Very Short Story (VSS) Roundup 4/5/21-4/11/21

Here’s a collection of very short stories (tweet-length) I did based on prompts from vss365today.com over this past week. I’ve found these prompts are a fun way to keep the creative juices flowing and also are seeds for potential future stories. The prompt is the word next to each date. I hope you enjoy!

4/5/21 egg
The last egg stares at me from the plate. Maybe I shouldn’t have used the ones the kids hadn’t found, but we were out and grandma demands them.

Ugh. I don’t feel so well. Is that a tail? And horns? Shoot! I hope I’m hallucinating. I’m afraid, though, the eggs deviled me.

4/6/21 basket
“They’re monsters!”

“I’ve heard rumors. First, they take your ears, then your nose.”

“Charlie survived, but he was never the same.”

“Monsters!”

I leaned back, eyes closed, listening to their fears. It didn’t matter. Nothing stops a chocolate bunny’s time in the basket.

4/7/21 Whose
“Four, three, two, one.”

The portal opened, we expected the team back at any moment. When no one emerged, Shauna and I glanced at each other.

“Suit up.”

Ready, I stepped into the swirling lights. Once I could see, I cursed. A bloody hand lay on the ground. But whose?

4/8/21 Birds
There was no warning when the spaceships arrived, not even a radar blip. We weren’t prepared. They crippled our defenses and destroyed our cities before we launched a single missile.

I lived in the rubble. My world had gone silent. I missed the songs of birds most.

4/9/21 Picture
Sharon bought the strange-looking camera from a stranger-looking man in an alley. He promised she wouldn’t find a better one for the price.

When she snapped a picture of Earl, it emitted a beam of light. Her husband vanished, but it was the best photo she ever took.

4/10/21 Hippopotamus
The spaceship hovered over the zoo. A crowd gathered. Even scientists were slack-jawed.

First contact. A day so many look forward to.

The door opened. A creature emerged, strolled by the humans, and toward a hippopotamus, the most intelligent species on the planet.

4/11/21 Exile
Deborah set her gaze on the planet as the ship carried her away. She placed her hand on the window and whispered, “I’ll miss you, my love.”

It was the first day of exile.

Her heart ached for her husband, but leaving him stranded was the only way to keep the crew safe.

The Devil Went Back Down to Georgia (Writing Prompt Wednesday)

Today’s prompt is courtesy of: https://www.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts/
comments/mfmn0j/wp_the_devil_did_
go_down_to_georgia_and_there_he/

Here’s my story, enjoy!

Somewhere in Floyd County, Georgia

I watched from the bar as the short, slender man strolled through the door. He had yellow eyes, an oddity for sure, that gazed toward the stage. Thursday nights were Billy’s nights, and the young man, not even old enough to drink, stood and sawed away at his fiddle. Truth is, I never should have let Johnny in the door, and there sure shouldn’t be a cigarette hanging from his lips. My sister would kill me if she knew, but my nephew was just too darn good.

Billy’s playing was why half the men were buying whiskeys or placing more beers on their tab. The greasy blond-haired boy was good for business.

I’d never seen anyone’s fingers move so fast. Sweat flew in every direction, and Billy grinned as the crowd clapped and hollered. Then, without warning, he struck his final note and stomped the stage.

“Woo!”

My patrons erupted, except for the yellow-eyed man.

Billy wiped his brow, took a bow, and dropped the cigarette into the ashtray. “Takin’ a little intermission. Y’all sit tight.” My nephew smiled and carried his fiddle to the bar. He never let the instrument out of sight.

“Coke?” I asked as he eased onto a stool.

“Y’ain’t gonna let me have something stronger?” Billy asked with a grin. He knew the answer. “Just a water.”

I poured the glass and eyed the short man as he approached, carrying a case in his left hand. He sat beside Billy.

“What’s your poison?” I asked.

“Fireball,” the man replied. “Leave the bottle.”

Billy giggled. “A little on the nose, don’t ya’think?”

“Come now?” the man asked.

“With eyes like that, you obviously gotta be a demon or something.”

“William,” I said, as stern as I ever spoke to the boy.

“Oh, I’m not offended,” the man said. “But I’m no demon. The name’s Lucifer. I’m their prince.”

I set the shot on the bar and rolled my eyes. What a crazy thing to say, I thought, until he opened his case.

Billy’s eyes grew big. “Is that a golden fiddle?” Light shimmered off the instrument in all directions.

“The finest fiddle there is,” Lucifer said as he pulled it from the case and ran spindly fingers along its neck and strings. “Do you want to hold it?”

“Billy, don’t,” I said.

That boy never listens. He took the fiddle from who I now assumed was actually Satan.

“Whoa.”

“You’ll never find another like it. I’ll make you a deal…”

“Like in that song?”

The devil wryly smiled. “We don’t talk about that song.”

“How’d you get it back?”

“Johnny was… Just… Never mind. Do you want the opportunity for a golden fiddle or not? Try it.”

Billy plucked a few chords. I had never heard an instrument as well-tuned.

“You’re good,” Lucifer said. “But are you as good as me?”

“Lemme guess. We duel, and if I win, I get to keep your fiddle, and if you win, you get my soul.”

“Precisely.”

“Just like the song.” Billy grinned.

The devil furrowed his brow. “Just like the song,” he said through gritted teeth.

“You’re on.” Billy handed back the violin. “Hit the stage, let’s see whatcha got.” Before I could stop him, my nephew grabbed the shot of whiskey and tossed it against the back of his throat. “Woo!” He slammed the glass on the counter as his cheeks burned. “Pour the devil another!”

Lucifer grinned and sauntered to the stage.

I leaned toward my nephew. “This is not a good idea.”

“Trust me, Uncle James, I got this.”

“Pride goes before a fall.”

“Yeah, yeah. Mama tells me that all the time.”

I sighed. I wasn’t much of the praying sort, but I made an appeal to the Good Lord for Billy’s eternal soul. I stared at the stage with my arms folded across my chest. Billy drummed the bar with his fingers as he wore a big, goofy grin.

Lucifer plucked a few strings, smiled, and set his bow. His hands flew into a frenzy, faster than Billy’s ever had. My jaw dropped at the sound.

It wasn’t what I expected.

Billy clenched his jaw and scrunched his brow. I bit my lip and shook my head. This was bad. The men and women spread throughout the tables covered their ears.

“You suck!” someone shouted. Others booed.

The screeching ruckus threatened to drive away my patrons.

“This is awful,” Billy shouted at me over the racket.

I watched as those closest to the door stood.

“Hey!” I yelled as I jumped over the bar. The devil kept playing. “Hey!” I ran onto the stage and grabbed Lucifer’s hand.

His shoulders slumped with a sigh. “I might be a little out of practice.”

“Why don’t you come to the bar,” I whispered as the boos died down. “I’ll pour you another shot, on the house. Just stop playing, please.” I was an optimist at heart. I hated to see anyone dejected, even the dark lord of hell.

Lucifer again took a seat beside my nephew.

“That was awful,” Billy said.

“I know,” Lucifer replied. “I just need a little more practice to get back in the habit. Then I’ll take you on, Billy Hogan.”

My nephew smirked. “Oh, no, no. A deal’s a deal.”

The devil rolled his eyes and handed the fiddle to Billy. As the boy ran to the stage, Lucifer sipped his shot and shook his head. “I hate humans. You’re foul, vile creatures, especially your young ones.”

Billy jumped onto the stage and grabbed the mic. “This one’s for ol’ Lucy over there.” With a toothy grin, Billy set his bow to the strings and started in on The Devil Went Down to Georgia.

The devil growled and then yelled, “I hate this song!”

Image cred: unsplash.com/@mralireza06

Writing Prompt Wednesday (Characters in a Crunch)

Today’s writing prompt comes from Writers’ Digest. Click on over and join the discussion there: https://www.writersdigest.com/be-inspired/characters-in-a-crunch

Here’s my contribution:

“Oh, my gosh, Dad! What did you do?”

James stopped chewing mid-crunch and glanced up from his phone. His eyes were wide as Kole and Katie, still in their pajamas, stared at him.

“What?”

Katie held up the nearly empty cereal box and shook it. There were two, maybe three pieces left as crumbs. “Trix are for kids, Dad!”

“Sorry,” James muttered. Then he finished chewing his bite. “I was starving, and it was the only cereal we had. Your mom is shopping. She’s buying more. If you’re really that hungry, I can make you pancakes or something.”

Seven-year-old Kole had been scowling, but his eyes grew wide and his jaw dropped. Both he and ten-year-old Katie took a step back, but the boy cowered behind his sister. James followed his gaze and peered over his shoulder. He jumped, startled, and nearly spilled the remaining cereal and milk as he scurried to the opposite side of the table.

A six-foot-tall white cartoon rabbit stood in the kitchen. Its ears flopped as it cocked its head. “Hello, James.”

“This can’t be real.”

“Oh, I’m real.” The rabbit’s eyes narrowed. “Did you enjoy your lemony yellow and orangey orange, James?”

James sidestepped so he stood between the rabbit and his children. “They were alright. Froot Loops are better.”

The rabbit shook its head. “You shouldn’t have done it, James. You shouldn’t have eaten the Trix.”

“What do you want, Rabbit?”

The rabbit opened its mouth. A ray of sparkling blue light poured from the dark cavern behind its bright red tongue. Katie and Kole dropped to the floor. Katie hid her eyes, but Kole gawked. James felt warmth as the light enveloped him. It was soothing, like crawling under an electric blanket on a chilly evening. His clothes seemed to grow bigger. James stared at his hands and watched his wedding ring slide off and strike the linoleum with a clink.

That was when he realized his clothes weren’t getting larger.

The light faded, and James grabbed the waist of his pants to keep them from falling. “You turned me into a kid?” he squeaked.

The rabbit grinned. “There!” He pointed at the table, and a new box of cereal appeared. “Now you can enjoy all the Trix you want!” The rabbit turned and strolled out the back door.

Katie and Kole stood. James shook his head. “Your mom is going to kill me.” He glanced down at himself and sighed. Then he cocked his head and eyed his son. “I’m going to have to borrow some of your clothes.”

Photo cred: https://unsplash.com/@nyanastoica

Cultivate Future Readers

Want to cultivate future readers, writers, and other creatives? Read, read, and read to you children.

It’s a near daily thing in our house. We read about five or six books at the start of the day. Usually, as he grabs them, runs up, and shouts, “Bookie!” as he holds it high.

Yes, my wife and I have read about Llama Llama more than any human being should. But that’s okay. He wants to read because we read to him and we make sure to act excited about it.

Read to your kids, grandkids, nephews, nieces, etc. The future world will thank you.

A First Christmas (a Christmas short story)

Today’s Christmas story:

“Mmmm.” My eyes slowly opened. I could smell the bacon on the stove. I glanced over the side of the bunk. Stevie’s mattress was empty and his sheets in a tangled clump. I slowly lowered myself to the floor and yipped as my bare feet touched cold hardwood before I could find my slippers.

Landon still lay in his bed, half on his back and half on his side. His arm hung off the bed and his long, greasy hair covered his face. I grabbed Stevie’s pillow and threw it at my oldest brother. Landon grunted and stirred.

“What?” he mumbled.

“Come on! It’s Christmas! Dad’s cooking bacon and there are presents to open!”

Landon rolled away from me, not sharing my enthusiasm.

I ran to the kitchen. Stevie was already sitting at the table poking his fork into red and green pancakes.

“Good morning, Mark,” mom said and kissed my head. Dad slid a plate of three pancakes and a side of bacon onto the table.

My eyes grew big. “Looks delicious!” They tasted as good as they looked.

Stevie and I were done eating by the time Landon stumbled in scratching his neck. He yawned, stretched, and grabbed a pancake without sitting down. “Don’t we got presents or something?” he asked, crumbs falling from his lips. He glanced at me with a grin and a wink.

Mom clapped her hands together. “Yes, now that you’re all awake! Come, come!”

We moved to the living room and my brothers and I crammed around the tree. Stevie and I scuffled and scurried, trying to figure out which ones belonged to us.

“Boys,” dad said sternly as he sat in the recliner. “Calm yourselves. Landon, why don’t you pass out the presents this year?”

Landon shrugged. “Whatever.” Stevie and I sat back as Landon sorted through the wrapped treasures and stacked piles in front of us.

“On three,” mom said. “One… two…”

She didn’t make it to three before Stevie and I tore paper and sent it flying through the air. My first present was round and heavy. With the paper gone, I stared at a giant can of cut green beans.

Landon must have noticed the tears starting to well in my eyes. He leaned close and whispered, “Hey, buddy, remember you have to pretend to like it. That way they won’t realize that we know.”

I nodded, forced a smile, and glanced at mom and dad. “Thank you. It’s just what I wanted!”

The next Christmas was better. That first one was rough. That’s life, though, when your parents’ bodies get taken over by alien brain slugs.

©2020 Michael Bergman

Image by: unsplash.com/@hi_i_am_steph

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! 🙂

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?”