11 CLASSIC SHORT STORIES TO READ BY THE WINTER FIREPLACE

Written by Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi

 

According to our television and retail stores, Christmas is a time for feel-good stories of hope and romance. We have *happy* flashed in our faces in the form of twinkling lights and matching pajamas to quell the dark, sultry winter solitude and unrest surrounding those of us living in climates producing cold and snow. However, though we sing happy carols of Santa and Rudolph as we hang ornaments on our trees, the ambiance of this wintertime season, especially after the holiday has passed, also alludes to tales of wonder, fantasy, and even horror to those who dive beneath the surface. During the Victorian Age, they often sat around their trees, or near their fireplaces, and told spooky tales of hauntings and peril. I say why not bring this tradition back? Charles Dickens single-handedly brought back Christmas to England with a ghost story after all!

A Christmas Carol is so well-known and loved that I won’t even add it to this list. However, I invite you to open your imagination and enter the door into a land of forgotten stories featuring Christmas and the winter season. The following 11 short stories might not put you in a cheery mood for an Ugly Sweater or New Year’s Party, where you’ll need a smile plastered to your face all night, but they’ll certainly entertain you into January while you sit by the Netflix digital fireplace in your flannel pajamas and fuzzy socks (oh you don’t fool me – guys wear fuzzy socks too!) with a mug of hot cocoa and a leftover gingerbread cookie.

I’ve taken the liberty to add links to each story below, because I’ve found them free to read online. However, some are available for purchase in collections, anthologies, and as standalone reads as well. Cheers!

Let’s start with some classic short stories…

The Kit-Bag by Algernon Blackwood (1908)

This first story, by Algernon Blackwood, was first published in Pall Mall Magazine and is set in London, just prior to Christmas. I hope Blackwood will not soon be forgotten when discussing classic horror literature in this modern age. He’s certainly been regarded as one of the best and most prolific writers of ghost stories we have ever had the pleasure of reading.

Free to read: https://algernonblackwood.org/Z-files/kit_bag.pdf

 

A Strange Christmas Game by J. H. Riddell (Victorian England)

Victorian England was one of the high times of storytelling. Many of these stories have been shared for decades over. This next author wrote some fantastic stories. If you are unfamiliar with J.H. Riddell, you may in fact know her by her real name, Charlotte Riddell. She wrote many stories, but often under pseudonyms, like with this story, where she used her husband’s name. This ghost story is written perfectly for a telling around the table by candlelight.

Free to read: www.shortstoryproject.com/strange-christmas-game/

 

The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen (1845)

I’m a lover of fairy tales, the darker the better usually. This one has a wonderful message for the season, but is a tear jerker! Hans Christian Andersen is just perfect to crack open on a snowy night.

Free to read: https://americanliterature.com/author/hans-christian-andersen/short-story/the-little-match-girl

 

The Christmas Banquet (1848) and The Snow Image (1852) by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1848)

Continuing my list, I need to include Nathaniel Hawthorne, not only because he was a fabulous writer, but he’s on a branch of my maternal family tree! It just happens he’s also one of my writing inspirations due to his ability to create eerie gothic atmospheres, intertwine social issues into his stories, and his creativity, especially within his short works. Here are two of his stories, but one of my favorites for this season is The Snow Image.

Free to read (The Christmas Banquet): https://raincoaster.com/2016/12/17/christmas-ghost-stories-the-christmas-banquet-by-nathaniel-hawthorne/

Free to read (The Snow Image): https://hawthorne.thefreelibrary.com/Snow-Image

 

Afterward: A Ghost Story for Christmas by Edith Wharton (1910)

What can I say about Edith Wharton? She is simply one of the best female writers to ever live. When she was younger, she was so scared of ghost stories and wouldn’t sleep in her room with any books containing them! Later, as she overcame her fear, she began to write them herself, increasingly curious about all things supernatural. This next ghost story on the list was first published in The Century Magazine, and added later to two of her collections; however, at the link is a free read.

Free to read: https://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/Afte.shtml

 

Silent Snow Secret Snow by Conrad Aiken (1934)

The American author Conrad Aiken’s most popular story featured below has been widely anthologized. The young boy in the story becomes increasingly obsessed with snow, but the story is deeper than that. I really like how it delves into themes of mental illness.

Free to read: https://fullreads.com/horror/silent-snow-secret-snow/

 

The Crown Derby Plate by Marjorie Bowen (1933)

I hope you all have read Marjorie Bowen, and if not, it’s time to rectify that by reading the story below. Bowen is another major ghost story writer who needs dusted from the literary history books. In this story, an antique collector visiting a woman’s home in hope of completing a collection of china happens upon much more. Just my type of story.

Free to read: https://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks06/0607711h.html

 

And, of course, there are some superb modern writers today that have set short stories amid the season. There are a few I particularly liked that you might want to check out. Here are three of them…

This next poem by one of my favorite modern writers, Neil Gaiman, can be found in his Smoke & Mirrors short fiction collection or online free at various places. I liked this YouTube reading of it, in which art was drawn inspired by the poem as it was read. It’s an interesting poem, but not really a happy one!

Dark Christmas by Jeanette Winterson

This story is found in her collection, Christmas Days.

Free to read: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/dec/24/christmas-ghost-stories-dark-jeanette-winterson

The Cabin at the Top of the World by Mark Allan Gunnells

Free to read: www.mytholog.com/fiction/gunnells_cabin.html

Nicolas Was… by Neil Gaiman (2010)

I hoped you’ve stepped into mystery, horror, and the fantastical this magical season for yourself by reading or re-reading these timeless stories. Let’s keep the tradition alive. I invite you to sit with me in my library, near the hypnotizing fire and wax-bleeding candles, and create more stories for the future. I’ll bake the cookies if you bring the rum.

Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi has Bachelor of Arts degrees in English, Journalism, and History. She has 20 years of experience in the communication and marketing fields and is currently a writer, a journalist, a publicist, and an editor among many other things.


She writes fiction, essays, stories, and poetry and is an avid reader of many genres. She has edited poetry anthologies, novels, fiction pieces, and other various non-fiction and journalistic pieces. As a journalist, she’s written, interviewed, and edited for various newspapers, magazines, media outlets, and online news sources at both ends of the spectrum in media and public relations.


As an entrepreneur, she owns two businesses: Addison’s Compass Public Relations and Hook of a Book Media, in which she acts as a PR/Marketing Consultant, publicist, and editor for authors, publishers, and others. She also handles marketing and PR for Sinister Grin Press, where she is also an editor. Her third pursuit is writing her own works for publication. She volunteers her time in the community and is the chairwoman on the board of directors for a local mental health center and rape crisis and domestic violence safe haven.


She is the mother of three school-aged children and a cat. She lives with her family in rural Ohio nestled in the forest—a place just ripe for nightmares. Her passions are reading, writing, book hunting, hiking, and entertainment such as movies/film, television, and music. Oh, and she bakes, because you can’t do any of that without cookies.


Erin is a co-host with her Marketing Morsels segment on Project Entertainment Network’s The Mando Method, an award-winning weekly podcast for new and veteran writers.


Breathe. Breathe., published by Unnerving, is her debut collection and a mix of dark poetry and short stories and has been an Amazon best-selling paid title, debuting at #2 in Women’s Poetry. She is also featured in the anthology from Unnerving called Hardened Hearts, which published in December 2017. Her story “Dandelion Yellow,” from Breathe. Breathe. is also featured in the My Favorite Story anthology of the Project Entertainment Network, which published also in December of 2017.


You can e-mail her at hookofabook (at) hotmail (dot) com and find her easily at www.hookofabook.wordpress.com. You’ll also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest where she loves new friends.


About BREATHE. BREATHE.


Breathe. Breathe. is a collection of dark poetry and short fiction exploring the surreal depths of humanity. It’s a representation of how life breaks us apart and words put us back together. Purged onto the pages, dark emotions flow, urging readers into murky seas and grim forests, to the fine line between breathing and death.


In Act One, readers are presented with a serial killer in Victorian London, a lighthouse keeper with an eerie legacy, a murderous spouse that seems to have walked right out of a mystery novel, and a treacherous Japanese lady who wants to stay immortal. The heightened fears in the twilight of your minds will seep into the blackest of your nights, where you have to breathe in rhythm to stay alive.


In Act Two, the poetry turns more internal and pierces through the wall of denial and pain, bringing visceral emotions to the surface unleashing traumas such as domestic abuse, violence, and illness.


In the short stories, you’ll meet residents of Valhalla Lane whose lives are on a violent parallel track to collision, a man who is driven mad by the sound of a woodpecker, a teenage girl who wakes up on the beach and can’t find another soul in sight, a woman caught in a time shift pitting her against the Egyptian goddess Anuket, and a little girl whose whole world changes when her favorite dandelion yellow crayon is discontinued.


Amid these pages the haunting themes of oppression, isolation, revenge, and madness unfold through folklore, nightmares, and often times, raw, impulsive passion crafted to sear from the inside out.


With a touching foreword by the Bram Stoker nominated author Brian Kirk, Breathe. Breathe. will at times unsettle you, and at times embrace you. Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi, a veteran writer and editor of the written word, offers up a mixed set of pieces, identifying her as a strong, new voice in dark fiction that will tear the heart from your chest, all the while reminding you to breathe.

HorrorTalk would like to thank Erin for this delightful list. Make sure to click one of the links below to pick up a copy of her latest collection, Breathe. Breathe.

 

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