Christmas Takeover 2022: Dani Brown

Sugarplum Roaches

Shifting grey mist filled the darkened corner until the shape of a hunched over man appeared. Cockroaches exhaled stale air while a woman slept alone in her bed.

Tendrils of decay spread from Leon’s insides, seeping into her dreams as he stepped closer to snoring heap. A trail of muddy footprints followed. A modem flashed signal in the opposite corner of her rented bedroom. The pink and fluffy evidence suggested she tried to make it feel like home.

But pink and fluffy could only hide the mould lurking underneath. It couldn’t silence the rats or disguise the smell of their bodies rotting beneath the floor and above the ceiling.

His chest rose and fell with cockroach breath. Ribs creaked wrapped in putrid gore and laced together in old rags and sticky honey. Her nearest neighbour – the girl next door, called out in her sleep through the thin walls. Leon’s neck creaked turning around to look. The sound was enough to stir dead rats until they started scratching in the ceiling and beneath the floor.

Cockroaches fell out of his mouth and ceased to pretend to be tobacco-stained teeth once he grinned. Honey filled muddy footprints left behind on the floor. The puddles caught a sliver of silver moonlight and refused to let go.

It is a common misconception that every Christmas Eve there’s a Full Moon. One calendar month is longer than one Lunar month. But Leon gave up arguing the point around the same time the cockroaches took the last of his tobacco-stained teeth.

A plastic tree hung with pound-shop baubles in a desperate attempt at Christmas cheer. Mould climbed in from the shadows and traced the plastic trunk. Mist crept in every night while the woman slept in her bed.

Mould wrapped the cheap pink baubles in long green and black fingers. The faint attempt at Christmas cheer was tainted, but that was nothing a social media filter couldn’t fix.

Leon’s patched trench coat knocked the cheap plastic branches. He held his hand out to stop it from falling to the floor. A habit he held onto from long ago. His insides splashed against his bones with the sudden movement.

Sad and alone in the single room with plastic branches that drooped and cried mouldy tears (but only when the cameras weren’t around). A fly landed on the plastic angel with her painted eyes and hair.

Worms ate Leon’s tear ducts long ago. But even if they hadn’t, he wouldn’t have a tear to shed for the likes of the woman sleeping in the bed.

The only presents underneath her sad pound shop tree were the empty boxes she wrapped herself. But, still, she told herself she had friends. So many friends. They liked so many of her social media posts.

Empty boxes didn’t make any sound when they fell to the floor. They looked great beneath a filter on social media. And earned comments from so many of her so-called friends.

An old plastic music/jewellery box leftover from childhood opened on its own. The plastic ballerina twirled into life. Forever pirouetting to music distorted in the cold mist. A few photo-filters cleaned it up for the online audience approval the woman sleeping in bed craved (needed to survive and feel alive, if only for a few seconds of happy brain chemicals celebrating before the emptiness spread).

He hovered over her bed, fresh out of Christmas cheer. Fresh out of breath, until he pounded his chest with his fist and the remaining internal cockroaches started to hiss again.

Social media influencer was a tough-sell. But, still, it didn’t hurt to dream. To brown nose and lick online boots for likes and laughs. Her blonde hair fell over her pillow. That was mouldy too, with fuzzy farms growing in between the creases. Those filters, again, concealed such despair.

Leon came for the lonely, the lost, the trapped. It was long before her time, but where he planned to take her, she wouldn’t even notice. They never did as long as their phones still chimed online approval and email signatures and newsletters wished them a Happy goddamn Holiday.

Honey dripped from the plastic ballerina trapped in a forever pirouette. Two black dots in a white circle served as eyes. The paint started to peel long before phantom bees built a hive.

Rats gnawed on the corpses of their recently fallen brothers in the ceiling, even as Leon’s presence brought them back from the brink of the void. His head rolled all the way back when he tried to look up. A mouldy scarf stolen from the woman’s floor secured it back to his neck and hid the loose flaps of skin.

Four plastic pillars tried to create the illusion of a four-poster bed. Pink feathers strung together for a princess-effect. But the feathers were plastic too. LED fairy lights twinkled in the dullness of a dying battery. Mould climbed down from the ceiling and wrapped around the fake four-poster bed. She forgot to put curtains around it to keep out the Christmas chill.

Cockroaches flew landing on the walls until Leon called for them again. The plastic ballerina’s painted lips melted into a scream. Honey dripped onto old plastic bracelets and smudged high school love letters.

Shouldn’t that have been sent via text, my dear? Leon chortled, dislodging a sleeping rat from deep inside his bowels. It scratched at his insides, searching for the way out. Only to end up like its distant cousins in the ceiling and floor.

Leon looked at the sleeping woman. She kept meaningless letters through the years. Not like there were many, but Leon liked the little touches of sentiment kept by the desperate and lonely. Some old thing from the past to remind them of their humanity beneath the fake filters designed to make them look like a Barbie.

He looked around. She forgot to string up plastic mistletoe to lure her plastic man into a meaningless kiss before they fell into the single bed for one night of meaningless sex. He’d be the one doing the walk of shame in the morning. Or, maybe he’d stick around all winter?

There wouldn’t be the opportunity now. Leon doubted she’d notice. They never did.

All relationship-style transactions were now carried out by mobile phones and laptop computers with specialised USB attachments and controls for the other party. It didn’t matter if the more specialised attention came from a pay-per-click website.

Honey weighed heavy on the cheap plastic baubles hanging from the pound shop Christmas tree. It couldn’t wash away the mould. Phantom bees buzzed inside Leon’s head. Honey filled the cavity that used to house his heart.

Long fingernails sharpened into claws curled into Qs and scarped against her temples. They took a little sampling of her skin and a single strand of her blonde hair.

But it wasn’t enough to satisfy the phantom bees buzzing in Leon’s head. They should all be dead now, except for the hibernating queen.

The modem’s lights declared their full-strength in green. Dreamwaves twirled into Leon’s decaying brain landing in an arabesque to disturb the phantom bees and force them into stinging his skull.

That’s where they stuck. Tormenting him forever. But there was a way out, once his auditorium was full.

She didn’t have a name beyond that of Principle Dancer (and occasionally princess for the right online Daddy with all the proper credit cards – American Express isn’t accepted here). Principle Dancer that was her online handle too.

Mist traced pink flower wallpaper patterns in an outline of black mould. His toothless smile widened letting old cockroaches fall out. A cheap plastic Father Christmas wall decoration mirrored Leon’s smile, but it couldn’t imitate his laugh.

Fits of laughter sent Leon’s breathing roaches into coughing fits and woke another internal rat. The rats above and the rats below searched for holes to crawl out of and plant poison for the occupants of the HMO.

A pimple burst on the sleeping woman’s chin. Pus called cockroaches over for midnight lunch. A filter could erase any imperfections and make her look just like everyone else in the social media feeds. And that’s what they were, feeds for the lonely, the desperate and the lost.

Hours spent in front of the mirror. Her dance instructor held a riding crop. Bare thighs no longer felt the sting until she craved it at night and begged for it on her knees at some back street private members club. She wasn’t allowed her phone while on her knees begging to feel. So, no photos existed, but the PD in bed believed it was real.

The dance started again. She smiled through it all in the way she was trained to do. Big pearly whites, expensive Veneers covered up the screaming from the void.

Yellow-tinted curly-Q fingernails swallowed silver moonlight poking through the grey mist. Long strands of greasy hair fell over Leon’s face. His fingernails traced her lips. She recoiled from her dance instructor’s whip.

Cockroaches hissed. The audience cheered. A bit too rowdy for the ballet but every Christmas, every single person played pretend at airs and graces for the approval of their social media feeds.

Social media notifications, a cruel dancer instructor and BDSM silenced the Principle Dancer’s childhood friends. They leered somewhere out in the crowd. Drunk on cheap imported beer.

But she was too wrapped up in the social media approval of eating a burger dripping with grease while wearing a tutu and leg warmers to notice.

Leon’s fingers burst their black stitching on her face. The cockroaches paused their breath. If he dissolves, they cease to exist and become part of the creeping mist.  

Mist seeped behind the cracks and the wallpaper started to peel. The audience determined to show social media that they too had some class. Phones flashed despite the signs that said NO.  

That reminded him. Leon reached into his pocket, grateful for the upgrade to the new waterproof model just one week before his death. A little gift from his grandchildren that found him to be oh-so unkewl.

Even in death, followers demanded a near-constant stream of meaningless content. It kept them fed.

He snapped a selfie of himself with the sleeping woman. The camera focused on grave fluids seeping through his burst stitches and his fingers clutching a few strands of her blonde hair.

Young cockroaches exhaled in Leon’s decaying lungs. The sleeping woman twitched. Dreamwaves paused; Leon urged continuation with as much force as he could muster from some deep cavern where his heart used to sit.  

He put all the right hashtags on his photo and waited for the likes. Likes gave him some sort of weird half-life with rats chewing through the rags that held his body together. And the cockroaches that would cease to exist if he didn’t fill his damned quota.

The woman’s moans looked for a wall to bounce. Basic backwards borrées made her trip. A rat became lost in Leon’s decayed intestines and started to eat. It too needed to be fed. The audience were too wrapped up in whatever else they saw up there on that very same stage.

Cockroaches dropped from the walls. The mould traced the pink flower pattern they left behind and tried to pull the wallpaper back to the wall. The rat fell out of what remained of Leon’s butthole. Phantom bees buzzed in his head. The rat scratched at his muddy boots before it ran off to join its cousins and friends somewhere in the ceilings or floors.

Her ankle twisted with a threatening break. The end of her career. Only then did her smile falter. Leon leant over her lips as if searching for a dream-kiss.

He tasted her sour breath intermingled with her sour soul. Phantom bees dropped dead. They finally felt a Christmas chill.

Strands of greasy hair clumped together in long, dirty rats’ tails and fell over his face. He couldn’t push them away with the phone still in his hand. Every moment recorded and uploaded for instant shallow approval.

Tendrils of black mist pregnant with rats and cockroaches seeped in from stage left. The P.D didn’t notice spotting too many chaîné turns for the audience to count until they slowed down their recorded footage. Leon kept the phantom bees for himself.

Leon breathed in exhaled moans for the baby cockroaches creating a sense of warm breath. The ballerina on stage glowed even as she realised she couldn’t draw another breath. Cold mist traced her ankles. Her pink ballet shoes were damp and covered in pink worms fat on the feast found in fresh graves.

Auditorium lights buzzed on just as she reached into a breathless arabesque. Cockroaches twitched their brown wings. Leon’s lips covered her sleeping mouth. Mould sped up its race down her fake four-poster bed.

The audience didn’t clap as they normally did. Hollow eyes stared. Relevé then bourée all while what remained in her lungs caught on fire.

A bulb burst and wires sparked somewhere above the audience. They sat watching a series of dizzying chaîné turns with their hollow eyes.

Party-eyes makeup couldn’t hide the creeping hollowness inside. Cameras paused the dizzying display from the stage for the pleasure of the online audience. No one existed beyond their social media profiles and filters.

The tendrils of decay only just started to climb Leon’s fingers. Mist circled his legs and dropped worms onto the luxury carpet. The dance started again. Forever on repeat.

A ballerina twirled landing in an arabesque with her leg to the audience and a cheeky grin thrown over her shoulder. Tendrils of decay waited at stage left, strangling the corpse de ballet. Tentacles caressed their throats and pried apart their lips for the most tender of a kiss.

One final leap and the Principle Dancer would belong to Leon. The corpse de ballet was nothing more than her dream rehashing old memories. But the audience were as real as the mist.

His excitement sped the rot seeping in from his insides. His knuckle brushed against the dreamer’s cheek. Soon, he’d be free.

Cockroaches fell from every mouth watching the girl on stage. Leon couldn’t breathe and neither could the audience in the women’s dreams. The cockroaches created an illusion of sour breath though. They, at least, were alive.

The Principle Dancer watched herself piqué from her dusty seat.  Leon left behind muddy footprints in the rented bedroom. The cheap plastic Christmas tree fell to the floor. The plastic ballerina continued her twirl slowly drowning in the honey left behind.

Cockroaches ate the Principle Dancer’s eyes. But she could still see and watch herself repeat the same steps on stage. The woman sat next to her saw something else up there and documented it all. If it didn’t get posted online, she’d cease to exist.

It took years before the last of the milky-white orbs were nothing more than hollows sat in a grinning skull. But the same phone she had when Leon took her in the night captured the entire ballet. The approval of followers gave whatever remained, trapped and screaming somewhere inside her skull, a little glimmer of hope and the pretence of life.

A man towards the back started to break the spell when he heard jingle bells. The rags wore thin and couldn’t support his neck. His head rolled off and hit the floor.

His nearest neighbours turned from watching themselves on stage and snapped some photos, adding a few filters for their social media accounts. An extra filter of Christmas tree tinsel made the decapitated skull that bit festive for a bit of Christmas cheer. Rats chewed out of his stomach and spilled onto the floor in a puddle of gore to increase his nearest neighbour’s social media popularity.

Leon flexed his fingers, listening for the pop. The auditorium was nearly full. He was nearly through. Jingle bells sounded outside somewhere. Christmas always filled the lonely with extra despair. Their existence ready to fizzle out if the Wi-Fi and 5G goes down.

<Pose and wait for social media approval and online cheers>

Boo-graphy: Suitably labelled “The Queen of Filth”, extremist author Dani Brown’s style of dark and twisted writing and deeply disturbing stories has amassed a worrying sized cult following featuring horrifying tales such as “Ghetto Super Skank”, “Becoming,” “56 Seconds”, “Sparky the Spunky Robot” and the hugely popular “Ketamine Addicted Pandas”. Merging eroticism with horror, torture and other areas that most authors wouldn’t dare, each of Dani’s titles will crawl under your skin, burrow inside you, and make you question why you are coming back for more.

For more information and online approval


Meant to Be

Outside, the waves crash against the bank. The seagulls caw.

I take a deep breath, the smell of pine fills my nose, and sit up. I scratch the dry marks on my neck, and stare idly at the evergreen tree standing in the corner. The dark green bulbs distort the reflection of the living room. Strings of pine cones, holly, yew, and mistletoe are dimly illuminated by the yellow-white lights.

Underneath sits a present, wrapped in green, bound in red. A tag protrudes from the top. To My Love

I laugh and snatch the card from the table by my side. Read it again.

I can’t do this anymore, Rebecca…

The words blur. I wipe my eyes. Skip ahead.

I won’t be coming on break, or ever…

…My parents found out… 

…I’m sorry.

I fling the card away, sit back and run my hands over my face. The waves crashing on the bank are louder now. Calling. The seagulls, if they still remain, are quiet.

I stand and pick up the present, quickly undo its wrappings. The box is opened and inside, sitting on a green silk cushion, is a snorkel and a rolled wet-suit.

Removing the wet-suit, I drop the box to the floor. Running a thumb over the slick surface it feels almost life-like, but not quite. Would’ve been good enough for her. 

I move from the tree, through the living room, into the kitchen to the backdoor. A faint, frigid breeze leaks through the cracks. The scent of salt and brine replace pine. I shiver. Goosebumps stand on pale skin. Not from the cold. From anticipation, excitement.

The door is opened and I step down from the house onto the craggy rise. Take the icy, worn path down to the bank. Seagulls watch from white splattered, dark boulders. 

Gray-blue water laps over my bare feet, soaking the bottom of my jeans. The cold bites at first, but soon is welcome.

I let the wetsuit fall where it may, push the thought of her into the recesses of my mind. I tear off my clothes until I’m nude. I walk into the tide and my body sings. It yearns for more. The marks on my neck are now damp, slick, and open, shut, open. Winter air fills my lungs, and I dive into the Sea. Pale flesh tears like wrapping paper from oily cerulean muscle. Once brown eyes now onyx. Transparent membrane webs in-between fingers and toes. Chitin seals my sex and breasts, becoming nothing more than slick bare mounds. 

I am meant to be with the one I love during the holiday.

And now I am.

Boo-graphy: Micah Castle is a weird fiction and horror writer. His stories have appeared in various magazines, websites, and anthologies. Currently, he has a novelette out through D&T Publishing, and three collections.

While away from the keyboard, he enjoys spending time with his wife, spending hours in the woods, playing with his animals, and can typically be found reading a book somewhere in his Pennsylvania home.

CHRISTMAS TAKEOVER 2023: David Quantick

Driving Home for Christmas

I can hear her.

 “Can we have the radio on?” my daughter said. 18 years old, Sandi with an “I”, coming home from college for the first time and she likes rock music – real rock music like Deep Purple and Biffy Clyro and Black Sabbath. I didn’t think kids liked rock music any more, but it seems they do. They also like covering their arms with tattoos and colouring their hair weird shades of urgh. (I can cope with the tattoos and the dye – I’ve been there too and at least it’s not drugs – but why is the dye always such a horrible colour? What’s wrong with bright colours? These kids colour their hair in pastel shades and it’s just wrong).

I shook my head.

“It’s broken,” I lied.

It wasn’t broken. I just couldn’t take it anymore. The voices, howling in the static. The voices of the dead.

I can hear her voice.

The dead, it turns out, have their own stories to tell, and no-one to tell them to. Elvis, his voice echoing in the dark. John Lennon, telling me how he feels for ever and ever. Kurt Cobain, Freddie Mercury, Ian Curtis, all wanting me to hear their stories. They don’t know that I’ve already heard them – how can they, where they are there’s no rock press, no ultimate guides to the music of – and they probably don’t care. They just want to talk. And I drive, and I listen, and sometimes I tune out.

“ – I still love her, even after what she did – ”

Elvis was the first, I think. I had the radio on, some gooey oldies station playing Misty or something like that, and I was about to press the button, put on another station, when I heard the voice. It sounded like a drowning man, but who drowns on the radio? The voice was familiar too, the deep Southern drawl, and at first I thought it was the idiot DJ, trying to sound like Elvis. But what he was saying was wrong.

“ – if you see her, tell her how I feel. There never was anyone else, she needs to know that – ”

That sort of thing, over and over. I pictured him, tumbling into a well, lost in a tunnel, wondering what the darkness all around was, kept going only by the need to talk to someone, to tell his story.

“It’s broken,” I told Sandi.

“No it’s not,” she replied, with the directness of youth, and turned the radio on. Immediately the car filled with the sound of stadium metal.

“Yeah!” Sandi shouted. “Ozzie!” And she made a devil sign.

“Don’t do that,” I said.

“Why not?” she asked, giving it full-on devil sign jazz hands, and I didn’t say anything, because I couldn’t think of a reply. Or rather I could, and it was ‘because you’re four years old and it’s weird’, but she wasn’t four, she was eighteen and she was coming home from college for Christmas.

Elvis was the first, but he wasn’t alone for long. The next voice came soon after, though it was hardly a voice at all, more of a shiver in the dark.

The stereo was playing an oldies playlist I’d made, soul and doowop and r’n’b, and the song playing at that moment was Why Must I Be A Teenager In Love?, a goofy gallop of a song that I’d always loved. The singer was Frankie Lymon, a real teen idol who’d lost his life to heroin, and now Frankie was fighting against his own voice on the stereo. As his 13 year old self whooped and soared and bemoaned the trials of love, another Frankie – older, emptied of all excitement – tried to fight his way in.

“ – it’s cold, why is it so cold, why am I here, they said they’d come for me, they said it would be OK, it’s cold, they should be here by now, why am I so cold – ”

Frankie’s voices mingled and twisted together like a whirlpool until it was hard to tell who was singing and who was crying out. Even before the song ended, I had to turn the iPod off, and drove the rest of the way in silence.

The song Ozzie was singing was called Crazy Train, and it wasn’t bad if you like that sort of thing, which I don’t but Sandi definitely did. She was doing air guitar to the solo now, and head-banging, which was quite an achievement in the passenger seat of a small family car.

“ – no – we’re out of control – help us – ”

Ozzie wasn’t dead, but – I suddenly remembered – his guitarist was. Randy Rhoads, died in a plane crash. As Sandi rocked out, Rhoads’ thin, panicked voice began to scream.

“ – no – shit – we’re going to – ”

I changed stations.

“I was listening to that,” Sandi said, slumping into her seat for a sulk.

The next day I went to the Christmas tree farm outside town, and it was not a good drive. The radio had started playing itself, as though the backlog of voices wanted to be heard had burst a dam inside the transmitter, and there was a constant stream of songs overlaid with voices.

Buddy Holly, killed in a plane crash with Richie Valens and the Big Bopper.

Otis Redding, killed when the plane he was on crashed into a lake.

Sam Cooke, killed by a jealous lover.

Bobby Fuller, famous for one song – I Fought The Law – murdered by gangsters.

Eddie Cochran, killed in a car crash.

They kept on coming. Sometimes I didn’t know who they were – they might be a drummer or a bass player, or even a backing singer, it didn’t matter, if they were dead, they wanted to be heard.

The Christmas before, we’d bought Sandi a home studio. Not a literal studio, but a plug-in or something for her laptop which apparently was just as good as a real studio. She even looked pleased, so maybe it actually was a home studio.

I used to look in on Sandi, working out how to multi-track guitars or add drums. One day she caught me standing outside.

“Don’t listen!” she shouted.

“I wasn’t,” I lied. “I just wanted to see how it works.”

 She sighed.

“OK,” she said, and for the next ten minutes showed me how to move faders and add tracks. It all seemed a bit difficult and she must have seen my confused look, because she reached under her desk – her childhood desk, which I’d bought from Argos and assembled myself – and brought out, of all things, a tambourine.

I tried to pull the radio out of its housing, but it was welded or glued in. I tried to pull the wires out, but nothing happened. And then while I was hitting the stereo, perhaps, or rummaging through the glove compartment for a manual  – when I was distracted, anyway – I looked up to see the front of a truck hurtling towards me.

Sandi pressed a letter on the keyboard, and a click track began to play.

“Hit this in time,” she said.

 “In time to what?” I asked.

“To the clicky noise, Dad,” she said, almost as sarcastically as possible.

 I don’t know if it was my fault or the truck’s fault, but it really doesn’t matter anymore.

 For the next four minutes, I hit the tambourine as close to the beat as I could.

 “Now what?” I asked.

 She gave me a look.

 “Do not say anything,” she said. “Do not laugh, or say it’s not as good as the Beatles, or anything.”

 She pressed a key and suddenly my tambourine was one of ten other instruments – drums, guitar, bass, piano, synthesiser, and vocals. Her vocals. Sandi, singing a song I’d never heard before.

She sang beautifully, and the song was good too.

“Did you – ”

“I said be quiet.”

She stopped the track, saved it to her hard drive and looked at me defiantly.

I mimed zipping my lips together.

She gave me the finger, but she was smiling.

I am in air.  All around me is movement, and light.

There are voices. Some of them I’ve heard before, and some are new.

I can hear her voice.

She is singing.

Sandi has her own car now. She likes to play metal stations but sometimes, when she’s coming back from a gig, she takes out her mp3 player and she puts on her demos, the songs she made with the home studio plug in. She sings along to her songs, with her own guitar and her own keyboards. She listens for improvements that she could make, better basslines or melodies or drums.

 I think that when she plays one of the songs, she listens out for the tambourine. It’s not exactly session musician quality, but it’s there. And I think that one day, she’ll hear me.

I don’t know what she’ll say when she does.

Boo-graphy: “David Quantick is one of the best kept secrets in the world of writing. He’s smart, funny and unique. You should let yourself in on the secret.” ~Neil Gaiman

David Quantick is an Emmy-winning writer who has written for Veep, The Thick of It, Avenue 5 and many other shows. Night Train is his second novel for Titan.

Links to his work, including free downloadable short stories, can be found on his website.

CHRISTMAS TAKEOVER 2022: Armand Rosamilia

Cookies & Brownies

Todd Minor had done it again. Screwed Al Binder out of a promotion at work, likely ate his yogurt and definitely stole his future ex-wife.

The guy had been a thorn in Al’s side for years. He always got the better jobs, the most attention and the bigger awards at work.

Al knew it was all based on looks, too. Todd was half Al’s age, a good-looking guy with long dark hair pulled into a ponytail, even though the handbook clearly stated men could not have long hair. He had a great smile, too, which the ladies in the office swooned over.

Todd also had a nice car, the latest, fanciest model out there. He’d brag about having to order his next car. Custom-made this and that. If electric cars were the new thing, Todd had the next generation of them already. Total douche-bag.

Todd always frowned at Al when they were alone but never said anything, as if he was disgusted with him.

On Monday morning, Todd would bring in two dozen donuts from Dunkin for everyone on the floor. Knowing Al’s responsibility was to get there first and unlock the doors.

It meant Al got to eat the first donut. Usually the first three.

Todd did this on purpose, as he knew Al was struggling with his weight.

The pretty bastard just didn’t seem to care, wrapped up in his own perfect world.

He was in the break room with half of the women on the floor, showing pictures of his recent vacation to Italy. Al shook his head when Todd showed a picture of himself without a shirt on, and the women all smiled and moved around like the friggin’ Beatles were in concert back in the 60’s.

Al needed to get rid of this guy, and he’d started devising a plan. The Christmas party was coming up in three days, so he needed to put this all into action. Get rid of Todd once and for all. Make sure he looked like the fool he really was, and all these fawning women would feel stupid for thinking he was such a great catch.

Even Joselin, the woman Al had been trying to woo for months, would see what a waste of time Todd was. The two of them had lunch together most days, giggling like high school kids in the cafeteria.

It made Al sick. He’d tried to sit at their table once, a few weeks back, but Todd asked Al to sit somewhere else because they were having a private conversation and normally he wouldn’t mind, but… they were talking about things not meant for other people.

Not meant for Al.

Todd was strutting around the office the morning of the Christmas party, wearing a stupid Santa hat and handing out candy canes to the women. Not to the men.

Al wondered if he could get Todd in trouble with H.R. or just wait until tonight and get his plan into action.

Stick with the plan.

The biggest part of the plan would be the Santa suit. Al had spent a fortune on the rental this time of year. If he’d been better prepared, he would’ve thought up this plan weeks or months ago and gotten it then. Heck, for the rental price he could’ve purchased one last January or February.

Al hid the suit in the janitor’s closet upstairs and acted like nothing weird was going to happen. As if this was just another office party, where the same people were going to get drunk, the same people were going to be mad about the others getting drunk, and Al would eat way too much food and have some of the people stare at him.

Not that he cared. This was the meal he waited for each and every year. He’d make sure to swipe as many cookies and brownies into napkins and then head to his desk, where he had his drawers filled with Tupperware containers. He’d be feasting for the rest of the week.

Todd arrived fashionably late to the party, wearing what looked like a tacky tracksuit. Red and green and festive.

He still had on the dumb Santa hat and was all smiles as he went around and shook hands with the men (but not Al, who he casually ignored) and made sure to hug and/or kiss all the ladies.

Al was pissed. Almost mad enough to not eat the bacon-wrapped shrimp or the delicious meatballs coming around on trays. Almost.

He drank a few shots of bourbon to loosen him up and get him in the mood to do what needed to be done. Al kept watching the clock. He’d set his plan into motion right at eight o’clock, when everyone was in the building but before the real Santa, or the person playing him tonight, was going to show up.

Al watched as Todd kept making the rounds, never staying in one place for more than a minute. Smiling and slapping backs, as if he was everyone’s friend. As if he was important.

A quarter to eight, Al went upstairs and got dressed in the Santa outfit, which was hard to do in the confined space of the janitor’s closet.

He went back downstairs and when he exited the elevator, he made sure to smile. “Ho Ho Ho,” he yelled.

Everyone stopped talking and stared at Al. Only the music still played, which happened to be a Rick Astley song. You know the one that they always play.

“Why is Al dressed like Santa? He looks ridiculous,” Todd said loudly.

More than half the people laughed.

Al was furious. He wasn’t going to let Todd get the best of him yet again. He needed to remain calm.

Instead, he pulled the .357 tucked in the suit and pointed it at Todd.

Men and women gasped, everyone fell back, and gave Al room.

Everyone but Todd, who smiled and shook his head. “Seriously, Al?”

“Serious as a heart attack,” Al said and hated what he’d said. That was corny and typical. He’d think of a better comeback later, when all of this was done.

“You won’t get away with this,” Todd said, waving his hand. “Whatever this is, actually. Is there a point to you dressing as Santa and pointing a weapon at me? Have I wronged you, Al?”

Al laughed. “Have you wronged me? Of course, dammit, you’ve wronged me. So many times I’ve lost count.”

Todd shrugged. “Then I’m sorry. Can we get back to the party? I’m looking forward to the seafood entree option this year.”

Al was also looking forward to it, but he wasn’t going to walk away now. Not with all of these witnesses.

Now he was scared. If he shot Todd in front of everyone, he’d likely need to kill all of them, too, or he’d go to prison.

Al hadn’t brought enough ammo with him, though. No way he’d be fast enough to shoot everyone before they escaped, either.

“You’re coming with me, Todd. Get on the elevator,” Al said. He needed to get back in control. Already a few people were looking around for the waitstaff to get a fresh drink. The food would be out soon, too.

“I’d rather stay here with all of my friends and have a good time,” Todd said.

Al was furious. “No. I wasn’t asking if you wanted to go onto the elevator. I was demanding it.”

Todd shook his head. “Not interested.”

Al shot into the air and a large piece of the ceiling tile fell, nearly hitting him.

Everyone stopped moving. No more looking for the next drink, no more eyes on the door where the food was going to come out of.

“The next one will be a warning shot through your chest,” Al said to Todd.

Todd shrugged again, as if none of this affected him. “Fine. Everyone, enjoy the party. Don’t worry about me and Al. We’ll talk this out like gentlemen. Like adults. Figure out why Al thinks I’m so against him and everything about him, all the things I don’t like and talk about.”

“You’re talking about me?” Al motioned for Todd to get on the elevator.

Todd got on like they were simply heading upstairs for another mindless day of work.

Al stepped in, still aiming the gun at Todd.

“Where are we going, Al?”

“The roof.”

Todd smiled. “Can we stop at my desk and get a sweater first? It might be cold.”

“No.” The doors to the elevator closed and Al saw everyone else was rushing forward. If he was smart he would’ve sent the other elevator up first.

They rode in silence. Al was surprised and also a little frustrated that Todd seemed so calm.

“You go first but go slow,” Al said when the doors opened and they were on the top floor. To the left was a doorway that led to the roof itself, exposing them to the elements.

It was December but it wasn’t as cold as it usually was. No snow, no strong winds.

“Now what? Are you going to push me off of the roof, shoot me and push me off of the roof, or shoot me and leave me on the roof?” Todd asked. He still looked calm.

Al saw there was no locking the door to the roof from this side. He wished he’d figured that out sooner, because he would have devised a way to keep the door locked. Blocked would’ve been good.

“I’m sorry. Is that what you want to hear, Al? I apologize for being mean to you. Did I know I was being mean? Yes.” Todd shrugged again. Al hated when he shrugged. “I guess, if I had to do it all over, knowing we’d get to this point, I would still do it. I gotta be honest. I’m sorry I got you this mad. Obviously I didn’t realize you had a few screws loose. I knew I was getting under your skin, and that was the fun of it. I’m a bully. I pick out the weakest in the herd and make their life miserable. It makes my life better.”

“You’re even worse than I thought,” Al said. “What a horrible person.”

“Guilty as charged.” Todd smiled and started to walk toward the door. “I’m going back to the party. By now the police have been called and are en route. You’ll be arrested for brandishing a gun. Making pretend you’re Santa, too. That has to at least be a fine.”

Al had the weapon inches from Todd’s head as he walked past. “Stop or I will shoot you.”

“No, you won’t. Because you’re spineless, Al. if I thought for a second you’d actually shoot me, I would actually be listening to your direction,” Todd said.

Al shot him in the back of the head.

Todd fell to the ground and Al emptied the gun into his back.

The door to the roof opened and his coworkers rushed out.

They saw Todd, bloody and dead on the roof. Al holding the gun.

“Police are on the way, Al. Put down the gun,” someone said.

Al didn’t want to go to jail.

He ran to the side of the roof, looked down at the busy street. Saw red lights in the distance and knew the police would be here within the minute.

“Don’t do it, Al.”

“Let him do it. It’s my tax money that’s going to have to front the bill for his time in prison. Let him jump.”

“Have some compassion. Al is disturbed. We all knew it. Is this all really a surprise?”

“No, but still… we need to be the better person. Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

Al walked around the roof until he could see the parking lot below.

Every day, Todd parked in the first spot closest to the upper management parking area, as if he was one small step from being a boss.

Al began to strip out of the Santa suit. “Hey, can someone return this for me? The receipt is in the pocket. Thanks.”

“No. Do it yourself.”

“I’ll do it if you promise not to jump.”

“He still has the gun.”

Al moved a few inches to his left, trying to gauge the wind up here. No use in doing this if he’d miss his target down below.

He unzipped his fly and began to pee over the side, hoping the urine would hit Todd’s car far below.

It maybe did, a few sprinkles, but most of it was taken on the breeze.

“Feeze,” a police officer yelled from the doorway.

Al turned and all of the fellow employees got a good look at his small package. He didn’t bother to zip back up.

As the police officer started to approach slowly, Al saw two more cops ushering the people back inside.

“This was some party,” Al yelled with a smile and a wave. “Save me some cookies and brownies.”

Al stepped backward, into space, and waved once more before he plunged down to certain death, willing his body to hit Todd’s car.

Boo-graphy: Armand Rosamilia is a New Jersey boy currently living in sunny Florida, where he writes when he’s not sleeping. He’s happily married to a woman who helps his career and is supportive, which is all he ever wanted in life…

He’s written over 150 stories that are currently available, including horror, zombies, contemporary fiction, thrillers and more. His goal is to write a good story and not worry about genre labels.

He not only runs two successful podcasts…

Arm Cast: Dead Sexy Horror Podcast – interviewing fellow authors as well as filmmakers, musicians, etc.

The Mando Method Podcast with co-host Chuck Buda – talking about writing and publishing

But he owns the network they’re on, too!

He also loves to talk in third person… because he’s really that cool.

You can find him on his website for not only his latest releases but interviews and guest posts with other authors he likes! and e-mail him to talk about zombies, baseball and Metal.

CHRISTMAS TAKEOVER 2022: Christina Bergling

Elves Watching

“They’re watching me. I can feel it,” I said, picking at the corded edge of the sofa cushion.

The cloudy sky dribbled dim light through the windowpane. Thin white grills carved the glass into a grid. The gentle patter of the rain should have soothed me, yet my anxiety clenched around my heart like a fist.

“Who is watching you, Noel?” My therapist did not look up from his pad as he spoke.

Dr. Morris squeezed his bulk into a wingback chair, the deep crimson of the back encapsulating him, wrapping around him like a mouth. Cropped, wiry white curls spiraled up from his dark scalp and square jaw. I told myself that he could not look like Santa because he was not white like the infamous figure on Coke ads and wrapping paper and figurines, yet when his eyes crinkled at the corner, my chest still seized.

I told myself Santa wasn’t real as I inhaled and again as I exhaled.

“You know who.” My voice pulled taut as I tugged at the edge of the cushion. “We have talked about it a thousand times.”

Dr. Morris took a measured, patient breath. The same he always did before he repeated himself. “Yes, but you need to name them. When you name something, you encapsulate the thing, take some of its power.” Leaning forward, he peered through me with wide pupils like chunks of coal.

I wilted under his gentle scrutiny. The name swelled in my throat, near suffocating me.

“Elves. Always the elves.” I forced the name past my teeth, closing my eyes yet seeing the small, glowing eyes as I spoke.

“The elves your mother told you about when you were growing up. The ones who watched you.”

“The ones I saw. The ones who have been watching me. All the time.” I spoke softly, so they couldn’t hear me.

Glancing to the window, I scanned the bottom of the pane. Not breathing until I made sure I did not see their small glowing eyes. Only rain streaking slow down the glass.

Red. The eyes would be glowing red.

“But we have discussed this.” Clutching his yellow pad in front of his chest, he glanced down at his notes and back at me.

My gaze lingered on the window. “Elves are not real,” I murmured, reciting the empty words. “Elves are not real,” I lied.

Saying it, naming them did not encapsulate anything. It did not calm me. My pulse throbbed hard enough for sweat to prickle along my hair. The fear climbed over my skin then cinched to bind me. It compressed my lungs as I tried to smile thin and keep still.

“I can see this conversation makes you very… uncomfortable.” He wedged himself back into his chair.


“No, it’s fine. I know.”

“Do you know?” His hand found his chin to briefly twirl through the white hair. “Then why are we back here again, discussing being watched?”

I am being watched. Taking a deep breath, I pressed my sweaty palms along my pant legs. “Even though I know that, the feelings remain.”

He exhaled hard. “Oh, that’s perfectly natural.” He flicked his hand toward me at the wrist, a flippant gesture. “Considering your history with your mother and the holiday, I know Christmas is challenging for you. Our cognitive thoughts are often different from our emotions. The two do not operate in parallel. You may know something in your mind, but that doesn’t convince your heart.”

I nodded, because what he said about Christmas was true. However, my mind and heart were in alignment on this. No one else believed me. No one had ever believed me.

When my mother told me about the elves, I was seven years old. As we sat at the table with Thanksgiving leftovers for breakfast, I shoveled cranberries into my mouth and regaled her with my long Christmas list. Grimacing a smile, my mother tapped her fork on her untouched plate.

In a flat voice, she told me that Santa would only bring me all those things if I was good and that he had little elves watching me all year to report back. I laughed at first, but then the idea burrowed into my brain, sprouting roots and branching through me. When she looked at me with wide and dead eyes, I knew she was telling me the truth.

But I didn’t see them until the next year. By the time I glimpsed their tiny, glowing red eyes, I had nearly forgotten about the elves. I was doubting Santa himself by that point.

“Have you seen the elves this year?” My mother slurred, the ice cubes in her glass clinking in a familiar song.

“There’s no such things as elves.” I baited her, examining her reaction from the corner of my eye for confirmation that I was right.

My mother’s scoff tumbled into a chuckle as her fingers fumbled over the figurines she was attempting to set up. They tipped and rolled under her intoxicated touch. A fat Santa with a round belly and huge grin. Identical reindeer in different inflight poses, one with a red nose. Then the stout, jovial elves looking like trolls.

Attempting to encircle Santa with the elves, her haphazard placement instead made the North Pole look like a battlefield. As I watched her, I knew all her sloppy decorations and preparations would be wasted. Like every year.

Her face suddenly sharpened, came into focus as she leveled her eyes through me. “Oh, there are elves, Noel.” The curling edges vanished from her voice, making her almost sound like a stranger.

Her eyes burrowed into me, their severity making my skin itch. Then she flicked her gaze at the elven figures. All six stood upright and at attention. All six faced me. Gasping, I recoiled and bumped into the wall behind me. Simultaneously, with a soft porcelain crack, all the elves snapped their faces up to me, and their eyes glowed red.

The scream billowed out of my throat as I tried to press through the wall. My mother’s laughter chased my scrabble up the stairs.

“I told you they were real!” She shouted before I could slam my door shut.

Panting and shaking, I pinned myself into the door and slid down into a crouch. My heaving diaphragm assaulted my thighs as I clutched myself. There was no Santa. All the kids at school had said it; it was unanimous. And if there was no Santa, there were no elves. Yet each time I blinked, I saw those tiny red eyes.

The tears stung my face when I planted my head on my knees, listening to my own brewing sobs accumulate in my lap. Even then, I knew the tears were not for the elves. They were for my mother, the stumbling version and whatever sharpness had just seized her. Her elves just uncorked them from my eyes.

The wave crashed over me and receded. Breathing slow, I lifted my face. When my eyes met the window, six sets of tiny glowing eyes fixed on me through the glass. I screamed again, but my mother never came.

The next morning, the elven eyes greeted me when I woke myself up to get ready for school. They followed me to the windowpanes of my classrooms. They appeared between tree trunks on my walk home.

For the first few months, I told my mother, even begged for her help. She only said, “I told you.” Eventually, I stopped telling her, then stopped even talking to her at all.

Somehow, even then, I knew I couldn’t tell anyone else, that while my mother believed too much, the rest would not believe me at all. I saw the elves so often that I nearly went blind to them, like saying a word so much the syllables fall apart in your mouth. Yet, each time, my chest still contracted in fear to remind me of their menace.

In college, I made the mistake of getting too drunk and telling the entire party about my life-long stalkers. I was rewarded with elf gifts from each of my roommates that year, wrapped in their mocking laughter. My first long-term partner said I mumbled about elves in my sleep before I woke up screaming.

At my mother’s burial, I saw all the eyes peeking from behind distant tombstones. For once, in that moment, they were almost a comfort.

When I had stumbled onto a night road fleeing their reflection in every storefront window, a black SUV blared its horn and slammed into me. I woke up in a narcotic haze, tugging against the soft restraints around my wrists. The nurse said I had flown into a violent rage, shrieking about the elves that were out to get me. I had broken one orderly’s nose in the process.

Even there, the red glowing eyes glared at me through the high hospital window.

And there, I met Dr. Morris.

“Noel, we have talked about this.” Dr. Morris’s voice snapped me back to the present on his stiff green couch. I jolted and immediately glared at the window. Still a vacant pane. “You do not have to celebrate Christmas. You do not have to decorate or participate in any way. You can change your name if you truly want to separate yourself from you mother’s fixation.”

I rubbed my hands over my face, pressing my fingers into my eyes until I saw stars. Stars that appeared red and glowing.

I snapped my eyelids open. I could feel them before I could see them. The touch of their stare was tactile, penetrating. The elves were at the window, lined up along the bottom of the pane, their noses flattened against the glass. I could see the miniature plumes of steam from their greedy pants. Stifling the gasp in my throat, my body went rigid, nearly rising off the cushion.

Pretend you don’t see them. Pretend they are not there.

“What’s wrong?” Dr. Morris straightened and followed my gaze, turning in his chair toward the window.

The elves ducked down before he could glimpse them. As they always did.

The tears returned to my eyes, leaving me swimming in that overwhelming helpless feeling. He was going to have me committed if I did not wrangle myself back under control. Then I would be trapped in one room, where they could always see me, where they could creep ever closer.

“Nothing,” I snapped. Every muscle remained clenched. I could barely breathe.

“Noel,” he scolded. “What do you see?”

Pinching my face closed, I shook my head. As if I could will it untrue. As if that had ever worked in all these years.

“Noel, tell me what you see. You are safe here.”

I wanted to laugh at how wrong he was. My lip quivered uncontrollably, and I could feel the wag tremble up into my cheeks. It was shaking the tears loose.

If I squeezed hard enough, maybe I could keep my eyes closed. That had never worked before. I was always too scared of what the elves would be doing on the other side of my eyelids.

“Noel.” Dr. Morris’s tone tightened. “Noe—” A wet sound sliced through my name, turning the syllables into gargles. A strange, liquid gasp replaced his words.

My heart hammered, igniting every inch of my skin. As I pried my eyes open, I could feel the air around me. I clasped my hands over my mouth to contain the scream.

The elves crawled over Dr. Morris’s body, scurrying and teaming like insects. They were not the porcelain figures my mother had clumsily loved and eventually shattered in her drunken hazes. Yet those red eyes were the same. The same from that first night and every day that followed.

Their pale, grey skin tugged into harsh wrinkles to carve gruesome visages. Prickly black eyebrows turned down over the glowing eyes, yet wide grins of pointed teeth contradicted their frowns, contorted their faces into something horrifying. Each sported soiled red and green clothes with lopsided and wilted pointy hats. Coarse hairs sprouted long and angry from edges of their shirts and pants.

Even in my deepest nightmares, I had never imagined them this ghastly.

All six of them stared at me, as Dr. Morris’s blood spurted and rained down on them. Their faces were frozen in silent laughter. I did not move. I had no idea what to do. They had never been this close. I had never been without the glass barrier between us.

One elf tore sheets from Dr. Morris’s pad, tossing them to flutter around his twitching feet. Another stuffed small fingers through the wound parting Dr. Morris’s throat. Another joined to help tear and rip the skin, exposing the limp cords and tendons within.

The elf on his chest threw its head back and released a piercing scream. Something between a shriek and laughter. I gripped my ears to muffle it, but it seemed to be blaring directly into my brain. When it stopped, the elf looked at me, almost smiled, and wiggled into Dr. Morris’s mouth.

Dr. Morris’s body settled, slumping heavy in the chair, dripping over the armrests, but his head jerked and cracked from side to side. Squishing and tearing sounds spilled from his hanging lips. As his head jostled, his dead eyes found me, stared into me like the elves always did. My hands clutched the couch cushion, sweating through it, yet I could not move. I was frozen in petrified wonderment.

Dr. Morris’s head stilled, and the sounds changed. The wriggling shifted to more of a tugging. My head tilted as my brain reeled to identify the sounds. The head jerked forward and back, causing the body to convulse in the chair. Then with one hard and sickening pop, Dr. Morris’s right eye disappeared into his skull.

I gaped into the vacancy. The impulse to draw closer and peer into the void tingled on my skin, but I clung to the cushion against it. Time seemed to stop and grow as dark as his bloody eye socket.

In the hideous hole, behind the dangling eyelids and fringe of limp lashes, two red, glowing points replaced his eyeball.

“I told you,” I whispered to Dr. Morris as those burning eyes remained fixed on me.

Boo-graphy: Christina Bergling has been writing since childhood. She has written a variety of styles. A blog from Iraq, software user guides, articles for a numismatist magazine. More than anything, she is a horror author.

Crystal Lake released her latest novel, Followers. Limitless Publishing published her novel The Rest Will Come. HellBound Books published her two novellas, Savages and The Waning. She co-wrote Screechers with Kevin J. Kennedy. She is also featured in numerous anthologies, including Collected Christmas Horror Shorts
(1 and 2), Demonic Wildlife, Colorado’s Emerging Authors, and Graveyard Girls.

Bergling lives with her family in Colorado and spends her non-writing time working in IT, hiking mountains, dancing, and sucking all the marrow out of life.