December’s Zeroflash competition Entries

The Final Cut

by Stephanie Musarra

“If I can’t get more customers, I’m going to have to sell the place.” Eric lit up a

cigarette.

“How about installing a stripper pole in the middle of the room?” Dan grinned,

as he sat down for his haircut.

“Is that even legal?” Ted inquired.

Eric glanced at the pile of past-due bills piling up at his workstation, and sighed. “The

Chess Piece Barber Shop has been in my family for three generations.” He wiped away a

tear, “Perhaps, we could have a stripper night, or two.”

A couple weeks later, customers were lined up around the block to get in.

The idea had been a huge success for the barbers, but it also caused quite a

distraction. It was difficult not to stare at the scantily dressed women flaunting their bodies.

“Just take a little off the top,” Tony said, as plopped himself down in the barber

chair.

“Ouch!” he screamed, as he felt his pants being yanked down. “What the hell are

you doing?! That’s the wrong head!”

No One Promised

by Dan Cardoza

In the valley of hope flows the River of Doors. Atop the tall teal banks the desperate are mentored

in the power of heavenly prayer still they settle

for their forecast at ten–– with a chance of

cloudy late skies, raining brass keys.
Ecstatic the fortuitous,  yet desperate, wade in the Gulf of Too Late, waist deep in the wind, salt & sea, as they frantically key at the ebbing tide, chuck full of doors missing their openings & knobs.

Thatched wrecked against rocky shores of an unknown & inaccessible land, removed of sextant & star, a debacle of pirate ships reveal broken holds, squandered cargo of doorknobs, all brass, as well as their cherished in & outs, new beginnings, second chances.

Midnight

by Patrick Widdess

@patrickwiddess

It was 11:59 on Christmas Eve. Charlie was about to witness the magic moment he had slept through for the previous 11 years of his life. But as the seconds raced towards midnight the vicar continued his unhurried reading. Charlie’s mother and the rest of the congregation sat still and listened. No one but Charlie seemed to notice as the display on his watch ticked over to 12. The reading was followed by the choir singing In The Bleak Midwinter and the church remained cold and dimly lit. As they filed out after the service the vicar offered Charlie a stiff handshake and brisk merry Christmas.

Outside, heavy clouds hung over the city. They made their way through streets where the multitude of lights, which had twinkled over hoards of shoppers last weekend, were switched off, and the stores, plunged into darkness, seemed to be closed forever.

It was not a long walk home but Charlie felt weary at this cold, late hour. He was starting to dawdle when they saw a group ahead shouting and lurching about in the middle of the empty road. As they drew near his mother put her head down. “Get a move on,” she muttered but one man in a Santa hat caught Charlie’s eye. “Hey,”  the man called. “Merry Christmas!”

Charlie tried to keep up but the others turned towards them and, linking arms, began to sing: “We wish you a merry Christmas…” Charlie’s mother stopped and a smile spread across her face as they finished their song and shouted more season’s greetings. “Merry Christmas,” they both replied as the strangers continued on their raucous parade.

As they turned into their street Charlie looked up and saw a gap in the clouds just big enough for a single star to shine through.

Captain’s log

by Myrto Zafeiridi

Day 1

Stranded on an asteroid close to Alpha Centauri. Don’t know my exact location. Meteorite shower damaged the ship’s navigation system beyond repair. Limited air supplies. I move as little as possible to save air. Sent distress signal before crash-landing but transmission probably incomplete.

 

Day 3

Tampered with the debris of the kitchen compartment. Almost cost me my life for the second time. Inhaled unidentifiable gas. Managed to drag myself back to common area. Spent almost 24 hours unconscious. Don’t know what the long-term effects could be. Not concerned at present.

 

Day 4

It’s a Christmas miracle! The North Pole is real and Santa’s elves saved me! I thought I had landed on an asteroid but it’s, in fact, a huge spaceship. Hundreds of years ago, it was located on Earth’s North Pole, but after global warming became irreversible they realized that soon they wouldn’t be able to conceal their ship in the snow, so they started hiding among asteroids.

 

Santa’s elves are very friendly and keep offering me candy. I haven’t seen Santa himself yet, but I am told he really looks forward to meeting me as soon as I feel a little better. It is Christmas Eve too, so he’s probably very busy with preparations.

 

Day 5

I woke up in hospital. A nurse wished me a Merry Christmas and gave me at least ten different pills. She told me that I seemed a lot better than yesterday. Apparently, I was extremely lucky; an educational cruiser got my distress signal.

 

As for my hallucinations, the ship was filled with 8-year-olds. They were returning from a school trip, carrying loads of souvenirs and wearing their red-and-green school uniforms.

At War With The World  

by Gerard Sarnat

— thanks to PBS American Masters, 23, July, 2018

Ted Williams was “The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived.”

So confident of skills, batting average .39955 which record books would’ve rounded-up to .400,

the Splendid Splinter refused to sit out the last game of that season, instead went 6 for 8 in a double-header to raise his average to .406. “If I’d known hitting .400 was going to be such a big deal, I would’ve done it again.”

Ashamed of Salvation Army Mexican mother and hating grifter white trash father, Ted invoked them at the plate, “I hit better mad.”

Also OCD regarding fishing technique, he was inducted into two of their Halls of Fame plus baseball’s. He missed his first child’s birth, on the water in another state. “I thought about hitting, not sex.”

A biographer recounted, “As a husband and father, he didn’t have family background to help, ‘This’s the way to be with a wife and kids.’”

For better and worse, Williams was a man’s man, John Wayne before there was a John Wayne.

Missing five years as a crack fighter pilot in World War II then Korea, Ted speculated, “Imagine the numbers if I’d played.”

Feud with hometown Boston love-hate sportswriters and fans were legendary.  After some slight as a rookie, he refused to tip his hat as was customary rounding third base post home runs – including after his last-ever at bat when he blasted one out of Fenway Park – till surprising everybody doffing his Red Sox cap addressing the crowd on the 50th anniversary hitting over .400.

During college in Boston, I came early to catch glimpsed of Ted instructing new and eventual Hall of Famer left fielder Carl Yastrzemski on the science of hitting. I thought of Williams as a left-handed big cat, but actually he’s a cold fish, still existing frozen by Cryonics.

 

Joy to the Joyless

by Kris McGinnis

“Your efforts have improved,” the old man said, holding up a silver truck.

He bowed his head satisfyingly; though not from the compliment. Four months toiling in the assembly line finally garnered him an audience with the elusive owner, St Nicholas.

Sitting before a crackling fire, the old man lit his pipe; looking every bit as stereotypes suggested.

“I’m curious to why you’re here?” the bearded face inquired

“Christmas, of course. Bringing joy to the world, I want to be part of that.”

White whiskers rose, forming a steely smile as the old man drew on the pipe.

“We can cut the pretense. I read your expose in the Washington Chronicle about the abusive orphanage of your childhood.”

He sighed at his blown cover.

“What’s your story now? Trading standards?”

Laughter bellowed through the haze of smoke.

“Forced labour,” he replied defiantly. “Chinese sweatshops, Indian construction sites. Sorry, but a hidden factory in the North Pole? A man who plays the role of ‘Santa’? Red flags everywhere.”

The plumes of pipe smoke got denser with each puff.

“And what has your investigation found?”

“That Christmas doesn’t bring joy to the world,” he said glimpsing the unbroken smile through the fog. “Just cheap, knockoff toys.”

The smile now became a hidden, echoing voice.

“Christmas isn’t about bringing joy to the world…” A gush of smoke besieged his eyes. “It’s about saving those lost within it.”

Reeling back, he closed his stinging eyes. In the silent darkness, his arm shook violently…..

“Wake up, he’s been.”

Awakening to his brother’s excited face, he quickly scurried after him. Laid before their Christmas tree was a bounty of gifts, but he unconsciously bypassed them for a small box set aside. Carefully unwrapping, he smiled at the unknown familiarity he felt from unveiling a silver truck.

OH, BOY, IT’S CHRISTMAS EVE!

by Val Changon

Something’s watching over me, there’s someone in my house that I can’t see.

That’s what Mommy and Daddy keep saying. I kinda sense it, I don’t like this creepy feeling. It twists my guts, it squashes me. But I have a plan, I’ve worked on it for months.

In my mind, I hear that cursed song.

He sees you when you’re sleeping

He knows when you’re awake

He knows when you’ve been bad or good

I’m not a little boy anymore, I know how things work. I know that Mommy and Daddy are in charge. I know that people rarely are what they seem. And I know that Santa Claus will die tonight. I can’t be good all the time.

Sometimes I have naughty thoughts. Like, really naughty. Things I could never tell Mommy and Daddy, they’ll think I’m weird.

Sometimes I act on those thoughts, I don’t mean to. Like that time when I pulled the fire alarm, just out of fun. People crushed on the stampede. Or that time when I found the kitten in the box. Poor kitten, all burned up. I went too far, I want to do it again.

It’s Santa’s fault, Mommy and Daddy explained the rules. He’s invisible, he’s always around and he talks to the elf on the shelf. Santa is kinda weird too. Now I can’t sleep, I don’t dare think my naughty thoughts.

Oh, boy, it’s Christmas Eve!

All my traps are set. If he’s still standing after the knives, the poison bomb will do the trick. Mommy and Daddy are safe. I hear their loud snores, almost sound fake. They won’t go downstairs until tomorrow morning. It ends tonight, fatty.

I’m not a little boy anymore, I can be naughty when I want to.

Homecoming

by Michelle Staloff

         Fire crackled and popped merrily in the hearth, casting shadows on the walls. Outside snowflakes danced and pranced in the wind, then sheeted sideways in sudden violence, before calming once again. He was out in that, with only the protection of his heavy fur-lined coat for the entire night.

“Nothing to be done for it.” She muttered. All she could do was wrap him in warmth again when he got home. The stew she was stirring released tantalizing aromas. A hug from the inside her mother always said. If the stew was not enough the mulled wine and a cuddle under their comforter would revive his body and soul.

She respected her husband’s work and his commitment. Still, she worried. It would be too easy for him to fall off a slippery roof or succumb to cold. He wasn’t a young man anymore.

With the arrival of the sun, the door flew open. Her husband was back, safe though shivering with cold. Tired eyes smiled warmly. She rushed over and levered him out of the red snow-caked coat. Icicles dangled from his beard and mustache.

“Good morning my love. Another year completed.”

She tugged an icicle free and smiled. “It’s good to have you home. Come, eat.” Once he was nestled in his favorite chair she dished out a bowl for each of them. Before eating, she tucked a quilt snuggly around him.

“Dear, don’t you think it’s time to retire?”

“This again? What about the children?”

“With all those online retailers you’re really not needed.” She sucked in her breath, regretting the words the instant she uttered them.

Mr. and Mrs. Claws shared an uncomfortable silence.

She looked down. “Nevermind. Today in not the day to discuss this.”

He held open his arms and she settled into his lap.

THIRTY DAYS AFTER CHRISTMAS

by Irene Montaner

         Fluffy landed on his back. He did not know where he was and the whitish light blinded him.

He had liked Emma the moment she cuddled him on Christmas Day. Her tiny fingers tickled him day and night and Fluffy took pride in being her favourite for a day. But soon she forgot him. Until the day Emma planned the surprise trip.

Pick me, pick me, thought Fluffy as Emma sorted the overflowing contents of her toy vault. And Emma picked Fluffy. She took one long look at him and put him in a plastic bag together with all the other lucky ones. And they went for a ride in the dark. But it had to be that way, it was a surprise after all.

Fluffy’s eyes grew gradually accustomed to the light and a quick glance revealed him a colourful landscape. He was standing on a soft valley made of purple and pink, cyan and green, orange and red. Something stirred below him and as he moved sideways he noticed a pair of eyes looking at him. And then another and another. A dozen pair of eyes. A hundred pair of eyes. Too many plastic eyes, all on him, pity in them.

“Another one in the can,” said a one-eyed furry fox. “So glossy and clean and yet here you are.”

“Too much they have, these kids. We mean nothing to them,” said a pouty dolly.

         But not Emma, said Fluffy to himself. She just wanted to surprise me and the others. She set up a playdate for us! And Fluffy smiled sympathetically and waited for Emma all day long. And the day after. But Emma’s little hands never squeezed Fluffy again and that smile soured on his lips.

In the underground labyrinth

by Pawel Markiewicz

A small ladybug wanted to visit a fairy-queen of ants in the underground under an ancient oak -druidic and its longing for stars was indeed romantic as well as like an primeval world – heroic. The ladybird found at an one crossroad an entrance to a magical ant-kingdom and its curiosity was cute as a kiss of a dragonfly over river or of glow-worm. The insect gave drops of dew from morning fulfillment to a guard-ant at the first crossroad in the land of the ants and curiosity of the labyrinth meant more than daily counting of shooting stars full of spring glow.

The ladybird wandered in the strange labyrinth before it found the magical queen with an ambrosia of an ancient fairy-goddess via herculean paths and many Apollonian crossroads. So its melancholy limited shaking of moth´s wings. Nine crossroads were empty without any fable-things and a ladybug´s feeling was melancholy-smart.

At the tenth crossroad it met a goblin-ant with a silver mirror of oblivion. Its life was a world that born thousand of crossroads.

The best crossroad was melancholy of the unearthly

queen of all ants that have built from dreams their kingdom during phoenix´ flights before the ladybird reached the queen’s chamber it had to meet two sisters ants: witch and fairy-rider. Since then it has been not any crossroads and the Egyptian dreams were indeed awakened as well as they have filled the cup of Osiris.

Rebuild

By Katherine Pangelinan

 

It hadn’t always been his job to pull at their souls, dragging them in close to the lord below. No. He’d had heartbreaking divinity, once, and a family with knowing smiles. Before he’d tugged at the threads, unraveling his callings, he had felt so perfectly whole. If human souls were bleeding, yearning things, then he and his family carried souls of glass. They were easily broken, and then they couldn’t be stuck back the same way again.

That would be alright. He was going to waltz someone up over the edge of their metaphorical cliff, that night. He had grown into a very good dancer, and it was a holiday. He knew someone who’d be alone, staring at the frost spreading like a rash over their window and holding a cup of cold coffee. He knew someone who’d want to believe in him.

Wanting to believe was most important, sometimes.

He hadn’t expected to find a pair of his brothers waiting on the sidewalk, wearing soft buttoned coats and laughing, human eyes. He hadn’t expected his brothers to call out his old name, either, and smile with their other selves, all wheels of eyes and fire and glory. His hands were scrunched up with receipts in his pockets. Silvery, flickering lights reflected off the icy pavement.

“Are you gonna try and hurt me?” he asked, thinking about the stranger who might dance with him.

“Not if you’ll come home, instead,” one of his brothers said. Softly, like the question had waited a long time.

He had heard the other fallen snickering about offers like this. About peppermint stirred into cocoa, sweet as forgiveness. About coming back loved, like splinters through his glass soul catching the light. Of course they’d refused.

But for him?

He had ached to believe this.

Hanging around Hounslow Heath

by David Lewis Pogson

@davidlpogson

 Christmas Eve morning, 1751. Hounslow Heath, London. Fine with crisp snow-covering.

Squire Syntax is being interviewed by Allan (aka Al) Literation, journalist for the ‘Hounslow Hue and Cry’ newssheet. Making notes for his article, Al has the habit of repeating them out loud as if they are headlines. They stand looking up at a bloodstained sack hanging from the gallows at the Heath cross-roads.

SS:       I was on the 10 p.m. mail-coach to Bristol. Around midnight we reached here despite the snow. We’d just changed horses so the coach was going full gallop to make up time. The Highwayman rode out in front of us.

AL:      Christmas Coach Makes up Miles with Midnight Mail.

SS:       We assume that he shouted ‘Stand and Deliver’ but no-one could hear him for the noise of our transport.

AL:      Masked Man’s Message Missed.

SS:       We were going so fast that his horse took fright, reared up and threw him into the road. As he stood up our horses ran into him.  Then his body was sliced into bits under our wheels. His horse ran off.

AL:      Horses Hammer Highwayman. Mail-coach Mangles Marauder. Horse Hurries Heathwards.

SS:       Thus, his attempted robbery was unsuccessful.

AL:      Foul Fiend Foiled in Felony.

SS:       But he didn’t escape justice.  We put his bits in that sack and suspended them from the gibbet anyway, as a warning to others.  Hung, drawn and quartered; a bit like the old days. Our driver will get a reward for his actions.

AL:      Hit, Hacked and Hung in Hessian.  Coachman Collects Commendation.

SS:       If that’s all, shall we repair to the Inn for some mulled wine and mince pies?

AL:      Hungry Hack Heads for Hostelry. Beverages Beckon old Boy.

SS:       Do you always speak in headlines?

AL:      No, Not Normally.      (Laughs Long and Loudly)

This Beaute

by Torchy Tries

There was a shooter at the office today.

He made all of us step away from our work areas and inspected all of our cubicles and desks carefully, muttering to himself as if he were looking for something. After that, he forced us to line up and face the wall.

Then all I heard were multiple explosions of noises and screams. The noise hurt my ears and made them ring but I was too terrified to cover them. As I awaited my fate that I didn’t have the courage to fight, the person commanded me to turn back around. I obeyed; slowly, reluctantly, and carefully.

From the corner of my eyes I could see all my coworkers not moving, piled up on the floor, even my manager.  “Don’t look at them.”

My eyes snapped back in place, staring at the barrel of his gun pointed at me. “Go ahead.”

“W-what?”

He tucked his gun away, “Get outta here.”

He gestured to the bodies on the floor and explained, “You made it, not them.”

“But why?”

“You’re a slob. The way you maintain your workspace is disgusting. I can’t believe your manager’s allowed that. But, I liked this pen that was sitting on your desk…a lot.”

“Pen?”

He reached for the pen resting behind his ear and presented it.

It was the rainbow pen I found outside in the grass a couple weeks ago. I’m not one to normally pick things up off the ground but it had a cool pattern. And it wrote incredibly smooth.

He continued, “Everyone else’s pens didn’t compare. I’m a very serious collector and I just had to have this beaute.” He held the pen up and admired it, thanking me before walking off.

As he walked a way I uttered, “But that’s my favorite pen…”

A Christmas Gift

by Jody Kish

Her sudden illness had caught us by surprise. I was there to comfort her until the very end. I lost my love, my house, and the only life I had known. Now, I was here left with nothing.

Still hopeful in finding happiness, two long years have passed since her death.

I’ve had no one to celebrate my birthday, Christmas, or any other holiday for that matter. I haven’t enjoyed being alone. I’ve had no choice. People would look through me as though I were invisible when they would meander by my arthritic body. I tried to accept the frigidness of my plight , but I had the suspicion that this was what being a senior was going to be like for me.

Christmas will be here soon, and I wanted it to be the way it once was. Ah, the aroma of the fresh cooked turkey, the sweet smelling ham—oh, and let’s not forget the mash potatoes drowning with that savory gravy. My tastebuds were salivating just thinking about it! I would do anything for a good home-cooked meal again.

And company.

***

Depressed and lost in thought, I looked up to find a beautiful woman watching me. Her turquoise eyes stared at me with such intensity, my spirits were suddenly lifted knowing that she was the one after years of sorrow and loneliness.

Everything had changed after we met. Age was irrelevant in her eyes. She accepted me with an open heart when others didn’t. I felt like a young pup again. She looked at me and grinned, “Ready old boy, for the best Christmas meal you’ll ever have?”

I was given a second chance—the best Christmas gift I could have asked for.

Once again, I was wanted and loved.

“I love you.” I woofed.

Christmas Blessings
by Chayma Azouz

Around this time of the year, she would always remember snippets of one particular christmas.

Her mother’s lips, red with blood. Her coughs. The blowing wind. The falling snow pilling on the roof of their old house. No Christmas tree. A single candle flickering on a dusty bedside table. No father. Despair. Fear. No hope.
Now, contemplating the woman staring back at her in the mirror, she has changed a lot and yet, she has preserved a piece of her younger self within her heart, where not many have ventured.
The front door rang.
She put her hair-brash down and turned around to answer her visitor. Her home was well-lit. She has grown up fearing the dark.
Opening the door, she smiled. Her heart was beating wildly behind her ribcage.
How long has this been going?
Fifteen years.
Her mother survived that winter. Her father came back from his military service. He took them to meet one of his friends from the army. The man had a son her age. The kid was everything she wasn’t.
Courageous. Funny. Beautiful.
But, when he smiled at her, he made her feel special, ‘perfectly imperfect’ as he labelled her during that first meeting.
Looking back at him now, she couldn’t help but whisper: “I love you.”
The kiss she recieved was answer enough.
So, around this time of the year, she would always remember one particular christmas. The day life smiled at her for the first time. The day she had met her husband.

Mistletoe and wine

by Sue Dawes

The turkey is in the roasting dish and Dad’s in the mortuary.  He died at four o’clock this morning.  Seeing Santa must have stopped his heart.

Mum says he was up late watching Mass whilst she was stuffing the bird.  The bloodied plastic gloves are still on the counter.

Dad was agnostic until the last few hours of his life but then he always did like Opera.

They couldn’t revive him.  They tried. Even the cat nuzzled him.  She knew something was wrong.

I didn’t know cats cried.

He was up three times for the loo, mum tells the ambulance crew, but that’s normal in a man over fifty.  Isn’t it?

It’s six in the evening now and no one wants to eat.  The bird is starting to smell.

There’s no Christmas Spirit, just a hangover.

Christmas Eve

by Jack

@koebnig

She entered through the rear of the cottage, closing the door quietly behind her.

On purpose.

She didn’t want to be seen. You can’t be seen. If he were to catch her (tonight of all nights) it would be over. He would lock her up and this time, he’d throw away the key. Or worse. She knew that. He’d threatened as much.

She couldn’t let that happen.

Not at this time of the year.

Removing her shoes she stepped barefoot into the living room, the parquet flooring chilly on the soles of her feet. She glanced at the fire; it was dead, the last log burning out an hour before.

Good, she thought, looking around the tidy room, he’s in bed. At least that was one thing going in my favour, she thought.

She stood at the bottom of the stairs, listening, a triumphant smile resting on her lips. He was snoring, rhythmically, peacefully. She climbed the stairs and silently tip-toed into his bedroom.

The light from the half crescent moon cast a silvery shadow across his sleeping face, his eyes moving rapidly behind his closed lids.

The warm air in the room felt slow and heavy. Stifling a yawn she approached his bed, her fingers reaching out for him.

Slowly now.

Careful … careful.

He stirred.

She paused, her breath catching in her throat.

He rolled onto his back, his slumber remaining undisturbed.

She sat on the edge of his bed, tracing the lines in his face, burning everything to memory, then leaned forward.

His cheek felt warm beneath her lips.

Her kiss was soft, silent, and when she sat up she whispered, hoping that he would hear her and open his eyes: ‘Merry Christmas, dad.’

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