O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree… what lurks among thy branches…
Christmas can be the most wonderful time of the year. Candy canes and hot cocoa. Snowmen and sleigh rides. The love and hope that the Nativity brings. Cold milk and warm cookies for Santa. Family, friends, and the cheerful laughter of children.
But, beneath the festive wrapping paper and the gleam and glitter of the lights and tinsel, things less jubilant may lie in wait. The holiday season can bring love, peace, and benevolence… but it may also spawn a darkness lurking amid the shadowy boughs of the Christmas tree, ornaments that should have never seen the light of day, let along hung on festive branches, and bones that jingle and dance, in search of Santa’s crimson suit… and the flesh that resides within.
In this collection of harrowing holiday tales, Ronald Kelly leaves ten frightful and horrific gifts in the Christmas stockings that hang from the mantle of your cheerful fireplace. Ghastly and gruesome presents that slowly unwrap and burst into life while you are tucked, snug and warm, in your bed and take on nightmarish form in the icy winter hours of Christmas Eve, turning comfort and joy into terror and dread.
Season’s Creepings is holiday horror at its very finest. Whilst distilled with dread, and paired with a healthy side of blood and guts, Kelly serves up a thought-provoking and compelling collection, that you simply HAVE to read before Santa Claus comes. Season’s Creepings truly encapsulates the somewhat dark spirit of Christmas that lurks beneath the decorations, and is so versatile and well-executed, we have to question whether the author is simply showing off.
In this review, I will delve into my favourite three stories in the collection. These narratives not only epitomise holiday horror done well, but also showcase the array of themes, tropes and tone. “Season’s Creepings,” is an example of what I like to call “Horror Tapas,” – where you get a little taste of everything, and each plate (or chapter) compliments the next.
The cover story, and one of (if not THE) best, is titled “Jingle Bones.” We follow Brennan, whose life has been miserable since abusive asshole Stu Compton moved in with his mother. Last Christmas Eve, Stu’s twisted version of Santa woke Brennan in the middle of the night, and rather than the traditional orange, or even a lump of coal, gave him a broken arm. This year will be different… When Brennan finds a glow in the dark cardboard skeleton at a secondhand store, he is inexplicably drawn to it, and begs his mother to let him bring it home. Despite her reservations, Brennan’s new friend is affectionately deemed “Jingle Bones,” and hangs proudly in his closet. Inevitably, the dreaded 24th rolls around, but this year Brennan has “Jingle Bones,” on his side, who makes sure all the good children get what they want, and that scumbags like Stu get what they deserve.
This was the perfect way to kick off the collection. Bleak and claustrophobic, and with an ending that can only be described as satisfying- “Jingle Bones,” is a strong start to a strong collection. It also serves as a necessary reminder that Christmas is not the most wonderful time of the year for everyone, and we must all look out for one another.
My next selection, and a fierce contender for the best story is “Depravity Road.” Kelly takes us back in time to 1954, where we follow Fred, Agnes and their two children on a road trip to Uncle Ben’s. Fred is lost. Not only does that mean that his tireless car journey is extended, but also that he must endure his wife’s inevitable belittling. Agnes is a nasty piece of work, who, after sufficiently insulting her poor husband, demands he pull over at the nearest house and ask for directions. The nearest place is a seemingly abandoned farmhouse, and when Fred and his two children return to the car with no success… they are changed forever.
I simply can’t say anymore without ruining the impact, but just be aware that the final line completely stunned me.
My final pick for you good people is going to be “Heirlooms.” It’s haunting, it’s bittersweet and it’s full of witchy, christmassy goodness! “Heirlooms,” follows Tabby, who after many years, returns to her childhood home. She had a troubled upbringing, having lost her father at a young age, as well as her sickly sister Mable. Whilst rummaging through Christmas decorations, she discovers an even more troubling truth. After shattering a bauble, she comes face to face with her beloved, but long-deceased father- who is now free to move on. The only issue? There’s tons more.
In this story, Ronald tackles a multitude of difficult themes, from trauma to loss, and lots that comes in between. I picked this one out because it’s just so different. There’s no real danger, there’s no utter carnage or demonic elves- it’s an alternate kind of haunting.
There’s not a single story that I disliked, but these were my top three! I can only hope that I’ve sold it to you.
One of my biggest pet peeves, as someone who loves reading novellas and collections, is when an author tries to squeeze too much in. Often, parallel universes or multiple antagonists or attempting too many plot twists can result in a clumsy, convoluted narrative. Kelly has curated a collection that packs the right amount of punch, and takes you on emotional rollercoaster without the dizzying amount of twists and turns.
In a genre often plagued by cliches, “Season’s Creepings,” is a breath of fresh air, that offers a fresh blend of horror and holly jolly-ness. It stands as a testament to Kelly and his evident mastery of the genre. It delivers a range of stories that terrify, whilst resonating on an emotional level. As the last story comes to an end, the reader is left satisfied, having experienced Christmas horror at its pinnacle.