Review: “Lucid Screams,” Red Lagoe

Rating: 5 out of 5

Red Lagoe’s Lucid Screams is a delightful collection of 16 horror short stories. A few of them are creature features, but sometimes the horror is closer to home, and there are also plenty of horrific people and circumstances involved.

The first and final stories are connected. In “Lucid Screaming,” a heroin user (Elaine) has a hard time handling her children, Lily and Ben. This is a harsh and heavy story, tough to read. In the opposite side, “Empty Nest,” Elaine’s ex-husband, Joe, ruminates on what happened to Elaine. It also clears up one detail in the first story that at the time seemed contradictory, which is neat.

“The Haunting Murder” is a short, intriguing tale about a prisoner and the murder of crows that haunts him. “Best Seat in the House” is a chilling bit of flash fiction.

“Luna’s Lure” starts off with Jeff telling David about recent cases of four disappearances that are believed to be murders, all taken place on the full moon. It is, of course, a full moon tonight, and there’s a woman next door who seems to be trying to lure David. I really like where this one ends up. I also really like the fact that it probably is not the story you think it’s going to be. Not entirely, anyway.

Helia and her friend set out to enjoy a total eclipse of the sun in “The Great American Eclipse.” The company her father worked for has provided free glasses for everyone to wear to safely view the eclipse. How exactly will her father and uncle’s work in parasitology and fungi come into play? This one is definitely fun.

Brooke and her step-mother Mandy have been left in their new home by her Navy father in “Abandoned Souls.” A few local kids try to warn her that people come and steal the children at night. If she’s to have any hope of surviving, she’d better listen! I really love where this one ended up, although I also would very much like to know more.

In “Malignant Roots,” Karen and her brother Derrick stop by the old family house to pay respects to her dead-and-buried abusive father. Unfortunately for them, his influence has stuck around. This is a fairly fun conceit.

In “Helping Hands Retreat,” Sarah is trying to escape an abusive relationship with Wade by going to a retreat for women. However, she finds a slightly different retreat than the one she was aiming for. When she gets locked in at night and hears screaming outside, she starts to fear for her life. The end of this one made it one of my favorite stories in the book.

“Severed Connection” is about Charlotte, a woman who goes to a disreputable man with a strange reputation in hopes that she’ll be able to contact her dead husband. Yeah, turns out that reputation was well-earned, and maybe she shouldn’t have come. This has some really clever turns to it.

“Odor Mortis” features mortician Harold, who loves the smell of death and corpses. When a corpse comes through his office that resembles his dead childhood best friend, he goes a little off the rails.

In “Slice,” Tara and Marissa eat pizza at a bizarre hole-in-the-wall restaurant, and when the owner overhears them say they want jobs, she offers them money under the table to work some shifts. One of them is taught how to prepare the special sauce handed down by the original owner, Grisha, and is told it must be prepared exactly or it will anger Grisha. In the ensuing predictable blood-bath, another secret is revealed.

“Intimidating Smile” introduces us to a girl who has a condition that results in her appearing to have fangs. She’s planning on having surgery to correct the problem, because holy hell is she tired of people either being afraid of her or obsessed with her. Then they come in handy in an unexpected way. I love this tale!

“The Astronomer’s Mistress” is a lovely dark tale. Thomas spends weeks making the perfect anniversary gift for his wife, only to have her throw a fit. Sure, this sounds like a problem with his wife, but she has a point–all of his gifts, even his pet name for her, are really not about her at all. She very clearly comes second in his life to something else.

In “Memory Lane” Victor’s recording of his dead daughter’s voice finally gives out. A mysterious girl offers him an album of what might have been had his daughter lived. Chilling!

“Brush With Fate” is a great “cursed artifact” story. In this case, the artifact is a set of painter’s brushes guaranteed to spark creativity in any painter. Of course, the price is high…

These are wonderful stories, and I really enjoyed this book. The characters are great, the ideas are creative, and there a few good twists and surprises.

Content note for child death and domestic abuse, both off of the page, and very mild sexual content.

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