October Screams: A Halloween Anthology. Edited by Kenneth W. Cain (Kangas Kahn Publishing, 2023).
Open your candy bags wide, Halloween lovers, because October Screams dishes out a heap of all-new narrative treats. And several of these dark confections are utterly delectable…
Shades of Practical Magic can be glimpsed in Gwendolyn Kiste’s “Twin Flames,” in which a pair of sisters are burdened by a dark legacy. The Addams Family is also invoked, but the uncanny clan depicted here definitely proves more creepy than kooky.
Todd Keisling’s folk/cosmic-horror tale “The Puppeteer of Samhain” presents a dramatic monologue with a traumatic twist. The eponymous god-and-monster is a walking (or rather, gliding) frightfest, an eldritch Celtic creature whose Halloween night handiwork reaches deep into the reader.
Halloween and the alien invasion theme trace back nearly a century to Orson Welles’s notorious radio broadcast, but Larry Hinkle’s “The Last Halloween” evinces more of the gonzo sensibility of Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! Hinkle sends out a sinister yet grinning account of a night of trick-or-treating gone spectacularly awry.
Steve Rasnic Tem’s “Tutti I Morti” stands out by virtue of its elderly protagonist and its turn to Italian holiday customs. The grotesque imagery of the story’s climax supplies enough nightmare fuel to feed a worldwide bonfire.
Constant Readers of Stephen King will dig the Pet Sematary vibe of Ronald Malfi’s “Tate” (the back-from-the-grave child of the title even sounds a lot like the surname of Gage Creed). Making matters even more grueling and ghoulish, Malfi also features a bizarre children’s special–The Jack-o’-Screams Halloween Spooktacular–whose background airing serves as a freak chorus commenting on the story’s terrible events.
“The Iron Maiden” by Rebecca Rowland opens with typical trappings (teens foolishly investigate a reputed haunted house on Halloween night) but ultimately offers a fresh, savage twist on a familiar figure of Celtic lore. And how not to appreciate a tale named after a legendary heavy metal band (and which makes strong thematic use of their song “2 Minutes to Midnight”)?
In Philip Fracassi’s “Eleven One,” protagonist Gwen awakens the day after a disastrous Halloween (her fiancé broke off their engagement) hung over, in a mental fog, and seemingly cut off from the wider world. This slow burn of a story builds to an expected yet effective climax thanks to Fracassi’s masterful amassing of unnerving detail.
Hands down, my favorite entry in the anthology is Gemma Amor’s “The Hooper Street Halloween Decoration Committee.” I’ll never be able to look at those giant Home Depot skeleton figures the same way again after the wickedly witty use an overzealous neighborhood makes of them here). This blackly humorous tale is just begging to be adapted as a segment of Creepshow next season.
As publisher Kevin Kangas explains in his afterward, the anthology’s contents were gathered by both author invite and an open submission period. To be honest, the result is a certain unevenness–a noticeable difference in quality between the pieces by the more popular authors and those by the less recognizable names. Nevertheless, this is an enjoyable story collection overall; the About the Authors section (in which the writers share their inspirations for their respective stories, and provide a photo of themselves in Halloween costume) adds a nice concluding touch. October Screams might not be October Dreams (still the black-and-orange standard), but it will make a fine addition to the Halloween reader’s fiction collection.