There was no possibility of taking a walk that day, Lady Penelope Hill knew. She had wandered in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning, but since dinner, the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds and a penetrating rain. And anyway, Lady Hill thought, who would want to stroll the estate this time of year alone? For though her maid technically remained in the manor, she knew that she truly was, for all intents and purposes, alone.
The realization had settled on her as slowly as the dusting of snow shifting down out of the slate-gray sky. Her letters to her mother, her sisters, her friends had all failed to draw replies by post. Indeed, she could not recall when the postman had last visited. Just yesterday, she had roamed the great hall, calling aloud for the butler, expecting his hunched, turtle shape to materialize from one of the gloomy passageways. Instead, her voice had drawn her maid. “He has left, my lady,” was all that Penelope had gotten out of her.
Perched tipsily at the head of the dining room table, Penelope lifted a third glass of wine to her lips, musing that I seem to be acquiring all of Billy’s trices. Spices. She hiccupped. Bad habits. But as the claret burned in her stomach, she realized that wasn’t precisely true. And so she found herself swaying before the bookcase in Billy’s study, her finger stroking one book’s spine after another, each in turn.
I suppose it’s preferable that he always wanted to touch these rather than me, she thought a tad drunkenly. Easier now without children. She let her fingers fold around a volume. Draw it down and open it. Let her eyes traipse over the archaic Latin. Let her lips form the strange syllables.
A crash jerked her upright, yanked her eyes to the doorway where her maid stood, a constellation of broken crockery at her feet. “Oh no, my Lady,” the girl moaned, “you mustn’t, no, you don’t under —”
The world shivered. Writhed. Tore.
Lady Penelope Hill blinked and shook her head against the ringing in her ears, the only thing she could hear besides the maid’s frantic mantra of “O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Every candle in the room flickered and died.
They died, but not before she saw squamous skin and a mouth like a hole and magnesium-white eyes. Then, through the darkness, hands — too many hands — seized her arms, shoulders, throat.
The voice in her ear was wind-stirred ashes in a dead hearth. L̲͉̏ͨet ̏͆̾n͍͌ot̼̥̅̊hͮḭnğ ͨbuṯ̰͇ͥ̊̃ ̥̪b͓͉̰rë́ͅath ̹̺̪p̫̘̣ͫͫ͛aͪs̤̬͕͒ͮ̍s̥͑ ̇y͙̮ͫͣo̘̘͓ů̫͕͐r ͍̃ḹ̘̾ĭ͖͙̩͌̏p̽̓ͭs͚̾,̩̻́ͧ fo̤͒r͍̥ͧ̓ hë̖̫̀ is al͆r̘̋eaͮdy̜̔ ͌h́̑ͫe̼͚ȑ̯̞̟̌̚e̞͈̥ ̻̞ḁ̚n̎d͓͇̺̑ͧ̌ ͉̼̀̐h̲̣ͧ̌e ̮̘͇̄ͨͣis̮̝ͥ̆ ̳̒l̙is̖̍t̟̪e̮͑ň̪̖̩ͦ̇ing͈̫ͮ̐.̏̈
I do believe, some small, still-sane part of Lady Penelope’s mind thought, that it is trembling.
The voice was dead autumn leaves rasping together. I͂ mͫͫ̈́u̯͍ͬ̓s̲̅t̟͔̒̏ t̗ͮell͉̼̼ͮ̈́ͩ ̝̗̋̄ẙ͂̒o͖̽u̩͕ͩ̚ ̭͈͎a ͖̣ṣ͍̂̽to͙͍̙͆ͯͫr̫̪y̯ͪ ̯͓..͚.
• "Grail" by R.S. Naifeh on Advent Ghosts: Short Theological Fictions for the Dead of Winter
• "The Plantation" by James D. Witmer on James D. Witmer
• "Frosty the Disappointment" by Geoffrey Miller (see below)
• "Jetzt bringt Nik’laus was für mich" by David Llewellyn Dodds (see below)
• "Shortcut" by Simon Kewin on Simon Kewin: Fantasy Author, Science Fictioneer, Writer of Worlds
• "World of Spirits" by Dale Nelson (see below)
• "His Wings" by Becky Rui (see below)
• "Sozman Borkstapple’s Ghostly Adventure" by Brian Sexton on AN ROINN ULTRA: Brian Sexton's Stories From Outer Space
• "The Yule Cat's Fury" by Paula Benson on Little Sources of Joy
• "The Cracker" by Craig Scott on CS fantasy reviews
• "The Dreaded Trip" by Phil Wade on Brandywine Books
• "I'll Be Home for Christmas" by Rhonda Parrish on Rhonda Parrish: Author, Editor and Hydra-tamer
• "Evergreen Altar, Coal Fire White" by Loren Eaton on I Saw Lightning Fall
• "The Long Tail" by Ben Mann on Ben Mann
• "Life" by Paul Liadis on Cyborg Menagerie
• "Despair and Anguish" by Lester D. Crawford on Lester D. Crawford Blog
• "The Season of Giving" by Linda Casper on Third Age Blogger
• "Dirty Hands" by Dave Higgins on Dave Higgins: A Curious Mind
• "Flying With the Angels by Kel Mansfield on Kel Mansfield: Write Stuff
• "Presence" by Elizabeth Gaucher on Esse Diem
• "Split" by Leanne Stowers on Leanne Stowers
• "Cookies for Santa" and "CONFIDENTIAL: Gates Foundation Project" by William Gregory (see below)
• "Tired Eyes" by Michael Morse on by Michael Morse
• "The Ghosts of Christmas" by Iseult Murphy on Iseult Murphy: Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction Author
• "Out of the depths, it calls to me" by B. Nagel (see below)
• "Who Comes This Night, This Wintry Night?" by John Norris on Pretty Sinister Books
• "Untitled" by Ollwen Jones on GitHub Gist
"Frosty the Disappointment"
By Geoffrey Miller
Frosty was nearly perfect! Just like in the song, the snowman had a corn cob pipe, a button nose, and two eyes made of coal.
But despite Joanna's efforts, he would not dance. Not even Mr. Thompson's top hat did the trick. She wondered if Frosty looked too human. She packed on more snow. Better! But why wasn't the magic working yet? His arms were twiggy enough. That wasn't the problem.
Suddenly, Frosty sighed with life!
A smile lit Joanna's face but soon faded. Blood dribbled from the corn cob pipe. Frosty still wasn't living; Mr. Thompson was just dying.
("Frosty the Disappointment" copyright 2021 by Geoffrey Miller; used by permission)
"Jetzt bringt Nik’laus was für mich"
By David Llewellyn Dodds
Worse than corpses, what stench from No Man’s Land? Krampus loose! That claw stabbing his shoulder. Fangs nearing neck... Snapped away on shortened chain – by St. Nicholas, smiling gravely. Rudolf leapt awake, told me his dream. I lost track of him as we advanced... realized the Tommys had retreated!... charged after through trenches full of abandoned... everything! Rudolf outpaced me, avoided boobytraps, discovering first where they took their new stand by coming under fire...
Arms and gear cast away, he advanced toward me smiling, shoulder bandaged, flesh-wounded out of combat, good arm embracing a huge sack of pillaged British rations.
Note: Inspired by details of Carl Heller’s memoirs, De oorlogsbrieven van Unteroffizier Carl Heller, ed. J.H.J. Andriessen (Soesterberg: Aspekt, 2003), sadly not available in translation.
("Jetzt bringt Nik’laus was für mich" copyright 2021 by David Llewellyn Dodds; used by permission)
"World of Spirits"
By Dale Nelson
The first spirit showed him himself as a boy absorbed by Pac-Man. He didn’t want to go outside and play. The second spirit showed him his present-day self, hunched over in his cubicle. Olivia walked sadly past him. The third spirit showed mourners glancing at their smartphones as a coffin was lowered.
"Must these things be?" he cried to the mute and terrible form.
He woke. Snow-light shone up into his bedroom. He leaped out of bed and flung up his window.
"Merry Christmas!" he cried to the street where no one passed. They were all inside with their devices.
("World of Spirits" copyright 2021 by Dale Nelson; used by permission)
By Becky Rui
The snow crunches underfoot. The railing is icy under his grip. Cars speed by, blowing frigid wind against the back of his thin coat.
a bell rings…
Arm muscles quiver under the strain of pulling, stretching, reaching.
The water below seems to rush with the beats of his heart, its dark surface foamy with ice. Numbing.
His loafer slips and he grabs for the metal. Almost fell. He unclenches his fingers. One by one.
He thinks of what the doctor said. His ex-wife. His estranged children.
No bells ring. But he does fly.
("His Wings" copyright 2021 by Becky Rui; used by permission)
"Cookies for Santa"
By William Gregory
My name is Amanda. I’m seven and the smartest kid in school.
My parents tell me not to be average. I’m better than that.
My mom says I hold a grudge too long. I haven’t spoken to Billy Wilson since he pushed me two years ago.
I’m mad at Santa too. Last year he didn’t bring me AirPods. I’m going to sprinkle rat poison on Santa’s cookies to teach him a lesson. I’m a good baker.
… My daddy died Christmas morning. Daddy ate Santa’s cookies. Why would daddy do that? That makes me angry.
Santa got lucky. This time…
("Cookies for Santa" copyright 2021 by William Gregory; used by permission)
"CONFIDENTIAL: Gates Foundation Project"
By William Gregory
Code Name: Project Jabberwocky
Status Report: 12/25/21
Vaccination Rates: Global 50.75%. US 74.35%. UK 85.25%. China 92.88%.
Micro-Implant OS Version: Windows 11 ServicePack 25RFID3
Global Satellite Receivers: Online | Ready
Global RFID Status: Ready
Projected Transponder Efficiency: 98.5325%
MissionOps: “We’ve crossed the 50% Global-VR threshold. Global satellites are online and ready. Shall we proceed with the activation sequence?”
Mr. Gates: “Make it so.”
MissionOps: “Microchip activation sequence in T-minus 6:24:52:01…”
Mr. Gates: “We are on the cusp of a historic new frontier in big data. Kudos to our Project Pangolin team in Wuhan, we couldn’t have done it without you.”
("CONFIDENTIAL: Gates Foundation Project" copyright 2021 by William Gregory; used by permission)
"Out of the depths, it calls to me"
by B. Nagel
The voice from the closet said to bring them or else. Midnight, new moon nearest Christmas. Terrence found wet ditch sludge in his empty closet.
Terrence set the saran-wrapped plate on the curb by the storm drain. A whining laugh rose from the catch basin. The voice thanked Terrence as his sneakers slapped back down the street. A boy crawled from the missing grate and crouched, unwrapping the cookies.
Something wrapped around the boy’s leg and jerked him below the street, head cracking on street, then curb. Another dark tendril crept up for the cookies. ‘Mine,’ said a different voice.
("Out of the depths, it calls to me" copyright 2021 by B. Nagel; used by permission)