Warning – May Include Spoilers:
Literally Dead: Tales of Halloween Haunting (Alienhead Press, edited by Gaby Triana with John Palisano) is a sometimes fun, often spooky and most of the time unsettling (in the best of ways) jaunt through the veil of the dark season.
This collection explores many themes associated with Halloween in creative, thoughtful and intricate ways. My own literary preferences tend to run more toward the dark, mysterious and creepy rather than shock and gore and this volume is full to the brim with just that type of story.
I love the idea of Mary Shelley writing a story to scare her friends, or of the Chowder Society in Peter Straub’s Ghost Story where the group takes turns trying to scare the pants off of one another. This collection has that feel to it where the reader gets to take a short journey into darkness with some of the best writers in the genre today.
I’ve read this collection a number of times. It turns out that it took three times through to be able to select a few favorites for this review. They are all just that good. Plot twists are one of my favorite devices and I was awed by the way that Sara Tantlinger pulled off the twist in her story “How to Unmake a Ghost”. It might not be a twist as much as it is a reflection, or a new, unexpected, angle on something familiar. Sara’s style is brilliant and I was captivated, three times it seems, by her tale. Step Seven pretty much smacked me in the face. I’m old enough to have experienced the deaths of most people I knew when I was younger. I wish I’d thought of things this way… very good read.
“Halloween at the Babylon” by Lisa Morton is another story in the collection that I very much enjoyed. I’ve lived in dark, old spaces and have suspected, at times, that I wasn’t always alone there. This story captures that feeling of dread and then multiplies it. Excellent tale!
There is a story in the book that I had a bit of trouble with as there’s a scene where… never mind you’ll have to read Tim Waggoner’s “No One Sings in the City of the Dead” for yourself. This story absolutely gutted me when I read it for a wide variety of reasons. The theme that stuck with me, albeit with a graveyard aesthetic, is human folly. It’s an artful endeavor to weave themes of love, loss, hope and abject terror into a very short story but this one does it seamlessly. I both love and hate this story but I suspect the author wouldn’t be disappointed by that reaction – beautifully done!
The last story I’ll individually call out is Jeremy Megargee’s “Always October”. This tale did, in fact, have a rather unpleasant (for the main character) twist at the end that very much surprised me. I’ve always suspected that death, like life, could be something multifaceted and this tale addresses that idea very well. I love the way it’s written as it takes a few times through to catch all of the nuance. I’ll be looking for more work from this author.
I was awarded an advance reader’s copy of this collection and it’s been very much my pleasure to read it. All of the stories in the collection are first rate. I have a few books of stories that I turn to in mid September to start setting the mood for the season. I’ll be ordering a physical copy of this book to add to rotation as I expect that I’ll revisit it many times