Christmas Takeover 32 Pt 3: Matthew C. Woodruff: Amy’s Valentine

Amy’s Valentine

A Short Story by Matthew C. Woodruff
2,366 words

When Maria and her daughter Amy moved into the dilapidated old house, they did so in the hopes of opening a Bed and Breakfast. It had been a dream of Maria’s to do so, and when her grandmother passed and left her a small amount of money, it was just enough to buy the old place in Siena, Florida. It was an exciting time for Maria and Amy and a big change for them. They both had great hopes for the future.

Sadly, due to an unfortunate accident Amy left Maria before any of it could be realized. Amy had been only twelve years old at the time. (This story is told in ’26 Absurdities of Tragic Proportions’.)

Maria suddenly found herself bereft and alone in a strange house in a strange town. Sadness and depression claimed much of Maria’s first few months in Siena. She would wake up most mornings with no will to turn this old place into the Bed and Breakfast she and Amy had planned for. In the mornings she felt some small amount of energy to continue but it soon dissipated in the face of the overwhelming amount of things that needed to be accomplished. Completely out of character, poor Maria just couldn’t formulate a plan to forge ahead with.

The holidays were the hardest time. On Halloween, which they both had loved, Maria kept all the lights off all day and stayed in bed crying, refusing to answer the door to all the gaily or grisly or plainly costumed children. On Thanksgiving, Maria felt she had very little to give thanks for and had her normal dinner of soup and toast, having little will to eat.

Christmas felt particularly abnormal to Maria. In Florida there was no snow and no cold. The colorful lights, the Christmas music and the decorated palm trees seemed garishly out of place in the bright warm sunshine. Somehow Maria made it through, though without a tree and without any joy.

Maria’s friend Allison who was still in New Jersey, talked to Maria almost every day on the phone trying to be encouraging and supportive, always listening to and even crying with Maria when appropriate. It helped Maria immensely, probably more than even Allison realized. Allison encouraged and cajoled Maria to get on with her life and plans and slowly Maria started to turn her big old home into the Bed and Breakfast she had always wanted.

Funds were low, so Allison also encouraged Maria to go out and find a part-time job, something hopefully she would enjoy. Finally Maria got a job at the local florist shop three days a week, and Maria did enjoy the work. Maria especially took care in arranging the flowers in the funeral arrangements, which seemed a large part of their business. She wanted them to be just right. She and Amy both loved flowers The many flowers she received when Amy had passed had meant a great deal to her so she wanted to do her best for other grieving people. This helped move Maria toward the healing she so badly needed.

As it does, time passed and a little sunshine reappeared in Maria’s life. She started to make friends, though none particularly close. She started all the things she would need to do in order to open her Bed and Breakfast, and finally just before the end of the 2nd summer since Amy had passed, she opened with her first two rooms ready.

Disappointingly for Maria, in the beginning business was sparse and she struggled to keep everything afloat, but apparently Maria had a knack for hosting and it wasn’t long before a small local paper did an article about Maria’s Bed and Breakfast, which Maria had lovingly named The Lady Amy Inn. This publicity started to bring in some more clients, relatives visiting locals mostly and occasionally as a retreat for a couple’s romantic weekend, etc.

Soon enough, Maria had five rooms open for guests.

The second set of holidays without Amy passed a little less morosely than the first and Maria made it through as well as could be expected. After all, of all the holidays it was Valentine’s day that had always been Amy and Maria’s favorite. Every February 14th, Maria and Amy would spend the day together doing special things. Even if it fell on a school day, Maria would take Amy out of school for the day.

There would be indoor picnics and ice skating, walks in the snowy park or trips to a museum where they would sit together and watch all the couples enjoying their romantic day and make up stories about them. “He had been a great war hero and she the love of his life,” Amy would say looking at a much older couple who was still holding hands, giggling with her mother all the while, or “She had been a busy professional with no time for love until he came along and swept her off her feet,” Amy would invent looking at a stern looking woman and her doting husband.

Maria had never had much luck in the romantic love department and Amy hadn’t yet had her first special friend, so the Valentine’s Days they spent together were perfect for them both.

When Valentine’s Day again approached, Maria felt much of the old sadness returning and decided to close The Lady Amy Inn for that week. Allison invited her to fly home for that whole week, and spend it with her and her husband, both of whom were happy to include Maria. Maria was glad to be taking the trip home, her first since she and Amy had driven to Florida two and a half years ago; but was also feeling trepidation at the prospect. She could go to all the places she and Amy would have went, and knew it would make her feel closer to her lost daughter.

Just before the day of her departing flight from the Tampa airport, a huge winter storm, the type they call a ‘Nor’easter’, moved up and over the east coast and blanketed it in many feet of snow and ice. Allison’s home lost power for many days and Maria’s flight was cancelled and a regular flight schedule into the area wouldn’t resume for at least five days.

Once again, Maria’s plan was smashed and now Maria found herself home alone for the week of Valentine’s, feeling sad and lonely. At first, she thought she might go do a few of the things she and Amy might have done, but as soon as she saw her first loving couple and knew exactly what Amy would have made up about them, she fled back home to stay ensconced for the rest of the week.

The afternoon of Valentine’s Day, a loud knock and an insistent ringing of the doorbell roused Maria and she went to see who it could possibly be. She walked to the doo rwith a slight spring of hope welling up at the thought that perhaps Allison had come to her, though rationally she knew it wasn’t possible.

Framed in the double doorway, backed by the setting winter sun, Maria saw a lone man standing, but with no luggage. Maria saw that he was perhaps just a bit older than herself. He had dark, straight hair just slightly longer than fashionable. His deep, dark eyes were framed by a clean shaven tanned face, with high cheek bones and a square jaw. It took Maria a moment to realize it, but this gentleman was quite striking to look at- tall, dark and handsome most would say.

“Can, can I help you?” Maria managed, dragging her eyes away from his, being unaccustomed to being over-whelmed with this type of feeling.

“Hi”, he said with a perfect and easy smile and a deep smooth voice with a slight Latin sultriness to it. “I certainly hope so. I’m stranded and need a place to stay. The owners of the drugstore said you might be able to help me. They speak very highly of your establishment. They said it was the best in town.”

Maria was momentarily unable to respond. Several thoughts swirled through her head at the same time. She was gratified to find out what other business owners in town thought about her Bed and Breakfast. The knowledge that her establishment was closed and she was being intruded upon also crashed into her mind. She thought of several snippy remarks, but knew she needed to remain polite. She would politely turn him away, regardless of his need or his deep, brown eyes.

“Of course, come on in,” she stated, aghast at herself, not knowing from where those words had sprung. “Um…,” she again started but was unable to complete the thought.

The handsome traveler stepped forward and Maria had no choice but to step back from the doorway and allow him entry. An aroma of heady masculinity momentarily surrounded Maria. Maria subconsciously ran her hands through her own long dark hair, hoping it looked okay and wishing she had put on some lipstick before answering the knock.

“Where, where is your luggage?” she managed to ask.

“I had to leave it with my car. I broke down just outside of town and walked the rest of the way. I was hoping to find a garage” (He pronounced it the New England way, as gear-age).

“Oh, there isn’t one in Siena,” Maria stated.

“That’s okay, I can call Triple A tomorrow. It’s dark so early this time of year, I thought I would just get a room and maybe a nice dinner somewhere. Do you have an available room?” He asked, with a lift of his brow.

Maria was going to say that her establishment was closed for the week. She wanted to say that, but instead simply said, “Yes.”

After seeing him settled into a room, she returned back downstairs and wondered what had come over her. She had never been the type to swoon in the presence of a handsome man before. As she was sitting in her small office off of the main entryway, he poked his head around the corner of the door. This surprised her so much she dropped the papers she was looking at and involuntarily said “Oh!” She hadn’t even heard him come down the creaky staircase.

He gave a small beautiful laugh and apologized for startling her.

“I was thinking of going out for dinner, and was hoping you would accompany me,” he said with no expectation in his voice but what instead sounded like hope.

“It’s Valentine’s Day, I can’t.” she said rather abruptly, immediately regretting it.

“Oh, of course, I understand,” he said obviously not understanding at all. “Can you recommend a place a single guy might get a good meal then?”

Maria considered what to do next. She bent down and picked up the papers she dropped earlier, lest he see her indecision. She really didn’t want to go out on Valentine’s Day… it was hers and Amy’s special day. But she did feel a strong sense of regret at not saying yes. It had been a long time since someone she found so attractive had asked her out.

“I could cook for us,” she heard herself saying.

In the end, they prepared the meal together, and enjoyed it with a good bottle of wine Maria had been given as a gift. They made small talk throughout and he learned quite a bit about Maria’s life.

After dinner, and after he insisted on doing the cleaning up, Maria was loath to think of him going back upstairs and leaving her alone once again. She was thinking of all the wonderful ways they might enjoy themselves for the night and was trying to think of a way to broach the subject. She had never been good at pursuit, but something about him made her feel like a giddy school girl anticipating her first kiss.

As he came out of the kitchen, drying his hands on a towel he surprised her by saying, “Maria, I have something for you, something Amy wanted you to have today on Valentine’s Day.”

Maria was totally stunned by this exclamation, especially because she had never mentioned her daughter’s name to him. Before she could object, he left the dining room and ran up the stairs. Maria was unable to explain to herself what was happening. How had he known about Amy? Was this something set up by Allison? Did someone in town tell him of her tragic past? She had no idea how she should react to what he said.

She heard him come back down the stairs and call to her from the main sitting room. She hesitated, wanting to go to him but her better sense telling her not to. He called again. Finally, she felt almost compelled to go in to him. What a strange day this has been, she thought to herself, a small voice in her head wondering why she suddenly felt so calm.

He was standing facing the fireplace when she came into the room. His back was strong and broad looking she noticed, her eyes wandering downwards liking everything she saw. She shook herself, wait this isn’t right, her mind was insistently telling her.

He turned toward her, his beautiful smile flashing. “Maria,” was the lone word that came forth from his lips and she went to him, loving the sound of his voice. He was holding out a smallish square box she noticed now as she moved toward him. It was dark red, the color of blood, a small voice in the back of her head warned her. The box was wrapped in a red velvet bow.

He held it out to her, and she took it gratefully, staring in to his dark eyes the whole time.

“Open it,” he said, “it’s for you from Amy.”

Obediently and hurriedly she unwrapped the bow and lifted the top off the beautiful box and gazing hopefully inside, screamed in horror.

Amy’s small desiccated heart lay within.

“Happy Valentine’s Day,” was the last thing Maria ever heard.

The End.

Author’s Note:

I hope you enjoyed these little dark fiction tales.
For a wonderful and unusual experience of dark fiction/dark humor,
read my new book
26 Absurdities of Tragic Proportions
available on Amazon.

Inspired by the illustrative works of Edward Gorey, this collection of
26 tales has been described as ‘spectacular’ and as ‘a true work of artistry’
by OnlineBoookClub.

For more information, or to receive a signed copy you may also visit my website.

Matthew grew up in upstate New York surrounded by books (and snow). After founding what became the most widely distributed alternative arts and entertainment magazine in upstate NY (based in Albany), Matthew moved to Greenville, FL where he accepted a position on staff at the University of Florida.

His first book, 26 Absurdities of Tragic Proportions, was inspired by his love of the macabre illustrations by artists like Edward Gorey. Selected as a finalist in the American Fiction Awards, 26 Absurdities may be the most unique collection of short stories ever written.

Matthew’s second book, Tales from the Aether, continues in the Dark Humor/Dark Fiction genre and is scheduled to be released November 1, 2019.

Matthew loves to be contacted by fellow authors and readers and can be found on Twitter or Facebook.

Christmas Takeover 32 Pt 2: Matthew C. Woodruff: The Dark New Year

The Dark New Year

A Short Story by Matthew C. Woodruff
1,939 words

As soon as he woke, Jay knew something was wrong. Though he was yet to open his eyes, every other sense was telling him things were somehow different. The air felt oppressive, strange smells assaulted his nostrils and even the feel of the bed was wrong. Momentarily Jay felt befuddled. Finally he also noticed faint background sounds that he couldn’t quite recognize. All at once Jay realized he wasn’t in the same place where he had gone to sleep the previous night.

Today is Monday, New Year’s Day and even though he had partied with his friends and imbibed liberally the night before, Jay distinctly remembered going to sleep in his own bed. As he thought about the events of last night he could even remember the Uber driver’s headlights startling a small raccoon as he pulled into a parking space in front of Jay’s building.

Just as he was going to give into the desire to open his eyes, he heard a faint rustling sound from across the room. The unexpected noise caused Jay to stiffen and he quieted his breathing, straining to listen closer in the hopes of hearing more. There is someone or something in the room with me, he thought with a small jolt of fear.

He was loath to give away the fact that he was now awake because he did not know what circumstances he has found himself, or in fact, how he had gotten wherever he seemed to be. Suddenly Jay realized there could be someone watching him. His fear and curiosity increased.

Has he been drugged and snatched from his own bed? Did he suffer some kind of medical emergency, an aneurism maybe and he is now in a hospital where he may have lain in a coma for who knows how long? Has there been a natural disaster or even a nuclear attack and he was brought to a survivors’ center? His mind whirled, seeking an explanation that made sense. But without more input he just didn’t have enough data to form a justifiable conclusion.

Finally, and without moving his head, Jay slowly opened one eye just a crack.

From his vantage point of lying flat on his back, he would have only a limited range of view. Jay expected to see a ceiling and maybe part of an upper wall. He saw nothing however, only blackness. He opened his other eye, and slightly turned his head toward the earlier sound. Still only blackness surrounded him. He couldn’t even see his hand held directly in front of his face. Earlier he was feeling both curiosity and fear to the strange circumstance he had found himself in. Now the total darkness was leaching the courage from him completely. Jay wondered where he could possibly be, for he had no idea.

Jay was hearing heavy breathing now and soon realized it was coming from himself. He had to calm down. Jay attempted to control his breathing and slow his heart. He closed his eyes again automatically in preparation for a calming technique he sometimes uses, but soon realized it didn’t matter. There was absolutely no light wherever he was. His attempt at the calming technique was soon abandoned. Right now, he needed more information.

A new sensation started pulsing through him, one that caused him to flush with the heat of worry. He had to take a piss, badly. He also realized he was terribly thirsty. No doubt both extremes resulting from the partying the night before. If it had been the night before, he thought.

Soon Jay wouldn’t have the luxury of laying in the bed, thinking. He would have to get out and find out where he was. He again heard a noise from across the room, if it was a room. Jay knew he could not let his imagination run astray. That type of worry would not be helpful and, as his bladder was insistently alerting him, he had enough worries for the moment.

After a few more minutes Jay decided to sit up and swing his feet onto the floor, being driven by desperation more than anything else. There must be a bathroom. Every place had a bathroom, Jay thought trying to marshal his resolve.

Jay pushed off the thin covering and sat up swinging his legs off the side of the bed. The platform of the bed must be unusually high though because Jay’s feet did not touch the floor. As he performed this small movement, he again heard a noise from nearby. A rustle caused by the movement of someone else, he wondered. He was in complete and utter blackness, and so was whomever or whatever else was in there with him. The insistent pressure on his bladder increased with the movement.

Jay stretched out one foot as far downward as possible, still meeting no resistance. How high off the floor am I, he wondered. Should he just jump down? The obvious thing to do he knew, would be to toss something over the side and wait for the noise of it striking the floor. But what could he use? He had no jewelry, no watch and no wallet. In fact, he had on no clothes, just the boxers he normally slept in.

He got fully back on the bed, and slowly stood up, balancing precariously on the spongy surface. He reached out fully with both arms but encountered nothing but air. No matter how far he reached, there were no nearby walls nor could not reach the ceiling or underneath the bed. By finding the edges of the ‘bed’ he was on, he could tell it was possibly just a bit wider than twice his width and about a foot longer than his prone length. It seemed as if he was floating on a small island in dark space.

He sat back down with his legs over one side. There was nothing more for it now, he thought. He had to piss, and he sure as hell wasn’t going to piss on himself. He maneuvered himself to what he considered the foot of the bed, got up on his knees and eagerly and desperately pissed over the side. He was intently listening for the final splash as his urine hit the floor underneath him, but no sound ever came back.

Once finished, Jay lay back down on the bed with his hands behind his head. He felt an inexplicable need to masturbate but squashed down the desire. Fear does strange things.

Soon he considered that he must be being watched or otherwise monitored. What else would be the point to imprison someone in the dark with absolutely nowhere to go but to gauge reactions?

After thinking about it for some time, Jay thought that maybe the monitoring was physical. He felt all over his body, in front and back and was rewarded by finding a small dime-shaped object attached in the small of his back. It felt totally smooth but was somehow embedded in the skin. So, just as he had thought, it was probably a small monitoring device of some kind. Someone brought him here as a kind of a test. But who, and why and where was here? These were the questions that all swirled around in Jay’s head.

But still he had no answers.

At this point and after exhausting all obvious attempts to discover something about his environment and circumstances Jay determined his only choice was to try to communicate with whomever. Jay hated scenes in movies where a character heard a noise in his house and walked through it saying ‘hello?’ as if some burglar or serial killer would respond to the genial request for communication. He considered it weak writing.

As he lay considering this, Jay heard the same rustle of movement from across the way.

Jay’s heartbeat intensified. “Hello?” Jay said out loud, sitting up. The rustle of sound continued for a moment then died away, just like the previous times he had heard it.

“Hello,” he demanded, “Answer me! Why am I here? Who are you?”

No answer ever came back.

Jay didn’t know how long he was in that dark place for, but after he screamed himself out he had fell asleep again and woke again and again and again. No effort to communicate, no matter how loud, how insistent or how hysterical was successful. The noises form across the way came intermittently and died away just as inexplicably as they started. Jay slept, woke, wondered and pissed for an indeterminate cycle of time.

Soon, the blackness became all. Jay knew something had to change before he lost his mind completely and only he could change it. He had no idea how long he had been in the darkness. Days, weeks, months… he could no longer tell.

Finally, he came to a decision. Jay sat up and swung his legs back over the side of the bed. After a moment he turned over and laying on his stomach he inched down the side of the bed until he was only hanging on with his hands. Still he could not feel a floor.

Now was the time for action, Jay thought and before his courage ran out, Jay let go.

The ringing of his cell phone woke him up. He slowly opened his eyes to find himself in his own bed, at home. Jay was in his own bedroom which was flooded with morning light. It was just a strange dream then, he thought. A very strange dream. He rolled over and grabbed the phone off the night table.

“Hello?” he said.

“Jay, buddy,’ the voice started. “Where the hell are you?”

“Jackson?” Jay asked. Jackson was Jay’s best friend since they both started working for the same software developer three years ago. “What…what is it?” he asked.

“You aren’t at work, dude. Are you okay?” Jackson asked. “You aren’t still hung over from the other night are you?”

“At work”, Jay repeated, being unable to wrap his mind around his suddenly changed circumstances. Today should be New Year’s Day, a work holiday…unless…

“Dude, Its Tuesday, we have that analyst meeting in ten minutes. I’ve been trying your cell all morning. Are you still at home?” Jackson said with some uncustomary concern in his voice.

Jay paused, looked around feeling confused and finally replied, “Um, yeah I am. It’s Tuesday, you said?” he asked. “I will call you back.” Jay hit the end call button and tossed his cell onto the bed and ran into the bathroom, shielding his eyes from the uncustomary brightness.

He gazed at himself in the mirror. He needed a shave, but no more than a normal night’s worth. He desperately turned around to see his lower back in the mirror but was unable to get the correct angle. He opened and dug through several drawers until he found a handheld mirror. He turned his back to the wall mirror once again and gazed at it in the handheld.

He now had a small but noticeable scar in the small of his back. Suddenly the bright lights and left-over fear and adrenalin overcame his reason. Jay ran through the apartment, turning off lights, closing blinds and drapes, anything to block out the insistent, unforgiving light.

Still it wasn’t enough.

In pure desperation to be away from the light, Jay ensconced himself in the small hallway closet, used towels and pillow cases to block the slight light coming in around the closed door.

It wasn’t total darkness, but it calmed Jay down immensely. It would have to do.

The End.

Matthew grew up in upstate New York surrounded by books (and snow). After founding what became the most widely distributed alternative arts and entertainment magazine in upstate NY (based in Albany), Matthew moved to Greenville, FL where he accepted a position on staff at the University of Florida.

His first book, 26 Absurdities of Tragic Proportions, was inspired by his love of the macabre illustrations by artists like Edward Gorey. Selected as a finalist in the American Fiction Awards, 26 Absurdities may be the most unique collection of short stories ever written.

Matthew’s second book, Tales from the Aether, continues in the Dark Humor/Dark Fiction genre and is scheduled to be released November 1, 2019.

Matthew loves to be contacted by fellow authors and readers and can be found on Twitter or Facebook.

Christmas Takeover 32 Pt 1: Matthew C. Woodruff: A Christmas Tale to Chill Your Heart

A Christmas Tale to Chill Your Heart

A Short Story by Matthew C. Woodruff
2,183 words

The beauty of the late autumn day was in sharp contradiction to the chilling aura oozing out of the Arnos Vale Cemetery that day. Even though the unseasonably warm sun was shining encouragingly on the shoppers at the annual Arnos Vale Christmas Market, Meshelle felt only a foreboding she couldn’t define even to herself. To Meshelle the ancient Arnos Vale Cemetery could have been the setting for any number of horror movies, all of which would most likely end in blood-splattering and gruesome ways.

She hesitated just as she was about to enter through the towering and ornate classical Greek granite and wrought iron gates.

“Come on,” her friend said to her from a good ten paces ahead, turning around and wondering what the holdup was. By now Meshelle’s friend was used to her small peculiarities. Meshelle was sensitive to certain things, often had a sense of foreboding or a feeling of the imminent intervention of destiny into her own or someone else’s life.

“Shel, just take a look at this place, it’s beautiful,” her best friend said while motioning around at everything, walking back toward her while trying to sound encouraging.

In her mind Meshelle agreed. Arnos Vale Cemetery was a beautiful place, with its wide stone walkways, the immaculately kept trees and shrubbery, with the bright morning sun glowing through their branches. Even the statues and stone mausoleums had a grace that couldn’t be denied. But in her heart, Meshelle could feel that the cold hand of fate was about to close.

Meshelle swallowed down her misgivings and allowed her friend to pull her inside. As she stepped through the portal into this habitation of the decaying, a strong sense of Déjà Vu washed over her, causing her to stumble. Her friend looked at her with concern.

“You ok?” She asked.

“Yes, I’m fine,” Meshelle answered. “It’s just, well you know… I felt…”

Meshelle’s friend did indeed know, for she had heard the story before from Meshelle. In fact, it was one of the first things she learned about her. It had been Christmas Eve thirteen years ago. Meshelle and her mother had been on the High Street in London just having finished a little last-minute shopping on the cold and snowy day and were headed to a hotel for lunch when a sudden and terrible feeling of foreboding washed over young Meshelle. So strong was the feeling that Meshelle stopped suddenly shaking uncontrollably, dropping the few bags she was carrying in the middle of the street and into the dirty slush, scaring them both.

“Shel, whatever is it dear,” her mother asked seeing Meshelle’s face white with fear, looking around to see if something was wrong. Ten-year-old Meshelle fought back the tears, looking at her boots she said shakily, “I…I don’t know, Ma. I just felt…wrong.” She was unable to put into words then, what she knew so strongly now. Something terrible was going to happen. Her mother pursed her lips, worried but not understanding. “Come on let’s pick these up and hurry into the hotel,” she said.

They hurried across the rest of the street, fogs of breath streaming out and the dirty slush squishing out from the bottoms of their boots with every stride. Their target, the Milestone Hotel was a grand old place reminiscent of times that were more refined. The huge lobby was speckled with divans, chairs, tables and ottomans. Ornate Persian carpets had been scattered about as if on a whim. There were grandiose side bureaus astrewn with draping holiday arrangements and side tables seemingly without number that were home to delicate looking antique vases or lamps or small statuary.

Large chandeliers of cut crystal were hanging from the high vaulted ceiling, bathing everything and everyone in a mid-19th century like glow. The largest fir tree either of them ever saw dominated the center of the tall lobby, colorfully decorated gaily with balls, ornaments, ribbon and bows and all manner of Christmas decoration. A ‘Happy Christmas’ was on everyone’s lips and shared willingly with fellow hotel guests as they chanced to pass one another.

On any normal day Meshelle and her mother would both be awestruck by the display of ample wealth and elegance and the fabulous Christmas decorations. Today they headed directly into the little side café, peeling off gloves, scarves and coats on the way, getting lighter and lighter like quickly melting snowmen. This wasn’t a normal day though or a normal Christmas Eve and not just because of Meshelle’s earlier sense of looming doom.

This Christmas was meant to be unique and special.

Much earlier that year, when the first birds and blooms of spring were appearing, Meshelle had spent a day home in bed, shaking with an undefined fear and foreboding, only to find out later that she had lost her father to an accident at work. It was a tragedy and was an Augean task to come to terms with for them both. There were several dark months for them earlier that year. But as time passed and its healing magic did its work, life began to return and take on a new normal.

This was the first Christmas since the loss and since they had no other family, Meshelle’s mother decided to start a new tradition for just the two of them. Instead of spending Christmas in their little memory-filled country house, they would spend Christmas Eve, Christmas day and Boxing day in London where all the hustle and bustle happened, in the hopes of bringing at least some joy, novelty and frivolity into the season.

As they installed themselves at a little table near the warmly burning fireplace and draped their coats and scarves over the backs of the chairs, like some conquering army’s pennants, a young and handsome black-tied waiter appeared with two menus. “Ladies,” he started, his American accent unmistakable, “merry…er I mean happy Christmas!”

Meshelle’s mother returned the greeting with a smile, but Meshelle kept her head down, for she was shy, and the waiter was very cute.

“Can I bring you both some hot chocolate or eggnog?” He inquired of them, handing each of them a lunch menu.

“I think hot chocolate sounds lovely,” Meshelle’s mother said to him. “Is that ok, dear?” She asked Meshelle.

“Yes, please” Meshelle quietly replied still barely looking up. The waiter smiled and turned toward the kitchens, stopping to check on a lovely older couple’s table on the way.

“My, isn’t he cute.” Meshelle’s mother said to a blushing Meshelle, glad the day was returning to normal. “Any idea what you want for lunch, today?”

“Cheese sandwich on toast,” she answered glancing at the menu just to verify it was offered. “And tomato soup.” It was her favorite. It was what she always ordered.

“That sounds delicious”, her mother agreed “but I think I will have the chicken today with the soup.”

The waiter soon returned to place two large mugs of steaming frothy hot chocolate in front of them both, adding a cinnamon stick to Meshelles while giving her a little wink, making her blush even more furiously.

With an appreciative laugh her mother ordered and the day resumed, all thoughts of the strange, earlier incident escaping from their minds like the fog of their breaths had earlier from their mouths. They both sat silently and contemplated the coming celebrations and gifts.

Fifteen minutes later, Meshelle’s mother choked to death on her chicken sandwich, the young waiter standing by helplessly while other patrons attempted in vain to assist her.

Eventually, Meshelle ended up in the same foster home as her now best friend and her life once again resumed.

“Come on,” Meshelle tugged on her friend’s sleeve coming back to the moment, “Let’s forget about all that and do some shopping!”

“Right on, Girl,” Her friend answered, heading with her toward the first of the vendor stalls.

The Cemetery that day was a plethora of gift giving ideas. There were quirky handmade gifts for sale. There was jewelry, homewares and art prints featuring wildflower and British animal watercolour illustrations. There were also bath and body products, including Merino felted soap. For the dog lover there was handmade dog accessories and pet portraits and prints. There were bags and scarves and boots for sale. There were kitchen accessories and small appliances. Meshelle even bought a new carving knife for herself.

And there was food galore available, there was hot chocolate and hot dogs, there was ice cream and ice coffee, there was muffins and danish, croissants and rolls, there were hot pretzels and freshly popped popcorn. The list of gloriously unhealthy food went on and on. There was enough going on to make Meshelle and her friend forget the day’s earlier worries.

Mid-day found Meshelle and her friend wandering off the main paths of the cemetery into the older and less traversed areas. Here the sites were not so well cared for. There was broken and turned over headstones, grass and shrubbery needed to be cared for and a few mausoleum doors were broken and ajar. There was even one open grave with a nearby rusty pick and shovel moldering in the grass.

The sounds of the Christmas market were fading into the distance.

“Come on,” Meshelle said, “Let’s head back” not liking the eerie surroundings.

“Wait, I have to tell you something.” Her friend said in a strange tone, stopping.

Meshelle turned toward her and placing her bags on a nearby, broken bench, took her hands. “What is it?”

After a pause Meshelle’s friend said, “I’m pregnant.”

Momentarily Meshelle was surprised into silence. Her friend was a lesbian and had been in a serious relationship for several years.

“Oh my God that’s great, isn’t it?” Meshelle inquired, trying to gauge her friend’s feelings. “You wanted a baby, didn’t you?”

When there was no reply from her pensive looking friend, Meshelle continued with, “who’s the baby daddy?” trying to lighten the mood before her friend’s silence became over-whelming.

“Robert,” her friend stated quietly, not looking at Meshelle.

“Robert? You mean my Robert?” Meshelle asked incredulously, her brow furrowing and dropping her friend’s hands like they were loathsome things. She and Robert had been dating fairly seriously for five months. Meshelle had confided to her friend that she thought she was in love. Now she couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

“My Robert?” She asked again sounding a little hysterical before becoming increasingly angry at the thought of the monstrous betrayal.

“Shel, I am so sorry… I…we didn’t mean for it to happen, it was just… Robert doesn’t know.” Her friend’s excuses tapered away, while she grabbed ineffectually at Meshelle’s hand.

Shaking free of her friend’s touch Meshelle turned toward the bench to try to quiet her raging heart. Red filled her vision. Her friend’s voice saying ‘Robert’ swirled furiously around and around in her head.

She looked up at her surroundings trying hard to calm down but all she could see around her was neglected death. The earlier sense of foreboding came crashing into her. It’s all just too much, she thought to herself, I lost dad then mom and now this!

She looked back down and all she could see now was the carving knife in one of her shopping bags. She pictured in her mind how sweet the end would be when it was finally all over, no more loss and no more pain. She picked up the bag and removed the box the knife was in.

“Shel, you’re scaring me, what are you doing?” Her friend said, quietly weeping now. “It’s not that bad, we can work through it…”

“SHUT UP!” Meshelle screamed no longer wanting to hear her friend’s pathetic voice, finally extricating the knife from the box.

She quickly turned toward her friend and plunged the knife deep into her friend’s stomach, killing both her and whatever life was growing inside, blood pouring out onto the unkempt path. A look of horror and fear flashed across her friend’s face as she dropped dead to the ground.

A little while later, the red receded and some sense of sanity returned to Meshelle. She dragged her friend’s corpse into the cold open grave and using the broken shovel covered it over with dirt, weeds and rock. She did her best to clean up the knife and cover over the blood on the path. Not knowing what more she could do, she gathered up all the bags and headed back to the gate, through the crowds of happy Christmas shoppers. She took her mobile out and called Robert.

“Hey Shel, what’s up?” He asked with a smile in his voice. His voice grated in her ears now and eyeing the carving knife back in its box in her bag she said, “I really want to see you, let’s meet later at Arnos Vale. I want to show you something.”

As she exited the Arnos Vale Cemetery toward the bus stop, she heard “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman” playing in the background.

The End.

Matthew grew up in upstate New York surrounded by books (and snow). After founding what became the most widely distributed alternative arts and entertainment magazine in upstate NY (based in Albany), Matthew moved to Greenville, FL where he accepted a position on staff at the University of Florida.

His first book, 26 Absurdities of Tragic Proportions, was inspired by his love of the macabre illustrations by artists like Edward Gorey. Selected as a finalist in the American Fiction Awards, 26 Absurdities may be the most unique collection of short stories ever written.

Matthew’s second book, Tales from the Aether, continues in the Dark Humor/Dark Fiction genre and is scheduled to be released November 1, 2019.

Matthew loves to be contacted by fellow authors and readers and can be found on Twitter or Facebook.

Halloween Extravaganza: Matthew C. Woodruff: Embrace Your Weirdness

I have to get better at organizing these guest posts if I plan to keep the subject “Halloween,” as I noticed that, in my “struggle” to get over a hundred authors involved, that I missed out on a few of these guest posts that I should have posted before Halloween. This is one of them. He talks about the struggle of choosing a costume as an adult, a struggle that I go through as well. Now you have… what? 341 days… to decide.

Embrace Your Weirdness

When I was young I was not allowed to celebrate Halloween. The idea of ghosts, witches and spirits returned from the dead was considered, I kid you not – Satanic. My parents were believers in a very conservative and ancient form of Christianity.

Now as an adult (at least in body) I see Halloween for what it is – a harmless opportunity to take on the alter ego of a favorite character, dead or alive. Outside of Comic Con and Furry Con there is very little opportunity for an adult to embrace their other selves. Halloween gives us the perfect opportunity to not only embrace our weirdness but to fit right in with everyone else.

Last Halloween I dressed as a Day of the Dead character – complete with face paint, top hat and walking cane. There is something oddly liberating in being masked, giving us the illusion of freedom from how we see ourselves and our own limitations.

This year I am yet undecided on how I may dress. The bummer is I have a doctor’s appointment that day so I will be limited as to what I can wear. I will have to reach within myself and pull out a realization of what my inner self wants to be.

Will I be an alien? Maybe, I like aliens but what is the psychology behind wanting to be something as alien as an alien? Will I go Goth? I could, after all, all the books I write are dark – dark humor, dark fiction… or I could transform myself into a monster – a Vampyre, a Zombie, a Werewolf. But am I, inside, any of those things? Pirates, Ninjas and Princesses – to me all those characters are too trite. I’m not any of those either.

Maybe I should stop and take an inventory of myself. I am anxiety-ridden. I am sarcastic. I am funny. I am tired. I am fueled by coffee, doughnuts and cats (I don’t eat the cats). I worry about where I’m going to park. I drink margaritas, when I drink. I count the number of things. I don’t kill bugs. I still do math on my fingers.

Of course, I’ve got it. I will just dress as myself, after all what could be weirder than that?

Whatever or whomever you decide to dress as this year, have a Happy Halloween!

Matthew grew up in upstate New York surrounded by books (and snow). After founding what became the most widely distributed alternative arts and entertainment magazine in upstate NY (based in Albany), Matthew moved to Greenville, FL where he accepted a position on staff at the University of Florida.

His first book, 26 Absurdities of Tragic Proportions, was inspired by his love of the macabre illustrations by artists like Edward Gorey. Selected as a finalist in the American Fiction Awards, 26 Absurdities may be the most unique collection of short stories ever written.

Matthew’s second book, Tales from the Aether, continues in the Dark Humor/Dark Fiction genre and is scheduled to be released November 1, 2019.

Matthew loves to be contacted by fellow authors and readers and can be found on Twitter or Facebook.

26 Absurdities of Tragic Proportions: Unusual & Enjoyable Tales

Awarded Finalist Prize in the 2019 American Fiction Awards ‘Short Stories’ Category by American Book Fest. 

An utterly fascinating collection of short tales inspired by Edward Gorey’s alphabetical illustrations in “The Gashlycrumb Tinies.” These tales capture the essence of dark humor and satire with one tale for each child depicted in Gorey’s most famous illustrations. These tales are all about human behavior, characteristics, chance and choice, and life and death. From mystery to sci-fi from drama to fairy tale and from adventure to gothic, this book has something for everyone.

Tales from the Aether: Extraordinary Tales of Dark Fiction, Dark Humor, & Horror

In this extraordinary collection of ‘dark’ short stories, Matthew C. Woodruff explores the timeless questions of Joy, Fear, Love, Loss, Foreboding and Incomprehension. All set around particular holidays, the characters in these twelve stories experience things we can only imagine. These stories will make the reader stop to wonder if anyone ever really knows those closest to them or even the world around them.