Category Archives: Short Stories

The Overlords

“Jerry you cannot do this!  You shouldn’t even think it!”

One man gripped tightly on to another’s arm trying to keep him away from the building ahead.  He was whispering through clenched teeth. At the same time his head swivelled back and forth desperately hoping no one was aware of them.

But they were observed.

The building in question was not imposing.  It was a century old structure with faded bricks and a sagging porch.  But if you looked very closely you would see incongruities. The lights above the front door were shiny and bright.  They also seemed a bit large for the task.  Were they more than just lights? There was no handle on the beautiful wooden door that guarded the entrance to the building.  And if you managed to get close to the windows you would realize they weren’t real.

What was real was the panic on Edward’s face.

“Please stop Jerry, we can’t do this without you!”

Something got through to Jerry.  He stopped.  For a moment he paused.  He appeared confused, unsure.  Then he quickly turned to his friend and dragged him away from the frightening building.  After some distance and out of sight of everyone, he spoke.

“Edward I am so sorry. I don’t know what came over me.  I don’t know what would have happened if I had made it to the door. Thanks to all that is good, you stopped me.”  Jerry was quiet but his face spoke volumes, he was afraid.

He stood beside his friend but Eddie was also afraid.  They had been seen.

With one understanding look between the two friends, they stood and without a glance towards the source of their fear, they moved further away.

In time they rested but still they didn’t speak.  Occasionally they grew wary as official looking vehicles passed by.  But the streets were quiet, too quiet.  People were staying indoors, away from Their notice.

In time the two men approached a small wooden building.  This one had a handle on the front door and its windows were real.  Several people could be seen through the glass, a few were crying.

With the front door safely closed and the blinds drawn, there was a collective sigh.  They were safe. Were they?

Jerry sat down and placed his head in his hands.  His shoulders shook as he silently wept.  The others stood by, uncomfortable.  People shifted their feet, clenched and unclenched their fists.  No one would look at another.  They waited.  Edward too sat down and he too waited.

“We did this.”  The voice that spoke was muffled, strained.  It was Jerry.  With a sigh he sat back in his chair, his hands dropped to his side.  He was defeated. He repeated his statement:

“We did this.”

He didn’t shout or throw his arms in the air.  It was a simple statement, delivered succinctly.

“We did this.  We wanted self-driving cars and smart homes.  We wanted computers to anticipate all our needs and fulfill them. Cash-less grocery stores and automated gas pumps.  We didn’t want to speak to each other.  We wanted to have control of everything through our phones.  But we didn’t want to actually do anything.  We didn’t need to think anymore, there’s an APP for that!

Jerry’s voice started to reflect his concerns.  As his voice grew louder, people moved further back from him.  Except for Eddie. He never moved.

“We put ‘chips’ in all out appliances.  Microchips are in our coffee makers, our watches, our door bells.  All those cameras we have to catch the bad guys are watching all of us and not by human beings!

Spittle formed at the corner of his mouth.  His eyes were manic.

“Planes and trains, banks, the stock-market.  The AI has control of it all and we created it.  The Artificial Intelligence is watching and listening. We are not alone.  We did this!  AI is in everything!”

There was a sudden silence.  No one spoke, no one moved.

Edward moved.  He stood; his shoulders still bowed.  As he raised his head a smile formed on his lips.

“Even me.”

 

 

The end

 

 

 

 

Lovers’ Lane

Adeline sat quietly, enjoying the warm sun on her face. It was one of those rare moments when she could sit on her porch with no interruptions and reminisce quietly.

“Grandma, grandma!”

“Gran!”

“Oh wait me!  Not fair!  Grandma I coming!”

The silence of a few moments ago was shattered by the arrival of three tow haired children of varying ages and variable vocal capabilities.  They had several things in common: hair colour, freckles, parents and an innate ability to force the world to focus on them.

Adeline may have been jolted out of her reverie but she looked with fondness on the three grandchildren approaching her at a run.  They arrived windblown and excited.  Once all three had wrapped themselves around their grandmother and kissed her at least a dozen times each, they settle down and with one voice asked one question: “Story Gran?”

The three children were not the only ones out of breath. Adeline smoothed her tousled hair and sat back with a grin.  She knew exactly where this was headed.

“Well now I don’t know if I should tell you a story.  I’m quite sure it would be beneficial to have an in-depth political discussion on what is happening in the world today.”  She looked at the puzzled faces in front of her.

“No Gran we want you to tell us the story of how you met grandpa.”

Adeline looked at the eldest of the three children.  She wondered how she had thought to ask that question.  Elizabeth was intelligent and very sure of herself.  It was an odd trait to have in a child that was only twelve years old.  Her sister Anne and brother Stuart were ten and five respectively.  And both of them were looking on eagerly waiting for their grandmother’s reply.

“Well now I don’t know . . .” started Adeline.

“Daddy said it was one for the books.  Did he mean you should write about it and let everybody know?”

Adeline eyes opened wide, “I’m sure that’s not what he meant!”  She whispered to herself.  To the children she spoke clearly, deftly ignoring the question.

“Well, I’ll tell you a story about your grandfather and me.  It’s about how we met, umm, but you know I can’t tell you everything.  Your grandfather and I have to keep some secrets from you three.  At least until you’re older.”  Adeline was smiling; she hoped the children didn’t notice that she was also blushing.

” Well, it all started when your grandfather arrested me.”  Before she could utter another word, the children erupted.

“Oh, Gran you were a criminal!”

“I’ll bet you robbed a bank!  Mama says they’re the criminals!”

“Grandma were you a prostate…, a prosta, a Protestant!”

Adeline smiled and calmed the children. She thought it best that she not tell Stuart the word he was looking for was a prostitute.

“Absolutely not!  It wasn’t that kind of arrest. Now if you want me to continue you must be very quiet.”

Three fair heads nodded vigorously.

“Your grandfather was a Ranger. It’s like a policeman.  He worked the local parks and made sure there were no criminals or any criminal activity.  He also made sure that those who came to enjoy the parks were not harassed.  Unfortunately, I was in the park to harass someone.”

It was at this point that Adeline stopped to think.  Should she tell the three rapt faces the complete truth or should she perhaps edit the circumstances to fit her audience’s age group?  Edit, it was the adult thing to do.

“I had recently broken up with my boyfriend.  Actually, I was about to break up with my boyfriend.  You see he was at the park with another girl.  She was supposed to be my best friend but she had stolen my boyfriend.  It was my intent to catch them together and embarrass them.  You see the particular spot they had gone to was known as Lover’s Lane.  It’s where everybody went when they were dating.  It was secluded and quiet.  Aaahhhh, it was a great spot to watch the stars.”

Adeline paused for a moment to remember the circumstances.  She had left out the bit about the can of black paint she had planned to pour on her boyfriend’s car.  That would definitely have been illegal so she really didn’t think it was a good idea to tell the children that part.

“Grandpa Oliver stopped me from making a very terrible mistake.  It was wrong of me to try and get revenge for my hurt feelings.”

“So, is that when he arrested you?”  Elizabeth always got to the point quickly.

“He really didn’t arrest me.  He just threatened to.  He let me tell my story and he let me cry and rant.  He bought me a soda and we had a wonderful evening just talking. We’ve been together ever since.”

Adeline sat back and wondered if she could get away with that being the end of the story.  The children’s reactions were typical for their age and sex: Elizabeth pretended to swoon, Anne made a declaration, “Boys are not to be trusted!” And Stuart was all curled up in a ball with his thumb firmly embedded between his lips.  He made the cutest little sucking noises that for a moment everyone concentrated on.

The moment was shattered when the front door was opened by the one person they had all been thinking about.  His booming voice roused even sleeping Stuart.

“And what are you all doing out here?”  His smile belied his apparently harsh words.

Stuart merely sat up and rubbed his eyes but the two girls attached themselves to their Grandfather’s open arms.

“Oh, Grandpa, you arrested Grandma!  Did you frisk her?”

“Did you throw her in the clink Grandpa?  Does she have an arrest record?”

Oliver looked at Adeline over the top of children’s heads.  He raised an eyebrow.  She quickly shook her head, blushed and looked down.  Oliver nodded his head and heaved a sigh of relief.

“I think it’s time all three of you were in washing your hands for dinner.  Otherwise I’m going to have to arrest you and put you in the shed without your supper!” Oliver smiled as he said the words.  No one believed his threats but all three immediately jumped up and ran into the house.

“You didn’t tell the whole truth did you my love?”

“Oliver there are some things that are no one else’s business.  Besides I think I would like to be arrested tonight. Are you up for it? I could meet you later in the shed?”

The two old friends sat side-by-side holding hands.  Forty-three years of marriage had not dulled their sense of fun and mischief.

 

The end

 

 

 

 

The Back Alley Strangler

 

Oh God I’ve got to stop working a double shift! ‘ Janey, can you do this, Janey can you do that?’ I am too easy going and too broke to say no. I hate my life!  I am too tired to think and I stink of cheap beer. EWWWWW! I can still smell vomit! Eddy you have got to get a better class of drunk in this run-down bar.  Damn! Did I collect my tips? How could I forget my tips?  I’m swear I am going to sleep for . . .  “What the . . . oh geez, sorry you scared me!  I don’t mean to be rude but it’s late, I’m tired and I’ll not really in the mood for any . . . look I’ll see you around . . . . .what the . . . . hey stop that, OWWW!  AHHHH! You’re hurting me!  Oh my God, my God it’s you!!!!!!  AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH . . .

……………………………………………….

“Mr. Leibowitz you are going to give your self another heart attack and your wife is going to kill you!”

One man was shifting heavy boxes of fruit from a truck parked outside his grocery store. As the second man approached, the first stopped, wiped his brow and smiled. The second man took over and finished the job in only minutes. The two men stood back to admire their handiwork and shared a good nature chuckle.  One was a small man with a back bowed by old age and arthritis, the other was a large man with a straight back.

“Officer Patrick are you arresting my husband?”  This new voice belonged to the small man’s wife.  She was as formidable and she was angry.  “You should arrest this lump of coal!  He no good.  He disobeys his son the doctor and he is determined to make me a widow.  Me, a young woman in my prime, I say!”

Both men had refrained from moving and each knew better than to attempt any kind of conversation while Mrs. Leibowitz was in full rant.  She would either run out of steam or out of room for her formidable figure.  With luck she would just go back inside to continuing ranting without an audience.  And the luck had it. With barely a pause in her rant, she returned to more comfortable surroundings.

Retired Officer Patrick O’Halleran was a twenty-nine-year veteran of the local police department.  Before he had retired, Patrick walked this beat for almost 10 years.  People knew him and had a difficult time accepting the fact that he no longer wore the uniform.  In fact, they still treated him as if he did.  The days when police officers walked the beat no longer existed and they all missed that.  So, Patrick strolled the streets every day as he had done for all those years.  It gave him a chance to think and it was great exercise.

So here he stood talking to a man who, just three weeks ago, had suffered a mild heart attack. Tobias Leibowitz knew he shouldn’t be moving these grocery boxes, but he also knew that Patrick was due to come by any moment.  Patrick had a reputation for helping.  Everybody knew that.  And everybody expected it.

When Patrick finally left the Leibowitz grocery store he was tired.  He was tired of walking this endless beat but he didn’t know how to stop.  He was tired of everybody expecting him to do the right thing.  Everybody wanted something from him. People expected him to fix their problems, even his family.  No one asked Patrick what Patrick wanted.

“Officer Patrick, Officer Patrick, please I think she’s dead! She no breathing! She no breathing! Come!

His years of training allowed him to react immediately. As he was running after the stranger, he was already preparing for whatever lay around the corner.

Patrick followed closely behind the agitated man; he was not one of the regulars.  As he came around the corner of the alley, he saw in front of him a large crowd made up of mostly children.  They were hovering over something that seemed to be quite small, another child perhaps? Patrick quickly pushed his way to the centre of the crowd; his expertise was needed.  When he reached the centre, he realized he probably shouldn’t have hurried.

“You didn’t tell me it was a cat.”

“No, my cat, my boy’s cat, make better yes?  She no breath!”

Patrick knew he was never going to live this down but he couldn’t make things any worse.  So, he reached down to this ratty feline and put his mouth over it’s and breathed, once, twice, three times . . .   The stinky old fur ball had the unmitigated gall to spit up in his mouth and then run away.  DAMN cat!

“Thank you, thank you Officer Patrick, you good man.”

Patrick did chuckle.  Yes, he could see the funny side of things.  His life saving efforts had been wasted on a mangy and ungrateful cat.  Well the kids were entertained.

He stood up and looked around the back alley.  When the cat had run off, so had all the children.  It seems there was no more excitement here.  He could see clear to the end of the alley.  There’s Mr. Grant, he used to be an executive in some bank but lost it all because of a sordid liaison with a secretary and now he is the local drunk.  He could see two of the resident hookers coming home from what must have been a successful night as they were laughing.  A lot went on in this alley.  It was great place to catch a glimpse of the dredges of life. It was also a great place to hide from the rest of the world. Patrick looked up at the windows that overlooked the alley.  Blinds were drawn and windows were closed tight.  No one wanted to see or be seen.

With a last look around the alley Patrick returned to the main street. He could see Anna Winslow through the glass of her flower shop.  She was a timid woman who had been beaten by a drunken husband until he had managed to cut his own throat with his pocket knife while drinking in the alley a few months ago.  No one had seen a thing.  Ms. Winslow was doing much better on her own.  She even smiled occasionally.

Patrick continued his endless patrol.  When he had retired, he was left with too much time on his hands.  So, he continued to do in his spare time what he did on the job: he patrolled the neighbourhood.    He remembered that he had promised Mr. Olson that he would look in on his son.  Mr. and Mrs. Olson were traveling in Mexico; their twenty something-year-old son was taking care of their bookshop.  The kid had a head for selling books.  He knew his stock better than his father.  Of course, his father was too proud to admit that.  Still, he’d stop in on the kid and maybe get a cup of coffee.

As Patrick continued down the street occasionally crossing to the other side, his eyes were always on the move.  He was watching for kids up to no good, he was watching for telltale signs of shoplifting, and people who just looked guilty.  Patrick had been good at his job.  He was so good at his job that any time he had asked for a transfer to a different branch of policing it was denied.  He was always told that his job as a front-line officer was more important than any other position in the police force.  He was the face of policing to the common folk.  That and the fact that he was very good-looking, and well loved by the people on his beat, made changing assignments very difficult.

“Hey Officer Patrick when are you going to catch that guy?  Us girls shouldna have to worry when we walk the streets.  We’s got rights you know.”

The young woman chiding Patrick was another of the streetwalkers coming home from a late/early meeting.  They always kidded him.  He was single, attractive and polite.  Fodder for their warped sense of humour.

“Don’t you worry Betty they will catch him.  It just takes time, and good police work.”

“Hey Officer, I read in the paper that this strangler has killed four women in the last six months.  This is happening very close to our street.  Are we in danger?”

This time Patrick did grin, although he did it surreptitiously.

“Well Miss Montague I think you will be just fine.  So far, the only women that have been strangled have been young women.  While you are indeed a fine figure of a woman, I think you have a few decades on the victims.  But I must say Miss Montague if I was only a few years older…”

Abigail Montague was indeed a fine figure of a woman.  Forty years earlier she had been a dance hall girl.  She sang and she danced with all the greats of the time.  She enjoyed a good joke: preferably dirty, rich men, and Scotch, not necessarily in that order.  She also loved to flirt with Patrick because he gave as good as he got.  As Patrick moved past her perch, she admired his backside and shook her head.  If she was only a few decades younger. . .

As Patrick continued along his self-imposed beat, more and more people came out to ask him about the Back-Alley Strangler. That is what the newspapers had started calling the man who was randomly strangling young women in back alleys.  Patrick didn’t have much to add to what information people already had but he did his best to calm their fears.  This strangler was preying on young women, many of them prostitutes, all of them poor if not destitute.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t a segment of society that registered high in the Homicide Bureau.  Of course, he wasn’t about to admit that to people who were already concerned.  It never does well to admit to one’s faults especially if everyone is looking to you to fix the problem.

Eventually the day came to an end.  His day had been jammed packed with requests.  He had been asked to change a light bulb for Edna Smith, Mr. Fitzwilliam had wanted him to chastise his grandson for spitting, then there were the two dogs that were fighting: they had to be separated, and warnings to a couple of young boys who were fighting over a girl, and people wanted information on the Back-Alley Strangler. They all wanted a piece of him.

By the end of the day Patrick always felt as if he’d been pulled in a hundred different directions.  He was tired and his feet hurt.  He knew he was well-liked by these people but they only liked him because he offered them a symbol.  They still saw him as The Police, he made them feel safe, and they felt that he belonged to them.  Patrick wanted to help.  He wanted to help them all.  They needed him.  He was the only one who knew the right way.  Eventually he would help them all.

……………………………………………

 

And now another is saved!  I feel such relief, such pleasure, such strength. This is what I was meant to do, to release other’s demons, to help them find their path to salvation. I do not understand why they fight me, why they resist me. They are miserable and I am giving them passage to paradise. Only I know how many I have helped and I will be damned for my good work but I am not important, only them, only their souls. Janey is in a better place now.

As he stood up and straightened his coat, he knew that what he was doing was for the greater good.  He looked around the back alley. People needed him to help them relieve themselves of their burdens.  Patrick heaved a sigh; there were so many souls to save.

***************************

Psychologists and psychiatrists speak long and hard about psychopaths.  But even they don’t know why one is created or if are they born.  What they do know is that they can function in society their entire lives with no one knowing about their dark side.  Patrick was good at his job.

 

The end

#writephoto: My Beloved

It is time Beloved.  One thousand years ago we angered the gods with our love. Our punishment was to be imprisoned in the rock cliffs overlooking our home. We were crude caricatures. I could no longer touch your gentle skin or kiss your sweet lips. They were jealous.

You wept stone tears as we spent decades watching our castle, our home, disintegrate. Now it is only a ruin. We watched our children and our children’s children and we were proud. But no longer did we have the voice to tell those we loved. When the last of our family was gone you could not stay. Your spirit died within the shell of the Stone. And I was alone.

I could not weep. I could not scream at the injustice of the centuries we spent watching, all because we dared to love. Perhaps it is hope that kept me standing as a sentinel. Perhaps the gods would not allow me the release of death.  Perhaps I was afraid. Will you be waiting for me my Beloved? Will the gods be satisfied, our punishment complete? I have only memories now and I seek oblivion. Beloved.

 

This mini tale is based on the accompanying photo supplied by the intrepid Sue Vincent on her Thursday photo prompt:  Keep #writephoto

Check her out!  You will not be disappointed.   https://scvincent.com/

Lord, Have Mercy

Given what is going on in the world right now, I thought this might be appropriate . . .

“100-year storm!”

The elevator doors whooshed shut behind Marcus and he then proceeded to shake his head like a terrier, water droplets pelting everyone within 5 feet. Two people chuckled and moved away but one stayed and offered Marcus a towel.

“With this rain it could be a busy night but I’m hoping it’s the opposite”.

Lila was a petite brunette who usually smiled at everyone and everything. But when she was sad, her emotions spilled over everywhere. Marcus felt protective of her. She was just out of school and this was her first job. A heavy responsibility for a mentor.

“It’ll be fine kid. The rain can’t last. But I must say I have never seen it raining quite this hard or for this long. That weatherperson actually called it a 100-year storm. Seems we haven’t had one this bad in over a hundred years. I don’t believe it. They just say that to get people going.  It helps their ratings.”

Marcus proceeded to put away his rain-soaked jacket. Every hospital has a group of people no one knows about. Or rather they just don’t think about them. These are the people that make sure the lights are working, the automatic doors stay automatic and the heat keeps everyone warm on those chilly days.  Marcus was one of those people, part of a team. Some of his coworkers were full time and others, like Lila, worked part time. This was one day Marcus thought they might actually be working hard for their pay. Storms can wreck havoc with all kinds of systems.

Lila handed Marcus his first cup of coffee for the evening. There always seemed to be a full pot of coffee brewing. It helped during those sometimes-endless night shifts.

Marcus wrapped his hands around his cup and sighed.

“I heard there was a little excitement earlier. What’s going on? Is there anything I need to know?”

Marcus looked at Lila as he spoke and was surprised to see her face turn as white as a sheet. Her eyes grew wide, her jaw slack.

“Lila?”

When she spoke, her voice was low and forced. She didn’t want to speak. But she knew Marcus needed to know.

“I hope it isn’t true. But it doesn’t feel right. What if he is? What if he’s angry with what we’ve done, or what we haven’t done? I, I’m afraid!”

Panic. Lila’s already small body seemed to shiver and folded in on itself. Marcus was bewildered, concerned!

“What is going on?”

He grabbed Lila’s arms, he spoke more briskly then he meant to . . .

“What . .  Is. .  Going. . On?”

“Let her go. I’ll tell you what’s going on. You can decide.”

Marcus quickly let go and turned to face the new voice. It was another co-worker.  John was the unflappable sort. He had a good head for numbers and was a killer at crossword puzzles. He was also wearing a worried expression on his face.

With a quick look at the raging storm just outside their window, the three sat down. Lila composed herself but she still looked shaken. John took the lead.

“We had an intake a few hours ago. In the Emergency Room. A man was brought in bleeding from several cuts on his head and both his hands. Nothing too outrageous. When he was asked what his name was, he said Jesus Christ.”

Marcus started to grin.

“Yeah, we get those every now and then. Delusional people. They’re just looking for a warm bed in the psych ward and a free meal.”

He shook his head, seeming to brush everything off. His grin was firmly in place.

“Besides it doesn’t affect us down here. Did he break anything?”

“I don’t think so,” John whispered,  “but I don’t think you understand. He sounded . . . Holy.”

Lila started to whimper. “He’s angry with us!”

Marcus jumped up from his chair.

“The second coming? That’s what you’re thinking aren’t you? Look, we get these crazies all the time! What makes this one different?”

“All over the world there’s excessive flooding and forest fires and outbreaks of diseases and, and . . .”  Lila couldn’t continue.

“Well, what did the doctors do? I’ll bet they put him on a 72-hour psych hold. The rain will give up tomorrow morning and all of this will be something we laugh about tomorrow night. It’s just another crazy.”

“You didn’t hear Him speak.” whispered John.  “You didn’t hear His words.  I did.”

“Okay I’ll bite, what did the crazy man say?”

“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

It was at that exact moment that the lights flickered and died.

Lord, have mercy.

 

The end

The Last Christmas Gift

Elsie looked around the room. There was carnage everywhere. A tornado passing through would have left less damage. Bodies were strewn throughout the mayhem. She chuckled. Just another Christmas morning with children.

One of the bodies stirred. A little fist came up from beneath the wrapping paper she had been curled up under. A pile of boxes sneezed. Another child was stirring. Elsie thought perhaps there were a few more to come. But she knew the fresh smell of coffee would probably wake all the adults up. Sure enough, the love of her life wandered into the room, his hands wrapped around a hot steamy mug. With no hesitation he handed it to Elsie and returned from whence he came to get another.

A few more adults showed up with coffee at hand and a tray of hot chocolate for the children. It was Christmas morning. It was after the frenzy of opening gifts. After breakfast. Everyone had been up so early for the main event that the naps became inevitable. The children slept curled around their newfound bounty while the adults found more comfortable settings. Elsie didn’t need a nap. She wanted to watch her charges. There is nothing more spiritual then the breath of a sleeping child, safe and secure in her surroundings.

There was a different feeling in the room as everyone gathered once again. They all knew what was coming. Except for one. Malcolm was new to the group, to the family. He was still getting used to the Western dynamic. He had been born into soul crushing poverty in another country. His family had been killed in a local war that no one understood.  He was alone. But he had been found by people who cared and so began his journey to this moment.

“Malcolm,” send Elsie, “There is one more Christmas gift for the family. That includes you. But you don’t know the history so I’m going to tell you how this all started.”

Malcolm set up straighter, he was interested to know how things worked here and he was curious about his new family. So, he listened very carefully.

Elsie continued: “When my Great, Great, Great Grandfather came to this country he was very poor. But his parents believed they could find a better life, a better future in the New World. They risked everything. The first few years were hard but they were a hard-working family. That first Christmas looked like it was going to be pretty bleak. There was barely enough money for food let alone presents. But there was a wise patriarch and he refused to be sad. He said the goose had wandered across the street and died. His beloved wife said nothing as she picked the buck shot out of the breast of their Christmas goose.

They said grace and gave thanks for their bounty. The light was dim and the curtains were thin but they knew that others were worse off so they gave thanks. And that’s when my ancestor brought out the Last Christmas Gift.”

Elsie sat back in her chair and smiled.  She looked at the faces around her beaming with anticipation. She loved this part of Christmas.

“Ever since then we have honoured the tradition that was started so many years ago.”

As if by magic a small beautifully wrapped package appeared in her lap. There were many ooohs and aaaahs from her audience. And not just the children!

With studied patience Elsie peeled back the wrapping paper. And then with a flick of her wrist a small wooden carving appeared in the palm of her hand. It was a little drummer boy.

Elsie smiled. “Would anyone like to tell me what gift this is?”

Malcolm looked confused. He didn’t know the story of the Little Drummer Boy. And then something miraculous happened. A little tow-hair girl stood up and walked to Malcolm. She wrapped her little arms around him and said:

“His gift is to us all. He was a little drummer boy who had no presents to give the newborn King, Jesus Christ so he played his drum. He gave all he had and it was the most precious gift of all. That’s what we all need to do. And it will be precious.”

 

The end

 

 

 

 

Marvin: The Forgotten Elf

“Now you take care of your little brother and I’ll be right over there.”

Odelia was used to taking care of her brother for short periods.  After all she was nine years old and quite mature for her age.  Billy was only three and he needed a lot of taking care of.  They were standing in line waiting for their turn. Actually, Billy was strapped into a stroller and for the moment he was quite serene.  However, Odelia knew it would probably be 15 or 20 minutes before it was their turn. A few moments later it began. Like most boys his age Billy didn’t like to wait so he started to squirm and then to whine.

“I don’t wanna wait!”

Odelia had been waiting for this moment and hoping it would take a little longer.  She looked over at her mother but she was still deep in conversation with a sales clerk.

“Okay Billy, I’m going to tell you a secret.” That always got a child’s attention. “But you can’t tell anyone else, ever!”

As expected, the young boy stopped squirming and looked at his sister with rapt anticipation.

“Okay.” He said quietly.

“This happened a very long time ago and nobody knows all the details but this much we know for sure.”

Odelia was a gifted storyteller and she knew her brother very well.  His eyes were glued to her face and he hadn’t moved an inch.  So, she continued with her story. The tale she told was about an elf.

One of Santa’s elves was called Marvin.  He was young and as it so often is with the young, he seemed forgetful.  The other elves tried to instil in him the importance of what they were doing in Santa’s workshop but Marvin was too interested in playing with the reindeer and investigating how some of the toys worked.  Unfortunately, he also had a knack for breaking things.  Soon the other elves pushed Marvin aside and tried to forget about him.  When Santa heard about the troubles, he spoke to Marvin but it didn’t seem to make any difference to the young elf. However, what we think isn’t always what is.

It seems that Marvin wasn’t trying to break things he was just trying to understand how they worked.  He was only trying to help.  When Santa heard this, he decided to give Marvin another chance. He was told that if he broke one more toy he would be banned from the workshop.

Over the next few weeks everything went smoothly.  The toys were being assembled and made ready to be shipped.  Marvin did everything he was asked and nothing that he was not.  Eventually everyone forgot about him.  Now as it often happens, when you’re not watching, trouble will find you.

There was one particular toy that was new to the workshop.  It had bells, and whistles and it had an engine.  Usually that pretty much guaranteed that the children would fall in love with it.  Unfortunately, this toy kept breaking down.  First the wheels were falling off when the Packers tried to wrap it up. Then the steering wheel wouldn’t work when it was tested prior to packaging.  It even started falling apart on the line when nobody was looking.  People started wondering if Marvin was the culprit but nobody could find him.

After a few days it was decided that the toy would be put aside until further investigation could be done.  Obviously, there was something wrong and there was no time to correct it.  Everyone was working to a deadline that could not be shifted.  And still no one could find Marvin.

The night before the deadline the last package was wrapped and put in place for shipment.  Everyone congratulated themselves on the fine work they had done this year.  There had only been one glitch and he seemed to have taken himself off the line.  No one thought about him, no one worried about where he was or what he was doing.  That was their mistake.

What the others did not understand was that Marvin was different.  He wasn’t one to blindly follow the rules.  He wanted to understand why the rules were in place.  The only way something could be improved upon was to first know its nature.  Marvin wasn’t trying to break things he was trying to understand how they worked.  If you know how something works you can make sure it doesn’t break down.

When the others had taken the cars that kept breaking down and put them in another room Marvin had gone to see if he could fix them.  In the days and weeks that no one missed him, Marvin had corrected every single issue in every single car.  He had also wrapped them and prepared them for shipment.  The others were very surprised when he presented them with what they thought were broken vehicles.

When Santa heard what Marvin had done, he called him into his office and sat him down.  What happened next is not known.  But after a few minutes, Marvin exited with a smile on his face and a lift in his step.  Obviously, he had been vindicated.  From that day forward Marvin had a new job.  It was his responsibility to test each and every item that passed through the line to ensure that it was not easily broken.  It was a task that Marvin took to easily.  After all, if it could be broken, he would find a way to break it.

“Are you next young fella?”

With everyone’s attention now on them Odelia quickly unstrapped her brother. An oversized man dressed as an elf lifted Billy on to the knee of Santa Claus and stepped back.

Billy looked into the face of the big fat man in the red suit and thought about what he had just learned.

“Ho ho ho!  Little man what do you want for Christmas?”

Billy leaned close to Santa to whisper in his ear.

“You were naughty Santa.  You should have been nicer to Marvin.”

With that Billy jumped off Santa’s knee and ran to his sister. He never looked back and he never forgot his lesson.  Did you?

 

The End

 

 

The Christmas Gift

Jeremy was bereft. His feet were cold and he felt the sniffles coming on. And yet here he was on the evening of December 24 standing in a freezing parking lot looking at dying trees.  Why? Because his family insisted. He desperately wanted to tell the world to piss off and just go and get drunk in some dive bar.

He hadn’t always been like this. He used to love Christmas. But 11 months and 13 days ago everything changed. The woman who completed him, who made him laugh and more importantly who laughed at his jokes, died. Mattie loved Christmas.  She loved life. She loved him. Until some two-bit gangsta’ wanna-be thought it would be fun to drag race on a snow-covered icy street. They said she died instantly. But he didn’t. Jeremy wanted to die or to kill, but instead he lived. He felt the tiny box in his pocket. He had planned to ask her that night. That’s why she was out. They were going to meet.

It had been a horrible few months but everyone seemed to have moved on. Except for Jeremy. Here he was standing in the cold with instructions to buy a lovely full tree for Christmas.  He shook his head, was about to turn around and leave when he heard an odd sound.

He looked around the parking lot but he didn’t see anyone. The sound was low, almost frantic. It was a scratching noise with a hiccup and a sigh. It intrigued him. He wanted to know what was making that sound. Jeremy took a step forward and the sound changed. It was a whine now and a huffing noise. It didn’t sound human and yet it didn’t sound animal either.

A back-firing car startled him.  He felt silly. It was probably just the wind stirring up some garbage. Jeremy shrugged his shoulders; he knew he needed to get on with his life. He could never forget her but maybe he should put her where she needed to be:  deep in his heart where she could be protected, her memory safe.  He would start by taking an active roll in this evening’s activities.

In that moment something else happened.  Jeremy seemed to swim up from the abyss of grief he had been living in for almost a year.  His eyes truly opened. He almost smiled. He was looking for a tree. Now there were tall ones and fat ones and ones that looked a little sad. But he couldn’t seem to find one that he thought needed a home with his family. And then something fell on his foot. It wasn’t very heavy, it was very small and it coughed.

Jeremy peered down at his feet trying to see what this thing was.  There wasn’t a great deal of light but he was pretty sure that he saw it move. Without thinking he reached down and scooped up the small ball of something.

The next thing that happened was unexpected. But perhaps given the day, appropriate.  With the small black bundle at eye level Jeremy poked it. It poked back! And then it opened its mouth and emitted a rather large meow. It was a kitten. It was a small, black, cold, abandoned kitten. It curled itself into a ball and started to purr. Jeremy smiled for the first time in almost a year. He tucked the sleeping bundle into his pocket and bought the tree it had been hiding under.

He got his tree. He didn’t haggle the price, he just paid it and chuckled. He was taking home more than a tree.  He had found the Spirit of Christmas hiding in the small body of a kitten under a tree.

 

The end

The True Spirit

 

Mary was angry. Here it was two days before Christmas, she was in a town she didn’t know, a new job she didn’t like, she had no friends and no family close by, and some dirty bum had his hand out looking for money.  And on top of all that, he had the unmitigated gall to be smiling as if he was happy.

Mary wasn’t smiling.  In fact, she was absolutely miserable.  Christmas was just another day on the calendar, it had no real meaning.  People went into stores and spent a ridiculous amount of money on gifts for other people that the other people really didn’t want.  Christmas wasn’t even for the children. It was just another way to teach them about how money makes the world go-round.  If you had money it was a good life.  If you did not then you starved and were miserable, and you should look like you were miserable!

Mary approached the man that she called a bum.  She was frustrated, she was angry, and she needed this person to explain to her how he could be so damn happy. Maybe he was on drugs or maybe he was crazy, but Mary didn’t think so.  Of course, she did drop a twenty-dollar bill into his tin can before she posed her question.

“Are you alright? You are sitting here on a cold sidewalk asking for money.  All around you is obscene wealth.  How can you sit there and smile when you have nothing and so many people around you are spending money like it is water and on frivolous things? You look like you need food and these people are buying toys for people who really don’t want them.  How can you sit there and smile? I’ve seen you everyday for the last week and you smile everyday, you wish people a Merry Christmas, or Happy Hanukkah, or Happy Kwanza and I don’t understand how you can actually be happy!”

At this point Mary was almost in tears.  She felt so alone and so unloved that she felt jealous of this destitute individual.  She wanted to shake him to make him see what an awful place the world was but she didn’t. What she did do was pause for a breath and what she saw then took that breath away.

Just a moment before she had been looking at a dirty bum and now, he had taken on a dignity that belied her original perception.  He sat up straighter and his smile became wider.  Even his eyes seemed to twinkle with a secret knowledge. There was a beauty to his face that she had not noticed before. His voice, when he spoke, was strong and melodic.  The words he spoke were the truth.

“But I have everything.  Someone gave me a coat to keep me warm.  He gave me the gift of warmth. People stop and give me their spare change, a cup of coffee, or a sandwich. A small child gave me a penny.  A penny to a young child is like a million dollars to a billionaire. A beautiful woman gave me her scarf to warm my neck.  An old man gave me a warm pair of gloves.  All I have to offer them in return is my smile and my best wishes.  Some people are embarrassed and hurry on but others take it in the spirit in which it is given. Some people give of themselves, and that is what makes me the wealthiest of people.”

Mary thought about what this person had just said to her.  It was starting to make sense.  The importance of the season was not the gift; it was not the thought of the gift. That was all meaningless.  What was important was the giving of one’s self willingly.

The next day Mary went into work.  She felt a little lighter, a little happier.  She looked around her with a new perspective: people were giving of them selves; the gifts they were giving were simply an extension of their spirit.  Sometimes the gifts were expensive, sometimes the gifts cost only pennies and sometimes it was only a word and a hug.  But these people were giving, Mary saw that now.  And Mary started giving as well.

It was Christmas Eve now and Mary wanted to share with the homeless man what she had learned.  She stopped at the bank and took out one hundred dollars.  She placed the money in an envelope and tucked that into the pocket of her coat.  With a smile on her face she went looking for the homeless man.

But he wasn’t there. Mary walked up and down the street looking for him.  She asked shop keepers if they had seen him but everyone was too busy and said they didn’t remember.  So, Mary continued on her walk home.  She was sad now that she couldn’t share with the man who had taught her so much.  She wondered where he had gone and what he was doing for Christmas.

Just two blocks before Mary reached her apartment building was a small church.  Mary had seen the structure before but had never ventured in.  Today her feet took her over the threshold and into the church.  She sat quietly in one of the back pews and looked up into the beautiful stained-glass windows.  She felt at peace.  As her eyes wandered over the beautiful paintings, a figure seemed to stand out:   it was of a man who was seated on the ground and his hand was outstretched as if beckoning.  Her eyes widened in recognition and then she shook her head, it was not possible.

As Mary turned over in bed that night, she replayed in her head what she had learned and she smiled.  She had left the envelope with the money in the church; she knew it was the right thing to do. Never again would she forget just how valuable it is to interact with other people.  Giving of one’s self is as simple as smiling.  He had taught her that.

 

The end

 

 

Santa Claus is Dead?

I originally shared this story in 2013. That was the first year for my blog. I was quite shocked at the response. To date I think this remains my most popular post. It was simply me with something to say tucked inside a story. I do that a lot.  I will also admit that I think this is one of my favourite tales. I have decided to post a story every Sunday in December.  My Christmas present to you. If you don’t celebrate Christmas, then may I please offer you the blessing of my holiday to you.

                                      Santa Claus is Dead?

 

‘Santa Claus is dead.’

When Sebastian Phillips finished writing that phrase on his bulletin board he turned around to see what the reaction had been on his students. He was not disappointed.    Because this was a first-year philosophy course he expected them to be a little green when it came to abstract ideas.  After all they were just kids.  Truth be told, Professor N. Sebastian Phillips wasn’t all that much older than his students.

When he looked around the room Sebastian saw surprise, humour and perhaps disbelief, it was also very quiet.  Here he was, a college professor talking about a white haired, fat man in a red suit as if he were real.  Well real and dead.

“When you signed up for this course I am quite sure you were not expecting to talk about a symbol for a religious holiday that has come to mean the excesses of commercialism that are rampant in our society.”

Sebastian looked out at his students.  They seemed relieved, this was more like it.

“Santa Claus does exist.”

Now Sebastian heard a few giggles and was that a grunt?

“Professor, those two statements cannot both be correct. There either is a Santa Claus or there isn’t.  I mean really! ”

Sebastian grinned, “Actually they can Adam. A thing can only be dead if it first existed. “

“Come on Professor there is no Santa Claus!  That is only a marketing gimmick to get parents to buy more for their kids. Commercialism at its best:  vulgar!” These words were spoken by a young woman with an earring in her nose and one in her belly button which flashed every time she turned around.

“Well Cindy, yes and no.”

At this point the room erupted in confusion. A great many of the students were arguing about the wisdom of using symbols, some about the evils of commercialism in general and the western world’s corruption of money in particular.  Sebastian noted which students seemed to think he was demented and which students were curious.  Curious minds are open minds.

Very quietly Professor Phillips spoke.  “Amanda did you believe in Santa Claus as a child?”

The room was suddenly quiet. Everyone turned and looked at Amanda, eager to learn her answer. The professor had chosen to ask the one person in the room who appeared normal.  She was conservatively dressed with no strange piercings throughout her body.  She also preferred to observe any heated discussions without actually joining in.

“Amanda . . .” her professor coached.

“Yes.” Was the quiet response.

“And how did you feel when you learned that the jolly man in a red suit was just a marketing ploy.”

The answer was a few minutes in coming and it was not the answer everyone was expecting.  “I still believe in Santa Claus and I do not believe he is dead professor.”

For the second time that morning there was complete silence in the room, a stunned silence.

And then there was pandemonium.  Only snippets of conversations could be heard.  “I always knew that woman was nuts!”  Geez I wish I had taken a mathematics course, that would of made sense.” “It is going to be a very long day.”  “Do you want to go to the pub afterwards I think I could use a drink?”  “I don’t know who is more insane: that Amanda chick or that Professor?”

Professor Phillips let the arguments roll about the room for several minutes. During this time Amanda just sat and looked at her hands as if she was too timid to become involved in a conversation she had helped to create.

“Okay everybody pipe down, you have had your little discussions and each one of them has some sort of validity.  Problem is you’re not listening.  Does Santa Claus exist?  Yes.  Does he exist as a fat, old man in a red suit?  Yes.  That guy in the red suit is on every corner in the Western world ringing a bell and selling products. Something can exist in more than one embodiment.  We see the jolly, old fella and we equate him with shopping at Christmas.  Do you know where the idea for Santa Claus came from?  Amanda might.  Because she alone seems to understand what Santa Claus represents, and who he is.  Let me tell you a little story.”

“In a coastal town called Patra, in what is now Turkey, in the year 260AD a child was born.  His name was Nicholas.  His parents were taken from him when he was a child and yet he still grew up with a generosity of spirit and a love of children. He was a rich young man who tried to use his money to give other people happiness.  He did ‘good’ in secret. Eventually he became known as St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra and his generosity continued.”

“Over the centuries St. Nicholas has become beloved by many religions.  Our Western tradition of Santa Claus and Father Christmas originated with St. Nicholas.  His faith and his actions make remembering him more important even in our day and age. He is our Santa Claus and people need to remember him.  In essence it is his spirit of giving that is behind our traditions at Christmas.  The spirit of Santa Claus is alive and well.”

“A beautiful character is more powerful and more memorable to more people than any marketing ploy or religious dogma.  Santa Claus, even if he comes in the guise of a human being is still the loving spirit of the good Nicholas. Santa Claus does exist, and should continue to exist for as long as we remember what he stands for.”

There was total silence in the room.  Not a single student had a humorous quip, or disparaging remark to make.  In fact when Sebastian looked around the room he saw only understanding and awe. Finally, these supposedly well educated young adults had picked up on something that all children knew from a very young age: if you believe, it will endure.

“Class dismissed.”

Sebastian smiled to himself and started to gather up his books and notes. The class had gone well, better than he’d expected.  But the year was getting on and there are places he needed to be so he was going to have to tender his resignation and move on.  But at that point Sebastian realized that not every student had left the room. He looked up.

“Amanda, how can I help you?”

“Professor Phillips you haven’t been completely honest with us have you?  I know that Santa Claus exists and not as the jolly, red suited man, but rather as St. Nicholas/St. Nick.  You see my family can trace its roots back to that same town in which St. Nicholas was born.  As a matter of fact we’ve kept a very close watch throughout the years on the descendants of that family.  It has always been the responsibility of my family to ensure that yours is protected.  I’m surprised you didn’t know that.  What’s your first name Professor Phillips?”

“Yes I thought perhaps you did know,” Sebastian’s grin was even more pronounced. You know I won’t be here next week.  I have a lot of preparing to do and Christmas is not far away. And yes I am Nicholas/St. Nick. ”

 

The end