The Good, the Bad, and Santa

I have succeeded, despite the best efforts of the Internet to bugger things up. Sections of the Kindle and Smashwords sites went down for maintenance while I was loading the book last night and I couldn’t stay up too late  because I had to be up early today.

My car is in for MOT, they have given me a little clown car to drive in the meantime with enough room inside for two medium sized humans or twenty clowns. The boot is almost big enough for a carrier bag. It’s a bit cramped but it’s just for today. I’ll have the proper car back tomorrow.

Anyway, the latest anthology is now live on Amazon in print and Kindle (the two listings will eventually merge) and I have ordered copies to send to the authors who opted for books rather than cash. It’s still possible they could arrive in time for Christmas (the UK ones at least).

For those who use non-Kindle formats, all sorts are available on Smashwords. These anthologies have not yet managed to get through Smashwords’ distribution system because of rules about multi-author books that are a pain in the arse to comply with. Now the book frenzy is over until Christmas I’ll take a look at getting those anthologies some further distribution.

Five books in six weeks was the goal and it’s done. It was knackering and it took up pretty much all my time but it’s done now. I will bask in smugness until after New Year when I will start it all over again.

Roobeedoo can take a rest too – I won’t bug her with editing requests before January 2nd. Probably.

Okay. Now I can get the railway set up and running. At last!

 

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Beating a deadline? Me?

Author contracts went out yesterday and all but two are already back. I need those in place before publication since I have to have proof that I have the author’s permission to use their story/stories.

I’ve also sent a PDF of the interior to all authors so they can check it looks the way they want it to look. That’s how it will print so any glitches need to be removed now. Minor changes are easy.

The print book is the one that needs to be ready fast. It takes time to get them delivered even if you have Amazon Prime. The eBooks you can download anytime, even on Christmas morning – but they will be available long before then. Kindle takes a couple of days to make the product available and it would be a damn shame if it came out on Boxing Day.

Most of the work is now with the authors so I have time to work on a back cover. Writing the back cover is harder than writing a book – you have just a tiny space to work in. It has to be fast and snappy.

There is time still to restart that back cover entirely from scratch – the deadline I set for the 14th is still four days away and really, most of it is ready to load up now. It’s likely to be a day or more ahead of that deadline – and that’s something new for me! I usually trim the final minutes of deadlines or quietly pretend I didn’t set one  😉

Here is the back cover so far. Every single aspect is open to change. Or it might all stay like that. It’s nearly 2 am now and I don’t care. I’ll look at it again tomorrow.

The space bottom right is where the barcode panel goes. The wide margin on the right is because I went a bit too far left so I might need to shift the image over when loading the cover. Or I could scrap the whole thing and start again. That’s a viable option.

Still, this one will definitely make or even beat the deadline, as long as nothing goes horribly wrong.

I have to try to make a habit of that…

 

Update – I couldn’t leave it like that. It looked shit. Second try…

Another update:

I’ll go with this one. The original looks better than this reduced size file but the original is a very big file.

I’m now waiting for one last author contract (I know, it’s only been two days) and everyone’s approval or changes on the PDF of the interior and it can go to print. The eBook versions will be very close behind. That Thursday deadline is looking easy now.

 

Nearly there…

Editing is finished and the author contracts are all sent out. I plan to spend the weekend assembling this monster of a book and it should be uploaded on or before the 14th.

I’m going with a ‘Christmas past, present and future’ division within the book because I’ve always been a big fan of old Ebenezer and because… well because. Most of the stories fit into ‘present’ so the other two sections will be smaller but that’s not too big an issue, I think.

It won’t be as cheap as the other anthologies because it’s going to be a lot thicker. I’ll have to cut profits to within a hair of zero – but then these anthologies aren’t about profit. They’re about getting the word out. And, long term, they might break even one day. The authors get paid up front, I take all the risks, but I’ve always been one to take risks. At least this kind of risk is unlikely to kill, maim or permanently disfigure me.

I see I have missed many things to rant about while engaging in real work. It’s paid off. This anthology will be the fifth publication from Leg Iron Books in six weeks. Once it’s done I’m taking a rest. I’ve picked up a load of old, cheap, ‘spares or repairs’ model railway stuff on eBay and I can’t play with it until I finish this book. There are films on DVD that are still in their plastic coverings. I also need to move ahead on the house decorating and I’m starting to hear mumbles about putting up a Christmas tree…

Still, the book is now down to the technical stuff – putting it together, formatting, putting in internal and external links for the eBook versions, all that stuff. Takes time but I’ve done it so many times now it’s not particularly difficult any more.

Oh, and the cover. The reindeer will be on the back. The front, so far, looks like this…

The real image is bigger, of course, but it would use up a lot of storage here. The back cover isn’t finished yet, I need to write an engaging blurb. I don’t actually need the back cover for the eBook but I do like to include that back cover within the eBook versions.

Soon the blog will return to normal ranting mode and there is a new story coming up for Christmas this year. It’s in the book but won’t be on the blog until Christmas day.

The book will be available well before then.

 

UPDATE : Not as big as I expected. There are some really long stories but also some really short ones. It’ll come in at 200 pages or less so won’t be all that expensive.

The anthology progresses… Meanwhile, have a story

Well, I’m still working. This is going to be a big book with some long short stories. If it gets too big I might split it into Underdog Anthology 4a and 4b. I’d rather not – as long as it doesn’t get too expensive.

None of the anthologies have reached break-even. Maybe they will one day. It’s not what they are really for though. I set the price as low as possible because if they ever make some money it’s a bonus. Their real purpose is advertising for Leg Iron Books and its authors.

And because they are fun to do. The current one is going to cost me about £200 in total to set up and I’ll need to sell at least  2000 copies to break even. Yes, I cut profit on these to the bone. The single author books are about profit, these anthologies are showcases for the authors who write those books and for new authors who might write one in the future. Also for those who have no intention of writing any more than anthology tales. Some of us don’t care about money. Some of us… maybe I should skip that part.

Wondering whether Mark Ellot’s books are worth reading? You can get a sample of his work in the anthologies. There’s a sample of Hugo Stone’s work in Anthology 1 and there’ll be a few samples of Justin Sanebridge’s in this book. Also Lee Bidgood, who has a novel in the works.

I’m not putting illustrations in this one because there won’t be time. There are 16 stories with possibly two others in the works and I can’t get them all illustrated if I’m getting this one out for Christmas.

I have wondered though about section breaks within stories. This time, some of the stories are long enough to warrant chapters but usually in a short you’d indicate a section break with one or two blank lines or ‘***’. I don’t really like any of them but I need a section separator and it has to be consistent.

I have something different in mind. I’m thinking of sticking this in as a section break indicator –


Smaller , of course. Barely visible unless you look really close. No taller than pitch 12 or 13 text. It would be different, and proprietary. President Malphas would approve.

Anyway, the next anthology will be timed at around Easter but won’t be confined to the Easter theme. It’ll be the intermediate anthology between Christmas and Halloween and anything goes. Any story, any genre.

Speaking of stories, here’s one I prepared earlier. Much earlier. It’s not in this anthology, it was a stand-alone little one on Smashwords and I’m not sure if I put it up here before. Anyway, if you haven’t seen it before… enjoy 🙂

_________

Cold Turkey for Christmas

Three hundred and sixty-three days of bad habits. One day of virtue. Not a bad life, up until now.

Santa glared through his window at the white expanse beyond. What did it matter if he smoked and drank all year? It wasn’t as if there was anything else to do here. Nobody visited, nobody would know. Those elves had meddled in his life too much, and the smoking ban was the last straw. He hadn’t asked for the job. If they were going to keep him here, there should be some perks.

His beard itched. That was the worst part of the whole deal. The elves had received complaints, they said, about the stink of tobacco in the beard. He had offered to shave it off, but they would have none of that. The beard was essential, they said. Part of the uniform. Santa took a sip of his whisky, and wondered whether that would be the next thing on their list. Once the tobacco vanished from his beard, the whisky on his breath would draw moans and gripes from the precious little darlings he was forced to serve. His beard bristled with the curl in his lip.

He had a name of his own, once. It was lost now, gone into the dark place along with most of his memories. He had been slim and fit. He had jogged in the park late at night.

That was when the elves caught him. The dust in his face had knocked him unconscious, and when he woke, he was in a place white with snow. A baggy red uniform covered his body, and stubble covered his chin. It had been February, he remembered, but beyond that there was only a vague recollection, a life faded into the wastes of time.

Perhaps he had a wife and children somewhere. Perhaps one or more of the fatherless children he delivered to were his own. There was no way to tell. It was too hard even to remember how many years ago he had been captured, how many Christmas Eves he had flown the world, how many chimneys he had descended—and where there were no chimneys, how many letterboxes he had flitted through.

Oh, they had given him a little magic, but they had stolen his life. It had been tolerable, up until now. The cigarettes and booze had flowed unchecked, and he was only required to abstain for one day and night. Twenty-four hours without his vices. Cold turkey for Christmas.

Tonight was December 23rd and he had not smoked since December First. Just passed the three-week mark. Whisky and gin dulled the boredom, but a smoke would have been good too. Cold turkey was bearable for a day but three weeks of it was hell.

Santa rubbed his wide waist. They had fed him something when he arrived here, and they kept feeding it until he had filled the suit. It was pleasant to eat, for sure, and the little elves still gave him some occasionally, but not often enough. Not any more. Certainly not enough to compensate for the loss of his tobacco.

The sun touched the horizon and covered the snow with crimson. Santa sighed and downed his whisky. Tomorrow was Christmas Eve, his one day of virtue. He had to be sober to ride the sled. At four times the speed of light, it was best to keep your wits about you.

His fingers interlocked, separated and interlocked again. They drummed the arms of his chair. They picked at his face, they rubbed his chin. Dammit, didn’t all those old pictures show Santa smoking a pipe? Wasn’t the tobacco part of the uniform, like the beard? He poured another whisky. A large one.

“Time to get ready, Santa.”

The elf entered without knocking, as always, and the silence of his movements meant he had spoken directly into Santa’s ear, with no warning of his approach.

“Hell’s bells.” Santa held the whisky glass away from himself. In his surprise, he had spilled some of it over his jacket. “Can’t you cough or something when you come in here? You scared seven shades of crap out of me.”

“Mind your language.” The elf’s leathery face crinkled in a smirk. “Have to get that booze out of your system. Sundown, so no more drink until the job’s done. Hand it over.”

Santa swirled the whisky in his glass and glared at the little elf. It was no more than eighteen inches high. Small enough to step on, if he chose, and his weight would crush it to a pulp. Santa stared into his glass. There were hundreds, perhaps thousands of the little beasts. Even if he killed them all, he was somewhere in the North, among the ice. He had no idea where.

“The booze, Santa.” The elf held out his hand.

Santa raised his glass. “Cheers,” he said, and downed the contents of the glass. He smacked his lips as the whisky burned its way down his throat.

“You are the most difficult Santa we’ve ever had here.” The elf snatched the glass from Santa’s hand. “One day of work, that’s all you have to do, and you object to it.” He grabbed the whisky bottle. “Lazy. Plain lazy.”

“How about a cigarette? One won’t hurt.” Santa raised one eyebrow. “Or a pipe. All the old Santa pictures showed him smoking. Why can’t I?”

“Times change. Smoking is a bad thing now. Santa can’t be seen doing bad things. The children smell it. There were complaints in the letters this year.”

“I know, I know, but I only get out once a year. What about Christmas day? Surely I can have a smoke then?”

“No more smoking. Never.” The elf made for the door. “Next time we’ll be sure to choose a non-smoker for the job.” The elf left, closing the door with a bang.

Santa gripped the arms of his chair. His eyes narrowed, his breathing became shallow.

So, a merry Christmas to one and all. Not quite all, and certainly not to one in particular. Christmas dinner with no smoke to follow. I didn’t even apply for the job. They chose me, they never said how or why.

His brow creased. They never said what happened to the previous Santas either. Am I here until I die?

Santa struggled from the chair and stretched his arms. They tingled with the approach of his magic, the power he held for a few days only, over Christmas. Simple magics that let him into locked houses and fixed broken toys. Not enough to escape the pull of the sleigh; if he strayed too far, his head burned. Oh, he had tried to run away, in the early days, but the pain always forced him back. No, he could not escape, he could do nothing to avoid tomorrow night’s race around the globe. The sleigh would leave on time. If he wasn’t on it, he would endure agony until it returned.

There must be something. Some way to get back at these vicious little toymakers.

Santa strode from the room and into the attached barn. There, his sleigh stood loaded with sacks of presents. It had been ready for a week. There were no last-minute panics here. These elves were efficient.

Santa’s fingers tingled. There was a broken toy in one of the parcels. He felt it as though it was an injury to his own body. With a sigh, he heaved himself into the sleigh. Efficient they may be, but careful they were not. Santa ran his hands over the sacks until he found the one with the broken present. He pulled open the sack and reached inside.

His fingers closed on a long box, covered in green and blue paper. A wave of his hand separated the paper into two neat halves. Santa opened the box.

A toy laser gun, for a budding space ranger. Santa grinned. If only it was real. That would make for a Christmas to remember.

He found the fault in an instant. The trigger mechanism had snapped. Santa pressed his huge hand over the toy and closed his eyes. In his mind, he saw the parts reassemble, the broken pieces meld together. He opened his eyes and took a breath.

“Good as new.” Santa placed the toy gun back in the box. His fingers held the lid, ready to replace it, but he hesitated.

What if—

He had never really tested his magic. It was his for such a short time, and a busy time. All his thoughts were on the sleigh when he travelled. The pain he would suffer if it ever left without him. Now, Santa smiled at the plastic and metal toy. He took it from the box once more and held it between his hands.

This time, he closed his eyes and thought of spacemen, of battles between the stars, of Flash Gordon, of Cybermen and Daleks. Heat flowed between his fingers. The gun became heavy.

Santa opened his eyes. The gun, no longer plastic, gleamed with a new-metal sheen. He aimed it at the barn door and pulled the trigger.

The gun made no sound but a hole appeared in the door. He held the trigger down and moved the gun to make a slot.

“Excellent.” Santa placed the gun back in the box. His fingers pressed the wrapping back into place. He examined the name tag. “I’m sure little Peter is going to be very pleased with this.”

Santa lifted parcels, one by one, and checked their contents. Toy dinosaurs. Hideous, deformed dolls. He shuddered at some of the more grotesque models.

“Kids, these days,” he muttered. “This stuff would be better suited to Halloween.” He shrugged. “Still, I suppose it’s what they asked for.” And this year, they’ll get more than they asked for.

With care, he replaced the toys in the sacks. It was too soon to make these creatures real. He could do it on the way, tomorrow night. Along with the guns, the bows and arrows, the plastic swords. The toy power tools, the ovens, the irons. These children had made the elves take away his smokes but he would not deny them their presents. That would be too easy. Santa swaggered to the barn doors and pushed them open.

Stars twinkled in a deep black sky over a landscape of pure white. A chuckle rose in Santa’s throat, to escape as a deep and resonant “Ho, ho, ho.” His laughter echoed out into the night.

For the first time in his career, this Santa’s mirth was genuine.

Entertainment interlude

Working on that anthology is going to occupy most of my time for a week or so. Therefore, in the absence of the usual drunken ranting, I’ll put up a few Christmas themed stories from the past.I have a new one for this year but I’ll save that for Christmas day. It’ll be in the anthology too.

Here’s one from ‘Fears of the Old and the New‘, and which was originally published in a (sadly no longer active) e-zine called ‘From The Asylum’. It’ll start getting you all in the right frame of mind for Christmas, I’m sure.

____________

Last Christmas

Harry scowled into his beer, ignoring the merriment of the revellers in the crowded bar. There was still a week to go before Christmas but it felt like it had been running for a year already. The shops had been filled with tat and tinsel since Halloween, and the town’s flashing lights had been going since late November. He had even seen, in one supermarket, a pack of Christmas mince pies with an expiry date of November 30th. What was that all about? How many Christmases was he going to have to deal with in one year? Harry ran a hand over his head, brushing back imaginary hair.

Seven days to Christmas day. Six to the anniversary of his wife’s departure. She had left him on Christmas Eve last year. Harry had never mourned her loss, indeed part of him was glad to see the back of her. It was the manner of her leaving that rankled. Christmas Eve, presents under the tree, turkey defrosting in the kitchen, visits from their children planned for the next day. She had sneered at him as she packed her bags, laughed as she dashed through the front door to the waiting car. A red car, old-fashioned, he remembered. Harry hadn’t recognised the make or model.

The sight that met his eyes, of the man sitting behind the steering wheel, had finished Christmas forever for Harry. The man had worn a red suit and a big white beard. Harry’s wife had run away with Santa! At least, with someone who looked like Santa. Of course, it would have been some guy working as a store-Santa, just finishing his shift, but that didn’t matter to Harry. The sight had snapped a hinge, somewhere in the moving parts of Harry’s mind.

Christmas was over. Forever.

He bared his teeth, gripping his beer glass and glaring into the white froth. It reminded him of Santa’s beard, mocking him with each bursting bubble. He downed the beer quickly, afraid it might go “Ho ho ho” at any moment, and walked unsteadily out into the freezing night, pulling his worn coat around his short, square frame.

Harry turned into the darkened alley that he used as a short-cut home, and saw something that made his mind spin faster. He stopped walking and stared in silence. A small man-like thing, about eight inches high, was crouching on the ground as though looking for something. The little man was dressed in green, with a long pointed green hat and green curly-toed boots. Harry tried to add up the number of beers he’d consumed before leaving the pub. Not enough to be seeing this, he was sure, although the final tally eluded him.

The tiny man had his back to Harry and was engrossed in his searching. Surprising himself with his deftness, Harry bent quickly and grabbed the creature around the waist. The little man shrieked, a sound that managed to simultaneously express surprise and fury. The doll-sized creature felt soft and warm and real in Harry’s fingers as he lifted it, wriggling, to his face.

“Put me down,” the little man said. “Put me down at once.”

“No.” Harry wondered if his find could be converted into cash. Which could in turn be converted into beer. His eyes peered through their alcohol-film coating, while his brain groaned with the effort of firing long-dazed neurones in an attempt to work out what he had in his hand. “You’re an elf,” he said at last.

The elf stopped wriggling. “Well, hooray for Mister Bright,” he said. “What are you, an envoy from Densa?” The elf scowled through his sarcasm.

Harry’s shrubbery-like eyebrows lowered, almost obscuring his vision. “You’re a Christmas thing. I don’t like Christmas.” He considered crushing the offending monstrosity, this living proof of the existence of festivity, this agent of the hated Santa, but a random thought paused to remind him of the cash-equals-beer equation and he held back. Harry belched, causing the elf to raise a hand to cover the disgust on his little face. “You’re coming with me,” Harry said.

“Wait.” The elf’s tone was more cautious than before. “I dropped something. I have to find it.”

“Is it valuable?”

“Well, yes. At least to me.”

“What does it look like?”

“It’s green, and it’s about this big.” The elf held up his hand, showing a space between thumb and forefinger.

Harry squinted at the elf’s hand. A green thing, very small. He took his little flashlight from his pocket and half-fell to his knees, keeping his grip on the elf as he flicked the flashlight’s switch. Harry threw the light from side to side, trying to follow the rapid movement of the beam with his eyes.

“Slow down, you won’t find it like that,” the elf said. His voice relaxed, turned low and sweet. “Why don’t you put me down so I can look for it while you hold the light?”

The idea seemed reasonable to Harry’s beer-hazed mind. His hand moved, lowering the elf to the ground, when a stray remnant of reason surfaced.

“You’ll run away if I let you go,” he said. “You can look from where you are.”

“I won’t run, I promise. I’ll just look.”

“Don’t believe you,” Harry said through another belch. The light glinted on something. “What’s that?”

Putting the torch on the ground, Harry picked up the tiny object.

“That’s it.” The elf reached out a miniature hand. “Give it to me.”

Harry considered for a moment, then pocketed the tiny object. He picked up his flashlight, switched it off and replaced it in his pocket then, with some difficulty, stood up.

“Hey. That’s mine.” The elf’s little fists beat against Harry’s thumb.

“You’ll get it later, when I’ve worked out what it does,” Harry said. He’d look at the thing in the morning; it was too small to focus on now. He had the feeling that this little object was important to the elf and as long as he had it, the elf wasn’t going anywhere. He headed home, the elf clasped inside his coat.

A long time ago, Harry had kept tropical fish. The tank was now empty but clean and easily accessible in the cupboard under the stairs. Harry dropped the protesting elf into the tank and closed the lid, then carried the tank through to the kitchen. Ignoring the elf, he took a beer from the fridge and poured it into a tumbler.

As he raised his beer, he noticed that the elf had fallen silent. Harry looked at the tank, where the tiny elfin features pressed against the glass, staring at the beer.

“What’s up, elf? You never seen beer before?” Harry held the glass close to the tank.

“That’s Santa’s drink,” the elf said, the awe in its voice discernible even through the glass of the tank.

“Don’t mention that name in this house,” Harry said. “He’s not welcome here.”

The elf looked confused. “Santa’s welcome everywhere.”

“Not here.” Harry took a deep swallow of the beer. “And what do you mean. ‘Santa’s drink’? You mean to say you sit and drink beer, up there at the North Pole, when you should be making toys and feeding reindeer?”

“Of course not,” the elf said. “We work all the time. We elves aren’t allowed any of the special drink. Only Santa drinks the special drink. And his wife of course.”

Harry sprayed a mouthful of beer across the kitchen. Santa and his wife? Santa and Harry’s wife, boozing together and laughing, laughing at him?

On an impulse, he took a sherry glass from the cupboard and poured a little beer into it. He slid back the lid of the tank just enough to lower the glass inside.

“Try it,” he said, glaring in at the elf. “Try Santa’s bloody special drink. Try it for yourself.”

The elf stared at the glass. “We’re not supposed to,” he said. “It does terrible things to elves.”

Harry snorted, taking another mouthful of beer. “Who told you that?” he said, beer dribbling over his chin. “Santa, I suppose. Trust me, he just wants it all for himself. And his wife.” He half-spat the last word. “Drink it.” Harry banged his fist on the lid of the tank.

The elf approached the glass as though it was a nest of vipers. He dipped a finger into the liquid and carefully tasted it. Then he grinned and lowered his head to the glass, tilting it to drink. Harry’s mouth fell open as the elf drank. It was the equivalent of him draining a bucket in one swallow.

“Wow, you guys can put it away,” Harry said. “No wonder the hairy fat fool won’t let you at his stash. You’d drain it in a day.” His brow tensed as an idea fought its way past his doped brain cells.

Of course. If all the elves developed a taste for beer, they’d wipe out Santa’s supply. That would be Harry’s revenge. Santa could shiver away his nights at the North Pole, beerless and toyless as his elves went on a wild binge. It was brilliant.

The elf in the tank let out an enormous belch and grinned. Harry noticed the pointed, sharp teeth. Were they like that before? He wasn’t sure. Lucky the thing hadn’t bitten him. The elf’s face had changed, he was sure of that. The grin was evil, the eyes slanted and darting. The little fingernails were growing, too. Suddenly concerned, Harry placed the kettle on top of the tank lid to hold it down. The elf snarled at him through the glass.

“More.”

“I think maybe you’ve had enough,” Harry said.

The elf threw himself at the glass wall of the tank. “More!”

“Okay, okay. Say, how about you take some for your friends as well?” The elf was looking dangerous, and Harry was getting tired now. He wanted it gone before he fell asleep, and he wanted to put his idea into action before he forgot about it, which could happen at any moment. Harry opened the fridge and took out a six-pack of beer, placing it on the shelf beside the fishtank.

“For me?” The elf was pressed to the tank wall. Teeth scraped against glass, making Harry shudder.

“For you and your friends,” Harry said, “Can you carry it yourself?”

The elf looked at him. “My transport,” he said. “You have it. Give it back.”

“Your what?”

“In your pocket. You found it in the alley. Give it to me.”

That small green thing? Harry fumbled in his pocket and took out the little object, picking a cluster of pocket lint from it. It didn’t look like any kind of transport to him, it looked like a tiny cell phone. He held it up. “This?”

The elf was trying to raise the lid of the tank, thrashing his tail. Harry frowned. He hadn’t noticed a tail before. Harry put the tiny green object on the six-pack, removed the kettle and pushed back the lid. The elf leapt out, landing on the six-pack and grabbing the thing he had called his ‘transport’.

“Merry Christmas,” Somehow, the elf made it sound like a curse.

Before Harry could react, the elf had flipped the object open and poked his finger into it. There was a brief hum and then both elf and beer vanished.

For what seemed like eternity, Harry stared at the tank and at the space where the six-pack had been. Finally, the world faded around him.

Someone must have rummaged through his brain last night and left it in a terrible mess. Harry peeled open one bleary eye and recognised his living room. So he had made it home. That was something. His head rattled as though everything inside was loose as he clambered off the sofa and headed for the bathroom. His whole body felt as though it wasn’t his, as though he had borrowed it and wasn’t properly qualified to drive it. Having dispensed with what seemed to have been most of the fluid in his body, he staggered into the kitchen for a glass of water. He was on his second glass when he noticed the fishtank.

Harry frowned at the tank. What was that doing there? He had a vague memory of finding something on the way home, something he had put in the tank. He groaned. He hoped it hadn’t been a rat. Well, whatever it was, it wasn’t there now. He shrugged, downed another glass of water and stumbled upstairs to his bedroom, sliding against the wall to keep his balance. He flopped onto his bed, thankful that he didn’t have to go to work today, and slept.

By the time Christmas Eve arrived, Harry had forgotten his drunken night entirely. He scowled through his window at the gaudy Christmas decorations of his neighbours, determined to finish his half-bottle of whisky before going to bed. He knew that, seen from the outside, his house was an anomaly in this festive season, a pool of darkness among the fires of light that danced and flickered outside and inside the other houses. No dead tree wilted in his living room, no wasteful lights twinkled in his windows. His lawn was free of ridiculous wire-framed reindeer. He rubbed his head into a pink shine.

That fat buffoon, with his jolly red suit and his excess of white hair almost obscuring his face had no place in this house. Harry was hairless and dressed in black tonight. He was the Anti-Santa, sitting his house of dark misery among the festive frivolity outside. He grinned at the thought and poured another whisky.

It was midnight when he heard the first scream. He jolted awake, staring at the TV. What was he watching? The ‘Sound of Music’? A scream again, not from the TV, but from outside. Harry jumped from his seat. Another scream took him to the window. A third made him peer through the curtains.

There was nothing unusual out there. Nothing to see. Harry stared along the street, pushing the curtains back to get a good view. More screams sounded. Harry looked up and down the street. It sounded as though someone was being attacked, but he couldn’t see anything. He was considering calling the police when a door burst open further along the street, on the opposite side. A woman in a nightgown ran out, pursued by a host of small creatures. They looked to be about the size of rats, but they ran on their hind legs. She was brought down before she reached the road, the creatures swarming all over her as the screams abruptly halted.

More screams split the night, more doors burst open. Children and adults alike ran from houses, to be brought down by waves of the little creatures. The howls of pain died, replaced by the crunching and slurping of hundreds of tiny, feeding mouths.

This was definitely a job for the police. Harry turned from the window, heading for the phone, then stopped dead. A red suit, topped with an abundance of white beard and a long red hat, stood beside the fireplace.

Santa!

So the crazed old idiot was real.

“Ha!” Santa said.

Harry frowned. Shouldn’t that have been ‘Ho ho ho?’

As he watched, Santa melted. Struggling rivers of flesh ran from his sleeves, over his boots, from the neckline of his jacket and between his jacket and trousers. Soon the red suit lay empty on the floor. A mask of torn skin, with a beard attached, rested on the pile, and Harry stared at the throng of twisted, taloned and fanged elves that stood before him, staring back.

Something stirred in his memory. Something about a fishtank and a tiny green cellphone. He couldn’t quite place it.

One of the twisted creatures moved forward, its tail twitching. Harry stood perfectly still, terrified. The creature stopped, a yard away, then performed a low bow.

“You are our creator.” Its voice was slurred. “You are our Santa now. We do your bidding. All over the world, we are doing your bidding. Christmas is not welcome.”

Harry fell to his knees, his memory reminding him of the details he had forgotten. The elf. The torch. The tiny green cellphone. The fishtank. The beer. It flooded back, a cerebral accusation from which he could never escape.

A year ago, Christmas had been ruined for him.

This year, he had ruined Christmas for everyone. Forever.

The corrupted elves collected their Santa suit and disappeared into the chimney as Harry fell forward to cry into the carpet.

_____________

There’ll be more of these throughout the month. Some are not quite as upbeat as this one.

Hail Santa!

The Christmas Anthology

I don’t have a title for it yet. I might just call it ‘Humbug’. Anyone have anything better?

I’ve also fallen behind on the book listings in the menu – mainly due to putting out five books this month. Although, two just needed reformatting and new covers and another one was a new version of an existing Leg Iron Book, but even so… pretty busy month.

The new version of Cultish has resulted in a reduction in the print book price from £8.90 to £6.39 (variable, it’s tied to the US dollar price) which I hope will boost sales. You can click to look inside – if you dare! This is not one for the faint of heart.

Jessica’s Trap and Samuel’s Girl are the two novels I had previously ‘properly’ published with another publisher. Their five year contracts ran out so I decided to bring them into the Leg Iron Books fold. They are now considerably cheaper in paperback than before, not least because I don’t have to split the profits so I can cut a pretty thin profit margin on these. Both are available on Kindle although the listings for Samuel’s Girl haven’t merged on Amazon yet. It normally only takes a few days. As with all the books, they are available in pretty much any ebook format on Smashwords and most will appear on a very wide range of eBook sites.

The two new publications for November were Sinistré by Mark Ellott and Es-Tu là, Allah? by Dirk Vleugels. Both authors provided their own cover art which really helped to speed things up.

Five books in one month. I’m not going to promise to ever do that again!

Anyway, back to the anthology. The closing date for stories is midnight on December 1st, so it’s nearly here. There are enough stories in already to make it a definite ‘go’ but there is still time to add a couple more.

I’m thinking about making it three sections – Past, Present and Yet to Come, if there are enough stories for each section. This means the ‘About the Author’ pages will be collected at the back of the book becasue some authors will be in more than one section. We have some new authors again – the gang is getting bigger 🙂

Right. One last Big Push to get the anthology done and then I can relax over Christmas. In the New Year I have a novel by Lee Bidgood to do, and I really need to finish the next Romulus Crowe story too.

Better get back to work…

 

Treeskull Stories, done in time for Halloween

It’s done. Amazon currently list the paperback and Kindle versions separately but they will merge the listings in a few days.

Other eBook formats are available from Smashwords, and hopefully I’ll figure out how to get through Smashwords’ anthology rules to reach a wider audience. It’s easy with single author books but has become a chore with anthologies like this.

I have to work out how to sell eBooks direct. I can get them converted into all kinds of formats and really the whole thing could be automated so readers can get copies when I’m asleep. Print books, well, I’d have to keep a stock of those and have no idea how well any particular one will sell, so that’s a risk. I can leave that side of things to Amazon.

Right. Couple of days to catch up on sleep and then back to it. There’s lots to do…