This is a collection that I added to my "wish list" a few months back, knowing that I wanted to stock up on some reads for that ghost wonderful time of the year. In Halloween Spirits: 11 Tales For The Darkest Night Halloween historian and screenwriter Lisa Morton has put together a group of tales that mainly focuses on her forte, traditional Halloween, but it is not without its mix of the strange and the gory as well.
Here's a look at the stories:
Someone To Carve The Pumpkins by Kealan Patrick Burke
Two brothers try to sneak up on the ghost of an old witch, but things are not quite what they seem. You may see the end of this one coming, but it is still an entertaining story and a good lead in to the collection. Four Stars.
Carrion Man by Joseph Nassise
After a rash of child disappearances Grayson Shaw, the "Carrion Man", is called in to help the investigation. Grayson has a paranormal ability that lets him hear the voices of the dead, but only Grayson knows his power is even more than that, and it is a power he uses to make sure that murderers and child molesters do not escape justice. Gritty and gory. I loved it. Five Stars.
The Devil Came To Mamie's On Hallowe'en by Lisa Morton
Editor Lisa Morton herself gives us a tale filled with images and lore from the pre-trick or treat Halloween. The Devil comes to a brothel after being summoned to claim a soul, but he's also always prepared to bargin for more. A young girl and soulful blues singer finds herself faced with a choice: a life of prostitution, a rocky road in a life of trying to make it on her own, or fame and fortune at a price. Breaking my house rules and giving it that Six Stars!
The Gunner's Love Song by Joe McKinney
A soldier returns home from the war to find himself in charge of protecting his cousin, accused of consorting with a murderer in various ways. She loves him and he loves her, but it's a love that's deadly on many levels when she refuses to stay in the grave. Another gritty tale and an excellent one at that. Hell, another Six Stars!
The October Girls by Scott Nicholson
A grim and gritty tale in the Scott Nicholson style. Ellen loves to spend her days playing with her best friend Margret, even though she's now a ghost, and sometimes her tricks and humor are dark and just a little bit scary. Life with her abusive and alcoholic mother is harsh, but she won't let Margret harm her. She longs to be as free as her friend, but is afraid of the unknown. Easily the best thing that I have ever read from Scott Nicholson, and I went in with the feeling "Yeah, here comes another one of those stories where the characters are ghost and the 'ghost' are living people." I was more than happy to be disappointed. Yeah, okay, another Six Stars.
Trick Or Die by Rick Pickman
This story actually was written by the collection's cover artist. It blends and bends trick or treating with Stephen King's The Running Man (with elements that remind me of both the novel and the film adaptation), and additionally gives a more updated view on the current obsession with prime time game shows and reality TV. A group of young trick or treaters is sent into a game zone armed to the teeth to trick or treat at ten houses while surrounded by real monsters, in a game whose object is to kill or be killed. It's nice and gory and begins brilliantly. Then near the end it becomes muddled with a forced happy ending for all that probably should have been something much darker considering a majority of the content of the story. Three stars.
Thursday by Simon Janus
A carnival fortune telling machine delivers a one word fortune that sets Nick on edge. Someone is messing with him. Someone knows what he's done, and he is sure that it is his best friend, Rich. A story that is slow to start but keeps you guessing for most of its length, until the crime is revealed, and it ends with a brilliant twist. The final resolution is a little predictable, but it's still a good read. Four Stars.
The Outlaws Of Hill County by John Palisano
The Long Fellow has returned to Hill County to devour people's souls through their fingertips. It's a story that has that old school King flare for presenting us with a group of teens trying to take down a monster without telling adults or the authorities the things they know al'a It. However the story falls short in the way several of King's own shorts fall with a quick and somewhat contrived ending. Three Stars.
Bones Lie Quietly Now by Nate Kenyon
There's restoration going on at the local haunted house, and two children play near the basement window that has finally been uncovered after years of being boarded up. Once they go through that window and into the basement the terror begins, at least for one of them. A great story with a brilliant twist where it seems Kenyon is trying to out "Scott Nicholson" Scott Nicholson. Five stars.
Coming Home by Maria Alexander
Perhaps the weakest story in the collection, and not because of its Christmas setting, but having recently read Helpers by David Steffen, I have to say that that story was better written and offered a more brilliant twist. I think a big part of the problem I had with this story comes with some of the information at the beginning not quite jibing with revelations from later in the story. I can't say I at all agree with Morton's decision and insistence of including this story in this anthology, but maybe someone else can see its merits. In a nut shell, a man runs away from his abusive father after deciding that he does not want to be part of the family business. He hides as far away as he thinks he can, until one Christmas his parents and 11 siblings track him down. Two Stars.
Almost Paradise by Jeremy Shipp
I find myself a little confused as to where Shipp was intending to go with this, and a little interesting story telling is what keeps it from being a weaker story than Coming Home. In a world where everyone has a personal Angel to keep them in line Halloween is the only night of the year that people can be themselves, make mistakes and do wrong without fearing being killed. If this was meant as a metaphor for the FaceBook Age I find myself unsure. I found the whole story to be confusing and muddled, centering around a good idea that really went nowhere. Two Stars.
Overall Halloween Spirits: 11 Tales For The Darkest Night is a Five Star collection, despite containing a couple of weak stories it gives several others that are way above and beyond. The Introduction, also by Morton, is well worth reading and is added proof that she knows her stuff when it comes to Halloween, both traditional and modern. In my opinion the collection would have been better served if it had ended with Scott Nicholson's The October Girls instead of having it in the middle, then again my opinion of uneven anthologies is if they're uneven they should end with a bang as well as begin with a bang instead of leaving the reader off on a whimper.
Here's where to get your copy of Halloween Spirits: 11 Tales For The Darkest Night:
If you're looking for a pretty good Halloween short story anthology lurk no further!