9th Issue

This is the line up for the ninth issue, and what a bumper edition we have for this our second anniversary issue.
60 pages containing 25 great stories and poems!

Contents shown in the approximate order they will appear in the finished zine.

Cover image by Daevid Ford

Issue Nine will be available from
Saturday 30th October

 


Death of a Vampire
by D.S.Scott


(Editor’s Choice Winner of the
Ethereal Tales Halloween Competition 2009)

 

Immortality wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. After roaming the Earth for centuries Don Vittel had grown weary of seeing the human race get on with it’s constant development and the cycle of life and death for mortals was all a part of the process. Vittel was essentially still stuck in his 16th century mind despite attending most major historical events and experiencing the moments and journaling the changes over the years. Given three score years and ten as was traditional, meant that time was of the essence and positively pushed mortals into ambitious plans and tight deadlines that they thrived on. Vittel on the other hand had been taken into immortality in his teens and along with it, the sense of urgency had drained away as easily as his blood under the tooth of the one who had made him.

So every year on this night, he would return to that place, his will depleted and the once proud strength and fire in his eyes now extinguished, to await the return of The One. His lonely existence punctuated by the annual solitary pilgrimage to Boscastle where in his youth he had first met the wise ones who sold the wind to passing sailors. The legends of the North Cornish coast were still told to this present day, but he had been there, he knew the legends were more than fireside tales told by aging aunts or Copperplate Gothic labels on museum cases. The collections of witches, warlocks and assorted cohorts would gather at the harbour on All Hallows and in a candlelit line make their way past the dragon that guarded the bay, out towards the headland for their Eve of the Dead celebration.

It was one of these that he had stumbled upon quite by accident in 1599, as an adventurous 18 year old from a farming family, it was his want to venture out at night and amuse himself along the cliff tops, daring to jump the crags that opened out to the wild all consuming ocean below. But this one night, he had seen in the distance, lights where there was no dwelling house and his curiosity had got the better of him. Silently making his way along the rocky coastline he had begun to hear the chanting, then as he came up over the rise in the headland had seen the circle. Lit by a bonfire, a collection of variously dressed and undressed people danced a ring.

 

Susan’s Ghost
by Heather Kuehl
(People’s Choice Winner of the
Ethereal Tales Halloween Competition 2009)


Tabitha Desdemona Drake hated October.
It wasn’t the shift in the muggy Charleston weather that got to her. It wasn’t the department stores going Halloween crazy, trying to make sure they had enough Halloween supplies for their customers. It wasn’t even the witch costumes. Having been born a witch herself, Tabitha Desdemona knew that those hags were just a product of a fearful human’s imagination. No, it was none of these things.
It was the ghosts.

From November through September, Tabitha Desdemona rarely saw a spirit. It was refreshing. But October… The closer it got to Halloween, the worse it got. Half of the time she didn’t know if the person she was speaking with was alive or dead. She would just hang in there, doing her best to ignore them until 11:59pm on October 31. Then, when the clock struck midnight, it was like they had never been there.
But this year was destined to be different.

It was Halloween, and the ghost was in her bedroom; a first. The ghost looked just like her, with blonde hair and striking cerulean eyes. Tabitha Desdemona stared for a minute, thinking that she was looking at her reflection until she could see her bed though the ghost’s transparent stomach. Then her heart lurched.
“Oh Susan…”


Trick or Treat Him Well
by Kevin Joseph

 

If you’ve ever handed out candy on Halloween, you’ve met him. You might not remember, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
Undoubtedly, you were surprised by his deep voice bellowing “Trick or Treat” as you opened the door.

You probably looked around the heavy man, searching for children, but there were none to be found. Just an old coot in a red suit holding out a sack. For the next few seconds, you stood awkwardly, wondering what to do. He grinned a sheepish grin and gently shook his bag of candy.

Not wanting to be rude, you reached into your bowl and fished out some goodies. You dumped them in his bag and wished him a Happy Halloween and complimented him on his Santa outfit.

He smiled, nodded and quickly headed off to your neighbors. He didn’t have a moment to spare; he had to visit every house in the world that night.

As you started to close the door you wondered what an old man was doing out begging for candy on a children’s holiday. By the time the door clicked shut, he’d slipped from your mind - another of the old man’s many magiks.
Little does the world know, October 31st is Kris Kringle’s second busiest day of the year.

 

All Hallows
by J.S.Watts

 

All Hallows.
A time for the pure ones.
A time for whiteness and a lightness of soul.
But nature demands balance:
Dark for light; a death for a life.
For purity to have its day,
Devilry must have its night.

And so to All Hallows Eve, Halloween,
Samhain.
Across two thousand years
A rusty moon rises;
Witch glow of dried blood.
Sky-hung glints wink like feral eyes
Anticipating a kill.

 

A Few Days Early
by Elizabeth Inglee-Richards


“This sucks,” Jordan said. I glanced over at my husband. He was lying on his back in bed pinching his nose.
“What sucks, baby?” I asked.
“Traveling this close to the full moon,” he said without moving.

You see my husband, Jordan, had become a Werewolf a month after we were married. He was attacked while we were driving home from dinner. In the rain. All and all the situation was a little cheesy. And, I came to find out, totally illegal. Werewolves don’t turn people and they never ever turn anyone recognizable. My husband was a TV actor.

The Werewolf community decided to use my husband’s affliction. Jordan’s show was about a Werewolf who’s a doctor. The show employs only supernatural beings, mostly Werewolves and other Shapeshifters. Jordan was the only one who was forcibly changed, so his co-workers were insanely protective of him.

The show did well. Not just with the supernatural communities, but with normal humans. It was not a blockbuster but it got respectable ratings and reviews. It got him a spot as a celebrity guest for a bunch of activities during Haunted Happenings in Salem Massachusetts. The trip had been fun, but the full moon was only three days away and Jordan was getting restless and aggravated. He always got sensitive close to the full moon. He was cranky but in public he had to be his normal outgoing self, and to manage that he was spending all his free time in the hotel’s twenty-four hour gym, burning off his aggression.

“Everything will be fine,” I said, kissing his cheek.
“What if I lose control?” he asked, an edge of panic in his voice.
“I’ll bring a collar and leash,” I said with a shrug, “Whatever happens we’ll get through it.”

Some Bodies at the Door
by Lennart Lundh


They waited silently, anticipating the feast that would be their reward. One had been dead so long his bared bones bore nothing human but their shape. The second was fresher, but only in the death-relative sense that tatters of cloth flapped against sundered flesh. Compared to them, an observer would have thought the vampire out of place. Observers didn't matter. The trio knew she had brought them together.
"Hurry," each thought. "This isn't the end of the night for us."

Claire heard something. Perhaps. With her hearing failing, she'd taken to turning the volume on the television louder in the evening. It masked sounds from outside the room. There: a rapping sound. Actually, a bird-like rapping-tapping combination. Now, where?
She rummaged through her memory, a task that had admittedly become harder in the years since her Thomas had been taken from her to be with God. "Age should be visited on the young," she said to the room, "and Youth granted to the old." A chuckle elicited a mild cough. "Note to self: Ask doctor if an eighty-five year old woman should quit smoking." Another chuckle, another light catch in her breath.
Where? Not the back door; she'd never hear a knock on it through the mudroom, its door, the kitchen; not over the television.
A window? The sound was wrong, even in the cobweb covered trunks that filled her head these days. God knew she'd welcome a Peeping Tom just for the diversion and attention after ten years of living alone, but...
"The front screen door. Of course, you silly old woman. The inside door is open, and the screen door fits loose in the frame. Someone's knocking at the front door."

 

Greengate
by Alan Loewen


Greengate haunts me still in memory and dream, but my memories are always of that time of the year when it is said the boundary between the worlds becomes the thinnest.

It is All Hallowed Eve in the Year of Our Lord, 1948:

I was five years old and I was in the backyard playing under an old oak tree as my mother watched me through the window as she washed dishes. I had been promised that evening that she would take me from house to house where I would be offered treats and my cowboy costume was one I would wear with pride.

Our house was one of the twenty clustered around the crossroads that we shared with a general store and Saint Dyfrig’s, the old stone church. To the north and east sprawled the gentle sloping hills of Pennsylvania; endless orchards of apples and peaches and cherries.

Where the limestone boulders jutted through the green grass like giant broken teeth, cows grazed on the green grass.
To the south and west, the grassy knolls turned into woods of oak and maple that crept up the sides of a chain of large steep hills. The range, stretching as far as the eye could see, was named South Mountain; it's stream-carved valleys, runs, and roads bearing such imaginative names as Dead Woman's Hollow, the Devil's Racecourse, Black Andes and Horsekiller Road.

I was playing under the old oak that ruled our back yard, making my plastic cowboys chase imaginary foes over the roots of the oak tree that broke through the surface. I looked up and saw the face.

 

Fred The Gnome’s Most Haunted - A Spooky Tale
by Marcus O'Neill


Fred the gnome has been dabbling in the occult and has unwittingly unleashed “bloomin’ dark forces”. Or so he tells me. I, on the other hand, have a more down-to-earth explanation, as you’ll see if you bear with me.

“It all started with that bloomin’ book of spells I borrowed off Witch Yoni,” Fred told me over tea and cakes in the living room of his toadstool house one grey and windy day last week. “I was only trying out an itsy bitsy charm for making the cucumbers in me back garden grow bigger, then all hell breaks bloomin’ loose.” According to Fred, all manner of weird things have been happening in and around his house. “Bumps, moans, groans, bangs, clanks, creaks, footsteps, the sensation of a strange presence on the stairs: you name it,” said Fred, tugging on his beard thoughtfully. “It’s most peculiar, I’m telling you!” When I subtly suggested to Fred that the peculiar noises might in fact be due to the October gales currently blowing through the woods, making the fibrous frames of his house creak and crack, he was having none of it. “It’s supernatural in origin, I tell you! And it’s all my doing. I’m getting someone in to bloomin’ well exorcise this place!”

 

Back of the Net
by Alan Lawson


It was a glorious sunset over the mountains, but the setting sun now had little allure to the young priest. Over the course of the last few months, he had seen too many horrors in the hours of darkness to be able to watch the sun setting with any real pleasure. Realising that his hesitation had allowed his team mates to leave him behind, he hurried to rejoin them as they reached the middle of the clearing. He had been told that tonight’s conflict would be different, but was still unclear on what his companions were doing.

 

The Upstairs Room
by Patricia Flores


Is my head spinning or is it the room that is moving in circles? I do not know. I can barely walk; I gasp for breath as I raise my right hand, desperately trying – with outstretched fingers – to get hold of an invisible rope that would save me from drowning in this sea of costumed creatures.
I am not intoxicated but merely trapped in a sensory overdose. The music is too loud to bear; the smiles, too colourful and warm; the arms, awfully ensnaring and poisonous. I make my way through the sweaty foreheads, the dripping stone-white make-up, the smells of human fatigue and the rotting collection of faces which are either incomplete or entirely absent. Masks: deceptive as usual, revealing as always. They hide our physical identity but they bring out our souls in the strangest ways: horned monsters, tearful harlequins, long-beaked silver and gold humanoids; feathered beauties wrapped in cheap velvet and plastic pearls...

 

Centaurskin
by Glynn Barrass


The Halloween party was an absolute blast, despite the hindrance of it being organized for a bunch of sixteen-year-old girls. Flat surfaces lined with candles, and walls strewn with pictures of the dead helped maintain a mood, as did Hellraiser on the widescreen.

The images on the walls consisted of various mummies, of the Peruvian and Egyptian variety. These lay interspersed with glossy pictures of Michael Jackson, taken in all his stages of self-mutilation.
The cobwebs on the ceiling and the bloodstains on the floor looked real. The cat dressed in a Dracula cape, plus the dog balancing a witch’s hat upon its bonce both cute, added touches. Keeping the chicks away from the booze was a task, yet still they succeeded in sneaking vodka.

This worked in my favor when it came time to play pass-the-parcel, the retorts of “being too old to play that game” sated by promises of vodka shots hidden within the tissue wrappers. This was a blatant lie however; the packages contained nothing more than dead mice and quite living spiders.

Screams, shrieks and hollers followed this discovery, just as planned, it then seeming high time that I continue the party with a suitably horrifying tale.

 

Of Toil And Trouble
by Louis K. Lowy


“Sit down, Steven, I want to speak with you,” Dad said to me nearly thirty-five years ago, as he took a slug from the weekend beer he referred to as “a beezly.” It was unusual to see him drinking on a Friday before the sun went down. I dropped my Civics book on the coffee table and took a seat on our vinyl couch. I watched him watch me.

“I don’t know how to say this, so I’m going to be direct,” he said. My first thought was he caught me rifling through the girly books buried in his sock drawer.

“King dug under the fence after you and Lizzie left for school.” He took a quick sip of his beezly. “We haven’t been able to find him.”

“You tried the woods?” I loved that dog. He’d been with me since I started kindergarten, but truthfully, I didn’t feel much at the moment. I was sure he’d be back.

“We looked everywhere. Your mom’s been pounding the streets screaming her lungs out like a damn loony.”
In fact the reason we got him was because I was so scared of starting school that Mom and Dad bribed me with a puppy. It worked like a charm. I named him King because he was all black except above his left eye, where he had a patch of light brown that ran to the right ear. It looked like a half-cocked crown. King was a big boy, a mutt by nature.

“I’m sure,” Dad said, “he’ll be back, but just in case I want you to be prepared.”
I began to feel unpleasant. I felt my big toe wiggle inside my shoe.
Dad said, “We’ll put up flyers at Brownie’s and the hardware.”

If I had to guess, I'd say King was about fifty percent shepherd, twenty percent Lab, and thirty percent horny. He was constantly digging beneath the bottom of our backyard fence, trying to get to Blondie, the Vaingat’s collie that lived across the street.

“He knows how much you love him,” Dad said.
Then he did something that turned my uneasiness into sorrow. He put his arm around me.


Winter Night
by Jan Edwards


‘What are you doing.’ Nain’s questions were seldom queries. Mostly they were direct orders to cease and desist all actions.

Tegan tried not to look overly pissed off at those opening salvos of interrogation and went onto a counter attack with a question-statement of her own. ‘I’m sewing a button. What does it look like.’

‘Don’t be cheeky, my girl. Young ladies don’t say things like that. And they don’t back chat their elders neither.’

Mouthing along with her Grandmother’s rote put down, Tegan bent over her coat and nibbled off the thread.

‘I saw that,’ Nain added. ‘You’ll cut your tongue off and the Old Nick’ll get in. You just see.’

Tegan sighed and willed her self not to ask what that was supposed to mean. Tonight was not the night for drawing flack and it was a futile exercise in any case. Nain’s sayings and superstitions were as abstruse as they were numerous. Family rumour was she made half of them up as she went along but it was never wise to challenge her on them. Most of her repertoire seemed to involve death or demons, or both, and the old girl got quite excitable if anyone questioned their veracity. Or worse still defied the various riders attached. Never put shoes on a table or there will be a death in the family; always hide the cutlery in thunder storms or you will get struck down through the window, butter a cats paws when you move into a new home or it will go wandering off and take the good fortune with it. The old lady had thousands of them, and Tegan was fairly sure she’d heard them all since Nain had come to live with them.

 

Tearing The Wings
by Lily

(Winner of the Ethereal Tales Christmas Competition 2009)


Light refracts in strange ways - in broken shards or symmetrical arcs evenly split into seven colors. The true color of Ilma's eyes is, by definition, terracotta. Reddish brown. But our eyes deceive us, produce optical illusions when eye color is combined with daylight or darkness. By day, her eyes are diminished to a pale sepia. By night, a glowing red like two perfectly round fire opals. Compared to her white hair, which perpetually hung in wilted curls, her eyes look as pink as albino mice. In truth, the only accurate word to describe the color with our own flawed human eyes, is sepia. Like an old photograph waiting to be remembered.

Ilma runs, not voluntarily and certainly not without pain. She had been wearing shoes when she started to run but they weren't her shoes and they were miles too big for her. Man-sized boots, to be accurate. She keeps running, not missing a beat even after the black leather boots fell off her dainty, white feet. The sidewalk cement didn't scrape the delicate soles of her feet. They are covered with slippery ice and a thin layer of powdery snow, which is falling fast now. Her feet are turning blue and red though, sending violent shivers up to her shaking shoulders. She's only wearing a man's white dress shirt, after all. She glides to a halt in front of ta door, which she almost missed in the pitch black night. Grey metal, adorned with colorful graffiti, the door is heavy and Ilma is struggling with the cold handle. Finally, the door opens just enough for her to slip through unseen. She looks over her shoulder once before she slithers into the abandoned warehouse, and disappears forever.

 

Sherry and Carrots
by Josie Gowler


“Has anyone ever frozen to death queuing?” Darl wondered, stamping his feet on the ice-topped snow. He didn't realise he'd said it out loud until Indh, waiting in front of him, spoke.

“For the Gods' sake, they'll hear you!” he hissed. A few other men turned and stared at them.

Darl gazed anxiously forward, but business was still being transacted at the front of the line. No angry glances or worse came his way from the numerous guards leaning on their axes. “Doesn't seem as though a whole year's passed,” he said.

Indh agreed. Neither man mentioned the whole year of toil since they had last kissed their sleeping children and anxious wives to join the long file of fathers trudging through the forest. Darl shifted his packages, trying to balance them more comfortably. After walking to the mooting point in the Holly Clearing and waiting for an hour, even he was beginning to find his load awkward. Balanced on the top of every man’s heavy bundle was a flask of sherry and a bundle of carrots tied with a cheery bow: to feed the reindeer, so all the children said, sticking to their legends, but really destined for the tax horses of the apocalypse.

 

Finding Home
by Kevin Joseph


I can remember it perfectly. You probably don’t believe me, but that’s ok. Most people don’t remember nuttin’ about the day they was born. Me? I remember it all.

Maybe I remember it cuz I was different. Maybe my day was just a little more memorable than yours. Or maybe I can remember it cuz it was just three months ago.

I popped outta my Mama September 16th of this year. It was a home birth. Guess they knew somethin’ about me was gonna be off, and they knew what they was gonna do about it. To be honest though, the hospital might’ve done something similar when they saw me.

So I’m out an hour, maybe two, sleepin’ in the corner of the room I born in. My parents come in and wake me up. The guy’s got this look of disgust on his face. The lady, she just looks upset. Horrified sure, but there was something else there to. Regret, I like to tell myself. I don’t know, maybe it was indigestion. I was pretty young; hadn’t learned to read people’s expressions yet.

Before I could reach out for them, the guy throws a brown sack around me. Burlap. I later learned it was a burlap sack. At the time, all I could think of was how itchy it was. I bumped around in the dark as they carried me outta the apartment.

 

The Bells
by Elizabeth Inglee-Richards

Katelyn hated Christmas. Alex knew that. He also knew it was the bells that bothered her the most. Church bells hurt Katelyn just a little bit, set her teeth on edge, made her short tempered and gave her headaches. It was because she was a Changeling, a Fairy raised by humans. Alex knew she was a Changeling because he was one as well. He and Katelyn shared a love of dance and their parents enrolled them at the same dance studio, even though it was far from her house. There were other dance studios in the area and Alex had always wondered that he and Katelyn had found each other, even in such a small city.

They had been very young when they started partnering each other, now they were mostly grown. Maybe not by Fairy standards, Alex didn’t know much about Fairies and it wasn’t something he wanted to ask Katelyn. He understood why they had been chronically partnered. After all who could really partner a Fairy other than another Fairy?

 

Christmas with Death
by Chris Castle

I don’t expect you to talk to me: I know how much you fear me. I understand. But perhaps I could ask you to listen to a lonely soul instead? Good; I hear so many words but they are always wrapped in fear or defeat or pain, that I promise you I will speak gently as I tell my story. Deal? Deal.

Christmas is no busier or quieter than the other months or seasons: You may reason the cold, for which I would counter with the heat: You may suggest over indulgence; I can only say starvation. My job has taught me to discount nothing and reason less. But yes; I will say Christmas is a hard time for me to go about my work, being so close to such special and sometimes joyous days. I enjoy watching you people enjoy the build up to it; the snap of excitement and so forth. When I am forced to act I will not lie to you: I do act a shade more gently as I touch each soul with my fingertips. But I cannot stop: You should know this, for it is a truth which cannot be toyed with or unwritten.

 

“Got a Match?”
by David Perlmutter


“Got a match?”

That plaintive cry, varying in intensity and force based upon exactly whom it was being addressed towards, was being uttered by a blond-haired young girl in a blue dress as she vainly attempted to attract the attention of passers-by on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. She could not have picked a worse time. It was Christmas Eve, only minutes before midnight, and most of those in transit on the thoroughfare that night could not have cared less about her plea, so absorbed were they in their own individual thoughts. But for the girl, life and death lay in the balance in her passionate request.

She was a cartoon character, or, more familiarly, a “’toon”, one of an ever burgeoning racial minority in the City of Angels that was only recently now beginning to demand equal rights with other citizens of the land. Their demand was complicated by the fact that most “normal” people saw them as fictional characters and figures of fun, and never once imagined ever treating them on an equal level with the “real” people of the world. Indeed, it was quite easy to tell them apart from those who were “real”. Composed of thick lines of ink, bright opaque paint, and a binding of nitrate film stock, “’toons” could never be truly “real”, and thus taken seriously, though, as comedians and film performers, they were experts at pretending, at least, that they belonged. This status was also compromised by the fact that they could defy the laws, desires and limitations of human beings, which caused them to be feared and threatened with the only means by which they could die: fire, which melted their inner nitrate core and made it expand and then explode, taking their lives with it.


A Zombie Carol
by Christopher Brennan


Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.
Mind! I don't mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country's done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.
-Dickens

But sometimes door-nails rise from the dead.
-Brennan


I awoke mid scream to the violent flailing of my own limbs tangled in bed sheets. Had I been in bed all night? The first dim rays of the rising sun leaked through the curtains and began to creep across my bedroom floor slowly making their way to the footboard. I kicked free of the covers, raced to the window and threw the curtains open. The latch was firmly in place, strange because I thought I had gone through the window shortly after midnight. I opened the glass doors and hurried to the edge of my balcony. The street was covered with snow and empty except for a newsboy loading bundles of today’s paper.

“You there! Boy!” He looked around confused.
“Up here on the balcony! Above you!” He looked up and I realized he was younger than I’d originally thought.

“Yes, sir?”

“What day is it?” A puzzled expression crossed his face.

“Day, sir? It’s Sunday, Christmas day.”


Christmas Traditions
by J.S.Watts


Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house nothing was……...

What do you mean, you’ve heard it before? Ungrateful bugger! You said you wanted a Christmas story. This was going to be a nice traditional one. There ain’t enough respect for the old traditions if you ask me, but no one does; I’m part of the traditions no one respects.

Happens I’m not “sexy” enough. These days it’s all sexy vampires and hot werewolves. Even shapeshifters get a look in. There’s one in that TV show “First Blood”, along with those too cool for their fangs vampires and, I admit, some pretty tasty goings on, but me and mine we’re not sexy at all, even though I can manage a bit of shapeshifting myself on a good night.

There was a time when it was traditional to placate me with cakes and a saucer of milk. Now I have to make do with Santa’s leftovers and look what they’ve done to ‘im: primeval demi-god to cartoon character in less than a thousand years. First they demote the poor bugger to a saint and then they hand him a Coke, stuff him into a red romper suit and make him work with children. Talk about cutting off his……

 

An Angel’s Christmas
by Richard Keane

Being an angel Gabriel had been expected to find his way into an honest and hard working profession. It had not quite turned out that way, much to his parent’s dismay, and he had flittered in and out of occupations without any real knowledge of where he was going.

He had done the cupid thing. That had gone well enough.

The idea of bringing love to those for whom it seemed but a distant dream was one Gabriel had been happy to wake up to each morning. Only, after a time, the sight of such romance, along with pet names and endless kissing, can begin to get on one’s nerves. Oh yes, helping out at Easter is all well and good. But it is a very sticky job, what with all the chocolate, and there is little money in it for an angel trying to get by.

And so, being that time of year, it was little wonder that Gabriel would apply to become a Santa over Christmas.

Of course, Santa was merely a symbol. There was no Santa’s sleigh, no reindeer and certainly no jolly, rosy cheeked old man dressed in red. Did you really think someone of that shape and size could deliver presents all around the world in one night?

No amount of fairy dust could achieve that feat.

 

Blood and Snow
by Teresa Ford


A young girl, her elbows on the window sill…breath misting the chill glass. Outside the snow fell. The world was shrouded in a blanket of white, like a sugar frosted wonderland. But beneath the magical coating Susan knew the world was still the same dark, cruel place it had been yesterday.

It was Christmas Eve, it was also her birthday but neither of these things had a bearing her attitude towards the festive season. No…the thing that coloured her view of things, which squeezed any joy from this time of year, was the loss of her parents.

 


What Better Night than Christmas Eve?
by Allen Kopp


Agnes Victoriana Wellington was, by all accounts, an incorrigible—some might even say an evil—child. As a baby, she would lie in her crib and scream hour after hour for no apparent reason until the neighbors would believe her mama was sticking pins into her flesh for amusement. At ten years old she was expelled from school because she was a perpetually disruptive influence in the classroom. Her mama and papa took her to a succession of doctors, all of whom assured them she was sound in mind and body, without any discernible physical or mental ailment that would cause her to behave in so frightful a manner. The only explanation that any of them could offer was that she might be possessed of a demon that wouldn’t desist until he had taken her back to hell with him.

Released from the imperative of attending school, Agnes was made to stay at home all the time, where she pushed her mama and papa to the limits of their endurance. She screamed and raged and fussed and threw any object that wasn’t too heavy for her to pick up. She tormented her younger brother and sister, Wallingford and Floretta, without mercy. She tied Wallingford to a tree and attempted to burn him at the stake. When Floretta was asleep in her bed, recovering from the scarlet fever, she glued her toes together and painted her lips with red ink. When her mother refused to buy her a new pair of boots, she took a kitchen knife and cut up her old ones. She called her papa an ignorant old fool. Her most hideous act of all, though, was taking all her clothes out of her closet and piling them in the middle of the floor and setting fire to them, putting herself and her family and all they possessed in grave danger.

After the fire, papa and mama were at the end of their tether. They could tolerate Agnes no longer. If they were to allow her to continue on the same path of destruction, they might very well all end up in a row of graves in the cemetery. They had little Wallingford and Floretta to think of, both of whom were blameless and deserving of a happy and peaceful life. As a final alternative and the only remaining hope, they agreed to place Agnes in the Mountainview Sanatorium for the Criminally Insane, where a certain doctor, a Doctor Pretorius, was known to have helped such patients with his progressive methods of treatment, about which nothing was known to the outside world.

Star of Romani
by Peter Simon


Andrew woke to find a dark shape standing in the corner of the room.

At first it seemed motionless but, as he stared, it seemed to wobble back and forth. A few years ago, he might have thought it was Father Christmas. Bit too old now.

He sat up a little, as much as he dared. His heart hammered, sweat prickled on his forehead.

The shadow moved again. A curtain was pulled back slightly and a tiny, cold pinpoint of light pierced though.

“Who are you?” shouted Andrew, hearing the shakiness in his own voice.

“Ssh!” hissed the shadow.

A torchlight snapped on. It was one of the other boys. Andrew didn't recognise him. Probably one of the new kids.

“I'm Steve,” he said.

“What are you doing?”

“Checking!” A single star, whiter than the others, shone in the arched top pane of the window. It burned so brightly that it lit up the scarlet tinsel above the window frame.

The torch wavered around in the stranger's hand.

“Get your jeans on!” said Steve in a commanding whisper.

Andrew, fearing some prank, tried to shrink back under the covers. The flash-light came full in his face. “Please!” said Steve forcefully. “We haven't got long. We have to go now! There's something I have to show you!”

 

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