Short Story: Let It Snow!

Let It Snow! by Belinda Jones

When my boyfriend asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I said, “Snow! And lots of it!”

I was quite emphatic about the volume. I didn’t want the light sprinkling you glimpse from your window and then run outside to find it turning to slush the second it touches the ground. I wanted a deep, thick, wonderland you could disappear into.

I’m looking out on that now – not so much a blanket of snow but a vast puffed up duvet as far as the eye can see. It’s magical and other-worldly and exactly what I had hoped for. Except for the fact that I am alone. Not because Adrian got lost in a blizzard, I hasten to add. Chance would be a fine thing - he never even boarded the plane.

We got as far as the airport check-in desk and then he blurted, “Angie, I’m sorry. I can’t do this!”

“We’ll be fine!” I assured him. “We have thermals and bobble hats and I’ve even packed some of those hand warmers – you know those little sachets you jiggle to activate-”

“It’s not the cold,” he cut me off. “It’s us!”

“What do you mean?” I still didn’t get it. 

So he spelled it out for me.

“You can’t break up with me on Christmas Eve!” I protested. “Isn’t there a law against that kind of thing?”

“I’m sorry.”

When he first began walking away, I was too stunned to move. I was just lost to the hubbub, jostled this way and that by people humping oversized rucksacks. 

But then I came back to my senses and went chasing after him, just in time to see him step into the car of Denise from Human Resources. I couldn’t believe it – she’d actually been bragging about her “hot new romance” a few days earlier but had refused to reveal his identity. No prizes for guessing who’s in her stocking now. 

So there I was in a daze again, losing count of the number of suitcase wheels that rolled over my feet. 

There was no car waiting to whisk me away. No trains running that could take me to my parents’ where I could suck the brandy out of the Christmas pud. It was either take the flight or spend Christmas at Heathrow airport. The wretchedness of that scenario suited my mood, but then I thought of all that glistening snow, it’s shimmering purity, the freshness of the pine-sprigged landscape... 

Plus, I had been reading that the local dessert specialty was Maple Syrup Pie.

“Oh, Quebec City!” The girl on the Air Canada desk swooned as she scanned my ticket. “There’s no more romantic place in the world at this time of year! Are you meeting someone there?”

I could’ve told her the truth – that I’d just been dumped and was severely regretting not packing my hot water bottle – but then why ruin her Christmas too? So I gave a secret smile and said:

“I am!”

“Does he speak French?” she gurgled.

“Oui!” I nodded. 

“Oh!” she swooned. “Enjoy! Enjoy every second!”

So now I’m in my hotel room with the faux fire on full blast, desperately trying to enjoy myself but not quite knowing how.

I decide to try and revive my senses by wrenching back the balcony door and stepping out into the zinging chill.

“Ice, ice baby!” I gasp. That wind is laceratingly cold.

And noisy. Less of a whistle and more of a whine. Almost like the howl of a wolf.

That is when I look down and see a Husky dog. At least I hope it’s a dog.

His immaculate monochromatic fur is being ruffled by the swirling snow, but his piercing opal-blue eyes are fixed on me with laser-like intensity. 

“H-hello?” I call down.

His jaw jolts upright, then he turns towards the road and looks expectantly back at me.

“Are you trying to tell me something?”

He repeats the motion.

“You want me to follow you?”

Oh gosh! What if someone is trapped in the snow and this is his Lassie-like cry for help?


The dog yelps again. No time to waste!

“Well, I’m really not familiar with the area, I’m not prepared...” I say this to myself, but I’m still pulling on my Puffa coat, winding my scarf around my neck, donning hat and gloves and boots...

At the very least I can ask at Reception – perhaps he’s a local dog, perhaps they’ll know what to do?

Of course there’s a long line of people checking in, and I can see my friend outside getting ever-more impatient. 

I’d like to say that it’s my naturally adventurous spirit that leads me outside, but actually it’s another kind of spirit, or spirits – namely the brandy, vodka, sherry and port that make up the Caribou cocktail they drink here. It seems so festive, just like mulled wine, but the effects are far more intense. For example, right now, although I feel like I’m on some kind of Polar Expedition, I don’t feel cold. I also don’t feel afraid. Maybe because some part of me thinks, “That’ll show Adrian! Think how bad he’ll feel when my frozen corpse is discovered in the morning, possibly with a half-gnawed leg.”

We round a corner, and then I come to a stunned halt.

There before me is a building unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s low and long with three main arcs and – get this – it’s entirely made of ice.

I scuttle forward and place my hands on the translucent bricks and then peer at a sign saying Hôtel De Glace.

“Ice hotel,” I translate. “This is where you wanted to bring me?” I check with my canine companion. 

His tail starts wagging. 

“I like your style.” 

He whines again. 

“You want to go inside?”

He pants eagerly.


Now this really is incredible – there are beautiful etchings in the compacted snow and a neon throb of lights turning the ice from pink to green to violet. I follow the sound of pumping club music into the bar. 

This has to be one of the most surreal sights I’ve ever seen - everyone is mummified for warmth, all woolly layers and down-stuffed coats, cheerfully drinking from glasses made from hollowed out ice.

The husky trots over to a square-jawed guy at the bar. He’s got good taste, I’ll give him that.

“There you are!” Square jaw brightens, removing a glove to rumple his head and revealing a wedding ring.

Oh well, that was a bit much to hope for.

I’m just wondering if I should introduce myself or retreat, but the dog gives me no choice, running excitedly between the two of us. 

“Oh Dini!” the guy tuts. “Have you been picking up women again?”

My eyes narrow at the dog. “I thought I was special!”

The man, who introduces himself as Ryan, laughs. 

“I’m sure you are. It’s just that ever since Laurent’s girlfriend left, Dini has been bringing round all manner of women.”

“Like a series of old chew toys?”

“Well, a few of them haven’t been supermodels, but I wouldn’t go that far...”

Now it’s my turn to laugh. 

“Where did he find you?”

“Over at the Hotel Chill.”

“So you’re not staying here?”

I look around me. “How exactly would one do that? I mean, are the beds made of ice too?”

“As a matter of fact they are.”


As Ryan explains that the mattresses are real and you sleep in Arctic-strength sleeping bags, preferably after a dunking in the hot tub, I realize I am starting to get curious about Laurent – I mean he has a nice dog and a nice friend and he’s just been dumped, which obviously I can relate to. Although I think I’m going to view it as being liberated - there’s really nothing positive about the word dumped. Besides, Adrian’s the one in Neasdon right now while I’m in, well, Narnia...

“There he is!” Ryan points through an archway, back out into the snow. “Laurent! Ici!” He calls and then shakes his head. “He can’t hear us. We have to go to him.”

Snowflakes are catching on my eyelashes, blurring my vision, so at first it’s hard for me to make out the details of the figure in the bulky coat heading towards us. Even now that he is beside us, the bottom half of his face is shrouded in a fleecy scarf, until he pulls it down to speak. In French... 

There is a gentleness behind his stubbly ruggedness, the way he interacts with Dini, giving him a “You little tyke!” look one minute and then a full body hug the next. It makes me want to be next in line...

And then he reaches for my hand...

“I’m Laurent,” he husks. “I’m so sorry my dog dragged you here!”

“Don’t be - I’m just relieved I didn’t have to rescue anyone from a ditch!” I confess, though as I speak, I realize I might have been the one who just got rescued. “Does Dini mean anything in French?” I’m curious.

“It’s actually short for Houdini. He’s quite the escape artist.”

“As well as matchmaker!” I say and then immediately blush. 

Laurent looks awkward. I can see he’s a little shy. After Adrian’s cockiness, this is a welcome trait.

“May I offer you a ride back to your hotel?” 

I go to be terribly British and say, “No, no, I’ll be fine!” when I realize I absolutely wouldn’t be. Not least because I can’t even remember which direction I came from – was it this wall of white or that one?

“We’re just around the corner here...” Laurent leads the way.

We? I frown to myself.

And then I spy the team of sled dogs awaiting us. There’s five of them, all a-fluster to see us, clearly all raring to go, except for one who is chomping at the snow like she’s enjoying a flavourless Slush Puppy.

Wait! “Is this our mode of transport?”

“Is that okay?” he falters. “You can go with Ryan in his truck if you prefer-”

“No, no,” I gasp. “I just can’t quite believe it - I’ve never done this before...”

I look around the sled itself. “Does it have jingle bells?”

Laurent laughs. “I really should have thought of that!” And then he beckons Dini to the front harness. 

“He’s the lead dog?”

“Don’t worry. He’ll stay put for the duration.”

“Well, at least he knows the way,” I concede. “Shall I get in?”

Laurent nods and helps me ease into the sled. It’s low to the ground and less substantial than I was expecting, but I’m soon distracted from the flimsiness of the wood by the fact that Laurent is tucking a check blanket around me. He smells so good, like a cedar fire with a dash of nutmeg. 

“Warm enough?” he asks me.

Looking back into the hazel glow of his eyes, it’s all I can do to manage a nod. Something about him gives me a toasty feeling, on the inside. I know I’m in good hands. And paws.

And we’re off!

The sky is so black, the stars blazingly bright, as is the moon globe. It’s so quiet out here. All I can hear is the swish of the sled through the snow, the padding of paws and panting of jaws.

“Ca va?” Laurent asks. 

“More than ca va. I’m wonderful!”

“You like?”

I love it!

Frankly, I’d be game for the thousand-mile Iditarod right now, but already we’re approaching the hotel. 

“I wanna go again!” I whine as I clamber up from the sled.

Laurent pauses, peering at me through his dark lashes. “Tomorrow, are you busy?”

“Not remotely,” I shrug.

Dini gives a little bark as if to encourage his master.

“Would you like to ride with us at sunrise, with you mushing?”

My eyes widen at the prospect. “Really?”

“I think Dini would like to run for you.”

I expel a frosty breath. “I can’t think of a nicer way to start the day!”

“Bon!” Laurent grins back at me. “I’ll see you here at 6am?”

“I’ll be here.” 

He gives me a little wink. “With bells on!”

I’m all but squeaking with glee as I wave him off.

Suddenly, I feel like writing my Christmas thank you notes early – at least the one to Adrian. 

I keep it simple, telling it like it is:

“Dear Adrian, thank you so much for my Christmas gift. I have to say: this is the best present I've ever had.

This story first appeared in My Weekly magazine. 

Belinda Jones’ Quebec-set novel Winter Wonderland is available now as an eBook at Amazon and paperback & eBook at Amazon UK and Amazon Canada!

Halloween Short Story Contest: Entry #3

I Love the Night Life?

         "One bag of Snickers…One bag of Butterfingers…One bag of Kit Kat bars…and, what the heck, a tub of candy corn," I mumble to myself as I chuck bag after bag of candy into my shopping cart.
I love Halloween. It's the one time of year a gal can walk into a store and buy a barrel full of candy without getting any judgmental stares from the cashiers. The candy is clearly for trick-or-treaters. The fact that I live in a basement apartment without direct access to the outside world is irrelevant. I could get a trick-or-treater, if the kid had the skills of a Mission Impossible operative, and could either tunnel in or crack the locks on several layers of doors to get to me.
As I arrive home, I pour all the candy into a huge bowl and settle on the couch for my Halloween ritual. Every year, on October 31st, I watch the original Halloween as I stuff miniature candy bars into my face until I am sure I'll have nightmares and a stomach ache. It's really fun.
As always happens on a holiday, I also start to get a little wistful. Holidays always make me very aware of my single status…and I mean any holiday makes me feel pathetically alone.  (I once cried my way through an entire Flag Day, because I had no one to wave a flag with.)  This Halloween is no different. As I open another fun sized candy bar, I start to notice that Michael Meyers doesn't exactly look bad in that jumpsuit.
As a matter of fact, he looks pretty good. I never noticed what muscular arms he has…and his broad chest…and…"Ok, Jen, you have GOT to get out of the house," I say to myself. When you begin wondering what a serial killer looks like under his creepy white mask, it is time to change things up.
My friend, Carla, has been trying to get me to attend her annual Halloween party for the past few years. Carla is fun and knows lots of people, and her parties are pretty renowned for being the meeting place of singles who eventually become couples. She is constantly trying to get me to agree to various set-ups with one of the many men she knows. This is the year I am finally going to suck it up and go to one of her parties. I'm going to put social anxiety about rooms full of people I don't know aside, and wear something stupid as I walk through a gauntlet of single men. It could be fun…right?
I carry my bowl of candy to the bedroom and start looking around for something to wear.  My mind rolls over the possible costume ideas...ghost, mummy, Cleopatra, werewolf. I don't exactly have a section dedicated to costumes in my closet, but I suddenly spot a bright pink bit of fabric and I know my costume has arrived.
"Kelly was right. I will wear this again," I say out loud to the pink and poofy mass of bridesmaid dress I pull from the closet. Bless her heart, Kelly was married in 2010, but the dresses she made us wear came straight out of the 1980s. I put some curlers in my hair and start to give myself the sort-of overly made up face that was popular back in the day. I cut up a pillow case to make a sash that says "Prom Queen 1985." My hair gets teased and sprayed with enough hairspray to shock Vidal Sassoon, and before you can say "Beat It," I am a 1980s prom queen.
Confident that my costume will help me fit in, I head to the party.
Carla's house is buzzing. There are dozens of people mingling. The music is loud. The drinks are flowing, and there is enough food to feed an army of soldiers…and there happen to be at least three people dressed as soldiers. Perfect.
I'm barely ten feet through the door when Carla, dressed as a naughty nurse, screams and rushes towards me.
"I cannot believe you actually came! You look amazing!" She hugs me and grabs my hand as she drags me through the crowd.
She is saying something, but I cannot quite hear it over the sound of "Monster Mash" blasting through the speakers of her stereo. I swear I hear her say something about "someone you have to meet," but she might have also said "onions you have to eat"…with Carla, either option seems possible.
I continue to ponder the situation when I'm brought face to fang with a tall drink of vampire.
"Jen, this is Blake. Blake, this is my friend I was telling you about," Carla says with a wink, and I die a little inside. I don't like the idea of being "told" about. Knowing Carla, she built me up to some degree of awesomeness that I cannot possibly live up to. To top it off, with one look, I can tell that Blake is not my type. There is something in his eyes that tells me he knows exactly how handsome he is. 
I don't like handsome guys that know they are handsome. I like guys who have no idea how handsome they are…and Vampire Blake is not that guy. As he speaks to me, I can tell that he feels he is doing me a favor by even looking my way.
Maybe I can make it home before Nightmare on Elm Street comes on, I think to myself as I look around for the nearest exit. Those candy bars won't get any younger, so I need to eat a few more tonight.
Vampire Blake is still talking about himself. I wait for him to pause, and I tell him that I need to get a drink. He doesn't seem very upset to see me go, as evidenced by the way he immediately turns to start talking to a gal dressed as a naughty kitty.
I make my way through the crowd of other naughty people…naughty nuns, naughty witches, and naughty astronauts. Am I the only person that wore a non-naughty costume? 
Then I see him. His back is to me, but there is no mistaking that blue jumpsuit…the shock of brown hair…the glimpse of frighteningly pale plastic face. He turns toward me. It is Michael Meyers. I am nine parts terrified (I mean, he has to be one of the creepiest creeps of all time), but I am one part intrigued. I'm a believer in signs. Seeing the embodiment of the character, who actually got me to leave my house tonight, has to be a sign.
Could this masked man be the answer to my Halloween blues? I continue to stare, willing this mysterious man to look my way. He does. He turns slowly to face me…those vacant eye holes are clearly fixed on my face. Little by little, he starts to cross the room toward me. Step, step, step, he is coming closer.
My breath begins to quicken… I can feel my heart pounding, and I…RUN! 
Watching Michael Meyers, the most terrifying villain of all time, slowly walk towards me, will go down as one of the scariest moments of my entire life. I was clearly in a spinster-induced sugar shock to ever think of this man as anything other than a monster. 
Racing out of Carla's house, I stuff my pink puffy self into my car and head for home. I repeatedly look into my rearview mirror, half expecting Michael Meyers to rise up from my backseat. It is ridiculous that I would ever let myself fall into some sort of cliché single-girl situation, where I start to find (literally) any man attractive.
"I am never watching scary movies ever again," I chant out loud over and over. 
Halloween is no longer my favorite holiday. Desperate and cloudy decision making has forever changed my view of this day. I know I will never enjoy it again. I also know that I am never going to a party at Carla's house ever again. However, there is part of me that thinks I might do this teased curly hair again…the 80's just might be my look!
When I'm only a few blocks from my house, I notice that my gas is on empty. I find myself in this situation all the time. Usually, I just wait until morning to fill up…but then morning comes and I'm always running late, and having to stop and get gasoline makes me even later to work. Deciding to act like a responsible adult, I pull into the gas station.
As the gas pumps into my car, I hear some whistles. I think they are aimed in my direction. Glancing around the parking lot, I see the source of the catcalls. There is a car full of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles waving and hollering at me. I smile and wave back. Leonardo winks at me, and I start to laugh.
Halloween is kind of fun, I guess…maybe I won't give up on it just yet.

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Halloween Short Story Contest: Entry #2

The Pen Is Mightier Than...
by Vanessa Horn

          Halloween.... Halloween.... I wrote the word down twice, but it didn’t help. Sighing, I wrote it again, this time in capitals. HALLOWEEN. Nope, nothing. I frowned and then lay my pen back down on the table. If I was going to enter this competition, it would have to be with a unique piece of writing – something that no one else would even think of, let alone write about. Something that would immediately grip the reader. So...
          I gazed out the window for inspiration. I’d left writing my story until it had grown dark, gloomy, and foreboding. I thought it would be the ideal setting in which to write a Halloween story – a ghost story. And, yes, my large back garden was shrouded in a cobwebby veil of vapour; it should have been perfect! However, my imagination thought otherwise. All that was coming to mind were terrible clichéd plots: being drawn into a haunted house whilst trick-or-treating... discovering that the roasted marshmallows happily cooking on a crackling bonfire were actually dead men’s thumbs... witches cackling around a cauldron... done, done, DONE! 
        Ok, well, this wasn’t going anywhere fast. Maybe I should just write something down – anything – and it might spark off an idea. Picking up my pen, I wrote: It was 31st October. James looked anxiously behind him as he set off down the lonely country road. Was that gripping enough? I sighed, deciding that it wasn’t. Crossing it out, I then wrote: It was a good idea – a Halloween party in the old graveyard. At least, it had seemed like a good idea until... I stared at the words for some time until they blurred together like tangled black thread. Why did everything I write sound as if it had been written before? Could it be that, in the year 2012, every single idea had already been thought of, written about and done to death? Pfff! Not much hope for budding new writers then! Angrily, I threw my pen down on the table and stomped off up the stairs to bed. There was obviously no point in wasting any more time on this.
          The next day, after college, I was slightly more optimistic. I had a seed of an idea – a tiny, tiny seed...
           Settling myself back into position by the back window, I allowed myself a couple of moments to watch the garden robin, who, in the half-light of the approaching evening, was pecking vigorously for worms in the hard soil. I smiled at him in recognition – he looked so determined, so single-minded.
          Right – back to work! Picking up my pathetic attempt from yesterday, I suddenly did a double-take! What?! My two sentences were still scrawled on the page, but there was more writing added after the second sentence – words that certainly hadn’t been written by me! I looked around, suspiciously; I’m not really sure who I was looking for because I live by myself, but even so!  I looked again at the rather elaborate writing next to my words, this time actually reading it: It was a good idea – a Halloween party in the old graveyard. At least, it had seemed like a good idea until... I realised that there was something wrong with Frankie. He had been quiet all evening, not saying a word beneath his skeleton costume. It was only when everyone had left; when he lifted his mask that...
          Hmmm... I rather liked this continuation of my introduction, even if I wasn’t too sure how it had come about! And I even had a friend called Frankie – how much of a coincidence was that? Almost forgetting the peculiarity of the situation, I picked up my pen, keen to continue with the story:
       ...I noticed the strangeness of his eyes. They were hollowed and empty, with none of the animation that I usually associate with Frankie. I gasped and began to speak to him, to ask what was wrong but was silenced by his raised hand.
          I paused from my writing and looked up. What was wrong with Frankie? Where was this story going? Ah, ok, I think I knew. I continued: He motioned for me to come with him – to follow him further back into the darkness of the cemetery, back into the shadows and the gloom. I hesitated, torn between either leaving with him into the unknown, or staying by myself with the graves...
          Ok, so far, so good! Nodding to myself, I realised I really needed a drink, so quickly rose and hurried into the kitchen, anxious to get back and continue the story. But on returning, I saw – once again – that more had been added to the text! How... on... earth? This was... unnerving. With shaking hands, I picked up the sheet of paper: But there wasn’t really a decision to make; there was no way I wanted to be left on my own, so following Frankie was the only choice...
          How could this have been written during the short time I was in the kitchen? Who could have written it? Was it possible that...? I shook my head. No, no – I didn’t believe in ghosts; I think that was partly the reason why I was finding it hard to write a ghost story – my lack of imagination. But then... how else...? Despite my uneasiness, I picked up my pen once more, my fingers still trembling; I felt compelled to write – something was urging me to persist with the story.
        ...even though I didn’t feel comfortable about it. As we retreated into the depths of the night, I noticed, for the first time, the remains of our party debris: squashed cans, empty cigarette packets... I started to feel bad about the mess we had made – maybe having a party here had not been a good idea, after all. Disrespectful, even. And now, all I wanted was to go home – home to a nice warm bed. I wished I hadn’t refused Nick’s offer of a lift home; at the time, I had thought that maybe Frankie and I would go clubbing after the party, even though he’d been so subdued the whole evening, but that didn’t look as it was going to happen now.
           I was cold and even a little afraid now. I couldn’t even take comfort from my best friend – he still hadn’t said a word to me. Suddenly, I made my mind up – I was going home! Turning away from Frankie, I ran... 
          I stopped, placing the pen down firmly on the table. It was getting late and I didn’t want to write any more; I didn’t want to think about what was going to happen to this character or what had turned her friend into a hollow-eyed stranger. After carefully checking every window and every door, I started to make my way to bed. As I walked slowly up the stairs, I looked back at the unfinished story on the table, feeling a shiver of foreboding swathe me, like a shroud of misgiving.
         Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well that night. My dreams were filled with inexplicable dilemmas and doubts; skeletons and ghosts tried to entice me into dark caverns of death as I desperately fought against them, feeling my strength dissipate as I grew weaker and weaker...  I woke up with a jolt around 1 a.m, sweaty and exhausted, as I realised that my most prevailing fear was not in my dreams but...  what I was going to find downstairs on the table.
          I obviously wasn’t going to get any quality sleep that night so I wearily dragged myself out of bed. I put off going downstairs for a long time, possibly an hour. Running myself a warm bath, I tried to relax, luxuriating in the bubbles. But it was impossible; my thoughts kept returning to the story, the characters, the outcome... Eventually, I got dressed, braced myself and cautiously tiptoed down the stairs.
          At first I thought it was ok, that everything was as I’d left it, and I started to breathe more easily. But then I turned the sheet over, almost blasé, and saw...
          She had thought it would be alright now she was back at home. Leaving the manuscript on the table, she checked every door and every window before finally allowing herself to go to bed, but she still couldn’t shake off the feeling of apprehension...
        My hand flew to my mouth, stifling a gasp as I dropped the paper back onto the table. It was me! I... I was in the story now! Frantically, my eyes scanned the room, looking for both explanations and solutions – what could I do?  
          Desperate to talk to someone and to seek reassurance, I snatched up my mobile, even starting to scroll down the list of names to find someone that would understand. But... it was 2 a.m. and everyone would be asleep; although I was frantic, I could see that my call wouldn’t be well received. I might even be accused of having dreamt the whole episode! It would be better to wait until daylight; after all, it was only a few hours away. Calmer now, I had made a decision, I slowly placed the phone down, noticing, as I did so, that the battery was practically flat anyway.
         Trying to ignore my irregular heartbeat, I tried to think rationally, my eyes flickering once more to the unfinished story. Maybe... maybe I should continue it? I could complete it, perhaps, with a happy ending, which might bring it all to a finish. It might resolve the uneasiness that was underlying this eerie situation. Yes – I would do that. And anyway, it would also help pass the time before I could talk to someone about all of this.
          Warily, I picked up my pen and began to write... But, whilst lying in bed, she began to realise that she had let her imagination get the better of her; it was Halloween, after all – she was bound to be a bit jittery: anyone would be. And she definitely shouldn’t have gone to a party in a graveyard – that was just asking for trouble! Eventually, making herself think about people and things that she loved, she fell into a peaceful sleep and dreamt of lambs skipping over little hillocks in a field. THE END!
          There! Ok, it wasn’t the most inspired of endings but to be honest, the expertise of my literary techniques were the last thing on my mind – I just wanted to be rid of this unknown co-author!  I sat back in my seat, waiting... After a few minutes, it occurred to me that as I had finished the story then there wouldn’t be any further contribution from the unidentified writer. Tutting under my breath at my stupidity, I made my way into the kitchen in order to make a soothing mug of hot chocolate. Already I felt a bit better... lighter even.
          I carefully carried my drink back into the living room, glancing at the story for affirmation that I had resolved the problem. But in horror, I realised that my last paragraph had been scribbled out – scribbled out in thick black ink! Disregarding the droplets of hot chocolate that were spilling from my mug, I snatched up the sheet and stared at the firm menacing lines that covered the writing. Even worse, two more sentences had been added, right at the bottom of the page:
          Lying in bed, she realised that she was powerless to stop whatever it was that wanted her. She could only wait... wait for the tapping on the door that signified it was time.
          Now I was seriously spooked! I picked up my mobile, not caring what time it was but, of course, this was the time when the battery had finally decided to come to an end. Frustrated, I flung it to the floor and stood there, shaking, frantically wondering what I could do. Then my inner voice screamed at me: Get out! Get out!  Forcing my body into movement, I ran to the front door and began fumbling with the locks and bolts I had previously secured myself in with. As I unfastened the last one, cursing my trembling fingers, I heard it: the tapping on the door. It was time...          

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Halloween Short Story Contest: Entry #1

Halloween: Trick or Treat?

“No. Do you understand? No. A daughter of mine isn’t going to wander the streets knocking on strangers’ doors asking for lollies. Don’t you remember anything about the talk the policeman gave about strangers?”

“Yeah, but this is different. I’m not going alone. Besides, that was when I was a kid.”

“You’re not going at all, and if you think that being with a group of twelve-year-olds makes you safe, then I have taught you nothing. The world is not a safe place. All I want to do is make sure nothing happens to you.”

“What about when you were a kid and all those stories Gran tells about you? You got into all sorts of adventures. Nobody kept you a prisoner in your own home!”

Thanks mum, I thought to myself whilst saying, “I was lucky nothing happened to me, and it’s because I know what kids can get up to that you’re not going.”

Even to my own ears I sounded like a killjoy. But it was for the best. The world didn’t seem as safe as when I was a kid. When I looked at Sally, I saw a beautiful girl who I had to keep safe, and that meant her not knocking on potential nutcases’ doors.

Kids just don’t understand what it’s like to have the sole responsibility for another life. It is hard enough trying to make the right decisions for myself, but now with Jack gone, I had no one else to ask to help make the tough decisions. Sally had turned away, gone to sulk in her room.

Was I doing the right thing? What was Halloween anyway? Just because it was in all the American TV shows it was becoming popular here. Didn’t anyone else out there think about our kids’ safety? All those messages about pedophiles, and then we turn around and encourage them to talk to strangers. And what about obesity? The canteen at school has banned lollies, but it’s okay to demand lollies with menaces. Trick or treat, I’ll be damned if I am going to buy lollies on the off chance that some fat kid will come to the door asking for them. What about my diet? Six months without chocolate. As long as I don’t buy it, I can’t eat it. And here they are telling us to stock up. That five kilos I’ve lost isn’t going to sneak back because of some marketing guru’s idea of how to sell more sweets.

Sally had wandered back into the kitchen, and I could see by her stance I was about to face the second wave of her attack. This is how she always went about things. Retreat, regroup, and then come at the problem from another angle. God help her future partner.

I went for the preemptive strike. “Well?”


It was time for the considered pause as she wandered around the kitchen lulling me by her slow start. “It’s just that if I can’t go out, well then I was thinking that well… that maybe, well that I could have some friends around to do something special. That way you wouldn’t have to feel bad about me missing out.” 

She was good. Twelve years old and already sounding like a hardened negotiator, trying to play on my feelings. Considering my “feeling bad” had lasted about a nanosecond, it wasn’t likely to work.

“Like what?”

Her eyes lit up. I knew what she was thinking if she presented me with an alternative, which was worse than the first option, I might just relent.

“We could have a movie night, and I could stay up late, and I could have Chrissie and Allison and maybe a few more girls to sleep over. We wouldn’t be out roaming the streets, and you wouldn’t have to worry that a stranger could take me away.”

This girl knew how to work her audience. Ask for a lot, then throw in the carrot of “I will be safe.” Well, she wasn’t going to think she could manipulate me that easily. 

“Which movie?”

“Oh, just a couple of old ones Allison’s Dad downloaded for Halloween. You probably saw them years ago. They are really old.” 

“Really old, eh? And how do you know which movies Mr. Sturgeon has?”

She saw her mistake and began to dig her way out since telling me I was old wouldn’t get her what she wanted. The conversation ebbed and flowed as I went on making dinner. The end result being that I would pick the movie, singular, and she could have two friends over, but since it was a school day, it would be bed time as usual and no sleep over. 

By bedtime we had reach an amicable agreement. The only sticking point seemed to be the choice of movie. Apparently, I had “lame taste” as far as scary movies were concerned. From my point of view, why would I want to pick something which would give my child nightmares and have me up half the night trying to convince her we weren’t about to be murdered by some psycho?

Over the next two weeks, there was a constant interrogation about the movie I was going to pick. It seemed my sweet little girl knew the name of almost every horror film ever made. When I questioned how she had become an expert, she just shrugged and said everyone knew the names of all the great movies. 

Great movies indeed! I knew that I had to come up with a movie which would fit the Halloween mold but not scare the girls. Not an easy task, especially since my credentials as a “cool” mother may rest on this. When I had made the stipulation that I would choose the movie, I hadn’t realised how much this would mean. I had thought of it only as a movie, but it dawned on me that this was an opportunity to keep the relationship I had with Sally on track. If I came up trumps and her friends were suitably impressed, then I would remain an adult who related to her. But if I bombed out, then there was the chance it could be the beginning of all those teenage arguments about not understanding people of her age. I knew those times would still happen, but if I could delay them for a while, it might help both of us get through that black hole of the hormone years.

So, night after night when Sally had gone to bed, I started trawling through Internet sites trying to find a suitable movie. I couldn’t believe some of the stuff I came across. But in the end, I found just what I needed.

As the night approached, Sally’s questioning increased, and her furtive searches around the house didn’t go unnoticed. But I was not to be thwarted; I had stashed the movie in my draw at work. I had, after all, been twelve once, and I knew the urge to take a quick peek could be overwhelming, even if it did spoil the surprise of my new bike.

So, the night arrived. I had softened my stance on the snacks and lashed out on some movie junk food and drinks. I wasn’t really a horrible mother.

The girls had arrived early enough to have dinner with us and had then gone off to Sally’s room to do whatever twelve-year-old girls do. Whatever it was, there was lots of shrieks and laughter. For a few hours, it was good to hear the house full of life, but I knew in my heart of hearts that I didn’t regret Sally being an only child.

I set out the snacks, loaded the movie and called the girls to come and take their seats just before turning off the lights.

The screen flickered to life, and the MGM lion roared onto the screen. Then, it began. The silence filled the room as the black and white images filled the screen. I stole a glance at the girls, and I could just make out their puzzled expressions. 

The only objection came from Sally with a half-hearted, “Oh, Mum.” 

I held my breath waiting for the outburst of three disappointed almost-teenage girls. But as I waited, nothing happened. Well, not nothing. The girls settled back and watched the movie with real delight. I doubted if they had ever heard of Abbot and Costello, let alone knew that they had met the Mummy. Before long, they were trying hard to suppress their laughter as it threatened to overwhelm them. There were shouts to the TV of “look behind you,” and then screams as the action produced a sudden fright. 

As the titles rolled, cries of “play it again” filled the room. The night had been such a success, I was a little astounded. After dropping the girls off, Sally and I cleared away the remains of our night. Sally was animated, and when she turned to me and said, “Who would have thought you could pick such a great movie, Mum?” I finally let out the breath which I felt I had been holding all night. I knew I had made the right decision not to let her go out trick or treating, but next year might be a different matter. 

I waited until Sally was in bed before checking the doors and turning out the lights. Just as I turned out my bedroom light, Sally called down the hallway in a half-frightened voice, “Careful, Mum. There might be a Mummy in the wardrobe.” Then, she spoiled the effect by bursting into a fit of giggles. 

We settled down for the night, and it occurred to me that we hadn’t had one knock on the door from children demanding lollies, so maybe the night was more hype than reality.

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Stories from the Hart: Caught in the Middle, Part 2

Caught in the Middle,  Part 2 (To read Part 1, click here.)  

I took a deep breath for as long as I could in order to stall. When I couldn’t wait any longer, I opened the door and walked into what looked like a battle of testosterone.

“No way, mate. Footy is so much better than American football. You guys have all that protective gear! Real men shouldn’t be afraid of getting hurt!” Julian said as he kicked up his feet on to the coffee table.

“Do you even hear yourself? When a sport is called something so girlie as footy, there is no way it’s any good!” Scott got up, walked over to the kitchen and grabbed another few bottles of beer. 

“You’re one to talk! Look at you, you’re drinking light beer!” Julian snorted, but took the bottle Scott offered him anyway. 

“Julian, can I talk to you for a second?” I stood behind him, hoping to God my pounding heart wasn’t loud enough for Scott or Julian to hear. 

He turned around to look at me for a few seconds, as if pondering whether or not I was serious about talking to him. I held my gaze, not to seem like I was challenging him or anything, but just enough to warn him we were about to have a serious conversation. 

We hadn’t had one of those since the day we broke up. 

When he got up, I turned to Scott, whose eyes never left the television. “Scott, we’re going down to the coffee shop for a bit, okay?” 

He nodded and seemed as if he couldn’t care less.

I grabbed my jacket from the coat rack and walked out the door with Julian following closely behind me.

“I feel like I’m being sent to the principal’s office,” he said, as we walked into the elevator. 

“If I’m going to let you stay here, I need you to be honest with me. I want to know what’s going on, what happened, and what happens next.” 

Julian laughed. “I feel like we’ve had this conversation before.” 

We did – the day we broke up. I used more or less the same words. It was something like, “If we are going to keep fighting for this, I need you to be honest with me. I want to know how you really feel about all this, why you feel the way you do, and where we go from here.” 

I must not be very creative. 

“It’s not funny, Julian.” 

“Z, come on. Lighten up.” 

I shook my head and exited the elevator. I headed straight to the little coffee shop on the first floor of our apartment building; my runaway place whenever I needed to be alone.

“Hey, Rodney. Can I have the usual?” I smiled at the owner. 

“And your friend?” 

“Espresso. Thanks.” Julian stopped me from taking out money from my wallet, and dug into his pocket. He took out a few crumpled up bills and left them on the counter. 

“They’ll be ready in a minute. Go ahead and take a seat,” Rodney said, flashing his trademark friendly smile. 

I started walking to my usual corner table. Noticing a giggly couple occupying it, I quickly turned around to head towards the other side of the room, bumping into Julian who had been following my every move. 

For a few short seconds, I froze. I hadn’t been mere inches away from Julian since our last goodbye hug. I found myself staring at his scruffy chin, suddenly remembering how it used to drive me wild whenever he’d kiss my neck. 

“Where would you like to sit?” 

I swallowed. “Corner… other corner,” I said, brushing past him and walking as fast as I could to the end of the room. 

Rodney came up to us with his black tray, and set our coffees on the table before Julian even sat down. 

As soon as Rodney was out of earshot, Julian grabbed my hand. “Look, Z, I’m really sorry about dropping in unannounced like that. I really didn’t know where else to go.” 

“Yes, yes, we’ve established that.” I let go of his hand, and crossed my arms against my chest. “You have no one else besides Danny, Hugo and me. We’re past that. What I want to know is what happened. How did you get kicked out in the first place?” 

Julian sighed. 

“I told you, if I’m going to let you stick around, I want full disclosure.” 

“But why do you need to know?” 

“Because! You, me and Scott under the same roof? That is already a strange enough situation. If there is more drama coming my way, I need to know about it. If one day Lisa, Lucy, or what’s her name comes barging through my door, and you guys end up having world war three in my living room, I want to be prepared for it.” 

“We’re not going to have world war three in your living room. I promise you.” 

“How do I know that for sure?” 

“Because she was very, very clear about never wanting to see or hear from me again.” 

His face fell, and I was suddenly speechless. I recognized that look; sadness, anger, helplessness, all rolled into one. 

“Julian,” I reached out and patted him on the arm. “If it’s too hard to talk about, I understand. I’m sorry.” As curious as I was, it was obvious he was still hurting. How could I be so insensitive? 

“It’s not hard to talk about, but it’s hard to talk to you about it.” 

I nodded. “I know, I know. We’ve barely spoken a word to each other in a long time. We used to be friends but we’re not like that anymore. I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking.” 

“No, it’s not that.” 

“I haven’t been very nice to you, I know. I… It was just easier to not talk to you or see you and… When you were standing at the door, I was just… I don’t know, scared, I guess. I didn’t really prepare myself for what it would be like to see you again.” 

“But we did see each other after the breakup. We met at Danny’s wedding.” 

“You waved at me from the other end of the ballroom. That doesn’t count.” 

“At least we were civil with each other. That’s got to count for something.” 

I laughed. “Yeah, I guess it does.” 

“Yeah, it does. We didn’t have ‘world war three’ at Danny’s and Emma’s wedding. That should count for a lot.” 

I smiled for a second longer than I should have. Julian was gazing into my eyes when I remembered he used to always say it was my smile he fell in love with the first time he saw me. 

I cleared my throat. “Look, if you don’t want to talk, it’s fine.” I pushed my empty coffee cup aside. “We should head back up before Scott gets worried.” 

“He seems nice.” 

“Scott? Yeah, he is.” 

“So… you’re happy… with him, I mean?” He wasn’t looking at me when he asked that. 

“What kind of question is that?” 

“I just… want to know.” 

“I thought you didn’t want to talk?” 

“No, you said I didn’t want to talk.” 

“I asked about you first and you didn’t answer me. Until you answer me, I’m not saying a word.” 

He shook his head and had half of a grin on his face. “Listen. This is how it’s going to be, okay? You tell me whether or not you’re happy, then I’ll tell you everything you want to know about me and Lisa.” 

“Why is it so important for you to know if I’m happy or not?” 

“Why can’t you just answer the question?” 

Julian still had that half grin on his face, but something told me he didn’t really find our banter amusing at all. 

I sat back, my way of showing him it was getting a bit weird. 

“Please just answer the question, Z. I’m begging you,” Julian said. Within seconds, the grin had completely disappeared from his face, and in its place was a pained expression. 

“Fine, I will. But tell me why.” 

“Because, Z. Every day since we split up, I’ve been going out of my mind wondering if you are happy and if breaking up was the right thing to do.” 


“Not a day goes by that I don’t think of you. I know we agreed that being together was too hard, too complicated. But what if we were wrong?” 

Before I could react, my phone started vibrating along with the roaring sound of Katy Perry’s “California Gurls.” 


“Please, don’t answer that. Not now,” Julian pleaded. 

I looked at him, then at my phone, then at him again. It literally took two seconds to decide what to do.

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