Santa 2

Presents from Santa Claus

This short story is about a boy who no longer believes in Santa Claus but wants to make Christmas special for his little brother.

Presents from Santa Claus

Josh stood in line, holding his little brother, Brandon’s hand.  He felt like he had been in line for an hour, listening to Christmas songs and looking at the wintery, false North Pole setup in the middle of the mall.  Teenagers dressed as elves were taking pictures, handing out candy canes and trying to make the little kids smile while outside the “North Pole” shoppers walked past, hurrying from store to store.

Josh was nervous.  Not about seeing Santa, of course.  He was nine years old and knew Santa didn’t exist, but still pretended for his little brother and his parents.  Brandon was only four and was a little scared of Santa but he told him not to worry.  He looked back at his parents standing behind him and gave them a smile.  They smiled back but he could see the worried look in their eyes.

A few weeks ago Josh’s father came home early from work.  He had lost his job.  Ever since, he and Brandon stopped going to daycare after school and instead would be home with Dad who played games with Brandon and helped Josh with his homework.  At night he could hear his parents talking about money and how Mom was going to work more hours while Dad looked for work.

A couple weeks later, at Thanksgiving at his uncle’s house, Josh realized that his parents might not be able to afford good presents from “Santa Claus” this year.  He was worried about what it would mean for his brother if he asked Santa for something they couldn’t afford.  He and his older cousin Sam went into Sam’s room to talk about it.  Fourteen year old Sam had grandparents who sent him a new truck every year, even though he’d long outgrown them, but he dutifully collected them, displayed on a shelf, still in their boxes and sent them pictures every year.

“Maybe we can convince Brandon to ask Santa for a couple trucks,” Sam had suggested brightly.  “I could give your parents a few of mine, and a few video games I don’t play much anymore that you’ll probably like.”

“That’s perfect!” Josh had responded.  “I’ll ask Santa for a couple video games that I don’t already have and I know Brandon likes trucks.  It’ll be easy to get him to ask Santa for that.”

Now they were almost at Santa and Josh was nervous.  He kept reminding Brandon to ask Santa for trucks but he was afraid he might change his mind at the last minute and ask for something else.  He went up to Santa, Brandon still clinging to his hand.  “It’s OK, Brandon.  We’ll go together.”

A teenage boy helped Brandon climb up onto one of Santa’s knees while Josh sat on the other.  “What are your names?” Santa asked.

“Joshua,” he said.

“Brandon,” his brother said in a tiny voice.

“Have you been good boys for your parents this year?”

“Yes” they both said.

“I know you have,” Santa smiled.  “Now, tell me.  What do you want for Christmas this year?”

“I just want a couple games for my system.  I don’t have many.  Anything you think will be fun.”

“I’m sure my elves can come up with something for you,” Santa said.  “And for you, Brandon?”

Brandon’s eyes widened when he heard Santa say his name even though he’d just told it to him.  “I want . . . I want . . . a truck.”  Josh was relieved.  Now all he had to do was call Sam and tell him to deliver the presents to their house.

During the rest of the days before Christmas, Josh kept telling Brandon stories about how Santa comes to the house with his sleigh pulled by reindeer and leaves presents under the tree.  He helped him get his stocking out and put it by the tree with and plan the perfect snack for Santa – milk and gingerbread cookies plus an apple for Rudolph.  They even wrote a note for Santa together wishing him a Merry Christmas and a safe journey.   He also had been telling his parents how excited he was to get a game from Santa, that he asked Santa because he knew video games were expensive, but he asked Santa to surprise him.

Christmas Eve he had trouble falling asleep.  Brandon on the bunk below him was awake late, too excited to sleep, and kept talking to him.  Finally, he climbed down into Brandon’s bunk and told him the Night Before Christmas he’d memorized the year before in school.  Brandon fell asleep before he finished and Josh fell asleep soon after.

On Christmas morning Josh waited until 7:00 before he let Brandon go wake up their parents in the next room.  They went together to the living room and looked at the presents that were now under the tree and the half eaten cookie and empty glass of milk with a new Santa-shaped chocolate was sitting as a thank you.  Their stockings were bulging with candy and when they opened their presents, Josh was surprised to find brand new trucks for Brandon and video games for himself, plus some clothes that both he and his brother needed.

Maybe Santa really did exist.

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Summer

That Summer Long Ago

Rebecca sat in her small rented room, looking around.  She had to pack and move again.  This time it was because the landlord was selling the house.  She sighed and started putting boxes together, opening a music app on her phone.  At least she’d had time to find a new place.  She even had a new job to go with it.  An old high school friend she’d been in touch with on Facebook mentioned needing a new roommate and it turns out the company she was working with needed new sales reps.  Rebecca had worked sales before for a few years before and hadn’t had much luck finding a good job where she currently living in Detroit but with Amanda’s help she managed to land the job in Chicago.

Rebecca felt she had packing down to a science now.  She’d moved a bunch of things into storage when she left her ex and was forced to move from a large apartment to a tiny room.  At least she didn’t have any kids, though she hadn’t wanted kids with her ex.  They seemed to have very different opinions on things and she felt they would have even stronger differences when it came to raising children.  She’d missed the extra source of income to help pay for their cheap apartment but the freedom to live her life as she pleased was worth it.  Until difficult circumstances made her lose her job or have to move.  Like now.

Things were looking up, she told herself.  New life, new job, and with a friend she hadn’t hung out with in years.  They’d had a lot of good times together.  A new song came on the radio and she found herself humming along.  “Sweet Home Alabama.”  It had been her first real boyfriend’s favorite song, back  the summer before her senior year in high school.

Kyle had been a couple years older than her and they met where she used to work at a cafe near Lake Michigan.  They used to hang out on the lake after her shift at work and on her days off and go swimming.  He’d shown her how to fish and introduced her to whisky and other things.  Back then she felt like she’d be young forever.  She’d dated a couple guys in high school before meeting Kyle but didn’t feel close to any of them.  None of them got her like he did.

The summer ended and Kyle went away.  He’d gotten a job somewhere else and they didn’t have cell phones and Facebook like they do now.  They’d called a few times but eventually got out of touch as Rebecca was busier at school.  From time to time she’d think about him, wonder what he was doing and what became of him.  She couldn’t help thinking about him as she loaded the last boxes into her car and started driving to Chicago.

It took was supposed to take just over 4 hours to get to Chicago.  Longer, since she stopped to eat lunch.  But finally she arrived and started looking for Amanda’s neighborhood.  She called to let her know she was almost there.  “My husband Thomas and his friend can help you with your things.”

“Great,”  she said.  “I’m already tired from packing up the car.  I’d love the help.”

She got to the apartment building and buzzed in, then looked at the door in shock.  One of the men with Amanda was Kyle.

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#MidLifeLuv Linky

Horror interview

Horror Writing Interview

A horror writer is something I’ve always wanted to be so I imagined the story as someone similar to myself.  I found the following prompt on Writer’s Digest.com: The office building seemed normal enough. You shrug off the feeling of dread as you enter the doors. There’s no receptionist. Simply two doors. One is green, the other orange. Which do you take? Why are you there? What happens next? 

The Horror Writing Interview

I walked down Summer street wearing my best interview suit, my heels clacking on the pavement.  Inside my black tote-purse was my tablet and a folder with printouts of some of my best stories.  Alducar.net was looking for new horror writers.  The ad I answered said that they were looking for unpublished writers- something about wanting fresh blood, which made me smile when I looked back at the company name.  There it was.  Alducar.net, number 97.  It was sandwiched between a restaurant and a Starbucks.   I opened the door to the building and walked inside.

A shiver went down my spine and I felt uneasy as I walked through the door.  The entrance was empty, just a short hallway leading to two doors, an orange door and a green door.  No signs, nothing.  I checked the directions on my phone again.  Just the building number and the name Alex.

I hesitated for a moment at thee doors, then opened the orange one and went through it.  I could always go back and try the other one.  The door led to another long hallway.  Plain, brightly lit with pale walls and dark blue tiles.  A small sign at the end of the hallway said “Alducar.net.”

I followed the direction indicated by the sign down a narrow staircase.  It was dimly lit in vast contrast with the hallway and plastered with cheap Halloween decorations.  It started to look a lot less like an office building and more like a haunted theme park attraction as I reached the bottom of the staircase and went down the next hallway.

Finally I got to a door with an illuminated sign.  “Your interview is through the door on the other side,” the sign read.  I went through the door and found myself in a room that was pitch black.  My heels sounded impossibly loud in the darkness and I was afraid I’d stumble on something in the dark so I slipped them off and held them in my hand as I made my way across the room.  The room wasn’t very large and it didn’t take me long to reach the wall on the other side but it took me a moment to find the door and get it opened.  I put my shoes back on and went through the door.

I entered another room that was dimly lit but still seemed bright in contrast with the pitch blackness of the room before.  A pale man with dark brown hair and eyes was sitting behind a desk in the room.  There was an empty chair on the other side of the desk and  a small table and chair in a corner.

“Jessica Sumner?” He asked.  I nodded.  “I’m Alexander Ducar.  Glad you could make it.”  His hand was ice cold as I shook it and I looked up at him, surprised.  He couldn’t be . . . . Or he could just be trying to keep up appearances, given the name.  “I know we said this would be an interview but we want to evaluate your writing ability here,” he explained.

“I understand,” I told him.

“Have a seat,” he said, indicating the small table which was stocked with paper and a variety of pens.  “I want you to write a story.  Use what you experienced in the building as inspiration.  I’ll use the time to go over your writing portfolio.”  He indicated my bag.  “I assume you brought something?”

I took out my tablet and the folder which was bulging with papers and handed it to him.  “I brought these, and I have more on my tablet.”

“These should be sufficient,” he said taking the folder and leaving me alone in the room.

I took a couple minutes to sketch out a couple ideas on a piece of paper then began to write, putting all the paranoid thoughts that had run through my head on the pages.  I added in elements from the most horrible things I’d written.  It had taken no effort to pt myself in the right mindset to write horror; the maze-like journey to the interview did that by itself.  I wrote and wrote until I  was finished and put the pen down.

Alex came back in a couple minutes later and took the story.  He sat down at the desk and read it while I watched nervously.

“You have talent,” he told me, smiling.  “And not just for horror writing.  You sense things and you don’t fear what’s different.  That’s how you made it here and what you sensed shows up though your writing.  Jessica,  i want to give you this job but before I can I need to tell you something.  This world of supernatural creatures you’ve been imagining.  It’s real.  All of it.

He smiled revealing his fangs as he watched me realize he was being serious.  “Now do you want the job?” he asked.

I could only nod my head.

Image credit: San Sharma (flickr)

Santa

The magic of Santa Claus

I don’t remember when I started to figure out Santa wasn’t as real as you and me. I do remember being surprised when my third grade teacher asking if we were all old enough to understand Santa wasn’t real. Did she really say that out loud? Yes I was old enough to know better but I still liked to think of the magic.

Besides if I ever said I didn’t believe maybe I’d stop getting presents from “Santa”- who still fills my stocking every year. So far so good.

But really Santa exists in our collective imagination. He may not physically exist but he exists in every parent trying to recreate the magic of Christmas morning. He exists in every act of generosity we give this time of year. And most of all he exists in the hearts and minds of all children who still believe in him.

That’s strong magic right there that someone who doesn’t exist turns do many of us into Santa Claus ourselves.

A Bit Of Everything

If You Never Have a Dream You’ll Never Have a Dream Come True

An acquaintance of mine had me revise a paper he wrote for a Freshman- level college English class with prompt that he had to write something with that title.  The paper he wrote was about a childhood memory and advances in science but while I was revising his paper I started thinking . . . . . what would I write given that title?

I sit alone at my computer.  Fatigue burns my eyes, makes my head ache, but I dare not fall asleep.  Not now.  A large cup of coffee sits in front of me, loud music playing through my headphones, keeping me awake.  I can’t stay awake forever, I know.  But I’ll put it off as long as I can and pray I don’t dream.

It started last month when I signed up to participate in a study.  I needed the money to help pay for grad school.  My part time job at Starbucks wasn’t enough and this study offered one hundred dollars per session- just a couple sessions would pay for my textbooks and supplies.

Anyways, I signed up along with a couple of other classmates.  It was some sort of sleep study.  They had us visit their lab at night or whatever time we normally slept- we had to sign up for the sessions.  They hooked us up to some equipment and gave us a super comfortable bed to sleep in, one of those adjustable ones where you select how hard or soft it gets, and a choice of pillows and blankets.  They said something about needing us to be as comfortable as possible so we could sleep well.  We had to do those sessions once a week and keep a dream journal.  They also gave us these pills to take daily before bed, but they weren’t sleeping pills, or at least they didn’t make me sleepy.  They didn’t make my friends sleepy either but we thought maybe we were in the control group or something.

Unfortunately we were wrong.

Michael was the classmate who first told me about the study.  He’d already been to one session and was telling me how easy it was.  I signed up the following week with my roommate Jessica.  She had been able to schedule a session right away but I had to wait another week- there was a long survey I had to fill out before scheduling the appointment and I wasn’t able to get to it for a few days.  They gave us these  devices that could also record our sleeping habits and they asked us to record how we felt we slept and write about any dreams we had using a voice recorder that was part of the watch which they said was automatically transmitted to their lab.  They told us they would contact us to set up each appointment.

Shortly after his fifth appointment, Mike got sick.  Some stomach bug, he said, but no matter how little he ate he kept vomiting up water.  He was dead two days later.  The doctors said it looked like he drowned.  “Dry drowning” they called it, but they didn’t seem to have an explanation.

Mike’s funeral was a few days later, not long after Jessica’s fifth session and my forth.  We were getting back home from the funeral, when I heard Jessica make a strange sound behind me. She was hyperventilating, gasping for air, her hands at her throat.  I dialed 911 and the operator said she was sending an ambulance while asking me all sorts of questions, like did she have asthma or any allergies.  I didn’t think so, I told the operator.

Just then, Jessica collapsed to the ground.  Suddenly, as if flipping a switch, she started breathing again.  There were dark bruises on her throat.  As I watched, the bruises appeared to fade and were gone by the time the paramedics arrived.

Jessica regained consciousness on the way to the hospital but seemed to immediately fall asleep after.  The doctors were unable to figure out what happened but sent her home with an epi pen an inhaler, and a follow-up appointment scheduled for the following week.

I had my fifth session that night.

I got home from  the session and decided to straighten up some of Michael’s things, get a few of them packed away for his family when I noticed his dream journal.  Even though we took our journal entries electronically, he told me he enjoyed writing them down.  It helped him remember.  The journal was marked with a pen in the middle of the booklet.  I opened it to take the pen and glanced down at his final entry.  I sat down on the bed in disbelief.  His last dreams were about swimming in the ocean, being pulled down by the current.  The last dream had him drowning, just like how he died.

I thought about Jessica and how she’d collapsed.  Was she also having dreams?  I called her cell.  No answer.  Feeling panicked, I went to her apartment.  There was an ambulance outside the house and her roommate Sandra was crying.  Jessica had died sometime that night, from some form of asphyxiation.

What could I remember from my dreams?  Nothing. I usually didn’t remember much of my dreams, but remembered sending something back to them, barely awake.  All I could think of was blackness.  I hurried home and checked my sleep tracker for its history of my dreams.  There was no saved data, it had all been transmitted directly to the lab with no record behind.  What was my dream?  How would I die?

I can NOT go to sleep.

I MUST not sleep.

Need to stay awake.  Need to remember, to warn people.

If I sleep, I will die.

Sleep . . . . . . sounds so good.

I am very tired.  Hard to keep my eyes open.  NO must stay awake.

Sleep . . . . .

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First NAFSA Conference

(My first NAFSA conference was a regional conference, then the National conference and I am grateful to the people who pointed me in the right direction to my Master’s degree.  I remember feeling as overwhelmed as “Samantha” does in my story and try to act as a “Rebecca” to any newcomers I see even though I still feel brand new to the field myself.)

Samantha was feeling anxious as she changed into her new business suit in her hotel room.  She had been unsatisfied in her career and wasn’t sure how to move on– apparently sociology undergraduate degrees really were a dime a dozen– but she had recently reconnected with Amy her old Study Abroad Adviser and she’d been thinking about how much her experience really inspired her and how much she wished she could help others have a similar experience.  Amy told her about the NAFSA conference she would be attending in May and Samantha thought she could be well suited to a career as a Study Abroad Adviser.  Why not check out the conference?

It took some  creative borrowing from her family but she managed to get enough to attend the conference and stay at one of the recommended hotels.  She felt under-dressed when she arrived at the hotel lobby wearing jeans and a T-shirt, her normal travel attire, and tried not to attract the attention of the professionally dressed people talking about things like KCISS and IEM and I-20s like it was a different language.

Now, freshly showered and changed, she thought she looked as professional as the people from the hotel lobby but she still didn’t speak their language.  She sat near the back of the shuttle bus on her way to pick up her registration packet.

The convention center was huge with hundreds of people milling about.  Samantha found her way to the registration table and was given not just a packet but a tote bag stuffed with packets and booklets.  She found a chair to sit in to sort through the information, feeling overwhelmed.  Where to start?

“Is this seat taken?” said a voice nearby.  The voice belonged to another woman about Samantha’s age.  I’m Rebecca.  I’m working on my Master’s degree in Higher Education, going into Education Abroad.  Where are you from?”

Samantha introduced herself and explained how she was considering a career change.  “That’s how I felt a couple years ago,” Rebecca exclaimed.  “I went to a regional conference where I found out about my Master’s degree program.  This is a great place to meet people and learn about the field.  It’s my second national conference.”

Rebecca showed her how to use the conference app and recommended she go to the newcomer orientation, the expo hall, and the career center, finding them on the map with her.  Samantha took a deep breath as she mad her way to orientation, feeling she was taking the first steps toward a new career.

The Chair

(This story shows some of the darker side of my writing)

Tanya always hated the chair that her husband had brought home when his parents sold the house and moved to Florida.  It’s not that it was an ugly chair or even uncomfortable.  The couch’s rich brown tone went well with the rest of the living room decor.  The overstuffed armchair was also very comfortable.  So comfortable, in fact, that people regularly fell asleep in the chair.

To be honest, it was the people falling asleep so quickly that really bothered her.  It was unnatural.  She’d only sat in it a few times herself and each time, no matter what time of day or how awake she felt, she could always feel it slowly sucking her down into a state of unconsciousness. Her husband Brando just laughed when she said something about the chair but he seemed immune to it’s narcotic effect. He relaxed in the chair most evenings after work until bed, never falling asleep.

About a year after they had gotten the chair Tanya was having trouble getting to sleep.  She got insomnia occasionally and used to have a bottle of sleep-aid but tonight she couldn’t find it.  It was already two in the morning and she felt sleep was no closer to coming.  Then she thought of the chair.  Relaxing in the chair for awhile might help her get to sleep.

She sat down in the chair.  She’d forgotten how comfortable the plush chair was, how quickly it seemed to mold to her body.  She closed her eyes and quickly fell asleep.

Brando woke up late the next morning.  His wife wasn’t in bed next to him but he figured she didn’t want to wake him since she had to leave early.  It was his day off.

He was shocked when he entered the living room and found her motionless in the chair.

His family was what some would call psychic vampires.  The chair had been in the family for awhile; the secret behind it even longer.  It was used to subtly siphon energy from others and transfer it to vampires such as himself.  He was careful not to let anyone sleep in it for too long as the effects could be devastating.  Even though he always joked about it with Tanya, he was relieved she hated the chair.  He wouldn’t have to worry about it eating her.  He was wrong.  His wife’s body was already cold.

Brando cradled his wife’s body in his arms and sat in the chair himself, letting it take everything from him.  He would be with his wife.