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. Stine 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. This is, of course, the third part. First part can be found here. Second part can be found here. Only one more part after this one.
[Dove: Well, this is embarrassing. I was so busy running around the country visiting family, I didn’t get around to commenting. I’m trying to do this before anyone reads it now. Argh.]
House of Horrors by J. B. Stamper
Mark is startled by his reflection, because his skin is deathly white with black shadows under his eyes and cheekbones, his hair is slicked back off his forehead, and he has fangs capped onto his teeth. Of course, since he intentionally made himself look this way, this opening paragraph makes him seem like an idiot for being surprised by his appearance.
Mark works at the House of Horrors with Eliot, the head usher who all the girls love, and Lisa, the library tour guide. The library is the room after Mark’s room, and Lisa is beautiful and catlike. Mark is stationed in the sitting room, which is filled with wax corpses sprawled on chairs and sofas in grotesque postures of death. One corpse bothers Mark the most, a thin, young man with four puncture wounds in his neck and his face twisted in a horrible death spasm.
[Dove: Lisa has “liquid eyes” which is a description that pops up all over the place in YA books, and creeps me out every time.]
As a tour group moves from the sitting room into the library, Lisa slinks over and tells Mark that there is a party after hours. Mark is thrilled that he’s finally been invited to a party, because the other guides have been ignoring him for weeks. The day passes incredibly slowly, but right before the last tour group comes through and the House of Horrors closes at nine, Eliot approaches Mark and tells him the plan. The owner, Hiller, comes through to check all the rooms after close, but Mark is supposed to hide behind the sets in the sitting room, and once Hiller leaves, the party will begin.
Mark hides in the curtains behind the displays while Hiller checks the room; at one point, he hears something scurrying near him, and assumes it’s a rat, but manages to stay hidden until Hiller leaves the room, then he comes out and waits, in the dark, for one of the others to come get him. It’s colder in the building than before, and he remembers that the air conditioning is turned on high so the wax figures will harden before another day under the spotlights. This is an interesting bit of information that makes sense, and while I didn’t check and see if it is true, it at least feels true, and adds a nice bit of reality.
He waits for more than an hour, but neither Eliot nor Lisa shows up. Finally, he goes in search of them, and finds the front doors padlocked shut. He searches the library, but still no sign of Lisa or Eliot. At one point, he finds a wax figure, a beautiful blonde woman he first thinks is Lisa, but then realizes there are four white fangs curving over the lips, and for a wax figure, she looks terribly real and alive. Gee, I wonder if this ties back to any other wax figure we may have had described in great detail. What? No, of course not.
Mark searches the entire building, including the dungeon room in the basement, but no one is there. He realizes that Eliot and Lisa had tricked him into staying alone in the House of Horrors, and now he’s trapped for the night. This smacks of hazing, of course, but that word is never used.
Mark is angry, but knows he has to find a room to spend the night. They are all terrible, filled with horrible tableaus, but the dungeon is the worst. Well duh, Mark. As he’s leaving the dungeon, he hears footsteps coming softly toward him in the dark, and starts to run. He rushes past the wax figures, their features mostly a blur, and one catches his attention: the beautiful blonde woman with dark eyes and full, red lips from the library.
Mark races up the stairs, but can still hear footsteps coming after him. He flees throughout the house, and always the footsteps follow, running when he runs, walking when he walks. He runs into a brass railing, hurting himself, and whatever is chasing him laughs at him.
It catches him in the library, warm breath against the back of his neck, and then sharp fangs plunge into his throat.
Switch to Lisa’s point of view; she comes in to work the next afternoon, wondering if Mark will show up. She can’t wait to hear about how scared he was, trapped in the house overnight. As she checks the library, she sees the woman with the long blonde hair in a new place, leaning over a body on a sofa, and is freaked out, because she didn’t think that was there before.
She goes closer to check it out, and nearly screams, because the figure on the sofa looks just like Mark, but when she touches it, it is cold, smooth wax and nothing more.
Wax. Vampire. Has warm breath, drinks blood and turns the body to wax, spends all day posing to be stared at by tourists. I like the story, mostly, but if I start to think about the worldbuilding too much, it starts to fall apart. For instance, why turn the body to wax? How often can it eat, if mostly it is locked in alone overnight? If Mark is just the most recent victim, how did other people end up locked in the building, and how come no one has noticed that people keep disappearing there? Or that there are wax figures that look just like them?
[Dove: Seconded, the world starts to fall apart. I wish that every single waxwork was a vampire, but that the ushers are also vampires/waxworks, who work on rotation. The exhibit is constantly praised for seeming different every time people go, and is , and they take turns in showing people around and choosing their victims. That’s my headcannon anyway.]
Where the Deer Are by Caroline B. Cooney
I tend to like Cooney’s books a lot (The Face on the Milk Carton is my favorite), but this short story. This short story is terrible.
Tiffany lives in Fawn Hill, which is deep in the woods, and Tiffany hates the woods and believes the woods know she hates them, and make it difficult for her, tripping her, making terrible noises instead of lovely songs, hiding things from her, being just generally horrible.
Fawn Hill is full of deer, but Tiffany has never seen a fawn, only mangy brown deer with pencil legs. Tiffany hates the deer and fears them, and thinks they spend more time in her yard than anywhere else. Her friends have different explanations for it, but she knows it is because of her.
On their walk to school, there is Dead Kid Curve. Kenny and Laura both vanished from that spot, a quarter of a century ago (so 25 years, come on now). Adults say that kids used to run away a lot, and that’s what happened, but the current children believe they just disappeared because of the forest. Now Tiffany walks to school with Janie, Matthew, Kelso, and Patrick. No one else walks that way.
Janie says that one of them is chosen. Tiffany hates her voice, because it is a slow, fluty voice, so high it is unnatural. Tiffany hates pretty much everything, I think, and I do not like her one bit. Still, Janie is weird, too, going on and on about the cliff deciding who goes next and how it hasn’t told them yet.
Tiffany has a lot of thoughts about the deer, and how they appear and disappear so easily, gone when you should still be able to see them, and how they never have babies, only the same adult deer over and over, and how she is of the race that shot them and ran over them and invaded their land and cut down their woods and paved their meadows.
So this is a really heavy handed metaphor for how white settlers back then and white people still today treat indigenous people wherever they go, isn’t it. There’s no way this ends well, and I don’t mean that it is a Point Horror story and therefore something bad will happen.
Tiffany thinks the sound of wind in the trees is like a door opening, and she feels sucked into them. Janie keeps talking about someone being chosen and how someone will disappear today; Kelso, the leader of the group, tells her to shut up. He is the smallest one in the group, but braver and stockier; everyone wants to walk next to him when they pass the cliff, but he likes to walk alone.
There are deer, Tiffany freaks out, Kelso gives “her the look only he could give a girl, filled with disgust and loathing, but being polite anyway.”
Everyone in this story needs to disappear immediately. You are all terrible.
Lots of talk about deer and missing children and more deer and I. am. so. bored.
I skim paragraphs, they don’t die, alas, and they make it to school, only to realize that Janie is not with them. The boys go back for her, but Tiffany refuses because she is too scared. She goes inside to the bathroom, and finds a deer in the mirror. It climbs out, and this would be creepy, except I’ve spent the whole story hating all the characters and absolutely bored by Cooney’s obsessive descriptions of the deer and the woods.
Tiffany flees the school, races back up the road, sees her friends in the distance, and disappears into an open door.
Quick flash to Janie, who apologizes to Kelso. She went back because she forgot to bring the lunch her mother made, and her mother gets angry. So she turned around, after all that fear over today being the day someone disappears, and didn’t even tell her friends? That’s messed up, Janie.
They talk again about where the deer go, and Kelso says it isn’t important because soon there will be no deer left. Then he litters, throwing a soda can into the woods. It flashes, scarlet and silver, like a marker on a grave. How many scarlet and silver gravestones have you soon, Cooney? Because I have seen zero. [Dove: She can’t even pretend it’s a temporary marker, they’re usually black plastic with white writing. Sidenote: Dove used to work for a funeral director.]
This is terrible. Horrible, annoying characters, description that doesn’t work, even though I normally enjoy Cooney’s style, and a heavy-handed metaphor that is pretty awful if you keep thinking about it. Just a complete fail.
[Dove: I’ve read this one several times, because one of my friends from school — back in the day when we were reading these for the first time — said it was her favourite of all the short horror stories. I just don’t get that opinion. I cannot care for anyone in the story, and yes, it’s a metaphor and oh so deeeeeeep, but I just can’t take it seriously. My brain gets stuck on a deer climbing out of a mirror in my high school bathroom. And then I start to giggle.]
I rushed through this one too fast to give it counts, though if I had, I probably would have slapped on a cheering on the killer count everywhere, because everyone needed to die.
The Spell by R. L. Stine
Of. Fucking. Course. My nemesis. I should have known we’d meet again.
He starts with our narrator, unnamed for a good long while, thinking she should call the police about William, and then throwing names at us. The five of them are a group of good friends: narrator, William, Erica, Stan, and Marty. Marty teases everyone, William is serious, earnest, intense, Stan is good at sports and obsessed with a prize baseball bat. (He claims Pete Rose used it his rookie season, and if that is true, Stan is an idiot for letting them actually play with it.)
We’re nearly halfway through the story before we learn that the narrator is Jennifer.
William and Marty both try out for the Music Man, but Marty gets the part, and William, in his disappointment, turns to hypnotism. William starts to withdraw from his friends, and refuses to show them what he’s learned. Jennifer doesn’t notice how angry William is becoming.
Later, Marty also gets a job that he and William both interviewed for, and William finally explodes a little when Erica defends Marty. After that, the five of them don’t really hang out in their beloved little group any longer.
One night, four of them do hang out, while Marty is at work, and for the first time, William offers to show them some of their hypnotism. He has them concentrate on a spoon, clear their minds, relax their muscles, but in the end, they think he’s failed. He acts disappointed, says he has to study some more. This is nicely handled, and is pretty subtle, for Stine.
The five of them hang out one more time, at William’s house. It’s fine, everyone joking around and laughing and having fun, until Marty leaves for work, and then William gets preoccupied and quiet, and Stan suggests he and Erica leave. William stops him, though, and gets out ice cream, a silver ice cream scoop, and bowls. Jennifer remembers clearly how the scoop glistens, catching the light. Even when Stan teases William about the hypnotism, everything is good, and the four of them go for a walk. Stan and Erica are coupled up, William and Jennifer cuddly.
Then, William tells Erica and Stan to stand on the yellow line that runs down the middle of the street and not to move. Jennifer thinks he’s joking, expects them to laugh, but they do it, and they don’t even react when a car roars past, or a semi comes rushing up at them.
William makes Jennifer swear she won’t tell, and then brings them back. Erica and Stan don’t remember what’s happened, and are worried about Jennifer, who is crying in relief. She doesn’t tell them, though, keeping her word.
From there on out, her memory is clouded, and her life is a blur of faces and unconnected conversations, bits of places and activities, everything out of order “as if [her] life [was] a jigsaw puzzle that had been dropped on the floor, the pieces scattering everywhere.” That’s a really great description. Good job, Stine.
William decides that Jennifer is on Marty’s side, too, all of them against him, and tells her that Stan is going to kill Marty with his precious baseball bat. Jennifer is freaking out, and tells him that he can’t hypnotize someone to do something against their will, it won’t work. He acts like this is true, and everything will be okay. It’s nicely creepy. Jennifer still doesn’t tell anyone or call the police, and she can’t figure out why not, even though she wants to, desperately.
No one ever remembers the time they jokingly allowed their friend to hypnotize them, do they?
William calls Jennifer one night, says that Stan and Erica are over, just hanging out, and invites her over too. She’s already warned them not to let William hypnotize them, and everything seems fine at first, but Jennifer is seriously creeped out. William again gives them ice cream using the sparkling silver ice cream scoop, and then, as if it is nothing, he tells Stan to take Erica, go get his Pete Rose bat, and hit Marty six times in the head.
Jennifer is relieved that she got to them in time and that they are just pretending to be hypnotized. Oh, Jennifer, you poor, sweet thing.
Stan and Erica leave, and still Jennifer thinks they’re just pretending. She starts to leave too, but William tells her no, and she immediately sits back down. She can’t resist.
They go for a drive later, to the restaurant where Marty works. She still believes she was able to thwart his plans, until she sees Marty on the ground, his head beaten in, and she starts to scream. Something inside her snaps, and she feels like a heavy curtain has been drawn away and her mind is clear. Finally, she can run from William, and she races home, intent on calling the police.
Before she can, though, the phone rings, and, of course, it is William. He says he’s taken care of the others because they were all on Marty’s side, and now she’s the only one left. She tells him she warned them, so he couldn’t have hypnotized them, but he says that they’ve all been hypnotized since that day at dinner, and he made them think he failed, when really it worked. Before he hangs up, he tells her to have some ice cream, and then she sits, docilely, in the dark, waiting for him. She can’t do anything, can’t leave, can’t call the police.
William will be there soon. Maybe he’ll tell her what to do.
That is a deliciously creepy ending.
Well damn, Stine, that was a good one. I’d love to see a longer story about a character like Marty, but this was pretty nicely handled, from actual friends who joke around and do lots of things together and are generally fun to the creepiness of having your free will stolen. Really nicely handled.
This is why Stine is my nemesis, because sometimes he does great things I really love, like this story, and then he doesn’t the load of crap that is, for example, the Baby-Sitters series. I KNOW YOU CAN DO BETTER, STINE.
[Dove: This is actually my favourite story in this particular anthology. It’s a cool idea, and it’s nicely chilling. When Stine gets things right, I adore him. When he doesn’t, I want to slam his fingers in a car door.]
Clearly I have given up on the counts.
Dedicated to the One I Love by Diane Hoh
Another author I tend to enjoy. We’ll see if she lets me down.
Marla, Lee, and Carrie are hanging out together, painting their toenails and listening to the radio. Carrie talks about how romantic the current song is, and Lee shoots her down, calling all of it garbage about true love that makes her sick. Carrie tells her not to be bitter, they’ve all been stepped on. This argument is interrupted by their favorite deejay, Bobby Gee, with a dedication for Carrie from someone who loves her. Lee and Marla expect her to be pleasantly surprised, but instead she is freaked out because the song, “You Turn Me On’, is her and Richie’s song. Lee says they promised not to talk about him, but Carrie says she loved him. Lee’s brusque, though, and says that so did she, and so did Marla, and that only goes to show how stupid they were.
Marla defends them, saying they were stupid, they just trusted Richie, and it was his idea to keep it all a secret. His excuse, with her at least, was that he was older than she was, and her parents wouldn’t like it much. She’d never kept a secret from Lee and Carrie before.
Carrie is still confused, though, because she never told anyone that was their song, and she knows Richie wouldn’t have either, so how would anyone know to dedicate it, and why would they now that Richie’s … not around … to hear it.
After the song stops playing, Carrie and Lee go home, their evening ruined just by the memory of Richie. Carrie can’t sleep, and decides to take a hot bath. She takes the radio with her, and plugs it in on the counter opposite the bathtub. She doesn’t see the wind moving the curtains in the open window, or the gray-green muck that spreads across the windowsill.
The next morning, Marla gets a call from a hysterical Lee telling her that Carrie is dead. The story is that she accidentally knocked the radio into the bathtub and electrocuted herself. Martha is shocked, and Lee torn up by guilt, because she shouted at Carrie when she dropped her off, didn’t even say goodbye. This is really quite sad, if very abrupt.
Marla and Lee finally return to school after Carrie’s funeral. Marla tells everyone at lunch that she thinks it’s weird that someone requested a song for Carrie right before she died, especially because Bobby Gee had never played a request for Carrie before then. Their friend Tina says that Bobby Gee didn’t play a song for Carrie that night, she was listening the whole time, and other friends, Donald and Allen, confirms that. Marla keeps asking, but apparently only Marla, Lee, and Carrie heard a dedication to Carrie that night.
Lee waves it off, how could they all clearly remember what they were doing that night, but Marla isn’t convinced. Finally she decides she’s been thinking about Richie too much. People keep talking about him, and the way he left town so suddenly, leaving only a note for his aunt and uncle, not even telling his friends good-bye. Everyone said that was just like he, he never did want to be tied down. Marla decides maybe the stress is getting to her.
But if she’s hearing things, that means Lee is hearing them too.
Lee calls the next night, telling her to listen to the radio because someone’s dedicating a song to Lee. Sure enough, Bobby Gee finishes saying that “Falling for You” has been dedicated to Lee from someone who loves her. (I’m not sure Lee could call Marla fast enough to actually hear the rest of the dedication, but whatever, that is probably not the biggest suspension of disbelief in this story.)
Lee is creeped out, because that was her and Richie’s song, too, just like it had been for Carrie. Apparently, Bobby Gee had an open line that night, and Lee heard the request being made. The voice was low, almost a whisper, but, and she’s hesitant to say it, it sounded like Richie.
Marla reminds her that’s impossible because “Richie’s … not around.”
Marla has a hard time sleeping, and wonders if anyone will admit to hearing the request if she asks the next day at school. She decides she won’t mention it. She doesn’t want to know.
Lee wakes up in the middle of the night, hungry, and decides to get a snack. She slips at the top of the stairs, on a glob of slimy gray-green goo, and falls all the way down them.
Marla doesn’t hear about it until she’s at school the next day. Lee’s not dead, but she’s damaged her spine, and she may be paralyzed for the rest of her life. We learn only now that Lee has been studying ballet her entire life, and now her career has been ripped away from her. This would have more of an impact if we’d had any idea she cared so much about it before now, but ok.
Marla flashes back to the night she discovered Lee and Richie dancing close together, when she first learned what was going on. Amazingly, Marla doesn’t blame Lee, because Lee doesn’t know Marla’s dating him. Richie knows, though, and Marla blames him. As does Carrie, when Marla breaks down and tells her, and Carrie figures out they’ve all been dating the same guy. So many other authors would have had the girls turn on each other. I love that they know exactly who is to blame here: Richie.
[Dove: I know, right? When I read this, especially since its the 90s, when girls were just slutty bitches for the most part in so much media, I was so proud of the girls for their “sisters before misters” attitude.]
They all three confronted him the next night, but he laughed it off, saying that variety is the spice of life and they had fun. Then he says he’s leaving, heading to the big city, and asks for a ride to the airport to save him the cab fare. Richie is a grade A dick.
Back in the present, Marla can’t eat, has terrible dreams, keeps being woken up hearing the two songs dedicated to her friends, even when the radio is off. She can’t focus, can’t read, can’t do anything but picture Richie.
She’s obsessed because three of them dated him, loved him, but only two had been attacked. She knows it’s not over, and she is next. She misses her friends, and she’s terrified, on her own. Poor, poor Marla.
Marla is home alone one night, and sure enough, there’s a whispered request of a song for her “A Knife in My Heart” for the “girl I love.” It is her and Richie’s song, and she’s reminded again of all the ways she loved him, and how much he hurt her.
Marla realizes the titles of the songs are giveaways: Carrie’s song was “You Turn Me On” and she was electrocuted; Lee’s “Falling for You” and then she fell down the stairs. And now Marla with “A Knife in My Heart.” Ouch, Marla. Ouch.
Marla calls in to the radio station, actually gets Bobby Gee on the line, and says that Richie is going to kill her. Bobby Gee is surprisingly patient, tells her that no one is going to kill her because she dumped him, and she says that no, that’s not it, she, Lee, and Carrie killed him.
The night they confronted him, they agreed to give him a ride to the airport, but instead took him to Blackberry Hill Road, a dirt road through a nasty swamp.
Bobby Gee thinks this is all a prank, but something in Marla’s voice when she gives her name, her address, convinces him, and he asks her to tell him the story. They’re live on air, and people all across town stop to listen.
Lee had a toy gun, made him get out of the car. He tried to get back in, but Lee kicked him out, pulled the door shut, and they took off, really fast. They were going to leave him, make him miss his flight, have to hitchhike or walk back to town. Except.
Except his tie got stuck in the door, and they dragged Richie along with them when they peeled away. His face was purple, his head hanging funny, and they’re sure they’ve killed him. They decide no one will believe it was an accident, not when the story gets out that he was secretly dating all of them, and so they pushed his body into the swamp.
Marla tells Bobby Gee that he played the songs, he has to help her, but he says they haven’t played those songs in ages. Marla can smell the swamp now, but she hears the police sirens approaching the house, and even though she’s just admitted to murder on live radio, she is relieved. The cops bang on the front door, demand she open up, and she leaves her room to let them in, because suddenly Marla is an idiot.
As soon as she steps into the hallway, a knife slams into her throat. The gray-green sludge disappears into her blood pooling on the floor, and the story ends.
I love the three girls, their friendship, who they react to Richie being a complete dick. The accidental death is great, even, and hiding the body in the swamp. Actually, I just genuinely enjoyed this story, so that’s pretty awesome. Two fun ones in a row.
[Dove: This story was fun and had girl friendships and I really enjoyed it. However, as a full book, 13 Tales always strikes me as a bit boring. 13 More on balance has more good stories than bad.]
Yeah, this is too annoying for short stories. I’m done.