by Leigh Whitting
God created the four seasons and night to provide mankind with a harmonious and balanced environment to live by.
However, in the twentieth century a scouting party from another galaxy unexpectedly stumbled across the Earth and discovered it was rich in minerals that the plant’s inhabitants were as of yet unaware off.
‘Yes Commander the planet is populated with a very primitive species which can easily be disposed off,’ said the Captain.
‘Do it gradually over their time period of fifty years and use the method we used in Galaxy three of causing natural disasters to wipe out the inhabitants,’ replied the Commander. ‘I shall report your discovery to the Infernal Council and await your confirmation that the planet is ready for mining.’
Disappointed, the captain began to strategically program the nearest nerve center to this galaxy with commands to manipulate the seasons and cause extreme weather conditions. This was merely a push button job; what he really longed for was to implement immediate global genocide by temporarily poisoning the air causing all species to silently explode into millions of specks that would float into space, leaving no residue to clean.
The Infernal Council always trod overly carefully in matters of mass genocide as the last thing they wanted was the inconvenience of a galactic war, no matter how primitive the opposition was!
Meanwhile on Earth, there was one major catastrophe after another, each one wiping out thousands of people. Scientists had identified the unpredictable, extreme climate changes as being responsible for the disasters but could not come up with an explanation as to why the Antartica was melting or why there were so many earthquakes whose magnitude were off the Richter scale.
It didn’t occur to anyone that beings from another galaxy were murdering all of mankind so they could mine for minerals!
A Fish out of Water
by Marinna Guzy
“Are you ashamed to speak with me?” Asked a voice at my shoulder. I whirled around, heart banging in my chest. A small woman stood there with an arm extended towards me. She had black hair heavily laced with silver springing out from her scalp in wild waves. She wore a long black skirt and peasant blouse, with layers of beaded necklaces and gold chains crisscrossing her chest. Dangling from each bony finger was a rainbow of brightly colored, plastic, goldfish keychains.
“Pardon me?” I replied timidly.
“I am a gypsy. Are you ashamed to speak with me?” demanded the woman fiercely.
“Why would I be ashamed to speak with you?” I returned cautiously.
“Because I am a gypsy.”
We don’t have gypsies, in the strictest sense, here. For permanent residents, there, however, street-side gypsy encounters seem to be rather commonplace.
No passerby paused in their commute—
The steady pitter-patter of footfalls on the pavement persisted—
The walla of wayward conversation continued—
I was on an island amongst the masses, inhabited by only two people.
“Are you ashamed?”
“No,” said I, simply. “I am not.”
She thrust out her hand further, and the goldfish on the keychains sparkled in the gray Manchester afternoon. “Just two pound fifty for a pretty.”
I shook my head. “I’m not interested.”
She thrust her hand forward again. “Just two pound fifty. You must buy one.”
I shook my head again in a desperate contradiction, though deep in my chest a feeling of finality burgeoned, and I knew, that somehow, I was going to purchase a goldfish keychain from the woman.
Do twenty-first century gypsies deal in curses or keychains?
I’m not taking that goldfish off my key ring until it falls off, disintegrating into infinitesimally small flakes of plastic.
by Kareem Shehab
“So, tell us the report about your mission.”
“During my time in the galaxy I had discovered that other creatures existed in the universe. The Blue Planet has all sort of life. They made civilizations. I used my FAH2 to scope and watch how life was down on it. The snow was falling and a huge number of a certain species were all gathering and celebrating. They seemed as conscious as we are. The lights filled the planet with all colors. I was amazed by the ammount of electricity they could produce. I thought, ‘What is so special about snow that they celebrate it? They must be a very peaceful species. We can start to communicate with them. They might be able to help us with the electricity problem on our planet.’
Then as I took a swim around the planet another side was dark and dull. I used my FAH2 and it was a horror. Houses were demolished. They were using the lights to kill each other. The young were running and falling one by one as they shot them with murder machines. Then I decided it was not a good idea to communicate with such species. It is safer for our planet to remain secret to them. By what I saw, there will come a time when snow won’t find any of them to celebrate it. That’s when we can move to their planet and inherit it. Before that, it would be dangerous for our kind.”
“Very well. Blue Planet is on the waiting list.”
“Oh, another thing, sir. This is for you.”
“What could that be?”
“It’s part of the snow rituals they do. I thought it’s beautiful. They call it a present.”
“We have a lot to prepare then. They seem to have made an enormous civilization. We need to learn it all before the time they leave us the planet empty.”
by Cath Barton
December 2016 and Jack Frost was bored. He’d already laid his icy fingers on everything in the gardens of England, turning green to silver overnight. But it was all just a little too pretty. And people were too cheerful. All that Father Christmas ho-ho-ho stuff was getting him down. Time to up his game. Time, in fact, to step into the warm.
On Christmas eve Jack drugged the reindeer, pulled the plug on Santa’s Google trip worldwide and began to freeze up the computers. Starting in New Zealand he made his way west, knocking out internet connections as he went. He rubbed his chilly hands together in glee as the jolliness went out of Christmas from the Antipodes to California. People were forced together, family arguments on Christmas Day at an all-time high around the globe. Jack sat back, supped an ice-cold Pina Colada and chuckled.
He was, however, careful not to go too far. The celebrity death-toll for the year just ending was already sky-high without any help from our Jack. And he wasn’t looking to upset people. All he wanted was proper recognition for his skills. Time to call in at Trump Tower, get ahead of the game. The President-elect was receptive, keen to meet prospective partners. Out with the old, in with the new was his strap-line. He told Jack that he liked his ideas for the reshaping of the festive season. He’d be happy to have a team work with him. They shook hands on the deal.
But Jack Frost got cold feet. Realised he’d been a little hasty with the partnership notion. Put a call through to Trump and froze the man out. Too unpredictable. Whose idea was it anyway? He’d go it alone. So look out for the new-style White Christmas, coming summer 2017.
How To Classify
by Aaron Berkowitz
“So what’re you going to name it?” John knew I was going to win something for this, that this was something new. He was excited.
“Name it? I don’t know yet, I have to study it first.”
It took months of fundraising and planning to make it to the Amazon. I sold myself with the promise of discovering something, that investors’ names would be associated with history. And, I found it. This was something different.
“What should the press release say?” The PR department of the University where my lab resided was always looking to have something to promote to raise donations. “A strong biology department is sellable.” I asked to dissect the creature first. I needed to understand it before I could name it. “The more specific the name, the more impressive it will sound.” They wanted to add letters behind my name to sell to the donors.
“It’s like other insects isn’t it?” a colleague asked. It did look like other bugs, but it possessed a new type of incisor. Name it after its appearance, its function, a celebrity look-a-like; I couldn’t decide. Get specific, understand it in its entirety, then name.
The investors threw me a party. There were photos without text. They kept joking about naming the insect after them.
“Surely you’ll get a prize for a discovery of this magnitude.” John and I just finished redesigning the map to show the creature’s natural habitat. I needed more samples. Six months, no name. The questions stopped. All talk of awards passed; there were grumbles of repaying investments.
“It’s time to explore again.” John put the finished paperwork for a new grant on my desk.
“Let’s hope Darwin didn’t discover everything.” I packed for the Galapagos.
by Rebecca Dempsey
We were what we were together: fire and ice, the sun and the moon, and then, ashes and tears. Time smoothed the scars, but I missed his touch and his open mouthed laugh I failed to muffle with my palm as it echoed across the piazza. I searched for him – turned abruptly and followed when I thought I spied him amongst market day crowds. I couldn’t help but to reach for his hands from my window but pricked myself on the bare thorns in winter: stigmata for his absence.
When I awoke, I recalled I had dreamt of our slow steps together, his fingers entwined with mine. His lips were still warm, and his hair damp over his smooth brow. Still dizzy, even from that single dance, I took his dagger, but had not the strength to make ought but fine marks, too shallow to steal away my life.
Since then, there is no draught to give his widow rest.
Nights have been long since he departed, and my bones ache in the bitter dark. The wedding band is worn to a sliver on my finger; he’s fading to the ghost of a memory as I am now fading.
What becomes of everything we are when we die? In the sepulchre there was darkness, and so too, I see all we did together crumble into nothing like dried rose petals. Even the scent is gone.
These words are all I leave – yet when I think how small a word love is, it’s not enough for that self assured boy beneath the balcony. No sonnet, no song, nor rhyme, not even a play is adequate for my husband, whose name I can’t recall, when I no longer recognise myself.
by Evan Guilford-Blake
He’d spent his life trying to make the world a more beautiful place. And he’d done it, modestly perhaps, but he’d done it: His petunias glorified his yard and the yards of many others. At eighty-seven, he sat back and took pride.
Atwater had delighted in his wife. Now, a widower of many years, he still delighted in two things: his flowers, and storms. Thus, when he heard thunder he slipped from the surprise eighty-eighth birthday party his daughter Cecilia had arranged and stepped onto his porch, closing the door quietly. It had been dark and pleasantly warm, but now the early-autumn evening breeze had become a chilling gale, and the sky grown furiously black. The windchimes clanked cacophonously. Rain poured onto his garden, drenching the last of the roses, the lilies and the newly planted petunias. From inside, he heard music and laughter. Cecelia called “Dad? Where are you? We’re ready to cut the cake.”
He shook his head. “Old man,” he muttered, “this is not a night to be celebrating.”
A lightning bolt flashed, illuminating the world. The storm was lovely to see, but ah, the poor petunias. He sighed, grabbed a baseball cap from a peg, slipped it over his sparse white hair and withdrew a folded plastic sheet from the boxful on the porch. Then he took a deep breath and strode into the torrent.
He bent down by the elm to gather a few small bricks to hold the plastic in place. As he did, another lightning bolt erupted, shattering the huge elm. He had time to think My petunias, they’ll…! before the tree crashed down.
They buried him beside his wife, on a bright afternoon, and covered his grave with his beloved petunias. “He’ll like that,” Cecilia said. She wiped an eye.
Christmas Eve 1905
by Stephen Lodge
“You look tired, Nathaniel,” said his sister Katherine. “I’ll keep Beatrix away from you this night.”
“No, Katherine. I must see my niece. I feel my soul draining away. I am blessed to watch her grow to a beautiful young woman soon to turn 21. But I fear, I will not see her birthday.”
“Hush, dear brother.”
He coughed and she saw blood on his handkerchief.
“Get the girl,” he wheezed.
Beatrix came in, demurely, in deference to her uncle, the famous actor. Crossing the room slowly and knelt at his side.
“God bless you, dear child.”
“Uncle, tis Christmas Eve,” she smiled sweetly. “Do you have presents for me?”
From his pocket, he removed a small, ornate box.
“As an actor, I have performed on the great stages of the world. Your mother will tell you how harsh our childhood was. We ran away, sleeping rough in London, worked where we could. I tried for auditions, but then one day, about 30 years ago, I was there to comfort a dying man who’d been hit by a tram in Deuragon Street. He gave me this box, said it would give me power for 30 years to realise my dreams. It has been good to me. Take it, Beatrix. Carry it with you always.”
“Oh, Uncle. You are a re-gifter.”
“This little box has power,” he replied weakly. “It gave me presence. I used it for the stage… my dream. It gives the owner an undeniable presence. The world is your stage, child. With it, people will bend to your will. Power and riches will be yours. Use it wisely.”
“Presence,” she smiled, dancing from the room with it. “I love getting presence.”
“Watch her with that box, Katherine.” Nathaniel whispered. “She seems to be a bit of an airhead.”
Peace on Earth, and Goodwill Towards the Flemarian Overlords
by Philip W. Kleaver
On the command deck of the dreadnought, Grand Eradicator Zzer was troubled. He brought the scouting report out of memory storage with a neural command, and transferred the information to his forebrain processor for analysis. Cybernetics have come far since I was a larva, he thought. His emotional gland secreted nostalgia. I remember when cables had to be directly wired into the brain! Ah, progress. Speaking of…
The analysis had finished. The advance party had reported a warlike race of beings on X1.308.697. Typical outer-arm barbarian trash. Their eradication should have been simple. The engineers would deploy an enclosure, alter the chemical makeup of the atmosphere, and let the pests suffocate. But now, an error message pinged across Zzer’s mind. There were discrepancies between the initial reports and the current data, beamed in from dronecraft flying undetected across the planet’s surface.
The video feeds showed:
I. Two aliens approaching each other, teeth bared in aggression. But instead of brutal combat, the aliens each extended a fleshy limb that ended in five short tentacles. The tentacles wrapped around each other, released. The pair walked off together.
II. An alien den, where the grotesque creatures adorned the walls not with the bones of their enemies, but with native flora.
III. A warband outside what appeared to be a large fortress. They sang a shrill, discordant battle song. Soon, their opponents appeared. Zzer waited for bloodshed, but the aliens from the fortress only distributed a brown, fortifying liquid.
“Odd,” said Zzer. “These aliens are showing signs of… compassion.”
“But they’re dumber than a spaceslug,” said the first mate, his gills flapping in confusion.
by Thomas Cannon
Kasey and his group of friends picked up their backpacks to leave the playground when the middle schoolers unloaded armfuls of snowballs at them. Through the snow caked on his glasses, Kasey led the rest to the mound of parking lot snow.
Their snowballs made a satisfying thud on the cars the middle schoolers hunkered down behind. Kasey and his friends lie against the snow bank as if they were in a trench before they coordinated barrages. One of the boys even yelled, “Cover me” as he stood up with an armful of puffy ammo and slung them as fast as he could.
Everyone adhered to the truce when a car lumbered by on the street. Yet there was call for concern when Kasey’s crew would hit one of the biggest kids and the boy would yell, “You are so dead.” Kasey figured him to be at least two hundred pounds.
The boys panted at the gray sky above them and prayed their enemy were as low on ammo. They swept around them for packable snow, as hard chunks imploded next to them. Kasey was a fifth grader and thus the leader of his band, so he stood up to see the middle schoolers kicking ice buggers off the fenders of cars for projectiles.
Casey looked at his fellow soldiers. “Watch out for chunks,” he yelled.
A barrage of thuds fell around them as they dove for cover. When silence announced that the ammo had run out, they peeked out. One of the enemies, the overweight boy was walking down the street while swinging his backpack.
He turned back towards them. “I have a slow metabolism, you jerks,” he yelled waving two middle fingers.
The Killing in the Window
by Levi J. Mericle
I saw a killing in the window where the curtains were half drawn. It was a Monday on my way home from school. A man stood overtaking a woman behind the glass. I stood there shaking in disbelief on the sidewalk. And she stood there watching me watch them from behind the pane.
Her face was shadowed by the drapes, yet I could see her turning bluer by the second. Her eyes were the size of the shooter marbles I received for Christmas.
My heart was pounding and breaking all at once but I couldn’t move or yell for help. Yet I could hear her faint pleas for release start to fade as she fell to the floor.
I saw my mother killed in our window that day. In the window I grew up looking out of. In the window where our Christmas tree stood tall. In the window I remember breaking at age seven. It was in the window where I watched life pass me by as I grew older
It was that day in the window where I closed my heart off to the world. Like drapes pulled over my mother’s casket.
And the curtains have been drawn ever since.
The Architects of Christmas
by Jack Koebnig
‘She’s very good.’
The man standing at his side nodded thoughtfully, and said: ‘Don’t tell her father. He’s still dining out on his son’s achievement from 2015.’
The two men stood on the metal gangway high up by the warm lights and surveyed the nine other children meticulously adding colour and activity to their drawings.
‘Is our wager still live?’
‘Why? Would like to pull out?’
A sly smile settled on his lips. ‘Not in the least.’
The two men tapped the rims of their Champagne flutes together.
‘She really is exceptionally talented.’
‘So you’ve said.’
‘And I’ll say it ten times, a hundred times if I so choose.’
‘That’s your prerogative.’
They watched her work for the next five minutes in complete silence. They watched her add millions of snowflakes, a billion stars, countries, nations, species …’
‘She’s going to run out of space.’
‘No she won’t.’ He glanced at his watch. ‘Perhaps time though. He cleared his throat and began: ‘Girls and boys, can I have your attention please? Thank you. The clock is ticking. You have sixty seconds in which to finish your submissions. That’s sixty seconds. Best of luck.’
The girl they’d had their eye on used the remaining time to add music, warmth, laughter and aromas to her drawing.
‘Stop working. Drawing implements down and evacuate the room.’
The ten children did as they were directed. The two men after a brief pass through the room congregated at the girl’s drawing.
‘I think we have a winner.’
‘Inform Future Planning that we’ll be uploading Christmas 2016 imminently.’
‘The humans are going to love it.’
‘Well, they’ve had a tough year, it’s only right that we spoil them … a little.’
Be Careful What You Wish For
by CR Smith
Every year we took it in turns to pull the turkey’s wishbone. One particular year it fell to me and my brother and everyone gathered round to watch us grapple. My brothers’s extra height gave him better leverage and, after a closely fought battle, he won the larger piece and made the biggest mistake of his life.
The following morning he entered my bedroom still dressed as Father Christmas. I looked at him in confusion, hangover hammering my head. Then I discovered the only clothes I had left were jeans, Christmas jumper and novelty slippers.
‘What’s going on?’ I asked, watching him turn the same colour as his costume.
He muttered something about having such a good time that on winning the wishbone he’d wished every day could be like Christmas, and now it would be — for a whole year.
We tried replacing our clothes but somehow they kept changing back into our Christmas outfits. It was hard explaining to my boss, especially as the bank had such a strict dress code. However, being a necessary cog they had no choice but to put up with my casual attire. It didn’t go down well with some clients but at least I covered the flashing lights with the novelty tie and hide my slippers under the desk.
My brother wasn’t so lucky; his Father Christmas costume brought him no end of trouble. He lost his job and his social life took a massive hit. Eventually he had to rely on a social networking site, and then he had to be careful how much he revealed due to some subscribers interest in uniformed men.
Marking off the days, we all breathed a huge sigh of relief when Christmas Day finally arrived and the spell was broken. We haven’t celebrated Christmas since.
by Mileva Anastasiadou
Once a year, there comes a time, when Aeolus, the keeper of winds, dresses in red and becomes the keeper of gifts. People naively call him Santa and consider him a kind old man. Yet Aeolus is bored and angry. When Aeolus is angry, the winds are blowing.
During the festive season, the Gods may drink so much, that they become more tolerant and giving. And then, they open the window, as a gift to the keeper of gifts.
“I once was a bird” says Alcyone, the blue-eyed girl, standing under the mistletoe.
“You are now a rainbow,” says the boy, kissing her gently on the forehead.
No matter the form, lovers bonded by true love are always reunited.
Alcyone is still a brightly colored bird. Yet Aeolus, sees her as she once was: his beautiful daughter who drowned in sadness long ago. Myths work in reverse sometimes. Birds transform into the humans they once were, through the eyes of a careful observer.
Aeolus, disguised as Santa, bows his head in guilt, as he looks through the memory window. His red colored cheeks get even redder. He collects all winds and imprisons them into his bag. The same bag that earlier held the presents. Memories of his long lost daughter soften him. He is sad and calm. When Aeolus is calm, it feels like summer.
The window is open only for a few days. Soon, the Halcyon Days are over and the winds are blowing again.
by Chris Stanley
The rest of the presents are modest offerings but one of them is taller than the throne, with a label that reads ‘To Oedipus from Father Christmas.’
‘I thought you got rid of him?’ says Jocasta.
‘I did,’ says Laius. ‘I left him on the mountain to die.’
After breakfast, they open their presents. Laius gets a leather whip and Jocasta gets a sphinx engraved with a riddle. ‘I’ll marry the man who can solve this,’ she jokes.
‘Can I open my present now?’ asks Oedipus, who’s back from the mountain.
The man who steps out of Oedipus’s present looks the way Laius would look if he spent less time sitting on his throne. Laius wants to throw him out but Oedipus protests, saying ‘I just got him!’ Jocasta suggests they all calm down while they try to work out what’s going on. She invites the new Laius to sit next to her and doesn’t move away when their legs touch.
Eventually Oedipus confesses. ‘Dad said I couldn’t have a crown for Christmas because I’d never be king, so I asked for a new dad instead.’
The new Laius gives Oedipus his present, saying ‘I almost forgot.’
‘It’s a crown!’ squeals Oedipus.
Laius objects loudly so the new Laius strangles him with his leather whip. Jocasta flaps around the room like a stunned sparrow but she soon calms down when the new Laius promises to dispose of the body before the palace begins to smell.
Oedipus asks if he can play kings and queens with his new dad.
‘Mummy will let you do anything you want,’ says the new Laius, sitting Oedipus on the throne. ‘And if she doesn’t, we know what to get you for your birthday.’
He winks at Jocasta but she doesn’t think he’s joking.
by Alyson Rhodes
I text Ebonnie, my bestie, ‘Amazing news. Christmas Day going 2 meet V’s Mum & Dad. XXX’ Emoji: smiley face.
‘Wow! About time 2.’ Ebbonnie texts back.
I look out the window at Haworth’s snowy streets and cuddle under my duvet. I am feeling pretty damn smug. Vinnie and me have been an item for – 6 whole months! He said I’d lasted longer than any previous girlfriend.
He’s a bit of a Goth is Vin. Wears silver skull rings and black eye makeup. Dances to his own tune. Rides this amazing motorbike too. Has this apartment to die for, all decked out in red and black. I’m thinking he’s The One.
‘Vin said got big surprise 4 me.’ I text Ebbonnie.
Lying back I imagine a diamond ring. He’s got the cash has Vin. Doesn’t have credit cards. Doesn’t believe in them. Something about leaving a trail. I didn’t really understand that. Christmas Day evening he roars up on his bike.
‘Hiya babe.’ We kiss.
The outside of No 26 Clarendon Square is decked out with miles of fairy lights but inside it’s lit only with candles. Vinnie pours me a drink and then we navigate the corridors to the dining room. There’s a long bare table with no food in sight. I’m starting to feel a bit woozy as well, so I lean on Vinnie, who lifts me up and lays me on the table.
‘What’s happenin?’ I slur.
‘Relax darling. It’s time to meet my family.’
Vinnie opens a door, I glimpse a pair of silver coffins standing propped up. The lids open and two figures float towards me with dead white faces and red eyes.
From far away I hear Vinnie, ‘Mum. Dad. Dinner’s served. Just as you like it – raw. Merry Christmas.’
by Tabitha Stapleton-Napier
Snow parts at Her feet.
“These damnable humans, giving them free will was the worst idea.”
The people’s of the world had lost their collective minds. In the past few months, unworthy leaders, chosen over capable ones, had dropped the world into the very pit of chaos. The Yule Goddess, as per tradition, had to decide what gift to present the Human race on the Winter Solstice. The very idea of imparting anything at all to these cretins appalled Her.
However, tradition was tradition.
The Temple of Yule stood ancient, all draped in holly and mistletoe, waiting for her to decide. The Yule Goddess passed through the looming doors up to the gazing pool. It was now time.
“Every year I should end these fools.” She plunged her hand into the crystal waters.” But, I do not, I am too sentimental.”
She then heard the laments of the innocent. Cries of anguish, pain, and horror filled her ears. The humans could end it themselves if left to their own devices. Yet, the Yule Queen also heard songs of love, compassion, peace. Groaning, she did what she always did, gave in.
The Yule Queen opened her hand upon the world, and once again, Humanity felt Hope.
She snarled, and stormed out of the temple for another year.