare cheeks. The car was so deep in the ditch and snow, there was no way I’d be able to push it out. I glanced up and down the road, but there were no headlights to be seen. Just darkness and a white haze bathed in pale moonlight.
I was alone.
I pounded the car’s roof, undoubtedly leaving a new dent. My cell phone was in my coat pocket, so I ungloved my hand and grabbed it. I glimpsed a text message from Mary that said something like, “Where the hell are you, you dolt?!” Then it went black. Dead. Typical, I thought. I pounded the roof again.
What was I to do now? Sit there and hope that someone, somehow, would drive by? On Christmas Eve? When everyone was at home with family and friends? Lucky them. That’s where I should be. Or not. Mary is probably ticked that I’m late. Never mind that I narrowly avoided killing Bambi and ended up in a ditch. Maybe I’m better off out here.
A few more minutes of near-zero temperatures changed my mind. Especially when I realized I only had a quarter of a tank of gas left.
“Dammit! What am I gonna do now?”
Just then, a bell rang in the distance.
Quick as a flash, I remembered there was a little country church not far from here. I drove by it every day on my way to work, but it was just scenery in my mind. They must be having a Christmas Eve service or something. Maybe they’ll help me. I just have to make sure they don’t realize I’m a “heathen.”
The bell seemed a bit loud, so I squinted at the icy veil, managing to catch a faint glimpse of the church. It was maybe a half-mile away. My face wouldn’t be too numb by the time I arrived.
I pulled the keys from the ignition, locked the car doors, and started walking.
After what seemed like an eternity of cold wind, relentless snow, and hatred of Christmas, I reached the church. A warm, candlelight-like aura seemed to emanate from it, though some of its lights were on. Few cars were in the parking lot. I guess the weather had scared away even the faithful. Or the service was over. Just my luck if I missed everyone. But the light gave me…hope. I walked up to the front door and discovered it was unlocked. Trusting people, churchgoers are. What if I wanted to rob the place? I smiled despite my numb face. Robbing a church on Christmas Eve? I bet that’d get you sent to Hell twice.
I must’ve looked like a living snowman when I stepped inside. I brushed myself off and peeled off my cap. I hadn’t been in a church since I was a kid, but I remembered it was a requirement to remove one’s hat. Before me was the entrance to the sanctuary. Low organ music playing “Silent Night” hummed in my ears. It was dark except for candles sitting on the sills of the windows lining each side of the room, which led to an illuminated cross hanging above the pulpit. I stepped closer and saw a few silhouettes sitting in the pews. Muttered prayers mingled with the organ music.
I was suddenly hesitant to cross the threshold into the sanctuary, like I was unworthy to disturb this holy ground. But I pressed on.
No one seemed to notice me. They just went on praying. I was annoyed. But just as I was about to shout, someone saw me.
“You can sit here,” he whispered.
I glanced to my left. A young blonde man scooted over and offered me a spot at the end of the pew.
Though I suddenly felt uncomfortable, I said, “Thanks,” and sat down.
“What’s your name?”
“Mine’s Gabe. Nice to meet you.”
No much for not looking like a heathen.
He paused only briefly at my terseness. “I’ve never seen you here before. Welcome.”
“Honestly, I’m only here because I need help.”
“We all need help from the Lord.”
I snickered. “Think he’ll dig my car out of the ditch?”
Gabe flinched, surprised. “Oh. Well, we do have some shovels in the janitor’s closet. We can dig you out after the service.”
“Is it gonna be much longer? The wife is probably contemplating divorce as we speak.”
It was none of his business, but for whatever reason, I started talking. “Yeah. She insisted on throwing a last-minute Christmas party and gave me a mile-long list of things to buy. I hate shopping and this weather, but I hate dealing with her. I’ll be lucky if she just makes me sleep on the couch tonight.”
“She sounds a little demanding.”
“A little?” I blurted, almost raising my voice. “She’s really demanding! And obnoxious! Always has to have her way. All because she wants to keep up appearances at the holidays. I don’t know what I hate more—her or Christmas.”
“I’m sorry. Christmas should be a time of—”
“Spare me the Christmas Carol crap! I just want to dig out my car and go home!”
I think that earned me a few annoyed glances.
Gabe somehow kept his cool, and said, “I think you need more than that, Joey.”
I huffed. “Like what?”
As if on cue, the well-dressed preacher standing behind the pulpit started reading: “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
He stepped down and sat on a pew. The organ music continued to play. The bell rang again outside.
I’d heard those words every year on the Charlie Brown Christmas show, yet now…they touched me. Touched me somewhere deep inside. My heart of ice thawed a little.
“I’m sorry for disrupting things,” I whispered to Gabe.
“You’re forgiven. The service will conclude in a few minutes. We’ll dig you out then. Merry Christmas.”
“Thanks.” The next words I said surprised even me. “Could my wife and I come here this Sunday?”
Gabe laughed quietly. “There’s no need to ask. Just come.”
That night, I was searching for traction on the road, not realizing I was searching for traction in my life.
AUTHOR’S NOTES: Here’s the Christmas short story I promised. As I said earlier this week, it’s set in the small Midwestern town of Vienna, a place created by my friend and fellow writer, Nick Hayden. (Nick has ideas for his half of the story exchange percolating as I write, but I don’t know when he’ll have it done).
Just like Nick’s other Vienna, USAstories, this one is based loosely on an actual event. When Nick’s mother was in high school, a boy asked her out by climbing their hometown’s water tower and spray-painting her name on it. Besides that, many of the other details are cobbled together from my own experiences living near many small towns in Indiana (the comic shop and pizzeria are amalgams of several such places I’ve frequented). Speaking of the comic shop, I created that place (and the most of the characters seen or mentioned there) the first time I wrote a Vienna story back when Nick created this town as the setting for a serial called Cobblestones. Maybe I’ll post that story sometime. Ironically, it was called “The Gift.”
Anyway, take a break from your busy holiday schedule and enjoy this story. MERRY CHRISTMAS!
(FYI: If you’re reading this on the main page, click the title above so you’ll see the pagination).
The Discarded Gift By Nathan Marchand
The Mayans predicted the world would end today, and now Calvin Clark was wishing they were right.
The cold night air bit his cheeks as he stepped out of the door, the fresh snow crunching under his dress shoes. It had been a long, tiring day at the offices of the ironically named Crook and Straus Law Office. It seemed all the Scrooges in Vienna—maybe even the whole county—wanted to file or settle all their lawsuits the last week before Christmas.
I’m so sick of working here, thought Calvin as he buttoned up his navy blue wool trench coat over his suit. All I do is stare at papers documenting people’s petty squabbles. And if I hear one more “Clark the clerk” joke, they’ll be prosecuting a murder case! He pulled an equally-blue sock cap over his earthy hair, thinking, I didn’t go to college for this.
Since he forgot his gloves, Calvin stuffed his hands into his pockets, and his freezing fingers rediscovered the pockets’ contents. He sighed, slumping his shoulders. Out of his right pocket he produced crinkled piece of yellow paper, which he unfolded. Written at the top in his legible but messy handwriting was, “Maria’s Christmas List.” He had drawn his little sister’s name in the family gift exchange, and she would be coming home on break from college in Florida.
I’ve been so busy, I forgot to get her anything. I better do it now before she arrives tomorrow.
Calvin pocketed the list again and started walking down the sidewalk. Downtown Vienna was only a few blocks away. His sister loved the quaint shops and avoided the Wal-Mart as much as she could, so he knew that would be the best place to buy gifts for her. While it was already six o’clock, most of the stores would be staying open a little later for last-minute shoppers like him.
I’ll get the gifts and come back here for my car.
The crowds thickened, the Christmas music amplified, and traffic congested the closer Calvin got to downtown. It was the annual Christmas on Main Street Celebration. He heard music by Trans-Siberian Orchestra, which was undoubtedly blaring from Mozart’s Music. The smells of freshly baked cookies and bread wafted through the icy air. The laughter of people young and old blended into a joyous noise. A rainbow of flashing colors from the thousands of lights splashed across the snow, making the cold powder sparkle, as he neared Main Street.
It was then Calvin’s gait slowed. His feet felt heavier with each step. Finally, he stopped as he came to the corner of Main and Schett Streets. He hung his head. For a moment, he just stood there, breathing in cold air and breathing out mists that seemed to envelope him like a dark cloud.
He wanted to shut out everything around him.
I thought I could do this, but…
He clenched white-knuckle fists in his pockets and gritted his teeth behind closed lips.
He straightened, took a deep breath, and rounded the corner.
Main Street was a Christmas card brought to life. Snow was piled along the edges of the cobblestone street and the sidewalks. Lights flashed. The night was illuminated. Wreaths hung on every door and every street lamp. Children, clad in their thick coats and earmuffs, dragged their parents into Candy’s Candies and Toyland, among other shops. Young couples nuzzled and cuddled on every bench. This last image pricked Calvin’s heart.
If that was all there was, Calvin could have handled it. But he barely walked half-a-block before he heard the sound of the clip-clop of horseshoes against the cobblestones behind him. He stopped in front of Josie’s Just Desserts, bracing himself. He had hoped farmer Griffith was not bringing his horses in for the holiday carriage rides that night. That was obviously what the young couples on the benches were waiting for. The clatter came up beside him on the right. Then it stopped.
You’ve heard me name drop my friend and fellow writer Nick Hayden several times. (If you haven’t checked out his his website or stories do it right now!) Recently, I suggested an interesting project to him: I said we should “exchange” worlds each other had created and write a short story set in it. In other words, I write a story in one of his universes and he writes a story in one of mine.
I suggested this because I’ve been wanting to write a Christmas story with it being the holiday season and all. I wanted to write one that was good and not just Hallmark movie sappy. I conceived an idea and decided to set it in a fictional small town Nick had created. Hopefully, it’ll be done by Christmas. It’ll be posted both here and on Nick site.
What does Nick plan to write in one of my universes? I’ve no clue. Stay tuned.
My brother Jarod has contributed yet another piece of excellent artwork for one of my short stories. This time it was for “The Hammer,” a science fiction story you can read here. The artwork portrays the hero, Matthias Maccabeus, punching out a disguised robot assassin. Check it out:
So, if you haven’t read the story yet, I hope you will now. Why would you pass up on excitement like this?
A Man from Another Time Exploring Another Universe