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Some of you may have read this story before. It is included in an anthology of winning stories and poetry from twelve authors who took part in Stevie Turner’s ‘Share Your Short Story’ monthly writing competition, which ran from October 2017 to February 2020 on Stevie’s WordPress blog. All royalties from book sales are donated to Cancer Research.

The Bright Lights of Christmas by Darlene Foster

Ten presents this year, the best year ever. Cory Henderson’s eyes sparkled as he dropped to his knees and studied his precious pile of parcels wrapped in festive paper. Santa Clauses, reindeer and snowmen smiled back at him as he pulled out his gifts and lined them up. His mother wanted him to go to bed, but he continued to count his gifts under the tall Christmas tree covered in a profusion of bright lights and glittering ornaments.

“Just a few more minutes, please Mom,” he begged, excited as most nine-year-olds on Christmas Eve.

He counted the packages once more while arranging them under the tree with care. One from Uncle Bob; he always gave good gifts, usually something to do with sports. Two from Grandma and Grandpa; always the best because they seemed to know exactly what he wanted the most. One from Mom and one from Dad; since he´d thrown some pretty good hints around the last two months, some super stuff from his list were sure to be in those packages. One from his older brother, Scott, away studying in China; he always sent cool stuff. The old couple across the street, who he did errands for, dropped off a small package. One from Aunt Margaret and Uncle Joe, another from his cousins Jim and Jeff and an odd shaped one from his best friend, Jerry. Yup, ten presents for him to open tomorrow morning.

He wasn´t sure he would be able to sleep at all when his mother finally convinced him to go to bed. But, a bright light in his window woke him up from a dream of opening hundreds of presents. At first, he thought it was a light from Santa’s sleigh. Then, he thought a space ship might be nearby. Getting out of bed and tiptoeing to the window, he could see it was not Santa’s sleigh or a spaceship causing the bright light. Flames engulfed the house next-door. Never having seen a fire that close before, he found it scary and exciting at the same time. Mesmerized, Cory stared at the brilliant flames leaping out of the roof.

All of a sudden, he remembered that two little boys lived in that house. The family moved in two months ago. They came from another country, spoke with an accent and kept to themselves. The boys were younger than him, about five and seven.

Maybe the people were still in the house. His tummy did a flip-flop. Just as he heard the wail of fire trucks, he saw two hooded figures run out of the front door. As they reached the sidewalk, he realized two adults covered with blankets, carried a child each. The blankets appeared to be wet when they dropped to the ground. The family stood shivering in their pajamas, staring at their home ablaze.

Cory ran out of his room calling, “Mom! Dad!”

His parents, already up, frantically pulled coats out of the closet.

His dad threw a jacket his way. “Hurry, put this on and go outside. And stay well away from the fire.”

By the time they got outside, the fire department arrived. In no time, long hoses sprayed water onto the flames. Cory’s mom handed out warm coats. He noticed the little boys wearing his parkas from last year and the year before. Even with them on, they shivered.

Heavy smoke filled the air. It smelt weird. Kind of like the time his mom burnt the chicken and the smoke alarm went off. Soon the fire was under control and it started to snow.

“Mom,” said Cory, “maybe we should all go into our house and get warm.”

His mom nodded and motioned everyone to follow her.

She made hot chocolate and put out gingerbread cookies they made the day before. The neighbours, Mr. and Mrs. Zafrani, spoke quietly. The boys, Omar and Jamal, didn’t say anything. Their large brown eyes stared at the big Christmas tree covered with twinkling lights and sparkling ornaments. Beds were made up for everyone, the little boys in his brother’s room and their parents in the spare room. As the boys were about to go to bed for the remainder of the night, they took one more look at the tree and cried.

“There, there,” said their mother as she hugged them. “Don’t cry. At least we are all safe and warm.” She thanked Cory and his parents and they all went to bed.

Cory felt a sick feeling in his stomach. Christmas Eve and their tree and all their gifts probably burnt. They would have no presents to open in the morning. How awful. He tossed and turned in his bed. How would he feel if it happened to him? Now he really couldn’t sleep and no longer looked forward to the morning either. How could he open all those gifts when they had nothing?

Then, he had an idea, jumped out of bed and put on the light. He pulled out some coloured paper, a pair of scissors and Christmas stickers from his desk drawer. Two gift tags made, he wrote Omar on one and Jamal on the other. He stopped for a minute and then made two more. Tiptoeing into the dark living room, he pulled out four of his gifts from under the tree. Without looking at the tags, he replaced them with the new tags. Corey went back to bed and fell asleep with a smile on his face.

The next thing he heard was his mom saying, “Wake up. It’s Christmas morning. Omar and Jamal are up already.”

Cory never slept in on Christmas morning. He ran into the living room. Dad had plugged in the lights on the tree and turned on the fire in the fireplace. The room looked cozy and warm. Jamal and Omar stared at the tree as if they had never seen one before. Cory reached under the tree.

His mom gasped and said, “Maybe we could wait to open the gifts.”

Ignoring her, he handed a gift to each of the spellbound boys.

The oldest boy read out his tag. “To Jamal. From Santa.” His eyes grew wider.

“Open it,” said Cory, hardly able to contain his excitement.

Jamal carefully removed the wrapping from his gift as if he were undressing a baby. His round face beamed when he discovered a PlayStation.

His dad looked at Cory and raised his eyebrows. He turned to Omar holding onto his gift like it would disappear if he loosened his grip. “Don’t you want to see what is in your package?”

The young boy ripped the package open and produced a huge smile as he pulled out a baseball glove. “I love to play baseball!” He slid his left hand in and punched his right fist into the mitt.

Cory’s mom looked over at her son with tears in her eyes. “I think you deserve to open one of your presents, dear.”

Fun and laughter filled the rest of the morning. Cory loved all six of his gifts, but he would never forget the smiles on the faces of those little boys as they discovered gifts under the bright, shiny tree for them.

He learned the real meaning of Christmas that year.

Check out the book for other winning stories.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/52938689-an-anthology-of-short-story-competition-winners

Have you written a Christmas story or post you would like to share? If you have it on your blog, share the link in the comments.

Text and Image copyright © 2020 Darlene Foster  – All Rights Reserved

Here is my story included in the anthology With Love Comes Hope which I wrote about here

Lockdown With Anne by Darlene Foster

It’s day ten of the lockdown and I hate it. At first, I thought it would be great not to have to get up early and go to school. But Mom’s not very good at home-schooling. She loses patience with me and she doesn’t know anything about math. I miss my friends. Sure, we connect on Instagram, but it’s not the same. I missed two birthday parties already. By the time I get to wear my new top, it probably won’t fit anymore. My pajamas are wearing out. I’m tired of Mom’s cooking and wish we could at least get a take-away. This lockdown sucks big time.

I’m bored with TV and I’ve watched all the DVDs we have. I didn’t think I would miss school. Maybe I’ll check out a book my teacher gave me to read the last day of school. She said I would like it.

~~~

Wow! Midnight and I’m still reading. This book is so good. It’s about a girl, Anne, who’s thirteen years old, like me.  She has to hide in a small apartment during World War II in Holland, along with her family. They are actually German so you’d think they’d be OK but they are also Jewish. If the Nazi soldiers find them, they will be sent to a concentration camp and most likely killed like so many other Jewish people.

It isn’t just Anne, her parents and older sister living in this hidden annex, which nobody knows about. They’re sharing the place with another couple, their son and an old man. Anne makes friends with the couple’s son, Peter. But, here’s the thing, they can’t make any noise during the day because there are people working downstairs in the office and warehouse. They can’t even flush the toilet. And, they have to keep all the windows closed and the curtains drawn.

How awful. No fresh air or sunshine. I would go totally crazy.

When Anne turned thirteen, just before they had to go into hiding, she got a diary for her birthday. So, to keep herself busy while in isolation, she writes in it everyday. She actually wants to be a writer one day. She writes things like “I hope I shall be able to confide in you completely, as I have never been able to do in anyone before, and I hope that you will be a great support and comfort to me. “ She names her diary Kitty because she has no girlfriends to talk to.

I am so loving this book. There are even pictures of the rooms and the bookcase that hides the stairway to the secret space. It’s called The Diary of a Young Girl and is a true story written by Anne Frank.

~~~

I finished the book and I’m so sad. In the end, after two years of hiding and being very careful and quiet, someone tells the soldiers about them. They are found and taken away. Anne doesn’t survive. In fact, her dad is the only one who lives. After the war, he comes back to the building, finds her diary and has it published. So her dream of becoming a writer did come true, but she doesn’t live to see this happen.

~~~

It’s day fourteen of our lockdown and Dad says it will be another two weeks at least, probably more. Many people are getting sick and dying. I don’t want to die. I want to grow up and get married and have kids. I want to go to Holland and visit Anne Frank’s house.

I’m doing my homework online and not arguing with my mom as much. Yesterday we made chocolate brownies together and then we all completed a huge jigsaw puzzle. It was fun.

And, we can make noise. I can sing as loud as I want and even go in my front yard and make dance videos. At eight o’clock every evening, we all go on our terraces or balconies and clap in appreciation of the healthcare workers, police, ambulance, firefighters and grocery store staff for keeping us safe and well.

I don’t have to be afraid I’ll be taken away because of my religion. This lockdown sucks but it is so much better than what Anne Frank had to deal with.

I will get through this.

With Love Comes Hope, filled with a variety of fiction and nonfiction stories, would make a great Christmas gift.

This book can be purchased in print or digital format on most Amazon sites.

Amazon.com

Amazon.ca

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com.au

Amazon.es

https://darlenefoster.wordpress.com/2020/08/30/with-love-comes-hope-stories-and-inspiration-during-the-2020-pandemic/

Text and Image copyright © 2020 Darlene Foster  – All Rights Reserved

I am delighted to be included in this anthology of unedited short stories, poems, and articles from around the world written during the 2020 Pandemic.

The Blurb

With Love, Comes Hope offers a unique glimpse into the lives of ordinary people, as they coped, suffered and inspired others; in this unprecedented time, the population of our planet found common cause. Frontline and key workers everywhere ventured out to save lives and protect the vulnerable, supplying and delivering food alongside other essential services, like teaching, transport, rubbish collection; all workers valiantly striving in difficult circumstances. Vast numbers of people self-isolated for weeks or months and adhered to new hand cleaning and face-covering regimes. Most of the world experienced a lengthy period of lockdown and economies were mothballed.

Around the world, governments responded differently with greater or lesser success, and the lives of the population were impacted in many different ways. There was large-scale loss of life, personal devastation, and enduring and serious health compromises. Many lost loved ones, families were cast into tragedy, jobs were lost and businesses failed. But there was also profound inspiration, people doing good, helping neighbours, friends and those, especially, in need of protection. Doctors, nurses, carers and support workers – cleaners, cooks, security people, heroically put their own lives in danger to care for the sick, often at the expense of being with their own families.

There have been pandemics before with even higher casualties, but we have never experienced a pandemic in such a connected society. The human race may not have responded as well as it could but for the first time, there was international communication and, to a very large extent, cooperation.

This book is one such example; it shares the voices of people from many countries. It is a collection of personal accounts, poems, stories and reminiscences from around our beautiful planet and illustrates the innate kindness of people in desperate times and a shared wish for something better for all our futures – a common thread in this volume, With Love, Comes Hope: Stories and Inspiration during the 2020 Pandemic.

100% of the royalties will be donated to an international humanitarian charity called Bridge2, based on the Channel Island of Guernsey.

The contributions came from the following countries: Bangladesh, Australia, Brazil, United Kingdom, Spain, South Africa, Israel, Greece, Canada, Italy, United Arab Emirates, United States of America, China (inc. Hong Kong), India, Romania, Japan, Haiti, Denmark, The Philippines, The Netherlands, Saint Helena, Guernsey, New Zealand, Palestine, Germany, Russia, France.

Here is a radio podcast by one of the organizers of the project https://www.talkradioeurope.com/clients/mmoss250820.mp3

This book can be purchased in print or digital format on most Amazon sites.

Amazon.com

Amazon.ca

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com.au

Amazon.es

This valuable piece of our history should be in everyone´s library.

I am pleased to be part of an anthology called Understanding, An Anthology of True and Significant Life Events – compiled by Stevie Turner


Blurb:
The following authors and bloggers kindly answered questions posed by Stevie Turner regarding significant life experiences they had undergone. These events include sexual abuse, a near death experience, alcoholism, being diagnosed with cancer, depression, losing weight, getting married, being a mother to many children, being the daughter of a narcissistic mother, and many more!

Thanks to:
Alienora Browning
Sally Cronin
Dorinda Duclos
Scarlett Flame
Bernard Foong
Darlene Foster
Janet Gogerty
Debbie Harris
Lucy V. Hay
Miriam Hurdle
Phil Huston
Pamela Jessen
Joe
D.G Kaye
Lynda McKinney Lambert
Jaye Marie
Clive Pilcher
Abbie Johnson Taylor
Beem Weeks

Here is an excerpt of my contribution, about
grief after the tragic death of a family member

Did you find your brother’s death hard to believe at first?

It was incomprehensible. I forced myself to be strong for my parents’ sake. I looked after the funeral arrangements etc in a blur. I kept saying to myself, this isn’t happening, this is just a bad dream and I will wake up soon. It was much later that I would find myself crying uncontrollably, usually when I was on my own. I recall driving down the highway when it hit me that he was gone. That I would not get to dance at his wedding, to hold his babies or to have a good chat and a laugh with him like we always did. My daughter would never get to know her uncle. I started crying so hard, I had to pull over as I couldn’t see through my tears. This happened a couple of years after the accident.

Did you feel angry after the initial shock had passed?

Yes. I was angry at the unfairness of it all. He was a young man with his whole life ahead of him. He had completed school, was working and being a responsible citizen. He was just at the wrong place at the wrong time. 

How long did it take you to accept his death?

I am not sure if I ever really have. I do know that he has been spared the hardships and heartaches of life. But I still wish he was here with us.

Available on all Amazon sites

Amazon.com

Amazon.ca

Amazon UK

All proceeds will go to Cancer Research.

Check it out! Thanks.

This is a re-post of a previous blog.  There has been a change to the publisher’s website and  the book is being offered FREE for the next couple of days to get the word out.  So I decided to share it again with all of my wonderful followers.  You might want to check it out and please share with your friends; Every Child is Entitled to Innocence

I am proud to have my story, Good Hands, included in this inspiring publication, along with other amazing stories by talented writers.

Every Child is Entitled to Innocence was the first publication of the newly- formed Plum Tree Books.  Profits from the sales of this e-book are being donated to Child Helpline International.

This is part of the forward to the book:

In 2010 more than 14.5 million children, or adults on behalf of children, contacted child helplines around the world. Experiences collated from different child helplines reveal that children calling for assistance are often in need of shelter, medical, emotional support or guidance, are in need of support during a family crisis, during abuse (physical/emotional/sexual), in need of repatriation, or in need of support for school related problems.

On behalf of all of the child helpline counsellors across the globe who are there for children in need at all hours of the day and night, I would like to thank Dr Niamh Clune & Orangeberry Books for bringing this collection of stories about childhood together. These stories help remind us of the power of sharing our experiences, happy and sad alike. Every child who contacts a child helpline is reaching out, making sure their voices are heard, and that their problems do not go unnoticed and untreated. These stories do the same.

Nenita La Rose, Executive Director.

www.childhelplineinternational.org

Says initiator of the project, Dr. Niamh Clune, “I met many writers through the Internet that experienced difficult childhoods yet have overcome their brutal beginnings. I wanted to make the first Plum Tree publication a celebration of creative imagination. This powerful friend of damaged children plays an essential role in an abused child’s recovery. Gathering this series of stories was a joy. Plun Tree Books has developed special, vibrant relationships with contributors and has forged many lasting friendships.

We encouraged happy stories that reflected the innocence of childhood when infants feel wrapped in the warmth of loving arms. We wanted to contrast these with the sad ones, making them stand out in relief against a bright backdrop. We felt this comparison would demonstrate, without explanation, what happens when innocence is stolen. In this book, the reader will find many wonderful, heart-warming stories; whilst the sad ones demonstrate the magnificence of the human spirit as it triumphs against all the odds.”

The e-book can be ordered from   Amazon.com

Visit http://www.wix.com/niamhclune/everychild for more information

Thank you Niamh for putting this project together and for including the story about my wonderful father who provided an innocent and memorable childhood for me.

 


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© Darlene Foster and darlenefoster.wordpress.com, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Darlene Foster and darlenefoster.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.