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"Grodie and The War on Christmas," by James Rye

“You’re toast, Santa-spawn!” I muttered as I pulled the trigger.

The elf in the LCD screen of my scanner goggles lit up and then evaporated. A negative image of his red and green outfit lingered in my vision for several seconds afterward, curly shoes and all.

The War on Christmas, as it would be named later, had raged into its third year by that time. What had started it, you might be wondering? How could relations between Washington and the North Pole break down so badly?

Over the last two or three generations, Santa’s “naughty” list had grown longer and longer, far outpacing the increase in world population. Eventually, the naughty kids were growing up to have even naughtier children, a situation that snowballed until the jolly old man had had enough.

To make matters worse, the Environmental Protection Agency had discovered that the forests were being decimated by elves to create thick wooden toy trains that no one even wanted. Once the US government became involved, of course, war was inevitable.

The first skirmish occurred in Detroit, when a hundred or so of the little boogers appeared out of nowhere, lobbing lumps of coal at police. Thing is, elves are invisible without special gear, so the projectiles seem to come from nowhere and everywhere. And for little guys, they have major-league throwing arms.

Up to this point, though, actual casualties had been minimal. That is, until a week ago.

One unusually bright elf—our spy network had discovered his name to be Grodie—had built the ultimate weapon: a wooden catapult capable of firing coal lumps at a high enough velocity to damage armor and cause massive bruising. In the last few days, this particular elf had been tracked down to a warehouse in rural Georgia. The building had been evacuated, and my team, The Dark Re-gifters, had been called.

Now, inside the warehouse, the power had been cut and the refrigeration units had fallen silent. Only the occasional pool of emergency light provided any guidance to the naked eye. That’s where Grodie and his pals would be holed up; the freezer section, where they would feel most at home. We moved slowly through the partial darkness, relying fully on our infrared goggles to negotiate the numerous hazards. Row after row of towering racks held pallets of frozen food, stacked in columns reaching to the high ceiling two stories up.

The silence of the place rattled my nerves, so I was startled by a crackle in my earpiece. “Err, Sergeant?”

The heads-up display in my goggles identified the voice as “Schmidt”, one of the newer recruits.

Bam! A black projectile struck and glanced off my helmet. I whipped around and fired blindly at the red/green blur that lit up my goggles. Missed. (Don’t worry kids, you can’t really kill an elf. They respawn in a corner of Santa’s workshop just like you do in Halo.)

“Dammit, Schmidt! Keep it down,” I hissed into the com. “Where are you?”

“Not sure. Behind a pallet of frozen peas. I think the cold has gotten to my GPS. But—” His voice cut off and there was a loud crackle in my ear.

“Schmidt!” I shouted and started quickly working my way along the North wall, where I had last spotted him. I rounded a corner and there, at the far end of the frozen meat aisle, it stood. It was at least seven feet high and made of the finest Canadian maple, from the carefully carved cup at the top to the thick, heavy wheels at the base. The catapult was the work of a true craftsman, and the scariest thing I’d ever laid eyes on as a soldier.

The rest of my squad stood in a tight group to the right, hands on their heads, with a particularly ugly little elf aiming a small slingshot in their direction.

I raised my rifle and took a moment to assess the situation.

“Grodie?” I shouted, “I know you’re here! Show yourself, or your little flunky here gets it!”

There was a shrill laugh from behind the stacked cases of T-Bone steaks. I turned and fired reflexively. The boxes were vaporized, turning into a thick cloud of steam. Rookie mistake! I knew better. But the distraction spurred my guys into action. Two of them wrestled the slingshot away from the nasty little booger that had held them hostage.

As the steam cloud started to drift toward the high ceiling, there he was. Grodie was a full three inches taller than any elf I had ever seen. He was standing behind the now fully-loaded catapult and glaring in my direction! A thin strand of twine ran from his green hand to the trigger mechanism. The extra-large lump of coal glistened in my infrared goggles. I zoomed in on it, and I’d swear I could make out my name, Thomas, scribbled on one side.

“Sarge!” someone shouted and started to run toward me, presumably to knock me out of harm’s way. Stupid newbies!

“Schmidt, stop!”

There was a twitch of a smile as Grodie pulled the string. The catapult fired its softball-sized payload, which struck the recruit squarely between the shoulders. Schmidt went down in a heap and started groaning.

Then all hell broke loose in the freezer. Elves were on us like frost on a pork chop. Coal rained from every direction. My men instinctively spread out and returned fire, finding cover where they could.

I should have joined them, but I couldn’t, not yet. I rolled Schmidt over onto his belly and ran a damage scan through his dented armor. It was as I’d feared. The multi-colored image that filled my goggles showed a deep bruise spreading across his upper back. Bastards! At that moment, a stray lump of coal whizzed past my helmet and struck a box next to me. Then something inside me snapped.

“Do not shoot Grodie!” I ordered into the com. “He’s mine!”

The fighting raged on for what felt like hours as I scoured the towering aisles of the freezer. It seemed there were elves everywhere. I took out one when he poked his head from behind some waffles. One dropped on me from one of the upper racks and tried to take my rifle. Not happening. I flipped him over my head and he landed hard on his back, stunned. He vaporized with a satisfying hiss and a flash of red/green.

And then, for a moment, all was quiet. The shouting in my com stopped. I could see from my heads-up display that three of my men were still on their feet. The silence stretched on, beyond eerie.

A red warning came on in my goggles accompanied by a high-pitched tone. There was something behind me!

Too late! Small, but surprisingly strong arms snaked around my waist and dragged me to the cold floor. Before I knew it, my rifle went sliding into the darkness and Grodie was on top of me, breathing into my face mask. Up close, the goggles tried to collect and display as much information as possible, which turned into a distracting jumbled mess in my vision. I whipped them off and immediately felt the extreme cold against my temporarily blinded eyes.

Reaching out in the darkness to where I had last seen his scrawny little neck, I was treated to small hands and legs wrapping around my wrist in an attempted arm bar. That wasn’t happening, either. I flung my arm as hard as I could, sending him flying into a pallet of fish sticks. I scrambled to my feet.

Just as my eyes were starting to adjust to the dim emergency lighting, he was on me again. He grabbed my leg and started climbing up my gear to get at my face! A small, bony fist landed in my eye and I went down to one knee.

“Naughty, Thomas,” a voice rasped in my ear. “Very, very naughty!”

Feeling his weight shift, I knew he was about to throw another punch, probably to my good eye, but I managed to grab his arm and lift him from the floor.

For a moment, he just dangled there in mid-air, then he began to kick and threaten me with gifts I would never forget. I caught his other wrist, and it was over. I had captured the notorious Grodie, possibly one of the masterminds behind the entire elven war effort.

There was a slow, but enthusiastic peal of applause as I noticed that the three remaining—no four, Schmidt was leaning on two of the other guys. They had gathered around to investigate the commotion.

I would later find that that the battle had gone poorly at first, but as the temperature had started to rise in the freezer, the elves had become more sluggish, and with that, their throwing abilities diminished.

By showing enough restraint to avoid vaporizing Grodie, I had single-handedly changed the trajectory of the War on Christmas. Washington eventually reached a treaty with the North Pole. By December of that year, gifts were flowing again to all the good children and even some of the not-so-good ones, in hopes that they might mend their ways.

The elves agreed to move to more sustainable materials for toymaking and to replant the tracts of land that had been laid waste in previous years.

And for just a moment in the middle of that one bitter Winter, peace reigned.

James Rye is sometimes a writer, sometimes a musician, and currently a recovering IT guy. He is slowly learning to age gracefully in the Poconos.

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