Author Archives: Jo Ann Schneider

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13-Nov-2020

Today marks the first installment of my Holiday Flash Fiction!

This one isn’t as…light as you might imagine. I blame Kim, who put Krampus’ Switch on the list, as well as the hubby, who came up with the fruitcake idea.

Never Give Up, Never Surrender

Today’s Flash Fiction Friday is brought to you by:
Christmas stockings made by grandma
Krampus’ Switch
and
Fruitcake

“Did you get it?” Gunner asked.

I nodded and pulled the hunk of sticky fruitcake from my beneath my coat. I immediately pulled my coat closed against the frigid wind.

“What about you?” Gunner asked Britta.

Britta unfurled a knitted stocking in white, green, and red. I repressed a groan. She was supposed to bring something sacred.

“What’s that?” Gunner asked.

“Christmas stockings.” Britta narrowed her blue eyed.

“We’re trying to kill Krampus. How are Christmas stockings supposed to help?”

Britta opened her mouth to answer, but Gunner walked to her and put a hand on her shoulder. I flinched. I knew he liked her. I also knew that I liked her.

She glared, the freckles on her forehead scrunching together. “My grandmother made these. With love. She loved me. Krampus can’t abide love.”

Gunner reached out and tore the fruitcake from my hand and waggled it at her. “Krampus can’t abide fruitcake.”

“You don’t know that,” she spat back.

I raised a hand, wincing at the squelching sound that accompanied me separating my fingers. I should have wrapped the stupid fruitcake in a towel. “We don’t have time to argue.” To accentuate my point, a single dong came from the clock tower in town square, indicating only thirty minutes to midnight.

Gunner nodded his blond head, as if he’d been the one to notice. “Come one.”

Britta shot me a glare, and I gave her a smile. Her expression did not soften. A little thrill ran through me when she walked next to me instead of Gunner as he led us to the blacksmith shop. “This isn’t going to work,” she muttered.

For a moment my breath caught in my throat. She’d bumped my shoulder with hers. I had to swallow before I could talk. “What choice do we have after what we did?”

Britta’s eyes swiveled to the ground. “I know.”

Our feet crunched in the snow. Our breath made dense clouds as we walked. The wind brought the smell of fires from homes, and the horse stables nearby.

The three of us had spent the better part of four months trying to find Krampus’ weakness. Children had been taken from our village before, and some of them had tried to fight back, but no one had won. However, one old man—who now ranted and raved all day in the town square begging for money—claimed he’d gotten away from Krampus.

I thought back to the smell of the alehouse and the man’s sour breath as we’d bought him a drink so he would tell us the story.

He’d pushed his sister down during a disagreement when they had been little. She’d broken her arm. It had never gotten better, and had died a few years later.

The first Christmas after the incident Krampus had come to collect the man.

I didn’t know if I really believed in Krampus, especially after the man’s description of a demon with the legs of a deer, the body of a man, and horns like a ram, but I knew if Krampus was real,  he would be coming for us.

He came for all naughty children. Especially those who were unkind to others.

As we had been.

“Come on.” Gunner waved us around the back of the blacksmith shop where he’d started apprenticing in the summer. He’d left the back door ajar, and we slipped into the coal-black building. It somehow felt colder.

Britta stepped closer to me and reached for my hand. I almost jumped out of my skin. I did jump away from her, then cursed myself for doing so. Before I could move back, a spark flew from Gunner’s flint to a torch. A moment later orange light reached from the torch, touching the edges of Britta’s fair hair, and my gray coat.

“Let’s go over the plan,” Gunner said as he dragged a tall, roughly man-shaped, sculpture made of old wood, rusted metal, and scraps of cloth into the center of the dirt floor. It even held a birch switch in a clawed hand.

Britta rolled her eyes. “We each take some fruitcake.” She said it with disdain. “And whomever he grabs first, the rest of us try to get the fruitcake into his mouth.”

The old man from the square had said that he’d ridden in Krampus’ bag with other crying children for hours. Then, Krampus had dropped them. He’d been closest to the top, so he’d pulled the drawstring and scrambled out. Krampus had been on the floor, gagging. The old man had run for the door, and just before he got there Krampus had coughed up a piece of fruitcake. The old man had run into the night and not looked back.

I figured anyone could choke on fruitcake. It didn’t make it his weakness.

“Good,” Gunner said. Then he walked to Britta and tore the stockings from her hand. “Then we tie these around his mouth so he can’t spit it out.”

“No!” Britta reached for the stockings.

Gunner kept them away from her with his long arms. “You said they were sacred. They should burn his skin.”

Tears pricked at Britta’s eyes. She squeezed them shut and shook her head, but said nothing.

Gunner handed me one of the stockings. “Jakob?”

I took the stocking, imagining the warmth on it was still from Britta’s skin, and gave her a reassuring smile.

She looked away.

I couldn’t blame her. She’d started teasing Greta in the first place, so she got to be the bait.

That’s what Gunner had said.

I scrunched the stocking up in my fist and looked at the representation of Krampus. “Let’s go over it,” I said.

Gunner nodded. “Britta, you stand there.”

She got into place. I could see her trembling.

“We’ll be hiding,” Gunner said as he and I got into our places. “Remember, don’t scream. Just cry.”

Britta wiped a tear from her cheek.

“Are you going to chicken out?” Gunner asked.

“No.” She took a breath. “I’m not.”

Holiday Flash Fiction Categories!
We’ll only use 7 or 8 of each.

Tradition:

  1. Decorating cookies
  2. Picking out a Christmas Tree
  3. Driving around looking at lights
  4. Staying up until midnight to hear the church bells ring
  5. Going into the woods to cut down your own tree
  6. Watching favorite holiday films
  7. Taking one of the men playing around with the deep fryer (while trying to cook an additional “better” turkey) to the ER for 2nd and 3rd degree burn
  8. PJ pictures on or near the stairs of all the kids Christmas morning
  9. The family sleeping around the Christmas tree the Friday before Christmas
  10. Christmas stockings made by grandma

Object:

  1. A Rabid Snowman
  2. Reindeer
  3. An old nutcracker
  4. Grandma’s crotched snowflakes
  5. Advent Calendar
  6. Krampus’ switch
  7. The heirloom tatted ornament that has been dunked in sugar water, starched, , and modge podged so many times it’s hard to tell what it originally was…(resembles an oblong Easter egg that’s been scrambled) but it’s been out for every Christmas since the oldest family member remembers, it’s tradition
  8. Wooden Christmas signs bought at Ensign
  9. Christmas village on the fireplace
  10. Death Star tree-topper

Food:

  1. Gluten Free Gingerbread
  2. Fruitcake
  3. Cranberry Jell-o Salad
  4. Homemade divinity
  5. Christmas crack chocolate
  6. Christmas Kibble (a cookie that looks like kibble)
  7. Aspic Salad
  8. Wild Rice
  9. Raspberry cream cheese desert

Christmas sugar cookies


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I Can’t Let it Go

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At the moment I’m 35k into a YA, military sci-fi series that is going to be awesome!

I wrote 75k earlier this year and have had to ditch most of it.

Why?

Let’s just say I do my very best to tell an amazing story with characters that readers will cheer for. Round 1 of this story this year didn’t fit the bill, so I scratched it.

I’ve come to terms with this…all except for the opening scene. I loved chapter one so much that I tried three different times to keep it, but to no avail.

So I’m going to share it here. That way it will live on. And maybe, in a few months or a year, I’ll read it again and think, “It’s not as good as I remember.”

Then again, maybe I don’t hope that happens.

Here’s the original chapter one for my YA military sci-fi series. Also, a teaser from the cover.

The facility glittered on the surface of the asteroid like a pool of water on rocks. Opaque, hexagon panels interlocked into a dome that rose twenty times Dalen’s height. Inside sat troughs configured in rows and filled with plants of all colors, shapes and sizes. Farming drones moved down the rows, looking for problems and reporting progress.

Dalen sighed and gently pushed away from the apex of the facility. Huge mirrors hung above his head. Beyond that lay the gas giant Tosen, and beyond that, the vast expanse of space. The adventure. The potential. The allure of making a difference.

When he turned back, the dome had receded, and when the tether pulled taut, Dalen realized this was the farthest he’d been away from this place since they’d arrived.

Less than a hundred meters. Pathetic.

A voice came through the system in Dalen’s helmet. “You daydreaming again?” Alarik asked.

Dalen considered giving his friend a rude gesture, but he knew his sister was watching. “Do you have a solution for your little problem?” Dalen asked. “Or do I get to float out here for another hour?”

“Working on it,” Alarik said.

“So two hours?” Dalen asked.

“Genius cannot be rushed,” Alarik said.

He could see the problem—a darkened hexagon of the dome. Alarik and his sister had tried to adjust the reflection from the mirrors. Again. Without getting the okay from the supervisor. They’d gone too far, focused too much light on the dome, and several sections had short-circuited. All but this one had come back online.

Dalen snorted. “I’m going to die out here.”

“We can only hope,” Alarik said.

“Can I have your rock collection?” another voice asked.

“No, Darsi, you can’t,” Dalen said to his little sister. “You don’t treat it with respect.”

“They’re rocks.”

“To the untrained eye.” He checked his oxygen level: only 40% remaining. “You two better hurry. If we don’t get this fixed before the shift change, Rachil’s dad is going to lecture you about trying something without testing it first.” Dalen smirked. “For hours and hours.” He could practically feel the flinch coming from his best friend and his sister.

“Almost there,” Alarik said.

“We did test it,” Darsi muttered.

“Uh-huh. How much longer is this section down for maintenance?” Dalen engaged his thrusters, aiming for the dark hexagon. He imagined landing and pushing off again, using the tether as an anchor, and traveling all the way over and around the other side of the dome, where he could land and do it again. And again.

“Got it,” Darsi said.

“You trying to ram us?” Alarik asked.

Dalen sighed and fired his thrusters again, this time bringing himself to a stop exactly far enough away to be able to reach out and touch the darkened hex.

“Go to the access panel,” Alrik said.

Dalen floated to his left to the seam between two panels. A small metal door just bigger than his hand popped open, revealing an array of lights and buttons. “Now what?”

“Push the red button,” Darsi said.

Dalen scowled at his heavy glove and then back at the buttons. “Hold on.” He made a fist and waited until a cool gel ran down his fingers and encased his hand. A green light lit up on the display on the inside of his helmet and he reached out and tugged his left glove off. The glove swung back and out of the way, the fingers adhering to the sleeve of his suit.

Dalen wiggled his fingers, watching the sleeve. It was so thin he could feel everything—unlike in the heavier gloves. He turned his attention back to the buttons and pressed the red one. “Done.”

“Did another button turn yellow?” Alarik asked.

“Yes.”

“Good. Hold it down until the red button turns green.”

“You seriously can’t do this from in there?” Dalen asked as he followed the instructions.

“Not without leaving a footprint,” Alarik said.

After a few seconds, the once red button became green. “Done,” Dalen said. He eyed the panel. “Nothing’s happening.”

“Patience,” Alarik said.

“Give it a second to reboot,” Darsi said.

A blinking light in Dalen’s helmet caught his eye. “Uh, guys, we don’t have much time. The patrol drone is headed this way.”

“Damn,” Alarik muttered.

“Almost there.”

“If I get caught out here you two are going down with me,” Dalen said.

“You’re not going to get caught,” Darsi said. “Did all of the lights in there just blink?”

“Yes,” Dalen said as he looked from the glimmer to the panel.

“Good, shut it,” Darsi said.

Dalen did so, and the surface beneath him faded from black to opaque. “Looks like it worked.”

“You have to get out of there,” Alarik said.

“You think?” Dalen asked. The drone’s weren’t intelligent. They would stay to the path prescribed, looking for anomalies.

Anomalies like him.

“Can you distract it?” Dalen asked.

“Way ahead of you, bro,” Darsi said.

“Get to the other side,” Alarik said. “We’ll draw it away.”

“What if it doesn’t take the bait?” Dalen asked.

“We all got into a lot of trouble,” Alarik said.

Alarik was already on thin ice for hacking into the educational system and changing the graduation tests. The ironic part was that he had made the tests more, not less, difficult. Still, the teachers hadn’t liked it much. Darsi wasn’t even supposed to be working in the network yet; she was only fourteen. She was supposed to be babying plants, not playing with computers that were powerful enough to take out whole facilities.

And Dalen didn’t want to endure another of his dad’s lectures about his position in the colony or how it looked when he got into trouble. Oh, and when was Dalen going to give into his fate and become a farmer?

No, Dalen did not want to have that argument again.

Dalen checked is oxygen. Down to 35%. Plenty of oxygen. Not much time until the drone spotted him. Dalen slipped is fingers beneath the surface of a metal rung—the gel keeping the biting cold from his skin—and flicked his eyes on the display inside his helmet to disconnect his line from the top of the dome.

“What are you doing?” Darsi asked in a panicked voice.

“Relax,” Dalen said. “It might see the tether up there. I’m just going to move it.”

“If you float away we’re not coming after you,” Alarik said.

“And here I thought we were friends.” Dalen waited for the tether to recede into his suit before he climbed toward the surface.

He could activate his boots and walk, but it would take longer, and he only had to go a few panels before the next tether point.

All those hours of cleaning the domes from the outside was coming in handy.

There was always a certain rush that came with being untethered in space. Dalen knew Alarik was all talk, and if for some reason Dalen floated away his friend would find a away to get him back. So unless Dalen decided to run head first into another asteroid, or one of the mirrors, it was likely he wouldn’t die.

However, just the thought of floating alone out there caused a thrill of adrenaline to run down his spine. Quickly followed by an ice dread of fear. Space was the most unforgiving environment in the universe. Nothing survived.

Dalen shoved the fingers of his gloved hand clumsily under the next handhold and leveraged himself along the seam.

“Hurry,” Alarik said.

“Yeah, yeah.” Dalen checked on the drone. So far it hadn’t varied from its route.

Dalen reached for the next hold with his geled hand. As soon as his fingers grasped the hold, he tried to pull his other hand free.

The fingers of the glove wouldn’t come out. Like when the older kids at school used to have the younger kids put their hands into a bottle to get something out, then when they made a fist they were unable to get their hand free.

“Stupid thing,” Dalen said. He should have taken the time to gel his other hand.

“What’s wrong?” Darsi asked.

“Nothing,” Dalen muttered as he braced his feet on the seam and tugged.

This time the fingers came free, but the momentum of his yank threw him around to his back, pivoting from his gelled hand.

He hit the panel with a grunt.

“Was that you?” Alarik asked.

“Maybe,” Dalen said. He pulled himself back. Now he didn’t have time to gel his other hand, so he used a single finger to hold in as he moved down three more handholds and then over two. “Where’s that distraction?” He settled in front of the outlet and blinked his tether to life. It uncoiled from his suit and attached itself. Dalen always imagined a click, but in space there was no sound.

“Ten seconds,” Darsi said.

The drone might spot him before that. Only one thing to do. Dalen grinned. He took a deep breath, imagined the curve of the dome, calculated the number of panels he had to get past, assigned that much strap to his tether and pushed off.

Instead of gently pushing away from the dome, he rocketed back. It took an agonizing three seconds before the cable pulled tight and whipped him back.

For those seconds, Dalen imagined air rustling through his hair. His grin grew wider when he found himself moving toward his intended destination. The panels got closer. Ten meters. Five. Two.

“I hope you have the drone’s attention,” Dalen said as he fired his thrusters once, just long enough to slow him so he didn’t crash. When his feet touched down, he activated his boots. His feet held fast, and he took the collision in his knees, wincing as his butt almost touched the dome.

Before he straightened, he commanded his tether to detach and reel in.

He checked the position of the drone. It had paused.

“Don’t see the tether,” he muttered. Dalen ducked down, even though he was on the opposite side of the dome from the drone, and held his breath.

The end of the cord came into sight.

The drone didn’t move.

“Guys?” Dalen asked.

“Trust us,” Alarik said.

Dalen snorted and stayed perfectly still. He glanced at the next tether point and then at the nearest door. He could get to either without too much fuss. If he didn’t have to run.

“As promised,” Darci said.

Sure enough, the blip on Dalen’s scanner moved off toward Dome Two.

“You’re clear.”

“Come on in,” Darsi said as the light above the door below him blinked three times.

Dalen slowly made his way to the base of the dome, then entered the airlock. “Seal it,” he said to Alarik.

“Done.”

It didn’t take long for the small room to fill with atmosphere.

“We’ll met you in the corridor,” Alarik said.

“Got it.” Dalen shrugged out of his suit and put it down the maintenance chute. Unfortunately he didn’t have time for a shower, so he got dressed and emerged into the maintenance area of the dome. The early hour guaranteed that he would be alone. The morning shift didn’t start for an hour.

Familiar scents of metal, plastic, and oil filled the air. Dalen made his way through the tools and machinery to the exit. Even if someone caught him here, he could explain his presence. He’d spent enough time fixing the domes that he may as well be on one of the crews.

Just as he hit the button to open the door, his hand comm chimed. He pulled it out of his pocket as the door slid open. It was a message from Alarik.

“Stay in the maintenance room.”

Dalen glanced up and found a security guard in the corridor. He pressed the reply button in his hand comm and muttered into the device, “You are the worst friend ever.” Then he gave the security guard a lopsided grin. “Hey, how’s it going?”


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6-Nov-2020

No dice this time. Just writing whatever.

Jack and I sat perched on the top of a chain link fence. Below us, a group of cute, high school, girls walked by. I took in every detail. The way they held their books in their arms, they way they leaned closer to someone when they wanted to tell them a secret, and the way they walked without looking over their shoulder to see if anything was following them.

“You’re making the face again, Val” Jack said.

“So?” I tore my eyes away from the girls and glared at him. “We’re out here on watch duty in the most boring spot in the whole city because you decided blowing up the hot dog stand at the fair was more important than keeping a low profile.”

Jack glared right back and jabbed his thumb at his chest. “If I hadn’t stopped them, those two Dominants would have followed those kids home.”

I sniffed. “Maybe, but you could have gone with my plan and trapped them in one of the gaming booths.”

“And risk them slipping away?” He looked incredulous.

“And keeping us from stupid guard duty.”

Jack’s voice grew quiet. “Is this about the boy you saw change last week?”

Now it was my turn to glare. “No.”

He held my gaze. He knew me way too well. I looked away, noting the next group of kids to walk by us. These wore dark clothes with dark makeup and did their very best to create a dark aura around them.

If only they knew what darkness really was. They still smiled. I didn’t remember the last time I’d seen any of our people smile.

For once Jack left me to my thoughts. My brooding. I turned my attention to the school and the surrounding sports fields. There hadn’t been a Dominant attack in broad daylight in months, but Soll had heard rumblings about this location, so two of us had been watching it for the past few weeks.

I almost longed for a Domi to show up. My fingers flexed, and my skin warmed.

“Calm it down, Val. I can’t contain your powers and keep us invisible.”

He was also allowing us to sit on the fence with no discomfort. I took a breath and let it out slowly. A couple walked by, oblivious to the world around them as they kissed.

“Impressive,” Jack said. “I’ve never seen anyone kiss and walk at the same time that smoothly before.”

“Looking for pointers?” I asked with a smirk. Jack had been trying to get Lucy to notice him. Unfortunately, she preferred the quiet type, not the guy who blew stuff up.

“Shut up.” Jack faked a pout.

I grinned. At least a few of us could still dredge up some humor.

A group of three boys walked by, all crowded around one phone. They were listening to a podcast report of what had happened the night before.

“These Glories, as they call themselves, are a menace.”

“And the Domi’s?”

“Same. Anyone who’s changed needs to get help instead of tearing up the world.”

One of the boys commented. “I still say they’re making all of this up, and no one really has powers.”

“I want powers,” one of the other boys said.

“What would you be, the master of math?”

The boys laughed.

My grin faded.

“Idiots,” Jack said.

“At least they’re ignorant idiots,” I said.

“I’d rather know.”

I considered. “You don’t want to be normal again?”

Jack shrugged. “Not really.”

“But you had lots of friends. You were popular.”

“And now I have powers that will eventually make me crazy. There’s nothing I can do about it.”

I knew he was right.

“What’s this obsession with being normal again?” Jack asked. He’d never been so forward about it before.

“I—I feel like I missed out on so much. School. Dating. Prom. Football games. Instead of wondering if anyone is going to ask me to homecoming, I’m wondering when the next time I’ll put my life on the line to save people who don’t even believe in us.”

Jack arched an eyebrow. “If you could be normal for one day, what would you do?”

That was easy. I’d thought about this a lot. “See my family. Then go ice skating.”

“Ice skating?”

I waved a hand, and a small flame surrounded it for a moment before it went out. “Even with the suppression fields I’m too hot to stand on ice. I melt through it in less than a minute.”

Jack regarded me. “Is there someone special you’d like to go ice skating with?”

“My friends.” Peter. I swallowed. Peter had been killed when the Domi’s had found out about my powers and tried to snatch me away. I’d only had powers for a few days, and I’d honestly thought I’d had the flu.

Wrong.

A scream sounded.

Jack and I both stood and looked toward the noise.

The goth kids were running away from the couple that had walked by. A green glow surrounded the couple, who were still kissing.

“Call it in,” Jack said as he jumped down to the ground. His field took me there too, and as soon as my feet hit the grass I clicked on my radio.

“Soll, this is Val, we’ve got Domi’s at the school. Two of them. Kissing and glowing green.” I didn’t wait for an answer as I dashed after Jack. He might be able to contain them, or I might have to turn them to human slag.

Just another day in the life of a Glory.

Just another step toward the day when I’d become a Domi.


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‘Tis the Season…for Christmas Romances

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I’ve been working hard on my Karly Stratford pen name.

Karly writes sweet and clean, Hallmark-style romances.

The Christmas season is quickly approaching, and if you need to get into the spirit, I seriously recommend these books!

This year Karly is releasing e a set of Christmas Football romances!

The first is in this set of NINE Small Town Christmas Romances! The other stories are amazing. This collection is only going to be around for a few months, so get your copy now. (Click on the cover)

My story is Her Christmas Middle Blocker!
It’s a small town romance with a plus-size heroine who believes the arts are more important than football. Zak hopes he can convince her that both are valuable.

The other three books in the series are out too!

He’s a millionaire quarterback
She cleans the locker room
Neither has time for love…
He’s supposed to fall for the movie star
Not her best friend
*Formerly published as The Haunted Groom*
She’s his crush from junior high
He’s the annoying kid from next door
They’re both home for Christmas
*Formerly published as The About Face Groom*

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