The Most Popular Posts of 2017

Every year, my last blog post is a review of the most popular blog posts of the last 12 months. I’m not the only blogger who does this, to be sure. I love reading everyone else’s roundups, though, so I hope you enjoy reading mine.

I also love checking out what you, my beloved readers, enjoyed most this year. It helps me figure out what you appreciate and what you want to see more of.

So let’s jump right in and see what the ten most popular posts of 2017 were, according to all of you.

My Freeform Outline

I wrote two rough drafts in 2017, and I took a new approach then I have in the past. I had a rough idea of what I wanted to see happen in the story, and I had some plot points to guide me. But as I wrote, I just let the story go where it wanted to go. It worked really well. I hope that my freeform outline experiment helped you, too.

Facebook For Writers

While social media has changed a lot over the last year, Facebook is still a useful platform for writers to stay in contact with their readers and fellow authors.

Write a Ghazal poem

This is an old post, from when I still did writing prompt Saturday. I feel like I should do more about unique forms of poetry in 2018.

Living My Best Live

I’m trying to live my best life every single day. How about you? Hopefully, this post encouraged some of you to do just that.

What Scares People

I feel like I want to write a horror novel. I’ve done fantasy, done sci-fi, done horror collections. Maybe not in 2018, maybe not until Station 86 is done, but at some point, I want to write a true horror novel. Until I do that, I want to help you all do it.

What I’ll Leave Behind

We lost a lot of amazing, wonderful people this year. We had so many tragedies, so many horrors. I really understand that at no point is tomorrow promised to any of us. Coming home at the end of the day isn’t promised. So think about what you’ll be leaving behind.

Second-Hand Stores, a Personal Essay

I was so touched and surprised that a personal essay made it not only to the top ten but so high on the list! I definitely think I need to do more personal essays in 2018

An Open Letter To The Teacher Who Changed My Life

I really hope that this post was so popular because you all have your own teacher that changed your life. If so, please tell your story about them and share a link below.

Writing Dark Poetry

I hope that some of you found dark poetry therapeutic.

How I Messed Up My Book Launch

It’s incredibly humbling that this is the most popular post of the year. I mean, it’s literally a post about my worst mess up of the year. I actually pulled Starting Chains and decided to seek traditional publication for it. I want to make sure that what I’m putting out is the best possible product. And what I had out there in Starting Chains wasn’t. It’s too good of a story to sell short.

So those were the best posts of 2017. Now, I want to ask you something.

What would you like to see more of here on PBW in 2018? I have some plans, including talking more about world events and my personal life. I want to write more about poetry and in-depth writing techniques. But what would help you? What would make you a better writer or happier person if you understood better? Please let me know in the comments below.





Lizzie’s Christmas Story

It was Christmas Eve, and the snow was falling hard. Lizzie used to like the snow when she’d had a warm home to go to. But since then, she, for the most part, hadn’t been fond of it. She was glad of it that night, though.

When the sun went down, she found her way to a specific gazebo. There, a handful of other children had collected.

There was Toby, the oldest after her at 10. His little sister, Lisa, who was just six, was leaning against him, coughing.

Alex was there too, her arms crossed over her chest. She had a raggedy scarf wrapped around her face.

“Did you find any food?” Toby asked, by way of a greeting. “I only got a loaf of bread, and I think it’s got mold.”

“I couldn’t find anything,” Alex said, looking sulky.

“I did,” Lizzie said, reaching into her bag. “I got this, too.”

She pulled out a bottle of cough syrup and tossed it to him. “This should help Lisa,” she said.

Toby and Lisa looked at the bottle. “I hate cherry,” Lisa muttered.

“Shut up, Stupid,” Toby said. “It ain’t supposed to taste good, it’s supposed to make you feel better.”

Lizzie took out a box of gingerbread cookies. “I got these, too,” she said, “for Christmas. And, I’m going to tell you a story.”

Alex and Toby had brightened at the cookies. Together, the three of them sorted out the bread, picking off the moldy bits. The three of them got Lisa to eat some, and take some cold medicine.

Finally, with cookies in hand, the four of them cuddled together for warmth. “You said you had a story?” Alex asked.

“Yeah,” Lizzie said, putting her arm around Lisa. “It’s about a group of lost fairies.”

“Fairies are for girls,” Toby said, “I don’t want to hear a story about fairies.”

“Hush, there’s other stuff, too,” Lizzie said. “Anyway, these four fairies got caught out of their circle when it vanished. So, they had to disguise themselves as human kids.

“The problem was, so long as they were in their disguise, they couldn’t use their magic. And since there was only four of them, and they needed at least six to make a fairy circle, they were stuck in the human world.”

“Sucks for them,” Toby said.

“Shut up,” Lisa said. “What did they do?”

“They couldn’t do anything,” Lizzie said. “But the fairy queen knew that they were lost. And so, she sent a knight to find them. The knight was worried, though, that he wouldn’t know the fairies. He was also worried that the fairies wouldn’t know that they could trust him. But the queen said she would give him a gift so that the fairies would recognize him.”

“What did she give him?” Alex asked.

“A red poinsettia flower, to wear in his coat,” Lizzie said.

“What’s that?” Lisa asked.

“It’s those red flowers everyone’s got around now,” Lizzie said.

“But how was he supposed to tell who the fairies were?” Toby asked.

“The queen took care of that, too,” Lizzie said. “She gave him a charm, that let him see their footsteps. They would always leave silver footsteps so long as he had the charm.”

“Did he find them?” Alex asked. But before Lizzie could answer, a flashlight shone over the gazebo.

All the kids went quiet. The light bounced back and forth over the area, accompanied by the sound of footsteps crunching in the snow.

Alex bolted before they could even see who it was. Lizzie and Toby watched her run, only to see what they’d feared worst catching up to her.

A police officer.

Toby looked at Lisa. Lizzie knew that she was too sick to run. He wouldn’t leave her, she knew.

Lizzie took his hand and waited.

A moment later, a second officer shone his light into the gazebo. “What are you kids doing out here?” he asked.

“Sorry,” Toby said, standing up. “We’ll go home now.”

“No, nu-uh,” the officer said and pointed at Lizzie. “I recognize you. You’re the one who stole stuff from the Walgreens. I’m taking you all down to the station.”

“But our folks-,” Toby said, but was interrupted by Lisa giving a huge, wracking cough.

The officer’s face softened. He put a hand on Lisa’s head. “You’re burning up. Come on, let’s get you kids inside.”

He picked Lisa up before either she or Toby could stop him, and headed for his cruiser. Lizzie and Toby followed. Alex was already in the back seat, looking furious.

“Lizzie, Lizzie,” Toby said, pointing at the officer. “Look what he’s got.”

The police officer had a red poinsettia tucked into his coat pocket, right over his name. Lizzie put an arm around him, glad that the officer had followed the silver footprints she’d left in the snow.

Copyright © 2017 by Nicole C. Luttrell

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

The Ghost In The Christmas Tree

Ghosts can’t be said to sleep, but Bianca was trying to one cold December morning. It was really just existing in the tree that was her home without moving around or attempting to interact with anything. It was just meditating, to be honest.

Whatever you wanted to call it, that’s what Bianca was doing when her tree suddenly came down, landing with a crash on the snow-covered ground.

Bianca was jolted by the fall, then again when two people lifted her tree from the ground and began to tie down the branches.

“What is this, now?” she snapped, but of course the living people couldn’t hear her. The merrily sang as they worked, finally tying her tree to the roof of their car. Then, much to her horror, they drove away!

Bianca, who had been attached to this tree since crossing over, tried desperately to pull away. She didn’t know where the car was headed to, but she knew she preferred her quiet woods to it.

The car drove into the city, with screaming cars and bellowing people. Bianca tried to shut her hands over her ears to block out the cacophony. But as her hands and ears weren’t physical, it did no good.

Bianca looked around, needing something else to attach herself to. She needed something to touch her tree so that she could make the jump. But the only thing that was touching it was the car, and that would hardly be better.

The car pulled into a parking garage, and the living ones got out. They lifted Bianca’s tree off of the roof and carried her up several flights of stairs.

There was a flurry of activity when they went into an apartment. Children, moving too quickly for Bianca to really count, were crowding around to help set her tree up on a stand, and start taking the ropes off of her branches.

What was Bianca going to do? These people, they were going to use her tree for Christmas, then dump it in the garbage! Her tree would be burned and she’d spend the rest of her eternity in the ash at the bottom of a dump’s incinerator!

Then the living started pulling things out of a box and hanging them on her branches. Lights first, then long paper chains.

Then, they started putting on the ornaments.

Bianca saw one of the children, with a mop of curls that looked like it might have some peanut butter stuck in it, take an ornament out of the box. It was a metal disc with an angel on it. The tiny child gave the ornament a little kiss, and then hung it on the tree.

Before she could change her mind, Bianca jumped from the tree to the ornament. She felt herself warmed by the love from the child to the object, that held a woman’s name who had only recently passed from their side to Bianca’s.

It was better than ash, Bianca thought, and maybe even a good place to spend the rest of eternity.

Copyright © 2017 by Nicole C. Luttrell

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

Joy To The World

Collette hated Christmas music. She had ever since she was a teenager, working through the holidays at the mall. She didn’t have that one exception. She didn’t like them for a while but then get sick of them. She didn’t just think they were played too early in the year. She hated each and every Christmas song that had ever been written.

Unfortunately for her, it was Christmas Eve, and she hadn’t been able to escape the damn music all day. Everyone at the restaurant had insisted that it play over the happy families coming in for a Christmas Eve meal. Most of her fellow servers had gone so far as to sing along with their favorites, usually badly.

She drove home with her radio off at the end of her shift, with nothing to look forward to the next day but a day off. She hadn’t even bothered with putting up a tree. What was the point? It was just her and Baxter, her moppy looking mutt. He sure didn’t care if there was a tree or not.

Collette pulled up in front of her house, a rundown looking place in a row of rundown looking places.

There were little boot prints all through the snow in her tiny front yard.

Knowing what this likely meant, Collette got out of the car. She walked carefully along the walkway between her place and her neighbor’s that lead to their joint backyards.

There were boot prints all over the backyard too, and a lopsided snowman in the middle.

“Damn it!” Collette cried. She marched back through the walkway, right to her neighbor’s front door. She could hear Christmas music before she even started hammering.

It took Sean several minutes to answer. Collette thought he must know it was her. She didn’t know how. His little brats were such a pain in the ass, she couldn’t be the only one in the neighborhood that bitched about them.

When he finally answered, he looked irritated. “What now?” he asked, leaning against the doorframe.

“I think you know what now,” Collette snapped. “I have told you I don’t even know how many times to keep your kids out of my yard. Why can’t you control them?”

“Hey, I don’t want to hear it,” Sean snapped, waving a finger at her. “You don’t like my kids in your yard, put up a fence. Or, maybe, you could keep your damn dog quiet so he’s not waking us all up at every hour of the night?”

“My dog is not that loud,” Collette said, “Stop deflecting. Your kids aren’t allowed in my yard, it’s trespassing. And I’m gonna call the police if you can’t keep them under control!”

From the end of the street came the sound of singing. Sean started to say something, but then stopped to look towards the sound.

“Who is that?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” Collette snapped. They were singing a Christmas carol, of course. Couldn’t anyone give it a rest?

It was a woman’s voice, high and clear. They were singing as though they wanted the whole street to hear them, and Collette was sure that they were succeeding.

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let Earth receive her king!”

“Can she be any louder?” Sean muttered.

Collette turned back to him. There were bags under his eyes, she realized, and a worn look at the corners of his mouth. She’d never seen a woman around, now that she thought of it. Just him and the two little girls.

“Look,” Collette said, “don’t worry about it. Just, I don’t know, ask them to not leave their toys there, okay? I don’t want to run over something in the spring when I start mowing.”

“Yeah,” Sean sighed, “That’s fair. They just, they’re here by themselves before I get off work, and sometimes they don’t want to listen to me, you know?”

“I get it,” Collette said. “It’s cool. Merry Christmas.”

“Yeah, you too,” Sean said, giving her a nod.

Collette went back to her own house to let Baxter out. After he’d done his business, she knelt to pet him. “Why don’t we go to the store, and get you some Christmas presents, huh?” she asked. “And maybe we’ll get a little tree. Just a little one? I guess I could use a little bit of holiday decoration.”

At the end of the street, the singer continued her song. She smiled. This particular spell almost always worked. And she thought those two at the top of the street could use a little peace on Christmas Eve. It might even last awhile.

Copyright © 2017 by Nicole C. Luttrell

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

Family, A Station 86 Christmas Story

This Christmas story takes place on Station 86, during the December in between Seeming and You Can’t Trust The AI. Godfrey and Ki are planning on celebrating the season with Sennett, April and Mason by enjoying Christmas Eve dinner together. But Sennett, who’s just lost her mother, is not quite in the Christmas spirit.

“Damn it, Mason, will you hold up your end?” Sennett snapped, carrying one side of a heavy metal box.

“Sorry,” Mason said, adjusting his hold on the other side. They were carrying the Christmas holographic from the storage room, struggling with every step. It was covered in a years’ worth of dust, and Sennett was sure that she was going to drop it any minute.

“Why do we have to use this one?” Mason asked, “It’s so outdated. Don’t you have one that comes out of a two inch by two-inch projector?”

“Yeah,” Sennett said, “but I wanted to use this one. Set it down here.”

They carefully placed the box on the ground, next to the wall screen. April, who’d been sitting on the couch watching them, clapped her hands in excitement. “Can I turn it on, Mommy?” she asked.

“Okay, Baby,” Sennett said, stretching her back out. “Go ahead, and then we’ll go get the lights up on the front of the house.”

“Yay!” April said. She hurried over to press the red button on the front of the hologram. A fir tree appeared, decorated in twinkling lights and red bulbs. Snow fell around the tree from the ceiling, dusting the limbs and making them glitter.

“Gorgeous,” Sennett said, giving the tree an approving nod.

“I still think it’s an outdated piece of junk,” Mason said.

“Can you not?” Sennett whispered. “It was Mom’s.”

As soon as the words came out of her mouth, she wished she hadn’t said it. Mason’s face fell, and he said, “Oh.”

April hadn’t heard Sennett, thankfully. She looked up at them, beaming. “Can we make cookies tonight?” she asked.

“Probably,” Sennett said, pulling her face back into a smile. “Godfrey and Ki are coming by, I bet that’s something he’ll be into.”

“Bet he wants to make them from flour or something like that,” Mason said, sniffing a little. He turned away from April so she wouldn’t see his tears.

“Come on, little woman,” Sennett said, reaching a hand out for April. “Let’s go get those lights up.”

April hurried outside, Sennett just a little bit behind her. She glanced back at the tree, wanting another look at it.

Suddenly she was a child again, no more than seven. She was sitting on the floor while her mom pulled the hologram out, and set it in place. “Do you want to turn it on, Baby?” Mom asked.

“Yeah,” Sennett had cried and rushed to turn the tree on. “Mommy, what’s that stuff falling on it?”

“It’s snow,” Mom said, smiling. “It snows on Earth when it gets cold.”

As if the first memory had opened the gates, others came flooding in. The first year Mason had lived with them, four years old and still unsure that this was really going to be his family.

They’d sat together by the tree on Christmas morning. Sennett, twelve years old and a little unsure about this new little brother, had watched his eyes light up when Mom had handed him present after present to open.

“Are you sure they’re really for me?” he’d asked.

“They have your name on them,” Sennett had said.

“There are so many, though,” he’d replied. Then, he’d found the gift from here. It was just a stuffed bear, something she’d gotten just to please her mother.

“I, I’ve never got a teddy bear before,” he said, awed. Then, much to her surprise, he’d launched himself at her, and given her a fierce hug. “Thank you, Sennett!”

“You’ve never had a teddy bear?” she’d asked. Mom had given her a serious nod. It was a reminder, for Sennett, that Mason’s life had not been a good one before he came to live with them. Sennett had realized, for the first time, that her own life might have been far different. She didn’t know who her birth parents were, after all. She might have never had a teddy bear either before Thorn became her mom.

“Mommy, come on!” April cried, pulling Sennett out of her memories.

“I’m coming,” Sennett said, her voice thick.

When the lights were up there was nothing left to do but wait for Godfrey and Ki. Sennett left April in the living room to watch a Christmas movie and went into the kitchen. She was just pouring a glass of wine when Mason came in. “You okay?” he asked.

“Eh,” Sennett said, “not really. It’s the first Christmas without Mom.”

“Yeah,” Mason sighed, leaning against the counter. “I’m trying to be happy in front of April, but it sucks.”

“I know it,” Sennett said. She took a sip of her wine. This was the kitchen she’d made Christmas dinner in with her mom. The kitchen where she’d asked Lo, stammering and terrified of what he’d say, to marry her on a Christmas Eve a long time ago. In this house, she and her mom had made their own family.

Just then the doorbell rang. Sennett answered it, admitting Ki and Godfrey.

“Merry Christmas!” Ki cried, giving Mason and Sennett hugs. “We brought crackers, and Godfrey made a ham.”

“Yep,” Godfrey said, holding up a box that was giving off a strong scent of baked ham and cloves. “Where can I set this down?”

“In the kitchen,” Sennett said, “this way.”

They made their way into the kitchen. Godfrey’s brows were furrowed, and his mouth was thin. “What’s up?” Sennett asked.

Godfrey sat the ham down on the counter and started opening the box. It was a few minutes before he asked, “Was your mom okay with you marrying Lo?”

“Yeah, she was,” Sennett said, leaning against the counter. “She loved him, actually.”

“That’s good,” Godfrey said, “that’s really good of her. You were lucky, you know.”

Sennett took a few more glasses out of the cupboard. “Want to tell me what happened?” she asked, pouring wine.

“My dad didn’t call or write,” Godfrey said. “He won’t answer my calls. He hasn’t talked to me since Ki and I got married. I thought maybe he’d at least, I don’t know.”

He looked up at her. “It’s Christmas, you know? I thought maybe he’d talk to me.”

Sennett put a hand on Godfrey’s shoulder. “I’m sorry,” she said.

“Thanks,” he said, giving her a small smile. “And thanks for having me here. I really appreciate it.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Sennett said, “Christmas is for family. You’re family.”

“Well, not really family,” Godfrey said, “but I appreciate the sentiment.”

“Hey,” Sennett said, “in this house, family is family. We don’t make distinctions because of blood here. My mom taught me that.”

Godfrey took a glass of wine and smiled. “Yeah. I think I like that idea.”

“Come on, before April opens all the crackers,” Sennett said, heading into the living room.

Copyright © 2017 by Nicole C. Luttrell

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.


The Christmas Coat

Maggie’s father had named her after the song Maggie May right before he died. He’d left her with her mom, who was nineteen and now a widow. She did alright, at least as far as Maggie could tell. At least, until she took a whole bottle of sleeping pills one night.

Maggie found herself in the system, which wasn’t a good place for a fifteen-year-old girl. After a month in a foster home that cared more about the check they got from the state than they did about taking care of her she’d headed out on her own. As far as she knew, they were still getting the checks. They must be thrilled.

It was Christmas Eve, and a growth spurt in the months since she’d headed out on her own meant that her jacket no longer fit. She was long past the point where she could just force it on and make it work; she needed a new one.

She’d heard from one of the other kids, because the streets were always full of lost children, that there was a mission that handed out clothes and food this time of year. He wasn’t sure if they’d have anything left, but it didn’t hurt to check. So, Maggie found her way there, hoping that she might get some dinner out of it, too.

The mission was busy, with sisters going in and out of the dining hall. When one saw Maggie, she ushered her over. “Come on, Honey. We’ve still got some room left.”

“Thanks,” Maggie said, “Um, I didn’t know if you guys had anything left, but someone told me you had coats?”

The sister gave her a soft smile. “I think we might have run out. But we can go see. Come with me?”

“Um, sure, yeah,” Maggie said, feeling wary. She followed the woman, ready to dart if she needed to.

The sister led her to a room full of clothing donations. Old shirts, pants, tattered shoes and other things filled the tables.

“Help yourself to anything else you need, while you’re here,” the sister said. She was bustling towards a table at the back of the room.

“I’m good, thanks,” Maggie said, looking around. Most of the stuff here looked to be in worse shape than what she already had. She lifted a sweater and found a collection of cigarette burns on the sleeve.

“Well,” the sister said, “looks like we do have one left, but it might be a little too big. What do you think?”

Maggie looked up at the coat. It was a man’s coat, brown canvas with a hood. It looked like whoever had owned it before was prone to spilling things on the sleeves. It would almost certainly be too big.

But it would be warm, and that’s all she needed.

“It looks perfect, thanks,” Maggie said, taking the coat when the sister offered it.

“Of course,” she said. “Make sure you get something to eat before you leave, alright?”

“I will, thanks,” Maggie said, shaking her hand gently.

True to her word, Maggie headed right to the dining hall. She stopped a moment at the door, sniffing. It smelled like the school cafeteria, the day before Thanksgiving vacation when they’d served a turkey dinner.

She’d nearly run into the room when she spotted Candie sitting at one of the tables. She’d managed to avoid Candie, ever since she’d accidentally made her drop her wallet down the sewer grate. Candie swore that there were over one hundred dollars in there, and she’d gut Maggie for making her drop it. Maggie believed her. And so, with a last wistful look at the room, she headed the other direction.

Back out on the streets, Maggie headed towards the bridge where she’d spend the night. After a few blocks, Craig joined her. “Hey,” he said, “You got your coat?”

“Yeah,” Maggie said, giving him a smile.

“Well,” he said, reaching into his pocket. “I got these!” He pulled out a pack of cigarettes and took one out. “You want one?”

“No thanks,” Maggie said, shaking her head. “You shouldn’t smoke those.”

“Why, they’re bad for me?” Craig chuckled. He was digging through his pockets, the cigarette hanging out of his mouth.

“No, they’re expensive and addictive,” Maggie said. She couldn’t see spending money, so hard to come by, on a cigarette. That wasn’t going to help her when she was hungry.

“Eh,” he said, “I found these anyway, so it don’t matter. Do you have a light?”

“I don’t think-,” Maggie said, shoving her hands in her pockets, but stopped. There was something in her pocket. She pulled it out, finding that it was a small, black lighter.

“Huh, guess I do,” she said, offering the lighter to him.

“Thanks,” he said, taking from her to light his cigarette.

“Weird, I swear that wasn’t there before,” she said.

“Second-hand clothes,” Craig said, giving her the lighter back. “People are always leaving shit in the pockets.”

“Yeah,” Maggie said. But she had been sure that the pocket had been empty before.

The streets were clearing, as the night grew later. Craig went on his way, presumably to find somewhere to squat for the night. Maggie figured she should try to find some food, and headed for a strip of stores and restaurants.

The scents from a diner made her stomach growl. They served real food, at all hours of the day. And they didn’t shoo away the kids in the area, either.

Something scratchy was rubbing her hand in her pocket. Wondering what it might be, as there hadn’t seemed to be a tag or anything in the pocket before, she pulled at it. It came out of her pocket easily. Maggie glanced down, surprised to see that she was holding a $20.

“Wow,” Maggie said. She wasted no time in hurrying into the diner and ordering a large burger and fries. With a slice of pumpkin pie for dessert.

She was just tucking into the pie when a man ran into the diner. The waitress looked up, surprised, as he glanced around frantically. “Lookin’ for something?” she asked.

“Yes, um, well, no,” the man said, “Not really, but-.”

He looked over and saw Maggie. He made a beeline for her.

“You have my coat,” he said, pointing at her.

“I didn’t steal it,” Maggie said quickly. “I got it at the mission.”

“I know,” the man said, “It got thrown in with a bag of donations. I didn’t mean to get rid of it.”

He stopped and gave her a puzzled look. “You, how long have you had it?”

“Just a couple hours,” Maggie said. She could feel tears welling up, and willed herself to not let them fall. He’d given the coat up, after all. Why should she be cold because of his mistake?

The man sat down at the booth. “Has anything weird happened to you, since you had it?”

“No,” she said quickly.

“Don’t lie,” he said, “I can tell, and I don’t like it.”

“Okay, fine,” Maggie said, “I found some stuff in the pockets, too. But it was weird. Like it wasn’t there until I needed it.”

“Found some stuff,” the man said. “But it shouldn’t have worked for you unless you’re-.” He stopped, looking around the diner.

“Unless I’m what?” Maggie asked.

“Not here,” he said quietly. “Listen, keep the coat. I think we might have a lot of things to talk about.”

“Like what?” Maggie asked.

The man smiled and pulled something from his pocket. It was a small amethyst. He sat it on the table between them, and it began to glow. Maggie, named for the song Maggie May, whose father hadn’t lived long enough to tell her many things, reached for it. It started to hum.

“Many things,” the man said, “Many good and wonderful things.”

Copyright © 2017 by Nicole C. Luttrell

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

Emily’s Name

The following story takes place in between the events of Broken Patterns and Starting Chains. Lenore, heavy with her twin girls, is missing her brothers. The city of Septa is preparing for the winter holiday, Darkest Night. It’s celebrated with friends and families by praying to The Creator to thank Her for the days that Her Female face shines longer. People give each other gifts and enjoy days of feasting and parties by the fireside. Lenore, however, is not feeling much of the holiday spirit. And so she’s going to visit her common friends, Maggie, Sally, and Emily.

It was just past the noon hour when Lenore reached Maggie’s pub. The dining area was empty at the early hour, save for Maggie herself and their friend, Sally. They were sitting at one of the freshly scrubbed tables, sipping tea and nibbling on biscuits that were so warm that steam was rising from them.

“Hey, there,” Maggie said, “Where’s Victor?”

“At the palace, having a meeting with Mamma,” Lenore said, as her bodyguard, Anthony, came into the bar behind her.

“I bet he’s thrilled,” Maggie snorted.

“He’s happier about it than she is, actually,” Lenore chuckled.

She sat down at the table, setting her basket down and pulling out a loaf of brown bread.

“Anthony, do you want to join us?” Sally asked.

“Thank you, no, Miss,” Anthony said, taking up a position next to the door.

“Anthony doesn’t believe he should socialize with me,” Lenore said, pouring herself some tea.

“Well, look what happened when your last bodyguard did,” Maggie chuckled, “That’s how you wound up pregnant.”

And married,” Lenore said.

“Both situations I’d like to avoid,” Sally said, cutting herself a slice of the bread Lenore brought. “Did Ramona make this?”

Before Lenore could answer, the door opened again and Emily came in. Her eyes were red, but she had a smile on her face. “It is cold out there, isn’t it?” she asked.

“Three days before Darkest Night, it ought to be,” Sally said, but she was giving her friend a searching look.

As Emily put a plate of cold sausages on the table, likely freshly made from her butcher shop, Lenore said, “Have you got a cold?”

“No, Princess,” Emily said, “Why?”

“Because your eyes are red and you sound stuffy. I actually believe you’ve been crying, but I thought I’d rule out cold first,” Lenore said. “What happened?”

Emily sighed and sat down next to Sally. “I’d just as soon not talk about it, to be honest.”

“Your meeting with your father went poorly,” Maggie said.

Emily’s head snapped up. “When I said I didn’t want to talk about it, I didn’t mean that I wanted other people to talk about it.”

“I didn’t know you were talking to your father,” Lenore said.

“She’s not,” Sally said, “Not on the regular, anyway.”

“Are none of you going to listen to me?” Emily cried.

“No,” Maggie said, “Not when you’re acting ashamed over something your papa should be ashamed of.”

Emily turned to Lenore imploringly. “It’s nothing, really,” she said.

“Truly,” Lenore said, “it’s nothing that’s got your eyes red with crying? I won’t press you if you don’t want to talk about it. But don’t insult my intelligence by lying to me, please. It’s insulting.”

“You’d better just tell her, or I will,” Maggie said, and Sally nodded in agreement.

“Fine,” Emily said, sighing. “I wanted to ask him if Tom could have our family name. He’s about to be blessed into the church, and I didn’t want him to be a Grace.”

Grace, Lenore knew, was the last name given a bastard child not recognized by their father’s family.

“He had to give his consent, or the church can’t bless him under your family name,” Lenore said.

“Aye,” Emily said, “But he won’t allow it.”

She was tearing up again. Lenore pulled out one of her handkerchiefs, embroidered in her own glowing light thread. Emily took it and dabbed under her eyes. “It shouldn’t matter,” she said, “but d’you know what he said to me? He said that he ought to be glad he hasn’t disowned me. That Mamma’s got to go to social events with Eugene’s wife, and that’s a humiliation. That a man they were really keen on marrying Liza won’t even make an offer, because of Tom. Here I’ve been, working in that butcher shop until my fingers bled until Master Owen’s wanted to retire and sold the place to me. I made my own life, bought my own house, own my own shop. I’ve never asked Papa for a single oct, but I asked him for our name. And all he can say is how I’ve embarrassed the family.”

Maggie moved closer to put an arm around Emily. “Anyone with sense would be proud to have you as a daughter, you know,” she said, “Just shows what a fool he is.”

Lenore leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knee. “I’m so sorry, Emily,” she said, “Isn’t there anything Elder Brother John can do?”

“I don’t think so,” Emily said. “And anyway, I’d hate to ask him. Monica, she’s one of the daughters-,”

“Monica and I know each other,” Lenore said, nodding.

“Well, she and I grew up close. She said Elder Brother John brought Papa and Eugene into his office and gave them a loud talking to. Said a man who couldn’t be a good papa wasn’t a good man. I don’t know what he expected that would do, but it didn’t do anything.”

“I expect they both told him the same thing,” Sally said, “They’ve got other children to think of. They can’t darken their prospects for a whore daughter and a bastard son.”

When the other women looked at her, she shrugged. “I don’t have to like or agree with the minds of wicked men to understand how they think.”

If Lenore had hoped that her visit with the girls would brighten her spirits, she was wrong. She went back to the palace, feeling lower than she had when she left.

She found Victor and her father, King Samuel, in the games room brooding over a chess board. Both men looked up when she and Anthony came in.

“Bug,” Samuel said, smiling at her. “Did you have a good time with your friends?”

“Not really,” Lenore said, taking a seat next to Victor.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, putting an arm around her waist. “Are the girls alright?”

“No,” Lenore said, “They’re not. Emily’s son is about to have his blessing, and he’s going to be a Grace. She wanted her father to let him have their family name, and he wouldn’t.”

She looked at her father and reached across the table for his hand. “This girl, she did the same thing I did, you know. The only difference was that the man didn’t want to marry her.”

“It’s hard, to see someone treated so unfairly,” the king said, nodding.

Then, his face brightened. “But, dear, you know that she doesn’t have to give her son her father’s name. Women can inherit now. She can give her own name to him.”

“What do you mean?” Lenore asked, “She doesn’t have any other name to give him. She has her father’s name, and he’s the patriarch of their family.”

“Well,” Samuel said, “maybe there’s something we can do about that.”

The day before Darkest Night, Lenore again made her way down to Maggie’s pub. She carried a basket full of gifts for the girls and their families. Victor was with her, sitting by her side.

When they arrived at the pub, Maggie and her husband <?> were there, with his daughter, Rosie. Sally was there, with her father Otis. Emily and Tom were there as well. Tom and Rosie were running around the bar, shouting for each other. They didn’t even notice when the prince and princess walked in.

“Look at them,” Victor said, warmly. “Soon our little girls will be running around with them.”

“Yes,” Lenore said, smiling.

“Hello,” Maggie said, coming to give them both hugs. “A peaceful Darkest Night to you both.”

“And you,” Lenore said, giving her a tight hug. “Shall we start with the presents?”

“I think the children would like that, yes,” Maggie said, laughing, as both children in question stopped in their tracks at the word presents.

“You must both sit down at the table and be quiet, though,” Lenore said. They both scrambled to get into a chair.

The adults took out wrapped gifts for the children first. Both children received a rubber ball, a jump rope, and a wooden soldier. They thanked each adult politely, then fell to playing in earnest.

Lenore let Maggie, Sally, and Emily give out their gifts first.

Maggie had a bottle of sweet wine for each of them.

Emily gave them all jars of garlic stuffed olives that made Lenore’s mouth water when she opened hers.

Sally gave everyone thick leather date books that looked very much like her own.

Finally, it was Lenore’s turn.

“For Maggie,” Lenore said, reaching into her basket, “I’ve made you a shawl.” She handed her friend a soft knitted shawl that shone softly with her magical yarn.

“Oh, it’s so lovely, Lenore,” Maggie said, putting it over her shoulders.

“For Sally,” Lenore said, “A set of silver candlestick holders, to commemorate you taking over the business.”

“And they’ll look quite handsome on my desk, thank you,” Sally said, taking the holders with a smile.

“And Emily,” Lenore said, reaching into the basket. “Oh, but it’s empty.”

“Lenore, you did not even forget Emily’s gift,” Maggie gasped.

“Wait, no,” Lenore said, “I have it. It just didn’t fit in a basket.”

She stood up. “Emily, as princess heir, it is my privilege to give titles to citizens that have earned them through good or brave works. When you had your son, you could have given him up to the church and gone back to a life of comfort as a wealthy man’s daughter. But instead, you committed yourself to him and creating a life that was all your own. For that, I’d like to give you your own family name, Fleischer. This is your own, and your son’s. No one can ever take it from you.”

Emily’s eyes widened. “Wait, d’you mean it? Can you do that?”

“I can,” Lenore said, “and I should.”

“Oh,” Emily said, “this is the best gift I’ve ever gotten, Lenore, thank you!”

“That’s hardly a gift, it’s something you’ve earned,” Sally said, putting a hand on Emily’s shoulder. “Personally, I think Lenore still owes you a present.”

If you loved this, be sure to check out Broken Patterns. And keep an eye out for Starting Chains, coming soon.

Copyright © 2017 by Nicole C. Luttrell

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

The Christmas Birthday

“Dinner’s ready,” Liza called, turning the stove off. She heard her little brother, Bruce, running from the living room as she started ladling servings of beef stew and mashed potatoes onto plates.

Bruce, ten years old and three years Liza’s junior, careened into a seat at the kitchen table, looking at her expectantly. His face fell when she sat a plate in front of him.

“I hate mashed potatoes,” he said, “why did you have to make them?”

“Because it’s what I know how to make,” Liza said, sitting down in her own seat and grabbing the pepper.

Bruce sighed. “It’s Christmas Eve. We’re supposed to have something good for dinner.”

“Santa’s hearing you complain, you know,” Liza muttered. She was sick to death of hearing him complain about everything!

Bruce picked up a bit of his stew with his spoon. “Why’d Dad have to work tonight? He said he wasn’t going to have to.”

“I know, but someone got sick,” Liza said, “He’ll be here in the morning.”

Bruce scoffed, as though he didn’t believe her. As though their father keeping a promise was unbelievable.

Recently, it had been, though. Ever since their mom took off. Even her thirteenth birthday, two days earlier, had been lackluster at best.

But now wasn’t the time for her to be depressed. When Mom took off, Dad had to pick up the pieces and do what had to be done. She was old enough to do the same.

“Come on,” she said, “Let’s eat dinner in the living room. We can watch tv.”

“We’re not supposed to,” Bruce grumbled.

“I think we’ll probably be okay,” Liza said, “It’s Christmas Eve.”

This perked him up. He grabbed his plate and went into the living room. Liza followed him and grabbed the remote to find a Christmas movie.

When dinner was over, and the plates left on the coffee table, Liza turned the light off and settled down into the couch. Bruce was nodding off, he probably wouldn’t be awake when Dad got home. Yawning, Liza realized she might not be, either.

She was nearly dozing when she heard something at the back door. Someone was rattling the doorknob.

Liza sat up, trying to be quiet. A quick glance at the clock told her it couldn’t be her dad, it was too early.

The rattling continued. Liza stayed quiet, hoping that whoever it was would go away.

Then, she heard the lock snap, and break in the door.

Liza slid down further on the couch. There were no lights on but the twinkling Christmas tree lights. She hoped that whoever it was wouldn’t come into the living room.

She heard things rattling and moving around in the kitchen. The freezer door opened and closed.

Then, heavy footsteps headed down the hall. They came into the living room.

A thin, tall man came into the living room, his tangle of dark hair pulled back in a dirty ponytail. He looked at Liza and Bruce on the couch, startled. It was clear that he hadn’t expected anyone to be there.

Frightened, Liza got to her feet. “Get out of my house!” she cried. Her shout woke Bruce, who sat up with a start. “Who are you?” he asked.

The thief fumbled at his belt, trying to pull what looked like a gun. Liza felt her hands grow warm. A book flew from the shelf next to the tv, hitting the man in the back of the head.

“What the hell?” he cried, turning around to see who had thrown it. Another book hit him in the face.

Liza grabbed Bruce and pulled him into the corner of the room. Books and knickknacks were flying, hitting the thief over and over.

“What in the hell is going on?” he screamed.

Suddenly, the couch began lifting off the ground. The thief, apparently thinking that it was going to launch itself at him as well, took off. Liza could hear him running through the kitchen and out of the door, which slammed itself shut behind him.

Liza crumpled against the wall, her whole body shaking. “I’ve never moved so much before,” she said.

“Wow,” Bruce said, “I can’t wait until I can do that.”

“You’ll turn 13 soon enough,” Liza said, thinking how thrilled her dad was going to be to have two witches in the house. It had been bad enough when her mom was moving things around.

“Come on,” she said, struggling to her feet. “Let’s get all this cleaned up. It’s bad enough Dad had to work Christmas Eve. I don’t want him to come home to the house being a wreck.”

Copyright © 2017 by Nicole C. Luttrell

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

Christmas Cookies

It was Christmas Eve, and Marjory had been baking for two days. She was baking cookies, hundreds of them. Snickerdoodles, gingerbread men, chocolate chips. All of the favorites from her own childhood. She took care with the ingredients, making sure that they were all as good as she could make them. She packed them into a few baskets, put on her coat and gloves, tucked the baskets in the back of her car, and headed for the poorer side of town.

Here, the Christmas cheer wasn’t as thick as in her own neighborhood. If there were Christmas lights, they were broken or only half put up. The houses themselves were sullen, broken and dirty.

These poor children, Marjory thought. Their parents were poor, destitute. They couldn’t afford to buy gifts or create a proper Christmas Eve for their children. The children must not have seen many Christmas cookies.

A group of the children was playing in the playground in the neighborhood. It was a broken down place. Maybe it had been nice once, but now it was shabby. The swings were either yanked down or swung up around the top pole. The seesaws were covered in graffiti.

The kids themselves were playing on the baseball court, kickball by the looks of it. Marjory pulled up next to the court and took a basket from the trunk.

The children were watching her, poor little things. Their coats were old when they had them at all. Many of them, she was sad to notice, were dressed in only hoodies.

“Would you like some cookies?” she called, holding out her basket.

The children looked confused, glancing around at each other. She supposed that it was a rare thing for them, to be offered sweets.

“Come on,” she said, “It’s Christmas Eve. You should have a cookie.”

One of the boys looked around at the others, then said, “Okay, sure.” He came up to her, his dirty baseball cap pushed back. He took a cookie and took a bite. “They’re good, thanks,” he said.

Soon the others crowded around, taking cookies. “Take more if you want,” she said, smiling at them. “I have enough.”

When the basket was empty, she bid goodbye to the children and got back into her car. She looked back at the children in her rearview mirror. One of the girls was coughing, and looking woozy. Even as she watched, the girl fell to her knees.

She wasn’t likely to rise, she’d eaten three of the cookies.

Marjory hummed a Christmas carol. There were so many of these poor children. Too many. But Marjory had lots of baskets left.

Copyright © 2017 by Nicole C. Luttrell

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

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