Rating: 4 out of 5
Samantha Kolesnik edited Worst Laid Plans: An Anthology of Vacation Horror. As typically happens with multi-author anthologies I ended up giving it a 4 out of 5, because it’s almost impossible for a given editor’s tastes to exactly match a given reader’s tastes. I definitely enjoyed quite a bit of this book, however.
S.E. Howard’s “You’ve Been Saved” involves two guys on a road trip, and a young woman who slips one of them a “HELP” note. One of them is determined to believe the girl is just messing with them, while the other isn’t so sure and starts following the camper the girl got into. This one didn’t go where I was expecting, which was nice!
Greg Sisco’s “Summers With Annie” is a bizarre little tale. It involves a boy whose dad went missing while they were watching a movie on vacation, and what happens when he returns to that movie theater. A little bit of fate, a little bit of strange, and some interesting lingering questions.
Asher Ellis’s “Expertise” is a great little tale involving a scuba guide, a woman who’s paying him, and some curious barracuda. This is one of my favorites in this volume.
Hailey Piper brings us “Unkindly Girls.” Morgan’s father insists she dress modestly even when going swimming on vacation, so that she will never become one of those “unkindly girls” he looks down on so much. She excels at making friends, however, and this time they’ll try to convince her to go a little wild. Chilling!
Waylon Jordan wrote “Deep in the Heart,” involving a cavern tour in Texas. Michael is excited to go on the tour, until the screaming starts. This is a fun little tale.
Kenzie Jennings’s “Peelings” is both amazing and hard to read. Beth and Marc are on vacation to the happiest place on earth with their twin girls, Sadie and Sylvie. Marc is manipulative and downright mean, and the girls are starting to take after him. When Beth gets a bizarre sunburn and her skin starts to peel away, the tale gets strange. I had trouble reading the parts where Marc was belittling and condescending to Beth, but it was worth it for the rest of the tale.
“The Difference Between Crocodiles and Alligators,” by Malcolm Mills, was a weak point in the anthology for me. It’s too surreal, and some of the narrative is in the first person while some is in the second. I was fine with people cosplaying alligators and crocodiles, but it just got really weird after that.
“The Cucuy of Cancun,” by V. Castro, is intriguing. The Cucuy is a bit of a boogeyman, and she’s set her eyes on some vacationing tourists. I love where this one ends up.
Jeremy Herbert’s “Taylor Family Vacation ’93” is really powerful. Dan’s precious new video camera keeps getting used by someone overnight, and Dan becomes convinced someone is breaking into their hotel room, after first thinking it must be his and Amy’s son Josh. This one punched me in the gut and is another favorite.
Scott Cole’s “The Penanggalan” was too quick, had too little buildup, and had too many unexplained coincidences. It was a nice idea, but not much more than that for me.
Chad Stroup’s “Sex With Dolphins” was quite good. Newlyweds Kristy and Daniel went to Hawaii on their honeymoon. A secluded stretch of beach alters their lives forever. I love where this one ended up.
Patrick Lacey’s “Caught a Glimpse” introduces us to Alan, who told his wife he was going on a business trip while instead he went for a weekend off in a cottage. The woman next door, who never takes off her sunglasses, intrigues him, until things take a bizarre turn. This is another of my favorites, with a delicious twist to it.
Mark Wheaton’s “In the Water” involves a strange series of deaths in Thailand, and the local officer who has to work with the FBI to solve it. I loved the concept, but I ended up feeling like it’s missing a causative detail or two.
Laura Keating’s “Good Time in the Bad Lands” is just a fun, quirky, bizarre little side-trip into hilarity blended with horror, and it’s a great note for the anthology to end on. It’s the strangest little tale of cosmic horror, and it’s easy to see why the parents on this vacation go a tad insane.
Overall this is a really enjoyable collection, and I recommend it.
Content note for some mild gore and sex, as well as some emotional abuse.