© Horrified Magazine
I’m pleased to report that my horror-writing alter ego Jim Mountfield has a short story featured in a new collection of spooky tales entitled Horror Stories from Horrified (Volume 1): Christmas. The collection has been published by the online magazine Horrified and, as its title suggests, its contents are not only concerned with the supernatural and macabre, but mostly take during the festive season. My contribution is actually a New Year story rather than a Christmas one, set on the night of December 31st / January 1st. It’s called First Footers.
I spent much of my early life in Scotland, where celebrating New Year, or Hogmanay as the Scots called it, was a big thing. (Cue the hoary old joke: “What do you get if you cross a Scotsman with an Iranian? The Ayatollah Hogmanay!”) In recent years, Scottish cities, especially Edinburgh, have cashed in on this tradition by holding huge street parties with firework displays and live music on December 31st, although anyone I know who made it to the Edinburgh Street Party usually whinged afterwards that it was largely ‘attended by Aussie and Kiwi backpackers’.
Away from the commercialism and razzmatazz, a lot of Scottish people still claim that the customary thing to do on Hogmanay is go first-footing, i.e., trudge around your neighbours’ houses after midnight and toast the New Year in each house with glasses of whisky. But to be honest, I think this is an extinct tradition. I don’t know anybody who’s gone first-footing since the 1980s – which was certainly the last time I attempted it. Perhaps in the past, when Scottish pubs had very limited opening hours and Scottish society as a whole was much more buttoned-up, going on the razzle after midnight on January 1st with a bottle of whisky might have seemed exciting, but it hardly seems so nowadays when you’re at liberty to party and drink yourself stupid 24/7 if you want. Or at least, you were before Covid-19 arrived…
Plus, does anyone in his or her right mind want to tramp from one neighbour’s house to another through the sort of dire, dreich weather you’re likely to get in Scotland, at night, at the very start of the year? (If there is a Hogmanay custom in modern Scotland, I suspect it’s for folk to make an appearance in a nice, warm pub in the afternoon or early evening of January 1st and have a few celebratory drinks then, which seems far more sensible.)
Anyway, I got the idea for First Footers when it struck me that, in rural Scotland at least, going first-footing on a pitch-black night wasn’t just a physically uncomfortable experience, but possibly a creepy, even scary one too. This inspired me to write a tale about two young guys who decide to revive the old custom of first-footing one New Year’s Eve and get more than they bargained for.