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Death Gave Me a Choice

December 27, 2016 at 12:00 AM
Rating: 8.7. From 116 votes.
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Death came to me that night as I sat numbly in a puddle of my own desperate blood and tears. And when I saw him, a tall entity clothed in a robe so black it reached past the depths of darkness I felt inside my heart.

I’d been upset. Not about one thing in particular, but multiple things.

I’d made so many mistakes, that trying to put myself back together had become harder than reassembling a broken egg shell.

A year earlier, I’d lost the most important person in my life. The only girl I truly loved: Penny. I could only blame myself. I’d spent the past year blaming myself for betraying her, betraying her trust.

She’d found a new guy, a better guy than I am. One that brought her flowers, took her out on fancy dates, was loyal to her. And all that reminded me of how many chances I used to have to do all those things for her.

6 months earlier the guilt and pain got to me – tore at my soul – and to numb the pain I took sleeping pills will alcohol every night, dreading the moment I’d wake up to another sunny, lonely day.

4 months earlier, I lost my job and my scholarship because the depression and substance abuse kept me rooted to the spot. I didn’t want to face a world where I’d have to watch everyone else swim, as I’m slowly sinking.

3 months earlier I lost my friends and family as well; I’d become distant and emotionless. I turned down invites, didn’t show up for holiday get-togethers, blew up on anyone who told me I needed help.

I was in chaos, and I could only blame myself.

1 month earlier, I’d bought the small rectangular case of razors. Adding self abuse to the substance abuse. I’d feel the smallest release when I felt the sharp sting and saw the deep red flow down my wrist.

And that night, I called my ex girlfriend slightly tipsy, but truthful all the same. I told her I loved her, I begged for another chance, I cried harder than I’d cried in months just at the sound of hearing her voice.

She told me one thing and one thing only, “I don’t love you anymore, Calvin. And I never will.”

She hung up the phone immediately after, and all I could do was stare blankly at the corner of the room. But as everything hit me at once, it hit me harder than a car going full speed.

I didn’t hesitate. I swallowed the rest of my sleeping pills, gulped down the remaining vodka straight from the bottle, and I used those razors to cut deeper than I’d ever cut.

So here I sat, hopeless and alone. But I wasn’t alone. I’d looked down at my bloody wrists for mere seconds, and when I looked back up he was there.

A normal person would have been hysterical and afraid, but I wasn’t normal anymore. I wasn’t surprised he was there. No, I welcomed it.

“Calvin,” he spoke in the most baritone voice I’d ever heard – lower than the voice overs on every movie preview – and he said that one word with a disapproving sigh.

The way he said it made me feel like a kid again, as if I’d done something and lied about it. But I wasn’t lying now. The proof was in the mess that was myself at that moment.

I sobbed shakily, “I-I’m sorry,” I said. For whatever reason, I felt like I had to apologize, so I did.

“You’ve spent a long time being sorry, Calvin. But not once did you say sorry to yourself.”

A crease formed in between my eyebrows as I mulled over what he’d just said. It came to me slowly. He wanted me to see that my only enemy was myself.

“Do you give all of the souls you come across helpful advice? I thought you were Death, not a psychologist,” I raised an eyebrow at him, still unnerved by the fact that I was looking into an endless black hold where his face should be.

He forced a deep, short laugh, “No. Mostly just the ones like you, that take it into their own hands to decide fate. It’s not up to you Calvin.”

“Sooo you give advice to your suicide victims. What does that mean?”

He sighed again, as if he’d explained this thousands of times before; I’m sure he had. “It means you don’t get to decide this. It means I’m giving you another perspective.”

I stood up, curiosity hanging on ever word. “What perspective would that be? The only way I see things is that I’m a horrible, crap excuse for a human being. So why be afraid of dying when I’m more afraid to live? I had to do this. I needed to do this.”

“And I’m showing you, Calvin, what living can do for you.” A hint of persuasion sounded in his voice.

“Tell me, Death. What do I have to live for?” The question came out harshly, but he didn’t flinch.

“Listen closely. What if I told you that you’d make it through this depression, not fully healed but controlled by medication and therapy. What if I told you that because you’ll overcome this depression, you’ll get another job. And the job will pay for the education you dissed. When you’re done with that education, you’ll be admired. Admired by your friends..your family..and most importantly your ex girlfriend. They’ll see the greatness in you that you know you have. They’ll be proud of that change. You won’t be able to looks at a bottle of vodka without being sick. And what if I told you that your career will pay for the expensive ring you’ll use to propose to your one and only. And you’ll be able to give her all the flowers and dates and loyalty you’d failed to give before. Most importantly, what if I told you you’d be able to give her a dream wedding as well? And give her two beautiful children: a girl and a boy. What if I told you you’d be missing out on life by choosing to give up?”

Tears rimmed my eyes opaquely, “I can be happy again?” I asked hopefully, afraid of what the answer might be.

But his answer was the biggest relief I’d ever felt, “Yes, you can be happy again.”

I wiped my wet cheeks and cracked a trembling smile, “I’d say I want to live.”

“Then I am no longer needed,” the finality in his voice diminished the tension I’d felt before.

As I grinned wider, I let out a half cry-half chuckle, “Thank you. Thank you so much.”

“Now go to the hospital, get your stomach pumped and seal up you wounds. Goodbye,” and in a flash the black void that was him vanished.

For days afterward couldn’t get rid
of that smile. The nurses and doctors that helped me were puzzled by it. A man being treated for a suicide attempt is this happy? I knew to them there was nothing right about it.

But I hadn’t felt for right in my whole life.

Because of my obvious mental health issues, I stayed in the mental ward for a month after I healed physically. Just like Death said, I still had the memories of my depression, but it was nothing the therapy and medication couldn’t fix.

After I was released, I found a job at a call center that paid slightly more than minimum wage. It wasn’t the best of jobs, but I was surely glad to have it.

I saved money for a few months and started going to school again in the fall. I was working on a business degree.

My friends and family were there to watch me graduate, and I’d never felt more thankful. Finally, I was making people proud again. I wasn’t failing.

I didn’t even drink that night with the rest of my friends. I didn’t want to touch another drop of alcohol. I spent that night with the people closest to me, all seated at a large table at the best restaurant in town.

And I’m so glad I chose to do so that night, because our waitress happened to be the girl I missed so badly and still loved.

She looked surprised to see me, but she also looked glad. “Calvin…” She said, staring at me as if I was her long lost twin.

I wanted to smile too, but I noticed the faint purple under her right eye. It wasn’t completely hidden by her beige foundation.

She knew I noticed, and before I could say anything she began taking our orders.

Concerned, I told my family and friends as they were leaving that I was going to stay and speak to her. They understood, and after more congratulations, departed.

I waited another hour in twilight stained parking lot, where I could breathe in the fresh spring breeze.

She was one of the first to come out and she noticed me propped next to the entrance, halting her stride.

Penny’s face lit up and there were tears in her eyes, “I knew you’d wait for me, Cal. I know you’re a great guy, I think I’ve always known you had potential but I guess I was being my own worst enemy.”

Those words brought back the tiniest memory of what Death had told me months prior – that I should say sorry to myself. And she needed to do the same. “The past is the past Penny. No animosity.”

She looked even more grateful then and reached to hug me. I put a hand on her cheek before she could, and gently rubbed the purple under her eye, “Did he do this to you?” I asked concerned and pissed off.

Penny didn’t say a word, but her deep brown eyes said it all. He obviously was over the accommodating boyfriend role and had started asking too much of her. But I would become everything she needed and more.

I pulled her into a hug and ran my fingers through her long hair, “It won’t happen again, love. I’m here now.”

After that night, things were better than they’d ever been between me and Penny. She’d gotten away from her abusive boyfriend and together we got him the jail sentence he deserved. We’d spend every moment we had to spare with each other, and it was like we’d never even parted. Even our old inside jokes remained the same.

With time, I’d saved enough to buy her the most beautiful ring I could find, and I proposed to her. Right in the middle of the local high school football field where we’d met so many years ago.

A field, maybe not the best setting for a proposal but it meant so much to both of us.

Flowers filled our house with fragrant smells. I brought home one everyday after work. I made reservations every weekend for dates. And no girl could ever mean as much to me as my Penny.

The wedding was the one she’d always dreamed of when we were younger: A winter wedding in the snow, everything adorned in blues and whites, and that long sleeved dress she’d hoped for ever since she saw it in that store window.

A year after the marriage, Penny came to me with the best news I’d ever received from her. She was pregnant. We found out it was a girl, and I was every bit the happy father when our Violet came into the world.

Dark hair, just like her mother.

Two years later, we had our son – Jackson. He looked like me, with green eyes and a mop of chesnut hair.
Violet was over the moon about having a younger sibling.

Life was amazing. It was everything Death had told me it would be, and more. I chose life the last time I saw him, and life chose me.

You can imagine my shock the day I found him standing in front of my work desk. I had been tapping away on my computer, focused on nothing but my work. He broke that trance.

I became a statue, still as Lot’s wife after she had turned to salt. After seconds of this vacant stare-off, I broke the stillness, “Why…”

He sighed, much like he had the night we’d met. That disapproving sigh, but now with a bit of apprehension. “Something has occurred, Calvin. Something bad.”

My heart beat swiftly against my ribs, I stopped breathing. “W-what do you mean bad?” A million things raced through my head at once. My family, my friends, myself; did something happen to them? Was something going to happen to me.

“You remember Hale, don’t you Calvin.”

Hale. The piece of crap I’d put in jail. I hated hearing his name, “Yeah. I remember that bastard. What about him? Did he finally get what was coming to hi-”

“He got out of jail, Calvin.” The caution and pity in that one sentence couldn’t have been good.

I stood up from my office chair, flustered, “there’s no way! He couldn’t have gotten out yet! He received
fifteen years! It’s only been nine!”

“Ever heard of good behavior Calvin?”

I was enraged. How could this monster be capable of good behavior? And then I remembered. He’d fooled Penny for a year. He had been a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He was definitely capable of fooling others.

“I think you need to come with me, Calvin.”

I didn’t waste any time. I followed him, not bothering to tell anyone I was leaving work. My first priority was to make sure the people I loved were okay. But the pieces that were being put together in my mind was anything but okay.

I drove ninety all the way home. Beads of sweat had formed across my forehead and my breathing was loudly audible.

Death followed me into the house as I rushed inside, but he said nothing.

The living room was a mess of broken vases – the ones which held all the flowers I’d given to Penny. And a million little pedals and leaves littered the floor.

I was so immensely angry and scared at the same time. Scared mostly, because the scene in front of me hinted that nothing good could come from it.

I screamed, terror in my voice, “Penny! Violet, Jack! Wher-”

“The master bedroom, Calvin,” Death said from somewhere in my peripheral. He pointed to the door at the end of the hall. A door that was now chopped and broken, standing slightly ajar.

I sprinted down the hallway and pushed past the door, not worrying about the sharp splinters that dug into my left hand.

The light was off. I wish I hadn’t turned it on. Because when I did…I was met with sheer horror.

Blood. Crimson painted across the white carpet and bedsheets. On the walls. And painted on the bodies of the three people in my life that meant the most to me.

The details are too traumatizing to repeat, but the axe that had been used on all of them was left behind – embedded into my wife’s skull.

I fell to my knees in front of them, wracking sobs so hard they made me puke.

I just couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t speak. I was screaming under the weight of emotional pain. I was hurt.

“But you said it would be better!” I turned to Death, screaming and seeing red, “you said I’d be happy! Why…,” I sobbed deeply again, unable to contain the lump in my throat.

“And you were Calvin. You were happy for several years. But with a life comes chances. Good ones and bad ones. Everyone suffers Calvin.”

“Suffer? I have nothing to live for anymore Death! I’ve lost my reasons for living, for working, for loving! That’s more than suffering!” I couldn’t contain the contempt in my voice and I got dangerously close to that black hole of a face Death wore, despite having to look up to see it.

“You’re wrong again Calvin. I’m here not only for your family, as I do have to do my job,” he lifted his bony hands in surrender, “but I’m also here for you…”

“What?! You already know I’m planning to kill myself once again, psychologist?” I spat at him, hot rage drenched in every word.

“Actually, yes. I knew you’d try. You’ll go get the pistol from the top shelf of your closet and blow your brains out, you’ll do it in a few hours in this very room. But I have another perspective for you.”

My mouth hung ajar. He knew my plans, knew where the pistol was that I kept for protection, but I couldn’t be too surprised. After a moment I crossed my arms and glared, “oh! Another perspective for me, huh? What?! What could possibly make me choose life this time? A life that isn’t worth living!”

For the first and last time, Death laid a hand on my shoulder, and although I couldn’t see his face, I knew he was looking me right in the eyes.

“You must live Calvin, because Hale must die. And you’re the one who will make it happen,” I thought I heard his lips part into a smile, if he had lips.

Death made it clear once again for me. “What do you say, Calvin?”

I smiled then too – what must have appeared a sick, sinister grin, but a grin all the same.

“I’d say I want to live.”

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A Heartwarming Christmas Tale

December 26, 2016 at 12:00 AM
Rating: 7.8. From 115 votes.
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“… and to this day Marie should still be the queen of a country in which shimmering Christmas forests and glazed marzipan castles – in short, the most marvellous things you can imagine – can be seen if you only look.

The End.”

With a sigh, Little Timmy slowly closes the book, gets up and places it on his “corner of books”, as his mother calls the pile at the corner of the room where Timmy puts his books.

“Did you finish that already honey?”

“Yeah,” Timmy responds, his soft voice trembling from the cold.

“Did you like it? I will take you to the bookshop to get another one for the holidays when the weather becomes better,” Timmy’s mother says, before she is struck by a coughing fit. It has been snowing heavily for days now and the two of them have been trapped in their home, while the old stove in the basement has broken down and there is no heating in the house.

“It’s OK mom, I don’t need one right now.” Timmy, despite his young age, knows his mother doesn’t have much money and doesn’t want to put pressure on her.

He jumps on the couch next to his mother and she strokes his hair affectionately as the two of them huddle together to fight off the growing cold.

”During the night…”

It is just past midnight and Little Timmy is laying on his bed, tightly clutching his raggedy blanket close to his chest. He is having trouble going to sleep. His mother’s muffled crying and raspy coughing can be heard through the wall. He pulls the blanket over his head, to fend off both the lingering cold and his mother’s suffering.

“Having trouble sleeping, little one?” a voice speaks up from the foot of the bed. With a swift move, a wooden nutcracker toy soldier climbs onto the bed and sits on Little Timmy’s leg.

Little Timmy peeks out from under the blanket. “Hi Alexandre,” the boy says with a frail voice.

“Worried about your mother, huh?” the toy soldier says, readjusting the wooden hat on his wooden head.

Little Timmy nods in agreement.

“She is having a rough night, isn’t she?” Alexandre pauses for a second. “But I heard you just finished your book! How was it?”

“It was good.”

“Hmm, you are not in the mood for talking, eh?” Alexandre scratches off a wood chip from his knee. He looks sternly at Little Timmy. “Tell you what lad, I will take care of this. I will go down at the basement and see what I can do about the stove.”

“I want to help too!” Little Timmy says, his voice stronger.

“That’s the spirit lad! Have a good night’s sleep now.”

With that, Alexandre takes a bow and jumps off the bed. Little Timmy is very glad he has Alexandre. He is shy, sickly and small in frame, and he doesn’t have many he can call friends. Alexandre is there for him ever since he can remember, taking care of him since he was young. These thoughts float in Timmy’s mind as he falls into the warm embrace of a deep sleep.

”Morning comes…”

Little Timmy spends the day taking care of his mother. He cleans around the house, cooks and caters to her needs. Her condition has worsened during the night. She is feverish and can’t stop coughing. She is stuck to her bed for the whole day. To keep her warm, Timmy gave her his blanket, no matter how she refused. Still, the house is terribly cold and the stove remains broken.

”Night falls again…”

Timmy bids his mother goodnight and goes for his bed. He has no blanket, instead he uses the heaviest clothes he could find in his wardrobe. Still, the cold is stinging and harsh. With a trembling breath, he lays down and closes his eyes.

“Pssst, lad, are you asleep?” Alexandre opens the toys chest and walks slowly towards the bed.

Little Timmy groggily opens his eyes. The moustachioed face of the soldier greets him.

“Sorry to wake you up, but I think I found what the problem with the stove is. The basement is covered in snow!”

“In snow? H-how?” Timmy’s timid voice speaks out.

“There is snow everywhere! On the floor, the shelves, everywhere I say!”

“H-how is this pos-” Timmy’s sentence is interrupted by heavy coughing from his mother’s room. Alexandre looks at Little Timmy stoically.

“Tomorrow I will go down there and take care of it, do not worry lad,” the toy soldier tries to soothe Timmy.

Suddenly, the sound of a door slamming shut echoes across the house. Little Timmy gasps.

“Must have been the wind…” Alexandre says.

Then, just outside the room, footsteps. Slow, unsteady footsteps, like someone is dragging his feet. Little Timmy hides under the covers, while Alexander stands up.

The footsteps abruptly stop. The door to the mother’s room creaks open. The footsteps resume. Someone has entered the room.

“Stay here lad,” Alexander whispers to Little Timmy before he jumps down the bed and goes for the door. He jumps to the handle and pulls it down, but the door does not open.

“Locked!?”

The door to the mother’s room closes shut.

Timmy starts sobbing lightly. Alexandre frantically jumps around the room, trying to find the key. Then, from the mother’s room, a loud moan.

“Mommy!” Timmy cries. Alexandre is livid, eyes darting around and mind racing for a way out.

The moans get louder and louder, until they suddenly stop, replaced by rhythmic wheezing.

Alexandre moves a stool under the handle, climbs on and jams his metal sword in the lock and frantically moves it around. The door clicks open and the toy soldier jumps out, his wooden boots clacking across the cold floor. He runs to the mother’s room, but as he reaches the door, it swings open and a wild gust of wind blows into the hallway, lifting Alexandre and slamming him against the wall.

Then, an eerie silence falls upon the house. Only the muffled crying of Little Timmy and the heavy breathing of the mother disturb the stillness of the cold night.

”The weak morning sunrays break through the dark clouds…”

“Mommy. Mommy, please wake up,” Little Timmy begs his mother. She has grown deathly pale and she is very cold. She is breathing with difficulty and she is shaking. “I warmed you some milk, please drink it, it will do you good.”

But she does not respond, lost deep into feverish dreams.

Little Timmy places the glass of milk on the nightstand and turns to leave. He has a lot of housework to do. During the day though, he takes great care to stay away from the basement door.

“The moon shines brightly in the sky…”

“Lad, is everything alright?” Alexandre jumps from the toys chest and sits on the windowsill, next to Little Timmy who has been staring out of the window for the past hour. Alexandre’s left hand is bruised and its red paint is scratched off, while a button is missing from his torso, from the scuffle last night.

“I gathered some wood and dry branches, I will light the old stove and we will be warm again.”

“Wh-what about the thing?”

“Don’t be scared Little Timmy, Alexandre will take care of it!” the toy soldier says with a warm smile.

“Anyway, I see you started writing the story you were telling me about,” he says pointing at the notebook by the nightstand. “How is it going? This must be fun!”

“It’s great, I’m at the part where Jack sneaks into the Mouse King’s castle to save Eliza.”

“Oh, I am so eager to read it! Jack sounds like a very fine lad!”

“He is very brave. But he is not as brave as his guardian…” Little Timmy says, his gaze wandering off in the distance.

Alexandre sighs. “I’ll go fire the stove up for a moment and then I’ll return to talk about your story more, alright lad?”

Little Timmy gives Alexandre a fleeting, nervous glance and Alexandre bows his head and backs away.

An hour has passed and Alexandre still hasn’t returned, nor is the stove lit. Little Timmy is growing more anxious by the minute. He fears the worst. Thinking of what Alexandre would do for him, he decides to go to the basement. With trembling hands he opens the door.

His mother is fast asleep. Little Timmy covers her exposed to the cold body with her blankets and starts the long walk towards the basement.

Time seems to have stopped while Timmy makes his way to the basement door. The incessant wind has ceased blowing and the house is plunged into complete silence. He takes a deep breath and with shaking hands reaches for the doorknob. The old door opens, the rusty hinges groaning under the weight of the metal door.

The cold breath of the darkness below hits Little Timmy in the face. For a moment his will falters, but he steels himself and pushes his legs down the slippery stairs, the open, dark mouth of the basement below staring back into his little heart.

Slowly but steadily, Little Timmy descends into the abyss. The further down he goes the colder and darker it gets. Snow and ice have formed on the stairs. Then, Timmy reaches the floor of the basement. He gets on his toes to reach the light switch, but it is completely frozen and stuck in place. Darkness and cold envelopes the little boy.

In front of him stands the old stove, asleep and dormant. All the boxes and old shelves around it are just shadows in the dark. Alexandre though is nowhere to be seen.

Timidly, Little Timmy takes a step forward. As soon as his foot lands, a gust of wind blows from the back of the basement, swirling snow and stuff around. Timmy covers himself as best as he can. When the ruckus stops, a tall, white silhouette stands in the middle of the room. The man-like creature is crouched over, its thin torso almost floating on its lean limbs. Its skin has a parch like texture and breaks up here and there. The creature sniffs the air and turns towards Timmy. Its black eyes meet with his as the creature starts to move towards Timmy, who can only watch paralyzed.

“Over here!” Alexandre’s voice echoes in the basement, pulling Timmy out of his trance. Little Timmy follows the voice and finds the toy soldier hiding under a shelf, a pile of wood by his side. He is in a very dire state, his torso is cracked, wooden splinters spurting out from his body, and his right leg is severed from the knee down. To stand up, he is using a branch as a crutch.

“We don’t have much time. You need to go and put the wood into the stove. That will drive the creature away and heat the house! I will distract him! Quickly!”

Alexandre starts hopping to the other side of the room while Little Timmy grabs the wood and branches and sneaks his way to the stove.

“Over here, you big snowflake!” Alexandre shouts at the creature, which turns and gallops toward him, its bony spine arched back and his sharp claws clicking on the floor.

Little Timmy is halfway to the stove, but he slips and the branches scatter across the floor with a loud noise. The creature stops in its tracks and turns towards the boy. It glances at the pile of wood on the floor and then the stove. With a gritty laugh it grabs the wood, which dissolves under its touch. It then moves closer to Timmy, who backs away as fast as he can.

Alexandre sprints as fast as his one leg allows and gets between the creature and Timmy.

“Over my dead body!” the soldier says, unsheathing his sword and staring down the vile beast. The beast falls on all fours and slowly prowls towards Alexandre who stands tall, its shouldreblades bobbing up and down. It stops right in front of the soldier and looks down on him, its black eyes examining the little thing that stands between it and its prey. Alexandre assumes a defensive stance. The beast goes to move over him to Little Timmy, uninterested in the soldier.

Alexandre strikes its arm with two quick slashes, and two red streaks splatter across the floor. The beast lets out an angry cry. The soldier moves back on the defensive and steadies himself.

“For Little Timmy, be strong for Little Timmy,” he whispers under his breath.

The beast lets out another bone-chilling cry and stands on its feet. When it comes back down, it strikes at Alexandre, throwing him to the side. His head hits the hard wall, his hat splintering into a thousand pieces and his sword thrown way out of his reach. The last thing the soldier sees before his strength leaves him is the creature lunging towards Little Timmy, who screams in fear. Alexandre’s eyes close and his world fades to black.

Little Timmy is now backed against the corner of the basement, clutching a box as a shield in front of him. The creature tears the box apart. Little Timmy starts crying, as the creatures grabs his leg. The creatures smashes Timmy against some cardboard boxes. Before it can grab him again, Little Timmy opens his tearful eyes. On the opening of the stove stands Alexandre. Both his legs are broken off, half his torso is gone and his head is cracked. Somehow he managed to climb on the stove. Below him on the floor where he crawled are wood splinters and parts of the toy soldier.

“You made it,” Little Timmy thinks as his heart is filled with new hope.

The eyes of Alexandre meet with Little Timmy’s. The wooden nutcracker toy soldier smiles warmly, “I will take care of it lad, I promised…”

With that, Alexandre pushes himself into the old stove, which flares up in powerful red flames. A blinding white light shoots out and the wave of heat that follows shakes the foundations of the whole room. First the stalactites quickly melt off and the snow evaporates into mist. Then the wave engulfs the creature, its white skin catching fire like old parchment. It lets out a scream of agony, flames shooting out from its body. A big hole of fire opens up in its chest as it falls to its knees. It looks at its hands as they are burned off its body, shattering and evaporating upon hitting the floor. The creature, finally, vaporizes into a dark smoke.

Only Little Timmy now stands in the basement.

After he collects himself, he shakily exits the basement. The house is now warm! He walks into his mother’s room. The mother is sat upwards on the bed, calmly drinking the warm milk Timmy made her earlier. Little Timmy runs to her and gives her a hug.

”In his warm, star-lit room…”

Little Timmy finishes writing his story. He gets up from his desk and walks towards his toys chest. He carefully places the notebook on the wooden box.

“… with the Mouse King defeated, Jack and Eliza lived happily ever after, with Alex always watching them from above, smiling warmly. Jack’s ever-loving guardian.

The End.”

Credit: MrDupin

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“Monday’s Child”

December 25, 2016 at 12:00 AM
Rating: 7.3. From 94 votes.
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Monday’s Child
By Christina Durner

The screams were like windchimes stuck in a storm. At first, Della had thought it was the gale-force winds of the blizzard until she heard the weeping coming from her front lawn. By its sound, she could tell that it was not an infant nor was it an adolescent, but the wailing of a child that was about seven or eight years old.
She lay in bed listening to it, afraid to go to the window to see what was causing such anguish for the girl. Finally, she looked down. The lawn was empty but for a few Christmas decorations that were steadily disappearing beneath the falling snow. There was a trail of footprints, kid-sized, on the walkway leading up to her front porch. The howling continued, but now it was accompanied by the sound of frantic pounding on her front door.
Della saw no immediate danger. She was not the type of person to place herself in harm’s way to help a stranger, child or adult. No one ever bothered to help her when she needed it. Why should she put herself out for anyone else? But she wasn’t so cold-hearted as to leave a weeping babe frightened and alone on her front porch during a blizzard. She’d been hoping that one of her neighbors might have interceded and she could just go back to bed. But the cul-de-sac was almost abandoned for the holiday. Everyone else seemed to be visiting with family and friends, two things that Della lacked these days.
It appeared to be just her and Sammy, her drunk of a neighbor who lived across the street, left in the Hazelwood Valley community during this festive season. Neither of them was particularly attractive, Della being in her late-forties and possessing both a spare tire and a thin mustache that she didn’t bother to pluck anymore. Sammy had been a drunk for most of his life, and his appearance revealed it plainly. Sporting a beer gut and a perpetually red face, he still found his way into Della’s bed on the occasions that she was feeling particularly lonely.
She wished that she had invited him over earlier that night for a little Christmas Eve celebration. He wasn’t all that great in the sack nor was he much of a conversationalist, especially after a few boilermakers. He was a quiet man when he was sober, and drinking seemed to quiet him to the point of silence and often slumber. But she would feel more at ease having someone else answer the door. Just as well, Della thought to herself. If he could manage to sleep through all that screaming, then what help would he be here and now. She would just have to take care of the kid on her own.
As she opened her door, Della was assaulted by a burst of frigid air. The biting ice and snow slashed across her face, a sensation so intensely raw that it burned on impact. Blinded momentarily, she half expected to be plowed over by the child if the sound of her crying was anything to go by. But nothing happened. Della’s vision was blurred, her eyes running as a result of the harsh breezes that assaulted her. She wiped at them fiercely and finally managed to regain her sight. What she saw before her gave her goosebumps more fervent than any arctic blast ever could.
On the porch, a small, almost gnome-like girl sat crouching against the doorway. The child wasn’t dressed at all for the weather. She donned a short-sleeved white cotton dress decorated with holly leaves and berries. Barefooted and wearing no jacket, she was shockingly sallow, no doubt from the cold squall-like winds that continued to assault them. Her beautiful pale face was accentuated by two pools of ice blue eyes. The girl reminded Della of that nursery rhyme she used to like as a kid. “Monday’s child is fair of face,” she recalled, gazing upon the poor little darling at her doorstep.
But despite her angelic beauty, the sight of the girl was enough to make Della’s stomach churn with anxiety and terror. The little girl’s pigtailed blonde hair was striped with blood. Her alabaster cheeks smeared with it, as was her festive clothing. Streaks of blood on her face had been mottled from streams of tears that continued to cascade down her weary face. The cries stopped the moment that Della had taken notice of her.
Doe-eyed, she stared at the middle-aged woman; her baby blues glassy and slightly bloodshot from all the weeping. Della had been so shocked by the child’s appearance that she’d lost the ability to react. She stood staring at her, mouth wide open, hands wringing nervously.
“Please, may I come in?” the little girl asked sweetly. “I need help.”
The strangled soft voice seemed to reach Della through her state of consternation, and she was finally able to find her voice.
“Of course, you can come in sweetheart,” she cooed as she lifted the small child into her arms and hauled her into the house.
As she carried her into the dimly lit living room, Della kicked the door shut with a bunny-slippered foot then placed her down on the tattered old sofa.
“Let me call the police so that we can help you, darling,” she suggested.
“No!” The child’s sudden outcry startled Della causing her to drop the phone to the floor. “Please, mam. Please let me get warm first. I’m so cold.”
The tone in her voice broke Della’s heart. She could afford a few minutes to allow her to warm up. The child didn’t seem too badly injured from what she could tell, and if she were honest with herself, she was happy to have the company.
“Ok, we’ll wait. Let me get you a blanket and some hot chocolate, honey. You are completely safe here with me. I want you to know that,” Della assured her. “But in a few minutes, I’ll need you to tell me what happened. I’ll give you some time to get your bearings.”
“Thank you, mam,” the little girl replied delicately.
“Please, call me Della,” she requested, smiling warmly at the girl in an effort to put her mind at ease.
“My name is Christabel,” the child said through chattering teeth.
Della made quick work of wrapping Christabel in a blanket and proffering her an enormous serving of hot chocolate. She hadn’t bothered with the marshmallows, thinking that they would only slow down the warming process for her unexpected visitor. But she did serve it to her in an oversized mug that was fashioned to look like Frosty the Snowman. Christabel held it gingerly in her tiny hands, taking dainty sips from it while Della flicked on the switch of her gas fireplace.
Glancing at her phone, she noticed that there was no service. This storm seemed to be causing a great deal of trouble tonight. She was glad, for it meant that she had a little extra time with another human being. Was she really that selfish, she wondered? Had she become so greedy for pleasant human interaction that she was happy for the inability to call the police to assist and injured kid? She tried not to think about it.
“That’s better. Isn’t it?” she asked Christabel.
“Much better. Thank you, Miss Della.”
Noticing that the child seemed more comfortable around her now, she posed her question gently, hoping that it wouldn’t alarm her.
“Christabel, would you mind if I looked you over, just to make sure that you aren’t hurt badly.”
She looked at Della appraisingly before nodding her consent. Della sat beside her on the couch, looking through Christabel’s hair for any sign of a head injury. There was none. She was stumped. After searching Christabel’s bare arms and legs she was unable to find a single scratch.
“Are you hurt somewhere on your back or your belly?” she questioned.
“Nope,” Christabel answered. As if that single word explained everything that Della needed to know.
“Then where are you bleeding from?”
The child stared straight ahead, taking swig after swig of her hot chocolate before she answered.
“It’s not mine.”
“Were you in some kind of accident? Was your mommy or daddy hurt in a car crash or something?”
“No, I don’t have any family,” Christabel said matter-of-factly.
Della’s patience was wearing thin. She enjoyed having someone to talk to, but not when every question that she asked was answered without actually being answered.
“Then where did all that blood come from?”
“The man across the street,” Christabel responded. “I’m pretty sure he’s dead by now.”
Della’s breath hitched. Sammy wasn’t that great of a companion, but she never wanted to see anything bad happen to him. Knowing him, he’d probably gotten into his bottle of Christmas cheer earlier than usual and fallen down the concrete steps of his so called “wine cellar.” Maybe he was only hurt.
“How do you know that?”
“Because I killed him,” the little girl confessed.
Della’s blood ran cold. For the second time, tonight, she found herself unable to respond to the horror that had been placed at her feet. This child couldn’t know what she was saying. Maybe she was a relative of Sammy’s and had stumbled upon him after he’d taken a bad fall. That had to be it. She must be in shock. Christabel continued to stare into the distance and drink her hot chocolate.
“You don’t mean that, Christabel.”
“Yes, I do.” She drained the last of her drink. “That’s good stuff, not what I’m used to drinking but tasty all the same.”
She tossed the blanket over the back of the couch and stretched before looking Della in the eye.
“It was nice of you to invite me in,” she began. “It’s so hard to find people who are willing to open their doors to a stranger on Christmas Eve. They’re normally busy with their families.”
Della pushed herself backward on the couch, confused and disconcerted by the adult quality that Christabel’s voice had taken.
“You know, you and Sammy were the only ones here tonight. Too bad you weren’t spending the evening together. That would’ve made things so much easier,” she continued. “But good meals often take time and preparation wouldn’t you agree, Della?”
Della shrieked in utter panic as Christabel’s top canine teeth elongated right before her eyes. As she struggled to get up, the child let out a ferocious snarl.
Quick as lightening she was on her, draining every drop of blood from her portly little body. As the last of her life bled out of her, Della was filled with different emotions. Surprise, fear, but above all else a sense of gratitude that her miserable life would soon be coming to an end. And she was thankful that she didn’t have to spend another Christmas alone.
Most vampires fed on any human they could find. But in her eyes, Christabel performed a service. She only fed on the lonely ones who were beyond all hope.
She’d watched them from a distance and studied their patterns. Many of them were self-destructive drunks anyway, like Sammy across the lane. Others were suicidal or prayed for a release from the loneliness. Like poor Della who was lying on the floor. Poor Della who proved that, alas, no good deed goes unpunished. Christabel in her own way was helping them by putting them out of their misery. And if it meant that she got a nice hot meal in the process, then all the better.
Licking the last of the blood from her lips, Christabel raided the kitchen. On her way out, she stuffed all of Della’s hot chocolate packets into her dress pockets. They’d make a fantastic dessert after she finished up her dinner in the next town over. Partaking in ordinary food and drink was uncommon practice but not entirely unheard of for her kind. Surely, she would be invited inside once more. They always invited her in, the lonely hearts. Especially, at Christmas time.
The End

Credit: Christina Durner

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Hunter

December 24, 2016 at 12:00 AM
Rating: 8.7. From 151 votes.
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The people of Acton, Massachusetts knew the devil walked among them. How else could they explain how routine death was? Their only bulwark against oblivion was the small stone chapel that had been erected in the center of town. It was there that the congregation met every Sunday for service. It was there that the local farmers established some sense of community, and it was there that the people of Acton went to escape the bitter cold. Stone church walls kept out the elements better than rickety log cabins, and everyone in Acton knew to risk staying away from the church when the winter storms rolled in was certain death.

Everyone, except for Hunter Solomon. Hunter was a strange man in a time when any semblance of strangeness lead to rumors of witchcraft and wizardry. A tall, hairy, hawkish man Hunter lived on the outskirts of Acton, in a cramped, decaying cabin. Few spoke to him, and the only person who regularly contacted him was Old Nan, a kindly old woman known and loved for her treatment of children. Though many were suspicious of Hunter, none dared accuse him directly of any wrong doing, due entirely to his immense hunting skills. Every week Hunter would stride into town to leave a freshly slaughtered deer on the steps of the church for any hungry man or woman.

No man in their right mind went into the woods around Acton alone; too many had disappeared. When the grandparents of the current generation of settlers had first arrived, the land that became Acton was completely abandoned. There were no Indians and no apparent trails, despite the rich farmland. Those original settlers had been a hardy crew, and hacked a life out of the oppressive woods, despite the dangers posed by the wolf pack that lived in the shadow of Acton. This current generation had learned fear from their forbears, and so, whenever fresh meat was needed, a hunting party was formed to ensure that no man had to go into the woods and brave the wolves alone.

Hunter Solomon went into the woods alone. Rumors swirled among the townspeople that Hunter had sold his soul so that he could safely walk among the wolves. Some said that when Hunter had been a young man he and his father had gone into the woods on a hunting trip, where they had been attacked by the pack. Days later, the people of Acton said, Hunter had emerged from the woods, limping and trying his best to hold his scalp to his head. Old man Solomon was never seen again. That hunting trip left Hunter silent and covered in scars. No one could fight off wolves, the townspeople said. The Devil must have protected his servant. Few remembered the sociable young man Hunter had been before this trip, but all knew the silent, reclusive hermit who had returned.

It didn’t take much for the people of Acton to turn on Hunter. When Reverend McGarvey passed away during the winter of 1701 the people of Acton desperately sent out requests for a new minister. When spring arrived so did Reverend O’Brien, a red-headed fire and brimstone preacher who inspired a new level of devotion among the frontier faithful. With him was his eight year old daughter, a small, wild lass who shared his red hair. Her name was Lucy.

No one in town knew for certain when Lucy and Hunter first met. All they knew was that Lucy adored Hunter. Whenever Hunter would stride into town, bringing fresh food from his hunt, Lucy would run out to greet him. Hunter always brought something for her, an interesting leaf, a small carving, a poorly made doll. Soon other children started running out with Lucy to greet Hunter. Hunter always had toys for the children, and they soon came to adore Acton’s hermit almost as much as they adored Old Nan and her stories. Some saw this as a sign that Hunter was, at least partially, a decent man. Others, including Reverend O’Brien, knew that the Satan worshipping Hunter was corrupting his daughter, and the other town children.

Reverend O’Brien took no small amount of pleasure from his first sermon about witchcraft. The townspeople, already suspicious of Hunter Solomon, hung on his every word. Vivid descriptions of covens and curses drove the townspeople into a fervor. Soon, they began to notice every misfortune. Farmer Jones’s cow died suddenly. Little Danny Gilman fell severely ill, and died several weeks later. Rachel Jones miscarried. James Sloan’s wife was caught with another man, and swore on the Holy Bible that an outside force had seized control of her body.

The breaking point came early in the winter of 1702, when Lucy disappeared. That Sunday, Reverend O’Brien poured his heart and soul into his sermon, calling for the people of the town to drive out the devil. All knew to whom he referred. The enraged congregation loaded their muskets, and lit their torches. It was time to kill Hunter Solomon. It was time to drive out the devil.

When the mob reached Hunter’s cabin they found it to be abandoned. Reverend O’Brien and James Sloan led a select group of village elders into the cabin to see if there was any sign of where Hunter had gone, or if he was to return. They found a small cot, numerous hunting trophies, and a set of manacles chained to the wall of the cabin. The manacles were solidly built, and showed signs of frequent use. Along the cuffs of the manacles were several thick, dark hairs. Reverend O’Brien proudly announced that the manacles were proof that Hunter had been summoning and enslaving demons to his will. Soon though, the bitter cold and howls of wolves drove the mob back to the safety of Acton and the church.

The second child to disappear was Annie Smith, daughter of Giles Smith, the town drunk. Reverend O’Brien’s sermons became even more impassioned, and soon the witch hunt began. Any woman accused of being in Hunter Solomon’s coven found themselves speedily tried by a council lead by Reverend O’Brien and James Sloan. None of the accused were found innocent, and the degree that witchcraft had infiltrated the village caused a panic. In short order Peggy Sullivan, Lindsey Anderson, and Jane Sloan (James Sloan’s adulterous wife) were burned. Still, more children continued to disappear, and Reverend O’Brien led his flock in a great purge, claiming the lives of many young women in the village. The townspeople rallied behind Reverend O’Brien, the holy man they knew to be a crusader for justice. Despite their faith the number of missing children continued all through that long November and December.

The message appeared the night after the blizzard. Though all of the townspeople had taken shelter in the church, Giles Smith was the only one who saw it. Despite the poor visibility caused by the snow flurries, Giles swore that the beast was easily the size of a horse. No one really believed him, and the following morning offered no proof of Giles Smith’s claims. The heavy snow had obscured any tracks, and Reverend O’Brien was quick to dismiss the drunk’s claims. That was, until he saw the door of the church. Crudely carved into the door of the church were two words, “I know”. Reverend O’Brien turned pale, and hurried to his home, stating he needed to prepare the following day’s sermon.

That sermon was never given. All throughout the night, the townspeople were kept awake by loud, lonely howls that sounded like they were coming from just outside the village. The next morning, as the people of Acton exited their homes in their Sunday best, they were greeted by a ghastly sight. Sprawled on the steps of the church was the mangled body of James Sloan. Reverend O’Brien was incensed, and immediately called a meeting of the council. It didn’t take the council long to accuse Old Nan of witchcraft and conspiracy with Hunter Solomon. The remaining children looked on in horror as their storyteller was seized by the council, and Reverend O’Brien sent his congregation out to gather wood for a pyre. Soon they returned, and dumped their wood around the stake Old Nan was now bound too.

Here, standing next the pyre, was where Reverend O’Brien was in his element. As Old Nan sobbed and begged for mercy Reverend O’Brien hollered about evil, the Devil, and all the depraved acts Hunter Solomon and Old Nan had been responsible for. Descriptions of demon summoning and secret meetings in the woods with Satan drove the crowd into a screaming frenzy.

A deafening snarl silenced the mob. Pacing around a house at the edge of town was the wolf. If anything, Giles Smith had underestimated the size of the beast, which was easily larger than any horse. The crowd panicked. Some fainted, some fired their muskets, some ran, and Reverend O’Brien stood rooted in place, holding the torch he had planned on using to ignite the pyre.

The wolf charged forward, surging through the crowd directly towards Reverend O’Brien. Panicking, Reverend O’Brien dropped the torch on the pyre, turned, and ran. As the flames began to lick up the pile of dry wood towards the desperately praying Old Nan, the wolf altered its course. Throwing its weight into the air it sailed through the pyre, snapping the stake and sending Old Nan tumbling free. The wolf lay thrashing on the ground, trying its best to extinguish the fur that was now ablaze. With a desperate howl it rolled into a nearby snow bank, extinguishing its fur, and ran out of town.

No one could have predicted that a badly burned Hunter Solomon would knock on Farmer Jones’s door later that night, or that the next morning, Farmer Jones would gather a group of townsmen, kick in the door to Reverend O’Brien’s house, and hang him from a tree at the edge of the forest. Fewer still could have predicted the remains of the missing children were recovered from the basement of that very house. Hunter Solomon has not been seen since, but the townspeople of Acton no longer avoid the woods. Hunters go out alone, unafraid. Children play in the places that were once forbidden to them. Every now and then a hunter will hear a lonely howl, every now and then a child will find a poorly made doll, but no one goes missing, and no more rumors spread about Hunter Solomon.

Credit: Billy Purdom

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The Occupants

December 23, 2016 at 12:00 AM
Rating: 4.8. From 97 votes.
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The storm door slammed shut and blew open with an ominous repetitiveness. The wind raged, so strong you could feel the massive gusts through the weakening and weathered walls of the home. Inside, the occupants huddled within themselves, seemingly unaffected by the storm ripping through the world around them. Tearing down structures, flooding the valleys, taking with it the sense of peace the occupants had once known.

The cold had overcome the growingly smaller fire, finally diminishing it, leaving the occupants with a chill that shook their bones and chattered their teeth. The days before the storm seemed long ago, even the first fateful days filled with optimism and survival strategies could not be touched with outmost stretched of fingertips. Followed were the days of tears, rationed meals and grim acceptance. But today was different, it was the seventh day. The seventh day promised to bring the end of the storm. The storm would not go peacefully though, it would take anything and everything it could with it. The occupants being what it wanted the most.

The seventh night had now begun and a new sense of hope had begun growing within the occupants, though they dare not express it for fear of it growing too large. It began to blaze within them as the eerie creaking of the walls softened and the breezes that had been ripping through their bodies lightened. As dawn neared the faintest of smiles appeared on their lips. The occupants now swelled with hope, believing their savior had slayed the storm haunting them. They had been spared. The occupants now rose as a mother, a father, two wide-eyed children, a family. They wept with joy, tears flowing like beautiful rivers down their faces. The family hugged and kissed and continued to weep as they heard the final feeble gust of wind brush against the walls. Everything was well again.

The family stepped outside for the first time in what seemed to be a lifetime. The sun had almost fully risen and everything now appeared still and quiet. It was beautiful and wonderous although everything around them wrecked and dismembered. The occupants could see nothing but beauty though, until the oddest of phenomenons began to occur. The dust, the debris, all appeared to be floating. A deafening booming began to sound, the occupants hurriedly covered their ears and turned around to see the wave. In moments it was upon them, and then beyond them. Leaving nothing behind but a blank quiet canvas.

The occupants had now almost never existed. No sounds of weeping could be heard for miles, there was no hope to swell with and no joy to be felt. There were no last loving embraces or tearful goodbyes. There was nothing.Even the walls they had imprisoned themselves in were now gone. Not a single sign of them was left. If anyone were to ever walk by this barren road again, they would know nothing of the occupants or even the storm that had ripped through it. It would be just another road, but maybe, just maybe, when they felt a slight breeze walking through they would be stuck the strangest of sadnesses.

Credit: Brittany Daniel

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