a #talesfromblackfriday short story

Hidey-ho, lovelies!

Today is so-called Black Friday here in the good ol’ USA, and I have many opinions about it. I shan’t delineate them all here. All I’ll say is that I’ve never participated in Black Friday, and I never plan to.

Also, I wrote the following short story, the tone and content of which should tell you enough plenty about my Black Friday thoughts. 😉

So. Here ya go. Happy reading!

Oh, and I wrote this story in a series of tweets. Because Twitter’s kinda my thang.

BOOYA.

blackfriday

When You Look This Good, Nobody Cares If You’re Murderous

by Courtney Cantrell

I stumble into a crowd of shoppers. They brandish hand mixers like pitchforks. Unholy light flickers in their eyes.

Atop a La-Z-Boy display, a man in Target red screams, “THE SPECIAL BEGINS NOW. MAY THE PRICES BE EVER IN YOUR FAVOR.”

With yips and barks, the crowd surges forward. They carry me with them. A man goes down under a sea of trampling feet. Someone’s mixer tangles in my hair, pulling me into a nightmare aisle of pink and Barbie.

I have no mouth, and I must scream.

In their shiny boxes, the Barbies turn to look at me. “WE GIRLS CAN EAT ANYTHING,” they chorus, blood in their teeth.

Whimpering, I lunge away. A woman grabs my arm and swings me toward the Barbies. “They just want to play, dear.” Her eyes are big and blue and flat. Painted on.

Like the dolls’ eyes.

I try to pull away, but she pushes me into the Barbie boxes. A cascade of inarticulate limbs and blond hair washes over me. I fall to the floor. Inside their boxes, the Barbies claw at the clear plastic. Their fingers are razor-sharp talons, shredding plastic. Those talons slash toward my face. Toward my eyes.

“WELCOME TO #BLACKFRIDAY,” say the Barbies.

Moving jerkily, a Ken doll crawls into the mêlée. Followed by another Ken. And a third. They’re attached to each other.

KENTIPEDE.

Baring bloody, point-filed teeth, the Barbies whisper in chorus, “MEIN LIEBER DREI-KEN.”

I scramble backward. My back hits somethng solid. I look up. Life-size Santa doll stares down at me with solid black eyes.

“CHRISSSTMASSS ISSS COMING, PRECIOUSSSS,” says Santa. Maggots squirm from his lips. “I SSSEE YOU WHEN YOU’RE SSSLEEPING.”

Darkness closes in. I feel the Barbies’ teeth and claws sink into my flesh. There’s the stampede of shoppers’ feet as each clamors for their portion. “BEST DEAL,” cries the Kentipede. “90% OFF LONG PORK.” Barbies giggle.

The crazed retail vultures descend on me, slavering. “HAPPY HOLIDAYSSS,” hisses Santa. I hear discordant jingle bells.

Then, nothing.

Nothing.

Nothing.

THE END

The Night Before Christmas, Oklahoma Style

‘TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS IN OKLAHOMA*

by Courtney Cantrell

with thanks (and possibly apologies) to Clement C. Moore

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through my home
Dishes rattled and shook like when buffalo roam!
The stockings, they fell from the chimney and stair,
But it wasn’t St. Nicholas — he wasn’t yet there.

christmasdeco2013Mamma in her kerchief and I in my cap
Came gasping awake from our long winter’s nap.
The children plopped, startled, right out of their beds.
They bumped every elbow and all their wee heads.

Out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang to my feet to see what was the matter.
The moon set off sparkles on inch-thick ice
And then I saw something that just wasn’t nice.

It made my eyes wonder, it made my brow frown:
Inflatable Santa had toppled right down.
I guessed that tonight there would be no St. Nick,
But my wife hurried over and hugged me right quick.

“Oh honey,” she said, “don’t make no mistake.
We’re gonna have Christmas in spite of that ‘quake!
Now dash and now dance, and now get to fixin’.
We’ll clean up the mess with some fast cleaning blitzin’!”

So that’s what we did — you’d think we could fly.
Our Christmas was back ‘fore the sun gained the sky.

Our children’s eyes twinkled! Their dimples were merry!
Our Christmas was saved! That ‘quake? Not so hairy!
For bestest of all, we still had each other,
Momma and Daddy and sisters and brothers.

I’d panicked when thinking we’d have no jolly elf,
And now I just laughed in spite of myself.
Sure, snowman Frosty had just lost his head,
But an earthquake should give me nothing to dread.

I spoke not a word as the kids went work
Emptying their stockings, no present to shirk.
I first wiped my eyes and then blew my nose.
Tearful prayers of thanksgiving to heaven arose.

With my wife in my arms — kids played on the floor —
I knew that no harm could come through my door.
Forget that dumb ‘quake! Family’s a beautiful sight.
So, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”

___________________

I took complete poetic license with the extent of the damage we suffered, which amounted to none. ; )

MERRY CHRISTMAS, DEAR INKLINGS! Hope it’s been a great one.

christmastree2013edited

Cranberry Salsa with Cream Cheese Recipe

First, I shall ramble for a while with thoughts on cooking. If you want to skip to the recipe, scroll down to “Cranberry Salsa Recipe.”

Rambling Thoughts on Cooking

Bursting with holiday flavor! BAM!

Bursting with holiday flavor! BAM!

If you know me in person at all, you’ve probably heard me express a certain level of dislike for cooking.

This is a strange paradox, because I love food, I love homecooked food, I consider myself a foodie. I took pictures of my food before it became uncool. Growing up in Europe and traveling a lot have given me ample opportunity to discover new-to-me foods, the recipes of which I’ve happily stockpiled in my kitchen.

I love them. I love having them. They warm the cockles of my gooey foodie heart. I just don’t seem to get around to using most of them.

Recently, I finally figured out that the main reason I don’t enjoy cooking is that it wears me out, and the main reason it wears me out is neurocardiogenic syncope. Even though standing in the kitchen for long periods of time doesn’t make me pass out, it does cause my blood pressure to drop, leaving me weak and sluggish and blah. A few weeks ago, I went through a phase where every evening after cooking, I’d have to skip most of supper and lie down for the rest of the evening. Meh.

(And yes, I would sit down while cooking, but we have a narrow kitchen and if I’m sitting, there’s no walking through it.)

On top of that, in the back of my mind is always the thought that the time I spend cooking, I could be spending playing with my daughter or writing or doing something else artsy. Yes, there is an artistry and creativity to food prep, but it’s not the primary means by which my creativity likes to burst or trickle or schlupp out of me. I do have fun cooking, but I don’t want to do it every day.

So. All of that to say this: I don’t always enjoy cooking, but I do have some favorite recipes. And one of them is the reason for this post.

The good news is, this one doesn’t require standing in the kitchen for a long time. BOOYA.

Lookit the yummies!!!

Lookit the yummies!!!

Cranberry Salsa with Cream Cheese Recipe

I’ve been using this recipe for years and have no idea where it came from. All I know is that it’s delicious. Like the tinkly laughter of small children. And the purrs of a hundred kittens. And like chocolate. Except that it’s salsa, not chocolate. Make of that what you will.

Mmmmm…chocolate….

*ahem*

This is really the only thing I ever “cook” that people actually ask me to make again.

So, without further ado or adon’t, here it is:

CRANBERRY SALSA RECIPE

INGREDIENTS

12 oz. or 3 cups fresh cranberries, finely chopped
1/4 cup minced green onions
2 tbsp minced jalapeños
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup minced cilantro
2 tbsp fresh ginger, finely grated
2 tbsp lemon juice
16 oz. cream cheese
crackers

DIRECTIONS

Mix all ingredients except cream cheese.
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours so flavors develop.

Place cream cheese on a plate; form it into a ball-ish; cover with salsa.
Serve with crackers.
By all the gods of galvanized whisk lickers THAT’S GOOD.

VARIATIONS

I’ve experimented with this recipe and discovered the following:

Chop the cranberries by hand or use a food processor; food processor is easier.
You can use canned cranberries (gross), but the salsa won’t taste good.
You can use dried cranberries, but the salsa won’t taste as good.
Honey will work as a sugar substitute, but the salsa will be runny.
An additional 2 tbsp of lime juice adds yumminess, but more than that is too much.
If you have a cramazingly powerful blender or food processor, you can shove all the ingredients into it and process the blurglemamjufloobelschnitzen right out of that puppy.
Your best option is to come be my cook, and I will pay you in cranberry salsa. EVERYBODY WINS.

I repurposed a mutant pumpkin. Let me show you it.

So, this afternoon I finally went out and picked up the autumnal, Thanksgivingal pumpkins off the porch.

Some of said pumpkins were actually in the middle of the yard because the husband pitched them there while shoveling snow, and we didn’t realize it until the snow melted and I was like, “Hey, what are my pumpkins doing in the middle of the yard?”

The thought of possessed, self-propelled mutant pumpkins did cross my mind. But I didn’t entertain the thought. I just served it some hot cocoa and let it sit at my table for a couple of days. It leered at me.

LEERED, people.

Ugh.

So, lest the leering contaminate the pumpkins and I should one morning open my living room curtains to find the leering mutant gourds lined up on my window sill with tiny chainsaws and icepicks, I chose this afternoon to pitch them.

They’ve been out there for two months, y’all. A few of them were mushy. One was as wrinkly as a Shar Pei. One was dripping noxious hellspawn fluids. Without ceremony, I consigned them all to the depths of the trash can, hoping that none of them will think to free-solo their way back up and out.

I tossed all but one.

This one wasn’t mushy. This one could be knocked-upon with knuckles, which action I repeated several times just to be sure. And lo, my flesh did not sink into the rind, nor did the pumpkin sprout clawed fingers nor open wide a fanged maw to rip my arm to shreds. I figured it was safe to bring it into the house.

I knew I wanted to paint it with a Christmas or winter theme, so I’d previously checked Pinterest. I found this for reference. I didn’t read the descrip; all I needed was the photo reference.

So, once the itty bitty was in bed this evening, I broke out my acrylic paints, glitter, and Sharpie (for the coal, as I had no acrylic black) and did this:

snowpumpkin2013

Please to excuse the bad photo manip. I wanted to do something to cover up the newspaper he’s sitting on while drying. And I didn’t want to wait until tomorrow when he’s dry to take the picture. Because I am impatient and stubborn and indulge in instant gratification a lot more often than I’d like to admit. #confessions

The flash also reflected badly off the Sharpie, so I darkened the lumps of coal a bit, too.

Anyway, there you have ‘im! My cute snowman pumpkin for the porch. There shall he abide, and from thence shall he smile benignly at the neighborhood and upon our visitors this fair holiday season.

At least until he fully mutates sometime in January and I send him the way of his mushy brethren.

He’d just better not pick up a chainsaw before then.

New Fantasy Novel Out: Rethana’s Surrender

Nightmares and Dreamscapes

 

When I was 15 years old, I had a dream about a yellow telephone booth.

No, that’s not a Dr. Who reference. ; ) In the dream, I was standing inside the phone booth, holding the handset. (Yes, this was a rotary phone. Let me know if you don’t know what that is. *grin*) Outside, it was dusk, and fog was rolling in. I couldn’t see any farther than about twenty feet from the phone booth. And as I watched, dozens of yellow eyes with slitted black pupils appeared in the fog.

That dream gave birth to the universe in which I set my latest novel, Rethana’s Surrender (Legends of the Light-Walkers, #1).

What’s the Because?!

If you’ve already read Rethana’s story, you’re probably wondering how in the name of all that’s good and writerly I got from {fog + yellow eyes + relatively modern phone booth} to {epic fantasy universe + magic-wielding heroine + semi-political love triangle}. Well, my dear inklings, that story is a rather long one, and tell you it would take a series of novels in which I invite you to explore this whole universe I have built and am building….

Oh. Wait. I guess that invitation would be what Legends of the Light-Walkers (LLW) is all about. ; )

So, the books themselves are the long explanation. The short version is that the phone booth dream turned into a scene in my LLW novel Legend’s Heir (working title). Chronologically, that one takes place before Rethana’s story. But I finished Legend’s Heir (working title) more than ten years ago…and, perhaps needless to say, it needs quite a bit of work before it sees the light of day. Thus, you get Rethana’s story first. Y’all seem like you’re okay with that, though.

And What’s the Big Idea?

The big idea for Rethana’s story grew from a cold, snowy visit to a small town in eastern Germany back around Christmas of 2002. The husband and I were living in Chemnitz, Saxony, then. Some friends took us to the Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market) in a little town called Annaberg-Buchholz.

I could wax nostalgic on how much I miss the German Christmas markets, but that’s not why you dear people are here, and it would make me cry besides, so let’s just skip that part and move on.

Belltower of St. Annenkirche

On that cold, snowy evening so many years ago, our friends insisted that we visit St. Annenkirche (St. Anna’s Church; please note that I’ve linked to the German Wikipedia article because it has more pictures than the English version). Thus, we traipsed up the hill — there was much slipping, sliding, and sniggering — and entered the church building, where we proceeded to get an unexpected tour.

We ended up climbing the belltower.

If you’ve read Rethana’s story, you know where I’m going with this.

Near the top of the tower, we stepped from the wooden staircase onto a wide, circular platform spanning the width of the tower. About thirty feet above our heads was a wooden ceiling. Another staircase led up to it. The tour guide explained that we were looking at the underside of the apartment housing the bellringer and his family. And above that apartment hung the bells.

These people lived in the top of the belltower. They hauled household goods up to their apartment via lifts that had been operational for hundreds of years. They were in charge of the bells, the largest of which was named Anna.

Images flooded my mind. Characters, scenes, plots, dialogue. In my head, I saw a bellringer family in medieval dress, and I knew they were hiding from something. I saw soldiers and magic-users in the town below, and I knew they were hunting this family. I saw a mischievous young girl using her magic to tease her friends, who were sneaking up the tower staircase to play a prank on her.

All of this flashed through my head within the space of about 20 seconds. In the meantime, the tour guide was still talking. I had no idea what he was saying — but the next thing I knew, he was handing out earplugs. I stuffed them into my ears just in time.

Somebody rang Anna.

Anna of St. Annenkirche is a big girl. Even through earplugs, the noise was deafening. Without really thinking about what I was doing, I wandered over to the stone wall of the tower and laid my hand on it. The wall was vibrating with Anna’s song, and I could feel the reverberation all the way up into my shoulder. And I knew what my next story would be.

Writing Rethana’s Surrender

The mischievous bellringer girl became Rethana Chosardal. Anna became the sacriligiously-named Lirrenae. Annaberg turned into Saemnoth. I started writing the story for NaNoWriMo 2003.

It would take me more than 4 years to finish the first draft. By the time I was done, I had close to 230,000 words. I knew very good and well that no publisher would consider reading an unpublished author’s 200+k words, so I spent the second draft trimming. My mom read it. Another beta reader read it. Both made suggestions, and I trimmed some more. When I hit 210,000, I knew I couldn’t do anything more with the story, so I shelved it and moved on to the next project.

By now, I was living in Oklahoma again and had recently re-met Aaron Pogue, a college acquaintance and fellow writer. We fell to talking of fantasy (because really, why wouldn’t we?), and he asked to read my fantasy novel. I let him.

Aaron had feedback. Part of that feedback was that I should split the book in half so as to achieve a manageable word count. The moment he said it, I knew where: right after the fight scene in Terllach Caverns. Right after Rethana almost admits to Allasin that–

Well, I don’t want to spoil it for you if you haven’t read it. ; )

Aaron said, “That’s a doozy of a cliffhanger. Your readers will hate you for it. Or they might love you.”

Aaron might or might not have actually used the word “doozy.” Either way, I decided to take the risk. And, once he got his indie publishing company, Consortium Books, up and running, he decided to take the risk of publishing it.

So far, so good.

Rethana’s Surrender (Legends of the Light-Walkers, #1), is now available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes & Noble!

If you’ve read the novel, you can post your review at those two links as well as at Goodreads.

It ain’t about the stuff, y’all.

It’s not about rushing around two days before Christmas.
It’s not about slogging through car-clogged parking lots.
It’s not about plowing through a crowded store to find the best deal.
It’s not about snagging the last one of something off the store shelf.
It’s not about mashing the potatoes right.
It’s not about defrosting the turkey in time.
It’s not about how many different kinds of pie.
It’s not about the ubiquitous fruitcake.
It’s not about the Douglas fir or the Jeffrey Pine.
It’s not about the lights on your front lawn.
It’s not about getting presents.
It’s not about Santa Claus and reindeer.
It’s not about St. Nicholas.
It’s not about the nativity scene.
It’s not about the angels.
It’s not about the number of wise men.
It’s not about Baby Jesus.
It’s not about traditions.
It’s not about religions.
It’s not about the correct seasonal greeting.
It’s not about the agendas.
It’s not about the next new thing.

All of that is just stuff.

This ornament — a dove carrying a heart and an olive branch — hangs on my Christmas tree every year. It reminds me of these truths:

It’s about generosity.
It’s about compassion.
It’s about patience.
It’s about forgiveness.
It’s about kindness.
It’s about joy.
It’s about peace.
It’s about hope.
It’s about love.

It’s about LIFE all year ’round.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
Happy Holidays.

Love,
Courtney

Don We Now Our Contracted Apparel

Here’s some Christmas fun for you, my dear inklings!

Everybody always picks on the word “gay” in the familiar Christmas tune “Deck The Halls,” so I thought I’d share something with you concerning one of the other words in the song.

As I was piddling around with Elevator People, my low sci-fi WIP, I clicked over to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary to look up the word “doff.” And what to my wondering eyes should appear but the definition of “doff” (which I already knew, of course) and the following:

Origin of DOFF:

Middle English, from to do + off

Well. Isn’t that something.

But wait, there’s more!

It turns out that “don,” that thing we do with our happy apparel in “Deck the Halls,” comes from to do + on!

I love language so much. It flips my bangerang switch and swings my verge. Also, it makes me happy.

So, the next time you’re donning your clothing or doffing your cap, remember that you’re really doing these articles of wear on and off. Just be sure that in your stunned amazement at the versatility of the English language, you don’t end up doing your clothing off in a place where people aren’t supposed to see you.

Happy Christmas Season, y’all!