Weird Xmas Flash Fiction 2022 (Contest Results)

NO TALK! NO BORINGNESS! STRAIGHT TO THE STORIES!!!

(Except that the opening quote is from Celebrant by Michael Cisco. He’s awesome. He has nothing at all to do with the show. I just think more people should read him. So… there ya go.)

Listen here, on your favorite podcast app, or at the Podbean site.

2022 Weird Christmas Flash Fiction Contest Winners:

Overall Winner: “Stocking Trade” by John Wolf

Stocking Stuffer Winner: “An Angel for Christmas” by Han Whiteoak

Cryptid Winner: “Humbug Hazel” by C.L. Sidell

Weird Card Winner: “Christpanzer” by Mark Manse

Honorable Mentions (in no special order other than appearance on the show):

  • “Demon Dinner” by Mark Szasz
  • “Pretend” by Sarah Hodge-Weatherbe
  • “Advent” by Doug Jensen
  • “Mushroom Miracle” by Sherry Morris
  • “You Can’t Catch Me” by Morgan Melhuish
  • “O Come All Ye Faithful” by Joshua Stewart
  • “Well, Where Did You Think it Came From?” by Liz Guilt
  • “Up On the Rooftop” by LL Garland
  • “Peppermint Golem” by Leo Sinen
  • “Blissful Yolo” by David Staiger
  • “Underneath the Christmas Tree” by Paul Wilson
  • “The Nutcracker Sweet” by Daisy Shyglass
  • “Waxy: A Weird HinJew Chrismukkah Tale” by Shilpa Kanat
  • “The Show Must Go On” by Carla Rudy
  • “Christmas Dinner Mix Up” by Kennedy Meecham

Please help support the contest, the podcast, and Weird Christmas website by donating/gifting any and all amounts at Ko-Fi.com (click here). The money from the prizes is all from donations. And the more donations I get, the more I can give to the contestants. My long term goal is to make every story count as a professional sale by most writing organization’s standards.

A big thank you to all my volunteer readers this season: @EN_Dawson on Twitter, Dustin Pari (@dustinpari), Old Man Freak Boy (@OldManFreakBoy), my work buddy Lisa, Scott Newmann from Tinsel Tunes Podcast, @witchreflection on Tumblr, and Scott Hay with his cohosts at the Global Strangeness Podcast.

Usual opening: “O Holy Night” by Tiny Tim, “Christmas Doesn’t Last” by Make Like Monkeys, “Santa Claus Boogie” by Hasil Adkins, “Space Age Santa” by Ross Christman

Special opening: “Merry Christmas (That Weird Thing You Did That One Time)” by Shorty Rayburn & the Tater Hill Gang

Bumper music (ripped straight from YouTube): here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Outro: “Auld Lang Syne” by Maxwell Farrington. (This entire album is wonderful and weird. Thanks to Christmas Underground for turning me on to it.)

Contest results from previous years: 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018.

2022 Weird Christmas Flash Fiction Contest

All stories copyright © 2022 by the authors.

Overall Winner: “Stocking Trade” by John Wolf

Stocking Trade

by John Wolf

“How many for the pair?” The woman asked.

The big man answered. Her face paled and not due to the cold.

“Is what it is,” he grunted.

“Why so much?”

“Production costs.” He held up the stockings, their red sides glimmering like firelight, their ruffs whiter and purer than Aspen slopes. A passing car illuminated the scene and two names sparkled in of the white fur.

She blinked. How did he know her name and her husband’s name? Had she told him? Had they been there before?

The light passed but the names still floated before her eyes in golden shadows.

She fiddled with her purse. “Card?”

He shook his head.

Who refused cards? Everyone had those little chip dealies nowadays. But the gold names beckoned.

She handed over the cash. The man pocketed it and touched the side of his nose.

The words escaped her: “Can I get one for my dog?”

He looked at her, slack jawed.

“My little dog, TinTin. It would be so perfect.”

The man trudged to his trailer.

“Be a minute. Go on and get a tree.”

Happy to be gone, she ran off in search of her husband and the tree for their new home.

Inside the trailer, the darkness breathed. The man could feel them all around.

He sighed. “Need one more.” A hundred squeals of horror answered him. He unsheathed his hacksaw and flicked on the light.

The floor of the trailer came alive with sleek, red and white bodies writhing in their collars. One of the older elves clutched something to her tiny chest.

“Don’t make this harder than it needs to be.”

It wasn’t too difficult, physically anyway, yanking the baby out of her arms. It shrieked with the rest of them. He didn’t enjoy it. Who would? But the big box stores and online boom had taken a chunk out of his business. Times were tough all over.

He placed the saw just above the knee where the red hide was broken by a line of white fur. The name “TinTin” already forming there. Then Santa got to work.

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. Recent work has appeared in the anthologies Strange Aeon 2022: Hopeful Monsters, Superstition, and Holiday Leftovers. He subsists on a strict diet of coffee, bad movies, and good podcasts. You can find him on Twitter as @JohnTheEngMajor.

Stocking Stuffer Winner: “An Angel for Christmas” by Han Whiteoak

An Angel for Christmas

by Han Whiteoak

My parents have gone all out this year. When I arrive, there’s a real angel on top of the tree.

“We thought we’d give it a try,” Mum says. “They’re getting quite popular.”

The angel stares miserably down. His arms are tied behind him. Pine needles skewer his feet to the trunk. The hems of his robes are stained brown with old blood.

His lips are sewn shut.

I never thought my parents would be into this kind of thing. Dad explains they’re the last household on the street not to have an angel. “It gets to you,” he says. “Knowing they’re all looking at you and thinking you can’t afford it.”

The pile of gifts under the tree is smaller than usual. The angel has used up most of the budget. Still, on Christmas morning I act delighted with the designer socks, although they’re less comfortable than my usual ones.

On the twelfth day, Mum asks me for help putting the angel away in the attic.

“Aren’t you supposed to send them back to heaven?” I ask.

“What a waste! He’ll do another year, won’t he?”

A shining tear dribbles down the angel’s rosy cheek. Needles scrape my hands as I pull the stakes from his feet.

“Watch out!” Dad says. “It might kick.”

“We should have paid for disposal,” Mum says. “The installation man recommended the full package.”

“Get it in the bloody box!” Dad shouts.

“I can manage,” I say. “Go and sit down.”

He stomps off. From the other room, the TV starts to blare. Mum follows, shouting at him to turn it down.

I untie the angel’s arms. His hands move stiffly, like being tied up so long has done permanent damage. “It’s alright,” I whisper, leading him to the fireplace. “You’re free.”

I give him a reassuring smile, wondering how he’ll show his gratitude. I’ll get it in the neck from my parents, but it’s worth it to know I’ve done a good deed. Before he disappears up the chimney, the angel stares at me with eyes full of hate.

Han Whiteoak is a writer from Sheffield, England. They have a degree in physics, a passion for the Peak District, and an incurable habit of borrowing more library books than it is possible to read during the loan period. Their short fiction has recently appeared or is forthcoming in publications including Solarpunk MagazineMetaphorosis, and The Sunlight Press. Visit their website www.hanwhiteoak.com or Twitter @hanwhiteoak.

Cryptid Winner: “Humbug Hazel” by C.L. Sidell

Humbug Hazel

by C.L. Sidell

“No wreath? No tree? No lights? Humbug Hazel will give you the frights!” 

“What’s the time?”

“Scared?” Jacob asks.

“Bored,” I reply. “And ready to leave.”

“C’mon.” Cara hooks me with her doe-eyed stare. “Stay? Please?”

I know she only wants to impress Jacob. Or Matt. Maybe both? She’s got a short attention span. 

“Fine,” I mutter. “But you owe me.”

“Thanks, Dot!”

We’re at Matt’s cabin just outside of town, seated on sofa chairs, wrapped in blankets, fireplace blazing. It’s December twenty-eighth. Primetime for Humbug Hazel to strike anyplace lacking festive decor. Like this one.

“So we… sit and wait for nothing to happen?”

“Jusht you wait and shee,” Jacob says, tipping his beer for that final drop.

“This guy? Really?” I whisper in Cara’s ear.

“Shush.”

I fall asleep to the sound of fire crackling… crackling, rustling, clanking. 

What? 

Eyelids popping open, I see a hideous creature towering before the fire. “Hum– Hum–” 

“Huh?” Beside me, Cara stirs then screams.

“Holy shit!” Jacob shouts.

“Hit it!” Matt yells.

“With what?”

“Your phone! I don’t know!”

Humbug Hazel exceeds my worst imaginings. Bones trim its matted fur cloak. Claw-like fingers extend from flared sleeves, lionesque feet protrude from the hem. Rabbit-ish ears flop over the cherub mask concealing its face.

As Jacob and Matt waffle, Humbug Hazel reaches for the sack hanging from its chain belt and shakes it, creating a tinkling sound.

“Must… make… pretty…” it rasps, then suddenly whips its belt around the room, knocking Jacob upside the head and –   

Blackness.

Groans wake me. Jacob’s lying on his side near the fireplace. I crawl toward him, blinking against the pounding in my head.

“You okay?”

I turn him over.

Where his eyes should be, there are now red ornaments reflecting the flickering flames. “Urghhh.” Trying not to gag, I survey the room. Cara’s sprawled under the window, green glass glinting from her sockets. Matt’s splayed by the door, gold baubles gleaming.

And there’s Humbug Hazel, stuffing Matt’s eyeballs into its sack and lumbering toward me.

“Must… make… pretty,” it rasps, two violet bulbs dangling from its claw.

A native Floridian, C. L. Sidell grew up playing with toads in the rain and indulging in speculative fiction. She holds a master of arts in both English and library & information science, moderates two creative writing groups, and has reviewed books for the Florida Library Youth Program. Her work has appeared in 34 Orchard, Apparition Lit, F&SF, Orion’s Belt, Strange Horizons, and others. You can find her online at https://crystalsidell.wixsite.com/mysite

Weird Card Winner: “Christpanzer” by Mark Manse

Christpanzer

by Mark Manse

(Story inspired by this card.)

The soldiers are panicking. They talk about enemy tank spearheads headed toward the Danube. My grandfather is unconcerned. He says Hungary is good tank country and the enemy will be here soon. Then I’ll never have to be hungry again. Grandfather was in a war long ago. Rarely does he remember my name, but he relives that war in his dreams. 

After dark, I sneak out of the basement. Mother must hear me, she has not slept in months, but she does not stop me.

Our soldiers are fleeing the village. One soldier asks me for civilian clothes. I bring him my father’s things. Father doesn’t need them anymore.

Explosions dance on the eastern horizon. The booms fill my chest and that feels pleasant. 

In an old barn where many soldiers had slept, I find their makeshift Christmas tree. No presents beneath it, but they did leave a pot of soup on their dead fire. I eat from it until I’m sick. 

Then I wait.

The earth shakes as monstrous black shapes roll down the road. A shining light pours from the open hatch of one tank. I realize it’s the tank commander shining so beautifully. His brilliant halo pushes away the dark.

Hiding does not occur to me. The angel’s aura entrances me even as the tank threatens to run me down.

The deafening machine halts. The angel’s great wings spread.

“What is your name?” he asks in broken Hungarian.

I tell him.

“What?” he barks.

I tell him again and now he seems to understand. He speaks heaven’s tongue to his compatriots below and they laugh, raucous and metallic.

The angel says something incomprehensible to human ears. He then pulls a gift-wrapped box from below and tosses it to me.

“Merry Christmas!” he cackles in my language.

A propaganda flier is attached to the present. Under the image of the cross it reads, “There is no more repentance. You will be judged.”

Inside the box I find my father’s head. He opens his mouth and speaks to me, describing the horrors that follow in the tanks’ wake.

Mark Manse is a research scientist living in the lovely, tumorous suburbs of Chicagoland, IL with his wife, freshly-birthed son, and two dogs. He got lost in the field of geology in his 20’s but somehow crawled his way out with a PhD. You won’t find his work published anywhere yet, but hopefully you’ll encounter him soon wherever you consume weird fiction.

Honorable Mentions

Demon Dinner

by Mark Szasz

(Story inspired by this card.)

It molded itself with the couple’s rancid ham, curdled potatoes, black-flecked banana pudding, and turkey baked the consistency and color of toxic sludge. A sesame seed bun’s worth of eyes blinked from its body, foul mouths filling the spaces between. Glenn and Glenda were both gobsmacked, so it spoke first. 

“You summoned me,” said the supcubus, “Whaddya want?” 

“We,” Glenn stammered, uncertain where to look since no eyes were paired, “we need help with Christmas dinner.” 

The kitchen was something apocalyptic, and charred gravy sigils made the dining room its match, save for the orderly place settings atop the lengthy dining table. But that was what great great gram’s recipe book said to do, and you never changed gram’s recipes or it all went to hell.  

“Decided to host this year?” its mouths gurgled, grinning. 

“It was a mistake,” Glenda whispered, transfixed by a cooking vision rivaling the manifested demon. 

“I’d like to help… but there’s a problem.”  

“What?” 

It laughed nervously. “I suppose it won’t be a shock to hear, you botched this recipe, too… instead of being bound to serve you dinner, I’m bound to eat you. Nothing personal, it’s the rules.” 

“Wait, no! You just hold on! We got it perfect!” 

The supcubus apologized profusely, nabbing a cloth handkerchief. Opening its numerous jaws to incomprehensible widths it charged. 

Bad as Glenn and Glenda were at cooking though, they were excellent eaters! 

Wresting utensils from the tabletop, they fended their foe by fork, by knife, by sometimes spoon! With panther agility, they refused the demon’s advances, matching might for might. The battle became ferocious once family arrived. Raiding cabinets with hangry hands, they yawped into the fray! 

Stabbing, piercing, tenderizing, chopping, slicing, dicing, braising, flambéing, injecting, mincing, and, at long last, skewering their enemy, they beat their breasts in victory and dreams of impending heartburn! 

Cousin Edith (who admitted she never should’ve let Glenn and Glenda host in the first place) dressed and prepared the meal. 

“This is one of our better Christmases,” Uncle Judd said, savoring scrumptious supcubus carcass, the rest of the clan nodding.

Mark Szasz is a hobby writer from the southeastern US finding joy in exploring ways to appreciate and contribute to the literary landscape. He hopes that by sharing stories with others they feel encouraged to share their own unique tales with the world. His work has appeared in Jasper Magazine, Friday Flash Fiction, and Havok Magazine.  

Pretend

by Sarah Hodge-Wetherbe

She started to see it out of the corner of her eye twelve days after her husband’s death when the house’s silence was pressing hard around her. She had never been alone in all her life, and now she was always alone. Oh, friends and neighbors came to check on her, and she was thankful. In all the ways that mattered, though, she was alone when the dark and cold set in. She had hardly noticed Christmas creeping on her, low to the ground like a half-starved animal.

It was always there, the thing that only stayed in the corner of her eye. A shadow that wasn’t a shadow, that looked like what was now in the center of her. It would vanish if she looked right at it, but it took a little longer to fade as time passed. So she started to avoid looking, just so it would stay longer. She told no one. They would not understand.

So tonight, December 24, she set the table for two and lit the candles. She laid out the beef roast and a warm fruitcake and waited in the dim light. And then it came again, no longer melting away when she looked directly at it. It almost looked human.

“I made your favorite, Bruce,” She said. “Merry Christmas.” She said.

It was silent, and the words that came were more impressions than natural sounds. I am not your husband.

“I know,” She said. “But just for tonight, can you pretend? It’s Christmas. You see…..” she gestured to the table, showing what she couldn’t find proper words for.

It paused again and then silently slipped into the chair across from her, looking at her with a face that was not at all a face. Was there pity there? Could the void understand loneliness?

Wasn’t Christmas the time of miracles, even if they were dark ones?

She nodded a little and poured the wine.

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/.

Advent

by Doug Jensen

“It’s made from nacional cacao.” I said brightly. “It’s quite rare.”

I saw Felix’s lip curl in a slight sneer at my deliberate over-pronunciation. He popped the remaining piece of chocolate in his mouth. “Not bad” he said, rolling his tongue behind his teeth. “Of course you can probably get the stuff in bars in Fortnum’s, y’know.”

We were standing in the basement kitchen of my townhouse. I could just make out the faint strains of Mariah Carey overhead. Felix took a swig of wine and belched, not bothering to cover his mouth. “You’ve done alright for yourself” He gestured, slopping wine on the white tiles in the process. His eyes seemed a little off, as if he was suddenly having trouble focusing. “This what you wanted to show me?”

I smiled coyly and pressed a switch beneath the counter. A sleek black panel in the wall slid away revealing a narrow passageway illuminated by pale green spotlights. Felix laughed and lurched sideways. I caught him by the arm and led him unresisting down the corridor into a large red room lined with black panels. 

Felix was mumbling incoherently, his eyes rolled back in his head. I gently guided him into a small metal alcove. To ensure his comfort, I placed his arms into a pair of restraints. Then it only remained to take the spare panel and slot it into the gap behind him. Some fixative and the whole thing was tightly secured. 

It took a little while for Felix to grasp his situation. I leaned against the wall and listened to him moan and rage until eventually I told him that I really had to go. 

 “Farewell Felix” I called. “I’m afraid my other guests are waiting”.

“For god’s sake man” came a mournful cry. “Don’t leave me here alone”

I had to laugh. As I left to rejoin the party, I took one last look at the room lined with black panels, now twenty four in total. I switched out the light, and closed the door behind me.

Douglas Jensen is a poet and short story writer, originally from Fife in Scotland. He now lives and works in Sheffield. His story ‘When Last We Spoke’ was highly commended in the TSS Flash 400 Autumn competition and he has also written and drawn a number of self-published comics and zines. He can be found on twitter @thatdougjensen.

Mushroom Miracle

by Sherry Morris

(Story inspired by these two cards.)

Tell me again—slowly, Maureen says towering over him. After seven years of itchy marriage, Doug would recognise her warning tone even if he was suddenly struck deaf. He sits up straighter on the couch.

After you went Christmas shopping, the doorbell rang. A mushroom offered to entertain the twins for the afternoon. They’d been super-irritating—talking throughout the game, changing the channel… I said okay.

Doug smiles weakly. Doesn’t meet Maureen’s eye.

You said okay to the mushroom, she replies. Her voice is calm, light. Doug is instantly wary of this serene Maureen.

I haven’t been drinking. Or doing drugs. Honest.

No, she says and her lips twist into a tight smile. You’ve been conversing with a mushroom. Handed over our children.

He had a childcare license…a trustworthy face. Dougthinks back. He was elf-size. Wore a festive red cap with white dots. There was something more. He was Christmassy somehow—like a mushroom miracle. 

Maureen snorts. A mushroom miracle. It doesn’t sound miraculous in her mouth.

I gave him $50. Said he’d get $100 more when he brought them back in a few hours.

Maureen’s eyes flash anger.

You paid him too!?

You know what the twins are like. I couldn’t expect him to take them for free.

Maureen nods. They went willingly?

Absolutely, he had snacks. And drinks. Glasses of heated lemonade—apparently that’s a thing now. He said they’d be worn out when they came back.

Let’s hope, Maureen says.

They looked Christmas-happy, straddling the mushroom, bundled up tight. I don’t remember any seatbelts though… There’d be trouble for that. Doug sighs. He misses the days when they didn’t fight so much. I waved as they lifted off into flight.

Before he can say another word, Maureen slides out of her coat to reveal a form-fitting, barely-there, Santa’s little helper dress.  

Several hours you said? Maureen plumps the cushions, positions herself on the couch. Skies are so busy this time of year…bound to be delays.  And in that moment, Doug has an epiphany:  the true reason for this magical season is mushrooms.

Originally from Missouri, Sherry Morris (@Uksherka) writes prize-winning fiction from a farm in the Scottish Highlands where she pets cows, watches clouds and dabbles in photography. She reads for the wonderfully wacky Taco Bell Quarterly and her first published story was about her Peace Corps experience in 1990s Ukraine. Her work appears in Longleaf ReviewFictive DreamMolotov Cocktail, NFFDBarren and other cool places. Visit www.uksherka.com for more of her published work.

You Can’t Catch Me

by Morgan Melhuish

“Birth is just a recipe: two ingredients and lots of luck,” that’s what my grandma used to say. 

“Sugar and spice and all things nice…” That was another of her favourites, kindly tapping my button nose and hoping to distract me from the facts of life. 

You were more than that. Much more.

It was yuletide and I’d wanted to make gingerbread in her honour. I’d watched her fashioning figures with lemon icing eyes and smiles, a skewered hole in the head to thread red ribbon through. 

“When you bake you give a piece of your heart,” grandma had said – another Hallmark homily. I’m not sure what I gave you as I arranged each ingredient on the tabletop and tapped them with a wooden spoon. From the golden block of butter to the hardened brown sugar I weighed and stirred, trying to summon the memory of something I’d lost… 

For my eight year old self it had been a tough year.

Grandma hadn’t given all of her heart in gifts of cookies and cakes. There was still enough, arteries thick with cream and salted caramel, to burst. A sickly sweet coronary. 

So while snow fell like sifted flour outside I conjured, I kneaded; and when it was done, the stoop of our log cabin seemed the perfect place to let the dough chill and rest. 

When I returned, hours later, the bowl was empty, a crystal rim of frost forming. 

If only I’d known it was tantamount to abandoning a child to the wilds.

No wonder you became feral, my gingerbread big foot, my spiced Sasquatch. Made of such sweet stuff you had to protect yourself from winged predators with claws, from squirrels and rodents that nipped. To say nothing of the bears and coyote.

No wonder you shunned humanity. 

I’ve glimpsed you though, stalking through the pines. I’ve seen your flint-sharp eyes, your sticky shaggy pelt. The gut wrench recognition of a mother for her child. 

It’s why I return to the forest each Christmas, armed with candy canes and gifts and my inherited Hallmark homilies. Hoping for reconciliation.

Morgan Melhuish is a writer and educator from the south coast of the UK. In 2023 he has work being published by Timber Ghost Press, Wyldblood Press and Open Book as part of their Unbound series. You can find him on Twitter @mmorethanapage

O Come All Ye Faithful

by Joshua Stewart

“Give peace to your neighbors,” commands the priest. I always end up shaking hands with the guy who wipes his hand across his nose, so I dive down under the pew. I think I’m alone, but from two rows back, I see an old couple slither on their bellies, heading my way. “We’re trying to cheat death,” says the old man who smells of boiled cabbage.

To kill time, we play a few hands of Pinochle, and by the third round, I look up from my crummy cards to see half the congregation under the pews, each with their own reason. “I hope those choir ladies haven’t quit their day jobs,” mutters a man in a Santa Claus hat. “I caught an altar boy staring at my chest,” says a woman in a low-cut V-neck.

Then a guy tanked up on eggnog begins to belt out Christmas carols. Soon we’re all singing face down on the floor, our arms flung across each other’s backs. We roll from side-to-side to simulate a collective swaying, and I feel like we belong to one big, happy family. I don’t even care who has what on their hands.

Joshua Michael Stewart is the author of three poetry collections: Break Every StringThe Bastard Children of Dharma Bums, and Love SomethingHis poems have appeared in the Massachusetts Review, Salamander, Plainsongs, Brilliant Corners, South Dakota Review, and many other publications. He lives in Ware, Massachusetts. www.joshuamichaelstewart.com.

Well, Where Did You Think it Came From?

by Elizabeth Guilt

Steve paused outside the door for a moment. He’d helped out all his life – obviously, he was a Galliard – but this was different. He was twelve, now. The juvenile pair were his: his creatures, his responsibility. His profit, too, if the harvest went well.

All he’d had to do, so far, was open the shed door every few days and sling in a goat carcass. But last week, he’d heard the male’s teeth chattering in the night, heard him scraping his long, bony forelimbs together, and known it was nearly time. On Sunday, he’d wrestled the male into a separate cage, scooping up four legs in each arm and bracing the furry back against his own stomach. One of his earliest memories was watching Grandfather Galliard caging males, expertly bunching the frantic, spindly limbs through the small door.

Now, the stink of the pheromones burned the back of Steve’s nose until he couldn’t tell if the breathlessness was from the chemical reek or his own excitement. He opened the shed door.

The male was squashed up against the cage, teeth gnashing the air and striking sparks from the bars.The female was circling, circling, her rear four legs bent and her abdomen rocking against the concrete floor. Steve hefted the spindle in one hand, and took a deep, choking, breath.

He pressed her down, his stomach heaving (like it always did) as moist, matted fur oozed warm glitter under his fingers. He caught a loose end from her spinnerets, and began spooling.

Once the first, bloody lengths were out, he gasped. Pale, rose gold strands wound damply onto the bobbin. Rose gold was such an unusual colour. And it was thick, too, and bushy! Steve wound faster and faster, already calculating the prices he would get at the tinsel market.

“You beauty,” he murmured, as he pulled the pin from the male’s cage, and ran.

Elizabeth Guilt lives in London, UK, where history lurks alongside plate glass office buildings and stories spring out of the street names. Her fiction has appeared most recently in Cosmic Horror MonthlyThe Arcanist [free to read!] and All Worlds Wayfarer. You can find her at https://www.elizabethguilt.com/, or on Twitter as @elizabethguilt.

Up on the Rooftop

by LL Garland

December 22nd: Neva cowered beneath the covers, scolding herself for losing her nerve.

Feeble laughter echoed from her roof; the footfalls lighter than she’d expected.

If Neva had any hope of replacing the watch by Christmas—the one she’d snuck from under the tree and worn to school—she would need some high-powered help. And soon.

###

December 23rd: Neva was ready. She grabbed her bag and the cookies on her nightstand, then climbed the pecan tree up to the roof.

Something pale and fat crouched near the chimney.

It heard the crunch of dry leaves beneath Neva’s shoes. Feathers spiked along the thing’s back. Head rotated on a gnarled neck. Moonlight fell on wet black eyes in a wrinkled, grey face.

L-la Lechuza?” Neva’s throat tightened.

The owl-woman’s head tilted. “You know me?”

“My abuelo says you’re a witch … from his village.”

“Come closer, tasty child. Are you disappointed I’m not the fat old white man bringing you toys?” she croaked, stalking toward Neva. Click, click, cl—. The Lechuza slammed into an invisible wall.

“You should be more careful, bruja.” A jar trembled in Neva’s small hands. Cloudy liquid sloshed around a single feather. “Abuelo told me all about you. He also taught me this binding spell.”

The Lechuza snatched at the jar, but the wall stopped her. It worked; the owl-woman was at her mercy. Neva made her sing ‘Feliz Navidad’, just to be sure.

“You will bring me exactly what I want – just like Santa. Then we’re even forever. Deal?”

Yellow lips pursed, the Lechuza nodded.

“Here. I thought you might be hungry.” Neva tossed her the packet of Oreos, then sat on the shingles. “See, there’s this bully, a teenager, who stole my watch …”

###

December 24th: Click, click, click. Claws tapping on glass summoned Neva to the window. She opened it to find the watch dripping blood on the casement.

Relieved, she flung the binding jar. Glass shattered in the street. “Merry Christmas.”

A gravelly “Whooo, whooo, whooo” answered in the distance.

LL Garland enjoys gaming, writing speculative fiction, and exploring deep, dark woods. She’s been called “disturbingly competitive” at all three. She lives in a house with three dogs and two libraries – a fancy one for show, and a hidden one for the weird stuff. You can find her lurking on Twitter at @ll_garland.

Peppermint Golem

by Leo Siren

The beast—which should not have existed—crashed up through solid ice like a shark breaching water. It could burrow for years; feed for weeks. It stabilized on two crimson-hooved feet, though it had more. Striped red-and-white horns curled around many times, each coming to point at one side of the Red Wizard’s head.

The Red Wizard Santoccules remained still.

The Peppermint Golem regarded him at length, eyes a swirl of blood and snow, before demanding, “Why here?”

Sickly sweet nog breath filled Santoccules’s nostrils and mouth like hot sauna steam, unfiltered by his thick beard. The beast’s speech was basic, but the sound impossibly complex—not one voice, but thousands in unison. Lilting sing-song, sad moan, terrified screech, accents from throughout the world. But all innocent. “Why disturb?” the multitudinous hiss asked. Not one among the myriad stuttered or fell out of rhythm, though some were so childlike as to barely form words. “Don’t leave, will kill.”

It was a dreadful voice; more so to know from whence it came… the simultaneous speech of every child ever poisoned by the golem’s tasty traps. It would hide beneath roadside snow with only the thick lengths of horn exposed. Children took them for the broken halves of a grand peppermint sweet that had fallen from some master confectioner’s cart on its way to the lord’s Wintersdark feast.

With but a single lick, their names were writ unto the naughty side of Santoccules’s scrolls forever. They were still out there. Alive, or something like it. Santoccules knew because they visited his workshop. More each year, wailing and hacking through the walls with shards of red and white glass. His elfish helpers, stunted by long generations of inbreeding, barely repelled the last wave.

Santa licked his lips. He had taken the antidote the elves brewed exactly two hours prior, as instructed. He had not eaten in two days.“Come at me then,” Santoccules roared with a hearty ho-ho. He swatted the massive horns out of his face. “You said you’d kill me, devil. Let’s see if you mint it.”

Leo Siren is a scoundrel for hire living near the frozen shores of Lake Superior. He has contributed to works of high literary merit such as Horror Garage, Maximum Yield Cannabis, and Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Plunges into Michigan. You can watch his Christmas special here, but please refrain from doing so: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X0tk69GvJKs

Blissful Yolo

by David Staiger

“Right,” said d’Arsi, “That should do it. Now hand me the brillo.” They made a last adjustment to one of the plexorbs, shifting the shiny argentine sphere a bit lower on the spindly fractalite branch to where it caught the incoming bril just a bit better.

m’Uriel looked up from their own task—that of draping the flufferfoam strings around the arbortruss—and huffed. “A little busy here.” At the sound of snapping plex, they added a small curse and nearly froze, looking down.

“Careful!” d’Arsi hissed. “Those gifcubes are impossibly expensive.”

“Nope. No harm done.” m’Uriel crouched to examine the cluster of garish box-like sculpies underneath the spread of needly green arms. “Just knocked a peg off one of the stands is all. Won’t even see it from the ob-port.”

d’Arsi exhaled, a mixture of aggravation and relief. “Don’t worry. Just be extra cautious coming out, okay?” They went to fetch the brillo for themself.

As m’Uriel extricated themself from the scene, d’Arsi took the poly-tined brillo from its case. Clicking their hoverpeds to life, they floated to the top of the structure to set the final piece in place. They touched down to the flooring with a satisfied sigh.

“Don’t understand why the ob-deck can’t just leave this up all cycle,” groused m’Uriel.

“Such a pain to reconstruct every time.”

d’Arsi smirked. “Habit more than anything, I suspect. Besides, ‘Ancient Religions of the Second and Third Millennium’ just doesn’t have the same draw as most of the protozoological exhibits.”

“Tell me about it. r’Ori has been trying to get me to see the ‘Binary Mating Practices of Early Humans’ for almost two flips now.”

d’Arsi rolled their eyes. They studied the image on their tap-pad, compared it with the exhibit. “Looks good.” Together, the two stepped out and sealed the port. “Hit the surge, will you?”

m’Uriel complied. All the brills flickered up and beamed through the viewglaze in a sparkling festival of color. d’Arsi input the name display.

ALL-HOLY BAUBLEGUM TREE. AUTHENTIC TOTEM OF SANTOS KRISTUS.

“Blissful Yolo,” said d’Arsi.

“With a pleasant cycle ahead,” said m’Uriel

David Staiger is a full-time procrastinator, part-time visionary, and a spare-time writer.  When not indulged in fantasy, he enjoys hockey, cycling, woodfires, and hibernation.  He currently resides in the Finger Lakes Region of New York State with his two wonderful children, an adorable shih tzu-terrier, and one corpulent feline of decidedly questionable character.

Underneath the Christmas Tree

by Paul Wilson

Johnny crept downstairs but didn’t enter the living room. He savored the excitement. Blinking tree lights rioted. He paused, gripping the banister. This was the best Christmas moment, the anticipation, wondering if he received what he really wanted. Sure, there would be toys. He had a good dad. There would be Batman, Paw Patrol, a new video game—not the new PS5—Johnny knew that. It was too expensive. He understood. He wasn’t a jerk like Adam at school who said he’d kick his dad’s ass if he didn’t get one.

Johnny was grateful for the important things: home, food, a dad who stayed unlike Mom.

Johnny wondered where mom was tonight. Was she thinking about him? Sadness pricked his heart. His lip quivered. Then his father was there, hugging him, bringing the good smells of security and whispering “I know. I’m here. You’re safe.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

“Don’t thank me yet. You haven’t seen what Santa brought.”

“Aww Dad . . .”

They went around the corner. Johnny reminded himself not to show disappointment if he didn’t get what he really wanted. Dad always tried. 

Johnny gasped.

Dad came through! Why had he ever questioned?

Underneath the tree, wrapped in ribbon and rope, was Hannah Davidson, the girl who sat behind him in school. She screamed through the gag.

She looked a lot like Mom. Mom wasn’t here—but Hannah was.

“And here . . .”

His father handed him a brand-new baseball bat.

“Merry Christmas son.”

Paul Wilson lives in a suburban neighborhood much like the one he turned into a horror playground in his novel Hostage.  He lives with his wife, kids, and two cats.  He has worked a spectacular list of jobs including retail district manager, a 911 operator, and the head of a college security department. You can follow him on Twitter at Storydweller102 or email him at trucalling123@yahoo.com.

The Nutcracker Sweet

by Daisy Shylass

Ah, those ghastly, ghoulish Victorians! The Nutcracker grinned, slobber oozing between his sharp teeth and onto his putrid lips. Since Father Friedrich hijacked the Feast of St. Nicholas and the Christ Mass, his kind were now liberated from guarding the homes of mountain folk. No longer did they linger by axe-hewn doors to challenge rare strangers lost on snowy heights, or fight malicious spirits. Instead, they multiplied by commercial thousands, invading homes of the rich in the West, to watch Christmas unfold amongst stuffed fowl and green boughs on mantelpieces.

A plaything, a toy. A happy soldier to fight the Mouse King, cracking walnuts by festive firelight. That’s what the adults thought, anyway. The children knew better. Naughty children grabbed them, little static elves to support their misdeeds. Good children nervously observed them, staring in awe and wonder whilst practicing their best behaviour.

“More fool them,” snickered the Nutcracker. Everybody knew where the best nuts came from. Not the naughty children, oh no! The choicest pickings came from the pure, the good, the sweetest children doing their best to honour the strict rules of their parents.

He swung down from the mantel on a garland of ivy, smearing spittle on a velvet bow. The fire was banked down now, embers glowing deep red until the morning. He stood still, watching the draught from the chimney breathe into the coals.

“It’s hot enough,” said a high voice behind him. He turned. The fairy from the now-dark candle-decked tree stretched out her wings, and she dusted off her skirts, tiny sugar spangles glittering onto the hearth in a heap.

“Then let us go gathering nuts,” said he.

Come the morning, nobody would think to question the sudden appearance of a lidded crystal bowl on the sideboard, brimming with purple, sugared treats, candied and glistening in the candlelight of the Wake. To lose three, sweet, good little boys to some dreadful hemorrhagic illness just before Christmas was a nightmare nobody would forget. How fortunate there were sugar plums to feed the fainting Mistress to help her regain her strength…

Daisy Shylass has always used her imagination as solace through life’s difficulties. Through her writing, she seeks to give readers a doorway to fairy tales, where escapism, comfort and courage can be found. She likes to challenge herself with genres outside of her own comfort zone, and happily drags along anybody who happens to be in the way.Daisy has received Editor’s Pick and Recommended Read acknowledgements on two story sites, has one story published in an ebook anthology, and has authored an ebook of poetry.

Waxy: A Weird HinJew Chrismukkah Tale

by Shilpa Kamat

Swati’s family of origin had celebrated Christmas as a cultural holiday for years, but since marrying into a Jewish family, she felt a nervous intensity throughout the holiday season. Her inlaws needed Hanukkah to feel outstanding while not depriving the children of secular Christmas fun. Swati did her best to play along. She hung up blue and orange stockings, bought everyone presents, and acquired a set of 44 rainbow candles which satisfied the family’s large LGBTQ+ contingent. 

On the fourth night of Hanukkah, Swati sat alone, watching the burning candles and their reflection in the window while everyone else watched a self-consciously trendy Christmas movie. She’d been asked if she wanted to do a puja or something, but the overlapping cacophony of celebrations around her was already too much. Diwali was in the autumn. There was no snow in California, so she couldn’t build snow people with the children like she used to.

As she watched the rainbow wax drip, Swati noticed the strange form it was taking at the bottom of the menorah–like a miniature snow person. No, a rainbow colored candle person. 

Who seemed to be moving.

Swati shrieked and pushed herself back on her rolling chair. 

“Hi,” they squeaked. “I’m Waxy the Candlequeer!”

“What?” Swati gasped. 

Waxy began singing: “Waxy the Candlequeer, a Hindu Jewish Soul/ with a purple face and lots of grace and a cape for Hanukkah patrol!/ Waxy the Candlequeer knows the menorah is hot tonight/  Ayoh, Oy Vey, we should play before we lose the light–”

Swati trapped Waxy in a glass jar the way she trapped spiders she was releasing and bounded for the back door. 

“Wait, I’m not done singing!” Waxy shouted.

“You’ll melt as the candles burn down,” Swati appeased. “Here’s a mini LED flashlight to help you get around. Try caroling–the neighbors will love it!” 

She watched, relieved, as Waxy trotted to another house.

Eating some of the children’s gelt, Swati waited nervously for the other candles to burn down, but no more enchanted candlepeople emerged. No more nostalgia and longing, she told herself. Never again.

Shilpa Kamat’s writing ranges from science fiction and fantasy to ecopoetics. Her writing has been published by Strange Horizons, On Spec, Fantasy Magazine, and Solarpunk Magazine, among others. Like her story’s protagonist, she is spending the winter holidays in California with her family, who now want Waxy the Candlequeer to make an appearance. You can read more about her work at shilpakamat.com.

The Show Must Go On

by Carla Rudy

The Santa Girl Dancers were mean. That’s what everyone at the theme park said about them. As their handler… they weren’t exactly mean, just standoffish. There were seven of them, all the same height. They wore short red velvet dresses trimmed with white fur, their eyes and lips shellacked with glitter. 

Six times daily, they performed a cute dance routine to Santa Baby, nothing but sparkle and smiles, to thunderous applause. Then they’d duck backstage and retreat to the smoking area. 

Once I went back there to fetch them and none of them were smoking. Instead, the whole area smelled strongly of sage, and they all held hands in a circle, murmuring.  

“Five minutes, ladies!”

They turned and hissed at me.

The last day of the Christmas season, there was a foreboding in the air. Dark clouds piled up, but refused to rain. 

The dancers were at places when I heard a loud rumble, followed by the sound of screams. I assumed it was thunder, and told the Girls to go back inside until it was safe. They pushed past me onstage.

The asphalt in front of the stage had split, and a gigantic tentacle emerged. It grabbed a screaming guest and pulled them, struggling, down into the depths. A second tentacle snaked out, and a third. I stood frozen on the spot and watched the world collapse.

The Santa Dolls leapt off the stage towards the monster. They pulled knives out of their fur-trimmed costume boots and stabbed it. The tentacles writhed around violently, but the Girls handily sprang out of the way as they cried out in a language I had never heard before. Jessica, the dance captain, plunged her knife into the monster’s horrible eye. It screeched out an unspeakable death knell and sunk back down into the realm from whence it came.

Just then, the opening chords of Santa Baby began to play. Streaked with unearthly gore, the Santa Girl Dancers took the stage, and danced their final show of the run. Those Girls were professionals. 

I’d say this was our best Christmas season yet.

Carla Rudy earned a BFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College. She is the creator of ThriftStoreFitness.com, featuring comedic reviews of discounted exercise DVDs from thrift stores. She has worked as a puppeteer, hand model, voiceover artist, seamstress, movie stand-in, theme park princess, and once sold meat over the phone for three days. She is currently seeking representation for her urban fantasy novel, and writing a work of fiction based on her 15 years as a theme park princess. Instagram, Twitter, and HiveSocial: @CarlaRudyWriter

Christmas Dinner Mix Up

by Kennedy Meacham

Satan stood in the doorway. A naked flame ran past, singeing her leg. Kevin and Chris had their back to the door, warming their hands in front of a roaring Tiger.

Satan coughed nervously. Chris and Kevin turned round. They stared at the figure. “Who the fuck are you?”

“My friends call me Tracy; you can call me Satan. Why are you warming your hands in front of a roaring tiger?”

“Because the fire just went out. Kevin, you were meant to send the invitation to Santa.”

Chris growled at his hand-warming companion.

“It wasn’t for me?” Tracy asked.

“No, this dyslexic nob-end cocked it up. You’re here now, so I guess we’re stuck with, sorry, I mean welcome.”

“Such a warm heartfelt welcome it is. Hope it’s ok, I brought some friends?”

“As long as it’s not the Grim… fuck…” Chris stepped back as the Grim Reaper entered.

“That’s a big scythe,” Kevin commented.

Grim looked at his crotch. “Thanks.”

“Tracy, what’s GR doing here?”

“We work together. This is a Twofur.”

Chris looked bemused. “Twofur?”

“Twofur one, works night out plus Christmas dinner.”

“Ahem! I prefer Bob.”

“Bob, really, Bob Reaper?! Your name is Robert Reaper?”

“Mr Reaper to you, potty mouth.”

“Yeah, right, Robert, and no reaping while you are here, got it? Anyone else Tracy?”

“Jesus.”

“Wow, happy birthday Jesus.”

“Se pronuncia ‘Heyzuse’.

“You’re not Mary’s boy then?”

“No, soy banquera.”

“You’re a?”

“Banker.”

“Ah, banker! I thought you said w…, sorry, no hablo español muy bien.”

“Can we speed this up? My nuts are roasting on this tiger,” Kevin shouted from the Tiger side.

“Move away from the Tiger, balm pot,” Bob laughed.

“Hot Chestnut’s, you bob-end?”

“Any more Tracy?”

“Charlie.”

“Evening,” said Charlie in a baritone voice.

“Are tree fairies not all female?”

“I identify as non-binary.”

“Really? Jesus.”

“Si,” Heyzuse stood up.

“Tu no, idiota.”

“Frosty the Snowman was coming, but he got too close to some roasting chestnuts; now he’s a puddle of regret. And, last, but not least, Rudolph.”

“Awe! Venison for dinner. We’re gonna need a bigger roasting tin.”

Kennedy lives in God’s country, better known to you as Scotland. The land of Unicorns and Monsters.  He started writing at college. This fell away because life got in the way. His life has now grown up and he has all the encouragement in the world to write again. He has decided to share his imagination with others. He has written for charity, had two anthologies published, and most recently took first place in a flash fiction competition for Book Week Scotland. https://www.christopherfielden.com/ Children’s stories are his preferred genre because kids don’t judge and just enjoy the silliness. He is committed to write books that will be published one day and, with any luck, make young kids and their parents’ smile. He figures that if he laughs at his own writing then someone else may have the same terrible sense of humour he has and will laugh with him.

All stories copyright © 2022 by the authors.

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