Cocktail Hour: The Next in Line (Inspired by Ray Bradbury’s story of the same name)

The Next in Line cocktail takes its name from Ray Bradbury's tale of the mummies of Guanajuato.

Ray Bradbury wrote some truly terrifying fiction over the years, and for my money, “The Next in Line” is among his creepiest.

The story was the result of his 1945 visit to Guanajuato, Mexico, where he saw the city’s famed mummies. Relatives of the dead were required to pay an annual grave tax to keep their dearly departed underground in Guanajuato. Fail to pay up, and your loved one’s corpse would be dug up to make room for new arrivals in the crowded cemeteries. When they began to exhume bodies, however, the authorities discovered that many of them had naturally mummified in the arid soil.

Guanajuato, of course, saw another revenue opportunity. It stood the mummies in a line and lets tourists gawk — provided they pony up a few pesos.

“The Next in Line’s” middle-aged American couple, Joseph and Marie, are on vacation in Mexico. Joseph is eager to check out the famed mummies, but Marie wants nothing of them. They couple has already witnessed a funeral procession for an infant and the morbid scene has left her feeling rather uneasy.

That unease builds into terror, and because this is a horror story, Joseph naturally drags her into a face-to-face viewing of the mummies. When she does, Bradbury invokes powerful descriptive language to give us the creeps as well.

They looked as if they had leaped, snapped upright in their graves, clutched hands over their shriveled bosoms and screamed, jaws wide, tongues out, nostrils flared.

And been frozen that way.

All of them had open mouths.  Theirs was a perpetual screaming.  They were dead and they knew it.  In every raw fiber and evaporated organ they knew it.

She stood listening to them scream.

The "Next in Line" is available in Bradbury's October Country collection.

While plenty of horror writers can describe dead bodies, Bradbury’s story sticks with the reader because he so effectively taps into Marie’s mounting dread. Every tiny sign of illness, every symbol of death, becomes an awful and foreboding drumbeat in her own funeral procession.

We also realize that Joseph is a sadist who mocks her morbid fixation, at one point buying a Day of the Dead candy skull and eating it in front of her. Naturally, he makes sure she notices that the skull is decorated with her own name.

If you’ve read “The Next in Line,” you know exactly why Marie has reason to be terrified. If you haven’t, I won’t give it away. Either way, why not pick up Bradbury’s October Country collection and give it a read with its namesake cocktail in hand?

Tequila seems to be the obvious liquor for a story taking place in Mexico, and in homage to the American couple, I borrowed the other ingredients from a whiskey cocktail called the Brown Derby, the namesake drink of the famed restaurant in Bradbury’s L.A. hometown.

It’s just the kind of easy-sipping cocktail that would go down easy in the Guanajuato sun. And like nasty Joseph, it’s got a bite that sneaks up on you.


2 oz. anejo tequila
1 oz. freshly squeezed graprefruit juice
1/2 oz. honey
1/2 tsp lemon juice
Twist of lemon rind for garnish

Place all the ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker and shake vigorously for about 20 seconds. Pour into a couple glass and garnish with the twist.


Cocktail Hour: The Black Santa, inspired by Ramsey Campbell’s “The Chimney”

The Black Santa promises a merry Christmas to all, and to all a terrifying night.

To my mind, there may be no better writer of horror short stories than Britain’s Ramsey Campbell.

Beyond his beautiful — sometimes oblique — prose, Campbell is a master at tapping into the subconscious fears we all carry from childhood. His stories are full of shadows that stalk us, frightening figures watching from a distance and unknowable things that slither in the dark.

His Christmas-themed short story “The Chimney” is a perfect example.

Its 12-year-old protagonist is a sensitive soul, afraid of the strange noises that lurk in the darkness of his family’s house. Among the scariest are those from the drafty chimney in his bedroom. In Campbell’s hands, the boy’s nightly lights-out becomes a surreal trip into a tunnel of horror — and likely similar to ones we experienced in our own childhoods as we awaited slumber.

"The Chimney" is available in Campbell's Alone with the Horrors collection.

“The shadows moved things,” Campbell writes. “The mesh of the fireguard fluttered enlarged on the wall; sometimes, at the edge of sleep, it became a swaying web, and its spinner came sidling down from a corner of the ceiling. Everything was unstable…”

Of course, the boy’s parents are no help. He’s coddled by his smothering mother, while his fear becomes an embarrassment for his no-nonsense father. Both are unable, for their own reasons, to break the news to him that Santa Claus doesn’t exist — even though he’s quickly drawing his own conclusions.

With his imagination left to wander, the young protagonist frets that Father Christmas — or some dark version of Father Christmas — is the source of the mysterious noises. While Campbell could take the theme in a campy direction, he never does. He lets our imaginations fill in the blanks, and the dark figure that finally appears to crawl from the flue is truly terrifying.

Campbell is a master of gut-punch endings, and “The Chimney” packs one. Don’t worry, I won’t give it away. Suffice to say you won’t see it coming, but when it arrives, it works within everything he laid out in plain view during the story’s set-up.

“The Chimney” is a great, gruesome antidote for forced holiday cheer, and precisely the kind of story that warrants reading with a good cocktail in hand. May I suggest the Black Santa, which combines the mystery of black vodka with seasonal flavors.

Black Santa

1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup cranberry juice
1/2 ounces Triple Sec
1 1/2 ounces black vodka, such as Blavod, or make your own
Rosemary sprig, for garnish

Shake the juices and strain into a glass. Using the back of a spoon, pour black vodka slowly into a glass so it rests menacingly atop the juice mixture. Carefully slip the rosemary sprig into the glass for a garnish.

Tune in Monday when I ask other writers, fans and artists to sound off on their favorite holiday-themed horror, fantasy and sf stories.