Saturn’s Eye – Jamie Greening

A long-fought battle between two powerful forces finds a truce. But that truce is tenuous at best. Years after the truce was signed, rumblings of disagreements speak of a new war between the old foes, and the machinations of war once again resurrect to fight anew.

Is it the new Matrix: Resurrections film?

No! It’s today’s Fondue Christmas story from Jamie Greening, a sequel to last year’s story. It’s called Saturn’s Eye, and it’s ready for you, dear reader, over at the Greenbean site. Check it out. You will not be disappointed.

If you have the time, please check out the sites for ALL of the Fondue Writers: Joseph CourtemancheJamie D. GreeningKathy KexelDerek Alan ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul Bennet. If you like what you see, why not pick up a few copies of their books? It covers the cost of everything, and it gives us hope in those long, dark nights when we’re dreaming up new stories, that Christmas miracles really do come true.

If you’d like what you see, you might also check out our first collection of short stories, The Covid Quarantine Catina, written during the first months of the Covid-19 lockdowns. It’s available in Kindle, Paperback, and Audio formats.

Dr Paul Bennett finishes us off on Friday, and then it’s Christmas and a new year. We’ll be back in the Winter and Spring with the occasional Free, Holiday-themed short story (and maybe some other things). Don’t you worry. Until then, enjoy the holiday of your choice, watch out for the New Year’s Baby’s diaper, and, as always … don’t break anything.

Santa Who? – Derek Alan Elkins

One day, many years ago, I saw a movie in which a young woman was accosted by Bigfoot behind a dumpster. Shortly there after, Bill pullman was playing a saxophone in a night club, and then he exploded. After that, a mechanic was taken for a ride in a limousine, and the limo drove off the cliff, revealing a young woman who then made her way to the restaurant where she would later be accosted by Bigfoot.

There were also midgets. Because Reasons.

Today’s story is from the delightfully weird Derek Alan Elkins is kinda like that. I have no idea where it’s going and no idea what it means. But it’s there and it probably means something. Merry Christmas.

Check out Santa Who? by Derek Alan Elkins. And watch out for Bigfoot.

If you have the time, please check out the sites for ALL of the Fondue Writers: Joseph CourtemancheJamie D. GreeningKathy KexelDerek Alan ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul Bennet. If you like what you see, why not pick up a few copies of their books? It covers the cost of everything, and it gives us hope in those long, dark nights when we’re dreaming up new stories, that Christmas miracles really do come true.

If you’d like what you see, you might also check out our first collection of short stories, The Covid Quarantine Catina, written during the first months of the Covid-19 lockdowns. It’s available in Kindle, Paperback, and Audio formats.

Kathy Kexel will be back with us on Monday, then it’s Jamie Greening and Paul Bennet to bring us on home to Christmas. Until then, don’t take strange boxes from people with hamster fetishes, watch out for Bigfoot, and always … don’t break anything.

The Worst Christmas Miracle Ever – Rob Cely

The consequences of our actions spread out like a spiderweb throughout our lives. Approach an intersection and stop, and your whole life can change from what would have happened had you continued on.

Or, as we see in today’s story from Rob Cely, someone else’s life can turn on the pivots you make, even if those pivots are less than desirable from your perspective.

Check out The Worst Christmas Miracle Ever by Rob Cely and think about all the Maybes, all the What-Ifs, all the If-Onlys in your life .. and what unforeseen consequences might have resulted.

If you have the time, please check out the sites for ALL of the Fondue Writers: Joseph CourtemancheJamie D. GreeningKathy KexelDerek Alan ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul Bennet. If you like what you see, why not pick up a few copies of their books? It covers the cost of everything, and it gives us hope in those long, dark nights when we’re dreaming up new stories, that Christmas miracles really do come true.

If you’d like what you see, you might also check out our first collection of short stories, The Covid Quarantine Catina, written during the first months of the Covid-19 lockdowns. It’s available in Kindle, Paperback, and Audio formats.

Derek Alan Elkins will be back on Friday with the next story. Until then, keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the steering wheel, and, as always, don’t break anything.

The Best Christmas Ever

Ladies and Gentlepersons! Come one, Come all to the somewhat annual, Aawesometastical, Splendiferous Fondue Writer’s Club (and Bar & Grille and Laundromat)’s FREE FLASH FICTION CHRISTMAS EXPLODE-A-GANZA!

We have a lot of great stories in store for you this year, and we can wait for you to read them. Before we get into that, I just wanted to say thanks for joining us in our slog through the holidays this year. We hope you’re all healthy, that you’re all happy, and that Santa brings you everything you wanted this year.

In an effort to save the best for the “not first” position, I’m leading off again. Here’s my story … THE BEST CHRISTMAS EVER
**** **** **** **** **** **** ****

It started off innocently enough. 

“Hey Joey. Wanna get some ice cream?” 

“Sure, Mom!” 

I was eight  years old, and my brain hadn’t developed enough yet to realize that when Mom comes right out and offers ice cream, there are always strings attached. 

Five minutes later, she pulled into the parking lot at our church 

“Just go to play practice, sweetie. We’ll get ice cream afterward.” 

“But MOM. I don’t WANNA be in the Christmas play.” 

Mom had been doing this to me for years, tricking me into being a part of the annual Children’s Christmas Cantata at Forest Park Baptist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio.  I was a wise man one year, and a cowboy on crutches the next. But the worst was the last year when I had to play the back half of the Christmas Donkey for an hour long manger scene. 

There’s nothing worse than making a literal ass of yourself on stage.

This year, I had vowed not to participate, but my mother was cunning, playing on my love of sweets, and as I watched her drive away I knew there was no getting around it. I had lost yet again. 

Because I was one of the oldest and most outgoing kids, the director handed me the lead part: the Angel Gabriel. I had to wear a flowy white gown, and say the big line at the end:  “His name will be Jesus, the savior of all mankind.” 

My friends caught wind of the story, and keyed in on the gown. 

“Dude! You’re wearing a dress? ON STAGE? I’m bringing a camera. I NEVER want to forget this!” 

Two months of agonizing play practice later, and the night of the play arrives. The audience is packed. My family is in the front, my friends with brand new disposable cameras sitting in the back. Everyone I knew or interacted with was there to see me make a ffool of myself yet again.

The play went on as planned. We got to my big line at the end, I stepped forward in my flowy white gown, heard the hundred snaps of disposable documenting my humiliation, and reached skyward.

“His name will be…. “

But my mind went blank. Nothing. Zip, Zilch, Nada.

In a Baptist Church on CHRISTMAS EVE, I had forgotten Jesus’ name.

But that’s not the bad part. The bad part is what came next.

“HIs name will be … F(UDGE), I orgot my line. 

Only I didn’t say FUDGE. 

Confession time. I come from a long line of people who RAISE the use of profanity almost to an art form. And in what was likely my most horrific display of artisanal linguistic prowess to date, I dropped the F-Bomb right there in church. 

I watched from the stage as the effect hit the audience like a tidal wave. 

Parents covered their childrens ears. The old ladies in the back frowned in disgust. The deacons snickered.  My friends in the front put down their cameras and just started clapping.

It was pandemonium. 

The last thing I saw was a little blonde girl in the front who turned to her mother and said “Mommy, what does F(udge) mean?” right as the curtain closed on yet another successful Christmas Youth Cantata at Forest Part Baptist Church. 

The car ride home was silent. I could feel my mother fuming in the front seat as the wheels in her brain turned over several sadistic punishments she would lay out for me when we got home. 

But My Father broke the silence

“You know what, son, I think you’re probably a little too old to be in the church Christmas play. I think this was your last year.” 

“Yeah dad?”

“Yeah. I was thinking that last year after the donkey incident.” 

“Alright!”  

Mom crossed her arms in a huff as her gauntlet of punishments evaporating into thin air. She would eventually find a way to pay me back for my insolence. But it would not be this day. 

“Hey dad?” 

“Yeah son?” 

“Can we get some ice cream on the way home?” 

“Sure! That sounds Great!” 

We hadn’t even opened presents yet and, already I knew this would be the best Christmas Ever.

**** **** **** **** ****

If you have the time, please check out the sites for ALL of the Fondue Writers: Joseph CourtemancheJamie D. GreeningKathy KexelDerek Alan ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul Bennet. If you like what you see, why not pick up a few copies of their books? It covers the cost of everything, and it gives us hope in those long, dark nights when we’re dreaming up new stories, that Christmas miracles really do come true.

If you’d like what you see, you might also check out our first collection of short stories, The Covid Quarantine Catina, written during the first months of the Covid-19 lockdowns. It’s available in Kindle, Paperback, and Audio formats.

Rob Cely will be back on Wednesday with the next story. Until then, watch your language, keep an eye out for kids in flowy white gowns, and, as always, don’t break anything.

Pie Wars – Kathy Kexel

Kathy Kexel ends this year’s Thanksgiving Explode-A-Ganza with a story about family. And pie. And Family. And More Family. There’s an awful lot of family in there. Check out her story: Pie Wars.

If you have the time, please check out the sites for ALL of the Fondue Writers: Joseph CourtemancheJamie D. GreeningKathy KexelDerek Alan ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul Bennet. If you like what you see, why not pick up a few copies of their books? It covers the cost of everything, and it gives us hope in those long, dark nights when we’re dreaming up new stories, wondering if the monsters in our heads matter only to us, or if one day they might come out of the dark to terrify you as well.

If you’d like what you see, you might also check out our first collection of short stories, The Covid Quarantine Catina, written during the first months of the Covid-19 lockdowns. It’s available in Kindle, Paperback, and Audio formats.

Thanks for joining us on the Thanksgiving Short story Free fiction journey, everyone. We’re so happy you joined us. Check back in a few weeks for the Christmas party. Can’t wait to see you there!

The Second Thanksgiving – Jamie D. Greening

Some people like Turkey and Pumpkin Pie and all the trimmings when it comes to their Thanksgiving festivities. Some people can’t wait for the threill of late night or early morning Black Friday free-for-all’s.

And some people, like today’s Fondue writer, Jamie D Greening, like to include science fiction and psychedelic hallucinations, like a Kurt Vonnegut and Hunter S. Thompson love child.

Check out the strange gift Jamie has given us with today’s Thanksgiving story: The Second Thanksgiving.

If you have the time, please check out the sites for ALL of the Fondue Writers: Joseph CourtemancheJamie D. GreeningKathy KexelDerek Alan ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul Bennet. If you like what you see, why not pick up a few copies of their books? It covers the cost of everything, and it gives us hope in those long, dark nights when we’re dreaming up new stories, wondering if the monsters in our heads matter only to us, or if one day they might come out of the dark to terrify you as well.

If you’d like what you see, you might also check out our first collection of short stories, The Covid Quarantine Catina, written during the first months of the Covid-19 lockdowns. It’s available in Kindle, Paperback, and Audio formats.

Kathy Kexel finishes off the Thanksgiving Explode-A-Ganza tomorrow, then we’re off a few weeks, and then we’re back for Christmas. Peace, Love, and Tanksgiving, everyone.

The Best Thanksgiving – Derek Alan Elkins

Confession time. Derek and I sat together at a Buffalo Wild Wings this past weekend, discussing what we planned to write for our stories. There was discussion of MOnsters from the depth of insanity, strange diseases that wiped out the whole of humanity, and yet another ear-splitting album from mankind’s greatest enemy: Celine Dion.

But, in the end, we both KNEW we’d settle on something sweet and endearing. Scratch a horror/strange fiction writer and you have a big softie underneath. Scratch THAT, and you have another horror novelist. And so on. There are lots of layers involved.

Take a break from the hecticnessisity of the holiday season and bask in the glow of Derek Alan Elkins’s wonderful short story: The Best Thanksgiving.

If you have the time, please check out the sites for ALL of the Fondue Writers: Joseph CourtemancheJamie D. GreeningKathy KexelDerek Alan ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul Bennet. If you like what you see, why not pick up a few copies of their books? It covers the cost of everything, and it gives us hope in those long, dark nights when we’re dreaming up new stories, wondering if the monsters in our heads matter only to us, or if one day they might come out of the dark to terrify you as well.

If you’d like what you see, you might also check out our first collection of short stories, The Covid Quarantine Catina, written during the first months of the Covid-19 lockdowns. It’s available in Kindle, Paperback, and Audio formats.

Jamie Greening will be back with us tomorrow with his take on Thanksgiving. Until then, give your parents and grandparents a call, and make sure not to break anything.

What Remains Unseen – by Dr Paul Bennett

Paul Bennett knows relationships. He knows them so well, he could write novel after novel espousing the intricacies therein.

Today’s Thanksgiving Flash Fiction story is called What Remains Unseen, and it’s a beautiful story about a young woman and her grandpa. Follow the rabbit down the nostalgia hole here.

If you have the time, please check out the sites for ALL of the Fondue Writers: Joseph CourtemancheJamie D. GreeningKathy KexelDerek Alan ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul Bennet. If you like what you see, why not pick up a few copies of their books? It covers the cost of everything, and it gives us hope in those long, dark nights when we’re dreaming up new stories, wondering if the monsters in our heads matter only to us, or if one day they might come out of the dark to terrify you as well.

If you’d like what you see, you might also check out our first collection of short stories, The Covid Quarantine Catina, written during the first months of the Covid-19 lockdowns. It’s available in Kindle, Paperback, and Audio formats.

Derek Alan Elkins will be back with us on Monday. Have a great weekend, everyone, and try not to break anything.

Confession

The Fondue Writers are at it again. Thus begins our quasi-annual Free Flash Fiction Explode-A-Ganza. I’m up first, the rest of the authors will be at their level best between now and Thanksgiving.

Here’s my Short story: Confession:

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Father Denneman placed a lit candle on the altar near the sanctuary of Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church, then stared into the flame for a while. The are no lights in the building, save for those still burning on the altar, and the dying sunlight of a mid-November evening dances through the stained glass windows depicting the stations of the cross, casting a kaleidoscope of colors and shadow onto the tabernacle, the pulpit and the pews behind. 

Father Denneman sat on the front pew, watching the sunset through the windows. The church is empty. Even on Sunday mornings, when the old faithful – that’s what he has to call them, because they are old and they show up week in and week out, despite what weather and other natural disasters might beset the city – show up for their weekly sacraments and well-worn messages, it feels empty. It’s like the church was a balloon full of water and someone had nicked the bottom. The water never gushed out, but it was draining. He could feel it day after week after month after year. 

It wasn’t always this way. Our Lady of the Rosary, or OLR as the community called it, had been a central figure in the city for as long as Father Denneman could remember. Through the economic boom times when the factories employed most of the men in the community to the economic downturns of the last few decades, Our Lady of the Rosary’s standard rollout of fish fries and prayer circles, Bingo nights, and holiday concerts had kept everyone together.  

Then, COVID kept everyone in their homes for the better part of a year. Things opened up again in the Spring to wild fanfare, but ever since then, the emptiness only increased. Now, the church felt nearly deflated. 

Father Denneman moved his hands in his pocket, felt the letter in his pocket. His hand lingered. A few of the candles on the altar flickered out.

Father Denneman made his way to the confessional. The youth choir would be here in an hour or so to practice for the Christmas Cantata. Father Denneman would hold confession until then and, although he attended his duties faithfully, there had been no visitors in several weeks, which is why he spent most of his time sitting in the front pew, watching the sunset through the stations of the cross, pondering the causes and effects of the world that seemed to shrink around him.  

The door at the back of the church creaked open, and a woman entered.She walked slowly to the altar, lit a candle of her own, and turned towards the confession booth. 

“Um … hello?” 

“Hello.” 

“Bless me Father? For I have sinned? Is that right?” 

“More or less. Normally, I’d has how long it’s been since your last confession, but … “ 

“It’s been a while.” 

“I figured.” 

“I’m sorry, Father. I’m just so nervous. These old churches with their windows and old, carved wood. It makes me feel small.” 

“You know what I did this morning when i woke up?” 

“What?” 

“I walked out here with my bowl of Wheates, kicked my foot into one of the pews, and swore, right there in front of God and Jesus and everything.” 

She laughed a little. It was always nice to hear people laugh. Father Dennemen hadn’t heard much laughter outside his own in quite some time. 

“You know what happened after that?” 

“What?” 

“Nothing. God didn’t come down from on high and lecture me about swearing in church. And all that fancy carved wood is just the same as cheap plywood as far as my toe is concerned. It hurts the same when I kick it.” 

The woman laughed again. She was settling in. 

“So how long HAS it been since your last confession?”

“Not since I was a kid. Twenty-five years? Thirty?” 

“Why so long?” 

“We went all the time when I was a kid: Mom, Dad, my sister, and me. I did Catholic school and everything. But Dad left us when I was in fourth grade.” 

“I see.” 

“Mom tried to keep us going for a year or so, but that didn’t keep. After that, Sundays were just like Saturdays but with less cartoons.” 

“That happens a lot. When a marriage crumbles, it’s sometimes hard to hear God’s voice.” 

“Or he sounds hollow.” 

“That’s a bit pessimistic.” 

“Maybe. It’s what Mom used to say when her church friends asked why she wasn’t at mass. ‘Have you opened your heart to hear God’s voice?’ and Mom would say, ‘Yes, and that voice is a shadow of what it used to be, if it’s even there at all.’”

“And what about you? Where is God in your life?” 

“I don’t know. I’ve never seen God as someone who cared all that much about me.”

“You don’t think God cares about you? 

“I don’t see the point. All those prayers, all those sermons. God’s still up there, we’re still down here, and that’s that.” 

“You don’t believe?” 

“It’s not a question of belief. It’s just hard to interact with something – or someone – who isn’t there.” 

“Well, trust me, God believes…” 

“God believes in me?” Anger flashed in the woman’s voice. “Is that what you were going to say?” 

“Something like that, yes.” 

“I knew it. You holy-than-thou people are all the same.” The woman gathers her things and starts to stand up.

“What’s wrong?” 

“You think all people need a couple of bumpers sticker sayings and the occasional fish fry, and everything will be okay.” 

“I’m sorry.” 

“No. I’m sorry, Father. This was a mistake.” The woman moves to leave the confessional.

“You’re right,” Father Denneman speaks in a commanding voice. The woman stops.

“You’re right,” he says, this time barely above a whisper. “It was the wrong thing to say. I’m sorry. Can you forgive me?” 

The woman stands in her spot for a long, quiet, moment. 

“Yes,” she says, and sits down again. 

“Thank you,” Father Denneman says. 

The youth choir has arrived. Father Denneman and the woman can hear the choir bleachers expanding, papers rustling, the quiet chatter of children as they wait for the leader to give them instruction. 

“Okay, everyone. Settle down. It’s time to start working. Line up and let’s start with warm up exercises.” 

“I’m sorry,” Father Denneman says again. “You do this kind of thing long enough, you fall into a rut.” He pats his right hand over his pants pocket and looks down. “Sometimes, mistakes become reflexive. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” the woman says. Then, in a lighter tone, “Things in the church must have changed since I was last here if the clergy are confessing to US, now.” 

“You should see the sisters’ Friday night dance party when they think no one is watching.” 

They both laugh. Long and loud. The kind of laughter that brings tears, despite your best efforts to keep it at bay. The youth choir stopped singing as they laughed. It’s not often you hear that sort of thing coming out of a confessional. sophos

“That was good,” Father Denneman says. “I haven’t laughed like that in a long time.” 

“Me neither,” the woman says, and she grows quiet. 

“Has something taken away your laughter, too?”

“My son,” she says. 

“Kids can be difficult, sometimes.” 

“He was never like that,” the woman said. “From the moment he was born, he was just the happiest kid. A face full of joy, my mom, his Grandma used to say. Smart, too. When he was in third grade, he won his classroom spelling bee and got to compete in the larger, school-wide spelling bee. That was third through eighth grade.” 

“He was so excited! I told him not to get his hopes up. He was competing against seventh and eighth graders. He probably wouldn’t last long. But that didn’t stop him. He studied those practice words till he knew all of them and, on the day of the school-wide bee, he just kept spelling everything right until it was him and two eighth graders.” 

“That’s impressive!” Father Denneman said. 

“Yeah. Parents and teachers kept saying ‘Who’s that kid?’ and I’d respond, ‘He’s my son!’” 

They laughed together. 

“They eventually ran out of practice words. He got a few more right, but crashed and burned on the word PULCHRITUDINOUS.” 

“What?” 

“I know, right? What third grader knows how to spell that?” 

“Or anyone. I’ve never even  heard of it.”

“Me, neither. It means ‘displaying physical beauty.’ I had to look it up.He still go third place, though. Both of the eighth graders told him they’d have missed it, too. “He was always like that, though. Just smiling his way through all kinds of challenges.” 

“Until..”

“The lockdowns were hard on him. He was always such an outgoing kid. He NEEDED other people. He couldn’t handle being stuck inside all the time, not being able to see anyone. A few months into online school and he just stopped doing work. He’d hide in his bedroom. He stopped eating.” 

“They opened the schools up again midway through last year, but he was a different person. That smile was gone. HIs teachers said he stayed in the back row, never speaking. We tried to get him into some activities. Soccer. Basketball. Art Club. None of it worked.” 

“I came home from work early this past May. I’d bought him his favorite ice cream. I wanted to see if he’d go for a walk with me down to the lake nearby. The house was quiet when I walked in. I called his name, but he didn’t answer.”

“When I went into his room, I found him in his closet. He’d hung himself with a belt.” 

“I’m so sorry. You’ve been through a lot.”

 “Thank you, father . . . but . . .”

“What?”

“That’s just something people say. They tell you they’re sorry and they’re trying to be nice, but I can’t help but think that what they’re really saying is ‘better you than me.’”

“I get that impression, too, sometimes.”

“Have you ever been through that?”

“I see it at funerals a lot. And some weddings, too, but I saw it firsthand a couple of years ago when my mother died.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. She was on her way to the library one day when another car ran a red light and broadsided her. She died almost instantly. People were sympathetic. Like you said, I think they were as genuine as they could be, but when I saw people laughing and joking over the veggie tray at her wake, I got a sick feeling in my stomach, and I had to leave.”

“Right, like you can’t stand to be around anyone.”

“I think it’s part of the natural grieving process. You need some time alone; otherwise it’s too easy to dull the pain with distractions. You never have to face it and you never move on.

“I tried to move on. I kept it together through the funeral; through everyone bringing over their stinking casseroles, asking their same stupud questions; through the few weeks I took off work. I’ve kept it together up till now. But, with the holidays coming, I just can’t. I can’t.”

“It’s okay if…” 

“No, It’s not!” she shoots back to him, the anger welling up again. “It’s not. It’s my fault.”

“No.” 

“Yes. I knew something was wrong. I knew. Me.” 

“Everyone we knew was losing their jobs, and my husband was preoccupied with keeping his so we could stay afloat. His teachers couldn’t see anything through a computer screen. His friends were all weirded out from that much time in lockdown. But I’m his mother. I SAW what was happening and I just kept telling myself ‘It will be fine once school starts again, once things open up, once he can see his friends again. But it wasn’t. I knew it and I did nothing. I am a monster. I should have done better. There is no forgiveness for something like this.” 

“… Excuse me, Father.” The woman steps out of the confessional, and Father Denneman can hear her crying. He puts his hand over his pocket, where the letter he never wanted to read has been waiting for him for several weeks. 

He steps out of the confessional. She sees him and starts to walk away. 

“Me, too,” Father Denneman says. The woman stops, turns, and faces him. 

“What?” 

“You think you’re a monster. So am I. Me, too.” He pulls out the letter. “This is from my father. I haven’t spoken to him in twenty years. I was a fresh-faced priest at the time, learning the ropes at a big church up north. One day, he walks into my confessional and tells me needs absolution. He says he’s leaving my mother, because he fell in love with some woman from work. I was furious. I screamed at him, called him all sorts of names, told him to get out and never come back.” 

Father Denneman paused. “The looks on the faces of some of the folks waiting their turn to confess were somewhat less than contrite when they saw my display.” 

“I cut him off after that. My father was my rock. He taught me everything I knew, including my faith and love for God. To me, it seemed like a betrayal I could never forgive; a betrayal God could never forgive.” 

“Dad tried calling, but I never answered. He tried writing letters, but I would throw them away, unread. He even tried stopping in once or twice, but i was always unavailable. I simply cut him out of my life.” 

“My sister called a little over a year ago to say he’d be diagnosed with cancer. Lung cancer, which makes sense since he’d smoked like a chimney his whole life. She said Dad had been asking if I could come around to visit. I almost did, a time or two, but then I remembered him sauntering into my confessional, telling me his news like he was letting me know he’d bought a new car or found a nice vacation spot in New England. I got mad and said no.” 

“He died a little over a month ago. I did not attend the funeral. Only now, it was out of shame, not agner. I knew all along I needed to forgive him. All he ever wanted was for me to love him back. But I didn’t, and I couldn’t show up there in front of everyone and let them know how big a failure I was.” 

“A few weeks ago, I got this letter from him.” Father Denneman opened the letter, and began to read. 

“My Dear Son. This will probably be the last letter I write. I hope it finds you well. I want you to know two things. First, that I never stopped loving you, no matter how far apart we have been. And second, that I understand your silence and accept it. I regret leaving your mother, I regret not having tried harder with her or with you, and I regret all the lost years you and I never got to share. That’s my doing. God has forgiven me for it, and I hope you can one day forgive me as well. With Never-ending Love, Dad.”

Father Denneman put the letter back into his pocket. The youth choir began singing the first cross of Ave Maria. 

“I don’t think you are a monster, but if you are, how much more of a monster am I?” 

The woman stepped forward, put her hand on Father Denneman’s shoulder, and motioned toward the choir. 

“They sound beautiful.” 

“They do now. You should have heard them three weeks ago.” 

The both laughed. 

“What is your name, Father?” 

“Tim. What is yours?”

“Anne.” 

“Hello, Anne.” 

“Hello, Tim.” 

“You are not a monster, Anne.” 

“Neither are you, Tim.” 

“Thank you.” 

“Thank you.” 

Tim and Anne stood next to the confessional at Our Lady of the Rosary church and listened to the youth choir sing.

************************************************************

If you have the time, please check out the sites for ALL of the Fondue Writers: Joseph CourtemancheJamie D. GreeningKathy KexelDerek Alan ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul Bennet. If you like what you see, why not pick up a few copies of their books? It covers the cost of everything, and it gives us hope in those long, dark nights when we’re dreaming up new stories, wondering if the monsters in our heads matter only to us, or if one day they might come out of the dark to terrify you as well.

If you’d like what you see, you might also check out our first collection of short stories, The Covid Quarantine Catina, written during the first months of the Covid-19 lockdowns. It’s available in Kindle, Paperback, and Audio formats.

Rob Cely will be here on Wednesday with his next story. Until then, remember those you love, celebrate the people in your live and, as always, don’t break anything.

The Elevator

Samantha Pederson ended her workday the same way she always did. She closed her laptop, leaned back into her thick, leather chair, and squinted through the blinds of her office window to see the dark red ball of a sun dancing just over the horizon, painting fire into the western sky. 

Just then, her watch beeped a message. It was Brian, her ex-husband.

“ETA? Trick-or-Treating starts in 5.” 

“Dammit!” 

Samantha slammed her laptop into her bag and rushed into the hallway toward the elevator. She’s been so preoccupied with the latest production reports, she lost track of time. Again. 

If she hurried, she might still make it to go trick-or-treating with Brian, and her daughter, Sarah. Samantha had missed two piano recitals and one Girl Scout meeting just this month. Sarah never complained. The disappointment in her eyes was all that needed saying. 

Samantha’s watch beeped again. This time it was a picture of Sarah wearing the pink princess  gown she’d bought last week: the expensive one with the lacy frill.  It arrived, along with a tiara and a wand they didn’t order, two days ago with several other Amazon purchases, and Sarah had worn it nonstop ever since, prancing down the hallways, twirling in circles, and giggling as the flounce trailed outward in her wake. 

Or so Samantha had been told. This was her ex-husband’s week with their daughter, so she heard about it in fits and spurts through squeals of glee in the evening phone calls. 

It was hard not to be jealous. Brian Upchurch and Samantha Pederson (formerly Upchurch) did their best to build a stable, loving environment for their daughter, but where Brian seemed to revel in the mundaneness of everyday parenting, the little things like dancing in the hallway, pretending monsters lived under the couch, and singing children’s songs at full volume so the whole neighborhood could hear always seemed, to Samantha at least, like cleaning out the fridge or mopping the floor; a chore one has to complete, but a chore she wished she could put off more often than not. 

As a result, Sarah seemed to giggle louder when she was with her father, laugh harder, play with more reckless abandon. That gulf only widened after the divorce. Sarah seemed to slog through her nights with her mother, then float away on a magic carpet when Brian came to pick her up.

Samantha loved her daughter. She wished she could inspire the same joie de vivre which emanated effortlessly from her ex’s every pore. Brian was in sales. Part of his job meant putting other people at least, making them feel excited, wanted, needed. Samantha was Project Management for Hrbek Financial Services. When doctors had trouble getting patients to sleep with anesthetic, they talked about her work. And, besides, Brain was just more outgoing. She could never command the presence of a room the way he could. It was a simple fact of life Samantha would just have to live with. And that, as her father used to say when he wanted to close an uncomfortable conversation, was all she wrote. 

The elevator dinged. The doors opened. Sarah stepped in, pressed the button for the first floor, and waited for the doors to close. She could imagine Sarah twirling in her dress, smiling at her, raising her arms to be held. Another year, and she’d be too big to pick up. And what was after that? MIddle School? Puberty? Graduation? It used to seem so far off, but watching videos of her daughter twirling made Samantha wonder if maybe Einstein was right, that time is relative, and it speeds up when you’re not watching it. Schroedinger’s clocks ticking away at a breakneck pace toward the end of all things. 

Just as the elevator door was about to close, a hand reached through to stop if. Following the hand inward was an older man in a slick white suit and a neatly trimmed, grey beard. He looked like Santa Claus if Santa had switched from making toys to managing hedge funds and hostile corporate acquisitions.

He stood in the entranceway, holding the elevator door open. 

“Pardon me, M’am, but where is Accounting on this floor? I’ve got some documents I need to drop off and I’d hate to hold it till Monday.” 

“Well I doubt anyone’s left in Accounting. I think you and me are the only one’s here.” 

“And why are you here so late, little miss? No family to rush home to? No kids going out to beg the neighbors for candy?” 

“Excuse me?” Samantha said, clipping her words so tight it’s a wonder they even got out. 

“Oh! I’m sorry,” the old man said, stepping back and putting his hand on his chest. “Where are my manners? I was just hoping for a bit of light baner to end the workday. I didn’t mean to touch a nerve.” 

Samantha relaxed. “It’s okay. I do have a daughter to get home to, by the way.” 

“Oh?” 

“Yes. We’re going trick or treating as soon as I get there. She’s dressed as a princess this year. Last year, she was a ninja. She tried to kick everyone on the street. This year, she’s growing into her own.” 

“Oh, Dear! I bet that will be wonderful. I do hope you make it home in time.” 

Samantha was surprised. She wasn’t usually this forthcoming, especially with strangers. And this man was strange, with his bright white suit and unblinking eyes she could feel staring at her, even when she looked away. 

She glanced at her watch.. “Are you coming in or not?”

“Oh my. I misplaced my manners yet again. A thousand apologies, young miss.” 

The old man stepped inside, and studied the panel of buttons.

“Let’s see,” he paused, taking his time. “Number three. There she is!” The old man pressed the button, stepped back to admire his work, and then turned to smile at Samantha. “I think we’re ready to go.” 


The elevator began its descent.  Samantha rested her head against the back wall and closed her eyes. Visions of her daughter began to fill her mind: Sarah dancing in the late autumn air as her bag grew fatter throughout the night, Sarah laughing at the throng of masked children making their way around the neighborhood, Sarah smiling as she twirled into her arms to give her a hug. 

“You know, I think little Sarah will be quite a darling in that dress of hers,” the old man said. 

“How did you…” Samantha began. “I never told you her name.” 

The old man’s eyes stayed on Samantha. She stepped backward, put her bag in front of her, and tried to look away. But his gaze remained, waiting for the right moment. 

The right moment to what? Samantha thought, but she didn’t know. 

The elevator lurched to one side. Sarah screamed as metal scraped against metal and the left elevator door buckled. The box dropped suddenly, then slammed to a stop at a slight angle. The box light went out and the emergency light came on. The flood light flipped between ten and eleven. 

The man in white still stared at Samantha with his unblinking eyes. He took a step closer, arms outstretched toward her. Samantha screamed again and swung her bag. He dodged her swing and stepped back, still staring. Still not blinking. 

“Shhh shhh Shh. Let’s not have any of that, dearie. You’ll make this much worse than it has to be.” 

Samantha puffed deep breaths of air, almost hyperventilating.

“Make WHAT worse than it has to be?” 

“Your choice, my dear.” 

“What choice? Who are you?” 

The man in white put his hand to his head and smiled.

“I do say. My manners have completely escaped me this evening. I hope you will accept my apology yet again. My name is Lucifer, Satan. Otherwise known as The Devil, although you might know me as Beelzebub, Old Scratch, or even ‘Son of Perdition.’” 

“Son of Per…what?” 

“Perdition. And I’m with you, Miss Upchurch. I cherish the old names.” 

“You’re The Devil.” 

“Yes.” 

“Satan.” 

“Yes.” 

“You’re crazy.” 

“One hundred percent, m’am, but that doesn’t mean I’m not who I say I am.” 

“How do I know you’re not just some crazy person trying to take advantage of me?” 

The elevator slipped downward. The deafening sound of metal on metal was almost too much to bear. It sounded like screams. The man in white stood in the center of the elevator. Still smiling. Still not blinking. 

“Alright! Alright!” Samantha screamed. “Stop!” 

The elevator stopped.

“As to your second question,” the man in white began again, “you, my dear miss Uphurch, have been granted a gift.” 

“A gift?” 

“Yes. An old friend of mine used to say that most men lead lives of quiet desperation. Same goes for women, too, I’m afraid, because you’ve been desperate for many years, Miss Upchurch.” 

“My name is Pederson. Samantha Pederson. I’m divorced.” 

“Yes, I know. You moved your family here from Ohio, chasing a prestigious job, then divorced your husband a few months later. You told him things just weren’t working out, right?” 

“They weren’t.” 

“Did you tell him about your string of lovers? How your late nights at the office often had nothing to do with actual work?” 

“I … no.” 

“Does he know that you had been fired from your last job, and that this last offer came at just the right moment, enabling you to hide everything from him as you fled to this company and town in Milwaukee?” 

“No.” 

“Are you aware that your ex-husband still loves you, and do you use that fact to structure a custody arrangement where you share equal time with your daughter, but he pays child support?” 

Samantha lowered her head. 

“That’s true,” she said. “That’s all true.” 

“Well, then, Miss Upchurch. It seems there is a great deal about which you seem to be desperate.” 

Samantha said nothing. 

“And now you have a choice. See these two buttons here?” The man in white motioned to the elevator panel, where two buttons on the bottom glowed. 

“The first one, the one that says ‘Lobby,’ is your ticket home. Press that one, and our little Doom buggy here will right itself and continue it’s merry little path all the way to the bottom floor, where you will walk out, get into your car and continue your life of desperation. I’ll even give you an extra thirty minutes to make it home on time, because I’m such a nice guy.”

“And the other?” Samantha asked. 

“The other button …” the man in white began, then the metal slipped and the elevator lurched downward.

“With the other button, things get messy. 

“Obviously, I want to choose the first button,” Samantha said. 

“Ah, but there are extra considerations.” 

“What kind of considerations?”

“Press the second button and it will forever affect your family, Miss Upchurch. Come. Take a look.” 

The man in white pulled out his phone and played a video of the Channel 4 News showing firefighters and first responders clearing away rubble and putting out fires at the Hrbek financial building. Samantha watched as paramedics wheeled her body out on a stretcher, covered in a sheet. Brian was there. So was Sarah. They both cried. 

“A few weeks later, they will learn the truth of your past,” the man in white said, as the paramedics stopped briefly in front of the ambulance, and then loaded her body in side. 

“Their vision of you will change. Their hearts will break.” The devil put his phone away and lowered his head, placing his hands together at his front in a somber pose. “But, your daughter and your husband will know that you truly loved them. That smile you imagined your daughter having as she twirled into your arms? That’s the smile she will have every time she thinks of you for the rest of her life.” 

“And if I press the first?” 

“You will walk away. Your hidden life will remain hidden. Easy Peasy.”

“What’s the catch?” 

“The next person to step into my elevator will meet your fate.” 

“Who?” 

“Could be anyone. Could be anywhere. MAybe someone you know. Maybe not. Like I said, Life deposits you in many different places. Same deal with my conveyance of destiny here.”  

“And my daughter. What will she think of me?” 

“Hard to say.” The man in white put his hands in his pockets. “Probably similar to what she thinks now. Only her laughter with her father will likely increase, and you will never truly know how she feels about you.” 

Samantha looked at the buttons. 

“How old are you, Miss Upchurch?” 

“Thirty eight.” 

“That’s far too young to die, if you ask me.” 

“The next person could be younger.” 

“True.” 

“And has my life to this point really something you would call ‘living?’” 

“You seem to have enjoyed it.” 

Sarah continued staring at the buttons. 

“What happens if I don’t choose? What then?” 

“Oh, I don’t think that’s a wise decision, Miss Upchurch.” 

The elevator slipped a few more inches. Loud metal filled the air. The floor designation became a solid ten, then began flipping from ten to nine. 

“There isn’t much time,” the man in white said. “I can hold us here for a while, but not forever.” 

Samantha flashed her own life through her eyes. All the lies. All the cheating. Her ex-husband’s deflated face when she told him she wanted a divorce. It was possible to build something out of that, right? 

She thought of the next person in the elevator. Would they even HAVE a choice? Or would they just fall to their death. So sorry. Game over. That’s all she wrote. 

Samantha thought of Sarah. She couldn’t imagine her daughter growing up without a mother. But that smile of hers. It had already begun to fade. How much more could it fade throughout the years if she continued hiding her past? 

“Well, Miss Upchurch. I hate to say it, but we’ve reached a decision point. It’s time to eiter cross the Rubicon or let the chips fall where they may. What are we doing?” 

Samantha stepped forward and pressed a button.

*** *** *** *** 

News vans from several Milwaukee television stations surrounded the first floor of the Hrbek Financial building. The firefighters put out the flames as paramedics dug through the rubble of twisted wires and metal. 

“A body!” one of them said. “I’ve found a body!” 

They rushed to the back of the twisted heap, throwing away piles of the destroyed wreck. 

“She’s alive!” they shouted. “Quick. Help!” 

They paramedics lifted Samantha Pederson (formerly Upchurch) onto a stretcher and covered her with a sheet to protect her wounds from debris in the air. 

“Samantha? Samantha, can you hear me?” 

“He never said I’d die,” she said, coughing the dust out of her lungs in a way that sounded like laughing.. “He said I’d fall, but he never said I’d die.” 

“You’re going to be okay, Samantha. Everything’s going to be fine.” 

The paramedics wheeled her to the ambulance, where Brian and Sarah waited. 

“I don’t think I’m going to make it in time for trick-or-treating,” Samantha said. “I lost the thirty minutes” 

“What is she saying?” Brian Upchurch asked the paramedics. 

“She’s delusional, probably in a lot of pain.” 

“We have some talking to do when all of this is over, Brian.” 

“Mommy!” Sarah said, reaching out from her position in her father’s arms to hug Samantha. 

“Don’t cry, sweetie, I’m going to be okay. I’m really going to be okay!” 

“I love you, Mommy!” 

“I love you, too.” 

**** **** **** ****

The following year, Sarah dressed as a zombie for Halloween. She’d painted the face on herself, and everyone remarked how realistic it looked. Samantha Pederson, who went trick or treating with her that year, laughed. 

The year afterward, Brian and Samantha Upchurch watched as their daughter, who dressed as an Olympic Gymnast who had been decapitated by the uneven bars and was out for revenge, went trick or treating with her friends, each of whom wore similarly grotesque, Olympic costumes. All of them had been designed by Sarah. 

She and Brian stole a kiss when the kids weren’t looking, and Samantha thought maybe it was possible to build a life from the mess she had created. So long as she was honest. 

For many years afterward, Samantha caught glimpses of the man in white. Once at a Milwaukee Brewers game, eating a hot dog. Another time at a company outing in Madison, sitting at the end of the bar, drinking what looked like a Mint Julep. 

She was never sure. 

She never saw him up again face to face, however, and for the rest of Samantha Upchurch’s days, she took the stairs whenever possible. 

********************************************************************************************

Thanks for joining us on this wild Halloween ride.

If you have the time, please check out the sites for ALL of the Fondue Writers: Joseph CourtemancheJamie D. GreeningKathy KexelDerek Alan ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul Bennet. If you like what you see, why not pick up a few copies of their books? It covers the cost of everything, and it gives us hope in those long, dark nights when we’re dreaming up new stories, wondering if the monsters in our heads matter only to us, or if one day they might come out of the dark to terrify you as well.

If you’d like what you see, you might also check out our first collection of short stories, The Covid Quarantine Catina, written during the first months of the Covid-19 lockdowns. It’s available in Kindle, Paperback, and Audio formats.

We will be back in a few weeks to bring you some Thanksgiving stories. Until then, always tell the truth, try to avoid elevators, and do your best not to break anything.