Short stories have a different sort of appeal to them than novels do, but you get just as much satisfaction from them. Besides, it takes a certain amount of skill and style to get a reader invested in a character or plot in such a limited number of words.
Oddly enough, when I want to read short stories, I often turn to the horror genre. That’s probably why I didn’t hesitate to sign up to share today’s excerpt from Beneath the Ferny Tree, by David Schembri. The anthology contains a variety of horror and mystery stories, covering everything from Christmas to war-torn Germany. There’s even a trailer for it, if you’d like to check it out.
Now, let’s get to that excerpt, shall we?
There was no mistake.
Norman rubbed his eyes, thinking the gloom might have been playing tricks on him. Or was it the half bottle of whisky in his gut?
He was real, hunched over, jostling through a large sack.
The yellow rays of light that seeped in through the living room window gave hints to a frizzled, white beard.
“I know you’re there, Norman. You can stop hiding in the shadows,” Santa said.
Norman hesitated then stepped out of the hallway. “I-I-I can’t believe it,” he said with a dry throat. Sweat covered every inch of him, the loose drapes of his checkered pajamas stuck to his legs and arms, making them itch. “You’re really real!”
“Why would there be any doubt?” Santa said, straightening and turning to him.
He was huge. Not just big, but almost giant-like. Seven foot at least, Norman thought as his heart quickened.
“I-I wanted things. Y-You never came,” Norman said.
“That was a surprise to you?” Santa said, resting his huge hands on his hips.
“Come now, Norman. As a child, you were as naughty as they came. Stealing baseball cards. Bullying poor Kenny Jarrett; he’s still seeking therapy for your constant thefts during grade school. He might be a successful real estate agent now, but he still frowns at his scarred feet. Remember the firecracker you hid in his sneakers?”
“It was just a joke,” Norman said with a shrug, but knew it was vengeance. “He told on—”
“—and so he should have!” Santa said, his voice a little louder. “Too bad that Kenny wasn’t the only one to suffer your brutal, stealing behaviours.”
Norman lowered his head, remembering the other incident.
When he was twelve, he tried to trade baseball cards with Ricky Burke; he had a popular Roger Clemens card but wasn’t trading it for anything. So he’d dragged Ricky out to the street, stretched out his left arm over the concrete gutter, and brought his foot down on it like he was breaking a heavy stick. He stole the card and swapped it weeks later for one of Craig Biggio.
“Norman. . .” Santa sighed, nodding his head, as though hearing his thoughts. “So naughty for silly cards.”
“I know. But if I was so bad, why are you here?”
Santa huffed out a small laugh. “Well, although you were a menace, you have somehow managed to raise a delightfully good, little girl.”
“Indeed. She shares her toys, helps children in class, and has been known to help the odd old lady across the street. Sometimes, things like this can’t be explained. Your daughter is an angel, so I’m here for her.”
“What have you brought?”
Norman watched as the giant man in red leant down to his sack and lifted a long gift, ornately wrapped in paper flecked with gold and red stars, and tied with a thin, curly ribbon.
The gift unwrapped on its own, as though by invisible hands, revealing a boxed Barbie Doll by Stefano Canturi. The white jewels around the small neck sparkled when they caught the light.
“Th-That doll. . . that can’t be found any—”
“—are you forgetting who I am?”
Norman lowered his head.
“Your daughter deserves the best,” Santa said as the paper and ribbon wrapped and wound itself around the expensive collector’s doll.
Santa placed it beneath Norman’s tattered excuse for a Christmas tree.
Norman cowered a little as Santa rose, staring down at him. “Try and be good, Norman. You’re doing something right to have such a kind little girl. Be good, now?”
Norman watched as Santa and his sack transformed into an array of gold sparkles. Like a swarm of bees, the sparkles swirled around him and raced up the chimney.
Norman waited for endless moments, collected the gift from under the tree and raced upstairs to the tired computer by his bed.
The doll would fetch a great price on eBay.
About Beneath the Ferny Tree
Dig into the cold earth, pull away the damp leaves and burrow deep down to uncover true darkness…
Face the horror of war-torn Germany with Edmund as he fights to rescue his family. Confront the same overwhelming dread as Cody, in the midst of a futuristic prison, is haunted by his past and desperate for a chance at redemption. Discover true monsters aboard a slaver’s ship on the high seas and witness a more twisted side to Christmas.
Uncover these and other bleak mysteries in Beneath the Ferny Tree.
About David Schembri
David Schembri is an author, artist, genre poet and designer from rural Victoria, Australia. He is the author of several short stories, and his first graphic collection, UNEARTHLY FABLES, was published in 2013.
David’s poetry has been published in several issues of the Hippocampus Press Magazine, Spectral Realms edited by S.T. Joshi. The Anno KlarkAsh-Ton Anthology and Strange Sorcery magazine released by Rainfall Books. His latest poem is published in issue 13 of Midnight Echo.
David lives with his lovely wife and children.
BENEATH THE FERNY TREE is his second released and is published by Close Up Books.