I loved Christmas when I was a little girl. Santa Claus, the tree twinkling with lights in my living room, the anticipation of presents and cookies. The enchantment waned in my teen and young adult years, of course, but once I became a parent, the holiday was exciting once again. I loved providing the magic of Christmas for my own kids.
Santa has been out of the picture for us for several years now, and Christmas these days is more a source of stress for me rather than joy. The cleaning, the cooking, shopping, spending money on stuff we really don’t need—I’ve unfortunately become rather cynical about the holidays. It’s always a relief when it’s all over.
So all the sappy, sentimental, feel-good TV shows, movies, and stories don’t do anything for me. I will admit to still enjoying Rudolph and Charlie Brown, and my favorite Christmas movie is The Santa Clause 2 with Tim Allen, but otherwise, I find myself rolling my eyes a lot during the months of November and December. And don’t get me started on the saturation of Christmas music for two months.
Then I was asked to review O Little Town of Deathlehem, edited by Michael J. Evans and Harrison Graves. Christmas horror? Yes, please! Stories that won’t warm my cold, black heart, stories that would make the Grinch smile.
Catherine Grant starts the ball rolling with “One of His Own.” If you’ve never heard of Krampus, do a quick Google search before reading the story; it will be a much more rewarding experience. Krampus and his half-brother Sinterklaaus travel the world together on Christmas Eve—Sinterklaaus is the kind-hearted, benevolent elf who leaves presents, but Krampus is just looking to feed on fearful children. They enter the home of a drug-addled mother whose little girl is neglected and abused. For the first time, Krampus finds himself wanting to take care of a child instead of eating her. He whisks her away with him. As she grows older, she helps him with his quest on Christmas Eve. But then she wants his help with something else.
“One of His Own” is a great story, perfectly setting the tone for the anthology. Although their roles as good and evil characters are clear, Krampus and Sinterklaaus aren’t that black and white. Very well written, and the author gave the characters depth you don’t usually find in a short story.
Chantal Boudreau’s “Deck the Halls” is a familiar tale of a man who resents his mother and wants his inheritance sooner rather than later. He takes care of her, in order to not lose his coming windfall to nurses and caretakers. But she lingers, much to his chagrin, so he takes matters into his own hands. Things don’t turn out as he planned.
This is a fun, nasty little story that is truly the embodiment of “be careful what you wish for.”
Do you prefer live Christmas trees to artificial ones? “With Their Eyes All Aglow” by Jeff C. Carter might just change your mind. Ray is fascinated with insects and spiders. He is looking for a rare, extremely venomous spider in Myanmar, but is ready to return home to his wife and daughter for Christmas. He actually finds the spider colony, but realizes it has infested a once-trendy Christmas tree called “Nordmann Firs.” They are being grown to ship to the States—and Ray realizes that is the exact tree his wife bought several days earlier.
I don’t like spiders at all. “With Their Eyes All Aglow” was creepy, and made my skin crawl. Thanks to this story, I now know that real Christmas trees carry usually harmless bugs into homes. I’m sure I’ve heard that before, but was in denial. No more live trees or plants of any kind in my home!
“A Christmas to Remember” by JP Behrens could be a peek into Charles Manson’s boyhood until he grew up and gained terrible notoriety. Ten year old Nathan’s parents are Christmas shopping for him and his brother, a difficult task since Nathan seems to be obsessed with all things dark and horrible. His mother caught him dissecting a mouse with glee, and now he’s drawing pictures of mangled and broken animals. After shopping, Nathan’s mom follows him into the woods, and discovers his horrible secret. Somehow the family gets through Christmas, but that night, Nathan’s mom discovers he has put his present to use in the most awful way possible.
This story could also be a look into Michael Myers’s childhood. JP Behrens has written a shocking story about every parent’s worst nightmare.
Twenty stories make up this anthology. You’ll find a Santa-werewolf (or would it be werewolf-Santa?), evil ornaments, Christmas in a zombie apocalypse, evil Santas, and of course, Krampus. What you won’t find are sappy, sentimental, ABC Family Channel stories. So if you’re tired of Christmas cheer, grab a copy of O Little Town of Deathlehem, and let the holiday dysfunction take you away.
O Little Town of Deathlehem is available through Grinning Skull Press. All profits from the anthology benefit the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.