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Overview

This short story collection includes six stories of not-so-merry Yuletide whimsy. A woman so cold she hardens to ice on a winter’s eve. Risen from his grave before his time, a winter god alters the balance between seasons. A wolf’s holiday season is interrupted by a strange curse. From a murder at the Stanley Hotel to demons of Christmas past, present, and future, and a mad elf and Santa’s Candy Court, these authors share their love for winter holidays in this collection of dark winter tales, destined to chill your bones and warm your heart for the Yuletide season.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781733599443
Publisher: Black Spot Books
Publication date: 11/05/2019
Edition description: None
Pages: 250
Sales rank: 1,244,795
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Sam Hooker writes darkly humorous fantasy novels. He lives in Mission Viejo, California. Alcy Leyva is a Bronx-born writer, teacher, and pizza enthusiast. He has been published in Popmatters, The Rumpus, Entropy Mag, and Quiet Lunch Magazine. Laura Morrison has a B.S. in applied ecology and environmental science from Michigan Technological University. She lives in the Metro Detroit area. Cassondra Windwalker is a poet and novelist writing full time from the coast of the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska. Dalena Storm currently resides with a rare Burmese temple cat, a purring black fluff-beast, a professor of magic, and an infant with an astonishing ability to resist sleep. She lives in Western Massachusetts. Seven Jane is an author of dark fantasy and speculative fiction. She also writes a column for The Women's Fiction Association and is a contributor to The Nerd Daily.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

THE DAUNTLESSSAM HOOKER

"Next ... d-docket ..." Poundcake paused. His tongue lolled from the side of his mouth as he stared at the clipboard. Stared daggers at it. His bitter squint leveled threats at the page, promising grievous injury if it didn't surrender its secrets.

Snickerdoodle forced a placid smile across her face, behind which her frustration roiled. The big oaf had said the word "docket" countless times over the years. He should have accidentally memorized it by now. He couldn't be wilfully resisting it, could he?

Poundcake hadn't been appointed bailiff for his prowess in literacy. At two feet, eleven inches tall, he was by far the biggest elf in the North Pole. It made sense to everyone else that the big guy would be the bailiff, so Snickerdoodle supposed that was good enough. Of course, had anyone asked her, she'd have suggested someone with a firm grasp of the entire alphabet.

"The ... N-North ... Pole ... verse ... vuss ..."

"Versus," offered Judge Fuzzybean, with as much patience as he could muster. He always had to help Poundcake with that one.

"Yeah, that. Um, vuzzes ... S-Sprinkles."

"The North Pole seeks the maximum penalty available," said Sugarsnap, over-enunciating the way people do when they want to seem smarter than they are.

"Of course it does," sighed the judge. "May we please hear the charges first, if that's all right with the prosecution?"

"Cookie sneakery in the first degree!" shouted Sugarsnap, shaking a manila folder above his head.

"Hey," moaned Poundcake, "I get to read those!"

"You take too long," grumbled Sugarsnap, giving an agitated wave toward the bailiff's hurt expression.

"First degree?" Sprinkles' lower lip quivered. "It was only one extra cookie!"

"Objection, Your Honor," said Snickerdoodle. "The prosecution has been reminded many times that there are no degrees of cookie sneakery."

"Sustained," the judge replied. "How does the defendant plead?"

"Naughty, Your Honor," Snickerdoodle replied as gently as she could. Sprinkles was on the verge of tears. Snickerdoodle saw in her file that she'd never been in trouble before. She cared about her clients and didn't like to see them tied up in anxious knots.

Sugarsnap, on the other hand, lived for that sort of thing. He'd gone to law school because he wanted to punish people for a living.

"Very well," said Judge Fuzzybean, not looking up from the papers in front of him. "Given that this is your first offense and you came clean about it, the court orders you to pay a fine of one poem about cookies."

Sprinkles' eyes lit up.

"A new poem about cookies, that is."

Sprinkles grinned. She was practically famous in open-mic poetry slam circles for her odes to cookies. If Fuzzybean hadn't been a slam poet himself, Sprinkles might have gotten away with paying her debt with existing work. But no matter. She was a legend. Snickerdoodle had no doubt that she'd have something drafted before the day was out.

Judge Fuzzybean banged his gavel. Sugarsnap glared at Snickerdoodle, and she smiled back. She didn't like Sugarsnap. He was a meanie. She'd never use that kind of language out loud, but it was true. He was a real meanie. Genetic elfish optimism demanded that she assume he was a nice guy deep down, but Snickerdoodle had never seen any proof. She'd only seen him being a big ... well, she wasn't about to swear three times in the same thought process.

It had been a light day in Candy Court. Then again, they always were. Elves never got into real trouble, much to Sugarsnap's chagrin. Before Sprinkles, the day's dockets had included a barista who'd played fast-and-loose with the standard marshmallows-to-cocoa ratio. She'd been sentenced to three afternoons of sleigh bell jingling in the snow angel garden. The docket before that had been a Failure to Whistle While Working case that got dismissed. Sugarsnap had pushed for five years of shoes without curled toes, but Snickerdoodle had proven–beyond a shadow of a doubt–that Candyfloss had been on a mandatory giggle break at the time.

"Just you try whistling and giggling at the same time," Snickerdoodle had said to the court. "It would be delightful, no doubt. But it simply isn't possible."

One docket left, Snickerdoodle thought to herself as she looked at the lone folder on the judge's bench. It was significantly thicker than average, which was exciting. It usually meant that some new carols would be entered into evidence, and the whole Candy Court would get to sing them.

"N-next ... doggy ..." stammered Poundcake.

"Oh, for cinnamon swirlies," groaned Sugarsnap.

"Objection!"

"Sustained! You'll watch your mouth in my court, counselor."

"Sorry," Sugarsnap sneered. From the way he rolled his eyes, Snickerdoodle got the impression that he wasn't sorry at all.

"N-North ... Pole ..."

"Versus."

"Fizzy ... Gum ... Gumdrop."

"What's the charge?"

"The ... r-really ... delivery ... m-murders."

"Thank you, Bailiff," said Judge Fuzzybean. "And how does the–wait, what?"

Fuzzybean, Sugarsnap, and Snickerdoodle all stared down at their copies of the file to see what word Poundcake had mistaken for "murders," only to find that that wasn't the one he'd gotten wrong. The name of the case was "The R'lyeh Delivery Murders." For once, no one questioned how Poundcake had misread a word. Snickerdoodle couldn't begin to guess how one would pronounce "R'lyeh."

Before she could ask for clarification, a blood-curdling scream ripped through the courtroom from just beyond the bailiff's door.

"What was that?" gasped Fuzzybean.

"I think it was Gumdrop," said Poundcake.

"My client?" This was a lot for Snickerdoodle to take in. Why was he screaming? What was delivered to R'lyeh–however that was pronounced–and was it too much to hope that it was several bowls of ice cream that had been murdered?

"Wait a minute," said Fuzzybean, "Gumdrop's not even in here! Bailiff, please escort the defendant to his seat."

"All right," Poundcake warbled in a foreboding sort of sing-songy "you're not going to like it" way.

A pleasant disposition goes a long way in all facets of elfish life, and staying off the Naughty List was a big motivator. To that end, most defendants opted to skip from Poundcake's door to their seats. A few have tried whistling as well, though Fuzzybean frowns on that. He says whistlers don't take Candy Court seriously enough.

Gumdrop didn't whistle. He didn't skip. He didn't even wear a happy-and-you-know-it grin. His arms were all bound up in an odd shirt with belts on. Snickerdoodle had never seen anything like it.

But that wasn't the worst part. It was his eyes. Where elves almost always have a gleam or a twinkle, Gumdrop's gaze was bleak, teetering on the edge of fear. Lack of sleep had weathered his face, his once ruddy complexion now pale and wan. He shuffled listlessly as Poundcake guided him to his chair.

Snickerdoodle was having trouble grasping the enormity of the case. "I'd like to request a recess, Your Honor."

"Recess is after lunch," said Fuzzybean.

"No, I mean I need a moment to confer with my client."

"Objection!" Sugarsnap spat.

"On what grounds?"

"Well," Sugarsnap began, searching for the words to explain what he'd thought obvious, "it's highly irregular!"

"It's a highly irregular case," Snickerdoodle replied.

"I agree," Sugarsnap retorted, "all the reason to avoid adding any more irregularity."

"Sustained."

"But Your Honor, I've never–"

"None of us have ever tried a murder, counselor," said Fuzzybean, whispering the frightful word. "Let's stick to what we know, shall we?"

Snickerdoodle was speechless. At her core, she was a holly jolly elf who wanted nothing more than to get along with everyone, smile, drink cocoa, and have a snowball fight that ended in giggle fits. But this didn't sit well with her. Some rugged individualist within her thought what Fuzzybean said was a load of coal, and wanted no part of it.

But elves didn't do rugged individualism. It wasn't a rule or anything, it just didn't occur to them. That made Snickerdoodle uncomfortable. She'd never asked for individualism to go occurring, all willy-nilly, in her head. She made a mental note to be on the lookout for any more wanton occurrences.

Fuzzybean moved on to reading the charges. Gumdrop was one of six elves assigned to deliver Christmas to a place called R'lyeh–no one could agree on a proper pronunciation–while Santa was delivering it to the rest of the world. They'd departed in a submarine called the Dauntless at the beginning of December, and when the craft returned at the end of January, Gumdrop was the only member of the crew still alive. He was festooned in the entrails of his comrades, surrounded by their bloody corpses. All of them bore the same wide-eyed visages of terror as Gumdrop, though they weren't shrieking like mad.

"He was screaming something over and over when they pulled him out of the Dauntless," said Fuzzybean as he rifled through the papers in front of him. "Can anyone find the transcription?"

"Iä! Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn!" Gumdrop screeched in a disturbing warble. "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!"

"That's the one," said Fuzzybean. "And I suppose that clears up the pronunciation of R'lyeh. The court will hear opening arguments from the prosecution."

Sugarsnap glared smugly around the room as he stood. He was always eager for a win. His chronic competitiveness had made him Toymaker of the Month for seven months of the past year, three consecutive.

"May it please the court," he began, "this is an open-and-shut case. If Gumdrop wasn't guilty of murdering the rest of his crew, why wouldn't he say so? The only conclusion that might be reached through advanced interrogation techniques would be that his semblance of insanity is a ruse. A distraction. One that prevents him from having to answer a direct question with a lie. 'Did you murder the crew of the Dauntless?' Why won't he answer the question? Because lying will land him on the Naughty List, and the truth will result in a death sentence. Thank you."

Snickerdoodle scribbled furiously on a notepad as Sugarsnap took his seat. The prosecutor had a priggish look on his face, as though he'd won the case already while juggling pies to a standing ovation.

"Does the defense have an opening statement?" asked Fuzzybean, implying that Snickerdoodle should stop scribbling and start talking if she wanted to make one.

"Yes, Your Honor," Snickerdoodle replied. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly as she smoothed the front of her dress. It jingled like crazy for all the bells sewn onto it.

"As Your Honor has pointed out," she said, "this is a highly irregular case. Even the premise raises more questions than it answers. For instance, Santa has always performed all of the Christmas deliveries himself. For centuries, he and the reindeer have made the rounds unassisted. The entire world in one night. Why send elves on this delivery in particular?

"And then there's this ... R'lyeh," she continued, still not sure she was getting the inflection just right. "According to the notes in the docket it's in the middle of the ocean, but according to the map, there's nothing there! Why send a submarine to the middle of the ocean?

"The prosecution's argument is absurd." She leveled a baleful look at Sugarsnap. He returned it with interest. "My client hasn't admitted guilt, and he's obviously not well enough to proclaim his innocence either. Sugarsnap doesn't know anything about advanced interrogation techniques. None of us do! What are advanced interrogation techniques?"

Snickerdoodle paused for effect. It was a gamble, but it paid off. Sugarsnap had no reply, other than folding his arms in a huff.

"The cause of the tragedy aboard the Dauntless is yet unknown," Snickerdoodle continued, "and no definitive evidence proves my client is at fault, intentionally or otherwise. And what does the defense mean, 'death sentence?' I don't think the Peanut Butter Penal Code even has a definition for murder. The most severe punishment I've ever seen it recommend is six months with artificial sweeteners!"

Everyone in the court gasped. Snickerdoodle was loath to bring up the case of the Christmas Carol Swearer, but under the circumstances, she felt the shock was warranted.

"Right," said Fuzzybean, drawing the word out. "Does the Peanut Butter Penal Code say anything about elves who are a potential danger to themselves or others?"

"I don't think so," said Sugarsnap. "In the south, they do prison for that sort of thing."

Gumdrop whimpered.

"Prison!" Snickerdoodle gasped. "We don't even have one of those!" "She's right," said Fuzzybean. "I'll bet Creampuff could design one in a jiffy, though. She's a great architect."

"What?" Things were taking a weird turn. Had they really leapt over debating guilt and landed in prison design contracts?

"He can stay in his own home until it's built," said Sugarsnap. "Under supervision, of course."

"Of course."

"Hang on–"

"Well then," said Fuzzybean, his gavel rising to strike, "if there's nothing else, the court remands–"

"Objection!"

Another gasp erupted from the court. It was turning out to be a shocking sort of day.

"You don't get to object at the sentencing!"

"With all due respect, Your Honor, when did we move from the trial to the sentencing? We've just done opening remarks!"

"Well, yes," said Fuzzybean, "it's just that ... well, cases are usually done by now. Don't you want to go to lunch?"

"Of course I do," said Snickerdoodle, "I love lunch. But my client deserves a complete trial!"

"I suppose so," Fuzzybean sighed. "How does the defendant plead?"

Snickerdoodle looked at Gumdrop. She couldn't say for sure whether his wide-eyed, vacant stare was a yearning for justice or the desperate terror of an elf drowning in madness. Either way, she knew lunch would have to wait.

"Not naughty, Your Honor."

"And just what is the point of that?" demanded Sugarsnap. "Look at him! He's as daffy as a fairy trapped in a sugar bowl! What are we supposed to do with him if he's found nice?"

"Probably the same thing we'd do if he's found naughty," agreed Fuzzybean. "He's a danger to himself and others. He'll have to be locked up."

"Perhaps," said Snickerdoodle, "but he'll be nice."

"Does that really matter?" Sugarsnap sneered.

"If it doesn't," said Snickerdoodle, "then we may as well convert Candy Court to a prison, because it's certainly not being used for justice."

* * *

It was late. Snickerdoodle was tired, but she didn't dare sleep. Gumdrop's trial would reconvene in three days, so she didn't have long to prove his innocence.

Due to the unusual nature of the case, she'd been given time away from her toymaking and legal duties so that she could devote her full attention to the case. While that was good on the one hand, on the other it was bizarre. An elf without a pair of jobs? Every instinct within her was screaming at her to go out into the world and find something that needed doing. Sure, she was doing this, but what was she supposed to be thinking about in the back of her mind? Was she to devote her full attention to just one thing? Well, she supposed that she was. She just wasn't sure how that was supposed to work.

Sugarsnap had been offered the same, but he declined. He either had a harder time defying his instincts, or he was so arrogant that he felt he didn't need the time to prepare. Either was just as easy to believe.

She'd been combing through old court dockets for hours, looking for precedents. She only managed to prove to herself that the Christmas Carol Swearer was, in fact, the most heinous case ever tried in Candy Court. That one had lasted nearly an hour, and most of that was deliberation over the sentencing. What's a fitting punishment for shouting the one that starts with "G" and severely affronts the victim's apple-bobbing skills?

Mass murder! At the North Pole! This was beyond the pale. Snickerdoodle was counting on finding something approaching a precedent, and she didn't know what to do next without one. She closed her books and started baking a cake.

She needed to talk to Gumdrop, and you didn't visit the home of another elf without bringing treats. Time was running out, but she wasn't about to turn her back on centuries of elfish tradition for the sake of expediency. That was a surefire way to get yourself on the Naughty List.

She needed to try and talk to him, anyway. Whimpers and screams were all she'd heard from him thus far.

Fortunately, Snickerdoodle was an excellent baker, and she left her house with a perfectly frosted cake a mere two hours later. She wore a gleeful smile as she walked through the streets of Santa's Village. She didn't feel particularly jolly given the circumstances, but she'd have gotten weird looks had her expression been dour. Passers-by would have stopped her for obligatory hugs, and she didn't have that kind of time. It was an odd feeling, forcing a smile. She'd probably not have been surprised to learn that she was the first elf to walk past the Sleighbell Street Carollers without a genuine ear-to-ear grin.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "A Midnight Clear"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Sam Hooker, Alcy Leyva, Laura Morrison, Cassondra Windwalker, Dalena Storm and Seven Jane.
Excerpted by permission of Black Spot Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

The Dauntless,
Tidings Of The New Moon,
Movin' On Up,
The Poetry Of Snow And Stars,
Sleep, Sweet Khors,
Snow Angel,
About the Authors,
Other Black Spot Books Titles by Anthology Authors,
Acknowledgments,

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