Stories

A dystopian mermaid Christmas story for you

The Cost of Holiday Cheer

by Amy L. Sauder & by Jaclyn (proprietor of Amica Mea)

 

“Santa didn’t like me.”

“Madlyn, eat…” her father Greg frowned.

An awkward Fischer dinner was to be expected, the weekly pad thai a miniscule pretense of normalcy. Greg would look with pleading eyes at his wife, Lilith. Lilith would force a sad smile for their daughter, Madlyn. And Madlyn would make pretend that all was right in her 4-year-old world.

“My lil’ pet,” Lilith comforted. “Why would Santa not like you? You’ve been such a champ. I’m sure Santa is eager to bring your gift.”

“No, Santa frowned. He shuffled me off.” Madlyn had emptied her box of noodles long ago, but opened and closed the paper flaps as if more pad thai might magically appear.

“Honey, what’s she talking about?” Lilith patted Greg’s hand, but he quickly reached for his water. His hands would be clammy from the cold glass rather than the conversation.

“Salty food…” Greg said. “Should complain, get a coupon.”

Lilith turned her attention back to Madlyn. “Santa is sorry, pet. He had an off day.” Lilith poked Madlyn’s nose. “Your Christmas will have everything you’ve ever asked for. Promise.”

Greg sputtered and coughed. “I wouldn’t get too excited…”

But it was too late. Madlyn clapped with glee. “Anything?”

Lilith laughed. “If you asked for a Zoo Unicorn, you might have some trouble convincing daddy to clean the poo, but maybe you’ll get a GlowFish. Why, Santa might even leave a Pocket Panda under the tree.”

Lilith was beaming, not the false smile she’d grown accustomed to. “We may need to get a Pocket Panda, Greg. What did she ask for? a Zoo Unicorn? or did she ask you to design a docile T-Rex?”

Greg stuffed his arms with empty takeout boxes and hurried toward the kitchen. “All this clutter…”

Lilith wheeled out from the table and followed. “Greg, what’s with you?”

Greg dumped the boxes on the counter and drooped. “Lilith, she told Santa she wants you here for Christmas.”

Lilith’s smile froze. “But she knows…”

“What she knows,” Greg said, “is that magical Santa will give her whatever she wants, now thanks to you.”

“This isn’t my fault,” Lilith spat. “I didn’t choose any of this.”

Greg drummed his fingers on the countertop. “I’d do anything…”

Lilith rolled her wheelchair to his side and rested her head on his hip. “You can only do so much. We’ll be fine.” She nodded and smiled desperately.

Greg pushed away and tromped to his makeshift lab. “There’s got to be some way…”

 

~~~

 

The double doors to Barry’s office were shut tight like the gates to Oz, and Greg marched straight through the cavernous foyer to knock, stack of papers tucked firmly under his elbow.

“Mr. Fischer!” hissed Barry’s assistant Felicia, her canary blouse rippling as she waved her arm for attention. “Mr. Fischer! He’s already on the call. You’re late!”

Greg jerked to a stop in front of Felicia’s desk, mere feet from the doors, and let out a breath, barely keeping the papers wedged between his elbow and side. He deflated and rubbed the back of his neck. He didn’t care that Felicia was curt; he just needed to talk to Barry and hoped he wasn’t too late.

“I can wait.” But Felicia had already gone back to work. They let silence fall between them, and it filled the gleaming, cold room.

Felicia typed vigorously on a slim laptop, eyes flicking to the upper right corner of the screen, where Greg assumed her phone application was docked. You never knew whether these meetings would run long or short, not with Barry.

Greg rubbed his face and sat in the lounge to review his calendar. The meeting with Barry had been scheduled for nearly two hours ago, but he’d been too occupied. The meeting between Barry and TecGenToy shareholders was not supposed to have happened without Barry and Greg’s meeting first. Greg rubbed his neck again, but he didn’t sweat.

Felicia stopped typing. “Look, Greg. I’m sorry to be abrupt. It’s just been so crazy around here.”

Greg didn’t smile, but nodded in a sort of bow. “No harm done, Felicia. We’re all going a little crazy with all this.”

She smiled and went on typing. “I think they’re wrapping up. One of the shareholders hung up.” She looked up at him again. “You’re next in five.”

Greg nodded again, though less to Felicia and more to himself.

“Thanks, Felicia.” He coughed with a rasp into his elbow and flipped through his papers one last time, but it was like reading cooking directions for toaster strudels. Too familiar.

Next thing he knew, he was walking towards a low leather chair facing the desk of Barry Weismont. An aquarium lined the wall behind Barry’s desk. The fish scurried through the water, eyes bulging.

Barry stood behind his desk, slowly pacing. The blue glare of the office light cast Barry’s face in partial shadow, so that Greg couldn’t tell if Barry was pleased or angry.

Barry slapped his desk. “Greg! So glad you could come in. You were supposed to meet with me before the shareholder call, but this works just as well. Except, of course, the shareholders expected an answer. Especially Boscoe. That guy is trying to balance his checkbook and wants to know whether he can get that second sub.”

Even with the theatrics, Greg could never read him. Barry never smiled with his teeth showing, not even now, as he tugged on the cuff of his sport jacket. He only ever seemed to smile flatly, “just like the Mona Lisa,” Lilith always said.

Greg coughed roughly again. “Do you have any word from the Pocket Panda team?”

Barry leaned back and cocked his head. “What does the Pocket Panda team have to do with you delivering on the exceptional, groundbreaking product you promised? You and the team are the brightest and the best and more than capable of cranking out our record-breaker. You—”

“You didn’t give us enough time. You wanted a fast turnaround. I asked for help. Without the Pocket Panda team it’s not possible to execute…properly…” he said in a low voice.

“Not possible to execute, is it? Are you saying we don’t have a product when I just spent the last 45 minutes apparently wasting my time assuring our shareholders of your unmatched character, work ethic, and reliability? That they had nothing to fear? That Boscoe is getting his sub in time for the Reef? That—”

“Sir, what I’m saying is that I’m asking for the Pocket Panda team. If we had them for 24 hours…”

“It’s not possible.”

“Excuse me?”

“Greg, I know that you’ve been a scientist longer than I’ve had a driver’s license. You’re a scientific genius, a laboratory legend! But what you lack is what I bring, which is business know-how. I know you’d like to continue working on your cool little science projects, and you’d like to continue to take home that paycheck to your wife and daughter. To do that, you have to focus on the science and the lab, and I give you full freedom to do that. I know you know that! See—“

“Sir, I’m sorry, no.” Greg winced and rubbed his neck. “I don’t understand what you’re saying.”

Barry leaned on his desk with both hands. “We can’t ask for help from the Pocket Panda team, or they’ll have claim on a piece of our success Your job is to make sure we sell this year’s number one fantasy pet, better than Pocket Pandas, Zoo Unicorns, and all this year’s pets combined.”

Greg looked as if he was holding back bile. Barry continued.

“I’m more than happy for your hard work in the lab to benefit your family, especially when it does so much good for this company and its shareholders. I just worry that all this chat and debate is taking away from you and your team finishing in time.” Barry smiled.

Greg blinked hard against the shimmer in his eyes and stood. “I’ll get it done.”

Barry gave a clap and a smile-less laugh. “That’s my mad scientist! Have it in production by midnight, and go ahead and use the expense card to help yourself to a nice dinner at Fagioli’s tonight.” But Greg was already out the slowly swinging doors, heading for the stairs.

 

~~~

 

“Ho ho ho, merry Christmas!” Greg’s boisterous façade masked the tremor in his voice. His arms gripped the gift like his life depended on it.

“I’ve been good, I’ve been good, I’ve been goooooood.” Madlyn bounded to his side and hugged his leg. “Is Mommy back? Is she here? Did I get my magic Santa present?”

Greg swallowed. He hadn’t rehearsed the words. Of course he hadn’t – he was always a man of action, not words. He could never articulate to Madlyn what was happening. It was always Lilith who explained she was dying. Lilith had said her next steps would be out of the wheelchair and into a new world where all things are possible, even life after death. Mere fairy tales.

Greg had never told Madlyn that he was trying to save her mother. He didn’t know how to say that he couldn’t raise Madlyn alone. Now, it was Christmas morning, and he still did not know how to tell Madlyn what had happened. What he’d done.

Madlyn peeped her head up. “Is Mommy here yet?”

“Let me sit down.” Greg forced a laugh.

Madlyn raced to the couch, and Greg followed reluctantly. He plopped next to the antsy girl and set her gift tenderly on the end table. Madlyn tugged at her jumper pocket. “Look how big it is! If that’s a Pocket Panda, I’m all ready – even if it’s huuuge.”

Greg gave a tight smile. “About your mom….”

“Is she running late?” Madlyn pouted her lips.

“No, no,” Greg reassured. “She’s always punctual. You know that.”

Madlyn squirmed. “Oh.”

“Well,” Greg stumbled for words. “Well here, why don’t you open your gift? We’ll talk after.”

Madlyn didn’t need to be told twice. She tugged the green ribbon off the cherry-red wrapping, then lifted the box lid.

“What’s inside?” Madlyn asked.

Greg pulled out a small aquarium. “Is it a GlowFish?” Madlyn asked, already forgetting her Pocket Panda excitement.

“No,” Greg said. “Not this one.”

Madlyn peered into the glass and saw a creature swimming. Shimmering purple scales and billowing pink hair flashed between the green plantlife. The creature creeped out, curious, questioning.

“A Micro-Mermaid!” Madlyn exclaimed. “All the kids asked Santa for one.”

Greg smiled, and it almost reached his eyes. A twinkle of hope.

Madlyn plastered her nose to the glass. The mermaid splashed to the surface, reaching for Madlyn’s finger. “Lil’ pet,” the mercreature said, its voice a gurgling squeak.

“It’s okay now,” Greg whispered. He rested his hand on Madlyn’s shoulder. “I fixed it.”

Madlyn shivered. “Mom?”

 

~~~

 

The lab was a flurry of white coats and black tablets, a normal pace for a Tuesday. Greg sat at his desk, alone in the lab lead’s office.

Gulping coffee from a red and green Snoopy mug, he scrolled through his inbox full of after-holiday sales, end-of-year giving, and stem cell mini-brain kits.

He clicked on an Urgent calendar invite:

Shareholder Celebration Dinner!!!!

We’ve broken our sales records and DESTROYED the competition. Our shareholders are flying in for dinner tonight. We’ll be feasting at Fagioli’s and strategizing how to further annihilate Pocket Pandas and Zoo Unicorns!!

BE THERE!!!!!! J

Greg swallowed too much, too hot coffee, and started dialing his phone. He’d planned for situations like this, but he hadn’t predicted it’d come up so soon.

“Hi Mom… Yes, I had breakfast… ”

Greg tossed the toaster strudel wrapper in the wastebasket.

“I’d love to chat, but I’m actually at work. I just need to ask if you would pick up Madlyn from school today… You don’t need to bring her home. That is sweet, but Lilith is very drained from treatments and can’t have visitors. Would it be too much trouble if Madlyn stayed the night with you? I will pick her up in the morning to take her to school… Ok, great, thank you Mom. I have to work now… Love you… Yes, you too. Bye.”

Greg tapped the hang up button. He stared at the notes on his desk: specs for Micro-Mermaids v1.0, notes for v2.0, and drafts of a Koala Kubs prototype. They leaned in sloppy stacks. They wouldn’t get filed until the college interns returned from break.

Of all the lead scientists, Greg was the only one still using paper. Tablets and floor-to-ceiling touchscreens made paper obsolete. In fact, in the lab proper, fire regulations prohibited paper notes or charts. But Greg thought all those screens muddled his mind. It was a strange thought, since he had no evidence to support it. And as he stared at the slouching hills of paper, he wondered how he got to this point, having acted on two scientifically unsubstantiated ideas.

“Hey Greg!” It was a bright, round man in a white coat with teal piping.

Greg coughed. “Hi Bob. How is your team today?”

“They drank too much and came back fat and happier than me, but they seem ready to get at it again. Did you see the call center report? All positive comments!” He patted Greg’s shoulder. “We really made something special. This could put us in the books.”

“Yup.”

“All right! Well get that blue jacket and come on!” Bob had already started turning toward the lab, when he caught sight of Greg’s coffee mug, and his face fell. “I’m sorry, Greg. I get too excited. How’s Lilith doing?”

Greg coughed again. “She is doing well. Resting at home from her last treatment.”

But Bob’s round face had already begun to pucker with tears. “I’m sorry, Greg. I just noticed that you’re using the same Christmas mug from last year. Lilith always gets you a new mug for Christmas.” Bob gasped with the effort of crying and trying not to cry, which sounded like a cough and a honking goose. “I just can’t imagine what you’re going through. Oh Greg, can I give you a hug?”

“Sure,” said Greg, frozen, as Bob was already embracing him and wetting his shoulder. With a few firm pats on the back, Bob released him and sighed as if he’d finished a marathon.

“Thank you, Bob,” said Greg. “I appreciate it. Lilith really is doing…. She actually ordered a mug online on one of her better days. It hasn’t arrived yet.”

Bob beamed, wiping his shining face with his lab coat sleeve. “Oh Greg, that’s wonderful. I don’t know how you do it. If my Hannah was sick, I’d be a wreck.” Greg was adding an alert to his phone out of Bob’s sight: Xmas sale, new mug.

“Ha… You would do great.” Greg glanced at his watch. “We better get to work.”

Greg grabbed his coat off the hook and pulled it on while walking toward the lab. He overheard Bob sighing to himself, “Poor guy… going through so much.”

 

~~~

 

Greg worked many a late night, no longer to save Lilith, but to keep his end of the bargain. There are always consequences for cheating death. The gods of scientific breakthrough and holiday commercialism demanded sacrifice.

His white labcoat would redden as hours waned. Lilith would know how to get the stains out.

It began with a butcher knife. If he was quick enough, the shock would ward off pain, for a time. Then came the melding and morphing, the redhot sizzle that rendered the creature unconscious. But it would always wake in time for the scissors.

No one could know the cost of holiday cheer. The creatures were meant to have a childlike glow and bring joy to the world. There would be no merry Christmas if they were to share their tale of torture and modification, and so the ability for speech must be eliminated.

“Stop squirming!” Greg insisted. “This won’t hurt much longer.” The scissors slipped through her mouth with precision. It was used to slicing the tongues of the wicked. A fit punishment for the likes of smooth-talking criminals, he assured himself, but a tear fell from his face to the beating heart of the Micro-Mermaid he created.

Stories

Chapter 1 of I Know You Like a Murder

Here it is! For you. For free. I’ve posted Chapter 1 of I Know You Like a Murder on Patreon. Get yo sneak peek there.

Enjoy now [with the sneak peek here]

Detectivize October 23 [by preordering here]

mask for chapter header

for the Bookworms

The perks of a small book.

Most publishers won’t risk as short a story as this.
 
I will. In fact, I think it’s quite appropriate that my debut book is so small. Here’s why:
 
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I grew up with a love for reading. I devoured books as a kid from a young age, until I didn’t.
 
Ya see, I hit that age where I was supposed to move from short stories to chapter books. Ya know, those bulky things that take forever to get to the point and describe too much because there aren’t pictures to do the describing for it. My kid brain couldn’t handle it. While other avid readers were finding big books to love, I had this hurdle I couldn’t seem to get across as I entered my teenage years.
 
Perhaps my love of reading, my future of writing, perhaps it would have died there. If it weren’t for my mom who didn’t give up, and if it weren’t for TCDC. The Three Cousins Detectives Club series (that’s an affiliate link – I may receive $ from purchases made with that link). Teeny tiny chapter books. 40 pages max. A mystery that kept my kid brain hooked and made the concept of longer stories manageable. My mom bought me every single book in the series (that’s 40 books) once she saw I’d devour them.
 
And that was the gateway to larger books. I pretty quickly jumped from those teeny things to Ted Dekker books like Blink (also an affiliate link – I may receive $ from purchases made with that link), well above my age range. Fast forward to getting an English Lit degree and becoming a writer. And it started with TCDC.
 
Small books get a bad rap, but small books kept my love for reading intact.
 
And small books aren’t just for kids learning to read big books.
 
  • They’re for grownups who want to dig into a good story but don’t have the time to devote to a novel.
  • They’re for stolen moments in frenzied lives.
  • They’re for the non-bookworms, not quite ready to commit to those huge tomes on the bookshelves, yet still wanting a good story in a digestible format.
  • They’re for those who would be readers if reading was just a little more accessible.
 
One of my greatest surprises and delights in publishing I Know You Like a Murder is the number of non-readers who see it and say – “Oh, that I could read!”
 
That thing I found as a kid – that short mystery in quick chapters that pulls me in for a brief adventure – I now get to offer that to others. I think that makes kid me super proud.

 

Uncategorized

Countdown to I Know You Like a Murder launch…Ready to party?

Counting down to the release of my book, I Know You Like a Murder. 
Are you ready? Will it be on your tablet or doorstep October 23? You can preorder now, and I’ll get packing it up for you so it’s not a day late.

Uncategorized

Join the Book Blitz for my quirky psychological mystery?

Planning a Book Blitz for I Know You Like a Murder‘s launch week. If you want to spread the psychopathic obsessive word of I Know You like a Murder during launch week, you can sign up for the Book Blitz by following this link.

Blogs who sign up will share about the book, with access to exclusive content like excerpts or images or playlist, plus a giveaway. Get on board for murder and mayhem, but remember: Trust no one.IKnowYouLikeAMurderBlitzBanner

Want to be involved? Comment below, tell me what info you want, what you really really want to provide on your site about this booklaunch.

for the Bookworms, Showcasing other Creatives

Book Review: 49th Mystic & Rise of the Mystics

(Sidenote thought that has no bearing on the review whatsoever: I have so many questions about how the whole “49th” mystic number works. So many questions. And while we’re at it, I have absolutely no idea why the second book was called “Rise of the Mystics”, besides the fact that it’s a fantabulous intriguing title.)

But onto the reviews. I am thrilled to be part of the Rise of the Mystics launch team, but had to jump back and read/review the first book of the series too.

The 49th Mystic

(The above is an affiliate link.
I may receive money for purchases made through that link.)

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The 49th Mystic invites us into the world of the Circle once again. The nostalgia is strong with this one. But it’s not just for Circle fans. It’s a new story, a new character to love, beckoning a new generation of Dekkies I suppose. The story feels familiar and new, all at once. A blind girl who falls asleep and dreams of another world. And the fate of both worlds rests in her hands. See? Familiar, and new. Dekker pulls off a satisfying ending with resolution while also including a cliffhanger that leads into the sequel. Go figure. The good news is, you don’t have to wait. The sequel, Rise of the Mystics, is at your fingertips so you can scoop them both up at the same time.

 

Rise of the Mystics

(The above is an affiliate link.
I may receive money for purchases made through that link.)

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Rise of the Mystics starts more or less where we left The 49th Mystic. Oh, except the story is turned on its head. I won’t spoil it, but it starts in a fresh way, not just same old same old. The pace of this book moves a little slower than the first, but it’s still a satisfying read. More than that, Dekker is one of the few (only?) writers who can weave a sermon into story without being preachy. A parable. A riveting story that makes you think, question your beliefs. And Rise of the Mystics builds to a great ending, a wonderful conclusion to the Circle world (although it’s not the end of Circle stories) that every Circle reader needs in their life. Snag this book for that alone, to end the journey with the promise fulfilled!

 

And a caveat to the whole Circle series I don’t know how to introduce…

One caveat I’ll give, something that disturbed me this time around about the Circle world that I wish I’d noticed years before: The representation of the horde and the albino seems racially insensitive, with traditionally black descriptors (for example, dreadlocks) assigned to the stinky diseased horde and typically white descriptors (like the name “albinos”) for those who have been cleansed. The story includes a brief phrase that clarifies the albinos are called that for the smoothness of their skin, not the color, but that felt a little forced when albino has always been about color not smoothness. I wrestled with this a long time, because I like to give honest positive reviews and I appreciate Dekker’s work. I’m mentioning it because it seems insensitive to me, and I’m surprised that no one else has raised this concern (although TV tropes lists the series under “Fantastic Racism”).

 

for the Creatives

Tip for Creating: Ask a Lot!

Want people to buy your work?

  • Have you asked if they’re interested?
  • Do they know you’re a creative?
  • Do they know you’re selling?

If you talk about it a lot, and I mean a lot a lot, then yes they do. But if you can’t tell me that you’re talking about it all the time, then I can almost guarantee you they don’t know.

I talk about my writing with almost everyone I run into. And I have posted multiple times on social media about preorders. And still, I have people who either 1) don’t know my book is coming out, or 2) don’t know they can preorder.

*Ahem, by the way, did you hear you can preorder “I Know You Like a Murder?*

If you can’t say that you talk about your creations a lot a lot a lot, then you probably know people who would support you if they just heard about your work.

If you haven’t talked about it or posted about it in the past 2 weeks, go do it. Now.
Your diehard fan customer might be just around the corner waiting for you to tell them about that amazing cool thing you offer. 

 

 

 

 

 

Fashion

A month of creative fashion

Let me tell you a secret: I don’t write every day. But I believe everyone should create every day. The world needs more art. I need more art. You need more art. 
My simple way to create every day is to choose a creative outfit, and for the month of September I’m going to give a glimpse of that. I’m posting my creative outfit on Patreon for free every day. 
Today’s outfit included mermaid socks. Go check out the post and follow me there to get the outfits straight to your inbox 🙂
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I’d love to hear what ways you fit creativity into your life. Is it through cooking, curating an Instagram profile, doodling in the margins of your study notes? Comment below and tell me your creative outlet for today.  
for the Creatives

Tip for Creating: Ask Big!

The world is conspiring to bring your creation, your dream, to life. Are you conspiring with it, or are you keeping it out of the loop?
You have a huge support team around you – friends, family, colleagues, mentors, social media connections, creators that have gone before and don’t know your name yet.

So many of those are just waiting for the ask.

Here’s the big asks I’ve been making:

  • I asked my book launch team to help dig through a 70+ page list of book bloggers. No joke, they came through! Mostly that speaks to how amazing a team they are. But let me tell you – if you have people on your team, that means they want to help. Make the big ask. See what happens.
  • I asked to be on Ted Dekker’s book launch team. No, I hadn’t read the first in the series, and no my social media following isn’t as big as he could probably get, but I presented my case of how I’d work my butt off to get his story out there because I believed in it. Now I’m joining his book launch team and can learn from him how to better facilitate my own team.
  • I asked to have my book in a monthly subscription box. Actually, I asked about a dozen subscription boxes that “I Know You Likea  Murder” seemed like a good fit for. I don’t have a bite yet. But I’m asking.

Make 2 or 5 or 10 big asks for your creations this week. See what happens. Chances are that every single one won’t be answered, but something will.

  • Are you stuck on a step of your creative process and need some guidance?
  • Do you need a friend to help with errands so you can attend a workshop?
  • Do you have an administrative task you want to tagteam on?
  • Are you looking for the opportunity to work for & learn from the top dogs of your industry?
  • Are you hoping to get your product in front of a larger audience through a partnership?

Tell me: What ask are you gonna make? 

(Here’s my ask for this week: you can follow my Patreon for free creativity tips like this throughout the month. If you’re interested, come join.)