Whoa! Wait one second. Before you get all bent out of shape and start accusing me of being the Grinch who stole Xmas, please read on. Screw Xmas is actually my little Xmas gift to you, dear reader. That’s right, it’s a complete story from Tales of Damnation, my collection of short horror tales scheduled for release in early 2021. And, I’m not gonna throw out any spoilers, but I think you just might enjoy it.
Here’s a synopsis of Tales of Damnation:
If you enjoy a nail-biting roller-coaster ride through hell, you’ll love Tales of Damnation, a collection of short horror stories.
Watch a school bully finally get his comeuppance in grisly fashion.
Witness an insensitive narcissist realize a little too late that it’s time he started caring.
Feel the heat when a pyromaniac learns that playing with fire also means getting burned.
Learn the shocking difference between real friends and fake friends.
Ride shotgun with a demented stalker as she tracks her prey through the haunted woods.
Discover the horrifying consequences when a loser succumbs to the seduction of a succubus.
And there’s more. Fourteen finely crafted short horror tales guaranteed to titillate, terrorize, and entertain.
And here’s Screw Xmas:
“Screw Xmas,” Hank Weimer told his sister Andrea. “And, no, I won’t accept your Xmas dinner invitation.”
“You shouldn’t talk like that,” she said.
“Why not? That’s how I feel. It’s a stupid holiday.”
“Why do you say that?”
“People you never ever hear from and never talk to send you stupid Xmas cards. What a bunch of bullshit. Phony bullshit.”
“Well, aside from its religious significance, it’s also a special time to get together with family and friends. You know, share special moments and all that.”
“And all that,” Hank said. “And all that bullshit. It’s a terrible time of year. The malls go crazy, retailers go crazy. Commercialism runs rampant. People buy shit for people they normally wouldn’t even talk to. A pair of socks, a pair of underwear, a box of chocolates. They max out credit cards and spend money they don’t even have.”
“You don’t have to focus on the materialistic part of it,” Andrea insisted. “That’s why we draw straws.”
Maybe she had a point, Hank thought, but he wasn’t willing to acknowledge it. This year, from his family of three brothers and two sisters, he’d drawn Andrea’s straw; technically that meant only one gift. But could he really ignore his sister Karen’s three toddlers? By the same token, could he ignore his brother Brandon’s twin ten-year-old boys? Could he reasonably expect to ignore his mother and father, knowing most of his other siblings wouldn’t? No, the whole thing was just fucked.
“I just don’t like Xmas,” he said. “Actually, I hate it.”
“Well, you should try and change up your attitude a bit. And I know your reasons are much more deep-seated than what you let on. You should learn to get over it. And, I know why you always pronounce it Xmas even though it’s Christmas. You want to make a mockery of the holiday. Stop that, will you.”
“Merry fucking Xmas,” Hank said, pressing END CALL and slamming the phone down.
Feeling angry and irritated, he went into the kitchen of his modest one-bedroom apartment in downtown Vancouver, snatched a Coke from the refrigerator, and returned to the living room. He went over to the window and looked outside on that dreary Saturday afternoon. It was December 14th, and there was a steady and insidious drizzle that was coming down. It had been raining all day today and all day and night yesterday. Welcome to the west coast of Canada in the winter. On the busy street below, a few umbrella-holding pedestrians moved along, going about their daily tasks, whatever the hell they might be. Cars swished through puddles, grinding slowly down the busy street. Even on a Saturday, it was wall-to-wall traffic.
He sat down on his favorite tattered armchair, popped the tab on his Coke can, and briefly thought about doing some channel-surfing. He moved his hand toward the TV remote but abruptly changed his mind. He’d torn a lower back muscle at his shipper-receiver warehouse job two weeks ago and had been practically doing nothing but staring mindlessly at the Idiot Box for the last ten days. Laid up indoors on sick leave, he was fast becoming bored out of his mind. Worse still, due to the severity of the injury, he was under doctor’s orders to rest for at least another two weeks before even attempting any exercise.
He ran a hand through his thick black hair and adjusted his glasses, which lately had started to slide down the bridge of his nose. Time for an adjustment, he knew. But not now. Now he could only do short walking stints around his apartment before the pain would stab his lower back, protesting loudly for him to sit his thirty-seven-year-old skinny ass back down. He grabbed a nearby pill bottle, popped the tab, and stuck two Ibuprofen pills in his mouth, washing them down with a mouthful of Coke and burping loudly.
Finally it began to occur to him that he might have upset his sister. Andrea had just gotten married to a successful lawyer. They’d just purchased a brand-new home in the suburbs and were now planning a family. She had just married the love of her life, had just started a new career as a radiographer. She had everything to look forward to. Especially around Xmas, a holiday he knew she loved. As a child he remembered how she could barely contain her excitement on Xmas Eve, eagerly anticipating waking up to all those presents under the tree. She would wake shouting with glee, and all ear-to-ear smiles. Her enthusiasm and happiness were infectious and in no time at all would spread through the entire family.
But not today, Hank thought glumly. At least not for the moment. I just pissed in her cornflakes.
He reached for his cell phone, suddenly feeling guilty and remorseful, like he owed Andrea an apology. After all, she’d done nothing wrong. All she’d wanted to do was cheer her brother up for the holidays. What was so wrong with that?
He started to punch in her number and stopped. Fuck it. She’ll get over it. She always does. He set the phone down and tried to think of other things to think about, other things to do. Maybe he could call a friend to come over and watch a movie? Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters.
Hank’s friend list wasn’t exactly extensive if you didn’t count family. There was Mitch Silver, who, at 46, worked as a carry-out boy at a local grocery store. He’d just left for Ontario to spend Xmas with his family and all he really liked to do in his spare time was play video games and watch chick flicks. Strange combination, but it worked for Mitch.
There was Ryan Boddington, who’d lately taken a fancy to drinking excessively and trying to get laid on internet sex-hookup sites. How’s that working for ya, Ryan? Pick any hotties up while you’re shit-faced? He doubted it. In his last conversation with Ryan, Hank learned that five of the eight sites Ryan had once subscribed to had banned him for lewd and offensive behavior. Not a good role model to say the least.
Then there was Deborah Brasher, a likable and good-looking thirty-something woman, who had expressed some interest in Hank after he’d met her in a downtown coffee shop almost a year ago to the day.
However, even her interest had begun to wane after Hank mentioned to her a week ago over coffee that, “Xmas was for kids. Period.”
And that was Hank being polite.
After reminding Hank that Christmas represented the birth of Jesus Christ, she called it “a special time to express your love and devotion to friends and family.”
Then she continued to gush over the holiday. Maybe it was his dead-pan expression while listening to her parade of positivity. Hank wasn’t sure. Whatever it was, she’d stopped abruptly in mid-sentence, frowned, and said, “I don’t think you really care about any of this. I think it’s time for me to go.”
So clearly, contacting Deborah Brasher, especially in the mood he was in now, wasn’t a good idea. He extended his fingers, ready to count down all the digits of his other good friends. But no one, besides family, came to mind. The sad fact was that Hank no longer had a lot of friends. Many of them had moved away, and others he’d just lost contact with, as people often do.
And family wouldn’t work right now. They were all crazy-happy over Xmas and Hank wasn’t in the mood for any Xmas cheer right now.
So he dimmed the lights and wallowed in self-pity. Pity over the overwhelming depression that settled over him every Xmas. Pity that he was suffering way too much chronic pain to even go for a long walk and stop for a coffee or a drink. Even if he was well enough, who wants to go out in this soup?
Absently, Hank picked up his cell phone and scrolled though the contacts. Nothing, no one, zero, zilch, zip, nada.
Even though it was only 8:30 in the evening, he decided it was time to call it a night. He slowly rose, wincing as sharp pain stabbed him in the back. Pretty bad when you’re so bored and depressed and in so much pain that all you want to do is sleep. What a life. Fuck life. Fuck Xmas.
Hank was nine years old all over again, playing in the backyard of his suburban home with his sister Lisa, born a year behind him. She was the one who looked so much like him and acted so much like him. Many people had commented that they could’ve been twins. Lisa was really a more refined and feminine version of himself, he realized as he watched her swing back and forth in the swing set.
He looked around the snow-covered backyard on that bright and sunny mid-December day. Where were his other siblings? Why weren’t they out playing? But did it really matter? He always had the most fun with Lisa.
He stuck a twig in the nose area of the snowman he was making and turned to Lisa. “What do you think?”
Lisa laughed. “Use something else,” she said. “It’s too big and skinny. It’s like a Pinocchio nose.”
Giggling, Hank stood up. “You’re right. I’ll wait for you to help me.”
“Push me,” Lisa said with a wry grin. “I want to go high. Way, way high.”
Hank approached Lisa and positioned himself behind her on the swing. He started off slowly, but soon had her soaring high in the air.
Back and forth. Back and forth. Higher and higher.
She giggled with delight. “Now I know what I wanna be when I grow up.”
“What do you wanna be?”
“I wanna fly a plane and be a pilot. I love going higher and higher. Weeeeeeeeeee… I love it… weeeeeee…”
“A pilot? That’s dangerous, isn’t it?”
“Weeeeeeee… it doesn’t matter. It’ll be fun. Don’t you think?”
“Sure, it’ll be fun, just like this.”
“Make me go higher, Hank. I wanna go higher.”
“I’m getting scared. I don’t want you to go too high.”
“Come on, don’t be a chicken. Just a little higher.”
Hank backed up a little, allowing himself more pushing and pulling power, and soon had Lisa swinging a good four feet higher.
“How’s that?” he said.
“I love it… I love it… weeeeeeeee…”
The back door of the house opened and Hank’s mother poked her head out. “Come in now, kids. It’s lunch time.”
Hank took his eyes off Lisa and looked at his mother for a fraction of a second but that’s all it took. On its backward momentum, the metal seat of the swing smacked him in the head and knocked him down. As a constellation of concussive stars danced around his head, blurring his vision and dulling his senses, he saw Lisa flying through the air. As the lights of consciousness dimmed, he felt warm blood trickle into his left eye, and he saw his sister plummeting to the ground head-first.
He heard a loud blood-curdling scream and then everything went black.
He opened his eyes slowly and brought his hand to his head. What? It was wrapped in gauze. His eyes slowly adjusted to the powerful white light and he tried to focus. For a moment he saw only a shadowy image, undulating and indistinct.
Then the image changed. Blue eyes. Soft, pale skin. Shoulder-length golden blond hair. A small and dainty nose. And lips pursed in an expression of concern.
Then a voice. “Hank, you had a little accident. You’re gonna be okay.”
Confused, disoriented and precipitously terrified, he bolted upright in bed. “What happened? Who are you?”
As soon as she smiled and those two dimples danced across her pretty face he recognized her instantly. But she had aged. Albeit, gracefully, but aged nonetheless. She must be at least as old as he was. No, right. A year younger. How could that be? She was dead, had died in that terrible swing accident that Hank could never stop blaming himself for.
“Lisa,” he said. “Is it really you?”
She bent over, hugged him warmly, and pecked him on the cheek. Then she backed up and sat down on a chair that magically appeared bedside. “It’s me, dear brother, and I want you to know something.”
It took a moment for Hank to overcome the incredulity of the situation and get over his shock. It took another moment for him to compose himself enough to speak. He was being bombarded by strong and powerful feelings of love and well-being.
Finally, Hank said, “What… what do you want me to know?”
“I’m okay, brother. I have a different life in another otherworldly dimension, but I’m okay. I’m happy.”
Hank sighed as a heavy wrecking ball of guilt began to float away from his shoulders, making him feel as light as a bird. “You’re not dead? But I thought I killed you in that swing accident.”
“That was never your fault. You must learn to accept that. It was an accident, nothing more. It ended my earthly existence, but gave me another more divine purpose outside of the mortal realm.”
“So, there is life after death?”
“I’m living proof, if you’ll pardon the expression.”
Hank watched the wrecking ball float higher and higher until it disappeared into a cloud of white, powdery dust. Then, he said, “It’s a miracle.”
“That it is, my brother. But the Supreme Being works in mysterious ways. I’m here to save you. I’m here to assure you that I’m okay, it was never your fault, and from this day forward you have to get over the guilt, stop blaming yourself, and start living your life and begin living up to your true potential.”
Hank was overcome with emotion. Tears of joy began streaming down his face. “Thank you, sis. I… I love you.”
“I love you, too, dear brother,” Lisa said. “Please, change for me, change for yourself, and change for the positive contribution you can still make to the world.”
Then Lisa rushed into her brother’s open arms and embraced him in a tight hug. “Don’t worry,” she whispered into his ear. “I’ll never leave you.”
“Don’t ever leave me, sis. Don’t ever leave me.”
The sound of his own voice startled Hank awake and he bolted upright in bed, looking left and right, right and left, frantically before it registered that he was indeed in his own bed, in his own bedroom, in his Vancouver apartment.
But everything was not the same. It was pretty far from the same. He jumped out of bed with the exuberance and enthusiasm of an overly rambunctious teen and began dancing around his bedroom singing, “My sister Lisa is alive… my sister is okay… my sister is happy… my sister is healthy… my sister loves me… and it’s not my fault… oh, no, not my fault…”
He stopped suddenly, thinking for a split-second that perhaps he’d taken leave of his senses. But it was more than that. Something wasn’t right. In his explosive bliss, he’d forgotten all about his aching back. Yet it wasn’t aching anymore. He ran his hand down to the injured spot. Feeling for the swollen area. It was as smooth as silk.
“Yippee,” he shouted, jumping for joy and resuming a little dance number around his bedroom, “It’s a miracle. Lisa cured me. The Supreme Being cured me.”
“There’s still hope for you,” he said to his grinning reflection in the bathroom mirror a little later. Even his face looked fresher. Gone were the dark circles under his eyes. Even his deep blue eyes, identical to Lisa’s, looked brighter and more alert.
As he reached for his shaver, he caught another glimpse of his reflection. Disbelieving, he moved closer to the mirror. Over his left eyebrow, he noticed a drop of blood. Sure enough, the three-inch scar resulting from the head injury he’d suffered from that fateful swing accident so many years ago had started to bleed.
He wiped it with a clean facecloth and examined it closer. It had been sliced almost surgically yet superficially. A much greater understanding of what had happened to him began to sink in and his body began to twitch with the epiphany.
He hadn’t been dreaming at all. He’d dream-teleported, gone back in time, and then shot forward to another dimension where he’d been saved by Lisa. And now, here he was back in the so-called real world.
“It’s a miracle, all right,” he said to his refection. “It’s a bloody miracle.”
After showering, and then cleaning, disinfecting, and bandaging the small cut, which he was confident would heal in no time, he made a pot of coffee, finished one cup, and then decided a few calls were in order. He could barely contain the urge to start dancing around his apartment and singing his heart out again, but he wasn’t sure his neighbors would appreciate it. And one part of him thought this was all a dream and he’d wake up, be in severe pain, and everything would be as miserable as it had been when he’d gone to bed last night.
He dialed Deborah and got her voice mail. “Hey, Deb, first of all I wanna apologize if I offended you with my scrooge attitude about Christmas the other day. Merry Christmas to you, and I hope I get the chance to see you before the holidays.” He thought the Supreme Being would forgive a small white lie. “I bought you a Christmas present and I’d love to give it to you before Christmas. Bye for now. Take care.”
Overflowing with excitement, Hank then got his sister Andrea on the phone.
“I didn’t think I’d hear from you today, of all days,” she said.
“What do you mean, sis?”
A long pause. Then, “You do realize that today is December 15th, the anniversary of our sister’s death? Usually you go into complete hibernation mode around this time.”
In the fog of his earlier self-pity, depression, and self-loathing, it actually hadn’t dawned on Hank. But it struck him now as the divine intervention of the Supreme Being, as Lisa had called Him. Or Her.
“I saw Lisa,” Hank said. “I mean really saw her. She’s okay.”
“You saw her?” Andrea’s voice cracked with emotion. “I wanna hear all about it.”
“And I know the perfect time to tell you. Is that Christmas dinner invitation still open?”
“Of… of course. It’s always open. You’re my brother, and I love you.”
“I love you, too.” Hank felt his cheeks moisten with tears. “Please forgive me for being such an asshole yesterday.”
“Forget about it. I know you hate Christmas.”
“Not anymore, Andrea. I think from now on I’m gonna start loving it.”
“Oh my God. This is a miracle.”
“Merry Christmas, sis. Merry Christmas.”
If you’re still here, that probably means you enjoyed that little tale of redemption. And, if you enjoyed Screw Xmas, I’m sure you’ll love In Your Dreams, my new release.
Teaser: A zombified TV and junk food addict discovers vicarious carnal comfort in his dreams only to confront the grim prospect that the escapist fictional world he’s so meticulously constructed might actually be a terrifying reality.
If you feel so inclined (of course you do), click the link below and buy it before Xmas. Or, should I say Christmas?
Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Thanks so much for your support, and stay safe.