2022 minus 25: 12DaysFF – apothecary and plinth

Posted: 7 December 2021 in 12DaysFF, 2022 minus, fast fiction, fiction, writing
Tags: , , , , , , ,

For the remaining four weeks of this run, while Tuesday will remain the ‘tales from the fiction vaults’ day, I’m making them ‘tales from the Christmas fiction vaults’.

I’m going to be putting up two each Tuesday from the Twelve Days of Fast Fiction runs I did: two each from 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 – the last year I did them. For these specific short runs, I asked friends in comics and various fields of entertainment to challenge me.

And they did. With funny, silly, clever titles and weird, odd, wonderful words to use.

So here are two, from 2012’s Twelve Days of Fast Fiction.

The first story was written for an old friend, the writer Neil Gaiman; a friend who’s provided a shoulder to lean on, a willing ear when I’ve wanted it, and several kicks up the arse when I’ve needed them. Neil’s story was the first Twelve Days story I wrote and like every one of these tales, the story answering his challenge was written very specifically for him.

Given the opportunity to write something that appealed to our shared love of myth, I’m not sure I could ever resist the temptation. To be fair, I never try that hard.

The second story was written for Jamie McKelvie, one of the best comics artists in the field. I’ve known Jamie so long that my son is now older than Jamie was when I met him. I’m sure there’s something illegal about that. I’ve no idea why or how the idea for this story came to me, but I’m very, very pleased it did. It remains one of my very favourite fast fictions.

The challengers received the same prompt as always:

Give me a title of up to four words in length, together with a single word you want me to include in the tale, and I will write a story of exactly 200 words.

That’s it. The stories that resulted always included the word, they always fitted the title, but usually in ways the challenger hadn’t anticipated. And they were always exactly 200 words in length.

I hope you enjoy them…

Title: Why Can’t Reindeer Fly?
Word: apothecary
Challenger: Neil Gaiman
Length: 200 words exactly

Elf-blood is purple, which often surprises those witnessing a battle for the first time. That it is pale, runny and rapidly absorbed by snow is less astonishing. Were the stains longer lasting, the white carpet around Santa’s workshop would instead be permanently amethyst.

The war had lasted too many centuries to count, only interrupted by the regularly scheduled twenty-four hour ceasefire, commencing at the close of 24th December. No-one could any longer recall how the war had commenced; some believed that an elf had grossly insulted a reindeer, some the reverse. Still others even blamed Santa himself, but only quietly, and among trusted company when they could be certain that none present would report the conversation.

However, all were agreed that any attempts at peace between elf and reindeer had been fiascos; the name of the last apothecary to try, sickened as he was by the cruelty and violence, had been struck from the guild’s records in shame.

Each side had their regrets. The elves were bitterly disappointed that the size differential between the foes favoured their enemies; and the reindeer, seeing the copious levels of excrement produced by their troops, looked to the skies and wished fervently for flight.

© Lee Barnett, 2012

Title: The Christmas That Wasn’t
Word: plinth
Challenger: Jamie McKelvie
Length: 200 words exactly

The walk to the front door seemed longer than usual. I stifled a yawn as I pulled out the keys, half blinded by bright August sunlight.

A weariness beyond anything I’d known had come over me, but I knew sleep wasn’t going to come easy. Not for me. Not for her, either. She was still in the car; we didn’t have anything to say to each other now – we’d exhausted all possible conversations over the past hour.

I glanced through the front room’s windows; it was all there. His toys, the letter from the hospital, a small statue of Peter Pan upon a plinth, and the Christmas decorations.

We’d known it was the only way he’d see another Christmas, so we’d planned a party for him. In August.

We’d never hold that party now.

We’d been honest from the start. For a lad not yet eight, he understood what cancer was, what it meant.

A sob caught in my throat as I turned the key. I had to pack it all away now.

A protesting yell from the car. I smiled.

He understood what cancer meant. I wasn’t sure about remission. Maybe I’d buy him a dictionary. In December.

© Lee Barnett, 2012


See you tomorrow, with… something else.



Sixty-one days. Sixty-one posts. One 2022 approaching.

I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of quid every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to the new year. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

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