Christmas Takeover 25 Pt 1: Chris Miller: Naughty Claus

Merry Christmas… from my family to you. Today, since it is such a special day, I offer you TWO Christmas Takeover stories from TWO really awesome authors with a lot of talent. This first one, Naughty Claus, is from Chris Miller.


Naughty Claus

A Story by Chris Miller
2,267 words

Caleb’s mother kissed him goodnight as his father stood by his bedside, beaming a smile of pride.

“Good night, baby,” his mother said as she rose next to his father.

“You go on to sleep right away now, you hear?” his father said, a humorous look on his face, his finger waving. “Santa’s going to be along any time now, and if you’re awake, well…”

He trailed off, shrugging.

“I know, I know,” Caleb said, nodding furiously, a deadly serious look upon his face. “If we’re awake on Christmas Eve, Santa won’t leave us any presents!”

“That’s right, pal!” his father said, giving him an affectionate squeeze on his shoulder. “Now, off to sleep.”

As his mother reached for the lamp next to his bed, Caleb asked, “You have to make sure Rachel goes to sleep, too! Tell her she can’t get up like she does all the—”

“Yes, yes,” his father placated him, waving his hands before him like a pair of palm branches. “We’re going to her next, don’t you worry.”

Caleb smiled—relieved now—and pulled his comforter up to his chin as the light was switched off. The soft glow of the moon filtered in through the crusted snow and ice outside his window causing shadows to dance across his walls. He could imagine Santa out there now, riding his sleigh, slipping down chimney’s and delivering joy the world over. At eight years old, Caleb had already begun to hear the awful rumors that Santa Claus wasn’t actually real, but he dismissed these claims outright. His parents had never lied to him, he was sure of it, and they said Santa was a real as they were. So, he had to be real.

He closed his eyes against the glow of the moon, his face nearly split in half with a smile as he heard his parents saying good night to his sister Rachel. He hoped she would listen and not get up. It would ruin everything if Santa didn’t leave them any presents because she broke the rules about getting to bed on Christmas Eve.

The door to Rachel’s room shut in the hallway with a quiet click, and Caleb peeked one eye open just a sliver. His own door hung open a quarter of the way, and he could see his mother coming down the hall, his father close behind.

“Finally,” his father was saying, a long sigh chasing the word. “Now we can get a fucking drink.”

“Richard!” his mother said, spinning around to face him. “Caleb might still be awake.”

“Are you kidding me?” his dad said. “Janie, honey, that boy’s so terrified of Santa not stopping by, he probably knocked himself out with a hammer as soon as we left the room, for Christ’s sake.”

“Well,” his mother said, resigning to his reasoning, “maybe you’re right.”

Caleb kept his body still in the dark room, his right eye the only giveaway that he was awake as he watched his parents interacting in the hall outside his door.

“You’re goddamn right I’m right,” his dad said. “So, let’s get those drinks, what do you say? Then I’ll show you why they call me Big Dick.”

Caleb’s mom was laughing softly now, her hand on his dad’s chest.

“Oh, I have an inkling as to why the call you that. Maybe, if you’re really nice, I’ll show you why I’m so…anal.”

Now they were both laughing as they moved on past the door and down the stairs.

“Ooh, you’re so naughty!” Caleb heard his dad say as their footfalls descended the stairs.

He had no idea what they were talking about. He’d heard his dad’s friends call him Dick plenty of times. Dick was short for Richard, after all. That’s what his mom had told him. And he had some faint memory of his father griping at his mother about how anal she was with the ‘damn hangers’. But what was shocking were the dirty words his dad had said. He’d never heard him talk like that before. Caleb had heard those words at school from some of the older kids, but never from his parents. Did they know those were bad words?

He didn’t know, but decided he’d let them know after presents and breakfast tomorrow. He didn’t want his dad to get in trouble for saying bad words.

Caleb rolled over and went to sleep. He dreamt of presents.


The white light reflecting off snow-covered rooftops lighted on his face and woke Caleb. He sat up in bed, rubbing his eyes and sluffing off sleep. Little crusty particles fell from the corners of his eyes as he did—eye-boogers is what these were called by the other kids at school—and then he was swinging his feet off the bed. He checked his clock and saw it was 7 A.M. Time to get up, get his sister, and get to opening presents. He couldn’t wait to see what Santa had brought them in the night. He’d awoke at one point in the night and thought he’d heard Santa down there, though he couldn’t be sure. Santa had seemed to be grunting loudly and making sharp “Ah-ah!” sounds now and then. It had almost sounded like two people, but Caleb knew Santa worked alone. He hadn’t wanted to make Santa angry, so he’d forced himself back to sleep.

He rushed down the hall and flung open Rachel’s door to wake her up. But she was already standing there, rubbing her eyes.

“Is it time for presents?” she asked through a yawn.

“Yeah! Come on!”

They both rushed down the hall and descended the stairs, their footfalls thumping loudly as they went. Their excited breathing heaved in and out loudly as they went.

“Mom!” Caleb cried out as they neared the ground floor. “Dad! Come on, let’s see what Santa—”

He stopped. Rachel was a second behind him and she ran face first into his back, right between his shoulders, causing him to stumble into the living room another step before righting himself. Then she was frozen next to him. Their jaws were twin, gaping yaws, reaching nearly to their waists. At least it felt like it. Caleb couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He was at first terrified, finding such a sight in his dad’s chair by the Christmas tree. But his fear quickly diminished as his young brain soaked in and began to process the information.

It was Santa Claus. He was sitting there in his big red suit, his white beard spilling down over his chest in wavy disregard. He held the glass of milk Caleb and Rachel had set out with the cookies before bed, and Santa was dunking a chocolate chip cookie into the glass. As he stuffed the dripping cookie into his mouth, his eyes flicked up as if he were only now noticing them, even though they’d been bounding loudly and shouting as they’d come down the stairs.

He took a big bite.

“Hey there, kiddies!” Santa said in a jolly tone, bits of cookie visible in his open mouth, his cheeks rosy with good cheer. “Caught me getting my snack!”

“Wh-wha—” was all Caleb could muster. Rachel continued reaching for the floor with her chin.

“You kids were my last stop of the night, and I thought I’d rest up a bit before heading back to the Pole,” Santa went on, taking another bite and eliminating the cookie. “Fine cookies, these are, I sure do appreciate you kids leaving these out for me!”

Caleb continued to stare in amazement, searching for his voice. Finally, he found it.

“Y-you’re really here?” he said in a wavering voice.

“Ho-ho-ho!” Santa bellowed gleefully, throwing his head back in laughter. “You see me sitting here, don’t ya?”

His voice was deep but soft, almost gentle. The voice of a loving grandfather. The light spilled in behind Santa, the white sheen of sunlight partially silhouetting him.

“Don’t snow much around here,” Santa went on absently. “It’s always nice to have a white Christmas, don’t ya think, kiddies?”

There were more ‘ho-ho-hos’ of laughter as Caleb and Rachel inched into the room. Where were their parents? How had they not heard all this commotion? Caleb wanted them to see Santa here, too. He couldn’t wait to tell the older kids at school about this. Their lies about Santa not being real were totally bogus, and he meant to set them straight.

“Snow is beautiful,” Rachel said through her missing teeth. It came out Snow is bootifall.

“It sure is, little lady,” Santa said smiling and leaning forward in the chair. “You should see my house, snow as faaaaar as the eye can see. You’re both welcome to visit any time. Mrs. Claus makes the best hot chocolate you ever did taste. You kiddies like hot chocolate?”

They both nodded emphatically, their eyes bright and wide.

“I’ll bet you do, ho-ho-ho!”

Then Santa’s cheery-red face grew serious.

“Have you kiddies been nice?” he asked in a flat tone. “Or have you been naughty?”

“Nice!” the both exclaimed in unison. Caleb’s breath had caught in his throat.

Now the smile returned to Santa’s face.

“Good!” he boomed cheerfully. “Well then, what say you open your presents, eh? I’ve got a few doozies here just for you!”

Caleb and Rachel both cracked smiles so wide it hurt, but they didn’t fight them. They ran towards the tree and Santa in the chair as he pulled a large red bag out from beside him and sat it down before them. He pulled out four presents, two for each of them. The paper they were wrapped in were bright, dazzling shades of red and blue and silver, with glittery bows adorning them all.

“Now, open these here first,” Santa said, handing over a pair of presents.

They tore into them with fury. Paper flew through the air like confetti and rained down all around them. Santa sat there, laughing loudly as ripped open the boxes.

Caleb had a Batman LEGO set he’d asked for specifically in the letter he’d written to Santa. His jaw fell open and he said ‘thank you’ somewhere in the neighborhood of forty-seven times within the space of two seconds.

Santa laughed all the more. “You’re welcome, Caleb!”

Rachel got the precise American Girl doll she’d asked for and similarly shared her thanks.

“Alright, kiddies,” Santa went on, handing over the other two presents. “These here are the big ones! You didn’t ask for them, but I sure think you need them.”

Confetti littered the air once more. Caleb noticed this new present was much heavier than the one with the LEGO set. He’d had to leave it on the floor instead of his lap, but that didn’t matter. He wondered what it could be as he got the bow and paper out of the way and tore open the box at the same time Rachel opened hers.

They both froze, the excited smiles still adorning their faces, but beginning to melt away like ice in rising temperatures. What Caleb was seeing simply couldn’t be. Santa had been right, he had not asked for this. But he hadn’t wanted it either. He couldn’t imagine how Santa could possibly think he needed this.

Rachel began screaming, the high-pitched shrill only a six-year-old girl can achieve. Caleb felt a similar sound building up from his stomach. Santa was laughing somewhere before them, though Caleb could not wrench his eyes away from the terrible present in front of him.

Their parents’s severed heads stared out at them from the boxes, eyes glazed and gray, tongues lolling out hideously. Blood smattered the inside of the boxes and there was an acrid odor now smarting Caleb’s nostrils.

Rachel was up and running for their parents’s bedroom. He was aware of the absurdity of this, as if there were anything in there that could do them any good, but Caleb found himself right on her heels all the same.

“Found ‘em being naughty, ho-ho-ho!” Santa boomed from behind them as they fled. “Ain’t that nice?”

Fresh guffaws of laughter issued from Santa as they burst into their parents’s room. Fresh screams of horror exploded from the children as they took in the sight.

Their parents’s bodies were on the bed, naked, their mother’s bent over on hands and knees. Their father’s headless corpse was locked in place behind her, his lap against her butt, hands gripped in a tight lock on her hips.

Blood was everywhere. It looked as though it had been slung about in strings and ropes, and it looked as though a bucket of the stuff had been dumped all over his parents and their bed.

Caleb and Rachel turned back out of their parents’s room and stopped as they saw Santa stalking towards them. He held something at his side, but Caleb couldn’t tell what it was at first with the light of the icy morning spilling in behind the jolly fat man.

“Naughty, naughty, naughty!” Santa said, chuckling all the way. “You know, it’s my job to check who’s been naughty or nice!”

Caleb couldn’t move. Couldn’t breathe. Rachel seemed to be similarly transfixed.

Santa moved in closer, revealing what was in his hand. A large, red axe.

It dripped with blood.

“And let me tell you,” Santa said, all cheer draining from his face and voice alike, “You’ve all been naughty little fuckers!”

Their screams lasted only a moment.

Chris Miller is a native Texan who has been writing from an early age, but only started publishing in 2017. Since the release of his first novel, A Murder of Saints, he has released a novella – Trespass – another novel – The Hard Goodbye – a single short story – Flushed – and has been inducted into multiple anthologies, including the acclaimed And Hell Followed from Death’s Head Press, where his story “Behind Blue Eyes” appears alongside stories from Wrath James White, Jeff Strand, and The Sisters of Slaughter, just to name a few. He has another new novel coming soon, the first part of a trilogy of horror, and will be featured in more anthologies throughout the year. He is happily married to the love of his life, Aliana, and they have three beautiful children.

Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Edmund Stone

Meghan: Hi, Edmund. Thanks for coming here today. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Edmund Stone: My name is Edmund Stone and I’m a Horror writer, artist, poet but not necessarily in that order. I love all things out of the ordinary and take inspiration from odd occurrences and people. I’m constantly seeking out characters who I think would fit well in my books. You can find strange individuals everywhere you look but the state I live in, Kentucky, has an abundance of them. My current WIP novel has many of those same people and I feel readers will enjoy reading about them when the time is right.

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

Edmund Stone: I work as an Occupational Therapy Assistant during the day and I’m a grandpa x3; we start young here. I’m an amateur artist and I drew my own book cover for my ebook. I have other concepts ready for future books I may use or let a graphic artist fix up. By drawing out my characters it gives me a way to see them in a physical form before writing them, making for a richer, more rounded character. I would love to develop my skills as a graphic artist further. I play guitar and have for years. It helps me to relax and get my mind open for writing.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Edmund Stone: I read lots of comics before I started reading short stories and novels. The first horror I remember reading was Clive Barker’s Books of Blood (I have the whole collection) and the Unabridged Works of Edgar Allan Poe. I spent lots of time and nightmares on that one!

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Edmund Stone: In the last few years I’ve been concentrating on the master. I’ve read several King books, in audio and paperback/ebook format. I read his On Writing book when I first decided to become a writer and I love his mind set and passion for writing. I had read his short stories in the past and watched all the movies. He’s an inspiration to me, as he is to other writers. If you want to be a writer, it’s best to emulate the best. I’m in the middle of Justin Cronin’s The Passage and I’m reading Cujo. I just read In the Tall Grass by King and Joe Hill, craziest thing I’ve read in awhile! I also read Indie writers on my Kindle. I recently read Trespass by Chris Miller. He’s really good and you would owe yourself a favor to check him out.

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

Edmund Stone: I would think Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card or maybe Yancey’s The Fifth Wave. I love Sci-fi, especially the kind that has a horror element to it. The Fifth Wave probably has more of it than the first but either novel is worth reading. I’ve read romance as well. Some stories by Nicholas Sparks and the Indie author Michelle Dalton. I helped her beta read her Epona novel via my writer’s group, The Write Practice. She’s a good author in the romance genre.

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

Edmund Stone: I began to write when I was ten years old. I also began to draw. I loved both but wasn’t sure which one I would concentrate on the most. I’ve written poetry for the last Thirty-five years. I wooed many a fair maiden with it back in the day and caught my wife in the snare of my poetry web (we’ve been together for 28 years). I only started writing short stories and novels since 2016. I’ve always wanted to expand my writing endeavors but never thought I could. It takes lots of reading and practice, practice, practice. But I can’t think of a more enjoyable way to spend my time!

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

Edmund Stone: I have an office converted from my daughters old bedroom that I do most of my work in. It helps to get away from everything in the house for awhile. I have my computer there, as well as an artist’s easel and my guitar. Sometimes I go from one to the other but art has many expressions and as long as I’m working on something, I feel productive.

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

Edmund Stone: I drink a cup or two of coffee to get myself ready to write my novels and short stories. I drink a glass of wine or beer to write poetry and Drabbles. My mind has a way of wandering if I drink too much, so I try to take it slow. I have a wooden sculpture I call my muse, looking over me as I write. I always talked about my muse but never had a tangible object to call such. She showed up one day in a box of items and she’s been on my desk ever since. I’m a terrible procrastinator and will do the dishes, mow the yard, or whatever needs to be done to get out of writing sometimes. Sometimes the words just aren’t coming so I work to get them there.

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

Edmund Stone: Yes, finding the time to balance writing with family time and keeping up with the day job and all the responsibilities of being a husband. It’s not easy making it all work but as any author would probably tell you, the challenge is what makes you better. You put forth your best work when you’re under stress. I feel when deadlines and my time are pulling me in all directions, I come up with some inspiration to keep going. I love to write and create. It makes me the author I want to be.

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

Edmund Stone: Probably the Tent Revival series and the Rebecca mythos. I have a novel in the works called Tent Revival that I hope to release soon. It started as as synopsis of my hometown but has turned into a whole universe of characters. It has even spawned a sci-fi horror novella that takes the reader to another planet. I’m also very satisfied with my first self-published book, Hush my Little Baby. It’s a collection of short stories and poems. I’ve had a bunch of people wanting a copy. It was a challenge but fun too, to do that. I will continue to pursue the traditional publishing route but may have some more self-pubbed titles down the road unless I sign a contract and can no longer do so.

Meghan: What books have most inspired you?

Edmund Stone: If I were to pick one, I would say the works of Poe. I cut my horror teeth on his stuff. The Tell-Tale Heart is still one of my favorite horror stories.

Meghan: Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Edmund Stone: Stephen King, Clive Barker, even some Dean Koontz, but not as much as the first two. I try to read as many other authors as I can for better reference. I’ve read the classic authors such as Stoker, Lovecraft, Matheson. They all inspired the modern authors of horror so I’m keeping in good company.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Edmund Stone: Great characters and natural dialogue. A story that keeps the action going; a real page turner. I like there to be some humor to lighten things up occasionally. King is good at that.

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

Edmund Stone: I love all my characters, especially the ones in my novels, probably because I spend so much time with them. I like to get in their heads and think like they do. Most of the time they’re trying to get away from something or causing something to happen; horrible things.

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

Edmund Stone: Probably Sy Sutton in Tent Revival. He’s and older empty nester kind of guy who’s son has gone into a coma and he can’t figure out why. He has a feeling something he did in his past is responsible. So, he kidnaps his boy from the hospital to try and help him, because he feels guilty and thinks the doctors and nurses are unable to heal him. Although, unbeknownst to him, an evil is brewing from somewhere within the town they live in and his son and several others are taken in by it. I feel his desperation as a father and know I would do the same for my kids if needed.

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

Edmund Stone: I am. I think the cover should grab your attention. If it sucks I think readers won’t take a chance on it. I’ve bought books based on the cover. Sometimes it pays off and other times it doesn’t but it’s the first impression when a reader buys a book, so it should be good. I spent a lot of time on mine. The ebook version anyway. Not so much on the paperback. I ended up liking it the best though. It was simple. A black background with eerie letters. I thought they both turned out great but I’m partial to the paperback. I’m an amateur artist and drew many concepts, one of which is in the book. The ebook cover is also featured within the paperback. I drew a collage of characters found in the stories within the book to give credence to them. I think it turned out well. I spent countless hours drawing and redrawing concepts I thought would go on the cover. It was a lot of work but well worth it. They turned out well when put on the printed page.

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Edmund Stone: How hard and how easy it is. Getting the Amazon account and setting up all the details was pretty easy. The hard part was formatting. I use Scrivener, so it takes out a lot of the guesswork and compiles things in easy to use formats. I liked that. I didn’t put page numbers or chapter references in my book. I did place the stories in order as they appear in the book. If I do it again, I’ll pay more attention to those details.

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

Edmund Stone: Probably love scenes. I write them well but feel I want to go to the dark side rather quickly. I think my characters take me there. I write them the way they want to be written and it can consume me. I feel like I may be going too far sometimes but then think I want my writing to be genuine. Sometimes it’s better to let the muse win. Actually, I think it’s always better to let her win.

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

Edmund Stone: I don’t know. Maybe the intimacy of my characters. I try to make them front and center, as I think a story should have strong characters, or at least someone you feel for, or are rooting for. The only problem is, my stories usually don’t have happy endings. I will probably try to emulate King quite a bit, or attempt to while writing, but no one author has the same style. I’ve noticed my style is developing more every day. I started by trying to write like my favorite authors but feel I’m becoming more comfortable in my own skin.

Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

Edmund Stone: Mine wrote itself. It’s named for the first story in the book, coincidentally the first short story I ever had accepted for publication. Really, no coincidence at all. ‘Hush my Little Baby’ meant something to me. It’s all about a girl out on her own, trying to make it after a relationship gone bad. My daughter was going through a similar situation and it gave me inspiration to write it. She still won’t read it, as it scares her too much.

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

Edmund Stone: I love both but the novel has to be the most fulfilling. When I finished the rough draft to my first novel, I thought I’d died and gone to Heaven. It was such a difficult thing to get it down, and even though it needs a bunch of work, I can still say I did it. Short stories are my go between. My distraction from the edits needed to finish my novel. I have a novella closer to being ready than my novel and it was satisfying to get it completed as well. But until the novel is ready, I’ll always feel as though there is a hole in my life. Rewrites and revisions are coming soon. It will probably take me into the beginning of next year before it’s ready to send out to publishers.

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

Edmund Stone: My target audience is usually older teens to adults. My writing is not always for everyone and it does deal with some controversial things. Of course, they also have a good dose of horror and creepiness in them as well. I want my readers to be , first and foremost, scared to turn the lights off. But I also want them to feel as though my characters could be them or someone they know.

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

Edmund Stone: I really don’t delete too much. Only if the wording sucks or something along those lines. I may put a disclaimer out there if I feel the work may be read by a younger audience, but I make no apologies for a scene that may be deemed too controversial or racy. Writing is all about expression, as any art form is. I know my readers would think me disingenuous if I were to hold back in any way. My novel has some pretty crazy stuff in it, I hope it will be well received, we’ll see.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Edmund Stone: Mine is my rough draft novel, Tent Revival and Lost Hope, my novella. I’ve also been writing Drabbles lately, which is something I didn’t think I had the discipline to do. It’s funny, it’s easier to write the long stuff than the short stuff, for me anyway. I would like to develop my artwork, especially the graphic art. I’ve dabbled with computer generated stuff but haven’t been able to nail it down. I think I need some classes.

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

Edmund Stone: A novel for starters. It’s the next step in this process and the one that scares me the most. But I’m ready for the challenge. I actually have, at present, two novels in rough draft and a novella. So, it’s a matter of getting busy more than anything. Another area I’ve been interested in, is children’s literature, or maybe YA. I have a story in mind, an old draft of a novel I started but never finished called the Boldman’s Prophecy. Once I have the other projects finished, I may revisit that one. My grandchildren will be in the age range for reading YA sooner than I expect and I would love to have something out there they could get into. I’ll continue to do Drabbles and poetry as my practice and distraction between novel writing, so expect to see more of those, maybe even on my website as giveaways.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Edmund Stone: My website is a great way to find me and get an idea of some of the things I’m doing. I’m also on Twitter, Instagram, or on Facebook. There’s a link on my webpage for my book also.

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?

Edmund Stone: I’m thankful for all the people who’ve read my stories and I hope to keep you coming. Expect some bigger things coming from me in the near future. My first little collection has been an intimate undertaking and I’m quite pleased with Hush my Little Baby. I can’t wait until my next book is out and I hope to have you all along for the journey. Thank you for the support and thanks for reading.

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.

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Halloween Extravaganza: Chris Miller: Halloween in the Bible Belt

Halloween in the Bible Belt, circa late 1980s through the 90s (and beyond):

I have a single memory of going trick-r-treating as a child. I know, that’s odd, even for folks who grew up in rural East Texas like I did. Every year I would see hundreds of kids out in their costumes of ghouls and devils and vampires and other various monstrosities, all carrying a bag or a bucket or a tub of some kind to store their candied spoils. And even with my single memory of trick-r-treating, I was never with any of those other kids. Not the ones going door to door, holding their containers out and open with a cheery, “Trick-r-Treat!” coming from them in a totally jarring contrast to the looks of their costumes. Not me. Not in my family, or in the families of any of the other people I knew growing up.

None of them?

That’s right. None. You see, when I was old enough to start school, I wasn’t put into public school. Public schools produced nothing but drug addicts and sex fiends, or so I had been informed in my upbringing. Teachers were active agents of the “enemy” (I always deduced this enemy must be the devil, though he was never specifically named), trying to dissuade children from any thoughts of higher powers or deity of any kind. So, when I started school, I was put into a private Christian school. Now, you might be thinking that even in a private school, there’s lots of kids and lots of different points of view, lots of diversity. But that wasn’t the case at Victory Baptist Academy. I think there were a total of around 15 students there, and that included Kindergarten through 12th grade. 15 kids. And about six of those were the children of the principal (a Baptist pastor), and one of the supervisors (we didn’t really have teachers, just workbooks we studied from and took tests from, and when we had questions, the supervisors would help us out).

I attended this school from Kindergarten through second grade. It was then that the school shut down due to lack of funds (the church that ran it couldn’t afford to keep it going any longer), and then I homeschooled my third-grade year. VBA reopened and I went to 4th grade and the start of 5th there once more, but they again ran into financial difficulty and had to shut down again. I finished out 5th grade homeschooling and spent 6th going to the home of a parent who wanted to homeschool, and we had a total of four students. So it wasn’t until 7th grade that my parents finally succumbed (claiming I was a monster of a student at home…utter nonsense to anyone who knows me 😉 ) and sent me to public school where I actually started meeting kids and people who were living their lives very differently from my family and who had some radically different points of view.

So, what does any of this have to do with Halloween?

I’m glad you asked.

As I was growing up, anytime “the devil’s birthday” came around (I have no idea how anyone ever came to this idiotic conclusion, but it was a standard mantra in our circles), we would typically attend what was called a “Harvest Festival” either at the church we attended or at the private Christian school I was in at the time. They had booths where you could bob for apples or toss ping pong balls into cups to win a goldfish or some candy, other various fair-style games. Candy and prizes. And we all dressed up as various Bible characters. NO ONE was to dress up as an evil monster. That would offend the Holy Spirit…or something.

It was like that every year. I can’t remember a time I didn’t want to get into one of the cool Jason or Michael Myers costumes I’d see in Wal-Mart (I’d never been allowed to watch any of those movies or horror movies of any kind, so I had no idea what they were about other than the looked really cool), but if I even asked I was met with the “I’m so disappointed you would want to do that” treatment from my parents. Like I had asked to smear turds on Billy Graham’s face or something. It was absurd.

BUT… it was my childhood. Yet, I DO have one memory of going trick-r-treating, and I didn’t achieve it by sneaking away with friends or anything. My dad took me. Me and my sister. I’m not even sure how it happened, but I was young enough I wasn’t in school yet, so perhaps they hadn’t gone fully into the “Halloween is bad, m’kay?” mentality at that time. But in any case, I did go the once.

I was Superman. I still couldn’t be a ghoul or a goblin, but Superman was cool enough. My dad made up this little trailer that could attach to the back of our four-wheeler, and me in my Superman getup and my sister in pillow case with eye-holes meant to make her look like Casper the friendly ghost loaded up in the trailer and my dad fired up the quad.

I need to pause here just a moment and explain the topography of where I grew up. We lived LITERALLY 15 miles from ANYTHING. There were four towns near us, and we managed to land right smack in the middle of all of them. Last house at the dead end of a black top county road, at least after my grandfather passed and my grandmother moved away. Our house was over a mile back into the woods from the highway, and there were maybe a dozen homes or so back in there.

So, we got rolling, my sister and I bouncing around in the trailer behind the four-wheeler, and we started making stops. Now, I’d seen other kids doing this around town when we’d be in town for church or events or visiting friends. I was anticipating getting all kinds of candy and was even practicing my “trick-r-treat!” for when we got to the doors and held out our bags like tiny little addicts.

The first three houses we stopped at were vacant. Nobody home, no answers to the door. Bummer. So, on we went down this old blacktop road, the rumble of the quad’s engine dancing and echoing through the pines and oaks all around us. We found a house with some lights on and pulled in. An old lady answered and was shocked to find there were kids out trick-r-treating way back on this country road. She looked a little embarrassed when she said, “I-I don’t have any candy set out… let me see if I can scrounge something up.”

She went to work hunting for something to give us, finally returning with a fistful of Werther’s Originals butterscotch candies for us. Woohoo. On to the next place.

Several other houses were likewise unoccupied that night, and in total, we scored candy from three houses. And only ONE of those actually had some candy out and ready for kids such as us. And this was the last one we stopped at.

We rode back a little lackluster as my sister and I looked over our meager spoils. It wasn’t much. Hardly enough to cover the bottom of the bag. But it was something. I had gotten to go trick-r-treating with my dad, and I had something to show for it, even if it was only a little. I remember looking forward to the next year where I was going to figure out a way to get my parents to take us to one of the towns we lived near and go trick-r-treating with some large groups of kids and REALLY make out like bandits. I would work on my parents through the next 365 days and I’d get to dress up like one of those really cool horror movie baddies I saw at the store and I’d get so much candy I’d make myself sick eating it.

I remember all of this, can remember the smile that was on my face as we pulled into the dirt track driveway of our home at the end of the county road, the one I was still sporting when we came inside and showed my mom what we’d gotten while we were out.

There was always next year.

Only, there wasn’t. Not for me. The next year and all the ones that followed were “Harvest Festivals” where we got plenty of candy but could only dress as Bible characters or—maybe—a decent superhero like Superman (since he’s a lot like Jesus…or something). I can remember too being able to look out the windows of the churches where these “festivals” took place and seeing all the kids going door to door with their cool costumes and getting candy and not having to settle down but getting to run and jump and skip and have such a great time…

It’s sad. There’s no big reveal here at the end, nothing we’ve been building towards where you see I finally got to take part in an ages-old tradition with all my peers. Nothing. Even when I was older and in public school, I still wasn’t allowed to partake in any of the school’s Halloween festivities. When I was told to write a paper about my favorite memories of Halloween, I had to sum it up with a single sentence: my family doesn’t celebrate Halloween. When my teacher saw this, her face scrunched, and I thought for a moment she might cry as she looked at me with sympathy oozing out of her by the gallon.

She gave my single sentence essay a 100. God bless her.

But that’s why we have kids, right? So we can do better than the generation before us did, to put the world into the hands of people who are better equipped than we are and who will make the world a better place than it was when we handed it over to them. And that’s what I’m doing. Halloween is a BIG event for us every year in our household and we trick-r-treat and we decorate and have a huge cauldron of candy we set out for other trick-r-treaters (our street alone gets between 700 and 1000 visitors every Halloween). My wife makes kick-ass margaritas and we watch Halloween (1978) and its sequels and anything else filled with flesh and blood until we can’t stay awake anymore. And my kids get to dress up as they like. Funnily enough, they’ve never chosen a ghoul or a goblin or a monster. Not yet. We’ve been princesses and superheroes and animals, but no monsters. But I’m working towards that. Maybe I’m trying to relive my childhood through my kids vicariously. I can own that. And, is it really so wrong if we do? When we miss something in our own lives, we really build it up in our heads as to what it was supposed to have been, and because of this we’re more equipped to orchestrate it for others later on. To really go all out.

I’m sad I didn’t get to experience these things when I was growing up, but the way my children get to experience them with my wife and I, that’s priceless. Their faces, their excitement, their copious amounts of candy, all of it. Knowing they are getting more than I did lets me know I’m doing something right.

And because of that, I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Chris Miller is a native Texan who has been writing from an early age, but only started publishing in 2017. Since the release of his first novel, A Murder of Saints, he has released a novella – Trespass – another novel – The Hard Goodbye – a single short story – Flushed – and has been inducted into multiple anthologies, including the acclaimed And Hell Followed from Death’s Head Press, where his story “Behind Blue Eyes” appears alongside stories from Wrath James White, Jeff Strand, and The Sisters of Slaughter, just to name a few. He has another new novel coming soon, the first part of a trilogy of horror, and will be featured in more anthologies throughout the year. He is happily married to the love of his life, Aliana, and they have three beautiful children.

A Murder of Saints

Sophie Fields is a little girl tortured by her memories of Damien Smith, a much-loved and respected church elder with a secret lust for the unmentionable. After his misdeeds are covered up by church leaders, she climbs to the roof of her house and jumps to her death, right in front of her shocked brother, Charlie.

Twenty years later, detective Harry Fletcher is still haunted by the personal demons associated with the church cover-up. After losing his faith, his wife, and now his partner, Fletcher learns that Charlie Fields has come back to town with one mission: to kill everyone responsible for his sister’s death. It is Fletcher’s job to track and stop the crazed killer. But as it becomes clear who the main targets are, Fletcher finds himself in the midst of a moral quagmire. Although he sees justice in Charlie’s crusade, the killer seems to be taking out others not responsible for his family’s destruction. As Fletcher and his new partner battle each other in a test of ideology and limits of the law, the real demons show up and change everything.

The Hard Goodbye

As the old axiom goes, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. 

John Savage realized that too late. 

Following the biggest job of their lives, John and his small crew think they’ve got it made. But a lawyer, a junkie, a crooked cop, Savage and his girlfriend have unknowingly opened Pandora’s Box. And they won’t know it until it’s too late. As the brutally tortured bodies of their partners come to light, tensions rise all the way to the screaming, chaotic conclusion of this bloody crime thriller. 

High risk brings high reward, but the safe bet is usually the smartest. Stick to the plan, or get ready for the hard goodbye.

Trespass

An adrenaline pumping, nerve wracking, intense thiller that will leave you breathless. Frank took his son hunting and what was supposed to be a pleasant time of bonding turned into an absolute nightmare. Out in the middle of nowhere, on their own property, They stumble upon a group of trespassers trying to get rid of a secret so damning they’re willing to kill anyone that sees it. Get ready for a relentless page turner as Frank dares to fend off the assailants, while racing to get his son help before he bleeds to death.Chris Miller tells a story that any father could relate to. Trespass has what it takes to be a thriller best seller.

Flushed

You’ve had a bad day before. We all have.
But Marty is in a whole other level of shit.
Literally.

Following a drunken night of sex with the office secretary, Marty’s guts are rebelling after his personal hangover remedy, nachos with jalapenos and hot sauce.

Marty has to go. And he’s got to get across the office to do so. Standing in his way are Nikki, the secretary from the night prior, Brad, the vape enthusiast douche, and possibly even his boss. The office door is always open, after all.

Join Marty on his trek, like a vulgar Lord of the Rings. The distance may be shorter, but the stakes are just as high.

The Damned Place

A small town with dark secrets. A house hidden in the woods that holds horrors unimaginable. Four friends on summer break fighting off a group of bullies dead set on ruining their summer of fun. The little town of Winnsboro has buried its secrets beneath years of history and faded memories. But, it’s about to be unearthed releasing ancient creatures as a budding psychopath blooms Will they survive what comes for them and possibly the world or will The Damned Place end it all?

Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Chris Miller

Meghan: Hi, Chris. Welcome to my Halloween Extravaganza. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Chris Miller: Well, I’m 36 years old, so in the final year of my mid-thirties (it’s all downhill from here, I’m told). I work for a water well company my father started the year I was born as my day job, but by night—and Saturday mornings—I write books! I’m married with three beautiful kids and we live East Texas.

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

Chris Miller: I’m a major softy is one thing. I think a good gin is the height of perfection for liquor. I really despise all political parties and the candidates they put forth. I’m deeply religious (Catholic). And I cannot stand to see—much less even touch—wet paper, specifically paper napkins, straw covers, tissues that have gotten moist somehow… I can’t deal.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Chris Miller: I read a lot of Hardy Boys mysteries as a kid, and eventually got into R.L. Stine’s Fear Street and Goosebumps books, but the first adult novel I read was The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy. Man, I loved that book!

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Chris Miller: Stinger by Robert R. McCammon. Very good so far, as is all of McCammon’s work. Phenomenal writer.

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

Chris Miller: A little gem called Letters Written in White by my friend Kathryn Perez. She’s local too, lives in my hometown. Terrific little book. Tore my heart from behind my meat shirt and made me weep. Not suspense, not horror, not thriller. Just a well written drama with some strong elements of romance. And I loved it.

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

Chris Miller: I’ve always liked telling stories, and I get really animated when I do. Like idiotically so. And I would tend to embellish a lot, and it just made more sense to start telling fictional stories. First thing I wrote was an unofficial sequel to the Narnia series which would ignore everything after the first one. But it sucked hard and fast and I didn’t make it ten pages. But I was only about ten at the time. At 18 I wrote a short story. That was my first real and complete story I’d written. I’ve been on and off since then, and really got serious about it about 5 years ago, and I write as much as I can every week.

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

Chris Miller: I don’t know if it’s special, but it’s where I normally write, which is my front living room where my iMac is. I’ve done it at work as well when things are slow enough, but that’s rare and there’s always distractions and interruptions. It’s nice and quiet at my desk at home.

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

Chris Miller: I prefer to write with a glass of gin and soda with lime in front of me. I just sip it when I slow down for a bit or rest my fingers. But when it isn’t there, I feel naked, and only my wife and satanic perverts want to see me naked. Actually, not even sure my wife does. Coffee is a good substitute for this.

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

Chris Miller: I wrote a story called “In The House”, which is in the anthology Killers Inside. I was writing about a home invasion, which is the scariest thing in the world to me. But as I was writing, I realized that one of the villains was going to rape and brutalize the mother of the home. I don’t write extreme horror, so I wanted to insinuate as much as possible without flat out saying what was happening, you know, let the reader fill in the gaps. But in parts it just wasn’t possible. After the scene was done, I felt almost sick. I can’t think of a more humiliating and horrible thing a person could do to another person. But the story is king, and drives all the action and terror that follows. But I had to stop writing on that story for the rest of the day and go shower.

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

Chris Miller: The Damned Place, which was published earlier this year. I’m REALLY proud of that book. And it’s my longest one at this time.

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

Chris Miller: IT has been a great inspiration for me, especially in character development. The Hunt for Red October and plenty of other suspense books have inspired me to achieve a fever pitch of suspense on the page. There’s nothing better. Stephen King, Dean Koontz (his pacing in the old days, Holy Mother, was that incredible!), Robert McCammon, Jonathan Janz, Brian Keene, Ray Garton (who gave a blurb for the cover of my second novel, The Hard Goodbye), Josh Malerman, Caroline Kepnes, and a thousand others have all been big influences on my personal style.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Chris Miller: Good characters. They’re more important than the plot. You can take a ho-hum idea, but if you have great characters, you could very well have a great book. Of course, ideally, you’ll have great characters and a great story as well.

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

Chris Miller: Realism. Flaws. Insight into why they are the way they are. You can even love the vilest of villains if they’re properly drawn and developed. That’s a total must.

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

Chris Miller: Harry Fletcher and Jim Dalton are both pretty good candidates, but if I had to pick just one, probably Harry.

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

Chris Miller: A bad cover sucks. I don’t let it be my deciding factor, but it’s sure nice to not cringe when you look at a book. So far, I’ve been very involved in all my covers, going back and forth with the designer and what I wanted until we finally saw it materialize. Who knows if that will continue, but so far that’s been the case.

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Chris Miller: A LOT. I’ve learned about shaping worlds and characters and learned how to listen to them and let THEM tell the story. Follow their lead. I’ve also learned a lot on the technical side of things as well as marketing and networking.

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

Chris Miller: The rape scene from “In the House”. It just hurt.

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

Chris Miller: The level of suspense and intensity to the stories. I’ve figured out how to really ratchet up the tension and take things to a really explosive, satisfying climax. Even some of the best out there seem to miss this mark sometimes. It was another of the myriad reasons I started writing myself, because this is what I wanted to read, and no one out there was doing it quite the way I wanted it done. So I’m filling that void.

Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

Chris Miller: It’s important. Quite important. Sometimes the title comes more easily than others. Sometimes you write a line in the story and realize you just found your title. Other times it comes to you with the idea for the book. Yet other times, you have several ideas you have to bounce off people. It should convey something about the story, but not give anything away. And when the reader finishes they should ‘get’ why the title is what it is.

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

Chris Miller: A novel. Reason being it just feels good to finish a large scale story, especially when it really comes together and works. I can pump a short story out in an afternoon, and some that I have are in anthologies. I love doing that as well, and I’m proud of my shorts, but I’m even more proud of my longer work.

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

Chris Miller: I tend to call myself a suspense writer. Most of my short fiction falls into the horror category, and my longer fiction are thrillers, supernatural thriller, hard-boiled crime, and now with The Damned Place a full-blooded horror story. But even with my thrillers, they are written in a horroresque manner of prose. They always brush elbows with horror, even if they’re technically more properly labeled as thrillers. Anyone who loves suspense and can handle some gore should love my work. As for what I want them to take away, more than anything, entertainment. I have some morals weaved into the work and some things to think about for sure, but if I don’t entertain you, I’ve failed. Books should be fun before they’re anything else. And that’s my goal.

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

Chris Miller: The original version of A Murder of Saints was actually written to be “Christian Fiction” because it’s inspired around some things that actually happened in a youth group at a church I was going to as a teenager, and dealt with some heavy things. So I didn’t have any coarse language and it had this happy sunny ending. Then I looked at it and said, “That’s shit.” So I fixed it. Chopped out four entire chapters, put a LOT more story into what was left, let the dirty words fly, and made an ending that stays with you long after you finish. It’s the only novel I’ve written that I did such an overhaul on, and I don’t plan to do that again. Don’t need to, either, since I won’t be writing for the CF market directly again. That story may have been set around a church scandal and had some heavy Christian influences and debates in it—I am a Christian, after all—but it really wasn’t that sort of story you’d file in Christian Fiction.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Chris Miller: I have a fantasy novel finished in first draft, a suspense horror novella finished in first draft, and another suspense novella that is unfinished. I’ll get around to them eventually, I’ve just been so busy with everything else that I haven’t really given them the attention they need. One day they’ll see the light of day.

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

Chris Miller: A lot more horror. I’ve created a universe with all my books where all the characters exist together and sometimes cross over into other stories or are mentioned here and there. I’ve also developed a multi-verse that I plan to explore as these other novels come out and set the stage for what’s to come. And I do plan to write a lengthier comedy. I’ve done two short stories which were comedy, and they were hilarious. I’d like to see if I could manage that with something longer. Maybe a novella.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Chris Miller: You can find me on Facebook or search and add me. If you’re not a creep, I’ll add you. Twitter. Instagram. I have a patreon page as well if anyone would like to support me there. And of course my Amazon page with links to everything I have available.

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?

Chris Miller: I just appreciate everyone who reads and gives me a shoutout, letting me know they liked the book. Or that they didn’t. Either way, those reviewers help put the book on the map and help me grow and learn as I navigate my way through this business. God bless all of you!

Chris Miller is a native Texan who has been writing from an early age, but only started publishing in 2017. Since the release of his first novel, A Murder of Saints, he has released a novella – Trespass – another novel – The Hard Goodbye – a single short story – Flushed – and has been inducted into multiple anthologies, including the acclaimed And Hell Followed from Death’s Head Press, where his story “Behind Blue Eyes” appears alongside stories from Wrath James White, Jeff Strand, and The Sisters of Slaughter, just to name a few. He has another new novel coming soon, the first part of a trilogy of horror, and will be featured in more anthologies throughout the year. He is happily married to the love of his life, Aliana, and they have three beautiful children.

A Murder of Saints

Sophie Fields is a little girl tortured by her memories of Damien Smith, a much-loved and respected church elder with a secret lust for the unmentionable. After his misdeeds are covered up by church leaders, she climbs to the roof of her house and jumps to her death, right in front of her shocked brother, Charlie.

Twenty years later, detective Harry Fletcher is still haunted by the personal demons associated with the church cover-up. After losing his faith, his wife, and now his partner, Fletcher learns that Charlie Fields has come back to town with one mission: to kill everyone responsible for his sister’s death. It is Fletcher’s job to track and stop the crazed killer. But as it becomes clear who the main targets are, Fletcher finds himself in the midst of a moral quagmire. Although he sees justice in Charlie’s crusade, the killer seems to be taking out others not responsible for his family’s destruction. As Fletcher and his new partner battle each other in a test of ideology and limits of the law, the real demons show up and change everything.

The Hard Goodbye

As the old axiom goes, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. 

John Savage realized that too late. 

Following the biggest job of their lives, John and his small crew think they’ve got it made. But a lawyer, a junkie, a crooked cop, Savage and his girlfriend have unknowingly opened Pandora’s Box. And they won’t know it until it’s too late. As the brutally tortured bodies of their partners come to light, tensions rise all the way to the screaming, chaotic conclusion of this bloody crime thriller. 

High risk brings high reward, but the safe bet is usually the smartest. Stick to the plan, or get ready for the hard goodbye.

Trespass

An adrenaline pumping, nerve wracking, intense thiller that will leave you breathless. Frank took his son hunting and what was supposed to be a pleasant time of bonding turned into an absolute nightmare. Out in the middle of nowhere, on their own property, They stumble upon a group of trespassers trying to get rid of a secret so damning they’re willing to kill anyone that sees it. Get ready for a relentless page turner as Frank dares to fend off the assailants, while racing to get his son help before he bleeds to death.Chris Miller tells a story that any father could relate to. Trespass has what it takes to be a thriller best seller.

Flushed

You’ve had a bad day before. We all have.
But Marty is in a whole other level of shit.
Literally.

Following a drunken night of sex with the office secretary, Marty’s guts are rebelling after his personal hangover remedy, nachos with jalapenos and hot sauce.

Marty has to go. And he’s got to get across the office to do so. Standing in his way are Nikki, the secretary from the night prior, Brad, the vape enthusiast douche, and possibly even his boss. The office door is always open, after all.

Join Marty on his trek, like a vulgar Lord of the Rings. The distance may be shorter, but the stakes are just as high.

The Damned Place

A small town with dark secrets. A house hidden in the woods that holds horrors unimaginable. Four friends on summer break fighting off a group of bullies dead set on ruining their summer of fun. The little town of Winnsboro has buried its secrets beneath years of history and faded memories. But, it’s about to be unearthed releasing ancient creatures as a budding psychopath blooms Will they survive what comes for them and possibly the world or will The Damned Place end it all?