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Christmas Horror: 10 Books That Horror Lovers Will Love to Read This Holiday Season


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horror christmas article

Ah, Christmas. It’s a time filled with family and friends, gingerbread houses and candy canes, and warm, toasty nights spent in front of the fireplace as you dream of having your own white Christmas.

Or… maybe not.

For those of you that enjoy the darker side of Christmas, read on for our book suggestions and recommendations. From ghosts to zombies and Krampus to serial killers, after reading these books you might not ever look at Christmas quite the same…

Want more Christmas reads? See our other holiday book lists and suggestions.


winter ghostsBy the author of the “New York Times”-bestselling “Labyrinth,” a story of two lives touched by war and transformed by courage.
In the winter of 1928, still seeking some kind of resolution to the horrors of World War I, Freddie is traveling through the beautiful but forbidding French Pyrenees. During a snowstorm, his car spins off the mountain road. Dazed, he stumbles through the woods, emerging in a tiny village, where he finds an inn to wait out the blizzard. There he meets Fabrissa, a lovely young woman also mourning a lost generation.
Over the course of one night, Fabrissa and Freddie share their stories. By the time dawn breaks, Freddie will have unearthed a tragic, centuries-old mystery, and discovered his own role in the life of this remote town.

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13285562Ho Ho Horror is a collection of eight Christmas horror short stories from both established and emerging writers of horror fiction.

From the terrors of physical danger, to characters at the edge of insanity, unsettlingly disturbed children, poignant psychological horror, and the supernatural, this collection of Christmas horror provides a unique blend of Christmas cheer and Christmas fear.

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wolves of midwinterThe tale of THE WOLF GIFT continues . . .

In Anne Rice’s surprising and compelling best-selling novel, the first of her strange and mythic imagining of the world of wolfen powers (“I devoured these pages . . . As solid and engaging as anything she has written since her early vampire chronicle fiction” —Alan Cheuse, The Boston Globe; “A delectable cocktail of old-fashioned lost-race adventure, shape-shifting and suspense” —Elizabeth Hand, The Washington Post), readers were spellbound as Rice imagined a daring new world set against the wild and beckoning California coast.

Now in her new novel, as lush and romantic in detail and atmosphere as it is sleek and steely in storytelling, Anne Rice brings us once again to the rugged coastline of Northern California, to the grand mansion at Nideck Point—to further explore the unearthly education of her transformed Man Wolf.

The novel opens on a cold, gray landscape. It is the beginning of December. Oak fires are burning in the stately flickering hearths of Nideck Point. It is Yuletide. For Reuben Golding, now infused with the wolf gift and under the loving tutelage of the Morphenkinder, this Christmas promises to be like no other . . . as he soon becomes aware that the Morphenkinder, steeped in their own rituals, are also celebrating the Midwinter Yuletide festival deep within Nideck forest.

From out of the shadows of the exquisite mansion comes a ghost—tormented, imploring, unable to speak yet able to embrace and desire with desperate affection . . . As Reuben finds himself caught up with the passions and yearnings of this spectral presence and the preparations for the Nideck town Christmas reach a fever pitch, astonishing secrets are revealed, secrets that tell of a strange netherworld, of spirits—centuries old—who possess their own fantastical ancient histories and taunt with their dark, magical powers . . .

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23596898For your entertainment during this season of goodwill – five festive nightmares from the pen of best-selling thriller and horror author, Paul Finch.

The ghoulish events in the frozen workhouse …

The undead presence at the costumed ball …

The pantomime that became a massacre …

The winter goddess with the heart of ice

The thieves who awoke the darker side of the Christmas spirit

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merry christmas alex crossIt’s Christmas Eve and Detective Alex Cross has been called out to catch someone who’s robbing his church’s poor box. That mission behind him, Alex returns home to celebrate with Bree, Nana, and his children. The tree decorating is barely underway before his phone rings again–a horrific hostage situation is quickly spiraling out of control. Away from his own family on the most precious of days, Alex calls upon every ounce of his training, creativity, and daring to save another family. Alex risks everything–and he may not make it back alive on this most sacred of family days. Alex Cross is a hero for our time, and never more so than in this story of family, action, and the deepest moral choices. MERRY CHRISTMAS, ALEX CROSS will be a holiday classic for years to come.

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15729539NOS4A2 is a spine-tingling novel of supernatural suspense from master of horror Joe Hill, the New York Times bestselling author of Heart-Shaped Box and Horns.

Victoria McQueen has a secret gift for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. On her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, she makes her way to a rickety covered bridge that, within moments, takes her wherever she needs to go, whether it’s across Massachusetts or across the country.

Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing – and terrifying – playground of amusements he calls “Christmasland.”

Then, one day, Vic goes looking for trouble—and finds Manx. That was a lifetime ago. Now Vic, the only kid to ever escape Manx’s unmitigated evil, is all grown up and desperate to forget. But Charlie Manx never stopped thinking about Victoria McQueen. He’s on the road again and he’s picked up a new passenger: Vic’s own son.

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6969112Todd Curry wants nothing more than to spend Christmas with his son. But when a brutal snowstorm cancels his flight from Chicago to Des Moines, Todd and a few other stranded passengers decide to rent a Jeep and make the trip on their own.

During the drive, they pick up a man wandering through the snow, who claims to be searching for his lost daughter. He is disoriented and his story seems peculiar. Strangest of all are the mysterious slashes cut into the back of the man’s coat, straight down to the flesh…

When they arrive at the nearest town, it appears deserted. Windows dark, car abandoned, fired burning unattended. But Todd and the rest of the travelers soon learn the town is far from deserted, and that they are being watched…

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one too manyWill Bronson and his son Danny are on their way to Vermont to spend a quiet Christmas with a friend — until a snowstorm forces them to take refuge in an isolated country diner with a group of passengers from a disabled bus. With plenty of food, heat, and companionship, they figure everything will be fine. Then a pair of state troopers shows up, claiming there’s a murderer in their midst.

That would be bad enough. But Will Bronson and his son hunt werewolves. And sometimes the werewolves hunt them.

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13505670Santa Claus, my dear old friend, you are a thief, a traitor, a slanderer, a murderer, a liar, but worst of all you are a mockery of everything for which I stood. You have sung your last ho, ho, ho, for I am coming for your head. . . . I am coming to take back what is mine, to take back Yuletide . . .
—from Krampus

The author and artist of The Child Thief returns with a modern fabulist tale of Krampus, the Lord of Yule and the dark enemy of Santa Claus

One Christmas Eve in a small hollow in Boone County, West Virginia, struggling songwriter Jesse Walker witnesses a strange spectacle: seven devilish figures chasing a man in a red suit toward a sleigh and eight reindeer. When the reindeer leap skyward, taking the sleigh, devil men, and Santa into the clouds, screams follow. Moments later, a large sack plummets back to earth, a magical sack that thrusts the down-on-his-luck singer into the clutches of the terrifying Yule Lord, Krampus. But the lines between good and evil become blurred as Jesse’s new master reveals many dark secrets about the cherry-cheeked Santa Claus, including how half a millennium ago the jolly old saint imprisoned Krampus and usurped his magic.

Now Santa’s time is running short, for the Yule Lord is determined to have his retribution and reclaim Yuletide. If Jesse can survive this ancient feud, he might have the chance to redeem himself in his family’s eyes, to save his own broken dreams, . . . and to help bring the magic of Yule to the impoverished folk of Boone County.

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17702335A meteor shower pelts the earth with strange debris on Christmas Eve. The US power grid fails due to the impact of a large meteorite. The dust plume causes severe illness and death as it blows east across America. As a result the government quarantines the entire northeast. Military personnel wearing gas masks patrol the edges of the affected area, preventing anyone from crossing. But when the dead start coming back to life and eating the living, the US braces itself for a full-on zombie outbreak that no military barricade can keep contained.

The Lazarus Impact is a fast paced, high intensity, peri-apocalyptic zombie action thriller that traces the stories of eight unique and diverse characters as they travel through the madness, trying to head west past the quarantine to safety… or so they think.

Wolf, an extreme survivalist television personality, is the first one on the scene when the meteors hit, filming the damage. Dr. Vogel, a former infectious disease lab rat turned physician, is on a mission to get to the CDC to give them samples of what he thinks might be the basis for a cure. Willy, an old, hardened, Vietnam War veteran suffering from PTSD, witnesses the outbreak as it ramps up in intensity at the hospital where he works as a janitor. Sheryl, a suburban housewife, learns of the dust when she gets a call from a neighbor that her boys are sick on the football field. Marcus, a reformed prison inmate with a violent past, escapes with a band of unscrupulous marauders during a riot. Michael and Amy, a bickering couple from NYC, struggle to get out of Manhattan despite the bridges and tunnels being barricaded and locked down. And Brandon, an awkward teenager with an obsession for horror comics and video games, hides out in his parents Cold War era bunker until he runs out of fuel.

When their paths intersect they must help and rely on each other for survival. The plan is to move west, past the quarantine, and make their way to a secure compound where people have been preparing for doomsday for decades. But the nightmares they face on the way west are only a shadow of the dangers they may encounter on the other side of the quarantine, where the American people have taken up arms to defend their new but porous borders. Will any survive the journey? Is it even worth it?

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Readers, now it’s your turn! What are your favorite Christmas horror novels?  Share them below!

Western Historical Romance Book: Smolder on a Slow Burn by Lynda J. Cox @LyndaCox


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Western Historical Romance


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When your life has been stolen from you and the man responsible wants you dead, where do you run? Who do you trust?

Allison Webster dreams of having an adventure like the characters in the books she loves. But there is no romance in being pursued by a man who wants her dead for educating the children of former slaves. Unlike the heroines she reads about she doesn’t have a trusty companion to rescue her…until she literally runs into A.J. Adams, a former Confederate cavalry officer. Now, she just has to convince A.J. he really is the honorable man and hero depicted in the dime novel she is reading.

When everything you fought for was stripped away, even your honor, what is left to fight for other than revenge?

Branded a “traitor” for more than ten years, scarred by harsh treatment in an inhumane prisoner of war camp, A.J. Adams wants revenge. Allison Webster’s arrival into his life provides the bait to destroy the men who murdered his wife and daughters and kidnapped his little brother. The men pursuing Allison are the very same men he has sworn to kill. Falling in love and admitting he might actually be a hero means surrendering his need for vengeance. Surrender is not part of A.J.’s battle strategy.

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Excerpt:

A.J. watched her make her way from the boxcar with as much dignity as it appeared she could muster. The memory of that tiny waist in his hands and the slightness of her build had startled him. The barrier of that shapeless dark green sedge skirt vanished the moment his hands closed around her waist, and he could envision long, lithe limbs. He didn’t make it a habit to imagine any woman undressed, but this one knocked every bit of his equilibrium out from under him and he didn’t have the slightest idea why she did.

When she met his eyes, he’d been taken back. Slender, feathered brows lifted and eyes the color of melted chocolate widened—widened enough he was sure she saw all the way into the black abyss that was once his soul. Bright color flooded her cheeks when he told her to have a seat on the hay bale. Her slight Georgia drawl, hidden under layers of what sounded to be years of formal education, knifed into his chest.

He had watched her discreetly tuck several strands of walnut hair back under that ridiculous hat perched on her head. Realizing he had been staring at her, A.J. turned his back, letting the rapidly moving landscape occupy his gaze. She was lovely, he had to admit that. Walnut hair kissed with warm gold, high cheekbones that curved just enough to give her an elfin cast, a pert little nose, and the darkest chocolate eyes he’d ever seen combined into a rather alluring image. It had been a very long time since he had looked at a woman and not compared her to Cathy. He had sworn, as he knelt at Cathy’s grave that there would never be another. Now, a little slip of a thing had gotten in past his carefully constructed battlements and stirred something in him he could have sworn an oath to be long dead and buried beneath a live oak in Kentucky.

She was right, he was no gentleman. Sliding the door shut in her face hadn’t been the most gentlemanly thing he could have done, but he had long ago given up being anything that might even resemble a gentleman. He’d given that up sometime during his tenure in a veritable hell on earth called Camp Infernum. If he’d harbored hopes of regaining anything that came close to gallantry after watching men fight one another like animals for a scrap of moldy bread, all hope died on a warm spring afternoon when he collapsed to his knees at Clayborne at the graves of his wife and daughters and learned his younger brother had been taken by a band of roving deserters. A.J. knew his veneer of civility was just that—a veneer hiding a wounded, dangerous animal.


About the Author:

another author photo

Lynda J. Cox will tell anyone who will listen that she was born at least one hundred and fifty years too late, and most definitely in the wrong part of the country. She holds a master’s degree in English with a concentration in creative writing from Indiana State University after earning her BA from the same university as a non-traditional student. (Think being old enough to be mom to 90% of the students in her freshman cadre.) She’s kept busy with two spoiled rotten house cats, a 30 plus year old Arabian gelding who has been nicknamed “Lazarus” for his ability in the later years of his life to escape death, and quite a few champion collies. When she isn’t writing, she can be found on the road, travelling to the next dog show. She loves to chat about books, the writing life, and the insanity which is called a “dog show” and can be reached through her Facebook page.

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Featured Christmas Romance Book: Forever … Christmas by Mary Kelly


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Romantic Comedy, Christmas Romance


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FOREVER … CHRISTMAS – SOMETIMES IT TAKES TIME TO FALL IN LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT

Katie couldn’t have imagined a better setting for a romantic encounter other than Christmas Eve. The only problem is that Alex isn’t exactly her ideal man and he doesn’t seem to have fallen for her charms either. He’s insisted, right from the start, that he is absolutely not interested in dating her. At least they can agree on one thing.
But when each Christmas he whisks her away into a romantic story filled with snowflakes, laughter and unforgettable memories, she starts to wonder if maybe she judged him too quickly. After all, he brings so much enchantment into her life and makes her heart beat faster than anyone else can. The only small obstacle standing in the way: he’s not in love with her. Can she count on the magic of Christmas to make a miracle happen?

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EXCERPT 1

I make a sudden movement and both of us fall. He laughs, but gets worried when he sees me all tangled up in the covers and unresponsive.‬‬‬‬
“Katie?”
“Everything but my pride is okay.”‬‬
He helps me up and throws me on the bed.‬‬‬ “All this to avoid kissing me?”‬‬‬
“What? No!” I protest, blushing.‬‬‬
He gives me a disbelieving look.‬‬‬ “You think I don’t know what’s going through your head?”‬‬
“What?” I urge him on.‬
“Oh my God, how could I resist his beautiful eyes, his luscious lips, his soft hands and his killer smile?” he says with a mischievous look that makes me laugh.
“What? That’s not at all what I’m thinking.”‬‬‬
“Too bad, because I am.”‬‬‬ He looks at me affectionately.‬‬‬ “Come on, stand up.”‬‬
How can he flirt with me and appear so detached at the same time? This is clearly not a good sign for me. I must not be that irresistible after all.‬‬

EXCERPT 2

‪I get up and start doing a little dance step. When Alex suddenly grabs me like a sack of potatoes and takes me out of the living room, I don’t realize what he wants to do.
“You beat me, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get a reward. I know you and my Dad cheated. You want me to turn back into the Alex that you know? Here he is.” He throws a snowball at me.
‪Christine joins us and I ask for help. The battle grows. Fortunately, these two also have some scores to settle, and I can rest a bit. Except that when Alex notices that I’m not playing any more, he bombards me.
‪“Stop,” I beg him as if I can’t take it anymore.
Christine gets worried and asks him to leave me alone.
“Oh no, you’re not really gonna fall for that are you?” Alex says and comes over to me. “Stop! Really?”
‪“Okay, okay, I’m playing.” ‪Our eyes meet, and we remain still for a few seconds.
“You guys can say what you want, but if in this moment you don’t want to kiss, I know nothing at all.”
‪It’s a good thing Christine said something because it’s enough to break the spell. What’s going on with us? I know we’ve already kissed, but it was years ago. Since then nothing has happened between us.
‪“You think you know everything?” ‪Alex grabs Christine and shoves some snow down her neck.
‪“I hate you,” she cries.


About the Author:

After graduating with a degree in Literature, Mary Kelly traveled a lot and did many jobs. She now devotes herself to writing.
“Mary Kelly unveils a sparkling wit, an appreciation of situations, and a quality of dialogue that doesn’t allow you to get bored for a second, whether you are a young woman of thirty or otherwise.” This is the text that accompanied the first article written about her books.
She loves romantic stories and imagines each one of her books as a movie, with positive, funny and romantic heroes. “I simply write the books I want to read. Each scene is imagined as to make the readers dream.”
Her first novel, “My Romantic Comedy”, combines her passion for movies and that of romantic stories. “I’ve always loved romantic comedies and thought it would be fun if someone tried to put them on stage in real life.”
Her second novel, “Smile … You’re Famous”, was born from her desire to tell a funny story, but is still very romantic. “Even though I sometimes accentuate the comic side of the story, I never forget that my heroes are primarily meant for one another. I’m just paving the way for them with a few obstacles, coupled with a little humor and lots of love.
“Forever … Christmas” is her third novel and was born from her love of Christmas and its values. “I consider Christmas as the perfect screen for a romantic story, and I try to imagine my heroes as the characters of a postcard painted with snowflakes, smiles, and enchanting moments.”

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Erotica Book Spotlight: New Orleans Lover: A Creole Christmas Tale by Lush Jones @LushJones99


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Erotica


NOLA LVR BK Cover_

Mary Jane has given up on men when she reluctantly travels to New Orleans for a weekend getaway with girlfriends. Stubborn and determined to steer clear of trouble, she’s sealed her sensuality under lock and key. Fate intervenes, however, with a chance to rediscover her sexual self. She will encounter three spirits – each one with an erotic test that will compel her to confront deeply held inhibitions and fears. She accepts the challenge and embarks on a decadent, daring, and unforgettable journey into paranormal pleasure.

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Excerpt:

Mary Jane gulped. Placing the strap of her purse firmly over her shoulder, she inhaled a hefty draft of cool air into her lungs. Here goes nothing. Then she walked up the sidewalk, toward the front door of the book shop.

An unseen bell jangled as she opened the door and quickly looked around. The shop was jammed with shelves, but there wasn’t another person in sight. Not even an employee came forward as she stepped inside and strolled cautiously down an aisle. The air welcomed her, though, with the deliciously familiar scent of paper and ink.

Books.

The smell was comfortingly consistent; just like the public library or the Barnes and Noble near her house, and to Mary Jane’s nose, more enticing than freshly baked cookies. She let her fingers trail down a neatly arranged row of novels, the perfectly straight spines smooth to her touch. Passing a display of cookbooks, she turned down another aisle.

Ghosts of New Orleans read the spidery silver script on an oval-shaped purple cardboard sign. She stopped, glancing at the titles. Glossy and unspoiled, the book jackets begged to be picked up and read. She stroked one cover, a black and white photograph of the French Quarter from the 1920s, but she didn’t remove it from the shelf. She read the words Historical Hauntings from another, the bold crimson printing catching her eyes. Then she saw a small black clothbound book, jacketless. Ghost Lover, the ornate embossed gold lettering in the worn cover proclaimed. She reached out her right hand, intending flip through a few pages.

Excellent taste, young lady,” The voice made Mary Jane jump. She dropped her hand and whirled around.

He was tall and sandy-haired, with hawk-like eyebrows that dominated his almond-shaped brown eyes, tiny crows’ feet fanning out from the corners. Well-shaped lips curled in amusement at her shock. “Did I surprise you?” he asked in a flawlessly articulated English accent, sounding rather like the headmaster of an expensive private school.

Yes,” Mary Jane answered defensively, her fingers itching as if the impulse to touch the book had burned her.

Go ahead,” the man urged. “Pick it up, it’s an intriguing story.”

Mary Jane glanced back at the book, small and faded, so nondescript. Yet she had an overwhelming desire to shove it in her purse and run out of the bookshop.

Books have that effect on people, don’t they? The urge to escape into fiction can be rather overwhelming.” His voice was rich, like a heavy drizzle of caramel, and Mary Jane couldn’t help but look up at him again. He narrowed his eyes even as he smiled, and proffered his hand. “Barrett Stone, at your service.”

Nice to meet you, Mr. Stone.”

His eyes flickered as he looked her up and down. “No need to be so formal, Mary Jane. You can call me Barrett.”

Oh shit. “Are you…? Are you one of the…?” She let her voice trail into a whisper, to his very visible amusement. “Are you one of the spirits?”

He nodded slowly and with one large hand, he plucked the book from the shelf and handed it to Mary Jane. “Here, this is yours to keep. Now,” he offered her his elbow, “I hope you’ll do me the honor of accompanying me.” It was not a question.

Mary Jane accepted the book and slid it inside her purse before placing her hand on his arm, deceptively strong beneath the elegant tailoring of his suit coat. “Where are we going?” She was almost afraid to ask, but Driver’s words reverberated in her head. Don’t be afraid to be scared.

She hoped his advice was right.


About the Author:

Lush Jones is a Texas writer of erotica, fantasy, and anything in between. She wrote her first racy story at the tender age of 14, although the details were somewhat lacking. Fortunately, her imagination has improved since then. She loves New Orleans, red wine, and men who love ballsy women.

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Christmas Horror Book: KRENGEL & THE KRAMPUSZ by M.C. Norris @mcnorrisauthor


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Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Supernatural Fantasy, Horror


kreng

The epic origin of a beloved holiday icon unfolds, as nine-year-old Klaas Krengel flees plague-ravaged Germania on a swashbuckling adventure across Medieval Europe to the remote ends of the earth, where he finds himself pitted against a gruesome host of adversaries, all resurrected from old Austrian lore. A bit of a spoiled brat, Krengel’s only friend is an insidious counterpart called the Krampusz, a blue-furred monster who suffers from a pronounced hoarding disorder.

Vexed by his half-brother’s lifelong privilege and pampering, the Krampusz enjoys nothing more than imperiling the boy through calculated misdirection, ultimately trapping him in the bottomless depths of the enchanted “Sack of Shadows.” Therein, a fantastic realm of weird and warring races demands a showdown between Krengel and its tyrannical ruler, a horrendous witch who alone holds a key to the connection between Krengel and the Krampusz.

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Excerpt:

Every bell in Bari had a unique tone and timing. Each was synchronized to the timing of a specific, daily event. The toll of a bell would prompt a skyward glance from anyone within earshot, to make a quick check of the sun’s position. The bells were so intimately linked to the passage of time that on the rare occasions when every bell in the city tolled at once, the experience rattled a Baresi to his very soul, stilled him in his tracks, for time itself unraveled and was strewn to confetti. The joyous crash of sound reverberated through the seaport’s writhing arteries to flush pigeons in dappled flocks that flashed in the sky like schools of minnows.

At midday on May ninth, the first day of the annual Festival of the Translation of the Holy Relics, Bari came alive with clanging bells. Starlings gushed from the clerestory windows around the pealing bell tower at Basilica di San Nicola, the final resting place of Bari’s patron saint. It was an imposing fortification, a somber hulk of ancient masonry that loomed darkly over the peninsula with its back to the Adriatic Sea. With its cruciform mass shouldered between Romanesque towers, it better resembled an English castle than an ordinary place of worship. And at times, it had served as such.

Across the bustling piazza from the seaward dormitories, a hooded figure emerged from the basilica’s Lion’s Portal. The brown fabric of his Dominican robes flapped in the briny wind, throwing back his hood as he skulked beneath the engraved names of those famous sailors who rescued Saint Nicholas from Myra, five hundred years ago. He jerked the hood back over his naked head and turned to face the wall. Head bowed as though in prayer, he reached into the sleeve of his tunic, and withdrew a steely dagger.

Cast upon the spike of shimmering steel, was a leering distortion of his broad face and blazing eyes. He lowered and tilted his chin, trailing his fingertips over his newly shaved scalp. It was another of the Krampusz’s bright ideas. Krengel smiled. He looked funny bald, a bit like Friar Otto.

In five months, he’d grown in height and width. Though they might’ve starved a passive child with their severe Dominican diet of broth and rye, what were Krengel’s lifelong failings, but symptoms of his indomitable will to have while others around him had not. Greed ran strong in both sides of his family. And it was no small irony that Krengel, now a custodian of the relics of a saint canonized for profound acts of generosity, had honed his naturally greedy edge to a perfect tool for survival. Since Christmas Eve in Rome, he’d grown meaner, stronger, and more formidable. Daily acts of theft and trickery against the hardened peasants of a foreign land had honed Krengel, right beneath the noses of his Dominican handlers, into perhaps the most dogged urchin in all of Bari.

Krengel lifted his tunic, glanced around the crowded piazza, and then sheathed the dagger back into a tight fold in his braies. He hitched up his secret contraption. The rope was itchy about his waist, and the weight of the invention had begun to chaff his flesh. The dangling wood blocks clonked between his knees. Should’ve wrapped them in cloth to quiet their knocking. Too late for any of that, now. This was the big day. Around front of the basilica, cartwheels rumbled against the pavers as guests and dignitaries continued to arrive.

He’d not yet spotted Cardinal Moretti, rumored still unfit to attend this evening’s festivities, deathly ill as he’d been. Moretti posed him little threat in his weakened condition, but he was indeed the one person in all of Italy who could possibly spoil everything by summoning for him at the critical hour. Thus, the first phase of Krengel’s plan for May ninth was simply to avoid Moretti at all costs, to meld into the visiting crowds and simply lay low until sundown.

“What in Heaven do you think you’re doing, back here?”

Krengel spun to find the rector glowering out at him through the Lion’s Portal. He seized Krengel by an ear and marched him along the wall toward the main entrance of the basilica. “We’ve been looking everywhere for you! Your benefactor has arrived!” The rector lifted him by his ear and flipped back his hood. “You’ve shaved your head. What is this?”

“I had lice?”

“Shush it!”

The rector harried him to the main portal, where Cardinal Moretti was being lifted from his wagon in a sort of birthing position by a host of able-bodied Dominicans. The friars set him gently upon his unstable feet. He swayed weightlessly in the bullying wind, as though might at any moment be sucked off the earth and flung through the heavens. He lolled back his head and peered at the ecclesiastical assembly from beneath his fallen eyelids. The purplish growth in his lower jaw had swelled to the size of an onion, forcing his tongue to protrude like a newly hatched chick. He attempted to speak, but his lips produced only bubbles.

Krengel’s survival for five months in the favored hunting grounds of this predator was owed mostly to a bout of poor health that robbed Moretti of all but an infant’s strength, slackening the musculature of his face, not a day after Miso del Gallo. As a result, Krengel hadn’t suffered sight of the awful man since Christmas Eve, which was fortunate, but rumor held that Moretti’s health was steadily improving. So said the Dominicans anyway, who’d just this morning doted over Moretti’s latest accomplishment of peeling and devouring a boiled egg all by himself.

A breeze kicked up and snatched the mitre right off Moretti’s head, tumbling and spinning it down the street. But the friars supporting the feeble body of their guest could only look on in despair as they goaded him forward, one cautious step at a time. A silvery thread of slobber whipped from Moretti’s lip and bowed like a harp in the wind. Snowy wisps of hair all writhing on scabrous pedestals, Moretti looked for all the earth to be some deranged and ancient warlock, routed from his alpine rookery.

As the trio approached, Krengel bent his knees until he felt those wood blocks beneath his tunic touch the ground. He then stepped atop them and rose, oh so slowly, to his tiptoes, causing the special knot from which they were suspended to unwind. Through the fabric of his robe, he gathered the reigns of his makeshift stilts. Those milling around him were so transfixed by the precarious transfer of Cardinal Moretti that none seemed to notice that Klaas Krengel had suddenly sprouted a foot in height, looking quite enough like an adult friar, with his broad shoulders and shaved head, to pass before the myopic eyes of the monster.

Moretti made some unintelligible grunt as they led him past Krengel, swinging his disheveled head. Yellowed fingernails splayed as he reached for the boy, but groped naught but thin air. Those rattling claws sliced past his face without touching, only to rasp against the doorpost as they pulled Moretti inside.

Safe. Just as the Krampusz had promised.

So many friars were about for the Festival of the Translation of the Holy Relics, tending to all the dignitaries being housed in the monastic dormitories that a hooded man-boy on stilts could walk freely through the piazza, disturbing only a few pigeons. The first phase of his great caper was complete. Krengel grinned at the dull impact of his clopping stilts upon the pavers. By nightfall, he’d be comfortably seated aboard a ship destined for the Habsburg Netherlands, his mother’s homeland, where not even the Holy Roman Empire could touch him. But first, he needed a hostage. And not just any would do. His hostage was to be a man more celebrated in Bari than both Christ and Pope Alexander VI combined, a man with the power to lift an orphan right out of Bari.


About the Author:

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M.C. Norris is an Active HWA member, whose first four novels, all published by Severed Press, are slated for release in fall of 2014: Deep Devotion (09/01/14), Krengel & the Krampusz (11/01/14), The Dread Owba Coo-Coo (11/15/14), and Nod (TBA).  His nineteen short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies, magazines and e-zines, including: Withersin, Wrong World DVD, Brainharvest Magazine, Pseudopod, Malicious Deviance, and Dead Bait.  M.C. Norris also won 5th in Chizine/Leisure Books 13th Annual Short Story Contest.

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