Dark Screams 6
Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar, ed.
The Dark Screams series of ebook anthologies is back, and that’s something to scream about, joyfully of course.
This one has half a dozen selections, unlike its predecessors, which had only five.
Here’s what you get:
The volume starts off with an early short story by Stephen King. “The Old Dude’s Ticker” is a riff on Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”. Told by a vietnam vet, the story is a descent into madness. It’s short and to the point. And while it’s not a mature work by a writer at the top of his game, the story foreshadows the writer King would soon become.
Lisa Morton’s “The Rich Are Different” is a disturbing selection of erotic horror. It’s not what happens in the story that is so disturbing but what the reader knows is going to happen after the final sentence is read. Erotic horror isn’t generally my cup of tea, but I liked this story a lot. It was lush without being overbearing, and Ms. Morton did a fabulous job of leaving things to the imagination. This is the tale of a journalist investigating a reclusive and wealthy family who gets a little too close to her subject matter.
“The Manicure” by Nell Quinn-Gibney starts out slow and has an understated payoff at the end. It concerns a woman who has a phobia about getting her nails clipped. She goes to a new manicurist because a friend gave her a coupon. It’s not going to end well for someone…
Norman Prentiss continues the domestic theme with “The Comforting Voice”. It’s about a father who has never gotten along with his father-in-law. The old man, who was pretty abusive towards his daughter (the narrator’s wife), has turned over a new leaf after coming down with throat cancer. He speaks with one of the mechanical devices you hold up to your throat. When I was a kid I had friend with a relative (grandfather, IIRC) who talked with one of those. If you’ve never heard one, they can be pretty creepy. When the first grandchild arrives, the only thing that can comfort the child is the sound of its grandfather’s mechanical device. Things take a darker turn when the grandfather dies, As a parent, I had some issues with this one.
I usually enjoy the work of Joyce Carol Oates, but I found “The Situations” to be a major disappointment. Consisting of three scenes, I don’t get the point of the story. It seemed to be to be gratuitous cruelty to both children and animals.
By this point, I had read about 40% of the book, and there was only one story left. Tim Curran’s “The Corpse King” is a darkly humorous look at a pair of grave robbers in Edinburgh, Scotland in the days subsequent to the exploits of Burke and Hare. The story is full of grotesque and profane wit, usually in the form of banter between the principal characters. In spite of myself, I couldn’t grinning and chuckling at things I knew weren’t really funny and that I shouldn’t be laughing at. I don’t normally go in for much of the stuff in this one, but somehow Curran made it work for me. It was my favorite story in the book. Much of its strength comes from Curran’s use of dialogue. He made me care about a protagonist who is truly a despicable human being.
Dark Screams 6 is a welcome return to a solid anthology series. While not all of the stories worked for me, it was good to see a new volume. I hope more are soon forthcoming.