Congratulations to this year's winter winner, Cameron Coward!
Frosty Fables 2020 Prompts:
Writers must use one of the following three sentences as the first sentence of their shtory:
1. "It was shaping up to be another in a long line of snowless winters."
2. "Not everyone is fortunate enough to learn The Truth About Santa."
3. "Parker and Pat always took great pride in their gift-giving abilities."
Read Cameron's winning shtory—plus shtories by first runner-up Alyssa Rucker and second runner-up Maxwell Korn—below!
TOAST TO A NEW AMERICAN GHOST TOWN
By Cameron Coward
It was shaping up to be another in a long line of snowless winters. It had been five years since Grand Junction had received any significant precipitation during the darker months, concealed as it was by the rain shadow of the Colorado Rockies. The occasional misty sleet was barely enough to keep the Palisade peach trees from withering and dying until the torrential downpours came in spring and threatened to wash them away altogether.
Juliette, or “Jules to her friends,” was sitting on the front stoop of a house she could no longer afford and sipping a local wine that had suddenly become a relic, when the first fat snowflakes started falling. After a long day—her final day—working in the orchard, Jules’s first thought was that floaters were swimming across her weary eyes. But soon the snow was coming down in earnest. Great billowing sheets were crashing against the house’s neglected vinyl siding and already drifts were accumulating against the trunks of the hardy trees that lined the abandoned neighborhood streets.
She desperately wished the kids were there to watch the snow fall with her, but they had gone with their father when he had fled their dying town and dead marriage. She had wanted the kids to stay, but she hadn’t even been able to convince herself that it was in their best interests. Their father had a good job in Florida, or at least a stable one. The photographic evidence she had shamefully sought out online suggested that his new wife was every bit the doting stepmother. Social feeds showed smiling faces in fertile landscapes that looked alien to Jules.
Grand Junction, like so many other cities, was fading away into the red desert rock like an old photo left too long in the sun. Most of the locals had escaped to Denver, or Sacramento, or Tampa years ago and nobody ever looked back. The only newcomers to town were the migrant workers who would stop for the autumn harvest and then move on to greener pastures. Even their numbers had dwindled and were no longer enough to support what little economy remained in the region.
Like Jules, this place was forgotten. She had hitched her wagon to the hope that the changes weren’t permanent; that she was living through a temporary anomaly or a cycle that would soon right itself. But that day had never come and she was one of the last to accept that it never would. Their valley had shriveled with the once-mighty Colorado River and was now indistinguishable from the barren vistas to the west. By the time Jules realized that the dust was there to stay, it was too late.
But now it was snowing. Not just a flurry that would be quickly carried away by a gust of wind, but the kind of real snow that Jules hadn’t seen since she was small. She had been a wild girl that was more interested in cataloging strange bugs than sneaking turns on the VR dating games that her classmates whispered conspiratorially about. But when the heavy winter snowstorms came, she would beg her father to let her go sledding with the other kids. By the time she finally started noticing the way boys looked at her, the snow was already a memory.
The data was available and Jules had even studied it went she went to college in Durango, but measures had been taken. The government had tightened regulations on the worst industries and more cars than not were electric. They even put some of the subsidized solar panels on the roof of their house. Still, it was too little, too late. The damage had been done and couldn’t be undone. Even the oasis of Florida was slowly being swallowed by the sea, but at least her ex-husband’s property value had risen as the state shrank. Nobody wanted to buy a house in yet another new ghost town, and Jules hadn’t been able to make a full mortgage payment in more than a year.
Her work boots were enveloped in a blanket of snow and the legs of her jeans were cold and wet. Jules marveled at how the surface of the snow sparkled in the porch light. She had forgotten that it did that. All around her, the ground looked like it was covered in crushed diamonds. A year or two ago, the snow would have been more valuable to the region than any jewel. It wouldn’t matter now, but it was still the most beautiful thing Jules had seen since her family had gone away.
The last of the wine was dumped carelessly into the glass. The wine bottle had been a final Christmas gift from her employer. Each of the few remaining workers had received a bottle as the tearful owners had locked the doors for the last time earlier that day. She had planned to save the wine for the following day to get her through a call with her ex-husband. That conversation would inevitably be required before she could wish her kids a Merry Christmas and apologize for not sending presents. He would want to know why she had missed another child support payment.
The prospect of another Christmas Eve alone had forced Jules to open the bottle early. She had planned to spend the evening paddling through her sorrows, but then the snow had started falling. Mentally, she had been prepared for a night of despair and self-loathing, when the crisp wetness of the snowflakes melting on her face seemed to awaken a hopeful spirit within her that she forgot had ever existed. Tomorrow, when the sun rose on Christmas Day, she would start driving and she wouldn’t stop until she reached a new home. Before taking her last sip of wine, Jules raised her glass in a toast to the snow that was falling one final time just for her.
SHIVERS IN THE SNOW
By Alyssa Rucker
It was shaping up to be another in a long line of snowless winters. And honestly, thank God or Santa or Jack Frost or whoever is responsible for that, because snow is the worst around here. Not only is it a pain in the ass to shovel, but it’s dangerous. And I don’t just mean because of slippery ice or frostbite. I wish I did. In this town, snow brings something else even more terrifying: the Shivers.
That’s what we call them, anyway. No one knows their origin or their reason for plaguing us; all we know for sure is that whenever it snows, the Shivers come too, and if the Shivers come, the snow will be stained red with blood for weeks after. That’s why we’re grateful that it doesn’t snow that often. We’ve been on a lucky streak, too. No White Christmases around here recently, not for eight years. That means no Shivers either, so the death rate has taken a nice plummet.
It started years ago, before I was born. My mom was a little girl then, and she remembers the first time the Shivers came. She used to tell me stories about it when I was little, to make sure that I heeded her warnings and didn’t go out in the snow.
“I know you want to build snowmen,” she’d tell me. “But if you go out there while it’s still snowing, you won’t ever make it back inside. You have to wait until it stops. The Shivers aren’t friendly like Santa. They’ll kill you, Cameron.”
She could talk like that to me. I knew what death was earlier than most kids do. It’s hard not to when you go outside the morning after a snowfall and find frostbitten, decimated bodies on your lawn, including the body of your neighbor Mrs. Evans, a kind old woman who always had freshly-baked cookies. Well, she used to always have cookies. Now she was dead. No more cookies. (That was the most tragic part of the event for a five-year-old).
The way my mom tells it, no one knew what to expect that first year. They were blindsided. Snow began falling in the evening; the flakes were white and fluffy, dancing past the glow of streetlights. And people went out to enjoy it, because why wouldn’t they? Kids were sledding on the hills; neighbors were building snowmen and making snow angels in their yards. There was a snowball fight in the middle of our road. My mom, Alice, wanted to join them, but her own mom had told her to stay inside until she got home from work. So Alice was watching from the window. She told me it was beautiful but eerie, like a spell had been cast over the town.
She was still watching when the Shivers descended. There was a fierce howling, and at the time she thought it was the wind; I’ve heard the sound, too, and while it resembles a brutal winter gale, it’s not the same. It’s inhuman and dark. If winter winds had a monstrous, man-eating older brother, that’s what he would sound like.
Alice didn’t even see the Shivers at first, because the streetlights began flickering violently, creating something of a strobe effect. She just saw sprays of snow in the air, blood spatters on glass, and people falling to the ground, pools of crimson spreading out from beneath their coats. She says she didn’t scream or cover her eyes, because she was frozen, unable to move. At least, initially.
Then her mom arrived home, speeding the car into the driveway, swerving around the bloodied snow and torn-apart bodies. She could see her mom’s panicked face and felt hope flood her: if her mom was here, everything would be okay. Her mom would save her from whatever monsters were out in the snow.
But they didn’t have a garage, and her mom still thought she could make it, I guess. She slammed the car door, almost slipping on the driveway as she tried to sprint for the house. She didn’t get very far before the Shivers attacked. Alice saw glimpses of the fast-moving monsters as they shredded her mother apart only feet away from the window: white fur; spikes; a tail not unlike a scorpion’s; claws as long as fingers; teeth sharp as needles but much stronger; beady red eyes.
It’s important to note that in all the years Shivers have terrorized us, most people haven’t seen them directly. They move too fast and cause any lights nearby to flicker viciously. Not to mention that if you’re out in the snow, you’re dead before you ever see them coming.
But Alice saw them. Alice watched in horror as pieces of her mother splattered across the windowpanes, and she watched as the awful monsters turned their gaze up to look at her, pinpricks of red in the dark.
She thinks they would have come for her; they often stay outside, but not always. They’ve been known to shatter windows or break down doors to reach an unfortunate soul and tear him apart. The only reason they didn’t kill my mom—and, by extension, the only reason that I’m here—is because the snow stopped. My mom hadn’t even noticed the slowing of the flakes, but suddenly the Shivers were gone, and the outside world was eerily silent. No more snow falling past the streetlights, no more screams; just blood-stained snow drifts.
Now, many years later, it’s shaping up to be another in a long line of snowless winters. We’ve had eight years of safety. As I walk down the street, weak winter sun shining through the clouds, waving to friends and neighbors as they pass, I can only be grateful for small mercies.
That is, until I feel a cold prick on my nose and turn my head to the sky, heart seizing, to see fluffy white flakes spiraling down as a fierce howling fills my ears.
By Maxwell Korn
“Not everyone is fortunate enough to learn The Truth About Santa,” it cackled. “Now we must fills you with all the good cheer... hwueh heh heh!”
The angry buzzing of the micro-saw spun did not relent. Its blade whirring and whining with jolly fervor, Cedric could but only whimper as he felt stray candy cane particulates stinging his cheeks, which had finally become a bit numb. Thankfully, he could no longer smell the nutmeg. Even the tear-soaked stocking stuffed uncomfortably into his mouth was at least softening under the moisture. But his blindfold definitely itched. He tugged frantically again at the shackles tightly binding his frail arms behind him, which let out a light jingle.
“Good cheer... yesh... we must fills you up with alls of it... hwuoh heh ha!”
The Being worked diligently with almost a pep in its heavy step, which would periodically make a loud CLOP of keratin against wood. Cedric’s once-strong lamentations had dulled to pathetic whimpering; his energy was depleted; his will broken. He no longer thrashed or screamed. What possessed him to make the trip back to this cursed cottage that he’d once called home? Why didn’t he listen to the voices of reason, imploring him to stay away? But more importantly: how long had he been strapped to this chair?
Surely it was almost morning by now. Dad would be waking up. Any second, his alarm would sound, and he’d find his way down the cold, creaking oak staircase to start grinding his coffee. Cedric would hear him rustling around and feel tucked away. Safe. See? It wasn’t always bad here. You’re not unreasonable, Ced. And on Christmas, there’d be hot chocolate and plaid pajama pants and Monopoly and... even laughter sometimes. Cedric winced as he remembered. Christmas. Dad would sleep in on Christmas. And Mom usually wasn’t there... wait. Were these even his memories? If only he could unscramble them....
“Hwah heh hih... methinks it might be... time for more...”
Recoiling as he felt hot breath; the otherworldly voice was inches from his face. and trembling in Pavlovian anticipation for what he knew was coming. Please. Anything but more—
Stocking ripped from mouth, Cedric’s screams would be promptly stifled; his mouth dutifully stuffed with an insurmountably viscous amalgamation of gingerbread dough, peppermint shavings... and a bit of myrrh, for some reason. He’d be forced to chew. Choke. Swallow. Rinse, and repeat.
But not this time. Gritting through the pain and mustering all of his available reserves, Cedric slammed his bound legs down hard onto the floor and stood as tall as he could...
“NO THANK YOU... uh... I’M FULL.”
Not quite the Snarky Action Hero one-liner he would have liked, but it would have to suffice. The buzzsaw’s frantic whirring suddenly ground to a halt. A pregnant pause.
Cedric stood there. Awkwardly leaning forward; still bound, still blindfolded, his arms still pulled tightly behind him, and the chair still awkwardly affixed to him, now lifted off the ground and piggybacking onto his lower back like a strange parasitic growth.
“Why are you doing this?! TELL ME NOW!”
His plea was loud. Defiant. It was a deeper voice that he’d never heard himself use before. Finally, the beast spoke.
“You saws what no mortals eyes should sees. You saw him denies the cookies. He intolerances the glutens. No one can noes.”
“That’s what this is about?! That dream I had when I was five where you threw out the cookies I left you??"
“TWAS NOT A DREAM, AND NO ONE CAN NOES THAT HE INTOLERATES THE GLUTENS!!”
“You... you have my word, then! You literally should have just said that at the beginning and I would have GLADLY OBLIGED!!"
Cedric was incredulous And rightfully so. He’d literally been tortured by this thing for hours.
The blindfold—which Cedric had been loosening bit by bit by maniacally flexing his eyebrows up and down—fell. For the first time, Cedric saw it... and he felt the wind escape his lungs.
Streams of splintered moonlight seeped past the crystalline icicles adorning the outside gutter, and through the bay window, illuminating the creature’s strange lumbering form—a rotund mess of fur and felt. Its snout was brown and furry. And then... there certainly was that glowing red nose. Long, thin, antler-esque appendages emanating from its head, and sprouting out from behind it’s back. Cedric was surprised the thing could even get through doorways, let alone through a chimney flue. In its hands were a pointy, sharpened candy cane, shaped now like a small pike, and a strange looking electric hand-saw.
For a moment that felt like an eternity, they just stared at each other. Those gleaming yellow eyes, locked in with Cedric’s.
“You’re not Santa! You’re... Rudolph!?” stammered Cedric.
“Noes.... Call me.... RUDOLPHO!!”