Saturday, December 14, 2013

A short story about an evil Santa Claus? Sure, why not?

After reading some fantastic short stories in atypical genres about Santa Claus, I decided to give it a whirl tonight.  The following is a dark horror fantasy-ish short story that may kill your holiday spirit.  These 1500 words are the product of 44 ounces of Mountain Dew and a mellow Saturday night.  I would love some feedback.  Thanks to @ginad129 and @the_j_hewitt for their inspiration.

True Love's Gift

A Holiday Horror Fantasy by Ken Curtis

This cannot be happening, Eli thought.  

Careful not to make any sound, he crept close to the window to look outside.  The freshly fallen snow reflected the light of the waxing moon, allowing him to see clearly the carnage.  He had heard the screams, the piercing cries of friends he had known his whole life, but he didn't want to believe it.  Looking out at the scarlet streaks of blood and the dismembered corpses, he could no longer deny the reality of the nightmare, a nightmare from which he could not hope to wake.

He knows when you're awake...

The line from the haunting nursery rhyme came unbidden to his mind.  Unbidden, he thought darkly. Unbidden like that rampaging demon and his frozen horde outside.

Slowly pulling away from the window, Eli creeped back to the bedroom where a terrified Teresa lay hidden under the bed with her arms wrapped protectingly around their child.  By luck, or divine providence, little Elise had not yet made a sound.

You better not cry...

Saying a silent prayer for their safety, he kept his attention on the sounds outside.  The screams seemed more distant, but Eli knew enough from the stories to know that did not mean they were safe.  Nicolas left no one alive.
Eli stood like a statue standing guard at the bedroom door.  A futile gesture, he knew, but he had  to do something.  What could one do against The Lord of the Frost Elves and his dark magic?  Dark Lord Nicolas, or Saint Nick as the villagers euphemized his name, reached the height of his power for the twelve days around the winter solstice.  For most of the year, Nicolas and his elves dwelt in isolation in their mysterious frozen northern kingdom.   But for those twelve days, Saint Nick and his elves had unnatural power.  Legends told of flying beasts that could land on a rooftop, allowing Saint Nick to creep into a house and slaughter innocents in their sleep.

He sees you when you're sleeping...

Eli repressed the urge to wretch.  He never believed those legends.  Like a fool he thought them no more than ghost stories.  Stories that mothers told to scare their children into obedience.

He knows if you've been bad or good...

What a sick way to rear a child, he thought.  Eli listened for more clues to the danger outside.  No screams, no beastly sounds.  Did that mean they had moved farther away or that they were on their way back? If only there was something he could do.  It had been just five days since the winter solstice, he could not hope to survive long enough for their power to wane on the twelfth day.

The Twelfth Day!  The thought hit him like an avalanche.  There was another nursery rhyme associated with the Dark Lord Nicolas, one that spoke of the twelve days of the solstice.  If the other rhyme was true, then perhaps...

Eli bowed his head and tugged at his hair as he desperately tried to recall the words of the rhyme.  The song spoke of twelve gifts, one for each day of the solstice.  He remembered something about swans, hens and a partridge.   What was the gift for the fifth day?

Five Golden Rings!

Eli looked down at his left hand where he wore his golden wedding band, and for the first time that dreadful night felt hope.  He creeped closer to the bed where Teresa lay.

"Love!"  He whispered urgently.  "Give me your wedding ring!"

Teresa looked blankly at him from her hiding spot.  "Hurry!"  he hissed.  Grateful that she didn't delay by questioning him, Eli watched nervously while she slowly unfolded her arms from little Elise and took off her golden ring and passed it to him.

Eli rose and moved to their dresser as quickly and quietly as he could.  He found Teresa's jewelry box, but couldn't see well enough to find anything.  He fumbled through the trinkets blindly trying to find something that could help him.

If only there was more light!

He took the box and tiptoed back toward the living room window.  Kneeling on the floor in the light of the moon he dumped the contents of their precious things on the dirty rug.  Broaches, pendants, necklaces, there had to be something!  The sparkle of a diamond reflecting the moonlight caught his eye.

Our promise ring!  It is made of gold!  He snatched up the ring and added it to the two already on his little finger.  Two more, there had to be two more.  He went through the contents again, but all he could find were more broaches and necklaces.

Necklace!  He reached to the chain on his neck where he hung his mother's ring.  He had carried it with him since the day she died, hoping one day to give it to his precious Elise.  He pulled the chain over his head and began to unfasten the latch when a sudden thud from the rooftop made him freeze in terror.

He's here! No! I need more time!

The heavy call of footsteps sounded above, mingled with the braying noise of some beast.  Eli finished the latch and slipped the fourth ring on his finger.  He could hear the scraping sound of metal on brick.

Was the demon trying to come down the chimney rather than breaking through the front door?  Did the sick fiend hope to find them sleeping?  Rings or no, he couldn't let that creature into the house.

Acting on instinct alone, Eli jumped from the floor and threw open the door.  If he lead St. Nick outside perhaps there would still be a chance for Teresa and Elise.  Eli ran out to the snow and looked at the twisted figure on the roof.  The Dark Lord of the Frost Elves dressed in white and red and carried a brown burlap sack.  The glistening sheen of blood on the sack made Eli gag, but finding his courage he called up to the devil.

"Nicolas!"  He shouted.  "Here I am!"

The Elf Lord looked at him with dark eyes that contrasted sharply with red puffy cheeks.  He smiled in wicked glee and laughed a booming laugh that made Eli step back, tripping over something in the snow.  Eli watched in panic as the massive form of St. Nick moved with surprising grace as he scrambled from the rooftop.  He felt something warm underneath him as he inched back on his backside.

Is that blood on my leg?  He tried to get up and run, but his feet were tangled in whatever it was that had tripped him.  He looked down to see his legs entwined with a severed arm.  Is that to be my fate as well, to be scattered like a broken doll?  The demons had ripped off the limb from his neighbor and gnawed it from the elbow to the hand.

To the hand!  Eli could see a band of gold around the lifeless finger.  He quickly reached down to remove it.  His fingers slipped from the blood, and he couldn't find his grip.

A booming laugh came from mere feet away and Eli looked up in to the face of his worst nightmare.   Other figures, small and slender began to circle around him.  Eli saw his death in those beady eyes.  He gave a final tug on the ring and managed to knock it off into the snow.  Heavy footsteps approached as Eli fumbled for the ring.  

I've got it!  

Holding his breath and shutting his eyes he slipped the ring next to the other four on the little finger of his left hand just as a gloved hand gripped his throat.  An explosion of light burst from his hand causing the demon to release his grip and drop Eli to the snow.  The Lord of the Frost Elves looked in confusion at his prey as his horde began evaporating around him.  His chubby face and reddened cheeks grimaced and strained as St. Nick tried to resist the pull of this magic.  Shrieking in agony, the red and white form blurred, until it finally vanished.

Eli finally dared to breathe again.

Is it over?  He stood and looked around at the desolation.  The gore and carnage remained, but no other sign of their attackers could be seen as he stumbled back to his house.

"Teresa?"  he called.  "Its over!  You can come out!"   Breathless, he fell to a chair in his living room.   Timid footsteps approached as his wife and baby girl came out.

"Eli?"  Teresa asked as she looked skeptically out the window.  "What happened?"

"The rhyme."  He panted.  "Today is the fifth day of the solstice, I used the rings to send him back.  Five golden rings."  He held open his palm to display their salvation.  "True love's gift."

Friday, December 13, 2013

It's not ADD. I'm writing!

I have always wanted to write a book.  About 5 years ago, while observing my then two-year old daughter do puzzles, I was struck with an idea for a cool Mid-Grade or Young Adult book series.  It was one of those lightning bolt moments where you felt something change in the universe.   What started as a simple idea morphed into an outline.  The outline sparked an intense bit of research.  The research merged with the original idea and created a new idea.  The new idea got a new outline and the book began.   I got 5K words into the novel and realized something critical, I was totally missing my audience.  I had no idea what a Mid-Grade or Young Adult novel flowed like and how the voice sounded.  I kept the outline and the research, scrapped the novel and began devouring books in the genre I was writing.   Several dozen books later, I got sick of reading and wanted to get back writing.  I started the book over with a different voice and a better idea of where I was heading.  I got about 12K words in and then I realized that this was going to take a lot of work!  Not only that, but I needed to improve my writing skills so the words came better.  I still loved the idea but I couldn't bear to screw it up from inexperience.

My desire to coddle this novel in its infancy led me to hesitation.  I shelved the book and started reading blogs and online resources for writers trying to get my ducks in a row.  Then I realized that I had never considered that this beloved idea could see its way through to completion only to lay in limbo with no agent or publisher willing to take it.  The horror!  This thought led me to consider self publishing my book, which in turn led me to spend time and money on amazon buying then reading self-published books to see what that was all about.  After getting my fill of ebooks, I decided it was time to get back writing.  After a few days of staring blankly at my book, I started an exercise to get the creative juices flowing again and began to outline a new, completely unrelated, epic fantasy novel.  I liked the new idea so much that I went back to my first book and had this talk:

Me:  Even though we haven't been spending much time together, I just want you to know I still love you.

Book:  Are you leaving me?  Am I being dumped?

Me:  No! No, I love you, I really do.  I just need to figure some stuff out.

Book:  Is there another book?  Is that what happened?

Me:  Well, I did have this other idea, but you know you will always be closest to my heart.  I just need to see if this other idea pans out.

Book:  How!?  What?!  What did I do wrong?  Why don't you love me?

Me:  I still love you, I swear I do.  Its just... Its the timing.  Its not you, Its me.  I'll keep in touch.  I promise.

One thing lead to another, and now I am about 40K words into the fantasy novel.  Things are moving really fast, I have even told my parents about the book.  My commitment is solid.  But then I started this blog....

Dawn Patrol To Major Tom

Like most of you, I live a pretty busy life.  The only thing longer than my ‘have-to-do’ list is my ‘want-to-do’ list.   It’s hard to keep up with the demands of the real world and still have time to do the things that I love.   There is not enough time in the day. 

The world is full of solutions to buy us more time:  2 in 1 Shampoos, mopping slippers, highlighter pen combos, New Shimmer Floor Wax, slip on shoes, Daylight Savings Time, the list goes on and on.  Everybody wants to have their cake and eat it too.

A couple of years ago I found my solution to fit in the want-to-do’s without sacrificing the have-to-do’s: Dawn patrol skiing.   Dawn patrol, backcountry skiing, ski mountaineering, alpine touring (AT), randonee, skinning-- There are many terms to describe what I do.  Essentially it entails going up the mountain on your own power and skiing down.  I prefer the term Dawn Patrol as I like to go when it’s dark.   I wake up at 5 am, head up to the mountains, start skiing up by 545, ski up until sunrise, ski down, go to work, get to the office by 830.  It’s perfect for me as it allows me to ski without sacrificing anything but a little sleep.  In addition to the time savings, here are some of the other perks.

·         I get to see the sunrise every morning from the top of a mountain—there is no more inspiring sight.
·         I get an insane workout and don’t have to worry about hitting the gym
·         In order to enjoy 15 minutes of untracked powder and steep lines, I have to invest 90 minutes of trekking the 2 plus miles and 3000 feet up the mountain.  This sense of perspective that carries over to other aspects of life.  Learning to enjoy that investment has helped me in writing, work, family and so many other areas.

Skiing by the light of the full moon above Alta ski resort

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Embracing my Inner Geek

My name is Kenneth Curtis and I am a geek.

That felt good.  It felt good to come clean.  But there is more I need to get off my chest.

I went to midnight screenings of each Lord of the Rings movie.   I can tell you the biographical difference between Silver Age and Golden Age DC superheroes.  I can quote nearly every Monty Python’s Flying Circus sketch.  I have played every Final Fantasy video game.  I can tell you everything that is inaccurate with the Spiderman movie franchise.  I know how many parsecs the average Kessel run takes.   I nod respectfully at dolphins and look suspiciously at pet mice.   I know Derrial Book’s real name.  I can say more things in Elvish than I can in German.

My name is Kenneth Curtis and I am a geek.

I have never been ashamed of this fact nor aggressively tried to hide my inner geek.  Most people who know me have seen my inner geek come out on many occasions.  However, much of the time I found myself consciously or subconsciously repressing my inner geek in favor of more adrenalin related pursuits.   I stood on the fence, not apologetic, but afraid to go all in.    I worried that embracing the inner geek would mean leaving my other interests behind, abandoning the adrenalin rush of outdoor pursuits.

But a few months ago, I started writing a fantasy novel.

38000 words later, I realized something.  I am all in.  And I love it.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

When I Grow Up I'm Going to be a __________

As children we had all sorts of crazy ideas to fill in this blank.   Most of us were sure we would be firefighter, superhero, astronaut, scientist, veterinarians.   Then adolescence knocks us down causing our confidence to wane and our interests narrow.  As we near adulthood, we realize that a career path requires a lot of effort, a little luck, and perhaps some talent.   We start choosing more realistic career paths based off things like effort and return, security and stability, and less on our childhood dreams.  We make a choice and we go with it ending up investing time and money into a career that becomes our identity and we wear it like a second name.   Sometimes, we hesitate or wander and delay our career path.  Eventually a choice is placed before us and we take it because we have to or we are too scared to do anything else.

As a child, I wanted to be a baseball player, a scientist, a teacher, a writer, or Superman.  Eventually, in high school, I determined I would be a doctor and started down that path.  A couple years into college I got a job at a hospital and realized that I was not cut out to be a doctor.  I discovered that as much as I wanted to help sick people, I did not like being around sickness, death, and serious things all the time.  Through a series of choices and non-choices, various majors and various universities,  I ended up in my current job working at a medical laboratory doing anything but playing baseball.  

I love my company, and I am very thankful for my job.  I am good at it.  I have been here almost fourteen years.  I have a good working environment, income sufficient to raise a family, and respect from my peers.  The perks are many, and I count my blessings every day.

But, I still go back to that timeless question.  What DO I want to be when I grow up?  I really dont want to be a baseball player even if I had the ability.   I have spent over a decade in a lab, I have no more desire to be a scientist.

You know what I still want to do?  I want to be a writer.  I want to use my imagination, not my soft skills.  I want to create words that take people away from their mundane lives.  I want to invent characters that people can view as friends.  I want to write stories, not emails.   I want to connect with readers, not clients.

And the best part of all of this?  I am doing it.  I am doing it while I still keep my day job with all its perks.

I am growing up.  And I am a writer.