Trembling With Fear – Christmas 2023 Edition!

Welcome to our special Christmas Edition of Trembling With Fear! Whether you celebrate the holidays or not, there is so much to enjoy about this time of year. Whether it’s the festive lights, the presents, the warm cups of cocoa, the snow or delicious food, the holidays are filled with so much to see and do. That also means that there is so much to inspire new tales and new takes on well-known stories. 

I am always amazed and delighted to see what our writers do with the themes of each holiday, and this edition did not disappoint. We’ve had excellent submissions this year, and we’ve selected the best to be a part of our holiday collection. It was a joy to put together, I hope you enjoy our little gift to you.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!


Shalini Bethala

Editor, Trembling With Fear

It’s cold outside, so we’ve got some great tales to warm your soul with terror to celebrate the howl-i-days. I hope that you’re having a great time no matter what you celebrate (or don’t celebrate) this season, and I really am thrilled that we’ve got this present of fantastic fiction to deliver to you. For once, I’m feeling a bit more like St. Nick and not Krampus… I’m sure none of you have been naughty this year and deserve presents instead, right?

Have a great one, and I truly hope that you enjoy all of the stories that have been submitted for your enjoyment! (Remember, if you love a story, give the gift of thanks to the author in either comments or on social media.)

Stuart Conover

Editor-in-Chief, Horror Tree

Halloween Time

Sooty Pete

By: Paul Lonardo


Anneke noticed the tree as soon as she stepped into the darkened living room. While her two partners disappeared down the hallway guided by the flashlights from their cellphones, Aiyden to the bathroom to look for prescription medications and Channing to the bedrooms to search for cash and jewelry, she stopped and stared at the peculiar tree. It was stunted and sparsely decorated, its’ needles were such a dark shade of green they were almost black, and the budding pinecones looked like chunks of coal. Instead of a fresh pine scent, there was a powerful sulfurous smell. She let her phone drop to her side, extinguishing the light.

She would already have been outside and as far away from there if she could move. She stood frozen in place and trembling. That’s the way Aiyden and Channing found her when they returned from their unrewarding raid of the rooms at the other end of the house.

“What gives?” Channing raged. “Your only job was to go through the presents under the tree.”

“All they had was Aspirin in the medicine cabinet,” Aiyden said, waving an empty pillowcase like a flag of surrender.

“These people don’t have anything worth stealing.” Anneke’s voice quavered with dread. “Let’s just get out of here before the family comes home.”

“We’re gonna get something for our trouble,” Channing said with a dark cast to his eyes as he grabbed a present from under the tree and ripped it open. “Give me a hand with these.”

“I could use some new pajamas,” Aiyden said as he tore the wrapping off a package of underwear. “Hey, boxers!” And they’re my size.”

Channing held up a box of cigars. “Not Cubans, but they’ll do.” He opened the lid and pulled a lighter from his jacket pocket.

“No,” Anneke cried as the tiniest of embers drifted from the tip of the cigar over to the tree. As soon as it touched a black pinecone, a bright red flame erupted, spreading quickly until the whole tree was alight. It happened so fast that the three thieves could only watch with shocked expressions as the unsightly Christmas tree burned. Rather than being consumed, however, it smoldered. Billows of black smoke filled the entire house. A dull flame ringed the perimeter where the tree once stood, creating an ethereal doorway out of which a tall shadowy figure emerged.

The half-lit cigar dropped from between Channing’s teeth. “What the hell is that?”

“It’s Sooty Pete,” Anneke gasped.

The creature that stepped out of the fuming void seemed to stretch beyond the height of the ceiling. Looking up, they could not see its face. Its limbs were incinerated beyond recognition, black as charcoal. Clenched in cinder man’s charred fingers was an oversized axe, dark blood baked onto the blade.

“Who-who’s Sooty Pete?” Aiyden asked.

Anneke shook her head in disbelief. “My grandmother used to warn me about him,” she began, suppressing a cough. “Sooty Pete is fire-scorched demon tamed by Saint Nicholas. But for disobedient children at Christmas, he comes to punish them.”

From around Sooty Pete’s legs, smaller beings appeared. Spry, animated garden gnomes, all with red caps, danced around in the smoky room. Their tiny voices screeched as they sped past the would-be thieves, laughing and singing demonic Christmas songs. One bawdy little elf pulled his pants down and giggled as he exposed his shiny ceramic butt. Another was trying to drink from a bottle of wine that he could not open no matter how hard he tried. There was a Santa gnome wearing only his red stocking cap and a mankini with suspenders. He had dark sunglasses and was carrying a beach ball. There were other bloody-bearded zombie Santas with missing limbs and opened mouths with gnashing teeth.

“Hey, look at that one,” Aiyden said pointing down at a gnome dancing around and uttering obscenities. “He’s giving us the finger.”

There was a loud popping sound as top of Aiyden’s skull was suddenly struck by the axe with enough force to Gallagher his head like a ripe melon. Anneke screamed as his decapitated body slumped to the floor and blood showered down on her.

Channing tried to run, but he tripped over a gnome. As soon as he hit the floor, the zombie gnomes were all over him, biting him and tearing into his flesh. The infection coursed through him blood vessels, stiffening his joints, and rapidly changing the composition of his entire body, transforming him into baked clay. His face was a frozen expression of agony, and when Sooty Pete’s axe struck him he broke into a million pieces. Shards of pottery pierced flew in every direction, piercing Anneke’s face and torso. The hateful imps ran about collecting Channing’s calcified remains and pressed the scorching pieces onto Anneke’s bloodied face. The tiny fiends mocked her as she tried without success to pry the bits of sizzling clay from her face. Her screams, muffled behind the ceramic mask, soon stopped altogether and she slumped lifelessly to the floor.

Just then the front door burst open, a blast of cold air and snow rushing in with the force of a hurricane.

“Back, Sooty Pete. Back from whence you came.” Although the voice was deep and commanding, it retained its jolly timbre.

The thick smoke obscured the large, red-suited figure standing in the doorway, but it was clearly Ole Saint Nick. He stepped to one side and a blizzard was unleashed into the house. The snow had a magical effect on the malicious entities in the room, driving Sooty Pete and his band of demons back into the void. The bodies of the three home invaders were also swept into the netherworld. The fire was extinguished and when the last of the smoke and embers were gone, only the frightful tree remained. The doorway was empty, but outside the sound of sleighbells resonated along with a distant, “Ho, Ho, Ho! Merry Christmas!”


Paul Lonardo

Paul Lonardo is a freelance writer and author with numerous titles, both fiction and nonfiction books. He placed short fiction and nonfiction articles in various magazines and ezines. He is a contributing writer for Tales from the Moonlit Path and an active HWA member.

Halloween Time

Sirens of Christmas

By: Patrick Norris


You never get used to it, the singing I mean. Day and night Christmas carols echo along the suburban streets, and city avenues. You aren’t safe anywhere unless it’s behind six inches of steel and locked tight. These aren’t the merry carolers you’re used to hiding from. They won’t take money, they won’t take praise, they’re only interested in one thing. Your soul.

It’s when the snow blankets the ground that they come out of whatever hole they reside in for the rest of the year. They appear the same as everyone else, except it’s only an illusion. They’re the sirens of Christmas, preying on the weak willed or the overly polite fools who open their front doors when they hear their singing, thinking blindly that their only interest is to spread holiday cheer.

Most people think I’m crazy, but I don’t blame them, I’d think so too if I were in their shoes. Only I saw what they’re capable of, and I don’t want them to do to you and your family as what they did to me and mine.

It was the night before Christmas and we were preparing for bed, when from the front door we heard singing, we peered out the window to see who it was, it was a group of carolers merrily singing. We were already in our pajamas, so I told my wife, Dorothy, to ignore them and let them move on to the next house. Dorothy’s good nature got the best of her. 

“But we never get carolers this close to Christmas, if they’re singing for us tonight, I think the least we can do is listen and maybe give them something for their trouble”, Dorothy prevailed.

“Okay, okay” I said. “You and Liam go and listen, and I’ll see what loose change I can come up with. I mean it is Christmas time, they can’t expect much”. 

She and Liam went to listen to the carolers. They opened the front door, and I could hear the singing more clearly.

It was not two minutes before I approached the front door to join them and hand the three dollars and five cents I could muster to the carolers. To my horror I saw my wife and son levitating on the front porch, they were as pale as the surrounding snow and a thick mist was draining from their bodies and into the mouths of the carolers. I immediately ran out to pull them back into the safety of the house, but they would not budge. 

The carolers stood staring at me with red glowing eyes, sucking the mist from my family into mouths that belonged to ravenous lions, not people. They were dressed in top hats and kerchiefs, hands in animal skin muffs, scarves, and cloaks. They were anything but normal.

I grabbed the snow shovel that rested next to the door and lunged toward the demonic carolers. I bashed them in the head, slashed at their arms and legs, but they stood as firm as trees on my front walkway. With one great swing the shovel’s wooden shaft broke in two. I grabbed the metal handle and tried to drive the broken end down their throats, but it was no use.

I collapsed from exhaustion and began yelling, “Help! anybody, help me, please!”. 

All around my house there was darkness, no streetlights, no cars, no houselights but my own. It was as if my house had been swallowed by the carolers as well, nobody was coming to help.

I began to lift myself up off the ground when I saw in the corner of my eye, a bag of salt I had recently bought but had not used. In an act of desperation, I ripped open the bag and grabbed two fistfuls of salt. I ran to the closest two carolers and forced the rock salt down their ghastly throats. The singing suddenly stopped. I looked over and the other carolers were now staring at the two I had given the salt. I looked back at my front door and my wife and son were lying on the front terrace no longer levitating.

I ran up the steps and began to wrap my arms around my wife and child, but before I could finish, inhuman shrieking burst forth from behind me. I covered my ears and looked back at the carolers. The two carolers were slowly melting, their skin ran like wax from a lit candle, their eyes burst from their eye sockets. The carolers were no longer celebrating, they now knew what it was to mourn as I did. Finally, the two carolers were reduced to piles of burnt jelly, and the shrieking forced me into unconsciousness.

When I awoke, I found myself in the hospital, a neighbor found me and my family Christmas morning all laying on the front terrace and the front door of our house wide open. “Where is my family?!” I asked. 

Dorothy and Liam had succumbed to the winter cold they said. They are no longer with us. They had found no evidence of foul play they said, no chemicals in the house that could be the cause of strange behavior, all they could think was we all somehow were victims of sleepwalking that ended in tragedy. At first, I believed them. I mean it would make more sense than evil carolers that stole my wife’s and son’s souls the night before Christmas.

The day I was discharged the neighbors met me in front of my house. They offered their condolences and gave me containers of food that they said should last me for days. I thanked them and continued to my home. 

I was about to climb the steps to my door when I saw the bag of salt still on the ground. It was torn open. Just as I remembered, and I will never forget, that cold night before Christmas when the soul sucking carolers sang at my door.


Patrick Norris

My name is Patrick Norris, and I am a starting-out author. I have spent my entire life enjoying authors such as H.P. Lovecraft, Michael Moorcock, and Jules Verne. I am excited to share my stories with other individuals who share the same interests.

Halloween Time

24th Door

By: Rodney Hatfield Jr. 


Nathan was feeling super excited, like a bottle that’s about to burst open! Christmas was coming. The promise of presents and the joyous times that accompanied the holiday were steadily approaching, and the sensation was becoming nearly overwhelming for him to contain. One thing he really loved was his own special countdown advent calendar. This year, a new chapter was unfolding as his parents granted him the privilege of having a calendar entirely to himself. No longer would he have to share the delectable surprises concealed behind each little door with anyone else. This was an exclusive delight meant just for him, and the idea of it made him feel like a child who had been given the key to a hidden treasure chest.

Tomorrow was Christmas Eve, and he just couldn’t wait to open the door marked with the number 24. Although all the doors on the countdown calendar held their own allure and wonder, the door marked with the number 24, that door was always the most amazing and the biggest because it was the very last one on the calendar. Now, it was getting late and time for bed. Nathan was feeling restless, but he tried really hard to fall asleep. However, thoughts of Christmas just kept going around in his mind, making it tough for him to drift off.

Finally, after a lot of tossing and turning in his bed, Nathan finally succeeded in falling asleep. He dreamt with great excitement about the nearing Christmas. The night seemed to pass rapidly. Upon awakening, he immediately caught the faint sound of his parents’ morning alarm clock. In a flash, Nathan hopped out of bed and speedily donned his cozy bathrobe. He opened his bedroom door and headed downstairs. As he made his way, his dad, who was already awake, noticed him.

“Wait, Nathan!” his dad called out. “We’re coming down too!”

Nathan paused on the staircase, waiting for his parents to join him. He could hardly wait to start the Christmas Eve celebrations. Brimmed with anticipation, each moment feeling like an eternity as he waited for them to join him. Nathan’s parents came out from their bedroom, dressed in their pajamas and robes. 

“Are you ready, Nathan?” his mom asked, ruffling his hair affectionately.

Nathan grinned from ear to ear. “Yes, Mom! I can’t wait.”

The three of them walked together into the living room, their steps soft on the carpeted floor. The twinkling lights of the Christmas tree enveloped them in a warm, magical glow, casting a gentle ambiance that embraced the entire room. The tree, adorned with ornaments collected over the years, seemed to tell a story of Christmases past. Nathan’s heart swelled with excitement as he took in the sight. The ornaments, each holding a memory, dangled delicately from the branches, reflecting the soft morning light.

The room was filled with the inviting scent of pine, courtesy of the tree, which stood proud and majestic in the corner. Its branches seemed to reach out as if eager to hug anyone who came near. The tree’s needles glistened with a dusting of artificial snow, creating the illusion of a winter wonderland indoors. Rays of early morning sunshine seeped through the curtains, casting dancing shadows that played hide-and-seek across the floor. The ambiance was a symphony of light and scent, invoking a sense of tranquility and anticipation. Nathan couldn’t contain his excitement and eagerly sat down on the floor next to his advent calendar, his face beaming with a huge smile. His fingers gently traced the outline of the calendar’s door, his touch a mix of excitement and reverence. He looked over at his parents, who were settling in on the couch, their smiles mirroring his own.

“Go ahead, sweetheart,” his mom beamed. “Open it up. I know you’re bursting with excitement!”

She snuggled up close to her husband, both eagerly watching as Nathan’s small hand reached for the flap of the advent calendar. With cautious excitement, Nathan gently grasped the flap and carefully started peeling it back to reveal what lay behind the door. Encouraged by his parents, he swiftly pulled aside the cardboard door. Nathan’s eyes widened with delight as he gazed at the treasure that had been concealed behind the door. And there it was, his special surprise nestled inside. Door number 24 surpassed all expectations. It was remarkably superior to all the other doors—larger and more satisfying. 

“Yes, yes, yes!” Nathan exclaimed with glee. 

His mom and dad exchanged satisfied glances, pleased by Nathan’s reaction. He reached in and extracted the surprised, plump figure hiding behind door number 24, causing his eyes to sparkle.

“Oh, wow, a chef!” Nathan exclaimed with delight.

Nathan’s eyes remained fixed on the little figure, now struggling against the ropes that tightly bound its hands and feet. Muffled sounds, like faint whimpers, managed to escape from behind the gag that covered its mouth.

In his mind, Nathan reflected, “This is the best giant’s treat yet.”


Rodney Hatfield Jr.

Rodney Hatfield Jr., a seasoned freelance writer for two decades, has made a lasting impact on Unusual Horror, Creepypasta, and anthologies like “It’s All In My Mind” and “But it’s What My Character Would Do.” His latest work, “Crimson Moon,” is set to enthrall readers under Running Wild publishing. With a significant online presence, his Facebook page, “Mortimer T. Graves: Horror Short Story Time,” gathers 14k followers. Rodney’s career and readership attest to his ability to craft tales that resonate with the macabre in the realm of dark fiction and fantasy.

Halloween Time

Bonny on the Bluffs

By: Connie Millard


Wallowing in my solitude, I traverse the mountainside of the remote lodge, the winding trails glistening with fresh snow and my tears. My fingers scratch the jagged grooves etched into the rock, deep and eternal, like the scars carved on my heart. 

Inside, the desk clerk ignores me as I gravitate to the imposing evergreen staking claim to the foyer, momentarily paralyzed by its twinkling lights and adorning ornaments. I approach a fire popping and crackling in the hearth, though it does nothing to warm my insides.

Around the flames, pajama-clad children clutch at their parents, enraptured by eerie tales of ghosts said to plague the hotel and its sprawling grounds. Stories I’ve heard so many times I swear I can hear the faint giggles of the spirit child, feel her icy breath on my neck. I can see the two men, leathered and scarred, rehashing their same duel each night, their anger never sated even after the bullets pierce their hearts. I can wave to the old man creaking in the lobby’s rocking chair, content to spend all eternity with his phantom book, and avoid the lovesick woman weeping before bounding to her death from the high cliffs. 

I sigh, weary of these embellished tales, and creep up to the bar, the dim room fitting my dark mood. The men barely glance in my direction, their voices clambering over each other in lively conversation. Except one. The air crackles with electricity as his gaze meets mine. I offer a ghost of a smile and wait for him to approach, but three drinks later, I’m still alone. 

Disappointed, I rise, wavering slightly, and escape outside, away from the cloying warmth of family devotion and friendly banter. I amble on the rocky path, peering into the inky abyss below when I see him again. This time, with the bitter wind giving me strength, I stomp forward, finally gaining his attention. I am bold. I will not be ignored. When I have it, I don’t let go and revel at the emotions contorting his face as my form materializes before him. Confusion. Recognition. Fear. 

“You…you’re the weeping woman,” he stammers, backing away.

“They always get it wrong,” I say, shaking my head, “I didn’t jump.” 

I reach out my pale hand to him.

“I was pushed.” 

He turns to flee, but I grip his arm.

“But I took him down with me, I hiss, finally telling my own story.

 “And, tonight, I will take you too,” 

We plummet together, our screams lost amid the herald angels singing.


Connie Millard

Connie Millard is a working mom of three who once made it to final callbacks for the television show, Worst Cooks in America. After much perseverance, she now spends her time writing in between stirring risotto. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee whose work has appeared in Ghost Parachute, Dark Recesses Press, and Tales from the Moonlit Path, among others. You can find her at

Halloween Time

Alone for the Holidays

By: B. F. Vega


The smell of spiced cider woke him—the permeating warmth of apple spiked with orange and that tinge of earthiness from the cloves. The smell filled his nostrils and slid down his throat until it filled his lungs with comfort. 

Steven threw back the blanket and swung his legs out. His feet hit the bare wood floor, sending iciness up his legs where it burrowed in his belly. The cold seizing his insides reminded him of something like the memory of a childhood nightmare, but he couldn’t place the unease.

He shook off the feeling. He was home, and it was Christmas. Whatever was trying to burrow its way into his contentment would have to wait. Today was about family. 

The house was silent, so it must still be early, as Amelia and Michael would be up at the crack of dawn to see what Santa brought them. 

But the smell of cider meant someone was up. Probably his sister-in-law. Stephie was an early riser who believed in a good breakfast no matter what. 

There may be time for a shower before the kids woke up.

The wood beneath his feet creaked, and he wondered if Thomas also had termite issues. He remembered his father doing epic battles with termites when they had been children. Perhaps some of his father’s victims had escaped and were now eating the family home’s foundation. 

One of the uneasy thoughts managed to find a way through his fog of contentment. 

“Where’s the rug?” He had bought it with his first paycheck when he was 16, specifically because the floor got so cold.

This thought drew his eyes to the Power Ranger blue walls. 

The posters and his framed re-print of ‘The Amazing Spiderman’ signed by Stan Lee were missing. He would have to ask Thomas about that. He didn’t care about the posters, but the signature had value. 

The smell of the cider intensified, and with it, his sense of ill-ease vanished. The cider’s tentacles of coziness pulled him toward the family room. 

Steven couldn’t disobey such a siren call and opened his bedroom door. 

He was surprised to see 6-year-old Amelia and her four-year-old brother at the end of the hall. They were seated at the base of the Christmas tree, illuminated by the fire crackling in the brick fireplace. Amelia shook wrapped gifts as Michael pawed through the stocking he held balanced in the bowl of his Elmo-covered crisscrossed legs. 

Michael looked up as the door opened. His porcelain cheeks were smudged with chocolate that he was methodically fishing out of the stocking.

“Uncky Seeeve!” The cherub exclaimed. “Candy!”

Steven walked toward the boy, smiling at the little glutton. 

“Your stocking is filled too!” Amelia said while trying to hide a particularly large gift behind her thin frame. 

Steven saw she had already ripped a hole in the Paw Patrol wrapping paper. 

Stephie’s voice called from the kitchen. “Steven, breakfast is almost ready. Will you wake up your brother? Amelia, you had better not have opened a present. Presents opened before their time disappear!”

“No, Mommy. I didn’t,” Amelia lied, her larimar-colored eyes growing wide. 

Steven winked at her, “I’ll get tape.” He whispered and was rewarded by a broad smile. He turned back into the hallway. Thomas and Stephie had moved into the master bedroom when Steven’s mother passed away last Christmas. 

Even though his mother could no longer inflict damage on the boys, the door alone filled him with deep dread. 

“I’m an adult.” He whispered. It had been his mantra from the moment he turned 18 and had escaped out of his mother’s grasp.

He filled his lungs with the courage of warm cider and fresh-cut pine trees, then reached out to turn the doorknob. It was locked.

He jiggled it, then let his hand fall away. He heard something inside.

“Tommy?” he asked through the locked door.

“Tommy!.” His own voice whispered back to him from the other side of the door.

“What the hell?” Steven said out loud as he took a step back from the door. The doorknob in front of him jiggled. The door was somehow locked inside and out.

“Stephie!” He called, but except for the jiggling doorknob, only silence answered him. 

He turned to look down the dark hallway. 

The early morning sunlight was streaming into the living room window, highlighting the dust and grime swirling in the air. 

He stepped toward the living room. His foot hit a rotten board, snapping it in two and throwing him onto what remained of the splintered hardwood and mildewed carpet. 

He pulled himself up and crawled to the living room. The Christmas tree had long ago turned to barren, blackened twigs. The needles that had escaped the fire had composted into fertile earth for moss and mushrooms. 

Here and there, scraps of sun-bleached Paw Patrol wrapping paper peeked through the rubble where the fireplace had been. 

Moving some bricks aside, he saw a swath of singed Elmo-covered fabric. The fabric had lived up to its fire-resistant rating if only the little body it had shrouded had been able to be saved by it.

Steven recoiled from the fabric and from the memory of that fateful morning. His brother had been waiting on the other side of the door. Steven was the only real threat to the plan. He remembered hearing the lock turn as he desperately pleaded with his brother to let him out. To not leave him alone in that room.

By the time Steven had escaped the bedroom, Thomas had already committed the unthinkable. Steven ran into the living room as Thomas dropped the match in the dried tree needles. Needles surrounded with all those gifts wrapped in adorable, flammable paper. 

Steven had fallen to his knees. “Don’t leave me here alone.” He had pleaded. 

Thomas had pulled the handgun out of his mouth, aiming it at his brother’s head instead.

“Okay,” Thomas had said, his finger tightening on the trigger as the orange light of the Christmas tree catching fire cast Thomas into a deep silhouette.

But then, impossibly, they had both heard the slow, plodding footprints they had come to fear from the moment they knew what the word fear meant.

Thomas looked past where Steven knelt and fired into the empty hall. Steven could barely make out Thomas’s eyes as they grew round, but as the red creep of anger drained away, and the fire’s orange light was the only color on Thomas’s pale skin, he could see the fear on his brother’s face plainly.  

“Yes, mother.” Thomas had said. Then, without another word, he turned the gun back to his own head and pulled the trigger. 

The echo of that long-ago gunshot finally anchored Steven into the here and now. 

Steven wept now as he had not been able to twenty years ago.

He had left that Christmas morning before the fire department had reached the house and hadn’t returned. He didn’t remember how he now found himself home for Christmas; all he knew was that he was utterly alone. 

He reached out for the singed swatch of Elmo pajamas. “Don’t leave me alone,” he whispered as he pulled them to his cheek.

Then, the smell of cider came again. Followed by little Amelia’s giggling. Behind him in the hall, impossibly he heard slow, plodding footsteps. A hand with the texture of baked phyllo dough laid lightly on his quivering shoulders.

A voice grated through vocal cords which had been dried to sinew.

“Oh Steven,” His mother hissed, “You aren’t alone.”

Then Steven was yanked back into total darkness as the smell of cider wrapped him in tentacles of fearful memory and the swath of childish pajamas floated slowly down to the rubble-covered floor. 


B. F. Vega

B.F. Vega is a horror writer, poet, and theater artist living in the North Bay Area of California. She is an associate member of the HWA. Her short stories and poetry have appeared in: Nightmare Whispers, Dark Celebration, Infection, Dark Nature, Dark Cheer: Cryptids Emerging, Haunts & Hellions, Dragon Soul Press Haunt, and Good Southern Witches. Most recently, her short story, Lanai, was published in The Manor of Frights anthology through Horror Addicts, and her Slasher What the Sonoran Takes is part of the S is for Slasher anthology through Red Cape Books. She is still shocked when people refer to her as an author—every time.

Halloween Time


By: F. P. Jones


Nestled in overgrown foliage and shrouded in neglect, the old manor home is a weathered testament to its former splendor. Time has taken its toll, with cracked walls and crumbling façades revealing glimpses of faded former opulence. The Lambert family purchased the property from an estate auction last October. Over the past months, they diligently worked to breathe life back into its forgotten corners. Slowly but surely, the manor’s charm is being restored, revealing the echoes of a bygone era that once thrived within its walls.


The family gathered in the study as thunder rattled the old windows one late evening. The snow outside had been falling for hours, leaving the bright flashes of lightening to appear more intense as it reflected across the courtyard. The flickering power dimming and surging cast a dark rainbow of colors from the family’s Christmas tree that sat partially assembled in the corner of the room. During a violent and dangerously close thunderclap, a sconce fell and shattered on the floor. Sarah immediately began to clean it up but stopped suddenly as she noticed a small, peculiar key within the debris. She reached out tentatively and plucked it free, her curiosity piqued.

“Look at this,” she said, handing the key to her husband.

Daniel examined the intricate design of the key. The small key was crafted from aged brass, its surface weathered and worn from time. Rough engravings covered the entirety of its slender body in what appeared to be a mismatch of several unknown languages. 

“Where could it lead?” he mused. “Anyone want to investigate with me?”

“Wait… should we do that right now?” Emily, Sarah’s sister, hesitated. “The key, it seems… really creepy.” 

The couple regarded her with concern, sensing her unease. Sarah gently touched her shoulder. 

“We don’t have to do anything if you’re uncomfortable,” she told Emily. 

Emily looked at the key Daniel held. Her hesitation persisted; her voice filled with uncertainty. 

“I’m just not sure. Something about that key… it doesn’t feel right.” 

Sarah exchanged a worried glance with Daniel, understanding Emily’s concerns. 

“We should listen to her,” Sarah said to Daniel. “Maybe we should wait until after the holidays to investigate this key.” 

He reluctantly agreed and placed the key on the study’s old desk. 

With each passing night, Emily couldn’t get the image of the key out of her mind. Eventually, the allure of unraveling the mysteries of the key proved irresistible. Emily’s wavering resolve faltered, and she nodded to herself late one night. Let’s see where this key leads. We can find some answers. She crept to the study while her sister and Daniel slept. Grabbing a lamp, she carefully examined the room with the skill of a detective. Despite her efforts, Emily found nothing remotely interesting or out of the ordinary. 

. . .

“I was so worried about you!”

Emily awoke from a refreshing sleep in her bed. Her sister held her hand.

She yawned. “What happened?” 

Sarah explained that the previous morning, she and Daniel went down to make breakfast. They found the study door open and discovered Emily asleep on the floor under the Christmas tree. Unable to fully wake her, they returned Emily to her bed. Emily was stunned. She then described to her sister how she had been consumed with the idea of the old key and her unsuccessful search of the study the night before. 

“I don’t think that’s altogether true,” Sarah whispered, “we found you next to an open book you’d been reading. Don’t you remember it?” 

Emily searched her mind, memories of last night’s empty search seemingly vivid and fresh. 

“I don’t remember anything about a book,” she replied. 

“You were probably sleepwalking again.  But when we took you back to bed, you kept repeating a single word: penitent.” 

A few moments later, Daniel opened the door. 

“I found something,” he said in a low voice, “The word Emily kept saying—it’s engraved on a stone inside the old wine cellar.” 

Emily jumped up, “I need to see this!”


Just as Daniel said, the back wall of the old wine cellar had a small cracked stone with the word “penitent” etched on its face. A small, loose rock was quickly removed, revealing an even smaller lock, just large enough for a tiny key. Daniel’s voice was quiet with unease. 

“This must be it. The key… it fits.” 

He slid the key into the lock and turned it, opening a well-disguised door in the wall. Daniel stepped through the opening.

Sarah glanced at Emily, concerned. 

“Are you sure about this, sis?” she asked Emily.

Emily swallowed hard, her voice barely above a whisper. “I… I don’t know. It feels wrong.”

The sisters held hands and walked in the room. Inside the chamber, the air was barely there–thick and chilly with an essence of sulfur. On a large dusty altar in the center of the room, Daniel found a single page of aged parchment covered in cryptic symbols. The parchment was surrounded by half-melted wax candles set in a circle. A small dagger with its hilt wrapped in black silk rested in the center. The blade, stained with barely recognizable symbols, was engraved in a double row from the point toward the hilt. Someone long ago formed marks along the altar that aligned with what Daniel recognized as cardinal directions along with others he didn’t understand. He looked down at the old paper and saw a faded diagram scrawled under the symbols.

“How old is this room?” Emily asked.

Sarah ran her fingers along the wall and absentmindedly wiped her hand on her pants.

“I don’t know, but this block on the wall says 1703. Do you think the cellar was built around some older structure?” she wondered.

As the sisters talked, Daniel picked up a handful of earth from the dirt floor and gently sprinkled it along the lines around the candles. His hand trembled as he traced the lines and completed the design. With a mixture of trepidation and curiosity, Daniel lit the candles. He picked up the candle closest to him. 

Immediately, a gust of wind swept through the chamber, extinguishing all the candles. The room plunged into darkness and an eerie silence settled. A barely heard voice echoed through the blackness, its child-like tone filled with inquisitive laughter. 

“Ask of me what you will.” 

Sarah’s voice faltered. “What..what have we done?” 

In a panic, Daniel turned on his flashlight, illuminating the room. Everything appeared to be just as it should be. The three scrambled out of the cellar. Outside, Emily’s earlier hesitation turned into terror. 

“We’ve made a terrible mistake. What in the world were you thinking?” Sarah cried.

Daniel replied, “I was just standing at the altar, but then I started feeling a little different. At first, I had a ringing in my ears, then I had this overwhelming urge to touch the dirt and light the candles. Part of me didn’t want to, but I had no choice—like when you sneeze or cough. I’m so sorry.”    

Days turned into sleepless nights as the family desperately sought a solution. The house now pulsated with sinister energy, haunting whispers following them wherever they went. In their quest for answers, they sought the guidance of several so-called experts. None had answers except for the occasional, “Have you tried burning sage?” Emily grew weary of researching a resolution. One weekend while Christmas shopping, Emily stopped at a particularly run-down shop in a small town outside Baton Rouge. The shopkeeper gave her a worn card for a Madame Dufour, claiming she was a renowned occultist. 

He said, “She has no telephone, no sign at her shop, and it is always closed. However, if you wait after dark long enough, she may open the door. If you’re lucky enough for her to take any interest in, you—she is a true believer. Do as she instructs.” 


Emily shared the news with Sarah and Daniel. Everyone agreed they had no reason not to try. Soon after, the family visited the small shop in Natchitoches. After several hours of waiting at the door to the shop, they were invited inside.  The woman introduced herself as Madame Dufour. Much younger in age than her eyes would suggest, she patiently listened while Sarah told the whole of it. Looking around quietly, she studied each of them in turn. 

“You’ve tampered with forces far beyond your understanding. The spirit you have summoned is inhuman,” she haughtily explained. “It was never meant to walk this earth and has never had a proper physical form. The ritual you three attempted was obviously intended to make you the master of a treasure possessed by the spirit. The uneducated would call this a demon, but that’s too simplistic an explanation. Your clumsy attempts ignored all safeguards and failed to achieve the ritual’s goal. In fact, you likely attached this entity to yourselves.” 

“Treasure? Like money?” Daniel’s voice filled with hope. “Is there any way to repair this and still get this money?” 

Madame Dufour watched the family intently. 

“Indeed, you have a great reward ahead,” her voice dripped with mystique. “I have the answer to your troubles that will allow you to control whatever valuables this spirit has possessed.’”

 She hastily scribbled some notes into a small notebook. She ripped the page out and handed it to Sarah.

“Here is a prayer for a license to depart,” she said.

“A license to what? What does that mean?” Sarah asked.

“It is just a ritual to banish evil spirits, nothing more. Besides the prayer, you must complete a preparation period. You will need very specific fresh ingredients. All of you must observe a three-day fast from meat and thoroughly bathe in warm water with this exorcised salt and hyssop oil the morning of the ritual,” she said, handing them two small, corked jars. “The knife you found on the altar must be dipped in a mixture of live bat’s blood and hemlock juice. Then, re-form the circle with new candles and retrace the lines with the newly consecrated knife. Finally, the most crucial part is the timing. This ritual must be performed with the new moon before sunrise, on December 21, when the moon is in the Sign of the Owl. 

“And one last thing,” she said as she left, “you must not stop the prayer I gave you. No matter what you see or hear, it is absolutely vital that you complete it.”

“What could happen if we don’t complete it? Are you sure this license to depart is safe?” Emily was worried. 

The desperate family clung to the spell as their last chance for salvation. They gathered the necessary ingredients, following the directions DuFour left with dogged determination. As they prepared the components, a sense of unease settled upon them. 

Emily, ever perceptive, voiced her doubts. 

“Something doesn’t feel right. Madame Dufour’s words… seemed too cryptic, like she was hiding something from us.”

Sarah and Daniel shared Emily’s reservations but couldn’t ignore the flickering flame of hope the spell offered. Daniel added, “A hidden treasure of any value would help settle the debt of the house’s renovation.”    

“We’ve come this far,” Sarah said. “Let’s just trust the process and believe it will end our suffering. And let’s not forget about the money—we could really use it!” They all nodded in agreement.  


Madame Dufour stopped by the house earlier in the day to deliver the ingredients. As she left, she issued a stern reminder.

“Be sure to follow the ritual precisely, with no deviation.” 

The family gathered in the cellar, where previous owners performed their ill-fated ritual. They prepared as instructed. They repeated the words of the license to depart prayer precisely as it was given to them:

“Come ye, then, without delay, without noise, and without rage, before us, without any deformity or hideousness, to execute all our will; come ye from all places where ye are, from all mountains, valleys, streams, rivers, brooks, ponds, places; for our God, strong and powerful, will chase ye and constrain ye, being glorious over all things; He will compel ye, both ye and the Prince of Darkness. Come ye, come ye, Angels of Darkness; come hither before this Circle without fear, terror, or deformity, to execute our commands, and be ye ready both to achieve and complete all that we shall command ye. Come ye, then, by the Crown of the Chief of your Emperors, and by the Sceptres of your power, and of SID, the Great Demon, your Master.”

A surge of energy engulfed the room. The air crackled with anticipation. The smell of perfumed incense filled the space as they continued to repeat the words dutifully. They exchanged worried glances but remembered the admonition not to stop no matter what they experienced. In an instant, the candles were extinguished by an unseen hand, plunging the room into darkness. The stench of sulfur overpowered the incense.  A high-pitched giggle pierced the room. Moments later, the child-like voice whispered to them again.

“You’ve been deceived.”


F. P. Jones

Jones received his bachelor degree from the University of Arkansas and a Juris Doctor from William H. Brown School of Law. The Arkansas native currently divides his time between the state he loves and traveling for inspiration, most likely stopping frequently for a selfie. He now lives in Little Rock, Arkansas. My current projects include tales for a upcoming dark fiction anthology and a serialized dark fiction short stories. You can find more of his work at

Halloween Time

Home for the Helladays

By: Hildie S. Block


Cassandra stepped off the R5 commuter train at Ardham Hill Station and looked up at the sky.

“Still grey,” she said.  “Some things never change.”  She shook her head and her brown hair fell away from her face, as she wandered across the tracks and stopping by a vendor to buy a bouquet of white roses with greens and some small red flower that looked poisonous.

“Looks like snow,” the vendor said as she swiped Cassandra’s card.

“I hope not.  I didn’t bring boots or a scarf.”  The vendor looked Cassandra, taking in the suitcase.

“Aw, youse be okay without that jawn.  Travel far?”

“Took the train down from New York.”

“New. York. City.  Damn.  The big apple.”  The vendor gave her a creepy smile and Cassandra couldn’t escape fast enough, dragging her roller board toward the parking lot where she knew that at least one of the town’s two cabs would be waiting.

She ignored the green garlands roping the gingerbread style suburban Philly station and the glittering white lights.  And the cute shops across the way lined by gas street lights sporting adorably seasonal flags.

“Hey, Joey” she said as she slid into the back of the cab not even checking which Joey was driving.  She noted his pine tree air freshener was also seasonal, with colorful polka dots and an angel on top.  She blinked hard as she could have sworn the angel winked at her.  Shaking her head, she looked again.  Just cardboard.

“Well, look who’s back in town!”  Joey wore a flannel and wreaked of Marlboros. “Where to? Your crib?”

“Where else?”  Cassandra popped in her earbuds and stared down at her phone as she put on fresh lipstick.  A festive bright red so her mom would think everything was fine. Just fine

She knocked timidly on the front door of the old Victorian.  No answer, so she dug out her old brass patina-ed key and just walked into her house, past the big curving grand staircase and toward the kitchen, just in time to hear her mother saying into the phone, “Yes, and I’m hoping I can convince her to move back.  Well, you know how authors are!  She probably stopped by the new bookstore to make sure they had her new book on display!”

“What new bookstore?” Cassandra asked as she took a clementine from the holly festooned bowl on the table.

“Oh!  Here she is now – I’ll talk to later!” Then turning to Cassandra for a one armed hug– “Hello!  You’re home!”

“’pears that way, Lilli.”

“Mom to you, child.  Well, go take your stuff upstairs and let’s head downtown.  There’s the cutest new bookstore.”  Lilli looked over her shoulder at Cassandra, as she took the bouquet of flowers her daughter dutifully brought home. “Unless, you’ve already been?”

“No, I haven’t, but seriously?  I’m not in the mood.”  Cassandra made a face and turned away.

“My author daughter, not in the mood for a bookstore?  Why I remember when you were just a –“

“Can we go see Dad first instead?”

“Oh sweetie – that’s just a – I mean it’s the holidays.  You don’t really want to go to that horror show, first thing, do you?”

“Yeah, actually that’s exactly what I want to do.  See my father.  It’s not that weird.”

“Fine, you can go by yourself and I’ll meet you at the new bookstore at Main and Spruce.  Deal?”

“I don’t have a car.”

“You can take his.  It’ll start.  I just tried it yesterday.”

Cassandra arrived at the LovingCraft Nursing Home, walking past a wheelchair bound gentleman who was pulling himself along the wall and yelling “Here Nursey!  Here Nursey Nursey!” and got a pass from the desk to see her father – the nurse came around and patted her shoulder and said kindly, “There’s no change, dear, but it’s good that you came. He wakes screaming from bad dreams sometimes.”

Cassandra wandered halls for a few minutes trying not to breathe in the pervasive smell of urine when she finally found his room, he was alone, sheets tucked up to chin and staring blankly.  She pulled a chair up close to the bed and uncovered his hand to hold it.  He continued to stare.

“I’m home for Christmas, Dad.”  She squeezed his hand to no reaction.

“I’ve had a hell of a year.”  She winced a little when she said “Hell” but again, he didn’t react so she kept going.  “I mean it started with your stroke, and then, Carlos left me – just like that out of the blue.  Said he knew it wasn’t right and he wanted to start over in Seattle.  And then, if you can believe it, my editor died.  She just died, Dad.”  Cassandra grabbed for a tissue from the nightstand.  “She died, Dad.  Just didn’t wake up one day.  It’s so horrible, I mean for her family and all that.  And of course, what it means to me . . .”

Cassandra trailed off.  “What it means to me, is that my books are officially orphaned.  Do you know what means, Dad?”  She looked at his milky eyes.  No recognition, but she went on.  “It means no one wants to be the editor on my books now and they will just die, too.  The Publishing House is cutting the whole horror imprint.  I’m too young to be out of print.”

Cassandra dabbed at her eyes, careful not to smear her mascara down her face.  “So I’ve decided I’m done.  I don’t know what I’m doing next, but this publishing stuff, it’s not for me.”  She patted his hand.  “Now no telling mom, I can’t deal with her arguing with me about this.  Not yet.  But my mind is made up.” Cassandra stood up and went to leave – “Now I have to go meet her at this new bookstore on Main.  Like I want to be around books right now.”  Cassandra’s upper lip began to blush and her eyes swelled again.  She sighed, “Have you heard of it?  I think it’s called Ha—Haverford – no, Hastur Books?  or something like –“

Suddenly, Cassandra’s dad went rigid – stiff like a board, and his eyes were clear and his voice loud as he yelled “NO!”

“Dad?”  Cassandra grabbed for the buzzer to summon the nurse and suddenly three nurses appeared and rushed her out of the room.  “Sweetie, he’s had enough today. Stop by again, okay?” said the kindly one from the desk.

“Oh, okay –,“ Cassandra tried to peer around the nurse into the room and the nurse deftly shut the door behind her.

“Now didn’t you say you had to go meet your mother somewhere?”

Cassandra started to leave and then turned to ask the nurse how she knew that, but she was gone, as if she’d never been there.

Out in the parking lot, Cassandra sat at the wheel of her father’s car and watched the snowflakes start to gently fall and tried to process what just happened.  Finally, she just shook her head and tried to turn over the car.



“Oh, come on.  It’s not like I want to go to this stupid book store!”  And with that, the car turned over and Cassandra, just shook her head.  Next year, she said to herself, Next year, I’m not coming home.  I’m going skiing with friends.  Hell, I’m going to Disney Land but I’m not coming back here.

“That’s what you think.”

Cassandra whipped her head around in the car, but she was alone.   There was no one there.   The wind was howling around the car, swirling up the flakes and she chalked it up to her first auditory hallucination.

She got to the bookstore, and found a great place just outside the door, which was nice because the snow was falling heavier and the wind was blowing more.  She looked the sign “Hastur Books – new and rare” in a queer old German Gothic script.  She tried to remember the name of the font, but it was just out of reach.  Like everything else I want, she thought bitterly.

She opened the shop door and some bells tinkled and her mother appeared with mugs of hot cocoa adorned with whipped cream.  “I want to introduce you to the owner! He’s such a delight.  Like the son I never had,” her mother smiled broadly, “Come, come!”

They approached a man, maybe 30ish, in a black sweater with a grey plaid scarf and black jeans. He has a scarf, Cassandra thought.  Of course, he does. His back was to them and he was reshelving a copy of the King In Yellow. Cassandra resisted the urge to pull the book back off the shelf.  She’d always felt a connection to that weird tale from the 1890s. “Ambrose Pickman, this is my daughter, Cassandra.”

He turned and smiled at Cassandra.  She immediately noticed his curiously sharp canines, a greenish mark peeking out of his scarf and up his neck, but otherwise he seemed suburban enough.  He wore a button that said “Read.”

“Greetings and Salutations, Cassandra.  Welcome to my shop!  I heard so much about our resident author!”

Cassandra narrowed her eyes at Ambrose and tried to decide how to answer, but her mother interrupted. “Ambrose, have you gotten Cassandra’s books in yet?”

“No, strangely enough there seems to be a distribution problem.  I’m sure they are coming. Happens sometimes with horror books.  They just get – caught up in transit.”

“Publishing is a wacky business.  Who knows,” Cassandra shrugged and took a sip of cocoa that burned her tongue, but also burned going down.

“Mom, is this – is this spiked?”

Her mother laughed.  “Oh hon, we’re all adults here!  It’s okay!”

“Since I can’t show you your books, can I introduce you to some of my old favorites?” Ambrose waved for her to follow him.  Cassandra looked at her mom who made pushing motions for her to follow Ambrose as well.  Cassandra, ever the good girl, dutifully followed Ambrose Pickman into the rare book section of the store.  He was gesturing at the stacks as he walked, but Cassandra was having trouble listening.  She took another sip and immediately regretted it.

The next thing she knew they were in the basement, past the charming sign that read Dunwich Dungeon, a room with a round table with a mark inset into it of something between an ornate star and a mandala.  There was a single book case lining the back wall and some candles lighting the way. Black heavy curtains hung dividing spaces and partially covering up cardboard boxes of books.  Ambrose motioned for her to come to a corner of the case – “Here are some of my favorites!  So old.  So precious.  Do you know these titles?”

Cassandra squinted at the books, but she was having trouble reading them.  “Are these in English?”

“No, of course not!  They are too old for that! It’s a language kinda like Aramaic.  I thought you might know it.  Take one down and give it a try.”

“Oh, I don’t really think I should.  I’m kinda of a klutz.  That’s why I went to Klutztown State!” Cassandra gave a nervous laugh.  “That’s what my dad always said.”

“Ambrose went to Miskatonic University, didn’t you, Ambrose?” Mom was apparently down there as well.  Cassandra felt drunk. No, dizzy. Wasted.

“Your dad,” Ambrose said ignoring Lilli.  “How is he?”

“What do you know about my dad?”

“He stopped by here just when I was opening.  Before his accident.  I was so sorry to hear about that.”

“He stopped. By.  Here.”

“Oh yes.  I showed him some marvelous things.  Your mother, too.  She loves this room.  Don’t you Lilli?”

“Of course, Ambrose.  These books are so special.  Why do you look at one, Cassandra?”

“Mom, I don’t think I should – “

“Oh just pick one, dear.  Doesn’t matter which –“

“Mom, I think I need to talk to you about Dad.”

The air in the room froze for a second, before Lilli responded, “Not now, Cassi, we’ll chat later.  Here, take this book–” Her mother pulled a large tome off the shelf, its cover set in gems, and opened it onto the table.  Look Cassandra dear, just take a peek–”

Loudly they heard a roar of “NO!” just like the one her father had emitted.   It was ethereal and yet corporeal and Cassandra wondered if this were her second auditory hallucination of the night.  Cassandra pulled away and tripped over a box of books, twisting her ankle.  She grabbed at the box for reasons she could never really understand and saw that they were all books by her.

But they were not in good shape.  They had been – cored?  Had a circle cut through the middle and were covered in what looked like wax.  “Are – are these mine?”

“Of course not, dear.  We told you.  There were distribution issues getting your books in.”

“No, no you didn’t, Mom.  Ambrose said that. You asked if he got them in.”

“Oh dear, you aren’t remembering well right now.  Here have some more cocoa,” Lilli extended the mug toward Cassandra and she batted it away.

The cocoa sprayed the table, the curtain and the floor and started to sizzle.

“Spiked, my ass!” Cassandra wobbled up to standing, grabbed the tome and smacked Ambrose in the head with it.  He reeled backwards and the table lit up.  Cassandra dropped the book onto the table in surprise.

She looked down the book looked like a different copy of the King In Yellow, the book that Ambrose had been shelving as they had arrived. Except that one was by Robert Chambers and this one, this one was different. The one upstairs was about what happened to the people who read – this one. Everything froze as she stared at.  It was and it wasn’t the same book.  The words swirled on the cover and invited her in.  She shook her head and looked at Ambrose, like a kitten looks at a wiggling piece of string.

“You know what it is, don’t you, Cassandra?”

“I, I feel like I do, but that’s not possible.’
“I think you know – why don’t you say it?”

“It’s the actual King in Yellow?”

“Something like that. And you know what a book like that can do if someone reads it?”

“They go, they go, mad?”

“Only the ones who cannot handle it. Some people go mad, some people gain powers, some people will do our bidding. You dear, I have a feeling you are different.  So different, in fact, that we have a little job for you.”

“Oh Cassandra!  Isn’t this marvelous!  Just when it looked like your career had hit a dead end!”

Both Cassandra and Ambrose glared at Lilli.  Ambrose waved his hand and Lilli sunk into a plush arm chair and stared blankly at a burning candle.

“Cassandra, this is an offer of a lifetime.  Several lifetimes maybe.”
“I don’t want anything from you –”

“Listen first.  You’ve been writing horror, you have a name, a following.  But what you’ve been writing, it’s not quite, well, true.  It’s not quite real.”

“It’s entertainment.  Horror, horror’s not supposed to be ‘true.’  That’s what the news is for.”

Ambrose took a deep breath.  “The news is one flavor.  This one is better.  We want to you to be the person to scribe the new King in Yellow. The actual tome will have a secret release, have a mythology.  It will be passed around surrounded by a fog of mystery. You’ll be famous forever.  You’ll live forever.  You can write about the effects of the book that you, you wrote. Wouldn’t that be amazing? Isn’t that what you want? Your name with Poe, Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson . . . ?”

“I’m completely out of here.  Gone.”

“Do you want your father to die?”

Cassandra reeled back.  “I’m leaving!”

“Then your father will die.  Is that what you want?”

“Cassandra, do it for Dad,” Lilli chimed in robotically.

“Do what, exactly.”  The table glowed orange, and then red.

“Just read a little from the book. After that, you’ll know what else to do.”

“That’s it, then this is all over?”

“Yes.  Then this little interaction will be ‘over’ and your father will not die. And the rest of your life can begin. Perhaps with me, perhaps here in the suburbs of Philadelphia.” He wrapped his scarf around her. “Wouldn’t that be a gift to you, to your parents?”

“Where do I read?”

“Here,” Ambrose pointed at the book which had fallen back open on the table which was covered in dancing lights.  “Just start.”

“But I –“

“You may find that you can.”

And Cassandra found that she could.  For Christmas that year, her father did not die, but he also did not live.  And her mother got what she wanted.  Cassandra was home, Cassandra was a famous author, and Cassandra would never leave again.


Hildie S. Block

Hildie S. Block she/her is a writer/teacher type living in Northern Virginia with her partner, two non-binary kidfolk, black cat, Sealyham Terrier and her axolotl named Xipe! She mostly teaches writing in a yellow room over Zoom, drinks a lot of coffee, muses about things she?s heard on NPR, and talks about the weather. Her work has appeared in Gargoyle, Maryland Literary Review, Porcupine Literary, Grace and Gravity: Hell is for Children Anthology, Mason Jar Press and dozens of elsewheres. You can find her on Facebook at Hildie Block, Twitter/X at @HildieBook, Bluesky @HildieBook and Instagram/Threads @PunxyHildie. You can also find more of her work on and

Halloween Time

Cinema Chill

By: Kevin M. Folliard


All Bella wanted for Christmas was to silence her phone and slip into the dark. Chicago’s historic Music Box Theater on Southport was showing a 35 mm print of 1951’s Scrooge, a rare opportunity for a film connoisseur such as herself. And she’d had enough of family for one year.

Thanksgiving had been nothing but politics, squabbling, and her dear nephews turned moody teens zoning out with their phones. How she loved them, but it was getting hard to uproot from her routines and sleep on that terrible pull-out sofa. Her sister Melanie begged her to come to the suburbs for Christmas, and she’d resisted tooth and nail until at last they snapped at one another.

“It’s our first Christmas since Mom died. You’re all the family I have, but I guess you don’t care,” Melanie had said before hanging up. 

Bella knew her sister had a point, but she just needed quiet. Comfort. Solitude. And there was one place should could always find that: a dark, cozy theater.

She had an inkling she would be the only person to brave the bitter cold for that 10 a.m. matinee on December 25th. Silver hues of classic cinema would transport her to a world of ghostly charm and heartwarming redemption.

Melanie had never understood that, but their father had. His love of movies had inspired Bella to become a top film scholar, and led her to a rich and rewarding career within academia. Maybe it was wrong to avoid Melanie on Christmas, but she always found her father when the lights dimmed.

Bella woke early on Christmas morning, did her make up, dressed in an elegant suit and her late mother’s pearls. She remembered how they’d dressed for church as children. How perfect Mother had made them look, like emerald and gold gifts wrapped for Jesus’s birthday. Unlike her sister, Bella hadn’t been to church in decades, but in a way, the cinema had become her religious experience.

And it was fun to look nice, even if only for Scrooge.

Frosted air swirled flutters of snow down Southport. El trains click-clacked overhead as bundled-up dog walkers muffled “Happy holidays!” The theater was only a few blocks from home, but she was relieved to reach the glittering Music Box marquee and feel the sting of warm lobby air on her cheeks when she entered. 

She recognized the skeleton crew of two college-aged kids, Nala and Andy. Each wore reindeer antler head bands and ugly Christmas sweaters sprinkled with knit film reels and snowflakes. Andy scanned her ticket, and Nala served her a hot-buttered rum and small popcorn.

“Merry Christmas,” Bella said as she tipped generously. “Thank you for being here today.”

“Our pleasure,” Nala said. “Christmas movies are a big tradition around here. What’s your favorite?”

“This one for sure!” Bella gestured to the Scrooge marquee. “Allistair Sim’s performance is a treasure. He’s funny and heartbreaking and unparalleled in his ability to sell a crusty old curmudgeon’s redemption.”

Nala beamed. “Mine favorite is Elf! We’re showing it this afternoon right around the time my shift ends. I can’t make it home to California this year, but this is one tradition I can keep.” She nodded toward Andy. “He likes Gremlins.” She crinkled her nose in disgust.

Gremlins is a Christmas movie!” Andy passionately argued. “And Gizmo is adorable!”

Bella laughed. “To each their own. Have a wonderful day and a happy new year.”

She felt as if she were walking on air when she entered the elegant theater with its ocean of velvety seats. A blue ceiling spread like a midnight sky complete with twinkling stars. Elegant Italian columns and ornamentation framed strong maroon curtains.

Per her suspicion, no other patrons had shown for the screening. A pity, as the lost favorite deserved an audience. But still, sitting in the center of her favorite place, awaiting showtime, she felt like the most important person alive.

Retro trailers for 1950s cinema splayed across the screen. Bella thought of Dad, and how excited he must have been as a child, in a world where the only way to experience a movie was to buy a ticket and enter this dark chapel of storytelling.

Like Melanie, their mother had never understood. To Mom, a movie was a way to pass the time. A cure for boredom. They never understood how a great movie could touch the soul through its combined elements—the swell of violins, the lingering shot on a ghastly door-knocker.

For Bella, this movie was Christmas.

Their parents had loved one another, but she recalled how in retirement their father had spent so much time at the movies, at one point, Mom described “lady theater” as the other woman in their marriage. It had been a joke, and yet it hadn’t been. Was that how Melanie felt? Second in her sister’s eyes to a career, a passion?

She buried the thought and lost herself in the storytelling. As Scrooge explored his dark home by candlelight, and crossed the slatted shadows of his staircase, a loud thump and a terrible clatter sounded from behind. She whirled around in her seat expecting a late patron who perhaps had tripped and fallen. 

But all she saw was an empty theater, closed doors, and the projector’s gleaming eye. She allowed herself to sink back into Dickens’s tale. Jacob Marley moaned, “Scroo-OO-oooge…” over the slow scraping drag of chains. Scrooge’s bedroom door burst open with a howling wind, and Bella shuddered.

Bella reached for her hot buttered rum. Sipped.

It was ice cold.

But the movie had barely started. A chill hung in the air. Her breath puffed. Was the heat broken? Only moments ago, it had been pleasant. She pulled her coat around her.

Sourness burrowed in her stomach. The dread of the movie, the living shadows of Scrooge’s world were slipping through the aisles like rivers of ink.

The movie seemed to be on all sides. The dark no longer felt safe.

She steadied her breath. Closed her eyes. It’s my imagination. Just the movie getting under my skin.

Coarse, papery fingers slid over her hand and gripped hers.

Marley’s ghost shrieked like a banshee.

Bella jerked her hand away. Beside her sat a ghoulish man with unkempt hair, sallow cheeks, and milky eyes. His jaw hung slack, and his tongue wriggled like a pale worm.

She screamed and shielded her face.

The man gripped her wrist. Fingernails dug into her skin.0

Wind howled. Thunder clapped around her.

She wrested her arms away from her attacker.

The theater felt frozen as a tundra.

Snow blasted through Scrooge’s bedroom curtains. They whickered in arctic wind, and suddenly, they seemed one with the theater curtains, whipping and waving, reaching like unholy tendrils.

Scores of ghosts lamented in the streets of London and spilled out into the theater all around her. The movie was alive with dread, and the slack-jawed stranger pointed at her with a gaunt trembling finger, his eyes like the dying embers of Ebeneezer’s fireplace.

A horrible, icy presence squeezed her like a vice until she could no longer stand it. Her arms and legs took over. She ran, leaving her purse behind. Popcorn spilled as she stumbled away. She raced up the aisle in flickering gray light.

Bella burst into the lobby, and raced toward the concession stand on wobbly feet. She glanced behind her in terror. “Someone’s in there!” She showed the dark purple marks on her wrist. “He tried to grab me.”

Andy rounded the counter and rushed into the theater.

Nala held her hand. “Are you all right?”

“I think so, yes.” She gasped for breath. “Oh, that man snuck in and sat right next to me. I don’t think I’ve ever been more terrified.”

“What man?” She shook her head. “You’re the only one who bought a ticket. Nobody else even came through the door.”

“You’re certain? It was an older man.”

“There’re only four people in the building. Just us and…” She glanced toward the theater. Andy returned to the lobby, holding Bella’s purse. “I couldn’t find anyone.”

Nala whispered. “Check the projection booth.”

* * *

They found the projectionist Sam Sutton slumped beside his chair, with the end of the movie’s first reel flapping uselessly. He’d collapsed and died suddenly, knocking over film cannisters and equipment. Bella followed them up the stairs and only glimpsed Sam’s shocked face, gaping mouth, lifeless eyes, and waxy skin. But she recognized him as the man who had reached for her in the theater.

The two employees had been distraught, so Bella waited with them for paramedics to arrive. 

She held Andy’s hand as he told her how Sam had worked for the theater for decades. How he loved bringing movie magic to life. How he had no living relatives. How his favorite holiday movie had been White Christmas. And how lonely he had always seemed. 

After Sam’s body had been whisked away under a white sheet, the owner arrived and profusely apologized. He tried to refund her ticket and offered vouchers for future movies. Bella told them it wasn’t anyone’s fault, and that she would be all right.

But she wondered about that. Had this man only been in distress? Seeking comfort in fleeting final moments? Did he see a kindred soul in her?

Had he been trying to warn her of something, her own Jacob Marley?

When she arrived home, her apartment felt so empty. She called her sister and cried. She told her what happened, and her sister listened patiently, and without judgement. Then they spoke of their parents and their childhood Christmases. And Bella promised to join them all for New Year’s Eve.

Before they ended the call, Melanie said, “I can’t imagine how scared you must have been. But Bella, if it was a ghost, maybe he died somewhere he loved, doing something he loved. Maybe if you knew more about him, you’d have closure?”

Andy and Nala had only known Sam to be a lonely man. But maybe there was a way to know him. So after wishing her sister a merry Christmas, Bella made popcorn, dimmed the lights, and turned on White Christmas. She breathed, and exhaled, and let the music wash over her.

It was a lovely movie, for lovely souls. “I’m sorry you suffered, Sam,” she said. “But thank you for sharing this movie with me. I hope you’re not lonely anymore.”

Callous fingers gripped hers, and a chill voice rasped, “I’ll never be lonely again.”


Kevin M. Folliard

Kevin M. Folliard is a Chicagoland writer whose fiction has been collected by The Horror Tree, The Dread Machine, Demain Publishing, and more. His recent publications include his horror anthology The Misery King’s Country and his sci-fi dinosaur adventure series Tales from New Pangea from Dark Owl Publishing. Kevin currently resides in the western suburbs of Chicago, IL, where he enjoys his day job in academia and membership in the La Grange Writers Group.

Chupacabra Christmas

Wake up to sound of sleighbells. Santa Claus!

Climb out of bed and slip outside into the yard, white with fresh snow.

Spot a trail. Only… not hoofprints…

Look more like clawmarks…

Hear classic Christmas laughter.

Turn to see Santa and his sleigh. Strange creatures in harness; spiky, clawed and fanged, drool dripping.

Realise his coat isn’t dyed red, but stained with gore.

“My helpers need to feed,” Santa says, “and, mince pies just won’t do it… You’re on my naughty list, so…”

Too late! Seized and tossed into a feeding frenzy. Blood spurts and screams disturb the silent night.

DJ Tyrer

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, Occult Detective Magazine, parABnormal, Tales from the Magician’s Skull, and Weirdbook, and in addition, has a novella available in paperback and on the Kindle, The Yellow House (Dunhams Manor). You can follow their work on Facebook at DJ Tyrer Writer, on their blog or on the Atlantean Publishing website.

Jokul Frosti

As the son of the Nordic wind god Kari, Jokul Frosti had been tasked with the simple job of painting the frosty patterns on windows at night. For hundreds of years it brought the nymph-like creature pride in the accolades the humans lauded each morning at his intricate window designs.

But soon, television, video games, and social media distracted the people of the wonderment he created. Jokul knew to reclaim the attention he craved, he would have to make a shocking statement. 

As the sun rose on the world the next day frozen blood instead of frost painted the windows.


Don Money

Don Money writes stories across a variety of genres. He is a middle school literacy teacher. His short stories have been published in multiple anthologies including with Trembling With Fear, Shacklebound Books, Black Hare Press, and in Troopers, Martian, Stupefying Stories, and Stygian Lepus magazines. Don can be found on Twitter/X @donmoneywriting.

Pudding Surprise!

Traditional to hide a surprise in the Christmas pudding, a sixpence or perhaps a charm or token of some kind. Family always excited to see what it contains.

Only, this year, after years of being unappreciated, Grandma plants no fun gifts for guests.


Bite down, crack of something hard.

What’s this? Oh! A tooth!

Check… no, not their own…


In this piece, a bone…

Awful realisation as to why Grandpa isn’t there…

Or, rather, is… in form of tokens and the suet that made the pudding so rich. Reel with nausea as Grandma fetches her carving knife.



DJ Tyrer

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, Occult Detective Magazine, parABnormal, Tales from the Magician’s Skull, and Weirdbook, and in addition, has a novella available in paperback and on the Kindle, The Yellow House (Dunhams Manor). You can follow their work on Facebook at DJ Tyrer Writer, on their blog or on the Atlantean Publishing website.

Meeting The Parents

My parents being night owls, we celebrate Christmas after sunset. My boyfriend, Doug, insisted on meeting them. 

So I drove him to my parents’ house. When he saw my parents emerge from their coffins, his smile turned into a look of horror.

“Mom and Dad,” I said. “Meet my boyfriend, Doug.”

My parents approached Doug with hungry fangs ready to strike.

Doug turned, screaming as he started to run away. 

You can’t run away from a vampire, though. They are too fast. Doug learned this the hard way, as my parents caught him and sank their teeth into his neck.

Dawn Colclasure

Dawn Colclasure is a writer in Oregon. She is the author of several books. Her work has appeared in magazines, websites, newspapers and anthologies. She is a freelance writer, book reviewer, newsletter publisher and a columnist for First Chapter Plus Magazine. Her websites are and She’s on Instagram @Dawn10325 and Twitter/X @DawnColclasure

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