Christmas with the Dead by Joe R. LansdaleBy Joe R. Lansdale (PS Publishing; 2010)

Here we have a wonderful Christmas themed zombie mash by the incomparable Joe Lansdale. Running a quick 29 pages and packed with inventive carnage, it’s precisely the type of thing Mr. Lansdale could likely dash off in his sleep (zombies aren’t exactly an unfamiliar theme in Lansdale’s fiction: see his novel DEAD IN THE WEST and novella “On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks”). Yet CHRISTMAS WITH THE DEAD has a terrifically quirky and endearing arc, even if it does feature many over-familiar elements.

It starts with Calvin, a lonely Texan who’s among the few survivors of a zombie conflagration (an event that’s become so ubiquitous in horror fiction it no longer requires an explanation) that claimed the lives of his wife and daughter. It’s Christmastime, and Calvin decides he’ll be putting Christmas lights and decorations up on his house, zombies or no. Not that this is in any way easy: it entails a drive to the local supermarket for the needed supplies (all free, of course) and quite a few messy zombie kills.

Yet there is a ray of hope in the form of a dog Calvin rescues from a band of ravenous zombies. The dog, who Calvin christens Buffy, becomes a cherished companion. It seems that despite the all the nastiness in Calvin’s life the spirit of Christmas is alive, as proven by the unexpectedly touching climax in which Calvin goes about putting up his hard-won holiday decorations–which have a most interesting effect on the surrounding zombies.

Lansdale is his usual irrepressible self here, dishing out excess gore, raunchy humor and hard-bitten wisdom as only he can. There’s admittedly not a whole lot to this tiny tale, but I say it’s more than worth the twenty or so minutes it will take you to read.