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FIRST READ: 'Unholy Night' by Seth Grahame-Smith

Read the first chapter from "Unholy Night" the new novel that recasts the story of the Three Wise Men of the Nativity as a swords and sandals adventure romp by the author of "Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter."

Unholy Night Seth Grahame-Smith

A herd of ibex grazed on a cliff high above the Judean Desert—each of their tiny, antelope-like bodies dwarfed by a pair of giant, curved horns. A welcome breeze blew across their backs as they searched for what little shrubbery there was here in the great big nothing, each of them pushing their hot, cracked noses across the hot, cracked earth, gnawing at whatever succulent bits of green had managed to push their way through.

 

One ibex—tempted by the sight of a few lonely blades of grass on the cliff ’s edge—grazed apart from the others, closer to the bone-shattering drop than even they dared go. These blades it now pulled at oh so carefully with its teeth. Its cloven hooves clacked against the loose rocks of its perch as it shifted its weight, sending the occasional pebble tumbling hundreds of feet into the valley below. Ten million years of geological aspirations undone in seconds.

 

Miles to the north of where it chewed this hard-earned meal, a carpenter was making his way toward Jerusalem in the blistering heat of midday—his head swimming through stories of plagues and floods to keep the thirst from driving him mad, his young, very pregnant wife asleep on the donkey behind him. And though the ibex would never know this—though its life, like the lives of all ibexes, would go completely unnoticed and unappreciated in the annals of history—it was about to become the sole living witness to a truly extraordinary sight.

 

Something’s wrong...

 

Perhaps it was a glint in the corner of its eye, a tiny, almost imperceptible vibration beneath its hooves. Whatever the reason, the ibex was suddenly compelled to lift its head and take in the sight of the vast desert below. There, off in the distance, it spotted a small cloud of dust moving steadily across the twisted beiges and browns. This in and of itself was hardly unusual. Dust clouds sprang up all the time, dancing randomly across the desert like swirling spirits. But two things made this cloud unique: one, it was moving in a perfectly straight line, from right to left. Two, it was being followed by a second, much larger cloud.

 

At least it looked that way. The ibex had no idea if clouds of dust could, in fact, chase each other. It only knew that they were to be avoided if at all possible, since they were murder on the eyes. Still chewing, it turned back to see if the others had spotted it. They hadn’t. They were all grazing away without a care in the world, noses to the ground. The ibex turned back and considered this strange phenomenon a moment longer. Then, convinced there was no danger to itself or the herd, it went back to its meal. The two clouds moved silently, steadily in the distance.

 

By the time it yanked another blade of grass out of the rock with its teeth, the ibex had forgotten they’d ever existed.

 

Balthazar couldn’t see a damned thing.