Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

A little festive story I wrote for my two daughters. Enjoy!

It was the night before Christmas and all through the castle people were getting ready for the big day. Outside, snow was falling. The castle courtyard was full of wagons piled high with food for the coming feast. Oxen stood impatiently scratching the cobblestones with their hooves. They breathed out great clouds of steam into the freezing cold air.
Inside the castle, Princess Erin and Princess Carys were playing hide and seek. Both girls were dressed in their special Christmas nightgowns.
‘My turn to hide,’ Carys said.
Erin turned to face the wall and began to count.
‘One, two, three…’
Carys ran off down the corridor. The castle was full of passageways and rooms to hide in. Flickering torches lit her way as she padded down the corridors. Her bare feet made soft slapping sounds on the stone floor. Carys was thinking hard. The problem was that her sister knew all the best hiding places and could usually find her without too much trouble. Just once Carys wanted to beat Erin. She could still hear her counting from behind her.
‘Sixty seven, sixty eight, sixty nine…’
She ducked into an open doorway. The room was filled with large colourful tapestries that hung from ceiling to floor. Carys looked at them for a moment. She couldn’t remember being in this room before. She pulled one of the tapestries away from the wall and slipped behind it. The bare brickwork was cold on her back and she wriggled her shoulders trying to get comfortable. As she wriggled she pressed against one brick that was a little different to the others. She heard a clanking sound and the scrape of stone on stone as a secret door opened behind her. She fell backwards into darkness. Moments later the secret doorway closed again, sealing her behind the wall.
It took a minute for her eyes to adjust to the dark. Once she realised what had happened, Carys was not afraid. The castle was ancient and riddled with tunnels and secret places put there when the castle was built way back in her great, great, great Grandfather’s time. She guessed that she had found a new passageway and smiled. If she could keep it a secret from Erin she was sure to win at hide and seek more often. She felt around for the switch to open the door again. Her small fingers traced the patterns of the brickwork. The stone was smooth beneath her fingertips. She pushed and prodded but couldn’t locate the switch. She heard the sound of footsteps coming into the room and froze.
‘Carys? Are you in here?’
Carys was torn. If she said nothing, Erin would go looking somewhere else and she would win the game. On the other hand, if she couldn’t find the switch she could be stuck behind the walls for a long time, maybe even forever!
‘Erin!’ she shouted.
‘Carys? Where are you?’
‘Over here. I found a secret passage.’
Erin walked over to the wall. She pulled the tapestry away and started pressing bricks. After a few tries she found the right one.
‘There you are. I can’t believe you found a hidden passageway all by yourself. We have to see where it goes.’ She stepped forward into the doorway.
‘No, Erin, wait…’
The door trundled closed again. Now there were two princesses behind the wall.
‘Oh no,’ Carys said.
Erin looked at her. ‘What’s the panic? All we need to do is find the switch that opens the door again.’
‘That’s what I was trying to tell you – I can’t find it!’
‘Oh,’ said Erin. She could feel her cheeks burning with embarrassment.
‘What are we going to do?’ Carys asked.
‘Well, the passage must lead somewhere – there’s bound to be another door along the way. We’ll just follow it and see where we end up.’ She took Carys’ hand.
‘Come on,’ she said.

An hour later the two princesses were hopelessly lost. The darkness made it almost impossible to figure out which direction they were going in and more than once Erin was convinced that they were going around in circles.
‘I don’t like this,’ Carys said. ‘What if we can’t ever get out?’
‘Don’t be silly Carys. Of course we’ll get out.’
However, after another hour, even Erin was starting to worry that her sister was right. She started to think about what might happen if they stayed stuck behind the walls forever. She imagined people years from now getting into the passages and finding their dust covered bones. She shivered and tried to push the picture out of her head. She felt her way around another corner and stopped.
‘Look,’ she said. ‘There’s a light on the floor ahead.’
‘Where do you think it’s coming from?’
‘I don’t know – let’s find out.’
The light was above Erin’s head. She tried to jump up and couldn’t quite reach.
‘Lift me up,’ Carys said.
Erin put out her hands for Carys to step on.
‘What can you see?’ she asked.
‘I think we’re behind one of the paintings in the great hall. I’m looking out through its eyes.’
‘Is there anyone there?’
‘I can’t see anyone – they must have all gone to bed. We have been gone a long time after all.’ She climbed back down.
‘Do you think anyone is looking for us?’
Erin shrugged.
‘Maybe, but everyone has been so busy running around getting ready for Christmas they might not even have noticed.’
‘If Mum and Dad were here they would have noticed,’ Carys said. ‘I miss them so much.’
‘I know,’ Erin said, patting Carys on the shoulder. ‘They will be back from our Uncle’s tomorrow and we’ll have figured out a way to get out of here by then.’
‘Do you promise?’
‘I promise.’ She pulled Carys close for a hug and stroked her hair until at last she fell asleep. Erin sat in the dark and listened to the soft sound of her sister’s snoring. She was starting to doze herself when she heard a new sound coming from through the wall.
‘Wake up,’ she whispered to Carys.
‘What is it?’
‘I don’t know – you need to get up and have a look.’ She held out her hands. Carys stepped up and let Erin lift her to the eye holes.
‘There’s something sticking out of the fireplace,’ Carys said. ‘I think it’s a boot.’
‘A boot?’ Erin said. ‘What do you mean?’
‘The kind you put on your feet silly.’ She peered again through the holes. ‘There’s another one. I think someone is climbing down the Chimney!’
Carys put her eyes against the back of the painting again. The boots were shiny and black and trimmed with white fur. Silver buckles glinted in the torchlight. Above the tops of the boots she could see deep red trousers starting to come out. To her amazement the legs seemed to bend and stretch at an impossible angle as a figure emerged from the fireplace.
‘It’s Father Christmas!’ Carys said, almost falling from Erin’s shoulders in her excitement.
The red robed figure froze.
‘Who said that?’ He looked around the room to see where the voice was coming from.
‘It’s Princess Erin and Princess Carys. We were playing hide and seek and got lost in a secret passage and now we can’t get out,’ Erin said.
Father Christmas chuckled to himself. ‘Deary me,’ he said. ‘Two little Princesses in a pretty pickle and no mistake.’ He put down his heavy sack by the side of the fire and walked over to the painting. Carys saw a tiny glimpse of all the toys hidden inside the sack before he pulled it closed.
‘Hmm,’ said Father Christmas stroking his thick white beard. He began rummaging in the pockets of his robe. ‘Now where did I put that thing?’ he said. ‘Ah, here it is,’ he said pulling out a black gloved hand.
‘What is it?’ Erin asked. It was very frustrating not being able to see.
‘It’s a key,’ Carys said. ‘But Father Christmas, there isn’t a door here. We looked and looked and couldn’t see one.’
Father Christmas smiled at the little Princess peeking at him.
‘This isn’t just any old key, young lady. This is a very special key. It was given to me by a Wizard a long time ago. I normally use it to get into places with no chimney.’
He waved the key at the painting.
Both girls felt a very curious sensation. To Carys it looked as if the painting had grown thinner, almost thin enough to see through. And then suddenly both girls were standing in the room blinking in the light.
‘Well now, there we are and don’t you look a sight? We had best get you both cleaned up before your mother sees you.’ He began searching his pockets again until he pulled out a large handkerchief. He dabbed at both the girls’ faces, wiping away the worst of the dirt. ‘There now, that’s a lot better. You look like little ladies again instead of two dirty chimney sweeps. Now we have a problem – I am seriously behind schedule in delivering my gifts after rescuing you. I’m going to need some help to get done and back to the North Pole before sunrise.’
‘We can help you, can’t we Carys?’ said Erin. Carys nodded.
‘That’s a wonderful idea.’ He clapped his hands together. ‘Let’s get to work right away. I will give you both some presents to deliver around the castle and that should get me back on track.’ He went over to his sack and began pulling out boxes and parcels. Before long, both girls were laden with gifts.
‘You will need to be quiet and quick,’ he said. ‘Here, you should take this as well.’ He pulled a small envelope from his pocket.
‘What’s that? Carys said.
‘It’s in case of emergencies.’ He opened up the envelope and showed the girls what was inside. ‘If anyone should see you, blow the magic dust in this envelope into their face. It will make them forget that they ever saw you.’ He handed the envelope to Erin. ‘Now off you go. I will meet you here again when you are done.’ He raised his hand, ‘Oh, and girls, one more thing before you go.’
‘What’s that?’ Erin said.
Father Christmas smiled. ‘No more secret passages – I don’t want to have to rescue you again.’
‘We promise,’ both girls said.

The two Princesses scampered out of the Great Hall with their armloads of presents. They ran all through the castle leaving gifts wherever they stopped. They left a toy drum and a puzzle for the Cook’s two little boys, gloves and scarves for the serving girls, toy soldiers for the Royal Falconer’s son and two dolls with pretty dresses for the Blacksmith’s daughter. By the time they returned to the great hall both girls felt like they had covered every inch of the castle.
‘Ah, there you are,’ Father Christmas said. ‘You’ve been a fine pair of helpers – I’d say you were right at the very top of my nice list for all the work you’ve done tonight. In fact, I think you both deserve an extra special treat.’
Erin and Carys looked at each other in amazement.
‘Take my hand,’ Father Christmas said. ‘I want to show you something.’
The princesses touched his hand. Moments later they were standing on the roof of the great hall beside a large wooden sleigh with eight graceful looking Reindeer attached.
‘Can we touch them?’ Erin asked.
‘You can do better than that,’ Father Christmas said. ‘They’re going to need a lot of energy to get me back to the North Pole so perhaps you and your sister can help me feed them.’ He reached inside the sleigh and brought out two sacks. ‘Here you go,’ he said. ‘Carrots and oats – just the thing to get them flying full speed ahead.’
Erin and Carys rushed over to take the food and started to hand it out to the hungry reindeer.
‘All done,’ Carys said as she handed Father Christmas her empty sack.
‘Well done,’ he said. ‘I’ll be home in no time at all now.’
‘You’re welcome,’ Erin said. ‘Do you have to go now?’
Father Christmas nodded. ‘Yes, but first I must make sure that two very sleepy princesses are tucked up safely in bed before I go.’
He stretched out his hands once more. The two princesses touched his gloves and found themselves transported to their bed chamber. Erin and Carys climbed into their bunk beds and pulled the covers up to their chins. Father Christmas turned and waved to them both.
‘Merry Christmas girls,’ he said.
And with that, he disappeared. Erin could feel her bed starting to get cosy and her eyelids started to droop. Just before she fell asleep she thought that she could hear the sound of sleigh bells jingling off in the distance.

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ebook chart2Well friends and neighbours, Christmas Night of the Living Dead has finished it’s launch period. After five days I have been astonished to see how well it did considering it was mostly written as a fun thing to share with friends and seperate from my “proper” writing.

The story came out on Tuesday. I duly posted links on my facebook wall and in the Kindle forums letting everyone know that there was a free Christmas story going a begging. I sat back expecting a bit of a rush as my friends and family dutifully downloaded it and then a dribble of downloads from curious passer’s by…

As Tuesday turned into Wendesday it was clear something different was happening. Every time I checked the sales reports more copies had gone. I’d put my other e-books on promotion as well and a few of those were shifting as well but the new story was flying! I checked in and found that I’d made it up to number 30 in the top 100 free e-books on Amazon.com in the Humour and Horror categories and was ranked at number 474 overall out of all the free ebooks! B y today I was number 14 – one place above the kindle edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein! In total 1167 copies of the story were downloaded.

Of course, now the free promotion has ended the downloads have come to a complete halt, but out there in the digitial domain there are now over 1000 potential readers for the next thing I publish. From little acorns…

cover concept version 2

After a bit of faffing around converting it to a Kindle Friendly format I am pleased to announce that this year’s Christmas story is here for you all to enjoy.

The plan has been to write a Christmas themed short story every year to give away to friends and family. Last year I put out Reindeer Dust which was my first foray into the world of electronic publishing. As usual I’ve opted for a non-traditional Christmas story – this time we have Elves and Zombies running amuck at the North Pole with typically gruesome consequences. Don’t worry though, it’s all a bit tongue in cheek – think more Shaun of the Dead than Walking Dead.

As usua, in keeping in the spirit of the season, I am giving it away for free. The story went live in the Kindle Store today but from tomorrow you will be able to download it for zilch. The promotion will last until Saturday the 22nd as I can only give it awy for a maximum of five days. If you don’t have a Kindle (and who knows, maybe Santa is bringing you one) you can always download the free Kindle Viewer app from Amazon which will allow you to still read it on your computer, ipad etc.

To keep you going until then I have also made all of my other e-books free from today until Friday.

Get them here:

Christmas Night of the Living Dead (UK)

Christmas Night of the Living Dead (USA)

Reindeer Dust (UK)

Reindeer Dust (USA)

When the Revolution Comes (UK)

When the Revolution Comes (USA)

Himself by the Seaside (UK)

Himself by the Seaside (USA)

If you like what you read, please, please, please leave a review telling people what you thought.

English: Little Red Riding Hood

English: Little Red Riding Hood (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While I was away on holiday,  the Shortbread Short Stories website launched their annual Halloween writing competition. I won last year with my flash fiction story “Trick or Treat“. I didn’t think I had any creative gas left in the tank after finishing two complete drafts (plus minor polishes) of my forthcoming Christmas ebook, “Christmas Night of the Living Dead” but as I sat at around two in the morning having just saved my work I felt compelled to start a new story. Once I started the words just seemed to pour out and before I knew it the clock had spun around to nearly four o’clock and President Obama was giving Mitt Romney a good doing in the last Presidential debate. In front of me were around 1,500 words of manuscript – pretty much the complete story. When I got back home on Friday I sat down and redrafted it and fired it off to the competition.

The brief for this year’s competition was to take a traditional fairytale and give it a supernatural twist. I’m not entirely convinced that I’ve met the criteria. What I have done is write a sort of tongue in cheek version of the familiar tale of Red Riding Hood. It remains to be seen if the story will be accepted but I was pretty pleased with the results regardless and I have copied the story below for your enjoyment…

Once upon a crime

‘So tell me again what happened?’ Henderson said putting down the phone.

Wolff rolled his eyes.

‘I already told you a dozen times,’ he said.

‘I know you did,’ Henderson said. ‘But I want to hear it again – just to check that I’ve got all the facts straight.’ He gave Wolff a disarming smile as if to say: I know this is ridiculous – but I’m just doing my job. ‘Indulge me.’

‘Okay, okay but after this either you charge me or let me go.’

‘It’s a deal.’

‘I was out for a walk in the forest, minding my own business…’

‘When was this exactly?’

Wolff shrugged. ‘Around eleven thirty I guess. I’d been doing some bits and pieces around the house and was planning on going out and getting some lunch.’

‘I see. Carry on.’

‘So as I was walking I see this kid.’

‘Uh-huh. Can you describe them?’

‘About twelve or thirteen I’d say and wearing one of those sweaters with the hoods all the kids seem to have these days. She was carrying this wicker basket over one arm and looking a bit shifty. Well, you know how things have been on the estate lately. I heard the Three Bears’ place got done over a few weeks ago – somebody smashed their place up and even ate the food right off their table – can you believe that?’

Henderson shook his head. ‘It’s a crazy mixed up world we live in alright.’ He made a few notes on his pad. ‘So what did you do?’

‘Well, I’m a very community minded person Mr Henderson – it was me that organised that benefit concert for the old woman who lives in the shoe and I’m always popping round to Mother Hubbard’s with a pot of soup so the old dear doesn’t starve.’

‘What was all that business with the Three Little Pigs all about?’

Wolff bristled. ‘That was just a big misunderstanding – we settled the matter amicably in the end and took out a joint case against the building firm who put those hovels up.’

Henderson raised his hands in a placatory gesture. ‘Just being thorough, Mr Wolff,’ he said.

‘Anyway, I goes over to the kid and I says “Where you off to then?” and she looks at me like something you’d scrape off your paw and says “none of your business you big hairy git.”’ Wolff sighed. ‘Kids today eh? You ask a perfectly reasonable question and get a mouthful of abuse in return.’

‘Tell me about it,’ Henderson said. ‘I’ve got two teenagers at home – never pay a blind bit of attention to anything me or their mother tells them.’

‘Well, I wasn’t standing for being fobbed off so I asked her again and threatened to give you lads a call so she finally gives in and gives me some cock and bull story about going to visit her old granny and that the basket has got some goodies in it for her. I’d finally gotten a good look at her by this time and I recognised her.’

‘And who was she?’

‘She’s one of those Riding kids. She’s got quite the name on the estate I can tell you, hangs around with that Little Boy Blue’s gang – nasty piece of work him. He’s supposed to have been the one that shoved poor old Humpty Dumpty over and put him in the Infirmary. So anyway, alarm bells are ringing in my head. I know the granny’s a bit dotty you see. So I tells her she best be running along. “Whatever fuzz face,” she says. I tell you Mr Henderson, it took all my self control not to give her a proper talking to at that point.’

‘Got a bit of temper have you Mr Wolff?’ Henderson asked innocently.

‘Are you trying to put words in my mouth?’ Wolff said.

‘That’s not my intention Mr Wolff – I just need to make sure that I’ve correctly established what was going on during this, uh, altercation. The girl does have a few bruises that need explaining.’

‘I never laid a finger on her, whatever she might have told you. My point is that nobody should have to put up with that kind of abuse. When I was a kid we had a bit of respect for grown ups.

‘Anyway, I was going to carry on and get my lunch but I kept thinking about that poor old woman and her horrid brat of a granddaughter. I know a short cut through the estate so I thought why don’t I pop over to granny’s house and check that everything’s ok? So that’s what I did.’

‘And what happened when you got to grandma’s house?’

‘Oh she’s such a lovely old dear, she invited me in for a cuppa and a chat and I told her about little Miss Riding Rude. “Oh I know,” she says. “She’s gone right off the rails since her mum and dad split up. What she needs a good short sharp shock to turn her around.” Well, as I said, I’m a very community minded person so I says to grandma – look here, why don’t I help you out and maybe get my own back a little bit at the same time. Well she loved the idea, she dug out some old clothes from the back of her wardrobe that she was planning on giving to charity and I put them on and go climb into the bed while Grandma nips off down the bingo for the afternoon session. Pretty soon I hear a banging on the door – of course, it’s the little madam herself.’

“Hey grandma, open the flipping’ door and let me in, it’s bloody freezing out here,” she says.

‘“Come in my dear,” I says. “Door’s open.”

‘So in she comes “Come a bit closer luv, I says, my poor old eyes can’t see as good as they used to you know.”

‘You would’ve thought I’d asked her to jump under a bus or something – “dunno why not grandma your eyes look pretty big to me.”

‘That’s just my reading glasses,’ I says, ‘They magnify things a bit – I think maybe I need to change my prescription. Come on and tell me what you’ve brought.”

‘Well sure enough the little brat had scoffed half the stuff she showed me in the forest. I was about to say something when she starts again.

“Jeez Grandma look at the state of your ears – you’ve got tons of hair growing out of them. We should get you one of those Fuzz Away gizmos for Christmas.”

‘“Listen dear,” I says. “You’ll be old and hairy as well one day and we’ll see if you’re so smart when the time comes. Anyway, come closer so your dear old granny can give you a kiss for bringing me a present.”

‘Did you kiss her?’ Henderson said.

Wolff looked aghast.

‘I most certainly did not,’ he said. ‘At that point she screws up her face and says, “Phew grandma, your breath is proper honking and your teeth look like they could use a good brush.”

‘That did it. Now I’m very particular about my personal grooming and I take good care of my teeth. I pulled off grandma’s bonnet and glasses and jumped out the bed.’

‘Did you touch her?’

‘On my mother I never laid a finger on her. She tripped over a table and banged her face on a lamp. “Ha! That’ll teach you,” I said. Of course, that’s when the waterworks started.’

“That’s it,” she says. “I’m off to get my dad. I’m going to tell him you tried to touch me up you furry freak. He’ll turn you into a nice rug for his flat.” And she scarpered off out the door.

‘I see,’ said Henderson.

‘Well, I didn’t know what to do Mr Henderson. I was only meant to be playing a little prank on the little rotter. I hadn’t meant for her to get hurt. Before I know what’s happening she comes back with her dad and half the estate shouting about how I’m some sort of cross-dressing pervert and how they should string me up from a lamp post.’ Wolff shook his head.

‘I can laugh about it now Mr Henderson but if your lads hadn’t shown up when they did I do believe you might have had a murder enquiry on your hands.’

Henderson silently agreed. He had read the statements from the arresting officers and Mr Wolff had been lucky the story had not had a grimmer conclusion. Apparently Riding Hood’s dad had been found with his hands around Wolff’s throat. It had taken a shot of taser before he would let go. An axe had also been found near the house. There were no useable prints on it so the charge would probably be aggravated assault rather than attempted murder. The only loose end had been the whereabouts of Grandma whose whereabouts had been a mystery until his phone call a few minutes earlier.

‘Well Mr Wolff, it would appear that today is your lucky day – one of our patrols called in to say that Grandma has been found. Apparently she won a few quid at the bingo and decided to get a few gins down her neck at the Derby and Joan club. She’s corroborated your story about colluding with you to play a prank on the kid to teach her a lesson.’

Wolff gave a sigh of relief. ‘Oh thank god for that. Does that mean I can go home now?’

Henderson pushed over his statement pad to Wolff. ‘I’ll just need you to sign this and then you’ll be free to go.’

Wolff left the station with an escort – it would take a few days for the furore to die down on the estate. Windows had been smashed and someone had already spray-painted the words “paedo” and “beast” on the gable of Wolff’s house.

‘All’s well that ends well then Guv?’ Constable Watson said as he left the custody suite. He was holding a case file in his hands. Once upon a time this had been a fairly easy patch to manage but these days the Fairy Tale Forest estate was a hot-bed of criminal activity.

‘A happy ending this time,’ Henderson agreed. ‘What have you go for me there?’

‘Local cobbler says some elves are trying to run a protection racket on him.’

Henderson took the folder, ready to begin another story.

Not being any good at drawing or painting I have to rely on good old Photoshop and stock pictures to come up with cover ideas.

The hard part of actually writing the story is pretty much done at this point and now I have to convert it into something ebook/Kindle friendly for you all. It’s been ages since I’ve done this – almost a year in fact, so I’ve had to rake in some fairly dusty corners of my brain to remember how to do these things.

Anyway, presented below is an attempt at a cover for this year’s Christmas story. Have a look and see what you think…

cover concept version 2