Friday, December 24, 2010

Holiday stories: THE GIFT

~Story by, Rand Phares~ 


Abbot Timothy and Brother Samuel stood just inside the main doors of the monastery, swirling snow filling the dark night around them.

Samuel adjusted his hood and leaned closer to the abbot. "Are you sure you don't want me to wait for you?"

The abbot shook his head. "No, Samuel. I have one last chore before I can leave. I'll be along shortly, before the town road becomes impassable. You go on ahead before they've run out of room at the inn."

Samuel frowned and peered across the courtyard at the monastery's church, its windows lit with a wavering glow. "A pity it's come to this, after all our years of service."

The abbot laid a hand on Samuel's chest. "Though the abbeys are being dissolved and we're being evicted, you can always hold to your faith and continue that service here, in your heart." He turned to the doors, slid aside a wooden bar, and—with Samuel's help—tugged the doors open.

Samuel adjusted his robe. "You're sure you won't come with me?”

The abbot nodded. "Go."

Samuel went through the doorway, hesitated for a moment, then continued on, his dark form melting into the storm. A moment later, drifting snow covered his footprints and it was as if he'd never been there.

The abbot shook his head. The king's decree had arrived a week ago: The Order was dissolved, its members to renounce their ways and leave the monastery no later than Christmas Eve. Tonight. The monastery, its grounds, and its treasures would revert to the people. Even now, two of the king's men were in the counting room, reviewing the monastery's records.

One by one, the monasteries of the land were being dissolved, taken over by local governments, monies and lands distributed to those in power. Monks had been expelled, left to fend for themselves, which meant hardship and death more often than not. Friendship toward fellow man seemed to have dissolved in the face of hard times and the king's decree.

As abbot, he would be the last to leave. How had the others fared? Emanuel, the infirmarian? Ethan, the sacrist? What of the troubled brothers, especially James, gifted with a lyre, but unable to form a single sentence?

Where would he himself go? He had no family, no friends outside the monastery. Would he simply starve, sharing the same fate as the others? After all this time surrounded by these walls, he did not look forward to leaving. The king's decree guaranteed a lonely, destitute, and painful end beyond the monastery.

He shut and barred the doors, then turned and looked at the church, at the rise of its steeple. Was its symbolic gesture toward heaven still meaningful in these times? Across the length of the roof sat the silent bell tower, oddly enough even taller than the steeple. He knew it spoke of a long-ago time when the monastery—sitting atop a two-hundred foot cliff overlooking a great road—had served as a lookout against enemy hordes sweeping in from the north.

He stared at the bell tower until his eyes stung.

So lonely . . .

So high . . .

So . . .

Painful? Perhaps not.

The tower stared down at him.

Will you follow the path the king has set down for you? Or is there another?

He blinked, rubbed his eyes with icy fingers, and looked back at the barred doors.

The king's path lay beyond.

He stared at the doors for a long moment. Then, his mind made up, he crossed himself, turned away, and trudged off through the snow toward the church.

Snow had piled against the great door leading into the church, and the door complained as the abbot struggled to open it. He stepped into the front nave, escaping the storm, but not the bone-wearying cold.

With the door shut behind him, he made his way toward the choir at the back of the church, eyes adjusting to the thin light of candles burning in side chapels. A statue of the Saviour seemed to shift slightly in the flickering light as he neared. He crossed himself and started off toward the dark door near the east transept; the door that led to the bell tower.

He reached for the door's latch, but a coughing sound stopped him. He turned and found a robed figure sitting in the choir pews. Why had he not noticed? Wasn't everyone supposed to be gone by now? This was certainly not one of the king's tallymen, with their fine purple tunics.

"Can I help you?" the abbot asked.

The figure stood and tossed back his hood. A thin young man, dark hair, bearded, but not someone the abbot recognized.

"Are you Abbot Timothy?" the man asked.

"Yes. And you are . . . ?"

"Forgive me, abbot. I'm Sebastian. Innkeeper Thomas sent me with a sack of food for your journey." He held up a dark bag. "Some mutton, cheese, a small flask of wine."

The abbot looked at the bag. "That's quite kind of Thomas. And kind of you, of course, for bringing it here in this storm. Tell me, how did you get in? We keep the main gate locked."

"I slipped in when one of the brothers was leaving."

"I see." The abbot gestured toward the bag. "Well, thank Thomas for me."

He put a hand on the latch beside him. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to extinguish the chapel candles before I leave. You'd better let yourself out and return to the inn before you become stranded."

"The snow is blowing very hard. You've no fear of being stranded yourself?"

The abbot glanced at the latch in his hand, then back at Sebastion. "I won't be long. You'd best not wait."

"That door leads to the bell tower?"


"Are there many candles in the tower?"

The abbot frowned. He opened his mouth to reply, but Sebastian waved a hand. "Forgive my impertinence, abbot."

He looked around at the statuary and tapestries. "It's a pity the church is being stripped of its treasures. But isn't it a greater travesty that the countryside is being stripped of its faith?"

The abbot sighed. Would this young man not leave? "Yes, it's true, what you say about the country. But when I step outside these walls, the king says I'm no longer a man of God. So my days of worrying about the country's faith are over."

"That may be, but what about your vow of service to Our Lord? True faith is difficult to drive from a man's heart, even in the face of kingly decrees."

Sebastian nodded at the tower door. "Are you like the countryside, abbot? Have you been stripped of your faith?"

The abbot blinked. Had he?

Sebastian laid a hand above his heart. "In spite of what the king says, you can always hold to your faith and continue that service in your heart."

The abbot stared at Sebastian. How did he . . . ?

Sebastian set the bag on a pew and looked up at the window. "It seems the snow has finally stopped. That should make your journey easier."

He looked back at the abbot. "One last word of advice, though." He smiled and nodded at the tower door. "Be careful putting the candles out up in the belfry. It's sure to be slippery up there, and I hear it's a long drop to the road below."

With that, Sebastian turned and walked up the nave, pausing only to cross himself at the statue of the Saviour. A moment later the shadows of the front nave swallowed him. In the snow-encased quiet of the church, the great door was particularly loud when it closed.

The abbot's gaze returned to the statue.

A thin bearded face, arms outstretched, a crown of thorns. From this angle, the candlelight made it look as if the statue stared back at him.


Abbot Timothy pushed open the great church door and took in the courtyard and the far shadow of the main gate. The young man had left the church after the storm died, but a silent mantle of white lay unbroken in all directions. And the air was still; wind no longer blowing snow across any newly laid footprints.

What was the hour? Was it Christmas yet?

He lifted the bag. Mutton, cheese, wine. A Christmas gift, perhaps?

He stared out at the night, and thought of the young man's words.

All of them.

And decided those had been the real gift this night.

Then, with a last glance back across the nave at the distant bell tower door, he shouldered the bag and walked out of the church. Heading toward the gate, the abbot was secure in the feeling that wherever the young man had gone, he was following.

Rand Phares's first foray into writing was at an early age, on a neighborhood "newspaper" he published with his brother. After a successful career in software engineering, he now focuses on psychological thrillers, and is within nanoseconds of completing his first novel, The Feast. Rand lives in NC with his family.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Holiday Story: The Blue Dress

~Story by Adina Pelle~


They say there are three-dimensional components to human consciousness. We are born and grow old with them. I am old as I weave my past but young as it all comes back to life.

I do not know about others, but when I think of my childhood I immediately feel the need to hold my head in my hands, maybe suspending this way the heavy weight of so many memories. Not only old people think the past is everything and not only young people believe in the future and nobody can live like a stubborn wild horse only in the present.

When my parents first moved in the yard we lived for ten years, they knew nobody. They had just come out of a Russian-Jewish refugee camp and were happy to be alive, ready to make friends and enjoy life after the war. We lived in two rooms: my room and the kitchen/living room, which was also my parent’s room. Many memories come back to my mind now as the warmth of our simple and frugal life finds its way back in my thoughts toying with my olfactory trance. The kitchen/bedroom smelled of plum pudding and other simple delights my mother was able to put together out of our food ration as all the war refugees had to share. Our little house with the flower garden in front seemed a corner of paradise and I always found my mother bent on something, washing or ironing or baking some little delight. I was convinced she could breathe life into things. All my childhood I drank my milk from a nice cup of porcelain with red and blue flowers. Mother's hands as she pushed the cup forward moved so slow and gracious suggesting the feeling this cup was not a simple object but an enchanted one.

It did not take too long for my mother to become friendly with the other renters. Vasea and Little Marie were the most colorful couple living right behind our two rooms. They lived in a one-bedroom space and their mere existence fueled my curiosity many times throughout my childhood, mainly because of everything that happened in their house. The liquor they shared on pay nights had fabulous powers not only on their whacky reality but also over my own everyday life keeping away the deed of being a strange child and delivering my entertainment for numerous nights.

Little Marie was not little despite her name, but a tough woman who knew how to hold her liquor though powerless under Vasea’s quick fist. The following day, she would show up in the yard with a black and purple eye and insist on telling the same story every time:

“The door hit me.”

One Christmas eve, Little Marie surprised my mom when she pulled out of a box a little white and blue dress and gave it to me. It was the most beautiful dress I had seen, with white and blue bows attached to its hem and a marine motif on the upper part. The minute it took me to dress up was extended into eternities of blissful happiness, twirling in front of the mirror and running up and down our stone paved yard. My mother was touched by Little Marie’s gift and invited her and Vasea the day after Christmas to a neighborhood bodega hoping to return her friendly gesture.

What my mother did not know was the effect liquor had on Little Marie. After a couple of beers, to my mother’s shock and my tearful disappointment, Little Marie asked for the dress back. No explanations. I was devastated especially because I did not understand the mechanics of what seemed to be a very cruel game the grownups played.

Since I was well behaved as a child, when I did any foolish deeds I was able to be silent, say nothing, and get away with anything. After my first disappearance that Christmas eve, following the blue dress fiasco, my father found me hours later, freezing cold and talking with two skeletal, wet dogs, cuddled at my feet. He took me home where without a word fixed two hot chocolates expecting, certainly, an explanation, an answer, for me to say anything.

"Why, why did you want to run away? How could you think that this is the way?”

"Do not know," I answered, sad and without my usual smile.

After half an hour, with no words about my wandering, he told me of a friend from work who had a cat and was just looking for a little girl to take care of its kittens.

Taking care of the two little black and white kittens kept me entertained that winter, away from the monotony of my life as a small and peculiar little girl.


Adina Pelle was born in Constanta, the same town the roman poet Ovid lived his last years and died. Ovid’s Metamorphosis ignited her love for the written word from a very early age.

As a lonely and rather peculiar child, she was engulfed in books most of her free time. From Russian, British, French literature, love, pain, and social justice became reflected through an astonishing amount of reading.

She is the author of GHOST WORDS AND OTHER ECHOES and lives in Connecticut with her husband Stan.

You can find more stories on her website

Friday, THE GIFT—a poignant tale of an Abbot in the time of King John. Rand Phares

Saturday, THE SECOND NOLLE—a heartwarming take of the Darcy’s and child during the holidays. Sharon Lathan 

Sunday, A BOOK OF LOVE—a moving story about the power of love and reconciliation. Diane Wolfe

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Story: Welcome To The Family

~Story by Olivia Cunning~

Christmas Eve two years before the book Backstage Pass

The tour bus pulled to a stop outside the storage area. This was where Sinners stored their stage equipment when they were off tour and kept their private vehicles while they were on the road. Jace Seymour slung his duffle bag over one shoulder and lifted the case of his bass guitar with his free hand.

Home again.

Though Sinners had been on the road for most of the past six months, Jace would prefer they never took a break from touring. The tour bus was more his home than any brick and mortar structure.

“Do you have big plans for the holidays, little man?” Eric asked and poked Jace in the rib with the drumstick he’d been twirling.

No, but he wasn’t about to admit that to Eric. “Yeah. Lots.”

Jace massaged the small hoop in his earlobe and pretended to find the floor interesting.

When Jace didn’t elaborate on his lots of plans, Eric’s ADHD-self turned his attention elsewhere. “Sed? What time does the party start on New Year’s Eve?” he called to the lead singer, who was standing at the front of the bus, waiting for lead guitarist Brian to collect all his stuff and get out of the way.

Sed glanced over his shoulder and grinned crookedly so that one of his dimples showed. “I don’t recall inviting you, Sticks.”

“Will your sisters be there?” Eric asked, hopefully. He leaned in closer to Jace and whispered, “Hot, young thangs. Both of them. Certified Grade A--”

“If you touch my sisters, you die,” Sed warned in a baritone growl.

Jace smiled at the floor. He loved being caught in the dynamic of these guys, but as he’d been a part of this band for less than six months, he always felt like he was intruding on some sacred bond between them. Sinners had been together for almost ten years. It only made sense that they were a close-knit group. Jace didn’t mind looking in from the outside. It was enough.

“No worries,” Trey, their rhythm guitarist, said. He brushed his long bangs from his forehead, green eyes twinkling with their usually orneriness. “I’ll just consult my little black book and invite enough babes for everyone.”

“More like an encyclopedic black book,” Eric whispered to Jace.

Jace chuckled. Trey got around. A lot.

“You’re coming, right?” Eric asked Jace.

Jace shrugged. Sed hadn’t invited him. Actually, Sed hadn’t invited anyone. It was a tradition to party at Sed’s place on New Year’s Eve, but as this was Jace’s first year with the band, he wasn’t a part of any of those traditions. The guys in the band spent Christmas with their families and New Year’s Eve together. Jace was already dreading Christmas. He really struggled with holidays.

The band members shuffled off the bus, carrying luggage and gear. As Jace’s feet touched the asphalt, he crinkled his nose at the warmth and palm trees outside. Even though he’d lived in southern California for over a decade, he’d never get used to Christmas in a warm climate. Jace’s family had moved to Los Angeles from Montana right before his mother had died. The holidays just weren’t the same without snow on the ground. He still remembered playing Christmas jingles on the piano with his mother. Yeah, Christmas was supposed to mean family. Jace didn’t have one of those anymore, which all things considered, was for the best.

Laughing and joking all the way to their car, Trey and Brian left the parking lot together. The two guitarists were roommates and had been best friends since elementary school. Late for dinner at his parents’ house, Sed sped off in his Mercedes. Eric tried to coax his vintage, piece-of-crap Corvette into starting. Jace headed out of the parking lot on foot. It was only a couple of miles to his apartment and he liked to walk. Plus, he didn’t own a vehicle. He could afford one now. He just hadn’t gotten around to buying one.

After proceeding less than a block, a loud, knocking sound drew his attention to the road beside him.

Eric, his wild hair stirring in the breeze, grinned at him from behind the wheel of his emerald green convertible. “Need a lift?” he asked.

“No thanks, I prefer to walk.”

Eric shrugged. “Suit yourself.” He gunned the engine, probably trying to speed off with spectacular flare, and the car died. “Crap!” The engine whined as he tried to start it again.

“Maybe you should walk, too,” Jace suggested.

“Shut up, little man. She’s just temperamental.”

If that’s what he wanted to call it. “Later.”

He left Eric swearing at his temperamental piece-of-crap and continued towards home. While standing on a street corner waiting for a green crossing light, something brushed up against Jace’s calf. He looked down and a pair of inquisitive amber eyes gazed up at him.

“Brrroowww owww owwwn?” the black tuxedo cat meow-purred up at him.

The scraggly thing looked like it had just crawled out of the sewer. Jace nudged it aside with is foot--he didn’t like cats--and strode across the street. He chanced a glance behind him to find the creature on his heels. The cat trotted with purpose, its white paws rhythmically striking the pavement, its tail high in the air, its eyes never leaving its target. Jace walked a bit faster, hoping to deter the little pest. As he passed an alley, a set of tires screeched. Jace’s heart skipped a beat.

He turned to find the black scruff-ball cowering under the front axle of a huge SUV in the alley’s entrance. Jace set his bass case down and held up a hand to alert the driver to stay put. When he was sure he wasn’t about to be run over, he bent under the vehicle and reached for the cat. As he scooped the trembling mass of dingy fur into his arms, he couldn’t believe how light the animal was. The cat must have only weighed a couple pounds, tops. It crawled up his chest and planted the top of its head under his jaw, purring in earnest.

“Easy there,” he murmured and ran a hand down the cat’s narrow back. His palm bumped over its bony spine and he cringed. He lifted the cat around the middle and held it in front of him so he could look it in the eye. “You’re just looking for a meal, aren’t you?”

“Brrooowww owwwn,” it meowed within its motorboat purr.

“Alright, I’ll get you something to eat, but then I’m dropping you off at the pound. I don’t like cats.”

The cat grabbed Jace’s hoop earring with one claw, tugged him closer, and stared directly into Jace’s lacerated soul. He had to look away. The cat rubbed its face over the beard stubble along Jace’s jaw and rattled an even louder purr.

Jace cuddled the cat against his shoulder, holding it securely with one hand, and lifted his guitar case in his free hand.

“Do you have a name?” he asked the cat, feeling rather ridiculous talking to an animal.

“Brrrooooww owwwn.”

“So you’ve said. Are you a girl or a boy cat?”

He looked down at the cat when the purring stopped. The well-duh look she gave him made that perfectly clear. Definitely female.

“Alright, Brownie, what do cats eat? Mice, right?” He knew he didn’t have anything to feed Brownie at home. His apartment was small and sparse, but not mouse-infested. He’d have to stop at the store. There was a quirky shop near the end of his block that sold everything from snacks to sunglasses to action figures. He hoped they sold cat food, too. He tucked Brownie inside his jacket and she curled around his waist, purring so loudly they’d think he had a Harley hidden in his coat.


She went quiet, as if she actually understood him. Strange creature. And a bit tickly as she stirred against his belly.

Jace hefted his duffle bag and bass guitar into a cart, thinking he probably should have dropped his baggage off at home first, and then perused the aisles. He found the cat-needs aisle and tossed every type of canned cat food available and a few small bags of dried food into his cart. He didn’t know what Brownie liked. He’d just take the extra food to the pound when he dropped her off later. He also decided to spring for the litter pan and some cat litter, just in case she had to go during her short visit. And she’d need a bowl to put her food in. And another one for fresh water. Maybe a toy or two. Some treats. He was eyeing the belled collars when he decided she didn’t need a collar. It wasn’t as if he planned to keep her or anything. As he headed up the next aisle to the checkout counter, a set of claws dug into his side. Jace stopped. One paw protruded from above his jacket zipper as if pointing at something.

“What?” he whispered, moving in the direction the paw indicated.

The paw extended farther out his neck hole and batted a small red Christmas bulb on a decorated tree.

“Do you like that?” he asked. Why was he talking to a cat?

She let out a meow and reached for the bulb with both paws, squirming about in his jacket as she tried to reach the ornament.

“You’re making a scene,” he said, shoving her back into his coat and tugging the zipper higher.

Into his cart the little, gaudy decorated tree went. Brownie purred her approval.

By the time he’d lugged his duffle bag, guitar case, several bags of cat supplies, and a hideous Christmas tree upstairs, he was exhausted. Dropping everything in the corridor, he opened his apartment door, plagued by the emptiness that always filled him whenever he came home to nothing.

“Honey, I’m home.” His voice echoed in the barren living room.

Inside his jacket, Brownie meowed. He unzipped his coat and she sprang out, trotting into his apartment as if she owned the place. He let her roam while he dragged everything inside. While he was unpacking the impressive collection of canned cat food, Brownie jumped onto the kitchen counter and watched him. She placed a definitive paw on one can of food and meowed.

“Is that the one you want?”

The well-duh look she gave him made him chuckle. He rinsed her new bowl and emptied the can of fishy-smelling grossness into the bowl. She gobbled it up, purring between gulps. Jace extended a hand in her direction, knowing he shouldn’t pet her, knowing he couldn’t get attached. He was dropping her off at the animal shelter as soon as she finished eating. Her face still in the bowl, she twisted her body sideways until it collided with his hand. Her tail curled around his forearm. He didn’t have a choice but to pet her then. Stroking her soft fur was somehow soothing. Her purr settled the turbulence with him even further. He hadn’t expected that.

“Why were you out on your own?” he asked. “Someone abandon you?”

Licking her lips, Brownie lifted her head and looked up at him, those soulful amber eyes meeting his. He turned away and found the gaudy Christmas tree on the floor. He picked it up, set it in the living room in front of the window, and plugged it in. It was only knee high and the most pathetic excuse for a Christmas tree Jace had ever encountered, but it brought a smile to his face. Ten minutes later, the tree was bare except for its flashing colored lights. Red bulbs and garland lay in disarray across the floor. A very pleased cat lay amid the destruction.

Jace shook his head at her. “You don’t really think I’m going to keep you, do you?”

The well-duh look she gave him left no doubt in his mind. Brownie rolled onto her back, paws batting the air and tugging on heartstrings.

Jace hated to admit it, but this Christmas he had a family again.


Combining her love for romantic fiction and rock ‘n roll, Olivia Cunning writes erotic romance centered around rock musicians. Her very popular series revolves around a fictional rock band called Sinners, Backstage Pass was released in October and Rock Hard will be released in April.

You can visit her website for more pictures and info on upcoming releases in the series.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas story: UNDER THE HOLLY

~Story by Ken Coffman~

Tom carefully parked the old Toyota on the crest of a hill. The starter did not work, so he needed the incline to compression-start the car. The sky was obscured by woolen blanket of clouds that seemed to suck color from the world. He rested his head on the steering wheel for a moment and gathered the willpower to move. Tommy was with the next door neighbor, Claire Jensen, who watched daytime dramas with the TV volume turned up so high that Tom could hear the tinny chatter in his car as the cooling engine ticked. With the steering wheel imprinted on his forehead, he slowly raised his hand and wiggled his fingers. He was not paralyzed, but it was as if the world pressed on him with cruel force. Cold wind slipped through loose window seals. Snow looked imminent. He needed to go.

Standing on Claire's sagging porch, he lifted the knocker and let it fall. It snapped like a toy pistol. Tommy's feet clomped on the floorboards; miniature thunder as he ran to the door.

"Daddy," he shouted. "Where have you been? I've been waiting. It's Christmas."

Tom was proud of Tommy's vocabulary. He was not quite four, so his enunciation was sloppy, but his thinking was clear. Tom gathered him in his arms squeezed.

"No, Christmas is tomorrow."

"No, Christmas is today, right now, they said so on TV," Tommy explained patiently as if that settled the matter.

"Okay, maybe I'm wrong," Tom said.

Dressed in several layers of bathrobes, Claire muted the TV and poked her head around the corner.

"Merry Christmas, Tom," she said.

"Back at you, Mrs. Jensen. I hope Tommy was no trouble."

"Never. I wish my kid was as good as him Tommy's an angel. We were watching the Christmas special As the World Turns. It's a rerun of old highlights, but it's still pretty good. Eddie didn't find out Deena was his mother until after Margo killed her."

"That's nice, Mrs. Jensen."

"A man in a uniform walked around your house. I think they turned the power back on."

"Why would they do that?"

"I don't know, but look."

Tom peered through lace curtains at his little house. It was true, some of the lights glowed.

"I didn't pay the bill," he mused.

"If it's still cold over there, come back. At five o'clock I'm going to have a nip of Smirnoff from the freezer. You can share a toot."

Tom knew that a nip meant a fifth, but he did not begrudge her habit; she was always sober during the day. He knew she didn't want to share her bottle but he appreciated her asking.

"We have something to do, but we might stop by later."

"You do that, Tom."

She waggled her fingers at Tommy and he returned the gesture. Outside, Tom strapped Tommy in the car and settled himself in the driver's seat.

"Are you ready?"

Tommy nodded solemnly and took a deep breath. He was convinced the car would only start if he held his breath. Tom released the parking brake and popped the clutch as the car picked up speed. It rumbled to life with a puff of blue smoke.

"See, Daddy, it works," Tommy said.

"It always does," Tom replied.

They turned at the corner.

"Where are we going? It's Christmas, you know."

"So I've heard. We'll go see Mommy."

"Oh." Tommy watched the scenery flowing outside his window for a minute. "What's a pregnancy test? I asked Mrs. Jensen, but she said I should ask you."

"Is that something you heard on the TV?"

Tommy nodded vigorously. "Yes," he said.

"We'll talk about that later, okay?"

"Does later mean never, Daddy?"

"You're a funny little guy. I don't know what I'd do without you."

The cemetery was on a hillside. Cedarville, in all of its small-town patchwork glory, spread out on the valley floor. The river weaved through trees and glistened in the flat winter light. Tommy fumbled with his seatbelt and door and then ran to his mother's grave site. Towels, decorated with sprigs of holly and evergreen fronds, were spread on the damp grass.

"Mama didn't forget Christmas," he shouted. "Hurry up."

Tom handed him a pair of woolen socks.

"Put these on, it's cold."

"Wally has mittens, they're really cool. I mean they're warm, but they're cool."

"We don't have any mittens, so you have to wear socks. They're warm, put them on."

"No one else wears socks on their hands," Tommy complained, but he pulled them on.

Tom stood for a minute reading the inscription. Rebecca Thomas, Beloved Wife and Mother, Taken Too Soon. 1982-2007. RIP

He wanted to scream and tear out his hair and rip the stone from the ground and throw it down the hill. Instead, he pulled a Thermos from a paper bag.

"Give your mom a kiss and have some chocolate," he said.

Tommy kissed the cold granite and settled on his haunches on the picnic towels. He sipped the hot chocolate and studied his father.

"Are you alright, Daddy?"

With his thumb, Tom worked on a smudge of chocolate on Tommy's cheek.

"Sometimes," he replied.

A man, dressed in a long gray overcoat, picked his way from the parking lot. It was George Wilson, Rebecca's boss.

"I took a chance on finding you here. Hello Tommy."

"Hello, Mr. Wilson," Tommy replied.

"We took a collection around the office and got your power turned back on."

With creaking knees, Tom stood, and then took George's arm and led him a few steps away.

"We don't need charity," he said.

"You can call them and tell them to turn it off again."

Tom took a deep breath.

"I'm sorry, I know you mean well..."

"Rebecca wouldn't want you two to freeze to death on Christmas. Let us do this small thing. Also, the man from the insurance company came by again."

"I told you, I don't want their money. It has Rebecca's blood on it."

"You're so melodramatic. He gave me papers. The money will go into a trust for Tommy so he can go to college when he's 18. Rebecca would not want you to be stupid."

"I'll get a job after the first of the year."

"Don't be a fool. You don't want the insurance money, that's fine, but sign the damn papers for Tommy, okay? The man from the insurance company is driving me crazy."

"Okay. I don't have a pen."

George proffered a silver pen and Tom scribbled on the paperwork at all the places marked with red X's.

"Another thing is, you need to turn on your cell phone. That agent lady from New York has been trying to get in touch with you. I don't understand all this stuff, but she says there are two bidders and you need to decide if you'll sign a two-book deal. That's good, right? She says it's a fair amount of money."

"I can't think of that stuff right now. My wife is dead."

"I know all about the horrible accident, Tom," George said gently. "I also know she supported you for three years so you could write that book. I told the agent I'd let you know. Now you know and I'm done. You take care, okay, Tom?"

"Yeah," Tom said.

He watched George navigate his way back to the parking lot for a moment before turning back to Tommy.

The picnic bag held a partial package of Oreos. He held out a handful for Tommy who took them in his ensocked hands.

"I haven't had dinner yet," Tommy said.

"On Christmas, you can have cookies for dinner."

"I like Christmas," Tommy mumbled through a mouthful. "There's no money for presents, is there? We're flat."

"That's right, Tommy, we're flat busted." A sprinkle of snowflakes drifted from the woolen sky. "But, maybe your mama sent you something..."

"What?" Tommy jumped up and ran around the tombstone. "I don't see anything."

"Maybe she left it under the holly."

The holly flew as Tommy tossed off the sprigs. He raised a package wrapped in red and green paper.

"Look, you're right. Mama didn't forget about me."

"No Tommy, your mom will never forget about you."

Tommy jumped on his dad's lap clutching his present tightly in his chubby arms.

"Go ahead and open it."

"Can I wait a while, Daddy? I don't care what it is."

"Wait as long as you like," Tom said.

The snow, drifting from the sky like apple blossoms, slowly turned the ground white. They stayed as long as they could stand the cold and then headed for home.


Ken Coffman is the author of Steel Waters, Hartz String Theory and other mad novels available from and other online bookstores. He wrote a popular technical book called Real World FPGA Design with Verilog published by Pearson-Prentice Hall.

Ken lives in the Northwest with his wife Judy who is a well known artist. He is a Field Applications Engineer and Member of the Technical Staff at Fairchild Semiconductor.

Monday, December 20, 2010

It's The Simple Things

When I was a child a lesson learned at my mother’s knee was always celebrate what we have TODAY. Each day has it’s own tribulations and worries but if we have everything we need, not necessarily want, but need for this day then be content.

It was a good lesson to learn so young. We were a family of eleven and while my father was a hard worker and had a good paying job in the trades there were times things got very lean and tight—especially in the winter. As a wise man once said, I have had plenty and I have learned to go without. We always had food, clothing, and a roof over our head, a warm house—all things we needed. And we had blessings, faith, plenty of love, friends, and our family. It was the blessings, you see, which made life rich. With a life rich in blessings we can face whatever hardships come our way. Without the blessings, all the “things” we could have would mean nothing.

For me, this is the time of year to reflect on what’s really important. In my opinion, it’s my blessings. Who ever said that we had to go broke to make a big splash for the holidays? And since when is love linked with expensive things? Things are always easy to acquire but does the expensive gifts actually show the person giving it loves you, or that you’re special?

Personally, I don’t like someone giving me a gift because tradition demands it and everyone is doing it. (Do you remember what Mom used to say about *everyone* when you would say, ‘but everyone else is doing it’!) I’d rather know that I’d still get that gift regardless of the time of year. In our family it’s tradition to give special gifts all year long. Taking the time to think of something that would really be special and please the recipient. This ties into another lesson I took to heart from my mother.

There is more happiness in giving than receiving.

Giving a gift is a two way street. The joy we feel when we see someone’s face light up with delight at our gift. Gifts that come from the heart have so much more value. Some of my most treasured gifts are things I received for no reason except I was loved and thought of or those made just for me.

This time of the year I count my greatest blessings. What’s REALLY important to me and that is my faith, my family, my friends, loving and being loved. I give thanks for those things I have today, being relatively healthy, having a roof over my head, clothes, the bills paid, food in the cupboards, and a warm house.

I give thanks for the simple special things, which live forever in my memories:

Like sharing popcorn and watching a movie together, or laughing over a game we’re playing, the snowball fight we got into while clearing the snow and the snow angels we made. Watching my horses and dogs playing in the first snowfall. My outside cats shase the snowflakes. Filling my birdfeeders and watching all the different birds that flock to it and gossip over their food and I laugh when my cats are enthralled by their antics from the inside windows. My cats curled up in my office as I work and the dogs at my feet, and music playing on the computer. Having my son sit on my office couch and read while I write, or chat about anything and everything.

The snatch of a carol, the wonder of seeing holiday lights on the town streets, the festive glitter of houses dressed in their December best. The crystal shards of the stars on a cold clear night and the chorus of the coyotes not far away, the naked limbs of the winter trees turned silver by the moonlight. The smell of wood smoke in the air.

Coming in my driveway and seeing the warm glow of lights, a couple of cats in the window seat watching the night. Knowing inside is home.

I’m so rich in my blessings. My blessings make everything I do have so much sweeter.

Really, it’s the simple things that have the most value, don't you think?

  • Speaking of gifts. This week and next I will be sharing holiday short stories by authors both published and not. I have some lovely stories to share. I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed gathering them together. I will share the first one tomorrow. Please stop by and have a look.