I have received word from the Powers that Be regarding my entry to the 2010 Christmas Chillers Short Story Competition …
(Cue anticipatory drum roll.)
… and I didn’t win. But that’s okay! It was a great experience. I wasn’t even looking to enter, but the first-line prompt — “The only thing the children had in common was that they’d all disappeared on Christmas Eve …” — struck me, and a half an hour later, I had a story. Gotta love writing prompts.
What’s great about this contest is there’s an Adjudicator’s Report, this year by Linda Daunter. In it, she gives an overview of the types of entries they received, and she lists the winner, runners-up, and the rest of the top ten and gives notes. ( The winning entry and the two runners-up are also posted in their entirety. I love that.)
Even better, Daunter offers comments to all the folks who didn’t make the short list. She writes, “By far the biggest issue was lack of originality. An awful lot of the missing children ended up on someone’s plate! This in itself isn’t a problem, (well not for the judges, the children no doubt wouldn’t agree!) As so many other writers were following the same story line you needed to come up with something a bit different which few managed to do.”
To my credit, I will say I did have some concerns about this aspect of my story. But that’s okay. Living and learning, that’s me. 🙂
Anyway, I thought I’d go ahead and burn up some First World Rights and offer a little entertainment around here. This is my story entry. Please to enjoy.
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“The Greater Good”
The only thing the children had in common is that they’d all disappeared on Christmas Eve. Lord knows I tried my best to choose children of all sizes, shapes, and homes, the better to spread out the burden and to avoid detection.
Despite their differences, however, the children had three very important commonalities: first, of course, they all believed in me; secondly, they all waited up for me; and the most crucial criteria, they were all eager for a ride.
Most of the time it’s easy. I just tell myself it’s not personal, it’s for the greater good. Sacrifices must be shared just as equally as rewards reaped.
I carry a whiskey flask for when even I can’t buy my lies.
Last year was a cake walk; I took three with no problems.
The first one was Jerry Smith, a six-year-old white kid from Lansing, Michigan, who loved Hot Wheels and NASCAR. It didn’t take much convincing to get him into the sleigh. Once I translated reindeer power into horsepower, a context little Jerry understood, he was in the passenger seat and fastening his seat belt.
The second one was Tammy Evans from Johannesburg, a freckled eight-year-old with long red hair, who loved horses and My Little Pony and anything she could feed niblets to. She practically climbed the roof herself when I invited her to pet the reindeer. I even gave her baby carrots to feed to them.
The last one was the fat little Thomas kid from Strausbourg, France, nine years old. He made sure to let me know he had baked all those rock-hard cookies for me by himself. Once I told him about our kitchens and how the elves roll out gingerbread men by the platoon, it was only natural that he wanted to see for himself.
According to The List, the first one on deck this year is seven-year-old Susie Hartley. She likes playing with her baby brother and helping her mom around the house. She wants to be a scientist when she grows up, so she can help fight cancer so people like her mom don’t get sick and lose their hair.
The night is young and already I hate myself again.
She’s waiting for me on the couch, pretending to sleep, bare toes peeking out from the bottom of her blanket. I play my part and slide a gaily-wrapped package from my bag and place it beneath the twinkling tree. I snag a cookie from the heaping plate on the coffee table and get a few bites down before I notice her watching me.
Susie has got dark hair and eyes and that awestruck look that makes my heart want to cave in.
Naturally, she has lots of questions. She wants to know if Rudolf’s nose gets hot. Yes. Do the reindeer have extra skin flaps to catch the wind? No. Are their horns velvety to the touch? Yes. They’re just above us on the roof, I tell her. You could go see for yourself.
She asks if it’s very cold riding in the sleigh. Not with the blankets, I promise. I could show you, just a quick spin around the block.
She looks nervously out the window. How is it all possible, she wants to know. She brings up valid points: the huge population of gift recipients, minute-by-minute behavioral changes of youngsters, cost of materials, time limitations, et cetera.
What she really wants to know is why should she believe.
I don’t know the answer to that anymore, so I tell her about the North Star, how it shines like a silver sun over the North Pole, stretching the days and nights into the endless hours the elves need to make enough toys and games and goodies for all the good children of the world.
Susie seems to think about this for a minute. I hoist my sack of toys over my shoulder to hurry her up.
Finally she asks, “Do the elves ever get a break?”
“No,” I tell her, “they don’t.” I open the back door and step out onto the frozen patio. It’s snowing.
I tell myself it’s not personal, it’s all for the greater good, isn’t that what this is? Sacrifices must be made.
I look back at little Susie, her eyes full of wonder and mistrust as she hangs back in the door.
I am suddenly bone-dreary tired. The elves are hungry. They are always hungry. And they are waiting for me to hurry home.
“Come on, kid. You want a ride or what?”
Susie looks back into the familiar darkness of the house where the sighs of her sleeping family can be heard. A jingling from the reindeer’s tack from the rooftop catches her attention, and she smiles.
I feel sick. All I can think about is the silver flask wedged between the upholstery of the sleigh.
“Why don’t you go on in, kid? We could do this another time. It’s pretty cold out here.” I reach out to nudge her to safety, but she misunderstands and slips her tiny warm hand into mine and steps out onto the patio to stand beside me.
“No, take me. I want to go.”
I can see the falling snow reflected in her hopeful eyes.
“Okay,” I tell her. “I’ll take you.”