Christmas 08: The Story

It was Christmas Eve. Last minute travelers lounged in plastic chairs, waiting for the weather to clear. Flights were either cancelled or late.

A young girl approaching puberty [say teen, or give an exact age] sat beside an old woman with a furrowed brow.

“Are you excited about Christmas?” she asked.

“I hate the holidays. “Crowds, long lines– this,” the old woman said, pointing to the fog. [if they’re inside, could she point to the fog? If they’re looking out windows, we need to know that.]

“I love Christmas!” The girl’s smile, ordinarily infectious, had no effect on the woman’s mood.

“What’s so good about it?” she asked. “I could be home with my feet up right now, if it wasn’t for this stupid holiday.”

“Are you visiting someone special?

“Humph, not exactly what I would call a visit.”

“Why don’t you like Christmas?” the girl persisted.

“It’s a lot of hoopla over nothing.”

“What do you mean nothing?”

“It’s a lie,” she said tersely. “There was no miraculous birth,”

“For arguments sake, I would say that even if it wasn’t a virgin birth, it was still a miracle,” the girl replied. [vocab is too mature; sounds like two adults talking]

“How could it be a miracle if it wasn’t an immaculate conception?” [Who is your target reader? If your going for children, this won’t work.]

“I think it’s a miracle that people traveled from far and wide, just to honor the baby, Jesus.”

“To me there is nothing so miraculous about traveling,” the old woman mumbled under her breath.

“How did they know when the baby would be born? How did they know where to go? It’s not like Joseph and Mary had access to the Internet,” the girl chuckled.

“That’s the way the story goes, it doesn’t mean it’s true,” the old woman’s tone laced with sarcasm.

“So what you’re saying is that we celebrate a story?”

“Essentially, yes. That’s okay, kid, we’ve all been fed the same story.”

“That’s very possible.” She gave the woman’s comment consideration.

“Sure it is––like Santa Claus, he’s not real.” The old woman stared into large eyes, feeling slightly cruel. “Ah, don’t mind an old lady. Christmas is for kids.”

“I agree, Christmas is for kids,” the girl retorted. “And what better way to celebrate than with a story.”

“You have a point.”

“Do you believe in God?” the girl asked.

“What’s God got to do with it?” the woman responded, clearly surprised by the question. [They’re talking about Christmas. Why would the woman be surprise by this question?]

“Do you believe in God?” the girl repeated.

“Yes, I suppose I do, but I don’t believe that He would’ve let his son be born in a barn on a cold winter’s night.”

“You have a point there.”

“I know I do, it’s a ridiculous story.”

“Still, don’t you think it’s rather interesting that the greatest story ever told is about a child?”

“What are you getting at?”

“Only that some think Christmas is for children, and the story is about a child.”

“Christmas is for children,” insisted the old woman.

“I feel like a child at Christmas. I love the pretty lights, giving gifts, being with family.”

“Honey, the retailers get rich, they love Christmas too.” [too many ping-pong sentences without speaker ID; their voices aren’t different enough and the reader could get lost.]

“The retailers remind us that Christmas is in the air,” the girl spoke in defense.

“More and more people object to celebrating Christmas as a religious holiday you know,” said the old woman. “So much for the story.”

“What if the purpose of the story is so that at this time of year, whether we like it or not, we all think about the child? Not only the Christ child, we have thoughts about all children, including the child within us. We think about the gifts bestowed upon the child to remind us of the gift of life. What if we are reminded to bring peace and goodwill to others by embracing the story about the child?”

“That’s a nice thought, but not everyone thinks like that. Some think it’s a time to be disappointed.”

“In what way?” the girl asked.

“Not everyone has family to share the holiday with.”

“Jesus was visited by strangers.” The girl said emphatically.

“So where does Santa Claus come into the picture?”

“What if God gave us Santa Claus so we could remember the joy of being a child? He’s a jolly old fellow. He makes us laugh. Laughing is very healthy you know, especially at this time of year when we embark upon the cold and flu season.”

“What about the children who don’t find gifts under the tree?” the old woman lamented. “Kids know about Santa, they know what he does, the seed has been planted, and just like the story of Jesus, truth be known–” The old woman paused. “It’s all about money, commercialism.”

“Lights and pretty things bring us joy. We loved these things as children. Why not love them as adults? Besides, all that commercial stuff comes to a halt on Christmas. Imagine– the whole world stops for one day while we celebrate a miracle, the birth of a child.”

“Too many disappointing Christmases I guess.” The old woman sighed reflectively.

“I’m sure there are many out there that feel the same way. Maybe that’s why the story is so important. Mary, Joseph, the three kings. The Sheppard’s, the angels and don’t forget the little drummer boy,” she added.

“How could I forget? The poor little boy had no gifts to bring.” the old woman said harshly.

“That’s not true, the little drummer boy brought music. Music brings us joy.”

“What about those who don’t have family? Those people who are lonely at Christmas?”

“I think they lost the child within. That’s why we have the story, and Santa Claus, pretty lights and give gifts. Maybe that’s why Mary and Joseph were turned away at the Inn in the story. To show us when we feel isolated, there is hope. If we remember the child within, we can find joy in the things the season offers. Animals bring joy, music brings joy, friends, family bring us joy. Joy to the world!” she laughed.

“My son is too busy for me. I go there because it’s Christmas, and then I sit alone.”

“Are there grandchildren?”

“Yes, three. They’re too busy too.”

“Read them the story of Christmas.”

“They’re too old for stories.”

“Everyone has a child within.”

“How do you find it?”

“Listen to your heart. Follow the star…” [ping-pong]

Just then an announcement came over the loudspeaker, the fog had lifted. Flights would resume shortly. When the old woman turned to thank the girl for her company, the girl was gone. On the seat was a package. The tag read “To Millie”. Her name was Millie. She never mentioned her name to the girl. How did she know? Maybe the girl’s name was Millie too? She wondered. It didn’t matter, the girl was gone. It was time to leave. When she picked up the package, the paper fell away, revealing a small book, “The Story of Christmas.” She turned to the first page, the inscription read:

To Millie,

I will remember you always…Merry Christmas!

The Child Within

The basic idea behind this story is warm and positive. We all sometimes need a reminder of what Christmas is about. I do agree with Rudolph the red-pen editor. Rudolph pretty much summed up the comments I was planning to make. Give the story more movement. Make the girl sound her age. Give us a more description and not so much back and forth in the conversation. I also liked her idea of meeting the girl various places, rather than it all taking place in the airport. It also needs a title.

What I liked best: The warm and positive feeling.

Magazine ready? Not yet, but keep working on it.

Christmas 07: The Forgotten Christmas

One day Nora noticed something different in the window of The Little Christmas Shop she always passed on her way home from school. [“Noticing” is not an active verb. Start with action.] At the bottom of a crooked Christmas tree stood a small angel [we need more description—color, texture, etc.] and it looked like he had only one wing. She inched closer to make sure she wasn’t imagining things and saw that his left wing really was missing! Now why would the old shopkeeper put a broken angel in the window?

This bothered Nora [again, not an active start] and for the next few days she would pause by the shop to see if the angel had been removed. He was always there, looking rather sad and forlorn. Finally, at the end of the week, Nora’s curiosity got the best of her, and she went into the shop. [Condense the first two paragraphs, making them tight and active and one event.]

“Well, well, what can I do for you, young miss?” asked the old shopkeeper as he peered through small round spectacles perched on the tip of his nose.

“Sir, that angel in the window,” Nora said, “why does he have only one wing?”

“Oh, he lost it on his way down from Heaven,” the shopkeeper said bending so close to Nora that she could almost touch his bushy white eyebrows. [Is this Santa? I like the hints.] “Every year an angel flies down to Earth to announce Christmas, however I think this little one had an accident… ”

“An accident!” Nora gasped. The shopkeeper’s spectacles almost slipped off his nose.

“Yes, he tumbled from the sky and I found him one night lying in front of my shop. I tried to help him but he just stands there, all sad and motionless. So I’m afraid we won’t have a Christmas this year…”

“No Christmas!”

Nora couldn’t believe it. There had always been a Christmas. Yet what if the shopkeeper’s story were true?

No Christmas…that meant no tree, no lights, no presents, no carols, no turkey dinner with cranberry sauce (she loved cranberry sauce), and…the next thought was unbearable…no school
holiday! [no ellipses]

“Look,” the shopkeeper said shuffling to the window, “take the angel. Perhaps you can find his missing wing…” [no ellipses]

“Me find his missing wing?!”

“You want to have Christmas, don’t you?”

“Yes, but…”

“Well, take him,” he said.

Nora reluctantly put the angel into her schoolbag and left the shop. She had almost reached the corner when she decided to bring back the angel. She turned around and saw that the window was completely dark. Over the door was a sign: “Closed because of No Christmas”

As she walked down the street, the Christmas lights in the other shops went out, and that beautiful decorated tree in the town square – it was practically bare. People were scurrying about and didn’t seem to realise that Christmas was gradually disappearing.

When Nora got home she saw that the wreath made of holly and mistletoe on the front door was gone.

“Why did you take down the Christmas wreath?” she asked her mother.

“Wreath…what wreath?” her mother answered.

Nora went up to her room without saying another word. The old shopkeeper had been right. She sat on the bed, holding her head in her hands. Then she took the angel out of her schoolbag and examined the tiny hole where his wing had been.

“How am I going to find your wing? It could be anywhere. Please, help me!”

The angel remained silent. It seemed to Nora that he grew sadder and sadder. She placed him on the window sill. As she looked out, she noticed that the Christmas tree which had been in the neighbour’s living room was no longer there.

She hardly slept that night. During the following days [how many days? the shorter the time frame, the better] things got worse –all over town Christmas lights and decorations were vanishing.

“Are we having turkey again for Christmas,” Nora asked her father hopefully one evening, “with lots of cranberry sauce?”

“Christmas?” he asked, poking his nose over the newspaper he was reading. “What’s Christmas? Nora, are you all right?”

She was in despair. Now even her parents were forgetting. Soon she would be the only one in the world who remembered Christmas.

At last Christmas Eve arrived, and the town looked as dull and ordinary as it did the rest of the year. Nora had spent the entire week searching for the angel’s wing and it was like trying to find a seashell in an ocean of sand. Now she was on her way home thinking about the evening
and how empty and lonely it would be. As she crossed a small park, the streetlamps went on. The lights shining through the branches reminded her of Christmas trees, which made her feel even more miserable. [How old is Nora? Too young to be walking alone after dark.]

She was about to leave the park when she saw something float down [passive; make it active] from the air and land in the middle of the path. It was a small feather. She looked up in the oak tree and there was a sparrow flitting from branch to branch. [Personally, I’d like a more magical finding of the feather] She picked up the feather and held it up to the light, turning it around. It seemed so delicate yet strong. Suddenly she had an idea, such a good idea that she ran home and dashed upstairs to her room.

The angel still stood on the window sill, looking sadder than ever. She rushed over to her desk and rummaged through the drawer, pushing aside some drawing paper and crayons. She pulled out a pair of scissors, a string and a pot of glue. She sat down and began to wrap the string around the stem of the feather. She neatly trimmed the tip with the scissors. Then she took the angel from the sill and carefully fastened the feather onto his left side, adding a little dab of glue to make certain that it would stay. She held him up and was proud to see that the new wing matched the other one – well, it almost did.

“Please, little angel, wake up,” she cried, squeezing her eyes shut.

Nothing happened. She held the angel close to her and repeated, “Please, please, wake up!”

After a few minutes, she felt a stirring in her hand, followed by a faint sensation of warmth. Nora opened her eyes. The angel moved his head. She put him back on the sill. He tottered about and rubbed his eyes, and actually stretched his wings!

“Where…where…am I?” the angel asked, looking about in a bewildered way.

“In my room,” Nora said, “but quick, we have no time to lose. You must announce Christmas…”

The angel yawned and flapped his wings.

“Oh, now I remember what happened,” he said. “On my way to Earth I was caught in a terrible storm. My left wing broke off and I tried to land on the doorstep of a little Christmas shop and an old shopkeeper…”

“I know that,” Nora raised her voice impatiently. “Please fly and announce Christmas!”

She threw the window wide open. The angel gazed at the stars glittering in the vast sky and with a quick little hop flew out, flapping his wings as hard as he could. As his feet grazed the top of the trees, Nora could hear his tiny voice call, “Let it be Christmas!”

It began to snow. Soft flakes silently covered the neighbourhood with a beautiful white blanket. One after the other Christmas lights flashed on. In the house next door, the tree once more glowed and in the distance she could hear some carollers singing.

The angel flew higher and higher until he became a mere speck in the night, yet Nora could still hear him calling out, “Let it be Christmas!” [End here.]

And it was Christmas, the most wonderful Christmas she had ever seen.

I like this. But not the title. Change that. Make the passive scenes more active.

What I liked best: The whole story concept.

Magazine ready? It’s very, very close. With just a few changes, yes.

Christmas 06: P.O.W. Christmas

Gleaming, glimmering stars held a gentle vigil throughout the night sky, like nights at home when he was a boy—a boy who wanted to be a hero. Heroes go to war. War is hell. Did the folks back home who slumbered safely under this same night sky know how hellish this place really was? But, knowing and feeling are two different things. [awkward] The man-boy had learned that lesson since becoming a prisoner of war. As a naval pilot of attack aircraft, flying bombing missions in his A-4 Skyhawk, he had achieved one dream, but landed—plunged—deep into this nightmare.

At night his ears rang louder than wild bells. Daily, hourly, his heart pounded as loud as drums. Didn’t he remember that bells and drums were a part of Christmas songs?

His pulse throbbed in a dry, parched throat. He felt the measured beat. Peace! He existed to fight for peace. Where could he find peace? What could he say, do, to help himself and his comrades? Besides peace, one thing he missed most was his freedom. According to calculations, tomorrow’s dawn would bring Christmas Eve. Ho, Ho, Ho indeed. [good]

What gift could he give? His life? Him whose birth we celebrate did. Some soldiers would. He knew, but he put that thought away. [is this a reference to suicide? not clear.]

Searching deep into his soul, his heart, his mind, he realized that the one thing he missed most this Christmas was a symbol. Not the symbolic Christmas tree, nor bells, nor drums, nor stockings hung by the chimney with care. He missed a singular symbol for freedom—the American flag. Hadn’t he gotten, finally after “humane treatment” convention discussions—packages from home? Wonderful, heart-warming, even hand-warming packages containing gloves, men’s large, white handkerchiefs, and blankets. One blanket, a rich, ruby red, sparked an idea in his head. Wasn’t his shirt blue? Couldn’t he fashion a needle, of sorts, from bamboo? Yes, he knew what he would do. [too many questions]

Huddled in a far corner of the cell he went unnoticed by other POWs. Using unraveling from his blanket he threaded the bamboo needle. Inside the blue shirt, using strips of a handkerchief and pieces of the red blanket, he fashioned a flag. An American flag, a symbol of freedom. This flag—his gift—the only gift he could give. [frag]

That afternoon, before the POWs had their bowl of soup, they hung his shirt on the cell wall. All stood at attention and pledged their allegiance. It was the most important and meaningful act of freedom the POWs experienced. A great gift from one pitiful prisoner who desired to lift himself and others from the depths of despair. His gift was received joyfully by gladdened hearts.

The wonderful feelings of being able to pledge the flag evaporated one dreary, desolate day. Guards searched the cell. They found the shirt. They saw the flag inside. The guards left, taking the shirt. Upon their return they jerked open the cell door. The gift-giver—even the flag-maker was pulled outside and beaten severely for the next few hours.

When his persecutors threw him back into the cell he was bruised, bloody. His utterings were barely audible. Fellow POWs tried to clean away the blood and tend to his bruises. This tender treatment and care for the flag maker caused a great ferment among the men. After a time, the tension abated. Later, when his strength returned, the gift giver sat huddled in a far corner. Was he cursing his captors? Was he moaning with pain? Was he crying with sorrow? No.

He held a white handkerchief, a piece of red cloth, another blue shirt, and a bamboo needle.

Technically, watch your punctuation, sentence structure. I think you overuse the questions, but just by a tad. I like the patriotic twist.

What I liked best: Pretty much, all of it.

Magazine ready? Yes.

Christmas 05: The Costume Maker

Our third grade class was having a special program and the teacher had chosen me to be the Christmas tree. I was the first one off the bus as it pulled to our stop. [Start here] I raced down the street toward home. Out of breath, I burst through the door to hand my mother the note.

“Well, what have you here Connie?” she asked.

“We’re having a Christmas program, and I’m going to be the tree. Will you make me a costume,” I asked gasping for air.”

“Of course, I will. What do you want it to look like?”

“I want it to be the biggest and best looking tree ever. Can it have a star on top?”

“I’m sure that’s possible. Now let me read the note so I can see when this has to be done.”

The next day when I came home from school, my mother was at the kitchen table cutting something out of the newspaper. I wondered what she was doing. After closer inspection, I could see it looked like a pine tree. I didn’t want to disturb her so I quietly stood watching. Soon she turned and said, “Take off your coat so I can see if this will fit you.”

I stood like a statue as she pinned the newspaper pattern around my body. As the time passed, I know I fidgeted from foot to foot hoping I wouldn’t move too much. I didn’t want her to stick me with a pin, but it was sure taking a long time.

A few minutes later, she declared it a perfect fit. She carefully removed the pins and laid the pattern on the table. Then she left the kitchen for a short time and when she came back, she was clutching a piece of green fabric. I watched as she carefully laid the soft material on the table, arranged the makeshift pattern on top in several directions, and fastened it with pins. With scissors in hand, she started cutting.

The next day I came home to find a long green dress with no sleeves waiting for me to try on. “Mother never makes mistakes, so why is it necessary to try it on?” I wondered.

I’m sure my disappointment showed, but it didn’t look anything like a tree. The following day when I arrived home from school there were branches made of crepe paper poking out in all directions along the bottom of the skirt. At first, I didn’t notice, but there was wire holding each branch in place. Every day I ran all the way home from the bus stop excited to see the progress on my outfit. Finally, the tree was complete and my mother had me try it on for a final fitting. I twirled around in circles knowing this was the best costume in the world. “It’s not finished,” my mother said.

“But it looks like a tree.”

“Wait until you get home tomorrow and you’ll see,” she said.

As my anticipation grew, I could hardly wait for school to be over. When I arrived home, my eyes grew big as I saw the gold tinsel and ornaments my mother had attached to the branches. It was a piece of art. I knew there had never been a costume or tree this beautiful.

On the day of the program, my mother arrived early to help me into the outfit. I didn’t see the final touch, the yellow star hat, until my mother pulled it from the bag. I bet my eyes were as big as saucers when I saw the glorious bright glittered gold star she placed on my head.

As I entered the room to perform, everyone turned to stare in amazement. I could hear the softly spoken ahs, and ohs. Instead of the usual feeling of shyness, I was floating on a cloud.

After the program, I was the center of attention. Everyone wanted to see and feel my costume up close. My mother taught me that I was important, and helped others see my value.

We saved the outfit for many years. I’m not sure where it went, but I’ll always remember the beautiful Christmas tree and the way I felt when I wore it.

The years passed and I still remember this costume made by my mother. She took as much care in making it as if she were making a piece of clothing that I would wear to school. She showed me patience as she sewed the branches to the green dress, and as she attached wires so they would poke out the way a tree does. Her stitches had to be perfect. Nothing could be wrong even if it were only a child’s outfit for a play, and I would only wear it once. Whenever my mother said she was going to do something, you knew she would. She never let anyone down. My mother was generous with her time and always willing to help her children, and others.

Change this story to third person. Take out some of the long descriptions and the first two sentences—start with the girl racing into the house. Add a little more conflict—is the girl worried it won’t look right, or it won’t be ready in time, or maybe she doesn’t see what it looks like as it’s being made but just finds little clues each day. Make it more showing, less telling. End it with the performance and everyone saying it’s the best costume ever. Do all that and you might just have a picture book.

What I liked best: The surprise star.

Magazine ready? Not quite, but it has a lot of potential.

Christmas 04: The Crooked Christmas Tree

Guschti was a farmer high up in the Swiss Alps. He had a hard life and money was always scarce, which is why he worked at many things to feed his wife and five children.

It was December when people in the nearby town wanted Christmas trees and Guschti could earn extra money for presents to give his children. So early one morning he hitched his horse Blitz to a sleigh and headed for the forest. Blitz means lightening in German but the horse was getting old and could only plod along the path.

They stopped on the edge of a clearing where young trees grew. Blitz shook his head and the bells on his harness jingled. Guschti climbed down from the sleigh and pulled out an axe from under the seat. He trudged through the glittering snow to the first tree, a tall fir with even branches that would fetch a good price. He raised the axe and felled it with a few quick strokes, brushed away the snowflakes that had fallen on his cap and bushy beard and went to the next tree. It was a medium-sized one with a firm trunk that could bear the weight of many candles and ornaments.

When he had cut down ten trees, he dragged them to the sleigh and loaded them into the back. Blitz turned his head, steam curling from his nostrils, and watched him. Guschti was about to climb back onto the seat when he noticed a small tree on the edge of the forest. He strode over to it. Its branches were crooked and he thought that it would never grow well next to all the big ones surrounding it. Perhaps he could sell it. He lifted his axe and with one stroke cut it down. He tossed it on top of the others and returned to the farm.

Anna, his wife, was shoveling snow from the walkway leading to the house.

“Why did you chop down such a crooked tree?” she asked when she saw his morning’s work.

“It wouldn’t have grown anyway,” he said. “If I can’t sell it, we’ll use it as kindling wood.”

The next day Guschti drove the sleigh to the nearby town. He unloaded the trees in the square, hammered together ten wooden crosses and nailed them onto the trunk of each of the trees which he lined up in a neat row. Then he sat on a stool and waited. Soon the town’s banker came along and bought the tallest tree, then the butcher, the barber, the baker, the candlestick-maker, the blacksmith – each took one smaller in size. [awkward] Flurina, the flower girl, picked one exactly her height.

An hour later the mayor crossed the square and stopped in front of Guschti. When he saw the three remaining trees, he said in a loud voice, “Is that all there is? For my position I need a big tree.”

“You’ll have to settle for this one,” Guschti said. “It’s not as tall as the others I sold but its branches are broad.” He wanted to say, “broad as your mouth”, but decided to hold his tongue.

The mayor reached into his pocket.

“Here,” he said as he dropped a coin into Guschti’s gnarled hand. “It’s not worth more.”

Now there were only two trees left, a short sturdy one and the runt with the crooked branches.

The shoemaker stuck his head out of the shop door. “Gruezi, Guschti. Do you have a tree for me?” he shouted. “I need one to put in my window.”

“This one is just right for you.” Guschti held up the short sturdy tree.

The shoemaker shuffled over to him. “It’s perfect!” he said. “I’m going to decorate it with tiny red shoes and white ribbon laces.”

Guschti’s pockets jangled with coins and he thought about what presents he could buy his wife and children. He rubbed his hands together. It was getting colder. If it weren’t for that last tree, he would go home. Would anyone want to buy it? At the corner Blitz pawed the cobblestones and shook his head, making the harness bells jingle.

Some people passed and asked if he had more trees and Guschti had to say he was sorry that was the only one.

Finally he decided to leave. He picked up his stool and hammer and was about to walk away when a little girl came up to him. It was Sophie whose father had even more children to feed than Guschti. [how does he know her?]

“What can I do for you, my dear?”

“I’d like a Christmas tree,” Sophie said as she tugged on her patched coat, “but I don’t have any money.”

“Well, take this one,” Guschti said as he picked up the little tree. “Its branches are not straight, but the trunk is strong and it has a beautiful tip.”

Sophie stretched out her arms and the tree just about filled them.

“Oh thank you,” she said. “I’ll make an angel of straw to put on the tip and hang rosehip berries on the branches.”

“And chocolate bells,” Guschti said.

Sophie stopped smiling. “But I can’t afford chocolate bells.”

“Yes, you can,” Guschti said as he reached into his pocket and handed her two silvery coins. “This will buy you six chocolate bells for your six years. Merry Christmas, Sophie!”

“And Merry Christmas to you!” Sophie cried as she ran off to the bakery, holding high the little tree that no longer looked quite so crooked. [not sure she could run while carrying the tree]

You have great imagery. Well written. The story of a free Christmas tree is done a little too often, but I still like this version of it. Perhaps because of the Swiss/German slant to it. (It was a little confusing—you mention the Alps, then the German reindeer name.) I’d like to see a little more of the culture woven into the details of the story.

What I liked best: The simple language used to tell a simple, but very touching story.

Magazine ready? Yes! But I don’t see it as a story in a magazine. I see it as a Christmas picture book. The simplicity of the language works for me and as I read it, I could hear myself reading it to a child. I could also picture in my mind illustrations to go with it. This story was very real for me.

Christmas 03: Victoria Scarlett Jones and the Big Black Bear

“Hurry. Come see.” yelled Victoria Scarlett Jones as she ran up the sidewalk toward her house. Gasping for breath, she yelled as loud as her six year-old voice could on this chilly Christmas Eve. Although the Joneses lived in Florida and the only white in White Christmas was the silky smooth sand at the beach, this Christmas Eve had dawned crisp and quite cool. Victoria Scarlett had spent most of the afternoon playing outdoors.

“Mama, come on out here. There’s something you’ve just got to see. Come now, will you, please?” Victoria Scarlett puffed hard as she skipped up the front doorsteps.

Bursting into the front door and racing straight into the kitchen, Victoria Scarlett saw Mama frying bacon and boiling grits for supper. Victoria Scarlett was breathless as she skidded to a halt next to the kitchen table.

Catching her breath, Victoria Scarlett seemed to burst with pride as she smiled sweetly and said, “Mama, I’m begging you to come with me.”

“Child, please,” said Mama. “What is so important that I have to stop making supper and go this instant to see about it? Aren’t you about ready to put icing on the Christmas cookies we baked this morning?”

“Mama, cookies can wait. Right now, there is a BIG BLACK BEAR IN OUR BACKYARD.”

“What’s that you say?” Mama looked surprised; like she did the first time she saw two alligators crawl up onto the banks of Watermelon Pond.

Patiently, Victoria Scarlett repeated herself. “There’s a big black bear in our backyard. A VERY BIG BLACK BEAR and I want you to come see it NOW! I want you to be the very first person to lay eyes on it, Mama.”

Victoria Scarlett smiled as she grabbed Mama’s apron. Then, she put her arm around Mama’s waist and gave her a little hug. Mama grabbed Victoria Scarlett and gave her a big hug. Then, a frown crossed Mama’s face. “A bear? In our backyard? Victoria Scarlett Jones, you know I have told you since you were a tiny tot, to never tell a lie. I especially don’t want you to do it on Christmas—when we’re celebrating Jesus’ birthday. [make this more active: VSJ, don’t be telling me a lie—especially on Christmas!] A big black bear, indeed.”

“But, Mama, that’s why you need to come see for yourself. You’ll see I’m not fibbing. I tell you what, Mama, I will hold your hand and then you won’t have anything to worry about,” said Victoria Scarlett with a knowing grin.

The frown was leaving Mama’s face. “Well, I guess it would help if you held my hand,” Mama said as she turned off the stove. She gave the gravel-ly grits one last stir and forked the bacon onto a paper towel to drain. Then, Mama wiped her hands on her big, red Christmas apron and Victoria Scarlett took Mama’s hand in hers.

Without words, only smiles between them, they left the kitchen. Victoria Scarlett led Mama. They tip-toed out the back door. “Wait Honey,” said Mama. “Go back and close the door. But, be as quiet as a mouse. We don’t want that big black bear in our backyard to hear us coming to spy on him.” Victoria Scarlett obeyed Mama and closed the door without making a sound. [there’s no reason for this; keep the first sentence, delete the rest.]

Next, Mama and Victoria Scarlett tiptoed in the soft, green grass around the corner of the house. When they arrived in the backyard Mama began to frown again. She said, “Victoria Scarlett Jones, I do not see a big black bear in our backyard at all. Are you trying to pull an April Fool’s joke on me?”

“Mama, we are not THERE yet. But, there really is one. You can count on it, just as sure as you can count on Christmas. I’m not fooling you.” Victoria Scarlett picked up a twig and pointed it toward the biggest tree in the yard. “You see that big old oak tree over there?”

Mama said, “Sure, I see it, but I didn’t think we were looking for oak trees. I thought we were coming to see a big black bear in our backyard.” Mama grinned and all frowns left her face.

“Oh, Mama,” said Victoria Scarlett, “THE BIG BLACK BEAR IN OUR BACKYARD IS BEHIND THAT BIG OLD OAK TREE. So, you’d better get ready.”

Mama started shaking and acted like she was truly scared. “Victoria Scarlett, I…, uh…don’t want to go around behind that tree alone. Are you coming with me?”

Feeling quite important at this moment, Victoria Scarlett straightened her shoulders, held her head high and said, “Certainly I will. I’m not afraid.”

“Oh, thank you, Honey,” Mama said. “I’m sure glad my big girl is with me.”

Victoria Scarlett took Mama’s hand once again and they bravely walked around the tree. And what do you think they saw?

They looked at the ground and there in the black dirt, Victoria Scarlett had smoothed a big area with her hand. Then, with a small stick, she had drawn the OUTLINE OF A BIG BLACK BEAR.

With a deep breath and a big bear-grin on her face Mama said, “Oh, I do see now. I see the big black bear in our backyard.”

“Merry Christmas, Mama. I drew him just for you.”

Mama grabbed Victoria Scarlett up in her arms and said, “Do you know what I do to little ladies who take me on bear hunts in the backyard—little girls who make my Christmas happy? I give them BEAR HUGS!”

Victoria Scarlett squealed. Mama chuckled. Hugging each other tightly, the two of them plopped down in the dirt and laughed and laughed and laughed. [cut this]

Do not use capitalization for emphasis. Use your words. The girl’s name is a bit difficult to say. It doesn’t flow out of your mouth. If you’re seeing this as a possible picture book (which it could be with some work), you need everything easy to say aloud.

Aside from you telling us the setting is Christmas, there is nothing in this story that makes it a Christmas story. I’d drop the whole Christmas angle.

What I liked best: The relationship between the mother and daughter.

Magazine ready? Almost. But I’d suggest working it into a picture book.

Christmas 02: My Christmas Story

Perhaps this is way to simple to be called a story, it may be an event a happening, a moment in time, something to treasure in my book of memories, but I decided to tell this as a cherished Christmas story because it happened to me. [Delete]

The year had not been a particularly good one and if I mentioned divorce that would fill in all the necessary questions, possibly the answers as well, lets say I found myself single, not of my choice and with the responsibility of the task of finishing the raising the last two of my four daughters. [punctuation; sentence structure]

The Christmas season was approaching and since this was my first without a real strong financial support besides myself things were looking pretty gloomy. Even though I was working two jobs I really did not have the means or the nature to have a lot of Christmas spirit. The girls and I had moved into a very small home in a kinda medium neighborhood, not fancy, but workable. The kids were both in very early teens and did not say to much about how things were, they just knew it was a rough time.

One particular night I had an occasion to go to a church house for Relief Society board meeting. I was picked up by the President and left my daughter Angie at home with her friend Jeff, our Bishop’s son.

Those two had adventure written all over them and mostly during that period of time in their lives it was watching scary movies, making munchies, eating an incredible amount of sunflower seeds and just hanging out. I had left without any particular chores left to be done just that I would be back in an hour or so.

Like all women that I know, I took the opportunity to visit while going to my meeting and as I recall, had even talked about the lack of Christmas Spirit being a part of my home that year. I had always decorated a Christmas tree and we had never went without. However some years were better than others. There was always something under the tree. This was really not a test year to see how we were going to do as a family, just a year when I did not have a lot of hope or warm fuzzies about the meaning of the Christmas Season and what it meant for me. [Show, don’t tell.]

Anyho as my daughter Angie like to say, I was chatting and feeling down as we drove home from the meeting and knowing my house was around the corner I looked ahead as we turned down the street to a sight that to this day brings tears to my eyes when I recall the next precious moments where like I said, time stood still.

Ablaze in all of the possible glory that could be had, one house on our block was newly decorated with multi colored Christmas lites outlining the roof. There was no Santa or dancing reindeer, Angels were not singing in a heavenly choir, just a beautiful simple strand of lights declaring to the world that Christmas was coming.

A hush fell over me as I marveled at the sight. My tears freely flowed trying to exclaim to my driver, joy of joys, wonder of wonders, that it was my house that was decorated. There was more excitement that I could express that night when I realized it was the two kids I had left watching movies who had dug out our Christmas lights, climbed up on the roof and stung them along the edge. How they every did it without ladders and in the dark of night I will never know.

They gave to me that night the knowledge and hope that life goes on even during trials and tribulations. It was a message of the Christmas Spirit. Giving of ones self and time not necessarily material things but something else that can make a huge difference. It brought peace and comfort and assurance that life does go on.

Like the Babe in the Manger whose love brought awareness to the world, this also gave to me the knowledge that I was loved and someone cared enough to do a simple gift for me. I began traditions that I have loved and kept every Christmas since, Some decorations simple as they might be, and putting Christmas lights on the “outside”of my home. Finding homes and places that display the lights all season long. Listening to music that portrays the feelings of our Savior’s great love, and ours for him. Singing along when possible and enjoying the songs which tell of hope and the happiness that can be found.

Christmas had become a joy and not a burden to me.

Technically, you need to be more careful with your spell checking and proofreading, punctuation and grammar. But the heart of the story is touching. Rewrite it with more showing, rather than telling. Instead of telling us what her situation is, show us by her actions, what she sees, smells, hears. Give us some dialog. This could be a real tear-jerker, in a good way, if you tightened up the writing.

What I liked best: The surprise of the teenagers.

Magazine ready? Not yet. Make it more active, occurring in real time.

Christmas 01: Christmas in a Tent

[Give it an active start.] Caroline had dreaded Christmas before, but not as much as this year. Since the divorce it had become increasingly difficult to make sure her three children had a nice Christmas. That didn’t mean that they got four wheelers every year, or new bikes even. It meant that they each received a few nicer gifts, and a new book since they all had their favorites. She drove home from class a little slower today because it was December 15, leaving her little time to come up with anything. It wasn’t going to be easy looking at those little faces and their lists for Santa Clause, and she knew that likely nothing on the list was going to be delivered.

She had taken a new job, and the partners in the company she had gone to work for had a falling out, leaving no work for anyone they had hired. Only one paycheck for the past two and a half months had been received from them as their times had been hard too. She had taken odd jobs here and there, some paying $25 or $50 for sometimes a whole day’s work. It was hard to find something that worked with her full-time school schedule. It was finals week [what does that have to do with it?], so she hoped that an opportunity to work at least a whole week before would present itself. So far nothing.

Caroline wondered how the Lord felt about being on speed dial, it seemed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. [Good] Then she remembered promises that she would be able to somehow provide if she were faithful.

“Mom, know what I want?” said Joey, her oldest at 12 years of age, the second she opened the door?”

“You want a robot to clean your room so Santa will come visit, right?” she smiled and hugged him tight so he wouldn’t see the tears welling up in her eyes. A deep breath followed as she let go and winked at him.

“Mooommmm! Santa doesn’t have those!” grinned Joey. [He’s 12. Does he really believe in Santa?]

“Ah, well, you definitely want to take care of that room then before he sees it. Or you know what you’ll get…the dreaded lump of coal.” she said.

Joey laughed and went back to writing his list.

“I’ll just give you the list when I’m finished.” he said.

She toussled his hair as she walked by him at the table.

The younger two, Robbie now 10 and Tyler now 8, were playing trucks in the living room.

“Vroom, crash, oh no Tyler , you ran into me….vrooooooooom, vrooom, vrooooooooooooom!” said Robbie with his best motor imitation.

“Hey, you ran into me!” said Tyler .

“Now I have to get a new truck for Christmas!” he half cried.

“Boys, it’s time to put the trucks up for now so we can have dinner.” said Caroline.

“Do you want my list mom? I know what I want for Christmas.” said Robbie

“Sure Robbie, but a little later, ok?” she said as she sat down on the floor beside him and hugged him.

About that time Tyler took full advantage of the dog pile opportunity and threw his arms around his mom and Robbie’s necks tipping everyone over.

“I want lots of new trucks for Christmas, Mom, and a BB gun.” Tyler said.

They all laughed and wrestled for a minute. She felt the tears welling up again though, so she cut the dog pile short and went in to the kitchen to make dinner.

She went through the mail and found a bill from the dentist. They were sending her to collections if she didn’t pay $25 on it before December 20th. She had $25 dollars, three kids to buy Christmas for, and no prospect of making money before then. She would have to deal with collections she thought.

This didn’t seem like it was going as promised. She was taking her children to church, fulfilling her calling, teaching them at home, and the world was still falling apart.

The very second she opened her eyes in the mornings, she prayed to find a way to take care of her obligations and provide for her family. The $25 dollars wasn’t going to cover any type of Christmas. What if they needed a gallon of milk sooner than she planned? She had gone without eating much for quite a while to make sure her children had food. They didn’t know that. They needed to know they were loved and that life is good. Days filled with worry went by.

On December 21st, her friend called. She had confided most things in her over the years, but this particular thing she hadn’t.

“Caroline, it’s me, how are you? I have been trying to reach you for days.” said Rebecca.

“Oh, I’ve been very busy with the kids and school. How are you?” she asked.

“Doing well. I went to my company Christmas party last night, and I won a tent as a door prize. Can you imagine me using a tent?” Rebecca laughed.

They bothed laughed for a moment, and Caroline said, “Now that you mention it, no.”

“So I was wondering if you could use it. Maybe you could give it to the boys for Christmas. It seems like you said they didn’t have one last summer when you went camping.” Rebecca added.

“That would be so great. They will love it.” Caroline said.

“Oh, and it’s not from me to them, it’s from you or Santa, or however you want to do that.” said Rebecca.

At that point she knew she thought maybe she had been a little more transparent than she thought about their situation. [awkward] Rebecca would drop the tent off the next day.

Caroline knew that the tent was going to be the main gift at that point, and that it could come from Santa, and all would be well. She began searching for things that went with a tent that she could add to it to make Christmas a little more complete.

She noticed advertisements for fly tying classes at a local sporting good shop. She could make certificates for a class for each of the boys, and did so. They could officially sign up after the first of January, but the certificates could be part of Christmas under the tree.

She went shopping the next day at the sporting goods store and found some inexpensive camping gear the boys would enjoy.

Christmas Eve came, and her parents had asked if they would spend the night and have Christmas morning there. [Where? It’s not clear who’s staying at whose house.] Reluctantly she agreed. The tree wasn’t going to be very full this year, and she really didn’t want everyone else to know that.

After the boys were tucked into bed, and her parents went to bed, she sat out in the living room and cried. There just wasn’t much under there. There was a tent and three little presents each, including the gift certificates for the classes. Then she had an idea. She got the tent out of the case and set it up in the living room. It filled the area in front of the tree up nicely, looking like there were more presents. Then she decided she would make a treasure hunt for the boys from the bedroom to the tent.

It’s about 3 a.m. at this point, but she got on her mom’s computer and made paper fish, printed them out, colored them green and wrote clues on them to help the boys find Christmas. All of the presents would be hidden inside the zipped-up tent.

She made the trail, left flashlights by the first fish and went to bed. At about 6:00 a.m. she awoke to delighted squeals. The boys had found the flashlights and were on the hunt for Christmas. She hoped they would stay excited through the end of the trail. They had a great time, and when it was time to open the tent to find the other presents, they were ecstatic to end up in a tent in the living room!

This was a great Christmas after all. Caroline cried a little as she watched the boys have so much fun with not much under the tree. They then read the Christmas story and talked about the true meaning of Christmas. The boys thought they had the best one ever–especially since they could all stay in the tent all day. After all, the baby Jesus was born in a stable. They could spend Christmas in a tent.

She remembered how she had been promised that she would be able to take care of her family if she was faithful, and it didn’t necessarily mean she would have more money to help. She came to realize that it could mean receiving blessings through other people to help her do this, and to help her find the true meaning of Christmas for her family in a very unexpected way. That it’s about love and being together. Even if it’s in a tent.

Watch out for typos, sentence structure. You change tenses a few times. Parts of the story are not really clear and you dropped a few things. Is she in school? Robbie keeps asking about the list, but Mom never follows up with that. Are her parents at her house or is she at their house? Where are her parents on Christmas morning? They went to bed and disappeared from the story. Do more showing of the events. Get the senses involved. Tighten up the writing, cutting the unnecessary and repetitive parts. Play up the miracle of her friend calling with the tent and how that was an answer to her prayers. I like the idea of the treasure hunt, but you need a reason for why the clues were on fish. I also like the tent inside the house idea.

What I liked best: Setting up the tent in the living room.

Magazine ready? Not yet.

2007 Christmas Story Contest Sponsors

A huge thank you to the following authors whose books are sponsoring the 2007 Christmas Story Contest.

Publisher’s Choice, Published Author Category Prize: Sorry, the Stork Takes No Returns by Claire Bowen

Welcome to the slightly off–kilter world of Claire Bowen and family. A world someone once called “gently insane.” Or perhaps he said the Bowen world was ordinary and the people were insane. In any case, he’s no longer invited to dinner. But draw your own conclusions. From adventures with Scouting and Girls Camp, to self–service tooth fairies, to reflections on becoming a grandmother, Claire’s unique sense of humor will leave you laughing. And whatever else this book does, it makes you feel better about raising your own kids. It’s humor with a literary sense and humor with common sense. It’s humor with teenagers! What more could you ask? You’re likely to recognize your own family, because you know they’re nuts, too; and you’re sure to be comforted, because they’re not as nutty as some we could name. You’ll come away feeling you’ve made new, albeit somewhat unstable, friends.

Claire Bowen is a freelance writer in North Georgia and a mother of five. Her work has appeared in national publications, and her award-winning newspaper columns inspired this first in a series of “Family-Challenged” books.

Here’s what readers say of Claire Bowen’s work:

“…writing that falls somewhere between Erma Bombeck and Bailey White. It’s what we’d all be doing if we were still a nation of storytellers.”

…she has mastered the art of making writing come to life…as if she just stopped by for a moment in her busy day to chat.”

Reader’s Choice, Published Author Category: The Man from Shenandoah by Marsha Ward

Carl Owen returns from the Civil War to find the family farm destroyed, his favorite brother dead, food scarce, and his father determined to leave the Shenandoah Valley to build a cattle empire in Colorado Territory. Crossing the continent, Carl falls in love with his brother’s fiancé while set to wed another girl. But he might lose everything if the murderous outlaw, Berto Acosta, has his way.

Carl battles a band of outlaws, a prairie fire, blizzards, a trackless waterless desert, and his own brother—all for the hand of feisty Ellen Bates. Carl Owen doesn’t intend to lose anything: not his land, not his cattle, and certainly not his girl ever again!

Marsha Ward was born in the sleepy little town of Phoenix, Arizona, and grew up with chickens, citrus trees, and lots of room to roam. An avowed “tomboy,” Marsha began telling stories at a very early age, regaling her neighborhood chums with her tales over homemade sugar cookies. Visits to her cousins on their ranch and listening to her father’s stories of homesteading in Old Mexico and in the Tucson area reinforced Marsha’s love of 19th Century Western history.

After fifty+ years in the city, Marsha now makes her home in a tiny hamlet under Central Arizona’s magnificent Mogollon Rim. When she is not writing, she loves to spoil her grandchildren, travel, give talks, meet readers, and sign books. You can find Marsha at

Publisher’s Choice, Unpublished Author Category: Kindred Spirits by Christopher Kimball Bigelow

Born and bred deep in Mormon Utah, thirty-something Eliza Spainhower has carved out an independent life for herself in Boston. While still believing in the faith of her childhood, she has recently been disfellowshipped from the LDS Church. Trying to repent, she connects with local native Eric Abercrombie on the subway, and soon she’s prodding him in a race against hormones as the couple navigates Mormon baptism-and-wedding hurdles.

Further complicating matters are Eric’s adopted daughter Manda, his bossy ex-wife Helen, and Manda’s Wiccan birth mother Kindra, all three of whom live together. As Eliza tries to establish her place in Eric’s improbable clan, she’s forced to reckon with her Mormon identity in unsettling new ways. Her journey of spiritual and physical passion is fraught with Mormon-style guilt, otherworldly visions, ministrations of evil spirits, and culture clashes between Mormonism and Wiccanism, all shot through with simmering intimations of polygamy that eventually reach a crisis point.

Christopher Kimball Bigelow is the great-great-great-grandson of a Mormon apostle who had more than 40 wives. He served an LDS mission in Melbourne, Australia, and worked as an editor at the LDS Church’s official Ensign magazine. A graduate of Emerson College and Brigham Young University, Bigelow cofounded and edited the Mormon literary magazine Irreantum and the satirical Mormon newspaper The Sugar Beet, and he’s working on a memoir and a novel. A Hodgkin’s disease survivor and the oldest of ten siblings, he lives with his wife and four children in Provo, Utah. You can reach him at

Reader’s Choice, Unpublished Author Category: Grasshopper Pie by Rebecca Talley

Have you wondered what happens when imaginative siblings start cooking imaginary food? Watch and see as the mother-daughter team of Rebecca and Angela Talley tell the adventures of Logan and Madolyn — two enterprising young children who whip up gastronomical delights for their mother, and then top them off with their pièce de rèsistance: Grasshopper Pie!

Rebecca Talley grew up in Santa Barbara, California and now lives on a ranch in Colorado with her amazing husband, 8 of her 10 creative children, horses, goats, and a llama named Tina. She is the author of a children’s picture book, Grasshopper Pie. Her stories have been published in Story Friends, Our Little Friend, The Friend, and Stories for Children. Cedar Fort will release her YA novel, Heaven Scent, in spring 2008.

Besides writing, Rebecca enjoys eating chocolate by the pound, dancing to disco music while she cleans all the messes that seem to multiply and replenish her house, and contemplating all the craft projects that still need to be completed. You can find Rebecca at

2007 Christmas Story Contest

Submission to contest is now closed.

Get ready for the holidays by entering the Christmas Story Contest

Submission Rules:
Write a Christmas story in any genre.

Maximum word count: 1500

Stories published anywhere other than your personal website or blog are ineligible. (That includes books, magazines, e-zines or other contests.)

Stories submitted for last year’s contest are also ineligible.

Paste entire story into an e-mail. NO ATTACHMENTS, please.

In your e-mail, indicate whether or not you are a published author. “Published” is defined as someone paid you money (or comp copies in the case of magazines) for your story or book. (So either a publisher paid you, or you self-published and people bought your book.)

You may submit more than one story. Send each submission in a separate e-mail.

SUBMIT your story any time between now and Saturday, December 15th.

I will post the stories starting December 1st, in the order that they arrive.

Voting Rules:

VOTE between December 16th and December 19th.

There will be four winners: Readers Choice (Published authors), Readers Choice (Unpublished authors), Publisher’s Choice (Published authors), and Publisher’s Choice (Unpublished authors).

Publisher’s Choice winners will be chosen based on quality of writing and uniqueness of story. You can vote by whatever criteria you want, just don’t make it a popularity contest.

You MAY vote for yourself.

You may vote twice in each category: Published and Unpublished. You may only vote once per story. We’re on the honor system here.

You may make all the comments you like, but VOTING COMMENTS must clearly indicate that it is a vote. (Ex: I’m voting for this one…)

I will post comments on stories and announce the winners on Friday, December 21st.

This contest is sponsored by and prizes provided by:

  • Publisher’s Choice, Published Author: Sorry, the Stork Takes No Returns by Claire Bowen
  • Reader’s Choice, Published Author: The Man from Shenandoah by Marsha Ward
  • Publisher’s Choice, Unpublished Author: Kindred Spirits by Christopher Bigelow
  • Reader’s Choice, Unpublished Author: Grasshopper Pie by Rebecca Talley

Please visit our sponsor bio page to learn more about the sponsoring books and authors.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off Contest Results

Before I announce the results, I want to thank all of you very, very much for participating in this contest. While I run these contests mainly for fun, they also serve a couple of legitimate writing purposes: to give you feedback from readers (your target audience), feedback from a publisher’s perspective, and to practice getting your work in front of others. Submitting is a nerve-wracking experience for most writers and you get over the fear by doing it.

Every single entry in this contest had things in it that I really liked. I tried to mention the strongest points in my comments on each post. I also listed things you should watch out for, things that might keep me from reading more were they a “real” submission.

I recognize that I seriously crippled your writing by giving you only two paragraphs to set up your story and provide enough of a hook to entice your audience to keep reading. This is really tough to do. In many cases, I’m sure you would have taken more time, given us more depth and developed the scene more completely had you been submitting the first chapter. Therefore, if I suggested that you do that, please do not see that as a criticism of your entry, but rather an indication that I felt there was undeveloped potential there.

If you want to take credit for your work, please identify yourself in the comments section of your post.

Now for the awards.

Reader’s Choice

First Place with 7 votes: Entry #22 submitted by Patricia Wiles

Honorable mentions, a four way tie with 4 votes each (in chronological order):

Entry #6 submitted by Karlene Browning

Entry #8 submitted by Jeff Savage

Entry #9 submitted by Michael Keyton

Entry #21 submitted by Melanie Goldmund

Publisher’s Choice
(Ones I’d be most likely to ask for more…)

First Place: Entry #21 submitted by Melanie Goldmund
This one went immediately to creepy, had wonderful descriptive imagery, and could be developed into a great story/novel. Even though the paragraphs were long and it would read better if separated into more than two, this entry embodied the spirit of horror in a classic style. It gave us a great beginning and I see lots of potential.

Honorable mentions:
Entry #13 submitted by David Woolley
This is a great start to a tween horror novel. With all the inappropriate teen horror out there right now, I’d love to see something like this developed into a scary novel that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to give to my children, nieces and nephews. (If you finish it, let me know.)

Entry #8 submitted by Jeff Savage
This has wonderful descriptive language and a very strong beginning. It would make a great prologue for something really cool. I’d love to read more. (And I don’t care if you call it a prologue or chapter one, it’s still a set up to a story, not the beginning of the story itself.)

First Place Winners: Please send me your mailing address and the title of the book you’d like for your prize—a classic horror book of your choice (must be available in paperback and easy to find). If your entry is the beginning of a full story you may send the entire story to me and I will post it here and also include a link back to your blog or website. (Include the link in your e-mail.)

If you are not one of the first place winners, but you have the rest of your story posted on your blog or website, feel free to post the link in the comments section of your entry.

Advance notice of upcoming Christmas Story Contest:
I’m going to run a Christmas story contest, beginning December 1st. I will post the full stories. Word count limit is 1500 words (although you can do less). I will be dividing the entries into two categories: published authors and unpublished authors, with Readers Choice and Publishers Choice prizes in both categories. Start writing now. I’ll publish more details in a few weeks.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off Time to Vote

Okay, that’s the last of them. Start voting!

You can review contest guidelines and voting rules here.

Click the label “07 Halloween” at the bottom of this post to bring up all contest submissions.

UPDATED: Got a few e-mails asking for clarification.

1. Post vote in the comments section of the post you’re voting for.

2. Examples of a vote I will count:
“I VOTE for this one.”
“This one gets my VOTE.”
“VOTING for this.”
Notice the common thread? Put the word VOTE in it.

3. Examples of a vote I will not count (because I don’t know it’s a vote):
“Lovely images.”
“This one was really spooky.”
“This one made me shudder.”

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #22

Marsha sat in John’s recliner – head bowed, an empty jar between her dry palms. The darkness acted as a whetstone, honing her senses to a fine edge. She detected the Chanel No. 5 lingering on his sweater; his footsteps in the hall irritated her as much as the grind of a dentist’s drill. He’d stopped sneaking in a long time ago – he had that little respect for her. He didn’t care if she was in their bed or not. She knew he wouldn’t turn on the light to find out.

Marsha set the jar on the side table. John screamed and thrashed. The jar vibrated. Marsha smiled, satisfied that her husband was remembering – and regretting – the last words he’d spoken to her, the question he’d so carelessly asked this morning: “Don’t you have anything better to do than collect black widow spiders?”

Submission Deadline Tonight

Just a reminder that all submissions for the Scare-Your-Pants-Off contest must be received by midnight tonight, as indicated by the time stamp on your e-mail. I will post the last of them tomorrow as early in the day as I can.

Voting starts at 12:01 a.m. on the 30th, but you might want to wait until mid-morning to be sure all the submissions have been posted. I will post notification that submissions are closed when they’re all up.

Please review the guidelines on voting. If you click the label “07 Halloween” at the bottom of any of the submission posts, it will bring up all contest submissions.

Feel free to comment on as many as you want, but only vote for three. You must clearly state that your comment is a vote for that submission or it will not be counted.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #21

The morning fog was thicker in the cemetary, and the only sound Claudia could hear was the purring of the buggy’s wheels as they rolled over the fallen leaves on the path. Even Tim was quiet. She wondered if he’d fallen asleep, and leaned down to check, but he was awake, sucking his two middle fingers and staring out in silence at the trees and bushes and the white haze around them. On the grave next to her husband’s, there was a mound that she didn’t remember from her last visit. Funny, it looked as though someone had arranged a body there and simply covered it with leaves. And was it her imagination, or did it smell strange as well? Claudia sniffed, but only caught the usual autumn scent of decaying leaves and moist, cool air. Parking the buggy on the path, she approached the simple headstone to lay down her chrysanthemums. There was a single rose on the stone already, another thing she didn’t remember from last time; a long-stemmed flower that had dried out completely to brittle shades of brown and rust. Trying to avoid the unusually large thorns, Claudia reached out to grasp the stem, only to cry out in pain and toss the rose away. That hadn’t just been a finger prick. It felt like something had bitten her.

The rose had landed on the pile of leaves and Claudia stared malevolently at it for a moment, then turned her attention back to her finger. It was bleeding, and she squeezed more blood out of it in a first, rudimentary attempt to cleanse the wound. Straightening up, she shook her hand so that the large drop of blood that had collected on her fingertip went flying in the same direction as the rose. The pile of leaves shuddered. At first, Claudia thought it was the wind and ignored it, leaning forward to reposition her chrysanthemums on the headstone. But unexpected motion caught her eye, and she looked again. Instead of being blown in one direction or another, the leaves were sinking. They rustled as they tumbled slowly down into the earth, and then the rustling sound changed, and the movement of the leaves shifted subtly. Something was coming up from underneath them. A violent shiver of fear shot up Claudia’s spine to the top of her head, and she had to force herself to take even one step backwards. The smell came first, a gag-inducing stench of rot and decay mixed with the metallic tang of fresh blood. Sliding her other foot backwards, Claudia felt it knock something behind her. She froze for a moment, and then she remembered. The buggy! Tim! Something black was emerging from the leaves now, vaguely human in shape but not at all human in appearance. Trying for a scream but only managing a raspy, breathless “uhhhh,” Claudia whirled, reaching out for the handles of the buggy.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #20

I pushed the shopping cart next to the driver’s side of the car and unlocked the doors. As I opened the door, a wave of heat assaulted me. I quickly started the car and turned the air conditioner on full blast. I left my door open to let some of the heat escape and carefully reached into the back seat and started buckling Julia into her car seat. I tried to calm her protests with a rattle and she grasped it tightly in her chubby hands.

Next it was Olivia’s turn. I pulled her out of the cart and lugged her around to the passenger side of the car. I tried to remain calm as she cried about going to the park. “Maybe later sweetie, please stop crying. Let’s go home and have lunch.” I said all of these things as I struggled to get her buckled into her car seat. Then suddenly the car lurched forward. I cried out in pain as my shoulder caught on the edge of the door. Olivia stopped crying and her blue eyes widened in fear. I looked up and screamed as the car continued to move. A man was in the driver’s seat of my car and I watched in horror as his foot slammed down on the gas pedal.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #19

Lonnie checked her image in the mirror, noting the dark circles under her eyes that even makeup couldn’t hide. She quickly looked away, picked up her tote bag and hurried to the car. She couldn’t be late. She was not unprepared for this ordeal, though her dreams had taunted her otherwise in various bone-chilling scenarios all last night, in between restless moments of

As she entered the back door of the chilly red brick building, Lonnie was prepared for whatever fate was determined to hand her. Life had been good to her; she had done her best to be a good person. She had few regrets. She made her way down the hallway to the chamber with painted cinder-block walls and sat on the cold metal chair in the back of the room, erect and outwardly composed. As the clock ticked away, Lonnie did not flinch; fear would not rule her last moments on earth. She began to count her breaths: In, out. In, out. In, out. Then, her heart thumping in her throat, her mouth suddenly cotton dry, she rose to her feet, clutching the tote filled with books, pictures and homemade visual aids to her chest, as the dreaded words were pronounced: “Sister Carrigan will now present Sharing Time.”

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #18

At exactly 6:33 a.m. on Saturday, April 6, Suzette’s husband announced on his Web site the revelation that proved without a doubt that he was the Davidic servant, the one mighty and strong; that the Second Coming would take place by the end of the year; and that all previous
pretenders to the position are now counterfeits and must immediately repent or be struck down and lose their celestial inheritance.

Three hours later, when the number of e-mailed and phone in death threats hit double digits, her husband set her apart as an avenging angel (which gave her the authority to violate the sixth commandment), thrust a deer rifle in her arms, and barricaded himself in the
basement with the children and the second wife. Suzette turned on conference, adjusted the recliner so it was facing the front door, sat down with the rifle across her lap, and picked up her tatting.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #17

The late October storm drew Samantha to the window above the kitchen sink. The new neighbor pulled into his driveway and slipped inside, but not before glancing over the hedge toward the window. He was a single man. Probably mid-thirties with a large collection of old-time Boston Red Sox baseball caps and an identical gray sweater collection. At least it seemed he had a lot caps and sweaters unless, of course, he wore the same ones everyday. Samantha shut the blinds and pulled the drain on the dishwater. The day her neighbor moved in he brought with him an antique oval wall mirror with an elegant gold frame. The moving truck brought everything else. Beyond that there wasn’t much she knew of the man who purchased the vacant Hampton estate next door except that whenever she did see him he ducked inside or quickly ensconced himself behind the tinted windows of his red truck that sported a worn and pealing Jesus Saves window sticker. Somehow the man always knew she was watching. She had the same impression whenever she walked from the kitchen to the front door in full view of the entryway mirror. Whenever she saw his red truck in the driveway she avoided the hallway for the same reason she avoided an accident on the freeway. There was something creepy about gawking at a body pulled from the wreckage.

It was odd that their new neighbor never answered the door when she went over to welcome him to Salem Heights. And when she left an invitation in his mailbox to join her and John for a welcome dinner it was returned by post and stamped: No Such Address. She put away the breakfast cereal boxes and went to collect the morning paper when the poorly-latched front door swung open on the blustering storm. She pushed it shut, got down to wipe up the rain and noticed a baseball cap lying just inside the threshold. It must have blown in on the wind. She reached for it when a movement in the hallway mirror caught her attention. Was that the flash of a gray sweater in the reflection?

Wet Your Pants Scary* (aka #16)

A large mass of cosmic debris fell from the sky and plummeted deep into Lake Hi-Land, located in southeastern Michigan. The water mass that was displaced by the asteroid plumed high in an enormous fountain as waves with tsunami strength dispersed in all directions. The rolling water swept over bridges, drenched farmland and washed over the whole land. It was like a dam had broken and all of the water streamed towards the one city located on low ground on the eastern edge of the lake. Tendrils of water frothed over the banks, soaking all within reach. The wave seemed to move in slow motion as it crested over the town, packed with tourists for the annual Festival. Then time resumed its normal pace as water swelled into the town, drenching every nook and cranny until it subsided in a sodden mess that permeated every inch of ground.

The old-timers felt the chill in the air that made frail bones creak and noses run. It was time, once again, for Hell (Michigan) to freeze over.

*Title changed by request.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #15

Emi prayed it was only the pulse of dense rain against her bedroom window that had wakened her. That the noise, the whispered slide of someone opening the bureau in her mother’s bedroom, wasn’t real. But she knew, knew with all the instant terror that coursed through her veins, it was real. And when she saw a beam of light flash across the wall just outside her doorway, she guessed what it was. A thief.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #14

I awoke with a start and rolled over so violently that I screamed out as pain blossomed in my leg. I sat up and massaged my cramped leg and looked around to see what had yanked me out of a deep sleep. I swung around and tenderly put pressure on my leg, and that’s when I felt it.

The carpeted floor was warm under my bare foot and it was never this warm in the middle of the night. I could see flickering light under the door and knew that I was encountering my worst fear. I felt that if I touched the doorknob, my fingers would be scalded. Sure enough, a finger of flame stretched above the lower hinge, hungrily reaching for me. The room seemed to close in on me as I realized I had nowhere to escape. The fire sucked all of the air from my bedroom and my breathing became labored. It was like an evil presence, biding its time on the other side of the door. Soon it would enter and take me unwillingly into its smoldering embrace.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #13

“Mr. Skelton?” Jenny stepped through the weather-worn wooden gate and inside the yard. “Is anyone here?” A critter ran through the nutgrass without showing its head above the unkempt overgrowth. Jenny pressed the plate of double chocolate chip cookies against her red sweater. Why did she ever agree to deliver these for mother? No one in her right mind ever stopped by the Skelton place. The broken windows in the estate’s towers, the black crows nesting on the electric wires and the rumor of what grew in the garden patch were more than enough to scare her and her seventh grade friends from lingering very long on Hollow Street this time of year. What a bother, these cookies. Jenny hurried through the weeds, up the porch and softly said, “Mr. Skelton, are you home?”

There was no reason to knock and risk stirring the old man. She laid the treats in front of the door, mumbled a happy Halloween greeting her mother insisted she leave with the man and hurried back through the yard when she saw it half-hidden among its own leaves that twisted in and out of the crosspieces on the redwood arbor. It was true, but none of her friends would ever believe she’d seen the wart-skinned fable that appeared in the garden patch each October unless she brought home the vine top. She inched closer, reached past the greenery and when she plucked the prickly vine from the top of the fire-red pumpkin the crows took to flight and the door to the estate flew open. Mr. Skelton chased down the porch with the help of a cane, cursing her and telling her to, “get back girl, get back,” but it was too late. The leaf covered arbor opened like a door to a dark, cold world and a monstrous gust of wind pushed her inside.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #12

Ragan rocked on the old porch pondering his nightmares from the night before. He had hoped the sunrise would have calmed the fearful feeling within him, but so far the morning dawn had only served to make his mood darker still. Some men had normal grandmothers. Ones that baked them cookies and made sure that their bootlaces were tied. They were love and perfection personified. They had kind winkled hands, happy smiles on their faces, and short gray hair that was always well kept. He wasn’t one of those men. His Grandmother was far from the welcoming stereotype. He wondered at the reasons fate would bring her to his memory now, of all times. When he was in later life and far to old to need the influence of any kind of motherly figure. Not that his grandmother had been the mothering type. He was happy with his job. Perhaps he was alone but that didn’t bother him either. He was just fine. He had the boys at the old club where he went golfing every Friday. He was perfectly content to lay all memories of that old witch in the past where they belonged. He shuttered as flashes of his dream came to him, and a picture of the hideous woman he was forced to spend a week of every summer with filled his mind.

She had knarled hands with huge lumps for knuckles–hard, bony, fierce hands that always had something or the other underneath the fingernails. His grandmother had been an avid gardener, but sometimes he could swear that she had dried blood beneath those fingernails. He reminded himself that those were childhood suspicions. Something he had merely dreamed up in a suspicious fit of horror late one night in that atrocious country cabin that hardly held together anymore. Perhaps the fear of the roof falling in on him had permanently damaged his tender childhood soul. He liked that lie. It was a good one. The memory of her visage loomed before him meancing, she had thin gray hair. Oh, how it had reminded him of cobwebs and shadows. It was stringy with grease and sometimes food. It lay plastered onto her skull and dangled dangerously close to the floor. Ragan had loathed it when his grandmother came close enough to let her straggly hair brush against him. Her face, oh mercy, her face was the most hideous thing he had ever seen. It was lined deep with wrinkles that seemed cavernous to his young mind. Like her face had been taken between two large hands and crunched like a piece of paper. Her nose was too small and her lips too large. When she smiled one had a feeling that she would be able to eat you if she opened wide enough. Then he heard her voice just as he had heard it in the dream: Count the crows, my boy, count the crows.