I know everyone who entered just wants to see the results, so let’s jump right to it:
1st prize: “He is Coming to Town” by Douglas Jensen
2nd prize: “The Loss Not Found” by Sherry Morris
Honorable Mentions (in no particular order):
- “Holly Jolly Christmas” by Barbara Tarkowksa
- “Relief Santa” by Nycki Blatchley
- “Christmas Wishes” by Angelle McDougall
- “The Pooped Elf” by Benito Cereno
- “Aglow” by September Herrin
- “Oh Holey Night” by Kelsey Hontz
- “The Stars Over Casper, Texas” by S.E. Casey
- “Waiting for Santa” by Linda Raedisch
- “Christmas Fair” by Michelle Christophorou
- “The Hamrammr” by Jan Kaneen
You can read the stories below or, even better, hear them on the podcast:
Thanks to Old Man Freakboy (@OldManFreakboy) from “Hey You Kids Get Off My Lawn!” Please please please go listen to this year’s (2018) holiday special show here. It’s listening greatness.
Thanks as well to Brian Earl (@XmasPastPodcast) from Christmas Past for helping out last minute to narrate a story for me. Like I said, I owe you a favor. And everyone else owes themselves a favor by listening to this year’s episodes.
Intro music: “Santa Claus is a Monster” by Jeff Hershey and the Heartbeats.
And if you enjoy my site, consider buying me a coffee. It helps support the contest, podcast, and to get all the cards ultimately uploaded and searchable.
To the stories!
He is Coming to Town
by Douglas Jensen
Our first Santa was everything we could have hoped for: round, jolly and he smelled of caramelised sugar. When we found him curled up in front of the fireplace there was still a little soot in his beard, but once we got him cleaned up and installed in the guest bedroom, we could hear him chuckling all night long.
To be honest, we weren’t expecting the second one. He was a little thin, and when he smiled you could see his teeth were rotten. Still, he brought a sack full of spinning tops and knock off cigarettes, so we had the maid put him in the airing cupboard as a spare.
The third was frankly unwelcome. We found him wandering the halls in the early hours, and he seemed to speak only Dutch. He doffed his cap on spotting us and we saw two polished horns peeking out of his silvery curls.
Number four was a grand old patriarch but we were ready for him. When he came crashing down the chimney, sermon in mid flow, he landed right in the net we had tied to the mantlepiece. It took most of a bottle of cherry brandy to subdue him.
After that, they kept on coming, hour after hour. One came out naked, pink and glistening like a blancmange. The next was covered in downy feathers. Few of them could speak and the gifts they carried were increasingly unpleasant.
Soon the house was full of guttural laughter, like a colony of sea-lions. The drains were clogged with white hair and every room was thick with chilblained flesh.
In the end we did what anyone would have done. We had the household working shifts, wheeling them out into the garden where the bonfire blazed. We managed to salvage a little bit of festive spirit; even the children were toasting marshmallows on the flames.
Still, we all jumped a little when that last one popped.
Douglas Jensen is a poet and short story writer, originally from Fife in Scotland. He now lives and works in Sheffield. His story ‘When Last We Spoke’ was highly commended in the TSS Flash 400 Autumn competition and he has also written and drawn a number of self-published comics and zines. He can be found on twitter @thatdougjensen.
The Loss Not Found
by Sherry Morris
The pastor and his wife dropped in today, looking for Leonie. We’re concerned they said. She’s resting I said. Prayed it’d stay quiet in the basement. Almost laughed, but knew they wouldn’t find that funny.
They said there was CCTV footage. Of a woman who looked like Leonie, with a dog that looked like Buster. People don’t like the Baby Jesus to go missing from their nativity scene they said.
I shrugged. People were petty.
I let them yammer on about finding support, how they understood this couldn’t be an easy time. When I heard movement downstairs, I shooed them out.
I made myself a large whisky. No ice. No water. Of course it wasn’t an easy time. Such a stupid thing to say. Is there ever an ‘easy time’ to lose a child?
Coping mechanisms. That’s what the counselor said. She probably said more, but I stopped going. Wasn’t productive. I’d get home and smash something. We’re out of mugs and photo frames. Spared the tumblers though – they’re useful.
Leonie’s approach is to take walks with our dachshund Buster. She’s taught him a game – to retrieve what we’ve lost she says. That’s another stupid phrase. It’s not like we misplaced our son. We put him in his crib, on his back, like we were shown, and kissed him goodnight. But we lost him, nevertheless, six months ago. For us, time hasn’t moved one millisecond. Our loss is fresh, raw, irretrievable.
Leonie keeps her collection in cribs she assembles in the basement. We don’t talk about how she wraps them, rocks them, practices placing them on their backs. It’s comforting to hear lullabies again.
But it’s a phase. She’ll move on after Christmas.
Out the window, something white catches my eye gliding through the dark. A dachshund passes under a streetlight, carrying something in its mouth. I note a soiled, chewed, plastic face. Then back into darkness. Buster’s out on his own now I muse. When Leonie asked if he could manoeuvre through cat flaps, I’d been non-committal. I reckon he could.
She’ll just need to work on his technique.
Sherry Morris lives in the Scottish Highlands where she pets cows, watches clouds and scribbles stories. Read her work at www.uksherka.com or follow her @Uksherka. Originally from Missouri, Sherry writes monologues, short stories and flash fiction which have won prizes, placed on shortlists and been performed in London and Scotland. Her first published story about her Peace Corps experience in Ukraine appears in ‘A Small Key Opens Big Doors’.
Holly Jolly Christmas
by Barbara Tarkowska
We were all running around the house pulling out drawers and cabinets rummaging through every one of them looking for something less worthless than all of our other stuff. Dad was quiet. He seemed nervous. Mom tried helping us at the same time as she was cooking Christmas dinner.
The house was full of warm steam and smells flowing out of the kitchen.
“Yes!” shouted my younger brother in excitement while he lifted a necklace up in the air in his tiny pale hand. He ran to the living room and placed the ring inside a cardboard box in the middle of the room. Dad looked at him but drew the glance away quickly.
“Good job bud,” he said, but no excitement was heard in his voice. Sam smiled in a response and went back to looking for something to place in the box. Dad leaned at the dresser and hid his face in his hand, drying the sweat off his forehead. The clock was ticking. The atmosphere was tensing up. I thought about my little brother’s first birthday soon to come to distract myself. He was excited about it and so was I.
A thud was heard above our heads. Dad lifted his head. Everyone froze. A second later mom rushed to the cardboard box, closed it and tied a ribbon around it. The thuds continued. A cloud of ash flew out from the chimney. When the cloud disappeared, a fat man in a red coat stood tall where the cloud once was. He walked up to my mom and snatched the box out of her hands. She gasped and stepped back. He tore open the box and frowned when he looked down in it.
“This is not enough,” he said in a deep calm voice. A tear rolled down my mother cheek as the man grabbed my screaming brother and chucked him in the sack on his back. He returned to the chimney and just as fast as he came, he was gone. A thud was heard on the roof.
The Christmas tree lit up the room beautifully.
by Nyki Blatchley
Santa C426# put his foot down hard on the reindeer-encourager as his sleigh swooped towards the next chimney. He was way behind schedule, though that wasn’t his fault — the route was unfamiliar.
Why had Control waited till Christmas Eve to replace F823/* after he’d gone missing last year?
The sleigh landed on the roof, and C426# grabbed the sack and dived. Landing in the empty grate, he normalised his size and checked his tablet. Lucy, age five. Surprisingly little information about why she was on the Nice List, but that wasn’t his responsibility.
He was just approaching the big stocking hanging at the end of the bed when the indistinct shape under the covers sat up. C426# froze, but a small child’s voice asked, “Are you Santa?”
“Er… yes.” There didn’t seem any point in trying to deny it. “You should be asleep.”
Next moment, the bedside light came on, showing him a mass of golden curls, huge blue eyes and a red, rosebud mouth.
With no other options, C426# fell back on the script. “Ho, ho, ho, Lucy. Have you been a good girl?”
Lucy tilted her head to one side and bit her lip. “Not really, Santa.”
That was unexpected. “But… but you’re on the list,” was all he could think to say.
She giggled, showing deep dimples. “Course I am, silly. I magicked myself on it, like mummy showed me.”
C426# wasn’t sure whether he was more shocked that the list had been violated or that this cute little girl was talking so casually about having done it. “But…” he tried.
Lucy giggled again. “You’re funny. You’re nicer than the last one. I’m gonna like having you here.”
Before he could fathom what she meant, she made a complex gesture, leaving him immobile. He felt himself shrinking, till he couldn’t have been more than a couple of inches high. A huge hand picked him up and placed him on the mantlepiece beside another motionless Santa.
Lucy surveyed them. “I’m gonna have a big collection by the time I’m growed up,” she said.
by Angelle McDougall
For the last three years Mike and Cindy have received a special gift from a mysterious source. The first year it happened they had decorated their tree just like always. Upon closing the box of ornaments, they noticed a small item inside.
“It’s just like the watering can we have outside.” Cindy showed it to Mike.
They were delighted with how sweet it looked dangling from the tree. In the Spring they realized the real watering can was missing, but figured it was somewhere in the barn.
The following Christmas, the box held an exact miniature of the scarecrow in their corn field.
“Look, his tie is exactly like Mr. Bojangles’s,” said Mike. “I wonder who’s leaving these for us?”
Cindy shrugged. “I dunno, maybe your brother? It sounds like something he’d do.” Mike agreed, and they spent the rest of the evening on the sofa snuggling and dreaming about Christmas. When the scarecrow couldn’t be found the following summer, they assumed the wind took it.
Last year, they could hardly wait to see what their secret Santa had left them.
“Omigosh, it’s the outhouse,” Cindy squealed. Laughing, Mike took the ornament and put it on the tree with the other two. It took two days for them to realize the real outhouse was no longer standing. They couldn’t explain where it went, but it was old and rickety and needed to be taken down anyway.
This year Mike and Cindy could barely contain their excitement. Standing next to the bare tree, their eyes sparkling and with huge grins, they opened the box of ornaments.
“I can’t wait to see what we got this year,” said Cindy as they dug through the decorations.
“I’ve got it.” Mike held the item up to show Cindy. As their eyes focussed on the ornament, their smiles faded. Cindy’s mouth fell open. Just then little Emma’s voice came over the baby monitor. Mike dropped the replica and rushed up the stairs to the baby’s room. Cindy picked up the perfectly crafted tiny wooden crib and clutched it to her breast.
The Pooped Elf
by Benito Cereno
inspired by a German folktale
The elf set down his hammer and stretched his back. He loved his work–it’s what he was born to do–but sometimes his hands cramped and the heat of the workshop’s forges got to him. It had been a long day of carving Hatchimals, so he headed upstairs for a break. Maybe some cocoa or a candy cane.
The kitchen was not empty; it never was. Now he encountered one of the Pieten, who were always scrambling around doing one festive thing or another. This one was pulling cookies out of the oven. Must be the chef one. Chefpiet? Why couldn’t they have normal names, like–
“Guðmundur! How are you?” asked Chefpiet as he laid before the elf a plate of fresh, spicy-smelling little round cookies with white icing. “Have a pfeffernuss.”
“Thanks, Piet,” Guðmundur replied. “It’s just been a long day at the workbench. Sometimes I envy that little log out in Spain who makes presents just by pushing them out his rear. Sure, the children hit him with sticks to knock ‘em loose, but I’d take a few minutes of flogging over a year of carving sometimes.”
“Funny you should mention that,” the boyish chef said. “I was just thinking of a story from the old days of the saint. Once he traveled by a chapel and felt the sudden urge to pray, so he left his donkey outside to graze.
“But the young animal got impatient and, forgetting to wait for his master, wandered off. When Saint Nicholas emerged from the church, he searched all over, calling out for the donkey, who by now was really lost. Long story short, when the saint finally found him, the donkey was so excited, he pooped everywhere.”
Guðmundur froze mid-chew, crumbs pouring out of his slacked jaw. “Great story while I have a mouthful of cookies.”
“Yeah, well,” Piet countered, “that’s why I told you. When the donkey’s droppings hit the snow, they were turned instantly into round little spice cookies. A cookie miracle. Anyway, that’s where pfeffernüsse come from.”
The elf had never been happier to get back to work.
Benito Cereno writes comics, fiction, and all things Christmas. If you missed it when I spoke with him on the podcast earlier this season, check him out here. Follow him on Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram.
by September Herrin
The Thompson family took to the mountains for the holidays to escape their small town’s annual Christmas embarrassments: the tree lighting ceremony, caroling, photos with Santa in the town square.
It was a three-hour drive to the cabin and the family passed the time by mocking tacky motifs of lighted homes along the way.
When the family arrived at their destination the cabin windows were aglow.
“Who’s here?” Son asked.
Mother looked to Father, a fear of the unknown reflected in her eyes.
“No one,” said Father.
Father told his family to sit tight and stepped out of the car. Fresh snow covered the cabin roof and a small path had been shoveled leading toward the steps. Strings of flickering bulbs twisted along the porch railing.
Father turned the doorknob and stepped inside.
A man stood in the glow of multi-colored lights that were strung along the window frames and mantelpiece. He was the spitting image of Father.
“You’ve got air in your lungs, but you refuse to sing!” said Father’s doppelganger.
Father’s chest tightened.
“What I mean is,” Other-Father leaned in closer. “Why are you here if not to celebrate?”
Father’s last breath smelled of peppermint. A fire crackled in the hearth as Other-Father dragged the body into a closet and washed his hands in the bathroom pedestal sink.
Mother and Son’s voices grew louder as they approached the front door.
“Merry Christmas!” said Other-Father, his arms open wide to greet his new family.
Twinkling lights spiraled up a noble fir in the center of the room. The tree sagged with shimmering tinsel that Father would’ve likened to the vomit of a deranged Christmas monster trapped in its branches.
Son’s smile beamed as he beheld the sight of the tree, the star on top reflected in his eyes.
September Herrin can be found on Twitter at @seppiherrin. You can find her story “The Margaritas at Harvest Harbor are Always Free” in the literary horror journal HelloHorror.
Oh Holey Night
by Kelsey Hontz
Once Uncle Harold stuck the candy cane up his ass, the holiday was over.
Grandma froze with the turkey halfway out of the oven, giblets spilling all over the place. My brother leapt to cover the cousins’ impressionable eyes, to distract them with the promise of shiny new Hot Wheel tracks in the playroom far, far away. The babies in their bassinettes and Santa socks shrieked, as if they knew what had happened, the peppermint atrocity. Aunt Kathy fainted and knocked her head against the ornament collection, rising to find a miniature Rudolph stuck inside her ear, beaming his red light out through the cilia.
Everything was utter chaos. Presents flew. Mashed potatoes boiled over. Eggnog splattered. We didn’t even get a chance to enjoy our annual tradition of squinching our legs together uncomfortably, waiting for the wine-drunk relatives to ask if we’d been going to church. It was going to be especially uncomfortable this year, too, now that my sister-in-law decided she was an atheist. Oh, how the Grigio mouths would purse in disapproval! Instead we all went home early, scarred and scared.
The moral of the story is this: no matter how much you might enjoy a striped holiday treat in your rectum, yule regret it.
Kelsey Hontz blogs at littlebitofalotofthings.wordpress.com.
The Stars Over Casper, Texas
by S.E. Casey
Calvin read the name on the man’s work shirt.
How ironic this being Christmas Eve. Still, he kept the shotgun leveled. This Jesús was no babe, but a wild-haired man carrying an empty sack who tried to break into his barn.
Such was life in a border town. Usually, trespassers would flee at the sight of a gun.
However, the man stood his ground seemingly nonplussed.
Christmas. Jesús. A barn. Was it all a sign?
Calvin unlocked the barn door and waved the man inside.
It was mostly empty. Calvin nodded to the working sink. He would allow the trespasser to spend the night.
The man reached into his sack. Calvin readied his shotgun, finger on the trigger.
Oblivious to the threat, the man withdrew a shining bauble. He rested it atop a hay bale and ambled to the sink.
Calvin sidled over to the curio, a splinter of white light encased in glass. He found it so beautiful that he didn’t hesitate taking it.
Retreating to the house, Calvin locked his doors and retired to the bedroom. He placed the twinkling prize atop the bible on his nightstand.
He couldn’t sleep recounting the many mistakes he made in life, the ones that caused him to spend yet another Christmas alone. Despite the night’s good deed, he was especially troubled.
His act of generosity should have meant something. He looked to the shard of light, but it didn’t answer.
He gave up on sleep before dawn. Grabbing his shotgun, he walked back to the barn.
He found the man nestled between two hay bales. Calvin pushed the shotgun barrel into his forehead. Opening his eyes, the man allowed Calvin to take his sack.
Plunging a hand inside, Calvin greedily rooted around for its secrets. His arm numbed as if detached from his body. It was euphoric. He pushed further, ducking his head inside.
All resentments and guilt dissolved.
He stepped fully through.
Adrift in a sea of starry emptiness, darkness enveloped him. The void folded into itself and he fell, screaming until he was a tiny point of light.
S.E. Casey (@thesecasey) grew up near a lighthouse. He always dreamed of smashing the lighthouse and building something truly grotesque with the rubble. This is the writing method for his broken down and rebuilt stories published in many horror magazines and anthologies that can be found at secaseyauthor.wordpress.com. He has another weird Christmas story on his site called “Toy Gun Factory.”
Waiting for Santa
by Linda Raedisch
You may have been told that the Light Elves are beautiful and good while the Dark Elves, or goblins, are ugly and evil. Once upon a time, this might have been true, but the Light Elves have grown greedy and fat. They dress all in ruddy furs, helping themselves to whatever they want, driving the goblins deeper into the darkness.
The goblins hide among the flues, rarely if ever showing their faces. You can be sure there is at least one goblin living in your chimney even if your chimney is nothing but a stovepipe. He is grateful for the shelter you have given him. He is entirely at your service.
Have you ever woken on Christmas morning to find your stocking emptied of everything except a hardened lump of soot? That lump represents the mortal remains of the tiny goblin who died trying to preserve the gifts inside that stocking. His life was freely given, for most goblins will choose death over capture and enslavement to the Light Elves’ king.
Still, the goblins look forward to Christmas Eve when they present their gifts to the children of the house and receive offerings in return. When all is quiet, they tumble down into the fireplace, bouncing on the soft bed of ashes. They creep around the house, looking in on the sleeping children and touching their fingertips to the decorations, though they must shield their eyes from the brightness of the lights.
They nibble the cookies and sip at the milk.
Then they fill the stockings with all the things they imagine human children will love: stiff-bristled brushes, oddly shaped stones, balls made out of hedgehog skins and knobby dolls they have whittled with their own soot-blackened hands. Do they know about the Christmas magic that transforms their good intentions into gaily wrapped toys at the stroke of midnight?
Probably not, for by then they have scuttled back up the chimney where they wait, sharpened sticks at the ready, and listen for the clatter of hooves.
Linda Raedisch is the author of Night of the Witches: Folklore, Traditions and Recipes for Celebrating Walpurgis Night (Llewellyn 2011), The Old Magic of Christmas: Yuletide Traditions for the Darkest Days of the Year (Llewellyn 2013) and, most recently, the fantasy novella, The Princess in the Mound: A Visitor’s Guide to Alvenholm Castle. She is a frequent guest on the paranormal talk radio circuit. You can also read her work in Llewellyn’s Sabbats Almanac, Witches’ Companion and Herbal Almanac. Linda welcomes readers to contact her through her Facebook page. She was also my guest on the last podcast.
Christmas Fair: An Apology
by Michelle Christophorou
I know when I said I’d organize the Christmas Fair you had a reasonable expectation of competence. But I took it on because no other parent would. I didn’t know then what a challenge it would be. Or that all the meetings would be in the pub (you know what I’m like where alcohol’s concerned).
I’m sorry there was no Santa, or lights for the grotto. But I did provide an elf. I’m sorry that half the kids recognized straightaway that the elf was Miss Spencer. Though I’m sure it would have been all of them if we’d planned ahead for lights.
I’m sorry we made £-2.20 when they took £3,500 last year. I want to say I’ll organize a fun run to compensate. But I’m so fucking tired.
I’m sorry for swearing.
I’m sorry we left the bottle tombola unattended so that two Year Sixes had their stomachs pumped. Though I’m glad I raised mine properly, and it wasn’t one of them.
I apologise for the mix up on the beauty stall. Though I do question why children as young as seven should have one. I’m pleased to confirm the school has relaxed its Appearance Policy for the time it takes the colour to grow out, or the spray paint to fade, whichever happens first.
I also apologise for the quality of the raffle prizes. I do accept that a pot of jam, a carrot and a Pot Noodle do not a hamper make, which is why I relabeled it ‘food bundle’. The final prizes were listed in the programme, although I appreciate that, inexplicably, page two of some copies was replaced with a cartoon from the Viz Annual 1996.
I do sympathise with complaints about one of the outside vendor’s stalls, but I genuinely believed it sold literature and fantasy figures. I’m sorry for the misunderstanding. Safe to say that Puff The Magic Dragon Limited will not be welcome next year.
All that remains now is to elect a volunteer to run the Summer Fair. Any takers? No?
None at all?
Michelle is fairly new to creative writing but has had a number of stories published and was recently Highly Commended in the Biffy Microfiction Competition. Below are some links to her works: “Swallows” in 1O1 Words, “Don’t Say Anything” on Reedsy’s Medium Blog, and “Kipris” in CaféLit.
by Jan Kaneen
Swirling snow stings my face as I stagger through the midnight blizzard. I’m half mad with cold and hunger when I see an impossible red light up ahead in the distance. It looks like hope glowing there in the arctic wilderness. I stumble toward it without fear. I’m already half dead with nothing to lose.
I feel my way, blind to everything but the shining scarlet, stumbling forward into – a fence? A pen? Clambering over, I keep my eyes fixed on the glow that seems to bleed into the teeming night. The pulse of ten hearts pound in the blackness as whatever creatures they beat inside, snort and stamp, but the soft sweet smell of their ungulate terror tells me they will offer little resistance.
I lunge forward tooth and claw, ripping and tearing through bone and sinew, feeding fleet and furious, desperate to eat my fill before the heart beats its last.
As the lifeforce fades, the light goes out. The first pang of transformation comes swift and cruel – no chance to make my escape. I scream and clench as the wind howls a hole in the clouds, and beneath a pale sliver of moon, my bones break and tendons snap, fusing into hoof and antler. Fur stabs through my every pore like a million needles.
When it’s over, I stand transformed, a predator no more, for such is the fate of Hamrammr-kind, weir-folk all, who must take the shape of our devoured prey for the turn of one full day.
I stand confined as the herd stamps its panic, watching the snow fall thick and fast until the gore is covered in an ermine shroud.
He comes at first light through frozen fog, bearing buckets of filthy lichen to feed the others who huddle together in doe-eyed panic.
‘Eat your fill,’ he ho-ho-ho’s. ‘We have a busy night ahead.’
He pats my chestnut neck with plump fingers that smell ripe for the tearing, singing as he does, ‘Rudolph with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?’
I salivate, wishing the day away.
Jan Kaneen is a self-identifying weirdo from Cambridgeshire in the UK. She’s (after two long years of slog) just been awarded a distinction in an MA in Creative Writing at the Open University. She’s won weird flash comps in places like @MolotovLitZine, @zer0flashfict, and @horror_scribes. You can find her at https://jankaneen.com/ and on Twitter at @jankaneen1.
NOW….you can bet I’m doing this again next year. If you have an idea, start working on it! But, seriously, don’t send it to me now…I promise to lose it.