Five for Frightening, Part Two

In the second volume in Cemetery Dance’s October series of mini-anthologies, a pair of classic novellas bracket three original stories.

Simply put, Glen Hirshberg’s “Mr Dark’s Carnival” (originally published in 2000) is one of the top five Halloween tales ever written. In this Bradburian masterpiece, the scares are as plentiful and carefully plotted as those found in the legendary Montana attraction of the title. Hirshberg writes with such dark flair, and creates such a haunting atmosphere, the result is a narrative that proves no less rewarding upon rereading (with the killer climactic reveal already in mind).

Lee Thomas invokes Poe in “The Facts in the Case of My Sister,” a story of the unforeseen consequences of an adolescent magician’s attempt to hypnotize his younger sister. But this is no unoriginal rehash; just when the reader thinks s/he knows where this one is headed, the plot twists in unexpected directions (including a terrific scene at an October carnival) until reaching a gut-punch of a conclusion.

There’s a stock quality to Holly Newstein’s “Mischief Night”: characters such as a raging alcoholic and a juvenile delinquent who revels in the delivery of a flaming bag of dog-poop to a doorstep. Still, Newstein transcends the hackneyed, as a moment of epiphany precedes an ironic and tragic turn, and as the ending sounds a surprisingly redemptive note.

Halloween gets hard-boiled in Del James’s “The Ghost Maker,” a story told by a mobster’s button man. The narrator certainly has the tough-guy vernacular and attitude down pat (including one brilliantly off-color simile that I won’t repeat here), but strong voice can’t cover up for a somewhat pedestrian plot that feels contrived in its use of month’s-end masquerade.

“The Pumpkin Boy” (first published in 2005) forms part of Al Sarrantonio’s Orangefield Cycle, but holds up fine as a stand-alone tale. Orangefield, the self-proclaimed Pumpkin Capital of the World, is often a place where “weird shit” happens (to borrow the phrase of grizzled detective Bill Grant)–in this case, an abduction of a child by a jack-o’-lantern-skulled robot. Sarrantonio scripts a compelling narrative filled with odd elements that ultimately tie together in convincing fashion.

Halloween Carnival–Volume Two offers an entertaining ride, and is worth owning for the Hirshberg and Sarrantonio reprints alone.

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