On the second day of Fic-mas, these writers are strange; they give us Krampus and he’s not deranged …

Krampus and Saint NickLook, Ma; No Cavities

“Maybe just try to embrace it this year, man,” he said, stroking his beard, thoughtfully.

“Look, Nick, I appreciate what you’re tryin’ to do here, but c’mon. There’s no universe in which this doesn’t suck.

His friend stifled a chuckle. “You had a choice you know.”

He frowned, not that anyone could tell, what with the horns, and the twisted vile wrinkles, and lolling forked tongue. “I don’t think that’s true. If I’d said no it would have broken my father’s black heart.”

This time Nicholas chuckled openly. “I suppose that’s true. He did have a heart for the work.”

“Beating badly behaved young ones with a stick?” he asked wryly. “I supposed he did, at that.”

“Well, at least they have it coming,” Nick tried again.

The demon nodded, finally. “They do, indeed. My mother was a high school teacher. Seeing what that did to her, what she became in Hell, I suppose I should be proud of what I’m accomplishing.”

“Good man!” Nicholas laughed, patting his companion on the back. “Have some fun with it then,” he said, stepping out of their shared sleigh. The reindeer backed away from his companion and he slapped the one who snapped at his friend on the hind quarters. “Behave, now, Agueda!” he chastised. “He brings your grain every night!”

“She doesn’t know me when I wear this guise, Nicky. Don’t be too hard on her. I think the sound of the chains spooks them.”

“I suppose,” he said. But he felt badly about the expression on his friend’s face. They knew each other well enough that even in his Hellish form, Saint Nicholas could read Krampus’s face. “But you’re just doing your job.”

“I know, but … Magical or no, Nick, she’s just an animal. And they know where I come from. They can’t help but know.”

Nicholas looked a little sad for his friend. His own appointed duties were so pleasant. He wanted to cheer up this creature who set the stage for his celebration each year. “Come to the feast tonight.”

“No … I couldn’t.”

“You’d be most welcome,” he assured the demon.

“At a Heavenly feast?”

“You were appointed to be a part of it. You’ve always been welcome.”

As he started off down the first of many streets, his large, unwieldy, head nodded slowly. “Perhaps I will.”

Read the rest in The Twelve Days of Fic-mas – Holiday Tales With a Twist Vol. I

*****

On the first day of Fic-mas, these writers give to thee, a poker game in hell to see …

House Edge

“Remember the stakes,” the dealer cautioned when he saw the gleam in the current player’s eyes. “Loser is pranking Heaven. Don’t lose sight of that.”

The demon in question just tipped him a wink. “I’ll see that gold, and raise you three,” he grinned. It was a look that said he sensed the proverbial blood in the water this hand.

“Three, Al?” Naberius glared. “Fine. I call.”

“Well, Beri’s got nothing.”

Alloces’s smile grew.

“This is in the bag already.”

Melchiresa tossed her hair over her shoulder and looked down her nose across the smoke clouded table at the cocky demon leering at the rest of the gathering. “I don’t think you’ve got a damned thing in your hand. And I think this is going to be your year to send our little gag gift, Al.”

Laughter traveled around the table in a wave. Alloces narrowed his eyes at her. “Money where your mouth is, Resa.”

She laughed lightly, almost able to ignore the blond demon to her left who wasn’t even looking at his cards. He was just leaning back in his chair, resting an elbow on the arm and worrying his lip with his thumbnail, while seeming to almost look through Alloces who sat just across from him.

Resa looked over her hand dramatically. “I do believe I’ll see that, and do you one better.” A collective impressed murmur went around the table then. “Although if I lose, my gift will most certainly get under His skin. The boss’ll be so pleased.”

She tossed the gold onto the table, as though she didn’t know she was taking her rather comfortable eternity into her hands by risking a loss tonight and being the one to have to send the “gift” Above.

Everyone looked to the next demon in line to bet. He was relatively new among them and everyone was still trying to get a read on him. Something he was all too talented at making difficult. He continued to stare across the table for a moment.

Resa nudged his chair. “Ronoven, your bet.”

He didn’t respond with anything more than a creasing across his forehead.

“Ronoven! You! Ben! Pay attention!”

He glanced up, a bit taken aback. But when he answered, it was with a confidence that made his words entirely believable. “I’m thinking it over. Don’t rush me.”

He still didn’t look at his cards, but rather let his startling golden gaze travel around to the faces of each of the other players, his expression that of someone trying to do complicated math in their head and not liking the sum.

The fingers of one hand drummed against the table top for a moment. Then, in what appeared to be a snap decision, he tossed his cards onto the table. “Fold.”

“Again?” Stolas asked from across the table. “You, young Ronoven, are entirely too careful to be any fun.”

He gave an indifferent shrug and a half smile. “Sorry I give such poor entertainment value, Stoli. But you’ll notice my pile of cash isn’t dwindling half so quickly as everyone else’s. And … I watched you deal.”

He gave a significant raise of his eyebrows and a knowing smirk that caused the table to explode with accusations about the propriety of the Prince’s deck. “Damnit all, Ronoven! Look what you started!”

The demon laughed and ran a hand through his tousled hair. “I’m sorry. I’m really … Oh, you guys are too easy. There’s nothing wrong with the deal or the dealer.” He took a minute, getting his amusement down to a conversational level. “I’m just screwing with you. I don’t know any of you well enough to bet aggressively.”

“It’s just a game, Ronoven,” the Prince reminded him, sounding just a little wary of his own words.

“A game where every previous loser has lost his head and immortal soul to Lucifer’s ire after God finds the gag funnier or more useful than he was supposed to,” Ronoven returned, tapping his finger on the cards he’d cast aside. “I like my head attached, that’s all.”

Resa frowned. “Some of the gifts have done well,” she insisted. “What you’re saying … That’s not true at all.”

A blond eyebrow arched. “Isn’t it though?” He paused, thoughtful. “In fact, name one time one of Hell’s gag gifts hasn’t backfired.”

She frowned. “Well, there was …” her frowned deepened and she threw Ronoven a glare.

He smirked. “He made the platypus the freaking official mascot of Heaven, Resa!” Several of the demons laughed at that, but it was beginning to be more strained than before. “Hell’s game is so weak, I bet the Big Guy is rubbing his Almighty hands together waiting to see what we cook up next.”

Read the rest in The Twelve Days of Fic-mas – Holiday Tales With a Twist Vol. I

 

Star-of-Bethlehem

*****

Leap

“Don’t look at me like that.”

The cat stares back, gives a slow blink, and takes a step closer before resettling itself.

“I don’t have anymore,” I say, showing it my empty hands.

The cat blinks again and walks along the ledge until it’s about a foot from my hand. I glare at it. It gives me a half-interested sniff, not getting any closer, but looking like it might. It near starved, tiny, and from the size of its round yellow eyes, maybe two or three months old. It’s inching toward me letting out small sad mewling sounds. I don’t move from where I am and it sits in a sort of resigned way and starts scratching its ear while pointedly not looking at me, the way only a cat can not look at you. Great, it has ear mites, too. And probably fleas. I can hear its hungry little tummy rumbling. It doesn’t sound good. So worms, too. Poor little shit.

I dig in the pocket of my hoodie for the plastic bag that had held the jerky I just fed it. I peel it open so it can at least lick the salt and crumbs. I put it next to me and hold it down. The wind up here is really whipping, making both me and the cat narrow our eyes a little. At least we both have short hair so it isn’t making it harder to see that way. The little bag of fluffy bones gets close enough to lick the bag and I can hear its contented little purrs. When it finishes I wad up the plastic and stick it back in my pocket. No point in leaving more than one mess out here tonight, I think. The cat nudges my hand and I pet it for a minute, feeling that even though it’s almost imaginary it’s so thin, it’s warm. And it’s still purring. My eyes water something awful and I drag the back of my hand over them.

“Sorry, little guy, but I can’t stay.” I shove it off the ledge and onto the roof a few feet behind us and stand up, preparing to do what I’d come out here to do in the first place.

Standing on the ledge, the cold wind in my face, I make up my mind. Better this way. For everybody. Then I hear it. I look down and the little thing has gotten back up next to my feet meowing piteously. It looks even skinnier, rattier, from above. It’s getting really cold. If someone doesn’t do something with it, it’s going to die out here, too. Maybe tonight. And unlike me, it doesn’t want to. It just wants someone to take care of it, love it, to go on living. I have people to look out for me and I know they love me, just I can’t figure out what the fucking point is if it’s all gonna end the same no matter what. The wind gusts and almost shoves the kitten off the ledge. I instinctively bend down to catch it, almost going over myself and I have this second of total white hot panic where I actually don’t want that to happen. It wouldn’t be fair to this little dude looking up at me like I’m God. Maybe I am. To this little matted tuxedo cat, maybe I’m enough to explain the whole damned universe.

I climb down carefully and pick it up off the ledge. It starts clawing its way up my front, onto my shoulder and is nuzzling under my ear. It’s purring again. I unzip my hoodie and put it inside, against the cold of the wind. I walk back across our roof. It’s starting to snow. I open the door and head back into the building. Dad is gonna kill me. He’ll be so pissed I’m bringing this cat home…Then again, maybe not. Maybe he’ll be happy I came back. I think he knew where I was going tonight; he just didn’t know how to stop me. The kitten climbs up my t-shirt inside my hoodie and sticks its head up under my chin, purring even louder and making these contented hiccoughing noises.

Maybe there’s always a reason, always somebody who needs you. Maybe that’s the point, even if there isn’t another one.

I’m gonna name it Leap.

I went up there ready to take one, and got a reason not to instead.

The Velvet Dark

Here’s the opening to a little trifle I started a while ago. No sparkles, I promise. Just a little darkness, easy to dispel. ~ J

Prelude

The dark pressed in around her from all sides. It felt as though the darkness was, itself, a physical thing, enveloping her like a blanket. And truly, it may as well have been. Her back pressed firmly against the pillow-like softness beneath her, and she could only move a few inches to either side. She could not even move enough to shift her position and lessen the prickly sensation in her limbs that she knew would, after a time, become pain, and then numbness. In front of her, she could just raise her hands to touch the satin lining of the lid to the box that held her here in the blackness. They felt sticky, yet dry, and she couldn’t imagine why that would be. When she awoke, it had come slowly, through a haze. She could not remember where she had been or what she had been doing. Her first coherent thought was that maybe she’d had too much to drink at the club. That was so easy to do, to just drink and lose yourself in the sensations of the place. It would not have been the first time that Nightingales had made her forget herself and take things a little too far. More than once in the last few months her roommate had helped her make it back to her room to sleep it off.  “Keep this up, Vicki, and I’ll start to think you’re really one of us,” Mere had said. She tried to roll over to get out of bed, but found that she could not even get all the way onto her side. She tried moving the other way, thinking dimly that she, in a fitful sleep, had tangled herself in her blankets. This time she felt her shoulder contact something very firm, but soft. Undeterred, she attempted stubbornly to sit up and quickly smacked her forehead on the same firm, soft surface that held her shoulder back. As she became more truly awake, she began to feel the closeness around her. It felt as though she was enshrouded in an endless smooth blanket. Her heart began to beat faster. Thump, thump, thump; a quick staccato beat in her ears. She began to struggle against her newly discovered bonds, thrashing first one way and then another. The atmosphere in her prison grew hot and close and she realized finally that she was in a very tight space. Conceivably, she could be wasting a limited supply of air. Her exertions and the accompanying surge of adrenaline had awakened her fully.

Now, regaining her wits, she tried to assess her situation. The blackness was total, as if the sun ceased to exist, or more truly, as if she were in a world that had no sun. The thought felt utterly melodramatic, but at the same time completely true. She tried to slowly move her hands and felt the firm silken softness on all sides. Her arms and hands ached inexplicably. She knew she was lying on her back because her weight rested there, rather than on her feet.  Her senses told her that she was in a box of some sort, comfortably lined with cushions and soft folds of fabric. Her pulse began to race again. Her predicament, this box, no, if she were honest, this coffin, meant that only one person could be responsible for it. And she began to remember why this was so. She tried to push against the lid with her hands, to force it open, but found that she did not have enough room to gain advantage against it. Then, she tried to bend her legs to kick at it, but neither could she get purchase with her feet. She was becoming as much frustrated as afraid. She knew that it had always been about keeping this on her terms. Despite her rising panic, she realized that if it were a simple matter of pushing against this lid to regain the light, he never would have left her here. No, he would have been sure to see that her captivity was total, and that only he could free her. He would want to return for her at his leisure. She felt a cool breeze disturb her hair. Air was making its way into her little cell somehow. Apparently he intended for her to be alive when he returned. Of course he did. The moment was still hers. She still had options open to her.

Remembering how she had caused the aching in her hands, she ran her fingers down the silken lid. She laughed, just a bit at first, and then with increasing hysteria. It had all seemed like such an amusing game when they met. The way he dressed, the way he played his part at Nightingales, the way he’d used her name, and her nickname for him. It seemed like they had known each other forever, on the first night they’d ever met. It seemed, in fact, that he knew her and her intentions better than she did herself. As such, she never would have expected him to intervene in her life in this way. He had brought her here for a reason, left her in this softly luxurious tomb. In a way, how he had left her here was too perfect. Left her; locked away in this soft lush place, waiting for The Velvet Dark.

 

July 20, 2016 ~ JF

“Write a page long exchange between two very different people; no setting. Write only what they say, no setting, internal thinking, descriptions or actions.”

A little shipper fan fic for you today – totally sfw

“Penny…Penny…Penny…”

“Sheldon! It’s three o’clock in the morning!”

“Oh, good! You’re using the clock I got for you! I was afraid that because of when you came to dinner last night there was some difficulty with it.”

“No…No difficulty. My cell phone has a clock on it and works fine too you know.”

“I’m very happy to hear that. I was wondering because you didn’t answer it when I tried you an hour ago.”

“That’s because I was sleeping, Sheldon.”

“Oh…Well, so was I until an hour and five minutes ago.”

“What are you doing here, Sheldon?”

“I need you to wake Leonard. And then we need a ride.”

“At 3 in the morning.”

“Well, ideally at 2 in the morning, but since you didn’t answer your phone…”

“Sheldon! Why do you need a ride at 3 in the morning?”

“Oh, well…Amy’s water broke.”

July 9, 2016 ~ JF

“Think of a word. Search it on Google Images. Write something inspired by the 7th image.”

Plateau

She could hear the drone hovering, not that far overhead, so she knew the cameras were watching. Why had she agreed to this? Sure, if they won it would pay for the wedding, the honeymoon, hell, the everything, but she’d watched The Challenge before. She knew she was in for this at some point in the game. She looked up the rock face again, taking a long slow breath. Her cheeks felt cold. She wondered if the cameras could see just how pale and sweaty she was. If they could, it would certainly be part of the clips tonight. Revealing a weakness to her competitors was not an idea that she relished. She glanced at Drew. He was calmly laying out and inspecting the climbing equipment that had arrived with the Challenge Envelope this morning. Right now she envied his military experience and wondered if he felt as unbothered as he looked. He felt her eyes on him and looked up, eyebrows climbing just a little to express his concern, but keeping the cocky smile that had quickly made their team a fan favorite.

“You okay, Reggie?”

She swallowed hard, nodded, and then smiled back. “Yeah. Million bucks, right?

“Right.” He gave her that look, the one that said if these rocks were made of rusty nails, he’d carry her up them if she needed him to, but also told her that he knew she didn’t.

They spent a few minutes dealing with the daunting equipment. Reg didn’t even know what half of it was called, although he’d coached her as much as he could during their approach. They knew they had the lead, but it wasn’t by a lot. Screwing around or stalling could cost them their place in the top three. No way was she going to let that happen. They’d been through too much already in this game. And she’d asked him to do this. He was sort of shy, definitely not one for cameras or performing, but had reluctantly agreed, knowing that the money could give them the start they both wanted. Everything was ready. The cameras were close now, stirring the dust behind them. As they always did before starting one of the Challenges, they put their arms around each other and kissed. It was for the cameras in a way, but it was still a good kiss, and gave them just enough privacy to check in.

Putting his mouth right next to her ear, Drew whispered, “Can you really do this?”

She nodded, just a little, and whispered back, “”Course I can. This is all us.”

He pulled away grinning and started up the rock face with the practiced ease of an experienced climber, his weekends of recreational search and rescue paying off in his rapid ascent. After a few minutes the expected rope dropped down from the first good ledge. She took a minute to go over everything he’d said this morning, determined to be at the top celebrating the second to last challenge before anyone else finished the approach. Drew knew even open stairs made Reggie nearly panic and had offered to back out as soon as he’d opened the envelope in their hotel room. She’d just said he was a climber and she knew he’d get her through it. She’d talked him threw the underground tunnels last week; almost certain he was going to call an end to things at any minute in the oppressive, cramped, sweaty, dark. She owed him this. He said he’d coach her through the handholds, tell her when she had a good foothold so she didn’t ever have to look down. “Just keep your eyes on me, on your hands. I’d never let you fall.”

That one sentence summed both of them up really. Remembering gave her what she needed to get her feet moving.

Reggie stepped up to the rock face, clipping in just like he’d showed her this morning, checking the connection. Her mouth was dry, but she managed, “On belay?”

She thought she sounded all right, a little shaky maybe, but the wind had picked up a little, so maybe the cameras had missed it. After he rechecked everything, Drew called down, “Belay on!”

One last deep breath. She felt a lot more confident than she expected. This was so in the bag. Acrophobia be damned. “Climbing!”

She could hear him grinning as he called down to her, knowing the cameras were pulling in tight on his dimpled smile. His ‘I love you’ was implicit in his voice, “Climb on!”

 

July 8, 2016 ~ JF

“Imagine that you are unable to leave the room that you’re in for the next 7 days. Chronicle each of the seven days using only 50 words each.”

Day One

Don’t know what happened. Maybe an earthquake or a bomb. I remember a loud noise and then jolting, slipping. If anyone else is still alive here I can’t hear them. It was late; people were starting to head home so maybe they all made it. My head hurts and I…

Day Two

This is the second day since whatever happened. I think. I might have passed out when I tried to write things down last time, pretty sure. I remembered people screaming at first. I found the vending machine. The glass was broken. The water fountain is only dripping. I’m so thirsty.

Day Three

Remembered the LED on keychain. Found water cooler. Not full, but better than drips. Head still hurts. Found baby wipes in Marci’s desk. Happy to wipe off blood. Remembered the daycare is down a floor. Sick. Can’t get into bathroom. Emptied a file cabinet for… Think maybe I hear scratching.

Day Four

There’re digging sounds over my head. Building must have collapsed. That was the slipping I felt. At least someone’s trying to find me. I’m so glad I found water. There’s not a lot of real food in the machine, but it’ll probably keep me alive. I hear the scratching again.

Day Five

The digging sounds are closer. If I hold my breath I can almost hear rescue workers shouting to each other between my heartbeats. The water is getting low, so I’m glad they’re getting closer…Something happened. I think it’s the same day. Part of this room collapsed. Vending machine was there.

Day Six

I still have water. Put trashcan under water fountain to collect drips. Working so far. I’ll be okay if I run out of the other. So hungry. They sound closer. I hope. Help coming soon. LED looks dimmer. Don’t want to waste it looking for food unless I get desperate.

Day Seven

Digging has stopped. LED died last night. Found something squishy in a desk. I ate it anyway. Didn’t throw up. Water cooler empty, but trashcan full. Scratching sounds started again. Louder. If I listen I can hear the others. They’re looking for me. But I don’t think they are alive.

July 5, 2016 ~ JF

“Write a conversation about a man who calls a wrong number and ends up talking to an angry woman. End the conversation with the line ‘Well, I suppose so’.”

Ed reached into the back pocket of his jeans for his cell. It slipped from his grasp and fell onto the floor. There was a distinct and depressing crunching sound. Someday, he thought ruefully, he would get his head out of his ass and buy a decent case. This was his third phone in as many months. He got carefully off from his perch on the barstool and retrieved his phone, sure Salvatore would let him use the bar’s phone, but knowing in his present state there was no way he could remember Frank’s number. And the bastard owed him one for playing Taxi the last time he’d tied one on. As he’d suspected, the screen was spider cracked all over. Crap. Crap. Crap.

He squinted at the icons through the web of broken glass and hit what looked like his contacts button. The destruction that used to be his iPhone caused him to swear quietly when he got a splinter of glass in this thumb as he tried to scroll. Between sucking his bleeding thumb, the fuzzy buzzing in his head, and the fact that he’d worked the early today following on 2nd shift last night he was only half certain that he’d hit Frank’s name, but he brought the phone up anyway.

“Ed, you son of a bitch,” was the icy greeting that met his ear.

Oh hell. “Ginny. Shit, I’m sorry.”

“You damned well ought to be!” There was more emotion in her voice now but, not unexpectedly, it wasn’t pleasant.

“Look, I didn’t mean to call you. I don’t even know what time it is.” Now he could hear that he was slurring a little. Damn, his bar tab was going to be impressive when he had to settle up.

“Color me surprised.” There was a lot of contempt there, but it wasn’t venomous as it had been the last time they spoke.

“I was just trying to call Franny for a ride. My phone’s busted.”

“Again? Just how drunk are you Eddie?” He hated it when she just had his number without even looking at him. It was like freaking witchcraft.

Now Ed was starting to feel a little annoyed back. “Well, pretty damn drunk I guess. I hate my job.”

Her voice softened, “You’re still there?”

Ed was defensive, “Yeah, even though it blows.”

There was a knowing note in her voice now, “And you’re at Sal’s place to cope with that fact.”

His inebriation caused some petulance to creep into his voice. “I don’t wanna crash with my folks forever and I can’t do rent on my own.”

“That’s your own fault, Eddie, and you know it, so don’t try to guilt trip me. I haven’t even taken my sneakers off yet from job number two and I’ve got a 7:30 in the morning. Tomorrow’s Tuesday. In case you forgot.”

“I know what day it is,” he snapped, even though that was 100% not true.

He was pulling so many odd shifts trying to get enough money together to get back into school that the days were starting to blend into each other. The dorm was better than with his parents for sure, but damned if he didn’t miss the mattress on the floor of the crappy apartment he and Ginny had shared all semester, until he’d blown it over summer break. Getting fired, then arrested for pissing on that dumpster…at least that cop had been decent enough to just call it disorderly conduct and vandalism and not public urination. If he’d wound up on the sex offender registry for being drunk and stupid, Ginny wouldn’t even care enough to chew him out. She wouldn’t have answered her phone. She’d kicked him out after that; her name was on the lease after all; told him not to call her unless he dried himself out a little and got his shit together. She couldn’t afford to deal with his childish crap her senior year. She had law school admissions to worry about. He’d lost his financial aid and had to drop out of school on top of everything else.

“Ginny, I’m sorry. I’m trying to get myself together. I am.”

“Sure you are, Ace. Which is why you called me on your broken phone. By accident. From Sal’s. Where I am sure there is now a paucity of tequila.” Now she just sounded weary.

“It’s not like that…I hardly ever do this anymore.”

“Really?” She honestly hoped that was true. She actually loved the dumbass. She just wasn’t going to get sucked in to his bullshit.

“I haven’t been here in a couple of months. Hell, I’m the guy the old crew usually calls for rides now. And I know better than to get behind the wheel like this, myself.”

He could hear her breathing but she didn’t say anything.

“That why I was calling Frank for a lift. Douche owes me one. I picked him up off the strip a couple weeks ago and he puked all down the door of my truck. I had to take it apart and everything. Hot wings, vodka, and stomach acid are not the sweetest perfume a guy could hope to ride to work with.”

She gave a soft laugh. God, he’d missed that sound.

“I’m not sobstory-ing or anything, but my ‘rents got into another one of their “let’s throw things at each other and scream” contests and I just had to get the hell out. I don’t know why I came to Sal’s. Just seemed like the thing to do.” He sighed.

“It seemed safe.” Her voice was quiet, sympathetic.

“Yeah…I guess that’s it.” He took a deep breath, and said in a rush, “Last place I felt safe was with you.”

She drew in her breath sharply. “Eddie, I…”

“I’m sorry…You don’t need me crying on your shoulder, even over the phone.” He sighed again. “Go take off your sneakers. Get some sleep. I know your lecture days suck.”

“Eddie,” she paused, not sure if she’d regret what she was about to say, but determined to say it nonetheless. “Do you want me to come and pick you up?”

He really did, but he took a second, not wanting her to hear the naked need in his voice and pretty sure he was too lit to hide it. “I…I don’t really want to go home. God knows they’re probably still at it.” He was met with silence, but it felt warm to him, like before all this. “Could I come over…Just to sleep on the couch? I’m off tomorrow; I’d clean your place to return the favor. Maybe we could talk when you get out of class…Please?”

When she answered it was full of her old humor, full of promise. “Well, I suppose so.”