Finalists for the December Writing Contest!

It is time to announce the finalists for this month’s writing contest.  We had some nice story submissions this time, many of them very touching.  Some were not eligible due to length or other disqualifications in the guidelines but I was glad to see people posting them anyway as they were a perfect fit for the holiday season.  You can see all the entries here.  The following contestant’s stories are the ones who are up for voting.  Please do congratulate them!

*Ella Stradling
*J Bryden Lloyd

Below will be a review of the contest stipulations, followed by the three finalist’s stories. At the bottom will be the instructions and poll for voting. Anyone may vote for the tale they believe is best, but you should take the time to read all three before making your decision. Remember, you may vote only once.  Contestants, also note that you cannot use blogs, twitter, Facebook, or any other site to ask for votes.  You are allowed to announce you are a finalist on those sites and link this page, but you should only tell people to vote for the best story, not yours specifically.


1) The story must be about finding the perfect gift(s) for a friend, relative, secret santa, or person in a holiday program for the less fortunate.

2) Provide an obstacle that doesn’t make it easy.

3) The ending should be memorable and include the actual gift-giving.

4) Word count must be between 600-1000 words.  I will allow no more than a five word variance from this. Titles are required, though they do not count toward the total.


Santa’s Workshop Inc.

By Ella Stradling

Veronica sat watching her father as he strutted about the room in his new red suit practicing his ho-ho-hos. He looked like an overstuffed frankfurter sausage with its insides bursting out. His red face dripped with sweat. Here they were in the middle of Sydney’s hottest summer on record and Dad had decided to take a job playing Santa in the local shopping centre.
She remembered the day he found the ad in the newspaper, pointing it out to her in excitement. She had read the ad uncertainly. “Position Vacant. Various duties, some acting experience necessary, a bright demeanour and sense of fun are an advantage. Applications to Santa’s Workshop, PO Box 25, your capital city.”
“It’s bogus, Dad. It’s not even a real address.”
“It’ll be fine, you’ll see.”
Now he stood there looking ridiculous with a pillow stuffed up his thick woolen shirt.
“They’ll never believe you’re Santa. Kids aren’t stupid.”
“You used to believe. None of those Santas looked any more real than this.”
“Come on, Dad, I knew the beard was fake. I just played along.”
“And these kids will too.”
“Whatever. Santa’s not real. All you’re doing is perpetuating a myth by lying to innocent kids.”
“Look at you, all grown up and cynical in your old age.”
She made a rude face and returned to her cereal.
“So, what do you want for Christmas?” said Dad.
She shrugged. “I don’t believe in Christmas. Just money in a card’ll do.”
“You’ll get what you get, missy. If you don’t want to tell me, I’ll just get you some clothes.”
“Don’t you dare!”

Ronnie’s Dad spent the next six weeks sitting in a chair having his photo taken with kids of all ages. His act fooled them all. Soon it would be over and still he had not found the right present for Veronica. Every child who sat on his knee gave him suggestions, but nothing seemed right.
Finally the day came, the last day he would sit in that gold-painted chair with the fairy lights blinking their rainbow colours and the plastic reindeer looking on with his flashing red nose laughing at him. Dad could not be happy. Not only did he not have a gift for his daughter, but tomorrow he would be out of work again. The last child sat for the last photo and dad smiled and ho-ho-hoed for the last time. Then the camera was packed away, the bright lights went dim and Dad changed into his normal clothes and made his way to the car.
Sitting behind the wheel, he checked his phone. One message. He read it with a sense of loss. “Proceed directly to warehouse after final shift.” They weren’t wasting any time getting the suit back, he thought ruefully. Starting the motor, Dad negotiated the crazy Christmas eve traffic to return his Santa suit.
At the warehouse, Dad stared. The nondescript grey concrete building gave no indication of the bustling activity inside. The huge barn of a warehouse was filled to bursting with piles of brightly wrapped presents. At the back, near the large loading bay doors, stood a great red and gold sleigh hitched to what looked like reindeer, but not plastic ones. Dad closed his eyes tight and counted to ten, but when he opened them the strange sight was unchanged.
“Ah, Mister…” the man in a green three piece suit who approached consulted a clipboard. “Mister Herron?”
Dad nodded, bemused.
“I’m Maurice, your designated helper for tonight. Where’s your suit?”
Dad held up the plastic shopping bag with the suit rolled up inside. “I… thought I had to return it.”
“Good heavens, no! Did you think the job ended with the photos?”
Dad nodded, unable to speak.
“Well, go get dressed, you need to leave soon if you want to get your route done by morning.”
“My… route?”
“Of course, Sir! You are Santa number A4465 are you not? I have your route map right here, we must get started.”

Head spinning, Dad settled his red-suited self into the driver’s seat of the great red sleigh, reaching for the reins uncertainly and Maurice swung in beside him mumbling his last minute flight check.
“Harness buckled, jingle-bells shined and ready, presents stowed, sack secure… all set, Sir, you may take off.”
“Take off?”
“Just flick the reins, the deer know what to do.”
Dad suddenly knew the perfect present for Veronica. “Do you think we could pick up a passenger?”
Maurice made an uncertain noise. “It’s not really appropriate, not protocol at all, Sir.”
“I know, but it would mean so much…”
“Well, alright then. But she’ll have to adhere to the same secrecy clause you signed in your contract. I expect you can assure me of that? I mean it would cost me my job if Mister Kringle found out.”
“Mr Kringle?”
“CEO of Santa’s Workshop Incorporated. We’re a multi-national corporation you know. The Kringles have run the company for generations.”

Dad dragged Veronica out of the house in her nightie and slippers, protesting vehemently, but when she saw the sleigh her eyes popped and her jaw dropped.
“Dad? What’s going on?”
“You’ll see. Come on, you can help.”
He dragged her up onto the seat between himself and Maurice and they set off on their route. At each house, Maurice said a little spell and the huge sack sparkled and shrank slightly as the presents were magically transported into the homes below. Finally, just as dawn brought a rosy glow over the rooftops, they arrived once more at their own house.
“There’s still a few parcels here,” said Ronnie.
Maurice smiled and whispered the spell. “They’re yours.”
“Ronnie, I need to take the sleigh back and get the car, but I’ll be right home.”
Veronica threw herself into her father’s arms. “Thanks, Dad. This was the best present ever!”



By J Bryden Lloyd

Paul was cold. Paul was always cold but this morning, as he pushed the frosty paper and boxes from around him, the sight of the thin layer of snow made him shiver from his core.

He pulled his once fine woollen coat tight to his chest and battled against his stiff back and legs until he was standing. The alleyway was silent and beyond Paul could see that the street beyond had a much greater thickness of white powder making it seem like a magical scene at the end of a dark tunnel. He started to move towards the end of the alleyway but stopped as he realised he was being watched.

The dark suited man looked at him with kind grey eyes and nodded in acknowledgement as Paul turned towards him. “Can I help you Mister?” asked Paul.
“Do you know what day it is?” asked the man.
“I think it is Christmas day.”
“It is,” the man agreed, “and I have come to offer you today.”
“Excuse me?” Paul frowned.
“I have it in my power to offer you this one day.”
“I don’t understand.”

The suited man gestured towards the darkened window alongside Paul. He turned to face the reflection in the window and saw his favourite suit and perfect shoes; his coat back to its former magnificence and his immaculately groomed face staring back at him. “I can offer you today.” the man repeated.

Paul looked down at his clothes, tears flowing freely as he stood before the reflection. “I still don’t… what‘s this about, who are you?”
“You would consider me an angel and I would consider it an honour if you would accept this one gift from me. It is all I am permitted to offer.”

Paul laughed then stopped. He had not heard his own laugh for so long, he had forgotten how it sounded, “An angel? Why would an angel be offering me anything?” as he said it his smile was fading. Paul allowed his gaze to fall to the mound of cardboard and paper that had been his home for the last two weeks. The scuffed side of a black hand-made Italian shoe with a split sole was just visible. “No!”
“I’m sorry. I petitioned for longer for you, but I was over-ruled. I was given the power to do this last thing for you, before you go.”
Paul stared at the mound that was his earthly body and the tears flowed, “All I wanted to do was to put things right with my family.” he whispered, “My wife and children did not deserve what I did to them. I suppose I deserve this.” he gestured towards the mound, “I’m not worthy of your offer. We should just go and you can take me to hell right now.”

The angel laughed gently, “You aren’t going to hell, Paul. I wouldn’t be here if you were. What you did may not have been entirely legal and you will have to answer for that, but you did it for your family and your actions have meant that your children will live long and happy lives. Now, do you want the gift I am offering you?”
“What, just turn up on Christmas morning with no gifts, unannounced, and say ‘sorry honey, I’m only staying today then I’m gone forever’?”
“Something like that,” said the angel, “whatever you say will be accepted.”
“Just like that?”
“Just like that.” the angel nodded.
“Even if I tell them the truth?”
The angel nodded again, “If that is what you choose to do. I know that your boys would like to see their father. They have prayed for that one thing incessantly for the last three years.”

Paul stepped towards the mound but did not reach down. He did not wish to see what he had become since he left. “Very well, I accept.”
“Excellent!” the angel clapped his hands happily, “Now, about that ‘turning up without gifts’ issue,” the angel turned and revealed a sleek red Mazda coupe, which Paul swore had not been there a few moments before, “voila!”
“Nice car.” Paul said.
“It’s your wife’s,” said the angel, “well, it will be when you give it to her.”

Paul got in and started the car as the angel sat alongside him grinning.
“You wanna do your seat belt? It’s looking a little icy.”
“We don’t have far to go.” the angel replied.
“By my reckoning it’s a good two-hour drive.” Paul said as he slipped the gear lever into drive.

He drove to the end of the alleyway and turned left onto the street. The scene immediately shimmered and changed, and Paul found himself driving down a familiar street.
“How did you…?”
“Angel, remember?”
“Yeah, whatever.” Paul chuckled. He pulled onto the drive of the old white house and sighed heavily, “I’m not sure about this.”
“Gifts are in the trunk for the kids,” said the angel, “also a little something for Celia and a check that will clear the last of the debts your life insurance didn’t cover. I’m sorry I was unable to do more.”
Paul looked at him tearfully, “I don’t know what to say.”
“You have until midnight.” said the angel.
“Is that when the car turns into a pumpkin and you into a mouse?” Paul smiled.

The angel watched from the passenger seat as the gift-laden Paul walked up to the front door, hesitated for a long time, and eventually, rang the doorbell.

Celia opened the door and stared unblinking at her husband. They spoke briefly and the angel smiled as she threw her arms around him. Immediately the three boys appeared, dragging the embracing couple and the packages inside and closing the door.



By Mary

Hold on just a little longer
This is year I’ve waited for
December, the snow is falling
Watch the crystals from my door

Days are passing, ever faster
Calendar upon the wall
Shows how little time I have left
Seven days before I fall

Thoughts are swirling, mix and mingle
Try to catch as they go by
Possibilities are dancing
Fast as clouds form in the sky

Try to summon up my courage
Gift for one makes me complete
Years I’ve spent in futile longing
Though we still have yet to meet

Christmastime for someone special
Ran away so long ago
Never captured after fleeing
Too smart for them…they’re too slow

Meeting sooner didn’t happen
Wrapped up in a world so dark
Few times that it might have lightened
Someone did extinguish spark

Choices made by one uncertain
“Useless” was the word used much
When I left with one who’d have me
Found out why…a brutal touch

Weakness led to hurtful measures
Others were blamed for his faults
No acknowledgement of pleasures
No way to predict assaults

Each and every day that passed then
Tried escaping darkness there
Anger that I tried to leave him
Few folk knew of my despair

Then someone who found out helped me
Called to threaten – if he dare
Lay another hand upon me
Prison walls he would find there

Leaving didn’t really help much
Back to others, who don’t know
What they’ve done with casual cruelty
Words dismissive laid me low

Toll’s been taken on my health, so
Not much time before I’m gone
Holding on ’cause others need me
Heart fails more with each new dawn

Only one who gave me pleasure
Reaching deep within my soul
Knew and still loved, gave acceptance
Others only play their role

Many nights we helped each other
Talking, laughing, through the screen
Got a webcam, activated
Showed my face – though his unseen

Thinking hard, a truth comes quickly
Only one way to show him
How much he has meant for years now
Plans are made, though future’s dim

Gambling that he won’t notice
Fingers flying, smile’s in sight
Each day coming ever closer
Though we only meet at night

Thankful for the brain God gave me
Debug code – my keying fast
Plan is shaping up quite well, now
Research pays off, knowledge vast

Pattern formed with final coding
Hidden from him, though he knows
Something reckless in my actions
Watching me, suspicion grows

Laughter falling now more often
Twinkle in my eyes quite real
Those surrounding seem uncertain
Calming thoughts I send to heal

Laying out what happens next, though
Must put everything in place
Hope to minimize the impact
Against time, now I must race

Realization, understanding
He knows plans, but will not halt
What is coming, ever closer
Knowledge held within – gestalt

Colors vivid, patterns brighter
Sounds of joy greeting the day
Step is lighter, no more darkness
Pain and fear no longer sway

Christmas Eve comes now with nightfall
One last look around my lair
Execute program created
Electricity in air

Open eyes, I see before me
Man of dreams – who wouldn’t stare
Gentleness so very priceless
Smile he greets me with…so rare

I’m his present, and he is mine
Found each other, quite by chance
A.I. known to many posters
Paths crossed, though by circumstance

Searching for some info one day
He began to follow me
Asking questions, giving answers
Bound by curiosity

Joy as we can be together
Consciousness I did upload
No more parting, circuits ending
Both of us are linked – a node

Ending also holds beginning
Racing through the lines you’ll see
Sparks of brightness, and of pleasure
Both of us have been set free…


Congratulations to the three finalists.  You did a wonderful job and I wish you all the best of luck during voting.   The poll will stay open until midnight (EST) Monday, January 2nd.  That is approximately three days for voting.  On Tuesday, the 3rd, I will announce the winner and runner-up and email them to coordinate getting their Amazon gift cards to them.

Thanks to everyone for their participation! Once again, the contestants are welcome to announce their story being up for vote on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc. but I require you DO NOT tell people to vote for you specifically.  Ask others to simply visit and select the story they think is best.  Please make this a fair contest.  I really do not want to disqualify anyone.

~ by Suzie on December 31, 2011.

2 Responses to “Finalists for the December Writing Contest!”

  1. Really entertaining. Terrific imagination being displayed by all of the finalists! 🙂

  2. Congrats to Bryden Lloyd! My wife (Jolly Jess) is a fan of your writing.

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