This will be an ongoing review of 21 short stories found in the Halloween anthology, Deadly Treats: Halloween Tales of Mystery, Magic, and Mayhem compiled and edited by Ann Frasier.
Today's short stories are brought to you by David Housewright, Stephen Blackmoore, Heather Dearly, and Mark Hull. They contain a little bit of this, and a little bit of that... mingled with a haunted house, a zombie, the Grim Reaper, and a Boy Scout. Enjoy.
When I was little there used to be a run-down, two story home at the very top of the street on Alendale Drive in St. Helens, Oregon. It was white with a hole in the roof above the porch, and the areas around the outside windows looked to be stained black from a long ago fire. I remember every year on Halloween night when we had finally reached the end of our street, we would look across the road to the house on the hill and someone in the group would always claim to see a ghost in the upstairs window. I never saw the ghost... or did I?
There’s a tale of an abandoned farmhouse in the story Time of Death by David Housewright, that reminded me of the home we used to watch from afar when I was little. The house is dark and mysterious and full of ghost stories about a young woman that has slashed the throat of her heartless boyfriend and... hung herself by a rope from the rafters of her home. Laurel Clark and Delores Utley, the young girl that took her own life, were pretty close. So much so that Delores took to haunting her boyfriend’s dreams and warned him to be good to Laurel. Looks like the boyfriend should have listened to Delores' ghost, and he never should have taken that bet to spend an entire night in the abandoned Utley farmhouse to prove how much of man he is, or... was. Now, a murder has taken place, Laurel's been arrested and claims Delores is responsible, and her boyfriends time of death... well, the time of death seems eerily familiar. Just down right creepy this one is.
In Worlds Greatest Dad by Stephen Blackmoore, two young men use there trusty pick up book, Go Satan! How To Pick Up Girls With The Dark Arts! to bring their father back from the dead after a liquor store robbery goes bad on Halloween. Franklin, the lucky guy with the second chance at life, is now a zombie... hungry for McDonald's, but unable to eat thanks to the hole in his stomach. The poor guy isn't quite sure what to think of his new body, but decides this second chance at life is a time to make amends with his ex-wife and... maybe make life a little "better" for all of them.
A visit to his ex-wife's home proves to be a mistake when Franklin learns Pearl is planning to remarry, and this new guy, Lawrence, well... let's just say Lawrence doesn't have a problem saying what's on his mind, and because of that, Franklin isn't in the mood for McDonald's anymore. A brain here and a brain over there, two kids regretting their decision to help their daddy, a zombie running through a cemetery screaming at his kids with only half a tongue, a penis on fire, and "eyes rolling around like ping pong balls" makes Worlds Greatest Dad... some pretty spectacular reading!
In Troubled Water by Heather Dearly, a group of locals make their yearly walk down Cemetery Road to mourn the loss of two townsfolk and scorn the one they believe to be responsible. A stranger, Byron Dodd, had come to town and stayed in the home of Anya Madjigijik, her husband, and daughter. Only he was more than a stranger- he was death in disguise. When Anya discovered his secret and asked him to leave, he took the lives of her husband and daughter with him and left the blame of their deaths with her. When the Grim Reaper returns, as he always does, she sends him away. But this time, upon his departure, she realizes the secret to her prolonged life and what she must do to keep this Byron Dodd from taking any more lives before their time.
Troubled Water by Heather Dearly is the most poetic short story I've ever read. A rythmic structure, intentional or not, has a strong presence and brings a calming beauty throughout the entire story. "Every year since the tragedy, when the leaves turned to shades of fire and blood, the town crossed the water to mourn. They carried grave flowers for the dead father and his dead daughter, and unrepentant torches of blame for the widow with the weird name."
I love this one so much I need to find someone to record it for me so I can listen to it play over and over again on my ipod. Absolutely beautiful.
There's this lovely little Mexican restaurant (total dive) in town that has the best smothered burritos in the valley. When you order them smothered with Chile Verde sauce, at least. One time I didn't clarify and the plate was covered in a thick, red goo that looked like coagulated blood. It looked so disgusting I couldn't even make it passed the first bite without dry heaving. This experience is what I thought of when reading Friday Night Dining with Marianne by Mark Hull.
Marianne is a food critic in Greater Los Angeles and she hates the senior food critic, Mr. Earl. She hates a lot of things, actually. Halloween. Kids. Cab drivers. The restaurant where she's eating dinner on Halloween. Seriously, this lady is a drain on society. The only time she seems to be content is if she's relaxing in a hot bath at home or being catered to by others. Fortunately, the staff at L'Homme in Bel Air, finally start meeting Marianne's needs and her mood becomes more tolerable when she starts to hit it off with the maitre d'.
Nibbling on such delicacies as mountaineer's eyeball in aspic, Baked Alaskan and ladyfingers drizzled with raspberry sauce, and saltimbocca (veal?) Marianne seems to be so pleased by the food on display and the service that she's receiving that she doesn't even flinch when the maitre d' tells her that the veal she just enjoyed really isn't veal. Um, yeah, that would be a chubby Boy Scout. Yep... a chubby Boy Scout.
I don't know, maybe it's the third bottle of wine (blood) she's had that helps her keep her cool. Whatever it is, she's soon discovering the deep dark secrets of restaurant L'Homme and making plans for a visit with the man she hates the most, Mr. Earl. Thankfully they take reservations in advance, and they've been known for seating parties of two at a table for one... if you know what I mean. *wink wink* I totally want the number for this place. Sign. Me. Up. to drop someone off, of course. I could never really stomach eating anything there. I mean, well, could you? Hey, wait a second. Is that Dracula coming through the door? Yeah, this place (and the story) is pretty dang cool!
I'll be back with more stories from Deadly Treats: Halloween Tales of Mystery, Magic, and Mayhem. Until then, feel free to pick up a copy at the link below!