A (Rather Dark) Yuletide Carol

The following "Christmas Season" poem was recently discovered on the floor behind an old wooden file cabinet located in a dark corner of a shuttered room at Miskatonic University in Arkham, Mass. Anonymous, it was written in pen and ink upon several pages of ancient parchment, folded twice and wrapped in wax paper. A small bag of potato chips and a dill pickle were found nearby.

Scholars at the university at first attributed the Poe-like poem to horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, but now seem to be leaning toward it being the work of an obscure 20th century New England poet named Thomas John McSheey, whose ancestors emigrated from County Claire, Ireland sometime around the time of the Great Stout Beer Famine of 1855.

McSheey possessed a deep dislike for Christmas, perhaps brought on by a terrible Christmas Day sledding accident during his youth which left him unable to see the color blue. In later life, while reading Ethan Frome, which contains a frighteningly similar sledding accident involving the story's two lovers, the trauma of his childhood Christmas accident was awoken and as a result McSheey turned away from his Catholic upbringing altogether and began to dabble in paganism. Instead of celebrating the traditional Christmas, he instead celebrated the Winter Solstice (also known as Yule, or Fionn's Day) by attending solstice festivals and sending winter solstice cards to his family and friends.

Presumably written to celebrate the Yuletide winter solstice, the following dark carol borrows heavily from the poetry of Poe and contains bizarre visions reminiscent of Lovecraft. It emerges as perhaps the strangest "Christmas Season" poem ever written. And since we have arrived at the time of the winter solstice - the longest night of the year - I share it here as part of the festive solstice celebration.

Longest Night - A Dark Carol of the Yuletide Season

Attributed to Thomas John McSheey (1899-1935). Set to the music of "Winter's Woeful Wail" by English composer G.W. Butterfield (1875-1917)

'Tis the longest night of the year; and my heart is filled with fear

for what slithers outside tonight, it is not holy

the wind it blows like sharpened daggers; and my tired mind, this evening, staggers

as I sit silent in my humble house so lowly

 

The terror it comes like winter thunder; a spell, this Fionn's Eve is surely under

alone I sit beyond the midnight hour

ghosts pass through my wicked walls; I hear their eerie, haunted calls

as behind an open book I do cower

 

'Tis nothing to fear but fear itself; I say replacing the book to the shelf

as snow and rain rattle against my window panes

he lies within his earthbound grave; resting beneath golden shafts which wave

against the winds and against the snowy rains

 

It has been a year to this very Fionn's Day; since I performed the deed that sent him away

and concealed his body in the overgrown wood

I dug a hole and threw him in; buried his body and buried my sin

and covered the broken earth as best I could

 

Yet here I sit counting the seconds; as with the snow my victim he beckons

surely his goal is simply to drive me mad

he stands outside my window pane; standing in the driving snow and rain

this is truly the worst Yule I've ever had

 

Perhaps he is gone, but alas; he knocks upon a pane of glass

which runs along the side of my front door

do I dare let him in; confront the ghost and confront my sin

or kneel and pray upon my dusty floor?

 

The minutes crawl like shuffling hours; as gray hairs of fright sprout like flowers

but soon I hear familiar sounds of a Yuletide morn

I arise from my hiding place; splash cold water upon my morning face

and thank the gods as the first beams of light are born

 

I have escaped the longest eve; now standing in sunlight 'tis hard to believe

that a ghost had visited me just the night before

he arose from his snowy tomb; before my window he did loom

and knock he did upon my own front door

 

So if you bury a body, bury it deep; for the guilt of a Yuletide crime does creep

so labor with spade until your back is sore

for like the man in Poe's tale; who thought his murderous plan would not fail

who buried the body 'neath the wooden floor

 

For in the end the heart still beat; beneath the floor beneath his feet

the telltale clue of his dastardly deed

But the sound, only in his head; for the victim's heart was truly dead

to the mountains of madness can paranoia lead!

 

McSheey wrote numerous dreary Yuletide poems and a number of similarly dreary short stories over the course of his brief life, which was cut short one winter's day when he choked to death on a piece of dark chocolate he received during a solstice celebration. As he gasped for breath, he managed to quickly jot one final short poem:

Sickly Gray (or Death by Dark Chocolate)

Snow falls like fingers nervously tapping; upon the windows I hear its rapping

I fear a Yuletide ghost is drawing near

I detect a sound, a touch, a smell; a coldness surrounds me, a coldness from hell

my mind races with streams of unbroken fear

 

Unseen hands grab at my throat; my life, played out, a dying musical note

the music it fades ... it fades ... it fades away

I fall, not breathing, upon the bed; I lie unseeing, unmoving, dead

my flesh losing color turns a sickly gray!

 

Thomas John McSheey is buried in the poet's corner of Arkham Cemetery, where each year at this time pagans gather to sing Yuletide carols before his grave. And on that note, "A happy Yuletide to all! And to all a long, long night!"

Jack Sheedy

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