Happy 2018 to all, and to all a good fight. With our bad habits, of course

Kris here,

I hope everyone had a fabulous last couple weeks. The celebrations, the ear infections, school’s out so all your children are stuck at home. What a truly amazing time. Around this time last year we started our blog, so it’s exciting to look back and see what we’ve accomplished in a year’s time. My first post of 2017 was about making bite-sized goals for yourself in light of the “New Year’s Resolution” fever we all get around December 31st. I definitely think it helped me start building a goal-oriented foundation. Last year, Tina and I made some good strides forward in writing, I got a few hundred miles of running in, and Nik is on the verge of reading!

Here’s to hoping the new year is chock full of progress and candy while we reach for those lofty aspirations. Well probably not candy, Tina always steals mine.

In November, I put about 30,000 words into a new story (which was NOT the story I’d been planning for months) and I’ve been throwing a few hundred words at it every couple of days. One aspiration I have this year is to get that sucker first-drafted so I can start editing it a bit, and then start work on my 2nd through 45th drafts too. I know Tina is a good way ahead of me in her own story, so maybe we can both wrap those up by year’s end. I plan on trying for about 10-12,000 words each month. This would put me about 150,000 words by December, which is a splendid goal indeed.

Something else I’ve been working on lately has been a lot of running. I know, I know. There’s no “Keyboard” in running, but that’s totally fine. The last few months I’ve gone from “running about 30 seconds and then being dead” to “running for 5 minutes and then dying,” so there’s definite progress there. I’m looking to throw at least 10 miles per month into that endeavor. It’s not a lot, but don’t forget about that 120,000 word thing I said earlier!

Lastly, my third goal is this silly blog. Tina and I swap every week so we each get to participate, but throwing short stories or chapters or something up randomly makes it hard to know when we’re writing about writing or actually doing the writing. Subject to change, I believe I’ll start putting any kind of stories up on say, Saturday or Sunday. We may also change Wednesdays to story day and blog day can be on the weekend. I’m sure everything (read: my wife) will get this whole thing sorted eventually.

Whatever your goals for the year, be sure to make them into a CRAP list! You know: concise, repeatable, actionable and productive. Know what you want the end result to be, then break up your progress into smaller, easier blocks. You also need to write everything down so your brain doesn’t pull a fast one. Good luck out there, and remember; it’s easier to walk a mile a day for 1000 days, than to walk 1000 miles in one day!

Tarts

Tina here!

So when drawing a blank I like to use random generators to give me a kick in the pants to start writing. Here is one of my favorites of these kick in the pants.

A woman in her eighties, who is very stubborn.

A man in his early twenties, who can be quite wise.

The story begins in a penthouse apartment.

Someone is being cheated.

It’s a story about secrecy.

Your character offers to lend a helping hand

Everything about her was a lie, When she stepped into the room the woman wreaked of fake rose smell. She stood there with her light pale skin dotted with the brilliantly bright red lips and too pink blush. Her cropped blond hair met her earlobes perfectly and circled her head. She had everything in place and the party was in full swing and when the wretched Evalin had invited Martha, she insisted on the dress code. Even if invitation was just to appease the man of the house, Josh. Josh was the up and coming star, on every news station and magazine cover. He could be spotted at the most posh events around town. It just so happened that tonight it was being held in his penthouse apartment. His birthday was to be the party of the year. The sinky Evalin had tried every way she could to talk Josh out of insisting Martha come, but he knew she was needed.

Sliding along the wall Martha tried to hide from the cameras. Everyone was dressed to the nines, but Martha refused to play along. Why should she, she was eighty three and a half and had full rights to her own will of how to dress. She was her own woman and no “dress code” was going to tell her she couldn’t wear her fleecy plaid pants and solid pink top. She knew she didn’t look as posh as everyone else but she didn’t care. You stop caring when you get old, she would say to herself. As if she hadn’t come up with an excuse to her stubborn behavior all her life. That stubborn streak was however what lead to her invitation tonight. Josh had grown up being taken care of by Martha and listening to her no nonsense stories. Martha had a way of seeing past the face that everyone put on and calling them out on it. She didn’t save herself from any trouble or confrontation, but she took great pride in calling it like she saw it. That’s why when she found out about evil Evalin’s plans to make the party about her by forcing an engagement, she went right to Josh. That boy was too smart for his own good sometimes but in this case she had all the facts and had given them all to Josh to plan out. However, Martha was worried that Josh’s kind heart and easy way of living would blind him to the fake face Evalin had on now.

Josh had been schmoozing it up with the media and once his eyes landed on Martha he pulled himself away to walk right over to her. His bright cheerful face was one that sang of happy news and joyful starts. Martha hated it. Why didn’t he listen. Evalin must have started her plan earlier than expected. Just as Josh was within reach of Martha, Evalin swooped in and looped his arm in a vice like grip not too uncommon to that of a vulture.

“Joshie hunnybuns, you just HAVE to come meet the new friend I just made! She is the author of that new hit book, “whatever”, it is getting to be so trendy for not fitting in!” Evalin’s voice dripped with poisonous honey. The kind that would kill even the biggest bears.

She cast a victorious look backwards to Martha as Josh just laughed, “Of course! New ideas and creations must be sought out!”

Martha boiled with the need to say something. This evil red queen had lived long enough. This topsy turvy world Josh lived in now was just too much for Martha to grasp. Why had he invited her, she never had done anything special. She told a quiet, shy little boy about her misadventures as a younger woman. Something to show him hope. He was the one that had taken that and built a whole world around it. If she left now she could fit in a bubble bath before time for bed.

Martha turned for the door and started to slide back across those same walls avoiding the flashing bulbs.

“You know, I think it is time for a toast.” Evalin’s harpy tone invaded the room.

The lights dimmed and a large cake was rolled out into the room. This thing was larger than Martha’s whole bathroom. Who did Evalin buy this cake for? The people in this room would take a plate but none were going to eat it. They were too posh for that. The cake itself was decorated in a white and black theme with bright red roses all over it. Overflowing the top of it really. Who was she kidding? This cake was nothing like Josh. He hated cake, that boy had always demand she make him an ice cream cake every year.

Evalin had gone too far, but her next words almost shattered Martha’s poor 83 and a half year old heart. “Today, we celebrate the life and accomplishments of Josh. He has made the world a better place and if I had never met him I would have never know how kind the world really could be. Thank you Josh for believing in me and showing me how to embrace the world for all it has to offer. For that and so many more reasons, … Josh. Will you marry me?”

Martha stood there as time froze, flashes of light making each second of time seem like photographs being shown quickly to her eyes. Everything was happening right now and she couldn’t solve any of it. Josh stepped up next to Evalin and took the mic in one hand and her waist in the other.

“Evalin, when I met you I was struck by your beauty. The call of my chemical need to talk with you outweighed the calm and logical thought process I had taken years to set up. You rebooted my brain.” The room giggled a bit. “But, once I got to know you and find out who the real Evalin was, I was shocked. This beautiful flower who the world sees could be nothing compared to the real you.”

A video started to play in the background, the audio got louder as everyone turned to look. “LISTEN TO ME. I DON’T CARE IF YOU CHILD IS SICK. You need to get over here and get my nails done now. If your child is so sick drop them off at the ER and get over here.”

Cut to another angle, you can see Evalin and two of her closes Harpies. “Listen, when the money is this good you have to lock that down quick. So, I went to my mother’s office and snagged one of the extra sonograms! With this he will be forced to say yes! Maybe if I get lucky I can get a quick wedding, ball of the year of course, and no prenup!” Evalin tried to rip away from Josh but his hand held firm. Everyone could hear him say, “Wait for this next bit. It is my favorite.” The screen darkened and suddenly Martha was standing on screen. She was in the kitchen finishing up the touches on Josh’s chicken noodle soup. He hadn’t been feeling well that day and Martha knew it would cheer him up. From the corner of the screen you could see the hallway and Evalin could be seen. “You know, with all his money he could have the best doctors here taking care of him but he let’s this nasty old lady come in and bring him disgusting soup. Psh, but what do I care… If he checks out I could claim the cash.” Her curt laughter could be heard as she trails off. In the center of the screen you can see Martha’s face changing colors. Not in shame, but in rage. She calls out in the sweetest tone she can, “Oh Evalin dear, could you come her a moment?” Evalin is seen sulking her way back and perking up as she comes into view of Martha. “Yes Ma’am? How can I help?”

That is when it happens. “Well, you can start by taking your snobby ass shit out of this sweet boy’s house and never coming back.” All said with a sweet smile. Evalin looks gobsmacked. “Excuse me?!” Her face has fallen. Martha goes in for the kill, so to speak. “You heard me you two bit little con artist. YOU. OUT. If that wasn’t simple enough for you how about this, I will be talking to Josh, he will know you for the life sucking pond scum you are, and he will make sure you never get anywhere near him again. Including all those fancy parties you like to drag him to, you infectious, puss sucking, crud licking, ass faced, bottled up piece of shit.” Evalin clearly shocked just stands there. Martha picks up her bag and heads for the door. “Oh, and one more thing, Ppppppppphhhhhh” Martha gives her one last look and walks off.

The lights turn back on and Evalin’s beautifully applied face has started to droop. Makeup running down her cheeks and chin. She looks not sad but ferocious. She looks once at Josh and thinks better looking around the room for her prey. Her flaming eyes land daggers on Martha. The crowd turns to her. Some with looks of amazement or amusement. It is hard to tell which when someone is coming right for you.

“YOU RUINED EVERYTHING YOU EVIL BITCH!” Evalin rears back with an open hand and just as Martha flinches in a knee jerk reaction to getting hit before, a hand grabs Evalin’s, Josh’s security team is there.

Half of them take Evalin and her pre packed bags and walk her past the cameras to the elevator. As the broad men stand there flanking Evalin. Josh taps the mic. Everyone looks up, “ I just wanted to make sure I was clear. That’s a No.” and with that the doors slide shut. The crowd shuffles around a bit shocked. “Please, enjoy some cake, drink free booze and enjoy. Let us not waste what other’s almost never get. If you feel so inclined I will be accepting donations at the bar for the various Charities I work with and be doubling all donations. Enjoy.”

With that Josh sets down the mic on a table and walks away. The music starts up again and everyone goes back to party mode. Martha, no longer shy of the cameras marches right over to where Josh vanished down a hall.

“JOSHUA MARK HIGHTOP. You stop right there young man.” He smirks and turns around. “Now listen,” Martha starts into him with her most authoritative tone. “I did not get all dressed up in my best clothes to have you leave your own party.” Josh cracks a small smile but Martha can see the pain. “Listen Josh, your last date sucked, but good thing you have a backup. Let’s go.” She holds out her arm and Josh, as a good boy he was raised to be, takes it and starts to walk her back.

Josh realized then and there, this woman, a beautiful human of eighty three and a half, is the key to who he is. She shows all the things he grew to love about the world. That no matter how stubborn the world is to change it will bend, but when given a cause, they will band together and fight for those they love. The world, this woman, is stubborn, and for that, he will always love both.

Nan-oh-noooo

Kris here,

November’s come and gone and I just wasn’t good enough to join Tina’s book club this time around. I pulled up about 35,000 words for November averaging a bit over 1000 each day – not bad, but some of the other writers out there were leaving me in the dust! I didn’t expect I’d hit the full 50k mark from the start, so making it 2/3 of the way is alright by me for now.

One important lesson I learned last month was just how many things the world could throw at you when you’re trying to get some danged work done around here. More importantly, I have 3 acts written down for my story, and in 35,000 words I’m barely halfway through the first act! The small half that is. My primary concern is that my verbosity is getting the better of me, and my main character may not need to adverb everything he does. On the other hand, shut up he’s my main character. Goddangit if I want him to thirstily gulp his refreshing spring water in order to blanket his fatigued body in the relaxing, refreshing shade of the quiet bungalow then that’s just what he’ll do.

Yeah so as you see, I have a few days…years? Worth of editing to do. It’s fine, I’ll do it all later, I just need to get everything laid out now so I can rewrite it 11 times before tricking someone I’m not married to to read it. While I’m off doing that, here’s another quick thing I wrote for my adorable wife for Christmas!

::Strangers at Dusk::

A solitary stranger rode into town on a blustery day. Snow driving itself into piles against the empty wooden jailhouse, the clanging of spurs echoed round the ghost town. He hoisted himself out of the saddle, bracing himself against the impressive antlers on this enormous buck. Floorboards creaked and groaned at his landing, glass rattling in its loose enclosure.

“I reckon I come to the right place.”

He caught sight of a few folk peeking through windows and he smiled leisurely at their panic behind the blinds. “Good.” 

Black, soft boots left no prints as he smashed the door to the jail. ‘That’s no good at all.’ Furrowed brows drew together as he casually observed the small, empty cells and grunted. Sliding his red vest aside, the figure loosed his six shooters in their holsters.

“Whoa boy. You wait here, this is like to be dangerous.” He steadied his steed with a firm touch on its glossy nose and moved ahead. He heard shouts across town from the iron mine that was these peoples’ lifeblood. 

That was where he would find his prey. 

Itching for action, the man kept his hands at the ready on his stroll through town. His massive beard catching thousands of snowflakes as his reached around and brought his rifle to the ready. Crunching snow beneath his boots, he finally came to the end of the road. 

A fierce bald man with a scraggly beard waved a pickaxe threateningly at a small pair cowering before him in the snow and demanded they open the bank.

“But sir, we have no banks. We work for the old lord in the castle!”

Biting down on the pipe between his teeth, the massive gunslinger closed the distance to the grizzled old bandit’s back and swung his rifle like a club. Crack! The old miner rolled down the hill to the mouth of the cavernous mining tunnel. “Ya ain’t good enough for bullets.”

Whirling to face the assailant, an angry prospector lit a stick of dynamite quickly and hurled it up the hill. “These people belong to me now. It’s time for you to die, fool!”

Seconds later, thunder rang through the valley. Chapped lips blew the smoking rifle barrel as the old prospector watched his dynamite fall uselessly to the ground.

“I’m afraid you’ve worn out your welcome, friend. I aim to take you down.” Another bullet loaded into the rifle as his voice reverberated through town like an earthquake. 

A roar behind him drew his gaze suddenly. The earth shook with every giant step. Dazzlingly white fur reflected the sunlight as the snow monster plowed through the pair of elves on the ground, hurling them across the street.

“Come on then, you varmant”

Widening his stance and training the sights on the enraged beast, the lone man set his rifle against his shoulder and waited.

Closer, the monster rampaged, grabbing up a dropped hatchet and flinging it at his oppenent – only to have it blasted to the side with thunderous retort.

The gunman quickly slid a large caliber round into the barrel of his Winchester with the monster bearing down on him. 

Planting the gun between him and the beast, he pulled the trigger as the monster made to leap over him with a deafening screech. The creature’s new hole and the blood staining his red suit gave testament to its pain, and proved the hunters’ wrath against the monsters’ body. It flew at him again in a frenzy, ripping the rifle away from him. 

The old man took a solid hit to the jaw. Catching the monsters’ next swing, he used the momentum to launch his massive body into the air and delivered a stunning kick to the side of its furry head. The monster howled and clamped its teeth loudly all about as if to bite him in two. Shouldering it violently, the old man gave it a heavy round of justice to the stomache before finally hurling it at the dastardly prospector below.

At the sight of his two henchmen defeated so easily, the villain moved to flee to the labyrinth inside the mine when a resounding retort of gunfire stopped him short. 

This bullet had singed his moustache clean off, infuriating the bandit. Scowling, he turned to the lawman. 

“Your aim is slipping, old man.” His eyes darted to and fro, searching for a weapon against his longtime nemesis.

“It looks like we have ourselves a problem, here. A yellow, snively coward without a gun stands before me begging to die. But no weapon in sight?” 

Drawing a peacekeeper from his belt, he shined it against the white fur trim on his coat and threw it to the ground in front of his opponent.
“Alright scum. Draw.”

Both men twitched at the trigger. Greasy, unkempt hair topping a mug who’d never known shame stared into the abyss that was the other’s face. Twinkling eyes set under a red and white fur hat, promising him an eternal reward for blinking first.

Lightning struck the old church steeple on the hill with an explosion of thunder bathing the two men in destruction.

When the light dimmed, only one man remained.

Spurs jingling against his boots, the big man sidled over and retrieved his favorite gun. Tipping his furred cap at the terrified townspeople looking out at him, he wandered back to his partner and pulled himself to the saddle once more. “Alright Rudolph, let’s get a move on boy.” The two left as quietly as they came, a wake of dead bandits at their backs.

“Merry Christmas to all, and don’t break the law.”

White night

Well, gotta go and be out done by my husband.

Well that just can’t stand! I’ll show him! I am also going to write a holiday inspired short story. Ha, that will show him for trying to give the holidays a little more cheer with his own fantastic shorts.

So, I give you, a White Night.

~~~~~~________________________~~~~~~~

Bethany stood back and admired her hours of work. The house was dressed to the nines and her back screamed with the ache of all the hard work she had put in. The fresh cut tree glittered and shone under the small fariy lights that Bethany had insisted would bring a more magical feel to the tree. Small acorns and pine cones lightly dusted with an iridescent glitter gave a dewy look to the natural ornaments. One of Bethany’s finest works yet. The Zandogas will be so excited when they get home. With that she turned and packed up her bag. The soft light of the new decorations gave a dreamy glow to the room and just as she was shoving her excess of glitter into her bag she saw a glint of light shine off something under the bookcase in the den.

She laughed to herself at how many trinkets she always carried and walked over to retrieve the hidden object. As she got on her knees she looked under and saw a small pair of green eyes. The Zandogas didn’t have any animals. Not with how strict and uptight the mother was. The eyes blinked slowly. Although slightly startled Bethany wasn’t going to look away for a second. She had been the one to argue the merits of a live tree and how the idea of an animal hitching a ride into the house was just silly.

“Come here you little whatever you are.” Bethany didn’t want to touch it but she had to try and get it out.

The eyes focused on her mouth and she got chills crawling down her spine as her voice was echoed back. “Come here you little whatever you are.” A small thin arm shot out and with tiny claw like fingers grabbed onto her nose.

The sudden movement to her face had her eyes slamming shut as her breath caught in her throat. She could feel the small claws latch into her nose tip as she tried to move or open her eyes again she found much to her horror that her whole body had been paralyzed. The claw never moved but she could feel the air around her shift and become cold. She wasn’t sure if the feeling of the floor below her was an illusion due to the loss of feeling or if the moving wind was just her imagination. She could hear small jingles if bells in the distance and small peels of laughter. She could smell a far off smell of fur and pine. Her body shifted from cold to warm as she felt the claws in her nose tip start to retract.

Time had passed slowly as she felt her body reawakening. Her eyes slowly fluttered open and she was caught by surprise by the lush room that surrounded her. Like a room right out of Country Living, plaid, sheepskin and dark wood composed the whole of her surroundings. She looked around for a weapon and exit of some kind. To the far end was a wall full of brimming shelves full of books and knickknacks. She ran her eyes over it as her heart started to quicken. There on a tall shelf was a sword in a glass case.

Bethany ran over and noticed that she was no longer in the clothes she had started the day in. In fact, she was now dressed in a great white ballgown with simmers and sparkles all over the place. She turned this way and that and saw her dress move and flow around her. She heard a click and by the time she spun back around there was still no sign of an exit but now there stood a tall slender woman, her head bowed apologetically.

“He is glad to see you awake and asks if you would need anything until dinner is called in two hours.” The girl spoke with Bethany’s own voice and kept her head pointed down as her lips moved. However, watching her talk had been more like watching a horribly dubbed movie.

“I want to know who the hell you are, where the hell I am And who the hell this ‘HE’ is!” She screamed at the pale faced girl. She noted that the girl didn’t shudder or move away. She just remained standing as she had been. Waiting.

The girl shifted her weight and pointed a long slender finger to the wall behind Bethany.

Bethany turned to look and as she did, she heard the faint sound of a click and spun back around to find the girl missing. A click came from the wall that had been pointed out as Bethany turned back around she expected to see another stranger. Instead a small alcove had opened above her bed. She slowly walked over and picked up the paper neatly tucked away with her name on the front in her mother’s familiar handwriting.

My dearest daughter. I know we had promised never to keep things from each other. I am sorry to say I must break that promise the night you read this letter. You see, you are not really my daughter. I found you, crying your eyes out on Christmas Eve in the middle of the forest. You had no signs of damage or any fear of the cold. You seemed to cry just for someone to find you. When you had your first period I was surprised to find a visitor in our house. He told me that who I had hidden from him was not mine to hide. He was ready to kill me right there, however, you came home crying and I think it startled him. He vanished before I could make anything more out of it. I thought I had imagined the whole thing except I would see him in the audience of your performances. I would see him walking into your school when dropping you off. I asked about him once and you didn’t remember anyone matching the description. He came to me last week, after my doctor informed me that I had two weeks left to live. The cancer had taken solid hold of me and I would be leaving soon. I was thinking of how to tell you when he showed up. He looked me over and smiled, your time with her is done, he said to me. He told me of his plan to bring you wherever you are now. He allowed me to write this letter as a final goodbye.

Bethany slammed down the letter on the bed with tears in her eyes. She was going to go see her mom right after the Zandogas’ job. Now she was meant to believe that her mother was gone? She heard another click and lifted her head to see a bookshelf swing backwards and open to a brightly glittering hallway. Bethany wiped away the tears in her eyes and walked over to it. As she walked down the hall it twisted and turned. She found herself looking at mirrors faded back into the hallway walls, then images started to float to the surface. There she was as a babe learning to walk. A picture of her first lost tooth. An image of her dressed up for a dance. Prom. Graduation. University walking across campus. Her in her dorm room after a shower. Then a small room came into view. In the middle was a small table.

Bethany walked in slowly. Her mind reeling in terror. Her finger tips felt numb as she reached out her hand to pick up the ruby red fruit in the center of the table. She had never eaten pomegranate before but she was familiar with the staining power and use in winter displays. She examined it and saw that the kernels inside were bright and extremely full of juice. Her stomach cramped with pain as she realized the hunger that gnawed at her. She sniffed at the fruit and only became more hungry. Using her fingertips she carefully removed one kernel. It was firm in her fingers as she lightly squeezed it. She placed it on her lips and took it in. The juice rushed forth from the kernel with a small pop. The sweet tartness filled her mouth and she almost moaned with pleasure at the single kernel. She carefully knocked out 5 more kernels and popped them into her mouth. The pure joy and shuddering bliss pulsed in body. She fished out another handful of jeweled kernels and ate them without thought.

“And now she is reborn, my Persephone.” A deep voice grumbled from behind her. “Now we go to the wedding. “

Kris writes a Christmas story. Well..

Let’s all get into the holiday spirits. Haha, spirits.

Kris here,

Let me tell you, Tina loves to celebrate holidays something fierce, and has ever since we met. I’m afraid my apathy and general disgruntlement regarding holidays might wear off on her eventually though and that would be super sad, so I’ve taken this year to start my holiday spiritualization quest. To begin, I’ve written a silly short story about Christmas eve. More specifically, a story to tell my child to make sure he never tries to sneak into his presents early ever.

Let’s call it “Peeking at Presents”

***

Blanketed in darkness, Mortimer began his nimble descent. His ninja-like reflexes served him well as he rolled off the top bunk, landing in a crouch with a soft thump in the night. Quickly surveying his surroundings, he was relieved he hadn’t been discovered. His room was exactly the same as several seconds earlier.

Whisking himself away into the night, Mort latched onto the doorknob and silently slipped into the dark hallway. He rolled out of his door to the pitch-dark cavern beyond.

Sliding along with his fingertips brushing the rough paint, he hit his first landmark. The bathroom door. Ever so slowly, he slid his toes against the rough carpet until he felt the cool, glossy finish of the dining room.

Suddenly he froze. Did someone whisper his name? A chill wind crept across the back of his neck. Maybe someone forgot to shut a window. He couldn’t leave any loose ends behind him though, that could only spell his doom.

Changing course, he tiptoed to his parents’ room in the hallway adjacent to the one he’d just left. Cautiously groping the still air, he found the door and crouched low to listen.

Strange, it was a lot darker than yesterday when he snuck out to acquire the gingerbread cookies.

Ah, there’s the culprit.

None of the clocks in the kitchen were on. The snow must have killed the power again. In that case, he could afford to hurry. It was too dark for anyone to see him sneaking around. Plus it seemed like it was going to get much colder. After some reconnaissance, he could retreat to the safety of his favorite quilt. He confirmed the whispering in the vicinity of his parents’ room, and it was time to strike.

Darting up off the ground, he snuck back the way he’d come. Nearly falling headlong over a forgotten chair, he skirted as far around the table as he dared until he bumped into the door joining the dining room to the kitchen. Maneuvering until he could just make out the metallic smell of the door handle, he lowered the latch to the door carefully. An icy burst of air bumped the door into his nose, setting his heart aquiver.

Blinking in a daze, he let his ears adjust in the darkness. Still with the whispering! Was he hearing things? It sounded the same as before, but he could almost make out the words this time. Was that his name? Why were his parents so loud, or was that them? Maybe it was a living room window open and there were-

Gasp!

What if robbers were trying to get in! Mort slunk to the floor with narrowed eyes.

Nobody was getting into this house on his watch.

Stalking into the living room with his arms at the ready, he crept into the middle of the room to pinpoint the direction of the whispering.

Mort almost cried out in pain then, as the Christmas tree flared up in all it’s multicolored glory. He blinked away the tears from being blinded and dove under an end table to assess the situation. The whispering had silenced itself in the glow of the Christmas lights. Are the lights on a timer? Clever mom and dad, had they minimized the lighting to deter him from this mission? It must be Christmas then, they rigged the tree to turn on at midnight!

Or was it motion activated? A trap? His parents were worthy adversaries indeed. After several minutes though, it was clear nobody was coming. What good was a trap if you fell asleep guarding it, sheesh.

Mort took a quick inventory of the windows, confirmed they were all closed and locked, and leaped silently to his quarry. Eyes all a sparkle, he marveled at the mountain of colorfully wrapped packages in front of him.

“Wooow.” Whispering in glee, he quickly took inventory and separated the gifts labeled for him. Ugh, why did Marina have so many? She already had about a thousand sippy cups and stuffed animals, how many more could one girl use? He shuffled hers behind all the others and grabbed a few of his more promising looking ones. Giving a last long look and listen to make sure he was alone, Mort carefully, silently peeled back the sticky tape sealing his treasure.

There was a painting in the first package. Cool, a painting! Turning it so the tree lit it up, he was. Well, confused. It looked like someone had thrown a bucket of red paint at the canvas and then scratched out the silhouette of a person, just black ink on their fingernails. At least, he thought it was a person. There were no real defining traits except holes where the eyes would be, the vibrant red bled through and looked right through him no matter which direction he pointed the picture. Shuddering, he shoved the canvas back into its wrapping and tossed it to the back of the pile.

He grabbed a heftier package then, one with more bulk. He rocked it back and forth and a faint twinkling sang out into the night. The boy tapped his lip in thought for a few moments before carefully revealing this one too. Inside was a magic question ball. “Well, at least it isn’t socks.” He whispered to himself.

Whipping his head around at the sudden sound of hushed laughter, his eyes swept the area clean.

“Hello”

He waited a minute after whispering to the empty living room. Must be hearing things. He shook the ball in his hand without much thought, alarmed to see a picture of himself smiling inside.

“What the?”

He shook it a few more times: Him smiling but with pointed teeth. Him cowering in fear. Him staring angrily straight at his real self. Recalling Halloween when he’d asked for some scary stories for Christmas, he silently chastised his parents. This was a little too far guys. Sliding the ball back into its box and then into the paper, he caught a glimpse of the picture glaring at him before it disappeared behind the holographic snowflake wrapping. Tossing this one back with the painting, Mort decided to call it a day.

Downtrodden, he turned to sulk back to his room. He nearly fell flat on his face tripping over a small package.

“Mew.”

“What!?” His eyes went wide as the small box mewed its little heart out. “You can’t put a kitten in a box!” Mort’s joy at hearing the meowing turned to panic as he thought of how scared a little kitten would be, how hungry it was. It must have been freezing in there! He ungraciously ripped the paper and threw it to the floor. A few minutes fighting the tape later, it was finally free.

“Got it!” He threw open one of the box flaps, and the world plunged into darkness. The Christmas tree couldn’t have picked a worse time. He groped for the second box flap when the cat inside the box yowled loudly, ferociously.

“It’s okay little guy, I’m your friend!” He cooed to the spitting feline hesitantly, then slowly lowered his hand gently until he brushed the bottom.

“Huh?”

Small hands explored the empty package frantically. Nothing. The hissing and growling stopped abruptly. Nervously, Mort tossed the box at the tree and backed away. The hair on his neck stood at end, reacting to the voices suddenly whispering his name. Harsh breath tickled the inside of his ears. Tears of fear welled up in his eyes, disorienting him even in the inky darkness. Invisible fingers traced their way up his back.. Mort panicked, bolting for the kitchen door.

Before he arrived, the darkness shifted and writhed around him, a living wall of shadow. A cat shaped itself out of ethereal shadows. Mort froze in place. The cat couldn’t be real, he could see the door right through it. But if it wasn’t real, why did he see the door in its sickly glow? He decided to take the chance. It couldn’t be real.

The apparition arched its back, growling and flicking at him with translucent claws. Shrieking in a human voice, the cat leaped at his face! Burning eyes and fetid breath burrowed into his mind. Mort yelled out and tripped over his own feet, dragging himself backward.

The cat was gone.

He flung himself off the ground into the nook of the fireplace. His back against the solid wall made him feel safer, and he could see the entire room from here. Well, would have anyway with some light. The deafening silence roared in his ears as spectral shapes flickered in and out.

Mort stayed very still, scarcely daring to breathe.

After a few minutes, he conjured his ninja alter-ego, Mortimer Wild the Kid. Elite super spy. He wouldn’t let himself be chased into corners by shadows and whispers!

Drawing to his full height, he took a defiant step forward, daring the shadows to come at him. Puffed up his chest with the next step, and then balled his fists at his side to-

An icy claw stabbed into is ankle, a strangled scream choking the boy. He fell into the tree face first. Every fake pine needle on the fake tree stabbed at him with malice, shoving him to the floor. The skeletal grip pulled him inexorably into the fireplace. His racing heart drown the rest of the world. Mort’s eyes were wide, gaping at the ethereal sinister face coalescing in the blackness. Its twisted smile laughing without a sound, opening ever wider as it drew him into its mouth.

No longer fighting the streaming tears, Mort pried violently at the clammy fist. He winced as his fingernails broke and bent backward, but still it remained.

He locked eyes with the monster in the fireplace, its gaze piercing his soul. The two stared unblinking for an eternity.

Bright light cut into his eyes suddenly, blinding him even worse than the horrible darkness.

“Mort, what the heck are you doing out here man?”

His fathers’ irritated voice rang hollow in Mort’s ears, bouncing to and fro in his head until he was ripped back to his senses.

“Dad!” Mort flung himself across the room into his fathers’ arms, burying his face into strong shoulders. Waves of relief washed over him, terrified sobs wracking his small frame. “Dad there’s something in the fireplace! It tried to eat me and I couldn’t get away and there was a cat and it tried to claw my face off and all the lights were off but the Christm-”

“Mort, Mort. It’s okay son, I’m right here buddy. You’re totally fine, you just had a nightmare.”

“No it was real! I saw the painting and the eight ball under the tree and then-”

“Judging by the paper all over the floor, I already know what you were doing.” Sighing, his father continued, “we told you if you couldn’t wait until Christmas day to open your presents that we’d have to take them back, didn’t we?”

His father’s stern voice held little room for discussion. Gathering Mort in his arms, the two traveled to his now brightly lit room.

An hour later, Mort lie in bed staring at the waving shadows on the ceiling. He promised to stay in bed so they wouldn’t throw away his presents, but the loud whispering in his bed and the yowling cat outside promised to make this night a very long one.