I was going through some of my old papers the other day, and I ran across a yellowed newspaper article that contained my first published story. Since it was a Christmas tale, I thought I’d share it with you here on my blog as the holiday season ramps up. The story was published in 1982, only a few days after my eighteenth birthday. The picture above is my senior class photo, and it accompanied the article. (Did I really used to have that much hair?)
I wrote this story for my creative writing class my senior year in high school, and even though it’s not a horror story, it was inspired by a story I read in one of Warren Publications horror magazines, Creepy or Eerie (I can’t remember which). That story was about the last surviving Christmas elf, but he was a crazed, grotesque thing who killed an abusive parent as a gift to the two children being abused. The idea of the last Christmas elf trying to keep Santa’s legacy alive fascinated me, but I thought the original story wasted the premise. What would it be like for the last elf? What would he think and feel? What would he do with himself? How could he keep on going? I wrote “The Last Christmas Present” to explore the answers to these questions.
I was more than a little worried that I was plagiarizing the original story, but I told myself that while I took the basic premise, I went in a very different direction with it. Besides, there’s that old quote from T.S. Eliot, “Good writers borrow. Great writers steal.”
Mrs. Vagedes was so impressed by my story that she decided to read it aloud to the class. She didn’t name me as the author. She said whoever the author was could reveal him or herself if they wished when she was finished. I was very proud that Mrs. Vagedes read my story, and when she was finished, I wanted to tell the class I was the author, but I couldn’t. A lot of kids in school thought I was weird, and I was afraid they’d view the story differently if they knew I’d written it. I wanted them to appreciate the story for what it was. Stephen King once said, “It’s not the story. It's he who tells it,” and while I believe that’s true, I wish I’d have enough confidence back then to claim my story in front of the class. Still, when the story was published, maybe some of my fellow students saw the article and realized the truth.
When Mrs. Vagedes read the story aloud, she couldn’t bring herself to say the word Dammit. I forget what she replaced it with. Darn it, probably. She later apologized for the substitution, saying that the original word was appropriate for the story, but she didn’t feel right saying it. I told her I understood, and I did – mostly. I figured it was probably a religious thing for her, but I didn’t ask.
Not long after the story was written, I discovered I’d been named Writer of the Month at my school, which surprised the hell out of me because I’d had no idea that we even had a Writer of the Month. I suspect that I might’ve been the only one that year, and maybe the only one ever.
I’m not sure how, but a reporter for the Miami Valley Wednesday News – a paper I’d never heard of (the town newspaper was The West Milton Record) – called my house and said her paper wanted to publish my story and that she wanted to interview me for an article to accompany the story. So not only was this my first published story, it was my first interview as an author too!
I was supposed to drive to her house for the interview. (Can you imagine anyone doing that now? They’d want to meet the interviewee somewhere in public if they didn’t have an actual office.) I had no idea how to dress, but I figured it was an important occasion, so I wore my three-piece brown suit. God, I must’ve looked ridiculous to the reporter, but she was kind enough to show no reaction to my outfit.
I don’t recall the reporter’s name, and she didn’t receive a byline when the article was published, which is a shame. I’d love to try to track her down and tell her how this one published story grew into a (so-far) forty-year career.
The article and story were originally published in the Miami Valley Wednesday News, March 18, 1982, and I’ve reproduced it below with only minor changes. I fixed a couple tense errors and made a clearer indication of the scene break.
What do I think of this story after all these years? I’m pleased to see that I wrote with an immersive point of view and included a strong emotional core, both things I still strive to do to this day and try to pass on to my own students. Did I choose the name Tommy because it was close to Tim? Maybe, I don’t recall. At the time I wrote the story, I had no intention of being a teacher, but I’d always been fascinated by the different ways teachers taught, so I suppose it was inevitable that I eventually became one. Did my experience in Mrs. Vagedes’ class – the only creative writing class my high school offered at the time – inspire me to go on to teach creative writing? It was a piece in the puzzle, that’s for sure, and when I dedicated Writing in the Dark: The Workbook to all the creative writing teachers I’ve had throughout the years, I made sure to include her. So in a way, I guess this article and story represents my beginning as a creative writing teacher too.
SHORT STORY EARNS HONORS
Tim Waggoner, a senior of Milton-Union High School who plans to attend Wright State University where he will major in theater, has been named writer of the month by the high school English department in connection with a program designed to enhance student writing abilities.
As a student enrolled in a creative writing class taught by Linnette Vagedes, Waggoner turned in a short story entitled, “The Last Christmas Present.”
Mrs. Vagedes explains “Tim’s paper was selected from all high school English classes as tops. It has a marvelous underlying theme which is so typical of Tim who always comes up with such creative ideas.”
The son of Mr. and Mrs. Orville Waggoner, Tim was field commander of the high school marching band this past season and is a member of the Milton-Union Drama Club. He has the lead role in that organization’s upcoming production of “A Thousand Clowns” to be presented March 26 and 27 at the high school. Waggoner plays the part of Murray Burns, an unemployed non-conformist in his late 30s.
Following is the text of Waggoner’s short story which he has given the Miami Valley Wednesday News permission to publish.
THE LAST CHRISTMAS PRESENT
BY TIM WAGGONER
Sven closed the door in the face of the mounting snow storm. He stood for a second, staring at the ancient, splintered door and listening to the whistling of the wind as it flung particles of ice against the cracked window pane. He removed his tattered grey cloak, shook it once to remove the snow, and placed it upon a nail that had been driven into the wall for lack of a coat rack. Sven walked over to the small table in the center of the room upon which a candle, Sven’s last, burned, providing the only illumination in the small hut.
He stared at the candle’s flickering flame for a second, deeply inhaling the aroma of melting wax as it dripped onto the table, congealing into a molten mass that surrounded the candle. Sven rubbed his chin and began to speak softly, more to hear the sound of a voice than anything else.
“It’s been a long time, hasn’t it, Kris? Lots of things have happened since you died: new countries forming, bombs being made, world wars . . . I tell you, Kris, sometimes I wish I had gone with you.” Sven sighed and began to drum his fingers on the table.
“Two hundred and 50 years, Kris. I’ve stayed here, even after all the rest left. For all I know, I’m the last one. Do you know what it’s like to be alone for two hundred and 50 years, Kris?” Sven took a ragged handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed away a forming tear.
“And do you know what the kicker is, Kris? It’s Christmas Eve. We used to have the best Christmasses in the world, didn’t we? Maybe we never made it around the earth in a night like the stories say, but you always made sure that those who needed it the most got it, didn’t you Kris? After the others left, I tried to carry on, but without them and, most importantly, without you, I just couldn’t. You were Christmas, Kris; and when you died, Christmas died for me. For the others, too, that’s why they left, but I just couldn’t. Too many memories tied to this place: memories I couldn’t leave.” Sven sat quietly for a second, listening to the howl of the storm.
“I don’t have anything left, Kris. My whole life was giving and I have nothing left to give . . . and no one to give it to.”
Sven suddenly wished desperately that he had another person to talk to. He took his cloak off the nail and bundled it around himself as he once again braved the blinding snow storm. He went to the stable, which had seen many animals in its time, but was now the residence of one lone, old reindeer. Sven opened the door to the animal’s stall.
“C’mon Star, let’s go.”
Sven stood on the rooftop of an abandoned warehouse. The moon shone down on the pristine blanket of snow which for a time, disguised the filth, the snow just made it easier to ignore. Sven had given Star her freedom after she had borne him to this city. He realized she might not see another Christmas and wanted her to spend her remaining days with others of her own kind, if she could find them.
Sven heard noises coming from a nearby alley. He looked down and saw a young boy, perhaps only 12 or 13 years old, rummaging through a garbage can. Sven descended the fire escape and in moments stood beside the boy, whose head was buried in another trash can. The boy turned and saw Sven watching him.
“Are you gonna hurt me mister?” asked the frail, toeheaded youth.
“Who me?” answered Sven. “Do I look like a mugger?”
“Well, you are kinda short,” replied the boy. [NOTE from Old Tim: I have no idea what the hell this is supposed to mean!]
“My name’s Sven, what’s yours?”
“Tommy,” answered the youth and shook Sven’s outstretched hand.
“Tommy, what’s a nice kid like you doing going through garbage cans on Christmas Eve?”
“I’m looking for something to give my mom and my little sister.”
“Why don’t you just buy your gifts like everyone else?”
“Can’t. I only make enough to feed us. Well . . . it’s almost enough.”
“Why, doesn’t your father work?”
“He died last year. Tonight in fact.”
“Just like Kris,” thought Sven.
“Well, I gotta get going now. Mom’ll start worrying if I’m gone too long. Wish I woulda found something for them.”
Sven watched as Tommy turned and walked away, not sure whether to cry or to scream with rage and unable to do either.”
“Dammit,” he thought, “that’s exactly the kind Kris always helped. The Lord helped those who helped themselves and Kris helped those who couldn’t. Why can’t I have anything left worth . . .” And then Sven heard it. The sound. He looked up and saw Tommy standing in the middle of the street, transfixed by a pair of headlights that bore down upon him. With the nimbleness of his kind, Sven bounded across the alley and into the street. Sven reached Tommy just before the car did. He pushed Tommy out of harm’s way. Tommy tumbled into a snowdrift, unhurt, as the car roared on into the night. Sven wasn’t so lucky. Tommy ran over to the small crumpled mass of limbs and bent down. Sven looked up into Tommy’s eyes and smiled. He whispered something and died.
Tommy wasn’t sure, but he thought it sounded like “Thanks Kris.”
DEPARTMENT OF SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION
A Hunter Called Night Up for Preorder
My next novel for Flame Tree press, A Hunter Called Night, is available for preorder. The book will be out on May 9, 2023. Here’s a synopsis:
A sinister being called Night and her panther-like Harriers stalk their quarry, a man known only as Arron. Arron seeks refuge within an office building, a place Night cannot go, for it’s part of the civilized world, and she’s a creature of the Wild. To flush Arron out, she creates Blight, a reality-warping field that slowly transforms the building and its occupants in horrible and deadly ways. But unknown to Night, while she waits for the Blight to do its work, a group of survivors from a previous attempt to capture Arron are coming for her. The hunter is now the hunted.
Flame Tree (all formats): https://www.flametreepublishing.com/a-hunter-called-night-isbn-9781787586345.html
Barnes and Noble Paperback: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-hunter-called-night-tim-waggoner/1142487192?ean=9781787586314
Writing Tie-Ins Panel
I was honored to participate in Con-Tinual's panel on writing tie-ins, along with
Jonathan Maberry, Chris A. Jackson, Susan Griffith, James P. Nettles, Harry Heckel, and Bobby Nash. Check it out!
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