Winners of the 2019 Holiday Flash Fiction Contest

While editing our next podcast I had a horrible realization – I never posted this article. I won’t say which expletive slipped my lips (accompanied by the sensation of your stomach dropping into your shoes) but it was a bit loud. We posted the podcast with the winners but didn’t do anything beyond that. And hindsight being 20/20, perhaps dropping the episode on Christmas Day when so many people are doing family things wasn’t the best choice. So, my sincerest apologies. – KJ McDougall  

Thank you all who participated. We continued to be humbled by the quality and quantity of submissions that our semi annual contests are getting.  Picking winners this time was actually hard than the last.  You can hear the winners posted in the pod cast below, and read the runner up’s as well. We considered doing a runner up episode as we quite liked them as well but sadly did not have the time.  So, please read and enjoy. If you like any of the stories please do your best to track down the artists pages and let them know.

The Scarecrows of Kettling Hill

By Nicky Osborn

(Runner Up)

Karleen’s feet shifted through the sharp foliage littering the sodden mud, craning her neck again to observe Kettling hill.
‘Doesn’t much look like a hill, does it?’ Fennie giggled.
Makalyn gagged against the numbing wind. ‘That’s because it’s not. It’s just high ground because of all the bodies mashed to compost underneath!’
This time Fennie snickered into her sleeve whilst she sucked on it. Karleen tried to laugh too but the wind had scathed her face for too long. Now she couldn’t move it. Instead, she kept her head down so she could watch her feet as if it were her stern look alone that willed them on. She wished she could stop crying because the tears helped the cold cut deeper into her cheeks.
‘Whatever you do, don’t touch them…’ Makalyn warned, her voice abandoning its merriment.
The sheen over Karleen’s eyes meant the December dark succeeded in hiding the middle-aged men strung to erected wooden posts. But she could hear them. The scarecrows were known to quieten when villagers came too close but Karleen had heard them yelping throughout the nights, as everyone did in Cennstan Cove. It was expected as the end season loomed closer and the nights turned cold enough to freeze the pigeons left without a nook in the straw roofs of the thatched cottages.
‘Choose one’ Fennie instructed airily, sounding less amused now she was close enough to feel their heat.
Makalyn scoffed. ‘Isn’t it hard to choose just one?’
‘Why they’re all fine, aren’t they?’

Makalyn glided around the wooden beams with cocksure ease. Karleen spotted them both gawping up at one who had had his eyes seasoned already. She knew what ‘seasoned’ meant; having lots of older siblings meant you knew things before you were old enough to know them. Makalyn told her late one night when they were supposed to be asleep. ‘Seasoned’ meant a miscreant had already been strung up for three days. Before allowing him to die they would splash his eyes with something that the crows were drawn to, a substance made from rapeseed and altered by an alchemist. It made the birds frenzied. A swarm would gather around the scarecrow’s head and eat the eyes.
Being enlightened about this practice had kept Karleen awake most nights since. It had been that night that Gaelira had first thought of something to say, whispering pictures and colours as he liked to over the winds from the hill.

‘I can guess why you like this one’ Fennie ventured, hesitantly palming the scarecrow’s powerful calf. It was hard to tell how bruised their flesh was in the limited light provided by the moon but Karleen knew it was so; Gaelira had told her.
The scarecrow quivered at Fennie’s touch and she flinched as the man garbled desolately in resigned dismay.
‘Am I really that predictable?’ Makalyn whined with a small smile.
Now their attention was on the shivering thief, Karleen wandered further in amongst the shivering effigies.

Karleen had felt the unease in the Village long before Makalyn had finally relented to tell her about the Yogi. No one knew where the Yogi had travelled in from, though it had for a while been a common topic of gossip among the labourers and tradesmen. The rugged and unashamedly coarse man had been something a spectacle at first and was the cause of much fascination. The Yogi made the acquaintance of many of the workers and the initial intrigue he was met with turned hostile once it was discovered that he had told some of them about the existence of a strange plant that only budded in queer weather. Makalyn never told Karleen why the plant had been the cause for so much unrest in the village but she knew that the Yogi had vanished soon after. His departure resulted in a tremendous circle of charred grass and an unsettling scent in the air that the adults avoided explaining.
Karleen had taken the trouble to ask Gaelira about the Yogi’s disappearance but the small man had only giggled like he often did. After the Yogi’s departure, Gaelira started visiting her dreams. He taught her how to amend them and how to navigate the further planes, places that she found difficult to describe to anyone else.

Now on Kettling Hill, Karleen didn’t have to stumble for long before she found him; he was singing to her again in the odd way that sounded neither like a voice nor instrument. Gaelira was even shorter than she was. His short body was thin too and had only a tattered shawl of green cast about it to shield it from the wind. Under his shapeless hat were tufts of a dull red beard, otherwise, she found it difficult to focus on his features because they weren’t set; they like to form and fidget into different arrangements that made him difficult to ascertain from one moment to the next.
Karleen heard footsteps coming from behind and Makalyn’s voice. ‘There you are, you tyke!’
‘What did we say about going about on your own?’ Fennie fretted.
Karleen stepped to one side to show them her friend, the child-sized man tightly bounded like the other scarecrows with cheese wire.

Karleen felt it when her sister stopped breathing. Gaelira had taught her how to feel like how others felt – empathy wasn’t an abstract feat of her imagination anymore but an actual sensory experience. Sometimes, when the sun set on the wind in a particular fashion she could let this feeling ebb, then she could hear the soft breathing of trees and the watery hum on any surface that feigned solidity.
It took Makalyn a moment to find her breath again. ‘Karleen… get away from it.’
‘Is… is that an elf?’ Fennie asked stunned.
‘I don’t know but Karleen, get away from it!’
‘This is Gaelira’ Karleen announced. ‘And I think it would like it if we let it go.’ She took a step toward it, feeling behind her eyes the familiar glow.
‘But it needs me to untie it because it’s stuck!’
‘He’s tied up for a very good reason. Now, KARLEEN… GET AWAY FROM IT.’
‘It’s like when you get your dress caught in the door’ Karleen explained. Most of you are on the other side but you can’t move because a bit of you is stuck behind.’
Fennie held her hand out. ‘It’s really important you take my hand now, Karleen.’
‘What are you doing here?!’ Makalyn croaked to the small figure that was almost entirely draped in shadow save for the sparse red whiskers and the small deep-set eyes.
‘Gaelira says it was the plant the tradesmen learnt to smoke. It makes people see things and get wrapped up in different places. Gaelira’s not really meant to be here. He came here to look for Nicholas of Bari.’
‘Karleen… listen to me. Stop looking at it.’
‘He says the doors have been opened now and more will come through.’
‘You shouldn’t have burnt him…’ The voice didn’t come from a mouth but the three girls heard it emanating from within their bodies.
Fennie couldn’t hold her eyes away anymore. She could feel brightness in her mind and it filled her up. Colours were beginning to have a taste and old dreams felt like real memories.
‘You shouldn’t have burnt him…’
‘Who?’ Makalyn stuttered, only now lifting her eyes to Gaelira.
‘The saint draped in green with the long white beard…’
‘It… was the church. The townspeople had nothing to do with it.’
‘You all stood and watched!’ Karleen cried. She could now see what her sister had seen that night. ‘The plant was a gift, a gift given to all mankind. It was supposed to help us get there…’
‘Get where?!’ Makalyn snapped.
‘To the planes where I exist… where consciousness grows beyond fixed points’ the echo whispered.
Makalyn lowered her eyes from the burning luminosity; it hurt too much now.
‘We have to let him go’ Karleen reiterated softly. ‘It’s time.’
With her small delicate hands, she undid the cheese wire that had gnawed deep into Gaelira’s wrists then she stumbled away…
Gaelira pressed its small hands together. Its lips moved and Karleen giggled. The light grew so bright Makalyn and Fennie had to press their palms to their eyes.
‘Feast well tonight, for now, the borders are open and more shall pass through… Feast well and celebrate your love, for now, the saint of Myra cannot guard you.’
Makalyn heard Karleen’s giggle and when she opened her eyes both the elf and her little sister were gone. The scarecrows lifted their heads skywards and chanted one low continuous note that carried to the village down below.


The Anti-Stocking (Winner)

By Katie Challis

A hot coal glowed as it tumbled into its final resting place in the roots of the Winter fire. Its gleam caught the glowering eyes of a tired child and a smell of sulphur wafted in the air.

Andrew’s stocking was not ostentatious. It was a simple affair he’d decorated at school two years previously. It was red and had originally had 4 googly eyes and one antler glued on haphazardly. The tinsel wrapped around its rim, jaggedly gave the withered appendage a somewhat angry appearance and only one of the original eyes remained.

Andrew laid it on the end of his bed, then waited while his little sister Joanne did the same, before they both climbed under their bed covers smiling hopefully at each other.

At midnight, their bedroom door pushed open and in crept some heavy feet. Four young eyes forced themselves to remain shut, two heart-rates rose delightedly and two sets of lungs froze to keep from squeaks of excitement leaking out.

‘Oh, Shit!’ said ‘Santa’, as he stubbed his toe on a discarded Millennium Falcon. A short shuffle and several muffled swearwords later and the two stockings were stuffed and distorted with presenty goodness.

As the bedroom door gently clunked shut again, the children slowly sat up, fumbling for their nightlights. A grumbling and grinding began. Andrew glanced over at his sister as he felt his bed jolt under his legs. A smell appeared in his nose that reminded him of the dead mouse that had got stuck in the airing cupboard when he was only 5 years old. He peered towards the end of his duvet and in the shadowy tones he saw his stocking pulsing and thrashing like uncle David‘s ferret trousers.

‘What’s in there?!’ Joanne hissed, eyes wide!

‘I’m not sure’. Andrew leaned closer. The tinsel glinted sharply and with horror he noted it grinding and chomping, strips of wrapping paper churning in glistening goo.

Andrew’s sister bravely appeared next to him, and peered forward in horror.

‘It’s eaten your presents’ she said, awed. He stared back, tears forming.

Silently, Andrew leaned onto his bedside table and picked up a Pencil with Spongebob Squarepants on it. Cautiously he poked it into the stocking.

‘Careful’, whispered Joanne. Once again, their lungs froze their breath as their waited. The pencil nib passed the tinsel, then Squidward and Spongebob disappeared, until Andrew held it only by the rubber at the end. A sharp ‘Crack’ sent them both leaping back, adrenaline widening their eyes and racing their pulses. Andrew now only held the stubb of the pencil while the stocking snarled and chomped on the end of his bed. When it stilled, it turned its one-eye to the children and grimaced. And then, began to slowly inch its way up the bed.

Thinking quickly, Andrew placed his bare feet softly on the carpet, and reached onto Joanne’s quilt. Grabbing her stocking he reached inside and pulled out her Chocolate coins.

‘What are you doing?!!’ Joanne snarled.

‘We have to feed it!’

‘But…’ Joanne floundered.

But, Andrew was already laying the presents in the path of the writhing sock-creature.

Joanne looked in horror as her bag of chocolate coins, her Lego set, her new toothbrush, her Satsuma and her apple were devoured. Seeing it move towards her Christmas sticker book was too much. ‘No’ she cried as she grabbed after it! Tinsel wrapped around her chubby arm and soon, she too was surrounded in ectoplasmic juices and glitter.

‘Oh no you don’t!’ cried Andrew, his eyes searching the room for a weapon! Aha! His plastic lightsaber. He turned on the green glow and bashed at the stocking. ‘Let…Go… of… my … sister!!’ He hissed. But his words fell on deaf ears. As Joanne was slurped into the knitted monster, Andrew shoved the lightsaber into her hand! ‘Defend yourself!’ He cried, ‘I’m coming after you!’

He looked fervently around his room again, grabbing essentials. Into a camping sack he shoved his penknife, a flint, a magnifying glass, a torch and a compass. He also grabbed his sister’s Sonic Screwdriver and kindly grabbed her favourite Ewok toy to cheer her up. He also pocketed his own favourite to cheer himself up too. And without another thought, he leapt into the gaping stocking.

The clocks showed the time as 1.01am in the modest bedroom of Andrew and Joanne Whittaker in their terraced house in Sheffield. The one-eyed Christmas stocking was settling into a comfortable curl when it let out a cascading burp, whilst deep in it’s ‘belly’ an array of presents with ripped and torn packaging and two well-equipped young children wormed and pulsated their way along the darned tunnel. Eventually the Lego space shuttle, a Lego pirate ship, two new toothbrushes, two stringed bags of chocolate coins, a rolled up puzzle book and four pieces of fruit came to a halt.

A shuffling sound, and then a warm glow. A clawed hand, scaley and red crawled its way down and snatched the first package.

‘Oooohhh, a Lego set, just what I wanted!’

A heavy foot landed on the steaming ground and a pointed tail wrapped around the young demon.
‘You lucky beast! Looks like Satan’s little helpers have been busy this year!’.

Behind the stolen gifts Andrew and Joanne waited, brows furrowed and jaws set in determination, Hell-bent on saving their Christmas.


It was the 379th day

Michael Day

(Runner up)

Alex wondered slowly down the stairs, not but a year ago did he remember how he used to sprint down to the foyer room with elation, craving the surprise he would receive when getting underneath the tree. His excitement had all but evaporated. He held the hand of his little sister Sonya, she looked up to him with the faintest hint of water encompassing her eye, she was not afraid to show her true feelings. Alex knew never to cry, especially not in front of her, she was far too young to be able to see her brother cry. By this 379th day, Alex had mastered the routine, alongside his sister, he knew he still had time to feel like himself, and that when he reached the bottom of the staircase the act would have to begin. The creaks of the floorboards sounded to him like a rehearsed melody, and the further and further down he got the louder it built. Finally he and Sonya reached the bottom step, little Sonya held a teddy bear in her left hand, it had bright yellow fur and was missing and eye, she hadn’t named it yet, probably because she knew she’d never get the chance. They began to step towards the brace door, across it written in bold blood red impact font were the words Don’t forget to smile! It is Christmas after all! Alex pressed his hand against the buzzer, as he had done now so many times, it created a high pitched screech which still made Sonya jump every-time. After approximately thirty seconds the door began to open, it was heavy, the scrape of the metal against the floor as it turned in on itself filled both Alex and Sonya with dread, they knew what was coming next. From the darkness encompassing the other side of the door, two figures began to emerge, they were heavily armoured. Red thermals and white tactical vests, their faces covered by a terrifying mask, mimicking that cherished figure that the children were soon to see again. They squatted down and moved towards Sonya, she attempted to hide her eyeless yellow bear behind her back, but her efforts were futile, one of them grasped her by the shoulder and plucked the bear out from behind her. Alex always felt compelled to go for them when they hurt his little sister, but something held him back, he couldn’t decide whether it was fear, or just his knowledge that he could do nothing to help. They took the eyeless yellow bear and opened a small hatch next to them. The cruel figure placed the bear inside, pressed a button, and everyone watched as this cute little toy went up in flames. Sonya held back her tears, although she had cried over this many times, she knew she’d eventually get used to it, and although that wasn’t quite the case yet, she was getting there. After the little bear was reduced to ashes, the two figures began to lead the way forward, gesturing for the children to follow them, at this point they needn’t receive the gesture, as they knew exactly where they needed to go. They walked down the hallway which went on for an approximate 7 minutes, they used to do it much quicker, but the children had slowed down as their excitement faltered. Alongside the hallway were pains of glass, looking through them would lead your eyes to behold one of this places most horrifying sights; hundreds of thousands of poor innocent people, chained to their work stations, building a factory line of toys, their hands bloodied and bruised from the repetitive strain, more masked figures roaming the factory floor and not being shy to use force to ensure a productive line. As awful as this place was, Alex was at least happy that he was not one of these poor unfortunate souls, but he wondered at what point would he begin to show signs of ageing, and be thrown down there himself, for now he tried not to think about it. Sonya grasped his hand a little tighter and he looked down to her, she looked up to him and he stuck his tongue out at her, this made her smile a little, they had began to learn to appreciate little things like this, it was their way of saying that they were still kids and still had eachother. The hallway began to filter towards its end, as they approached the next iron clad door, across this one read another message, it simply stated. There are no tears here! One of the figures slammed their hand against the door, knocked three times, then stood back. It slowly began to open again, and the descent continued. They began to pass through the stables, this was the part Sonya hated the most, the creatures that stayed in these stalls terrified her. They had brought her delight before she met one, the stories made them seem so sweet and cute, but in reality, their bite was just as bad as their bark, and their bark was certainly something to fear. They walked through and the creatures began to scream, they rammed their horns against their cadges and Sonya looked into their eyes, dark blood red they stared back at her, frothing at the mouth. She could see deep in them a longing to break from their cells and claim her flesh as their reward. Alex made sure to hurry her along, grasping her tightly around the shoulder, he knew she hated this part. After they had passed through the stables, they reached their destination. The two figures placed them before the final door they had to pass through, they pressed on the intercom adjacent to the doorway, and after a second a buzzer sounded, just as harsh as the original. The door began to open as as it did, the children began to smile, but not a real genuine smile, this was a forced manufactured grin, which although it appeared to be joyous, held all the melancholy of the children’s streams of tears. The room was beautiful at first glance, warm and colourful, with bright mixtures of red and green, mistletoe adorning the walls and in the corner a tree with beautifully wrapped presents underneath. They ran into the room, acting excited as best they could, and were greeted by a figure sat on a throne in the middle of the room. His eyes held malice and malcontent, but his wonderful bushy beard, loving smile and big belly inferred a warmth and love which was unmatched by any other. This figure began to laugh as they ran around excitedly looking at everything in the room, opening the same presents under the tree that they had opened 379 times, and pretending as though it were the first. The figure stood and began to laugh, as the two children ran up to him and hugged his legs, he placed his hands on the top of their heads and lowered himself to their level, then with a bellowing powerful voice he stated with complete joy “HO HO HO, Merry Christmas!” The children grasped onto him tighter, with their fake smiles burning into their faces, and tears rolling down their cheeks. The man looked up, and directly into one of the cameras which had been filming the entire thing, and simply stated “Don’t you wish it could be Christmas everyday?” and he smiled warmly. The cameras shut off, and the children were dragged from his man, he looked at them with disgust and showed no pity or remorse as they were dragged away from him, back the way they had came. Through the stables, through the dreaded hallway, up the stairs and flung with complete disregard, as if they were nothing but toys, back into their rooms. Alex held onto his little sister and they sobbed together.
For tomorrow they would do it all again

The Perfect Gift (Winner)
Claire Brown

Shopping for teenagers is a nightmare. By the time my Missy Anne was fifteen, I was buying her gift cards to whichever retailer had her current fancy. It wasn’t worth the eye rolls and sass ass remarks when I bought her something five minutes past its trendy date, so I started handing her a square piece of plastic for birthdays and Christmas. It wasn’t gift-giving. It was bribery to get all that bad attitude out of my house, so I could have a few moments to repair my shredded self-confidence.

When she was younger it had been easier. Missy Anne had particularly loved those little plastic farm animals. She’d tie them up in bits of yarn, then talk them through their slaughter. All polite in her little girl voice, telling her plastic herd how they were going to die. Missy Anne had always been a talker.
I swept away the inch of dust on the jewelry counter in the department store, peering through cloudy glass at fourteen karat gold chains and artificially grown diamonds. Missy Anne’s tastes had changed in the last year. A pretty necklace wouldn’t satisfy her this Christmas. She wouldn’t wear gloves, no matter how deep the cold bit, and she wouldn’t care how nice the emerald green sweater in Macy’s would go with her hair.

I hunted through the empty mall, making sure to stay under the sky lights, and never venturing too deep into the stores. I found a few treasures. Batteries under the till in a toy store, and a fifty ounce can of nacho cheese from behind the counter of the only Mexican restaurant in the food court. The book store was a safe space. The retailer had been a big believer in natural light for readers and it was riddled with skylights. I bypassed books about the zombie apocalypse and vampire romances to grab a how-to on soap making, but no perfect gift for Missy Anne.

Disappointed, I stepped out into the cold. My fingertips felt numb inside my snow gloves. Being truly warm was nothing more than a memory of spring. I don’t think the world is any colder, I just think we aren’t warming it up anymore. No great big furnaces heating malls and office complexes. No cheery Christmas fires in the hearths of millions of homes. Winter settled deep into the earth, now, until it felt like your very bones had ice crusting over them.

Moving through wide-open spaces left you vulnerable to being seen, but moving between buildings was a big fat no. Dead-ends drenched in shadows, alleys were nothing more than slaughter pens for humans.
Something small moved, and I gripped the hilt of my knife. At first I thought it was a rat, which was amazing in itself. Anything warm-blooded was nearly as extinct as mankind. Soon all that would be left were the fish in the sea. Life waiting to crawl its way out of oceans, resetting all the wrongs we’ve done.
A puppy toddled into the light, separated from its family, and all alone. Its eyes were closed, which made me think he had been dropped when his mother had to make a run for it. The war between the survival instinct and the mothering instinct was a real bitch. Split-second choices are made, and when it’s all over, when the thudding of your heartbeat isn’t taking up the whole of your chest, and the adrenaline rushing through your veins is done having its wicked way with you, then the real hell begins. Stuck in the moment for the rest of the misery that is your life, regretting your choice with such heart-crushing intensity it leaves you breathless in the middle of the night when you wake up from your nightmares.
I scooped up the puppy, holding it against my chest as it wriggled around looking for dinner. I had such a visceral memory of Missy Anne snuffling against my breast when she was an infant that it almost took me to my knees. I found a box in the trash outside the restaurant that wasn’t too soggy and tucked the puppy inside. It hurt too much to hold its warmth against me.

I paused at the storm cellar doors to our home, carefully checking my surroundings before I swept off the debris I had arranged to make it look overgrown. Last spring, I had taken some lightweight branches and leaves and using the battery powered glue gun from my crafting kit, I hot glued them to the doors, so when I closed them behind me, it looked undisturbed. I didn’t do a bad job if I say so myself. Very post-apocalypse chic. I could see my door being featured in a home crafting magazine, DIY, How to Camouflage Your Shelter Without Sacrificing Style.

Secure that nothing had followed me home, I entered the cellar, locking the door behind me. I like living in the cellar rather than the house itself. I’ve blacked out the windows so I could have light whenever I pleased. I’ve also torn apart the dryer, using the drum as my fire pit, rerouting the venting system to send the smoke up into the house instead of outside, diffusing it a bit. I learned early that nothing rung the dinner bell like campfire smoke.

I had also rigged the whole upstairs with traps. Anything coming in the front door would be in for some nasty surprises, and if something came in through the cellar doors, I could lead it up into the house and right into those surprises. Yet, another thing I learned early on. Always have two exits. Always.
“Missy Anne. I’m home,” I sang out, happy to have brought her what I knew would be the perfect gift. I put the box on the floor next to the stairs, and felt around for my candle and lighter. I hated leaving Missy Anne in the dark, but she understood it was necessary.

“Baby?” I peered into the corner where she slept, unable to see through the shadows.
She had stopped talking to me not long after everything happened. It’s funny. I spent years of her life telling my little talker to hush, and now she wouldn’t say a word. I know she blames me for it all. For her dad leaving when she was eight. For what happened during those chaotic first days. That damn fight or flight biology overruling all other instincts. She was the most important person in the world to me, and I had failed her in so many ways. I was determined to never to fail her again. I wanted to prove to her that I was a good mother. To hear her speak to me again.

I had strung up some battery-operated Christmas lights and garland to make our home more cheery. I even found a fake tree that had belonged to the previous owners and set it up in the corner. I missed all the commemorative ornaments I used to have. The stork signifying Missy Anne’s first Christmas, and the little ballerina for the year she started dancing. I imagine they were still in the attic at our old house.
“There. Now that’s more like it.” I stepped back to admire the twinkling lights. “Just like Christmas used to be.”

This was our first Christmas since the end, and in the dark moments when I was unsympathetically honest with myself, I knew it was more than likely our last, so I wanted to make it perfect. I know I’m overcompensating in the way I had the Christmas after her dad left us, but why not? I want to make up for all the wrong I’ve done. I want it to be perfect in the way it only is in rose-tinted memories of the happy family we never really were.

Once everything was tidy, almost like a real home, I fetched the box. Missy Anne was hunched over on the camping cot I found for her, hiding her face from the sparkling Christmas lights. I placed the box outside the chalk outline I had painstakingly drew on the cement floor.

“Do you know what day it is, baby?” Stepping back I picked up the pool skimmer I had propped up against the wall, using it to nudge the box across the line. Once it was safely across, I knocked it hard, waking up the puppy, which gave a little whimper.

Missy Anne shot up from the cot, chains rattling behind her. She was incredibly fast. That speed is what decimated the human race, and pretty much every other land mammal in the last year. There was a yelp, and a wet crunch. I lowered myself to the ground, sitting cross-legged just outside the chalk line, smiling as I watched my daughter.
“Merry Christmas, Missy Anne. I hope you like your gift.”


The Hat
By Chris Newton
(Runner up)

The hat was perfect for the play
Black satin, velvet lined and decorated with a band of lace
I asked her where she got it, she said she didn’t know
Some dusty old antique shop down some old and dusty road?

The props department sent it back, all polished and renewed
Genuine. Dickensian. A perfect fit for Scrooge
We arranged the stage and angled the lights
Everything was set for the opening night

Hurrying home from Aldgate station
I was sure I heard footsteps following behind
I glanced over my shoulder and saw nothing but darkness
Just the feverish imaginings of an overworked mind

In bed, I had nightmares I cannot recall
Of screaming and bleeding and words upon walls
When I woke in the morning I found, with a fright,
A red rash round my neck from my left ear to right

My throat was so hoarse I could scarce talk out loud
My head it was pounding, and as for my bowels…
My stomach was churning in the grip of some bug
But the show must go on, so I ran for my bus

The matinée was mayhem, the evening was worse
And Marley opined the production was cursed
I sat for some time in Tiny Tim’s dressing room
Nursing a whiskey alone in the gloom

I pondered the failures, the prompts and the props
And dreaded the reviews when news spread of our flop
I gazed at the wardrobe, consoled knowing that
None could criticise the crutches and hats

My eyes fell on the old top hat, resplendent on its stand
And I wondered once more how it came into our hands
I took it down with care, quite careful not to stain
And searched the lining of the rim for some monogram or name

And there, within the fold, lay something faded and aged
A letter from a name? A logo for a maker?
I gave up trying to fathom it, its secret lost to time
And removed a single silver hair from within its velvet lining

The following day my malady worsened
By the time I awoke it was almost midday
I called up the theatre and croaked my apologies
Rasping the words “I’m running quite late.”

My face was a sight, my skin drawn and pale
Red marks on my cheeks. I looked older and frail
The rash on my neck so red and so vast
I resorted to covering it with a scarlet cravat.

I trudged to the theatre, though thoroughly unfit
To find the backdrop collapsed with Bob Cratchit beneath it
His leg badly broken, concussed from the blow
We were left with no choice but to cancel the show

Tearing down posters and cursing misfortune, I wondered how it had all come to this
Was Marley correct in thinking us hexed? Was this why all was amiss?
We started so well, so slick and professional
What was it that changed? Made our luck so abysmal?

My mind conjured a theory, too absurd not to laugh at
But everything was perfect till we found that old top hat
I staggered backstage – still fighting my fever –
And tore it from its stand to destroy it forever

I glanced at the faded inscription inside
An O, an R, and… could that be an I?
Resolving to seek a second opinion,
I stumbled immediately to Aldgate East station

To the home of the props girl who’d found it somewhere
In the hope she’d remember, and take me straight there
To an antique outfitter who just might understand
The meaning of old letters and logos and brands

When I arrived at her house the lights were all out
The door was ajar, but no soul was about.
I called out her name, and received no reply
Just the sinister echo of my own fearful cry

I knew I should leave, but some dreadful foreboding
Told her abode held answers within
Stumbling, quite weak, into the dark of the hall
I peered through the blackness to see stains on the wall

It was as if some foulness had been covered by paint
But beneath the emulsion had still left a trace
I paid it no mind and called out once more
As I felt for the handle of the living room door

I heard not a pin drop, saw no speck of light
But the stench of decay was the source of my fright
What I saw as my eyes grew accustomed to the darkness
Had once been a person, but now was a carcass

No flesh remained on its skeletal face, its entrails covered the floor
I spluttered and wretched and struggled to walk as I blindly groped for the door
And there, in the hall, the words on the wall not faded but bleeding through
A message scrawled by devilish hands in a deadly crimson hue

“My deepest thanks for finding, and sprucing up my hat
But the time has come for you to die and me to take it back
You came so close to catching me, and naming me at that
But I shan’t stop ripping them till I do get exorcised
Yours sincerely,
From Hell,

One Big Happy Frozen Family
By Kev Harrison

(Runner Up)

Tim took off his scarf and wrapped it around the second snow person before his mum could notice. “There, what do you think?” He was beaming at his creation, especially the pine needle eyelashes.
“Wow,” his mum said, putting her hand on her young son’s shoulder. “It’s a real snow couple.” She admired the snow man and wife. They’d done a great job, and it had taken up almost a whole afternoon of the school holidays.
“Now the snow child, ok mum?” Tim stepped forward and began dragging back a fresh pile of snow.
“No way, mister. Look, it’s getting dark and your hands are going to be frostbitten. Besides, you don’t want to be awake when Santa comes later, do you? Now, let’s go inside for dinner.” She kissed her boy on the head and urged him in through the patio doors, doing her best to ignore his grumbled protests.
The boy was exhausted and was in his pyjamas, tucked up in bed, less than an hour after helping his mum with the washing up. Gemma poured herself a glass of wine and watched re-runs of some comedy show until she felt herself dozing off and decided to hit the sack.

The sound of cartoons from the lounge wrested Gemma from sleep on Christmas morning. She rolled over and looked at the clock. Seven-fifteen. So much for the holidays. She dragged herself out of bed, yawning as she pulled her robe around herself.
“Morning squirt, what do you want for breakfast?” she said, walking into the kitchen.
“I’ve already had honey loops!” the boy protested from in front of the TV. She nodded to herself, of course. Her little boy was bigger by the day. She switched on the kettle for coffee and then froze. Outside the window in the garden were three snow people. The couple from the night before and a snow child in front of them. She put down her mug and marched into the lounge.
“I thought I told you to wait for me before making your bloody snow child?” she couldn’t keep the fury out of her voice. Tim looked up at her, a look of bewilderment on his face.
“I haven’t been outside mum, I’ve been watching cartoons.”
“Then what the hell is-“ and then she stopped. She’d stomped over to the patio doors and abruptly halted. The snow child was no regular snow person and certainly not sculpted by the hands of a nine-year-old. Its face was rounded, lips full and textured. The eyes were formed of jewel-like, sparkling blue stones. “Stay here.” She barked the order as she slid the door open and stepped out into the cold, her slippers immediately moistening in the snow. She looked around. The other gardens of the street were empty. “Hello?” she called.
No reply. She harrumphed and walked back inside.
“Who made the snow child, mummy?”
“Not now, Tim. I need coffee.” She marched into the kitchen, catching her son’s startled expression from the corner of her eye and feeling like the worst mother in the world.

After breakfast and coffee, she apologised to Tim, telling him he could play the PlayStation for a while – it was Christmas day after all – while she took a shower. He jumped up from the carpet and dashed to the sofa to find the remote. She could hear the sound of gunfire, interspersed with his squeals of delight as she stepped under the hot water.
She came back into the lounge fifteen minutes later and felt a sharp sickness in her stomach. Sitting on the sofa, icy water pooling around him, was the snow child. Its icy hands gripped the second controller, its expression firmly fixed on the brightly illuminated screen. “Tim. What. Is. Happening?” She spoke quietly, her voice a fear-induced staccato.
“The snow child wanted to come in and play, mum. You don’t mind, do you?” Her son looked up, sparkling blue, jewelled eyes glinting in the morning light.


The Haha Tree (Smiths Crackers)
Chris Scully

Somewhere east of Easter Island, and West of the West Indies lies a small island, across which is a bountiful forest of the most peculiar trees.
The trees were unimaginably tall, were maybe three hundred feet, the trunks of which were as wide as houses and they chuckled, or so it seemed whenever the wind blew through them.
The trees varied in colour from the palest of whites like freshly polished ivory, to the darkest blacks where they caused a hole in the darkness of night.
The tribe that lived within the bases of the trees stared as the strange creature pulled up toward the island and stopped a few hundred feet away.
The island itself had a wide inlet where the creature seemed to come to rest, regarding the island and its inhabitants. The beaches leading into the deep blue ocean were a perfect white and those aboard that had just moored regarded it as a paradise.
Aboard the vessel was one Tom Smith, an adventurer and salesman, always looking for the next big thing to make his fortune, is mind already a whirr of the possibilities of the island, logging, holiday excursions, exotic spices.
The tribe regarded the newcomers climbing down from the great leviathan with simple curiosity, the chief of the tribe walking onto the beach to meet the crew with open arms and a warm smile.
Once they had landed the crew were taken to the largest tree and offered food and water, it was during this meal Tom first experienced the HaHa fruit and set on a journey that would change his life forever.
The fruit in question was quite spectacular in many curious ways, firstly its colouration was breathtaking, bright golds and silvers with vivid red and blue banding, the fruit was perhaps ten to twelve inches long, and the crew soon learnt the second surprising curiosity of the fruit, and that was the way in which the tribe opened the fruit.
At first Tom simply went to cut the fruit open with his pocket knife but the chief laid a hand over the blade and offered him one end of the fruit, confused but intrigued Tom clutched the fruit and as the Chief pulled it away there was a loud audible CRACK sound, with this and he assumed his own shocked reaction the tribe fell about laughing, seemingly echoed by the trees themselves as a wind blew in off the coast rattling the upper branches.
The final surprise was the contents of the fruit itself for it appeared that what Tom had assumed was a the skin of the fruit was actually a husk for a smaller much sweeter fruit inside. This though paled in comparison to the shock Tom experienced when having into the fruit there was a strand of what looked like pressed bark or vine, on which in perfect English was written
‘Why Did The Chicken Cross the Carriageway’ and on the reverse ‘To get to the other side!’
Tom rubbed his eyes assuming perhaps the long voyage had affected his vision making him hallucinate, but no it was agreed amongst the crew the fruit did indeed contain written English.

Tom passed the shell of the fruit to the Chief and watched as the Chief looked into the fruit and the letters seemed to shift and change into shapes he didn’t understand, upon looking at the shapes the Chief burst out laughing, Tom and the crew laughing alongside with them heartily for the rest of the night.
The crew and Tom spent the next few months exploring the island gathering surplus fruits and after painstaking attempting to build a dialect with the chief it was agreed that the crew could take barrels of fruit in return for salted meats and tobacco which the Chief and tribesmen of the village seemed to enjoy very much!
Several months after their arrival the crew set sail for England with dreams of riches in their heads.

On returning to London the first thing Tom did was to accompany his men to the University of London where the greatest minds England had to offer could examine both the crew and the fruit itself to confirm it was safe for sale to the general public. After that it was a matter of weeks before every home in the city had Smith’s Crackers in their home, each fruit came with a small note about it and the traditional way to open and share it, although no information was given about the other surprises it had in store. Being December by the time the fruits were available for sale Smith used his ingenuity to market the fruits as Christmas decorations encouraging home owners to hang them from their Christmas trees as a the bright colours would surely brighten any home.
The fruits sold like hot cakes and within a month he had already had to arrange a second voyage to the island. It was during this process Tom was approached by several wealthy enterprising individuals, who were all too happy to ‘help’ Tom with his supply issue, I mean why should Tom have to travel all the way to the other side of God knows where when he could simply sit back and enjoy his new found wealth, and that is exactly what he did.
Within not even two months of making the greatest discover of his life Tom had sold the map and moved onto the important task of enjoying his fortune. It was not long before Tom was attending the most lavish of parties and only slightly longer before he had met and wed one of the most beautiful daughters of one of the most affluent men in London.
Within two years Tom was wed and had his first born son sat upon his knee before the fire place of their grand country manor himself and his wife called home.
That December, the first year in their new home with their newborn son Tom sent one of the kitchen staff out to buy some HaHa fruits to hand on the grand fir tree they had erected in the entrance hall way and adorned with candles. However when they maid returned Tom was instead presented with paper fruit, yes similar in shape and colouration, still with the pop and humour message inside, but a counterfeit none the less.

It took ten minutes for Tom to grab his coat and boots and jump in a carriage for the city. At first his mind was only clouded with rage, he had been taken for a fool, he had sold the golden egg and been left feeling a right turkey! But then another thought crossed his mind, surely someone must be selling authentic Haha fruit in the city? With that thought in his mind he told the driver to take him to each and every purveyor of fruits, vegetables. Oddities and rarities in the city, but to no avail. Next he set off for the financial district and strode into the office of the now much wealthier business owners who owned the rights to the HaHa empire.
Striding into the board room he demanded to know the truth,
‘It’s more economical’ they all exclaimed in unison,
but they had lied to him before and Tom now saw it in their eyes, beyond the greed there was something else, guilt. Within the day Tom had chartered a vessel and crew and set sail for East of Easter and West of the Indies.
Not a single tree stood tall, each had been cut to just above the door way to the excavated bases the tribe had once called home.
The chief of the island met Tom on the beach and embraced him like an old friend, Tom overcome with emotion wept, wept with guilt at the wrath he had inadvertently brought on these people.
The Chief smiled, which surprised Tom, how could he smile?
The tribe had lost everything, their beautiful paradise stripped bare by the greedy travellers he had introduced to them.
The Chief began to walk ahead of Tom along the beach, beckoning him to follow.
Wiping tears from his eyes tom followed the Chief to a cave just at the far end of the beach, inside which stood a stunted Haha tree, its branches meeting the ceiling.
The Chief reached up and knocked one of the few fruit from the tree, and offered it, as he had when they first met to Tom, he took it and CRACK, a single sheet of the paper he had seen years ago fell to the ground.
‘Why did the white man come to HaHa’
Turning over the sheet Tom began laughing and passed it to the Chief who in turn read the leaf and began to laugh
with him. The pair walked back to the village tears of laughter in their eyes.

The Season of Giving
By Vivian Kasley

(Runner up)

Tinsel and ornaments littered the floor and broken glass crunched under his shoes when he came through the door. Her naked body lay bloated with flecks of blue, red, and green. A dark thought ran through his mind, her corpse matches the merry all-around festive theme. The lights blinked on and off from the tree toppled on its side, a tropical winter meant the house already moved and buzzed with maggots and flies. He stopped and ate a gingerbread man from her favorite holiday platter, he chewed and he seethed, then threw the it at the wall where it shattered. The dog trembled when it heard him call out, “Here girl, I’m home, you don’t have to be scared anymore!” But it skidded past him instead and ran for the door.
He shrugged and went to the fridge for some milk, her torn red robe lay on the floor that he bought her one Christmas, the fancy one made of silk. He felt a moment’s regret when he rubbed it between his fingers, but it quickly faded, he wouldn’t let it linger. He’d been gone for quite some time due to his work, when she decided to become better acquainted with some asshole, some jerk. He bathed her in gifts and never asked for anything each year, but he knew what he wanted this time and paid a fair share. He drank the cold milk from the carton, then put it back on the shelf, before he sat down on and thought this was the best gift he’d ever given himself.

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. Isn’t that how the story goes. The residences fast asleep, eagerly awaiting the arrival of old St Nick and the presents in his sleigh pulled by eight memorable reindeer. But if someone or something had been stirring, if they had looked to the cold, cloudy sky above they would see not a sleigh as one would recognize, no reindeer prancing on the air. Although they would have seen the bright red flashing light leading the round dome on its way. But no one did, no one saw what was coming for them, no one ever did until it was too late.

You probably believe the whole thing was nonsense to believe in such tales as Santa Claus and flying reindeer, tales for children and not for adults. You would be right they are for children, what hunts adults is much worse than a fat man in a red suit. Christmas Eve night rolled around as it always did and like everyone else you would be fast asleep in your warm bed. During the night you awoke for no reason, just a jolt that broke your slumber. You looked briefly to the window, bright with moonlight, you heistrate and then rolled over in bed content where you are. If you had of looked out, had of turned your sleepy eyes to the surrounding houses, no jolly fat man would you have seen with a massive sack filled with goodies. None of that, but you would have seen a shadow, a glimmer among the chimneys and an empty sack hanging between long clawed fingers.

No clatter arose, for he needed to be quiet and quick. To catch his prey faster than old St Nick. A soft bang, barely there. Do you hear it? The creak on your roof above your head. It’s just the usual house noises, you try to calm yourself. There it is again, louder this time. It’s just your imagination, you say to yourself, trying to close your eyes, trying to will yourself back to sleep. The rattle of soot and tiny stones falls down your chimney, blackening your cream carpeted floor and the one neatly hung stocking on the mantelpiece.

Tap, tap, tap. Something claws its way down. Maybe it’s a bird, you whisper, you’re now pulling the covers tighter around you now as if it would help, your stomach is doing loops inside you. The noises stop and in your fireplace is the hunched shadow you know wasn’t Santa Claus. Dressed in a patchwork of furs, each part a different colour and moldy in places, he reached out a long clawed foot. Its talens gleamed in the moonlight like they were made from metal, better suited for trunching the barrens of space than your tiny bedroom. When he abandoned the dark chimney, you could at last see beneath the heavy snow white hood. Skin like coal, angled and astonishingly reflected back the light at its edges. No nose to speak of, but bug like pincers were the mouth ought to be, and high in the piched little head was too large twinkling red eyes.

You tried to scream, you wanted to scream. Who would help you if you screamed? Would the neighbours get there in time? You opened your mouth but no sound came out. The creature wouldn’t let you. It wouldn’t let you move from your bed, not an inch as it shuffled to you. The long legs always out first, claws scraping along the floor with each large stride. It moved in silent, shuffling movements, the pincers moved fast feeding on the fear in the air. In no time at all, it reached your sweaty, shaking form. It held out a hand to you, black leather like skin leading into three long metal claws, just like the feet. You stared at those eyes, no pupils, just redness shining back at you. You found yourself standing although you didn’t want to, none of this is what you wanted, but your body did it anyway. The creature towered over you, blocking out the light from the window. There was a strange haze encircling the creature like a wreath although there was no fire to cause it, the smoke caused your senses to blur as the dark empty sack came up and enfolded you into it’s long winter’s nap. You could feel the creature’s strange shuffling movements and up the chimney you both rose to the metal sleigh suspended high in the sky. By the time you reach it, the sack had pulled you back into your deep sleep so you wouldn’t know you were only one of many that night. Did no one tell you? Or was it simply a selfish thought. For you see, aliens like getting presents too.

By Ashley Bailey

(Runner up)

Snow and blood. Screams in a sunless void. My tongue burns in an inferno. The wicked oak-skinned warrior leans over me. His evil foggy eye glaring. He smiles, hideously. Behind him, the Empire’s savage killers work.
“Guess your tribe ain’t so good at hiding after all.”
I writhe in the cart; arms bound under my furs. By my feet, my mother’s head; decapitated, still wearing her antler crown. My village is now Winter’s graveyard. A long journey begins.

“Weather’s getting worse,” the grey swordsman muttered. “You been calling upon your Winter demons, boy?”
The terrors of that night faded, and I held that foul orb of his. My antler crown rested on his lap: I did not search for my mother’s dead gaze. He continued.
“Matters not, boy-king. We’re still like to arrive in the Capital in time for Saturnalia. A sight to behold.”
I spat. My tongue-stump lolled. The soldier could keep his unholy gods and devil festivities. I turned to the Winter-kissed woodlands my own gods roamed, and I prayed. She must help me: the Horned-Woman of the Undergrowth. For many cycles of light and dark, the wagon trudged onward. Each morning was a lonely and bitter deathscape. Every night, a shivering abyss. The snowstorms grew worse by the day.

We reached the Empire’s borderlands of frozen farmyards and muscular structures. Strange faces peered into the transporter. An unnatural cold, far rawer than that of my own lands gnawed my bones. The Horned-Woman’s sweet trill beckoned me to the Eternal Forest.
My final release did not come. And eventually, beyond the brumal mists, I spied the mighty red walls of the Capital. Walls intended to keep the natural world contained without. And now they would freely permit me – a son of the greenwood – entry. Into a black tunnel guarded by iron, we entered.
I cowered before a colossal city of stone. It resembled a boneyard of great lumbering grey beasts. Titanic structures blotted out the crisp sky. Enormous statues observed us: suspicious hewn eyes followed the strange outlander. It was a brutal place removed from the gentle meadows of my youth. I fixed on the streets; they surged with the rhythm of life.

All around folk openly celebrated. Ordinary youths freely drank spirits and danced, seemingly unafraid of their masters’ wrath. They obeyed the music of their own bodies and flung themselves to an unheard tribal beat.
New legionnaires stepped forth to relieve the travel-weary. Teary women greeted their returning husbands.
“Inform the people that their ‘monarch’ has arrived.” The cruel old man ordered. Did he mean me? He remained by my side. I knew he would not let his prize go.
“See that?” He spoke absently as he took in the surroundings. “Saturnalia.” The grizzled fighter turned his gaze onto me – I turned away.

I peered beyond the rim of the cart. We were in a large open area. Though Winter’s grasp stung, many individuals wore only gaudy threadbare outfits as they lined unending tables. They fought their way to piles of steaming meats and colourful vegetables. Laughing and swearing filled the day. Finely dressed men and women aided them with a gentleness which surprised me. All I had experienced from city dwellers in my meagre years was pure wickedness. These nobles happily helped the smallfolk and encouraged their revelry. When hands were not occupied with spirits or meat, delicately wrapped parcels were thrust to the commoners.

“During the time of Saturnalia,” the aged war-dog grunted, “what is…normal is reversed. Indecency becomes decent. Immoral becomes moral. Master serves servant.”
An elderly drunk who wore no clothes stumbled towards passing nobles and ushered forth a stream of obscenities. Once the reveller was done, he threw an empty bottle at them. It shattered at their feet, and the nobles meekly stared on and ordered him to enjoy his festivities for “it comes but once a year.”
Men with the tired faces and withered bodies of slaves gathered at the base of a frozen fountain. They were rolling dice, laughing, and joking. Though the men wore loose, thin garments, they did not let the chill bother them in the slightest. A lord with dominant, dark features, and draped in rich ashen wolf furs sat with them. He joined their games: relinquishing his shining gold upon losing.
This rite of frivolity was everywhere I peered. My mother had often told me tales of the Empire’s strictness and unyielding rigidity. I saw none of that order here; as individuals urinated on each other in the street, and bloody fighting broke out. Man and woman embraced in animal passion in the snow. I soaked it in; reminded of the ancient rites of my clan, deep within the dense forests.
We continued to move through the streets, up to one of the hills I observed in the city. A large stone temple appeared to be our destination. I noticed the streets were packed with people who seemed to follow once we passed.

“Do you know why I allowed you to live, boy?” The one who butchered my family grunted. I tried to speak and then shook my head.

“This is my home. Built upon the very same lands you have defiled with your filth. And these are my kin. The very same kin yours have savaged for centuries.”
Anger shook me, but my words had been stolen. A wet slurp was all that escape my mouth. His kind always saw themselves as guardians of civilisation against barbarism. Yet it was civilisation which had destroyed our forests and our ways.

“So I wanted you – well your mother, really, though she would not go so easily – to understand how the freemen will be eradicated. For through Saturnalia, silly notions of equality, generosity, and freedom are mixed with barbaric hedonism and played for mockery. The masses get a frivolous event honouring Saturn, and we masters stamp out dissent.”
My tears stung as we stopped near the base of that temple. The warrior sighed deeply and grasped my crown of antlers.

“This is yours,” he grunted. It fitted comfortably over my bushy brown hair. He took in my deer pelts and hunter’s body. “There, a king worthy of Saturnalia.”
The fighter dismounted. Armoured individuals forced me to the white ground. The aged warmonger stood before a ravenous rabble who stank of sweat and lust. He surveyed them for a moment and then stretched his arms outward.
“Brothers. Sisters,” he boomed to the writhing masses. “General Quercus returns to you victorious!” Cheers ran out.
“For ten gruelling years did I go to battle with the barbarian hordes, and finally here I am. This is a victory for me. For you all. For the Empire. For Saturn.”
More cheers. A man grabbed a woman and took her right there in the herd.
“And as such, I shall claim my prize.” Murmurs. “The tokens need not be cast. For the King of Saturnalia has been chosen.”
The general held the mob. Discomfort grew within me.
“And what a perfect choice,” the veteran bellowed as he regarded me with hate. “Not only is he already a ruler. But a ruler of foolish savages. The same savage race who rape and murder our kin on our borders.”
I watched the crowd. Violent delight formed on dirty faces. Clothes were torn and insults hurled. They threw jugs at me, along with many foul-smelling things. Bloody blackness clouded my vision as a rock smashed my face.
“Remember: Saturnalia is a time for giving!” the general yelled as the mob roared. “So give your King your love.”
Frenzied screams as I fell into that surging mass. Blades raked my skin; fists pummelled my body; my hair was torn. Hands grasped my flesh. I fought them where I could, but the assault was too much. Onwards and onwards, I was pushed through an orgy of flesh.
We entered the temple. I collapsed onto the floor and crawled further into the pillared hall. At the end was a huge statue of a bearded man clutching a scythe. The assembly pushed in behind us, and I was pressed towards that statue which dominated. Mass drinking and nakedness broke out, though it was clear that the jovial mood had gone.
“Scythe!” Quercus ordered.
I crawled forward. Rough hands firmly clasped down and dragged me around. I could not break free. Quercus advanced on me, horrible blade held in front of him.
“Saturn, accept our offering. Protect our Empire from barbarism,” he rhapsodised. My gaze did not waver from that gleaming metal curve. It sliced the air, a chill ran across me. I fell backwards: my breath, gone. Warming wetness soaked my furs. The light started to fade. Helpless, I stared into the terrible eyes of that statue. My life-force touched its base. Yells of delight roared from the revellers as a sinister twinkle formed in those eyes.
An unfathomable shadow came forth. A noiseless scream died in my mouth. It was not the Horned-Woman who had come.

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