CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY READING LIST X

Just as Horror Delve’s Annual Halloween Suggested Reading List hit its tenth iteration this past October, it’s now time for the Christmas Reading List to follow suit. Putting this annual list together never fails to get me in the mood for the festive season. This year’s selection of stories skews more toward the recent than previous lists have, but I read a lot of excellent newer tales which I felt had to be shared. Without further delay, here is this year’s Christmas Horror Story Suggested Reading List:

THE LIST (By Order of Publication Date):

1. “On the Down Line” by George Manville Fenn (1867) – A spectral train with a doppelgänger at the helm appears running beside its double at Christmas time. (Found in Chillers For Christmas)

2. “Wolverden Tower” by Grant Allen (1896) – This novelette follows a young woman named Maisie who’s thrilled to receive an invitation to stay at an impressive Elizabethan manor-house during the Christmas season. A new tower has been recently constructed there whose modern-style clashes with the esthetic of the rest of the place. When she arrives, Maisie is heckled by a vagrant women who’s lingering about the church yard reciting dire-sounding prophecies at her. Once clear of her, she’s shown to her opulent, ground floor room inside the manor. Later, she’s treated to a pantomime being performed for the attending Christmas guests. The program contains a famous Walter Scott poem called “Proud Maisie”. She has long hated that poem and the gloomy stanzas it contains using her name. Maisie takes notice of two young women lurking in the background of the performance who eventually come sit beside and befriend her. Strangely, no one else seems to notice them. This is an intriguing supernatural, weird tale whose narrative feels infused with subtext, which is something I always appreciate in a story. The descriptions are effective and the spectral intrusions are well-described. Thanks to Jay Rothermel for suggesting it! (Found in Ghosts for Christmas)

3. “Christmas Entertainment” by Daphne Froome (1979) – Professor Conway is a man of science who loves researching the paranormal in order to debunk it. When he finds himself charged with hosting the annual Christmas party for the children of the college staff, he decides to use his technique for creating the illusion of a ‘ghost’ for them, but is this pseudo-ghost the only specter making an an appearance that night? (Found in Ghosts for Christmas)

4. “Buy A Goat For Christmas” by Anna Taborska (2012) – This is a different kind of Christmas tale, exchanging the classic winter wonderland setting for the heat of Africa. Here we find a group of foreign aid workers at Christmas delivering donated goods to a small village in the form of grain, livestock and even a decommissioned military tank for the blacksmith to strip out for parts to convert into farming implements. One of the aid workers, however, had been previously bitten by a strange-looking wolf causing her to become ravenously hungry for meat. This is an excellent, really unique werewolf tale. Highly recommended! (Found in the collection For Those Who Dream Monsters)

5. “Christmas In the Snow” by Rose Blackthorn (2013) – After inheriting a house in the country, a couple moves into it to escape city life. The area has some odd customs however, like their reverence for ravens, even hanging wooden replicas of them in the trees. As a heavy snowstorm approaches on Christmas Eve, they prepare to hunker down to celebrate a quiet holiday together, but a strange, thin figure lurking amidst the trees seems to be watching them. (Found in O Little Town of Deathlehem)

6. “The Unreal” by Paul Finch (2020) – A Christmas-hating host of a popular show spends Christmas Eve in a theater house seeking to invalidate claims it’s haunted. Huge puppets used in the production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol are stored there as well, but the man is unfazed by them early on. As the night wears on his resolve begins to waver, however. (Found in The Christmas You Deserve collection)

7. “Grey Glass” by Reggie Oliver (2021) – A former actor relates the strange events he encountered years ago while preforming in a Christmas pantomime called “The Mistletoe Bough”. During this production he had to share a dressing room with the play’s lead actor who was a difficult person to be around. This lead actor had an elegant hand mirror he used all the time to apply his stage makeup and of which he was very possessive. As the days progress, it seems something is unnatural about the mirror. This excellent tale has an M. R. Jamesian feel to it. (Found in the anthology December Tales).

8. “The Humbug” by Orrin Grey (2021) – When their parents are yet again delayed returning home for Christmas, the caretaker tries to allay their children’s disappointment and keep them occupied. One of the them discovers a strange bug which has Christmas colorations to it. This odd bug can’t be identified, and while a snowstorm begins to rage outside, the bug begins to grow larger. https://pseudopod.org/2021/12/24/pseudopod-790-the-humbug/

9. “The Fourth Call” by Ramsey Campbell (2021) – While stuck at his childhood home in the rural village of Leanbridge, a man recalls the bizarre Bundle family. The Bundles were very odd, dressing up like strange birds to travel door-to-door demanding mince pies on successive nights around Christmas. He remembers their appearance and activity as being very disturbing. While this may sound silly at first, it becomes truly chilling as the story continues on toward its ominous finale. I particularly like how it incorporated the idea of separate but linked entities visiting the house on successive nights around Christmastime (which harkens to A Christmas Carol). In lesser hands the bird-like appearance and movements of the Bundles would be difficult to pull off as horror, but here it’s masterfully done. This is a chilling, unsettling piece of festive horror I won’t soon forget. (Found in The Mammoth Book of Folk Horror)

Previous Christmas Horror Reading Lists:

Article by Matt Cowan

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