Two years ago, Haunted MTL brought you 13 short stories dedicated to the holiday demon titled the 13 Days of Krampus. We are continuing our tales of Yuletide terror with another exclusive series of holiday horror stories: The Twelve Nightmares of the Holidays. Be sure to check out our previous authors stories here for even more festive frights. Today marks day 6 of holiday nightmares and with it, I gift to you “Coming to Town“.
Tonight’s the night 6-year-old Andy Mercer has been patiently waiting for, Christmas Eve. For the past few years, Andy has made it a point to fall asleep on the family sofa in their living room in hopes of seeing Christmas’ official icon, Santa Claus. Unfortunately, each year he has attempted this tradition, he’s failed to catch a glimpse of the magical holiday figure, not this year. You see, Andy has a brilliant plan, one in which he’s been plotting with fierce fervor and precision. Tonight’s the night he will prove Saint Nicolas is real, the night he will capture video of the big man in red. All he needs are cozy blankets, plenty of hot cocoa, a charger and his trusty iPhone. Rushing to gather all his essentials for the night’s holiday stake-out, Andy is ready.
Every year for Christmas Eve, it was tradition for Andy’s mom to bake sugar cookies using a secret family recipe, while his father hid in the master bedroom performing last minute gift wrapping. As his family prepared for tomorrow’s big day, it was Andy’s duty to watch Santa’s location through the intricately scientific “Santa Watch” tracking system provided to him by his locally televised news station. His eyes fixed on the screen as he watched Santa’s sleigh inch closer to his neighborhood with each passing minute. “Andy, sweetie?” his mother said, walking into the living room. “Andy, can you please stop watching Santa Claus for a minute and help me?” her hands filled with a tray of freshly baked cookies for Santa, the sweet aroma wafting through the air. Finally breaking his gaze from the screen “But Mom! This is important! Look!… look how close he is!” thrusting his finger at the television.
“Yes dear. I see.” she replied in an exasperated tone. “But Santa Watch can wait a second while you help your mom with these cookies and milk” motioning the tray up as the half-filled glass of milk slightly jiggles.
“Just 1 second mom.” Andy says as he turns back to face the television.
“Andy…” his mother’s tone slightly raised.
“Andy! Help your mother with the cookies or I’ll eat them myself!” Andy’s father instigates from the other room.
“No, you won’t!” Yelling back Andy jumps off the couch and rushes towards his mother hurriedly grabbing the tray of cookies from her hand, almost spilling the glass of milk in the process. The pattering of his footsteps on the hardwood floors brings a chuckle to his mother as she lovingly watches her little, short brown-haired helper carry the delectable treats for Santa to the living room table.
“Ok sweetie, it’s time to start getting ready for bed, otherwise Santa Claus is going to fly past our house because SOMEONE is still awake.” Andy’s mother exclaims, her hands on her hips.
“Ugh, do I have to?” Andy asks in frustration.
“Well, if you don’t want your Christmas presents from Santa then be my guest.” shrugging her shoulders “Stay up as long as you like.” Andy’s mother says in a deceitful tone. “But don’t be upset if you wake up in the morning and see Santa Claus didn’t leave you any gifts.” As she turns to walk away, a slight smirk paints across her face.
“Ok, ok, ok. I’ll get ready for bed” Andy reluctantly claims, his feet shuffling back to the black suede couch. What she doesn’t know is he’s been secretly waiting for his bedtime announcement for the past hour. Sneakily hiding his phone behind one of the family pictures resting on the fireplace. The cord from his charger perfectly camouflaged with all the other dangling cables from the mantle.
While Andy’s mother wrapped him snug in his fleece blanket, the sound of their laughter and his father’s battle with the flimsy wrapping paper in the other room drowned out the sudden announcement cutting over the yearly Santa Watch live feed:
“Residents of Cain County, police are on the lookout for an escaped mental patient standing 6’3, weighing 245 lbs., dressed in Santa Claus attire. Local police are advising all residents to lock all doors and windows as the suspect is considered armed and extremely dangerous. He has been seen carrying a large red sack, and wearing what police are describing as a life-like Santa Claus fa-”
Before finishing the breaking news announcement, the voice is suddenly silenced as Andy’s mother presses the power button on the remote control lying on the armrest of the couch. Brushing her hand through his hair, she stares at him and softly says “Goodnight Andy. I love you sweetie. We’ll see you in the morning” planting a kiss on his tiny forehead.
“Bleh, gross!” Andy says with a smile as he playfully wipes his brow, “I love you too, Mom.” Once confirmed she has left the room, Andy quickly springs from the couch tip toeing to the fireplace to enact his perfectly thought-out plan, his finger firm as he hits the record button on his phone.
“I’ll get you this year Santa” he says while rubbing his hands together. With Santa’s cookies enticingly displayed and Andy’s phone set to record, “Now we wait” he thought to himself. Hours passed as Andy attempted to wait up, only to yet again fail in traditional fashion, falling fast asleep dreaming of the newest toys and gifts Santa would be bringing him. As he lay in his deep slumber, the sudden sound of presents shifting under the tree startled him, his eyes bursting open peering towards the glistening Christmas tree. His eyes adjusting to the light he stared in shock, not believing what, no, whose back he was staring at. A sense of elation coursing through his body. There he was, the man himself, Santa Claus as real as can be. The large black boots, the red and white fur coat, his iconic hat. It was Kris Kringle. Andy rubbed his eyes in disbelief as he sat on the couch watching Saint Nicolas scrummaging through his large scarlet sack of toys lying next to his feet. He couldn’t help but feel elated
“You’re real!” Andy exclaims in a spurt of excitement, startling the holiday figure. As he looks up from his sack of presents, his head quickly turns in the direction of the young boy, making him jump in the process.
“I’m sorry Santa! I didn’t mean to scare you!” Andy apologizes.
“Shhh.” remarks Santa, his index finger pressed to his lips, rising from his hunched position. His large stature begins to walk towards Andy, the bells wrapped around his thick waist jingle with each *thomp* from his heavy boots. Reaching the end of the living room table, he stands there silently looming over the small boy, his body motionless. Andy stares back, though anxiously as a look of confusion begins to wash over him. This wasn’t quite how he pictured Santa Claus. For one, he was much taller and more husky rather than round and stout. His suit appeared weathered with splotches of dirt and some type of crimson substance on the white fur lining the ends of his coat. At his waist was an abnormally long candy cane pointed at the end, with the same red substance dripping from the tips point and starting to pool on the wood floor. Was it frosting? Or red ink maybe? With the room dimly lit only by the multi-colored lights on the tree, Andy was unable to tell. What was even more unsettling was the face that stared back at him. Though it looked like Santa Claus, something was…off. Almost as if he were wearing a mask of his own face. It was fuller than the rest of his frame, but his eyes were hard to see, almost sunken in appearing as black circles. The closer Andy examined, he could make out the outline of Santa’s face more, a streak of red running down either side almost as if he had been cut. Almost as if Santa was wearing a mask of sorts. “But…why does Santa need to wear a mask? Especially one so scary?” he nervously thought to himself.
“Santa, are you ok?” Andy asks nervously. Santa stands there looking back, no response.
“Did you hurt yourself going down our chimney?” Andy quickly follows-up, a faint draft wisping past his face. As he looks to see where the chill is coming from, his eyes glance upon Santa’s boot prints leading from the tree to their front door. There it was, slightly ajar, flakes of snow fluttering through the entryway. Andy turns back at Santa to see him shaking his head “no” in response.
“Oh um…ok.” Andy’s voice shakingly replies.
“Did you bring me any presents this year?” he asks, trying to shift his attention from the door as he looks up into Santa’s stiff emotionless face. Tilting his head ever so slightly to the right, Santa hesitates in his response, simply staring at Andy only to slowly nod his head “yes”, revealing a decadently wrapped Christmas present with a gold bow from behind his back. With eager joy, Andy reaches for the gift only for Santa to quickly pull it back, waving one of his fingers back and forth.
“Guh, do I really have to wait until the morning Santa?” as his body slouches aggressively, crossing his arms in disappointment. Santa simply shakes his head yes in response, walking back towards the tree placing his present neatly with the other his parents brought out while he was sleeping. Grabbing his large sack of gifts and with a fling over his hulking shoulder, Santa begins to walk towards the front door.
“Wait! Aren’t you going to have your cookies and milk? My mom baked them just for you.” Andy implies sympathetically. Santa’s heavy feet stomp once more and stop as he turns to look at the tray of desserts presented before him, first chugging the glass of milk in giant gulps then grabbing only one cookie to take for his travels. Making his way back to the way in which he entered, Santa takes one final look at Andy and with a quick flick of the wrist, waves good-bye, quietly shutting the door behind him.
Andy just sat there a few moments, pondering over the experience he had just had with Santa Claus. He didn’t feel the joy or magic that he thought would come with meeting Santa Claus. Instead, the emotions he felt afterwards were that of confusion but also, a hint of fear. Why did Santa Claus have to use the front door? Why didn’t he say anything? What happened to his face? Was that blood he was covered in? If so, was it Santa’s? If not, whose was it? Many more thoughts plagued Andy’s mind as he tossed and turned, struggling to fall back to sleep.
As the sun rose the next morning, Andy awoke to the smell of brewing beans in the kitchen. His mother singing along to The Jackson 5’s cover of ‘Santa Claus Is Coming to Town‘ as she pours herself and his father a cup of rich coffee with a splash of French vanilla creamer for taste. Andy’s father groggily walks into the living room, wiping the flecks of morning crust from his eyes. His hands already extended, waiting to accept the warm mug prepared for him by his wife. Sitting from the couch rubbing his barely waking eyes, Andy suddenly remembers the interaction he had mere hours ago. In a sudden burst, Andy throws his blankets to the ground springing from the sofa as he runs to the fireplace mantle to grab his phone, still hidden away.
“Well Merry Christmas to you too buddy.” Andy’s father yawns.
“Huh? Oh yeah, Merry Christmas” Andy replies as he fumbles his phone in excitement.
“What are you doing? Come here and sit down so we can start Christmas” his mother says as she pats on the spot he was just sitting.
“Wait hold on! I have something to show you!” replied Andy, grabbing the golden bow present left from Santa with him. As he plops on the couch, he vigorously starts scrolling through his phone to make sure the video he had recorded throughout the night was saved. It was.
“Oh, that’s a fancy looking present you got there. Honey, did you leave that under the tree?” ask Andy’s dad, looking over at his wife.
“No, not me. That’s not one of your multiple re-wrapped achievements from last night?” she jokingly replies.
Andy’s father glares back and says “Comedian. Ha ha. No, those are my prize-winning wrapping jobs.” pointing towards the batch of gifts just slightly to the right of his mothers, and “Santa’s” gifts. Looking at each other puzzled, Andy’s voice breaks the silence saying “it’s not from either of you! It’s a special gift from Santa! I met him last night while you were both sleeping.” As those words leave Andy’s mouth, their stomachs suddenly sink in fear.
“Wait…what do you mean you met Santa Claus last night sweetie?” Andy’s mom asks, perplexed. “Yeah, what do you mean buddy?” immediately followed by his father.
Looking at his parents, the video of Santa Claus paused on his phone’s screen Andy replies “Well, while you and mom were both sleeping, Santa Claus actually came! I talked to him for a second and he gave me this present.” holding up his special gift. “Look I even recorded it on my phone! I’ve planned this all year and I FINALLY have proof he’s real!” Showing them the video on his screen in utter joy, an image of a man dressed in a dingy Santa Claus suit kneeling over a bag of God knows what is paused on the screen. Looking back at the mantle from where Andy had secretly placed his phone overnight, back to their excited child, they nervously grabbed the phone from Andy’s miniature hands. With a deep exhale, Andy’s parents look at each other once more before pressing play. To their horror they witness the intruder dressed as Santa Claus interacting with their curious son. Hovering over their living room table standing, staring.
Taking the opportunity of his parents’ frightening distraction, Andy begins ripping open his present, flinging torn bits of wrapping paper in the air with excitement. All that remained now was the bright golden bow holding the lid of his now black box closed. With a few quick tugs, the decadent bow manages to untie, draping itself down Andy’s hands. “This is it.” he thought, hands clutched in eager anticipation. Smiling with curious wonder, he hurls the lid of his present open only to have said smile quickly fade, the open box crashing to the floor. Alarmed by the sudden bang followed by the blood-curdling scream coming from their child, Andy’s parents drop the still playing phone in shock, gazing at the terrifying gift Santa Claus had left for him. Their cups of morning caffeine shattering across the floor accompanied by their own violent screams.
As the festive melodies of The Jackson 5 are drowned out by the terrifying screams of Andy and his parents, the yuletide tunes cut and instead a drearier announcement plays through the speakers…
“This just in, police have located the body of a decapitated man near Fashion Place Mall just off highway 66. Authorities have yet to identify the body of the deceased but believe this to be a local Cain County resident and town’s own favorite yearly Santa Claus, Kristopher Kellum. Mr. Kellum’s wife reported her husband missing late hours in the evening last night and has yet to be found. The crime scene is currently being investigated for evidence and/or DNA to help identify the body of the deceased. Local police have yet to locate the victim’s missing head…”
The Dead Take the A Train Review: Queer Magic and Monster Mayhem
“Julie crawled onto the table, straddling her intern, both hands around the knife. She torqued it downward, cursing. Brad shrieked harder.” -pg 57, The Dead Take the A Train by Cassandra Khaw & Richard Kadrey
The Dead Take the A Train is the first book in a duology by authors Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey. It was published in 2023 by Tor Nightfire (like the Scourge Between Stars, which I reviewed here). I was not previously familiar with Kadrey’s work, which most notably includes the Sandman Slim series. However, I was introduced to Khaw through The Salt Grows Heavy (review here), which I absolutely adored in all its twisted, gory glory. Therefore, I was thrilled to pick-up The Dead Take the A Train, which promised similar heart in a modern cosmic horror package.
In The Dead Take the A Train, a magical fixer named Julie must hunt down eldritch monstrosities threatening the lives of those around her. To do this, she has to go up against her shitty ex, a questionable angel, finance executives, and her own sobriety. When an old friend shows up, Julie is terrified to find herself making a retirement plan that doesn’t involve getting murdered by a demon.
The Dead Take the A Train is reminiscent of N.K. Jeminsin’s The City We Became, with both featuring queer characters tackling eldritch horror plots in New York City. In the same way, the novel was reminiscent of a gorier version of Dimension 20’s Unsleeping City actual play series. However, it clearly carves out a space for itself among the droves of cosmic-horror inspired love letters to New York City. For one, it is mostly unconcerned with borough beef, which (not to sound like a curmudgeonly Midwesterner), is so refreshing. The book also has a relatively novel way the world works, which helps it stay memorable.
Overall, I really liked The Dead Take the A Train. First off, the characters are fun and easy to root for. Julie is a mess in pretty much every aspect, but her bad decisions are understandable and she is charismatic. Her romance with her friend, Sarah, also serves to make Julie more likable. It helps that the villains are so easy to hate too. What’s not to hate about rich Wall Street assholes engaging in human sacrifice? Speaking of which, I liked the juxtaposition of corporate Wall Street and cosmic cultists. The actions taken were evil, but more importantly, they were just business.
The prose was flowery, but not quite as much as in The Salt Grows Heavy. So, if you struggled with Khaw’s other works for that reason this may be a much easier read. Personally, I enjoyed the prose in both. There is quite a bit of gore in The Dead Take the A Train, but I didn’t find it to be overwhelming. I think you could still enjoy the book if you don’t love gore, though maybe not if you have a weak stomach.
One of the largest issues I have with The Dead Take the A Train, is the lack of clarity in power levels of the various characters. Especially since all their forms of magic work in different ways, it is sometimes unclear the level of danger present. This can also sometimes create room for plot holes. For example, Julie has a friend who is tapped into anything and everything happening online. This is an absurdly powerful ability (and is used as such). But there were moments where the main conflict probably could have been avoided or solved using that power. It also felt odd that no one else in this thriving magic community felt strongly about stopping a world-ending catastrophe. Because of this, the magic underground of NYC could feel smaller than I think was intended.
Having been familiar with Khaw’s work previously, The Dead Take the A Train clearly feels like a mix of Khaw’s style with someone else’s. This could be a boon or a hindrance, depending on your view of Khaw’s distinct prose and storytelling. Either way, if you are interested in learning more about the process or the authors, check out the interview they did for SFF Addicts Podcast!
I recommend The Dead Take the A Train, especially for those who are fans of modern urban eldritch horror. The book is an even bigger steal if you are looking for danger, gore, and queer characters. Check it out! And keep your eyes peeled for the next book in this duology.
Dolores Roach, A Fillet of Left Cheek
The second season of Dolores Roach started with a bang. The first episode was dark, gristly and in a strange way whimsical. It certainly brought to light new elements of the character.
We begin our story with Dolores somewhere, talking to someone. I’d like to be more specific, but that’s all we know right now.
She tells this unknown person about her flight from Empanadas Loco. How Jeremiah killed Luis. How she, whether she meant to or not, killed Jeremiah. How she then set the building on fire by blowing up the fryer in the kitchen.
Scared and alone, Dolores then ran for the underground. Dragging her purple massage table she runs into a hole in a subway track and finds herself in a whole different world.
Almost at once, she finds a place where someone is living. There’s a hot plate, a kettle and several packets of ramen. Even better, everything has Jeremiah’s name on it, literally written on it. Exhausted and alone, Dolores makes herself a cup of ramen and goes to sleep on her massage table.
She’s woken sometime later by a small man named Donald. He knows her because he knew Jeremiah. Dolores proceeds to tell him an abridged version of events that led up to Jeremiah’s death. And by abridged, I mean she blamed Luis for everything, throwing him under the bus so hard I’m surprised she didn’t pull something.
Donald seems inclined to help Dolores. He tells her that if anyone messes with her she should go further down, down a stairwell that he points out for her.
Dolores thanks him, then tries to go back to sleep. She’s soon woken again by a young woman collecting Jeremiah’s things.
While Dolores has an issue with this, she’s willing to let it go. Until that is, this woman tries to take her table. Then, Dolores does what she does best. Because one thing is for sure. Dolores is going to take care of herself.
One thing I love about this series so far is that our main character, Dolores, is crazy. And hearing her rationalize her crazy is both terrifying and fascinating. I hate/love how sweet and soothing she can be. Even with the rat that she killed in this episode. She cooed at it, encouraging it to come to her, even calling it a subway raccoon.
Then she killed it and started crying.
I also love the underground community. It’s both horrific and whimsical. It reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which is full of worlds most people don’t see but are all around us. It’s also horrific because there are so many people that our society has failed, that they’ve gathered underground and made their own little society. That’s not great. There just shouldn’t be that many people who need homes.
What didn’t work
Unfortunately, this episode did have two major flaws. And the first one is a personal pet peeve of mine.
In the last episode of season one, certain things were established. Dolores said she was carefully rationing her weed. She said she didn’t have anything to eat since coming down to the tunnels. She still had her massage table. This episode rewrote a lot of that.
Frankly, I hate when stories do that. It may or not make a difference to the story. It just strikes me as poor planning and lazy writing. This show has proven it’s capable of doing better.
All things considered, I thought this was a great start to the season. I’m invested in the story, curious about the new characters, and worried about the well-being of everyone Dolores comes in contact with. And that’s all as it should be.(3.5 / 5)
By the way, if you like my writing, you might want to check out my latest sci-fi horror story, Nova. It’ll be released episodically on my site, Paper Beats World, starting February 5th.
The Golem (2019), a Film Review
The Golem (2019) is a folk horror film directed by Doron and Yoav Paz, starring Hani Furstenberg and Ishai Golan.
The Golem (2019) is a folk horror film directed by Doron and Yoav Paz. The cast includes Hani Furstenberg, Ishai Golan, Kirill Cernyakov, and Brynie Furstenberg. As of this review, the film remains available to Amazon Prime and fuboTV subscribers with additional purchase options on other platforms.
Set in 1673, a small Jewish community faces hardships from others as the Black Plague spreads. When these hardships reach a boiling point, Hanna takes matters into her own hands. Having secretly learned to read, she seeks to perform a ritual that would create a protector for her people. Yet, this act brings about a steep cost.
What I Like about The Golem
The film received three nominations in 2019. These nominations include Best Actress, Best Sound, and Best Cinematography from the Award of the Israeli Film Academy. While The Golem wouldn’t win these awards, the nominations indicate a strong film.
I won’t claim to know the accuracy and intricacies of the golem in relation to its religious origin, but the film certainly brings to life its concept. The effort to create such a creature and the toll it takes from the summoner create an emotional throughline for viewers to follow.
Hani Furstenberg’s Hanna and Ishai Golan’s Benjamin bring a complicated but realistic relationship to the film. Viewers see the love between them, even as their own society attempts to cast them from each other. They feel like a couple who understand the other’s wants and needs. However, we begin to witness the decaying of this relationship.
Hanna, specifically, provides a complex character that incentivizes the viewers to root for and against her at different points in the movie. Though she navigates blatant sexism and discrimination, she remains far from flawless. These flaws and ambitions establish Hanna as an interesting character.
The Golem can be brutal. This film provides a period-accurate look into antisemitism and systemic oppression, which certainly evokes a different form of horror. However, the golem itself brings brutality through its smiting.
Tired Tropes and Triggers
As the film deals directly with systemic issues of 1673, understand that antisemitism, sexism, and hate crimes remain important elements within the film.
An assault leads to a miscarriage, which seems a point worth mentioning for potential viewers who are sensitive to such points. Fertility and bodily autonomy, generally, also play roles within the provided film.
If any of these are potential issues for your viewing experience, perhaps skip The Golem.
What I Dislike about The Golem
Aleksey Tritenko delivers a wonderful performance for an interesting antagonist, but the role of Vladimir serves limited purposes. In many ways, he’s the representation of his societal antisemitism. While this remains perfectly valid, he somewhat disappears from the narrative until he becomes relevant. His marauders should be an oppressive threat within the society, looming over it with malice.
I can’t deny the lack of intimidation the golem’s aesthetic brings. While some films evoke an eeriness through silent children to horrific effect, this didn’t sit well with me. It should be eerie, but something was missing in execution.
The Golem focuses on a more human horror than the supernatural elements might suggest. While not a direct critique, prepare your viewing expectations accordingly. The Golem remains a folk horror film, using the folk story to represent human evil and flaws. It won’t particularly haunt you with the gore.
The Golem brings the old legend of the golem folk story to life. If you thirst for a human horror that shines a light on the flaws of the people within, The Golem might satisfy you. However, it’s not a particularly frightening film, choosing instead to tell a story of loss and overcoming suffering. (3 / 5)