Oh, Christmas Tree

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What does a tree have to do to get noticed? In ten minutes, the gates to ‘Bert’s Living Christmas Trees’ will close and my chance at finding a forever home will be over.

Do people not appreciate the effort I put into presenting myself as the perfect Christmas tree? Look at my branches. Are they not thick with glossy dark green foliage, perfect for highlighting red and silver baubles? Do they not hang with precision to mimic a wild tree bending beneath the weight of snow? I even went to the trouble of spacing my branches to make it easier to hang tinsel. My lower trunk is self-pruned, allowing plenty of room for presents. My roots are firm in the pot; I will not fall. I’ve stored enough energy in my cells to survive a week indoors: my fronds won’t turn brown and drop. What more do I have to do?

Is it my height? After three years of Bert’s nurturing, I’m taller than the security fence surrounding the yard. I didn’t think I’d be here long enough to see over the top. In fact, I never considered the possibility that, for many of us, a forever home will remain a dream. Why did I not realize that until now?

I’m the tallest tree in the yard. If I don’t find a home, what will become of me? Bert’s a kind human, but he can’t keep me forever. My roots will eventually ball inside the pot, my foliage will make me top-heavy. Falling will be a daily worry, especially in a high wind. What if I topple over? Would Bert drive a stake into my pot and wrap tape around my truck to hold me upright? How would that make me look?

This is my fault. I should have curbed my appetite during my first year in the nursery. Instead of dreaming of the day I’d adorn a family’s living room, I should have listened to the bonsai Christmas trees who shouted from their shelf about staying small. Small is easy to carry. Small doesn’t scratch the ceiling. Small doesn’t incur the extra cost of cartage, though Bert offers a reasonable rate for the use of his trailer. Small is saleable. No wonder I’m still here.

It’s too late to change my eating habits. And time has run out. The last influx of customers search for their special tree, but none come near me. My branches droop. I’ll never see colours dance on my fronds from blinking Christmas lights. I’ll never hear Christmas carols. Christmas is not Christmas without carols.

“That one is the perfect height.”

What?

I raise my branches. A man wearing a black suit points at me. Bert stands at his side, a grin splitting his face.

“A fine specimen, Councilor Miller. I’ll have it delivered and planted in the town square today.”

The town square?

My trunk swells with pride. That’s a forever home with everybody. And, oh, the Christmas carols…

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Oh, Christmas Tree was long-listed in the Australian Writers Centre, Furious Fiction December 2021 short story writing competition and required the following prompts:

  • Each story had to include a tree.
  • Each story had to include something being taped.
  • Each story had to include the words DANCE, SEARCH and CHANGE.

To view the winning and shortlisted stories and learn more about this fun competition CLICK HERE

Out with the old goals, in with the new.

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December is the time to set writing goals for the new year, but I thought it would be fun to see if I achieved my goals from last year, because I always forget them by the end of January.

My initial goal for 2021 was to finish a short story I was working on for Metaphorosis Magazine. I submitted this story the previous October and was offered a rewrite. I didn’t realize how much work that would require, so I dropped the novel I was also working on, and persisted with the short story.

The result was The Secret Keeper, a fantasy story about 16-year-old, Rose, a demi-god charged with keeping hope in the world. A fantasy, it dives into the world of Hades and Harpocrates and explores the ramification of keeping a secret.

The Secret Keeper was published in June and you can read or listen to the podcast by CLICKING HERE.

Throughout the year there are a number of writing contests I consider. I like testing my skills against a time limit, or with prompts. One contest I particularly enjoyed was a 30-word story contest run by Writing Victoria during April. This would be easy, I thought. Wrong. The amount of brain effort required to come up with a different story every day for a month was incredible. I won’t spoil it by revealing more, but you can read how I fared, and my 30 stories by CLICKING HERE.

You’d think I’d be done with contests by then, but no. My other favourite contest is the NYCMidnight writing challenges that run regularly throughout the year. I participated in the flash fiction, 250-word, and 100-word challenges, with varying results.

In the flash fiction, Spies Like Me, a comedy/spy story placed 5th in my group, taking me through to the next round. My next round story, Security Upgrade, a horror, placed 11th in my group. My combined points were two points short of moving through to round 3, but I’m happy with my effort.

To read Spies Like Me CLICK HERE.

Security Upgrade has since been sold and it will be published next year.

In the 100-word microfiction challenge, my story Accural, a drama including hiding money, placed 7th in my group, but that’s as far as I progressed in this event. My 250-word effort didn’t place high enough to progress either, but the feedback I received from the judges was positive.

To read Accural CLICK HERE.

Did I mention I was writing a novel?

It’s a YA Scifi and I’ve slaved over it for years. Every time I thought it was right, I discovered something that was wrong. Mid-year, I returned to it, determined to finish. So for the next few months, that’s all I did.

Not exactly. Writing a novel is hard, and I love writing short stories. While I was untangling scenes, I jumped out every now and then to work on a new addiction. Drabbles.

I discovered a new publisher, Black Hare Press. They run a monthly drabble contest comprising dark themes. Perfect for me. I love writing dark. First I had to break down their door because they only allowed writers who’d published with them previously to enter. Every so often though, they have an open call, so I jumped at the chance. My first acceptance, a drabble titled Well Done, was included in their anthology, 666 Dark Drabbles. It can be purchased by CLICKING HERE.

Accepted into this group, wow, what fun I am having. The Black Hare Press community is fun and supportive and engaging. And I can enter the monthly drabble contest. Every month has a different theme, and the best twelve are chosen for on-line publication. These are my stories so far and you can read any of them by clicking on the title:

Clean Sheet – Purge

Pumpkin Head – Halloween

Dual – War

Stranger Danger – Underwater (Patreon)

Kuntilanak – Myths and Legends

Naughty and Nice – Christmas

Jump back to October and I had another short story published, a creepy horror story that found a home in The Lost Librarian’s Grave published by Redwood Press. I love this story. Written in 2nd person, it’s a short horror with an end you won’t expect. To purchase the anthology CLICK HERE.

My novel … not quite. Another contest I enjoy is the Australian Writers Centre Furious Fiction. Every month, they put out prompts and gave us 55 hours to craft a story. The number of writers who enter this is huge, like 1600 in one month. It must be a mammoth task selecting a winner, the shortlist and the longlist, and to get on any of those lists is an achievement.

I didn’t enter every month, for obvious reasons if you look back at everything else I was doing, but in September, my entry Before You Go was longlisted. And in November, my entry Flying Home for Christmas was third on the shortlist. To me, that’s as good as winning (just minus the paycheck). You can read Flying Home for Christmas by CLICKING HERE.

I saved the best for last.

Last year, my story The Best Medicine, won the AHWA Short Story contest. This was huge for me. I wrote this during a when time I suffered the worst writer doubt imaginable. I’m not ashamed to say that when I received the email, I cried. Fast forward twelve months, The Best Medicine is included in Midnight Echo #16 which is available to purchase HERE.

Even better, The Best Medicine was chosen for translated inclusion in The Bar Immediately After, Mondi Incanti series, produced by RiLL, Italy. To learn more about this anthology, CLICK HERE.

From writer doubt to translated, that’s pretty cool.

The Best Medicine, The Jump, and The Secret Keeper are all award-eligible stories, so if you’re looking for stories to recommend, I love if you’d consider these.

My novel. That’s where I am right now, applying another round of edits to tighten everything up and get my word count down. And as we’re at the end of this year, I’ll set my goal for next year:

START QUERYING. WRITE MORE DRABBLES.

That’s it. Anything else is a bonus.

But wait, there’s more:

I have other stories coming out next year, including some dark poetry that was accepted during the year. For a sneak peek, and to see stories from other years CLICK HERE.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading, and have a safe and joyous season.

Write on!

Pauline Yates

Flying Home for Christmas

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I stand the suitcase on the scales. Damn. Fifteen kilograms over the allowed luggage weight. Opening the suitcase, I sift through my clothes. A fleece-lined jacket? I don’t need that. Christmas Day in Australia will either be flooding rain or a heatwave. Dad will have a spare raincoat if I need one.

Closing the suitcase, I stand it on the scales. Ten kilograms over. Bugger. Opening the suitcase, I pull out a pair of jeans, and my red dress. Why did I pack that? I’ll be on a sheep farm in the middle of Victoria. Those strappy shoes can go, too. We’ll be dancing around a bonfire, not under disco lights.

Removing the shoes and clothes, I close the suitcase and stand it on the scales. Eight kilograms over. Fair dinkum. Opening the suitcase, I remove a floral blouse, a slinky skirt, and three sets of lingerie. Who did I expect to charm? The sheep?

Closing the suitcase, I stand it on the scales. Seven kilograms over. What? Opening the suitcase, I take out two books, another pair of jeans, put the books back, swap the Ugg boots for thongs, ditch all the socks. Close the suitcase. Stand on scales. Five kilograms over.

Gritting my teeth, I open the suitcase, lose another dress, swap a tee shirt for a singlet. Close the suitcase. Stand it on the scales. Four kilograms over.

A horn blares; my taxi ride to the airport. Hurrying to the door, I dodge the neighbour’s cat, signal the driver to wait, bolt back inside, open the suitcase, remove a towel; why did I pack a towel? Ditch the soap and the toothpaste and toothbrush holder and the soap holder and why are there two hairbrushes?

Tossing the items, I close the suitcase. Stand it on the scales. Seven kilograms over? What the? Open the suitcase. Remove the cat. Close the suitcase. Weigh on scales. Three kilograms over.

Horn blares. Time ticks. Chase away cat. Find a bandaid for cat scratch. Open suitcase. Remove books. Study titles. ‘One Midnight’s Dream’, a romance, stays. ‘Across a Crowded Room’, a thriller, goes. Repack romance book. Don’t crush the cover! Wrap book in pyjamas. Close suitcase. Weigh suitcase. Two kilograms over.

Open suitcase. Ditch pyjamas. Put the book in my carry-on bag. Remove makeup bag, another blouse, another skirt. What was I thinking? Did I pack my entire wardrobe? Close suitcase. Stand on scales. Half a kilogram over.

Horn blares. Time ticks. Open suitcase. Upend contents. Repack shirt, shorts, singlet, thongs, hairbrush, pyjamas, underwear. Hat. Where’s my hat? I’ll faint from heatstroke without a hat. I search my apartment. No hat. Don’t panic. Mum has hats attached to her hands. She’ll shove one on my head the second I arrive.

Horn blares. Driver yells. Time’s up. Close suitcase. Stand on scales. One kilogram under.

Do I?

Grab thriller. Weigh on scales. Eight hundred grams. Open suitcase. Add book. Close suitcase.

Essentials packed, run to the taxi.

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Flying Home For Christmas was shortlisted in the Australian Writers Centre, Furious Fiction November 2021 writing competition. To read the judges comments, view the winning story and read more shortlisted entries CLICK HERE.

2021 Awards Eligibility Post

In the spirit of eternal optimism, it’s that time of year when writers put together a list of stories they’ve published during 2021. The list helps people find stories to nominate for science fiction, horror, and fantasy awards. I was fortunate to have three awards eligible stories published this year, and I’ve listed these below:

The Secret Keeper

Published by Metaphorosis Magazine (Online/Podcast/Print)

Links: https://magazine.metaphorosis.com/story/2021/the-secret-keeper-pauline-yates/

The Jump

Published by Redwood Press in The Lost Librarian’s grave: Tales of Madness, Horror, and Adventure

Links: https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Librarians-Grave-Madness-Adventure-ebook/dp/B09HHPFSXD/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=The+Lost+Librarian%27s+Grave&qid=1633132032&sr=8-1

The Best Medicine

Published by AWHA in Midnight Echo #16

Links: https://www.amazon.com/Midnight-Echo-Issue-Tim-Hawken-ebook/dp/B09M696ZZY/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Midnight+Echo+%2316&qid=1637900315&qsid=140-3024104-2676313&s=digital-text&sr=1-1&sres=B09M696ZZY

Translated and published by RiLL (Italy) in ‘The Bar Immediately After’ anthology:

Links: https://www.amazon.it/dp/8832198991

https://www.rill.it/il-bar-subito-dopo

Dark Moments Monthly Drabble Challenge

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Another month, another writing challenge and Black Hare Press continues to tempt me with its Dark Moments monthly drabble challenge. The theme for September was Halloween, and stories had to be exactly 100 words. When I say exactly, that’s exactly what it means and I always have fun making sure elipses (…) don’t add to my word count, a thing I’ve recently discovered.

Halloween stories are perfect for the publication’s requirements: dark, scary, horror, weird. But I can never resist injecting a hint of humor into my writing. Only twelve stories are chosen for publication each month, and I’m pleased to say that my humor paid off (literally) and my story ‘Pumpkin Head’ was chosen as one of the twelve winning entries.

You can read my drabble by following the link below. I hope you enjoy.

Pumpkin Head

A Black Hare Press Dark Moments Publication

Want to read more? Check out my previous winning stories by following the links below.

Dual

Clean Sheet

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The Lost Librarian’s Grave horror and dark, short story anthology now available on Amazon as an ebook

Ann's Immaterium

I am happy to say that the horror and dark fiction anthology I’ve been working on some quite some time went live on Amazon last night as an ebook. Besides being available for purchase, you can read it for free if you have Kindle Unlimited.

Buy the ebook on Amazon for $4.99 or read for free with Kindle Unlimited.

We’ll be releasing the paperback version of The Lost Librarian’s Grave later in October.

When I put together the table of contents I got to thinking about how people read anthologies. I know some people like to start at the beginning and read straight through to the end.

The traditional table of contents, which I put up a preview of here, caters to that way of doing things. It also has, for me anyway, a comforting feel of how I’m using to seeing books.

Some readers (me among them) like…

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The Lost Librarian’s Grave: Table of Contents Reveal

Redwood Press

Our debut ebook anthology is going to be available on Amazon in a couple of days, so I thought this would be a fun time to post our table of contents.

The book contains 36 short stories, including one novella, and four poems. It is a sizeable tome!

What is more, if you have Kindle Unlimited, you’ll be able to read the ebook for free. Of course one can buy the Grave for $4.99, though I’m planning on running a sale for October.

The book has the usual table of contents listing the stories and poems in the order they appear, but we also collected up the stories by theme such as “Demon-Haunted World,” and “The Dead, the Mad, and the Terrified.” A few of them, naturally, could go in more than one category but as editor I had to make the final call and I did!

The idea…

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The Lost Librarian’s Grave: Back Cover Text

Redwood Press

We’re putting the finishing touches on The Lost Librarian’s Grave ebook, and Don and I finished sorting out the book description, which we put near the beginning of the ebook. This description will also be on the back cover of the paperback, which I’m working on now..

I also added the black and white illustration on the same page of the ebook. I don’t necessary think you need to wear protective gear when reading this lovely book, but I’m not seeing it isn’t a good idea either.

Welcome, mortal. You have finally discovered that place they told you about where hope crawls off to die.

Where sorcery, vile experiments, and the supernatural are as real as killers from around the corner and those things you cannot see that buzz and wriggle and chew narrow, twisting tunnels under your skin and inside your skull.

Surrender to the unclean darkness living in…

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Spies Like Me

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When a retiree suspects his neighbor is involved in a gunrunning racket, he sets out to obtain evidence to bust up the operation.

An NYCMidnight Flash Fiction Challenge entry.

Prompts: Spy/an arsenal/a string trimmer

# # #

My mission is simple, if I choose to accept. Get undeniable proof that my neighbor is hoarding guns and ammunition in his backyard shed and selling them on the black market. The only problem is I’ve been retired for thirty years and gathering evidence might be difficult. My knees barely handle tottering down the garden path and don’t even get me started on my walking stick. But I wasn’t a quitter in my day and I won’t quit now. My new neighbor is involved in a gunrunning racket and I’m determined to shut him down.

I know a cover when I see one. My neighbor pinned a sign to his front gate claiming he’s a motorcycle mechanic. Open all hours, it says. He can’t fool me. Who gets their bike serviced at eleven o’clock at night? Assembling guns, more like it. His clients are a dead giveaway. Leather-clad bikers sporting skull and cross-bone emblems. In and out from dusk to dawn. No one ever comes during the day. Rarely see my neighbor, too. If I do, he’s on his phone, talking so fast it’s gibberish to my ears. I wave like a flag flapping in a howling wind but he ignores me. Probably tells his contacts not to worry about the senile coot who lives next door. That makes me snort tea out my nostrils. He has no idea who he lives next to.

Makes it hard to get proof, though, not being able to sneak over at night. My only chance is to clear a path through the asparagus fern in the corner of the vegetable patch and peek through the shed’s back window. Haven’t used my garden tools in years, but I find an old string trimmer that might do the job. It’s hard wielding the trimmer without the support of my cane, but the result is better than I expected. I cut that fern at ground level; couldn’t lift the trimmer head any higher. Not a stalk remains. Now to peek over the fence and take some shots with my trusty happy-snap camera.

Haven’t used my camera in years, either. The last photo I took was of my beloved Patsy, God bless her patient soul. Remembering how to use the zoom is a problem for a fella with an addled memory, but the shed backs onto my fence so looking through the window is easy. Can’t see much through my glasses. Can’t see much past the cobwebs, either. Something looks like a disassembled bike but it’s parked next to a pile of long boxes the right size for a rifle, and many smaller boxes the right size for ammunition. I aim the camera, take some shots. They’re blurry, but editing should fix that. Now to call the agency and send this evidence through.

Doc answers the phone. He was assigned to me the day I retired. Top bloke. Has an office inside a medical clinic. Great cover. At my age, I can visit anytime, no questions asked. I tell him what I saw and promise to bring in the photos, but maybe he should send out a team ASAP because my shopping nurse only comes on a Tuesday. He nods through the phone and instructs me to take the red pills after dinner.

No way. Those pills muddle my memory. Procedure, I know, in case my cover is blown and I’m forced to divulge details about previous covert operations. It’s never come to that but you can’t be too careful in my line of work. Still, I want a clear head when my neighbor gets busted. So I ditch the pills, and peer out the kitchen window, and wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Something’s wrong. Three days go past and the only people roaring into the neighbor’s property are the bikers, always at night, as regular as my bowel movements. Looks like we have a snitch. Never did trust Doc. But if he’s a turn-coat, this calls for drastic action.

I phone a friend.

Denny Walker, ex-CIA. He’s holed up in a nursing home, his choice, incognito, you get it. But he has contacts. So I call him. Tell him what’s going on next door. Denny will come through. He’s never let me down, yet.

Denny failed. Had a bad turn, the nursing staff said. Damn these crooks are good. Can’t trust anyone now, not if they got to Denny. Looks like it’s up to me.

I have a plan. It’s so simple, I don’t know why I didn’t think of it first. I take my string trimmer down to the back fence and toss it behind the neighbor’s shed. Then I call the local police. Tell them my neighbor stole it and has it stashed in his shed. One patrol car turns up. Two rookie constables question me, then hop over the fence and search the shed.

I got to hand it to those boys. They shoot out of the shed like cats out of a cannon, guns drawn, hollering into their radios for backup. What followed brought nostalgic tears of joy to my eyes; I’m so glad I didn’t take those damned red pills. A helicopter dropped in a SWAT team. The neighbor got dragged away in handcuffs. The shed got wrapped in that yellow crime scene tape, and box after box of rifles and handguns and ammunition, some assembled, some in parts, were carted into an FBI weapons disposal truck that trundled down the driveway. Seen nothing like it, not since I retired, anyway. And had a front-row seat right here on my porch.

Yeah, my eyesight might be fading and my knees wobble more than I’d like, but I still got it. Spies like me, we never retire. But I’d better ask one of the boys in blue to fetch my trimmer. It’s still behind the fence and dang if I can reach it.

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‘Spies Like Me’ is my first round entry in the 2021 NYCMidnight Flash Fiction Challenge and placed 5th in my group.

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