Dark Screams 3: The Screaming Continues

Dark Screams 3Dark Screams 3
Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar, ed.
ebook only, $2.99

The screaming in this case being more screams of enthusiasm. It’s starting to look like editors Freeman and Chizmar have a solid anthology series on their hands. I’d like to thank Mr. Freeman for putting me on the list to receive review copies.

Dark Screams Volume 3 hit digital shelves a week ago, but with final exams to grade and other end of the semester tasks, I only finished it this evening. It’s another solid installment in this series. Here’s what you get.

The first story is by legendary horror author Peter Straub. “The Collected Short Stories of Freddie Prothero” is the most stylistically ambitious story in the book, and it’s going to take some concentration to read it. Don’t let that put you off reading, though. Straub presents his tale as a series of short stories written by what some are considering a literary genius, a boy who never reaches nine years of age. There’s even an introduction by a Ph.D.

The horror here isn’t so much what’s said as what’s not said. Freddie Prothero writes down a series of encounters he has with some sort of dark man. This is where the work comes in, because Freddie doesn’t have a good handle on grammar or spelling, although as he gets older, his mastery of these things gets better. Straub takes what many would call a stale premise, a danger that only a small child can see, and breathes new life into it.

Jack Ketchum is another master of modern horror. In “Group of Thirty”, a burned out writer finds new inspiration when he is invited to visit a book group. Only this group isn’t what he’s expecting. Johnathan Daniels, who writes as Ben Cassady, bases his novels on real events. Some of those events were copycatted by one or two unhinged readers. The people in this group are friends and relatives of those who have been hurt by the copycatters. And they have something they want from Daniels.

Darynda Jones is an author whose work I’m going to be keeping an eye out for. Her story “Nancy” is either my favorite or second favorite. I’m still thinking about the two I liked best. The unnamed narrator is the new girl in the local high school. She’s readily accepted by the in-crowd. The town markets itself as being the most haunted in the country.

One of the outcasts is Nancy Wilhoit, who is either crazy or being tormented by her own personal ghost. Our narrator decides to befriend her. This turns out to be a dangerous move which opens a mystery involving a missing child, a grieving mother, and a burned down farmhouse. Jones gives her narrator a voice that blends teenager with hardboiled in a way that feels natural rather than forced. The overtone of Southern Gothic was just right.

We continue with a high school theme in “I Love You, Charlie Pearson” by Jacquelyn Frank. Only this narrator, the titular Charlie Pearson, doesn’t have an enjoyable voice. He’s a total loser who is in love with a cheerleader, Stacy Wheeler. He’s convinced himself that she loves him as much as he loves her. We see his plans to win her over, which basically amount to stalking and hostage taking. He thinks he knows everything about her. Of course, there are things he doesn’t know about Stacy…

The last, and longest, story is “The Lone and Level Sands Stretch Far Away” by Brian Hodge. This is the other contender for my favorite. Aidan and Tara have been married for five years when Marni moves into the other half of the duplex. Marni and her friends are urban explorers, people who break into and explore abandoned buildings.

Aidan begins accompanying them on their forays. At first Tara doesn’t join them, although eventually she does. Marni and Aidan grow closer together. I was impressed by the way Hodge handled Aidan’s eventual unfaithfulness. Nothing titillating or sordid. Aidan is the narrator, and he expresses more emotion and regret in a few lines without any physical detail than most writers could given pages. Of course eventually they’re going to find something in one of the buildings.

And it’s here that Hodge shows he’s got the chops to succeed with a literary achievement in this story than many writers couldn’t pull off. He works themes and symbolism of desolation and bleakness into a character driven, literary story that I didn’t want to put down when it was over. Easily one of the best stories in the Dark Screams series.

So, to sum up, this is another story entry in the Dark Screams series, one that’s become one of my favorites. Check it out.

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