Trembling With Fear Christmas 2021 Edition
Where did 2021 go? The entire year passed in the blink of an eye. Do you also feel like you are in some strange time warp where 2021 never happened? Here we are at the holiday season, closing out our first full year post-lock down (and hopefully we’re not on the cusp of another one). This year was precarious at best, but we all made it through. Now on to 2022, which will be better and brighter!
Santa has deemed all you lovely readers nice this year and are you about to receive a wonderful present: The Horror Tree’s Christmas Special! Aren’t you excited?
This year’s collection is not for the faint of heart with terrifying twists on classic Christmas poems, tales of holiday monsters, and good old fashioned holiday ghost stories that will be sure to bring a winter chill to your bones.
Sit back in front of a roaring fire, put up your feet, and sip some eggnog as we celebrate the holiday season in true Horror Tree style.
To you and yours, we wish you a very happy holidays and a prosperous new year!
He Likes When They’re Naughty by Diane Arrelle
A deep dark secret: Santa has a weakness for naughty girls, really naughty. When he ain’t making toys, or playing poker with the elves, he likes the nasty strip joints. He knows where every single one is in the world and has frequented all of them. Guess that’s the advantage of immortality and working one night a year, lots of time to indulge in pleasures.
My name is Dickenson and my mom was one of those nasty girls. Believe me, she was really good at being bad. Let’s just say she started out to be a gymnast but wasn’t good enough for the Olympics, although she was definitely good enough on the pole and the table. Anyway, Old Nick as he likes to be called, visited her place of employment two Christmas Eve’s ago and that very next Christmas Eve he gave her a twenty-five carat diamond ring and necklace set. Promised her if she married him there’d be a set of earrings and bracelet to match.
Well, my mom, who’s a pretty sharp person, looked around the crap joint she was working in and at the jewelry in the red and green velvet boxes and said yes immediately. They were married a week later, after the end of the season paperwork was wrapped up and Santa got me released from the joint for good behavior. It was just me and a couple of hundred elves attending.
The ceremony and reception were held in the workshop since it was empty until work resumed in the new year. Oh, what a party, the elves were shitfaced by the end of the evening and they told me all the dirt on the North Pole. Seems at Santa’s last wedding five years ago he had a hundred hookers shipped in because all the female elves died a century ago. Anyway, it seemed that the elves weren’t the only ones interested in the prostitutes and the reindeer wanted in on the action. Well, one of the trainee deer, Hugo, started playing catch with a big round girl from Russia. Unfortunately, he was throwing her around and when Comet tried to catch her she got tangled up in the antlers and impaled multiple times. Comet pranced around the rest of the evening with her stuck on his head like a party hat. After that, it was open season on the whores. Rudolph’s sharp hooves were redder than his nose as he danced on their bodies and well, the elves joined in before the girls were all used up. I learned from the drunken elves that the wedding reception cost Santa a shitload of contraband the next two Christmas Eve’s just to cover what happened up. And Santa’s not welcome in certain places anymore under threat of death.
This wedding, I was the best man for Mom. After seeing what my mom got for Christmas, I expected a sweet best man gift from my new dad. But it was odd, he just laid his finger on the side of his red nose, winked at me and hohohoed. I kind of thought I’d find a box of cocaine or something in my room, but I got nothing.
So, Mom and Santa Claus were married in a drunken fest. There were no other women this time, I understand those pimps really can hold a grudge. Afterward, Santa and my mom went to stay at his place on a deserted tropical island for a month. I stayed in the North Pole since I hadn’t been invited to join them. I got to know the elves. Not a really talkative bunch unless you serve up some mulled wine or spiced eggnog after a day of toy making.
The only good dirt I picked up was Santa is a horny dude and marries frequently. Being immortal he outlasts them. I heard he wishes he’d outlast them quicker because most were only after his money. Here’s the best part. Santa has no money. He only has gifts he gives away one night a year. The rest of the time he has zilch to give away. And he can’t divorce because they marry for life, it’s in the contract they signed together in the ceremony. I couldn’t help but smirk when I thought of the shock Mom was in for and the life of hell old Nick was in for too.
January second the elves started making the toys and gifts. I just watched them or else played the newest prototype game systems to test them out. I discovered that everyone at the workshop really were careless. They just piled up the electronics and phones and computers in a room and don’t bother with keeping inventory.
“So,” I asked the day before my new step-dad and his wife returned. “If you don’t count what you make, how do you know if you have enough?”
They all stared at me like I was an idiot. The head elf, Jimminy, answered. “Magic. There is always enough.”
That kept me awake all night, well at least until three-thirty in the morning when I snuck into that storeroom and took two dozen phones and a dozen computers. I was going to sell them the next time I got back to the city.
Sure enough, nothing was said or apparently noticed, so I kept up my pilfering over the next eight months. Which I discovered was just about the only thing I had to do to stay amused. Mom came back from the honeymoon looking worn out and bored. It seemed that Nick really only has that month off then it was back to work overseeing the workshop and keeping up with that huge naughty and nice list.
About six months into my stay, I became overwhelmingly sick of hearing mom screaming, “I’m bored, I don’t have any place to wear my jewelry, why don’t you surprise me with an emerald or ruby?”
Santa moved from their bedroom and worked long hours away from her. I went in to visit with him because he did have that nice soundproof naughty-nice room. “Hey, Dad,” I said.
He looked up at me and smiled, “Sorry I can’t have spawn. Just call me Nick.”
“Uh, Okay, Nick, I was wondering if I could get out of here for a while.”
He smiled again. “Sure, but it’s mighty cold out there.”
I wasn’t sure if he was making fun of me or just dumb. “No, your reindeer picked me up at the joint when I got released, so I thought maybe they could give me a ride to the city.”
He shook his head. They only fly that one night a year and when I’m on vacation.” Then he held up his hand, “Only two exceptions, when I get married they can pick up wedding guests and they can go out on training runs as needed.”
Nick continued, “Sorry, Dickenson. Guess you are stuck here until I get married again and looks to me that your mother is definitely a healthy woman, unfortunately she’s got a lot of years left in her. Hell, I can’t even leave here to go to a titty bar and relieve myself until I finish my run on Christmas Eve. Thank goodness I get those six weeks off every year.”
I couldn’t think of what to say. I had all that hot stuff in my room, I’d run out of drugs a month ago and I was trapped here forever with my nagging mother, her mythical husband and a workshop of alcoholic elves. Not to mention, if the elves story was true, a team of homicidal reindeer.
“Uh, Nick, I know you don’t have money but I need some meds. I’ve run out.”
“Well Dickenson, just call my insurance company. We get mail order prescriptions.”
Now I knew he was just being mean. “You know they’re not prescription and how can you have mail order out here with no ins or outs.”
He just hohohoed. “Say you aren’t so dumb, not like your mother at all. Nobody gets sick here. We don’t have a drug plan, we have magic. And maybe, just maybe, if you return all the electronics you took, I’ll see what I can magic up.”
The next four months passed slowly. I returned the stuff I had stolen because the internet was literally connected to Santa and I was physically trapped in Santa’s workshop. On the upside, Old Nick did keep his word and he supplied me with magic powder that worked just fine. Seemed he also grew mushrooms and medical marijuana as Christmas inventory.
The first day of December, the pace picked up and everyone was working overtime. Old Nick knocked on my bedroom door. I let him in and he smiled at me. With warmth. I wondered if he was just practicing his Santa smile, but his eyes twinkled and he said, “Dickenson, you know we’re going to be together for the rest of your life.”
“So I was thinking, you’re not a bad guy, and your mother brought this on you by insisting you attend the wedding knowing no one ever leaves the North Pole.”
I snarled, “The bitch knew that! She trapped me here?”
“Well of course, no secrets here. But, on the upside, she did have me get you out of prison. So, I was thinking that I sure could use some help. I’d like to have you as a Santa-in- training. With a second Santa, I’d be done earlier and then I’ll have more time for me. Come on, let’s be Santas together and then I’ll take you to the best strip joint in Asia.”
I blinked trying to process all this.
“Seriously, join me and have all the perks of Santa Claus. Who knows, someday I may retire and as my surrogate son you could have the family business.”
I just nodded.
Things became interesting. I was fitted with the suit and a sleigh and given several reindeer.
Christmas Eve I was ready to escape the last year and start a new phase of my life. Visions of a drug lord kingdom danced in my head when I thought of inheriting the family business. I was Santa Jr. and I was ready to rock.
Old Nick came and shook my hand. “Good luck son. See you in a while.” Then he got into his sleigh and with a loud ho ho ho took off into the crystal clear, star studded sky.
I copied him and then I was up there as well. My first stop was a small farmhouse where I dropped off a few gifts and then off to a small city, complete with a decorated main street and a big tree in the square. I reigned in my deer and did a rough landing on the roof of a tall, shabby apartment building. As I grabbed the sack, it started kicking and screaming and I recognized the shrieking voice. Mom! Santa’s mortal wife. Wife number 400+. The count had stopped about a dozen wives before.
I saw that I was on the horns of a dilemma. I realized that Santa was using me to get rid of his albatross. He couldn’t kill her, he was a saint. She couldn’t die violently back in the sacred toyshop complex because she was a saint’s wife, so she had to go back into the real world. I stared at the sack holding the woman who gave me life. She was writhing and fighting to get out. I knew what was expected of me. I had a job to do to earn Santa Claus’s respect and gratitude. One of the reindeer, I didn’t know which one, was rearing up then bowing its head down toward the sack.
So, I kicked it toward the animal, who scooped it up in its sharp antlers and tossed it to another deer. Who caught it on the points of it antlers. Mom screamed in agony, I could hear her begging them to stop. She was tossed several times. I saw the bag growing bright red and dripping. The screams turned to whimpers as the sack was dropped and the reindeer did their reindeer dance on my mother with their razor sharp hooves.
I wanted to be upset, I wanted to scream stop, but I couldn’t. I had a hard-on and was so turned on by the mushy blood soaked canvas sack that I felt like crying when the show was over.
Only…. Only it wasn’t over at all. The door from the stairwell burst open and a big man with long blond hair and tattoos covering his arms and neck burst onto the roof and yelled, “What the fuck is going on here. Who–”
He stopped mid-word and smiled. A big grin. A big, really happy grin. “Well, looky fellows,” he said to the men following him onto the roof and fanning out around me. Did I mention they all carried automatic weapons?
“Yeah,” one of the men said. “It’s Santa Claus!”
The blond man nodded yes. “Answer me this, Santa, what did I tell you when you killed all my ladies at that wedding?”
“Merry Christmas?” I squeaked as I shit my red velvet pants.
“Tell him boys,” he shouted and pointed the gun directly at me. “Tell him what I told Santa five years ago.”
Just then a movement up in the sky caught my eye. There was my step-dad in his sleigh only visible to me high up behind the men. He gave me a thumbs up with one hand and laying his finger on his nose with the other hand mouthed ho ho ho. Then he flew off as everyone on the roof took aim at me.
Diane Arrelle, the pen name of South Jersey writer Dina Leacock, has sold more than 350 short stories and has three published books including Just A Drop In The Cup, a collection of short-short stories and, Seasons On The Dark Side her collection of horror stories. She is the editor of the anthologies Crypt Gnats: Horror You’ve Been Itching to Read and WhoDunit.
Retired from being director of a municipal senior citizen center, she is now co-owner of Jersey Pines Ink LLC. She resides with her sane husband and her insane cat on the edge of the New Jersey Pine Barrens (home of the Jersey Devil).
Santa’s Shadow by H.V. Patterson
Carson crouched behind the sofa, watching the grandfather clock tick, tick, tick away the minutes and the hours. He’d baited his snare with a snowman cookie. Soon, he’d catch Santa and prove he was real. The boy clutched his shark toy to his chest trembling with excitement.
At three o’clock, Carson jerked away. Something was thumping down the chimney. He peeked around the edge of the sofa. By the faint candlelight, he saw the fireplace swell like a balloon.
A tall man stepped out, smelling of burnt sugar and pine. His beard was yellowed, and his suit was streaked with soot. It was Santa Claus, his shoulders hunched beneath his sack.
Santa dropped the sack down and reached for the cookies. The snare caught, and the jolly old elf grunted in surprise.
“Caught you! Caught you!” Carson shouted as he pounced at Santa, his heart wild with joy. Maybe catching Santa was like catching a leprechaun or fairy. Maybe he’d get wishes or gold or a real shark as a present, not just a plastic toy.
Santa looked down at him. A tear rolled down his soot-streaked face.
“I’m sorry?” Carson said, looking at Santa’s snared hand. Was he hurt?
Santa shook his head. His eyes were nested deep in their sockets.
“Oh Carson,” Santa said, his voice breaking. “You’re on the naughty list now.”
In the candles’ light, Santa’s shadow shifted, twisting like a dark river, winding towards them.
Carson couldn’t scream; he could only watch. Like spilled ink, the shadow flowed over Santa. From his mouth came a scream like the cracking of ice.
Carson waited for his parents to save him, but no one came. Not a creature stirred in the whole house.
He squeezed his eyes shut. The screaming stopped, replaced by deep, guttural breathing. The boy smelled something rancid like the dead raccoon he’d found by the road last summer, its eyes eaten away, its intestines strewn out like hot tar.
“Carson Prescott,” said a voice that bypassed his ears and spoke directly to his bones. “Open your eyes.”
He had to open them. He had to look.
The creature was dark like the sun was bright, an absolute darkness. It was shadow given more than substance. It didn’t fill the room; it obliterated it. The presents, the crumbling cookie, the shark toy–everything fell away.
It was just Carson, alone with the monster.
“You’ve been a very naughty boy, Carson Prescott,” it said.
The last thing Carson saw was a mouth falling open, lined with rows and rows of serrated teeth, like a shark’s mouth. Its jaws were bigger than Carson, bigger than the room, big enough to swallow all the naughty children of the world.
H. V. Patterson lives in Oklahoma and is obsessed with all things horror. She recently placed second in the Rural Oklahoma Museum of Poetry’s Dark and Scary Poem Contest, and published “Playing House” with Not Deer Magazine. She’s a fiction reader for Nimrod International Journal and cofounder of Dreadfulesque. Follow her on Twitter and Goodreads at @ScaryShelley.
A Dog is For Life by SJ Townend
Elijah dreamt of a Christmas puppy—something to love—but Elijah’s father, Bill, chose instead to spend most of his meagre earnings at the pub.
In town, Christmas Eve, Bill sent Elijah to buy cheap meat whilst he rummaged the shelves of charity shops in search of a token gift, a jigsaw with dogs on, for his son.
That night, Bill chopped rubbery red meat into cubes—more sinew and clot than anything fit for consumption—whilst Elijah put himself to bed. Pauper’s stew was adequate fodder. A turkey would’ve meant three pints less for Bill.
Bill left the jigsaw at the bottom of Elijah’s bed, then set off for The Crown.
Christmas morning, Elijah woke, hopeful that Santa this year had left toys, a puppy, at the end of his bed, but alas, all he saw was the puzzle.
He went to thank Father, but Father’s bed was empty.
Elijah tipped out the puzzle on the table, started to search for corners. All he could hear was his own stomach rumbling and the slow cooker bubbling—emitting smells he knew would far surpass taste.
Elijah dished himself a bowl of swamp juice, pegged his nose, tried not to gag. The lumps were the worst—more gristle and cartilage than road kill. He laid down more puzzle, in it, a basket of puppies emerged.
On his final mouthful of stew, a pain thwacked his gums. He ran to the mirror and gasped—his canine teeth had lengthened, sharpened, turned into something wrong.
The pain was spreading. Two firm flops, ears, sprouted from his scalp. Brown fur burst through his skin, covered him all chocolate lawn. Hands became feet, feet, paws. Elijah dropped to all fours, bounded down the stairs, barked with shock. A tail burst through his shorts.
Elijah barked and howled for the length of Christmas Day.
Come evening, Mrs Rosebury, could handle the noise no more. After minutes of knocking, she let herself in. She spotted the pup straight away but found no trace of father or son.
She soothed the puppy with her warmth, then lifted the lid of the pot, ladled herself a bowl.
Taking it to the table, she sat, pup on lap. Most of the single spoonful she slurped dribbled down her as she spat it back onto the spoon.
“Repulsive.” The pup licked the spillage from her blouse. She took to task the puzzle in front of her. “There’s always one piece missing,” she cussed and clicked in the penultimate piece.
It was then she felt pain in her gums, became uncomfortable in her seat.
Bill stumbled in at dusk. He staggered forwards to pick up what he thought was a crumpled bank note from his floor only to discover it was a jigsaw piece, and in this action, he placed his boot into a pile of faeces.
“Fuck’s this?” he slurred. “Come clean this up now, ‘lijah. ‘lijah?”
But the boy did not come. Old Bill grew more irate, pulled off his sullied boot and lobbed it down the hallway. He swayed onwards to the table, steadied himself on its wooden border and, after some time, clicked the final piece in place. Then he decided to dish himself up a bowl of stew.
Two dogs watched on quietly from the sofa.
* * *
Bill sucked and slurped on his meal, too drunk to taste the foul flavour, too booze-blind to spot the hounds. He lifted the bowl and tipped the remnants down his gullet as he swayed in the silent room. A piece of bone or worse caught in his throat, blocked his airways completely. He grabbed his neck, his cold heart full of panic. The old man’s face reddened as he stood and thrumped his curled fist against his own chest. His eyes bulged, bloodshot, as he continued to struggle for air. Redder and redder he grew until salmon-pink foam rolled from the corners of his blue lips.
Bill’s body started to spasm and he too fell on all fours—but then he fell further, flat onto the floor. His frail limbs started to writhe around, all a nest of snakes, and his hands clamped around his own neck, in a last bid attempt to pummel free the lump, all to no avail. A grey-pink tongue thrust forwards and backwards from his dribbling face hole, like a dry lizard tasting the air. The old rotter was helpless, and two pups watched the show from the sofa.
The dogs, merry in their own skin, enjoyed a delicious Christmas feast far tastier than the stew.
SJ Townend has been writing
evil lies dark fiction in Bristol for three years. She’s currently putting together a collection of horror stories, working title: SICK GIRL SCREAMS. SJ hopes her stories take the reader on a journey to often a dark place and only sometimes back again.
Dreadful by Kevin M. Folliard
I don’t tell my kids about Santa. Not about the North Pole, the elves, the sleigh, and especially not the reindeer.
Presents in our house come from Mom and Dad, and they always will.
I’m not saying Santa isn’t real. He almost certainly is, but he isn’t welcome in my home if the reindeer I saw all those years ago was one of his.
It was Christmas Eve 1986. My sister and I sat in back of our old station wagon. I had just turned nine the week before. Elsie was seven. We drove home from Grandma’s house through winding forested roads in upstate New York. It was pushing midnight.
Cotton ball flurries drifted in the headlights. Tires crunched snow, and the rhythmic swish-swosh of wiper blades created a steady heartbeat.
Mom took white-knuckled curves at less than 10 miles an hour.
Dad slurred, “Pedal to the metal, hon. If we don’t get home by midnight, Santa might skip our house.”
I saw Mom’s dagger eyes in the rear-view mirror. “If you had enjoyed yourself less, dear, then you’d be capable of driving us home as fast as you wish.” Her words hung like icicles.
Elsie whined. “Santa’s not coming? For real.”
“Maybe,” Dad slurred. “Mom’s driving awful slow.”
“It’s a blizzard!” Mom snapped.
I reached out and squeezed my sister’s hand. “Santa will wait until we’re cozy in bed. Right Mom?”
“That’s right, honey.”
I puffed my breath on the windowpane and drew a smiley face in the condensation. Above the serrated line of trees, a velvety sky spread. Stars twinkled like tinsel.
Dad fiddled with the heater. Mom slapped his finger. “Don’t touch that!”
“I’m dyin’! Let me crack a window.”
“We’ll freeze. You should have skipped those last four beers with your brothers.”
“You were counting, huh? What do you know, kids! Mom’s a mathematician!”
“Quiet,” Mom said. “You’re upsetting—”
A swift shadow careened from the sky. Frantic legs galloped onto the snow-caked road in front of us.
“Holy hell.” Dad whispered.
At first, the four-legged animal was outrunning the car. Then it trotted, slowed. Mom cried out as the creature turned and stood in the center of the road. The tall, lithe animal was coal black, even in the glare of headlights. Stabbing bone-white antlers curved from its head. Two large eyes shined like moons.
Mom pulled the wheel to avoid it, but the station wagon fishtailed, spun-out. My stomach flipped, and I gripped the door handle. The side of our car slammed against the beast. The back driver’s-side door crunched.
Elsie screamed. The creature’s hide eclipsed her window. Black leather straps with spiked studs wrapped its back. An ornate collar, dotted in brass bells, graced its muscular neck.
The animal gave a loud snort. Its devilish ears twitched as it peered into the car. Elsie struggled with her seatbelt. I reached over, unclicked it, and pulled her to my side of the car.
The reindeer raised his snout and sauntered in a semi-circle, seemingly uninjured. He turned and faced our car. We all stared, breathless, before he charged.
Mom attempted to accelerate. The back wheels spun on snow.
The reindeer moved fast as a cannon ball. He reared back and bashed Elsie’s window with his front hooves. Glass shattered. Elsie screamed and buried her face in my coat.
“Back up!” Dad shouted. “Reverse!”
The reindeer stuck his snout into the car and snapped. Square yellow teeth clacked empty air. His antlers scraped the siding. On a silver tag around his collar, his engraved name gleamed: Dreadful.
Dreadful snarled. His nostrils flared.
The engine revved.
The car rocked back and forth, and Dreadful pulled his head back. He raised onto his hind legs and stomped onto the roof of the car. The ceiling caved. We screamed.
Finally, Mom worked the car backward, and forward again. She managed to get traction along the road and pick up speed. She peeled away. The roof of the station wagon snapped back as the weight of the reindeer lifted.
“Mother of God, what was that!” Dad shouted. “Are you kids okay?”
My sister sobbed “yes,” but I wasn’t sure. As Mom accelerated, a dark streak curved over the treetops and rocketed back toward us.
“Look out!” I shouted.
In a flash, Dreadful descended and bashed the front windshield. A huge star-shaped crack burst across the glass. The car spun out of control again. The woods came crushing toward us.
Metal crunched. Glass shattered. Elsie flung against the back of Dad’s seat. I jolted, and my seatbelt squeezed my stomach. The front of the station wagon tilted into a ditch. Mom slumped against the snow-white airbag. I couldn’t see Dad from where I was sitting.
Elsie vomited all over her coat. She screamed “Mama!” over and over.
Hot air steamed the window next to me. Dreadful’s moonbeam eyes glared. I shouted and twisted away, unbuckled my seatbelt and helped my sisters move to the driver’s side of the car.
But Dreadful didn’t seem interested in us. He stalked forward, to the front passenger side.
Now I saw Dad, his head halfway through the windshield. We had crashed into a huge oak tree, and he hadn’t been wearing his seatbelt. His face was a smear of red, barely visible through stabbing triangles of glass.
Dreadful snorted and smashed his hooves against the passenger door, over and over. The car jolted. Dreadful pounded. Glass tinkled. Snow piled inside our car. Silvery powder dusted Mom and Dad. It poured down our necks from the broken window.
At last, Dreadful slammed the door so hard that if fell off its hinges. He craned his neck into the car. I held my sister’s face against my chest so that she wouldn’t see. And frozen in horror, I watched Dreadful snatch Dad by his collar and pull him from the car.
Webbed hunks of windshield tore apart. Glass jangled. Dreadful dragged Dad through the snow, leaving an oozing red smear. He lingered there for a moment with our father’s limp head hanging from his jaw. Then he reared back and shot into the starry sky.
They never found our father. When she came to, Mom remembered leaving Grandma’s house, and taking the keys from Dad. But everything after was a blur. She always insisted that we had hit a regular deer.
In time, she began to tell us that our father had run off on Christmas Day, all on his own.
But my sister and I never forgot.
Dad hadn’t run off. He was snatched away.
As years went on, my sister Elsie drank. She died, not unlike dad, in a car accident, with her blood alcohol level well above the legal limit. Fortunately, nobody else had been involved. My little sister’s car wrapped around a telephone pole on a lonely country road. She was only 24.
They insisted it was the drinking. But when I saw the car, there were hoof marks on the hood and the roof, just like there had been on our station wagon.
I don’t drive. And I don’t drink.
And we don’t celebrate Santa.
My wife has always been understanding about that. But our kids ask about Santa and his reindeer. They hear it from school and on TV. You can’t really hide Christmas from children.
They’ll just have to understand that their presents come from Mom and Dad.
That Santa isn’t welcome.
That we don’t visit Grandma in the nursing home until after New Year’s, because I don’t want to drive up state, in December, even in daylight.
And when they hear hoofbeats on the roof, on Christmas Eve, I tell them to get under the covers, turn off all the lights, and stay silent all night.
Kevin M. Folliard
Kevin M. Folliard is a Chicagoland writer whose fiction has been collected by The Horror Tree, Flame Tree Publishing, The Dread Machine, and more. His recent publications include his novella “Tower of Raven” from Demain Publishing, his 2020 horror anthology The Misery King’s Closet, and his YA fantasy adventure novel Grayson North: Frost-Keeper of the Windy City coming from Dark Owl Publishing December 2021. Kevin currently resides in the western suburbs of Chicago, IL, where he enjoys his day job in academia and active membership in the La Grange and Brookfield Writers Groups. When not writing or working, he’s usually reading Stephen King, playing Tetris, or traveling the U.S.A.
The Spirit-Seer’s Daughter by A. J. Van Belle
“Tell us about your mother,” Peter said, sitting amid torn wrapping paper.
Mother glanced toward the dark windows, her reflection’s eyes hollow like a skull. Yuletide incense smoke curled like a tiny ghost in front of her black locks. “Your grandmother was a spirit-seer,” Mother said. “When she was a young woman, she met a man who survived hanging twice.”
“Met him twice, or he survived twice?” Peter blurted.
I rolled my eyes. “Survived twice.”
“He was handsome,” Mother continued. “And young. With a scar around his neck.”
“Why’d they hang him?” Peter asked.
I poked him. “Stop interrupting and she’ll tell us.”
“Stealing horses. They set him free after the second hanging. He met my mother before I was born, when he stopped at her house to buy eggs. They talked a long time while your grandfather was at work that day. When he paid for the eggs and stood to go, the air shimmered like a curtain rising, and someone else stood up with him.”
“Who?” Peter asked.
“Shut. Up!” I said. “Not you, Mom.”
She smiled and pushed her black hair behind her ear. “I shouldn’t tell you. It’s too close to bedtime.”
“Aww!” Peter whined.
“We won’t be scared,” I promised.
“Well.” Mother fingered a discarded green bow, and laughter tinged her voice. “If you are, don’t come to me. It was a man, but not a whole man. A creature gaunt and desiccated, face half decomposed and arms and legs like sticks, shirt hanging from his shoulders like they were a coat hanger. A smell hit her, like the time a possum died inside the wall. She gagged. For cover, your grandmother said she smelled a rotten egg. She walked him to the door and the corpse-man walked too, half in and half out of the hanged man’s body, squelching with each step. And your grandmother shuddered to think she’d not seen that thing before. She’d let the man so close.”
“Was he dead or not?” Peter demanded.
Mother stood up. “That’s enough for one Christmas Eve, my children.” I could have sworn the incense smoke swirled right through her.
“I want to know too,” I said quietly. “Did he die when they hanged him but no one knew it?”
“Off to brush your teeth, both of you.” Mother pulled me to my feet. “His heart was still beating when they took him down from the gallows, I’ll tell you that much.”
Peter stood up too, looking small. “I’m scared a ghost will get me in my sleep.”
Mother’s smile was warm and kind. “They won’t.”
“How do you know?” he asked, trembling.
A skeletal double dogged her reflection in the dark window glass. “Trust me.”
As I left the room, an earthy smell wafted to me, like the gentle benign decay of leaves on wet winter ground. Not rank. Not fetid. More like the scent of dark rich soil, the smell of old things breaking down so one day new growth can rise.
A.J. Van Belle
A. J. Van Belle writes genre-bending fiction and works as a biology professor and molecular geneticist. When they’re not writing stories or code, they explore the woods with their two dogs and invite their husband and teenage daughter to listen to the plot twists simmering in their brain. They can be reached on Twitter @ajvanbelle or via www.ajvanbelle.com.
I’ll Give it to Someone Special
“Hairy Crisp Mess!” hisses Mother, dribbling spittle. I lean in, lick her chin then lock the cupboard door. It’s baby Cheesesauce’s birthday, and I’m itching for festivities to begin.
Downstairs, my deceased Dad’s sick stinks, but the meat in the tree’s still bleeding and the rats stapled to the ceiling are squealing because it’s ALL about giving!
I scuttle off, a spindly Saint Nick, sack of tainted dreams upon my back. Millions of treats: used needles, dead puppies, rusted blades to play with.
They need lots of toys.
At the home down the road for the orphan girls and boys.
Steven Holding lives in the United Kingdom. Most recently, his work has appeared in HENSHAW FOUR from HenshawPress and HALLOWEEN FRIGHTS from Black Ink Fiction. You can follow his work at www.stevenholding.co.uk
Christmas tradition. Every year a tarnished sixpence is hidden amongst the raisins in the mixture for the pudding.
Little Jimmy cracks his tooth as he bites down on a spoonful.
“The sixpence! The sixpence!” his brothers, sisters, parents, uncles, and aunts all cry, reaching for their knives as he howls in pain, blood running down his chin.
“Shush,” says his mother, not unkindly. “All that noise will only spoil the game.”
“Run, Jimmy,” says his father. “You have till the count of twenty. Keep real quiet and you might even survive.”
If he can make it until the Queen’s Speech…
DJ Tyrer is the person behind Atlantean Publishing and has been widely published in anthologies and magazines around the world, such as Chilling Horror Short Stories (Flame Tree), All The Petty Myths (18th Wall), Steampunk Cthulhu (Chaosium), What Dwells Below (Sirens Call), The Horror Zine’s Book of Ghost Stories (Hellbound Books), and EOM: Equal Opportunity Madness (Otter Libris), and issues of Sirens Call, Hypnos, Occult Detective Magazine, parABnormal, and Weirdbook, and in addition, has a novella available in paperback and on the Kindle, The Yellow House (Dunhams Manor).
Ho, Ho, Horror
“Have you taken your medication?” his wife asked.
Santa had donned his red and white suit and was attaching his snowy beard. “Of course, dear,” he lied. “Can’t be late, the orphans are waiting.”
Grabbing his sack, he hurried past the orphanage and into the shadows beneath the bridge.
A homeless man slurred a greeting: “Hello Santa.”
Santa strangled him, dug out his heart, dropped it into the sack.
Beside him slept a drunk. Santa got to work, adding another heart to his sack.
Ho, ho, ho, he mused, the anonymity of being Santa made for a very merry Christmas.
Mike Rader is a pseudonym used by Australian author and poet James Aitchison. As J J Munro and Mike Rader, Aitchison writes horror and noir crime. As James Lee, he writes Asia’s biggest selling horror series for middle readers — Mr Midnight — which has sold over three million copies. His work can be seen at www.flameoftheforest.com
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Stephanie Ellis writes dark speculative prose and poetry and has been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies. Her longer work includes the folk horror novels, The Five Turns of the Wheel and Reborn, and the novellas, Bottled and Paused. Her novel, The Woodcutter, is due for release via Brigids Gate Press in 2023. Her dark poetry has been published in her collections Lilith Rising (co-authored with Shane Douglas Keene), Foundlings (co-authored with Cindy O’Quinn) and Metallurgy, as well as the HWA Poetry Showcase Volumes VI, VII, VIII, and IX and Black Spot Books Under Her Skin. She can be found supporting indie authors at HorrorTree.com via the weekly Indie Bookshelf Releases. She is an active member of the HWA and can be found at https://stephanieellis.org, on Twitter at @el_stevie, Instagram stephanieellis7963 and also somewhere on Facebook.