Bill Willingham (Fables) and I have been good friends since our days at TSR, Inc. (starting back in 1980). So, when Bill asked if I’d do a story for his 12 Days of Christmas Patreon project, naturally I whipped up a chilling seasonal tale.
You can read “A Shadow over Christmastime” (a Dr. Cushing’s Chamber of Horrors story) by clicking here (though sadly Bill’s Patreon site version is no more).
Then bop back here and read the notes about the story below.
“A Shadow over Christmastime”
The real difficulty was getting the setting right.
I had things I wanted in the story: a park, a sledding hill with a picturesque view of London, a bridge, some festive holiday trappings like lights or window displays, and a sunset with a visible moon.
I could see so many of these details in the images I had in my head for this story. (Maybe because of my love of film and my artistic training, my tales often start with images.)
Naturally, every one of these elements proved a problem.
I couldn’t find any references for light displays in the 1920s and 30s (the nebulous time period in which these Dr. Cushing tales are set). In fact, the earliest references to holiday lights in England I found were from the 1950s and 60s; so that got scrapped. Nor did the phases of the moon for my target years match up well with Christmas itself; so I moved the story’s date to after the holiday to get the lunar effect I wanted. (Phases of the moon are important in Dr. Cushing’s Chamber of Horrors.)
All the parks close to the girls’ home, at the mythical 1951 Fisher St. (by Olde Kennington Park), don’t have hills, and thus no place to view a spectacular winter sunset and moon. The London parks further afield seemed too remote to me for the twins’ little field trip. (How would they run there from home?) That is, those parks seemed too remote until I remembered that the twins could take a bus and the London Underground to get them where I wanted. (They seldom have enough money to afford a cab.)
Public transportation opened up more location possibilities, but I still needed a reason to get my heroines so far afield from their usual haunts. The after-Christmas season provided a nice shopping motive, and settling on Primrose Hill Park—near Regent’s Park and the London Zoo—gave me the rest.
Eventually, I even discovered the Primrose Hill Bridge (a picturesque iron structure) connecting the two parks. Hooray! And then, of course, the story took a different turn, and I didn’t end up using the bridge after all. That’s how short story writing goes sometimes!
The mythology of the Black Shuck and the barghest are “true”—you can look them up. Anyone who’s followed my work knows that I love myths and monsters. So, naturally there will be plenty of both in Dr. Cushing’s Chamber of Horrors and the sequels and side-stories that may follow.
I hope you’ll join me for all of them at: www.CushingHorrors.com.
This story acts as a prelude to the Prologue in the first Dr. Cushing book. As you may know, a wolf—a werewolf, specifically—plays a large part in that tale. Which brings up this question:
Were the tarot cards foretelling the sisters’ encounter with ghostly dog/wolf apparition in this tale… or the later arrival of Paul Longmire at 1951 Fisher St.?
Until then, be sure to thank my pal Bill Willingham for prompting me to write this little Christmastime story—and for sharing it with all of you as well.
So, whenever you may be reading this—whether upon its initial, holiday publication, or at some later time—may you all have a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday Season and New Year!
Read my FREE Cushing Horrors Christmastime stories:
“A Shadow Over Christmastime” (2016), “Christmas Imps” (2017)