The Christmas We Get, We Deserve by Jeremiah Dylan Cook

I wrote this story as a Christmas gift for my father in 2020. He’s a veteran of several musical Christmas shows at our local coffee house. With his permission, I’m sharing the tale as a 2021 holiday treat for all.

 

The Christmas We Get, We Deserve

by Jeremiah Dylan Cook

I finish tuning my guitar and strum each string to confirm my adjustments. The sound is crisp and true.  Outside the windows, the snow starts to pick up. The inflatable Santa Clause just beyond the door has a thin white layer hiding his ruby red outfit. Passing vehicle traffic slows with every minute.

The middle-aged barista, Mary, deposits a cup of water on a small table next to me. “Doesn’t look like we’ll get many folks tonight.”

“It’s the holiday season. You never know what can happen.” I respond, not really believing my own words. I’d been playing a Christmas show at the Cozy Mug for two decades, and there’d been some good times, but the crowds had gotten thinner each of the last five years. I wasn’t sure if I’d be asked back next December.

“You can start whenever you’re ready,” Mary says.

The seasonal music cuts off, leaving the room in silence. I think of the Cozy Mug as intimate in my head, but in truth, the place is tiny. There are only six small, round tables filling the space in front of me.  One is occupied by an old lady wearing a babushka. She uses her index finger to peck out a response on her phone. Stools line the left wall, with a window looking out at the street. A young couple trades a phone back and forth. The boy, with neon green glasses, makes a shocked face at whatever the girl, whose head is half shaved, has shown him. To the right, Mary stands flanked by tall canisters of coffee and a glass case of pastries at the counter. She passes the time by scrolling through her phone. The door, with snow-covered Santa just outside, is opposite where I’ve set up.

I tap the microphone in front of me. “Hey, everybody. My name is Magic Marvin, and I’m so glad you could be here. In honor of this festive time of year, I’ll be playing Christmas tunes tonight. If you know any, feel free to sing along. And if you’ve got any requests, don’t be afraid to shout the titles at me. I might even know some.”

The couple turns to regard me with suspicious expressions. Green glasses guy whispers something to shaved head girl, and they exit. As they pass Santa, they both give him a quick sucker punch. Snow puffs off his rotund form as he rocks back and forth.

Undeterred by their departure, I start “Christmas All Over Again” by Tom Petty. My fingers work their way through the chords as I strum out the tune. I’m surprised at how effortless it feels tonight. I close my eyes and sing, “underneath, the missile toe, we go. We gooo.” I get lost in the music. “It’s Christmasss all overrr, againnn.” I slip into the groove. It’s the only time all my worries, doubts, and fears fall away. As the song comes to its end, I let the last reverberations of the guitar linger in the air.

Someone claps loudly, and I open my eyes. A well-dressed, lanky man, with shoulder-length blonde hair parted in the middle of his forehead, applauds. I’m struck by a strong sense of déjà vu I can’t explain. He collects his coffee from Mary, drops several bills in her tip jar, and sits one table over from the old woman, who is still engaged with sending a text.

“Thanks,” I say.

The man smiles. “No problem. You don’t happen to know “Run Rudolph Run” do you? I love me some Chuck Berry.”

“Sure!” I work my way through the rocking intro to the requested tune. “Out of all the reindeers, you know you’re the mastermind,” I sing.

The newcomer’s foot taps along to the rhythm as I work my way through the song. The old lady glances up as a dapper-looking African American man, wearing a ship captain’s hat, enters the Cozy Mug. The same déjà vu I’d previously experienced rears up again. He orders a coffee from Mary, tips well, and joins the other gentleman. They nod along as I finish the final plucks of the requested ditty. Both men applaud.

The newest arrival speaks up. “Good cover. You don’t know “Thank God It’s Christmas,” do you? I dig Freddie Mercury, and it’s been ages since I heard that one.”

“I do. Let’s see if I can remember how it goes.” I work my way through an acoustic cover, finding the song little by little. It starts to come back to me, and I progress faster. My deeper voice alters the piece, but I make it my own by the time I reach the end.

Applause erupts again, and I notice a new person who’d managed to sneak in while I was playing. At the table closest to me, a man sits with short, cropped hair, a mustache, and a flamboyant yellow jacket. His t-shirt says a single word in bright red font: Flash. He sips a coffee, and I look back to see Mary’s tip jar overflowing. I’m struck again by déjà vu, but instead of focusing on it, I consider my next song.

The man in the yellow jacket stretches his legs out. “That was good. I liked your version quite a bit. Know any John Lennon? “Happy Xmas” seems an appropriate choice.”

“Certainly.” I launch into the old familiar tune without much effort. This is one of the most oft-requested songs I play for this time of year. While I’d thought I’d lost my taste for the number after repeated performances, I find myself enjoying the process of playing it again. It helps that the entire audience, the old lady included, seems to be loving the song as they nod and sway.

The group joins in for the finale, singing, “war is overrr, if you want ittt.”

Another applause follows. It’s the loudest yet. I now count six people in the establishment. A new person somehow joined our fun mid-song. I’m not sure how I could’ve missed him coming in, but he sits at the table in front of the duo who arrived first. While all the others have been familiar, I’m shocked by this guy’s recognizability. He must be a huge Beatles fan because he’s obviously modeled his appearance after the late, great John Lennon. The circular glasses, white suit, and long hair are uncanny. Before I can comment on his look, he stands up.

In a British accent, he says, “Not bad. But what about a true classic like “Peace on Earth?” The one Bowie and Bing Crosby did together.”

I nod my accordance and begin as the Lennon imitator grabs a coffee. The song is an old favorite of mine, but I’m not sure the traditional duet works as well with only my voice performing. If the group’s bothered, they don’t show it in their enthralled expressions. When I’m done, the room claps again, and a pair of men walk out of the snow into the Cozy Mug and join in the adulation. The new arrivals are both older men. One wears a blue sweater vest over a white dress shirt, his thin hair is combed back. He sits by the old lady. The other man has his silver hair gelled up in a fashionable look that makes him appear decades younger than he is. At a glance, his eyes appear mismatched, and when I focus on him, I realize his left pupil is larger than his right.

“Didn’t your mother ever teach you it wasn’t nice to stare?” The man asks playfully.

I’m shocked to hear another British accent in my small, Pennsylvanian town.

“I’m sorry,” I apologize. “But you look, well, you all look remarkably familiar. Mary, is this a prank?” I look over at the barista.

She shakes her head. “I don’t know who any of these folks are, but they tip well.”

“I’ve got another big tip for you if you can give me a double macchiato.” The man with the strange eyes sits next to the gentleman in the yellow coat. “Hello there, Freddie. It’s been a while.” He looks back at me after greeting his friend. “I’ll forgive the rude gazing if you can play my favorite holiday song.”

“If I know it, I’ll play it.”

“It’s called “I believe in Father Christmas,” and it’s by Greg Lake.”

“Of course, I know that. It’s one of my favorites too.” My fingers work through the intricate opening tabs, and I lose myself in yet another Christmas classic. The tune passes in a blur as I realize it’s almost over already. “I wish you a brave New Year,” I sing as the song reaches its final crescendo.

Yet another visitor enters the Cozy Mug, leaving the storm. He sings, “the Christmas we get, we deserve.”

I let the song end, having been beaten to the final line. This time there’s no doubt in my mind. I’m staring at a young Greg Lake. I survey the room again. Tom Petty sits with Chuck Berry just over from Bing Crosby and an old lady who has no clue who she’s with. Freddie Mercury and David Bowie are seated directly in front of me, and John Lennon sprawls out by himself, enjoying the fact that no one else is at his table.

Greg Lake walks toward me, smiling. “Now, I’ve got a request. I want to hear a Magic Marvin original. Don’t you have a Christmas song?”

A shiver runs through me. I’d written a Christmas song eight years prior, just after nearly ending my life in a fit of despair over a hard breakup with the woman I’d thought was my soulmate. I’d never told anyone about the song, and I’d certainly never played it live before.

“We’ll join you for the chorus,” Greg Lake adds, standing next to me at the front of the Cozy Mug.

The other musicians all get to their feet and make their way to us.

“Mary,” Bowie calls. “Won’t you be a sport and record this for Marvin?”

The barista smiles and pulls out her phone. She angles the camera toward us and backs up to capture everyone. When her device is ready, Mary gives us a thumbs up.

For the first time ever, I play my Christmas song out loud.

 

Christmas Future

I finish tuning my guitar and strum the strings to confirm I’ve got what I want. The sound is pitch-perfect. Outside, it’s a clear, cold night. I smile at the thought of trudging through the blizzard to get home last year.

Mary deposits a tip cup next to my water on the table in front of me. “Packed tonight, isn’t it?”

I scan the room. Each table is overcrowded with strangers looking eager for my show. The stools are just as packed. More people file in through the doors. Mary’s new assistant works the counter.

“They’re just here to see if any ghosts show up,” I reply. “But I’ll give them my best show.”

“Ready when you are.” Mary pats my arm and turns around.

The seasonal music cuts off.

I tap the microphone in front of me. “Hey, everybody. My name is Magic Marvin, and I’m so glad you could join me tonight. Most of you are probably here because of a video I posted last Christmas. I know everyone and their mother told you that I must be a genius with deep fakes and computer forgeries, but I’ve never even been able to do basic HTML on my own website.”

The crowd chuckles.

I take a quick sip of water and continue. “Last year, I was visited by some friends whose Christmas tunes I’ve played for years. Maybe they were only great impersonators? I don’t know what the truth is, but what I do know is that after that video was uploaded, my Christmas song shot up to number one in the country for a week, and now you’re all here because of it. And if that isn’t a Christmas Miracle, I don’t know what is. So, how about I play that tune for you?”

The crowd erupts into cheers, and I start my guitar intro. My fingers work their way up the neck of the guitar as I progress from chord to chord. In the back, just outside the doors, I spot the faintest wisps of seven smiling musicians from holiday’s past standing by the inflatable Santa.

End

Happy Holidays

The Blood-Inked Comic Book

The link below contains a free PDF copy of Jeremiah Dylan Cook’s short story “The Blood-Inked Comic Book” for Bram Stoker Award consideration in the Short Fiction category for 2021.

PDF Copy of The Blood-Inked Comic Book for Stoker Award Short Fiction Consideration

“The Blood-Inked Comic Book” was published on June 8th, 2021 by Castle Bridge Media in Castle of Horror Anthology Volume 5: Thinly Veiled: The ’70s. The synopsis for “The Blood-Inked Comic Book” is as follows: While in police custody, Thomas Roy, a comic book writer, details how the band Smooch collaborated with Astonishing Comics to produce a blood-inked comic book that warped his nephew into a demonic creature. This story is also currently available for free on Kindle Unlimited at https://www.amazon.com/Castle-Horror-Anthology-Thinly-Veiled/dp/173647264X. For any additional information, you can follow Jeremiah on Twitter @JeremiahCook1, or you can contact him at Jdcook1991@gmail.com.

A Primer to Ramsey Campbell Edited by Eric J. Guignard

Ramsey Campbell is a living legend of the horror genre. He’s also the reason I was able to review Michael Shae’s The Color Out of Time, click the link to find out how. I first encountered Campbell’s name in relation to H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. Campbell’s first book, The Inhabitant of the Lake, was published by Arkham House, the small press that is primarily responsible for the survival of H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction. Campbell also corresponded with Arkham House’s founder, August Derleth. Fans of the Cthulhu Mythos will know the significance of mythos writers corresponding. Lovecraft was a prodigious writer of letters, and he had a vast circle of literary acquaintances when he passed away. Derleth was among Lovecraft’s correspondents. This creates a direct link from Lovecraft to Campbell through Derleth. All of which is to say Campbell has a pedigree in the horror writing community. Despite that, I hadn’t read his work due to the daunting amount he has written in his lifetime. Quite frankly, I just didn’t know where to start. Thankfully, Eric J. Guignard solved that problem for me with his publication of A Primer to Ramsey Campbell. This collection of six of Campbell’s tales is a perfect entry into his work. Each story has a fantastic analysis by Michael Arnzen, PhD, which lends the reader additional insight into each work. I can’t say enough good things about this compact book. Do yourself a favor and order a copy. Even if you’re familiar with all of Campbell’s work, Arnzen’s analysis will make re-reading previously published tales worth the purchase price.

Read more of my work

View all my Goodreads reviews

 

The Weird Company by Pete Rawlik

I greatly enjoyed Pete Rawlik’s Reanimators. That novel followed Dr. Stuart Hartwell as he attempted to perfect his re-agent, a serum to cure death, while competing with H.P. Lovecraft’s Herbert West. Hartwell’s adventures gave readers new perspectives from which to view some of Lovecraft’s work. For instance, Hartwell plays a small part in the creation of the titular Dunwich Horror. I talked about my enjoyment of Reanimators in my Summer Reading Roundup last year, but now I’m ready to discuss the sequel, The Weird Company: The Secret History of H.P. Lovecraft’s Twentieth Century.

I should think it goes without saying, but if you want to truly enjoy Reanimators and The Weird Company, you’ll need to be familiar with the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Whereas Reanimators primarily drew on Lovecraft’s schlocky Frankenstein tale, Reanimator, The Weird Company takes most of its major inspiration from At the Mountains of Madness. Rawlik doesn’t just draw from At the Mountains of Madness though. Characters and references from The Shadow Over Innsmouth, The Thing on the Doorstep, Dreams in the Witch House, The Hounds of Tindalos, The Blob, John Carpenter’s The Fog, The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, Through the Gates of the Silver Key, and The Strange High House in the Mist appear within the pages of the Weird Company. And those are just the characters and references I identified, and remembered, while writing my review.

Minor Spoilers Below

In The Weird Company, Shoggoths, protoplasmic monsters, are working to abscond from their icy solitude in Antarctica. Their escape from the frozen continent will spell doom for humanity. The only force standing in the Shoggoths’ path is the Weird Company, a group of unlikely heroes who I think of as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen if Alan Moore drew from Lovecraft stories instead of classic fiction. The narrative is relayed via diary entries from several members of the Weird Company, mostly from Robert Olmstead, the protagonist from The Shadow Over Innsmouth. Together the group travels to Antarctica and battles to keep the Shoggoths from escaping.

Rawlik adds several new twists and connections into Lovecraft’s existing canon. Some purists might be skeptical of these, but I liked all of the fresh inclusions. One fascinating link Rawlik makes is between the blood of the Elder Things, creatures from At the Mountains of Madness, and the re-agent created by Herbert West and Dr. Stuart Hartwell. The Elder Things can enter stasis and effectively live forever, and the re-agent preserves and revives, so it makes sense the two substances would be similar. Rawlik also manages to make the Elder Things rather terrifying in their locomotion, a feat infinitely impressive considering Lovecraft’s original descriptions of their alien forms. At the end of the book, there’s also a ghoulish twist to the Elder Sign, which is traditionally portrayed as a protective ward.

My review is quickly devolving into a lunatic’s raving, and I’d prefer to avoid being committed to the Arkham Sanitarium, but I have a few last thoughts before I end. The climax of the story is a ton of fun, if like me, you’re a fan of cats, specifically The Cats of Ulthar. Oliver Wyman does an outstanding job narrating The Weird Company on Audible. He did the same for Reanimators. Lastly, don’t forget to check out Pete Rawlik’s latest Lovecraftian installment, The Miskatonic University Spiritualism Club. The book is now available for pre-order from Jackanapes Press.

Read more of my work

View all my Goodreads reviews

 

Experimental Film by Gemma Files

When The Lovecraft eZine recommends a book, I listen. So it was that I found myself purchasing Gemma Files’ Experimental Film on Audible. I burned through the story at a pace akin to combusting Silver Nitrate Film.

I want to let you discover the plot of Experimental Film for yourself, so I’m not going deep into spoilers. The tale follows a film teacher, Lois, as she investigates Lady Whitcomb, who may’ve been one of Canada’s first filmmakers. Lady Whitcomb created films in the era of highly combustible Silver Nitrate Film, hence my reference above. Unfortunately for Lois, the deeper she digs into the mystery of Lady Whitcomb, the weirder things get for her.

Files deftly balances supernatural film, pagan deities, and the reality of raising an autistic child in her novel. The protagonist’s voice is incredibly strong, and I think that is part of what makes the story so effortlessly enjoyable. The narrative also unfolds with film slang being used in place of traditional chapter titles, a fun touch. If you like works such as Cigarette Burns, The Ninth Gate, or The Ring, you should love this.

P.S. Morgan Hallett does a fantastic job narrating this on Audible.

Read more of my work

View all my Goodreads reviews