In time for the holidays, Cullen Bunn is serializing his heartwarming horror story The Doom That Came To Christmas. With permission, we bring you Part One here. If you like what you see, you can find the rest of the story and more tales, musings, and Bunn exclusives on his Substack and Patreon.
A nightmare crawled chaotically from between the stars of an alien universe.
At first, it had no thoughts of its own. No gray matter had grown within its roiling, pulsating flesh. A terrible, hungry void filled its malformed brainpan.
The void fed.
From the minds of earthly beings, the nightmare filled its emptiness. Fear and hate, jealousy and paranoia, contempt and hopelessness. Betrayal and lies, brutality and murder, terrorism and war. These things ignited growth within the squamous emptiness. Flesh blossomed and unfolded, the petals of a rotting meat flower. A brain took shape, though it was no earthly brain.
With the birth of the brain came thoughts.
I know what I am, mused the nightmare. I have nearly eight billion masks. They are me and I am them. And I shall make them gibber and weep and scream before I am through.
And as the nightmare spilled through the darkness toward the small blue world, another realization dawned in its newborn mind.
We have no time for this, thought Thistlebud as he trudged through waist-deep snow. The snow, of course, would only be ankle-deep for a mortal being, but this was a task suited to no mortal. Thistlebud had lived 300 years, and was only just reaching his prime. He was small in stature, yes, but he could move as fast as a whip, could vanish from sight in the blink of an eye, and could lift and carry more weight than any three human men.
He was the perfect candidate for such a dangerous task.
His companions—Rosemary and Deerspigot—were younger. There was barely 150 years between them. And while Rosemary was bright and quick and capable, Deerspigot exhibited a special brand of worthlessness.
“Look ‘ere!” Deerspigot crouched in the snow, vanishing almost completely, save for the silver bells at the top of his long, conical cap. “Look what I found!”
Thistlebud and Rosemary exchanged looks of frustration. Every ten steps, Deerspigot stopped them, intoning that he had found some clue as to their quarry’s whereabouts. A tracker and hunter—that’s how Deepspigot saw himself. To his dimwitted way of thinking, he was born to be an adventurer, not a toymaker, and he meant to prove himself in the eyes of his companions.
“Nope! Sorry! False alarm!” Deerspigot sprang back up, shook the snow from his pointy ears, and continued on his way, undeterred. “Thought I’d found some berries, frozen there in the snow, but it was only rabbit droppings.”
Two questions immediately popped into Thistlebud’s mind. First, what did berries have to do with the mission at hand? And, second, did Deerspigot taste the droppings before he realized what they were?
“Keep moving,” Thistlebud commanded. “And keep your wits about you. We’re close now. We crossed into his domain quite a ways back.”
“What do we do when we find him?” Rosemary asked.
“You’re just now pondering that?” Thistlebud scoffed. “You might’ve asked before we left the workshop.”
“I might’ve,” said Rosemary, “but when the boss gives you a secret mission, even a deadly one, I figured it’s not my place to reason why.”
Thistlebud smiled. He liked Rosemary. She had potential. He hoped her preternaturally long life wouldn’t be cut short.
An ill wind swept past, and though it carried sheets of blinding, stinging snow and ice in its frigid grasp, it smelled of brimstone and burning blood.
Deerspigot tensed, his ears twitching. He raised a hand to shield his eyes. He looked from left to right.
And then he was lost beyond the blizzard-winds.
Rosemary called out to him.
Thistlebud drew his tiny, magically-sharp axe from his belt, clutched it tight in one hand. With the other hand, he gripped Rosemary’s arm.
“Get behind me.”
The older elf stepped forward. The wind and the snow and the sleet battered at him. He was no stranger to the cold. He had accompanied the boss on more than three dozen of his annual sleigh rides. His skin was frost-toughened. But this was a violent storm, unnatural and angry. Every pellet of sleet was razor-edged, slicing skin, freeze-burning the cuts closed in passing. Ice caked Thistlebud’s blade, making it heavier than it should be. The elf had never worn gloves. He’d never needed them. As his fingers froze to the axe handle, though, he wished he had something to protect his hands.
Somewhere beyond the swirling white squall, bells jangled frantically.
“Deerspigot! Where are you?” Thistlebud strode forward, though the wind buffeted him, trying to hold him back. “Call out if you can hear me!”
The bells sounded again.
It did not sound random.
It sounded like someone shaking them steadily.
A shadow took shape in the blizzard—a massive slab of flesh and fur; a long, bestial head; barbed and curling horns. Its eyes, like hourglasses of fire, flared in the mist. In one massive hand, the monstrous figure held Deepspigot by the neck, long claws threatening to tear into his elven flesh. Like an infant’s rattle, the dim-witted elf was shaken, the bells of his hat jangling wildly.
“Careful how you shake him.” Thistlebud felt the poison of fear and hopelessness spreading through his blood. How could he not? He faced a demon of old. But he knew better than to let it show. “His brain’s already scrambled as it is, and he’ll still have a job to do when he gets back home.”
“Home?” The demon cocked his head to the side, curious. “What makes you think any of you will ever see that candy cane horror you call ‘home’ again?”
“I’ve got a wife, sixteen children, and nearly a hundred grandchildren waiting for me.” Thistlebud steadied himself with thoughts of his family. “A warm hearth, a nice mug of spiced cider, and a job to do. And I’ve got my axe, which I’ve used on occasion to blood beasts nearly as fearsome as you. I think I’ll make it back just fine.”
The demon chuckled and almost casually tossed Deepspigot to the ground. The elf landed with a thud and the jingle-jangle of bells. He clutched at his throat and wheezed for breath. Rosemary rushed to his side.
“Much obliged,” Thistlebud said.
“Don’t be.” The demon stepped forward, and the blizzard parted to reveal his horrific countenance. He stood nearly nine feet tall. His body was covered in course black hair caked with so much snow and ice that it appeared white. Its face was a hideous fusion of man and goat. It wore tattered red robes that were more dirt than cloth. Looped chains dangled over his broad shoulders. A basket of wicker and leather was lashed to his back. “I haven’t yet decided if I’m going to kill you or not. Why don’t you tell me why you’ve come while I weigh the pros and cons?”
“We come with word from Santa Claus.”
The demon coughed out a laugh. His spittle froze in the air and fell to the ground before his cloven feet.
“He wishes to meet with you,” Thistlebud continued. “He has need of your aid.”
“My aid?” The demon stomped forward, loomed over the elves. “After all this time? I haven’t heard from ‘jolly old Saint Nicholas’ in decades. It seems to me he hasn’t needed my help in a good long while. He cast me out, let me wallow in the fear and the hatred mortals feel while children sing songs of his glory and leave milk and cookies out for him as offerings? It seems he has everything worth having. What could he need from me?”
Thistlebud drew in a breath of the frosty air. He glanced toward Rosemary, who gently helped Deerspigot to his shaky feet. The two young elves didn’t understand the severity of the calamity that had set them on their mission. He hesitated to utter the truth of it in front of them. He wasn’t sure if he’d even be able to speak the words at all, but he had to try.
“It’s the ancient enemy,” Thistlebud said. “It’s come back once more. It’s come back to befoul and destroy Christmas.”
The wind fell still.
The raging blizzard dissipated in the blink of an eye.
The demon—Krampus—stalked forward. Steam blasted from his pulsating nostrils. His breath, stinking of barnyard slaughter, froze to bloodied earth.
“The Crawling Chaos?” Krampus said. “It has returned?”
Rosemary blinked in disbelief. She had long thought the blasphemy being discussed nothing more than a myth. If he fully understood what was transpiring, Deerspigot showed no signs of comprehension.
Thistlebud nodded solemnly.
“Well.” Krampus sighed. “Fuck.”
In time for the holidays, Cullen Bunn is serializing his heartwarming horror story The Doom That Came To Christmas. WithCOMICONRead More