It’s well past Halloween and a bit late on that front, I know, but starting back in September I got in the habit of reading a horror story every night to get into that dark autumnal mood. And lately I’ve been reading these Dark Screams ebook anthologies to slake my thirst for horror stories. After releasing 5 volumes two years ago, Hydra has returned to the series with another run; edited by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar (of Cemetery Dance fame), these collections bring together a half-dozen shorter horror tales, typically five or six stories where all but one or two are brand spanking new originals.
Frank Darabont starts the collection off with “Walpuski’s Typewriter,” one of the two longer stories in the collection. When failing writer Howard Walpuski’s IBM Selectric II typewriter breaks down, he heads to a little repair shop, hoping for a cheap repair job so he can bang out another fast buck. What he ends up with is more than he bargained for, when the repairman summons up a demonic helper to “improve” Walpuski’s writing. A humorous horror story, its twists are bloody but not unexpected. It’s an enjoyable start to the collection, one I thought was good but not ground-shaking. It’s a reprint from a 2005 Cemetery Dance publication.
Bentley Little has earned a reputation as the master of suburban horror, and “The Boy” is a great example of how well-earned that reputation is. Christine has just moved to the perfect neighborhood to raise her growing family, a charming place full of friendly neighbors. Except for the boy. The middle-eastern tween, surrounded by a peculiar stench that disgusts the other mothers. How can someone that smells so vile not be a health hazard to their children? As usual in a Little story, things take a horrific and violent turn. A sharp little story that I found quite effective as a metaphor for “the other,” where those that deviate from the norm in cookie-cutter suburbia become both villain and victim… and made more relevant with the rise of hate crimes in the last few years. One of my favorites in this collection.
“Tumor” by Benjamin Percy features a strange character describing, in loving detail, a golf-ball-sized tumor surgically removed from his head, now kept for memory’s sake. But while he’s survived it once already, the tumor isn’t finished with him yet. It’s a dark, disturbing, and bloody tale, but it is either a bit too short or a bit too rushed—or both. There’s a rather abrupt shift in tone about halfway through the tale, then the story speeds along to a not-quite-satisfying conclusion. I’m intrigued enough to read more by Percy, but this was one of the weaker stories in the collection. It is also less scary and far more gross, so readers who get nauseous easily be warned.
Billie Sue Mosiman’s “Twisted and Gnarled” is another dark and disturbing tale. The protagonist is a “genius” serial killer, a Stanford psych professor who preys on “nondescript” women as a kind of vengeful Oedipus complex. After getting away with several murders, he slips up and one of the victims’ mothers realizes his identity–through the help of some psychic powers—and the hunter becomes the hunted. Another well-written story, though the open-ended conclusion took some of the wind out of the sails as it were. This is one story that you need to stop and ponder, after reading it; it grew on me to the point where I’d rank it as one of my faves in the collection, but I can’t say that will be true for everyone.
Kealan Patrick Burke’s “The Palavar” is about barber Oscar Dennihy and his failing shop; as he sweeps an already clean floor and contemplates retirement, a mysterious customer arrives. And that customer’s hair-raising tale—of a long-forgotten barber riding into town in the 1800s—explains the secret history and purpose of barbers, giving Oscar a terrible new purpose in life. Now that I look back at it, “barbers hiding a terrible secret” sounds kinda dumb, but don’t let my inability to summarize it put you off. It’s a solid story from a capable writer, and it’s both dead serious and effective.
Glen Hirshberg finishes off the collection with “India Blue,” the other longer story in the collection. Cricket isn’t a sport that most Americans know anything about, but an Indian developer wearing a bright blue shirt hopes to bring America’s Rockin’ Professional Cricket league to a minor-league baseball stadium in San Bernadino. The protagonist is the announcer at the stadium, retelling this glorious game of cricket and its unfortunate end, as the stuff of nightmares descends on the stadium. “India Blue” is yet another case of “I enjoyed the story, but…” The story is focused far too much on the sports over the horror; the horror elements don’t appear until the conclusion, and their origin and cause was so intentionally vague as to frustrate me. I’m not asking for answers here, I just want the horror to not originate from a barely-mentioned character I forgot even existed. Well written and spooky, but somewhat flawed
Dark Screams Volume 8 is another solid entry in the series; it’s not bad by any means, though it’s a little below average compared to how strong some of the other volumes have been. I most enjoyed the Mosiman, Little, and Burke stories, though Darabont’s was a close fourth; the other two were worth reading, but were less than perfect. Considering the one of the series’ main selling point is its impulse-buy bargain pricing ($2.99), it’s hard to go wrong. I’m glad that the series in continuing past its original 5-volume run, because bite-sized collections of (mostly original) horror stories are apparently one of my weaknesses. I’ll keep snagging these as long as they keep making them.
Title: Dark Screams: Volume 8
Editors: Brian James Freeman, Richard Chizmar
Publisher: Hydra (division of Random House LLC)
Release Date: 3 October 2017
What I Read: ebook
MSRP: $3.99 ebook
Price I Paid: $0 (e-ARC recieved through NetGalley)
ISBN/ASIN: unknown / B01N18W7W0