Recap #25: 13 Tales of Horror Part One
Title: 13 Tales of Horror edited by T Pines
Summary: Can you face your worst nightmare? These thirteen horror stories guarantee to chill you to the bone. Read about the mysterious Black Walker and discover his grim secret. Shiver in fevered anticipation as Mark enters the House of Horrors, perhaps for the last time… And uncover the truth of the murder who leaves a message on his victim’s computers before he leaps in for the kill. Each take draws you further into a web of horror exquisitely woven by thirteen master storytellers. Prepare to be terrified!
Tagline: No tagline.
Note: As Dove requested, I’ve updated my template, because we now apparently call the Bad Guys Muffin Man. Hey, it makes as much sense as most Point Horrors.
I’ve never read this before, and we’ve never recapped a short story collection. I guess each story will be its own mini-recap, plus its own counter totals and final thoughts. I’m splitting these into a couple different posts, though, because in just the first three stories, I was already approaching 6000 words. No way do I want to subject you guys to 50k of snark in one post.
If the editor’s introduction is anything to go by, we are in for a world of pain.
We are, shall we say, thrilled to “death” that you’ve decided to join us on this trip into darkness. Ask any vampire, it’s so much easier to see once your eyes have become adjusted to the dark, and we have so much to show you….
This anthology is a compilation of the best horror writers of the young-adult thriller genre. With the overall success of horror novels and “thrillers,” it was just a matter of time before this book became a reality.
What we have here is true horror: everyday occurrences gone awry. The supernatural is frightening, what with ghosts, zombies, witches, and ghouls. But when you discover that your best friend has a nasty habit of doing away with the people he or she no longer likes – that is horror.
We read horror because we like to be frightened. It is a way to delve into other people’s fears and feelings, knowing all the while that if it gets too scary we can always close the book. But what happens when we can’t close the book? That is horror.
The authors who have contributed to this anthology have mastered the art of conveying horror through the written word. In Christopher Pike’s “Collect Call,” the going rate is a little too costly – it will make you think twice before accepting the charges. Patricia Windsor’s “A Little Taste of Death” is a compelling tale explaining why your parents told you never to take sweets from strangers. R. L. Stifle spins a story of a self-defeated young man who decides to let his hypnotic gate help erase his problems… but it gets a little out of hand. Similarly, Ellen Emerson White tells of an average girl in a quiet New England town, neither of which are what they appear to be.
So sit back and relax. Don’t worry, that creaking noise you hear is only the house settling, and that soft fluttering noise is nothing more than the turning of the pages of this book. And those footsteps…
Everything is going to hurt, and nothing will be good. Deep breath, grab your alcohol, and let’s do this.
[Dove: Thanks to Wing’s decree that all short stories need counters in there, my recap isn’t even close to finished. Thank god Wing’s on fire here.]
Collect Call I by Christopher Pike
Don’t fail me now, Pike, I generally really enjoy your work, and Monster is my favorite of the 90s teen horror books.
… and of course, his story starts out with two girls, Janice Adams and Caroline Spencer liking the same boy, and the problems that were bound to occur in that scenario. Because if girls exist, particularly at a party, they have to fight over a guy, AMIRITE?
I hate the hot chick! (And she hates me.): 1
The guy is Bobby Walker, and he is new to town.
He had style. He didn’t walk with a swagger, but he had a walk Janice was always following around. He wore faded jeans to school, a black leather jacket – the same thing every day. Bobby’s jeans were tight, and Janice liked that about him, too.
I do enjoy the detail that Janice likes Bobby’s tight jeans. That’s a pretty sexy little detail for a Point Horror. A+ for that part, Pike. I like those sorts of details, which Pike includes a lot. I also tend to like his writing style, even though it can be incredibly disjointed.
Randy Claud is the guy throwing the party. I always enjoy Pike’s weird little descriptions of people, and he is firing on all cylinders already.
Janice liked Randy – he was a social climber but he made no secret about it. He was always telling people how he was going to vote Republican as soon as he was old enough to buy fine wine and play the stock market. Randy’s dad had so much money he spoke of his real estate and his son as a long-term investment in the same breath. Janice and Randy were old friends.
The layers of details there, and the characterization in just a few short sentences. Pike! You are redeeming yourself. Unless Randy has nothing to do with this story, in which case, why are you wasting the words? (I believe in you, Pike.) [Wing: Note from the future, I should not have believed in him.]
Of course, Pike destroys the good feelings I have by returning to the rivalry between Janice and Caroline. Janice hates Caroline in part because of their rivalry, and in part because Caroline is head cheerleader and about as real as a sitcom in syndication. (Okay, that is a pretty funny bit of description. It made me grin.) Also, Janice hates Caroline because she’s a blonde babe. Just make out with her already, Janice.
I hate the hot chick! (And she hates me.): 2 (+1)
Janice and Randy get drunk together while Janice creepily watches Bobby Walker all night. She even smokes a cigarette [Dove: GIMME A CIGARETTE!] [Wing: No, you quit.] because she’s hoping he will come over and ask for a light. Oh, Janice, I am disappointed in your obsession. She also talks about how his jeans and jacket must be filthy because he never takes them off, and yet this seems to be part of the appeal to her. I am super grossed out.
[Dove: Boys who don’t wash? Oh wow. That’s hot. No, wait, it’s the other thing. The opposite of attractive.]
And then Pike gets all shitty about fat people. Here’s the description of Randy: fixing his fat glasses on his small nose. He was blind as a bat without his glasses, but could smell a good meal a mile away. He was seventeen and already thirty pounds overweight.
Because fatties, always with the eating, AMIRITE?
Randy and Janice spend far too long talking about Bobby Walker (especially because this is a short story), and I am super bored. Finally Janice goes up to him, and they make super awkward small talk for awhile, until Suzy McQueen interrupts the entire party to tell everyone it’s Caroline’s birthday.
(Janice’s description of Suzy: she looked like a Suzy Q with all the white cream pouring out and making a mess of everything.
Jesus Christ, Janice, just go sleep with a girl already. You’re dirty.)
I hate the hot chick! (And she hates me.): 3 (+1)
Bobby calls Caroline “Carol” and calls her over to give her a birthday present.
(Janice’s description of Caroline: Her long blonde hair had the sun shining through it in a dark room. Her face was as round and sweet as apple pie and ice cream. Her clear skin knew how to hug the right curves. Her green eyes may have been silly, but they could sure dance.
No, really, Janice, you’ll be much happier if you just admit it to yourself and start hooking up with girls too.)
I hate the hot chick! (And she hates me.): 4 (+1)
(Janice’s description of herself: Janice was a pretty girl. Her dark hair may have been short and straight and cut in simple bangs, but the face it framed was full of wit and intelligence. Her features were finer than Caroline’s, her skin paler. She had a lovely smile, but the traumas of high school had forced her to add a cynical line to it. Her figure would have been fuller had her stomach been less nervous and her appetite less petite. The clothes she bought in September were usually too loose by October. The date of the party was November 2nd, and as Caroline began to walk toward them, Janice felt unusually haggard.
Oh, god, where’s that “cool kids don’t eat” tag?)
After a little aside about how Caroline gushes all the time (dirty), Janice finally gets back to the point, which is that Bobby Walker gives Caroline a tape cassette (… oh god, this book is old). He says it is by the Black Walker (…gee, subtle), and Caroline pretends to know who that is, and says she thinks she saw him on MTV. (SO OLD.) Bobby Walker is not pleased, because “The Black Walker doesn’t prostitute himself. You can feel him but you can’t see him. He’s never been on TV.”
Oh my god, Bobby Walker is the Hipsters’ Hipster.
Despite the weirdness of this conversation, and the fact he just gave someone else a gift and basically ignored Janice, all Janice can think about is the fact that he’s cute and mysterious, just the way guys are supposed to be.
Oh, god, I need a drink.
Randy asks Janice to give Caroline a ride home, because Suzy left her behind. What a shitty friend, that Suzy. Janice says she’s too drunk to give her a ride (but not too drunk to drive, huh, Janice), but Caroline is drunk too. [Dove: *growls*] Apparently, Suzy left her because she didn’t like Caroline flirting with Bobby Walker. Damn, does this boy have a solid gold dick or what? During the drive, they listen to the tape Bobby Walker gave Caroline. It is has “dark sensual synthesizers” and “a drum machine in tune with a disembodied spirit.” The singer has “a haunting voice as cold as gray snow, and as deep as a forgotten well.”
I’m so impressed, aren’t you?
I come from the past.
I eat the night.
I knew you when you were young.
I tell you my story.
But I sleep with a gun.
This is my night, this is your night.
I’m a black walker, babe.
Touch me softly and you get a fright.
The stars are holes in the sky.
The moon is a thorn in the dark.
It drips white light.
Give me the knife.
Let’s cut out our eyes.
Yeah, this is our night, this is what’s right.
I’m a black walker, babe.
Brush my lips and I bleed you white.
Caroline says it’s a great song, and Janice agrees, but can’t place where she’s heard the singer before. Gee, I wonder if the Black Walker is actually Bobby Walker, wait, no, of course not, so subtle.
Janice gets angrier and angrier at Caroline because of Bobby Walker, and drunker and drunker as the drive goes on. They end up in a big fight over him, because of course they do, and Janice flat out calls Caroline a slut, because of course she does, and Caroline punches her in the face. Which is kind of awesome, except that this whole fight is stupid.
I hate the hot chick! (And she hates me.): 105 (+101)
Of course, Janice drives over the edge of the cliff because of it. The car gets crushed in many places, and Janice can smell gas. This car is obviously going to explode, just like in the movies. How convenient. Caroline wasn’t wearing her seatbelt, and her head hit the windshield. Janice thinks she’s dead, and eventually decides to put her into the driver’s seat, because otherwise Janice will be a drunk driver who killed someone and her life will be over. You actually deserve it to be over, driving drunk, you bastard. As she tries to move Caroline, she finds the Black Walker tape and puts it in her pocket. She gets Caroline behind the wheel, and realizes the car is about to blow. She gets only a few steps away before it explodes, and can hear Caroline screaming.
Apparently, Caroline wasn’t dead, and now she’s burning to death. Good going, Janice, you didn’t check for a pulse, if she was breathing, anything?
Janice sits there and listens to Caroline’s screams until, at long last, she finally dies.
At the hospital, the police take her statement after she’s been patched up by Dr. Please. She likes his name a lot, and keeps thinking, Dr. Please, please. The story is that Caroline was driving the car, just missed the curve, and Janice was thrown clear of the car which is why she wasn’t caught in the explosion.
Her parents are conveniently out of town (Parents? What parents?: 1), so the cop takes her home. After she gets cleaned up, she finds a message on the answering machine (OH GOD SO SO OLD). It’s from Caroline, asking if Janice can give her a ride to the party. Janice freaks out, but tries to convince herself the simple explanation is the true one, that Caroline had called before the party. She turns off the phone’s ringer and tries to sleep, but then hears the machine take another call. When she gives in and listens to that message, it’s Caroline again, still asking for a ride to the party.
Janice decides that someone is playing a prank on her, calling her out of spite after hearing what happened.
Oh you wacky kids, with your hi-jinks and your pranks: 1
She’s absolutely terrified that dead Caroline is calling her, though. This time, she turns off the machine, but then it takes yet another message. Despite knowing that it is a bad idea, Janice listens to the third message. Caroline is angry, and says she needs Janice to pick her up, because there’s no way she can drive herself, she’s burning up, and if Janice doesn’t come with her, she’ll drive off the road.
Janice decides that the logical answer is that the doctor and the police lied to her and Caroline actually survived, because she refuses to believe she might be insane. Yes, because being insane is just the worst thing ever. Much worse than being a murderer.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 1
Of course the only way to deal with this is to go back to the hospital so she can see whether Caroline is a burnt patient or a burnt corpse. Yes, such logic. Instead of putting on clean clothes, Janice wears her bloodstained outfit again, even her broken watch. She takes the answering machine tape with her when she leaves, so she won’t come back to another message.
The hospital seems empty at first, until Janice sees one ancient nurse who, during their brief conversation, says the driver was killed but she doesn’t think the girl’s name was Caroline. Gee, I wonder where this is going. Janice goes down to the morgue and finds a body tagged with her name, but decides that’s just a mistake. She can’t bring herself to look at the body, though, and flees the hospital, then drives away. She tries to go home, but that’s not where she ends up driving. She plays the Black Walker tape again without intending to do so, and once the song ends, she hears Caroline talking to her, giving her directions, telling her to watch out because the roads are dangerous.
Suddenly, her broken watch starts working again, and the time is ten minutes before she crashed. She stops to look at the spot where they went over the cliff, but nothing is there. She waits at the bottom of the cliff until the car comes crashing down. She pulls Caroline out of the car first, then goes back to help that Janice out, but they can’t get their act together and get the door open, which is the stupidest thing ever. The two Janices stare at each other, and then the car explodes and Janice burns.
Caroline wakes up in the hospital, makes the same Dr. Please joke that Janice did, and learns that Bobby Walker has been waiting all night to see her. While she waits for him to be let into the room, she listens to the messages on her answering machine at home. The first is from Bobby Walker, and in it he asks if she loved the tape, if it did something for her, and says he’ll see her soon, if she’s still alive. She realizes he sounds exactly like the Black Walker singer.
[Dove: I was going to pull some audio to point out that very rarely can you identify a singing voice to a speaking voice, but this weekend has been oddly busy so I haven’t had time. The point still stands. Plenty of people don’t sound much like their singing voice.]
The second message is from Janice. Oh, great, this is going to become even more of a cyclical story, isn’t it? Janice says she’s calling Caroline because Caroline called her, but Caroline shouldn’t try to call her back, because she can’t answer the phone since her hands are burned off, but she’ll be in touch soon.
Caroline starts screaming, and keeps screaming until Bobby Walker enters her hospital room, smiling.
I can’t really have final thoughts, because there’s a second part to this story later in the book. Awesome. So far, Pike has failed me.
[Dove: I think you can have final thoughts here. In theory, the story should stand alone, regardless of whether there’s a second part. This is not chapter one, it’s part one, so feel free to finally think all over the place. Me, I like the idea that forever Janice and Caroline are going to kill/save each other for eternity, and THE BLACK WALKER (sorry, he feels like someone who should be announced in all caps) did it for the lolz.]
[Wing: Except I’ve already read the rest of the book, because I decided to read all the short stories while figuring out the format for short story recapping, and so I can’t really separate final thoughts here from there. Beyond that, while I normally agree that short stories should stand alone, it is clear that this is only part one of a two part set in this same book, and clearly therefore unfinished overall.]
I hate the hot chick! (And she hates me.): 105
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 1
Oh you wacky kids, with your hi-jinks and your pranks: 1
Parents? What parents?: 1
Lucinda by Lael Littke
The story opens with one of Kate’s memories: She’s ten years old, and she’s hiding in some bushes, watching her brother, Brandon, arguing with his girlfriend, Lucinda. They’re wearing red graduation robes, because they are celebrating their high school graduation by having a party down at the lake. Lucinda accuses him of cheating on her with Holly, and Brandon accuses her of cheating on him with Kevin. Lucinda threatens to go down to her secret place (dirty), then wades out into the deep water. After Brandon walks away, Lucinda starts to come back out of the water, but something is suddenly there with her.
But that’s all Kate remembers. Lucinda disappeared that night, and whatever Kate saw was too much for her to handle. Brandon says she drowned herself, but Kate thinks someone drowned her. She’s never told anyone that she was there, because the killer could have been any of the people at the party – including her brother.
Six years later, Brandon and Kate have returned to the same lake, which has been shrinking due to drought. They moved away (to “Newland” because subtle), and Brandon went through a lot of therapy to deal with his guilt. He says it’s his fault she died because he turned his back on her. After their mom died, Brandon and Kate moved back to their hometown, against Kate’s will, but she’s only sixteen and doesn’t have a say. She’s worried he’ll become obsessed with Lucinda again.
Parents? What parents?: 1
I mean, at least the parents aren’t in Europe this time, but damn.
There is an old town under the lake, where they used to live when Brandon was a child. After the river was dammed, the area flooded. The buildings were moved to the new town site, but the foundations were still there under the water. For years, they’d been buried under water, but now that the lake has receded, they can walk to them.
[Dove: While I really don’t care for the story, I lovelovelove the setting. I’m sure I read in some notes somewhere that the setting is based on a real place, so I want to go there.]
[Wing: The setting is pretty great.]
Brandon says he, Lucinda, and Holly used to dive in the lake and explore the drowned city. This bothers Kate, who is still worried about his obsession. She wants to go back to their new house and unpack, but Brandon keeps exploring.
Kate has another memory, of a painting Holly did once after a dive.
She’d painted willows, tall, pallid sticks with long, twisted leaves floating in the water. Behind them were the spectral shapes of buildings that were no longer there, but worst of all were the faces caught in the willows, faces with huge, vacant eyes and open mouths.
She’d called the painting “Drowned Town.”
I bet it’s really lovely, but this is some not-so-subtle foreshadowing. Kate keeps thinking about what would happen if they found Lucinda, or what was left of her, caught in the brush, her flesh gone, her long hair tangled with leaves. That’s nicely creepy.
Brandon gives Kate some trivia about the willow trees, that they grew up after the town was flooded. Apparently, they grow under water, which I didn’t know. That would be really gorgeous and creepy, diving to see the willow branches stretched out and tangling in things, moving with the currents.
We learn that Keith is an old friend of Kate’s who has been sending her a few letters since she left. In one, he sent an article about the lake that flat out said the lake was yielding up its dark secrets, such as a small airplane that had been missing for more than a decade, but was recently found after the water receded, two skeletons in the cockpit. Keith was Lucinda’s brother, and Kate isn’t sure whether Keith sent the article to disturb Brandon or not. She doesn’t think that family ever forgave Brandon for what happened – except there’s clearly not proof that he did anything to hurt Lucinda, so forgive him for what, exactly? Going to a party with her where all their other friends were too?
Brandon shows Kate the foundation where Lucinda’s house once was, and talks about Lucinda’s secret place (which will never not sound dirty) [Dove: True story.]. Apparently, Lucinda told him about it a lot when they were kids, but never showed him. Kate decides that she wants to find it, to find Lucinda, and put all this worry to rest. As she’s looking around, she finds a damp spot in the dry dirt, and when she steps on it, it sounds hollow. The spot is only slightly damp, as if someone stood dripping on it, and Kate can smell the light, sweet scent of flowers. I’m assuming something like Lucinda’s perfume. Then they both start to hear a soft whisper of a voice calling Brandon’s name. (Well, it says a soft voice, so quiet the whispering of the willows almost covers it, but then it “wails” his name, which is not a quiet sound.)
They leave after that, and find Keith waiting on the front porch when they get home. He’s tall and buff now. Well hello contrived romance. He greets them shyly, and Kate decides there can’t have been any maliciousness to his sending the article to them. They all three talk a little about what sort of things have been dug up in the drowned city, including a dog skeleton, and then Keith says that recently someone found a red graduation robe at the edge of the (smaller) lake.
They’re interrupted by Holly’s arrival. She’s come back after college to teach art at the local high school. That seems weird, one of her dear friends disappears and yet she doesn’t want to get as far away from the small town. Even without that, I’m surprised she returned home to teach. I loved high school and had a great time, and yet I only return to my hometown when I’m forced to do so for family purposes.
Apparently, Holly wrote to Brandon after they left, long, beautiful love letters. To her disappeared friend’s boyfriend. Huh. [Dove: Yeah, that’s not weird at all. I’d be totally all for friendship-to-romance, but “hey, let’s get married and live happily ever after” right out the gate is a little eye-pokey.] Kate thinks that he blames Holly for Lucinda’s death (along with himself), and that’s why he never wrote back. Anyway, Holly says that it might not have been Lucinda’s robe, because the high school still uses red robes for graduation. No one knows whether it could have been under water for six years. Also, her theory is that Lucinda didn’t die, and the proof is that they would have found something of her by now if she did. Holly thinks Lucinda ran away, because she always used to talk about how much she’d like to do just that. Keith says there’s no way Holly would let him and their parents suffer if she was alive.
Kate’s woken up in the middle of the night by the sound of water dripping onto the floor in her room. She turns on the light, but no one is there, though there is a puddle of water. No footprints, but drops of water leading out to the front door. After quickly getting dressed, Kate follows them all the way back to the foundation of Lucinda’s old house, and she can smell the light, sweet scent of flowers again.
She starts to wonder why someone is trying to give her a message, and not Brandon, and then briefly thinks that maybe Brandon was what she’d seen in the water with Lucinda. She looks down into the foundation, and in the pit of the basement, sees another wet spot, dark like blood, and the glitter of rats’ eyes.
Terrified of what’s happening, Kate takes off running, but gets lost in the streets and the willows. She sees something red coming at her, and thinks it’s Lucinda’s graduation gown, but really it’s Holly in a red jogging suit. Those things are nothing alike, Kate. Get it together. Holly jogs through the dead town every morning, because it’s peaceful. Holly says that she can hear something calling Brandon’s name, even though Kate doesn’t hear anything this time. Holly walks Kate all the way home.
When she gets there, Kate finds Brandon sitting outside. He’s holding a red graduation robe, dripping wet, and he’s heartbroken. He saw Lucinda, but when he tried to get her, she ran, and all he got was her robe. She convinces him to rest, and he finally falls asleep. Kate is desperate to help him, and starts thinking over what she saw at Lucinda’s old house. It takes her awhile to remember the spot with the hollow, echoing sound.
She goes to visit Keith and carefully talks him into looking at pictures of the house before it was moved. There was apparently a root cellar right where the damp spot had been. Keith doesn’t ask many questions, but is thoughtful as he watches her.
Kate returns home as soon as she can, and has another talk with Brandon, who says the robe smells like Lucinda, like flowers, like her perfume. Called it.
She doesn’t head back to the old town until that evening, under a pale half moon. Why she didn’t go back during the day, when she’d have some sunlight for her explorations, is not explained. There are still stairs in the basement, and Kate goes down to try to find Lucinda’s secret spot. She finds a warped, decayed wooden door in one wall, and as soon as she does, starts to smell the sweet scent of flowers again.
Kate opens the root cellar, and finds greenish slime and something shiny and slick that hangs from the ceiling of it. The stench of decay replaces the smell of flowers. Kate hears something, and sees someone in a red graduation robe standing at the top of the stairs, smiling down at her. She actually sees the gleam of her flashlight on its face, and recognizes it as Lucinda.
The figure grabs her and goes to put her into the root cellar, where Kate finally sees the skeleton at the bottom, and realizes that Lucinda is dead, and whoever holds her isn’t Lucinda. Instead, they are wearing a very precise porcelain Lucinda mask. I wonder if this book inspired some of the things in Pretty Little Liars, because damn, creepy and familiar.
Unsurprisingly, Holly is the one wearing the Lucinda mask. Kate finally remembers the things that she’d managed to forget all those years ago, that it was Holly in the water, and she hit Lucinda with an ax. Holly was in love with Brandon, and when she saw that someone brought an ax to the party to chop firewood, she took her chance, because of course the thing friends do is compete over the same boy until one of them ends up dead.
Fuck My Little Pony! Friendship is not magic!: 100 (+100)
Gimme a blindfold and some stupidity: 100 (+100)
Well, that escalated quickly: 100 (+100)
Yes, I realize that’s a lot of points in a short amount of time, but damn, all three fit. This didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, because it was pretty well foreshadowed, but it is ridiculous.
Kate fights back when Holly tries to shove her into the root cellar, and manages to knock Holly over. As she’s trying to get up the stairs, Holly catches her, but then, conveniently, Keith arrives, and he’s far too strong for Holly to fight against.
My, that’s awfully convenient: 1
Apparently, it took him most of the night to figure out why she’d been so interested in those old pictures, and then he remember his mother telling them about the root cellar and figured out what she was up to, so he went to check on her.
Lucinda is finally buried in a proper grave, and the next morning, Kate wakes up to find a small puddle of water on her floor, a small bouquet of rosemary at the foot of her bed, and the smell of flowers lingering in the air. Rosemary, it seems, is for remembrance.
Not terrible. Definitely some creepy imagery around the drowned city, and I liked Kate well enough as our protagonist. Still no idea why she waited to do all her exploring at night, or how we were supposed to think it was anyone but Holly based on all the foreshadowing, and the fact there were only a handful of named characters: protagonist, love interest, dead girl, red herring, and killer. Easy enough to work that out. Cheesy ending.
Fuck My Little Pony! Friendship is not magic!: 100
Gimme a blindfold and some stupidity: 100
My, that’s awfully convenient: 1
Parents? What parents?: 1
Well, that escalated quickly: 100
The Guiccioli Miniature by Jay Bennet
[Dove: Nope. Hate this story. Hate it. It’s dumb.]
[Wing: I agree. It should not have been included in this collection.]
Our protagonist, Jerry, walks around Venice, Italy, sometime past midnight. He’s an American student visiting Italy. He meets a stranger, a tall, lean man who looks like he’s haunted by something, and who wears a coat and hat with the brim turned down over his face even though it’s a hot night. Gee, that’s not suspicious at all. The man asks Jerry to help out a fellow American and offers to sell him a miniature for ten dollars, even though he claims it’s worth a couple hundred. The miniature is cold when Jerry touches it, the implication being it is supernaturally cold.
The stranger claims it is a copy of the Guiccioli miniature that he copied himself from the original in the Pitti Palace in Florence; it is the face of a beautiful woman with brown eyes and auburn hair. The eyes in the miniature painting are, Jerry decides, haunting.
The stranger talks a bit about how he came to Italy years ago to become a great painter, and soon he will die and his whole life will be nothing but a copy.
Jerry remembers the Guiccioli story “with a shock,” for some reason. A reason that I think is supposed to be tension, but fails. Anyway, as the story goes, Teresa Guiccioli and the poet Lord Byron were in love, and Jerry believes Byron had the original miniature painted so that he could carry with them when they were apart.
Jerry hems and haws over the price, but finally the stranger’s desperation and dread convinces him to help. He buys it for ten dollars, and when he asks what the stranger will do with the money (why do you care what he’ll do with the money, Jerry?), the stranger says he will eat and then get a ticket out of Venice. When Jerry asks where, the stranger says, dramatically: Where can a doomed man go?
Once the stranger leaves, Jerry returns to his boardinghouse, but feels like he’s being followed the whole time, like a long, lean shadow walks right behind him. He never sees anything when he turns to look. Back in his room, Jerry quotes some Byron (“she walks in beauty, like the night”), and this story needs a billion times more vampires. As Jerry thinks about the weird stranger, the miniature becomes even colder in his hand, and the beautiful face of the woman becomes repellent.
Jerry starts to believe that now he has become the doomed man, because when the stranger gave him the miniature, the curse passed to him as well. He has dark thoughts about Lord Byron and the waters outside the building for awhile, then tries to sleep. He wakes up often, and one time thinks he sees the doorknob stop to turn, but it stops when he screams, and when he finally checks, the hallway is empty. (He definitely takes long enough that if there was someone flesh and blood outside the room, they could be long gone before he looks.)
This unnerves him enough that he throws the miniature out into the black water of the canal, and suddenly Jerry feels like himself again, free of the curse, if there even was one, and then he calls himself a superstitious fool.
He gets on the plane as planned the next afternoon, and he reads an Italian newspaper. In it, he sees a picture of the stranger, now lying on his back on a cobblestone street, dead. The stranger was one of three men who stole the Guiccioli miniature from the Pitti Palace. He then double crossed his partners and fled with the treasure. They caught up with him in Venice, and killed him. The murderers have already been captured, but the police are desperately searching for the priceless miniature. The one Jerry chucked into the canal.
When the flight attendant asks what’s wrong, Jerry has no answer.
This story does not belong in a Point Horror collection of short stories. Why in the hell was it included? There’s no real tension, no actual danger to the main character, and the hints at supernatural are simply annoying because they seem so out of place and ultimately go nowhere. It’s possible that the author was trying to say something about the way our own imaginations can be disastrous and lead us into fear, but whatever the ultimate message, it failed, and all we get is a boring story about a flat character.
[Dove: I’ve not even commented, because this is the dumbest story of the bunch. As Wing says, it doesn’t fit here. This is, at best, in the Tales of the Unexpected oeuvre. Except it’s still dumb. Really dumb. And shallow enough to paddle in. Hate. LOATHE ENTIRELY.]
Not even worth any counters.
<3 Yay! I don't think I read this but I definitely had 13 More Tales… which I remember as being proper creepy.
I’m the same, Gems. This one doesn’t stick in my mind, but I love 13 More. I love the Cat-Dogs. I suspect Wing will enjoy it because it’s as close to werewolves as we can get.
… wait. “Proper creepy”? Gems, are you a fellow northerner?
OH GOD I FORGOT THE CAT-DOGS. Did that book have the weird soft-toys-as-companions story as well?
I’m sorry to disappoint, but I’m actually from Down South. 😉
Down South? *sad sigh* I’m afraid you are my new nemesis. (Technically, that’s where I’m from too.)
I’ve never read this one either. I used to use short story collections like this to find new authors.
So, up there in your Editor’s Introduction is R.L. Stifle a real author or just the most awesome typo of all time? I think I might call Stine that from now on.
Looking forward to the next part so I can hear what happens with that Pike thing.
R. L. STIFLE? Genius. I never even noticed that. (That’s my error, I ran a spell-check when I converted my scans to word, but since stifle is a real word, it never flagged. That’s awesome.)
the description of suzy being like a suzy q with all the white cream spilling out has haunted me in the thirty years since i read this book, much more than any of the horror…