Five for Frightening, Part Three

Continuing the weekly review of Cemetery Dance’s ebook anthology series, Halloween Carnival

Kelley Armstrong’s “The Way Lost” leads off the third volume with some American Gothic-style weirdness: every Halloween, one child disappears in the nearby woods, but his/her loss appears to create little stir within the small town of Franklin. The story skillfully blurs the line between the natural and the supernatural, yet lingers too long after its climactic plot twist.

In “La Calavera,” Kate Maruyama shifts to a Hollywood locale and the holiday setting of Dia de los Muertos. Otherwise, though, this piece works very similarly to Armstrong’s in terms of narration and plot twist, and makes for a curious placement back-to-back with “The Way Lost.”

Reminiscent of Norman Partridge’s Halloween classic Dark Harvest, Michael McBride’s “The Devil’s Due” delves into deadly holiday ritual in an isolated (and oddly prosperous) town. The bogey here is not as front-and-center as Partridge’s October Boy, but haunts even in absence: the scene inside its unoccupied (yet hardly empty) mountain lair is chilling in more ways than one.

The frazzled protagonist of Taylor Grant’s “A Thousand Rooms of Darkness” is plagued by samhainophobia and believes she is hunted by a murderous demon that continuously and ominously intones “I’m coming for you.” There’s lots of Halloween creepiness to this narrative, which reads like the literary equivalent of an episode of Boris Karloff’s Thriller series, and features a pair of huge twists worthy of Tales from the Crypt.

Greg Chapman’s 2013 novella “The Last Night of October” is reprinted as the volume’s  concluding shocker. An elderly curmudgeon who dreads trick-or-treaters experiences new depths of terror when a menacing, blood-gushing child in a Frankenstein mask invades his home. For all the suspense of its setup, though, the story takes a long time to unfold, and is occasionally marred but some awkward imagery (e.g. “like a light-bulb at death’s door”).

While this third volume of Halloween Carnival is a mixed bag, it does contain a few treats guaranteed to satisfy.

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