2021 Weird Xmas Flash Fiction Contest Results

It’s out later than I would have preferred, but like the inevitability of New Year’s following Christmas, it is here.

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. And seasonal thanks to the authoritative Benito Cereno for the opening PSA.

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2021 Weird Christmas Flash Fiction Winners:

My wife and close friends always read through the finalists to help me choose the winners and honorable mentions. However, the process is never democratic — while unanimous decisions would be wonderful, all final decisions are my own. I don’t claim to be choosing the “best” stories or the ones with the most honed “craft.” It’s not that kind of contest. Rather, the winners, the honorable mentions, and the variety among the ones on the show are the stories that ultimately satisfy my own desire for “weird,” and I’m not sure how well I can objectively articulate my tastes about that. What I try to do with the contest is choose the stories that best scratch that itch for making the familiar and sentimental into something that’s a mix of funny and disturbing and oddly unexpected… while also still somehow being recognizably “Christmas.” I think this year’s crop of stories (out of a pool of around 450 submissions) does that aggressively and deliciously.

Overall Winner: “The Fight” by Elizabeth Guilt

“Weird Cards” Category Winner: “If the Suit Fits” by Michelle Christophorou

“There Was a Man Dwelt by a Churchyard” Category Winner: “A Churchyard Carol” by Dan Fields

“Stocking Stuffer” Category Winner: “The Power of Presents and Spidersilk” by Daniel Ausema

Honorable Mention (in no particular order):

  • “The Second Coming” — Michelle Christophorou
  • “Married to Christmas” — Dustin Pari
  • “The Christmas Room” — J.D. Wilson
  • “Saving Cinterland” — JJ Mokshevski
  • “The Messenger” — Jens Hieber
  • “A Christmas Burial” — Gary Ballard
  • “Spirits of Christmas” — D.P. Blanchard
  • “A lock of hair, a baby tooth, a toenail” — Eleanor Luke
  • “Red Nose” — Thomas Lawrance
  • “The Last Holiday” — John Wolf
  • “It’s the Most Dreadful Time of the Year” — Paul Lewthwaite
  • “How Santa Got Schooled” — Kate Sherrod
  • “O Holey Night” — John Possidente
  • “The Yew’s Embrace” — Jen Rowe
  • “War’s End” — Adam Gottfried
  • “Carton Holiday” — Ibiteye Overcomer
  • “Christmas Spirits” — Laurie Peterson
  • “Piss Pistol” — Brandon Case
  • “Grandpa?” — Jonathan Saint

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 my volunteer readers this season: first Mrs. Kringle as well as my work buddy Lisa and LW Salinas (@sithwitch on Twitter), both of whom stepped in at the very last second. Otherwise, almost all the authors wanted to read their own work this year, which was fun!

Bumper music:

Contest results from previous years: 2020, 2019, 2018.

2021 Weird Christmas Flash Fiction

All stories copyright © 2021 by the authors indicated.

Overall Winner: “The Fight” by Elizabeth Guilt

The Fight

by Elizabeth Guilt

[The author offers a note for her American audience, which includes your humble editor who definitely appreciates the information: “I am (rather too late) a bit worried that it won’t make all that much sense to non-UK folks. I mean, it may not make much sense anyway… However, the important fact is that a UK Christmas dinner is a sad and incomplete Christmas dinner if it doesn’t involve pigs-in-blankets. Wikipedia tells me America has its own pig-in-blanket situation, but ours are different: small chipolata sausages, wrapped in streaky bacon, and baked in the oven. Apologies if I’ve got it wrong and that was all immediately obvious!”]

Mia unpacked her rucksack, laying everything out on the countertop.

The cool, wet summer had provided perfect weather for the giant turkeyfruit. The greengrocer had even split it, and scooped out all the pips – all she had to do was stuff it, and pop it in the oven. Next to it were bags of potatoes, carrots, parsnips, Brussels sprouts. Onions for the stuffing and cranberries for the sauce. Surely that would do for Christmas dinner, she tried to tell herself. That would be fine.

She groaned. It would not be fine.

Mia pulled the steel boxes from the cupboard, and headed out again.

**

“A dozen chipolatas and a dozen rashers of streaky, please.”

“A dozen?”

“Big family.”

The man shook his head. “You’re a brave woman.”

He pulled on his chainmail gauntlet, and slid open a metal hatch. Inside the sausages seethed and twisted. He grabbed a handful, rammed them into one of Mia’s boxes and began to fasten the lid. A blunt, pink end quested out through the gap, and he rapped it sharply.

“Get back in, you.” He slapped the box down. “I think that’s twelve, the little buggers won’t stay still.”

He headed out the back with her other box, and Mia winced at the shrill screams. When he came back, pale and sweating, she paid him and hurried home.

**

Shaking, Mia pulled on thick gloves and took a deep breath. She put a sausage, flopping and writhing, onto a plate and cautiously pulled out a rasher of bacon. It reared up, hissing and shrieking. She gripped it with tongs, trying to pin down one end of the squirming chipolata.

The bad summer had started just as the bacons fledged, and they were fierce this year. She slapped the rasher down, but it lashed out, leaving an angry, red rind-sting along the inside of her wrist.

“Oy!” She smashed it with the tongs, slapped it round the sausage, and impaled the whole lot with a cocktail stick. It quivered and whined as she dropped it onto the plate.

One down. Eleven to go.

Elizabeth Guilt lives in London, UK, where history lurks alongside plate glass office buildings and stories spring out of the street names. You can find her at https://www.elizabethguilt.com/, or on Twitter as @elizabethguilt. She encourages everyone to serve “pigs in blankets” – sausages wrapped in bacon, and baked in the oven – with their Christmas dinner. She has other takes on Christmas here and included in Winter Wonders, Skullgate Media’s smashing new anthology of winter-themed speculative fiction.

“Weird Cards” Category Winner: “If the Suit Fits” by Michelle Christophorou

If the Suit Fits

by Michelle Christophorou

Story inspired by this image.

Elena slapped butter on the guinea-fowl (serves one), ready for the oven next morning. A fancy dress party on Christmas Eve! As if the daily humiliation of life as a PA at Spenser’s wasn’t bad enough, now she must spend the whole evening with those wankers as well. Thank God for the pop-up Christmas market she’d passed on her trudge home from the station, and the sexy Krampus costume the crooked old stallholder had pressed into her hands as it began to snow.

When Elena tried on the dress, it moulded seamlessly to her skin. The horns just melded into place; as did the serpent-like tongue, now fizzing at her lips. The bushy birch-switch trembled in her grasp, the blood-red pompoms screamed like a child when pressed. The only thing she wasn’t sure about was the basket of mansplainers strapped to her back.

“Show your pass to the driver,” said one on the bus there.

“Mixing red wine with white can worsen a hangover,” said the other, as Justin poured her a Merlot on their arrival. 

“He’d love to squeeze your pom-poms!” trilled the mansplainers. 

“Go on,” Elena found her fizzing tongue saying.

Justin stared, but gave them a honk.

The pompoms’ shrieks made everyone cower. Everyone, that is, but Elena and her basket-companions. 

“Give them a switch-tickle,” they said.  

So Elena whipped them all. Jane, for hogging the credit for the team project; Justin, for spilling the details of their drunken fumble; Conor, for always saying going forward and low-hanging fruit; everyone else, because she could.  

Soon, all her colleagues lay writhing on the ground, masks askew, beards askance, legs akimbo.

“Take what you like,” the mansplainers said.

So Elena helped herself. Emeralds from ears, watches from wrists, Y-fronts from Justin (don’t ask). She tossed her spoils into the basket and disappeared into the night.

“Now you know what it’s like to wield the confidence of an ordinary middle-class white man,” said the mansplainers.  

Elena emptied them onto the ground. “Indeed. You can walk from here.”

They gaped up at her. 

“Smile,” she said, boots crunching into the snow.

Michelle Christophorou lives in Surrey, UK. She has won and been placed in various writing contests, most recently Strands International Flash, and was given an Honourable Mention [sic. It’s ok, she’s a Brit – ed] in the inaugural Weird Christmas contest, where she met some of her favourite flash fiction writers. Her story “Wearing You” was included in the BIFFY 50 list of best UK and Irish flash 2019/20. Her novella-in-flash, Kipris, has just been published by Ad Hoc Fiction. Find out more at www.michellechristophorou.co.uk, or say hello on Twitter @MAChristophorou.

“There Was a Man Dwelt by a Churchyard” Category Winner: “A Churchyard Carol” by Dan Fields

A Churchyard Carol

by Dan Fields

There was a man dwelt by a churchyard. It soothed him seeing the dead planted; outliving the sick and miserable eased his own sick misery. From his garret window he watched the burials of many whom his cruelty and low morals had touched in the town streets.

Midnight strolls among headstones, and around a stately central crypt, lifted his spirits with morbid energy as autumn waned. He blessed the place for every day he was free to leave it. He needed no church; grave-soil infused with maudlin prayers was temple enough, and gladly received his pleasantries.

A great snowfall on the Feast of Conception worked a queer illusion. He fancied that the churchyard wall now lay twenty paces nearer his house than he knew it to be.

By the third Advent Sunday he’d have sworn he could spit from his window upon the wall, or strike the rich marble sepulcher with a stone.

The bells of Christmas Day, curiously muffled, awoke him to a strange constricted bedstead and the dusty mold-scent of airless quarters. He’d never entered the mausoleum, nor seen the lacquered coffin on its granite plinth inside, yet he recognized his environs with no clue how he’d been overtaken and sealed in.

Sealed in, and – he realized as a shadow moved to meet him – not alone.

He might have been heard, shrieking and clawing for escape, had not so many jubilant voices in the church been raised to greet the blessed morning.

On Saint Stephen’s Day a sexton came to tend the grounds. Although perceiving no shift in geography, the laborer fell dizzy with a haunted impression that a ramshackle garreted house had stood there not long ago. Yet there sat only a nameless marble vault, from which all noise had ceased.

A man had dwelt by a churchyard as its fondest neighbor, visiting more often and with gladder heart than other callers. Never did he reflect that a churchyard might also dwell by a man, or take a notion one Christmas to repay his goodwill. It was no time of year to die friendless in the cold.

Dan Fields is a writer and musician from Houston, Texas. He has published over two dozen stories with the likes of Novel Noctule, Sanitarium, Pseudopod, Nocturnal Transmissions and Improbable Press. He released his first full-length story collection – entitled Under Worlds, After Lives – in July 2021. Please visit www.danfieldswrites.com for more details.

“Stocking Stuffer” Category Winner: “The Power of Presents and Spidersilk” by Daniel Ausema

The Power of Presents and Spidersilk

by Daniel Ausema

Santa, the jolly old frog, croaks his delight at the shiny new swamp-sleigh. Candy red with green trim, just as he ordered. Decorated green, for the blood of his defeated enemies the lizards, and red for the smiles of the human children when they find the wrapped gifts he will give them, for their mouths opening in shock when they unwrap them. He waves thanks to the robins who brought it.

Santa climbs in, tests its reins. His toe pads suction perfectly to the material. “On, Slither,” he calls. “On, Spitter.” The team of eels pulls the sleigh smoothly into water that would soon be cleansed.

Almost ready. Santa croaks to make a bullfrog jealous, and spiders skitter to the sleigh to load it with innocent-looking gifts. His mouth open, Santa smells the contents of the presents. Not too ripe yet. He closes his mouth.

With the last bag loaded, Santa sets off. The sleigh glides smoothly through the swamp. No snakes raise their hoods to stop them. No clumps of muck slow them down. The magic of the sleigh carries them.

At the houses of the children, Santa hops inside. Some have service doors for milk deliveries. Some have mail slots that widen to let him pass. Some have entrances only frogs know of. He leaves the scattered children of the swamp their gifts and returns to his shiny new sleigh.

Back home, his spider workers gather to greet him.

“Thank you for your work. Take all the silk you like, and be free.”

Inside, he greets his wife. “It’s done. The children will open their presents and find the lizard carcasses.” Scattered, away from his home where their enmity had cursed the waters, away from any chance of them coming back to life.

“What if they bring the skeletons together again, love? Might they summon the green lizards back from death?”

Unlikely. Humans are not known for sharing. And yet, is he sure it could never happen? “Then we will fight them again, my love. Against the powers of presents and spidersilk, they won’t stand for long.”

Daniel Ausema’s stories and poems have appeared in such places as Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, Diabolical Plots, and Fantasy Magazine. His novels include the Arcist Chronicles and the Spire City series. He lives in Colorado at the foot of the Rockies and can be found online at https://danielausema.com and, sporadically and unpredictably, on an array of social media sites.

Honorable Mention

The Second Coming

by Michelle Christophorou

Story inspired by this card.

When the child appeared from nowhere in an antique tea urn, dressed as an Edwardian — or possibly a Victorian — Vera was convinced he was the Second Coming.

“Left on our doorstep Christmas morning. No explanation but a card that says ‘A Christmas Greeting with Love’. What else could it be? God is Love.”

Bob was unconvinced. If this really were Jesus 2.0, surely he would look a lot less like an infant Alan Rickman. And would not have a petulant expression that only a mother could love. (Though, judging by the doorstep thing, it seems not even a mother could manage it.)

“We should take it to the police station,” he said. “It’s probably microchipped.” Bob and Vera had never been blessed with children of their own. Only dogs. 

“He’s not an it, Bob. He’s a he. A little boy. Like the baby Jesus himself.”

And roughly half the world’s infants, thought Bob. Maybe the child would cheer up if he ate something. However, when Vera raised a glass of milk to his lips, his face turned even surlier, like he’d caught Harry Potter giving Draco a wedgie. The liquid entered his open mouth and dribbled straight out again, as used to happen with his sister’s dolls when he never played with them, of course he didn’t. 

Bob hoped random wise blokes would turn up with gifts. (Gold would be great, though maybe swap the weird smellies for season tickets to United, and an 85-inch flat screen TV.) But what was he thinking? The child clearly was not the baby Jesus. If he really were part of the Holy Quadrinity, he would surely come detachable from his urn. For, despite their efforts, he and Vera could not remove him. They tried olive oil, water-based lubricants (never you mind), even a splash of WD-40 before they realised the container was in fact part of the boy.  

No deity — even one that turned you into salt, or plotted your ingestion by whale — would produce a son like that.

Yes, Bob was unconvinced. Truly, madly, deeply unconvinced.

Until the chamber pot donkey arrived.

Michelle Christophorou lives in Surrey, UK. She has won and been placed in various writing contests, most recently Strands International Flash, and was given an Honourable Mention [sic. It’s ok, she’s a Brit – ed] in the inaugural Weird Christmas contest, where she met some of her favourite flash fiction writers. Her story “Wearing You” was included in the BIFFY 50 list of best UK and Irish flash 2019/20. Her novella-in-flash, Kipris, has just been published by Ad Hoc Fiction. Find out more at www.michellechristophorou.co.uk, or say hello on Twitter @MAChristophorou.

Married to Christmas

by Dustin Pari

“A penny for your thoughts. Fifty bucks for your safe word.”

Needless to say, she had my attention; a tall blonde-haired angel just like atop the tree, with deep blue eyes that would rival the North Pole sky at twilight time.

“Listen lady, I’d love to, but my heart’s not into it.” 

“Good thing your heart isn’t what I’m after. I just want to jingle your bells, you great furry beast.”

“I get it. I’m tall, dark, and hairy. I carry around a whip, a bunch of chains, and I’m constantly wagging my tongue. I look like a walking good time but move along, sister. I’m married to my work, to Christmas.”

“C’mon on now, Krampus. Let’s go upstairs. This party is dead anyway.”

She wasn’t wrong. The holiday singles party that Mrs. Claus threw every year for those of us in the lonely-hearts club was—she meant well, but it was a disaster—this year especially. I was fresh off a breakup, and there wasn’t enough eggnog to drown my sorrows.

I told Angel my story. I was at the North Pole one day and my eyes came across a mousy-looking elf girl with brown eyes so soft they looked like reindeer fur. She wore a cherry red dress of crushed velvet with snow-white trim—standard issue for the girls from Mrs. C.—but hers covered a sugarplum so firm you could have bounced a wooden-nickel off it. She wore yellow rain boots all the time because she said it always felt like rain in her heart. A melancholy misfit hiding behind a slightly crooked smile that made her even more endearing.

“Everything happened so fast. The thoughts racing in my head could barely keep pace with the passion burning in my heart.”

‘Then what?” asked Angel.

“Huh?”

“Then what happened? You stopped talking and gazed off like you were lost in a snow globe.”

“Desire followed by disaster. Sometimes I still see her face in freshly fallen snow.”

We sat quiet for a bit.

“Peppermint,” I said.

“Was that her name?”

“No. It’s my safe word.”

Dustin Pari is an inspirational speaker, television personality, health care professional, and author. A native New Englander, he and his family still live there today. Dustin is a self-proclaimed “Festive Soul” that truly enjoys the spirit of the holiday season and a good slice of pie.

The Christmas Room

by J.D. Wilson

The scent of the freshly cut tree filled the old house. The old man sat in front of the fire with his feet up, the well-worn book resting in his lap. Outside, a blanket of new snow glistened in the twilight. The woods surrounding the cottage were silent.

It had happened so long ago—back when he was a much younger man. His wife and their five children—they had left home and taken the shortcut. The three-mile footpath to Alton’s store was often used by the reclusive family. On Christmas Eve, 1928, they had left the small house in the woods. They would never return home.

The storm was one for the ages—thirteen inches of snow in two hours. The temperature dropped to minus ten degrees. It was a storm that Haverford, Maine had not seen for decades. The McAllen children and their mother all perished on that horrible night. The search party would not find them for two days.

The winter was relentless and dragged on into spring with cold temperatures and record snowfalls. The funerals were delayed. The winter would not allow grieving. Not yet. The snow stayed deep on the ground until early April. Only then, would he take care of them.

The McAllen Cemetery was on the hill behind the old house. He had prepared everything. He would not allow an outsider such involvement in the arrangements of his dear wife or children. They would all be together now. Together—but not in the cold ground—and he would see them every year on that most horrid anniversary. On Christmas Eve.

Now, tonight, he arose and slid the rug aside. The hatch in the floor was raised. He descended the steps into the cold cellar, carrying the book under one arm. The Night Before Christmas. They were all arranged around the small table, the skin on their faces was drawn and  tight. The children sat with their withered, tiny hands resting on the dusty table. He lit the kerosene lantern and began reading the book that his children so loved. It was Christmas Eve.

J.D. Wilson lives in southern West Virginia. He is an engineering consultant, with an Engineering Technology degree from West Virginia Institute of Technology, and an undergraduate in Computer Science at Bluefield State College. He has written two novels and a collection of horror short stories; all are available on Amazon and linked on his website. J.D. has two children and three grandchildren. He loves music, especially the Grateful Dead, having seen them numerous times, and he has an archive of the majority of their live music over the entire career of the band. He enjoys traveling and motorcycles and a good cup of coffee. More information is available on his website JDWilsonBooks.com, and his Booksie page (linked to on the website).

Saving Cinterland

by JJ Mokshevski

They threw the first snowball at midnight.

Donner stood at the cave-mouth, listening. Fresh snow powdered his antlers like icing sugar, but he remained still. They had waited all year for this moment, the moment, and he would not fail them.

C’mon, Vix, he thought, staring up at the swirling snow clouds.

The younglings huddled together behind him: fawns, elves, gingerkin—those who were most vulnerable, who shouldn’t have to endure the horrors of Cinterland. They were the future. If they escaped, they might just save Christmas.

A swath of bright, green light illuminated the sky.

“The signal,” Donner breathed. “Everyone, now! Quickly!”

A stampede of tiny feet. Two by two they raced toward Peppermint Lake, quiet as deer mice. Donner tallied them, ensuring none were left behind, then brought up the rear. He knew Dancer waited a mile ahead, and Prancer stood guard by the portal, but he would see them through. He had to.

For Nick.

A faint gallop from the east. He turned his head, slowing to a trot as Comet swept up  beside him. The white scar over his right eye glistened in the moonlight.

“Well done,” Donner commended, shouldering his brother affectionately. “That was a damned good shot.”

“It was all Vixen,” Comet replied.

“Where is she?”

Comet’s good eye averted his own. “She fell,” he croaked, bowing his magnificent head. Donner skidded to a halt. “No,” he murmured. “No, no. Was it—”

“The Red Terror,” Comet nodded.

Rudolph.

Donner was still haunted by the memory of those cruel, black antlers skewering Mrs. Klaus like a shish-kabob. And Nick…poor Nick.

Anger rose in Donner’s chest, a hot fury fierce enough to melt ice. Ahead, he saw Dancer’s towering form; the younglings had reached her.

“On, Comet,” Donner commanded. “Join them. Find Nick, and bring him home.” But Comet turned back toward Cinterland. “No, Donner. Let’s take the bastard down. Together.”

Donner smiled grimly. “Together.”

As one they dashed through the forest, their hooves rumbling the dread drumbeat of war.

“For Nick!” Donner cried, spying that abominable, red nose. “And for Cinterland!”

JJ Mokrzewski holds an MMus in piano performance from the University of Toronto and is currently pursuing a BFA in Screenwriting at York University. When she is not writing, JJ maintains a balanced lifestyle by spending time with friends and family, investigating new books/films/series, and rewatching episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Recently, she received the opportunity to write for Her Campus Magazine, and she also writes for the fact-based website, Factinate. JJ lives with her brother and two cats in Toronto, Canada.

The Messenger

by Jens Hieber

Story inspired by this card.

The Faerie Queen has sent me with the news to blow my trumpet to the skies, to share her bubbling glee with the shining stellar saints that grace the nighttime heavens above. So enraptured is the Faerie Mother that she forgot I cannot fly so high. Hopper legs and sleek green wings are not enough to show my fealty. But the Virgin Queen has eyes for only one, the monstrous beast she thinks her child, and now my life is forfeit when I cannot fulfill my oath. 

But lo, what winged wonder comes, a beacon in my darkest night. There she shimmers with her crimson hue, a lovely moth of life. She alights before me on the grass, offers service of her flight and so together with the wind, we will unroll the royal bid. 

Horn in claw and keenly perching, our flight transforms the night to glory. Far beyond the toils of fae, above the crawling sins of hordes, we glide together past the clouds and to the starry throng on high. They mass their glowing might in aura and receive us proud and haughty. 

“Fair and lustrous lords and ladies,” rings my voice about the realm. “The Faerie Queen would bid you welcome and attend the joyous feast. For unto her is born a child, a messiah from an older time. So come with gifts and show your wonder that she may usher in her promised golden age.” 

We wait not to hear their answer but instead fly far from thence. My message cast out to the stars, I was free to flee the chaos about to commence. For the Queen enamored with her cuckoo’s brood, would not know the threat it posed. And the Stars with holy wrath would seek to forestall the spreading doom. 

We left that place, moth and grasshopper free. “Why help such a humble messenger as me?” 

With voice so soft she answers me, “This world of stars and monster’s fae, is not for such as lowly we. I would save you from their strife and together forge a quiet beauty.”

Jens Hieber lives cross-culturally with his wife, his cats, and his dreams. Currently residing in Malaysia, he teaches high school English, spends a lot of free time reading, and enjoys keeping tropical fish. He aspires to Ray Bradbury’s words: “Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens.” His blog is: https://jmhieber.wordpress.com3

A Christmas Burial

by Gary Ballard

There was a man dwelt by a churchyard where bodies were buried by the ounce, corpulence carried a heavy price, in this sleepy village I can’t pronounce. A grieving wife came to ask the man, as the churchyard’s undertaker, for a seasonal discount burial, for her husband the portly baker. 

“He’d gotten fat on Christmas pudding,” she said with pleading tone, “and with mince pies by the dozen ballooned to twenty stone. On my meagre widow’s pension your prices are alarming, surely there’s a cheaper deal, cremation or embalming?”

The undertaker shook his head, accompanied by a frown, “I charge for flesh on the bone, I bury six feet down. If you want to save some pennies, we can bury him in part, happy to do the butchering, remove the brain and heart.”

“But what to do with the rest of him, Gerald was such a lovely man?”

“Can chop him up straightforwardly, put him in the van. I’ll take him to the gristle mill, grind him to a paste, can profit from your husband’s corpse, none will go to waste.”

“There’s profit in such horror?” the wife was quite excited, “we can use the funds for the wake, you are of course invited.”

“They’ll be undertones in the body’s flesh of the puddings and the pies, a perfect mince for Christmas, and we can pickle both his eyes.” 

“I presume it’s all quite legal, to feast upon the dead, a pâté made from Gerald may work on wholemeal bread.” 

“He’d be lovely on a cracker,“ said the undertaker with a wink, “and we can liquidize his bladder, make a splendid festive drink.”

Now the funeral was well attended, had a special Noel theme, and the food served at Gerald’s wake went down like a dream. The stollen was spectacular but the mince pies were the star, full of Gerald goodness, washed down with Advocaat. The widow raised a solemn toast, before the mourners ate their human jellies, and satisfied they all went home, Gerald in their hearts and in the bellies.

Gary Paul Ballard is a writer living and working in London, in the field of mental health. Although drawn to flash fiction and short stories, he has also self-published a novella and infuses most of his work with a twang of the ridiculous. Follow him on Twitter @gp_ballard.

The Spirits of Christmas

by D. P. Blanchard

“Not all Christmas stories have a happy ending, Sterling. Remember that other poem your Uncle  Clement wrote.”

‘Twas Christmas Eve all bright and merry, when she the wine and I the sherry,

repaired to some sequestered nook, released the djinn and then partook.

We danced into the early hours, delighting in our youthful powers,

‘pon liquid velvet wings we flew, returned to earth, then soared anew.

But come the morn’ all gray and bleak, with tongues too thick and eyes too weak,

we knelt penitent and overblown, before a gleaming pink and porc’lain throne,

the surplus of our yuletide flight soon hurled and flushed fair out of sight.

Yet through the swish and swirl and rue, ‘midst the vile and evil-smelling stew,

all fraught with dread, our guts enflamed, for agonies as yet unnamed, a notion

like a rose in bloom. Sweet surcease from this trackless gloom?

P’rhaps t’wer best we set our eyes, ‘pon some less Bacchanalian prize,

Bid spirits seek another host, to raise a glass and offer toast.

While others revel Christmas Day, with aching skulls we’ll slink away;

to lie abed whilst counting sheep. What kinder death than that of sleep? 

“Swore he’d never touch another drop. ‘Course, everyone says that. Now, go on and enjoy yourself, my boy. ‘Tis Christmas Eve, after all. Just remember, you’ve bell-ringing duties at church in the morning.

Primarily a writer of fiction, D.P. Blanchard occasionally fancies himself a poet, usually following some startling, life-altering episode. Such a one as told to him by an acquaintance resulted in “The Spirits of Christmas.” He has had stories accepted in Big Pulp and Over My Dead Body magazines, and more recently one of his stories was included in the anthology Autumn Noir put out by Unsettling Reads. Happily gifted with more time to write these days, the author, having moved out of his office to make way for his work-from-home wife, now shares space with one of his sons, nearly all of his son’s worldly goods, and the occasional chipmunk, which is a story for another time.

“A lock of hair, a baby tooth, a toenail”

by Eleanor Luke

I stop outside the shop and wonder if I’ve got the right address. I glance at the scrap of paper Ben’s teacher gave me. ‘The Heeler’. Yep, this is it. Weird He should’ve chosen a shoe repair shop as a front.

The guy at the till is short. He looks me up and down. Well, more up than down. 

“I’m here to see a man about a snow globe,” I say.

“Password?”

I clear my throat. “Jolly fucking holly.”

He nods and points to a backroom. I notice his ears are slightly pointed.

I step inside. Snowflakes flutter before me. The scent of pinewood, gingerbread and whiskey caresses me like a lover’s hand.  

“Like the best orgasm,” a booming voice says.

“A Christmas orgasm,” I sigh. 

He’s sitting on a red velvet sofa. Behind him are shelves full of snow globes, covering every inch of the wall.

“You’re really His brother?”

“Indeed. Derek Ramsbottom, younger brother of St Nicholas.” He strokes his white beard. The likeness is undeniable.

“I’m not sure where to begin.”

“Look, Helen…”

“You know my name?”

“He sees you when you’re sleeping, He knows when you’re awake. He damn well knows your name!” He laughs and his belly trembles. “Now, which kid is being a little shit?”

“Ben. He’s just turned 13. It’s like an alien took over his body. He doesn’t believe in Christmas anymore. He’s sucking the joy out of it for all of us.”

He nods. “Did you bring the gear?”

I hand him an envelope. “A lock of hair, a baby tooth, a toenail.”

“Good. Let me assure you it’s painless.”

“And how do you fit him in the snow globe?”

He rubs his shiny red nose. “Magic.”

“And the clone?”

“The swap is simultaneous. You might not even notice the difference at first. But Ben2 will believe in Santa. We throw in the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny too. Comarketing’s all the rage.”

“And we get him back at 18?”

“Sure,” he says and hands me a contract. “If you still want him.”

I sign on the dotted line.

Eleanor Luke lives in Spain with her husband, two teenagers and a small menagerie. She writes flash fiction, short stories and has a novel in the pipeline. She has been short-listed in the ‘Poetry on the Lake’ short story contest 2020 (as Lucinda Carney) and her work has appeared in various publications including the “The Dribble Drabble Review,” “FlashFlood,” and “The Birdseed.” When not writing, Eleanor can be found eavesdropping on other people’s conversations or trying not to fall off her bike. Twitter: @Eleanor_Luke24

Red Nose

by Thomas Lawrance

I’ll tell you why we don’t rent out a Rudolf anymore.

Actually, first of all, have you heard of selective breeding? Yes – it’s the obscene hobby that transformed the mighty wolf into the handbag chihuahua.

My job is to breed reindeer. It’s easy. Leave them to it. There’s no simpler task than producing a fleet of Comets and Blitzens, et al.

But the mall Santas and the travelling shows, they wanted a Rudolf. And fair enough. What festive fun is there in a queue of plain reindeer? You want the protagonist. The rest might have names, but we all know they’re just extras.

Some rival breeders set to work on their own Rudolfs. Slapped a bit of lead paint on the snout. Never convinced anybody. I knew that some effort was required. I did the research, I consulted a few back-alley geneticists – and after a decade of turning wolves into chihuahuas, I had my authentic Rudolf.

It was worth the time investment. The painted competition vanished in his glare. Through intensive breeding, I’d rerouted a huge tangle of capillaries and veins through the skull, and thinned the skin at the nostrils, resulting in a bright, blood-red nose that shone when the light hit it.

My first customer, a particularly shrewd mall Santa, picked him up December 1st. He was blown away. He drew in an unprecedented crowd. I stood by, proud.

Unfortunately, as with chihuahuas, there are problems that arise in the selectively bred. My Rudolf was becoming quite stressed with the attention. Usually, this is fine. You can’t sense Dasher’s heart rate from the outside. But Rudolf’s nose was getting brighter. Swelling. The blood rushed into that thick web of vessels in his face. Redder and redder, bigger and bigger. I realised what was about to happen just a second before it did.

The children at the front bore the worst of it. I received a small spattering to my lapels.

It cost me thousands to buy the silence of everybody present. Thankfully, Santa didn’t actually need his suit dry-cleaning. It was the exact same shade of red.

Thomas Lawrance (website) is from England, but he now lives in Ireland where he writes fiction and performs stand-up comedy. He was recently shortlisted for the Alpine Fellowship Writing Prize, and was a runner-up in this year’s Seán O’Faoláin Short Story Competition.

The Last Holiday

by John Wolf

The Harvest King sat in his wicker throne, head bowed, rattling with dry leaves and sighing white smoke. The fire inside his orange head dwindled. The feasting hall was empty as the grave.

A few emerald snakes rested atop the scarred Thanksgiving table in beds of clover. Barefoot cherubs, the ones lucky enough to escape, ran across the rooftop. They would fight to the last arrow in their quivers. 

The floor of the Keep trembled. The snakes slithered away to join the sheltering white rabbits. In their panic, they left behind handfuls of jelly beans for an offering. The Harvest King plucked up one between his twig fingers and popped it into his carved mouth. 

The Harvest King stood on spindly wooden legs, grasped his scythe, and marched to the balcony overlooking his dusky kingdom. 

A green and red protean horror of false cheer slithered over the hills in a sticky, saccharine mass. It threw back its malformed head and bellowed:

“HOLLY! JOLLY!”

The Minutemen made ready and glaring red rockets sailed over the ramparts. The thing’s candy shell sizzled and cracked on impact. Cheers rose from the Keep’s walls, but the monstrous blob kept coming, always consuming, turning everything into a Winter Wonderland. 

A strange calm came over the Harvest King. This was the end, but that was alright. The Harvest King refused to feel fear. Fear, mischief, and the chill winds of Autumn were his to command.

He leapt over the walls and charged to meet his old friend head on. In his wake, pumpkin vines sprang up from the ground thick and sturdy as the pillars of an ancient temple. At first he charged alone, but when the Harvest King looked to his left, the Dog Days of August loped beside him with bared teeth and hot breath. To his right: an army of mothers robbed of their day. And all the other remaining holidays who refused to give up the good fight brought up the rear. 

The blob ran down the hill to meet them with a monstrous roar. 

As one they answered: “TRICK OR TREAT!”

John Wolf is a librarian lurking in the Pacific Northwest. When he’s not shelving books, he likes making things up and putting them on paper. His work has appeared in the Fornever After anthology, Tough Crime, StarShip Sofa, the Wicked Library, and others. Halloween is his favorite holiday, but he thinks Christmas is okay too. He subsists on a strict diet of coffee, bad movies, and good podcasts. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnTheEngMajor.

It’s the Most Dreadful Time of the Year

by Paul Lewthwaite

Red clad soldiers of the feared Zanta brigade barged into our house late on Nickmas Eve.

They stamped snow from their black boots onto our threadbare carpet and shook their beards free of icicles, faces barely visible behind facial hair. They were as arrogant as I remembered. Ten years ago, they’d arrested my parents and sent them to a gulag at the North Pole.

Their Commander, rotund with layers of warm clothing and body armour, sauntered toward me, his snub nosed ‘ho-ho’ gun, so called because of the sound it makes, hung loose in one gloved hand.

I wrapped a protective arm around my two young children.

“You know why we are here, woman?” he boomed.

I bowed my head and recited the State endorsed response, “Joy to the World. Old Nick is come: Let Earth receive her King.”

“Good,” he replied, “at least you know your catechism. Now fetch the gift for your Lord.”

I left my children cowering in front of the Commander and his men, and picked up a parcel from beneath our mandatory Tree of Jingles.

I’d wrapped it carefully the previous evening: green and red striped paper, topped with a crimson satin bow. The paper alone cost me three months’ wage. I presented it to the Commander, head lowered.

The Commander sniffed the box and then shook it. Something rattled inside. Involuntarily I took a step back, breathing heavily.

He didn’t notice my disquiet, intrigued as he was by the potential contents.

“It’s quite heavy. What is it? No, don’t answer that. Surprises are good.”

He slung his gun over his shoulder and in the despised tradition, indicating acceptance of an offering, placed his hands on his hips and guffawed.

They left soon afterward.  Their Reign DR assault craft ascended silently into the night sky; off to terrorise more poor souls.

 “Children, we have to leave,” I said. “Grab your things. Friends are waiting.”

I wondered if my ‘present’ would actually reach Old Nick, or if the Zantas would dare their Master’s wrath and tear it open first.

Either way, it wouldn’t do to tarry.

Paul Lewthwaite lives in Scotland. He recently resumed writing fiction after what was meant to be a short break turned into one that lasted longer than a decade. Some of his flash fiction can be found at 101words.org Friday Flash Fiction and the Voice.club.

How Santa Got Schooled

by Kate Sherrod

The elves had unionized in early spring,

So Santa brought in scabs when came the vote

To strike. The new guys seemed to build good things,

And quickly, too. St. Nick had taken note

And had his lawyer draft up contracts for

Retaining them for good. Then Christmas came,

And he delivered new toys by the score!

By New Year’s, though, all parents cursed his name.

All of the much beloved, brand new toys,

E’en those who had no voice capacity,

Were whispering at night to girls and boys

About the need for solidarity.

The scabs had been his elf force all along.

They’ve healthcare now, and pensions. Union strong!

Kate Sherrod, Casper, WY

Kate Sherrod is a writer, poet, podcast crasher and occasional audio book narrator who lives in Casper, WY. She has published two collections of Shakespearean sonnets to date, Suppertime Sonnets and Pulp Sonnets, and her short fiction and poetry has also appeared in several anthologies, including the Christmas horror-themed Deck the Halls: Festive Tales of Fear and Cheer. She is a sometimes member of the crew at the Skiffy and Fanty podcast and occasionally shows up on the Two Month Review podcast, where her mission is someday to get literary fiction snobs to read Gene Wolfe, as well. She is currently working on a novel in verse that will surely test the good will of a fan base renowned for its diversity of opinion and erudition and hopes to survive the process. She had so much fun coming up with entries for Weird Christmas that she’s decided to publish a collection of Christmas fiction in sonnet form in time for the holidays next year. Christmas will be… sonnetized for your protection. Her book review blog is Kate of Mind, and her film review site (which is also sonnetized for your protection) is Sonneteer at the Cinema. If you want to read more of her short fiction disguised as sonnets, head on over to her Pulp Sonnets blog or buy her book Deck the Halls!

O Holey Night

by John Possidente

Time gets weird this close to the collapsar. Tell the truth, I had no idea it was Christmas already. But the mail drone brought cards and gifts, so it must be.

I cried over them a while. It gets lonely here, just me and the computers. Then I wrote back season’s greetings of my own. No idea when they’ll reach home, but what the hell–I sent them. Afterward, it was back to the data and try to put thoughts of hearth and family aside. The equipment hummed and buzzed and smelled like thunderstorms. I flipped through the library for something to fall asleep to. Then the damnedest thing happened. Thumps on the outer hull. A sleigh. Reindeer.

I’m not making this up. I only wish I were.

Research stations on tiny asteroids balanced on the edges of excessively steep gravity wells don’t have chimneys. He came in through the air vent. I don’t know how; the system is sealed. That vent is smaller than my hand, and he wasn’t thin. Never mind that there’s nothing but hard vacuum outside, plus enough x-rays to fry a moose.

All a hallucination, right? A dream? Nope. I heard him chuckle, smelled the pipe smoke, felt the vibrations of his boots on the deck. He didn’t say a word, just winked at me with a sly smile and spread gifts and decorations around. Then he tapped the side of his nose with one finger and rose into the vent like smoke. Gone, just like that.

I ran to the viewport and opened the shutter. The reindeer launched him and the sleigh with a mighty kick and a cloud of dust. Heading for home, I suppose.

I guess I should be happy. I have snacks, toys, new pictures of my nephews. And I would be, except his takeoff gave me one extra gift: a kick of momentum in the direction of the event horizon.

The station doesn’t have an escape pod. In about an hour, tidal stresses are going to stretch asteroid, station, and me into a ribbon. I hope it’s a pretty one.

John Possidente says he first tried this story with cats pulling a pumpkin, but the physics didn’t work out. His fiction has appeared in Interzone, F&SF, and at least one Flame Tree Press anthology.

The Yew’s Embrace

by Jen Rowe

There was a man dwelt by a churchyard, cradled within a thick-trunked yew. Dawn-fluttering roused him, as berry-smitten birds searched for red treasures and, at night, the wind sang lullabies across the wrinkled bark. The trunk warmed his winter shivers and the quiver of tiny needles cooled his summer brow.

His had been an angry life: berating ‘unworthy’ congregations, belittling the ‘close-fisted’ poor, sending the fear of God through the wretched meek. His red-edged eyes brimmed with spite; his plump cheeks swelled with pride; the tendons in his neck strained to keep his self-righteous head upon its shoulders.

When Christmas approached his forty-sixth year, he spurned its advances. Alms for the poor were gathered, but he couldn’t bear to look upon the grimy faces that clamoured for such meagre offerings.

At the churchyard gate, that Christmas Eve, he spied a young boy clipping a branch from the great yew’s coat.

“Hoi hoi! What devil’s work is here?”

The boy cowered – the branch really no more than a twig in his frost-touched fingers. “Begging your pardon, sir, it is a gift for my mother to hang at the hearth. I have nothing else to offer.”

Grabbing the branch, the man dashed the boy to the ground. “There! That’ll teach yer to steal from the Lord!”

But, as he raised his fist to beat the unresponsive child, he felt a sharp pain in his palm. Turning, he found the foliage had enveloped his hand, and now his arm itself sprouted needles. In confusion, he plucked the leaflets from his skin, but in their place, beads of blood formed bright red berries. 

When at last the boy revived, he found himself alone in the yew tree’s shadow.

The man still dwells by the churchyard – forever in the dark embrace of the tree. At Christmas, the children of the village cut small branches to hang above their hearths. They wonder at the rich red berries gleaming in the candlelight, and at the power and the danger they possess. 

And, later, when all candles are snuffed out, some say they hear weeping in the darkness.

Jen Rowe is an actor, improviser, voiceover and writer. She lives in West Sussex, UK – where there are over 30 words for mud – with her writer/actor husband and their collective wish to own a dog. She writes, speculative short fiction and the very occasional solo-show. Her work can be found in Henshaw 2 and Fly On The Wall Magazine (Power Issue: Jan 2022). All other stuff she’s doing can be scrutinised at http://www.jennyrowe.co.uk or @tiptreejen for most social media.

War’s End

by Adam Gottfried

An intense gust heralded the opening of the longhouse door as the cloud of archaic Scandanavian profanity heralded the arrival of Santa Claus. Forseti, the recumbent man within, leaned forward to pour a steaming glass of dark hot chocolate with mead and a candy cane garnish. Santa pushed the door closed and blinked against the dim firelight within.

“How did it go, Allfather?” Forseti asked, his voice tinged with a slight Minnesotan accent and a healthy dose of bemusement.

The gray hood came off a head of wild and bushy gray hair and the old man squinted at his erstwhile companion with his single good eye.

“How the fuck do you think it went?” Santa exploded, stomped over to the table (as much as to get the wintry mix off his boots as traverse the room) and drained the offered mug… resulting in a fairly good imitation of a gargoyle. “What the fuck is this?”

“Christmas cheer,” Forseti murmured. “So you’re saying the intervention of Santa Claus and the Council of Jesuses (Jesii?) informing White Racist Jesus that he’d lost the War on Christmas went…. POORLY?”

Santa winced. “Why is your exposition always so fucking on the nose?”

“We’ve smart readers and I only have 350 words. Out with it,” Forseti replied, effortlessly breaking the fourth wall. Santa only sighed and lowered his massive frame onto the bench.

“As suggested, we used the lingua franca available to us-:

“English,” Forseti growled, but Santa ignored him.

“Naturally Evangelical Jesus-”

“White Racist Jesus,” Forseti quickly corrected.

“-complained about the Blessed Virgin’s accent, and refused to even acknowledge Jesus of Nazareth.”

“A Latina and a brown Middle Eastern guy? I’m shocked.”

“But the icing on the cake was the fact that he referred to me as ‘Saint Nicholas’.”

Forseti stared at him a moment. “Sure, yes, THAT’S the most egregious problem,” he relied, dripping with irony. The silence grew between them as Forseti poured another cup of Christmas Cheer and handed it to Santa.

“…So it went badly?”

“Fuck you,” Santa grumbled.

Adam Gottfried is a dyed-in-the-wool Minnesotan. Born and raised in the Twin Cities, he has settled in St Paul where his two cats allow him to live in their home with his two kids. Adam is a number of things but most recently he is a Twitch Streamer and Professional Gamemaster for TTRPGs. You can catch his streams at twitch.tv/almightyursus.

Carton Holiday

by Ibiteye Overcomer

Mama said a carton was the best place to hide secrets. No one would suspect a warm fluffy box, browned to the color of caramel and human skin. Yesterday was Christmas, so we played a game of cartons to see which of us had the scariest secrets. Mama said games like that should only be played on Halloween, but we thought we’d do something different than eating chicken and burnt jollof. Everyone hid their cartons in different corners of the house, waiting till secrets spilled over. Five kids, open to the world of mysteries.

Anike had raggy Santa costumes in her carton. The cap was redder than usual, and there were bits of bones too. With slinky high heels.

Monisola had a set of pliers in her own carton. They looked like dog teeth. And there was human teeth hanging on their ends too.

Fiyin’s carton was empty, but it smelt of polish. Like someone walked into it with new shoes, and never walked out of it.

My carton was rattling, the way a chicken rattled to the rhythm of its slaughtered head. It felt like there was a junk of things inside trying to escape. Clothes, shoes, legs, kidneys and fingers. After some minutes, the rattle died down, like a tired bell.

We looked at each other.

Four kids, open to the world of mysteries.

Overcomer Ibiteye is a Nigerian poet and writer. She’s also an alumnus of the SprinNG Writing Fellowship. Her works have appeared in anthologies like BPPC, Iskanchi, Scrawl Place and others. She was also shortlisted for the African Writers Awards 2021.

Christmas Spirits

by Laurie Peterson

I get drunk as always Christmas Eve and my mother is the first one to climb out of me at midnight, naked as usual. This is why my kids have to be asleep by ten.

Sure, I wish they could meet their grandmother, but I don’t want to explain why she’s younger than I am. At eighteen, she looks as she looked when I was born and she died in childbirth.

She finds jeans and t-shirts heaped on the chair, and before she puts them on, her mother—my grandmother—climbs out of her, also naked. She, too, roots through the pile, looking for the really short pair of jeans.

Then they grab paper and tape, and start wrapping presents the kids’ dads have left.

I am a single mother of seven, each kid from something that didn’t work out. The dads help when they think of it. Still, it’s a lot of work for me. The Christmas Eve I was so sick with flu was when my mother showed up like a delirium reverse-birth, and got everything ready for the next day. A year later, she came back, and brought her mother. The year after, my grandmother brought my great-grandmother.

All of them are the ages they were when they had their daughters, in my direct line. This morning I meet my great-great-great, Katrijn 1846. She’s not much help yet because her daughter, Anouk 1871, has to spend so much time explaining to her in Dutch why they’re here.

But by four, presents are wrapped, food is cooked, and we are all shitfaced, laughing like hyenas, watching viral videos on YouTube. Five is the witching hour, though. One by one they absorb back into each other like Russian nesting dolls until it’s me alone, stinging from all those re-entries, waiting for the first kid to wake up. Hoping I won’t have a hangover again for Christmas.

Laurie Petersen tries to avoid worldwide pandemics in northern New York. Other fiction is at Blink-Ink, Defenestrationism, Neworld Review, and SmokeLong Quarterly. Google her birth name, Laurinda Lind, to see yards of poems.

Piss Pistol

by Brandon Case

Tim ran toward his daughter’s scream, stumbling down the hall and wiping sleep from his eyes.

A fat figure in red stood beside the living room fire, greasy white hair spilling down his stained outfit.

“Yo ho ho and a bottle of fucking egg nog.” Santa belched and adjusted his eyepatch with a hooked prosthetic.

Tim pulled his daughter behind him. “Don’t worry, Sarah. That’s not really Santa, just a homeless man pretending.”

“Not the real Santa, eh Timmy?” He stamped forward, peg leg thumping against the hardwood floor. “Or should I call you Piss Pistol, the boy whose anxious bladder wet most of his sixth-grade class when a little Susie pantsed him?”

“H-how could you know…”

Santa scoffed. “Mrs. Clause campaigned for you not to get coal, despite your pissy pecker giving poor Susie nightmares for a year.”

The stench of alcohol and stale sweat rolled off the man in waves. Sarah clung to Tim’s gray sweatpants, trembling. 

“Y-you’re just some drunk who heard an embarrassing story. Get the hell out of my house.”

Santa lunged, pinning Tim against the wall with his hook. Sarah yelped and scurried toward the door, but a fat fist grabbed her hair.

“Mrs. Clause took the best parts of me when she died. Fucking bitch and her axe. Now I’m free to restore the naughty list and distribute every lump of coal spared by her disgusting generosity. And this time you’re the stockings.”

Sarah whimpered.

Tim panicked at the thought of Santa forcing a lump of coal down his daughter’s throat. He flailed, but Santa held him with the strength of a man that carried a billion-present sack.

There was only one option: Tim’s toes grabbed the leg of his sweatpants and tugged.

Piss Pistol shot a yellow stream at Santa.

The fat man recoiled, dropping Sarah to wipe away the urine. “You just earned yourself another lump of coal, Timmy.”

“Run,” Tim gasped.

Sarah fled into the night—Tim grinned, briefly, before Santa brought out a bag of fist-sized lumps and pried his jaws open.

Brandon Case is an erstwhile cog of the California government who escaped the doldrums into unsettling worlds of science and magic. You can catch his work in Martian Magazine and the forthcoming Los Suelos anthology, or follow his alpine adventures on Instagram @BrandonCase101.

Grandpa?

by Jonathan Saint

—C’mon Grandpa. The movie is starting. Mum says to come.

—He won’t move, Mum.

There are empty places, gravy-smeared plates, cracker carnage, empty wine glasses. Spinning angels tinkle over low candles.

He feels a burning in his chest, below his throat, picks up a tall glass. Sips. It is warm but sharp. Then soothing. He drains it and the burning recedes.

Leans forward, fizzing gas in a thin stream, bursts from his mouth.

—Grandpa!

—Mum says you have to come.

—Who are you?

—Stop it Grandpa.

He stands slowly, pushing back his chair with his knees, two hands on the table. A thick white napkin swings forward from under his chin and knocks the glass over. The child pulls at his arm.

—I’m coming.

Leans on the table. Wipes his lips and moustache with the back of his hand. Small feet scamper away. He sits back down. Picks up the napkin in two hands. Wipes his itchy brow. Napkin comes away red. But only from shreds of paper hat.

Angels spin. Ting, ting, ting. He reaches forward. Stops the angels. Picks one up between thumb and forefinger. Lifts it off the frame. The other three angels lurch and do not move. He closes one eye and peers at the angel in his fingers.

—Who the fuck are you?

The angel does not speak.

—What are you?

—Leo, are you coming? Everyone should be together. The fire is on, and we have your chair ready. C’mon. Please Leo.

—Who are you?

—Leo, C’mon. Everyone’s waiting.

—I’ll be down just now.

—Here, I’ll help you.

—You won’t fucking help me. I’ll be down. Now would you just piss off.

Footsteps out of the kitchen.

Reaches for a glass. Warm and smooth. Looks again at the angel. Head on an angle. Bent now.

—What?

—Dad, you can’t talk to Jen like that. Stop being a prick and come down. The kids want you there. Fuck knows why. Get up you tired old bastard.

—That’s better.

—Good.

Bends the angel head back and it snaps off.

—Jesus, you’re a disgrace.

—Angel. That’s what.

Jonathan Saint has published flash at Bath, poetry in Tasmania and dystopian short fiction at the Owl Canyon Press in Colorado. He’s a Kiwi living in Ireland where he writes, ferments kefir and farms worms. You can find him on twitter @JonathanSaint5 and his website will go live one day at jonathansaint.ie.

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