Rating: 4 out of 5
Dead Awake: 12 Tales of Darkness contains–you guessed it–12 short horror stories by a bunch of excellent authors.
Sisters of Slaughter bring us “To Burn the Black Church.” It’s a brief exploration of an evil oddity, and touches on how a person’s faith (or lack thereof) might impact their interactions with a pinch of cosmic horror.
A.C. Fraser’s “High Tide” introduces us to a man who just wants to save himself and his kid when the Flood (some sort of high-speed infection) breaks through the wall. There’s an interesting question of what (or whom) people will be willing to leave behind in return for the hope of being saved. This story does end a bit abruptly.
Mark Allan Gunnells’ “Clown Craze” introduces us to Paul, a professional clown who’s lost a lot of work since mysterious scary clowns have started showing up here and there. Finally he’s been hired to work a Halloween party! Sometimes when you look too much like an evil thing, you can’t expect things to end well. This was another rather abrupt ending to a very short story. (My one beef with horror short stories is that many of them end very abruptly, or too early, or in the middle of what might make a great climax if there was more to it. There’s a handful of those stories in here.)
“The Dancer in the Pines,” by C.W. Blackwell, starts off when young Josephine finds a pair of ballet slippers next to a pond–and gets scary from there. It develops into more detail than I’m accustomed to seeing from this sort of setup, but squanders that by leaving off in what feels like the middle of the climax.
In Michelle Renee Lane’s “The Hag Stone,” a mother has brought her son Jack to meet her boyfriend, Richard. All seems to be fine and dandy until Jack goes missing while Richard is with him–then things turn deadly. I always enjoy a story in which creeps get their due!
Ethan Pollard’s “The Cellar” is a very cosmic horror-type story. A person seems to be caught in a house that has no exit, and something in the cellar beneath him keeps knocking on the floor, circling him. I wasn’t sure where this one was going, but the ending made it work. Be careful what promises you make…
Jill Girardi’s “Hunger” takes place in Malaysia. Miss Hai-Er has fled Hong Kong and her boss, Wu Jing. She’s hiding out in a boarding house that’s more than a little eccentric. And it seems like all of the older residents have a strange sort of skin disease. Still, she doesn’t want to be found by Wu Jing’s people, so she’s going to have to roll with it. Nice to see characters of all ages involved, and I love how this works out.
In “Matriphagy,” by Sadie Hartmann, a mother goes missing for a few hours. When she returns her face is blank, and she goes to her room and locks herself in. Her two children have no idea what to do with this. I love that I can really see kids reacting in reality the way these two do.
Mama was abducted by aliens. We think.
And then she came back.
Catherine McCarthy’s “Immortelle” is definitely one of my favorite tales in here. There’s a young woman who makes immortelles, precise displays to be placed on graves that commemorate the deceased. Now she’s making one for a child whose ghost watches her work. I love the turns this story takes. It definitely gave me a shiver.
“The House on Dandy Lane,” by Christy Aldridge, introduces Joe Harrison, a traveling salesman for Mount Olive Cleaning supplies. Most people slam their doors in his face, but an odd old woman finally lets him in. He realizes she’s too far gone to realistically make a decision on buying products, but hey, a sale’s a sale, right? He’s certainly willing to try. This is a great story of the banality of small-time greed.
Justin Montgomery’s “Sometimes They Linger” is fantastic. It takes place several months after the death of Maddee, the beloved dog belonging to Beverly and John. Beverly is still grieving, and sometimes she thinks she hears Maddee in the night. But John is angry that she seems to be wasting away in her grief rather than moving on. Beverly thinks that if Maddee came back, it would be wonderful. John, who loves a good horror story, is convinced it would be terrible. Guess we’ll just have to find out, won’t we? I love the way this story explores the complex feelings involved when you lose a beloved pet.
Sylvia Elven’s “Fireflies” captures the story of Julie, who’s spiriting her sister Rose away from an abusive relationship. When a flat tire compels them to stop, more than one danger shows up to take advantage of their ill fortune. For some reason this just wasn’t as arresting as I felt it should be. Maybe because the supernatural aspect of it seems to have little personality to it.
Content note: mostly mild gore, but with one live skinning.
I definitely think this anthology is worth picking up if you enjoy horror short stories!