[For the previous countdown post, click here.]
23. “Apotropaics” (1992)
This story can stand right alongside Stephen King’s The Body, as a group of eleven-year-old boys struggle with the mysteries of life, death, and perhaps even undeath. There’s a cornfield grave in Fiddler, California, containing the body of the mysterious, motorcycle-riding suitor of Todd’s older sister Janet, a guy who was brutally beaten by Janet’s father after he found the two lovers in flagrante delicto. The grave, though, is impaled with countless stakes and knives, because the boys believe the stranger wasn’t a simple seducer but an actual vampire. “Apotropaics” is ripe with ambiguity, as Partridge expertly blurs the line between typical small-town meanness and supernatural menace (Do those bruises glimpsed on Janet’s neck indicate hickeys or bite marks? Is Janet now bedridden by grief or vampiric disease?). From any angle, the scenario is harrowing, and the narrative builds to a killer clincher.