It’s the perfect month for a great collection of chilling tales, and when I saw Kelli Owen, Somer Canon and Hunter Shea were all featured it automatically piqued my interest. I received a review copy, and read the entire collection cover to cover.
There are a lot of truly fantastic stories in this anthology. I employed a similar approach to my review as I do to reviewing short fiction submissions for publications I work on. I read a story and moved on. Did they stay with me? Did they linger in my brain and haunt my dreams? One of them definitely made me a little nervous when my dogs started barking outside.
For me, the truest test of great short stories is whether or not they’re memorable. Writers are working with a limited word count, and must use it to make a novel-sized impact to stand out, and so many of the writers in this collection do this. I found that not only could I remember almost all of the stories long after reading them, but they would come to mind at random times, unexpectedly giving me the goosebumps or keeping me awake at night. Not all have unhappy endings, and there are a lot of surprises along the way as these writers show the vast reach of horror and how limitless this genre is.
Ghost Blood by Kelli Owen
Okay, I’m a huge fan of the Wilted Lilies series, and this story ties in with that universe, so I was really looking forward to it. Owen did not shy away from a subject area that I’m sure will make some male readers squirm. Neil has the unfortunate ability to see ghost blood. Anyone who has ever cut themselves retains a stain that he can see long after the blood is gone. This applies to physical locations as well, which is why visiting a hospital is a horrifying prospect. One of the issues is that it’s hard for him to tell the difference between real blood in the present and ghost blood. His assumption that some blood is old leads to a shocking discovery and his first brush with crime in this tantalizing tale.
The Putpocket by Alan M. Clark
This story really surprised me. Edward Fell is a young man who has lost both his mother and father and lives with his horrible aunt, who makes him work hard and beats and starves him regularly. It’s the mid-1800s, and he’s forced to grow up before his time and try to figure out how to survive on his own. Since childhood his father had told him stories of the putpocket, which is the opposite of a pickpocket. The putpocket would put things in a person’s pocket that they had lost. As Edward’s story unfolds secrets are unraveled, and his discovery changes both his life and his aunt’s.
Drown by Hunter Shea
This is not your conventional ghost hunter story. Eddie and Jessica are on their way to a Bed & Breakfast for the weekend, and Jessica isn’t happy because she doesn’t like B&Bs. Turns out that Eddie has a few surprises up his sleeve to ensure she’s catered to, and he has an ulterior motive. Both of them have lost their abilities to interact with spirits and he’s hoping to kickstart Jessica’s gift again. Despite Eddie’s careful planning, things do not go the way he expects. This story delivers some solid twists that bring it to a surprise ending I didn’t see coming.
Devil’s Dip by Shannon Felton
Another example of a story that went in directions I didn’t foresee. I guess you could say the protagonist didn’t, either. Sometimes, childhood friends drift apart because of a shared trauma, and this is one of those times when perhaps it’s best not to rekindle a relationship years later, or there could be unexpected consequences.
Cool for Cats by William Meikle
Nothing quite like seeing a con artist at work following a funeral. Of course, there are some mysteries in the house she visits, but as a con, Wendy only sees a potential con on the part of the housekeeper, Graeme. Her blindness to his sincerity leads her on a dangerous path. She has a goal in sight, but will her own skepticism be her undoing?
Join My Club by Somer Canon
Timmy is a lonely little boy whose home life is pretty bad. When he goes outside to get away from the adults he hears a strange noise coming from a shed on the side of the house. Timmy goes to investigate. Will he find friendship and acceptance, or something else? This was one of the stories that felt like a punch in the gut at the end and stuck with me for some time after the fact. Canon doesn’t use twists and turns to surprise, yet still delivers an impactful, unexpected outcome.
Russian Dollhouse by Jason Parent
Kit is supposed to take her younger brother trick-or-treating, but she really wants to meet up with a boy named Jordan who she hopes to start dating. When she runs into Jordan and a group of kids she leaves her brother with a friend and joins the kids to visit an abandoned house they aren’t supposed to go near. One of the most chilling haunted house stories I’ve ever read.
There are plenty of other great stories equally worthy of note here, and well worth your time. I did note some things about language in a couple of stories, and would recommend a trigger warning for readers.