Congratulations to this year's winter winner, Mick Udby!
Frosty Fables 2021 Prompts:
Shtories may be any genre, but must not exceed 1,000 words, and must incorporate the following three prompts:
Character: CAROL SINGER
Read Mick's winning shtory—plus shtories by first runner-up Gerard Butler Jr. and second runner-up Ninotchka K. Mantrom—below!
By Mick Udby
The weeks before Our Merryday interrupt everything. I hate watching the calendar’s neon text slowly count up to the 6th. No one cares about the “magical” change in weather that Old World texts applaud. Weather here never changes. Ashen-gray flakes blanket every street and structure regardless of season. The People string up paper garlands and adorn the windows of every public building with candles. The fences along the park and outside the mines receive oversized bows tied to each post. The Old World’s airships seem almost dour with their lack of decoration as they cut through the thick cloud cover above us. After a year of me learning my new normal, only visiting airships get to stay the same now.
The school gifts us a week off for Our Merryday, but it just means I have to be at home with Mother and sometimes Father. Homework changes to chipper, cartoonish themes. The miners are called to work by the steam whistles’ violent shrieks; I’m ushered into the holidays by everyone’s hollow festive facades.
I adjust my puffy, red cloak over my shoulders as I wait for Antero to come downstairs. Nestori always took our baby brother for the school’s quarterly fundraisers. Now, I babysit him.
This season, it’s singing anthems and carols to welcome Our Merryday in exchange for coin. Last year, we got to sing in the Commissary. The cashiers brought us hot cocoa and biscuits each evening as we crowded by their doors. It was a decent taking as shoppers donated their change before leaving. This year, my class has the mines and the docks. I don’t think I’m getting biscuits this year.
Antero wobbles down our creaky steps. Mother bound him tightly in his hand-me-down goose jacket, several scarves, and a knit cap. His nose is already red and runny. The flat is barely warmer than the outside; the People reduced the town’s heating for the quarter due to a drop in productivity. Everyone’s making sacrifices.
We tramp through snow drifts across town and avoid icy roads. By the park, Antero asks to stop and play on the neglected swings. I pull on his little hand to usher him along.
“But the swings,” he protests, pointing with his other mitten.
“We’re going to be late,” I grit my teeth. I don’t know how Nestori managed him.
“The swings,” Antero counters with a wave of the mitten. I manage to get him past the park. Making our way through town center, I glare at the steamy, warm-lit windows of the People’s Council. The Meeting Hall across from it appears equally warm. The students assigned to the Commissary this year gather by its wooden doors and chat idly. I ignore them and drag Antero to where our class is meeting.
By the industrial area’s entrance, our classmates huddle together. Rouva Marjamaa stands outside them, taking attendance. She sees us and calls for us to hurry. We’re late.
“Sorry, sorry,” I try as I stop in front of her, Antero in tow.
“You’re late, Helmi. Is your brother joining us?”
“Mother said it’d be good for him.”
Rouva Marjamaa fixes her jaw and nods, jotting something on her clipboard. She wordlessly counts something on it and looks up at the class. “All right, gather round everyone. You half go with Rouva Hakkinen to the docks. You half, follow me.”
She leads us towards the miners’ canteen. Its decrepit structure does not predict hot cocoa and biscuits in my future. Dusty men in coveralls and whale-skin cloaks stumble in and out of its doors. They disappear into the cold winds around us.
Rouva Marjamaa holds the door open as our class trundles inside. “Stay inside the foyer, don’t wander.”
Even here, everyone huddles. The miners around their tables and food, and us children around each other. Miners come and go. My classmates and I stay rooted in the familiarity of each other among this sea of strangers.
I do recognize Mikko and a few of Father’s coworkers from their weekly knucklebones games. Mikko walks past us to the coat rack, assisting a miner on crutches. Mikko pulls a coat off the wall and helps the injured man with it. As Mikko dons his own soot-stained parka, Antero leaves my side and wanders up to him.
“Setä Mikko!” The boy calls and lifts up both arms. Mikko’s tired eyes run over Antero for a few seconds.
“Ah, the Lahti children. Welcome Our Merryday, eh?”
I come up and pull Antero back slightly. “Yes, welcome Our Merryday. Sorry about him.”
“Nonsense, he’s all right,” Mikko gives a small smile. His eyes shifted across the whole class. “Caroling?”
I nod. “For the school.”
The man on crutches joins Mikko’s side. Antero reaches out to touch a wooden crutch leg. I grab Antero’s arms, hugging him against me and giving the miner an apologetic grin.
“The school?” The man asks. “The People send children out begging far too much.”
Mikko nudges him, who’s face twists. “But of course, it’s nice to have you help us welcome Our Merryday.”
“You’re growing so fast, Helmi. Your coat was Nestori’s, yeah?”
I grit my teeth once again. “Yes.”
“He must almost be gradu-- right, yes,” Mikko catches himself.
“The People called upon him last Merryday. The clinic…” I mumble.
“Well, being called upon is noble,” the other miner tries with a wave of his hand. “He’s still with us all around. Why, Sauli got his new lungs around last--”
“These are children, toveri,” Rouva Marjamaa appears behind us. She put an arm around Antero and I. “They are here to carol.”
“Yes, of course. Let’s go, Tomo,” Mikko says curtly. “Time to begin your sick leave.” The two miners leave without another word. Rouva Marjamaa ushered us back into the herd of children. I don’t read the words in the caroling book. I glare at them as the others sing. A few more weeks, and I’ll be able to return to my new normal.
I SAW MOMMY KISSING SANTA AT 29
By Gerard Butler Jr.
It was hard to process, even at 29 years old. Even as a big boy.
There I was in the guest bedroom, on a knee in my Iron Man footie pajamas, peering into a mirror affixed to a bayonet with chewing gum.
I guess I couldn’t be sure what I was seeing near the front door in my periscope. I knew from movies eyewitness reports could be unreliable and, in hindsight, a lot of the details didn’t add up.
For starters, we didn’t have a chimney (we lived in Florida). It wasn’t Christmas Eve, it was the early morning hours of Dec. 13. And we didn’t hang any mistletoe in the foyer but there was an interesting overhead light fixture. Finally, it didn’t help that we were Jewish.
The guy wasn’t dressed like Santa and he wasn’t fat. He was kind of old, I guess. He had a beard but it was short and black. And he had tattoos on his forearms.
To my recollection, Mr. Claus never exposed his forearms. A consummate professional. But maybe that was only during work hours.
I didn’t make a peep as Saint Nick went from kissing my mom to putting on his flip-flops(?) to heading out the door. I just felt like it wasn’t my place to interrupt. My dad had died the year before – he was bottlenosed to death by dolphins at the beach – and I knew it was natural for a woman my mother’s age to move on romantically, especially with someone as high-status as the world’s most famous pagan-Christian hybrid tulpa.
It wasn’t easy to fall back to sleep but I did manage one REM cycle before work in the morning. Yes, I was employed. I was a journalist, a gatekeeper of information. I stood daily at the gates of information with a flaming sword.
And I paid for my own Hulu.
At City Hall the next day the Mayor backtracked on a promise to join a lawsuit challenging the DOT’s decision to replace the historic, 17-foot-clearance De Soto drawbridge with a 65-foot-tall fixed-span bridge. Afterward, I talked to him about what had transpired between my mom and Santa.
He asked what my situation had to do with the bridge and said he was uncomfortable with the conversation, even though I told him it was off the record. In the end, he declined to comment, which wasn’t unusual. Being a reporter is just a hard job.
After work I told the story to my therapist. I didn’t believe in therapy, it was court-ordered. Somebody drove a bulldozer into the library and, though there was only circumstantial evidence – I knew for a fact the city was upgrading its security cameras at the time – the cops said I was the one.
She suggested that maybe it was easier for me to believe my mom was dating Santa than a well-known, easily recognizable renegade crabber from the fishing village a mile away. One who had a history of maritime violence and drug smuggling. I thanked her for the interesting opinion and suggested we renegotiate her rate.
I expected Santa to return before Christmas and wanted to watch his approach. So, I spent the next several nights on the roof. It was peaceful. I coughed when the helicopters flew overhead to dust for mosquitoes and wished on shooting stars.
On the eighth night, I fell asleep and dreamed about “The Great Salt Cup.” It was a hypothetical tourist attraction I’d been working on. A water tower tank-sized coffee mug filled with Earth Minerals brand “No Cramps!” electrolyte solution.
My theory: left undisturbed, migratory birds would deposit brine shrimp embryos in its waters. Eventually, an entire ecosystem would develop, complete with bacteria, algae, zooplankton and brine flies. Then I’d charge $7.99 a swim.
I was working on a budget with George Washington when an earnest rendition of “Jingle Bells” spooked me off the roof. I fell onto the driveway, breaking my ankle.
The carolers had stopped singing mid-word when they saw me take my violent tumble. I don’t think they knew I was up there.
One stepped forward and knelt by my side. It was HOA Vice President Ruth Stutz, who helped me onto my good leg. I was touched by her kindness. To think, this was the woman threatening to sue us for building our western fence two feet too high.
I crutched around the next few days. My ankle was cantaloupe-sized and hurt tremendously but I didn’t go to the doctor because I was a David Goggins acolyte. Sometimes I would cry from the pain but then I’d think back to the hardships David faced in SEAL teams training and quickly compose myself.
I named the left crutch “Neo” and the right one “Morpheus.” And I put some stickers on them.
My ankle wasn’t feeling much better by Christmas Eve. I elevated it with pillows while I lay on the couch watching Peaky Blinders. It wasn’t very compelling and I wondered if I should’ve been doing something productive instead. Maybe devising a cryptocurrency scam.
Suddenly, the front door swung open and you can probably guess who walked in. My mom greeted him while I gritted my teeth and grabbed my crutches.
“Joey, this is Wade,” she said as I crutched over.
“Hello, Nick,” I said.
“Wade,” she repeated.
I said nothing.
We stared at each other for a while.
“So, Jeanie tells me you’re a reporter,” Santa said.
“Who’s feeding the reindeer?” I demanded.
I leaned in and whispered in his ear: “I’m not gonna be one of your little elves. You know that right?”
He didn’t know what to say. I bet no one had ever talked to him like that.
“I’m a big boy,” I said, still in his ear. “And I want a hippopotamus.”
Then I stepped back and put a finger in his chest.
“A real one!” I shouted. “Not a toy!”
He remained silent for a while.
“Well,” he said, finally. “Have you been good?”
GUIDE MY WALK TONIGHT
by Ninotchka K. Mantrom
“You know, we can always change plans if you’re worried about the snowstorm,” Jeremy reminded her, peeking his head from the living room. “We don’t even need to stay home! There’s the holiday drive-thru light show down in Saratoga, as well as the movies, including your old standby for the seasons, or even just ordering in a pizza and–”
“Babe,” Alicia scolded, as she smoothed down her sparkling skirt and covered her thigh. With a frown, she motioned to the decorations around the foyer surrounding her. “I was able to do all this, right? I can go out for a night of caroling.”
She was proud of the work she put into their foyer, the expanse of candy-toned garlands, glittering with red and gold baubles and twisted with twinkling lights, bracing around the doorway. The massive wreath on the wall, high enough where Alicia needed to bring out her step stool. Even the shoe cubby by the doorway, holding both Jeremy’s preferred boat shoes and her newer ballet flats, were topped with a tiny Christmas village surrounded by cotton ball snow and nail polish frost.
They didn’t bother decorating last year, not when she was still in recovery from the surgery and her lost leg. She only arrived home two days before Christmas, to a staid house with an empty fridge and a cupboard stacked high with junk mail and bills.
Not that she could ever blame Jeremy.
He was with her every moment he had free while she grieved, hiding his own fears in a frenzy of papa wolf-ing, overworking and following up with every doctor possible while she couldn’t. Sneaking her a garbage plate once a week, with extra coleslaw, or telling her about his new students and researchers and the photos of the falling leaves and Christmas lights. Jeremy wanted so hard to be her rock, and held it together at the hospital every single day.
The sadness of seeing how badly things fell apart at home really enforced that thought.
But now, they were both home. There was Christmas in their household again, with every light and decoration and little piece of long-forgotten chintz she got Jeremy to dig out of the attic displayed on every surface possible. Perhaps it was a little gaudy, and maybe covering the fridge door in a sheen of used wrapping paper with a ‘Don’t Open Until Dinnertime’ sticker slapped on it was a bit too ‘Hallmark’-y, but she wanted to delight in this season again.
Especially for herself and Jeremy. She never wanted to return to a cold, quiet house. Not during this season, never again.
More importantly, it meant this. Not lingering at home, but finally coming back to the best part of the holidays. Pulling up her prosthetic, she at least appreciated the decorative snowflakes etched on the dark frame, filled in with white glitter. Plus the heel bent easily, accommodating for the boot she’d need for walking. “The cold’s not bothering the stump, if that’s what you’re worried about.” Alicia said, as she pulled her leg on. It would be stable enough, and she certainly had practice walking with it.
“I… I know,” Jeremy sighed, sitting beside her. His hair carried more greys, the salt-and-pepper mix pronounced in his beard nowadays, ever since last year’s accident. “It’s more the ice outside. You’re great with your legs– you’ve taken to them like a duck to water, but…” He frowned, glancing out the window to the lining of frost outside.
It was a good point. This would be her first time caroling since last year and something he was likely worrying himself silly over. With a grip of Jeremy’s knee, Alicia smiled up at him, “I know too.” She stood up, adjusting to account for how she now held her weight mostly on her left side.
After all, she did her research. And she had her prep ready in the closet. With a grin, she pulled out the best thing to keep her braced on the ice!
Jeremy stared at first, before a suppressed chuckle escaped his lips. He tried so hard, even as Alicia wiggled the crutches towards him. “Just as the doctor ordered, same as last year! I added a little hard patch to the bottoms, before you worry about the icy sidewalks! I told you baby, I’ve got this.”
“I- snrk- I can see that,” Jeremy said, the grin reaching his eyes. “Did the doctor order the wrapping paper decoration?”
“Well it’s Christmas,” Alicia said, false petulance edging into her words. The silver paper was quite tasteful; the little felt Rudolph decorations on the grips, possibly less so but still festive.
Jeremy got up, coming over to Alicia before pulling her into an embrace. “I know you have this,” he whispered, hugging her closer. “I know you’ve had this all season. I just can’t stop worrying.”
Alicia rested her head against his lapel, “I know.” Her curls meshed along his neck, a familiar tender ache curling in her heart and along the remains of her right knee. “You don’t need to worry so much anymore. Let me take care of this holiday, you can get back to your ol’ scaredy-cat self come January second, okay?”
“But it’s not so much scaredy-cat, having concerns–” He tried to argue, before stopping himself with a sigh. Jeremy leaned back, but not before kissing her temple all too gently, his nose twitching against her scalp slightly from the tickle of their hair together. “I’ll trust you on this. I know this is your season, more than anything.” With that, he stepped away, grabbing both of their winter parkas. “So… Ready to hark those heralds, and jingle those bells?”
“I’ve been ready since Thanksgiving!” Alicia beamed, before tapping a little hidden button she added to her crutches, “And don’t worry about the flashlight this year, I added a little surprise! I’ll guide our walk tonight!” With that, Rudolph’s nose gleamed brightly, as Jeremy let out a peal of laughter.