A Matter of Presents (Christmas Short Story)

Set up: Don’t mess with a girl’s Magic Rainbow Pony Giraffe dreams!

“Andrew! Carla! What on earth?” Dad stood in the living room, having just woken up. My sister and I sleepily stirred from our rooms. My hair was a mess, I’m sure. It always was.

Carla rubbed her eyes and carried her teddy bear. I fumbled with my glasses and almost dropped them twice. The sun wasn’t even up and I hated mornings.

It was the week before Christmas. Mom and dad had placed the first presents under the tree. They were supposed to keep us excited for the Big Day but they were also relentless temptations.

When I was five, I opened them early, even ones that weren’t mine. Dad threatened to return them to the store. Mom talked him out of it but he warned me if I ever did it again then I’d only get underwear. No kid wants underwear for Christmas let alone only underwear.

That year I was nine. I knew better than to mess with the presents but as I stumbled into the living room, Carla at my heels, my bare feet stepped on shreds of wrapping paper. My mouth hung open. I stared at dad. He crossed his arms and tapped his foot. He glared at us, as mad as I’d ever seen him.

“What did I tell you?” he roared. Carla started to cry; I wasn’t far behind.

“We didn’t do it, I swear!” I squeaked.

“Then, who did?”

“Maybe it was Bruticus!” I blamed our corgi.

Dad rolled his eyes. He was about to say something else when Carla shoved me out of the way and bolted toward the tree.

“A Magic Rainbow Pony Giraffe!” She swept the package off the floor and spun circles, her tears suddenly gone. “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

Dad sighed and took the toy from her hands. “Remember what I’ve told you?”

“No!” Carla scrunched her face, crossed her arms, and stomped. “No! No! No!”

“Brent.” Mom stepped into the room carrying a cup of coffee and softly said dad’s name.

“Fine. We’ll rewrap them.” Dad scowled and pointed at me and Carla. “But if this happens again, they’re going back.”

I wish I could say that was the end of it. I wish I could say it didn’t happen again. I really thought it might have been Bruticus, though I didn’t rule out Carla. I was wrong. Mom and dad wrapped our presents and put them under the tree again. When we woke the next morning, the same thing had happened. Only that time, dad stumbled in and found me standing in the middle of the paper mess.

We begged. We pleaded. Carla cried, stomped, and shouted. I might have done the same as dad gathered all the presents in his arms. I don’t remember. Maybe. I didn’t even want to have Christmas if it was package after package of brand new undies.

I knew I hadn’t opened the presents. Carla insisted she hadn’t. Dad had locked Bruticus in the garage, so it couldn’t have been him.

Who was ruining Christmas, then? I had an idea to try.

That night after supper, I snuck into mom and dad’s room and grabbed wrapping paper and tape.

“What are you doing?” Carla asked when she found me wrapping my ball glove, some Legos, and a pair of pants. I just shook my head and told her to go away.

I did all I could to stay awake until I heard mom and dad go to bed. Then, I snuck the fake presents under the tree and hid behind the couch. I didn’t last long, though. My eyes grew heavy. I fought and fought but sleep won.

That was until I heard rustling and paper tearing. My eyes slowly opened. I rubbed them and again. My jaw dropped. I couldn’t believe what I saw. We had an Elf on the Shelf. Carla liked it but I thought it was dumb. I knew mom and dad moved it every night. At least I thought they did. The old elf we had for years had vanished so mom bought a new one.

And there it was, under the tree, ripping into the fake presents.

“Hey!” I whisper-shouted and jumped from behind the couch. “It was you!”

The elf narrowed its eyes and sneered. My baseball glove fell from its hands and it pushed its sleeves up its arms. The elf was no bigger than my foot but I suddenly wasn’t sure of myself.

It lunged. I shrieked.

“Ahhhhhhh!” Carla blew by me, snatched the elf, and before I could blink the doll was torn to pieces on the floor in a pile of stuffing. Carla had it’s head in her hands and smashed it repeatedly against the floor. “I wanted a Magic Rainbow Pony Giraffe!” she screamed each word as she pounded.

Mom and dad ran into the room.

“What on earth?” mom asked while dad said some words I shouldn’t repeat and scooped Carla into his arms.

I gawked at the dismembered elf. There was no way I could explain it. Mom and dad wouldn’t believe me. I’m still not sure I believed what I saw. In shock, I wandered to the pile of elf and bent down for it’s torso. I glanced at the tag and chuckled in disbelief.

“It’s a South Pole elf. That’s the problem.”

The elf body fell from my fingers and I lumbered away to my bedroom, shaking my head.

As for Christmas, it turned out not to be that bad. I still got a new package of underwear and honestly I kind of needed them, but mom hadn’t let dad return the rest of the presents. They waited until Christmas morning to pull them out of their closet.

As Carla sat on the floor happily playing with her Magic Rainbow Pony Giraffe and dad went for a second cup of coffee, I snuggled with mom.

She kissed my head. “Did you have a good Christmas, bud?”

“Yeah,” I said and then glanced up. “Let’s just never do Elf on the Shelf again.”

©2020 Michael Bergman

/end story

Hope you enjoyed!

The Fourth Wise Man (a Christmas flash fiction)

Ever here the story of the fourth wise man? I thought not…

The four men sat, warming themselves at the fire. Melchior eyed the others. “This is a fine work we do, honoring the stately King of kings.”

Gaspar nodded in agreement. “This is why I have brought gold.”

“And I frankincense,” Balthasar added. “From the finest spices in all the East!”

“Remind us, King Duncan, what is it that you brought?” Gaspar said to the fourth man.

Duncan grinned with the happiest of grins. “Clothespins!”

“Clothespins?”

“Yes, the child may be King, but he is still a baby. There will be plenty of diapers and laundry.”

The other kings laughed while Duncan continued to grin.

Sadly, though, as practical a gift as Duncan’s may have been, the common nature of it left the fourth king lost to most of history and forgotten in the words of the song.

©2020 Michael Bergman

/End Story

Hope you enjoyed! 🙂

Image cred: https://unsplash.com/@rthiemann

A Christmas Flash Fiction

Image https://unsplash.com/photos/h3wtp_1cW4g

The set up: Santa arrives home after a long night delivering presents.

“I’m getting too old for this, Mary,” the portly man said as he pulled off his boots.

The kindly woman smiled and continued to knit as her husband collapsed into his favorite chair. “Nonsense, you don’t act a day over five-hundred!”

“My bones say otherwise.”

“It’s always been a long, hard day for you, Kristofer, even when you were young.”

“I know, I know. But even creatures of magic don’t live forever. I’m afraid I’m hastening my end with the extra work year after year.” The old man sighed. “Maybe I should use the machine. It doubled the elf population in ten minutes and productivity went through the roof!”

The old woman raised her brows, still knitting, “Yes, but when you tried it on the reindeer, three Rudolphs and two Blitzens exploded.”

“That’s true. Timmins thinks he fixed the problem, though.”

“Still, Kristofer, you don’t know what it might do, especially with your magic.”

“Hmm. Fine, I’ll ask Timmins to do more research but don’t you think the world would be better off with more Santa Clauses?”

Mary reached and patted her husband’s knee. “I’m happy with the one I’ve got.”

A mug of hot cocoa sat on the end table. Kristofer smiled and laughed his famous belly laugh as he lifted the cup to his lips. “Thank you, dear. You’re always so good to me.”

“Oh, the other Mary made that. She’s working on your laundry as we speak.”

/End Story

Hope you enjoyed! 🙂

Read “The Weatherman”

Background Photo by Eli Pastor on Unsplash

My story The Weatherman was one of the top ten award winners in this year’s Writers’ Digest Annual Writing Competition.

You can see all the award winners here: https://www.writersdigest.com/wd-competitions/announcing-the-winners-of-the-89th-annual-writers-digest-writing-competition

And read my story here: https://mikebergmandotco.files.wordpress.com/2020/08/the-weatherman.pdf

If you enjoy it, you can check out my books: https://mikebergman.co/books

The Secret Baker (introducing my kid’s book)

In our three years of being foster parents, my wife and I have had several children in the 8-10 year old age range. My wife suggested, with those experiences, to write a book aimed at kids that age. She even had an idea: Write a story about a boy who is good at video games and discovers that he likes to bake and is good at it. He tries to keep it a secret but his friends catch him looking up recipes at school.

Part of her motivation in that idea was you can find books out there about girls baking but it’s a little more difficult to find a book about a boy who bakes. In our home, both my wife and I love to bake and some of our foster kids, including boys, have gotten in on the baking as well.

Thus, The Secret Baker was born. The story does not go quite the way she envisioned, though it does involve a boy who learns he’s good at baking and tries to hide it from his friends. Without giving away all that happens, in the end, the story is about embracing what you’re good at and what you love, and getting past the fear of what other people think.

Second to this, The Secret Baker also touches on topics such as foster care and bullying.

I wrote the book for upper-elementary kids. You can check out a free PDF sample of Chapter One here: Mom and the Bakers.

The book is available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats: The Secret Baker.

Here is the book’s description from Amazon:

Ten-year-old Callum doesn’t think he’s good at much. That’s about to change…

Meet Callum Martindale. He’s the son of the high school baseball coach in a family known for athletic ability. If you ask him, though, Callum will tell you that he’s “as athletic as a sloth.” Besides playing video games and doing mazes, Callum isn’t sure what he’s good at. That is until one day when he’s stays at home sick and binge watches a baking competition with his mom. Callum then discovers a love and ability for something he’d least expect…

The Secret Baker © 2020, Michael Bergman

The inspiration behind “The Weatherman” (of Stars and Space)

With the publication of my collection of stories, Of Stars and Space, this is part 10 in a series of posts about the inspiration behind each of the twelve stories.

Everyone likes to complain about weather forecasts. I’m a bit of an insider when it comes to weather. I’ve never worked in the business, but my undergrad degree was in meteorology, so I know more than the average person about atmospheric science. What makes the weather so hard to predict is how complex the atmosphere is and how many influences impact the daily weather in any given place.

So, I empathize with the meteorologists who struggle to produce accurate forecasts. In reality, though, some are much better than others.

The Weatherman was an idea inspired by my wife. Without giving too much away, the story is about a TV meteorologist who is terrible at his job, quits trying, and suddenly becomes good. Personally, I think this story is simply a fun read. Yet within, there is also a kernel about self-discovery and embracing one’s true identity.

Of Stars and Space (and other stories) is available at Amazon in both Kindle and print formats. Kindle is immediate delivery; print is print-on-demand and may take a few days before the order ships.

“The Weatherman” and Of Stars and Space, © 2020, Michael Bergman

Excerpt from “The Weatherman”

“I hate him,” I said, perhaps too loud.

“Mommy says not to hate.”

I thought my son was asleep. I sat on the couch in a t-shirt, boxers, and tube socks, like I had most of the day. Aaron was curled up beside me. He wore his Spider-Man pajamas but he, at least, had dressed to go out when Anna left for work and took him to daycare.

“I can watch him,” I had told her the day after I had been fired. She smirked and chuckled.

I rubbed Aaron’s back. “Mommy’s right. Daddy shouldn’t have said hate.” Except, I meant it. I loathed everything about John Manning, Channel 9’s evening weatherman. His perfect hair and its business part. His gleaming smile. His charming personality. His dimples. I hated it all.

Because he was me. I had been Channel 9’s evening weatherman until the prior week.

Ken Martin called me into his office. Carley Jackson flanked him on the right and Steph Whitehead on the left. “Tom, we’re sorry,” Ken said after a minute of small talk, “but we’re letting you go.”

“What? Why?”

“Well…”

“You’re terrible at your job,” Carley interjected.

The inspiration behind “A Grandfather’s Yarn” (Of Stars and Space)

With the publication of my collection of stories, Of Stars and Space, this is part 9 in a series of posts about the inspiration behind each of the twelve stories.

A Grandfather’s Yarn is, perhaps, the shortest story in this collection. I wrote it as a submission to a science fiction contest a few years ago. It has two inspirations: First, was a trip a friend and I took to Arches National Park a decade ago. It was a beautiful scene and I tried to capture that with my words. Second, is the old notion that grandfathers like to spin stories with embellished facts–like the “walk uphill both ways in the snow” idea.

I combined these two inspirations and added a twist. Maybe aliens are real or maybe grandpa just likes to talk…

Of Stars and Space (and other stories) is available at Amazon in both Kindle and print formats. Kindle is immediate delivery; print is print-on-demand and may take a few days before the order ships.

“A Grandfather’s Yarn” and Of Stars and Space, © 2020, Michael Bergman

Excerpt from “A Grandfather’s Yarn”

I sat on the porch in my chair with my three grandchildren at my feet. Peter and Lucy were eight-year-old twins, and Michael was four. Peter giggled as he listened to my story.

“Grandpa, everyone knows that aliens aren’t real!”

I smiled. “Just wait, one day you’ll meet them, too.” The night had grown dark and the full moon hung high in the sky. “Now go wash and get ready for bed.” I loved it when my grandchildren visited and they loved staying up well past their bedtime, even if they didn’t always believe my stories.

The inspiration behind “Space Dinosaurs” (Of Stars and Space)

With the publication of my collection of stories, Of Stars and Space, this is part 8 in a series of posts about the inspiration behind each of the twelve stories.

In my one-year-old son’s room there hangs on the wall behind his closet door a banner to measure height and growth. My wife and I went with a dinosaur theme for his room, so in keeping with that theme, the banner has blue and green dinosaurs, a t-rex and brontosaurus, dancing and smiling. In between are the words Little but Loud.

Change the brontosaurs to a triceratops and you’ll notice a matching banner in this story.

In the mornings or after naps, H will walk to the edge of his crib, smile, and start waving at his banner. It’s just like one of the characters in this story. Who knows what goes on in the mind of a one-year-old, but I thought it would be fun to write a short story to give a reason behind the why? of smiling and waving at that banner.

And, so, “Space Dinosaurs” was born.

Of Stars and Space (and other stories) is available at Amazon in both Kindle and print formats. Kindle is immediate delivery; print is print-on-demand and may take a few days before the order ships.

“Space Dinosaurs” and Of Stars and Space, © 2020, Michael Bergman

Excerpt from “Space Dinosaurs”

Lydia’s blue eyes narrowed before they rolled. “Not this again.”

“Come on…”

“No, Steven. The theme is space and astronauts, not dinosaurs.”

“Just pretend they’re space dinosaurs.”

She glanced down and rubbed her belly. Our son, Issak, was due in two weeks. “What are we going to do with your daddy?”

I laughed. Then I held the banner against the wall. “How about over here by the closet door. When the door is open, you won’t even see it. Please?” I saw her look. I knew I was pushing it. “It was on my wall as a kid. It meant a lot to me.”

“Why? I mean, it’s cute, but why is it so important?”

The inspiration behind “The Perfect Man” (Of Stars and Space)

With the publication of my collection of stories, Of Stars and Space, this is part 7 in a series of posts about the inspiration behind each of the twelve stories.

“The Perfect Man” is the first story in the science fiction section of my book. It is a story about love, with a twist. It’s hard to dive too much into the inspiration of the story, because that would give away the twist.

I do, however, owe the story to my wife. A few years ago, I was suffering a case of writer’s block and I told her that I wasn’t sure what to write about. She thought for a moment and replied, “You should write a story about…”, and then four hours later, the first draft of The Perfect Man was finished.

I also submitted this story to Writer’s Digest annual writing competition. It took home an honorable mention. And, yes, they sent out the image below to use for “bragging rights.”

Of Stars and Space (and other stories) is available at Amazon in both Kindle and print formats. Kindle is immediate delivery; print is print-on-demand and may take a few days before the order ships.

“The Perfect Man” and Of Stars and Space, © 2020, Michael Bergman

Excerpt from “The Perfect Man”

Hearing their voices urging her on, she filled out a profile for an online dating site, entered her credit card information, and clicked Match Me!

And then she went to bed.

The next morning, Tamara found herself matched with ten guys. She immediately got rid of three who had no pictures. Four more seemed only interested in showing off muscles and cars. “Grow up,” she murmured as she closed them as well. Another guy looked cute, but was three years older than her and still lived with his mom. Another claimed to be some sort of wizard supreme from a parallel realm, whatever that meant. The last guy seemed normal and sweet, but he was an inch shorter than her and she just couldn’t see that working.

After the failure, she went about her day and woke with anticipation the next morning, much to the same results. Finally, on day four, she came across the profile of a man named Chad. He was thirty-two, never married, and an accountant with a legitimate firm. He had no pictures of himself flexing, none with his car, and none that appeared to have ex-girlfriends cropped out. He liked reading and hiking, and he owned a single cat—a British shorthair named Milo.

Best of all, she had a message waiting from him.

The inspiration behind “Trail Blazing” (Of Stars and Space)

With the publication of my collection of stories, Of Stars and Space, this is part 6 in a series of posts about the inspiration behind each of the twelve stories.

“Trail Blazing” is the final story in the life, love, and loss section of my book. It is a story about growing up and leaving behind childhood loves for new grownup loves. It is the adventure of two brothers and a cousin as they spend a week hiking along the Current River in southern Missouri.

One inspiration was growing up canoeing the Current River. Almost half the summers of my life have time spent on that river. Another inspiration is reflecting back on my own experiences of how life changes as you age.

Of Stars and Space (and other stories) is available at Amazon in both Kindle and print formats. Kindle is immediate delivery; print is print-on-demand and may take a few days before the order ships.

“Trail Blazing” and Of Stars and Space, © 2020, Michael Bergman

Excerpt from “Trail Blazing”

On that first trip Xander took with us, Parker was still out cold well after Xander and I woke. My brother sat beside me with a mischievous grin as we munched on granola and dry cereal. Then he told me his plan for a practical joke that involved a hatchet, duct tape, and the words last one up.

Now, as we waited for my brother to emerge, my and Parker’s laughter turned into solemn stillness. Without saying a word, we both knew what weighed on each other’s minds. He and I had just finished college, Xander would soon be a high school senior, and I was engaged to be married at the end of summer.

“I think I’m going to take the job in Virginia.” Parker broke the silence.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”