Waiting for Gift Man (Again)

This flash-fiction story was published last year on Christmas Eve. Since there are new followers to my blog (and thank you!!), I’m posting the short story again. I hope you enjoy…


Waiting for Gift Man
by Dave Williams

As we waited for the Gift Man to rappel down the chimney (no fire in the place, thank you very much), we regaled each other with tales of adventure.

“That time I went hang gliding down in Rio was a blast,” Mitch said. “You get a good running start and just launch yourself off the cliff, and you’re like, ‘this doesn’t feel right at all, I’m not supposed to jump off a cliff,’ but you tell yourself to shut up, that you’re strapped to this glider and it’s gonna be alright, ’cause you’ve just seen a bunch of people do it, and then you’re doing it, you realize you’re hanging there in the air, soaring. And you see the beautiful city below you and the beautiful beach and the beautiful ocean. And you’re so caught up in all of it that you’re not worried or scared, you’re just awed. Fucking beautiful, man.”

“Sounds sweet,” Zeke said. “Reminds me of the time I went skydiving. That being scared you feel when you step outside of this little prop plane and the land is way, way below you and you’re like, ‘Why am I doing this? Jumping out of a plane that’s working just fine and can take me to the ground and why the hell am I jumping out of it?’ But you keep pressing forward, sliding outside so the instructor who’s on your back can get out too, and then you let go, just let go. And then the air rushes into your face, you’re not thinking at all, just taking it all in, the air and the feeling and the rush of it. And when you finally hit the ground, your heart’s pounding from all the adrenaline. Like you said, fucking beautiful, man.”

I don’t have any hang gliding or skydiving stories, so I searched my memory for something that could stack up to them. “One time when I went hiking with some buddies, the trail on the mountain got thinner and thinner, and there was a chain you could hold on to. It was bolted to the rock every few feet or so and hanging down between the bolts so you could hold it and not fall off. ‘Cause the mountain dropped off, just dropped off on the other side of the trail from the chain, and every now and then we’d send some small rocks to drop, and they’d bounce down the mountain, and you’d imagine your body doing the same thing as those rocks and how crazy bad that would hurt. So, of course, that just made us hold on the chain harder and keep on going.”

“Cool, that sounds really cool,” Mitch said. “That reminds me …” then he launched himself into a new story.

And on the stories went, swinging on vines around the living room as we lounged on the couch and easy chairs and laughed and sipped eggnog (which partied with bourbon inside our glasses).

Until, that is, we heard footsteps above us.

“Someone’s coming!” Zeke whispered in an alarmed whisper.

But these footsteps were not on the roof. They were closer, as in from the upstairs hallway. Then closer still, on the stairway that led down to us in the living room. I will be honest with you here: we were disappointed that the footsteps did not come from the chimneyway.

Grandpa’s striped pajama bottoms appeared, and then his pajama tops, and then his head. A disapproving expression was on his head.

“What are you fellas still doing up?” he asked. “Shouldn’t you be asleep?”

“We’re waiting for Gift Man,” Mitch said.

“Oh,” Grandpa said and thought for a couple of moments. “Sounds like that movie Waiting for Guffman. You know, the one directed by Christopher Guest. It came out in the late Nineties, I believe.”

We nodded our heads. Yes, it did sound like the title of that funny movie.

Grandpa scratched his beard. “Which, I’m sure you know, was a play off the play Waiting for Godot. Written by Samuel Beckett, a master of absurdism.”

We nodded our heads. Yes, on some level of knowledge, we knew that.

Grandpa continued. “What you may not know is that Beckett was possibly inspired by Balzac. You see, Balzac wrote a play many years before called Mercadet. It was also about waiting.” He paused to let that sink into our eggnog-soaked brains. “In turn, Balzac may have been inspired by a play before him. Possibly something from the Greeks, who were masters of the theater. As you well know.”

The three of us looked at each other. This was getting much deeper than our regaling of adventures. It was plainly (maybe painfully as well) obvious that we doubted our brains were ready for Grandpa’s lecture about the history of theater.

Grandpa looked at the fireless fireplace (which may simply be called “place”). I don’t know about the other guys, but I fervently hoped Gift Man would appear and bring a big, bold dash of color and excitement. If this was a TV show or movie, that would’ve certainly happened right then.

Then Grandpa added, “Actually, the same thing may be said about Santa Claus. You could hop, skip, and jump through history and folk tales to see the many figures who came before the man we think of now.”

“Germany, wasn’t it?” Zeke asked.

“Among others, yes,” Grandpa answered and gazed over at the beautifully lit and decorated Christmas tree. “Many countries were involved in that progression.” He sighed, and you could read a bone-tiredness in that sigh. “I’m sure we could have a long conversation about this. But, as for me, that’ll have to wait for another day. I need my sleep. Goodnight, fellas. You should turn in soon. Tomorrow is a big day.”

We said we would and bade him goodnight, and then we listened to his footsteps ascend the stairs, proceed down the hall, and enter his bedroom.

“Absurdism,” Mitch said. Just offered the word out there, like a sugar cookie on a tray. “What the hell isn’t absurd?”

Zeke and I pondered that word on the invisible tray, and I beat out Zeke in my reply: “Nothing. Not a damn thing.”

“Here, here,” said Zeke and raised his glass.

We all raised our glasses of nog and took a drink.


copyright © 2020 Dave Williams

Listening to the Lotus

Photo of an opened lotus flower. Pink petals and the seed pod in the center is yellow.

The lotus bud of closed petals, like a cat sleeping in a rolled ball, is silent as it inhales air and sunlight, listens and learns words from other plants. When the petals begin to lower, opening, the lotus’s voice is small and unsure. Such as it is with young flowers and insects and birds and most animals. Not like young humans, who wail to be heard. When fully open the lotus’s pink petals sing, adding a delicate voice to the music around them. The lotus’s song and luminous petals invite people to gaze into it, mandala-like, and see other worlds: pink skies, cities among trees, people who can breathe underwater, tall ships sailing in the sky. Each person sees a world of their liking. The lotus embraces the hope that when each person looks away, they will see the wonder of the real world around them. The grip of the petals fades as the flower ages. The petals fall one by one. Sad for the falling. Thankful for their chance under the sun. Curious about the ground and what happens next. Above the fallen petals, the seed pod is like a small speaker. Singing a different song now. A song about new generations of musicians, about possibilities. 

Photo of a lotus seed pod. No petals are attached to it. The pod is no longer yellow and has turned to green.

Photos were taken at Grounds for Sculpture (Hamilton, New Jersey) in July 2021.
copyright © 2021 Dave Williams

Polk It Up

President Polk entered the tavern and made his way around the full tables and knifed through the bustling crowd at the bar to order an ale from the harried bartender. Nobody showed a sign of recognizing the president of their country being among them. They were busy drinking, eating, and making boisterously merry with their fellow countrymen.

Once served, Polk took a large gulp of the brew, appreciated the taste, and then raised the tankard high and bellowed, “Polk it up!”

Silence clapped the room.

Chair legs scrapped the floor as a customer slid so as to easier see the speaker. Silence swallowed the sound and digested for another long second.

“Eh?” asked an extravagantly bearded man standing next to the president. “Polk it up? What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It’s a catchphrase, my good man!” the president belted. “It means be bold, be daring, be adventurous!”

“Do you mean Polk as in President Polk?” another man asked.

“The very one!” the president said. “Recently inaugurated and ready to get things done!”

“Don’t know anything about him,” another man said. “Is he really bold and daring?”

“Remains to be seen,” someone said. “I’m just glad Tyler’s out of there.”

“We all are!” the president said. “I’m simply spreading this soon-to-be-very-popular catchphrase!”

“I miss Van Buren’s sideburns,” the extravagantly bearded man said.

“I voted for Clay,” another man said.

“Clay’s done,” the president growled and raised his tankard again and again bellowed, “It’s time to Polk it up!”

Frowns deepened and curious expressions grew curiouser–until someone at a table started laughing, and then the laughter spread like frantic wildfire, racing ’round the tavern, with the place quickly rolling in mirth.

President Polk scowled at the lot, took a deep swig of ale, theatrically wiped his lips from the back of his hand to the end of his forearm, and stormed out of the place.

A dark cloud followed the president as he made his way back the the President’s Mansion, inside to his desk, where he scratched the tavern’s name off a list and peered at the remaining three taverns at the end of the list.

He nodded at the names and said, “It’ll catch on eventually,” then went to bed.

Pool Story

Photo of water ripples in a pool. The text on top of the water is also rippled, and the text is Pool Story by Dave Williams

One saying is “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” That’s kind of the gist of how this story and video were created.

My mom and I were on a trip when my minivan broke down on the highway. We were towed to a mechanic’s garage in a nearby town. We spent the night in a hotel and waited the next day for the minivan to be fixed. It was an opportunity to spend more time with my mom and chat about the old days, and I enjoyed listening to stories of when she was growing up.

During our wait, I filmed a four minute video of the hotel’s pool. I wasn’t sure what I’d do with the video, just that I thought the water’s ripples made for interesting visuals.

Later, I had the idea to write a story. Not about hotel guests splashing about the pool, but of the water in the pool, about what could be going on with it.

So I narrated the story and paired that with the video of the water, and here it is. If you’d rather watch the video on YouTube, click here.

Frederic Brown’s ‘Knock’ Story and Inspired Films

Photo of a door. Most of the door is in shadow, and there's a spot of illumination from sunlight coming through a window.
by Lillian Grace/Unsplash

“The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door…”

A two-sentence horror story by Frederic Brown. To me, it’s an example of brilliance in brevity. The first sentence creates an image in my mind, then the second introduces an unexpected sound, then the ellipses serves as a springboard for my imagination.

While the little story can sit on its own, Frederic Brown wrote beyond it for a fuller story. It was published in the magazine, Thrilling Wonder Stories (December 1948). The larger story dives into the science-fiction genre, with aliens coming to Earth. If you’re interested in reading a plot summary, that’s on Wikipedia.

I like that many directors have put together short films inspired by the two-sentence version of the story. Neat to see different approaches for the same, basic story. I watched a handful of films — there were more available! I can see how Brown’s story makes for a good idea for student-made films.

The films are on YouTube, just click on the producers’ names to see the films. 

  • Sergeii Studio. Bleak, foggy images of various exteriors before we pop inside the room.
  • Rafael Zambrano. Animated, in a painterly style. The shortest film of this group, at a little more than a half-minute.
  • Rocktor Productions. A teenager walks around a high school, trying to find the source of the knocking. With hardly varying action, this film still puts together a plot beyond the two sentences.
  • Erick XCX. Animal Crossing-style animation, with a storyteller relaying the story to a small group of people.
  • Korven production. A kid is alone at home, and since he calls his dad, he’s not the last person on Earth. The creepy level goes waaaaay up on this one.
  • Cutting Edge film. This one feels more “realistic” to me, since it has candles and flashlight instead of electricity that’s still running, so the last man can flick light switches and watch TV.

Send in the Piano Clown

“I don’t know if I should laugh or cry into my beer,” Leon said.

“Do both at the same time,” Samantha said.

“Feels like we’re stuck in limbo in this bar,” Leon said. “Like we need to do something to get to heaven.”

“That’s easy,” Sam replied. “Just walk out of here.”

Leon said, “But I’m riveted to this guy’s spoken-word poetry about his doomed relationship with Carol while he plays piano and sings ‘Send in the Clowns ‘and ‘Piano Man’ and tosses back cocktails.”

“It’s a weird mix, that’s for sure,” Samantha said. “Is this what people mean by ‘avant-garde’?”

Leon shrugged. “I think it means whatever you want it to mean.”

“That’s not helpful. Why is he dressed as a clown? Is it some kind of symbol for how he feels inside?”

“Maybe,” Leon said. “Or what if it’s a social commentary on being a performer? You know, like a trained monkey?”

Sam shook her head. “We’ll never know. Look at that. He passed out.”

“Poor bastard.”

“Him?” Sam said with a laugh. “We’re the poor bastards who had to listen to him. C’mon, let’s go. We’ve been granted freedom.”

As the couple walked toward the bar’s exit, they saw the other patrons were still watching the clown draped over the piano. Perhaps they wondered if the clown would sputter back to consciousness and continue to entertain them with his act. Or perhaps, after a rest, the clown would start the second act of his performance that was different than the first. Samantha and Leon would never know, as they left the bar and walked towards another bar across the street, their feet moving with the hope of a more “normal” situation in the other bar.


copyright © 2021 Dave Williams

Audio Story: ‘Away from the Orchard’

Introductory screen image for the video, with the title Away from the Orchard and a drawing of a smiling apple.

Now that we’re into autumn, it’s time for eating everything that’s been covered with pumpkin spice. (Isn’t that the same spice mixture for apple pies? Why not “apple pie spice” everything then? But I digress.)

Also it’s time for visiting your friendly neighborhood farm for enjoying a bumpy hay ride, choosing just the right pumpkin, trying not to get woefully lost in a corn maze, and apple picking.

That last activity occurs in the beginning of my short story “Away from the Orchard.” A boy is picking apples with his family and he drops an apple with the excuse that it’s too small.

The apple decides it would rather not stay on the ground in the orchard, so it moves along. A short, sweet story about that decision and the journey afterward.

If you’d rather listen to the audio on YouTube, click here.

Strange Occurrences at the Old House

After violet lightning struck the tree by our house, oddities started in our family. Levitating coffee cups. Sis would snap her fingers and random objects burst aflame. An entity named Virkiv sometimes spoke through me. Word spread through the nearby town, around the county, farther away from us. Then armed men broke down our door, dragged our family into vans, drove us to a laboratory.

The scientists who study my family tell us that our house is still being examined. As are we. The scientists claim a new house will be given to us after the examinations are finished. But they don’t say when that will be.

Certainly we miss the old house, all the familiar rooms and the memories that happened within them. As well as the land around the house, the field and slice of forest. Now our home is this lab, which has a sad, blank character.


copyright © 2021 Dave Williams

Learning a Little About the Students

An aardvark walking, with small bushes behind it.
by Louise Joubert/Wikimedia Commons

On the first day of school, the teacher asked the elementary school students to say one thing about themselves.

Starting in the front row, each student spoke. Some spoke energetically, some softly. Olivia Murrell’s favorite color: purple, Noah Hillman’s favorite food: pizza, Sofia Valdez’s favorite movie: The Wizard of Oz, Makayla Weber’s favorite food: cake, Dominic Rowley’s favorite color: red, Xavier Carrasco’s favorite baseball team: Los Angeles Dodgers, Ellie Ishida’s favorite holiday: Christmas, Anthony Arborghast’s favorite animal: zebra.

The teacher help up her hand and said, “Let’s take a little break there, please. I have a question. Anthony Aardvark Arborghast, could you tell the class why your parents picked your middle name? I’m very curious.”

Anthony Aardvark Arborghast was a shy boy and his voice was low, but he managed the explanation. “My mom and dad wanted my middle name to be an animal. But they couldn’t agree on which animal. My mom’s favorite animal is the aardvark, and my dad’s favorite is the albatross. They had a contest for who could pick my middle name. They played one round of miniature golf and one round of gin rummy. They worked on the crossword puzzle in a Wednesday edition of the New York Times to see who could get the most answers. They jumped to see who could jump the farthest. They wrote essays about the possible dangers of technology. Three of their friends served as judges to pick the winner of that one. They took a test of real-world math, which included household finances, sales tax, and statistics in news stories. And finally, they made funny faces and funny voices to a friend to see who could make the friend laugh louder. They agreed on a complicated scoring system for all those contests to see who won the whole thing. My mom won.”

Silence in the classroom as the teacher and students took in all of what Anthony Aardvark Arborghast had said. The kids looked around at each other. The kids looked at Anthony Aardvark Arborghast.

The teacher said, “Well, Anthony, I think you have interesting parents.”

“Weird is more like it,” Anthony Aardvark Arborghast said.


copyright © 2021 Dave Williams

Rocky Road

Wine gave the illusion of courage, yet Alex’s heart thudded a rapid drumbeat, beads of sweat on his forehead and lower back from the heat of the imagined bonfire around which several dancers frolicked to the rhythm of that rapid drumbeat.

In reality, Alex maneuvered around the other patrons in the bar. He arrived at the lady’s side, then he murmured, “Hi.”

“Hi there,” she replied, louder than him.

“Rocky road.”

A frown on her lovely face, and she said, “Do you mean the ice cream flavor, or that you’ve gone down a difficult path?”

“The former. No, the ladder. No, I don’t mean a tool you can use to climb to second-floor bedroom windows. That’s creepy. I mean the latter. With t’s, not d’s. The second one.”

Thankfully, the lady’s frown eased away. “Do you mean your life in general has been rocky, or that recent events have been rocky?”

“Recent,” Alex said. “Very recent. The path to get to you. I’m not saying the bar’s floor is strewn with rocks. I’m speaking metaphorically.”

One of her eyebrows raised, a gesture that communicated some of the lady’s opinions and ideas. If only Alex could’ve translated the gesture, he would’ve understood her better. However, that was part of the mystery. Which was maddening and enticing at the same time.

She said, “Now that you’ve achieved your destination, do you expect a reward?”

“I already have it.”

“Oh? What’s that?”

“You’re talking to me.”

This time she let out a little laugh, and the sound was sweet to his ears. “And what an unusual conversation it is.”

Encouraged, Alex said, “Do you have a taste for rocky road ice cream right now? Or is it just me?”

“I’m not sure.”

“We could try to find an ice cream shop and see if you’re up for it,” he said. “Or we could put it to the side for later. Down the road.”

The same eyebrow raised, along with the corner of her mouth directly underneath it. “You’re original. How about we have a drink, then we’ll go from there.”


copyright © 2021 Dave Williams