Earlier this year, the strange, surreal, shocking, and beautiful Apex Magazine ran a Holiday Horrors flash fiction contest. I developed several alternative concepts before settling on the piece I eventually submitted. In the spirit of the season, I thought it would be a nice treat to share my B-sides here. They range from 250 words (the contest’s maximum) to a comparatively palatial 500. Art is from the British Library’s mechanically curated collection of antique illustrations.
“Shhh-shh-shhhhh.” Warner held up a ruddy finger. “Hear that?”
They all fell silent. The only sound that could be heard was a rhythmic thumping. “Damn and blast, Lee, quit your fidgeting!” Warner growled, glaring at the younger man through bloodshot eyes. Russell clamped his hand over Lee’s knee, stopping it from bouncing.
The silence now was total.
“Are they gone?” Lee asked.
Warner shook his head. “Russell, check the windows.”
With some effort, Russell freed himself from his chair and made his way to the nearest window, peered outside. Warner swiveled around, studying the man’s face. He saw hope bloom as Russell craned forward, pressing his cheek against the cold glass. Then, Warner saw that same hope wither on the vine.
“They’re still there,” Russell reported. The German unleashed an unintelligible string of invectives, and Lee’s leg bounced higher and faster than ever.
Russell kept staring out the window. The carolers hadn’t budged from how he’d last seen them: huddled together for warmth, bundled in their parkas, scarves, and knitted caps. Whether accidentally or by design, they were arranged in such a way that a single bright star shone over their heads, making them look a little like the three wise men in a nativity scene.
“Wonder what they want…” Lee muttered.
Russell stared. Something was happening. The carolers were swaying, gently, in time to some unheard music. Their lips parted, and haunting harmonies filled the room.
All is calm…
All is bright…”
“That’s fucking unsettling,” Warner said, as Russell drifted back to join the group. The three men sat in the electric light of the space shuttle’s command module and listened to the singing, wondering what it might portend.