Cover Reveal: Mattson Academy

Yesterday, we revealed the first cover of our upcoming 2023 titles. Today, we’re equally excited to share the second (of four) cover: Jay O’Keefe’s MATTSON ACADEMY! This title marks the first YA Fantasy book in the BSC catalog, and we’re not only proud to have Jay as the leading example, but we’re extremely excited to bring you a fantastical adventure that all readers can enjoy. Join us in our celebration by watching the cover reveal video below:

CONGRATULATIONS, Jay, on a fantastic book cover!
We’re so excited to be publishing your amazing work!

And readers, be sure to visit Jay’s author page to learn more about the author,
follow him on Twitter, and read excerpts of Mattson Academy (coming soon!).

Get ready for a magical adventure like none other!

MATTSON ACADEMY is a YA fantasy story that follows high schooler Connor McTaggart and his friends in their investigation of bloodsucking monsters that have beset upon their school. Danger lurks in every corner, and unbeknownst to Connor, he has stumbled into a gruesome ritual performed by one of his classmates, making him the next target. Connor and his friends must find who’s behind these attacks before it’s too late – and still study for midterms.


Cover Reveal: Hannah and Other Stories

We’re very excited to share the cover for Rami Ungar’s HANNAH AND OTHER STORIES! This title marks the first of four to be released by BSC in 2023, and we’re proud to have Rami leading the talented lineup of authors. Join us in our celebration by watching the cover reveal video below:

CONGRATULATIONS, Rami, on a wonderful book cover!
We’re so excited to be publishing your amazing work!

And readers, be sure to visit Rami’s author page to learn more about
the author, his other works, and especially Hannah (excerpts coming soon!).

Are you scared yet? Then Rami’s job here is done!

HANNAH AND OTHER STORIES is a collection of seven horror short stories that examine the thin veneer between the world of the ordinary and the world of the strange, aiming to take the reader on a twisted journey so they question their reality – of what’s real and what’s not.


BSC on Holiday Hiatus

Dear writers and readers,

We are currently on holiday hiatus. We understand that we jumped into it a little early this year, but 2022 has not been terribly kind to our staff. From physical ailments to losing loved ones, our staff needs to take care of their current authors while also caring for their own mental and physical health. So that we can continue supporting our current author list, we need to recognize our own human limits. To do this, we must go on holiday hiatus a bit early. By doing so, we can slow down a little, breathe, and still finish on-time for our year-end.

We apologize for any inconvenience! We’ll be back in January 2023. And when we return, we’ll have THREE books to talk about with you: Rami Ungar’s horror short story collection Hannah and Other Stories, Ethan McGuire’s poetry collection Apocalypse Dance, and Jay O’Keefe’s YA fantasy novel Mattson Academy. You are not going to want to miss all of this upcoming excitement!

Thank you so much for all your support,

BSC Staff

BSC Christmas Writing Contest: Winners Announced

This Christmas season, we made an exclusive call on Twitter for short Christmas stories in any genre so that we could contribute to the holiday spirit – and possibly bring joy to the world’s readers. We didn’t really know what to expect with such an open genre category, but we were certain that we’d be in for a treat, with all the talented writers on Twitter. And we were not disappointed!

The stories we received took us on journeys, some even delved into highlighting mental health issues, disabilities, and world culture. More than a few had us laughing and two had us crying – literal streams of tears. It was hard to choose just three stories to publish, much less choose one winner of the $25 cash prize.

Since the writers made it so difficult to choose, we decided to publish 4 stories, with one of them being the winner of the contest. It is with absolute joy that we present those stories that made us feel something, be it hope, joy, love, or so much more. Please enjoy these four Christmas stories by talented writers on Twitter, as our Christmas gift to you, our readers.

Congratulations to the following writers and their stories on winning the 2021 BSC Christmas Short Story Contest:

Athena Bliss
Christmas Miracle
Honorable Mention

Julie Hollingshead
Hope Forgotten: A Christmas Story
(Contemporary, True Events, Mental Health)
3rd Place

Gloria Miles
Gabriela’s Christmas Cobbler
(Contemporary, Mexican Culture, Mental Health)
2nd Place

James Nicholas Adams
The Curse of Santa Claus
1st Place

All of the above stories are published here for your reading enjoyment. Simply keep scrolling to read them one-by-one, from Athena Bliss to James Nicholas Adams, or click the title of the story you wish to read and be taken directly to your choice.

Christmas Miracle
by Athena Bliss

Everyone has Christmas traditions. Special meals, gift-giving rituals, travel plans. Our family wasn’t any different, I thought. But the tradition my family started ended up saving lives.

 It was all about the tree. No, we didn’t go out every year to cut down a perfect specimen. We’ve had the same fake, plastic tree since before I was born; it had survived the 80s without me ever seeing that decade at all, a nineties baby through and through. Faded green plastic needles, and wire poking out from a few branches. Mom used to spray pine oil on it to give it that ‘authentic’ tree aroma, that wonderful, chemical perfume that melted the plastic and made the tree sticky to the touch without fooling anyone into thinking for even a second that it had once stood in a forest somewhere. I loved every tacky, ancient, festive inch of it.

I remember the first year our tradition started. I was six, and my baby sister had been born just a few months earlier, too young to really appreciate her first Christmas. Mom sealed her hospital tag in an empty ornament and hung it on the tree.

“We should add our own special memories to it,” She’d beamed. “We can all add something every year to remind us about the good things that have happened.”

The next day my father added a silver locket to a high up branch with my sister’s initial: S for Sally. He smiled, watching it spin, reflecting the twinkling lights.

For six-year-old me, a decision of this magnitude wasn’t an easy task. I considered adding my favourite toy, but mom reminded me that all the decorations go away for an entire year. I couldn’t bear the thought of my bunny being locked for so long in the dark garage; I hated being there alone myself. The damp smell and single flickering bare lightbulb was the stuff of six-year-old me’s nightmares.

The following day I saw my big brother’s addition, a plastic spider. He did it on purpose! He knew I was terrified of them. I saw his grin from across the room as I side-eyed the unsavoury ornament.

I remember complaining to mom, but she insisted that we get one pick, and if my brother wanted to waste his chance on a prank then I would just have to let him.

Another week passed, and I still couldn’t decide. That year was big for me; it was my first year of school. I’d met new friends and every day, every little trinket, was so special. Eventually, though, I found it. The memory I wanted to be on a tree forever. A polaroid from my birthday party — my friends and my family crowded around the table as I blew out the candles. But it wasn’t the cake or the presents that made my little heart flutter back then. It was a boy that sat next to me at the table, my very first crush. His laugh made my stomach do flip-flops every time I heard it, which was every day of school. Funnily enough, now I can’t even remember his name.

Mom didn’t question it. She carefully cut out a hole and threaded a piece of ribbon through it, letting me find a place for it among colourful baubles.

Thus the tradition was born.

The next year we all knew the assignment and had our decorations ready. Mom added a Volkswagen keychain to celebrate her new car. She also made a little decoration on my sister’s behalf. Her favourite pacifier, to celebrate her finally managing to give it up.

Once again, my brother displayed his level of maturity by adding a beer can tag on a string. Mom gave him a disapproving look but didn’t protest. Earlier in the year my parents had caught him drinking so technically this counted as a memory.

Personally I thought mine was the best one. I’d spent days on it. Looking at the glitter and paint monstrosity now, I feel a wee bit embarrassed about my cockiness at the time, but I was only seven. The bedazzled pinecone was a memento from a camping trip that summer. My first real trip out of state and a few nights spent sleeping under the stars.

I wasn’t the only one who wanted to commemorate camping. My father hung a bow made out of the shoelaces from his hiking boots, worn out and frayed. I remember the striped pattern. He hadn’t bothered washing them, so they were still caked in mud.

The next year wasn’t as joyous. My father lost his job, and mom had to work extra shifts. I barely saw either of them. My brother cooked dinner most nights. Meat became a luxury, and if mom did bring a pack of ground beef with her weekly shopping, she had to stretch it thin. Soup and chilli on bread. It was all I could remember from that year. No outings, no new clothes, and when Christmas came… no presents.

At that age, my biggest worry was anyone finding out. So I lied to my friends about the mountain of boxes under the tree.

Soup, chilli, and lies. How could I commemorate it for the Christmas ornament tradition?

Mom tried to lift our spirits.

“How about we add decorations with extra wishes? Ever hear of a Christmas miracle?” She kissed me on the cheek as I sat pouting on her lap. A little part of me wanted to believe her.

“I’ll start then.” My father came into the room, an empty leather wallet in his hand. He took a piece of paper and drew a crude hundred dollar note. Placing it inside, he hung the wallet on the tree.

My brother seeing a smile on my face, followed suit.

“I wish to find a girlfriend next year.” He cut out a bikini-clad model from the mail order catalogue and hung the stunning brunette on a branch.

Mom nudged me towards the tree. “Go on, wish for something.”

A million wishes raced through my head. I couldn’t pick just one. I agonised over it, before finally tucking my bunny — well loved, battered, and filthy — into the tree.

I want us to be happy again.

A Christmas miracle. I never doubted it again. My father got a well-paid supervising job at a new car manufacturing plant. Mom was able to stay home, and, surprisingly enough, my brother brought home a girl. A Christmas miracle, indeed. Someone dumb enough to tolerate his ass, and boy was she pretty. Tall, with bronze skin, and sun-bleached brown hair. Jess. She could have stepped out of the pages of the magazine my idiot brother cut her out of. She was nice too! I’d get a treat every time she visited. A chocolate bar or a new set of hair ties. I think I loved her more than my brother ever did.

Time flew by, and so did the Christmases. Two years later, she joined us in putting on her own memories. Two golden rings sparkled in the tree. One from my brother and one from her. A memory and a wish for the wedding to come.

A wedding that never happened.

Jess disappeared. Just before Christmas. A miracle that was taken as suddenly as it was given.

The Christmas tree didn’t go up that year. No memories, no wishes.

I couldn’t let it go. I believed. I believed that a wish on that tree could help. I believed it with all my heart.

So that year, while the house was empty, I dragged the dust-covered box from the garage and began the yearly ritual. I was following a spell recipe. The tree, the lights, the tinsel. Then came the memories. One by one., year by year I added them, placing the rings on last.

But the spell needed more for the miracle to happen.

This year’s wishes.

I looked through my mother’s bedroom and found a bridal catalogue. Poor mom had been so excited to help Jess find a dress. Carefully I cut out the blushing bride and tied her onto a string. Then for my little sister, a toy. After all, she was still young. Kids only care for toys.

My brother’s room was dark, filled with bottles and laundry. He rarely left it these days, consumed by his grief. I stole Jess’s photo from the frame next to his bed. He would forgive me when a miracle happened. I didn’t doubt his wish.

The last one was from my dad. I turned on the flickering light in his shed out back, looking for something that called out to me. Tools, camping gear, cleaning and lawn supplies. I went through the drawers under the workbench. More tools, oil-stained bolts and old batteries. Drawer after drawer full of junk; I was ready to give up and tie an ancient wrench to the tree when I opened the last drawer. Inside it was a box full of broken trinkets. Pieces of chain, single earrings, keychains. Among them, I found a golden hoop. Jess used to love wearing her oversized gold hoops. She had hundreds of pairs; she said they made her feel like a pop star.

My father would want her back too. He was so fond of her.

I added a chain to the earring and took it back inside. It joined the other wishes on the tree. Only one ingredient remained. My wish.

“Please… We need a miracle,” I prayed, adding a simple paper star crudely cut out of yellow paper.

To this day, I don’t doubt it, that miracles are possible if we ask for them. My wish came true. They found Jess in our own backyard.

I remember mom’s sobs. My brother’s agonising screams, the holes he left in the drywall.

I remember the policemen all over our living room. I remember them taking our memories and our wishes.

The earring I found was Jess’s. She was wearing it in the photo I had taken from my brother. A single strand of her perfect brunette hair caught in the latch matched samples taken from her decaying scalp.

The wallet that brought us the miracle of wealth had belonged to an aspiring actress killed in a park.

The shoelace bows weren’t just a memento of a fun camping trip. The stains I had innocently believed was just dark mud were mingled with the blood of a young female hiker who had gone missing while my family enjoyed s’mores by the campfire.

And the locket. No, it didn’t stand for our Sally, my little sister’s name on the year of her birth. ’S’ was for Sandra. Sandra was found strangled in a creek, half a mile from my father’s old job.

“A true Christmas miracle,” said the detective, bagging my last wish. The last of our tradition that had saved lives.

Just not quickly enough.

Athena is a neurodiverse fantasy author of Russian/Ainu descent. She currently
lives in New Zealand.

Hope Forgotten: A Christmas Story
(Inspired by True Events)
by Julie Hollingshead

Nicole stared at the dark circles under her eyes in the bathroom mirror. Her reflection was lit only by two of the five vanity lights. In the mirror, she noticed a red smudge on the inner curve of the sink below her. She looked down to examine it. Knowing what it was she quickly grabbed a cleaning cloth and started to scrub. It wasn’t coming off easily, it had been there for a few days. She must’ve missed it when she was cleaning up what had looked like a small crime scene. She thought about giving up until the red finally started to come off. The place where the spot had been was clean again.

Nicole washed her hands being careful to get around her wedding ring. Again, she stared at her reflection. Her long dark sun-streaked hair couldn’t hide the pain in her green eyes. She thought of her son’s blue eyes and chubby toddler cheeks. She walked to the bedroom doorway looking upon her son’s sleeping face. His rosy cheeks were barely lit by the bathroom lights. His blankets slowly moved up and down as he breathed. She wanted to go to him, but she feared he’d wake up and make the separation that much harder.

Her unborn child kicked as if reminding her of the time. The heaviness of responsibility weighed on her, she needed to get to work. She pulled herself away, stopping by the bathroom door to turn the light off. She walked to the kitchen table. Her purse sat next to an array of envelopes and letters each printed with Saint Marks Hospital. Each paper seemed to have more red ink than black. She paused feeling the weight those envelopes carried. Don’t give up, she silently prayed. The prayer was not for her alone.

Nicole looked at the faint light on the microwave. It was 5:30 am.

She turned from the kitchen, twisting her wedding ring as she walked to the door. It had become a habit of hers over the years as if symbolic of their life going in circles.

“Have a good day,” her mother-in-law whispered from the side room.

“Thanks, you too. He’s still asleep,” Nicole said softly before slipping out the door.

Nicole stepped out into the brisk December air. It was too dark to see her breath. Touching the steering wheel made her hands that much colder. She shivered as she drove, barely noticing the few houses that still had Christmas lights on at this hour. Though few, their effort to light up the darkness all around could not be ignored.

Nicole noticed the gas meter close to empty, reflecting the way she felt inside. Muscle memory set in as she made her way into the manufacturing facility. She picked up her punch card and slid it into the punch clock. The sharp sound awakened her senses as if the sound was a new experience. The hum of the sewing machines broke through the silent barrier of her thoughts.

She walked to her sewing station, set down her purse, and placed her coat on her chair.

“Good morning, Nicole,” Trisha said, making her way to her sewing machine.

“Hi, Trisha,” Nicole replied, trying to match Trisha’s smile. The effort seemed futile.

Nicole sat down. Next to her lay a stack of bundles, new work to be done. She pulled off her job sticker and placed it on her piece-rate paper and began operating the sewing machine. Again muscle memory set in with the humming of the manufacturing facility as Nicole’s thoughts wandered.

Nicole remembered when she was eighteen at her dorm complex knocking on Bekah’s door. She was feeling down and needed someone to talk to.

Bekah’s roommate opened the door.

“Is Bekah here?” Nicole asked.

The roommate turned and spoke loudly behind the door. “It’s Nicole.”

“Nicole, come in,” Bekah called from the living room.

Nicole stepped into the apartment and closed the door. She wanted to talk to Bekah because she was sick of dating. That is, until she saw his blue eyes looking right at her.


The sound of the alarm brought Nicole back to the present, alerting her that it was time for the 2-minute stretching break. An effort to promote good health at work. She stopped sewing and stood up. Christmas music played over the PA system. She looked around and watched how others were stretching and mimicked what they were doing.

Nicole saw Trisha stretching as she walked toward her.

“Are you okay?” Trisha asked before stopping near Nicole.

Nicole knew Trisha to be an observant person, hence her effort to force a smile earlier.

“Is everything okay with Michael?” Trisha asked.

Nicole tried to hold in her emotions like she was holding her breath. She didn’t know where to start for fear of losing control. At that point, she knew she wouldn’t be able to talk through the sobbing.

The music stopped, indicating that they needed to get back to work.

“I’ll be okay.” Nicole breathed out.

Trisha didn’t look convinced.

Nicole sat back down and started her work again, allowing her thoughts to distract her.

The dorm living room had four people. The handsome blue-eyed man with brown hair and broad shoulders sat on the couch that Bekah was on. Two other college students sat on the floor with their laptops and books. The blue-eyed man was the only unfamiliar face to Nicole.

“Nicole, this is Michael,” Bekah introduced.

“I’m sorry I didn’t mean to interrupt,” Nicole said politely.

“You aren’t interrupting. Come sit down,” Bekah insisted.

Nicole sat on the couch. She was very aware that only a few inches separated her and Michael.

Nicole shivered, having forgotten her coat.

“Here,” Michael said, offering his coat to her.

“Thank you,” she said, feeling his warmth still in his coat. He smelled good, too.

A sewing machine across the aisle started acting up. The sound reminded Nicole of sprinklers.

Her thoughts took her to a night outside her parents’ home.

“Go to the sprinkler box and open the lid,” her mother told her through the phone.

Nicole held the portable phone to her ear and grabbed a flashlight on the way out the front door.

“Okay, I’m at the sprinkler box and the lid is off,” Nicole said, holding the phone with one hand and shining the flashlight in the dark box with the other. She was highly aware that the box contained the possibility of spiders.

“Okay,” her mother continued. “Do you see the white lever next to the big blocky thing?”

“Yes,” Nicole responded.

“Turn it.”

Nicole cradled the receiver with her shoulder to free one hand. She quickly and carefully turned the lever. Loud squirting noises startled her and she jumped back. The noises were accompanied by a scream that she realized was her own. She darted for the sidewalk.

“Mom!” Nicole scolded through the phone. “You didn’t tell me the sprinklers would turn on.”

The front door opened and Michael came running out to Nicole. His eyes were wide and his fists were clenched ready for a fight.

“Are you okay?” He asked looking around for a perpetrator.

“Oh, you heard me scream,” Nicole said, realizing he was concerned for her safety. “I’m fine, I was only startled.”

“You’re okay.” He breathed heavily and embraced her.

“Nicole, Nicole!” Trisha called.

Nicole looked up, focusing her vision on Trisha.

“It’s time for our 15-minute break,” Trisha said. “Let’s go get some breakfast.”

Nicole stopped and turned off her machine.

She picked up her purse and got up to follow Trisha to the cafeteria. She asked for her usual small bowl of cream of wheat, added brown sugar, and handed 50 cents to the cashier.

Trisha usually got the same thing. Nicole followed her to an empty table.

They sat there in silence while they ate.

“Are you okay? Is Michael okay?” Trisha’s eyebrows curved inward.

“Michael’s in the hospital,” Nicole said, her voice barely audible.

“What happened?” Trisha asked.

“There’s not enough time,” Nicole said. “We have to get back to work.”

Trisha checked the time. “Alright then, at lunchtime?’’ she said standing up. Nicole nodded following her past the trash can and back to their stations. Nicole’s thoughts almost drifted before she even began her work.

She remembered when Michael proposed to her in the cold of February, and their beautiful late spring wedding, and when Michael was so excited to become a father. Seeing him hold their son for the first time in the hospital.

The hospital. The thought reminded Nicole of her current challenge.

What happened? Nicole thought. Did I do something wrong?

She partly blamed herself.

Nicole recalled the drive home from the hospital. It was late. A handful of lights shone in the darkness guiding her home as street lights streamed through her rain-streaked windshield. All she could think of was that she had failed Micheal in not being enough to help him. Even though she knew he would be getting help, she could not help but wonder why she was unable to fix everything.

She remembered trying to be cheerful and comforting as she put their son to bed that night. He looked at the door and said, “Dada?”

She held him close. “Daddy’s not here,” she whispered. “Mommy’s here.”

She laid him down and gently placed his blankets over him as she hummed a lullaby. She lay next to him until he fell asleep.

“Nicole, lunchtime,” Trisha reminded her. Waking Nicole from her thoughts again.

Nicole shook her head trying to mentally re-enter the present.

“Talk to me,” Nicole said as they sat down with their lunch.

Nicole took a deep breath.

“Michael was feeling…” she choked up, struggling to get the last word out. “suicidal. He needed to go to the hospital.” Nicole turned to her lunch trying to distract her emotions.

“Oh Nicole,” Trisha said, putting her arm around her. “I’m so sorry, when did this happen?”

“Before the weekend.” Glistening droplets began to stream down Nicole’s cheeks. “Now we have these hospital bills.” She paused trying to remain in control. “I just don’t know what to do.”

Trisha hugged her. “Who’s watching your son right now?”

Nicole wiped her cheeks dry. “My mother-in-law. I called her on the way home from the hospital. She drove nearly 5 hours to get here.”

“Everything is going to be okay,” Trisha said, patting Nicole’s back. “I want to pray for you, would that be alright?”

Nicole nodded.

Trisha bowed her head and started to pray.

Oh Now? thought Nicole as she quickly bowed her head to join Trisha.

“Dear Lord,” Trisha started. “Please bless Nicole. Please strengthen her through this trial.”

Nicole felt a calming feeling wash over her.

“Please bless her,” Trisha continued, “with the funds needed to cover her bills. And we pray for a miracle for her husband. Heal his mind. Help him be home in time for Christmas. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”

“Amen,” Nicole said softly. “Thank you.”

Together they finished their lunch.

A woman approached them. Nicole noticed it was the director’s assistant, Cherie.

“Hi, Nicole.” She said, “Could you come with me for a moment?”

“Yes,” Nicole said as she started to clean up her lunch.

“I got this,” Trisha said. “You go.”

“Thanks,” Nicole said and turned to follow Cherie.

Nicole’s nerves set in.

Why was this happening? She worried about Michael and hoped it had nothing to do with him. But what if it did? What if this was bad news? Was he okay? What if this wasn’t about him? Was I going to lose my job?

Nicole took a deep breath and slowly exhaled.

Cherie led her to the director’s office and stopped at the door, slowly opening it to stick her head in. “Nicole is here.”

“Send her in,” Nicole heard Kris, the director, say.

Cherie stepped back to allow Nicole to walk into the office then closed the door behind her. Nicole knew Kris to be a kind man. He was large in stature even as he sat at his large walnut desk.

“Have a seat,” he said kindly.

Nicole quietly stepped forward and sat down. A white envelope lay on the desk.

His kind blue eyes peered over his reading glasses. “Each year,” he said, “anonymous donations are made and we think about those here at work who might need a little extra something for the holidays. Your name was suggested. We would like you to accept this.” He slid the envelope to her.

Nicole didn’t realize how thick it was until it was under her nose. She held her breath again, but she couldn’t hold back the tears.

“Thank you,” she managed to say. “This is much needed this year. Thank you so much.”

“Are you okay?” he asked tenderly.

“I’ll be okay,” she tried to convince him. “My emotions are close to the surface today.”

“Is there anything else we can do for you?” He asked.

Nicole let out a small sob and looked at him with teary eyes. “Could you pray for a miracle? My husband is in the psych ward of the hospital. He was suicidal last week. I am worried about his anxiety kicking in, feeling trapped in the hospital.”

“I am sorry to hear that,” he said. “Miracles can happen. Don’t give up hope.”

Nicole stood up. “This,” she paused, holding the envelope tenderly in her hand, “is a miracle. Thank you, again.”

“Merry Christmas,” he said.

“Merry Christmas,” she echoed before turning to walk out of his office.

Nicole walked back to her desk. A new feeling overcame her, a feeling that had become a stranger to her. Hope. She finished her work, gathered her belongings and her punch card, and she clocked out. She walked outside, the brisk fresh air filled her lungs as she breathed in deeply and soaked up the afternoon sun. She felt much different than she did that morning.

She climbed into her car and placed her purse on the passenger seat. The envelope fell out and it was then she noticed the stack of cash and gift cards. Curiosity got a hold of her and she started counting. What little moisture was left in her eyes swelled as she counted past the amount that was due on their bills. She put the envelope away and held onto the steering wheel as if supporting herself.

“Thank you,” she prayed.

The drive home felt peaceful. Though she was still concerned about her husband, the weight was not fully upon her. The phone rang as she walked into her home.

Her mother-in-law answered it.

“It’s the hospital,” she said, handing Nicole the receiver.

The peaceful feeling mostly escaped Nicole as she rushed to put her ear to the phone.

“Hello?” She said into the unknown. She leaned against the wall to brace herself.

She heard a small breath taken on the other end of the call then a soft voice, “Hi Angel.”

“Michael?” Nicole said, recognizing her husband’s voice. “Is everything okay?”

“Yes, everything is better now.”

“I love you,” Nicole said. She heard him sigh, she knew he was grateful for her love.

“ I love you too.” His voice sounded tired yet reassuring. “I have some good news.”

“Yes?” Nicole said, her hope was on edge.

“I’m coming home.”

Nicole slid down the wall to the floor and began to cry. Her heart was full of gratitude.

She knew she would never forget that experience.

Each year the Christmas season reminds Nicole of the miracles she witnessed. It is not only a reminder to search for small miracles every day, but it is also a reminder to never give up hope.

Julie is a writer whose words intertwine with reality. She takes true events and mixes them into
believable fiction that has a touch of heart and hope.

Gabriela’s Christmas Cobbler
by Gloria Miles

Maria startled at the sound of a child’s voice. It was very young, the words barely coherent. Her watery eyes searched the room for the source and then focused on the small form holding out a golden cookie. His chubby, little hand held the cookie in a semi-fist, the treat already somewhat smushed. She smiled, surprised to find a solitary toddler at her feet, pointed at the offering and held out her hand. It shook gently but the baby was able to deposit the gift onto her palm.

She sniffed it and couldn’t decide whether it was a plain sugar cookie or something a little fancier. Maybe Gabriela had added chocolate chips. With a start, she realized she hadn’t seen her daughter all day.

The toddler’s babbly whine stole her attention. A maternal instinct flared within her breast. It had been a very long time since she had mothered a baby, but the ability was etched in her mind. She smiled at him again, trying to tell him it would be okay. When his distress grew, she looked around, searching for his mother. Perhaps he was one of those babies with a stay-at-home mother who spent most of the day perched on a hip or wrapped on a back.

A hazy memory of stirring rice with a baby on her hip flickered in her mind. She could even smell the familiar spices.

He pulled on the knitted throw that sat over her lap and the memory floated away into the ether. She yanked the piece back, frowning now, hoping he wouldn’t fall. She didn’t want a fussy mother chastising her for knocking over the baby. Of course, she would have to fuss right back, ask why he had been left unattended.

He tugged again and she let out an exhale of frustration. “Porque estas quejando? (Why are you whining?)”

She noted the cookie in her hand. When had she picked that up? No matter, she thought. This will make him happy.

“Here you go, Angel.” She knew his name. Another memory flickered. Of course, you know his name. That’s your grandson.

A heavy dread settled over her shoulders. The feeling was familiar but she didn’t know why. It felt like déjà vu. It felt like something was wrong. She frowned and her heartbeat quickened. Where was Gabriela?


Gabriela’s house smelled like cinnamon, peaches, and chile. It was Christmas Day and everyone had already opened their presents. Wrapping paper littered the living room and was spilling into the kitchen, with her aunts and cousins preparing the last bits of dinner. The bustling of bodies warmed the home so much she privately considered turning on the air conditioning, but settled for turning on the overhead fans.

Once upon a time, Christmas was spent on her mom and dad’s ranchito in Southern Texas. David, her brother, took advantage of the rural location and — much to the approval of all the children — would arrive with firecrackers. The two semi-feral dogs that were allowed to roam the property would startle and bark at the small fireworks, then bolt when the louder ones were used. He would laugh. All bark and no bite, those two.

After their father died and their mother’s health began to fail, Gabriela and her siblings took turns hosting the major holidays. Somewhere within the rotation, they decided her house was best suited to take on the winter holidays. This was partially because her house was the largest, but she knew it was also because she had no children to care for. Who wanted to be host when the responsibilities didn’t end shortly after the party? She understood, so she didn’t complain. Though, she had to gently remind her family that living alone didn’t mean she was lonely, and while she enjoyed their company, she also enjoyed the solitude between visits.

Gabriela walked into her living room chuckling to herself over the scene. Monica, her oldest sister, was busy convincing the children to tidy the festive chaos that used to be the living room; her son Gilbert sat in the middle, trying his best to open his remote-control car, oblivious of his mother’s commands.

Maria sat comfortably and distracted on her wooden rocker. One of the smallest children, Angel, handed her a half-eaten cookie. She smiled, pleased, and sniffed it. She considered the item but when he grew distressed and began tugging on her throw, she gave it back.  

After Angel ran off to join his siblings, Maria looked around the room, her mouth opening and closing, as if she wanted to cry out but wasn’t sure what to say. Gabriela couldn’t tell what had triggered the episode, but she knew she had to deescalate the situation before it became something noteworthy.

Besides major holidays, another responsibility that had fallen on Gabriela’s shoulders was the care of her mother. She had the most space and the most resources, her siblings contributing financially and visited regularly to give her a break, but the majority of caretaking duties fell on her. It was a burden she couldn’t explain and one she couldn’t shoulder forever.

She had fought the decision early on, apprehensive of the responsibility of caring for someone — even if that someone was her mother — with dementia. The disease was not something that would improve over time. Instead, there was simply treatment to slow the effects. The rest was watching over the slow death of her mother.

“You don’t even have kids,” Monica had said one day at Gabriela’s kitchen table. They had come over to visit and Maria had fallen asleep on the couch. “It’s just one person. And it’s not like she runs around like a toddler. She just sits there most of the time. And I can pitch in for a home nurse if you really need someone to come by sometimes.”

Gabriela had sighed, miserable. “It’s not just that. She’s getting worse. She’s getting worse all the time and I get front row seat to it.” Her eyes welled with tears and she blinked them back.

David had crossed his arms, angry. “We visit every time we can. You’re the one who gets all irritated if we come by too often, Miss Soltera.”

“That’s not what —”

“Then what?” David had almost exploded out of his chair. “We don’t lock away our parents. That’s not what we do. We take care of our family.”

Gabriela was furious. “I am taking care of my family. This is taking care of her. She is getting to a point where I’m not going to be able to care for her properly. I have a flexible job, yeah, but I still have to leave. And she likes to wander. She tries to escape. Her medical appointments are getting more frequent. She is starting to fight taking her medicine. She wakes up crying about Dad, wondering where he is. She asks for Wela. She keeps thinking she’s able to do stuff she can’t and gets angry. And last week she forgot who I was. Do you — do you guys understand how —” And then tears flowed freely.

Over a year had passed from the conversation and they had all finally agreed Maria needed professional care 24/7. They decided one last Christmas under Gabriela’s house as a whole family would pass before they would officially move her into the assisted living community.

Gabriela walked to her mother and smiled, praying she’d be recognized. “Hi, Ama. You okay? You hungry?”

Maria looked up, startled. Recognition flashed in her eyes and Gabriela’s shoulders relaxed. Her mother considered. “Si, tengo un poco de hambre. (Yes, I’m a little hungry.)” The words were mumbled but still recognizable.

“I brought a tortilla. Here, toma.” Gabriela held out the rolled-up flour tortilla, the inside freshly buttered. She had gone to the kitchen to ask how much longer dinner needed to cook for before they could eat. According to her aunt, Pilar, dinner was almost ready. But Gabriela was sure the stated reassurance — como quince minutos mas (about fifteen more minutes) — was said out of habit, not from an actual estimate. So, she swiped a tortilla from its container.

Maria’s eyes lit up. “Oh, thank you, Ma!”

Gabriela bit her lip hard. “You’re welcome.” It came out as a whisper and she wasn’t sure if her mother heard her.

“When is dinner ready, Tia?”

She turned and saw her nephew, Cesar, smiling at her. He was holding the magnifying glass she had bought him for Christmas against one of his eyes, creating a comical almost cartoonish image. She laughed. “Soon, mijo.”

Naomi, his sister, bounced over. “Tia!” Her white frilly dress was already smeared with something orange, likely marker.

“Like I told your brother, we’re eating soon.” She laughed when Naomi’s face dropped.

“Calmansen,” said David. “We’ll eat when it’s ready. Although, y’know, maybe you can go help in the kitchen and they’ll finish faster.”

Gabriela shot him a look. “I’m already playing hostess. Why don’t you help in the kitchen, Gordo?”

He patted his generous abdomen. “I am. Taste tester.” He guffawed as his children tugged on his arms, insulted he was able to sneak a taste of dinner without saving them a bite. “You gotta learn the art of helping by being in the way. Then they’ll shoo you away with something.”

The kids’ eyes lit up and they ran to the kitchen.

“Claudia’s going to kill you,” Gabriela said, shaking her head. “You’re shameless.” But she was smiling.

“She’s probably eating, too.” He rubbed his belly again but to reference his wife’s pregnant belly.

“Well, at least she has an excuse.”

“What? This is sympathy weight. She has me eat all the leftovers.”

They laughed but it was cut short by their mother’s whimpers.


It was dinnertime. Maria could tell by the smells in the kitchen. She needed to get up and turn off the burners. When she turned her head, she saw a portion of her kitchen cabinets through the opening in the wall that led in from the living room.

It was all wrong. She had never had cream cabinets. Hers had always been a light shade of green that José had hated and vowed to refinish. Of course, like a lot of other projects, it was never completed. But that was okay with her, she loved the color and secretly hoped José procrastinated forever.

Or was she thinking of her mother’s house? Were her cabinets green? In her mind’s eye, she saw the image of a colorful rooster engrained in the cabinet doors that flanked the stove. But she couldn’t place where she had seen it.

Her eyes refocused on the current kitchen and it felt all wrong. “My cabinets were never this color.”

The house was teeming with people. Maybe one of them knew where she was.

“The cabinets are wrong.”

“What are you saying, Ama?”

Maria focused on the woman talking. She looked nice enough. “Is this my house?”

The woman smiled but it didn’t reach her eyes. Maria felt as if she said something wrong but the woman answered her anyway. “This is my house. But yes, you live here.”

“What?” Maria looked at the man by her side and frowned. “No. I do not.”

The woman pressed her lips into a line. “Are you thirsty? Do you need anything?”

A few children ran past, a toddler trailing not too far behind. Maria tilted her head, trying to remember where she had seen him before. Oh! It’s the little boy from before.

“Is he your son?” Maria pointed to the kids.

“Say that again?”

Maria harumphed, her patience waning. She didn’t want to talk to her anymore. And she didn’t like how the man was looking at her. “What are you looking at, panzón? You and your big belly should go find your next meal instead of staring at women.”

His face turned a ruddy color and she lifted her chin, defiant. Let him try something. José would defend her.

Her heart rate quickened. Where was José? Judging by the darkness behind the window blinds, it was late in the evening. He should be home by now. Ice flooded her veins. Maybe he was home. The woman had just explained this was her house. Home could be miles and miles away. Had they kidnapped her?

“Where’s José? Where is he?” The question shocked them and their faces chilled her to the bone. “Where is my José?” Her breathing grew ragged.


Gabriela saw the hurt reflected in David’s eyes as their mother berated his weight. He wasn’t her son at the moment, just a fat man that scared her. Maria’s words came in and out of focus, some mushed and incomprehensible, some as sharp as a sword.

At the sound of their father’s name, their mouths opened in surprise. It wasn’t rare for their mother to want her late husband, but it was uncommon enough to surprise them each time. The first few times she had asked for José, Gabriela had answered with the truth, that he had died years ago. But for Maria, the grief was brand new. For her part, Gabriela had heard the wail of a shattered heart enough for several lifetimes. She had held onto her mother as the old woman struggled and scratched at her, angry at news, at the world.

“Mentirosa! (Liar!)” Over and over, her mother had screamed the word at her. But her frailness didn’t allow her to do much but struggle. Eventually, the screaming turned to sobbing turned to fatigue and then to the fitful rest of a troubled mind. When she awoke, she asked Gabriela to drive her to the store. She wanted to pick up some more yarn for her latest crochet project.

“Where is my José?”

Gabriela smiled gently. “Let’s go look in the kitchen, yes? I’ll help you.”

Maria frowned at her, suspicious. “Well, okay. But we need to hurry. He might be at my house. He’ll be hungry.”

David found his sister’s eyes and shot her an angry look. “You’re lying to her?” he mouthed.

“He gets very hungry after work,” continued Maria, oblivious to the silent conversation her children were having above her head. She moved the blanket off of her lap and began her adjustments to stand.

“She’ll forget by the time she gets to the kitchen,” Gabriela said, careful to keep her voice at a whisper. She could tell her brother disapproved but he didn’t have a better idea and began to help his mother out of the chair.

“Thank you, mijo,” Maria said.

The trio walked slowly to the kitchen. When they entered, Pilar’s eyes lit up. “Hey! Just in time. Dinner is ready!”

Maria shook her head. “About time. You take so long.”

“Good things come to those who wait.” Pilar laughed and winked at Maria and David.

David looked over at Maria and she pressed her lips into a line. “Told you. She got distracted. Let’s get her seated.”

Everyone made their way to the dining room, with the exception of the younger children who sat at the square kitchen table. Their plates had already been made and served, which provided the adults some time to eat and converse by themselves.

Food was passed around the dining table and Gabriela served her mother only the food she requested.

As everyone caught up on the latest gossip, Gabriela felt herself relax. Her mother was happily eating her food. She looked over to David and mouthed a thanks. Later, she’d ask Monica to help her get their mother to bed. The excitement of the day would likely mean she’d want to sleep as soon as she had a full belly.

“Are we still playing loteria later?” Claudia asked, referring to a popular Mexican game that is similar to American bingo, only the token is placed on top of an image of a matching card rather than on numbers.

“Of course,” said Gabriela.

“Oh, good! I brought all my nickels and pennies. And I brought all of David’s quarters.”

David yelped. “What! Have you been in my collection, vieja?”

The table laughed and began making bets on who would win the large pot. Last year, the family had gotten a little rowdy and started throwing in dollars to the big pot. Their cousin Martin had won. The scream from everyone when he shouted Buenas! was probably heard several streets down.

“I’ve been waiting for my revenge,” Claudia said, rubbing her hands together.

“We definitely need the baby money,” said David. “So, if me or Claudia win, then it’s a win.”

“For me!” Claudia yelled, a hand on her belly. “If you win, it’s our money. If I win…”

He filled the pause. “It’s our money.”

Her eyes sparkled. “It’s my money.”

The women at the table cheered. Exactly!

“How is that fair?” David crossed his arms.

“I give you babies and this is your repayment. You’re welcome. You still owe me.”

Gabriela jumped from her seat. “Oh! I made peach cobbler and forgot to take it out. I’ve been experimenting and I think it’s so yummy. Everyone needs to try some.”

 “Uh-oh,” mumbled David. Gabriela reached out and smacked him on the head. “Ow, what was that for?”

 She rolled her eyes. “For pretending you aren’t going to eat any. I’ll be right back.”

The children jumped at her appearance in the kitchen and requested refills of juice and more of the Christmas cookies they had baked earlier. After obliging, she returned to the dining room with two large pans.

“This is heavy, someone help!”

A few people cleared spots on the table and her cousin Chuy grabbed a pan. The two divvied portions for everyone at the table.

 “Oh my gosh, Gabriela,” said Monica, “this is so good. I’m almost sad I ate so many tamales.”


The word pierced through the buzz on the table. Everyone turned and focused their attention on Maria. She stabbed into her piece of pie, looked at it, and put it in her mouth. She chewed for a moment and smiled.

“This is so good. Do you remember…” Her voiced faltered for a moment. “We lived — I don’t remember. Wait, I do. It was on 3rd street? After your dad lost his job, he had to find little ones to make money. Anything he could. Painting. Day labor. Yard work. Helping with trash dumps. Didn’t matter. The pay was terrible. And some say it was better than nothing. But I’m not so sure.

“Anyway, he felt like he was failing us. Because, well, you know, men are providers. And since he had lost his job… But he wasn’t a failure, you know. He provided us with love all the time. And he provided us with his strength and his intelligence. He knew how to fix everything in the house. And how to stretch the little money we had as much as possible. He was always so good with numbers.”

Maria’s voiced held a mild tremble, but the words flowed, albeit slowly.

“But I knew how he felt. I felt like a failure. I had these beautiful children…” She stopped talking and looked them each in the eye; the clarity and recognition filled their eyes with tears.

David took a deep, even breath, as if afraid any sudden movement would shatter the moment. Claudia took his hand and he squeezed back.

“You beautiful children needed a beautiful childhood. But how could I provide that when we could barely keep a roof over your head?” She took another bite of her pie and smiled. “Either way, one time, at church, one of the sisters brought a peach cobbler. And you guys loved it! Or one of you loved it. I don’t know. But I wanted to make it. So, I gathered all the ingredients we had. Bread, peaches in heavy syrup, and a little bit of cinnamon. We only had the stick kind, not the powdered. I had to chop it as small as I could. I baked it and it was nothing like hers. But you all acted like it was the best thing ever. You ate the whole thing!

“I don’t know if you remember. But this pie reminds me of that day. Because I can tell you made it with all your love.”

Silent tears streamed down Gabriela’s face. She smiled and took a shaky breath. “I did. I do remember that day. I was always afraid to eat peach cobbler after that. I didn’t want to ruin the meaning. I was hoping because of this Christmas…” Her voice failed her.

Maria nodded. “It reminds me of our struggles, of the love we had to get through dark days, and that we made it. Look at you now! We lived in a half-broken shack and now you live in this big, beautiful house. Making peach pie all fancy.”

“It’s peach cobbler, Ama,” said David, his eyes red and glassy. He grinned at his mother. “You have to learn American-ese.”

Maria scrunched her face. “Texas is barely America. It was Mexico for a long time and then the border crossed us. Esto es peach pie.”

David barked out a laugh and wiped his eyes. “Peach pie.”

“As long as you remember my tamales are better than yours,” teased Pilar and made her way to embrace her sister-in-law.

“Ay, you,” sighed Maria and swatted her arm. “Okay, maybe a little bit better.”

Pilar laughed and kissed each cheek. “Love you, Maria.”

“Are we going to play loteria today?” Maria asked.

“Claro!” said Claudia. “I’m winning.”

“Oh.” Maria looked around. “I don’t have my monies.”

“I’ll help you, Ama,” said Monica. “I have extra.”

And with that, the table was cleared and set up for the simple game. As they swapped jokes and mild insults, the children, bored of playing with their Christmas toys, filtered in to the dining room. Gilbert convinced the adults to let him call out the cards.

“El valentino!” he yelled.

“No!” yelled David. “Not that one!”

“Oh,” said Gilbert and swapped it for another from the middle. “La Serena!”

“No, ‘pos ‘ta cheating!” said Chuy, not at all amused.

Maria laughed. “Dejalo porque yo tengo una serena! (Let him because I have a mermaid space.)”

“Mom is allowing it,” said Gabriela and winked at her nephew. He beamed and continued to the next one.

“If David wins, it doesn’t count,” grumbled Chuy, though this time he was smiling.

The game lasted a few rounds and Maria even won one, her face bright and ecstatic when she was handed the cup holding her winnings. “Put this somewhere safe,” she instructed Monica.

“Si, Ama.” Of course.

Eventually, the game’s appeal wore off on Maria and sleep began to call for her. Monica signaled for Gabriela and the two helped her say her goodbyes and leave the dining room.

Monica helped her mother undress and put on loose pajamas. Gabriela helped her mother onto the toilet and through her hygiene routine. The pair then helped her into her bed and kissed her forehead.

“Is this my room?” asked Maria.

Monica’s chin quivered and she looked away. Gabriela smiled at her mom and nodded.

“Oh, okay. Well, good, because I’m tired.”

Gabriela nodded. “It was a busy day. I hope it was a good day for you.”

Her mother nodded absent-mindedly. “I liked the pie.”

“Thanks.” She dimmed the lights and they started to leave.

Her mother called out.

“What was that?”

“Is this my room?”

Gabriela returned to the bed and sat next to her mom. “Yes. This is your room.”

“It doesn’t look like my room.”

She hesitated. “We just… made it more comfy, okay?”

“Oh, okay.”

“Go to sleep, okay?”


Gabriela ran her fingers gently over Maria’s head, not unlike the memories of how her mother did the same to her as a child. When her mother’s breathing slowed, she stood and stretched.

Monica was still in the room watching, her eyes red-rimmed. “That is exhausting, huh?” When Gabriela shrugged and forced her lips into a smile, she shook her head. “I still think you were the best one for her all these years, but I’m doubly glad we decided to find her a dedicated home so she can get help all day and night.” She hesitated. “Does she have a lot of moments that are that lucid?”

Gabriela shook her head slowly. “No. Not anymore. It used to be the other way around. I think — I think soon she won’t have any. She’s going to eventually forget us. Everything.”

The gravity of her disease pressed in on the sisters and they quickly exited their mother’s room, taking a full breath when they were back in the hallway, the sounds of their family playing loteria in the background.

“Except for tonight,” Monica said.


“Tonight. She remembered everything tonight. Like a present for us. For herself.”

Gabriela gave an ironic laugh. “I’m never going to make peach cobbler again.” She sighed.

“Well…” Monica wrapped her arms around her sister and squeezed her tightly. She stood back. “I hope you do. Might be another long while… but I hope you do.”

Gloria Miles is an emerging writer who focuses primarily on trauma and healing. Her main work
surrounds fiction, but she also pens essays and sometimes content.

The Curse of Santa Clause
by James Nicholas Adams

This is not the fabrications of Santa Claus told to children so they remember the magic of the season and ignite a selfless desire to give. No, this is the truth. This is a warning to those who try to catch a glimpse of the head elf and see that twinkle in his eye. For if you do, it will be the last thing you see in this life before the curse takes hold of you and you are forced to serve the dark master of mischief forever…

Take heed to this warning.
He knows when you’re awake.
He knows if you’ve been bad or good,
And if you’re bad, your soul he’ll take.

As the story is told, Saint Nicholas delivered coins to those who left their shoes out overnight. He placed small gifts into stockings hung on the window to dry. He did many selfless acts of kindness. Great deeds that could fill volumes. But that is only part of the story.

The thing most people don’t know is that Nicholas was like any other little boy, overly curious with an utter disregard for the rules and an insatiable desire to prove how strong and brave he was. This is how the curse began over two thousand years ago.

Nicholas’ mother had told him to feed the chickens and pigs before going anywhere. So, naturally, he shirked his chores and ran off to play and explore the hills and caves far from town. The countryside, of what we know today to be Turkey, was familiar to Nicholas. When he and his friends weren’t causing mischief in the village, they went exploring. And being the fearless leader he was, nothing phased Nicholas.

That is, until he encountered an old hut deep in the woods.

His friends had already beaten him there and were awaiting his arrival.

“What is this?” Nicholas asked, an excited twinkle in his blue eyes.

“We just got here and were waiting for you,” Peri answered, rubbing his hands together greedily.

“Yeah. Thought we would try and knock it down,” Cin, the smallest of the boys, added.

Cin picked up a stone and handed it over to Nicholas. Nicholas wound up and let the stone loose. It sailed through the air with a whistle, hitting the door with practiced precision. The old hut wobbled and crumpled down. All three boys laughed triumphantly as they ran to examine Nicholas’ kill.

When they arrived, they heard what sounded like an old woman groaning.

“Help me please!” Someone pleaded from inside the rubble.

Nicholas picked up a nearby stick and pushed aside some of the rotten wood. The wrinkled, spotted face of an old woman looked up at him. Pained tears glistened in her eyes.

“Please, boys,” she begged again, “help me out of here, or else I will certainly perish.”

Nicholas smiled, his cheeks turned rosy. “For all we know, you are an evil witch and I have saved my village. Why should I help you?”

Bright, colorful lights surrounded them, freezing the boys in their tracks. The woman floated up from beneath the debris and toward the bewitched trio. She transformed into a beautiful, young woman in a sparkling ice-blue dress.

The woman sang.

“If sainthood you desire, your wish is my command.
Only good will you do, else beware the reprimand.
From now until the end of time, a servant you will be
Of kindness and good fortune, but do not let them see.
If in your twinkling eyes they look, this will be the cost
Forever they will serve you, and their souls be lost.
Now go along your jolly way, serving without pause
Eternally the King of Elves, forever Santa Claus.”

The woman vanished. The lights dispersed, swirling around the three boys, gathering closer together until they entered Nicholas’ heart. Suddenly he could move again. He first met Peri’s eyes. In a flash of red and green smoke, Peri was gone. The smoke cleared and left behind a hairy stone-gray creature no larger than a toddler. Long, pointed ears poked out from his head and he looked back at Nicholas with large coal black eyes.

“Peri?” Nicholas crouched down.

Peri bowed. “I live to serve you.”

Cin kneeled next to Nicholas. Nicholas turned his head and the two boys’ eyes met for only a second. Red and green smoke exploded in Nicholas’ face, making him cough. He waved away the smoke. Another small creature remained, this one forest green.

“Hello, master,” Cin smiled, showing yellow pointed teeth.

Nicholas stood up and ran home, Peri and Cin following close behind.

“Mother!” Nicholas yelled. “Mother, something happened.”

Nicholas’ mother looked up from the chicken coop where she had been attending to Nicholas’ chores. Her angered expression turned to worry as she saw her son running home with tears in his eyes, then melted to horror as she glimpsed the furry elves chasing after Nicholas. She dropped the bucket of feed, sending the chickens into a hungry frenzy, and ran inside. Once Nicholas crossed the threshold, she slammed the door and dropped the bar across to lock it. Two loud thuds rattled the door.

“What’s happened, Nicholas?”

Nicholas turned his head away from his mother and buried his face in his hands.

“Please Nicholas, talk to me.” She tried to turn him around. “What is wrong?”

Nicholas shook his head and fought against his mother, trying hard to not look at her. Finally, she turned him around and wrenched his hands from his face. With a puff of smoke in red and green, Nicholas’s mother was no more.

“Mother, no!” Nicholas cried out. “I’m sorry I was a bad boy.”

As the smoke cleared, a pink elf with curly hair and long eyelashes appeared, smiling up at him.

“Azra at your service,” she said, bowing deeply.

“Oh, Mother,” Nicholas wept. “I never meant for this to happen. This is all that old witch’s fault! I must find her and make her undo the curse!”

Nicholas packed a bag and left the village at once, the three elves following close behind. He trekked back to the broken hut in the wooded hills. There he searched among the debris for any clues as to who she was or where to find her.

“I have to find this witch, if it is the last thing I do.”

“We know where to look,” Peri said.

“Yes, follow us,” Azra added.

The elves rushed deeper into the woods. Nicholas ran to keep up and quickly found he didn’t tire. He kicked his legs faster. As he did, a swirling vortex of light appeared ahead of him. He and the elves ran right through it, coming out into a vast frozen tundra. Nicholas stopped running and slid across the icy ground. When he stopped, the witch appeared in front of him.

“You found me sooner than I thought,” she marveled.

“You have to take the curse away,” he said, “and change my mother back. I promise, I will be good from now on.”

“I will not do that. This is your cross to bear through the end of time,” she replied.

Feeling angry, Nicholas crouched down, picked up a handful of snow, and shaped it into a ball.

“I wouldn’t do that,” the witch warned.

Nicholas pulled back his arm and threw the snowball as hard as he could. It sailed straight for the witch, circled around her, and straight back at Nicholas. He tried to dodge out of the way, but the snowball hit him square in the face.

“You’ve learned nothing,” the witch scolded. “Let this be my last warning to you. Your insolence and cruelty will not be upon you, but upon those souls you carry.”

She reached out her hand toward Azra. The elf fell to the ground and writhed in pain.

“Stop it!” Nicholas yelled.

The witch lifted her hand and Azra lay still, breathing heavily.

“The next unkind act will result in the death of one of your elves. I don’t give second chances lightly.” With that, the witch vanished in a shimmer of light and colors.

Nicholas picked up the elf that was his mother and held her close.

“We need to get back home,” he said.

Light swirled up around Nicholas and the elves, and they were quickly standing in Nicholas’ home.

Nicholas tried hard to avoid eye contact with everyone in the village. Occasionally he would make a mistake and steal another soul, adding to his elves. It wasn’t long before he vowed to only go out at night, and only when necessary. He would listen by the homes of those who were suffering. He took what little money his mother had saved and dispersed it among the poorest in town.

In time, he learned to hone the powers that came with the curse. He could create things with his hands. He would send the elves to search for materials. Soon, he was making toys, treats, and coins to pass out among his town. Spirits rose among the people. They realized that it had been Nicholas helping them in secret. He hid in the rafters of the church and listened as they bestowed the title of Saint on him.

As more time passed, he recognized he was not aging at the rate he should. Nicholas knew it was only a matter of time before the village noticed, so he started traveling further. He traveled from village to village finding many in need. Sometimes he would come upon a vagrant ready to cause trouble. He decided these evil doers deserved to share his fate and added them to his elven collection.

For years this went on. Stories were told of Santa Claus visiting each year and delivering gifts. Songs, poems, and books were written in his honor. None realized that when wicked men and women would mysteriously vanish, it was Nicholas taking their souls and turning them into his elves, forcing them to do his bidding. He justified it all in the name of Sainthood.

But not all his victims deserved their fates. Sometimes he took the innocent, claiming they were at fault. They tried too hard to catch Santa’s eye. To see Saint Nicholas performing his selfless gift-giving deeds.

Sometimes, that victim was a single mother whose little boy already lost his father to a senseless act of carelessness. That mother was trying to take care of her boy and was stolen from him. And that little boy grew up without parents. Without a family. Maybe that little boy didn’t deserve it. And maybe sometimes little boys like that grow up to tell their stories.

I’ve dedicated my life to finding out the truth behind this red coated villain. I vowed to avenge my mother after watching helplessly from behind a cracked door as she unknowingly walked in on Santa placing gifts under our tiny tree. I watched helplessly as she turned into one of his elves and followed him away into the night without a glance behind.

It has been thirty years, but I have been a good boy all that time. I got a job at an orphanage, knowing he couldn’t resist stopping there. And now I’m waiting for his arrival. It is nearly time. I am standing and waiting behind the tree covered in hand-made ornaments. I can hardly contain my excitement that I will, at last, put an end to his tyranny.

The first bell of midnight chimes. Jingle bells ring overhead and I hear a thud of the sleigh touching down. The fire light dims. Sparkles of light tingle into the room and form into a bearded man. He stops next to the plate of cookies, sets down his large sack, and takes a bite.

His back is turned to me, the time is now. I tiptoe out from behind the tree, my gun raised and ready to fire.

“Goodbye, Santa Claus, you devil,” I say.

He turns and his twinkling blue eyes meet mine. I’m completely mesmerized. I try to step toward him but cannot move. And then I hear a dull thud as the gun hits the ground and I am surrounded in green and red smoke. I have failed, and Santa Claus has claimed another victim.

So, if you hear the bells ringing and a thump in the dark of night near your Christmas tree, stay snug in bed and cover your head. If you don’t, I may see you in Santa’s workshop for all eternity.

James is a writer, husband and father who is also autistic. He uses writing as a way to communicate more clearly and express his innermost thoughts and feelings. Writing and reading helps him to center, make more sense of this crazy world, and decompress all the noise of life. He wants to share his stories with the world so he can help someone the same way others’ stories have helped him.

We hope you enjoyed our diverse presentation of naughty and nice
Christmas stories. But most of all, we wish you a very
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

See you in 2022!

Revolutionizing the New Adult Genre

New Adult (NA) is a genre that was reportedly coined by St. Martin’s Press in 2009. It was warmly received at first but since then has lost its trendiness. Though some publishers still publish NA literature, most do not. And to make matters worse, readers and writers alike do not agree on the definition of NA, whether it should be a genre in the 21st-Century, and if the genre still exists. In fact, college literature and publishing professors have taught their students that NA is no longer a genre and some writers have labeled their NA as YA for fear their work won’t be taken seriously by agents and traditional publishers. With the confusion surrounding NA, it was imperative to find some answers.

First, New Adult is a needed literary genre, according to the readers and writers closely associated with it. Though the Young Adult (YA) and Adult genres exist, they do not relate (or connect to) readers aged 18-30. YA is too immature with its high school and teenage problems, while adult is way too “adult” with its heavy issues and complexity of mid-life crises, divorce, emotional stagnation, and grown children. NA, then, is more mature than YA – in that it reflects on new adult issues (college, post-college, living alone, new career, mature relationships), but less dense (and thus more freeing) than mature adult issues. In this light, NA is the middle ground between teenage and adult lifestyles.

This middle ground makes sense. Genres have always been divided by age so that content better reflects the reader’s demographic, in this case age and what the readers goes through at that age. Thinking of other literary genres, Children’s and Middle Grade (MG) cater to the issues and problems of those readers, based on human development. Dating and first kisses, typically found in YA, would not be appropriate in a Children’s or MG book. Likewise, trying to learn how to make friends would not be something expected in a YA book. Books reflect the reader – and their personal coming of age issues. So, why not have a genre that would reflect the new adult reader who has new adult problems?

The answer is quite simple: There is no reason to negate the NA genre, especially when a whole community hungers for representation. Right now, members of the 18-30-year-old community feel left out, like they don’t fit in. They’ve outgrown YA but feel bogged down and emotionally drained by pure adult literature. In a way, these readers are like the middle child in a family of three siblings: seen but unseen, known but forgotten. And that’s exactly why BSC Publishing Group is stepping forward to lead the revitalization (no, revolution!) of the NA genre.

But what is New Adult as a genre? What are the characteristics? And, isn’t it all about smut, sex, porn? Let’s start with the definition that BSC has established through its conversations with readers and writers – the definition that will be used to assess manuscripts.

What is New Adult?
NA as a genre is “a grown-up YA with more adult issues without being too adult (or emotionally heavy/complex).” The MC is 18-30 years old and dealing with new adult issues that seasoned adults have already grown out of. NA, then, becomes the exploration of a coming-of-age for adults.

Themes that the NA genre includes, but is not limited to, are:

  • Housing (first apartment or house, roommates, bills, being independent)
  • Freedom
  • Identity
  • Sexuality
  • Family Struggles (parents, spouse’s, small children)
  • Mental Health
  • College
  • Relationships (platonic, familial, and romantic)
  • First job/beginning a career

Though the above themes can be found in both YA and Adult, it’s the character’s perspectives that truly qualify the manuscript as NA. To put it in perspective, think F.R.I.E.N.D.S. vs Seinfield. F.R.I.E.N.D.S. and Seinfeld both deal with similar problems but in two very different ways. While the character’s in F.R.I.E.N.D.S. seek self-identification, try to figure out life, and make mistakes through youthful mental processes, Seinfeld is truly “adult” in it’s presentation, situating its characters as more serious, more mature, and more set in their ways – middle-aged. This is the difference between NA and Adult issues and perspectives.

What do NA readers and writers want – and not want?
NA readers and writers, above all else, want to be represented in literature. This means they want to see themselves in the stories they read. Writers, specifically, want to write stories that reflect themselves. The bottom line is that the 18-30-year-old community wants freedom to venture into the middle ground of adulthood.

What NA readers and writers do not want is to be negated. By saying “NA isn’t a thing” or “NA doesn’t exist” or “NA isn’t needed,” society has accidentally negated the needs and wants of a whole generation and genre (like the middle child it is). Hence, the community does not want the same old-same old publishing model. Instead, they’re calling for change!

What’s the BSC change?
It’s common knowledge that writers have been rejected by agents/publishers solely because their manuscript did not fit well into the YA or Adult genres. Furthermore, writers have been known to change their NA manuscripts to fit within the YA mold in order to be taken seriously – though they themselves felt uncomfortable doing so. When a writer feels forced into a mold and powerless over their own creation, sadness, isolation, even depression can set it – making any reward from the effort bittersweet. BSC Publishing Group is not okay with this and wants to free the NA writer to live their truth.

Enter: BSC Nouvaeu, the new imprint that represents NA titles.

What is BSC Nouveau seeking?
BSC Nouveau is seeking story-focused works of fiction and non-fiction. It is hungry for manuscripts that use literary and genre conventions and storytelling devices to provide a ride that quenches readers’ thirst for action, adventure, and entertainment.

The one subgenre that BSC Nouveau does not want is romance. The market is saturated with heavy sexual content, which is why NA has become known as “smut fiction.” To change that stereotype, BSC Nouveau seeks heavy story over romance. That said, romantic relationships and even sex can be included (as it is in movies), but the sex and relationships must be secondary to the real story.

With this in mind, bring on the horror (body, psychological), fantasy (urban, magical realism), literary, and anything in between. BSC Nouveau wants it all – and queries are open now!

Join BSC Publishing Group in revolutionizing the NA market.
Don’t hold back – write and read your truth!
Are you ready?

What do you want in NA literature? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

BSC Publishing Group: An Independent Small Press

BSC Publishing Group has been the publisher of The Dark Sire literary magazine (TDS) since the magazine’s founding in March 2019. For the last 2.5 years, BSC has focused on magazine publishing, specifically centering on gothic, horror, fantasy, and psychological realism in short fiction, poetry, art, and screenplays.

Now, in September 2021, BSC is taking its first step forward into book publishing. Using the TDS motto of “Giving a Voice to the Voiceless,” a way for all writers to be heard, BSC will publish anthologies, full-length novels, novellas, short fiction collections, and poetry compilations that include chapbooks.

The best part is that BSC fully supports underrepresented authors. In fact, the first book that BSC has scheduled for release – Otherworld (Spring 2022) – is an anthology that’s dedicated to BIPOC writers, poets, and artists. The official call for submissions was announced September 2, 2021 and will run through December 1, 2021.

BSC welcomes direct submissions from authors. No agents required.

For more information on submitting to BSC Publishing Group, visit the submissions page.