The title of the Bruce Holland Rogers lead story in the latest Black Static of course makes you think it’s about Christmas. The “reason for the season” has become a rallying cry for those who want to emphasize the “Christ” part of the holiday (notwithstanding that the contemporary celebration has more to do with that literary fantasist Charles Dickens and his three ghosts, not to mention origins in German pagan worship rather than the birth of the historical Jesus, which scholarship tends to put at around April), and seeing how this issue shows up at this time of year, well, I was looking forward to some kind of horrific holiday story. Maybe a Wal-Mart employee getting crushed by holiday shoppers, or something. (Oh, sorry, real life got there first.)
It is a horrific holiday story, only it’s tangentially about Christmas. Actually, it’s about Halloween. Even more actually, it’s about real life. And real death. The beauty of the story is how it sets you up to expect certain things, beginning with the title, but leads you somewhere entirely different. And even more disturbing than initial expectations.
A troubled boy has been suspended from school for fighting. His divorced single mother doesn’t know what’s wrong with him, He doesn’t know either. As punishment for his latest sins, she sentences him to hand out candy for trick or treat while she’s out. The boy stumbles upon some Christmas decorations up in the attic, notes one sign that proclaims “Jesus:the reason for the season.” He blackens out the “Jesus” part and props up a Grim Reaper doll in its place. He wants special candy to hand out.
A recipe for disaster, right? And so it seems, but it doesn’t quite work out the way you think. Strictly speaking, this isn’t really a fantasy story, it isn’t a horror story in the Stephen King sense, it’s more the reality of everyday life kind of story.
Which makes it all the more horrifying.