You’re listening to Little Wonders, our thematic flash fiction collections. This week we bring you our final episode for 2014, and lucky number 150 – a pair of stories for the inspired by the Season of Goodwill.
The Secret Ingredient Is
by Emmalia Harrington
Susan stirred the pot of soup, frowning. Hunger was supposed to be the best seasoning, but the jar was empty and there was no time to prepare more. Besides, Great-Aunt would hate it if they served something like that to guests.
Stepping away from the stove, she scanned the shelves yet again. There was salt, garlic, peppercorns, nutmeg, allspice…nothing spoke to her. Rocking back on her heels, she tried to think of what Great-Aunt would do.
The first order of business would be to run to the garden to pull up the biggest, freshest and most colorful vegetables, and see how many eggs she could muster from the quail. Once that was done, Great-Aunt would run to the shopping district to wrangle an excellent price for smoked tea. She would follow this victory by purchasing fish that still smelled of the water, and filling her basket with bread still steaming from the oven.
Once home, no burner on the stove went idle as Great-Aunt chopped, steamed, steeped and braised every dish to perfection. The tea was always just strong enough, while the food was as warm or chilled as it needed to be.
Great-Aunt was flat on her back with the flu and in no condition to do anything more than sip hot lemon tea. She looked so withered and forlorn that Susan dared not crush her by canceling luncheon.
Their guests would have to make do with watery soup and days-old bread. Susan’s shoulders slumped, even as she knew what Great-Aunt would say. Putting a hand on her shoulder and pretending it was Great-Aunt’s, she recited “As long as it was made with…” The words faded away as realization dawned.
Racing towards the cupboard, she flung the door open and made a dive for the seldom used shortcut spices Great-Aunt had in abundance, cursing Susan with choices.
Pulling out shaker after shaker, Susan lined up the little jars next to the stove. Exposure to sunlight didn’t make them any easier to choose. Why couldn’t Great-Aunt be more articulate?
There was Romantic, naturally. While perfect in a cake for a sweetheart, it had no place in a group meal. Susan wasn’t sure what Agape was, and so let it alone. The third made Susan’s ears burn and her nerve endings melt. Her arms ached to hide the jar under a towel. Using Unrequited would simply be disastrous.
That left Familial and Platonic. Susan gave the soup a few more stirs as she pondered. If it was just for her and Great-Aunt, then she’d use the first in a heartbeat. That didn’t mean it would go well between good friends and acquaintances. Platonic felt safe, but she wasn’t sure if it was enough. After so many years at the table together, it was hard to tell.
Staring at the final shakers, she flipped the lids open, took a deep breath, and grabbed one in each hand.
by Jamie Lackey
Jenna stared out the car window and watched snowflakes cling to the glass. They glistened like tiny strings of Christmas lights. She wished she could be like them, bright and beautiful and free.
“I think we’re lost,” her mother said.
Jenna had felt lost since they pulled out of the driveway, leaving Grandma and Grandpa’s warm house filled with presents and cookies. She didn’t answer.
“Is this the silent treatment?” her mother asked.
“I just couldn’t be there,” her mother said. “With all the lights and forced smiles. She even made his favorite cookies.”
The catch in her voice would have made Jenna feel guilty if wasn’t so common. “You could have left me,” Jenna said.
“That’s not fair. No one wants to be alone on Christmas.”
Jenna sighed. She wanted to spend Christmas with a tree and music and lights. Home was dark and cold.
Jenna spotted a sign–Christmas Trees. Entrance Ahead. Christmas carols drifted in the wind. “Let’s stop there.”
Her mother sighed and pulled into the dirt entrance. “We’re just getting directions, not getting a Christmas tree. I don’t want a tree, you know that.”
Jenna crossed her arms tight over her chest. She knew. Just like she knew that what she wanted didn’t matter.
“You folks looking for a tree?” a man in orange overalls asked.
“We just need directions,” Jenna’s mother said, her voice tight and cold.
Jenna hopped out of the car. “I want to look at the trees.”
“Jenna, get back in the car.”
“She’ll be fine.” He winked at Jenna. “These trees can grant wishes. You just wander till you find one that feels right,” the tree-man said. He turned to her mother. “Where’re you heading?
Show crunched under Jenna’s boots. It collected on her eyelashes and reflected invisible colored lights. She wandered, looking at the trees.
Her mother hated Christmas, and Jenna understood. Or at least she tried. Losing Uncle Mark hadn’t been that big of a deal for her–she’d only met him once–and last year was a long time ago. But her mother had loved him. Jenna just wished that she’d act like she loved her, too.
The air smelled like pine, but she caught a hint of Grandma’s orange spice cookies.
She wasn’t cold, not even when the wind blew snow into a glowing whirlwind that whipped her scarf away. It fluttered in the air, then drifted onto a tree.
As soon as Jenna saw it, she loved it. It was tall and green and perfectly shaped, with dark flat needles. “I wish I could take you home with me,” she whispered.
All of her wishes curled together in the center of her chest. She just wanted to belong somewhere, just wanted to be important.
Uncle Mark’s favorite cookies–the orange spice–were Jenna’s favorite, too. She wondered why her mother never remembered that.
Her fingers glowed as she reached toward the tree, and the smell of cookies curled around her. When her bare fingers touched the cold needles, she exploded into a thousand tiny lights. She settled into the branches and clung like the trapped snowflakes. She was part of the tree now. Part of a perfect Christmas. She could hear the carols clearly, now.
Her mother wandered by. “I don’t really have space for a tree,” she said. She shook her head. “Was I looking for something else?”
“Just directions,” the tree-man said.
She pulled Jenna’s scarf from her tree. After a moment, she wrapped it around her neck and walked away. “Thanks again. I should get back to my folks–I don’t want to be alone on Christmas.”
About the Authors
Emmalia is a writer and librarian who is making her first forays into publishing fiction. She adores fantasy, science fiction and other speculative works, as well as historical fiction and non-fiction. When she isn’t writing, she’s sewing, knitting, cooking or otherwise trying to keep her hands busy.
Jamie Lackey lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and their cat. She has over 120 short fiction credits, and has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and the Stoker Award-winning After Death…. She’s a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Her short story collection, One Revolution, and her science fiction novella, Moving Forward, are available on Amazon.com. She read submissions for the Hugo-winning Clarkesworld Magazine for five years and was an assistant editor for the Hugo-winning Electric Velocipede from 2012-2013. She served as editor for Triangulation: Lost Voices in 2015 and Triangulation: Beneath the Surface in 2016. Her debut novel, Left-Hand Gods, is available from Hadley Rille Books. In addition to writing, she spends her time reading, playing tabletop RPGs, baking, and hiking. You can find her online or on Twitter.
About the Narrators
Anne is using her considerable business knowledge and creative skills to work in theatre, TV, short-form film making and photography. She writes scripts for a range of media, and is developing a series of fiction novels.
Mancunian born-and-bred, Anne creates work with a ‘Northern Sensibility’, and a wide streak of humour. She aims to tell stories that are relevant to the world we live in, and our relationships with others.
Recently, Anne appeared on ‘Chatting with Sherri’, talking about her theatre work. You can listen to the interview here.
Marguerite is a native Californian who has forsaken sunny paradise to live with her true love in Merrye Olde England. She frequently wears so many hats that she needs two heads. When she’s not grappling with legal conundrums as a commercial solicitor, editing Cast of Wonders, or helping behind the scenes as COO of Escape Artists, she can be found narrating audio fiction, studying popular culture (i.e. going to movies and playing video games) with her partner Alasdair Stuart, or curling up with a really good book. You can follow her adventures on Twitter.
About the Artist
Barry is a game developer based in Bournemouth, England making freemium games for clients such LEGO and the BBC. His latest game is breaking all records on iOS, not surprising with a title like L”. It’s for younger kids, but if you fancy blasting alien brains check out LEGO Hero Factory Brain Attack.
All this game developing has meant that Barry hasn’t been as active in the podcasting and fiction world as he used to be. He still does the occasional narration for other shows, such as The Drabblecast, and appears on Cast of Wonders from time to time.