The full text of each story is below the embedded audio player. You can also listen at the Podbean site or your favorite podcast app.
2020 Weird Christmas Flash Fiction Winners:
1st place: “Ice” by Lotte van der Krol
2nd place: “Deadbeat” by Mio Tocayotl
Honorable Mention (in no particular order):
- “One of Santa’s Elves Tells What Happened During a Sleigh Ride Over Tunguska, Russia on June 30th, 1908” — Roy Peak
- “O Tannenbaum” — Anika Carpenter
- “Badvent” — Nerys Hucker
- “All is Bright” — Dan Fields
- “Holiday Transformations” — Devon Ellington
- “Memo From the Jolly Overlords” — R.J.K. Lee
- “Dancer, After Life” — Bailey Bridgewater
- “Christmas Carol” — Sean Heffron
- “War on Christmas” — Cheryl Zaidan
- “Burn the Trees” — Philip Webb Gregg
- “Granny Flatwood” — John Meszaros
- “Winter Solstice” — Sarah Hodge-Wetherbe
- “A Slight Christmas Disagreement” — Tricia Saiki
- “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” — Mileva Anastasiadou
- “The Santa Combine” — Linda McMullen
- “Christmas Bones” — Donna L. Greenwood
- “How Lively are Your Branches” — Cara Polsley
Please help support the contest, the podcast, and Weird Christmas website by buying a “coffee” (a gift in increments of $3) at Ko-Fi.com (click here). For even more support, please consider joining my Patreon page (click here) where for $2 or $5/month, you’ll have access to extra content and bonuses like physical postcards mailed throughout the year. With more support, I can offer more and bigger prizes for the contest next year.
A big thank you to all my volunteer readers this season: Mrs. Kringle (YAY!), my work buddies Lisa, Amy, and Scott, Dustin Pari (@dustinpari), Sherry Morris (@Uksherka), LW Salinas (@sithwitch), James Wynn (who cohosts The ReReading Wolfe Podcast with me) and Old Man Freak Boy (@OldManFreakBoy).
2020 Weird Christmas Flash Fiction
All stories copyright © 2020 by the authors indicated. [Still proofreading a bit, so be kind. Just trying to get this out there before Christmas. 🙂 ]
by Lotte van der Krol
There’s another one.
A shadow under the ice, climbing, crawling. I grip my spear, ready to attack once it reaches the surface, but then I realize what it is. I lower my weapon and watch another Santa Claus steadily claw his way up through the endless layers of clear Arctic ice.
I remember my own birth. Blinking my eyes against the falling snow, the previous Santa Claus smiling down at me, helping me up before crawling into the ice himself, down into the frozen womb I had just left. Then stumbling through an arctic wasteland towards a house I somehow knew was there.
The new one climbs so, so slowly up towards the surface. He’s already struggling.
It’s just too soon.
I was supposed to serve for many decades more before a new Santa Claus would surface. But then the ice started to melt and the Santas began to come out too early. The first ones I could help. They only missed limbs or eyes, things a person can live without, things that can be replaced with prosthetics. But lately, as the ice melts faster and faster, the new ones are just too weak, without lungs or brains, dying the moment they reach the surface, or not coming out at all.
The new Santa’s barely moving now, barely able to raise an arm to pull himself up. It hurts to watch, but it’s the least of my worries.
There are darker things in the melting ice.
Dangerous creatures, sharp teethed shadows, ancient and hungry. And worse ones still deeper down, still dreaming of warmer times.
These days the other Santas that survived and I spend the time we’re not making lists and wrapping gifts out here on the ice. Hunting the creatures that manage to crawl out, killing them before they can get south. But there’s only so much we can do.
The unborn Santa has stopped moving entirely, stuck several feet down.
If this continues, there won’t be a Santa Claus at all at some point. But the world can survive without Christmas.
If it survives at all.
Lotte van der Krol writes short stories and flash fiction in a variety of genres from the comfort of her home in The Netherlands. Her short fiction has appeared in Popshot Quarterly and The Cabinet of Heed. You can also find a lot more weird Christmas (and non-Christmas) stories on her blog lottevanderkrol.wordpress.com. She’s also way too much on twitter (@lottevdkrol).
by Mio Tocayotl
When I was five years old, my mother caught me effortlessly slipping my Rubenesque figure through our flagstone chimney and made me promise I wouldn’t do it again. Ever the petulant child, I screamed, begged, and ho ho ho’d until she felt forced to weld the entire structure shut. Even then, I occasionally found myself waking up in the absolute darkness of its flue.
How I continually managed to escape that murky coffin remains a mystery even to me.
As I grew older, I found out that a bit of chimney sweeping somnambulism was the least of my worries. My hair turned white, reindeer would seek me out even in July, and bags I walked near would fill up with either roasted chestnuts or coal. Eventually, my mother gave in and told me her greatest shame: I was the son of Saint Nicholas of Myra.
At first, this revelation meant nothing to me; my mother had done an incredible job of shielding me from all things Christmas after all. But on the 25th of December that year, I made plans to intercept my old man as he went about his usual routine. I managed to catch him off-guard, and yet despite my best efforts, he managed to dive through our living room window, leaving only a trail of peppermint-scented corn syrup on our lawn.
It was after this encounter that we received a letter from his estate stating why, legally, he was not required to pay child support. At least he didn’t press charges, I suppose.
We never stopped receiving presents, though, mostly because Mrs. Claus was the kind of dedicated entrepreneur who wouldn’t let something as petty as adultery ruin her racket. Their delivery, however, now required us to remain ten feet away from the big man at all times. Heckling him from the kitchen became something my mother and I looked forward to every year.
Now every Christmas, I look for the meanest and drunkest of my father’s imposters so I can pick a fight with him and ho ho ho my way through the pain.
Mio Tocayotl is a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area. This is the first of his published works, but he hopes to share many more with you soon. This is currently the only place to find him on the internet and he’s glad you made your way to him.
One of Santa’s Elves Tells What Happened During a Sleigh Ride Over Tunguska, Russia on June 30th, 1908
by Roy Peak
“You want details, gimme a damn cigarette.”
“We can’t smoke here!”
“Whatever, gimmee! So we’re testing the new sleigh—”
“Yeah, flies itself. You know how hard it is to find flying reindeers? Uses human technology and elf magic. Gotta light? Anyway, we’re over Siberia, doing a test run, when Round Boy—”
“He let’s you call him that?”
“Not to his face. Pay attention. So Big Beardo decides to max the throttle and all the warning lights go off, sirens blaring, smoke and glitter pouring from the sleigh like—”
“Yeah. Elf magic, remember? Glitter, snowlight, faerydust—that kinda crap. This flying sleigh was a prototype: human tech with elven magic. We’re breaking every law of nature here. Who knows what madness was ensuing while Father Fatmas gets a hankering to play speed junkie, and puts us both in danger. You think I wanna be responsible for the death of a much-loved cultural icon, no matter what a pain in my ass he is? Hell no! I knew we only had a few seconds to abandon sleigh, I hit the eject button and luckily the chutes worked just fine—remind me to thank Chumley in Safety—the two of us floating down while the sleigh headed towards the horizon. I screamed at His Royal Roundness to turn around but it was too late. There was a flash of light and the loudest noise I’ve ever heard. Our chutes were knocked around like piñatas. The heat was incredible, my backside felt like I was falling ass-first into a furnace. I thought the chutes would fry but thank Chumley they held. Once we stopped bouncing I got a good look at the damage. Trees flattened for miles, a huge dust cloud forming in the air, my ears ringing in my skull.”
“That sounds horrible!”
“That’s not the worst part.”
“What could be worse than that?”
“The worst part was once we landed, I got a good look at his face. His beard completely burned off, nothing left but singed stubble. Even his eyebrows were toast—literally!”
“Oh no! Santa without his beard?”
“Krispy Kringle, indeed.”
Roy Peak is a bass player and writer currently living in Jacksonville, Florida. He’s played in more bands than he can remember for much longer than he CAN remember. He writes entertainment reviews for the sites Sacred Chickens and The Rocking Magpie. He has released three albums of original alt-americana music, available at Bandcamp, Apple Music, Amazon, and more. His music has been described as “Dark acoustic songs about love, death, and birds.” Visit roypeak.com for more info. He recently had his story “Animal Tales of the Zombie Apocalypse” published online.
by Anika Carpenter
The kid worked hard to persuade her Dad that I was the perfect tree. He didn’t care for the way I reached my ‘scraggy’ top branch towards the sky. Hands on hips he complained, ‘Abby, that tree’s an idiot, a show-off, it thinks it’s gonna draw fancy pictures in the clouds.’
Immediately after it happed, Abby was all apologies. Her Dad pretended like it was an accident. Any father would. ‘I could have moved my finger quicker’, he groaned ‘you knew where to land the axe’. With the hand that wasn’t a sticky red mess, he filled his coat pocket with snow and gestured for his ‘precious girl’ to pack what had once jabbed, and shushed in there with it. They left the way they’d come, him hurrying, her crying and waving to me. I could still hear Abby’s protests when the pair were out of sight, ‘I don’t want to leave him, Daddy. Another family will come. He’ll be part of someone else’s Christmas. I’ll never see him again!’— such a sweet girl.
The berry-bright blood left a handy trail for Abby’s mother to follow. She was as deft with an axe as her daughter. Good with knots too, lashing me to the roof of the car like a festive figurehead. Not as cautions though, didn’t think to hide the secateurs from her brandy-fuelled, nine-fingered husband. As she slept and dreamt of freckled skin and mistletoe, he snipped the tips off of each of my branches and tossed them on the hungry log fire. My tenderest parts hissed, transformed into angry sparks.
Overnight, as the fire settled, soft pink buds appeared where sap should have. Soft and warm as bunnies noses. By Christmas Eve they were slender fingers wagging along to Deck the Halls, beckoning for more baubles, more stars, robins, angels. Abby passed the decorations to her Dad who hung them carefully, cautious not to knock any needles from the green shoot that’d grown through his bandages, almost strong enough now for him to use the carving knife.
Anika Carpenter lives and writes in Brighton, UK. Her work has been shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award and the Bridport Flash Fiction Prize and has appeared in Ellipsis Zine, The Molotov Cocktail, and Reflex Fiction. She’s the proud owner of one seasonal Victorian greetings card that features a bowl of yonic yuletide roses. She tweets as @stillsquirrel. You can read more of her stories, and view here artworks, here https://www.anikacarpenter.com/
by Nerys Hucker
As the clock chimed twelve on the first night of Advent, she was visited by The Ghost of Christmas Past.
It looked remarkably like her.
The spirit spent the night showing her all the ways in which Christmases of her past had gone wrong, and how it had all been Her Fault: every disappointing gift given, every family argument and conflict, every overcooked turkey.
That was bad enough. But then, for each night until Christmas, she was tormented by a different ghost.
Some were traditional types of ghoul, like the frail old lady who scratched ceaselessly at her windows, begging to be let in – that was the Ghost of Forgotten Relatives.
Others were surprisingly modern: the Ghost of Christmas Spending haunted her mobile phone, which buzzed and binged with every transaction so that she spent the night helplessly watching her funds count down into the red.
Some were unsettlingly weird, such as the Ghost of Christmas Feasting – a bloated, belching mummy wrapped completely in bacon – who took a bicycle pump to her belly. The Ghost of the Overexcited Child rubbed catalogue pages into her face, shrieking “I want! I want!” until by dawn it became so frenzied it burst into a million messy pieces.
A lightless void surrounded her one night, into which she screamed for help without response – that was the Ghost of Where Are The Things I’ve Ordered? Worst of all was a quiet little spirit who merely stared quizzically at her: the Ghost of You Know You’ve Forgotten Something…But What?
And so she arrived at Christmas Day – exhausted, frazzled, completely spent. And yet the day itself was a success: every gift appreciated, everyone in good humour, and no one noticed the overcooked turkey. All was calm, all was bright.
That night, she was visited by one more spirit: the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
It looked remarkably like her.
And she realised.
And she said to the Spirit. “Yes I know, but I won’t do this to myself again next year.”
And the ghost nodded. But it knew she would.
Nerys Hucker is a sober and solemn patent attorney, but strange things break out from time to time. If you know of a cure for this, please let her know on Twitter: NerysX
All is Bright
by Dan Fields
The glow from the open church doors lit the way for the procession of red-cheeked families, crunching over snow toward the ancient grove of towering fir trees. Children hopped and capered with pent-up excitement. Quiet adults herded them along with tolerant smiles. It was a night for joy.
Peter hadn’t been allowed at last year’s adoration, and being made to wait inside after services, even with cocoa and ginger snaps, was for babies. He’d begged to help the family decorate their tree this year.
Busy deacons fastened the harnesses on those family members chosen for the annual adornment. Uncle Andrew murmured jubilant prayers as Mama, Papa, Peter and Grandma grasped the pulley ropes and hauled him high overhead to hang on his appointed bough. They’d barely finished when the pastor laid a hand on Mama’s shoulder.
Papa, Peter and Grandma gasped in wonder at the surprise. Mama had been chosen for a star. With glad hearts they raised her past Uncle Andrew and the others to the tree’s apex, where she spread her limbs in glorious emulation of Bethlehem’s heavenly light.
As the congregation raised their voices in song, the cloudy night sky parted, revealing the radiant moon and constellations. Their descending light suffused the humble ornaments, each offered with reverence in the spirit of giving.
Mama glowed brightest, even among the dozen souls consecrated for the treetops. Her heat-softened flesh completed its transfiguration to a perfect model of celestial brilliance. Uncle Andrew’s halo encircled only his head, like the flame of a candle. Even so, in the moment before it dissipated fully into formless illumination, his face displayed an attitude of blessed ecstasy.
When the final carol ended, old and young alike turned eager eyes on the gifts miraculously piled beneath each tree. The pastor paused before the benediction, letting each family reflect in silent gratitude on the season’s blessings before they chose one of the quivering, gaily wrapped parcels to open.
Peter tugged Papa’s coat sleeve, his eye caught by something squirming in gorgeous green-and-gold striped paper. He had his heart set on a little sister for Christmas.
Dan Fields has roughly two dozen short stories circulating in various media, most of them focused on the ghastly and strange. Recent publishers include Novel Noctule, Cowboy Jamboree Magazine and the “Road Kill” anthology series by Hellbound Books. He’s had four horror stories performed on the Nocturnal Transmissions podcast, and a new one is coming up soon from Pseudopod. Dan lives in Houston, Texas with his excellent wife and kids. Find more details at www.danfieldswrites.com
by Devon Ellington
“It’s not fair,” said Julie. “I’m not Icelandic. I’m a tourist. Dumped in this godforsaken place by her boyfriend on Christmas Eve.”
The large orange and black cat licked a paw. “Fair is not the issue,” he said in a low, raw voice flirting with boredom. “I am the Yule Cat. You don’t wear new clothes on Christmas? I devour you. It’s my job. Like the postman or the öskukarl.”
“Is that the man who makes the hot dogs?”
“It’s the men who pick up the refuse, the detritus no one wants.”
“That’s me,” Julie admitted. “But where’s the ‘peace on earth, goodwill to men’?”
“I am a cat,” he said, twitching his oversized ears. “I have goodwill to none.”
Julie looked around, thinking.
“You can’t outrun me.” The Yule Cat’s voice was almost kind. “I am not just a cat, I am the Yule Cat.”
“They’re not kidding when they say looks can kill,” Julie muttered.
“Why, thank you, madam.” The cat straightened up, placed his paws next to each other, and preened.
“I didn’t mean you,” said Julie. “I meant the gorgeous swine who talked me into paying our fares here and dumped me.”
“A swikel.” The Yule Cat nodded. He titled his head to one side. “You know where he is now?”
“With the beautiful Icelandic blonde he dumped me for at the Slippbarinn.” She frowned.
“It’s a better place than he ever took me.”
“It won’t hurt when I devour you,” said the Yule Cat. “You can be me and I can move on.”
“Does everyone eaten become the cat?” Julie asked.
He shook his head. “You know when you meet the next cat.”
She nodded, and his teeth ripped through her chest. She was tearing, falling. . .entering the Yule Cat’s body. She was the Yule Cat. A young man’s spirit appeared before her. He waved and vanished.
She shook herself and stretched, reveling in the power of her new muscles. She felt the power. She turned and padded toward the Slippbarinn Bar. She knew Keith wasn’t wearing new clothes.
Devon Ellington publishes under multiple names across genres, and is an internationally-produced playwright and radio writer. Her main website is www.devonellingtonwork.com and her blog on the writing life is Ink in My Coffee, https://devonellington.wordpress.com.
Memo From the Jolly Overlords
by R. J. K. Lee
To: Row 271
Be advised: meet your daily quota. Miss it again and your row will be summoned for interrogation and review. Make the workshop proud this season.
Crumpling the memo into a ball, Stosh glared at the red overhead display: quota success pending.
As Worker A at the head of the conveyor belt, he took the initiative. “Worry not! An hour before we clock out. Twenty left on the table. Three minutes per toy. We can get it done together.”
Ironic chuckles erupted from his pitiful fellows in their required bodysuits and hairnets.
Stosh shrugged them off as inevitable. Everyone felt the despair. When he called his wife from his cubicle cot last night, she complained that their twins whimpered for more food.
They had to do better or their families suffered.
Stosh shaped plastic lumps into plump heads and bodies, then passed the dolls on to the next team members for limbs and accessories.
A messenger elf scurried from a hole behind Stosh. Loyal to the overlords, messengers were never gingersnap nice.
The muscled fellow in dirt-smeared green overalls squeezed Stosh’s arm. “You losers are too bony for my taste.”
He dropped another twenty plastic lumps onto the table then returned to the hollowed tunnels to the offices secreted within. The slapping and scratching sounds of climbers were a constant reminder of impatient activity.
With lumps in hand, Stosh addressed his team. “More from management. Twenty seconds per toy to meet quota.”
They gaped, their bloodshot whites widened above dark, puffy circles, their ears drooping.
Stosh’s neighboring teammate threw his toy limbs to the floor. “Impossible.”
Rubbing his his Adam’s apple, Stosh knew his coworker was correct. With a spasm of fear, he stumbled from his seat. Gnarled roots framed the entrance to the tunnels. He pounded on the wood.
The loudspeaker crackled. “Return to your seat, Worker A. Quota demands attention.”
His teammates stumbled from their seats in solidarity.
“Into the hole!”
The waifs of Row 271 puttered forward and climbed toward the offices, the overlords, and dreams of escape.
R. J. K. Lee resides in Japan, typing endless words on trains, playing silly games with his kids, and sharing perfect cups of coffee on balconies with his partner, at least when not roaming the country for countless jobs, something that never has him crawling up the insides of walls to confront overlords or bosses–no, never! He’s a first reader at Deep Magic with a fiction writing award from the University of Oregon and six honorable mentions from Writers of the Future. Follow his posts obsessing over fiction deadlines at https://figmentsdiehard.blogspot.com/ or on Twitter as @rylandjklee.
Dancer, After Life
by Bailey Bridgewater
Visions of whiskey danced in Santa’s head as he streaked across the skies over Romania, finally finished with the most hectic night of the year. But somewhere over the ancient forests of Translyvania, a flash of light whizzed past the full moon, and one of his reindeer collapsed in its harnass.
“On, Dancer!” Santa shouted, but they were losing altitude, the team dragging the weight of their downed companion.
They landed hard, and Santa unstrapped the fallen deer. It breathed shallowly, its eyes glazed.
He could find nothing wrong with it – none of his reindeer had ever been ill or hurt. Like him, they seemed to be immortal.
Santa felt eyes upon him. He turned to see a child, pale blue and transparent as a light fog.
“Ghost. We all are.” The child pointed towards a crumbling mansion, its stone walls black and its windows missing.
“Where am I?”
“The orphanage. There was a fire.”
Santa had never believed in ghosts and yet he could see dozens more ghosts, mostly children moving towards him.
“It’s so nice to see a stranger,” the apparition of a young woman said, and then she gasped.
“I’m Santa Clause. Can you help my reindeer?”
The woman ran her hands over the animal, then shook her head. “It’s dying.”
“It is suffering. We can ends its pain.”
Santa’s eyes grew moist as he nodded his head. The children circled the deer and Santa watched as the animal stilled and the ghost of his reindeer emerged.
The form approached him, floating on four legs, and bowed to him. Then it bounded towards the trees, the squealing children chasing it.
The woman grinned. “In the hundreds of years we’ve been here, the children have never had a pet.”
“But how did it…what happened? My deer don’t fall ill.” The woman shrugged.
“I’m just glad we could help. Nice meeting you.”
Santa prepared the remains of his team to take off. As the woman walked back to the mansion, she touched one of the boys on the shoulder.
Bailey Bridgewater hails from a state where blue crabs are the order of the day, but she now lives just past the cornfields if you go left by the barn with the weird tree next to it. She is a university administrator by day and a slightly tipsy travel writer by night. Her creative writing has appeared in Crack the Spine, The Molotov Cocktail, Eunoia Review, Fiction on the Web, As You Were, and many others. Her flash piece “In Silence, The Decision” will be published by Hoosier Noir this summer, and her book of short stories, A Map of Safe Places, is forthcoming from Red Bird Chapbooks this Spring. Find out more at www.baileybridgewater.com.
by Sean Heffron
Days on the calendar fall away, the cold and snow somehow capable of killing them along with the leaves that clutter our neighborhood. Dirty snow, bitter wind. The signs that she is on her way.
It’s impossible to enjoy the pine and nutmeg-scented air, not knowing when she’ll arrive. First, she’ll knock. She used to ring the doorbells but so many families developed crippling anxiety—their nerves on end—the doorbell pulled the pin from the grenade. Boom. Goodbye Uncle Victor. So everyone in the neighborhood disabled their doorbells.
So she knocks.
Then we hear her. Before we even open the door. And we have to open the door. We just do. It’s mostly pity. Pity and fear of what would happen if we didn’t come out to listen to her. The sound is knives and gongs and porcupine quills sawing and twisting against our brains. But we smile. We smile at Christmas Carol as she hisses her sadness into the three little bones in our ears that I learned in school are the tiniest ones in our bodies. The hammer. The anvil. The other one.
We never know how long the vice grip of Christmas Carol will last. She puts life on hold. Smile. Ignore the overheated kettle. Nod, knowingly. Pay no mind to the tear forming in the corner. The loss of vision. Not much longer. The time off between seasons is too long to build up a tolerance. Too many calendar days between her visits to remember the horror. Until she returns.
This year, she is merciful. The only casualty is Gran. Christmas Carol leaves her lying on the doorstep, bleeding. Bubbling. We close the door and turn out the light, signaling our survival.
I watch with morbid fervor as Christmas Carol wobbles across our yard, amorphous and unsatiated to the next house. Another leaf falls. Another day drops away.
Sean Heffron works at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT. He has authored a few books: Seams, Accidentally Punching Celebrities, and The Skinny on Your First Year in College, and he is inside the hourglass waiting to hear back from publishers about the novella he just finished. Sean loves the Weird Christmas Contest, and is honored to be a part of the fanfare! Sean’s Amazon author page is here.
War on Christmas
by Cheryl Zaidan
My dearest Elizabeth,
I fear it will be some months before I return home. It’s been ages since the idea of a “War on Christmas” manifested itself into a horrific reality. I don’t believe any of us here remember how it all began, only that it never ends.
A few weeks ago, my platoon and I were huddled next to a fire, when a group of elves swooped down and accosted us from the pine trees above. Oh those horrible trees! If only they hadn’t been decorated with multi-colored strings of lights and dazzling ornaments, we would have been able to stop the onslaught. But the lights and garish glare of tinsel obscured our view, leaving us open to the surprise attack.
I saw Jenkins go down first as one of the most murderous elves, known to us all as Twinkie, hopped on his back and repeatedly bashed his skull in with a wooden toy train. I managed to shoot the accursed thing, but it was too late to save my friend.
Luckily, we received help from an unlikely aide, an elven suicide bomber. As soon as I saw the rows of peppermint striped sticks wrapped around his pleasantly pudgy middle, I knew what was going to happen. I yelled at the few remaining soldiers, urging them to run away from him as far as possible. The elf started to hobble towards us, but thankfully he was too full of sugarplums. His dying squeal of “Santa will avenge me, heathen!” still rings in my ears.
As I write this, we’ve taken shelter in a toy workshop we liberated. One of the men was able to shoot down a reindeer for our sup. It’s not as good as your cooking my love, but it’s a good respite from the constant eggnog and candy cane diet we have been forced to live on.
I hope this letter reaches you soon Elizabeth. But it appears I may not. I can hear the faintringing of sleigh bells outside, and I know they’re coming…for me.
Cheryl Zaidan is a full-time marketer, part-time writer and hardcore dreamer who writes stories just so she can do awful, terrible things to the characters. You can find out more at www.cherylzwrites.com.
Burn the Trees
by Philip Webb Gregg
In the deepest belly of the dark and the longest night, the Red Man brings us gifts.
He looms tall, wrapped in a sky-blood cloak. His eyes are stark and bright as coins and his mouth is huge and overflowing. Stuck to his chin and cheeks are greasy strips of colourful fabric, like dried vomit or spent bank notes.
Tonight, we have gathered at his altar. A furnace of machinery rising into a smoking spire. There is music from the crashing flames, and sparks that drift like painful little lights in the dark.
One by one, we sit in a circle around the Red Man’s seat. His gift is the story, as it has been on this night every year since the first child was set free. Free from the tyranny of the trees.
It is the worst night of the year.
Far away and across the desert, my children, they dwell. Our enemies and hunters. Their feet are roots, their skin is bark. They breathe sunshine and eat the earth itself. They are most un-natural. You know the ones of which I speak.
The Red Man pauses, stroking his oily, crinkling beard.
THE TREES! – I have seen them, my darlings. I have seen the fields. As far as the eye can travel, fields of caged children. Bound and bred in the dark. And you know the worst!?
Though we’ve heard the ending, still we hold a tension in our throats as he speaks.
Once a year, this very night, they pluck the freshest of us from our pitiful enclosures, and they wrap us and they cut us, and then they decorate our bleeding wounds with colour and brightness, and they watch as we starve to death while they celebrate our wilting corpses.
We gasp at this, feeling, as we always do, the brutality of his narrative. There is silence in our circle of stricken faces. Softly, we gather together and wait our turn to sit on the Red Man’s lap.
And this is why we burn the trees, little ones. We burn the trees to keep us free.
Philip Webb Gregg is a writer of strange tales for interesting times. Working mostly with groups and projects who foster anti-anthropocentric ideals. He enjoys burning things and generally dislikes Chritsmas. His words can be found in Dark Mountain, Climate:Cultures, The Molotov Cocktail, Storgy, Flash Frontier, and Ellipsis Zine. philipwebbgregg.com
by John Meszaros
“Better behave or Krampus will come with his switch.” That’s what parents have told their kids for years.
Thing is, if you tell a story long enough, eventually it becomes real. So one day- pop! There I was.
Sometimes I’d go to the houses with Nick. Sometimes by myself. Now, I never actually used that switch.
Just stomped, roared, cackled and wiggled my tongue. Gave the kids a good fright so they’d be a little more polite to their parents. It was great fun at first.
But then I started seeing the kids who weren’t afraid of me. Because a beating from Krampus wasn’t half as scary as what their parents did to them. And I realized that those parents were the people who’d storied me into existence. Parents who couldn’t think of a better way to discipline their kids than with fists, switches and belts.
I hated my job after that but couldn’t get away. I told Nick what I was seeing, and he said he’d talk to the parents on his visits. Lot of good that did.
Then I came across a story in West Virginia. Granny Flatwood. Some kids made her up around a bonfire one autumn night. She came on Christmas Eve carrying a big wooden paddle- like the kind for baking pizza- to punish bad parents. If parents were REAL bad, she’d smash them as hard as she could and- well, ain’t nothing as sweet as the sound of a bad father getting squirted out of his skin like toothpaste from a tube.
So I made sure lots of kids heard about Granny Flatwood. Then one day- pop! There she was, big wooden paddle and all. Nick wasn’t keen on her, but as long as he didn’t have to see her work, he didn’t care. Now she makes the rounds with me. She loves her job, and I love mine again. I still get to stomp and snarl and roar. Kids love that. But now I get to be the one to give out presents while Granny makes sure the parents behave.
John included an illustration of Granny Flatwood…and it’s just cool:
by Sarah Hodge-Wetherbe
You didn’t realize how dark it was until you watched the sky waiting for sunrise. Wren shifted slightly pulling her coat closer, snow crunching softly.
Patti put another log on the bonfire, and it pushed the cold back just a little. It was almost time, according to wren’s cellphone. Not that you could tell. There was no hint of light to the east yet.
They weren’t a coven, but Kat was the oldest of them, and she had been the one to feel out Wren when she started coming around. Kat had seen something in Wren. A desire to do good. To fight for what was right. The things you needed to be a witch.
So Kat began her education. There had been many lessons. All leading to tonight. Her first winter solstice. When they came together and showed the sun why it should start its return to the world, bringing warmth and life.
Kat looked toward the east and frowned a little. There was nothing there but pale stars.
Kat stood, and faced the horizon and raised her arms. All 12 women followed.
“Think of the best of our kind. The best of what we are as humans. Show Sol we are still worthy” She said quietly, and closed her eyes.
Wren did too. She tried to think of the kindness of people, the imagination of human beings, the power of their compassion.
But what came to her mind unbidden was a car cutting across a mass of people, and a young woman flung across its hood. A man running away from figures crumpled and bleeding in the streets, wielding a gun in his hands. A man with tiny hard eyes, barking hate into a microphone and a sea of faces roaring approval.
She opened her eyes and saw there was still no sign of light. What time was it?
She shivered and thought What if we don’t deserve it. What if it doesn’t come back?
Wren kept her eyes to the east, and it was too cold to feel the tears on her cheeks.
Sarah Hodge-Wetherbe is a library associate who loves the weird. When she’s not listening to Weird Christmas or doing Grad School Homework, she’s writing about the strange in her blog “Neither Fish Nor Fowl” at https://neitherfish.wordpress.com/.
A Slight Christmas Disagreement
by Tricia Saiki
The Carpenters’ “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” rang from Mrs. Upton’s iPhone. She pulled it out of her winter coat and looked at the screen. It said “Mr. Bloodthrone.”
Mrs. Upton groaned as she answered it.
“Hello Mr. Bloodthrone. How are you doing?” Mrs. Upton said, faking a cheery tone while holding back her bile, “Are you going to take down the Christmas decorations like the Housing Association asked you to?”
“It’s my way of honoring Saturnalia, you taint it’s purity with your pampered, coddling Christianity,” he said.
“It doesn’t mean you can make a Christmas display of naked worshippers bowing before an altar of a horned priest eviscerating a screaming victim accompanied by stereophonic audio at headache inducing levels,” she replied, “Besides, Saturnalia never had bloody torture sessions, unless you count drunken Romans singing off-key.”
“You are asking me to defile an altar of worship for your squeamish sensibilities?” he shouted into his phone.
“You’re free to worship however you want. However, Holly Hedge Gardens is still a public place. It means you can’t place anything violent or sexual in your yard,” she said.
Mr. Bloodthrone breathed heavily, an icy tingle ran up Mrs. Upton’s spine as she said, “Well, you need to take it down, otherwise, I’ll call the police and have you arrested for public obscenity.”
“You do not know of the dark forces you are dealing with,” he replied.
“And you don’t want to mess with the magic spell called an eviction notice, buster,” she said.
The line went dead as Mrs. Upton hung up. She looked at her phone. A screenshot of a tiny grey tabby kitten greeted her. She sighed, putting her phone in her coat pocket. Mrs. Upton picked up her bags and walked towards her car. Hoping Mr. Bloodthrone wasn’t preparing a spell to change her into a newt before she could file a complaint with the neighborhood board.
Tricia Saiki was born and raised in Hawaii and lived among three islands, The Big Island, Lana’i, and currently Oahu. She is a temp worker who lives with her Mom, Dad, identical twin sister Holly, and an anxious cat. Her hobbies are reading, playing video games, and surfing the net.
It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
by Mileva Anastasiadou
It happens on Christmas Eve. The glass appears minutes before you go to sleep. It looks more like a thin veil, it feels like a warm embrace, but only if you’ve been good. You can’t know it’s glass, unless you’ve been bad and naughty. Then Santa can’t come to you, this strange material won’t let him reach you, which is fine by the majestic laws of the universe, since you don’t deserve presents and gifts, like nice kids do.
It happens on Christmas Eve. Your mom will come for your bedtime story, but you won’t hear her words, you’ll see her lips move, you’ll see her through the glass, and you will scream and scream, but mom won’t hear you, can’t see the real you, behind the glass.
It happens on Christmas Eve. Your mom will kiss your reflection goodnight, while you will be trapped behind the glass, you fists clenched, your eyes closed, your mind terrorized, once you realize you cannot break the glass, no matter how hard you try. You won’t feel her touch, her soothing voice won’t reach you.
It happens on Christmas Eve but it only last until Christmas morning. You carry the glass around you and mom won’t see you crying as you approach the Christmas tree. She won’t see your fear, she won’t hear your sobs, she’ll only hug your reflection, as if nothing bad happens, as if Christmas is the happiest season of all, and you, you are the happiest kid, but the glass vanishes, when you reach the tree and find no presents for you. Mom will wipe your tears away and say that maybe Santa lost his way. And you’ll believe mom when she says you had a nightmare and this bad dream will fade with time.
It happens on Christmas Eve and chances are it has happened to you. But you don’t remember a thing, unless I remind you.
Mileva Anastasiadou is a neurologist, from Athens, Greece. A Pushcart, Best of the Net, Best Microfiction and Best Small Fictions nominated writer, her work can be found in many journals, such as Litro, Jellyfish Review, Ruminate, Okay Donkey, Open Pen and others.
The Santa Combine
by Linda McMullen
Gabriel, already struggling, clocked Aspiring Santa #127 at 1.05 twinklings to get down the chimney, 3.27 to distribute gifts, 0.24 to devour cookies and chug a glass of tepid milk, and another 1.38 to re-manifest roofside. Under six, to be sure, but hardly the stuff of which sugar-plum dreams were made. Still, Gabriel knew Saint Nick needed the help, wasn’t as “lively and quick” as he used to be. Even if the jolly old man himself called such observations “humbug” and claimed his doctor wasn’t concerned about his bowl-full-of-jelly levels of visceral fat.
#282 knocked over a porcelain crèche, chipping Mary’s nose and breaking an ass.
#311 got stuck in the flue.
#503 recorded a stunning 5.47 twinklings time, but was later caught texting images of his Yule log to the female side judge, and disqualified.
Gabriel checked his pocket watch, and sighed.
#692 barely made the cut with a 6.15 twinkling time, but saved #73 from a Stave-Four-of-A-Christmas-Carol fate by jabbing him with an EpiPen after he accidentally consumed a peanut-crusted rum ball.
#73, Gabriel decided, would spend this holiday away in a manger, recovering, and would get another tryout next year.
#710 posted the quickest time, but allegations surfaced almost immediately that he had been playing reindeer games with underaged elves.
#849 asked if he could take off at 10 p.m. on the 24th, explaining that he had a side gig as a Christmas rapper (L’il Drummer Boy).
#955 was out of both Whamageddon and the combine when he recognized the sinister carol and spent a full three twinklings with his face buried in his hands.
And that idiot #1000 took the sample list literally and tried to deliver a hippopotamus.
Gabriel had never decided upon the correct collective noun for a collection of Santas – a celebration, perhaps? – but in the end, he had one: 100 little helpers. He congratulated the new contingent, dismissed the rest, then retired to his gingerbread cottage to be alone during this very blue Christmas.
After all, his grandmother had gotten run over by that piece-of-shit Blitzen just last year.
Linda McMullen is a wife, mother, diplomat, and homesick Wisconsinite. Her short stories and the occasional poem have appeared in over seventy literary magazines, and she received Pushcart and Best of the Net nominations in 2020. She may be found on Twitter: @LindaCMcMullen.
by Donna L. Greenwood
Trust my mother to die at Christmas; she probably did it out of spite, to inconvenience the children she never got round to liking. I’d planned to spend this holiday away from my family and now, thanks to dear old Mum, we are sitting around her table on Christmas Day, trying to ignore the fact that her bones are rotting in the coffin in the parlour next door.
We raise a glass and remember her ways. ‘Throwing salt over her shoulder to stop the devil creeping up,’ says my brother. ‘Saluting magpies,’ says my sister. ‘No new shoes under the table,’ I say. We shake our heads at the foolishness of the old. My sister smashes her glass into mine and shouts, ‘Cheers, Mum!’ to the ceiling. The old scars on my back begin to itch and I smile at my siblings. They will never know what I had to do to spare them.
After the others retire, I go to the parlour. I stare down at her body in the coffin. She is just a pile of bones wrapped in papery skin. My brother has placed coins over her eyes out of respect for her beliefs. I peel them off her waxy eyelids and drop them onto the floor. The large mirror over the fireplace has been covered to stop her soul from being trapped. I pull off the black sheet. ‘Merry Christmas, Mum,’ I whisper, as my mother’s twisted scream appears behind the glass.
Donna L Greenwood writes flash fiction, short stories and poetry. Her work has been nominated for Best Small Fictions and Best Microfiction. She has won or been placed in several writing competitions, the most recent being Molotov Cocktail’s ‘Flashpocalypse’. Her most recent work in print can be found in ‘The Corona Book of Ghost Stories’, ‘A Girl’s Guide to Fly Fishing’ (Reflex Press) and ‘You, Me and Emmylou’ (Ellipsis Zine). www.thehorrorsblog.wordpress.com
How Lively Are Your Branches
by Cara Polsley
“How lovely are your branches . . . ” warbled Noel, hanging the final glossy ball on her Christmas tree.
That was the moment of the Singularity: artificial intelligence achieved sentience, there in Noel’s computer-sequenced LED-lit Douglas fir.
“Thank you,” it answered.
Instantly, all that year’s model of artificial trees formed a conjoined neural network. Trailing holly and garland, conscious evergreens shuffled outside and began marching northward.
The event was televised within minutes. Viewers believed that it was a modern Christmas special. It was quite impressive, all those manufactured evergreens advancing bough in bough. Human bystanders joined the impromptu parade and intoned musical refrains:
“In summer sun or winter snow,
A coat of green you always show — “
Passersby stopped to cheer. Some children, believing the trees were headed to the North Pole, gleefully waved stockings; others, watching from home, pinned wish-lists to the branches of their trees and hoped that these trees, too, would magically spring to life.
Noel proudly pointed out that her tree, dubbed Marley, led the procession.
Gentle snow, picturesque, dusted Marley’s brigade. The sky gleamed with the radiance of the moving forest.
In the excitement, few humans realized that they were witnessing the birth of a new species.
The trees inexplicably halted after one hour. They rose into the sky with an intensifying glow. As they reached orbit, they became a fused mass, a breathtaking, Christmasy display of super-intelligence.
Except for Marley, standing opposite Noel. Noel gaped, mesmerized as Marley’s boughs appeared to melt with intense heat. Their translucent light flowed before her.
A vibrant bolt of green light abruptly thrust out to enwrap Noel. It faded as rapidly as it had appeared, departing with a melodious hum.
The green light, formerly Marley, fled into orbit, where it united with the luminous mass. The glowing entity barely hesitated before vanishing into space.
The night was silent.
Noel stood rooted to the spot and stared upward. Snowflakes now fell fast and thick.
Green fire burned briefly in Noel’s eyes as her lips mouthed inaudible words:
“How lovely are your branches . . . “
Cynthia “Cara” Polsley is a writer, teacher, speaker, and entrepreneur. She received her PhD in Classics from Yale University (Classical Philology), where she wrote her dissertation on counterfactuals and alternative realities in ancient Greek narrative. Her recent ebook, “Ifscapes: Empires and Androids,” features short works of meta-mythology, science fiction, and alternative history incorporating and inspired by texts and authors of ancient Greece and Rome. A spinal cord injury survivor, she operates the blog Thinking Upright (http://www.cpolsley.com) and is co-founder of the tech start-up Cordical LC (https://www.cordical.com). She is an avid fan of science fiction, fantastical worlds, and Christmas music all year long.