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.
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
A cluster of flies, like black grapes, swarmed over the sherry-stained carpet, seduced by its fermented sweetness, though any liquid had long since evaporated. Their numbers had been few in the beginning, but now, their buzzing nearly drowned out the voice emerging from the television.
“…have added Magic Moments, an Oregon-based nursery famous for its fresh-cut seasonal decorations, to its list of vendors known to have distributed the contaminated plant.”
Outside, the streets were silent. This generation of flies had been born into a sort of Promised Land, a table spread with half-eaten dips, charcuteries, nutmeg-spiced hand pies. But they inevitably found themselves drawn to this spot on the carpet, with its specter of sherry.
“Botanist Alma Reed is here in the studio to discuss the science behind this festive tradition turned deadly. Dr. Reed, how can viewers stay safe and healthy this holiday season?”
“Thanks, Jennifer. First, I urge everybody to follow the CDC’s guidelines and avoid contact with any strain of mistletoe, regardless of its provenance. If you see white or even red berries, treat it as an imminent threat.
“Second, stay indoors. If you must venture outside, give a wide berth to any large, deciduous trees, such as alders, maples, and oaks, where the parasitic plant has been known to establish its holdfasts.
“Third, know the signs of infection. These include rosy cheeks, increased thirst, and extreme amorousness.”
“We heard last night that this is a kind of fungus. Is that still the theory, Dr. Reed?”
“It’s been all but confirmed, Jennifer. The spores are readily apparent in the gray matter of the deceased. The fruiting bodies—those are the parts that distribute the spores, Jennifer, like the caps of a mushroom—are nearly identical to the small, white berries of the mistletoe, which is why the CDC has updated its guidelines to urge caution in the presence of any specimen of the plant. What we’re still trying to figure out is where it came from and how we can prevent and ultimately reverse the effects of exposure.”
“They’re calling it the kissing plague. People are literally kissing each other to death.”
“That’s right, Jennifer. We believe the spores are then transmitted through the saliva. That’s why it’s so important, if you or a loved one experience any of the symptoms I mentioned, to quarantine immediately. Avoid large gatherings…”
Two flies broke away from the cluster, rising in a meandering gyre to settle finally on a shriveled pair of parted, ruby-colored lips, attracted by the faintest residue of sherry. Little jewels of white studded the red, striking in their contrast. The bodies would turn fragrant soon, drawing more of their kind, but for now, the couple had the spot all to themselves.