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?”

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.”

The inspiration behind “Strange Walls” (Of Stars and Space)

With the publication of my collection of stories, Of Stars and Space, this is part 5 in a series of posts about the inspiration behind each of the twelve stories.

One of the things you learn as a foster parent is to never say a negative thing about a child’s biological parents. It doesn’t matter the backstory. Every child has a longing for a good relationship with those who gave birth to him/her. To speak negatively about a child’s mom or dad is to attack that longing.

“Strange Walls” is a story about such a longing, told through the eyes of a 17-year-old boy in foster care. Abused and neglected, he simultaneously both loves and hates his father and longs for the good memories before his family was torn. Within the raw emotions, it is within those memories that a hope for the future is found.

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.

“Strange Walls” and Of Stars and Space, © 2020, Michael Bergman

Excerpt from “Strange Walls”

There is a funny thing about being a kid in the system. Good people, like the Isaacs, mean it when they say they are there for you. Their love is genuine. In time, you figure that out and even begin to feel love for them.

And then you hate yourself.

It’s like you’re betraying where you came from, even if where you came from involved too much alcohol and yelling, and not enough hugs.