This story first appeared in the December Issue of the A Muse Bouche Review: https://ambreview.com/newsletters/
My family holds their Christmas traditions in high esteem. There were many different ones, but the greatest of all is the Christmas Cake. That dense brick of fruits and nuts first appeared in 1968 and has returned every year since. I first had the unfortunate displeasure of this concoction when I was a young child.
There was only one reason I swallowed that first horrendous bite and every bite that followed: the look of pride on my grandmother’s face. I loved her dearly and the last thing I wanted to do was disappoint her. So, I smiled and ate it all.
As I grew older, like everyone in my family, I learned the secret of the fruitcake. It took over a month to collect the ingredients from around the world. It was a truly international recipe. There were even specific regions of each country that an ingredient had to come from. There was even a list of backup locations as well. Not one thing came from the local grocery store.
As I grew older, I would hide the slices given to me. As an adult, I had a freezer dedicated to storing the cakes. I never told anyone. It was a secret that I planned to take to my grave even as I joined in the making of that hated Christmas Cake.
As my stash of cakes grew, I had to expand my storage capabilities to a rented facility. I suppose if they didn’t take so much effort to make, I wouldn’t have kept them. Knowing the time and expense that went into them made it hard to even think of throwing any away.
It was Christmas of 2025—or was it 2026—when the unexpected happened. Some say it was aliens. Others claim it was a virus. Either way, the end result was the same: zombies. Or something that we called that. They weren’t the undead, but simply people who had been driven into an uncontrollable, violent frenzy. One that only stopped at death.
That was how I found myself on Christmas Day beating grandma over the head with a turkey leg after having just drowned my rabid cousin in the punch bowl. Mashed potatoes were little defence against my mother, but brussels sprouts proved slightly more effective against my father.
I scrambled to make it out of what was officially the worst Christmas dinner ever, but at every turn I was surrounded by loved ones attempting to tear me to literal shreds. In desperation, I grabbed the Christmas Cake from the candlelit display on the side hutch. Zombies or not, they all paused in their pursuit of me. Somehow, the sacred tradition was so ingrained that it reached them.
“I’ll drop it,” I screamed at the top of my lungs as I faked letting it go. The collective gasp was enough to confirm my suspicions. Wielding it like a shield, I backed out of the house and into the snowy street. Mr. Milligan from next door was decorating their maple tree with his wife’s intestines but stopped at the sight of me. He stumbled in my direction and I shoved the cake toward him in hopes it would work with him too.
He cringed away from me and hissed. It seemed to work even on those outside my family. Who knew that the dessert I hated so much would be so instrumental in saving my life? It was that fact alone that informed my next decision—I needed to make it to the rented freezer unit where I had enough Christmas Cake with which to build a fortress.
My keys were still in the house which meant I couldn’t get to my car. I would have to steal a vehicle or try to make it on foot. Turning in circles with the cake held out in front of me, my head whipping around as I tried to see in every direction.
“Help!” a woman screamed, and I turned to see several raging zombies chasing her down. I ran in her direction, waving the Christmas Cake in the air. Yet again, it had the desired effect as some of them gave horrified hisses and some gasped in shock, but all of them came to a halt. “Hurry, come with me. We need to find a car.” I ushered her closer as we made our way down the street, trying to find any vehicle that we could easily take.
Horrific tableaus from the most demented of imaginations confronted us at every turn. Eventually, we came across an old Pontiac sitting in the middle street, its engine still puttering away. The doors were open and the previous occupants missing. Red handprints decorated the windows, but I did my best to ignore them.
“Where are we going? Is that a fruitcake? And who are you?” The young woman broke the silence we had kept since I’d helped her escape the zombies earlier.
I answered the questions in order of importance. “It’s called a Christmas Cake. I have a freezer full of them and I’m Sam.”
“Catia, and thank you for saving me. How does that cake thing work? Why does it repel them?”
I shrugged. “I guess most people just have such strong feelings about the stuff that it's ingrained in their… rage-fuelled minds? Do you even know what happened?”
“No. One moment we were holding hands and saying prayers around the table and the next, my sister was trying to bite me.” Catia snorted and laughed a little. “To be honest, we’ve never gotten along and it felt good when I hit her with the candlestick.”
In a vehicle, the trip to the freezer unit wasn’t long and, despite the already damaged fence, it was empty of people—zombie or otherwise. I led the way to the unit and opened it up to reveal more Christmas Cakes than most people saw in their lifetime.
“Damn, where did these all come from? And what are we doing with them?” Catia asked as the smell of expensive rum and fruit permeated the air. Even a freezer couldn’t stop that from happening, but I did know one secret of these cakes that none in my family had ever discovered. If I left them out long enough, they dried into the best bricks.
“My family is obsessed and, I swear, some years they would give me ten of them. Plus, I had to learn to make them, so those got stored too.” I turned to her and grinned. “As for what we do with them: we build a fortress.”
* * *
Time passed and the fortress stood tall. Christmas cakes interspersed at regular intervals with more rugged building materials. It left a decent amount to use as repellents when we left our protective wall to venture out for supplies.
I tried to bake more cakes, but it seemed there was something about the family recipe that worked better than the rest though I had some moderate success with a variety that included eggnog.
Other survivors found us. The colony of the Christmas Cake grew and thrived in this new world. Every five years or so, whatever happened on that fateful Christmas Day repeated and a new batch of rage-zombies was created.
And still, the Christmas Cake repelled them. What I once thought was the bane of my existence, the reasoning in my mind that I may have actually been adopted, was the only thing that saved me—and the last remnants of humanity.