Rating: 5 out of 5
I rarely give multiple-author anthologies a 5 out of 5, but Campfire Macabre earned it. It’s filled with an astounding number of flash fiction horror stories–500-1000 words long each. If you enjoy both horror and the short-short story, you should absolutely read this book.
The anthology is divided into several themed sections. The first is “Spook Houses,” followed by “Supernatural Slashers,” “Witchcraft,” “Within the Woods,” and “Cemetery Chillers.” This is a great way to provide both some variety in story and topic, while keeping things themed enough to please those of us who like themed anthologies. The haunted house section includes wasps in the walls, the creation of a haunted house, a woman’s sacrifices for her music, and a haunted lighthouse. The slashers include an urban legend tale, a critter with a lot of teeth, a giant crayfish(!), a dead woman’s special recipe being made by her widower husband, a really interesting summoned demon tale, and a hungry pregnant woman. Witch stories involve some revenge, some favor-seeking, some desperate spells, and an old woman who keeps stealing her neighbor’s milk deliveries. Woods tales tell of a baby found in the woods, a mysterious giant tree, and an old abandoned freezer. Cemetery tales include multiple ways and types of life beyond the grave: I know that sounds pretty basic, but there are some powerful stories in here.
So many of these stories are quite wonderful; I’ll just touch on a few of my favorites plus a few notes here and there.
A couple of these stories could do with either being a bit longer to wrap things up, or being re-written to be much longer stories on the whole. For instance, I really hope Sonora Taylor decides to write a longer version of her haunted lighthouse story, “Keepers of the Light.” I felt like it needed (and was worth) more depth; that there was more story there to be experienced. On the “just a bit longer please” end of the spectrum is Adam Godfrey’s “A Busy Season,” in which a pregnant woman has some interesting cravings. I really wanted to see where this was going! As for Sara Tantlinger’s “Dewdrops and Blood,” I desperately wanted to know what mistake had turned the local Puca against the characters.
One of my frequent complaints about horror stories regards the stories that make perfect sense right up until the ending, when the author decides to throw something in that suddenly clouds or confuses the issue, or sends the story off in a weird direction with no time to spend on it. Derek Austin Johnson’s “Final Girl” was one of these–I absolutely loved the story, but the ending got a little confusing.
Corey Farrenkopf’s “A Sleepwalker’s Hands” is a flash fiction about someone who keeps waking up to find people’s lost items in their bedroom. I absolutely love where this one goes. Hailey Piper’s “The Bird With the Clownish Plumage” is a wonderful, wild story about two kids dressed up as clowns on Halloween, and the feral clowns they encounter in the woods. “Heartwood,” by doungjai gam, is a really neat story about two girls making up spells in the woods.
“The Intern,” by Michael J. Moore, could have leaned into its seemingly stereotypical story of an older, married lawyer who slept with his intern after a few drinks, but it ended up being more interesting than that, and I loved where it went. Monique Youzwa’s “Waking the Dead” and Kenneth W. Cain’s “Shattered World” were particularly powerful, for very different reasons. One shows the strength of hatred, while the other explores the consequences of grief. S.H. Cooper’s “Hunger” similarly could have fallen into a cliche but turned out to be really fun.
Ali Seay’s “A Little Justice” sees a woman named Heather who’s driving through a snowstorm while trying to figure out how to break it to her boyfriend–who’s sitting next to her–that she knows he’s cheating on her. This may be the first time I’ve met another Heather in literature whom I could enjoy relating to!
If you enjoy most types of horror, you’ll find plenty of excellent authors and stories in here. It might introduce you to a few new names to look up!
Content note: suicide, homicide, blood, a couple of slurs, child death, and general horror story mischief.