Monday, December 30, 2013

Holiday Short from Alison Bruce

The Night I Shot My Father

Getting my family together for Christmas is challenging.

Growing up, my mother and aunt would feed everyone at our house–wherever our house happened to be at the time. Four, then three, then two grandparents, depending on the year, three parents, six children, four dogs and a cat would be at (or under) the table for a meal that lasted at least two hours. It was crazy, but I loved it.

The kids grew up. For a couple of years there were more or less the same numbers but with some missing and significant others added. My sister and her husband moved across country. My brother joined the Navy. My cousins spread out, married, remarried, blended families and had other families to visit. Of the kids that stayed close to home, I joined the police force and one of my cousins became a practical nurse. We never managed to have the Christmas off in the same year.

Then my parents split. After thirty years of marriage, my father announced that he was gay.

My sister insisted she always suspected. I doubted it. Mum said she always knew. That I believed. My brother was angry. My cousins ranged from bemused to confused. I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me.

I’m not homophobic. If I had always known about Dad, my life would have been different and I would have accepted that. It’s just...

My sister and brother were named Bella and Bennett respectively for my mother’s parents, who died before I was born. If I had been born a few weeks earlier, I would have been called Linda or Constance because my grandmother’s full name was Belinda Constance Bennett. But my aunt had twins first and those two names were taken. A couple of years earlier, she beat my mother to calling her son Cecil, my grandfather’s first name, for which my brother and I have always been grateful.

I was named Bonnie because my father liked the name. I was his girl. He was a career soldier, a sergeant in the military police. When I joined Army Cadets, he gave me extra shooting practice so I could joined the Range Team. He encouraged me to follow my dreams and become a cop, though my mother wanted me to be a teacher. Both my parents taught us to be honest, but it was my father who impressed on me how important it was to be true to myself.

So why couldn’t he be true to me?

With us kids grown up and Dad gone, it didn’t make sense for Mum to keep the house, even though Dad had signed over his share of it. Losing the house was no big deal. We’d move too often to get really attached to one set of walls. Losing a home for us all to gather was another thing. That was heartbreaking.

This year I bought my own house. It’s a 70's ranch-style house in a cul-de-sac with a bunch of would-be dictators for a neighbourhood committee, but I call it home. Though not a big place, it has a Great Room instead of a separate living room and dining room, so there’s space to put tables together and get as much of the family as can come to sit down for dinner. Since Christmas was too complicated, we opted for New Year’s Eve.

My mum and aunt took over my kitchen. Bella and Linda helped out. (Connie is useless in the kitchen. She can burn water.) Meanwhile Ben directed the older kids at setting the table and getting it shipshape for dinner while Cecil, Connie and my brothers-in-law watched the younger kids. (The football game on TV got most of the attention.) I moved from one room to another, picking up empty beer bottles, putting out extra nuts, going down to the freezer in the basement for a second bag of frozen corn. Generally fussing.

I’d been less worried about my academy finals than I was about this dinner. It had taken all my negotiating skills, some judicious threats and transferring all my Air Mile points to my sister to bring everyone together. Only one living person was missing.

Finally the food was on the table. The children were washed up so they could get mucky again. We were all seated. I stood, wine glass raised, ready to give the toast that traditionally acted as grace for our family.

The doorbell rang.

Training made me check before I opened the door. It was Dad. He made it.

Being a police officer, and having a brother in the navy, has taught me that police and military personnel are more traditional and conservative than most civilians. I hadn’t really got that when I was younger, even though Dad was in the army. In his day, being gay in the military wasn’t an option. It wasn’t just a case of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” It was “don’t be suspected or else.” By understanding, I was able to forgive.

I checked with Mum first, of course, but that’s why there was an extra place laid at the table.

I opened the door.

“Hi Bonnie girl.”

Throwing my arms around my father’s neck, I pulled him into a tight embrace.

“Hi Daddy.”

It took a moment for my keen, police-trained senses to detect the second man on my front porch. He was slightly shorter and rounder than my father, though the roundness might have been because of his puffy down coat.

“Bonnie, this is my friend Gordon.”

“I hope I’m not intruding.”

Gordon might have looked like the Pillsbury Dough Boy, but he sounded like Sir Ian McKellan,

“Set another place kids!”

Hours later, full up with good food and feeling sleepy, I pushed myself out of my chair to fetch the champagne glasses and bubbly.

It was almost midnight.

“I just remembered I forgot to make the family toast at dinner,” I announced. “I’ll make it for the New Year instead.”

Sixty seconds to midnight. I started to work the cork loose on the champagne bottle.

“I have an announcement first,” said my sister Bella. “I’m pregnant again and the doctor thinks its twins.”

“No way!” Linda squealed. “I’m pregnant too.”

“Use your thumbs,” said Ben. He was more interested in my battle with the cork than more additions to the family.

Dad cleared his throat. “Maybe this is a good time to tell you that Gordon and I are getting married and you’re all invited.”

“Huh?” I turned to my Dad, feeling that rug slip away again but in a good way.


The cork flew out hitting my father in the forehead, right between the eyes. Must have hurt like hell. He and Gordon were soaked with champagne spray. I just stood there, feeling shocked and dismayed, but also wanting to laugh.

“Get your father some ice, Ben,” said my mother, taking control as usual. “And bring a roll of paper towel.”

We missed the countdown and there wasn’t much champagne left to toast with. Dad said he’d rather have whiskey anyway. Ben poured double shots for Dad, me and himself. Finally I made the family toast.

“To that dear octopus, whose tentacles we never quite escape, nor in our inmost hearts ever wish to, the family. Happy New Year!”

Author's Note:
All the characters in this story are fictional and bear no intentional resemblance to persons living or dead (except Sir Ian's voice). That being said, my father almost put his own eye out opening a champagne bottle one New Year's Eve and the Dear Octopus quote is traditional in our family.

Alison Bruce has had many careers and writing has always been one of them. Copywriter, editor and graphic designer since 1992, Alison has also been a comic book store manager, small press publisher, webmaster and arithmetically challenged bookkeeper. She is the author of mystery, suspense and historical romance novels.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Holiday Short from Annamaria Bazzi

Christmas Wish

Son of a bitch! How could he break up with me two days before Christmas? I lit the disgusting cigarette and took my very first puff. Choking, I walked to the sink and poured water over it, watching it fizz out. Couldn’t imagine why I even bought the repulsive things. It wasn’t like I ever smoked. More anger built in me. With unbridled frustrations, I broke every cigarette in the package, throwing them in the garbage.

Standing in the middle of the kitchen, I wondered how to keep my mind busy, because inevitably, it drifted back to Brian, the jerk who made me fall in love with him just to break my heart.

It was Christmas Eve and I stared at the decorated tree, sitting in the corner of my den.

Images flashed in my mind. Rushing to my study, I grabbed my sketchbook and settled at the drawing table. My hand moved the pencil across the blank page, creating a black and white portrait of Kevin, the boy next door I had a crush on since the third grade. It didn’t matter to me he was a few years older. When he graduated from high school, though, he joined the armed forces. I only saw him once after that.

In college Brian walked into my life so I tried to forget the feelings my heart held for Kevin. Big mistake! Brian turned out to be a complete jackass.

The black and white image of Kevin looked perfect in his naval uniform. I’d only seen him once in it, but could never forget how handsome it made him look.


Christmas Eve turned into Christmas Day.

Happy Birthday Jesus.

I took the sketch with me, placing it under the pillow. “Jesus, I know it’s your birthday and I’m supposed to give you a present, but if you find it in your heart to give me one, bring Kevin to my door step.”

I fell asleep with wonderful thoughts.

Morning arrived all too soon. I rushed to get ready for church, where I joined my family.
After church we all went to my parents home and I helped with the dinner preparations.

“Who’s coming over?” I asked Mom.

“All the usual people, dear.”

How the hell was I supposed to remember all the people she had over last Christmas?

Besides my sister, her husband, my two aunts with their husbands, four cousins, she always invited a large crowd of friends, some I had never even met. Like I knew them all.

I rolled my eyes.

The doorbell rang none stop. I preferred hiding in the kitchen where I didn’t have to put up with all the kissing and hugging that went on during the holidays.

Mother stepped back in the kitchen. “Ani, dear, would you be so kind and go set the two tables your dad set up in the great room?”

“Sure.” I walked in the room for the first time that day. The usual furniture had been pushed to the sides to make room for the two long tables covered in festive tablecloths. Back in the kitchen, I asked, “Mom, how many people are coming?”

“All together we are thirty three.”

Where did she find all these people? I always thought the holidays should be spent with family. But then, what did I know?

Later, I stepped back to admire my handy work. Sure it took a little more time, but I was proud of the paper napkins turned into swans, sitting on the dishes. As I turned to head back into the sanctuary of the kitchen, I smashed into a solid shoulder.

“Ouch!” I glanced up to meet a surprised expression in the amazing green eyes I remembered so well.

“Wow! You’ve changed since I’ve been gone.” Kevin gawked. “What happened to the scrawny kid with braces and freckles I left behind?”

What a reaction. I basked in it. Damn! Why is my mouth not functioning?

“What a change? You’ve never been speechless before.” He smiled.

“Dinner is served.” Mother’s voice could be heard for miles, saving me from myawkward silence.

We all grabbed our dishes and lined up to file through the kitchen where Mother set up the buffet. Kevin was right behind me.

“So, you gonna sit by me the way you always did when we were kids?”

“Are you going to pull my hair?” I said without turning.
He leaned real close to my ear. “I promise to behave.” The warmth of his breath sent an exhilarating shiver down my spine.

At the table, he focused all his attention on me.

For the first time, in a long while, I felt like a princess.

“What are you up to lately?”

“Well, I still have one last semester before I graduate with a degree in architecture.”

“Where are you going to school?”

“Right here at Virginia Commonwealth University.”

“So, you’re living at home?”

“No, I have an apartment on campus.”

“Shall we go hide there after dinner, I hate crowds. It will give us a better chance to catch up.”

My heart missed a beat. Serene warmth spread through me and I nodded for fear my voice would crack with the emotions coursing in my veins.

Kevin wrapped his arms around my waist. “You’re the best thing a Christmas wish has ever brought me.”

I turned around in his arm, tilting my head with expectation.

His warm lips brushed mine. I smiled. “Merry Christmas, Kevin.”

Annamaria Bazzi spent twenty years programming systems for large corporations, creating innovative solution, and addressing customer problems. During those years she raised four daughters and one husband. Annamaria lives in Richmond Virginia with her small family where she now dedicates a good part of her day writing.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Holiday Short from Kevin Thornton

Happy Holidays

“Have you written your column yet?”

“No dear,”

“Well you’d better hurry up. You know how Genevieve hates it when you’re late. Why just last week at the Women’s Institute mince pie sale she told me so right in front of Marigold Oates and Jemima Lansdowne. I was ever so embarrassed. Please try and get it to her on time sweetikins. Hmm?”

Jerome Jones hated so many things about his life. The small town they had been relegated to, with all the rural pettiness and inflated self-importance; the fact that his writing career had stalled and he was living off his wife’s inheritance; her nagging arrogance; even that she insisted on a ridiculous pet name for him. There seemed no end to the depths.

“I hate my life,” he thought, “and… I hate my wife.” This enervating and eye-opening conclusion cheered him up and galvanized him into action. He started to write as he thought about the latest indignities he had faced, translating it into the 800 words he wrote three times a week for the Fort Clearwater Gleaner.

He’d been in the middle of packing Rufus, his five year old son and co-conspirator in the House-that-Mother-Ruled, off to kindergarten. Rufus was excited because it was the day of the Christmas party and he had a Spiderman Santa Claus cap to wear. Jerome had helped him make it but they had been forced to hide it away until his Mother had gone back to sleep, lest she find out that the Sugar Plum Fairy baseball cap, created at art class, had fallen out of favour.

It was only when they got into the car that Rufus said,

“Dad, I forgot my backpack. “

“Do you really need it?”

“Yes. It’s got Mommy’s candy canes in it.”

Jerome cursed under his breath. He’d never hear the end of it if they weren’t delivered to the school today. His wife expressed herself creatively by assisting the arts department. She thought it would look good on her future resume, not knowing that the job was little more than cutting out pictures for the schoolchildren to colour.

Leaving Rufus in the car, Jerome went back inside to find her dog, the insufferable little Maltese Piddle, about to gnaw into the backpack. Stifling his oath so as not wake her in the main bedroom, he grabbed the dog before it could nip him, clipped its leash on and headed back to the garage. He gave the bag to Rufus then went outside and fastened the vexing little beast to a stake by the garden path.

“Now, you can stay there until I get back, and be thankful that I didn’t put my boot up your fundament.”

The dog responded by emitting an obnoxious runny substance from its bowels onto the path. Jerome turned in disgust, glad he had not had to clean that off the kitchen floor. Still, it would have been funny if the dog had chewed into the bag and ripped up the paper candy canes.

‘Can you imagine me explaining that to the teacher. “I’m sorry Mrs Wallace, the dog ate my wife’s homework.” End’

Smiling, he reread the column then pressed send on his e-mail account.

It was two hours later that he remembered the dog and found his wife. And it was only three months later, having received the inheritance and been cleared of any involvement, that he and Rufus left Fort Clearwater forever and returned to the city.

* * *

Mrs Jones, as she left that morning, did not see where Jerome had left the dog. She did not see the doggy-do either, and when one of her indelicately sized nine-in-an-eight pumps landed in the squishy load, Mrs Jones went bottom over top, landing headfirst on the concrete block that killed her. At the same time the rest of her corpulent corpus came down on the dog and squashed it, giving Jerome a rather unlikely two-for-one.

Small wonder then, as the Policeman noted at the inquiry, that Mr Jones did not seem too upset at his wife’s death; a fact later disputed successfully if untruthfully by Jeromes’ lawyer.

“In fact M’Lud, he seemed to be humming quite a happy tune.”

“And do you remember, Constable Barnsworth, what the tune was?”

Its beginning to look a lot like Christmas.♫ 

A four time Arthur Ellis Award Nominee, Kevin Thornton is a writer for the local Municipality, a columnist for the Fort McMurray Today and Your McMurray Magazine, a Director of the Crime Writers of Canada and a board Member of both the Northern Canada Collective Society for Writers and the Fort McMurray Public Library. He has never been known, willingly, to split an infinitve.

Further thoughts may be found at

Friday, December 20, 2013

Holiday Short from Morgen Bailey

The Forgotten Toy

Sydney was a little grey bear with a bright red bow around his neck. He was very handsome but quite shy. He’d been bought as an Easter present for Charlie Smith and they went everywhere together. Charlie’s bike had a basket on the front and wherever the family’s cycle rides took them, Sydney would be there, leading the way.

As winter approached, the weather got colder and they went out less. One Friday evening, Sydney was sitting above the fireplace in the lounge. Charlie had gone to bed without him which was unusual, but Sydney didn’t mind because he would be there to greet him in the morning.

As Sydney sat against a carriage clock, he watched Charlie’s father putting together a big wooden thing. Mrs Smith was busy in the kitchen and the lovely smells made Sydney hungry. It was a very cold evening and the fire was so warm that he soon fell asleep.

The next day, Sydney woke to find the household rushing around, too busy to pay any attention to him. It took him a minute to realise what was happening. It was Christmas Day! Sydney had heard Mr and Mrs Smith talking about it earlier in the week.

Charlie was now begging his parents to let him open his presents and they finally gave in. Sydney watched as streams of wrapping paper produced a plane model kit, a new cycle helmet and computer games. Sydney was grateful there weren’t any toys like him to take his place.

As Charlie’s father wheeled the final present into the lounge, Sydney recognised it as the wooden box. The back was plain but when it was turned round the front was covered with wire mesh and inside he could see something moving. Charlie gasped, then clapped his hands wildly.

Sydney was too far away to see what all the excitement was all about and wondered what kind of thing could live in there. Maybe it was a dog. One of Charlie’s friends had a dog but he didn’t live in anything like this.

He watched Charlie open the door. There wasn’t just one thing in there but two. And they were furry but much smaller than a dog. Charlie leant forward and picked one of them out. It was grey, like Sydney, and very handsome. For the first time in his life, Sydney was jealous. Charlie frowned and looked up at his mum.
“They’re guinea pigs, Charlie” she explained.

“Guinea pigs!” Charlie cheered as he dug back into the cage for the other fur-ball. This one was completely white with pink eyes. A funny looking thing, Sydney thought, not handsome at all.

Pigs? Sydney thought. The only pigs he’d seen before were on a cycle ride to Mr Parker’s farm when Charlie fed them. Whatever type of pig they were, Sydney hoped they wouldn’t eat him.
Sydney watched as Charlie struggled to hold both of them.

Charlie’s mother took the white one. “They are very special guinea pigs, Charlie,” she said. “Auntie Lily has sent them all the way from Scotland for you. The grey one is a type called ‘Cinnamonrex’ and the white one is an ‘Ivorysatin’. They’re both boys so we have to be very careful they don’t fight.

“Don’t worry, Mum.” Charlie beamed. “I will stay with them ALL the time.” He looked the guinea pig in his hands. “I’ll call this one Lewis.” He then looked at white one which was wriggling in his mother’s hands. “And that one, Duncan.” Charlie’s mum smiled as she knew her sister would be delighted that Charlie had named them after his slightly older cousins.

Sydney started to feel sad. What Charlie said about looking after his new pets meant that he wouldn’t have time for him anymore.

Charlie turned away from the cage and looked around the room until he spotted his best friend. “Look, Sydney!” Charlie said as he walked towards him, still with Lewis in his hands. “We’ve got some new friends. We can’t take them with us on the bike but we can play together in the house, wouldn’t that be fun?”
Yes, thought Sydney, that WOULD be fun.

Based in Northamptonshire, England, Morgen Bailey (“Morgen with an E”) is a prolific blogger, podcaster, editor / critiquer, tutor, speaker, Chair of NWG (which runs the annual H.E. Bates Short Story Competition), freelance author of numerous short stories (available on and, novels, articles, and dabbler of poetry. Like her, her blog,, is consumed by all things literary and she loves chatting with other writers and readers. Her email is

Monday, December 16, 2013

Holiday Short from Lorrie Farrelly

The Best Christmas

December 1866

Robbie Devlin’s small crutch thumped on the plank floor of the cabin as he made his way to the rime-frosted window overlooking the barnyard and corrals.  The warmth from the big fieldstone fireplace kept the deep chill of a Wyoming winter at bay in the snug little pine cabin, but also fogged the inside of the window glass, shutting out most of the dim, gray December light. Behind him, in a corner of the room, a hewn spruce stood, cheerfully draped with popcorn chains, bright ribbons, and paper ornaments. A few cherished, tin and glass ornaments sparkled with firelight, and the aromas of evergreen, wood smoke, and bubbling stew from the big cast iron stove filled the air.

Flurries of snow whirled and danced outside.  Blanketed in white, the high, pine-ringed valley sheltering the ranch was deep in gray and purple shadow.

Robbie stood stork-like on one leg, leaning on the crutch for balance. He swiped at the glass with his free hand, sucking in a gasp as the cold bit his palm. Freckled nose scrunched, the boy leaned toward the icy glass and peered out at the darkening yard.

“Snow’s letting up, Annie,” he said, shooting a hopeful look over his shoulder at his older sister. “Can’t I go out to the barn now? I should give Michael a hand with Snowdust. She’s gonna drop her foal real soon, and he said she might have a dicey time of it.”

Annie Cantrell dropped a lid on the heavy iron stew pot and turned to face her young brother, brows knit, frowning. She shook her head. “Oh, Robbie, I just don’t think it’s….”

He jumped over her words. “I’ll hold onto the rope between the cabin and the barn! I promise I will! My leg’s a lot stronger now, see?”

Robbie set the crutch firmly against the wall and, balancing, took a steadying breath. He stared fiercely at his right leg, willing it to unbend. Slowly, sweat dampening the thick shock of straight copper hair that tumbled over his forehead, Robbie forced his right knee to straighten. When his foot finally touched the floor, he gingerly eased his weight onto it.

But for the crackling of the fires in the hearth and stove, there was no sound in the cabin as brother and sister held their breath in tense uncertainty. Robbie’s leg had healed slowly from the bullet wound he’d suffered the previous summer, when outlaws had stormed the ranch. Annie knew his leg was just as apt to buckle beneath him or seize up into an excruciating cramp, as it was to support him. She clutched her hands together to keep from reaching out to steady the boy.

Robbie lifted his head, beaming a grin of sheer triumph. Annie blew out her breath.

“There! You see, Annie?” her brother crowed, his voice shaky with relief. “I did it!”

Before she could answer, the cabin door flew open on a gust of icy wind and swirling snowflakes. Michael Cantrell, tall, rangy, toughened far beyond his age by four years of cruel and devastating war, stomped the snow and ice from his boots before stepping over the threshold. Muscling the door shut against the wind, he pulled off his hat, shaking the snow and ice from his dark blond hair like a big, shaggy dog. For good measure, he whacked the hat against his leg, a habit that usually earned a fond, but exasperated, scolding from Annie.

This time, however, he was greeted with Robbie’s eager cry of, “Look, Michael! No crutch! Now can I go out to the barn with you? Just for a little while?”

Shocked, surprised, and delighted at seeing Robbie stand unassisted, Michael shot a questioning glance at his wife. He understood the tangle of emotions in her gray eyes. He cocked one eyebrow and turned to the boy.

“Well, I’ll be. Aren’t you the one. Mighty good to see you standing, boy, mighty good.” He reached out, squeezing Robbie’s shoulder, taking care not to jostle him into losing his precarious balance. Michael grinned, “Looks like you’ve given your sister and me the very thing we wanted most for Christmas.”

“Aw,” the boy murmured, pleased and a little embarrassed. “I’ve been getting stronger for a while now, you know?” Then, urgently, “Can’t I go see Snowdust? Just for a few minutes? I can make it out to the barn, I swear!”

“Well,” Michael drawled, glancing again at his wife, “if your sister’s got no objection, and you’re willin’ to climb up here on my back, I reckon we can all go.” He grinned again.  “Snowdust dropped her foal about an hour ago.”

Cheer and excitement erupted in the small cabin. Annie’s worry dissolved as she was caught up in the celebration.  Michael bundled Robbie into his coat, gloves, and hat, then hunkered down to let the boy scramble onto his back. Annie took her own coat from the hook. She reached for the door, but Michael shook his head.

“You stay put, darlin’. I’ll be back for you in a minute.” He nodded at her gently rounded belly. “Don’t want y’all takin’ a tumble.”

Annie started to protest, then gave in. “All right, but be careful, you two.” Then, with another gust of wind and snow, they were gone.

Later, in the barn – newly-built, tight and snug – all three sat on straw bales watching Snowdust urge her unsteady little filly to suckle. A tired, happy smile on his face, Robbie sighed, “Don’t you reckon this is the best Christmas ever?”

Annie laid her head contentedly on Michael’s shoulder. “Mmm. Yes, I surely do. The very best.”

Hugging them both, Michael said softly, “You know, I once reckoned peace and joy were gone forever from this world. Now I know with all my heart that they are not.” He squeezed Robbie’s shoulder. Smiling, leaning down to kiss Annie tenderly, he said, “Merry Christmas, y’all.”

Copyright 2013 by Lorrie Farrelly

LORRIE FARRELLY is the author of three Western historical romances featuring the Cantrell and Devlin families of Wyoming. The first novel in the series, TERMS OF SURRENDER, was a finalist for the prestigious Orange Rose Award. Lorrie also writes contemporary romantic suspense and time-travel adventure. She lives in Southern California.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Holiday Short from Catherine Astolfo


“Before” can sometimes be such a loaded word. This happened “before”.

The family room is something like pureed soup in that you can’t really tell one delightful ingredient from the other. It’s chock full of different types, various sounds, high and low-pitched voices, cackling laughter. The signals of love are in the air, lips on lips, arms encircling, hands clasping. Small people giggle and chase one another. Big people hand out drinks and food and gab in little groups. Voice over voice mingles and mixes. The mistletoe does not go ignored.

There are signs of Christmas. Not very much in the way of one religion or another, there’s an emphasis on family instead. No one really pays attention to the gifts under the tree. They’re too busy with one another.

If this sounds idyllic, it’s really not. There are undercurrents of tension here and there. No one is perfect. Not everyone is patient or sober or understanding. But the overall atmosphere is one of a fierce loyalty, love and unity. We are family. We not only love one another but we also like each other. We enjoy the company of our siblings or parents or cousins or aunts or uncles. We have fun.

Suddenly there is a furor in the room. Someone strange has entered. He’s a big fellow, tall and broad shouldered with a potbelly that looks suspiciously pillow-like. White beard, red suit, floppy hat and a tendency to holler “Ho, ho, ho”.

With a flash of fear sitting upon his face, my grandson scurries into the corner of the couch. His two little girl cousins—who are the same age as he is by a few months—are completely unafraid. In fact, they run up to Santa and grasp onto his leg. To be fair, one of them probably recognizes Santa’s voice.

That’s when I have a “before” moment.

My son and nephew are at ages when I’d expect them to be somewhat self-centred. Yet they climb up on the couch and surround my grandson. They both keep their arms wrapped around him, cuddling him, telling him not to be afraid.

As for my grandson, he keeps waving. “Bye, bye, Santa,” he says.

All of this happened before. Before my brother-in-law, Santa, got cancer that marred his handsome face.

Before my sister and mother passed away.

But also before my son became a screenwriter/director, a boy who asked for a foster child as his Christmas gift. Before my nephew became a writer, a dedicated school caretaker, and most of all, a husband and father.
Before his little boy made our family even more joyful, stronger. Before my niece’s baby entered our lives and captured our hearts. Before my daughter became a casting director and mom to two more children whom we adore. Before my nieces and nephews made their debuts into the world with their intelligence, charm, dedication and sense of wonder.

There is always a “before”. Hold onto those moments, remember that the worst of them will become a “before” soon enough. Make the joy last.

Catherine Astolfo is the author of four Emily Taylor Mysteries and Sweet Karoline, all published by Imajin Books. In 2012, she won the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Crime Story in Canada. She’s a Past President and Derrick Murdoch Award winner for service to Crime Writers of Canada. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Holiday Short from Lyn Horner

A Texas Devlins Christmas

Bosque County, Texas; December 25, 1885

Jessie Devlin Taylor stepped back to admire the dining room table she and her twelve-year-old daughter Nora had just finished arranging. Everything was in place, ready for dinner to be served. Her good china, crystal and silverware gleamed, and a centerpiece of cedar bows decked with red ribbon graced the middle of the linen covered table.

“Doesn’t it look beautiful, Mama?”

“It does indeed.” Slipping an arm around her gangly daughter, Jessie gave her a light squeeze. She wished her sister Rose and brother-in-law Jack could be here, but Rosie was expecting again, and Jack had insisted they stay home. Considering what a rough ride it was from their Red River plantation, Jessie conceded he was right.

She sighed. “I’d best go see if all’s ready out back.” Her cook, Maria Medina, was roasting venison and turkeys in the cookhouse, while Jessie’s sister-in-law Lil prepared side dishes in the kitchen. Their food preparations were nearly complete. She just wanted to make sure David and her brother Tye had tables set up for the twenty-odd ranch hands from their adjoining ranches who would soon gather here for their Christmas meal.

“Quiet the little ones before they upset your grandda, aye?” she said, hearing children’s shrieks from the parlor.

While Nora hurried across the hall to stop the noise, Jessie headed for the back door. Stepping out into the walled courtyard, she was glad to see two long tables stretching back almost to the cookhouse. Currently the two men were spreading white sheets over the tables they’d constructed out of wooden planks atop saw horses. More planks lay on barrels and crates along both tables, seating for the ranch hands. Fortunately, the day was warm, or the men would have to eat in the bunkhouse, not nearly as festive.

David looked up, saw her and smiled. Leaving Tye to finish spreading the last cloth, he sauntered toward her. Even after all this time his handsome looks and long-legged, manly gait made her heart beat faster.

He draped his arm across her shoulders. “Well, darlin’? Does it pass muster?”

“Aye, it looks fine. Now bring out the box of greens and ribbons, and I’ll lay them out.”

“The boys don’t expect all this fuss, you know. Feed ’em good and they’ll be satisfied.”

“Nonsense! I want them to enjoy their holiday the same as we do.” She tapped his broad chest. “Fetch the box, please.”

“Yes ma’am.” He gave her a quick kiss and went to do her bidding.

* * *

Nora stood on the front porch watching for riders. Goshdarn! What was taking Mr. and Mrs. Crawford so long? Uncle Tye and Auntie Lil had come early to help Mama and Daddy get ready. Lil’s parents were to come later with their men, but surely they should be here by now.

She glanced at her brothers and cousins. She’d shooed them outside so Grandda Seamus could nap in his parlor chair. Together with Maria’s younger children, they were playing ring taw, a game she’d once loved but now considered babyish. Crouched around a circle drawn in the dirt, they took turns shooting marbles, trying to knock each other’s marbles out of a small inner circle. Reece was winning, Nora could see from the pile of marbles he’d collected.

A faint thudding sound caught her ear. Shading her eyes, she spotted horsemen in the distance. Finally! Whirling, she ran inside to alert her parents.

“Mama! Daddy! The Crawfords are coming,” she yelled, forgetting about her napping grandfather. At his grumbled complaint, she said, “Sorry, Grandda.”

Aunt Lil stepped out of the kitchen just as Mama walked in the back door.

“Are they here?” both women asked.

“Almost. Should I tell Maria?”

“Aye, and your father and uncle. We’ll be out front.”

Nodding, Nora dashed for the courtyard. “The Crawfords are almost here,” she announced, racing toward the cookhouse.

“What’s your hurry?” her father called.

“I have to tell Maria that Vittorio’s coming.”

Hearing her father chuckle, she tore into the steamy little building. “Maria, Vittorio’s nearly here!”

“Sí, I heard you, niña,” the tall black-haired woman said. Setting aside the kettle of gravy she’d been stirring, she mopped her sweaty face with her apron and motioned for Nora to lead the way. “Let us go and welcome my son.”

By the time they joined everyone out front, Auntie Lil’s folks were pulling up in their buckboard followed by several riders. Nora had eyes for only one, a slim young cowboy with dusky skin and raven hair. Drawing rein, he gave her a huge smile, a smile she hadn’t seen in three months, since he’d gone to work as a wrangler for the Crawfords and Uncle Tye. Four years older than she was, Vittorio had been her best friend all her life.

She watched him dismount and greet his younger siblings who danced around him like eager puppies. Then it was her turn. Bounding down the porch steps, she launched herself at him. He laughed and caught her, lifting her into a tight hug.

“Hola, pequeña.”

“Vito! I’ve missed you so much!”

“I suppose I missed you a little bit too.” He winked and whirled her around, making her cry out in joy. Caught up in each other, neither paid a lick of attention to laughter and teasing remarks from their audience of cowboys, family and friends.

* * *

On the porch, Jessie shared a smile with Maria, whose husband Luis stood with David and Tye, grinning at Nora and Vittorio’s exuberant reunion. “I think they’re glad to see each other.”

Maria nodded. “Sí, they are each other’s best Christmas gift.”

“Aye, and always will be,” Jessie murmured. She’d seen them together in times to come, and her visions never lied.

Lyn Horner resides in Texas with her husband and several beloved cats. A former fashion illustrator and art instructor, Lyn took up writing after quitting work to raise her children. She is the author of the award-winning Texas Devlins trilogy which features three psychic siblings, descendants of Irish Celtic Druids.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Holiday Short from Susan Horsnell

A Typical Christmas Downunder
The sun glows hot on the horizon with a promise of what is to come.

While the Northern Hemisphere shivers, Australia traditionally swelters. The temperature consistently soars to 100 degrees at this time of year.

A typical lunch is meat cooked on the barbie, lots of fresh seafood, salad, various desserts and lots of cold drinks.

Christmases past, when our children were young. We usually gathered at my Mum and Dad’s home.

While Dad scraped and cleaned, Mum chopped and peeled. All this was done in the cool of the morning, before chaos descended in the form of their children and grandchildren. Once we all arrived, presents were shared and cold drinks poured.

The men congregated around the barbie, cold beer in hand. What is it about men and barbie’s? Meat sizzled and the dogs hung around waiting patiently for forthcoming tidbits. They have learned from the past.

Mum is determined our lunch will not be shared with the flies and the table inside sits ready and waiting.

Kids would run around the back yard, oblivious to the already uncomfortable heat, throwing balls. New remote control toys whizzed past in every direction.

There was always laughter and loud conversation. We competed to be heard, in such a large family this honor went to the one who spoke the loudest. I’m sure our neighbours, 2 blocks away, were also privy to our discussions.

The men finally wander inside. Dad would proudly lower the meat tray, with what could only be described as burnt offerings, to the table. He liked to ensure what he cooked was well and truly dead. Over the years we have come to accept this.

Everyone would scramble up to the table and dive in. More conversation and more cold drinks.

At the completion of lunch, bellies filled to bursting, we would retire to the living room. It could be guaranteed at least half of our gathering would be asleep within minutes. The other half would watch Christmas movies and reflect on the past year.

This was our Christmas in years gone by.

Our sons are now adults with children of their own and our family is scattered from the east coast to the west coast, the north coast to the far south of this vast country. No longer do we gather as a family. We are unable to be in multiple places at once and financial constraints for many prevent us from all gathering in one place.

This Christmas will be spent at a holiday home, me, my husband, our 2 dogs and 3 birds. It is our new little family. We will give thanks that our family is safe, happy and healthy and, grateful that unlike many, although separated by distance; we will have a roof over our heads and food in our bellies.

Christmas is a time for reflection, peace and thanks for my family here downunder.

Susan Horsnell grew up in the Western Suburbs of Sydney in the 50's and 60's. She was a Nurse for more than 35 years. Now retired, she finally has time to write. Since she is fascinated with 19th Century Texas, her books are set in the old west.

Twitter: @susanhorsnell

Monday, December 2, 2013

Holiday Short from Gloria Ferris

Inga’s Best Christmas Eve Ever!
“Inga! Inga? Where’s my sandwich?”

Inga came up behind him and, for a delicious moment, considered strangling the old fart with his suspenders. Instead, she said clearly, “If you want a sandwich, get off your lazy ass and make it yourself.”

She spotted four house elves lined up on the sofa, watching a forty year old hockey game on the 52” television. “Or get one of your useless minions to do it.”

Without taking his eyes off the TV, Nicky reached over and patted her hand. “You shouldn’t talk about the children that way, Inga.”

Children! Whoever, or whatever, gave birth to all the pointy-eared freaks running around the compound, it wasn’t her. Although she wouldn’t put it past Nick to have a hand in it. So to speak.

Inga snapped her fingers at the sofa. “All of you! Get out to the kitchen and clean it up. The dishes haven’t been washed in days. Then, take the laundry out of the washer and hang it up.” He had a flat screen TV, but didn’t see the point in a dishwasher, clothes dryer, microwave, electric blanket …

The scurry of tiny feet accompanied a loud burp from Nicky. “Honey, it’s almost time. While you’re in the barn checking the equipment, I’ll make a sandwich or two to tide me over. Then, I’ll suit up.”

Inga didn’t trust herself to respond. She pulled on her Nordstrom storm coat and the new Alexander McQueen boots. Sure, he had plenty of money from endorsements and book royalties, but there was no place to spend it. She didn’t realize when she fell for Nicky’s smooth patter two years ago that he would bring her here to this desolate wasteland. The nearest mall was five thousand miles away. She had to order everything over the Internet, then wait six months for the Royal Mail to find her, if they ever did. As for a Tim Horton’s, forget it. No wonder Nicky’s third wife, Bonnie, had fled this rundown chalet and the loathsome elves. She was tanning her wrinkled hide right this minute on the French Riviera.

Inga struggled across the ice rink Nick had built for the “children”. The Arctic wind threatened to whip her feet from under her. She almost didn’t care if she lost her way and froze to death right here, right now.

She managed to open the barn door just wide enough to slip inside.
Immediately, the chitter of barn elves quickened. She never learned to understand their strange language and it didn’t matter now. “Whatever. Knock it off.” The elves retreated to a corner but she could feel their beady eyes watching her.

They had succeeded in hitching the team up to the sleigh. Inga did a circle check — testing straps, ensuring lights were functioning, and pushing on the magic sack to see if it was stable in the back seat. What do you know? It wasn’t.

With a gentle shove from Inga, the sack rolled out of the sleigh. The elves rushed over, but Inga pointed her finger at them. “Back! Momma’s wearing a brand new pair of elf-kicking boots.”

They twittered in alarm, and one made a move towards the door. “Oh no, you don’t. Get back into that corner. “

Inga stopped in front of the lead reindeer and squeezed his nose. He stomped his right hoof in protest, and dozens of tiny bells jingled on his leather harness. “Keep your antlers on, Sparky. I’m just checking the brightness.  We can’t have you blowing a bulb over the Atlantic.”

Or was it the Pacific? She shrugged, and plugged her destination into the GPS. She reassured herself that the precious piece of paper was zipped into an inside pocket of her coat. With the off-shore bank account numbers she copied from the list in Nicky’s safe, she was so out of here. It served him right for getting her drunk and dragging her into the Elvis chapel in Vegas.

Time was wasting. Nicky would be here any minute, ready for the one night of the year when he actually did any work. She had just one more thing to do.
Inga lunged at the huddle of elves and extracted one at random. She plunked him into the front seat. “I hope you can drive a sleigh. After I land in the Cayman Islands, you’ll need to get this rig back. I’ll set the GPS for you. You’ll be fine.” Maybe he would, maybe he’d end up in Hawaii.

She climbed into the sleigh and wrapped the robe around her legs. Picking up the reins, she called to the elves in the corner. “Open the doors, then get out of my way.”

Without the heavy sack of toys, the sleigh lifted off like a butterfly in a summer breeze. As they cleared the chimney, a red figure emerged from the chalet. An unexpected wave of affection swept over Inga. Vegas had been fun.

Leaning over the side, she called out, “Bye, bye, Nicky. If you’re ever in the Caymans, look me up. I’ll save a margarita for you!

A former technical writer, Gloria’s first mystery, Cheat the Hangman, won the 2012 Bony Blithe Award for best light mystery. Corpse Flower will be released on Dec 14th and she is working on a sequel. She occasionally writes a short story or novella just for the heck of it.

Twitter @GloriaFerris

Friday, November 29, 2013

Holiday Shorts: The Prequel

Family and the Pumpkin Patch

By Danita Cahill

One late spring, when my daughter Alyssa was a first-grader, I planted a couple extra hills of pumpkins. I figured she and I could enjoy some fun activities together when the pumpkins were ready. Little did I know then that besides providing mother-daughter bonding opportunities, the pumpkin patch would provide story fodder for my brothers for years to come.

While the vines were growing, Alyssa and I daily strolled hand-in-hand to the garden to check the pumpkins for progress. We watched as the golf-ball-sized fruits grew, swelled, and finally turned orange.

In early October, she and I harvested the pumpkins. I let her help decide where we should arrange them for autumn decorations. We piled pumpkins here and there. We tied tall corn stalks to fence posts behind the piles, and topped each pile of pumpkins off with a few colorful gourds. We were happy with the festive, fall look. Later that month, I let Alyssa pick which pumpkins we’d carve into funny-faced Jack-o-lanterns. The rest she and I chunked up, boiled, peeled, pureed and carefully measured into freezer bags to use for holiday baking.

The day before Thanksgiving, I pulled a couple bags of the pumpkin puree out of the freezer to thaw. Thanksgiving morning I was out of bed early to prepare pies and get them in and out of the oven before we headed to my folk’s for dinner.

“Mommy,” Alyssa asked as I was scooping together the ingredients for piecrust, “can I visit with Kendra through the fence?”

“Okay,” I murmured, up to my elbows in flour. I watched out the kitchen window as my daughter skipped across the north field to visit with her young neighbor friend on the other side. The skirt of Alyssa’s blue and white dress bounced with each step. She looked so sweet and carefree. I sighed, imagining all the burrs I’d have to pick out of her knee socks when she got back home.

I was rolling out the piecrust when Alyssa and her friend burst through the back door. “Guess what?” Alyssa announced. “Kendra’s mom said she could come over for an hour.”

I sighed again, thinking my daughter should have consulted me before inviting a friend over. It was Thanksgiving. I was busy. I didn’t have time to run a daycare center. But, it was a holiday, after all, and I decided to make the best of it.

I put the girls to work.

I found out the hard way – it’s not easy to supervise two six-year-old bakers while in the midst of rolling out pie dough.

I tried to be a good overseer as the girls measured the spices. Somewhat patiently, I picked out the bits of eggshell after they cracked the eggs. They whisked the beaten eggs and canned milk together with the pumpkin. I poured the mixture into the finished shells and popped the pies in the oven.

Soon the ginger-spice fragrance of baking pies filled our kitchen. When a knife inserted in the centers came out clean, I pulled the pies from the oven. They turned out fine – or so I thought at the time – great smell, good color, the texture seemed right, and I felt proud that we’d grown the pumpkins ourselves.

I shooed the neighbor girl back across the field, picked the burrs out of Alyssa’s socks, and loaded her and the pies into our Thunderbird. We headed north to Mom and Dad’s.

It was a big gathering, as usual, and after my extended family had digested the generous, traditional Thanksgiving meal, we broke out the desserts. Grandma had baked blackberry pie, my favorite, so I opted for a slice of that, while my mom, aunt, and three brothers each dished up a piece of Alyssa and my homegrown pumpkin pie.

We all plopped on some whipped topping and dug in.

Grandma’s blackberry pie was heaven. And Mom and Auntie didn’t moan, groan or make faces while eating the pumpkin. Looking back on it now, I can’t believe my brothers ate their slices without complaint either.
On our way home that afternoon, for who-knows-whatever reason, I ran the earlier pie assembly through my mind – the egg beating, the milk pouring, the spice measuring. But…what about the sugar?

My memory blipped at that point.

This blip settled into a brain hollow and haunted me for the rest of the 45-minute drive from my folk’s house to mine. I didn’t have a cell phone back then, but as soon as I got inside the door, I called Mom on my land line.

The conversation went something like this:

“Uh, Mom, did you notice anything weird about the pumpkin pie?”

“Well…not really,” Mom said. She was always mindful of other people’s feelings, sometimes almost too kind. “Why?”

“Because I’m not sure your granddaughter and her friend put in any sugar.” Yeah, yeah. Let’s blame this one on the kids, shall we?

“Now that you mention it, the pie wasn’t very sweet.” There was a hesitation on Mom’s end. “I thought maybe you were trying a new recipe.”

A dessert recipe without sweetener? Interesting concept, Mom. “No.” It was time for me to stand up and face the band. “I just plain forgot the sugar.”

“It wasn’t so bad,” Mom hedged, “with lots of Cool Whip.”

Good old Mom.

My brothers, on the other hand, still give me a hard time about my baking skills, or, I should say, my lack thereof. For heaven’s sake – it was four pies. One mistake. Years ago. But brothers, bless their boyish hearts, are not Moms. Brothers thrive on family stories they can really sink their tease into.

A version of "Family and the Pumpkin Patch" was first published in HCI’s book The Ultimate Gardener. Similar stories will appear in Country Girl Confessions: Inspirational Stories of Living and Growing Up Rural, scheduled for an early 2014 release.

Danita Cahill is a multi-published, award-winning writer and photojournalist. She’s written and published more than 2,100 articles and columns in 10 different newspapers; a dozen magazine stories; a non-fiction eBook – Kids are a Crack Up: Humorous Stories from the Mouths of Babes; and two novels – Mist, a supernatural romantic suspense; and Love at First Click, a small-town contemporary romance, and the first in the Bellham Romance series.

To learn more about Danita Cahill, her books and her upcoming releases, check out her Amazon author page, or find her on Facebook.

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Funny Girl Happened to Land on My Blog

I love to laugh. It's the best medicine and it has no side-effects unless you count having people look at you funny when you start chuckling at something you're reading. 

Melodie Campbell makes me do that. Her books have got me funny looks in doctors' offices, banks, and while reading in the car while my son is delivering papers. That's why I love to have her as a guest blogger... especially when she makes me think as well as laugh.

 WRITING MOB COMEDIES - You are supposed to love your family and support them. But what if your family is this one?

By Melodie Campbell

My first memory is of a family reunion at a rural farmhouse in Southern Ontario. I was not quite three, and tears were streaming down my face. I had just learned how to talk in English, and I couldn’t understand a word anyone was saying. Had I lost the ability to understand people?

All sorts of big scary uncles picked me up. They tried to console me by speaking softly. But I couldn’t understand them because they were speaking in Italian, or more specifically, Sicilian.

They would laugh now, knowing that was the reason for my tears. But all of them are gone now, and the world has changed so drastically, they wouldn’t recognize it.

Gone are the days when one uncle lived in glory at the huge bungalow on the lake. Later, when I looked him up, he was out of favour, living over a store in a small town. No longer do my distant cousins die of gunshot wounds ‘while cleaning their rifles.’

Often, I have wondered where the antique statues from Italy ended up. Back in the Italian churches from which I suspect they were taken during the war? I am hopeful.

These were the days of Brio and cannoli after mass on Sunday mornings. And gossip about other relatives, one of whom was a famous boxer. My Godmother’s friend, the singer (one of a group of sisters) who could not escape the clutches of a mob underboss in the States. He wouldn’t let her go. I remember the aunts clamming up about this, when I ventured into the room, looking for mom.

I was the darling of the family, with dark curly hair and big evergreen eyes. Later, when I grew up curvy and was tall enough to be a model, they doted on me. So my memories of growing up in such a family are decidedly warped.

They were warm and loving. Loads of fun. And massively protective.

In THE GODDAUGHTER’S REVENGE, you will find a mob family that is funny and rather delightful. Gina loves them, but hates the business. She is always trying to put it behind her, and somehow gets sucked back in to bail them out. I wanted to show that ambivalence. You are supposed to love your family and support them. But what if your family is this one?

THE GODDAUGHTER’S REVENGE is meant to be a laugh-out-loud comedy. But there is an adage that states the following: Comedy is tragedy barely averted.

Melodie Campbell got her start writing comedy. THE GODDAUGHTER’S REVENGE, a comic mob caper, was released October 2013.

THE GODDAUGHTER'S REVENGE and Melodie's other titles are available on:

Find Melodie at: Funny Girl Melodie

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Christmas Trivia Contest

1.  What did the soldiers use to decorate the Christmas tree in camp?

2.  Who celebrated Christmas more, the northern states or southern states?

3.  What did the southern women warn their children about?

4.  Why did President Lincoln ask political cartoonist Thomas Nast for a Santa Claus picture? (See left.)

5.  Which of these Christmas standards could not have been sung during the Civil War?
A - Silent Night
B - Jingle Bells
C - We Three Kings

We will announce the winner Sunday November 24th.

Answer the questions in the comments or direct message Kat or Alison on Facebook.