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Flash Fiction Challenge – Christmas in a Strange Place

Here’s another Flash Fiction Challenge…saw it when I went to terribleminds to post my last entry. Couldn’t help myself!


The place is a ghost town, the hallways nearly silent. The only sounds are soft, coming from the few that can’t leave. Like me. Not that I make any sounds, but next to my bed the low beep of the heart monitor reassures me. A similar beep echoes from the next room, and a pen scratches paper at the desk around the corner.

Usually the rooms are full of things to watch, to overhear, sometimes to feel. Visitors, students, doctors. The occasional researcher interested in my condition, my prognosis, my psychology.

But in the evening things slow down. Researchers retreat to their offices. Doctors hand us off to the night shift, which usually means one doc and a handful of residents. Nurses tiptoe to allow us to sleep. Visitors go home, to the rest of their families.

The nights are long for me, lonely. I try to understand – my family has to keep living, after all – but at night it’s hard. Impossible really. I will stare at the ceiling, trying to get excited about counting the ridges or looking for faces in the texture, after a thousand nights of the same. I will try to find music in the rhythm of my heartbeat and my neighbors’. The neighbors I’ve never seen, so maybe I’ll try to put a face, a gender, even an illness to those unknown beeps.

But the mind is a strange place to be sometimes, and tonight is worse than ever. Quieter, lonelier, emptier.

I picture my kids, passing through the living room in fuzzy pajamas, dawdling, gazing longingly at the presents my wife has carefully wrapped.  I can see the packages now, every crease perfect, every corner smooth, every edge flat. The ribbon crossing over the wrapping just so. I picture my wife, shooing the boys out of the room and to their beds, for surely it’s past their bedtime now. “Just one more night, can’t you wait?” I hear her scold gently. “Go to sleep or Santa won’t come!” she’ll warn.  Are they leaving me behind, even now?

I feel something wet and warm leak onto my cheek. Damn it!  All I want is to be home.

No, to be honest, at this moment all I want, with everything in my being, is to reach up and wipe the tear away.  The desire burns in my belly. I feel my hand resting motionless on the blanket, but all I can do is blink. The slow, controlled blink that is now my entire life. Blink, blink, blink.

I should be grateful to have that much, they tell me. “You could be a vegetable,” they say, “you’re lucky.” Right now it’s damned hard to feel grateful about anything. Or lucky. And how much difference is there between me and a vegetable anyway?

“You have proprioception, and feeling too, those are things to be grateful for.” At the thought, I feel the roughness of the sheets. They’re not really rough, but they feel so to me. I feel the indentation of my heels in the mattress, my elbows. The slightly too-cold air on my arms. My buttocks going to sleep under my weight. How one foot lists outward while the other behaves.

Yeah, right, if only they knew. My legs start to burn. Restless Leg Syndrome. I’ve heard them talk about it on informercials. RLS, a made up illness is what I think, but then again, my legs want to move, aren’t comfortable at all in their position, drive me crazy with the need to move.

I’d laugh if I could – funny what a difference a single letter can make! Replace the R with an A. ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

ALS, RLS, RLS, ALS. One letter. Kin of a sort. And like siblings they don’t get along…the ALS has locked me in, and the RLS wants to let me out. Part of me want to laugh. Just a small part, but I guess that’s something.

A sound distracts from my torment. “Jingle Bells” plays quietly on someone’s crappy computer speaker. A nurse is trying to be kind by keeping the volume down; I want to yell “turn it up!” but as always the shout echoes only inside my head. Instead, I strain to hear. I tune out the other sounds – for one thing, my hearing has gotten better – and listen.  My eyes close as the music shifts.

I catch my breath – make that, it’d catch if it could – as the weak speakers do their best to broadcast “Little Drummer Boy.” My favorite. Suddenly I forget my RLS and let myself be carried away by the music, floating from one song to another. Carol of the Bells, another favorite. Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Nat King Cole. Burl Ives. On and on.  Time moves faster than any night I can remember.

A touch on my hand startles me – usually I hear people approach long before they even see me, even when they try to catch me by surprise. My eyes pop open and I see my wife, my lovely wife, leaning over me. A scraping sound I can’t identify, and a piney scent fills the room. Then the rustling of paper, but all this is below the foot of my bed and I can’t see any of it from my prone position. She leans down and kisses my dry lips, gently, lingeringly, lips catching my day-old stubble.

That I can feel.

She reaches then for the bed control, and slowly I rise up.  Another tear finds freedom as a baby tree comes into view, decorated with our family ornaments and a garland, with perfectly wrapped packages being placed – less than gently – underneath by my two boys, their little arms helped by their sister.

“It’s midnight, baby,” she whispers in my ear, “and Santa just got here.” My daughter takes my hand as the boys scramble into the bed. I feel each of their bony knees and elbows as they snuggle against me, and am grateful.


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Flash Fiction Challenge – 50 unexplainable b&w photos

For this terribleminds flash fiction challenge, it was difficult to choose! More than a few of the photos screamed vivid stories (numbers 8, 18, 21, 28, 29, 35, 38, 39, 42, 43, 44, 45, 47, and 48) but the most vivid (it was a close race between 8 and 29 and 45) ended up being photo number 8, girl chased by penguins.




Allisa bolted upright, dashing her hands across her eyes.  As soft ruffles and lacy drapes came into focus, her breathing slowed and she heaved a sigh. It was just a dream. She wanted to run to her mother, but felt too foolish. Her mother would only laugh. What could possibly be threatening about something so cute and goofy?

But those beady little eyes…

She flopped back against the pillows, hugged her velvet bear closer, and closed her eyes.

The images reappeared immediately, ending all possibility of sleep. Though it was too early to rise, she climbed out of bed. A pair of mary-janes and her favorite dress went on like armor, a flower in her curls the shield.

There. That was better.

Feeling more put together, she climbed onto the window seat to watch the dawn and wait for the household to rouse. Her bear, sitting in her lap, joined the vigil.

She noticed it just as sunlight started to spill over the wall: a dark form, lying too still in the shadows of the yard, as yet too blurry to see. She held her breath – and bear – tightly as she strained to make out details in the murky light.

“Plllllllllleeeeaase” the word squeezed from her throat, voice barely more than a whisper. Wide eyes fixed unblinkingly on the shadow. She wanted to run but couldn’t move from her perch.

With startling suddenness, dark and light met. Revealing with terrible clarity a pair of fine leather boots.

Boots that she knew well.

Her father’s boots.

She jerked her head up from where it lay against the window frame. How could she have fallen asleep? The sun shone brightly, filling the yard below with warm light. The empty yard. Empty of shadows, of boots. She rubbed her eyes, climbed down, and picked her bear up from where he’d fallen, limbs akimbo.

“I’m just a silly silly girl!” she exclaimed, scolding herself as her mother would have. She quickly made her bed – like a good girl – and placed the bear on her pillow.

She was almost down the stairs before the quiet pressed in. Pausing mid-step, she strained to listen. Cook banging around the kitchen, parents murmuring over coffee, housekeeper beating a rug, anything.

But there was nothing.

Another step, another pause. Still nothing.

Another step, another pause, and this time she heard.

A throaty click.


Click, click, click. Rapid fire, staccato. The echo of her nightmare.

She ran into the sitting room, losing balance as the smooth soles of her shoes lost grip on the hardwood.  She caught herself on her hands, fingers searching for traction in something slick, wet, thick. She stared down at the viscous red covering her fingers and retched. She looked around frantically, but the room was empty, only the puddle to show someone – or something – had been there.

Click-click-click. It was in the kitchen. Reaching blindly, she grabbed the first thing her wet fingers touched, and breaking from her dream, ran towards the sound.

Broken dishes. Coffee beans spilling across the counter. Oven hanging open with a pan of dough on the floor, dropped on its way to the oven. A pair of bare feet lying motionless behind the island. She took in the chaos in an instant, eyes immediately finding her enemy. A figure of black and white, little shorter than she, with its back to the door and leaning over the prone body of the cook as it pressed a long sharp beak into his face. Allisa gagged again as an eyeball popped free and swung from the creature’s beak.

At the sound, it turned and opened its mouth, dropping the eye with a squelch. Glowing red eyes fixed on her, wings spread wide, rapid clicking transforming into a trumpet as it waddled toward her hungrily.

She shrieked wordlessly, heart in her throat yet unwilling to turn and run. With all her might, she lifted her arms.

The fire poker was nearly as tall as she, but somewhere she found the strength to lift. To swing mightily.  The trumpeting stopped with a squeak as the poker smashed into the penguin’s head with a gratifying splat. The squat body fell over and slid to the floor with only a whisper. Allisa broke off her shriek.

In the ensuing silence, her limp arms dropped the suddenly heavy poker. Catching her breath, she averted her gaze and stepped past the cook to see who the bare feet belonged to, then, with a cry fell to her knees and pulled her mother’s head into her lap.

“Mum? Mum! MUM!” she sobbed, knowing it was too late. She opened her mouth to call for help, but then closed it. There would be no one to help her.  She gently closed her mother’s staring eyes and hugged her close, silent tears falling.

Without warning, the body in her arms lurched and she jumped back, dropping her mother’s head with a thud. The vibrating continued furiously, gaining intensity. Allisa turned her head at another sound, just in time to see the cook’s body stop quivering, his arms and legs start to shrink, and his eye snap open.

Blood red and glowing.

Allisa crawled backwards until her head hit the oven, the sudden burn jolting her to action. She jumped to her feet, turned, and sprinted to the door. Bursting into the yard, she skidded to a stop, jaw dropping.

A large penguin stood next to a pair of empty leather boots. It started to shuffle forward.  Movement to the left drew her gaze, and she saw more approaching from the stables. To her right, a few more stragglers.

From behind her, a rustling. She slowly, stiffly, turned to see another pushing itself upright from a puddle of silk.  A woman’s silk dressing gown.

Allisa closed her eyes and willed it all to be a dream.

When she opened them, a horde of red-eyed penguins stood in front of her.

She turned and ran.


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