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Christmas Horror Contemporary

Iceland’s winter festivities are a perfect excuse to feast and make merry, and I partake with an insatiable appetite. I adore the endless nights wandering abroad and relish chance encounters with hapless stragglers trudging home. They all laugh when I tell them, “Carol singing’s not to my taste,” and chuckle when I say, “Choristers are delightful and sweet.” But how their mirth dissolves as I envelop them in my cloak and whisper. “What a toothsome treat you are. You’re good enough to eat.”

* * *

I despise summer like all cold-blooded creatures, preferring a catatonic sleep to roasting in the sun. Every autumn, I anticipate the evening when Ingvar disturbs my aestivation and I return to a nocturnal lifestyle. He disinters my casket from the family plot every year during the first week of December. It’s a tradition my loyal retainer has followed for years, just like his father, and his father’s father, ad infinitum. It’s impossible to find reliable help these days and so, despite Ingvar’s poor social skills, I re-employ his services annually. Ingvar obeys my written orders to the letter on the pain of death; if not in this life, then his next. 

   Thwack! Crunch!

My mind basks in a dream-state when Ingvar invades my solitude, hacking through the icebound earth above. 

   Crake! Screak!

I hear the shovel scrape debris off the wooden lid and his doleful voice murmuring a tuneless refrain. The unsettling melody stirs my clouded mind like a moorland breeze whistling through gnarled branches. Its clashing dissonances offend my refined musical sensibilities and cause my heart to quiver and contract.

   Lubb… Dubb… 

   Lub… Dub… 

   Lub-dub... 

My constricted arteries dilate as Ingvar wrenches at the coffin nails with his claw hammer. His frenzied efforts cause minor explosions in the darkness, dusting the threadbare silk lining with clouds of grit. As Ingvar prises open the ancient pine lid, my sensitive eyeballs roll upwards, avoiding the moon’s inquisitive gaze. My rib-cage twitches in a violent spasm as wheezing lung-sacks inhale clean air. I choke and splutter before coughing out stale fumes that rasp my withered throat like a rusty file. With each heartbeat, blood churns throughout my aching body, carrying oxygen to every cell. It’s always the most painful part of my awakening. Pins and needles prickle each desiccated sinew and every limb screams as it receives life-giving fluid. The blood returns to the heart after delivering oxygen, and my mind explodes with predatory thoughts anew. My throbbing heart sends the blood to lungs that strain hard to collect more air. I reflux and retch a pint of sticky phlegm from deep down. Ingvar is used to this unsightly reaction and tends to the detritus with a clean cloth. His caring touch is delicate and professional, and his face is unflinching. He lacks any sentiment. This is his business.

* * *

Ingvar had strict instructions prior to my exhumation; he was to source a flask of fresh blood by whatever means necessary. The task never varies, but the source depends whereabouts I resume my existence. We’re never in the same town twice, for obvious reasons. He’s learned to adapt to my circumstances with undeniable efficiency. Ingvar has my best interests at heart and he’s also on the payroll.

   This winter season, he’s moored our vessel in a quiet north-western harbour outside Sudavik. It’s an unassuming fishing town with a medical centre and a venue for blood donors. Once on shore, he disguised himself and liberated a quart from their supply. It’s a rich-looking concoction that will suffice for now. However, it’s not the same as sinking my teeth into a warm jugular and slurping on the real deal.   

   Ingvar steadies my quivering hands as I raise the glass container to my lips. I close my weary eyelids and after a few sips, everything calms down. My sweaty palms dry-out and my prune-like fingers appear to elongate as my skin tightens. The sagging flesh under my jaw disappears and my furrowed brow loses its careworn lines. At last, the throbbing pain behind my eyeballs dissipates and my laboured breathing settles into a regular rhythm. My once erratic heart beat chugs at a steady rate and the queasiness in my stomach eases after a discharge of rancid gas. My rejuvenation is complete and I rise from the coffin to assume my full height like a magnificent butterfly casting off its shrivelled chrysalis and unfurling its wings before flight. 

   I nod at my retainer and he tips his forelock and bows. I acknowledge his endeavours with a satisfied smile and survey the snowbound nightscape glistening like an ocean of diamonds under the moon’s bashful glow. Ingvar wafts his left hand through the air, shepherding me towards the waiting Brougham with his outstretched right arm. Two majestic black drays snort white plumes from flared nostrils beside my handsome carriage. We take our seats as pristine snowflakes descend and settle on the bodywork's polished ebony. It’s a fine welcome and a tremendous relief to be undead once more.

   The sight of my baleful old vehicle cantering through the small coastal town of Sudavik draws little attention. In previous years, the ominous rumble of hooves and creaking coach springs would herald an unfamiliar guest, but the inhabitants have other issues this year. They’ve entombed themselves within their homes; battened-down their pine window shutters and laced their thresholds with wreaths of protective herbs, ensuring plenty of garlic’s on hand.

   It should flatter me they fear the visit of a malevolent nocturnal predator. However, the precautions aren’t for my sole benefit. The Coronavirus’s arrival has influenced behaviour, and the government has enforced a lockdown. Ingvar understood there were unusual circumstances this year, but thought it prudent to interrupt my deep slumbers, regardless. 

   My initial reaction was one of joy. What better return could I expect than to discover piles of bodies waiting to be devoured? However, it transpires that the Health and Safety Department has issued an edict; local undertakers are to dispose of the corpses through the crematorium. The local council is determined to sanitise the town and cleanse the region. I hadn’t connected the hazy fug lingering above the coastline with the current climate of dread; Sudavik’s furnaces are working overtime to dispose of the deceased. 

   The impact on my festive plans is catastrophic; citizens locked away in their homes until further notice, no bodies languishing on mortuary slabs waiting for morticians, and funerals performed in secrecy with the bereaved attending by Zoom. None of these scenarios bode well for a creature of my particular inclinations. I’ll need to redraft Ingvar’s commands with caveats that cater to similar events; a Do Not Resuscitate clause should cover matters in the future.

   As for now, we’ll retreat to the mountains and I’ll ponder the options. Iceland’s thirteen days of celebrations leading up to Christmas are a disaster for all the residents. Children won’t be leaving shoes beside their open bedroom windows. There’ll be no trolls gifting trick-or-treats this year. The authorities have banned the Yule lads’ nightly visits. It’s a bleak prospect all round.

* * *

I have some tough decisions to make as we ascend to my mountain top fortress. Most years, I’d prowl along local shores, searching for lonesome visitors and lost souls. My spirit descends into a quagmire as I contemplate the prospect of scouring isolated fjords for bilious vagrants and ill-kempt vagabonds. It seems unlikely that I’ll quench my thirst this winter. The locals have barricaded themselves in their homes, and according to Ingvar, they’re low on stock at the blood bank. 

   As the days trickle past, the wind howls like a wounded banshee and the ground hardens to rock. The snows gather in drifts, blocking our descent and jeopardising my strategic movements. Ingvar spends his days grooming the horses and at night he sips his supplies of Brennivin. Most evenings he passes out from its effects, having buried himself under a mountain of furs. He knows his services are not required during these hard times, despite being primed to chauffeur me down the mountain on a whim.

   I’ve endured centuries of this existence. Life is relative, of course. It isn’t a life most know. It’s punishment for cheating death. Centuries of endless torture in purgatory. I’m cursed to roam forever, fearful of daylight, and all for a few drops of blood. I suppose it could be worse. There’s a contagious disease in the vicinity.

I guess it’d just be my luck if I contracted the Coronavirus, wouldn’t it? 

A year of coughing and wheezing inside my casket is inconceivable. 

The thought is most unappealing, and so it’s time to call it a night. 

Ingvar must inter my coffin until the epidemic’s over. 

Maybe my luck will improve next year.


The End


December 08, 2023 18:02

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19 comments

Ken Cartisano
02:34 Jan 24, 2024

Hah! Fabulous, Mr. HH. Lovely writing. (Again.) I'm not much of a vampire fan, but I love the intersection of 'vampire lore' with contemporary perils. What impresses me, in addition to the clarity of your writing, is your efficiency in laying out the details of his yearly resurrection with such precision and brevity. It's a fun story, without being funny at all. I think the only thing I would change about this story is the title. (To what? I don't know, I'd have to think about it.) And while reading the other comments, I'd say you alread...

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Howard Halsall
05:01 Jan 24, 2024

Hello Ken, I’m pleased you’re enjoying my stories and their variety of subjects. Typically, vampire tales can be quite earnest, however I think it’s important to keep a sense of humour in all matters, even when the themes are tinged with a sense of foreboding. This story’s two characters are threatening and antisocial to say the least, and yet they’re the heroes in their own kingdom, however ridiculous that may be. I guess in their hideous and ever-changing world, “fangs ain’t what they used to be.” (Ouch!) Hmmm… you’re right about the title...

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Ken Cartisano
16:52 Jan 24, 2024

Some suggestions for a different title, HH. ‘The Price of Milk.’ ‘A Vampire Looks at 400.’ ‘Good Help Is Hard To Find.’ ‘An Inconvenient Tooth.’ ‘When the Coffin Cracks.’ ‘The Butterfly Affect.’ (I think Effect is already taken.) Personally? I like ‘An Inconvenient Tooth.’ But it seems a little too silly for such a good story. If I think of something better I’ll let you know.

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Howard Halsall
18:59 Jan 24, 2024

Hello Ken, Thank you for your witty suggestions. I had fun reading through your list and gave it some thought. Given the story is about a couple of ghoulish characters, maybe it should be called; - “The Wretched and The Damned” - or something on those lines. I like the ambiguity with this idea because it also hints at other supporting characters, and alludes to the island’s predicament with respect to isolating from the pandemic. Maybe? HH

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Ken Cartisano
19:07 Jan 25, 2024

Well, after having my fun, I agree with your instinct on this that the story deserves a more serious and chilling title. But one that indicates either the complexities of horror, or some other grim aspect of the story. Like 'A Grave Mistake', something with the word grave, coffin, or blood: something sinister. As I didn't find the story all that light-hearted and I think the title should reflect the tone of the story. (And honestly, the title doesn't matter that much to most readers, half the time I don't even notice the title until after I'...

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Howard Halsall
22:53 Jan 25, 2024

Hello Ken, The notion of a ‘good title’ is interesting and worth a moment to consider. I agree with you in respect to noticing the title after reading a story, however I reckon outside the Reedsy domain, (where we might regularly follow particular writers), I think it’s more important. When I buy a book by an unknown author, usually it’s because of the title and similarly when choosing what film to watch; I’ll run down the list until a title draws my attention, then I’ll read the blurb and decide yes or no. On the other hand if I was waitin...

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Philip Ebuluofor
08:22 Dec 11, 2023

Do they worry about heaven and purgatory too in their kingdom?

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Howard Halsall
09:26 Dec 11, 2023

I’m sure they do, Philip. Death is their main concern and cheating it is the priority; they’re cowardly creatures by nature. Anyhow, thank you for reading my story, I hope you enjoyed it and appreciate your thoughts. Take care HH

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Philip Ebuluofor
11:16 Dec 17, 2023

I see.

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Howard Halsall
18:55 Dec 17, 2023

Indeed :)

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Philip Ebuluofor
11:16 Dec 17, 2023

I see.

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Rebecca Lewis
02:18 Dec 10, 2023

Your narrative paints a vivid picture of a vampire's isolated existence, grappling with the challenges of sustaining itself in a harsh winter while contemplating the possibility of contracting a modern-day illness like the Coronavirus. The use of descriptive language adds depth to the atmosphere, and the portrayal of the protagonist's enduring centuries of existence creates a sense of melancholy. The ending leaves room for speculation and hints at the eternal struggle the vampire faces. However, consider expanding on the character's emotion...

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Howard Halsall
02:51 Dec 10, 2023

Hello Rebecca, Thank you for reading my latest story and sharing your thoughts and useful suggestions; they’re much appreciated. I’m never satisfied with my writing and always consider constructive criticism with interest. I like your ideas concerning the character’s inner world; feelings and thoughts, and the idea of expanding the back story is an intriguing notion too. There are moments when I dip into my short story archive if I spot a competition and then rewrite to increase the word count with a new brief in mind. Under those circumstan...

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Malcolm Twigg
22:30 Dec 09, 2023

This gives a vampire story the tongue in the cheek treatment that it deserves - they, and werewolf stories - are far too prevalent nowadays. A thoroughly entertaining read.

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Howard Halsall
23:14 Dec 09, 2023

Hey Malcolm, Thank you for reading my latest submission and leaving your positive feedback. I’m pleased you enjoyed the humour and trust you had a chuckle. I was hoping to achieve a subtle balance between the horrific and the absurd, so hopefully my comedic approach got close. Take care HH

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Mary Bendickson
16:14 Dec 09, 2023

Oh, the difficult trials of a vampire! Thanks for liking my 'Pitfall'

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Howard Halsall
18:27 Dec 09, 2023

Hi Mary, Loved the best friend :) HH

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