We didn’t get a chance to send out our Christmas cards this year, but we did at least get our drabbles written and shared. Here’s mine.
For my first #fridayflash story of 2014, I’m taking part in Chuck Wendig’s Fairytales Remixed challenge (subgenre: “grimdark fantasy”). I actually already had this story in mind when his post popped up, so apparently it was fate. Or at least good motivation to actually get the words out of my brain and into the world. Please enjoy, and be sure to check out the other entries in the challenge as well as stories from the #fridayflash community!
SLEEPING BEAUTY’S SECRET
Aurora stole away just as dawn was breaking. The king would not rise for another hour, and the nurses would tend to their little ones until breakfast. This was her time—precious and rare—and she had to use it wisely.
Dressed in peasants’ attire from a lifetime ago, she kept her dark scarf draped over her golden hair and kept her eyes downcast as she made her way through the village and toward the woods. Though she knew it had given her many advantages, sometimes she cursed the gift of beauty bestowed on her by the fairies.
She thought of the other gifts she’d received as an infant and tried to remember the last time she’d sung anything. Her children were too old for lullabies now, and the nurses had taken care of that most of the time anyway.
Stepping into the thick, damp air of the forest was a relief, but she didn’t slow her pace. Not until the din from the village had been silenced by the swaying of the trees and the chirping of the birds did she relax. Finally, she heard a sharp cawing, and she stopped. She was here.
Before her was a small clearing where the green had faded away, as if shrinking back from something different, something fearsome.
Aurora approached the center of it where the smallest black vine pierced through the ground. She saw that it had sprouted thorns in the week since she’d last visited, and the sight sent a thrill through her body. Perhaps there was still hope.
She had been so young when everything happened. Only sixteen. What had she known of true love? Even now, she knew that it had been true, and maybe even that it still was. But she also knew that love was not the same as happiness.
Despite everything, she could not explain why she was here. She knew it was dangerous. Perhaps it was some remnant of former magic, drawing her once again into the grasp of evil. But there were no fairies now to hide her from her fate, and she had found no weapons or spells to fight the darkness in her own soul. So she tended to the little black vine, in hopes of some day facing the being that had put it there.
She pulled out a small knife from a pocket hidden in her skirt. She grimaced. This was the part she hated the most. Another sharp caw from the sky beckoned her onward. She glanced up and met the crow’s red eyes as she removed her glove. And then she grit her teeth and slashed the blade across her palm, breaking through the barely-closed gash that was already there. She held her hand over the soil surrounding the little vine, and let her blood soak its roots.
© 2014 Elizabeth Ditty
It’s the last Friday of the year, which is hard to believe. Thanks to the #fridayflash community for helping me keep up the writing, at least sporadically, during my Evolutionary Year.
TIME IS MONEY
Henry couldn’t see what all the fuss was about time, but he was bound and determined to find some. Being only five years old, there were many subjects on which he’d only scratched the surface, but he’d heard lots about time.
He knew, for instance, that time was quick, and that, if you weren’t careful, it would pass you by without your ever realizing it. He figured if he could launch a surprise attack, he’d have a good shot at catching it. He wasn’t sure how long he spent crouched between the potted ficus tree and the sofa, but his entire left leg fell asleep, and his mom started calling him for dinner. He would try again tomorrow.
He’d also heard that time flies, so he spent the next day up in the branches of a tree with his slingshot, on the lookout for flying time. All he saw were sparrows and the occasional airplane flying high above, but he never saw anything that looked liketime.
Henry began to suspect that time was much sneakier than he’d given it credit for. Perhaps it was hiding right under his nose all this time. He ransacked the living room, pulling the cushions off the sofa, curling up the rug, and digging in the dirt that held the ficus tree. When his mom came in and saw what he’d done, she yelled, “Henry, I don’t have time for this!” Which, he thought, was exactly the point. But he knew better than to say anything at a time like this.
That night, before his parents came in to tuck him into bed, Henry had a long timeout, which gave him time to think. As his eyes drooped, one last thought surfaced: “Time is money.” It was something he’d heard one of his father’s friends say one time, when they’d all been over playing games with black and red cards, and having drinks Henry wasn’t allowed to taste.
His eyes flew open and drifted to his piggy bank. He’d been saving for a big boy bike, but maybe this was more important. By the time his parents came in to tuck him into bed, he’d made his decision. They entered to find him on the floor with the rubber disk from the bottom popped out and the pig’s contents spilled on the floor.
“What are you doing, Henry?” his father asked.
“I tried to find more time,” he said, “but it was hard. I couldn’t do it.”
His parents looked perplexed, and Henry knew they didn’t understand. He sighed and gathered the few bills and coins from the floor.
“You and Mom are always saying you don’t have time and that you wish you could find more.” He saw his parents exchange a look, but he didn’t understand what it meant. “I looked for it everywhere, but I don’t really know what it looks like, I guess. But anyway, I remembered that time is money, so I thought this might help.”
He handed them what amounted to his life’s savings. His mom looked like she might cry, and Henry began to fear that he’d really messed up this time.
“Am I in trouble?” he asked.
His parents shook their heads, and his mom scooped him into her arms.
“Not at all, darling,” she said. “You’re the best boy in the whole world.”
He nestled his head into that space between his mom’s shoulder and neck, and his dad wrapped his arms around the two of them. He loved it when they did that.
As they tucked him into bed, he couldn’t help but feel the problem still hadn’t been solved.
“Maybe if we all hunt for time tomorrow, we’ll have better luck,” Henry said.
“I bet you’re right,” his dad said. “But for now, it’s time for bed.”
Henry didn’t have the energy to protest. He yawned, and his parents took turns kissing him on the forehead.
“Good night, sweet boy,” his mother said.
“Good night, son,” said his father.
Henry closed his eyes and soon dreamt of clocks and wings and skies.
© 2013 Elizabeth Ditty
He wasn’t scheduled for retirement until the end of the universe, but he was just so damn tired.
The world was very different than when he’d started. Expectations had grown and grown and grown until he could no longer keep up with the demand placed upon him by his customers.
When he first noticed that his work was being supplemented by parents, he breathed a sigh of relief. But then they started doing more than supplementing. They started wearing his clothes and using his name, all without ever asking his permission — not to mention the thought of proper compensation.
He began pushing his employees to work longer hours and to increase their output, but eventually they began pushing back. And the worst part was he couldn’t even blame them. There were some lean years when strikes hurt what he could deliver, but he noticed the world didn’t seem to notice at all.
His wife had what could best be described as a conniption fit when he first broached the idea of early retirement. It was his purpose, his reason for existence! But he had been feeling more and more like it was his cross to bear instead, and he was ready to set it down.
She packed her bags and left, in an attempt to teach him a lesson, and while he missed the comfort of her warm embrace, at least it was one less set of expectations weighing upon his shoulders. He soon announced layoffs for all but one of his employees. He would keep his valet around as long as the funds were there to pay him.
The money ran out faster than he expected, but he could live frugally. All he needed was a sleeve of cookies and a gallon of milk, and he could get by for a week. His favorite red suit was reduced to threadbare tatters a few years ago, but he found he could blend in quite well in the thrift store clothing that his budget allowed.
Every once in a while, a child’s eye would land on him, and he would see the curiosity, the expectation, the hope. Every time, his heart swelled, wondering if it was time for his return. But every time, the parents pulled their children along, with no recognition, no memory of the magic they had once shared.
Another year had passed, and December 25th was so near he could quite literally feel it in his bones. Every year, he and his valet still surveyed the world, and every year everything changed, but never in their favor. The world simply grew more and more astute at meeting their own constantly growing expectations. And every year, his heart broke a little more, because Christmas looked less and less like him.
© 2013 Elizabeth Ditty
SANTA DOESN’T SWEAT
The manager sighed as he watched the bead of sweat drip off the old man’s nose.
“Let’s get some air on him,” he hollered at the woman dressed as an elf.
She scurried over to the fan and pointed it at the bearded man in the red suit. Santa doesn’t sweat. He grimaced as he watched the old man take deep breaths, trying to suck in the wind from the fan.
“All right, next kid,” he said.
The fat man pasted on a pathetic smile as the next bouncing bundle of joy walked up and bounded onto his lap. A groan almost escaped, and a look of panic shot into the old man’s eyes, hoping his manager hadn’t seen. But he had. He always saw. He’d already burned through two Santas today, and it was only one o’clock.
After the kid had given his unbearably long wish list and been wished a Merry Christmas, the manager stepped in front of the long line of hopeful children. “Santa’s going to take a short break for some milk and cookies, and then he’ll be right back to hear your deepest Christmas wishes!”
There were groans and not a few tantrums, but they had stopped phasing the manager a long time ago. He walked over to the old man.
“Please,” he whispered, tears in his eyes.
“You’re done,” he said. “Let’s go. It’ll only be worse if you make a scene.”
The old man’s eyes traveled to the mass of children. His lower lip quivered. But then he steeled his face into one last, wonderful grin. “Ho, ho, ho!” he bellowed. “Merry Christmas!”
The manager rolled his eyes, and then he escorted the man in red off the platform and into the back room.
The old man took off his hat and handed it to the manager. There was a look of defiance in his eyes. There nearly always was in their last moments.
“You know where to go next,” the manager said.
The old man said nothing and simply walked bravely through the door with the exit sign blaring above it. A moment later, a scream, and then nothing.
The manager turned around. Behind the bars sat three other old, white-bearded men — enough to last through the day hopefully.
He pointed at the most robust-looking of the three.
“You’re up,” he said. He keyed open the door, and the new old man walked out. “Suit up.”
He handed over the hat. The old man took it, sparing a glance at the men he was leaving behind, and headed toward his last chance.
© 2013 Elizabeth Ditty
JACK FROST’S GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT
People only think of wintry weather when they hear my name, but year by year, I’ve been expanding my reach.
I first had the thought back in the 1950s, but it took a decade or so to wrap my icy tendrils around the first few black hearts. The first Black Friday was a grand day for me, but each year I grow prouder and prouder.
After all, what greater cold snap is there than the one from the warmth of pervasive gratitude and gathered families to the stone cold greed and cha-ching of cash registers the day after? The whole country goes from nestling around their loved ones, gorging on warm turkey and pie, to pushing and shoving in the freezing temperatures to get the best deals before the sun even thinks of peeking out from behind its covers.
Sure, snow and icicles are my most obvious achievements — the ones everyone talks about. But more than Snowmageddon or Knickerbocker or even the Storm of the Century, Black Friday is my crowning glory. And I’m not stopping there.
My sights are set, and the next big thing is in my crosshairs.
Thanksgiving, I’m coming for you.
© 2013 Elizabeth Ditty
The cat had wandered into her yard again. She had tried everything — coffee grounds, citrus peels, cayenne pepper, even moth balls. A spray bottle was no deterrent, and neither was the hose. Even her dog was no match for the mangy thing, and he now had a gash on his nose to prove it.
Every time she stepped outside, every time she came home, her eyes began to itch, her nose began to drain, and her anger began to swell.
Through her window, she watched as the cat sprayed her flowerbeds, soaking them in ammonia-scented urine. She thought of the hard work she’d put into planting those flowers, of the hard-earned money she’d spent to make her house a home, and of the excruciating back ache the next day.
She was done.
She bolted into the garage and grabbed her son’s BB gun, a gift from her ex-husband despite her insistence against it. She barrelled out the front door and met the cat right at the front stoop. It froze at the sight of her — nostrils flared, flyaways escaping from her ponytail.
For a second, as their eyes connected, she had second thoughts. But then the cat lifted its leg and sprayed the front step.
A loud POP. A louder screech. A trail of blood drops. Likely not enough to have killed it, but enough that the cat was gone and likely for good.
Her lips hardened into a line. She didn’t like resorting to violence, but it had left her no choice. She walked back inside and replaced the BB gun in the garage.
That night, long after her children were tucked into bed, she sat in a rocking chair by the window, as she often did when fighting insomnia. Normally she read, but tonight she felt distracted. Her gaze drifted out onto the dark lawn. The street lamp was out, and had been for weeks, despite her calls to the city and electric company.
So when she saw the two red slits appear in the blackness, she was confused. And then another set appeared. And finally a third. A low rumble sounded, at first nearly imperceptible, growing, deepening, finally working its way into her eardrums where it settled and reverberated in the space between her lungs.
Her eyes adjusted to the dark just enough to make out horns, fur, black pupils in a red sea. The creatures clawed the ground, paced back and forth, but did not approach, as if held back by an invisible line.
And then they saw her, and the rumble exploded into a shrieking growl. She scrambled away from the window and dove beneath the covers, shivering so hard that the bed creaked. A million thoughts ran through her mind, too fast for her to comprehend any of them save one: she would add cat food to her grocery list in the morning.
© 2013 Elizabeth Ditty