(Celaeno Press, September 2018, pb, 332 pp.)
Reviewed by Tara Grímravn
Halloween is, and always has been, my favorite holiday. And what better way to kick off a month-long celebration than by reading Lovecraft-inspired horror? Personally, I can think of very few.
“Uncle’s in the Treetops” by Darrell Schweitzer
A boy takes part in an ancient ritual. Schweitzer’s story was absolutely fantastic. The ancient ritual, called “going out into the dark,” is a familiar horror trope that the author made wonderful use of. I particularly enjoyed the hints at (and eventual arrival of) others who’d also “gone out into the dark.” Told in the first person, there’s an intimacy with the protagonist that I really liked, especially since the entire thing is presented from the point of view of a cultist. These events would be horrifying to an outsider but they’re just tradition to this young boy. Seen through that lens, the beliefs and everyday lives of the cultists began to make a ghastly type of sense, which is frightening in its own right. This really was an incredible tale.
“Down into Silence” by Storm Constantine
Blogger Maisie Horne explores the town of Innsmouth, now a tourist destination, one-hundred years after Zadok Allan and Robert Olmstead revealed its “secret.” This story draws on the Lovecraftian mythos in a different way than others in this anthology. Instead, it provides a unique perspective on the events in Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.” This new outlook is built slowly through both the blogger’s description of the scenery and her interactions with Kezia. One thing I really found intriguing was the creation of a tulpa of Olmstead, an “imaginary friend” Maisie chats with over the course of the story. The ending, in which he plays a role, was unexpected but great.
“The War on Halloween” by Cody Goodfellow
A zealous pastor opens a Hell-themed haunted house. After reading Goodfellow’s tale, I’m a little conflicted. Generally speaking, the story was okay. It’s reminiscent of the “satanic panic” of the 1980s mixed with a little inspiration from the 2001 film Frailty, all of which are familiar tropes. From a structural perspective, the narrative was a little confusing in parts. And just when I thought it was starting to make sense as a horror story and wasn’t just some crazy religious manifesto, when the true nature of God was finally revealed, the horror of that revelation was completely undermined by the ending.
“That Small, Furry, Sharp-toothed Things” by Paul Dale Anderson
A man fears the havoc a new Brown Jenkin costume might unleash on Halloween Night. I really enjoyed this example of psychological horror. Anderson’s story holds the reader in suspense for quite some time as the tension builds, culminating in an ending I really didn’t see coming—at least not the way it actually played out.
“Waters Strangely Clear” by Alan Baxter
A salesman with a failing marriage attends his company’s annual sales conference and Halloween party—but is all as it seems? This story takes us back to the infamous town of Innsmouth where Howard Bloch discovers something isn’t quite right about the townsfolk. Baxter’s tale is really well-written. I felt for Howard as he coped with marital problems, work obligations, and peer pressure from his co-workers. At first it I thought it was odd how he took all of the strange events in an unsettled stride but, after a bit, it becomes clear that Innsmouth casts a spell that you just can’t resist.
“The House on Jimtown Road” by Ran Cartwright
Teens head out for some traditional Halloween mischief and end up paying a heavy price. Cartwright’s story was not bad—not great, but not bad. There’s just a few things that were issues for me. The first was a lot of editing mistakes. That pulled me out of the story. That being said, though, once I realized what was going on, Cartwright reeled me back in. The premise that he was working with is fantastic—two bloodlines from Innsmouth’s Obed Marsh family, one tainted, the other human.
It was a very pleasant surprise to discover that the villain was actually a human who eats fish people. All of the above being said, the proverbial nail in the coffin for me was that it started out in the right direction but sort of fizzled out a bit in the end without ever really becoming scary. Just when it got to the horror, it was so subdued and over so quickly that I scarcely realized that it was meant to be the climax. The ending itself felt like an afterthought and I was left wondering exactly why those last three pages were included or important to the overall story arc.
“Spider Wasp” by Tim Curran
Hell-bent on revenge, a man hunts down a foe known only as The Preacher. Curran certainly has a flare for imagery. His setting and world-building are excellent. (I suppose one might argue they were overdone but I felt that they added to the unsettling atmosphere.) I also really liked his use of the sinister carnival-style pagan festival trope. It’s well-worn but he used it to very nice effect. And that twist! The ending came out of nowhere—I really did not see that coming. I was all geared up for a showdown of sorts but that’s not at all what happened.
“The Old Man Down the Road” by Arinn Dembo
Lovers make an ill-fated trip to Tennessee and discover that one has a dark family secret. If I remember my Lovecraftian lore correctly, immortality could be obtained by transferring one’s soul into the body of another. This process, for lack of a better word, is described in the short story “The Thing on the Doorstep.” Dembo’s tale runs along that particular vein. The story is incredibly well-crafted and the protagonists were engaging. The laying bare of the family secret was perfectly timed within the story. All in all, it’s very much well worth a read.
“The Immortician” by Andre E. Harewood
In the very near future, those with enough cash can bring their loved ones back to life via an Immortician. When her grandfather is murdered by a nurse, Anaea takes the hospital up on their offer to send him to just such a specialist in order to catch his killer. This was an excellent story! I found the premise of what I believe is the practice of Orisa-Ifá being used to bring back the dead fascinating. Combined with the Lovecraftian notion of soul transference, Harewood’s story was a fun read.
“Nyarlahotep Came Down to Georgia” by Nancy Holder
Nyarlahotep is in love with Maman Brigitte, and he’s brought an army to take her from Baron Samedi. This is one of my favorite stories. The language and style of Holder’s story is phenomenal and I absolutely loved Evangeline, Baron Samedi and Maman Brigitte. The conversation between the three is imaginative and endearing. I even kind of liked Nyarlahotep. He’s usually presented as a faceless-type of horror but Holder humanized him a bit. The ending itself was a bit sad for me, though, in part because I’ve had a soft spot for the Baron and the Guédé loa for years.
“A Night for Masks” by Brian M. Sammons
Forced to take his little brother trick-or-treating, teenage Andy meets a strange figure in yellow that leads to self-discovery. Given the subject matter, Sammons’s story was perfectly paced. And he captured Andy’s teenage angst so well. It was believable and something I think any reader, especially adults, will immediately get. While the Lovecraftian influence is present, the appearance of the Yellow King made me wonder if Sammons took part of his inspiration from Robert Chambers’ Carcosa mythos from The King in Yellow, which I believe Lovecraft himself also references in his short story “Whisperer in the Darkness.”
“No Other God but Me” by Adrian Cole
After fishermen catch something strange, villagers on the English coast use the Old Ways to defend themselves against invaders from beneath the waves. Cole’s story is absolutely brilliant. I was completely swept away in this tale. The first half of it caught my attention and held me spellbound as it built tension. At the climax, the tension breaks into the frenzy of combat. The battle scene, complete with ancient earth magic, had my blood racing. I absolutely loved this story.
“Inheritance” by Ann K. Schwader
Graduate physics student Zill is called home for the reading of her father’s will and inherits more than she bargained for. This tale by Schwader is about a homecoming of sorts. Aside from a few hints that there may be issues between Zill and her mother (something of a community leader whose true role is revealed in the end), it’s never really clear why she left home and was so reluctant to return. It was a good story, nonetheless, even it if it’s not what I’d consider to be horror or even unsettling.
“Hum—Hurt You. Hum—Hurt You. Hum—Hurt You.” by John Shirley
In a fake house built to mask a cell phone tower no one wanted, a weird man opens a portal to another world, releasing something awful in the process. I thought Shirley’s story was quite imaginative. What I found most interesting is the way the transformations took place. Lovecraftian-style horror often mentions the need to transform in order to avoid being wiped out by the Old Ones (they might still eat you later, but you won’t be destroyed with the rest of humanity). I could be wrong but I don’t believe I’ve ever seen it described as becoming part of another being, as in Shirley’s tale. I found that particular twist intriguing.
“Cosmic Cola” by Lucy A. Snyder
Millie’s stepfather just got a new job with promotional potential—and she’s the key to his moving up the ladder. The infamous town of Innsmouth and the Marsh family rears its head again in Snyder’s tale. All in all, I have to say that it was a decent story. For the most part, Snyder did a nice job of writing a believable 12-year old girl, although the dialogue did feel a bit off in spots. The one big question I had was in relation to the titular Cosmic Cola. It seemed to appear everywhere in the story but I’m not sure of its connection to the events, aside from the fact that everyone in this new town drank it and that her stepfather worked for the company. I expected it to play a part in the climax somehow, especially since she’s given a flask by her mother so she can avoid drinking the stuff, but it’s never touched on beyond this. There were a few other questions raised by the story but I’m afraid that if I mention them here, it’ll give away the ending.
“Hell Among the Yearlings” by Chet Williamson
A young boy comes up with a plan to ruin his romantic rival’s chances with the object of their mutual affection. My short summary for this story seems a little vaguer than usual simply because to say more would ruin the surprise. This delightful little romp centers on a piece of music being played in a school competition—the scariest song wins. I really liked the flashbacks Williamson included. They were inserted at just the right spots to feed tidbits of background information without revealing the ending or interrupting the flow of the story.
“Summer’s End” by Erica Ruppert
A young man and his fiancé visit family he’s not seen for years, just in time for an end-of-the-year celebration. Once again, this story tackles the theme of transformation and rebirth into a new, if monstrous, form. There appears to be some form of insidious influence that pulls Dana, the fiancé, into the goings-on in the town, although there’s nothing overt to indicate what. There’s no celebration, no throngs of people. She simply trespasses into a private room above a variety store, finds a few items that repulse her, and that was all it took for the seed to be planted apparently. I did certainly expect a sacrifice of some sort to take place, and wasn’t disappointed, but it wasn’t quite what I’d anticipated.