's 2017 Horror Write-off:

Yule! A Festive Tale of Bloodcurdling Christmas Terror

Submitted by Tim Albaugh


Christmas is a sham. And I'm not saying that because I'm a Scrooge or a Grinch or whatever other worn out, commercialized cliché you want to use to describe someone who dislikes Christmas time. It's not because I'm some kind of curmudgeon who hates Christmas music (although I do think anyone who listens to it outside of the designated times between the day after Thanksgiving and New Year's Day is a high functioning sociopath) nor is it because of some high and mighty disdain for the commercialization of Christmas or gift giving or whatever.

No, I say Christmas is a sham because it is literally a fake time of gooey happy-clappy, holly jolly nonsense cooked up by the church in ye olden times to cover up the fact that this time of year and the things that come with it are well and truly terrifying. Christmas was designed to distract humanity; to give us hope in an otherwise really crappy time of darkness, cold, death, and despair, and to take power away from the ancient things that draw strength from misery and suffering. And I'm not speaking metaphorically. I don't mean it's a time of darkness, cold, death, and despair just because of the frigid weather and long nights, although I would assume those also play a factor. I mean literally, there are physical things out there, some of them quite big, actually, that only come out during this time of the year to roam the cold and dark places, and they are very, very bad. Which brings me to the point that just because it's a sham doesn't mean it's a bad thing. It's a good kind of sham! Like... lying to a kid when their dog dies! Or telling a girl that dress doesn't make her look fat. Belief is a powerful thing, and bamboozling people into believing that winter, you know, when everything's dead and it literally hurts your face to go outside, is actually the most wonderful time of the year keeps a lot of the horrible things that hide in the dark at bay. I'm pretty sure all the flashing lights, and holly jolly spirit, and carols and all that crap somehow keep the unsavory things that haunt the winter time in the darkness of the quiet places where they belong. But that being said, there are such quite places in the world - usually small and isolated, thankfully - where these ancient and horrible things still hold sway. And I know all of this, because a few years ago, on the way home for the holidays from college, my buddy Smith and I accidentally stumbled upon one of these

Although I use the "term" buddy loosely here. Very loosely. In fact, I don't really care for Smith at all. He's kind of an idiot and a douchebag. One of those morons who thinks he's a hilarious clown but he's really just an annoying dick. Just like a Class S jerk. Like, he'll point down at your feet, then when you go to look he'll slap you full blast across the face and laugh about it. Or he'll come up behind you while you're standing at the urinal and bellow in your ear to scare the bejesus out of you and make you piss all over yourself. That kind of guy. And stumbling upon said place that night was pretty much entirely his fault. And the fact that we barely got away with our lives was also his fault.

Actually, I hate Smith. Fuck that guy. Fucking asshole.

I'm getting irritated. I should probably just start from the most relevant point. Like I said, we were heading home from college for the holidays; winter break from our fall freshman semester. I'd known Smith for a long time. We'd gone to school together pretty much since kindergarten, my dad works with his dad (okay, maybe my dad works for his dad,) we live in one of those small towns where everyone knows everyone. Stuff like that. Anyway, it just so happened that after high school, we'd both also gone off to the same college, about a six hour drive from home. I got there on a full ride scholarship after working my ass of in high school. I was going for a journalism degree with a minor in creative writing, but that's neither here nor there. Smith got there on a baseball scholarship. Dude's about as intelligent as a concrete slab, but he's also built like a concrete slab and athletic as hell, which is good for him, because his grades certainly weren't going to get him into college. I don't know what his major is and I assume he probably doesn't either. Anyway, our shared hometown was the only reason I'd agreed to go when he'd asked if I'd wanted to hitch a ride with him when he drove back. We'd split the drive, it'd be cheaper than flying, and since Smith's folks had bought him a brand new Dodge Challenger for graduation while mine had stuck me with a hand-me down that my older sister had bought used in 2006, which had barely made the drive up to college... I figured why not? Just a six hour drive, he'd drive three, I'd drive three, and then I could spend my whole Christmas break with my family and actual friends and not have to give him a second thought until it was time to head back for the spring semester. At least that's what I thought. Then all this stuff happened. Bad stuff.

It all started with me being jarred awake when Smith hit a pothole.

"Shit," I heard him mutter from the driver's side.

"Hey, bro? You awake?"

Inwardly, I sighed from where I sat in the passenger seat. I didn't want to speak to him, and we couldn't have possibly been on the road for three hours already. So, I kept my eyes closed and ignored him. Then he socked me hard, right where the shoulder bone met my arm. I grunted in pain, and sat up, glaring over at him. "Oh, sweet. You're up." Smith was leaning forward as he drove, squinting over the steering wheel, his hunched shoulders and furrowed brow making him look particularly cro-magnon like. It was oppressively dark outside the car. I glanced at the clock on the dashboard and saw that it was already 10 o'clock. We'd been on the road for four hours already and Smith hadn't bothered to wake me up 'til now. I was about to ask him why when he spoke again. "Hey, could you pull up your GPS on your phone? Mine died about an hour and a half back and I forgot my charger sooo...

" I blinked as he trailed off. His phone had died an hour and a half ago? And he was just now waking me up to get directions? What the fuck had he been doing for the last hour and a half?! Where the fuck were we? I glanced back out the window. We were on a narrow black, country road, that didn't even have any stripes painted on it. Trees towered on either side of the road and stretched off as far as could be seen in front and behind us, which admittedly, even with the high beams on, wasn't that far. It was a pitch black moonless night, and it was snowing hard. Fat, wet snowflakes battered the windshield, saturating the glass almost faster than the wipers could clear it, even on high. A thin sheen of the white stuff was already forming on the road. I turned back to Smith, glowering and shaking my head. He glanced at me before I could say anything.

"Dude, shut the fuck up, I know, okay?! There was an accident on I-270, and I didn't want to wait in traffic, so I pulled off at the first exit to see if we could find a way around it. I drove around trying to find a gas station for a while and, like... I didn't find one. Then my phone died, and I knew you were gonna give me that bitchy stank face you always give me - you're giving it to me right now, bro, see, I fuckin' knew it - so I didn't wake you up! But... we've been lost in these woods for a while now so... just pull up your GPS already, alright?"

I sighed, pulled out my phone, and clicked on the GPS Maps app. It loaded for several minutes, before the computerized female voice finally spoke. "Location unavailable. You are nowhere."

"Fuckin... what?" I ignored Smith's incredulous exclamation as I squinted at my phone. We were nowhere? I'd never heard it say that before. I checked the signal and noticed I had zero bars and an "x" where it normally would've said "LTE." Wonderful. "Well, fuck-a-doodle-doo," Smith growled. He glanced down at the car's dashboard. "Uh... we might have another problem too." I followed his gaze and groaned when I saw what he was talking about. The needle on the gas gauge was dipping just below "E" and the low fuel light was on. "It's, uh... been like that since we got off the interstate."

Great. So not only were we completely lost, with no cell signal and no idea where we were, we were also on the verge of running out of gas and being stranded in the middle of the woods during a heavy snowfall, in the dead of night.

Like I said, everything that follows was totally Smith's fault. Fucking... fuckwad! Not knowing what else to do, I reached over and pulled open the glove compartment. I let out a small sigh of relief when I saw there was a road map inside. I clicked on the overhead light, pulled out the map, and began unfolding it. As I looked it over, however, my short lived relief began to fade. I wasn't even sure where to begin figuring out where the hell we were... Smith glanced over at me and scoffed. "A map? Bro, what year do you think it is? Why don't you just whip out your compass and plot a course to jolly old England while you're at it, Chris Columbus? Besides, I dunno which exit I took when I got off the highway, I just took one. So good luck figuring out where we even are on that thing."

I sighed, rubbing the bridge of my nose. I could feel the mother of all headaches coming on, a common symptom of spending more than fifteen minutes with Smith. Dumbass was right though. Even if he had been paying attention to which exit he'd taken, who knew if this Podunk backwoods road we were on would even be on this map? I hastily folded it back up and stuffed it back into the glove compartment.

We rode in silence for a few moments after that. Finally, Smith sighed, pulled the car over to the shoulder, and threw it in park. "Look, we need to fuckin' figure out what to do before we run out of gas," Smith said, turning to me. I nodded in agreement, but short of pulling out the emergency blankets and waiting for the sun to come up or the snow to stop, we really didn't have many options. I was about to suggest doing just that when Smith suddenly leaned forward over my side of the car, squinting at something through the passenger window.

"Bro, you see that?" I turned and glanced out the window myself. I couldn't really see much of anything beyond the falling snow and the trees immediately outside the window. I turned back to Smith and shrugged. He sighed in response, before cutting the engine and turning off the headlights, plunging us into darkness. He gestured out the window again, and when I turned and looked, this time I saw what he was talking about. Deep in the woods, there was a faint, flickering orange glow. It was impossible to tell what it was coming from, or even how far away it was through the trees and the snow, which seemed to be falling heavier than ever, but it was definitely there. "Looks like a fire or something?" Smith said. "Maybe people? Maybe there's like a house out there or something? With a phone or gas or directions at least?" I thought about it momentarily before finally nodding. Grasping at straws though it may have been, it was pretty much our only option. And if nothing came of it, we could just come back to the car and hold out until morning.

Smith nodded back. "Alright, homie." He pulled the keys out of the ignition, kicked open the driver's side door, and got out. "Holy fuckballs, dude, it's dark as shit out here! And fuckin' cold!"

I sighed, reaching behind me into the back seat area and fumbling around behind the passenger's seat. Smith had zero foresight but maybe his parents had packed... yes! I exhaled in relief as my fingers closed around the small plastic box. An emergency roadside kit.

Popping it open, I found two roadside flares, a package of bandages, a bottle of disinfectant, a utility knife, and two of those plastic environmentally friendly flashlights that didn't use traditional batteries and you had to shake to charge. I pocketed the flares, bandages, knife, and disinfectant in my coat, before opening the passenger door and stepping out into the cold as well. I shook one of the flashlights to charge it as I tossed the other one over the car to Smith. He caught it and watched me for a moment before a grin spread across his face. "Yo, dude. Check it out." Stepping around the car, he held the flashlight down to his crotch and started shaking it. I groaned in irritation and shook my head, before turning away and moving toward the side of the road. "Whatever dude," I heard Smith say behind me as I clicked on my flashlight. "That shit's hilarious."

I shined the light into the trees ahead of us and stepped off the road, stumbling slightly as my foot sank about six inches into the snow. I hadn't realized it, but the ground sloped slightly down from the road, and the snow had drifted much deeper here than it had on the asphalt. The trees stretched off ahead of us, seemingly without end, the orange flickering glow in the distance almost lost in the light of my flashlight and the heavily falling snow. Smith stepped up next to me, zipping up his heavy blue, designer Mountain Top winter coat, and yanking his matching blue ski-cap down over his forehead. "Let's do this, bro."

I nodded and we stepped forward into the woods.


"Bro, listen. You smell that?"

I paused, sniffing the air.

We'd been walking in silence for about five minutes. The skeletal trees had begun to grow more numerous and closer together and the snowfall hadn't let up at all. If anything, it was intensifying. I had been avoiding looking back for a little bit now, afraid of seeing that the car was now completely out of sight, afraid of the possibility that even if we wanted to, we might not be able to find our way back to it. These woods were disorienting and with the darkness and the snow, the only way we had to gauge any direction by was the barely visible flickering orange light we were headed toward. If that went out, we'd be fucked. Maybe this had been a stupid idea after all. It seemed like we hadn't really gotten any closer to the orange glow in the distance, though a very faint smell of burning wood told me we were on the right track in thinking it was a fire. But that smell wasn't what Smith was talking about here, I knew. This smell was sudden, stronger, and completely overwhelmed the faint burning smell. This smell was a foul, humid, coppery odor that seemed to hang thick and heavy in the frigid night air.

Smith stepped forward, taking deep whiffs, eventually making his way several yards in front of us to where the trees seemed to cluster together in a line. I watched him in the beam of my flashlight as he slipped through one of the wider gaps between the trees and disappeared beyond. For a long moment, silence followed, the gentle airy patter of the great wet snowflakes hitting the ground the only sound. It was deeply unnerving, and I was about to call out to Smith when his voice suddenly rang out.

"Hoooooly fuck, dude. Come see this!"

I don't know if it was the urgency in his voice or the fact that being alone on this side of the trees was freaking me out so badly, but I didn't hesitate in running forward and squeezing through the trees.

And beyond the tree line, Smith stood, shining his flashlight on what had to be the most macabre scene I'd ever laid eyes on. The woods had opened up into a small clearing here, and a small hill crested at its center. Atop the hill was a tall evergreen tree, maybe eighteen feet tall. But it was what was on the tree that made my blood run so cold that I could feel it even in the chill of the snowy night.

The tree was topped by a large pair of bloody, deer antlers, tied to the upper branches by by some kind of slick, glistening, red tubing. From there, the tubing wrapped down the tree in a sagging, loose spiral... where it lead to an utter massacre at the tree's trunk. It looked like a deer, or maybe several deer, had been torn limb from limb here, the remains tossed haphazardly at the base of the tree. Blood-soaked deer skin was draped around the bottom of the trunk, like a nightmarish skirt. Organs, whole ribcages, and severed limbs were piled atop the skins, along with a lone severed deer head, stripped of its skin, and covered in crimson gristle, its teeth bared in a monstrous permanent grin, its stark white eyes bulging in the ragged, lidless of holes of their sockets.

And as I gazed slack jawed at this horrific display of depravity, I realized that what I was looking at wasn't haphazard at all. The intestines wrapped around the tree like garland. The skins placed around the base of the evergreen like a tree skirt, the ruined body parts stacked in careful piles like presents. The whole thing topped by bloody antlers, spread out like the wings of a twisted, skeletal angel.

It was an insidious, alien mockery of a Christmas tree.

"Fuck dude," Smith breathed, steam coiling from his mouth in hot bursts as he spoke. "You think a bear did this or something?"

That definitely broke me from my trance. I slowly turned to look at him, eyebrows raised. The dumbfounded expression on my face must have been obvious, because Smith noticed it immediately. "What?! Well, what the fuck else would do this?"

He had a point. I looked back at the tree, studying every grisly detail. What would do this? Was this some kind of sick joke? Some kind of bizarre, twisted, hillbilly Christmas display? Or was it even darker than that? It looked almost ritualistic. Like the kind of thing you'd see in horror movies about satanic cults. Suddenly, I began to wonder who or what else might be out in these woods with us. Maybe heading toward that glow hadn't been the best of ideas after all. "Dude," Smith's voice was suddenly further away, and I glanced over to see his footprints in the snow, leading around to the other side of the tree. "Check this out." I followed the footprints around to where Smith now stood, near the opposite side of the clearing from where we had entered. He was shining his flashlight down into what looked like an ancient, waist high stone well.

"Dude, this thing goes deep. I can't even see the bottom. And check out this sign."

I moved over to stand next to him, shining my flashlight down to the side of the well where he was gesturing. A moldy wooden slat had been nailed haphazardly onto the side of the well. A message had been scrawled into the wood in sloppy, painted red letters. Smith crouched down, shining his light on the sign as he read. "'Mimir's Well: Surrender your eyes and see beyond the veil.' Whoa. What the fuck does that mean?"

Without warning, an immense, rumbling sound suddenly cut through the silence of the night. It almost sounded like a great, animalistic bellow, but impossibly deep. So deep that I felt it vibrating painfully deep in my chest and spine.

Behind us, a great thrashing sound in the trees rose up. Beyond the clearing, where we had entered, we could see the tops of trees swaying back and forth, though there was no wind. A heavy, percussive thump suddenly shook the ground, followed by another. Then another. And another. Gradually getting louder. The swaying in the trees began drawing closer and closer.

Smith and I exchanged horrified glances as the same thought no doubt struck us both at once.

Something was coming. Something very, very big.

"Fuck this shit, I'm out!" Smith suddenly yelped, bursting into a sprint and diving into the clearing opposite from where we'd come, back toward the flickering orange glow in the distance. I didn't hesitate in following him. Whatever that glow was, for good or ill, it seemed to be a better option than waiting to meet the tree decorator.

Unfortunately, the gore covered tree was far from the worst thing we would encounter that night.


The massive, roaring pillar of fire reached high into the night sky, lighting up the surrounding area like daylight, and towering above Smith and I, even from where we stood on the ridge above it. Snowflakes continued to swirl and dance around it, evaporating to nothing before they even reached the highest licking flames. We'd run for what seemed like hours, but probably had only been minutes, praying to God that whatever that horrible thing crashing through the trees back at the clearing had been, it wasn't following us.

Finally, with the frigid air searing our lungs, and our muscles burning from exertion, we'd collapsed against a tree, gasping for air. And that had been when Smith had seen the flames and how close we'd gotten to them. It was no wonder we had seen the fire from the road.

We'd reached the crest of a hill that dropped off suddenly at a nearly vertical angle just before us. In the clearing below we immediately saw two things. The first, obviously, was the fire. It appeared to be a single, massive log of some kind, maybe thirty feet tall or so, rooted vertically in the ground, and surrounded by several smaller logs at its base. The flames danced all around the log, enveloping it, but not seeming to completely consume it, bathing everything surrounding it in a bright, warm light. The flames reached a good thirty feet above the log itself, seeming to lick at the very clouds in the sky above it. For some reason, I immediately got the impression that it was a beacon of some kind. Or maybe a warning.

Beyond the burning log, a good hundred yards or so back from it, was an ancient looking, colonial era two story farmhouse. It looked like it had been white at one time, but time had turned its peeling, splintery slats a dirty grey color. Moldy, green shutters hung off their hinges at each of the house's windows, the gentle, wavering light of candles flickering dimly through the dusty, grime covered glass of each one. It was weird and off putting. But given what we'd just been through, it was still a welcome sign of civilization. Smith nudged me suddenly and pointed. "Dude, check it..."

I saw it. Piled haphazardly, and somewhat dangerously close to the flames, were several old, rusty red gas cans. Some were empty, turned on their side, but several more were still upright and presumably full, their spouts plugged. If the owners of this house could be convinced to part with some of their gas, that could be our ticket out of here. I wiped sweat from my brow. Even from up here, the heat from the giant bonfire was sweltering. I turned to Smith, about to mention that we may have finally found our way home... just in time to see him vault over the edge of the ridge and slide down the drop, stumbling slightly when his feet hit the horizontal ground below. He made a beeline toward the gas cans, and I groaned.

Cool, he wasn't even going to ask, he was just going to take. Grumbling to myself, I vaulted over the hill crest after him, nearly losing my footing myself when I hit the ground at the bottom, but managing to catch myself just in time. I jogged to catch up to Smith and nearly slammed straight into his back when he suddenly stopped just short of the gas cans. I was just about to ask him what the fuck he thought he was doing... when I saw why he had suddenly stopped. Standing in front of the bonfire, at an angle we hadn't been able to see from the hill above, was a man holding a gas can. At least I think it was a man.

He was huge, easily standing over seven feet tall, with massive, broad shoulders. The meaty, gloved hand he held the gas can in dwarfed it, making it look like a child's plastic water bucket. He wore a great, heavy, olive colored trench coat, buttoned all the way up to his throat, which reached nearly down to his booted ankles. His face was concealed by a full, head covering rubber gas mask, save for the long wisps of black hair that stuck out near the back of his neck.

He stood, silently staring at us, the flickering flames reflecting off the mirrored lenses of his mask, making it look like he had fiery glowing orange eyes. "Uhhh," Smith finally stammered. "Sup, dude? Cool if we take a few of these?" He quickly grabbed two gas cans. The giant in the gas mask didn't react. "Car ran outta gas and we gotta get home for the holidays. You know how it is. Welp, later bro."

Smith spun on his heel, ready to run, when we both heard the distinctive mechanical click of a gun cocking.

I turned toward the house.

Standing on the porch, with an old double barreled shotgun pointed straight at Smith, was a stern looking, older man. Tall and thin, with hawkish features, a hooked nose, and receding brown hair, swept straight back and peppered with grey at the temples, the scowl on his hard lined face made him almost as intimidating as the giant in the gasmask. He was dressed in an old, button down work shirt, brown slacks, and suspenders. Immediately I knew this must be the owner of the farm house.

Standing in the open doorway behind him, peering out at us with a wild look in her eye, was a woman about the same age. She looked like she might've been pretty at one time, but age, and the manic expression she wore detracted from that somewhat. She wore an old, high necked, Victorian looking dress, and a black bonnet in her blonde hair, which was pulled back in a severe bun.

The man glowered at Smith. "Drop them, boy." His voice was sharp and deep, heavily accented. It sounded Swedish maybe?

Smith immediately dropped the gas cans and put his hands up. He tilted his head toward me. "Bro, don't shoot me, he's the brains behind this whole thing. I told him we should've asked permission but he was like, 'naw, fuck these hillbillies, let's just steal from 'em, yo.'" I just glared over at him and said nothing.

The old man seemed unamused. He turned to the giant in the gas mask. "Sigurd. Bring them inside."

The big guy slowly nodded, dropping his gas can and with surprising quickness, moved over to where Smith and I stood, snatching both of us up by the collars of our coats. Neither of us resisted, not that we had anywhere to run to if we did. The giant, Sigurd, pushed us toward the front porch as the old man and the woman stepped back inside.


Smith and I sat, side by side on an old couch in the house's sitting room. An uncomfortable silence hung in the air. Smith shifted awkwardly where he sat, and I couldn't blame him. The couch seemed like it was upholstered with old sackcloth and stuffed with hay. In front of us was a blocky, wooden coffee table that had clearly been handmade directly from a tree. Seated in an old wingback red chair, on the other side of the table, scowling at us, was the old man, his fingers bridged and his gun slung across his lap.

Not a word had been spoken since Sigurd had unceremoniously dragged us inside, through the foyer, and into this room, forcing us to sit on the couch, before turning around and heading back outside, presumably, to continue tending to the fire. The wild-eyed woman had crossed straight through the foyer into what looked like a kitchen as we entered, but I didn't really get much of a look before being shoved along into the sitting room. The sitting room itself was dimly lit, the only light coming from a small candle in the window overlooking the front yard, as well as the fire roaring in the hearth near the couch. "I am Vidar," the old man finally said. "Vidar Grimsrud."

"Cool," replied Smith. "I'm Smith. This is-"

"I don't care." the old man, Vidar, interrupted.

Smith shrugged. "Okeedoke."

Vidar eyed us both back and forth.

"What were the two of you doing out there in the woods?"

Smith and I exchanged glances, before Smith answered. "Well, uh... we were driving home from college for the holidays and got lost. Our car almost ran out of gas and we saw the light from your fire, so we figured maybe you might be able to help us out, with a phone or gas or something."

Vidar looked at him for a long moment, as if deciding whether or not this was the truth. Finally he sighed, leaning back in the chair. Some of the hostility had left his voice when he spoke next. "You've picked a most unfortunate night to find yourselves lost in these woods. Do you know what day it is?"

"Uhhhh," Smith scrunched up his face in thought. "Thursday?"

"It is the Longest Night," Vidar said, looking at me now. "The Midwinter Solstice."

Before I could ask what that meant, the woman suddenly entered the room. She clunked two mugs of some kind of steaming, sweet smelling brown liquid down on the coffee table in front of us, before taking a seat on a small stool by the fireplace. She picked up a poker and began absently jabbing at the flames, periodically glancing back at Smith and I. The wild gleam in her eye hadn't faded.

Vidar nodded at the mugs. "Drink your wassail."

Smith raised an eyebrow. "Drink my wah-what now?"

The woman suddenly leapt to her feet and shrieked. "DRINK!"

Startled, Smith and I both immediately lifted our mugs and sipped... before coughing immediately. The drink was a hot apple cider, very spicy, and very alcoholic. "

Shit!" Smith sputtered, grinning. "Now that's my kind of drink!"

That seemed to satisfy the woman. She slowly took her seat and went back to poking at the fire. The old man nodded. "Good. The wassail will help keep the dark spirits at bay." Smith chugged half of his mug in one sip, before belching loudly. "I dunno, man. It's making me feel pretty full of spirits myself, if ya know what I mean." I rolled my eyes. Vidar ignored his comment. "Tell me... did you boys see anything strange out in the woods tonight?"

Smith downed the rest of his mug, before answering. "What, you mean like that Eli Roth butcher shop Christmas tree? Or that roaring monster thing, stomping around out there?"

The woman by the fire suddenly gasped, a terrified expression crossing her face. She turned to Vidar. "Jólnir! The Yule Lord! He is out there!"

"Hold your tongue, Dagna!" the old man hissed. "Of course he is out there! It is the Yule! He is ever present during the Longest Night!" He glanced back at us. "My concern is that the intrusion of these outsiders may have stirred his appetites. But as long as the Yule log burns outside, Jólnir will be kept at bay."

Smith and I exchanged glances again. We were both completely lost at this point. "You guys got some funky Christmas traditions," Smith finally said. "You know it?"

Vidar sneered at that comment. "Feh. Let me assure you, boy, the Christians and their Christ Mass have no presence here. Were it not for the church and their petty theft of the Yuletide for their own pathetic purposes, things would not be the way they are! Once the Yule was a time for the old gods! Not the hidden, silent God of Abraham, but the great, ancient, physical gods, who walked upon the earth with men in the elder times! In those days these gods were worshipped by all! Sacrifices were given to appease them in the cold, dead times and in exchange, the old ones would gift us with a bountiful growth in the spring, a time of great prosperity in the summers, and a mighty harvest in the autumn! We need only sacrifice and appease them in the winter! But then the church swept over the earth, robbing the old gods of their belief and power! The sacrifices ended, and the old gods, driven mad by betrayal, became rabid and cruel. Now they plague only the purest bloodlines of those who were once the most devoted to them. It is a brutal irony. And it is all the fault of your vile Christ Mass!"

Smith slowly leaned over to me and whispered, "Yo, I'll bet Baby Jesus is pissed about this place, bro."

Vidar leaned back in his chair regarding us for a moment before finally nodding. "You will stay here tonight in our guest room. Dagna will prepare it for you. When the sun rises, you will be given gas for your car, and you will leave. And you will not come back here again. Is that understood?"

Smith and I glanced at each other. I shrugged and he slowly nodded. What choice did we have at this point? Smith turned back to Vidar. "Guess we're staying the night."

"Father!" A new voice suddenly interjected. "You didn't tell me we'd be having guests tonight! And such handsome ones at that!"

Smith and I turned in our seats, looking back into the foyer, where this new voice came from. Standing on the staircase, leaning over the wooden railing, and smiling at us was a girl. She was about our age and, I don't really know how to put this delicately, she was fucking smokin' hot. She was tall, thin and lithe, with long, fiery red hair that cascaded across her shoulders. Her eyes were a deep piercing blue, visible even in the dim light of the sitting room. A seductive smile played across her ruby red lips. A sheer robe, loosely tied at her hips and slipping off of her pale, cream colored shoulders was all that she wore.

Vidar slammed a fist down on the arm of his chair. "Torunn! You are not to leave your room on Yuletide! You know this!"

"I heard you speaking and got curious as to who you were talking to." The girl, Torunn apparently, made her way down the stairs and into the sitting room. She stood behind the couch we sat at, and leaned over it. Smith stared at her as she did so and let's just say, he wasn't making eye contact. Torrun smiled at him, before turning to regard me.

"Have you come for the Brumalia?"

Dagna suddenly shot to her feet by the fire, screeching. "Do not speak of your blasphemous filth on the night of the Yule, daughter!"

Vidar put a hand up and Dagna went silent. Slowly she sat back down on her stool, but if looks could kill, Torunn would've probably wound up looking a lot like that Christmas tree we'd found earlier. Torunn simply smiled back at her mother.

"We allow you to keep to your own old ways, daughter, since you found those vile tomes by the well and discovered your womanhood." Vidar's voice was low and menacing. "We've allowed you this because you are our daughter and your Bacchus was cast aside the same as Jólnir. But do not mistake our tolerance for acceptance. And on the night of the Yule, your god and his festival of debauchery have no place in the House of Grimsrud. We are bound by blood to the Yule Lord. Do you understand? Tonight is not the Brumalia. It is the Yule."

Torunn rolled her eyes. "Yes, father, I understand. I won't do anything to anger your god tonight, even though he is incapable of coming near this house as long as Sigurd keeps the fire burning outside. My god comes whenever he desires." She smiled and leaned toward Smith, her voice dropping. "So do I.

" Smith locked eyes with me as she spoke, his face practically split in half by his grin. Silently, he mouthed "fuck yes!" at me.

"Upstairs!" Vidar suddenly spat. "Now!"

Torunn lightly ran the back of her fingers across Smith's face before standing up straight. "As you wish, father." She threw Smith one last wink, before turning and sauntering back up the stairs, swaying her hips as she went. Smith watched her walk all the way back up the stairs, before leaning toward me and whispering, "Dude, I have the most confused boner ever right now."

Vidar either didn't hear him or didn't care. He sighed and turned to Dagna. "Take them upstairs and prepare a room for them. And don't forget to leave an offering."

Dagna nodded before standing and motioning for us to do the same. "Let's go."


Dagna lead us up the stairs to a small simple room, with a bare wood floor, two small twin beds, with an antique nightstand between them. Above the nightstand a small window overlooked the front lawn. From here we could see the massive bonfire (with Sigurd still periodically throwing gas on it) as well as the hill we'd climbed down to get here, and the forest beyond. As there was in the sitting room, a small white candle burned in the window sill. "Wait here," Dagna commanded. "I will return with the offering.

" I was intensely curious as to what this offering they kept mentioning was, but Dagna left the room, pulling the door shut as she went, before I could ask about it. I sat down on one of the twin beds and glanced over at Smith, who'd taken a seat on the other one. He drummed his hands on his knees and smiled when he saw me looking at him.

"Bro, did you see the way that chick looked at me? Not the old one, the hot one. Dude, I think your boy might be gettin' laid tonight! Up high!"

He held his hand up for a high five. I just stared at him and left him hanging.

"Aww, don't be jelly just 'cause she liked me more than you, dude." Smith lowered his hand, but his grin didn't fade. "Weak sauce. Don't worry. I'll let you in on every little detail tomorrow! Gonna get me some of that nice sweet ass-"

The door suddenly opened. "Phalt!" Smith finished. "Uh... gonna get me some of that nice sweet asphalt. For the new driveway. At home. That my dad wants. You know. For Christmas."

But it wasn't Dagna who entered. Torunn slipped through the open door, and closed it softly.

Instantly, Smith's grin returned. "Well, hey, baby. How's it-"

Torunn cut him off as she unlaced her robe, and threw it to the ground. She stood before the two of us, completely naked, the flickering candle light dancing across the smooth, milky skin of her bare torso. A long moment of silence went by before she suddenly leapt on to Smith's lap, straddling him, and began kissing him deeply. And, like, grossly. Like open mouth, tongues everywhere, smacking, sucking sounds. It was vile and coupled with the fact that Dagna could return at any moment, I was ready to pitch myself out the window. Smith, of course, just threw himself into it without question.

Finally, after several unbearable moments, Torunn pulled away from him.

"I don't have long," she purred, her breath coming in great heaving gasps. "Do you know what the Brumhalia is?"

"Baby, it's whatever you say it is!" Smith replied.

Torrun grinned. She pulled off Smith's stocking cap and ran her hands through his short cropped blonde hair. "It's an ancient Roman festival, dedicated to the god, Bacchus. The god of wine and pleasure. The Brumhalia is his festival. It is the true festival of the Solstice! A time for throwing off our inhibitions, and giving ourselves over completely to our primal urges! My brother and I found the Tomes of the Vine at the well. They opened our eyes to Bacchus. To the delights of untold, uninhibited, forbidden pleasures. We engaged in them together."

Gross. Smith either didn't notice or didn't care, but it definitely did not escape my attention that this girl had basically just admitted she'd had sex with her brother.

"Eventually our father found us deep in the throes of passion and made Sigurd pay for our transgressions," Torrun went on. "Took him to the well. Made him give up his eyes. Now he is a slave to this miserable Yule. He must tend the Yule fires to appease Jólnir."

I raised an eyebrow at that. The big, Frankenstein dude in the gas mask outside was her brother?

"I haven't had anyone to share the rituals of Bacchus with since," Torunn continued. "But now, you are here." She looked straight into Smith's eyes. "Would you like to meet Bacchus with me? Would you like to drink the nectar of the gods, feel pleasures untold, beyond your wildest dreams?"

Smith's voice cracked. "Hell fucking yes I would!"

Torunn kissed him again, before pulling away and standing. "Come to my room at 3 am tonight. It's the last one on the right, down the hall just outside. Not a minute sooner and not a minute later. Come and I will give you everything." she glanced at me and winked. "Your friend can come too if he wants."

Smith's eyes looked like they were going to explode out of his head. "3 am?"

Torunn nodded, crouching to pick up her robe. "3 am." She opened the door and glanced over her shoulder one last time. "Not a minute sooner. Not a minute later."

She stepped outside and pulled the door shut.

Smith stared after her for a long time before turning to me. "Ya boy gettin' LAID TONIGHT! You can't come though, I don't care what she says. I ain't into that devil's threesome crap."

I rolled my eyes and was about to tell him that I hoped he caught some kind of debilitating STD from the skank that banged her own brother, when the door opened again and Dagna stepped into the room.

In one hand she held a plate of gingerbread cookies. In the other, a tall glass of milk.

She moved into the room, and placed the milk and cookies on the nightstand below the window.

"Sweet," Smith said. "Snack time."

He reached for a cookie when Dagna suddenly slapped his hand away.

"You will not touch the offering!" she growled. "It is not for you!" Smith scoffed. "Who's it fuckin' for then? Santa Claus?"

"Don't be an idiot," Dagna snapped. "St. Nicholas would not dare step foot in this forest. No, this offering is to keep the other spirits that haunt the Yuletide at bay."

Smith glanced out the window. "I thought that's what the big ass fire was for."

"The Yule fire wards of Jólnir, but there are other, lesser spirits that haunt this time, no less malevolent than he." Dagna stared out the window as she spoke, the fire dancing in the whites of her eyes. "When one old god holds sway over the land, all of the other elder spirits flock to it, like flies to the bloated carcass of a horse in the humid summer. In the wake of Jólnir, others may come. Forest trolls, snow goblins, the Winter Fae, Black Peter, Krampus the Anti-Claus. Bacchus." She spat the last one hatefully. "The old things that once walked plentiful across the earth. And things even older still. Great dark entities from before the time of man. The Dead Stag King. Cys the Corpse Dragon. The Lady of Iniquity. They all have their gazes set upon this land tonight." She blinked as if coming out of a trance, before her gaze hardened as she focused back on Smith. "To keep these things away we must place offerings in every room where someone will sleep tonight. So do not touch those sweets. Do I make myself clear?"

Smith had slumped back on the bed about halfway through her speech. He let out an exaggerated sigh as he laid there staring at the ceiling. "Blah bla-blah blah fuckin' blah, I get it! God! No touching the cookies! Jesus!"

Dagna glanced back and forth between the two of us before nodding. "Good. Get your rest. You will leave at first light. Until then, do not exit this room." With that she briskly walked out and pulled the door shut behind her.

"What if I have to potty?!" Smith called after her.

A moment of silence followed, before the door opened slightly, and a rusty old bucket slid into the room. The door quickly shut again. Smith eyed the bucket, before shrugging.

"Huh. Okeedoke."

He turned to the nightstand, and quickly grabbed one of the gingerbread men, biting its head off and taking a swig of milk. My mouth dropped open.

Smith finished the gingerbread man, and downed about two thirds of the glass of milk before slamming it back down on the nightstand. He sighed when he saw me gaping at him. "Oh, what?! You can't put cookies and milk in front of me and expect me not to eat them, bro. Besides, you don't actually believe any of that horseshit she was spewing, do you? Ooooo, the boogeyman's gonna come and get us 'cause I ate his cookies! Woooo!" He wiggled his fingers under his chin.

Have I mentioned that everything horrible that happened that night was Smith's fault? I'm not sure I can possibly make that clear enough.

Smith took off his jacket. "Anyway, dude, I'm gonna get a few hours of shut eye, so what I need for you to do is set an alarm on your phone for 3 am, alright? I'd do it myself, but my phone's dead."

I rolled my eyes.

Smith jabbed a finger at me. "Dude, I fuckin' mean it. Pull out your phone and set an alarm right now, or I will smash your face into a... into a JELLY!"

I sighed and pulled out my phone. After making a big show of setting my alarm for 3 am, I tossed it onto the nightstand and wordlessly raised my eyebrows. Smith nodded. "Fuckin' thank you. Was that so hard?" He threw back his covers, climbed underneath them, and settled in, sighing deeply before closing his eyes. "Fuckin gettin' LAID tonight, bro! It's gonna be great. I'll tell you all about it in the morning, man."

I shook my head before pulling off my hat and coat and climbing under the blankets of my own bed. This had been the weirdest fucking night of my life, but things finally seemed to be tapering off. I had no idea who these Grimsrud people were, but they didn't seem to mean any harm. If they'd wanted to murder us and take our faces or whatever they'd had plenty of opportunities to do so since we'd gotten here. I was pretty sure we'd be safe 'til morning, at which point we'd be on our way. So, with nothing else to do I sighed, closed my eyes, and tried to get some sleep.

Eventually, I managed to drift off. But the peace would prove to be very short lived.


I don't know how long I slept, but I woke to the sound of whispers. Tiny, high pitched, helium-voiced whispers. With tiny little Scottish accents...

"I think this is the one that did it. I can smell the offerin' on his breath."

"Christ, he's ugly! His face looks like that stuff the Ice Hag coughed up after she tried to eat those pine cones."

Slowly I opened my eyes. My vision was bleary, and at first all I could make out were two glowing purple smudges about the size of softballs, sitting on Smith's chest as he slept.

Slowly, my eyes adjusted to the dark and I saw the smudges for what they were. They were tiny little naked women. With luminescent purple skin, and sparkling pink hair that seemed to flow around their heads as if they were under water. Protruding from their backs were large, dragonfly like wings, six inches long, which seemed to be made of ice.

One of them walked forward and crouched just below Smith's chin. She grinned and even from where I was lying I could see the miniature, white, needle like fangs that filled her mouth. "Help me open his jaws, Hildy. I wanna pull out his tongue and ram it up his arse!"

The second one locked eyes with me and gasped. "Oh fuck! Lorelei! The other one's awake!"

They both let out tiny little high pitched shrieks and vanished in puffs of purple smoke.

I sat straight up and rubbed my eyes. What the fuck was that?! Had I really seen that or was I in the middle of some kind of fucked up waking dream?

A sudden and tremendous crash from overhead jarred me from my train of thought. In the other bed, Smith quickly sat up, blearily rubbing his eyes. "Santa?" I ignored him as I stared up at the ceiling. What the hell was that? As far as I knew, we were on the top floor of the house. Was there something on the roof

? As if in answer to my thoughts, a heavy, rhythmic thumping started moving across the ceiling, sounding like great, plodding footfalls. Something large was definitely up there.

The thudding steadily moved away from our room and down toward the other end of the house. And as I listened, along with the footsteps, I thought I dimly heard what sounded strangely like the jingling of sleigh bells.

Then the sound of shattering glass suddenly rang out, and a shriek pierced the air.


"The fuck was that?!"

There was panic in Smith's voice. The scream had cleared the cobwebs, and jarred him fully awake now. Suddenly, his eyes shot wide and he leapt out of bed. "Oh, shit! Is it 3?! I didn't hear my fuckin' alarm go off! Why didn't you wake me up, dickbag?!" He started to pull his shoes on when he paused, his face scrunching in revulsion. "Ugh, what the fuck is that smell? Dude, did you use the bucket?"

I paused and sniffed the air. I don't know how I didn't notice it before, but a rancid, sour odor was hanging in the air. I glanced around trying to pinpoint the source of the smell... and gasped when I looked over at the nightstand. The remaining gingerbread men - the ones Smith didn't eat - were now shriveled and black, and spattered with white puffs of mold. The leftover milk in the glass had completely curdled, turning yellow and lumpy. Smith noticed this about the same time as me. He sneered. "Fuckin' farmers and their organic bullcrap. This is why we need GMOs, dude."

Another scream suddenly rang out, followed by another crash from down the hall. I leapt out of bed now, pushing past Smith, toward the door. "Bro, I told you, you can't come!"

I waved a hand to quiet him, then turned and slowly opened the door.


I pushed the door open the rest of the way, as quietly as I could, and peered around the edge of the doorframe, and down the hall.

The hallway stretched off to the left and the right from our door. To the left, it lead directly to the stairs down to the first floor. To the right, it terminated in a dead end, a single door to the right, on the same side of the hall as ours; Torunn's room presumably.

Suddenly, that door flew open, and Torunn vaulted out, turning and slamming the door shut behind her, before grasping at the handle and leaning back. She was clearly trying to keep whatever was in there from coming out. And she looked terrible; her hair was disheveled, and she still wore the sheer robe from earlier, though it was in tatters now. Blood ran from her mouth, and one of her eyes was black. As she held the door handle, the door itself began rattling violently.

"What the fuck is going on out here?" Smith joined me, peering around the doorframe as well. Torunn's head snapped in our direction when she heard his voice. A look of fury suddenly crossed her face.

"You fucking morons!" she bellowed. "Did you defile the offering?!"

Smith glanced at me before turning back to her. "Defile the what now?"

Without warning, the door Torunn held suddenly exploded inward, and she was sucked shrieking back into her room. "OH GOD!" we heard her cry from within. "GET AWAY FROM ME! GET AWAY YOU HORRIBLE-AIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEE-" Her screaming was suddenly cut short by a loud and sickening, wet crunch.

"I think it's time to fuckin' go, bro!" Smith said suddenly. He moved back into the room, and quickly pulled on his hat and coat. Not knowing what else to do, I did the same. We finished bundling up, and dashed out into the hallway- only to find our path to the stairs blocked by Vidar, his shotgun grasped firmly in his hands.

"What is the meaning of this?!" he demanded. "What have you done?!"

Before we could respond, a wheezing, gurgling, chuckle interjected, oozing down from the other end of the hall. All three of us turned in the direction of this sound... as something huge and hideous dragged itself out of the ruins of Torrun's room.

It stood well over eight feet tall, stooping over to avoid hitting its head on the steepled ceiling above. Its skin was a bright red, its taut, sinewy arms, gangling and oversized, one massive clawed hand dragging on the floor, while the other gripped the cinch of a great red sack it had slung over its shoulder. Its bulging, swollen belly hung down over the ragged black loincloth it wore, and its squat, bowed legs ended in cloven hooves.

It also had a candy cane striped scarf wrapped around its neck, and a red and white Santa hat, stuffed over its long scraggly black hair. A bandolier of sleigh bells was slung over one of its bony shoulders. It blinked its great, glowing yellow eyes, over its shriveled, upturned snout and grinned at us, its forked, three foot long tongue lolling out of its mouth, over its brown and rotting, razor sharp teeth.

"GRUSS VOM KRAMPUS!" it gurgled at us. "Dear God," Vidar gasped. "The Anti-Claus!" He glowered over at Smith and me. "You idiots ate the cookies and milk, didn't you?! DIDN'T YOU!!"

Smith glanced at me nervously before looking back at Vidar, "Yo, dude, I told him not to but he was all like 'fuck these stupid hillbillies and their boogeymen, I do what I want, yo!'"

Before I could respond, by jacking Smith in the face as hard as I could, the creature down the hall took a tremendous step toward us that shook the floor. "FRÖHLICHE WEIHNACHTEN!" it bellowed.

Vidar raised his shotgun and Smith and I threw ourselves to the floor as he fired both barrels.

The slugs hit the monster square in its red chest, blackish blood erupting from the impact, though the creature itself barely flinched. It did, however, drop its bag, the cinch coming undone as it hit the floor with a dull thump. Rotten, severed, human body parts came tumbling out... along with the twisted, broken body of Torrun, her arms and legs all bent the wrong way, and her head twisted on backward.

"NOOOOOO!" Vidar bellowed. Despite the fact that he'd already expended both shots of his shotgun, the old man dashed down the hall toward the creature, brandishing the weapon like a club. The creature, in turn, quickly snatched him up by the throat with one oversized claw, tearing the gun out of his hands with the other.

"NEIN, NEIN, NEIN! DU BIST UNGEZOGEN!" the creature chortled, tossing the shotgun aside. It began wrapping its long tongue around Vidar's head as he gasped and struggled in its grasp.

"Definitely time to go now, homie!" Smith exclaimed, and I didn't argue. We both scrambled to our feet and booked it as fast as we could down the stairs.


As we barged down the stairs, Smith suddenly stumbled and paused, grabbing the wooden banister for support. I heard his stomach audibly gurgle. "Shit, dude," he groaned. "I don't think those milk and cookies are mixing too well with that wah-wah drink." Before I could remind him that we had to keep going, lest the gigantic red Christmas devil upstairs follow us, another shriek cut through the air. We both looked down over the banister to see Dagna come running out of the kitchen area. And pursuing her, of course, were even more bizarre creatures. There were two of them. They were short and squat, about two feet tall and roughly humanoid, covered head to toe in a fine white fur, except for their long, pointed, fleshy noses, and enormous, pink bat-like ears. They had beady, black eyes, and three clawed fingers on each hand as they reached for the old woman.

As she ran past the doorway to the sitting area, a third one of these creatures suddenly lunged out and wrapped its arms around her ankles, causing her to crash to the floor. The other two creatures flipped her onto her back and pinned her arms to the floor as a fourth white creature came trundling out of the sitting area... holding the fireplace poker in its stubby hands, the tip glowing red hot. As she struggled on the floor, Dagna noticed us watching from the stairs. "Look at what you've done, you fools!" she screamed. "Look at what you've-" Her accusations were cut off as the creature holding the poker plunged the burning end into her open mouth. Dagna's agonized screams mixed with a hideous, wet sizzling as the flesh inside her mouth melted, smoke and bubbling blood, billowing up from between her jaws. Smith and I had seen enough. We bounded down to the first floor and charged past the horrific scene. The white furred creatures seemed to pay us no mind as we pulled open the front door and ran outside.


We burst through the front door, slamming it shut behind us before bounding down the rickety front porch steps and into the night. It had finally stopped snowing and the towering Yule fire continued to burn as high as ever. Aside from the crackling of the flames, it was completely silent, an eerily serene contrast to the madness that had transpired inside. The fallen snow lay crisp and unbroken, as far as the eye could see, and almost a foot deep now as we stomped through it. The moon shone down through a break in the clouds overhead, bathing the scenery in a soft, sterile white glow. As we made our way past the fire and toward the slope that would take us back into the forest, Smith paused.

"Hold up, dude." He scooped up two of the gas cans piled near the fire. I could hear the gasoline sloshing around inside as he hefted them. "Grab a few, so we can get the fuck outta here when we get to the car."

Nodding, I grabbed two of my own... just as Sigurd stepped from where he'd been standing around the other side of the fire. A long, double headed axe was gripped tightly in his gloved hands. Smith and I paused, and for a moment the three of us stood frozen, watching each other. Though Sigurd's face was still completely concealed by the gas mask, I definitely got the impression he was glaring. It was as if he knew what had transpired inside the house and knew exactly who was to blame.

"Bye, Felicia!" Smith suddenly cried, before spinning on his heel and bolting toward the forest. Not wanting to be left behind with the giant monster man with the axe, I followed close on his heels. As we ran, I risked a look over my shoulder. Panic welled up inside me as I saw that Sigurd was charging after us incredibly fast for a guy his size. He was gaining on us quickly, and I could only pray that we would reach the slope before he caught us.

Somehow, by the grace of whatever little benevolence there is left in the universe, we managed to make it to the foot of the slope. Smith tossed his two gas cans up to the top, then took mine and did the same with them.

"C'mon, bro!" Smith yelled, before scrambling up the slope. I followed close behind and had nearly reached the crest... when I felt a gigantic, meaty hand close around my ankle. Looking below me, I saw that Sigurd had caught up with us, and now had my ankle in his vice-like grip. I dug my fingers into the side of the slope, but it was futile. Sigurd began dragging me down the steep incline... when Smith, who had reached the top, suddenly leaned over the side and grabbed me by the collar of my coat.

"Leave no homie behind!" he screamed.

Like I said before, Smith is a big, athletic dude, and I could see the rippling muscles straining in his thick neck as he pulled, but despite this, he was no match for the much larger Sigurd. It was a life or death game of tug of war and Smith was losing, which meant I was probably going to get an axe buried in my face. Suddenly, a burst of inspiration struck me as I remembered what I had in the pocket of my jacket. I reached in... and pulled out the utility knife from the emergency roadside kit. I extended the razor blade, reached down and jabbed it deep into Sigurd's hand. By some miracle, it worked. I heard a muffled grunt of pain from Sigurd as he released my ankle. With Smith still tugging on my collar full force, I suddenly shot up and over the crest of the hill. Smith stumbled along with me and we both landed in a heap on the floor of the forest. I quickly scrambled to my feet and glanced back over the edge of the hill.

At the bottom of the slope, Sigurd angrily ripped the utility knife out of his hand, before slowly looking up at me.

Yup. Now he was even more pissed. He started climbing up the slope. "RUN OR DIE, BITCH!" Smith bellowed, scooping up his gas cans, and taking off into the woods. With one last glance back at the great, burning Yule log in the distance, I did the same.


Once again, I have no idea how much time actually passed as we frantically ran through the forest. It seemed the whole time we were running, every time I'd glance over my shoulder, thinking maybe we'd lost Sigurd, he'd pop around the nearest tree and continue the chase. He was always behind us, the crashes of him stomping and chopping his way through the trees behind us never far away. It seemed he had limitless stamina, while the fatigue of pushing ourselves as hard as we could, as fast as we could, coupled with the frigid night air stinging our joints and our lungs as we desperately gulped down oxygen, was beginning to take its toll on Smith and me. Finally, after squeezing through a particularly narrow gap between two trees, Smith collapsed to the ground.

"Bro," he gasped. "Bro... I can't... I can't keep going, bro. My stomach feels like a fuckin' washing machine." As if to accentuate his point, he belched loudly. And Goddamn, did it reek.

Now that we had paused, I could feel what little adrenaline I had had left driving me beginning to wane. If I couldn't get Smith back on his feet and moving soon, I was liable to collapse from exhaustion as well. I grabbed his shoulder and tried to pull him to his feet.

"I can't," Smith panted. "Go on without me, bro."

For a long moment, I considered doing just that

. Then, I sighed to myself. If Smith hadn't stopped to grab me, Sigurd likely would have chopped me into kindling by now. I glanced around impotently, as if looking for something I could use to convince Smith to keep going.

And that's when I noticed where we were.

We were in a familiar clearing. At the center, towering above us on a small hill, was the sinister Christmas tree we'd encountered shortly after leaving the car. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to call it a Yuletide tree.

This was a bad place. I tried to point the tree out to Smith... When a cluster of branches separating the clearing from the rest of the forest suddenly exploded inward... and Sigurd plodded into the clearing. I pulled on Smith's arm harder as Sigurd spotted us and began trudging toward us. Smith didn't respond. Had he passed out?

As he drew nearer, Sigurd lifted his axe high above his head. This was it! After all this, we were about to get splattered to bits by a gigantic maniac in a gas mask. We were about to become a part of the monstrous holiday display that loomed over us.

And that was when the deepest, foulest, and most terrifyingly inhuman bellow I had ever heard in my life suddenly rang out. It was the same monstrous cry we had heard the last time we were in this clearing. Only this time it was much, much closer.

Even Sigurd stopped in his tracks. He slowly glanced over his shoulder, axe still raised... when two of the dead trees that surrounded the clearing all of a sudden shook violently before abruptly toppling over and crashing down on either side of us.

We had seen a lot of strange and awful stuff that night... but what stood where those trees had been standing was undoubtedly the most horrifying of them all. It was enormous, twenty feet tall at least, and even then, it was slouched over, with a grotesque, malformed hump formed on its back, its twisted spine jutting out so far, it almost broke through the thing's pale, blue skin.

It had long, emaciated arms that dragged through the snow. The tips of the six clawed fingers it had on each hand were blackened as if frostbitten, and its skin glittered as if covered in a thin, sheen of frost. It wore the tattered remains of a white robe, which dragged through the snow over its clawed, backward bent, wolf like hind legs. Its face was vaguely human, though half frozen and decayed. Its lips had long sense rotted away, giving it a permanent snarl. Its nose was a wet, ragged hole in the center of its face. One eye was covered by a crude, deerskin eyepatch. The other was a bulging orb of glowing blue madness.

Massive, jagged icicles, curled out from its temples like ram's horns, and a cascade of long, tangled, gray hair ran from the top of its head, down to its waist, a stringy gray beard on its chin reaching nearly to its knees. In its right hand it held an entire tree, stripped of its branches, like a club.

It bellowed at us again as it stepped into the clearing, the earth shaking from the impact. And I knew that this was what the Yule fire had kept at bay. This was Jólnir. This was the Yule Lord.

Sigurd turned to face the great old god that had just stepped into the clearing... and the monstrous Jólnir simply swung its club, smashing the hulking, gas masked abomination with a sickening crunch, and sending him flying bodily up, over the trees and well out of the clearing. Then it turned to us and bellowed once again.

All the feeling went out of my legs, and I collapsed into the snow beside the unconscious Smith. This was it. This was how I was going to die. Smashed to pieces by an insane old god that refused to relinquish the last lingering hold it had on the world that had left it behind.

It dropped its club as it stepped forward, perhaps sensing that it wouldn't need the weapon to dispatch two puny mortals like us. It snatched me up in one great clawed hand, Smith in the other, and lifted us toward its face.

It regarded us momentarily with its single, bulging blue eye and then began emitting a series of abrupt, rumbling, explosive hacks. Dimly, I realized it was laughing. It glanced back and forth between the two of us. I imagine now that it was trying to decide which of us to eat first.

Finally it seemed to have decided upon Smith. It tossed him in its hand, catching him by the right leg. Smith, still unconscious, could only hang limply, offering no resistance. Then, the monster lifted him straight above its head, tilted back its face, and opened its mouth wide, its jaws cracking and popping as they unhinged like the world's largest cobra that had frozen to death, died, and come back to life as an undead walking nightmare.

"Huh... wha?" Smith's eyes fluttered open. I sighed to myself from where I dangled helplessly in the monster's other claw. Of course the dumbfuck would choose now, at the worst possible moment, to regain consciousness. It took Smith a moment to realize what was happening. Then it hit him all at once. "OH SWEET JESUS MOTHER OF CHRIST HOLY FUCKING SHIT!!" Smith began frantically flailing around in the monster's hand. "WHAT THE FUCK?!?! WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT!! WHAT THE-"

Smith's rantings were suddenly interrupted as he let out a long, wet belch. This seemed to confuse the creature and it paused momentarily, closing its mouth.

Then, Smith promptly projectile vomited all over the Yule Lord's face.

Now look; I'm not going to pretend I even kind of understand what happened next. Maybe it was the wassail in his belly that Vidar had said would keep evil spirits at bay. Maybe there was some kind of old world magic in the milk and cookies Smith had crammed down his gullet earlier. Maybe all three things had mixed with the stomach acid, and whatever other garbage Smith had put in his gut that day, and somehow miraculously combined into some kind of uber-lethal poison for monsters. Whatever the case, whenever that disgusting, chunky, foul smelling, milky spray hit the Yule Lord in the face, the beast reacted like it had been sprayed with highly pressurized hydrochloric acid.

Smoke began roiling off it, and the skin where Smith's vomit had splashed the creature began to bubble and slough off, revealing the stark white bone of its skull beneath. It let out the most brutal, ear bursting, ungodly scream I had ever heard, and dropped both Smith and I to the ground with a crash. Dazed from the fall, I slowly rolled over, blinking. The creature was stumbling around, clutching at its face, desperately trying to wipe off the destructive bile, and pulling off the melted remains of most of its skin instead. Smoke continued to pour from between its fingers.

I saw one of the discarded gas cans we'd had with us lying in the snow nearby and had an insane thought. I quickly stood, grabbed the gas can, and ran as close as I dared to get to the monster, before emptying the entire contents of the can into the robe it dragged along the ground at its feet.

Then I pulled out one of the road flares I had in my pocket, tore off the lid, and struck the tip. It ignited in a bright burst of molten sparks. As if sensing it was in danger, the creature suddenly began flailing one if its arms around and struck me on the shoulder. Not hard, but enough to knock me off my feet. The flare went flying out of my hand, end over end through the air...

Where Smith deftly caught it. He looked at the burning flare. Then looked at the creature. Then looked at the empty gas can. Then nodded. His gaze hardened as he looked up at the flailing Yule Lord.

"Sleep in heavenly peace, motherfucker!"

He threw the flare into the creatures gasoline soaked robes. The robes went up like flash paper. Engulfed in flames, the creature bellowed again, and tried to blindly charge out of the clearing, instead smashing into the macabre tree it its center with such impact, it uprooted the whole thing. The creature stumbled to the ground, pulling the tree down on top of it. The tree ignited as well, and the flames shot high into the night sky.

Another Yule fire had been lit. The creature thrashed and struggled beneath the tree, but seemed powerless to be able to move the burning mass from atop itself. The flames roared, swirling and dancing high into the air, as if celebrating the fact that soon this all would be over. Slowly, the creature's cries began to die out and finally, expelling one last great bellow, it laid still.

Not quite believing what had just happened, I slowly pulled myself to my feet. Smith and I stood for a long moment, just watching the fire crackle. Overhead, the sky had cleared, and was beginning to turn from an inky midnight black into a lighter shade of blue. The sun was coming.

Finally, Smith hocked and spat into the snow, before bending down and picking up two of the remaining gas cans. "Aight, homie. Let's bounce."


Whatever dark spell had held the forest in its grip was seemingly broken. As the sky began to grow lighter, we began to hear the sounds of a blue jay singing. Nearby, a squirrel scrambled down the side of a tree, glancing at us momentarily, before darting into the underbrush. The air just felt lighter and strangely, though it was still very cold, it no longer seemed as bitter and biting. Smith and I walked in silence, taking it all in, pausing only when a doe, followed by its baby faun, walked out of the trees into the path ahead of us, and paused, regarding us curiously. Smith and I simply looked back at the creatures. A strange, intimate moment of connection passed between the two of us and the doe and its baby.

Until Smith belched loudly. Startled, the two deer scampered off back into the trees

. Smith patted his chest. "Whoopsie daisy. Aftershocks."

Miraculously, it took us only about an hour of walking through the forest after that to find the car where we had left it on the side of the road. I began batting the several inches of snow that had accumulated off the roof and hood as Smith went to work pouring the remaining three gas cans into the tank.

"Man, that was some fucked up shit, right?"

I didn't know how to respond, so I just didn't say anything. The snow was packed on the car heavy and wet, so I pretended I was too busy clearing it to hear him. Smith discarded the first, now empty gas can.

"No one's gonna believe that shit, man." Smith went on. I nodded my agreement at that. I barely fucking believed it. Smith finished the second can and tossed it aside as well.

"I mean, what the fuck are are we gonna tell our parents, yo?" Smith asked.

I paused. I hadn't actually thought about that. What were we gonna tell them? This had made us a day late, and we'd been out of cell service the whole time. The second we found our way back to civilization, I was sure I was gonna get 42 frantic messages all at once from my mom, demanding to know where I was, if I was still alive, etc. etc.

I supposed we could tell them a very, very, very loose version of the truth.

The car had broken down in an area with no cell service, a kindly old couple had taken us in for the night, provided us gas, and we went on our way in the morning. Of course the couple hadn't been kindly, they hadn't so much as given us the gas as we'd stolen it, and we'd basically been responsible for the deaths of the old couple and their two children.

No, scratch that. Smith had been responsible. It was Smith's refusal to wake me up when he pulled off the interstate that got us lost. It was Smith's idea to investigate the fire. It was Smith who had eaten the offering that was supposed to protect us, despite being explicitly told not to, and what would happen if he did.

It was Smith who had gotten the creepy old couple and their horned up daughter and hulking zombie son brutally killed by psychotic Christmas creatures.

And it was Smith who had essentially killed a raging, rabid god by vomiting explosively into its face.

Smith finished with the third can, and tossed it aside. "Oh well, I guess. Shit happens, you know." Finally, I just turned and glowered at him over the roof of the car. "Dude," I said. "Just shut the fuck up and let's get out of here, okay?"

Smith sneered at me. "Damn, bitch, no need to be a dick about it. Didn't your mama ever tell you, if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all?"

I shook my head and got in the car, and Smith followed.


So, that's it. That's what happened. We drove on and eventually, after an hour or so, turned off from the isolated Podunk road we'd become lost on, onto a slightly less isolated, slightly less Podunk road. At this point, my GPS Maps app finally decided that we were no longer nowhere, we were in fact now somewhere, and we were able to get back on the interstate and make our way home. Dealing with our parents when we got there, well... that's a whole other thing I won't get into here. So that's my story. And that's why Christmas is a sham.

But it's a sham that protects us from great gurgling monsters and creepy little snow goblins, and naked fairy girls that want to tear out our organs. And not everyone has a blithering idiot like Smith around to help them accidentally blunder their way out of dark, supernaturally horrifying situations, like I did. So in the end... I guess it's important to keep the holiday spirit alive.

You know... to keep ourselves alive. And to avoid being eaten by homicidal gods.

So take care out there.

And merry fucking Christmas.