Most holiday stories seek to warm your heart, but those who would rather have their blood chilled needn’t feel left out. For merry-making that is somewhat off the beaten path, try a mix of seasonal paranormal stories set in the Old West. Six-Guns and Slay Bells: A Creepy Cowboy Christmas, presented by Western Fictioneers, plays with yuletide fear in selections such as “Christmas Wraiths” by Douglas Hirt and L. J. Washburn’s “A Creature Was Stirring”. Well-known authors Robert Randisi and James Reasoner raise the stakes with “Sheriff Santa and the Ghost of Two Gun Jim” and “Presents for One and All”. Hauntings, shootouts, monsters, and snake-oil salesmen combine to make this Christmas gathering one you won’t easily forget.
It all begins with Hester Garlan, a spitfire outlaw who sees the dead. After a mid-jailbreak encounter results in an inconvenient pregnancy, her sensitivity to rogue spirits is transferred to her child, a son she can’t abandon fast enough. When she discovers her second sight is gone, Hester sets off to trade the boy’s life for her gift’s restoration. Meanwhile, a young woman unsuited to expected society roles is thrown together with the founder of the Winchester rifle empire, and though there is a mutual attraction, happily-ever-after may not be in their tea leaves. There Is No Lovely End by Patty Templeton is a debut that drips with acid-tongued banter, tintype settings, and otherworldly imaginings. It’s a modern take on an old-fashioned tale, and you’ve never read anything quite like it.
Described “as fresh as it is terrifying” by Joss Whedon, The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey is not your average post-apocalyptic story. Every day 10-year-old Melanie wakes up in a prison cell, gets a gun pointed to her head while she is strapped into a wheelchair, goes to class, and then is taken back to her cell. This life is all Melanie knows until she is thrust to the outside world and learns answers to questions she never thought to ask. A study of humanity, power, and making hard decisions, anything can and will happen in this lyrically-written, tense novel.
A teenage girl clambers up a steep embankment and pulls herself over the guardrail of a twisty mountain road. She has awoken from a blackout, and the last thing she remembers is being on a school trip — a trip that ended in a tragic bus crash a full four years earlier. The Returned, a French series which emerges as a masterwork in eerie storytelling, purposely uncoils the accounts of those who mysteriously appear as if they have never been away. Inspired by the film Les Revenants, this fits easily in the current trend of stories which explore the dead returning, but none other does so with the same lyrical melancholy, the effect of which is enhanced by expert framing of tableaus and a haunting Mogwai score.