Twas the fright before Christmas,
And all through the town,
Not a soul stirred,
No one dared make a sound…
Welcome to Deathlehem, where…
… Krampus, not Santa, brings the holiday cheer…
… the lights on the tree, so festive and bright, skitter and crawl and
possess a lethal bite…
… malicious little elves, not a jolly one, know if you've been
… family gatherings often turn deadly.
So enter… if you dare.
A collection of 23 tales of holiday horror
"I can heartily recommend this volume of delightful and original tales for bringing chills to the spines of winter readers who are curled up comfortably by the fire at holiday time, waiting for who-knows-what to slink down the chimney."– Hal Bodner, Bite Club and The Trouble with Hairy
"One of the best horror anthologies I've read in a while. Highly recommended, particularly for those who like their holidays roasted dark—very dark—over a blistering fire."– Stuart R. West, Ghosts of Gannaway and Twisted Tales from Tornado Alley
"A fun anthology full of freakish festivities! I still have stories stirring in my subconscious at bizarre times during the day and I read this a while ago. I can't really choose a favorite one, they are all deliciously different! GSP pulled off a winter winner with these authors."– Amazon Reviewer
With Their Eyes All Aglow
Jeff C. Carter
Thick snow drifted silently in the dark front yard, turn-ing the mailbox and bushes into faceless snowmen. Cindy gazed out past her own corn-yellow hair in the reflection of the bay window to watch the lights twinkle on the roof of the neighbor's house. She was eager to decorate her own home, but her mother said they had to wait until daddy got back from his trip.
Christmas music wafted through the house, the church kind that her mother liked. Cindy turned to look at the carved African mask on the wall. It had long, spiraling horns and a pointy snout. She pretended it was a reindeer. She pretended the strange bugs pinned inside the picture frames were toys. There were only a few chocolate-filled windows left on the Advent Calendar, but Christmas still seemed like a million years away. Just like daddy.
Cindy looked up and found her mother watching her.
"Hi, sweetie. Want some cocoa?"
Cindy shook her head. "When is Daddy home?"
Her mother frowned and sat by the fire place.
"We talked about this, remember? He may not make it for Christmas this year."
Cindy tugged at her pink princess pajamas and pouted. Her mother pulled out a sketch pad and the crayon bin.
"I have an idea. Why don't you write a letter to Santa?"
"Can I ask Santa to bring Daddy home faster?"
Her mother rubbed her on the back. "You can ask for anything you want. When you're done, we'll send it off to the North Pole. Sound good?"
Cindy nodded and dug into the colorful bin of mis-matched crayons.
* * *
Thick fog drifted silently down the Himalayas, turning the jungle valley of Northern Myanmar into a winter wonderland. Ray thought about Cindy and Beth back home. As he swung his machete through the underbrush, he started to hum, "I'll Be Home for Christmas".
Ray's native guide, Muang, stopped and pointed at his ear. "What song?"
Ray laughed. "Christmas song."
A big smile crept across Muang's face, revealing red-stained teeth. He spat a wad of betel nut, lime, and tobacco from his cheek and gestured for Ray to sing. Muang was a devout Christian with an impressive knowledge of hymns and carols, but he was always on the hunt for more. When Ray came to Myanmar, he never thought he'd spend it singing about Frosty and the Grinch.
He was about to break into his best impersonation of Bing Crosby when the silhouette of a bat broke through the fog. Thick silk threads stretched the dead bat taut in a macabre imitation of flight.
Ray used the tip of his machete to cut it free. The dried-leather corpse hit the wet, leafy forest floor with a thud. Alive, it must have been enormous. Muang picked over the body for meat, but it was deflated, like beef jerky. Ray wasn't interested in the bat. He was looking for whatever had spun those webs.
Ray's love of insects had propelled him to his master's degree in entomology. His obsession with spiders had brought him to Myanmar. The Northern Forest Complex was one of the greatest hotspots of bio-diversity in the world, and Ray had convinced his PhD advisors that it was also the home of a mysterious specimen, glimpsed only once, a hun-dred years before.
In 1925, famed fossil-hunter Barnum Brown got lost in this same jungle. He described an encounter with a glowing creature the size of his thumb, a spider unlike anything known to science. He failed to capture his 'luminous spider', however, and his discovery became a mere footnote in the annals of entomology.
Ray had spent the bulk of his expedition heading out into the jungle every night, stumbling after fireflies and glow-ing mushrooms. It wasn't until his visa was about to expire that he discovered the perfect habitat for a predator that hunted with light; the cloud forests, eerie twilight jungles between the frigid mountains and the sweltering low lands.
A scream split through the fog, shrill and hysterical. Ray's heart jumped into his throat, and for some reason he thought of Cindy. Muang peered into the forest canopy.
"Woi." The Jingpho word for 'monkey'.
As they moved closer, they saw more bats strung up in the trees, tangled together with dead rats, snakes, and tropical birds. The branches thrashed in time with the panicked screams, jostling the bloodless corpses into restless life.
The screaming stopped and a sinister silence closed in. Ray held out his machete, afraid a leopard or tiger would leap out of the trees.
Muang pointed to a pale shape in the branches of the teak tree overhead. Ray thought the heavy fog had poured into a hole left by the fleeing primate, but he soon realized that the cloudy tuft and human outline told a different story. The body of the monkey quivered inside a snowdrift of spider silk. A constellation of lights twinkled in the dripping gloom and hovered around the corpse.
Ray pulled the binoculars off his chest. The terror-stricken face of the monkey filled his eyes. Its gaping mouth was lit from inside by crawling lights. Ray pushed down a surge of horror and focused on the shining orbs. Beautiful eight-fold symmetry projected from luminous, oval bodies. He'd found them. Barnum's luminous spiders were real!