Monday, December 5, 2016

Harold's Holidays (Part 2): Old Saint Nick

Greetings and happy holidays, WYMOP readers!

This week brings part two in the short saga of the hapless Harold and his holiday misadventures. Warning: If you've not read part one, then you might want to start there, by clicking HERE. Not to worry. We'll wait.

All caught up? Excellent! On with the story.

~ ~ * * ~ ~

Old Saint Nick

(Harold's Holidays—Part 2)

Cold air blustered in with Harold as he staggered into the tavern.
“Well, Harold! We don’t usually see you in here for a few more days. The twenty-fifth on the nose, year in, year out. What’s going on, don’t they need you at the factory?”
Harold looked up at the barman as he climbed onto the tall stool, hooking his curly-toed shoes in the chair rungs, and resting sore forearms on the smooth oak bar top. The proprietor of The Christmas Spirits slid a foaming mug in front of his customer, then lowered his powerful eyebrows almost to his handlebar moustache as he frowned, watching Harold grope clumsily for the beer, then pick it up with both hands to drink like a child.
“For goodness sake, Harold, what’s going on? You’re in here almost two weeks before Christmas, when I know the factory’s running full swing, and if you show up on the workroom floor with anything stronger than reindeer milk on your breath Poppa Kringle will can you for sure! Your hands are swollen—and I’m sorry to point it out, but you look like badly-used wrapping paper and smell like a barnyard. Is everything all right?”
Harold carefully placed the now-empty mug back in the ring of beer dribbles it had left on the bar, stifled a prodigious belch with the back of one hand, and took a deep, steadying breath. “It’s my own fault, Ben. I went and opened my big mouth and started making demands, and this is what I get.”
“What?” Ben’s caterpillar eyebrows shot up in surprise, pushing his forehead into a serious runkle. “You’re being punished?”
“No, no, nothing like that.” Harold sagged against the bar again. “I complained at the Thanksgiving Day feast, and Poppa was all kinds of accommodating. He gave me exactly what I asked for.”
“Well,” said Ben, drawing another mug from the tap. “What did you ask for?”
Harold took the proffered beer with a grateful nod. “I asked to drive the sleigh this year. I thought it would be easier than working in the factory. I should have kept my big mouth shut.”
“It’s hard?”
“Rupert’s been training me to handle the reindeer. Those brutes are strong! And stubborn. And when I mentioned that in front of them, Rupert reminded me that they understand English. Now they don’t like me. I’ve spent the week trying to wrestle them into harness so I can practice with the sleigh, and they’re not making it easy! I’m exhausted, and sore, and my hands are killing me from pulling at the halters and harness—and don’t even get me started on the rope burns. I tell you, Ben, I regret ever saying anything to Poppa last month.”
You regret?”
The voice, rough and slurring, came from the other end of the bar. Ben looked chagrined, which is tough to do through a moustache that covers fully half your face, and Harold looked toward the source of the voice. The man leaning on the bar was tall and thin, black bearded and dark eyed, and his expression was one of liquor-induced belligerence.
“Oh, now you’ve done it,” murmured Ben. Harold was about to ask done what? but the dark man continued in a drunken shout.
You regret! I regret! ‘Oh, please Kris,’ I said. ‘Oh, please, I can’t get out this year, can you take the gifts to the children for me?’ ‘Why, sure,’ he said, ‘I can help you out this one time.’ ‘One time,’ he said!”
The man threw his head back, downing his drink in one gulp, then slammed the empty glass onto the bar.
Ben moved off to comply as the man went on. “After that I couldn’t even get back in on my own gig! I mean, seriously! It’s been over a hundred years! Like Christmas could go on without me? What, is everyone insane?”
Rather than one, Ben placed three glasses on the bar in front of his raging patron, then made his way back toward Harold. The first boilermaker disappeared into the great black beard.
“Me! Everyone’s talking about me Christmas morning and they don’t even know it! That son-of-a-gun even stole my name! Sure, he used to be the patron saint of children, but his name is Kris! Kris Kringle! How the hell did they get ‘Old Saint Nick’ from Kris? From me. ‘Saint Niklas. . . Santa Claus’ get it? But does anybody ask about that? No! Instead they put him on the side of Coca Cola cans! He got Coke cans! Coke cans, cookies, guys dressing like him at the mall . . . and what do I get? One pink bunny. That’s it? People are going to be invoking me left and right come Christmas morning, and that’s all I get?”
The second boilermaker followed the first, and the third was clutched in one unsteady hand as the man angrily turned to lean back on the bar, muttering darkly to himself. Harold, swollen hands forgotten, looked at Ben with wide eyes.
“I’ve never seen him in here before,” he whispered. “Who is that?”
“Oh, you wouldn’t see him, normally,” Ben murmured back. “He’s usually in here from December first right through to the twenty-fourth. Non-stop. Then he sleeps it off until mid-to-late January, and you miss him entirely.” He shook his head, his eyes sad. “Does this every year, poor guy. The worst part is, he has a legitimate beef.”
“But, who is he?” said Harold, peeking down the bar.
“That, my friend, is Saint Nicholas Cadmium, patron saint of batteries . . .”

~ ~ * * ~ ~
Well, Harold's not having the best holiday season, is he? Make sure you stop by next week to see just where the poor little bastard goes from here.

Happy holidays! Talk to you later.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Harold's Holidays (Part 1): Thankful

Happy holidays, WYMOP readers!
Thanksgiving morning I woke happy, looking forward to dinner while my head was still on the pillow, and actually wondering what I was going to do for a blog post this week. I was going to start something early, I really was, but when I sat up in bed and pulled the Chromebook onto my lap, I decided to check FaceBook first—and what to my wondering eyes should appear? One of those FaceBook Memories things, showing a link I’d posted to a holiday story way back in 2011.
A holiday story from 2011? I clicked the link and read on. It seems I had a Thanksgiving story I’d forgotten all about, buried in the depths of my somewhat labyrinthine website. No, wait, it was a whole series of stories, I recalled, and as I clicked through the connecting links, I saw I’d remembered correctly.
Five years ago I accidentally wrote my first episodic story. I don’t mean I wrote the stories by accident, like I tripped on a stick and a short tale fell out; but for a little while that year, every time I sat down to write, this character Harold showed up. I kept thinking I was finished with him, but then he’d turn up again. And then again. When it was all said and done I had four stories, running poor Harold from Thanksgiving to Christmas.
This year, in honor of poor little Harold, I’m updating the stories (five years ago my editing was terrible) and sharing them with you, one per week, the same way they were written. I hope you enjoy them, and I hope you all—and Harold—have happy holidays.
~ ~ * * ~ ~
(Harold’s Holidays—Part 1)
Poppa stood looking out over the great table. Better than three dozen faces looked back at him, each scrubbed shiny and rosy cheeked for the occasion. Food spread before him in an almost panoramic display; each year Momma tried to outdo the last, and as far as he could tell, she always succeeded. Turkeys—not one or two but six, each huge and golden brown—were spread evenly along the board, hemmed in by great bowls of everything she had been able to think of. Potatoes (baked, mashed, and au-gratin), vied for space with sweet potatoes, squash, and corn. Huge baskets held breads and rolls, there were tureens of gravy scattered about, and more little side dishes than you could shake a stick at.
Poppa had quite a honker, and he made use of it now, taking in a great pull of warm air so thick with good smells it was almost a meal unto itself. He gazed about the bright, festive hall at all of his family. He ran a business, but it was a family business, and if you worked with Poppa you were his family. A slow ripple made its way around the table as, according to their tradition, each member of the family stood to say one thing they were thankful for this year.
“Ice skating!”
“The Malibu Barbie DreamHouse with the attached garage and swimming pool that comes with a—”
The ripple passed around the horn as he liked to say, the small extra table set at the far end of the main table, where all the newer additions to the family sat. It continued on up the side of the great dining room toward Poppa, but hit a snag about halfway. It stuttered, then continued, folks rising, speaking and sitting—all except the reason for the stutter: Harold had thrown thrown the people around him off a bit by refusing to stand and give thanks. There was no time to think on it, however, as beside Poppa, Momma spoke.
“I’m thankful for all the happy faces I see at this table every year!”
She sat down, beaming. Poppa cleared his throat, smiled, and then his rich tones rolled out across the gathering.
“I am thankful for all you here with me today. I am proud to work alongside each and every one of you, and I am extremely thankful for all the good that you all help this organization do every year, and all the good it lets me see in the world.”
They applauded his words, and Poppa smiled widely, but as he sat there was one of those strange coincidences that sometimes catch people unawares. Everyone stopped clapping at almost exactly the same time, and in the sudden silence a voice could be heard.
“—unch of bullfeathers.”
Poppa recognized the voice. “Harold? Is there something on your mind, son?”
Halfway down the table, Harold, who had refused to rise during the speaking of thanks, now shot to his feet. “You bet there is.” He glared at Poppa, and the folks to either side of him looked disconcerted.
Poppa raised an eyebrow. “Well?”
There was silence in the hall. Harold looked nervous, but serious. “Well, it’s just that . . . it’s just that you’re all happy with our good works, but I don’t get to see it the way you do.”
“Well, I’m sorry, but—”
“I don’t feel thanked! This is a pretty big operation, and we do an awful lot. You know that.”
“Of course I know that,” sputtered Poppa. “I work right there beside you!”
“Yes, you do, and I don’t fault you for that, but I never feel thanked by the people we work so hard for. They thank you all the time; we see it in the press you get.”
“But Harold, this is a not-for-profit outfit for kids! It’s not like the children we work for are going to know everyone in the business! I’m the boss, so I’m the front man. They get to know me, but it’s not like a child is going to search out everyone involved!”
Harold fumed. “Well, it’s not fair. You know what we do! You know we’ve already worked hard all year, and our busiest time of that year starts tomorrow! We’ll all work through it, and then you’ll collect all the perks. What about us? What do we have to look forward to?”
“Look, Harold, I’m sorry you feel this way.”
Poppa looked about the table in frustration, seeing the disagreement had halted the festivities. All up and down the table eyes looked studiously away, their owners obviously uncomfortable and wishing they were anywhere but where they were. This was not something Poppa wanted for his Thanksgiving dinner! He looked back to Harold, who still stood, staring at Poppa, arms folded angrily across his chest.
“Harold, I am sorry. Is there anything I can do to show my appreciation for all the hard work you do?”
Harold was the one who looked away now. “Well . . .
But Poppa saw Harold watching him out of the corner of his eye and knew that Harold did have a specific aim, a particular goal in starting all this. He dialed for his command voice.
“Out with it, Harold.”
“I want to drive the sleigh.”
“What?” said Poppa, caught by surprise.
“You heard me. I want to drive the sleigh.”
Poppa looked down the table at Rupert, who cared for the reindeer and had been his regular driver for years. He raised his eyebrows. Rupert shook his head and shrugged, then shot a glance at Harold’s thunderous expression. He looked back to Poppa and nodded energetically.
“All right, Harold. Thirty nights from now, you can drive the sleigh.”
“Thank you.” Harold sat. His arms were still folded over his chest, but Poppa thought he saw the ghost of a smile touching the elf’s lips.
Honestly, Poppa thought as the sound and energy of the festivities began to crank up once more. I’m thankful it was something that simple. Imagine if he’d wanted to make the deliveries!
And with that, the Kringle family Thanksgiving Day feast continued into the night.
~ ~ * * ~ ~

And so it begins . . .
Come back next week for the second installment of Harold’s Holidays: “Old Saint Nick.”

(If you like serialized stories, check out my other 4-episode tale, A Fortune in Ink, over at The Storyside.)

Talk to you later.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Triplicity's Company

Greetings, WYMOP readers!
I was traveling this week, and usually that means I come over here and have a little bitch session about my flight, or the TSA, or something, right?
But this time I chose the right line at security and didn’t even have to take off my shoes. I got an aisle seat like I wanted, and wound up with an average-sized woman next to me rather than an ex-professional linebacker with an eating disorder, and we managed not to get in each other’s ways. There were a ton of toddlers on my flight, but all the parents must have pooled their resources and bought up a ton of Nyquil for the little tots; I didn’t hear a peep.
Son of a bitch, I had a good flight. What the hell am I going to write about?
Looks like I’ll have to blab at you about Triplicity. Oh, woe is me.
Some of you may remember that, many, many moons ago (okay, 2013), I released my first short story collection, Dead of Winter. You may have missed it. It wasn’t out long before I had a little disagreement with the publisher and had it pulled from the shelves. You can still find it listed on Amazon, where it’s clearly marked “Out of Print.”
Oh, woe is me.
I moved on, but was still sad about Dead of Winter. It was really well received in the short time it was out there; lots of people liked it, and it even won an award. A couple of small publishers expressed interest in re-releasing it, but nothing ever came of it. I thought about putting it out myself, but lacked the funds—and the know-how—to do it right, to put out the kind of quality product I wanted.
What to do? What to do?
Then I got an invitation from Books & Boos Press: they had a project they thought I might be interested in—a collection of novellas, rather than short stories. They had two tales and were looking for a third, did I think I might have anything for them? Why yes, I said. I thought I might. I knew what kind of product Books & Boos put out—they’d handled my second collection, Echoes of Darkness, back in February—and they’re the top shelf of small presses. I bit my lip, brought out the virtual scalpel, and excised one of the stories from my Dead of Winter manuscript.
People enjoy this story, damn it. They deserve to read it. And in the best possible setting.
The result: Triplicity: The Terror Project, Volume 1.

“Brando and Bad Choices,” by Stacey Longo—a woman’s own personal trip through hell. Literally. Can she find redemption after death?
“Steel,” by Tony Tremblay—when the world as we know it has ended, what can one girl do to lead her group of survivors through the danger?
And, finally, “The Christmas Spirit,” by Rob Smales—what’s a young mother to do when her family’s first Christmas is invaded by an intruder they can’t stop? Or even see?
I am so glad this story has found a good home.

Okay, here is where this becomes awkwardly sales-pitchy. Could you see it coming a mile away? I kind of think you did.
Friday, 11/25—yes, Black Friday—Triplicity: The Terror Project, Volume 1 hits the stands. Well, hits Amazon, anyway. You can check out my old story in its new home for yourself, or just get some of your Christmas shopping done early. And if you’re one of the few who managed to grab a copy of Dead of Winter before it dropped off the face of the earth, and you were one of the many who enjoyed the hell out of “The Christmas Spirit,” do me a favor and give a shout about it to your friends. I’d love it if they could enjoy my story, too, and I know Tony and Stacey feel the same way.
And if you have already enjoyed “The Christmas Spirit,” I’ve got a little thought to put in your head: there are two other stories in this book, and mine just might be the shabbiest of the bunch.
Talk to you later!

Oh! Before I go, I have a couple of things to share:
First, HERE'S a link to an early review of Triplicity over at Horror Made, the Internet’s home for all things horror. If it’s a good review (it is—it’s 5-star!), you can even point it out to people you’re telling about the book, or maybe just go on over and read it for yourself.

Second, here’s a very cool book trailer Books & Boos put together to get you all excited about Triplicity (I know it’s working on me!):

Okay, seriously: talk to you later!

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Sunday After

Gate A21, Logan International Airport.  Flight 1785 to Denver.
I am waiting.
There are lots of us waiting to board, sitting in chairs that are somehow comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time. There are many people around me, many faces, but it’s like riding in an elevator, or (sorry gals) standing at the urinal: you are aware, but don’t look; you see, but not directly.
No eye contact here.
There are televisions hanging from the ceiling. I can’t see the screens, but I can hear the voices. The news. Talking heads suspended in space. Talking about Tuesday’s election, and what it has done to the country—as if this hasn’t been a topic of discussion for everyone (I repeat: everyone) for weeks. Months. They talk and talk, and I don’t want to listen any more. I’m tired of hearing about the problem they’re discussing. I know the problem. We all do. What I want to hear is someone discussing a solution.
 . . . claims that he would build a wall, claims that were picked up as a rallying cry by his supporters . . .

A little boy approaches me, all of three years old, eyes enormous in his tiny face, clutching something in one small fist.
“You have a baga?” he says.
“I have a bagel, yes.” I point to the shapeless mass in his hand. “You do, too, huh?”
Big smile. “Yeah! You bored?”
“A little,” I say. “Yes.”
 . . . in a sense it didn’t matter who won; the campaigns run by both parties resulted in a nation divided . . .

“I think he’s asking if you’re boarding soon,” says his mother, from a few seats away.
“Ah.” I bend in my seat, getting down into his airspace. “Yep. Both, actually.”
The big smile becomes huge. A quick jumpy clapping of hands that puts what’s left of his bagel in dire jeopardy, and he’s off, sturdy legs churning, to a seat three down from me; black skin, sweatshirt, workboots, iPod.
“You bored?”
Eyes come up. Earbuds come out. “Excuse me?”
“You bored?”
 . . . broken along racial lines and political parties . . .

The guy with the iPod grins at me as little legs churn away. A woman in a sari is already smiling at my bagel-wielding friend’s approach, dark eyes shining in her cafĂ© au lait face.
“You bored?”
 . . . a country split in two . . .

A dark-skinned man—possibly Hispanic?—in a nice suit, pecking away at a knee-balanced laptop.

“You bored?”

 . . . people all across the country who are afraid . . .

A Hispanic couple, older, holding hands as they sit. He’s wearing an Air Force cap; she pecks, one-handed, at her phone.

“You bored?”

 . . . how can this nation, so divided, heal?

Tiny sneakers pound my way again. “No baga,” he announces, showing me both empty hands.

“You ate it?”

He smiles. “Yeah.”

I glance up at the eyes that have tracked him in his journey, followed him back to me, the faces all different shapes, all different colors, but all smiling.

“Hey, little man,” I say. “You talking to everyone?”

Biggest smile yet, with a jump and a hand clap. “Yes!”

From her place a few seats away, Mom calls my little friend to her; it’s finally time to board. I know she called him by name, but I didn’t catch it. That doesn’t matter, though, as I watch him gallop her way, giggling.

I’m calling him Hope.