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O Little Town of Deathlehem: An Anthology of Holiday Horrors for Charity Paperback – 23 Dec 2013
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Last year I read a quick little anthology from Cemetery Dance Publications called Holiday Horrors. It intrigued me; mixing now of the most beloved holidays with my favorite genre - horror.
This year I was curious to see if there were any more twisted individuals who wrote those kinds of stories. After reaching out to some people in the Horror Writer’s Association, I was told to check out this anthology. I’m glad I did.
I’ve said it many times before, writing a review of short stories is difficult - you want to peak an interest, but you don’t want to give away the story. I will try my best to do both while giving you a rundown.
Let me start with the negative. I read the e-book version (something I hate), and the format of this one wasn’t the greatest. While there is a listing of the stories (with links), there is no table of contents. This makes it very hard to see how long each story is. If you’re like me, you don’t like to stop in the middle - especially with short stories - and I found myself having to do that once or twice. Also, there were a few errors (spelling, grammar, etc.), but there weren’t enough to be an issue.
One of His Own - Catherine Grant: This is an interesting tale about Krampus, Sinterklaas, love, and revenge. What happens when Krampus meets a child that is naughty and deserves to be fed on, but the child shows no fear? Why he adopts her, of course. A great lesson in forgiveness, and the depths someone would go for the love of a child.
Christmas Wine - Matt Cowan: There are a lot of mythical tales that revolve around the midnight hour of Christmas Eve. One I particularly remember is that your stuffed animals come to life at midnight to reenact the nativity. Christmas Wine tells us that between the hours of 11pm and Midnight on Christmas Eve, water left in a stone pot will turn to wine. Just make sure you drink it before it goes bad.
Home for the Holidays - D. Alexander Ward: This was one of those stories where you just don’t know what to say about it. So I’ll just say this - Henry is a serial killer who keeps eyes as his trophy. He finally meets his match in an elderly woman who he will do anything for - including giving her an old time family Christmas.
The Ghosts of Christmas Past - Richard Farren Barber: What if you could go back in time strictly as an observer? Would you do it? Knowing that you can’t change the past, would you be willing to spend money to relive a tragedy, just to be able to have a glimpse of a loved one, one more time? Hazel does that, and wills herself to actually change what had happened to her daughter and drunk husband. This had to potential to be a great story, but the ending left me flat.
Deck the Halls - Chantal Boudreau: Greed is a horrible emotion, especially when you are the caretaker of a sick parent. Ward didn’t understand that parents have a way of getting even with their children - especially when their wishes aren't heeded.
All I Want for Christmas - Raymond Gates: This story wasn’t scary as much as it was odd. Ryan is an author with a serious deadline looming. Unfortunately for him, he has hit the proverbial wall and can’t finish his novel. Thankfully a phone call from a stranger solves his dilemma with an ending that Ryan finds amazing. It’s what the caller wants in return that leaves Ryan with a bad taste in his mouth.
You Better Watch Out - Randy Lindsay: I hate to say it, but this one was forgettable. It was extremely short story about Santa and a non-believer.
Saint Nick Sticks - Peter White: Apparently there is no honor amongst thieves. A group of brothers hire an old cell mate to help with a bank heist. Obviously, greed dictates that the haul isn’t enough for four and they decide to cut their numbers by one. Did you know that Santa can’t be killed on Christmas? You do now.
With Their Eyes All Aglow - Jeff C. Carter: There are many reasons not too buy a live Christmas tree. They’re messy, they have to be disposed of after Christmas, and they may be the home of a yet to be discovered insect. If you don’t run to the store and buy an artificial tree after reading this one, you’re a better person than I am - although I’ve never had a live tree so…
Shop Till You Drop - Michael McCarty & Mark McLaughlin: This year, take my advice on two points - (1) Don’t wait until Christmas Eve to buy presents for your family and (2) If you do, don’t buy them from a store you’ve never been in before - especially if that store is Professor LaGungo’s Exotic Artifacts & Assorted Mystic Collectibles. Three people found this out the hard way. Part of this story reminded me a little of an old TV movie: Trilogy of Terror.
The Antiphon - John Boden: This was a cute story. Not horrific, but cute. All I’m going to say is this: If you are a parent to a young child, be sure to check their letter to Santa for any spelling mistakes. It might just wind up in the wrong hands.
A Christmas to Remember - JP Behrens: If you are like me, you saw the ending to this one coming after the first page. The fact that the people in the story didn’t makes this story a bomb. Here we had another story with so much potential, if it wasn’t for the fact that in order for the story to work the parents had to be written as oblivious idiots.
It’s the Most Wonderful Crime of the Year - Nicky Peacock: I have to admit, I didn’t like this story when I started reading it. I didn’t get where it was going and the main character didn’t seem interesting to me. However, that all changed by the end. Be careful whose toes you step on in the business world. They may be crazy.
Krampusnacht - Ben McElroy: Another story about Krampus. Origin stories are always interesting, especially with folklore characters. This story was no exception. Remember, just because you didn’t get what you deserved as a naughty child, doesn’t mean your safe from your just deserts as a naughty adult.
Lots of Love, Uncle Billy - Adam Millard: Ouija boards are evil things to begin with, so don’t send one to your niece as a Christmas present.
You’d Better Watch Out - Mark Onspaugh: Sorry, I am over zombie stories. Zombies seem to be the “flavor of the month” and up until this story I was thankful that I hadn’t come across one. The dilemma to this story is this - if a child is turned into a zombie, which list of Santa’s do they fall on; naughty or nice? Since it isn’t their fault and killing for sustenance is just their nature, if they are still considered nice what does Santa bring them?
Santa Claws is Coming to Town - Rob Ferreri: I don’t know what I can say about this story without giving anything away. About the only thing I can say is this - if you ever find yourself in Santa’s position, don’t go after a lost elf. The consequences can be deadly.
Riley and the Big Man - BC Jackson: I only have a younger sister, so I couldn’t really relate to Riley (the middle child). While we didn’t get along much, I never teased her to the point of being brutal - like Riley’s older brother does. When visiting a mall Santa, Riley gets more than he bargained for; and so does his brother.
Ornaments - Christopher Miron: Another cautionary tale of getting what you deserve. If you’re ever in a store shopping for Christmas, don’t buy the “odd looking” ornaments. Especially if they are of elves and you know you should be on the naughty list.
* SPOILER ALERT - The following review DOES contain spoilers * Holiday Icon - Michael Thomas-Knight: I did not like this story at all - and one of the few times I will write such a review as to ruin the story. If you don’t want to know, skip ahead. Holiday Icon is an extremely political, class struggle, based story. It paints a horrible picture of a future where the working and upper class lobotomize the lower, non-working class, and decorate them as lawn ornaments. They buy these people, tie them to a cross, and jab hooks with ornaments on them. In the end, these “decoration” develop a “hive” mentality - leaving the reader to believe that the organize to seek revenge. Full disclosure - politically I lean far right - and the symbolism in this story not only angered, but insulted me.
Christmas in the Snow - Rose Blackthorn: I always wanted to live in a secluded house surround by snow. That was until I read this story. Well, not really. I still want to live like that - I’ll just be sure to pay attention to local folklore and NOT follow anyone into the woods.
Silent Night - Lim Hogan: Terminator, anyone? Not actually, but it does tell a cautionary tale of technology gone awry. Maybe the FAA has the right idea regulating drones.
Special Delivery - Simon Bradley: Santa and Satan make a wager. What Satan forgot is that Santa delivers what a child desires most.
So there you have it. One of the longest reviews I’ve written to date. All in all, this was one of the best anthologies I’ve read - 23 stories (should have been 25, but I wasn’t the editor) and only three that I didn’t enjoy (well two that I didn’t enjoy and one that I despised). If you are looking for some horror during this “festive” season, pick this book up. It’s worth the price of admission. Just remember: “You'd better watch out, you'd better not cry, You'd better not pout, I'm telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to town.”
Starting off strong, the anthology opens with "One of His Own" by Catherine Grant, a Krampus tale that offers an almost tenderhearted look at the Christmas demon. Almost. It's followed by "Christmas Wine" by Matt Cowan, a fun little story about having to make a terrible choice around the holidays. As you turn the page to the next story, and the next, you'll be happy to realize that each tale is a delightful holiday present of its own.
Other personal favorites in this collection include "All I Want For Christmas" by Raymond Gates, about a writer struggling to finish his novel who unwittingly accepts help without considering the source. John Boden's "The Antiphon" was a fabulous, lighthearted look at what can happen if you make a spelling mistake when addressing a letter to the big guy at the North Pole. And "Special Delivery" by Simon Bradley reveals a different, more human, and not always jolly side to dear old Saint Nick that you won't soon forget.
Overall, O Little Town of Deathlehem is an enjoyable read of high-quality stories that is sure to please the hardest people to buy for on your Christmas list this year.