Saturday, December 17, 2022

Advent Ghosts 2022: The Stories

Note: You can find an intro of sorts to this text here if you’d like.

The lights stayed on.

The first night, you suffered through, digging up the old sleep mask you bought for that long-haul flight three years ago. The second night, you popped two Vicodin left over from your months’ long battle with back pain. The third night, you broke every bulb in the house, stripping the tree of its lights and crushing every bulb beneath your feet, then staring in horror as the filaments flared even brighter from where they lay tangled in the carpet.

Tonight (if, indeed, you could even call it night anymore), you go down into the basement and root through tools you haven’t used in years.

You start with the sledgehammer, splintering the tile you laid by hand, turning the concrete beneath into rubble, pounding until you hit dirt. Then you take up the shovel and sink its blade in, turning and lifting and turning and lifting until the shaft accommodates you disappear up to your knees, your shoulders, your head. Then you dig perpendicularly, deepening the passageway until the light mercifully shrinks to a distant dim glow.

You sit in the closest to darkness you’ve experienced for days. You breathe in the scent of dust and try to brush off the grime that must cover your blistered palms. That’s when you hear it. A distant scratching. The clink of metal on stone. The shifting of soil.

You begin to dig again, navigating by sound, not caring that your blisters have burst, that the serum has slicked your hands. They will tell their own story both to you and the other seeking to survive the never-ending light …

• "White Coat Ceremony" by Dale Nelson (see below)
• “The Collector” by S.G. Easton (see below)
• “Upon a Midnight Fare” by B. Nagel (see below)
”Guest Story” by Simon Kewin on Simon Kewin: Fantasy Author, Science Fictioneer, Writer of Worlds
• “A Few Good Elves” and “It’s Beginning to Smell a Lot Like Christmas” by William Gregory (see below)
”3 Siblings” by R.S. Naifeh on Advent Ghosts: Short Theological Fictions for the Dead of Winter
• “A Diptych (with two one-hundred-word panels)” by David Llewellyn Dodds (see below)
• "No Place Like Home” and “Ritual” by Becky Rui (see below)
”I Told You So” and ”Silent Night” by Craig Scott on CS fantasy reviews
”Look To The Sky” by Michael Morse on by Michael Morse
”The Naughty List” by Rhona Parrish on Rhona Parrish: Author, Editor and Hydra-tamer
”Grandma’s Recipe” and ”Bring Me His Head!” by Patrick Newman on Lefty Writes
“仕方がない” by Loren Eaton on I Saw Lightning Fall
”Traditions” by Paula Benson on Little Sources of Joy
”Good Deeds” by Lester D. Crawford on Lester D. Crawford Blog
”The Farewell Wave” by Linda Casper on Third Age Blogger
”Remember Them” by Ben Mann on Ben Mann
”Can’t Even” by Dave Higgins on Dave Higgins: A Curious Mind
”The Ghoul” by Kel Mansfield on Kel Mansfield: Write Stuff
”Midnight, Christian” by Elizabeth Gaucher on Esse Diem
”A Star, A Star Dancing in the Night” by John Norris on Pretty Sinister Books
”What Am I” by Bart Hopkins on
“No Time for Christmas” by Iseult Murphy on Iseult Murphy: Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction Author
“Inside Job” by Paul Liadis on Cyborg Menagerie
* * *

"White Coat Ceremony"
By Dale Nelson

Olson, the retiring Med School chief custodian, advised the new man, Nyquist.

“When you’ve cleaned the auditorium after the grads’ White Coat ceremony, lock the doors but leave the lights on.”


Olson told the truth. “For decades, from what I was told when I took over, lost spirits of the doctors return here, if they betrayed the traditional vows.”

Months later, midnight after the annual ceremony -- Automatically Nyquist turned off the last lights. In the dark, there were white shapes, a rustling. Olson flicked on the nearest light switch, turned all the lights on, locked up, and left.

("White Coat Ceremony" copyright 2022 by Dale Nelson; used by permission)

* * *

“The Collector”
By S.G. Easton

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("The Collector" copyright 2022 by S.G. Easton; used by permission)

* * *

“A Midnight Fare”
by B. Nagel

One last pick-up to pay off the credit card. What’s the harm of one more gig?

Now, the babe lays in my arms, swaddled tightly in a car blanket, weakly testing the limits of her freedom. Sweat drips down my collar and the heat fogs my glasses. The unfortunate mother lays dead across the backseat.

It’s not true. Look, she’s moving.

She crab walks out of the car, dragging blood and viscera, her eyes pure void, clicking and chittering like an arachnid chipmunk.

Without turning her head, the babe swivels the skin of her face to look back at me.

("A Midnight Fare" copyright 2022 by B. Nagel; used by permission)

* * *

“A Few Good Elves”
By William Gregory

Mrs. Claus were you aware that the deceased had a severe nut allergy?


Mrs. Claus are you familiar with the term “Code Green?”

“Enlighten me, sonny.”

Code Green is a clandestine order for the elves to put pistachios in Santa’s cookies.

“Is there a question here, sonny?”

Mrs. Claus, did you order the Code Green? Did you order the Code Green!!!

[Judge interjects: You don’t have to answer that question!]

“I’ll answer that question! You want answers, sonny?”

I want the truth!

“You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth! You’re goddamn right I ordered the Code Green!”

("A Few Good Elves" copyright 2022 by William Gregory; used by permission)

* * *

“It’s Beginning to Smell a Lot Like Christmas”
By William Gregory

I smell pig! The porcine scent makes me salivate uncontrollably. The alpha female, smelling of perspiration, franticness, and wine, gathers the pack. The alpha male reeks of beer and Doritos. (I love Doritos.) The elders, who don’t visit often, emit a fragrant tang of feces, urine, and powder. They smell like baby, but with a foreboding sense of decay. The boy stinks of sweat and cannabis. The girl saturated with her monthly bloody spoor is first to hand me a tender morsel under the table. My eyes roll back in my head. My tail wags in delight. I love Christmas!

("It’s Beginning to Smell a Lot Like Christmas" copyright 2022 by William Gregory; used by permission)

* * *

“A Diptych”
By David Llewellyn Dodds

Saint Nicholas A.D. 1096: Ill-Met by Moonlight in the Ionian Sea

Count Robert (following Bohemond) hired a huge pirate ship and sailed, as stealthily as possible with 1500 men, for Illyrium. Admiral Nicholas, alerted, ambushed him, becalmed by full moon, on Nicholas’ Name Day.

Marianus, bilingual, sailed in full armor to parley for peace – and got a crossbow bolt through his helmet – unscathed. Another through shield and breastplate – only grazed. A Latin priest, grabbing a bow, shot at him repeatedly. The envoys defended themselves – from midnight till noon, when the Franks asked armistice. The wounded priest fought on – quiver empty, with sling-stone shattering shield and helmet, felled Marianus – but he survived.

Saint Nicholas A.D. 1096: The Bread and the Cup

Marianus, up again, took bow and wounded the priest three times. Blood-drenched but undaunted – and out of arrows and sling-stones – he started whizzing barley-cakes: no treat, full-impact on Marianus’ cheek.

Meanwhile, Count Richard surrendered with ship and crew, gladly following Marianus to shore. Peace finally made, the priest went searched far and wide for Marianus, and, finding him at last, embraced him, saying cheerfully, “If we’d met on land, I would have managed to kill a lot of you.” Then, rummaging around, he produced a large silver cup, presented it to Marianus, smiling broadly – and dropped dead at his feet.

Post Script: Based on the Alexiad of Anna Comnena, Book Ten, Chapter Eight (as translated by E.R.A. Sewter for Penguin Books, 1969).

("A Diptych " copyright 2022 by David Llewellyn Dodds; used by permission)

* * *

“No Place Like Home”
By Becky Rui

“Mom, Sally and I are going to the park!”

“Ok, John, but be back in an hour for dinner. Stay together.”

“I know, Mom!”

Chop, stir, knead. Into the oven. Pot pie, Sally’s favorite.

The sky grows dark and the oven timer chimes. They should be back by now.

The doorbell rings. She opens the door to two policemen.

Her hand covers her mouth. “Oh my God, what’s happened?”

Suddenly John pushes forward and she wraps her arms around him.

“Oh, thank God, you’re safe.”

A moment of silence. She looks up into the officers’ grave expressions.

“But where’s Sally?”

("No Place Like Home " copyright 2022 by Becky Rui; used by permission)

* * *

By Becky Rui

He gathers his tools first. He has methods that are almost ritualistic and he likes it that way.

He likes to crack them first, feel the crush and hear the hard break under his bare hands. He is strong and loves using his brawn this way.

Next, he flays the skin. It is thinner than most people think, but he knows. It is thin and delicate and he peels it off with the utmost care, even tenderness.

Afterward, he looks down at what he’s made. Is proud of it.

Then slowly, reverently, he pops one into his mouth.

Yum. Pistachios.

("No Place Like Home " copyright 2022 by Becky Rui; used by permission)


Loren Eaton said...

Dale: Now I'm curious what proverbial skeletons Olson has in his closet. Or maybe they aren't proverbial at all ...

Loren Eaton said...

S.G.: A library that collects people! I'll think twice next time I produce my card at our local biblioteca.

Loren Eaton said...

B.: DUDE. The detail here totally creeped me out. Did you ever see John Carpenter's "The Thing"? That's the vibe I'm getting.

Loren Eaton said...

Mr. Gregory: You've done Jack Nicholson. Also, I love the sensory detail in your second piece.

Loren Eaton said...

David: Wow, these two are wonderful. They make me want to study more history!

Loren Eaton said...

Becky: Your first story is pure horror for every parent. And casting a pistachio enjoyer as a serial killer? Brilliant!

Michael Morse said...

William Gregory - that was simply great.

Yvonne Osborne said...

Becky, I'll never crack a pistachio again without thinking of this.