Saturday, December 16, 2023

Advent Ghosts 2023: The Stories

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

The man’s face kept changing.

Sometimes it was old, and sometimes it was young, and sometimes it appeared almost bestial. It was something Quinlyn glimpsed out of the corner of her eye, the flicker of antennae around the temples, a hyena-like flash in a mirthless grin, and his tawny (pale? dark?) hair swung about his shoulders in a leonine sweep. And she kept seeing him from the corner of her eye, because the mall and its idiosyncratic assortment of shops had vanished. All that remained? The stillness and silence of some region dark and deep, the stillness of the inside of a cored stump or the underside of a rock — or the interior of a crypt.

“It’s simple,” the man was saying. “You want something? You have to give something. That phrase, you can say it best in Latin …” He trailed off, stroking his bearded {beardless?) chin.

“You know it in Latin,” Quinlyn said, unsure exactly how she’d come by the knowledge.

The man inclined his head the barest inch. “I suppose I do, that and every other tongue. And what about you? Do you know what you want? That’s why you came to me, isn’t it?” 

She was about to say that she hadn’t come to him, at least not intentionally, but a wave of vertigo twisted her inner ear, and she staggered, reeling, hands stretching out for purchase … 

And Paul — V's Paul — had her, his hands strong, a gold flash at his wrist where his Piguet gleamed, and his smile held neither condescension or self pity, and she straightened, automatically smoothing the satin of her gown, murmuring, “Sorry, sorry, stupid Miu Mius,” but Paul was laughing, and …

The vertigo struck her again, blows to head and belly. The coffee came up, spattering her already stained New Balance trainers, and it went on longer than she thought possible, and only when the last bit of bile had dribbled down her chin could she manage the words.

“What do I have to do?”

“Oh, a trifle,” the man purred (hissed?). “Nothing more than a nibble, really, metaphorically speaking. Here, let me tell you a story …”

• "Baunton Village, A.D. 1522: Room at the Inn – but for Whom, or What?" and "Jemima of The Kilns: A View to a Kill" by David Llewellyn Dodds (see below)
• "For That One Hour" by Dale Nelson (see below)
• "Prey or Predator" by Becky Rui (see below)
• "Effective Amnesia" by Ryan E. Holman (see below)
• "An AI Christmas Story" and "Silent Night" by William Gregory (see below)
"Jonah, 9,000 AD" and "Two Ants" by R.S. Naifeh on Advent Ghosts: Short Theological Fictions for the Dead of Winter
• "Sowing the Seeds of Christmas" by B. Nagel (see below)
"A Warning" by Phil Wade on Brandywine Books
"Second Chances", "The Babas’ Dilemma (Part One of a Four Part Tale)", "Tato’s Mama’s Story: The Adopted Snow Child (Part Two of a Four Part Tale)", "Mama’s Mama’s Story: The Icy Immortal (Part Three of a Four Part Tale)", and "Iryna’s Question (Part Four of a Four Part Tale)" by Paula Benson on Little Sources of Joy
"The Protracted Haunting of Coolduff Manor" by Brian Sexton on AN ROINN ULTRA – IRISH SCIENCE FICTION
"Minnesota Welcomes Mr. Frost" by Joseph D'Agnese on Joseph D'Agnese: Writer, Author
"Target Priority" by Loren Eaton on I Saw Lightning Fall
"What Lies Beneath" by Michael Morse on by Michael Morse
"They Are a Ghost" by Elizabeth Gaucher on Esse Diem
"Here We Come A-Caroling", "Santa's Claws", and "Joy, to the World" by Patrick Newman on Lefty Writes
"A Christmas Lullaby" by Kel Mansfield on Kel Mansfield: Write Stuff
"Reasonable Cost" by Dave Higgins on Dave Higgins: A Curious Mind
"The Likeness" by Yvonne Osborne on Yvonne Osborne's Writing Blog: "The Organic Writer"
"The Christmas Dance" by Jackie Ross Flaum on He said what? No, he did not!
"The Santa-Verse" by Lester D. Crawford on Lester D. Crawford Blog
"Sonata" by Rhonda Parrish on Rhonda Parrish: Creating Books and Stories
"Johnny" by Bart Hopkins on The Creative
"Unsolved Mysteries" by Paul Liadis on Cyborg Menagerie
"White Christmas" and "Krampus Goes Up Town" by Eric Douglas on Books By Eric Douglas
"Bed Fellows" by Iseult Murphy on Iseult Murphy: Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction Author
• "The Shop Without End" by S.G. Easton (see below)
* * *

"Baunton Village, A.D. 1522: Room at the Inn – but for Whom, or What?"
By David Llewellyn Dodds

Tobias was jittery. As an innkeeper, he’d learned to deal with all sorts. But this ‘pilgrim’. Hooded like a cave, gloved – fair enough, in such foul weather. But after hours by the fire? Paid up front. But what queer sounds, drinking his ale, mug disappearing in hood. Polite, but a man of few words. ‘Man’? That voice was scarcely human. Demons could take a steady shape, firm to eye and touch. Bad for custom, too – glances, whispers, how soon everyone had chosen cold and dark to such company. A barking laugh, ‘We Cynocephali can’t be too careful, despite Saint Christopher.’

Note: Reading about Old English accounts of St. Christopher recently, I was struck by the one in the Old English Martyrology, which includes “he haefde hundes heafod” – ‘he had the head of a dog’. The Church of St. Mary Magdalene (formerly of St. Christopher), Baunton, Gloucestershire, has a fine and famous wall-painting of him in his more typical Western form.

("Baunton Village, A.D. 1522: Room at the Inn – but for Whom, or What?" copyright 2023 by David Llewellyn Dodds; used by permission)

* * *

"Jemima of The Kilns: A View to a Kill"
By David Llewellyn Dodds

Up through the Cave-Tree everything was different. Jemima the Chicken surveyed... No! The Wood afire!

No... in the Wood, and a sweet scent on the wind. Jemima fluttered to investigate.

Murder! A cockerel in a bonfire! Burned alive! Who did this? – were They still lurking?! O, not dead! Could she rescue? A dying croak: “Watch till it hatches, help the Worm!”

The skeleton collapsed. Domed in the cinders, a glowing egg! A Trap! A Basilisk! A red-gold-purple Worm with blazing eyes shot from the shell, mouth wide! -

“Thanks!” said the vermiform-Phoenix, “Please take me somewhere safe and I’ll explain.”

Note: As one of the young people evacuated to The Kilns during World War II, Lady Jill Freud née Flewett helped the Lewis brothers and Mrs. Moore look after their chickens, including an adventurous one named Jemima – for whom I have contrived some additional adventures.

("Jemima of The Kilns: A View to a Kill" copyright 2023 by David Llewellyn Dodds; used by permission)

* * *

"For That One Hour"
By Dale Nelson"

Keep the curtains drawn! Don’t peek through the blinds! It’s bad luck if they see you peeking.

People drive home right away after work. All-night diners close at dusk. Riders on the El keep their noses in their newspapers and don’t look down at the streets. Cops don’t patrol then.

The forgotten people come out of their apartments, their tenements, to dance silently, mirthlessly, in the streets, under the canyons of the buildings. The moon is full and the lonely people join hands, part hands, for a dreadful hour, and then like shadows disappear again behind closed doors. Don’t look!

("For That One Hour" copyright 2023 by Dale Nelson; used by permission)

* * *

"Prey or Predator"
By Becky Rui

The driver’s kind eyes twinkled. His white beard couldn’t conceal a warm smile.

The hitchhiker looked away through the windshield at the empty nighttime highway.

“Are you from here?” asked the driver.

“Just passing through,” replied the hitchhiker. His hand touched something tacky on the seat. He pulled away reflexively. “You?”

“Same. Too bad being stuck out here on Christmas Eve,” the driver continued.

“Yeah, but I wasn’t going to celebrate anyway.” The hitchhiker surreptitiously looked at his hand. A bang from the trunk caught his attention just as he registered the rust color on his fingers.

“Oh, I am…”

("Prey or Predator" copyright 2023 by Becky Rui; used by permission)

* * *

"Effective Amnesia"
By Ryan E. Holman

Sometimes the best gift you can give is not a memory, but forgetfulness.

You can forget that annoying song they played a billion times.

You can forget that they never managed to consume their coffee with any action quieter than a slurp.

You can forget that they forgot your birthday, every single blessed year.

You can forget that when you last said goodbye, they said they couldn't recognize who you were anymore.

And sometimes, if you're truly good at it, you forget that you ever forgot anything at all, and you can give this precious gift to yourself.

Happy Holidays.

("Effective Amnesia" copyright 2023 by Ryan E. Holman; used by permission)

* * *

"An AI Christmas Story"
By William Gregory

Mrs. Claus: “Kristopher dear, what are you doing up so late?”

Santa: “Honey, I’m using OpenAI’s GPT-4 to compile a list of children who’ve been naughty or nice based on their web-search history. And GPT-4 is generating the optimal route for my reindeer based on the latest European weather models and the global air traffic control database!”

Mrs. Claus: “Fine dear, don’t stay up too late.”

Santa: “I won’t, honey. Oh, and I got an email from Wells Fargo asking for our social security numbers and dates of birth. So, I took care of that too!”

Mrs. Claus: “Oh Kristopher!”

("An AI Christmas Story" copyright 2023 by William Gregory; used by permission)

* * *

"Silent Night"
By William Gregory

The rhythmic sounds of the ventilator always calmed him. The raspy intake and mechanical exhale of the breathing machine were as familiar and comforting to him as his mother’s womb. Billy had shared a room with his aged Meemaw since he was a baby.

Suddenly, the bedroom door opened. A bright shaft of light cut through the darkness illuminating his beloved Meemaw’s withered frame. She trudged across the room. Her arthritic fingers reaching slowly for the plug on his ventilator. Billy could not believe his eyes.

He gasped. But only once.

Meemaw whispered, “Merry Christmas my child.”

Then silence. Darkness …

("Silent Night" copyright 2023 by William Gregory; used by permission)

* * *

"Sowing the Seeds of Christmas"
By B. Nagel

I listen to the crack of the fire and the spit of fat from the dove breasts. Outside, snow falls. Re-locating our homestead hasn’t been easy. Friday was a nice respite and a chance to freshen up the coops and tidy the bedding for the guests who will begin arriving soon.

I check the prep list from my true love:
Starting Monday, 76 females and up to 40 cows.
Starting Wednesday, 30 males.
Starting Thursday, 34 undetermined with musical instruments.

In spring, they can start earning their keep. I am cautiously optimistic, still remembering the graves on our old property.

("Sowing the Seeds of Christmas" copyright 2023 by B. Nagel; used by permission)

* * *

"The Shop Without End"
By S.G. Easton

The bell hanging on the door tinkled as Kelly entered the dark, dank, dusty room. The little light that managed to filter through the delicate lace curtains was pale and sickly. Upon closer observation, Kelly noticed how surprisingly well-made the curtains were despite their age. The deep, sorrowful tones of a grandfather clock echoed throughout the shop. No one was in sight. Slightly disconcerted at the lack of customers, Kelly searched for an employee or clerk.

"Hello?" she called.

The response was nothing but silence. This silence disturbed her still further, but being the sensible girl she was, she so concluded there must be a legitimate reason for the deserted state this shop was placed in.

An unexpected sparkle caught Kelly's eye. It came from one of the many shelves that lined the rickety wooden wall. Walking over to the shelf, she found the source of the sparkle. It was an exquisite platinum candelabra. The top was encrusted with jasper and lapis lazuli. The base was inlaid with silver.

Dumbfounded, Kelly scrutinized the other trinkets and curios on the shelves. An engraved silver platter. A pair of brocade slippers. An elegantly extravagant white wig. Nailed onto the bottom of the shelf was an additional bronze plate reading: 1400s.

Kelly was momentarily confused, but considering the items on the shelf … She started to race eagerly throughout the shop, discovering ball gowns, furniture, Roman chariots, old-time radios, shelf upon shelf of antique books, and other such things. But after a while, Kelly wore out her interest and attempted to exit the vicinity.

Much to her astonishment, she … could not. It was as if some invisible hand was holding her, inhibiting her from returning. So she simply continued walking, hoping it would end at where she began. She walked. And walked. And walked. And kept walking. And she may be walking still for all anyone knows.

("The Shop Without End" copyright 2023 by S.G. Easton; used by permission)


Phil W said...

Mercy. I'm reading these stories, saying, "Did that just happen?" It ain't the most wonderful time of the year of any of these folks.

Good writing.

Loren Eaton said...

David: I love how I always learn some new bit of history every time I read your stories! (Also, a chicken meeting a phoenix is a great image.)

Dale: What a chilling image. Is this story set in Chicago perchance?

Becky: Your story reminds me of a rather grim little joke. Here it is: I picked up a hitchhiker last night. He seemed surprised that I'd pick up a stranger. He asked, "Thanks but why would you pick me up? How would you know I'm not a serial killer?" I told him the chances of two serial killers in a car would be astronomical.

Ryan: Oh my. Yours might be one of the most realistic little horror stories I’ve ever read. Nicely done.

Mr. Gregory: Poor Saint Nick! It seems as though he might be getting Christmas lists from some Nigerian princes in the near future.

B.: Goodness, what a terrifying twist on a common Christmas topic. Awesome. So understated.

Ryan.E.Holman said...

It is so cool to see how others interpret this theme and how many different ways one's spine can be chilled. Well done, everyone!