Congratulations to this year's winter winner,  RINA SONG

 

Frosty Fables 2021 Prompts:

Shtories may be any genre, but must not exceed 1,000 words, and must include all of the following three prompts:

 

- A FAKE BEARD 

- A LUMP OF COAL

- A NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION

 

Read Rins'a winning shtory—plus shtories by first runner-up Penelope Waples and second runner-up Alyssa Tyson—below!

THE PERFECT GIFT

By Rina Song

     Another lump of coal emerged in a puff of smoke, tumbling to the ground.

     “Not again!” cried Lord Zadismus. The Sorcerer of Nightmares stomped over to his spellbook, obsidian cloak billowing behind him. He pored over the list of ingredients. “Unicorn horn for purity, fairy dust for laughter, freshly plucked hair of princess for nobility. It’s all here! Why isn’t it working?”

     Princess Vanessa, blindfolded and restrained, sat calmly in the corner of the dark wizard’s lair. As far as evil sorcerers in the kingdom went, Zadismus had always been more of a nuisance than a threat. Nevertheless, she could only guess at the goal of his latest scheme, and his ritual attempts so far had left her with a large bald patch amidst her golden locks. For the past hour, she’d been chipping away at her bindings with a particularly sharp chunk of coal.

     Finally, the rope gave way, and Vanessa pulled off her blindfold. They were in a dimly lit cavern. Zadismus’ lair was a mess; mildew and white spots of lichen covered the walls. Bones, scrolls, and other rubbish littered the ground, though most of it had been cleared to make room for a ritual circle. The wizard was bent over his desk, ignoring her.

     She snuck towards the exit. Just as she crossed the threshold, the rocks wriggled to life. A golem emerged, grabbing her collar with a stony hand. Vanessa struggled fruitlessly as it dragged her back to a triumphant Zadismus.

     “Thought you could escape so easily, did you?” he said, wagging his finger in her face. “Your presence is still needed, I’m afraid.”

     “Give up, wizard,” Vanessa snapped. “Soon, my father’s knights will find me. Whatever ridiculous plot you’ve cooked up will never work.” She frowned, noticing an embroidered red sack laying inside the circle. “What is that?”

     Zadismus stepped between her and the sack. “Mind your own business.”

     “Is that Santa Claus’s gift bag? You know it only works for Santa himself, right?” Vanessa glanced at the wizard’s desk, which was strewn with chunks of horn, glitter, and hair. “Were you trying to summon presents for yourself? That’s so sad.”

     “Certainly not,” Zadismus growled.

     “Why? Can’t you just make anything you want with your magic?”

     “You could never hope to comprehend my arcane machinations!”

     “Yeah, alright.” Vanessa rolled her eyes. “I hope they involve cleaning your room. Seriously, there’s garbage everywhere. And what’s with all this lichen? You live here, you wouldn’t put up with a moldy house-” She cut off as she took a closer look, realizing that what she’d taken for lichen spots were stickers, picked at by tiny hands. In addition, there was a framed photograph on the desk, displaying a small brown-haired girl.

     Curiosity filled her, crowding out all thoughts of defiance. “I didn’t know you had a daughter, Zadismus.”

     The wizard glared at her for a moment. Then his shoulders slumped.

     “Rosalia loves Christmas,” he said, picking up the frame. “She always looks forward to decorating the tree and singing carols to my undead legions. I try to give her the best experience I can, but…” Zadismus gestured miserably at the lair. “Santa stopped coming here years ago. I think he got tired of dodging all my traps and minions just to give me coal.”

     The princess frowned. “So you stole his sack? Why don’t you conjure some presents yourself instead of coming up with such a convoluted plan?”

     “I tried! Last year, I gave her an enchanted cup that would fill with any drink she wished. The year before, a dragon’s egg. She always says she loves my gifts, but I can tell she’s not happy with them.”

     Zadismus sighed.

     “This year, I wanted things to be different. My New Year’s resolution was to give Rosalia the best Christmas possible. Santa’s sack is said to be able to produce the perfect gift for any child, but I haven’t been able to activate it properly.”

     Despite herself, Vanessa felt a twinge of pity. “Do you know why Rosalia might not like the presents you give her?”

     “I don’t know, honestly. I’m at my wit’s end.” Zadismus kicked at a pile of coal. “I spend days working on those gifts. Once the holiday season starts, I barely have time for anything else!”

     Vanessa thought for a moment.

      “Anything else?” she asked gently. “Not even to enjoy your own time off?”

     “No! Even on Christmas, I’m usually still working…” The wizard paused. “Oh.”

     “I think you see the problem now,” said Vanessa. “Rosalia doesn’t want to be stuck with your minions while you’re agonizing over the perfect gift for her. She just wants to spend Christmas with you.”

     Zadismus groaned, burying his face in his tattered sleeves. “I’m a terrible father.”

     “You’re trying your best.”

     “But I don’t know what families usually do on Christmas. I’ve never planned anything like this before.” He pulled at his robes, panicking. “I don’t even have any holiday-appropriate clothes!”

     At his words, golden light flashed from within the magical sack. It looked a little fuller. Zadismus hesitated, then emptied it. Out came a matching red velvet suit and hat with white fur trim, along with a fake white beard.

     “Take it easy,” Vanessa advised. “Don’t think of it as something that has to go perfectly, just relax and see that she’s having a good time.” She nodded at the bag’s creations. “There’s one of your problems taken care of.”

     Zadismus gathered up the clothing, eyes sparkling.

     “Thank you very much,” he said. “I’ll make sure that Rosie has the best Christmas of her life yet.”

     With that, he rushed out of the cavern.

     Vanessa smiled. In a way, the wizard’s determination was endearing. It brought forth memories of her own childhood, of wintry days when her father would shun the throne room and join her by the fireplace. 

     She took a step towards the exit, only to find herself still trapped in the golem’s grip. In Zadismus’ absence, it wouldn’t budge.

     “Drat.”

KRAMPUSNACHT ROBBERY

By Penelope Waples

 

     “Do you know what Krampusnacht is?” The old sailor dressed up as Santa asked as he chewed his straw, and turned completely around in his seat to stare at the young man behind him. The restaurant at the end of the pier was all but empty, and the young man had picked the place for a reason. It was the only restaurant and with the holidays and ships returning, they had made a pretty penny this week. He cleared his throat and forced a fake smile on his face but before he could respond the young woman behind the counter glanced up sharply.

     “Jim, we talked about this!” She snapped, scrubbing a plate aggressively with a well worn towel. It was too late, the smile implied a question to Jim, the old sailor. He waved his hand dismissively at her and pulled off his fake beard, carefully putting it by his plate and coffee. 

     “Krampusnacht! Why, it’s the reason why I’ve got this leg here!” Jim bent over dramatically and pulled up his pant’s leg, revealing a titanium shaft where a calf should have been. The young man put his fork down, his fried fish cooling as his irritation turned into curiosity. Next to him, a black duffle bag slid onto the floor but he didn’t seem to notice or mind. 

     “What happened? Was it a boating accident?” He stared at the fake leg with a touch of horror. 

     “A boatin’ accident?! Son, ain’t you hear anything I just said?! It was Krampus!” Jim yelled dramatically. The young woman flipped a towel over her shoulder and snorted loudly. Jim made a rude gesture in her direction. She ignored him, turning her back and walking into the kitchen. The young man seemed disappointed to see her leaving, turning ever so slightly toward the door while reaching for his bag that had slipped to the floor. 

    "Charlene, you don’t know nothin’,” Jim called to the swinging kitchen door. He turned back to the young man and gave a conspiratorial wink. The young man stared back, and tightened his hand on his bag, the food long forgotten. Jim didn’t seem to notice. 

      “Well, let me tell you, Krampusnacht was a big thing back in the day. On this night, Krampus gives you coal if you were naughty but Mother Holly gives you candy if you were good. If you were extra naughty though, why, Krampus made sure you learned your lesson. I was exceptionally naughty you see, used t’ be a real sinner, robbin’ folks,” he gave the young man a long stare, “ and he showed up an’ strung me up in his cave. I had to gnaw off the leg to give ‘im the slip. Next year, I did repent and I always give back in December, remindin’ folks of cheer.” He gestured to his Santa Claus outfit.

     “Mmmhmm.” Charlene reappeared behind the counter suddenly.  She flicked the switches to the coffee makers, shutting them down for the night before turning back to Jim with her chin jutting out. “We’re happy you only lost a leg, Uncle Jim. Could have been worse.” 

     She leaned back against the counter and the young man turned to look at her. He picked up a french fry and popped it in his mouth and chewed it slowly, watching her closely. Jim jerked his pants leg down and scooted back into the booth. 

     “So… what exactly is a Krampus?” The young man unzipped the corner of his bag and peeked inside, checking on the contents. Jim perked up, a smile playing about his face. 

     “Why, it’s a creature from your nightmares. He’s about this high,” he gestured above his seated head, “and he’s got a wicked set of sharp teeth.” Jim snapped his teeth at the young man, his lips pulled back. 

     “He’s got long ears, all to hear you better with!” Charlene interjected, her fingers touching the tips of her ears. She had obviously heard this story many times before. She tossed the towel down on the counter and walked over to Jim’s table. 

     “Oh, he does. And his eyes! Oh, his eyes, they are these yella’ bright eyes, glowin’ in the dark. It’s how he can see you from anywhere in the world. Oh, and by the way? He’s always watching.” Jim swiveled his head back and forth squinting as if he could stare into the dark corners of the room. He stood up as Charlene bussed his table. 

     “Well, now you know. The Krampusnacht is tonight, which means one thing,” Jim announced cheerfully as he handed a wadded bundle of bills to Charlene. “You’ll be getting what you deserve tonight.” 

     The young man cleared his throat and shifted a little in his seat. Next to him, the corner of the unzipped bag flipped open just enough to show the dark plastic of the butt of a gun. He looked up at Jim and Charlene, and then paused and chewed on his lip. 

     “Good thing my New Year’s resolution was to stay out of trouble,” he chuckled uneasily, reaching over to slip his hand into his bag as behind him the doors opened and a bell tinkled. The young man didn’t bother to turn around, but Jim and Charlene both turned to stare at him. Their gazes felt like an intense X-ray of all the things wrong he had done this year. He smiled tightly, and reached for his wallet in his pocket, abandoning his plans. His fingers grazed something cold and hard instead of the warm leather of the billfold. Puzzled, he pulled it out and looked at it incredulously. Coal. 

     “But, I didn’t do it! I swear!” He squeaked, dropping the coal with a thunk on the table.

     Two hands descended on his shoulders, squeezing painfully, and the smell of cold nights and fresh pine enveloped him. 

     “I was good!” He cried again, but it was too late. 

PEPPER'S CHRISTMAS GIFT

by Alyssa Tyson

 

     It was Pepper’s favorite time of the year, mostly because of all the shiny things, but also because Jordan was around more. She could always tell when it was coming. First, the temperature would drop. Though her fur had started thickening months ago and she was what Jordan called an “indoor cat,” she could sense chill inside their studio apartment.

     And then there were the lights! Pepper could never resist the strands of brightly flashing red, blue, and green. Jordan scolded her when she got too close to the tree he dragged from the storage closet each year, but the longer they stood, the more they taunted her.  Which was the story of how Pepper had ended up in a heap of plastic branches, paws tied up in lights that had stopped flashing, silver ornaments rolled across the floor. Maybe they hadn't exactly landed that way and she’d helped them along, but that was beside the point. The point was that Pepper had them, finally, after twenty-four days of enduring their teasing.

     She was just thinking of how that had to be a new record when she heard the telltale sound of footsteps and the click-pop outside the door that always brought Jordan back to her, and there he was. Wearing a fake white beard, no less: a sign of the start of their time together.

She knew it was fake because he’d shaved his real one a few nights ago, and besides, Jordan’s fur was black, just the same as hers. She wondered why he humiliated himself like this year after year, but being a cat, there were some things she figured she would never understand about humans, even her own.

     When Jordan saw her, tangled in the lights, he didn’t yell; Jordan never yelled. Instead, he just shook his head, making his way across the mess of wires and branches to untangle her from their grasp.     

     “Looks like Santa’s bringing you a lump of coal this year, Pep,” he said, tossing the fallen decorations aside.

     Pepper had learned a long time ago that whoever Santa was, he and Jordan must not have talked much. Every year Jordan said the same thing, and every year Santa brought her a catnip mouse and a pouch of the good treats, the chicken ones with just the right crunch-to-bite ratio.

     Jordan collapsed onto the sofa, yanking the fake beard off his face and tossing it to the carpet. Pepper pawed at it, catching the same scents that clung to Jordan after he went away each day: lots of strange people and a bitter smell. Losing interest, she leapt up into Jordan’s lap. He palmed the fur on her head, eliciting a few purrs. This was it, she thought. No more Jordan leaving her to her own devices every morning, no half-empty food dish while she waited for him to return, and no more day-long temptation of shiny, sparkling things to distract her from the true meaning of Christmas as a cat: naps and warm blankets.

     Except there was something off about Jordan.

     “Well, I blew it,” he said. “Another year without telling Marie how I really feel. Maybe that’ll be my New Year’s resolution. Again.”

     Pepper butted her head against his hand, but it made no difference; she could still sense his disappointment.

     Pepper wasn’t sure what a New Year’s resolution was–probably another strange human ritual–but she knew Marie. Marie lived just down the hall and always smelled like human food; Pepper remembered her because she always snuck her scraps from her cooking. Marie and Jordan had always treated Pepper right, and maybe it was her turn to give back to them. She could make up for attacking the lights earlier and improve Jordan’s mood. Pepper could fix this!

     A knock sounded at the door. Of course! This time of year, after he returned from work, someone would come to bring Jordan a stack of cardboard boxes. Pepper never forgot; boxes were another one of her favorites. Jordan pushed Pepper aside, making his way towards the door. This was her chance. Pepper braced herself.

     As always, Jordan opened the door to retrieve a box from the delivery person, and Pepper made her move, darting between his legs, out of the tiny crevice in the doorway, past the delivery person, and down the hall. She heard Jordan cry out for her, but it was too late. 

     Immediately, the scents of glazed ham and roasted turkey met Pepper’s nose. The smell was coming from one of the nearby doors, just a few steps away; that had to be Marie’s place. Pepper bounded towards it, ignoring the sound of Jordan’s footsteps chasing after her. He didn’t know it yet, but she was on a mission. A mission that wouldn’t last long, it seemed. 

     Pepper skidded to a halt in front of the door she hoped belonged to Marie and started to scratch at its frame, tossing her head back to let out a series of long meows. But by the third meow, she was intercepted.

     “There you are!” Jordan said, scooping Pepper up and cradling her to his chest. She squirmed in protest, letting out another yowl. He tightened his grip, looking down at her. “What’s gotten into you?”

     The door swung open, and out stepped Marie: long brown fur, and oh, the heavenly aroma! Pepper was right!

     "I knew I heard something! Is everything okay?” Marie glanced from Pepper, who had stopped writhing and shouting, to Jordan, whose heartbeat Pepper could hear loud in her ears.

     Out of breath, he explained Pepper’s brief-but-adventurous stint.

     Marie reached out to scratch Pepper’s face, just the way she liked. “Aw, Pepper just wanted some of the Christmas ham I’m baking, isn’t that right?”

     Pepper purred in response.

     Turning to Jordan, she said, “I’ve got plenty. You wouldn’t believe it, but my sister canceled at the last minute, so it’s just me. Please, come in, both of you.”