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.
“Help me move this thing, will you?”
Dinah inspected the withered trunk, the dry, shriveled limbs. “Fucking shit, dude,” she said, taking a swig of Angry Orchard. “How long you had this thing, since the Dark Ages?”
“Fuck you,” replied Ime. “I kept it alive as long as I fucking could. I just never got around to taking it down.”
“Yeah, most people take down their decorations before fucking Easter.” Dinah tipped the bottle toward the blast radius of needles already littering Ime’s carpet.
“Yeah, well, at least I took the ornaments down,” Ime said, gesturing toward a haphazardly packed box of fishhook needles, five-pointed stars, candle stubs, and other seasonal fetishes. “Grab the trunk, okay?”
“This thing’s gonna shed like a mofo,” Dinah complained.
Sure enough, it started shedding pieces as soon as they’d shifted it from the place of prominence in which it had spent the past three months festering. Hair came off in greasy clumps, taking swaths of deliquescent skin with it. Fingers and toes fell away, to be forgotten among the shag of Ime’s carpet. More needles came loose from where Ime had inserted them into skin and muscle. As the flesh sloughed away, the lingering odor returned in full force.
“Y’know,” Dinah said as they struggled down the narrow stairwell of Ime’s apartment building, “they make some nice effigies now that look just like the real thing. No smell. Reusable, too.”
“Where’s the fun in that?” Ime asked, shifting her grip on the mouldering limbs of last December’s Yule sacrifice. “There are some traditions that just aren’t worth giving up.”