Warmth, family, good cheer? Not everyone associates these things with the winter holidays. For some, it’s a time of longing and reflection. Mischief Corner Books invites authors to create stories set during the holiday season and centered on the fulfillment of a wish or desire.
Includes my story "Wonderland":
Zeke is a loner his late forties, living in a small cabin in rural Montana. Nathan has been traveling across country on foot since the zombie apocalypse, dealing with his OCD in an empty world. Zeke just wants someone to love. Nathan just wants to be home again.
Fate brings them together in a winter wonderland, but their own fears and baggage may tear them apart.
Is there still hope for love at Christmas, at the end of the world?
December 19READ MORE
Zeke stared up at the darkening sky from the porch of his log cabin. The clouds were rolling in over the mountains, thick as cotton. A year and four months he'd been here all alone, since he'd last seen another living human being. At forty-eight, he was resigned to the fact that nothing much was likely to change in his life from now on.
A good storm was coming—he felt it in his bones, although the winter had been unusually warm and dry so far. He'd need to haul some firewood inside the cabin and check his food stocks. He scratched at his scraggly beard as he carried in the chopped wood to lay it next to the fireplace.
Zeke lived off a combination of trout from the Clark Fork River and an assortment of canned goods from the local Grocery Surplus store, but even that vast source of food was starting to wear thin. Winter was just starting—and still not an inch of snow, though that looked to be changing quickly.
Sometimes he wished that he wasn't the last man on Earth. He'd always been a loner. He'd lived up here on the slopes of the Reservation Divide his whole life, first with his father, and then these last ten years by himself. He'd acted on his impulses once or twice, driving down to Missoula for some big-city life in the town's two gay bars, but he'd never found what he was looking for, and now it was too late.
It turned out that absence really did make the heart grow fonder. He wished that he had someone—anyone—to talk to. He snorted. If wishes were fishes, we'd all live in the sea—one of his father's favorite sayings.
Maybe I should think about heading south.
The first year after the plague, he'd stayed put as it ravaged Thompson Falls down in the valley below. Even rural Montana hadn't escaped its reach. Even so, he'd run into one of the besotted, still living a couple weeks after the end, and had blown it away with his rifle. Its blood had splattered all over his face, but he hadn't gotten sick.
He shrugged. Someone had to be immune. Maybe I was the unlucky sod.
Zeke covered the rest of the wood with a new waterproof tarp to keep out the snow and sleet. That was one advantage of being the last man in the world—there were so many things at his disposal, right there for the taking, and he didn't have to pay a dime for them.
He snorted. Money—such a strange, strange thing. Sometimes he would crack open a cash register in town to grab a handful of metal coins—quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies—just to run them through his hands.
He cranked up the generator out back and went into his library room to check the shortwave radio, just like he'd done every day since the plague. It was his ritual, though he'd long since given up hope.
He sat down and scanned through the bands, listening intently for anything signifying human contact. There was only static.
Zeke went back outside and sniffed the air. Cold wind whipped at his beard. Snow was coming, for sure, but he should have enough time to make it down to the market for a quick supply run before the storm began.
He checked the fuel gauge on his ATV. It was low—he should probably top off in town. The first month after the plague, when he'd deemed it safe again to go out, he'd found a way to tap the underground tanks at the old Sinclair gas station, so he had all the fuel he needed.
He strapped one of his heavy-duty canvas sacks onto the back of the vehicle and hopped on, firing her up. He took a deep breath of the cool pine-scented air and then started off down the canyon toward the empty town of Thompson Falls.
I really enjoyed this story. I found the world Mr. Coatsworth created fascinating and the reasoning behind the post apocalyptic world being completely hilarious but also totally plausible in many ways. Nathan and Zeke were interesting characters and I liked that we got to know them so well. They both focused on survival and making sure they had what they needed. The tiny bit of mysticism in the story was a wonderful touch. I figured it out quickly but I liked getting to see how Nathan handled it as he learned about it. The survival aspects of the story are amazingly researched. You can tell serious thought was put in to what would still be around, what would actually work, and what could be figured out with what’s on hand. There’s a wonderful happy ending for the story, or as happy as can be expected for a world completely decimated. But you can tell Zeke and Nathan are going to be together no matter what gets in their path.