Christmas has always struck me as being the strangest time of year. Whether you’re a fan of Christmas or not, or an Andy Williams or Grinch as Nev Murray describes it in the Foreword, Christmas feels different to the rest of the year. People are more stressed out whilst simultaneously telling themselves that it’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’s enough to make anyone crazy. This collection of short stories and poems captures the weirdness of the Christmas season perfectly.
There’s a significant lack of great horror stories set at Christmas in both fiction and film and this collection contributes significantly. Of course, there are numerous stories and poems depicting Santa as a homicidal maniac and a sex pest and these are often very entertaining and well written. When I first saw the book advertised, that’s immediately the kind of story that sprung to mind. Stories including “Tommy’s Christmas” by John R Little, “Hung with Care” by Ty Schwamberger, “Santa Came” by Peter Oliver Wander, and “Santa’s Midnight Feast” by J.L. Lane all play on a deep fear of the Santa Claus character and how strange it is for us to wilfully let a stranger into our homes whilst we’re sleeping. In these stories, Santa is a monster who takes advantage of unwilling victims by either killing them or raping them.
One of the best stories in the collection that undermines the stereotypical image of Santa Claus is “Better Watch Out” by Willow Rose. This is the story of a woman who has grown up with an intense fear of Santa following the death of her brother on Christmas Day when she was a girl. She has always maintained that Santa killed her brother but nobody has ever believed her. The story is recounted by the woman in her therapy sessions, whilst the therapist is trying to determine whether she killed her brother or not. The story is surprisingly gripping and dramatic as she describes her trauma and tries to convince the therapist that she’s not making it all up.
In contrast, Michael A. Arnzen’s story “All Naught, No Nice” tells the story of Santa trying to deliver presents after a zombie apocalypse. It’s an incredibly unique story told from a perspective I hadn’t read before. In this story, Santa is the sole survivor but hasn’t given up hope that he’ll find others in the hordes of the undead.
Other than the focus on Santa, there are also plenty of examples of other types of uncanny goings-on set at Christmas and, in my opinion, some of these stories are the most interesting. Some of the strangest stories in the collection include “Naughty or Nice” by Veronica Smith which involves killer inflatable figures, “In the Bag” by Tim Curran, a very unexpected and gripping story about a supernatural sack, “The Veil” by Rose Garnett” about the weakening of the boundaries between different worlds at Christmas, and “The Present”, which gives a battered wife the opportunity to get rid of her abusive husband.
One of my favourite stories was “Christmas Market” by Amy Cross because of its unpredictability and the fact that I still have no idea what happened in the story. Whilst walking through a Christmas market with a friend, the main character sees a disused market stall with an unusual couple standing next to it discussing the people shopping. The main character soon discovers that only she can see them but she’s unsure of who they are or why they are examining the people around her so keenly.
The collection also has stories that tell of particularly human horrors such as the psychological tale “Killing Christmas” by Andrew Lennon, the revenge tale “Merry Fuckin’ Christmas” by Kevin J. Kennedy, and “The Last Christmas Dinner” by Christina Bergling, a story about an under appreciated mother who finally snaps. Although all are dramatic, they capture the psychological stress put on most people at Christmas time and demonstrate how easy it is to snap this time of year.
I must say that I enjoyed the collection immensely and would happily read a second.