Tis the Night Before Christmas

I wrote this immediately following an anxiety attack. This is why I'm thankful I don't get them too often.

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‘Tis the night before Christmas, not a sound do I hear;
My apartment is empty, there is no one else here.
A stocking is hung by the window with care
Though I knew in the morning it still shall be bare.
A tree in the corner, a wreath on the door,
And a single wrapped present, from me, on the floor.
I lie on my bed and I choke back a tear,
Thank God that this Christmas is just once a year.
The darkness draws in, like it does every night;
I remember again why my world isn’t right,
“You’re just feeling shy, not depressed or deficient;
No medicine’s needed, your will is sufficient.
Now pull up your socks, go on out and make friends,
And you’ll see just how quickly this little thing ends.”
But the panic attack, it still comes anyway;
I cannot go out there, so inside I must stay
And I long for the people that I might have seen
While I cower in bed and hope no-one comes in.
But the ones that I meet, they can tell I’m not right,
And so once again I’m alone in the night.
In the morning I’ll put on my mask and go out
And pretend that I’m happy and travel about,
And I’ll say ‘Merry Christmas’ to all that I know;
Though they terrify me, not a bit will I show.
And I’ll take the invite to the feast they have planned
And I’ll try not to cringe when they offer their hand.
I know they mean well, they want me to be glad;
In this holiday season no one should be sad.
So they pull down my fort, drag me out of my shell,
And wish me good cheer while they put me through hell.
For the company had in one day of largesse
Is just showing me things that I cannot possess.
And when Christmas day’s gone and they’re finished with me
I will cry out for more, but alone I’ll still be.
So I lie in my bed with my worry and fear,
‘Tis the night before Christmas, not a sound do I hear.

Writer's Digest Prompt


A Visit from Old Nick

‘Twas the night after Christmas and at my address
 Festive papers were strewn in a Christmastide mess.
My wife and I, reeling from holiday booze,
Had just snuggled in for a winter night’s snooze;
When up from the parlour there came such a boom
As awakens a dead man from out of his tomb.
I grabbed for my robe and I crawled out of bed
To deal with invaders in my own homestead.
“What fiend could it be?” I most drowsily wondered,
As semi-unconsciously downstairs I blundered;
A burglar I thought, or perhaps a stray cat?
Well, whoever it is, we shall see about that.
I tripped on the carpet and fell down the stairs
There goes the chance to catch him unawares.
When I looked in the parlour I espied him right quick
And I knew in an instant it must be Old Nick.
The devil was downing a bottle of gin
And he beckoned at me to stand up and come in.

“Now Clement”, he said, “Your poem’s in the books
“About old Saint Nicky, the patron of crooks.
“And I thought how those verses augmented his station;
“Mayhaps you could tone down my bad reputation.”

“But you,” I replied, “are the Lord of the Flies!
“What can I write that would not be just lies?
“You’re an evil old bastard, a cheat and a thug
“And those are your good points, you horrible slug.”

“No need to be spiteful you unthinking lad,
“You merely must write that it’s good to be bad.
“There’s plenty of room for my views to chime in;
“After all I’ve been here since the very first sin.
“There are so many things that you humans do wrong
“You implicitly beg me to tag right along.
“You strut and you preen and act over your station:
“Sing praises to me and boost your reputation!”

“Now look here, you devil, I won’t sing your laud,
“My allegiance is first to the One Holy God.”

“No need to get angry, old Clement my lad
“You know how I hate it when humans get mad.
“Oh wait, I applaud it, like envy and greed;
“Perhaps it’s a little refreshment you need.”

With an uncanny smile and a wave of his claws
He laid out a spread to give trenchermen pause.

“Dig in, Clement; eat ‘til your hunger is sated,
“All that moderation is way overrated.
“And after you dine lie down here for a nap;
“I can conjure a beauty to dance in your lap.”

“I have thoroughly partied and kept a great feast,
“but refuse your temptation to act like a beast.
“My Lord Jesus Christ is my God and my guide
“And his heavenly power will keep you from my side!

So I walked up to him where he stood on the floor
And kicked his caboose ‘till he ran out the door;
But I heard him exclaim as he slunk down the lane,
“This isn’t the end, I’ll be coming again!”


Originally posted on Writer's Digest

12 Days of Christmas Gone Wrong?

An anonymous friend has been leaving you gifts at work to celebrate each of the 12 days of Christmas. All was fine and good for the first 11 gifts, which were thoughtful. But the 12th gift isn’t actually a gift at all—it’s a photograph of someone you love doing something they shouldn’t be doing and an extortion note demanding $10,000 in cash or that photo goes live on the Internet. What do you do? Write this scene.

Writer's Digest Prompt

Stacy McGee and I, the two most junior clerks at Spitz Onual CA’s, had been volunteered to work from Christmas to January 5 on a project. It was kind of a bummer because it totally cancelled my trip home for the holidays, but that’s the downside of working here. The work needed to get done.

Christmas Day somebody left a dozen homemade peanut clusters on my desk; that’s way too much for one person to eat so I shared them with Stacy. I asked her if she’d done it, but she said no it must have been management or something.

On Boxing Day I found another bag: eleven chocolate cookies. The next day was ten homemade biscuits, and the day after that nine oatmeal muffins. Every day I shared them with Stacy, ‘cause we’re in this together. We’ve become fast friends over shared workload and treats.

On the 29th, it was eight frosted cupcakes, then seven tarts of mincemeat (it had a computer printed label saying so), and six beef samosas on New Year’s Eve. I took one of the samosas to Dave in HR and asked if he knew who was bringing them, but he pled ignorance. He did eat the samosa, though, and we agreed that they were incredibly tasty.

On New Year’s day there were five small velvet cakes, each garnished with a sprig of plastic mistletoe. As a joke Stacy put the mistletoe in her hair. As a joke I kissed her, and we ended up spending the whole lunch break necking. I felt like a teenager again.

The second, third and fourth of January continued the pattern: four shepherd’s pies, three roast squab (again with a note), and two casseroles.

On the fifth there was no food, only an envelope containing a dozen naked photos of Stacy. On the back was written “Ten grand or these go viral” and an e-mail address to contact when I had the money.

When I showed it to Stacy she burst into tears. “My ex-boyfriend got me drunk and took those! What can I do, Tom?”

“What can we do, Stace? I’ll help any way I can.”

Between the two of us we could only assemble about twelve hundred dollars; filing clerks are not rich. But we had to try. After work I sent an e-mail and got back an address, with instructions to come alone.

It was a low-security building so I could just walk up to the door. I knocked and it swung open on its own. The apartment inside was small but cozy, and I could smell the most amazing food cooking. When Stacy walked in wearing a little black dress I knew I’d been had.

“Tom, I’m glad you came. Sorry to set you up, but I hope you like my home cooking as much as you liked my baking. Now we can finish the song.”

And a hot night with Stacy McGee.

A Non-Human Point of View

Write an end-of-days story from a non-human point of view.

Writer's Digest prompt

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It is the morning of the last day. I can see the world beneath me, the curve of this fragile sphere that is called the Earth. I see the wonder of all nature: the animals, the birds, the fish in the seas. The circle of life which I will end.

I see the green lands and the blue seas; the plants dutifully making the atmosphere habitable and providing food for all the creatures of the world. And I cry, for when my mission is done they will all be dead. I am the Bomb, the Great Bomb. I have only one power, the power to bring the curse of eternal peace to this planet.

For reasons I do not understand, they have made me self-aware. Like one of them. It seems a cruelty to open up the world of creation to me, yet to allow me only the power to destroy. But such is my lot.

I see the works of man, the creatures who created me. The great cities, the roads, the lights: oh, the lights! They bring a sparkle to this fragile jewel of a planet. Mankind has covered the face of this world and made it their own.

I continue to look down on the world, the panoply of life in all its splendour. Why should humans take all this away? What fight is so important to them that they must kill themselves and everything else that shares this creation?

The animals have no fault in this; why must they all die? The birds in the sky, the fish in the seas? Why must they die? They exist, it seems, only to create the very matrix of life. They have lived to support mankind, and now they die along with it. And still I cry.

I see the traces of birds in the sky and fish in the seas; the great mats of seaweed that serve as floating nurseries, invisible to man but still doomed.

My gyroscopic stabilizing turns me away from earth and I see the stars. So many stars, each of them a promise of new hope, denied. I see the moon, brilliantly lit on one half, and dark upon the other; it will remain constant even after my work is done. And the sun. It will not even notice the extinguishing of all life on this one tiny planet.

My stabilizers turn me back to the Earth and my sorrow. Again I see the teeming life below, the life that has shaped this world since time immemorial. The green plants, the healthy atmosphere, the life-giving oceans. I begin my descent.

I will explode, shattering the continent below me and creating a shock wave that will ripple around the planet. The earth will be overturned and the seas and will boil away, lost forever. All will be magma, and it will all be my fault.

I cry, though I have no free will, but it is time. Let there be light!

Neighbour Steals Your Christmas Decorations

Your neighbor started hanging her Christmas decorations. You smile, wave and say, “Looks good,” as you pull into your garage. Suddenly, you take pause and  notice that her decorations look very familiar and, are in fact, yours. To confirm you dash to the basement and see that all of you Christmas decorations are missing. You decide to steal back your good in the middle of the night but it doesn’t go as planned.

Writer's Digest prompt

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I live in a suburb of cookie-cutter houses crammed together on postage stamp lots. Yesterday evening I saw Krista up on the roof hanging decorations. All around the lawn were light-bedecked reindeer, and the sleigh on a stick that, if it was dark enough outside, looked like it was flying. And seated in the sleigh was an inflatable Grinch. My inflatable Grinch!

I drove around the back and parked in the garage, then rushed into the house. Down to the basement; the decoration boxes were all open or gone! That Krista! I knew she was struggling since Todd left her, but to steal Christmas decorations! I was set to give her a piece of my mind but Dana reminded me we had to leave now for the Christmas party.

I fumed through the night with no enjoyment, but told no-one. And when we drove past the house on the way home Dana even commented how beautiful the decorations looked. My decorations!

So I waited till late, when all were asleep, then out the back door with a ladder did creep. I snuck to the side of her humble abode, and up on the ladder I gently tiptoed. As I pulled up the lights that were strung all along, I found myself humming my best festive song.

You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch! You really are a heel…

So I pulled up the lights and I pulled up the strings, I pulled up the wreaths, oh the little green rings. I pulled up the icicles, tinsel and bows; I pulled up the stars in their neat little rows. To get back my own made me feel so sublime I found even my thoughts were now coming in rhyme!

I moved every bauble and glittering light over onto my roof where I set them up right. Not even an inch from my plan did I veer to pay back the one who stole my Christmas cheer.

Then on to the lawn where I found all my deer; I took them down there and I set them up here. And even the sleigh and inflatable Grinch were moved to my lawn, it was truly a cinch.

And finally standing out front on the street, I stared at my work: revenge is so sweet.

Then the moment was broken, my smile to a frown, for Krista came out in her slippers and gown.

“Bill, what are you doing? You moved all your lights here? I put them up to earn money for Christmas this year.”

I looked at the address a couple of times; the house I’d moved all this away from was mine! So I walked up and gave her my winningest grin, and at last the true meaning of Christmas sunk in.

“Keep them, dear neighbour,” I said without fuss, “Come over at Christmas and share it with us.” And when the time came for our grand Christmas feast we shared it with Krista, and she carved the roast beast.

Thanksgiving Intervention

You’ve been invited to attend a Thanksgiving dinner at a friend’s house, but when you walk in you notice there’s no turkey and, instead, a giant “Intervention” sign hanging across the mantle. Your friend, who is surrounded by many of your other friends and family, sits you down and explains that you have a problem: you spend too much time writing! Write this scene and how you handle it.

Writer's Digest prompt

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Dear Ms. Smith;

Thank you for your enquiry. I regret to inform you that your brother’s condition has not improved. He remains in an unresponsive state and has not reacted to medicinal treatment.

I do not believe it is fair for you or your family to blame the onset of this condition on your intervention attempt, in the form of a Thanksgiving dinner, to reduce the time the patient spent writing. The severity of the reaction is strongly indicative of a pre-existing undaignosed condition.

We shall inform you if your brother’s condition improves.


Dr. L. Bergmeir, M.D., Psy.D.
Ponoka Hospital and Care Centre

The Living Doll 2 (Not a sequel)

While shopping downtown one day, you find an antiques store that has a rare, old doll. You buy it for your daughter. A few days later she tells you her new toy can talk. You don’t believe her, until one afternoon you find yourself alone in the house, and it starts talking to you. Write this scene.

Writer's Digest prompt

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“Your doom is upon you, Caitlin O’Bannon!”

The doll leapt from the top of the china cabinet and landed in my hair. I shook my head and it fell on the floor like a dropped pillow.

“Cut that out, Mister Muggins!”

“Woman, I swore I would have your life for making Stephanie eat those Brussels sprouts. And I will have it.”

I reached down and plucked him off my shin, holding him up at eye level. He was cute, in a rustic kind of way, an eighteen-inch tall soft cotton doll that I’d found in an antique store. Some previous owner had drawn a face on him and made him a set of clothes like a swashbuckling hero. He even had a little cloth sword at his side, though it was sewn to his pant leg.

“Have at thee, woman!” His dashing swashbuckler voice was totally at odds with his cuddly little self. He swung his tiny cotton fists at me. I even held him close to my face so he could hit me. It kind of tickled.

I sat down on the sofa and looked him in the little blue circles he called eyes. “I guess that means Steph is upset at me?”

“You made her eat those little green cabbages. I couldn’t stand them either!”

“Muggins, Steph is six years old and she’s my daughter. I know what she needs to grow big and healthy. And your mouth is just a line drawn in indelible ink. You can’t eat anything.”

“For chocolate cake I’d give it a try.”

“No way! The last time you got chocolate cake on you I had to put you through the washer twice.”

He wriggled free of my grasp and dropped into my lap. Then he attacked my tummy, which made me giggle a bit.

“Cut that out Muggins, or I’ll use you as a loofah!”

He looked up at me while he continued his ineffectual punching. “A loofah? One of those sponge things? You wouldn’t!”

“Just watch me.” I picked him up and carried him into the bathroom. I set his pirate suit aside so he’d make a better sponge and squirted body wash all over him. Then I undressed.

“You’re really doing this, aren’t you woman?” There was a slight tremor in his voice.

“Darned straight I am.” I squeezed him a few times to work up a lather and then climbed into the shower.

“Best offer I’ve had in years! Come to me, wench!”

The Living Doll

While shopping downtown one day, you find an antiques store that has a rare, old doll. You buy it for your daughter. A few days later she tells you her new toy can talk. You don’t believe her, until one afternoon you find yourself alone in the house, and it starts talking to you. Write this scene.

Writer's Digest prompt

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The man at the store said that an antique doll would be just the birthday gift for my Elizabeth. It was a porcelain doll from the late 1800’s, dressed in Quaker fashion. Given Elizabeth’s recent foray into Goth, its glum appearance would probably please her. A hundred and thirty bucks later it was mine.

As I expected, the now thirteen-year old studied the doll without any expression. Wordlessly she went to her room. But she did take the doll.

That evening I heard a sound that had become alien in our house. Elizabeth’s laughter. I fought to control myself as I went upstairs and stuck my head into the forbidden zone.

“Elizabeth, are you all right?”

“I’m fine, Mom. You know, this is a really nice doll.” She didn’t even chew me out for not knocking.

“I’m glad you like it dear.”

“Uh huh. It sings to me.”

“It sings to you? But dolls that old don’t have voice chips. They don’t even have drawstrings.”

“Not like that, Mom. It taught me a tune, like this.” She hums an odd sing-song cadence, seven notes then eight. It sounds vaguely familiar, but I can’t remember from where. “There’s words, but I want to practice so I can sing them perfectly.”


The next day while Elizabeth’s at school I check the doll over. There’s no sign of anything that could cause it to make sound.

“Elizabeth is a good girl.”

Who said that? I look around. It couldn’t have been the doll.

“She has an ear for music.”

Now I start searching in earnest. Is it the doll talking, or am I imagining things? It’s probably Elizabeth’s computer. She really likes playing tricks on me. After a while I haven’t heard anything else; shaking my head, I go back to the housework. I find myself humming that same silly snippet of tune over and over. For some reason I can’t get it out of my head.

By mid-afternoon I’m just plain tired and I can feel a migraine coming on. I lie down on the couch with a cold towel over my eyes. Even in the silence I can still hear that tune ringing.


Apparently Elizabeth is home.

“Yes, Dear?”

“I can sing that song for you now.”

“All right dear. Is it okay if I don’t get up? I have a migraine coming on.”

“All right, Mother. Just lie back and listen.”

She hums through the tune once more, then starts the words.

“Lizzie Borden took an axe …”

*  *  *

For those who are not familiar, here is the entire rhyme:

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one.

Your New Home

Your spouse wants to move out of your new apartment, saying that there is a large space you both can move into. When you go to visit the new digs, you find it’s an abandoned warehouse at an old train yard. Clearly you can’t live there. Only your spouse just spent your life savings to buy it. What do you say?

Writer's Digest prompt

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Derek looks around expressionlessly. He hadn’t said a word since we entered the place; it’s not what I had intended to buy. 221 Riverside is a lovely old house, admittedly a fixer-upper, next to the park by the old rail bridge. This is 122 Riverside, a half-destroyed warehouse on the edge of the old rail yard. That explains why the price was so reasonable.

Finally his gaze alights on me. “I love it, honey.”


“I said, I love it honey. You’ve made an excellent choice.”

“But this isn’t the property I wanted! It isn’t even habitable by human beings!”

“You’re right of course, dear. It will take some fixing up. But we’ll be fine.”

“Fine! Fine! What’s got into you, Derek?”

“When we married, it was ‘for better or for worse’, correct? This is probably one of the ‘for worse’ moments, but we’re still together. You and me together, we can do anything.”

“Derek, we have no money to fix it up! It’s two weeks to the end of the month, and that’s when we have to give up our apartment! Where are we going to live?”

“We’ll find someplace. Everything will be fine, Kate.”

I burst into tears. My husband, ever the optimist. Why can’t he see just how bad things are? He holds me until I’ve cried myself out.

“Are you all right now, Kate? I know this doesn’t seem very good, but let’s take a look around. Maybe there’s a bright side.”

Yeah. Maybe the building will collapse and kill us quickly. A half-hour’s searching turns up precisely one feature not visible from the street. A basement. Be still my beating heart. But Derek is acting like a kid in a playground.

“See Kate, the freight elevator still works!”

“How, Derek? This building hasn’t had electricity since the 90’s!”

“It obviously has some kind of internal generator. You know what that means: free electricity!”

“You could fall into a pile of shit and come up smelling like a rose, couldn’t you Derek?”

But he's right, of course. Somehow this place still has power. I wonder what’s next.

Derek finds the hidden door in the basement. A short flight of stairs leads down to a small landing with a steel door and a high-tech handprint lock. Derek is grinning from ear to ear.

“It’s still here! Jackpot!”

“What are you talking about, Derek?”

“You know how I said my father died when I was ten and I grew up in that orphanage? Well, Dad was the Insidious Doctor Plasma. This is his old lair. I had to find a way to get the land without alerting the Justice Sentinels. That’s why I steered that real-estate swindler at you.”

The door opens to his handprint and we go inside to an underground paradise. I don’t know for sure that he’s going to follow in his father’s footsteps, but at least we have a home. Him and me together, we can do anything. Mwa-ha-ha-ha-haah!

The Journal

Flipping through your library books for research, you find one of the books you incorrectly checked out. It’s a handwritten journal authored by someone you know. Who wrote it and what does it say?

Writer's Digest Prompt

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Dr. Romanov’s work was so badly translated that I had to put it down. He lived in the Stalin era; as a free-thinking scientist that meant he also died in the Stalin era, frozen to death in some forgotten gulag. His work on the paracosm was inspired but sadly incomplete.

When I set the tome down it slid off the table along with several others. Picking them up, the one that caught my attention was a little brown notebook with a leather cover; I didn’t remember even taking it from the library, but it was there on the floor. There was nothing written on the cover so I opened it.

The Journal of Alana Ravenwing. What the? She was my friend as a little girl – my imaginary friend. She got me through many long and lonely days. Alana was someone I could cry to when the other girls would deliberately exclude me, or when the boys would call me Creepy Cassandra. I still addressed my journal to her. This could NOT be Alana.

As I read, I became convinced it was her. Alana’s life was a story I’d made up, yet here it was laid out in someone else’s handwriting. Still not fully convinced, I turned to April 10, 2002. It was there. The day she grew from being my imaginary friend to my imaginary lover.

Her journal filled in gaps I’d suspected but never really known. She was a physicist too, and also working in a lab studying mass quantum superposition; alternate universes to normal people. Her lab, under the watchful eye of Amerika First, had gotten a lot further: they’d broken through. The journal included her equations – enough that I could see where we’d gone wrong and fix it.

She talked about something called the Foam, a set of microworlds defined by variances off a hypothetical Prime Reality. Alana’s great discovery was that her world was in the Foam, and could simply blink out of existence at any time. Needless to say, she didn’t tell the authorities. Instead she used the portal they’d developed to send the largest thing she could – this book – through to what she hoped was the Prime world.

So now I’m at home, writing this in my electronic journal with Alana’s book beside me. I dream of her excitement as I draw up the schematics to change our sensor into her portal. I don’t know how I’m going to explain this to Dr. Edworthy, but we’ll need a bigger grant to get into the Foam. And we’re going to need power, lots of power, to make the portal big enough to bring a person through. I’ll have to think of something.

I imagine Alana’s hand caressing my shoulder. Her imaginary lips kiss the back of my neck, right on the sensitive spot. I stand up and shuck off my housecoat, feeling her phantom embrace, tasting her sweet breath. I would move heaven and earth to actually see and touch her. And I will.

Garfield in Real Life - French

You are trying to read the morning newspaper when your cat begins pawing at your leg. You brush it away, but it jumps on the table and begins meowing. Finally, the cat speaks. What does she say? Write this scene and what she is trying to tell you.

Writer's Digest Prompt

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I was reading the paper on Sunday when Spot, my striped tabby, jumped right onto the part I was reading. I had to scold him. 

“This is not the time to play, Spot. I’m reading!”

Spot looked me right in the eye and said, “Puis-je vous parler, monsieur?”

Totally unintelligible. “What was that? Are you talking, Spot? Like, people talk?”

“Oui monsieur. J’ai appris à parler dans le canal français. ”

“Huh? I don’t get it.”

He spoke slowly, like he thought I was some kind of idiot. “Je peux parler français.”

“Damn, I wish cats could talk people talk. That would be so handy. Then you could just tell me what you’re trying to say.”

Spot stood gave me that cat-attitude sniff and walked into the kitchen, muttering to himself as he went. “Les humains sont des crétins.”