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INTERVIEW: Jonathan Fortin

Meghan: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Jonathan Fortin: My name is Jonathan. My debut novel Lilitu: The Memoirs of a Succubus came out today and I’m very excited about it!

Meghan: What are five things most people don’t know about you?

Jonathan Fortin:
-I’m a trained voice actor in addition to being a writer. I also have experience acting on stage and in front of the camera.
-Contrary to popular belief, my top hat is not affixed to my head. And no, I don’t shower in it.
-I don’t smoke, drink, or do drugs, but less because of moral reasons and more because I’m fussy and sensitive to the tastes and smells. My taste buds are so sensitive that I can’t even enjoy coffee.
-I do, however, drink earl grey tea every morning.
-I am on the autistic spectrum, which explains the hypersensitivity.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Jonathan Fortin: I honestly don’t know. Goodnight Moon? Runaway Bunny? Green Eggs and Ham?

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Jonathan Fortin: I’m just finishing up The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin. Brilliant stuff.

Meghan: What’s a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn’t expect you to have liked?

Jonathan Fortin: While I mostly read Horror and Fantasy, there are a few non-spectulative books that come to mind. James Baldwin’s Sonny’s Blues is one of my absolute favorite short stories. I’m also fond of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, and A Fine Balance by Rohinton Minstry.

Meghan: What made you decide you want to write? When did you begin writing?

Jonathan Fortin: You know, it was kind of always just what I did. As a kid, I wrote children’s books. As a teenager, I wrote young adult books. I first dreamed of being a writer from a young age, because it was the only way I could create the stories in my head. I couldn’t make movies or video games, but I could write. When I was younger, I was interested in exploring the film and video game industries, but quickly realized I didn’t want to deal with the difficulties or creative constraints inherent to them. So I stuck to writing because it seemed the most feasible way to bring my creative visions to life.

Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?

Jonathan Fortin: No, but I should probably find one. It’s honestly hard for me to focus anywhere I go, and when I’m at home I just want to be lazy.

Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Jonathan Fortin: I get very detail-focused and sometimes get tripped up on getting a certain detail just right before moving on. Then I’ll get caught by it again when redrafting, because I’m not sure it’s quite there yet.

Meghan: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Jonathan Fortin: It’s less the writing itself and more the factors surrounding it, such as time management. Blocking out the time and energy to write is hard. So are other factors like promoting the book, networking, attending conventions, etc. Another problem I have is that at any given time I’ll have too many book ideas crawling around in my head, and I get indecisive about which one to work on, constantly distracted by my other ideas.

Meghan: What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve written so far?

Jonathan Fortin: Lilitu: The Memoirs of a Succubus takes the cake for sure. It spans years, has a ton of characters who all needed to develop and change over time, and it combines multiple genres together. It was hugely ambitious for a first novel, and I had to redraft it many times before it was ready.

Meghan: What books have most inspired you? Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Jonathan Fortin: Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, H.P. Lovecraft, Alan Moore, Holly Black, J.K. Rowling, Joe Hill, Dan Simmons, Junji Ito, Haruki Murakami, Clive Barker, Carlton Mellick III, Caitlin R. Kiernan, and Michael Cox all come to mind.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Jonathan Fortin: Regardless of genre: characters that intrigue you, struggling hard to get things that mean the world to them. A fast pace, so you’re never bored. Beautiful prose. Lots of details. Strong craft elements. You know a story is working when it absorbs you, immerses you in its world—feels more real to you than the real world. But everyone gets immersed by different things, so actually executing this is easier said than done.

Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character? How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Jonathan Fortin: It’s tricky for me to find characters I love because I don’t relate to most people in the first place, real or fictional. I find that I connect best with characters who make me laugh, or feel true and genuine and deeply flawed. A lot of my characters tend to be dealing with some kind of trauma, because it’s something that I and most of my friends struggle with.

Meghan: Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Jonathan Fortin: I deliberately avoid basing any characters directly on myself, but I will say that one of my current projects involves being on the spectrum. While that character isn’t based on myself, they struggle with some of the things I’ve always struggled with.

Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover? To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Jonathan Fortin: I am absolutely turned off by a bad cover. It’s shallow, I know, and I’m not saying I won’t read a really great book just because its cover stinks. But it’s hard to not let a cover set your expectations for the book’s aesthetic style. I’m something of an aesthete, and visualize my books very strongly in my head, so I demand a certain degree of control over my book covers. I was terrified that with Lilitu we would get a cover with a ton of cleavage and/or a naked man chest. Fortunately, my publisher Crystal Lake was very willing to put me directly in touch with our cover artist, Ben Baldwin, and Ben was super receptive to my ideas. We all ended up being extremely happy with the beautiful cover he created.

Meghan: What have you learned throughout the process of creating your books?

Jonathan Fortin: Everything takes longer than you want it to, and that’s okay.

Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

Jonathan Fortin: There’s a certain massive battle sequence in one of my novel projects that was just a thorn at my side for years. I love how it turned out, but that book still needs work, so you’ll have to wait a bit longer to read it, sorry.

Meghan: What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

Jonathan Fortin: Lilitu: The Memoirs of a Succubus takes the folklore of succubi and incubi seriously. Its succubi aren’t merely evil seductresses or mindless sex objects for the male gaze. Indeed, it deconstructs the Seductress and Byronic Hero archetypes to explore the emotional ramifications of such beings.

Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours?

Jonathan Fortin: I think it’s important for the title to pull readers in and give them an idea what to expect. I went with Lilitu because I decided that it would be the title of the series, with The Memoirs of a Succubus being the title of the first book. I felt that readers would be drawn to the idea of a high-quality succubus horror novel that didn’t look cheesy or shlocky, since there aren’t too many of those out there.

Meghan: What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

Jonathan Fortin: I’m a novel guy. Big, epic stories are what occupy my headpsace. They take forever to finish, but once you finally do, there’s nothing more satisfying. It’s like a very slow exorcism.

Meghan: Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

Jonathan Fortin: My fiction is overtly Gothic. I like corsets, crumbling old castles, shadows, monsters, and magic. I like dark humor, psychological complexity, epic battles with clashing swords, tragic love, and sex that you really want but really, really shouldn’t have. I like body horror—transformations, monsterifications, and a general loss of humanity. Above all, I like taking readers into a dark reflection of our own world, revealing difficult truths along the way. Lilitu, for example, is ostensibly about succubi and incubi, but it uses them in order to explore issues of gender, class, and sexual repression.

Meghan: Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

Jonathan Fortin: Lilitu needed serious revising because the first draft of it was written years ago, when I was younger and more of an edgelord. It contained a lot more gratuitous violence, particularly towards women, which I just felt took away from the message and would limit the audience significantly. It’s still a very dark, violent book, but I think the final draft is less excessive.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Jonathan Fortin: There’s an Epic Lovecraftian book that I need to finish editing. I have a solid first draft but it’s super long and rough, and I’m honestly too intimidated to touch it right now. But soon.

Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?

Jonathan Fortin: More Lilitu books, and more unrelated books—primarily, but probably not exclusively, horror and dark fantasy.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Jonathan Fortin: Website ** Twitter ** Facebook

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview?

Jonathan Fortin: Thanks so much! I hope you enjoy the book.

About the author:
Jonathan Fortin is an author and voice actor located in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is the author of Lilitu: The Memoirs of a Succubus, Requiem in Frost, and Nightmarescape. A lifelong lover of spooky gothic stories, Jonathan was named the “Next Great Horror Writer” in 2017 by HorrorAddicts. He attended the Clarion Writing Program in 2012, one year after graduating summa cum laude from San Francisco State University’s Creative Writing program.

About the book:
England, 1876. Twenty-year-old Maraina Blackwood has always struggled to adhere to the restrictive standards of Victorian society, denying the courage and desire that burn within her soul. But after a terrifying supernatural encounter, Maraina’s instincts compel her to action.

Maraina soon discovers a plot to unleash a new world—one of demonic aristocrats, bloody rituals, and nightmarish monsters. Putting her upbringing aside, Maraina vows to fight the dark forces assuming control of England. But as her world transforms, Maraina finds that she too must transform…and what she becomes will bring out all that she once buried.

Happy Birthday to the World’s Greatest Dad + An Interview with Michaelbrent Collings

Today is the birthday of the World’s Greatest Dad – not to be confused with all of those other fathers out there who believe that this title is theirs. It’s partly because of him – and completely because he married my mother – that I am the person I am today, and I thank God every day that I was able to have the time with him that I did. Unfortunately, he passed away while I was in high school – a million years ago, but just like yesterday – and has spent the last 20+ years being a guardian angel to a kid that really needed him.

When Michaelbrent asked me if I would be interested in reading his latest, Stranger Still, and said that the release date was today, I knew that having him on for a second interview would be the PERFECT birthday present to my dad. Michaelbrent is the kind of author that would have captured my dad’s attention, and he writes the kind of books that my father would have made sure his daughters spent some time with. I am excited to be able to sit down with his latest – it looks fantastic – and honored to have him here today.

So, without further adieu…

Meghan: Hi, Michaelbrent! It’s been awhile since we sat down together. What’s been going on since we last spoke?

Michaelbrent Collings: SO much! I’ve written some more books – my newest, Stranger Still, hits today – and I’m a dad and husband so life only functions on “sleep deprived” and “slightly more sleep deprived.” But it’s been a great time overall. Just finished out the most successful year of my career and passed a quarter-million ebooks sold, so I can’t complain!

Meghan: A quarter-million ebooks?! That’s amazing!! Who are you outside of writing?

Michaelbrent Collings: See above re “dad and husband.” My most important jobs all revolve around them. There’s also a lot of church stuff (which often makes people laugh given what kind of thing I write), and I’m also involved in community stuff. I mentor a recently-released felon, I try to take my kids to do service around our city, things like that. But first, last, and mostly: family.

Meghan: How do you feel about friends and close relatives reading your work?

Michaelbrent Collings: Great! Most of them are big readers, so it’s actually more “who can I count on not reading my book?” Obviously my kids are too young for some of the books I write, but other than that… have at it! If I was ashamed/worried about someone reading something, I’d have to ask myself why I was doing something like that. I’m not ashamed of what I do, or who knows about it. So read away.

Meghan: Is being a writer a gift or a curse?

Michaelbrent Collings: Why can’t it be both?

That’s the nature of good things – they tend to come paired with a bad thing, and vice-versa. Writing is a huge blessing in that it allows me to express myself, to try and tell stories that entertain and enlighten, and that allow me to hang out with tens of thousands of readers who have provided me with a livelihood. It’s a curse in that it so often keeps me up at night, makes me ramble incomprehensibly, and sometimes just sees straight-up incompatible with “normal” life.

But overall: blessing. Definitely.

Meghan: How has your environment and upbringing colored your writing?

Michaelbrent Collings: Well, I grew up in a reading and writing environment, so that was huge. My father was the Creative Writing Director for a major university, and my mother spent many nights and weekends reading books to us as children and then – as we grew – reading the stories that we wrote. Dad was also the world expert on Stephen King for a good long time, so I grew up with screaming in the house as a good thing.

Meghan: What’s the strangest thing you have ever had to research for your books?

Michaelbrent Collings: I couldn’t even begin to guess! All I know is that I’ve researched enough bizarro stuff that every once in a while I wave and hold up a sign that says “Hi!” so that whatever NSA guy is monitoring me through my laptop’s webcam will have a nicer day.

Meghan: Which do you find the hardest to write: the beginning, the middle, or the end?

Michaelbrent Collings: The end, definitely. That’s where everything comes together, so it tends to be the most emotional as an experience. And though I always try to craft a story that people can enjoy spending a day or two with, sometimes people forget that I haven’t spent a few days with it. I’ve spent weeks or months with it, and by the time I get to the end I very often just want to get it over with! I try not to rush things, but there’s definitely a cumulative exhaustion that sets in.

Meghan: Do you outline? Do you start with characters or plot? Do you just sit down and start writing? What works best for you?

Michaelbrent Collings: I do ‘em all. With Stranger Still, I mostly pantsed it. Same with The Colony Saga, which was a seven-book series. On the other hand, I typically do pretty thorough outlines for mysteries like Blood Relations and The Longest Con. They’re all fun to do – though going in without an outline is definitely the scariest because it usually isn’t until about 2/3 of the way through that I finally figure out what’s happening myself!

Meghan: What do you do when characters don’t follow the outline/plan?

Michaelbrent Collings: Giggle maniacally.

Meghan: What do you do to motivate yourself to sit down and write?

Michaelbrent Collings: Think about all my vices – like paying for food and shelter.

Meghan: Are you an avid reader?

Michaelbrent Collings: Yes, but it’s changed a lot over the years. I do a lot more non-fiction reading for fun, and while I read a lot of fiction as well, it tends to be during the day as part of the “market research” aspect of my work.

Meghan: What kind of books do you absolutely love to read?

Michaelbrent Collings: There are very few I don’t. I don’t like erotica, but other than that, the breadth and width of my reading tastes are pretty wide.

Meghan: How do you feel about movies based on books?

Michaelbrent Collings: Depends on the movie. I don’t get mad when movies don’t follow books – they’re different beasties, and changes should be made. But I do not like a bad movie regardless of it’s genesis. So I like good movies based on books, and bad ones make me groan.

Meghan: Have you ever killed a main character?

Michaelbrent Collings:
All.
The.
Time.

Meghan: Do you enjoy making your characters suffer?

Michaelbrent Collings: Quite the opposite. I tend to get very into my characters’ heads, so writing about their pain hurts me as well. I wrote a character based on one of my children, and when I realized he was going to die for the story to work, I really had a bad day. The day I wrote that scene was worse – I barely talked at home that night.

That said, I do make them suffer. Suffering is not only interesting, but it shows us who the characters really are – and hopefully that way also shows us what kind of people we are as we read.

Meghan: What’s the weirdest character concept that you’ve ever come up with?

Michaelbrent Collings: OHMIGOSH. There’s a character in Stranger Still that I just had a blast with. He is a murderous psychopath who is a narcissist of unbelievable proportions – to the point that he believes every thought he has is deep, even though the extent of his education is mostly reading Netflix descriptions and Instagram posts. He was a hilarious set of dichotomies and I worried it wouldn’t work, but advance readers almost all have mentioned how much they loved/hated the guy.

Meghan: What’s the best piece of feedback you’ve ever received? What’s the worst?

Michaelbrent Collings:
Best: keep writing
Worst: give up

Meghan: What do your fans mean to you?

Michaelbrent Collings: They mean so very much. I write because I have to. But I write full-time because they allow it. They support my family, and so there is a debt I can never hope to repay.

Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?

Michaelbrent Collings: More books! I will be working on a paranormal horror novel (tentatively called The Forest) about a pair of teens who go into a forest where their friend has been lost. Two of the three survive, because of what happens there. Twenty years later they go back… and things get even worse.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Michaelbrent Collings: I’m easy to find. Just Google “Michaelbrent” and you’ll find me!

Or…
Facebook
Twitter

You can also sign up for my mailing list (called Michaelbrent’s Minions) and get a free book, plus special access to deals and giveaways!

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview or the last?

Michaelbrent Collings: Just thank you. I appreciate every single person who’s made this weird, wild, wonderful trip possible!

About the book:
Your sins are Legion…
… and now you belong to him.

Legion is a teacher. An avenging angel. A murderer.
A madman.

Born in the blood of a dying mother, raised in the underground hideout of an insane father, he travels the world looking for those who keep secrets and sins. He finds those who have fallen short, and teaches them the lessons they need to leave their mistakes behind.

And if he has to teach a lesson that ends in death, well… sometimes that’s the cost of proper education.

That’s why, when he sees a man kidnap two people on the side of the road, Legion knows it is time to teach again.

Soon he finds himself caught in the crossfire of a coup in a Russian crime syndicate. Legion is captured, beaten, bleeding, in chains; cut off and alone. 

It’s just the way he likes it.

Legion has his students. And the lessons are about to begin…

About the author:
One of the most versatile writers around, Michaelbrent Collings is an internationally
bestselling novelist, produced screenwriter, and multiple Bram Stoker Award finalist.
While he is best known for horror (and is one of the most successful indie horror authors
in the United States), he has also written bestselling thriller, fantasy, science fiction,
mystery, humor, young adult, and middle grade works, and western romance.

As a novelist, Michaelbrent has written dozens of bestsellers that have also received
critical acclaim, and he and his work have been featured on everything from mom-and-pop
podcasts to Publishers Weekly, The San Francisco Book Review, and NPR.

COVER REVEAL: Gregor Xane’s Son of Hanover Block

A young boy collapses on a playground. Surgeons carve out a giant tumor and half of his brain. Soon after, the boy’s father locks him in a secret prison for his own perverse amusement. Through physical and psychological torture, he plans to transform his son into a monster, but he creates something wolly unexpected.

A research psychiatrist is on the verge of publishing a strange and beautiful new book, a collection of artists’ renderings of the hallucinations of the clinically insane. Her book threatens to expose a terrible truth, and this truth will not set her free.

A mysterious infestation, intensely personal and deadly, is decimating communities across the nation. All that stands in its path is a ruthless government agency which may prove to be more lethal than the otherworldly parasites it aims to destroy.

The son is rising…

You can pick book 1 (The Hanover Block) and 2 (Brides of Hanover Block) of The Hanover Quartet up on Amazon.

Gregor Xane is the author of TABOOGASM, THE HANOVER QUARTET, and SIX DEAD SPOTS. His work has been featured in STUPEFYING STORIES, DEAD ROSES, and the popular Halloween anthology series, BAD APPLES. He lives in southwestern Ohio with a dog.

Christmas Takeover 40: Edmund Stone: The Gift

The Gift

A Short Story by Edmund Stone
1,497 words

The stockings hung by the chimney with care. Tinsel glistened, glowing in the white lights on a small tree in the corner. Bobby worked on it for hours while his mommy slept. The nice lady at the Salvation Army gave him the supplies, along with warm cookies. He only hoped it would make mommy happy. She lay on the couch, an empty liquor bottle beside her. Her pipe still smoldering on the nightstand. If she’d known he went out today, she would yell at him, like she always did.

Bobby popped up when he heard the noise of mail falling through the shoot by the door. He’d sent a letter to Santa a month ago and was waiting for a reply. He shuffled through the envelopes until he found it, a gold one, addressed to him personally, from the North Pole! He ran down the hall to the living room.

“It came! It came!” he shouted. His mommy rolled off the couch.

“What the fuck is all this racket?!” she hissed. She raised her head and blinked her blood shot eyes at the shining lights on the little plastic tree. “Where the hell did that come from?”

“Do you like it, mommy? The lady down at the Army gave it to me. I put it up for you. It’s Christmas Eve!”

“What?! You ain’t supposed to go out when I’m sleeping! And you ain’t supposed to talk to strangers, especially those self-righteous assholes! Now, throw that shit away!”

“But, mommy.”

“Don’t but me, mister. Go to fucking bed!” she said, kicking the box the tree came in across the room. She stumbled into the kitchen, returned with a fresh bottle of vodka, took a swig, and plopped back on the couch. She reached for her pipe and took a drag. She blew the smoke in the air. Smiling with a mouth full of black teeth, she said, “You know, Santa’s not real. Now, go to your room!”

He turned, sulking away. “Is too,” he said under his breath.

He opened the bedroom door, hesitated, looked at his mommy, and sighed. Bobby jumped onto his bed, laying on his stomach. He opened the letter. It was gold and embossed with black letters; the print large and fancy. His fingers touched the lettering as he looked it over. There was one line printed in bold type:

Hi, Bobby. Have you been a good boy this year?

Bobby raised up, blinking his eyes. He considered the question. There was the time he hid his mom’s liquor from her. Bobby still felt the sting of the slap. He only tried to help. After she found it, she drank the whole bottle, and slept for a day. So, in a way he did make things better. She didn’t scream at him next morning. “Yes,” he said. Then, words began to appear on the letter.

Good to hear. I’ll be visiting soon. Think of something very special you want this year and write it here.

He thought about it. What would he like best? The possibilities are endless. But as he opened the bedroom door and saw mommy on the couch, her outstretched arm clutching the vodka bottle, he knew what he wanted more than anything.

Bobby’s mommy woke from her drunken stupor. Her head pounding, she reached for her pipe. Not there. He did it again.

“Bobby?! Give me my fucking pipe, or I’ll slap you into next week!” she said, her back cracking as she rose. She stumbled through the kitchen, pulled open a cabinet and grabbed a fresh bottle. Turning for the couch, she stopped, noticing a plate of cookies on the table. One or two had bites from them.

“The fuck?” she said. Did she buy cookies at the liquor store? As fucked up as she was yesterday, she wouldn’t have known. She shrugged, then saw a piece of gold paper near the cookie plate. She snatched it and started reading. It looked like a letter to Santa. What the hell was the little shit up to? The words, written at the bottom in Bobby’s handwriting, gave her pause.

I want a new mommy, it said. She snarled, crumpling the paper.

“Bobby?! Get out here now!” she bellowed. She’d had enough. He’d pay for this shit.

She started towards his room when she heard a knock on the door.

“Who is it?!”

“I’m here for the boy. You said come over Christmas morning,” a muffled voice came from outside the door.

She flung it open. A man stood there with a wad of cash in his hand. He considered her for a moment, then handed her the money.

“This is the right apartment? You told me to come for the boy. The deal is still on?”

She looked him up and down. His greasy hair was slicked back so tight, you would need a spatula to flip it to the side. His face was full of pock marks, and he had a gold tooth which gleamed from the light above the hall.

“Yeah, come in,” she said, stuffing the money into her dirty bra.

“Where is the boy?” he said.

“I don’t know, couldn’t find him, probably in his room.”

“Nice tree,” he said looking at the tinsel covered twig in the corner.

“Yeah, I’m trying to get into the Christmas spirit,” she said, plopping on the couch. “Go get your business done. If he screams, duct tape his fucking mouth shut. I don’t want the neighbors calling the cops.”

The man gave her a tepid smile and started for the bedroom. He returned a moment later.

“That was fast. You get your rocks off already?”

“No. There’s nobody in the room,” he said, his shoulders turned in.

“What? Bobby?! Where the fuck you hiding?!” she screamed, making the man wince.

Suddenly, they heard a noise coming from the chimney. Bobby’s mother smiled. She crept toward the fireplace opening, the man close behind. Pieces of soot fell onto the fireless hearth. She reached into the chimney, her arm buried to the shoulder. Feeling nothing, she sat on her bottom to extend her reach. She fished her arm around inside, trying to grasp Bobby’s feet.

“Bobby, you little shit! You’re gonna be sorry when I get a hold of you!”

She pulled her soot covered arm out and shook it. Her back turned to the fireplace, she couldn’t help but notice the expression on the greasy man’s face. His mouth open and eyes wide, looking just above her head. She gave him an indignant expression.

“What?” she said, then turned to the fireplace. What she saw made her want to scream, but in her shock, she was unable to breath. A creature stood there, slime dripping from its large fangs onto a forked tongue. Its face resembled a hideous elf with an elongated chin and pointed ears. The thing had disjointed arms. They were long and nearly touched the floor. Its fingers snaked down with jagged nails at the tip. It wore an old ragged Santa suit with a red toboggin hat. The tongue protruded from its mouth like an appendage and wrapped around her throat. In the split of the tongue, small needle-like protrusions dug into her flesh. It squeezed, and she began to make gurgling sounds as her hands went immediately to her throat

The greasy man found the voice she couldn’t. A low sound, between a grunt and a squeal, came from him, as he began to back pedal for the door. He turned but before he could move, an arm shot out from the creature, grasping him on his collar and jerking him backward. He screamed, as he landed on his back, the air released from his lungs. The jagged fingernails of the creature’s hand found purchase and dug into his nostrils. He tried to yell but couldn’t find the breath. The elfin-thing raked the man’s nose from his face. He made gurgling sounds, as blood filled his throat.

Bobby’s mother coughed blood from her mouth. The veins protruded from her neck, as the forked tongue continued to squeeze. Her eyes bulged, the ocular vessels burst, and blood mixed with clear fluids ran down her cheeks. She lost her grip on the piece of gold paper in her hand. The creature considered the letter and smiled. The tongue pulled her closer. Its mouth widened, and the fangs chomped into her face.


Bobby opened the door humming the hymns sung by the carolers at the Army. The aroma of eggs and bacon met his nose, wafting from the kitchen.

“Mommy?”

“Yes, dear?” a female voice answered from the other room.

Bobby stepped into the kitchen. A lady stood there, young and beautiful, smiling ear to ear.

“Good Christmas morning, Bobby! I made your favorite.”

Bobby shook his head, trying to take this in. He noticed the gold Santa letter lying on the table. He picked it up and read.

Merry Christmas, Bobby.

He smiled.

Edmund Stone is a writer and poet of horror and fantasy living in a quaint river town in the Ohio Valley. He writes at night, spinning tales of strange worlds and horrifying encounters with the unknown. He lives with his wife, a son, four dogs and a group of mischievous cats. He also has two wonderful daughters, and three granddaughters, who he likes to tell scary stories, then send them home to their parents.

Edmund is an active member of The Write Practice, a member only writer’s forum, where he served as a judge for their Summer contest 2018. Edmund’s poetry is featured in the Horror Zine, Summer 2017 issue and in issue #6 of Jitter by Jitter Press. He has two poems in issue 39, one poem in issue 41, and a story in issue 42, of Siren’s Call ezine. He also has three short stories in separate anthologies, See Through My Eyes by Fantasia Divinity, Year’s Best Body Horror anthology 2017 by Gehenna & Hinnom, and Hell’s Talisman anthology by Schreyer Ink Publishing. Most of these stories can also be read in Hush my Little Baby: A Collection by Edmund Stone.

Website ** Email ** Facebook ** Twitter ** Instagram

Christmas Takeover 39: Andrew Freudenberg: The Boy Who Never Died

The Boy Who Never Died

A Short Story by Andrew Freudenberg
2,421 words

Santa pulled the gift from the sack and sighed. The thing looked complicated and expensive. He had little experience or interest where money was concerned, just a vague notion of its stranglehold on the lives of the living. It was clear to him that this mortal child was near the top of the food chain, his parents either predators or the children of such. These things, however, were largely obscure to him, the symbols of wealth almost invisible to his inhuman gaze. Of course the sack knew all about the ways of the world, and produced the present that it deemed appropriate for the moment. It was one of the ways in which fulfilling the terms of his curse was possible, and for that he hated it.

The things that the sack produced had changed over the years, but their meaningless remained the same. Small human figurines, wheeled models, building bricks and, more recently, intricate boxes that hummed with some kind of innate energy.

It mattered nothing to him what came forth, he knew well enough that these things bought joy to the children that he visited, and that this was a part of his punishment. The gifts were perfectly chosen to maximize their pleasure, and therefore his disgust. That he was the enabler of this joy filled him with such darkness that he had to force back the urge to strike the little sleepers, to tear their soft bodies to shreds. As great as the pleasure might be if he allowed himself to surrender to such urges, it would certainly be extremely short lived, and the end of him.

Once back in the sledge, sweating and gasping for breath, he threw the hated cloth aside. The reindeer growled and pawed, looking back at him to convey their eternal contempt with yellowed gazes. Like him they had once been creatures of the inferno, what the transient called demons. Like him they had undergone the most foul of transmutations. By blade and the application of both banal and magical ministrations, they had been twisted and squeezed into their present forms. The pain had been both exquisite and practically unbearable.

Did he not hate his tormentors so intensely, he might have admired their skills. For supposed creatures of the light they were remarkably sadistic. At least he didn’t have to endure four spindly legs and the stink of the stable, but it was a small mercy. He did, however, have to force himself to clamber up and down narrow chimneys as he entered people’s homes. The lard-ridden body that he had been given was not designed for such acrobatics, nor were the thick red clothes that had been stitched to his pasty flesh. Jagged edges and hot bricks scraped the skin from his face and tore through the material to get to his body. Sometimes the fires were still burning, and the soles of his feet were blackened scar tissue.

The sledge itself had also undergone change in its time. Once it had been part of a mighty weapon, a studded war club that had been a legend for the fear it inspired. Millions had fallen to its blows over the centuries, dousing it in a rarified essence of death and pain. To see it sliced up and reformed as this gaudy vehicle was a constant reminder of his fall. Its screams as they hacked it apart had been pitiful.

“Reindeer away!”

A razor wind cut across them as they rose into the sky, accompanied by a cacophony of clanking chains and groaning boards. Santa frowned as they roared over the monochrome city, wishing that he could lose himself in the shadows below, rather than remain a prisoner above.

“I was once a great warrior,” he screamed to nobody but himself.

As if in answer his nose filled with the smell of Christmas. The stench of pine, the reek of cooked bird, and the abominable stink of fig pudding. His ears filled with the screech of hymns, sickly sweet and nauseating in their insincerity. Snow began to gently fall. Santa looked up into the heavens, entirely sure that he could hear the echoes of angelic laughter from above.

“Oh, how I hate you all.”

When the great armies of Hell had marched forth into battle with the angelic hordes he had pictured several possible outcomes, both of which had been perfectly acceptable to him.

The first, obviously, was that they would stand laughing over the decimated corpses of their enemies, weapons held high in the ruins of heaven. Rivers of blood would have run all around them. His master would have taken the head of the creator and thrown it into the abyss to rot.

The second was that he would have died with his bloodied weapon in hand, a glorious death in the heat of war. He had never considered this third possibility, but then he was not in possession of a twisted imagination equal to the bloody Nazarene and his followers. No martyr’s death for him, no dark heroes end. Instead, this bizarre eternity, this timeless reality, locked into pathetic servitude and humiliation at the hands of those for whom his hatred knew no bounds. Still, nothing infuriated him more than the accursed sack and its infinite gifts.

At the end of every cycle there came a shadow of respite as he visited the last name on his list. It was a mere drip of satisfaction in an ocean of discontent but it was something at least, a beacon in the darkness.

Standing alone in the barren wastes of a dying moor stood a large grey house. A high stone wall blocked it from the outside world, not that there was anyone to see it apart from a few scrawny blackbirds and a couple of emaciated sheep. The sledge landed on its slate roof, perching there in that unnatural manner that it had.

“Here we are again.”

Santa rubbed his tattered gloves together as he climbed out. His reindeer snorted and regarded him with sullen expressions. At some point over the years the chimney had collapsed internally, but he was still able to reach an attic room with a small fireplace. He squeezed himself out over the rusting grate and onto the dusty floor. Breathing hard he stood up and listened.

This was a peculiar house. It wasn’t a family home; it was a place of evil doings and misery. Now, Santa wasn’t unfamiliar with the stench of despair; the human world had grief aplenty, but this place though, this place, it was something different. He sensed that there was an oddity about its inhabitants, an otherness that he couldn’t quite categorize. They were neither angels nor demons, but they carried with them a stench of other that he couldn’t quite place. Faint screams and groans reached him, along with the creaking and moaning of the building itself. Someone shouted, another howled. It was all most unusual.

Creeping down the stairs in the dim light, he kept his wits about him. Here there was always someone or something awake. He moved carefully in the gloom, retracing his steps and concealing himself if he suspected that he might be discovered. As he passed he couldn’t resist peering through the keyholes or gaps left by any door that wasn’t closed properly.

In the first room two naked men were suspended from the ceiling by chains attached to their ankles. A woman clad head to toe in black rubber shouted abuse as she whipped them with a riding crop. Gags that had been stuffed into their mouths muffled their cries. Santa smirked and moved on.

The second room contained two twirling unfortunates, joined at the tops of their heads. Judging by the patchwork of raw squares on their torsos, skin had been grafted across their skulls in order to bond them together. Occasionally their spinning would stop and they would simply pull and shove at each other, seemingly desperate to be separated again. Santa tugged his beard and wondered once more what the reasoning behind it could be. It could have been some kind of ritual or dance, he supposed, but it seemed more likely that it was a punishment. They had been in that room for the last twenty-eight years. Once or twice he had looked in and they had been fast asleep, forming a right angle on the floor.

Santa looked down over the balcony to the entrance hall at the bottom of the stairs. There was a very dead looking Christmas tree, with half a dozen cracked baubles and tinsel that was little more than string. A gas lamp flickered. Nobody was about.

With trepidation he crept down the threadbare stair carpet, glancing from side to side. When cursed with his task, by the bloody seraphs, they had promised a hefty consequence should mortals ever see him. A drunken father had caught him coming out of the fireplace early in his present delivering career, and his keepers had more than kept their promise. He was extraordinarily careful never to allow it to happen again.

The flagstones in the foyer seemed to make an incredible noise, his footsteps echoing around the empty space. The kitchen was to his left and he rushed towards the double doors. They began to open as he approached. Quickly he flung himself behind them, pressing his burly frame to the wall. A crow-faced man in a butler’s uniform emerged, carrying a silver tray with a red tinged drink on it. The servant crossed to the other side and pushed it open, releasing wafts of conversation and music. As he went in, and the door closed behind him, it faded away again leaving Santa alone, apart from the thundering of his panicked heart.

“I’ll soon be there”, he whispered, “It’ll be my moment again soon.”

The kitchen was a large open space with several rows of ovens and grills. Sticking his head around the door, Santa Claus could see a Chef in the far corner. He was stirring a huge pot with one hand and swigging from a bottle with the other. A tiny transistor radio was blasting out hymns, the melodies straining to be heard amidst the static. The cook hummed along to them, swaying as he did so.

Dropping to all fours, Santa crawled into the room. The smell hit him like a tidal wave, swamping his senses and leaving him drooling. He licked his lips. One didn’t serve for centuries in hell without becoming very familiar with that particular aroma. There were always bodies burning, roasting corpses that filled the air with their essence. That stink and the reek of sulphur and fetid decay had been his everyday companions. The craving to taste that forbidden flesh was so strong that he had to bite his lip. Even if his current feeble body could have digested it, he doubted that it would have gone without a hefty price.

He edged along the kitchen units, hidden from sight. Fragrances continued to torment him. His expertise was far enough advanced that he could pick out the perfume of a smoldering liver or a steaming heart. He could tell the age of the meat and even whether it had come from a man or a woman. How he missed its flavor and its texture.

Shaking his head and pushing his desires aside, he focused instead on the prize to come., how he would get one over on that accursed sack, just even for a moment. A few seconds was enough to sustain him for another year. A sudden clatter gave him pause, but it was just the Chef dropping his spoon. He carried on.

At the end of the row was an archway that led to some narrow steps. Swiftly passing through it, Santa tiptoed down them. At the bottom was a metal door. Slowly he pushed it open and entered the room.

A filthy faced little boy lay twitching and unconscious on a low bed, a dirty blanket pulled up to his chin. His face was pale and sunken, and his breath rattled and shook. Occasionally he muttered something incomprehensible or simply groaned in pain. Santa Claus had to resist applauding and instead simply grinned.

For fifty years or more he had visited this place. The boy had always been here in his bed, always with the same pallid near to death appearance. He had never aged and showed no sign of doing so in the future. He was someone’s prisoner, someone’s experiment. He was the boy who never died.

“So… once more it’s time.”

Santa pulled the sack from a deep pocket and placed it on the floor in front of him and cackled.

“So sack… fail for me once more.”

He glanced at the piled up presents in each corner of the room. They were unopened, untouched, of no use or interest to this unnatural child. He was busy in his suffering, unable to escape from his unnaturally long stay on this mortal coil. The sack produced more and more intricate offerings year-by-year, desperate in its attempts to impress. It was hopeless and beautiful.

“Go on…”

He leant down to reach into the sack but froze halfway there.

At first the green fumes were gaseous and loosely formed, rising up from the hessian in a mushroom plume. Then they began to tighten, wrapping themselves into an intricately knotted chain. They curved from side to side like a snake rising from a basket. Santa could almost hear it hiss.

“What the…”

It extended, making its way up and forwards toward the sleeping boy. It slithered over the surface of the blanket up towards his face.

“No…”

It glided up over his lips, and into his nostrils. Eventually it disappeared from sight. The adolescent blinked and his eyes sprang open. They were a bright blue. He smiled and then his eyes closed again slowly. He took one deep breath, exhaled, and then his chest was still. He was at peace.

Santa looked down at the unmoving sack then at the child, then back at the sack again. His jaw fell open in disbelief as he realized that there were no victories left in his life. The damn bag had finally succeeded. A stab of pain burst across his chest. He clutched at himself and gasped for air. After a while the discomfort passed and he was able to snatch the sack back up from the ground.

“Merry Christmas”, he muttered, “Merry bloody Christmas.”

Andrew Freudenberg is an English author with a German name. He was born in France.

Despite always having a strong love for the written word, he spent a large part of his 20’s dabbling in the global techno scene. He loves heavy metal.

A number of his stories have appeared in anthologies. My Dead & Blackened Heart will be his first solo collection.

He currently lives in the South West of England with his Ninja wife and three sons.