an anthology with a lot of heart but enough darkness to keep the temperature of your spine well below the seasonal average.
Literally Dead: Tales of Halloween Hauntings by Gaby Triana
ASIN : B0BCSHGJR2
Publisher : Independently published (2 Sept. 2022)
Language : English
Paperback : 264 pages
ISBN-13 : 979-8843059040
A Horror Book Review by Daisy Lyle
Hallowe’en likes to turn things upside down: the dead walk, the living turn into monsters and ghosts, nice girls are urged to dress up in “slutty” outfits and children threaten adults with mayhem. So it’s fitting that this anthology inverts the usual order of things, at least where the art is concerned. Normally a book’s stories give birth to its illustrations, but in this case the work of renowned artist Lynne Hansen is what inspired editors Gaby Triana and John Palisano to create the book. The endearing cover began life as a piece of art for a HWA event benefiting an animal shelter, and encapsulates all the traditional fun of trick-or-treating while rewarding the more careful observer with a soft touch of enigma.
In the circumstances it’s no surprise that this anthology contains quite a few stories at the gentler, chattier end of the spectrum, where the aim is to inspire a wry smile or two and offer (relatively) light-hearted, spooky, nostalgic fun. I’m not usually a fan of this stuff (maybe because I was only invited to two Hallowe’en parties in my entire life, and no, of course I’m not bitter, how dare you!) so for this review I’ll be mainly focussing on tales that are more up my street.
For me, ‘The Crawlers in the Corn’ by Shadows and Tall Trees veteran David Surface is where things really get going. You can’t have Hallowe’en without corn, but the real value here lies in the examination of two boys whose childhood friendship is crumbling for the usual reasons (the “too old for that shit now” factor), but has also been damaged by a traumatic event. Carl and Danny lacerate each other with words as sharp as any corn leaf, and it’s a great depiction of the swingeing guilt a victim of trauma can feel when they realize they’ve allowed the darkness that assailed them to seep into the world of their loved ones.
And guilt is built right into Hallowe’en. The way it’s celebrated in America seems designed to generate parental guilt – are we right to let our kids out after dark to cavort among strangers? If we don’t, are we ruining their fun? Have we disappointed them with that cheap supermarket costume, when we should be making them one with our loving hands? And what if we give out the wrong candy? Steve Rasnic Tem’s “When They Fall” gives this theme a great workout, full of beautiful but eerie autumn imagery, with those falling leaves and bad memories messing up what seems at first glance to be a typical suburban garden.
Of course, throbbing away underneath all the anxieties of trick-or-treating is something a lot older: good old survivor’s guilt. Hallowe’en exists to address the fact that we are alive while a bunch of other people are dead, and I’m glad to report that several of the stories here deal with this, and do it well. ‘When You See Millions of the Mouthless Dead Across Your Dreams in Pale Battalions Go’, by Jonathan Maberry, is particularly powerful. It has a broad focus, covering the effects of the Vietnam war on the American working-class neighbourhoods that were milked most vigorously for young recruits, the way psychic wounds fester in families and the power of ritual. A lesser author could lose their way in all that, but the story hits impressively hard in a manner reminiscent of Peter Straub’s classic post-Vietnam War horror novel Koko.
But my personal favourite of the anthology was ‘A Scavenger Hunt When The Veil is Thin’ by Gwendolyne Kiste. Kiste, like Maberry, has decided to go large with the guilt, as the heroine – who has unwisely returned to the godawful community she grew up in - has to pick her way through a house still jangling with the culpability of the whole damn town, whose inhabitants once sacrificed an innocent young woman on the altar of misogyny. But what really makes this special is the elegance of the writing. Kiste deftly handles a colour palette worthy of The Masque of the Red Death, proving once and for all that all colours are Goth colours, and she does very well with the second-person singular. This form seems to be having a moment right now – possibly because writers and readers are nostalgic for all those Choose Your Own Adventure books that told you what to do – and while it’s good for immediacy it’s not the best for providing information about events that have occurred prior to the beginning of the story (plus all those instructions can seem rather bald.) But Kiste leaps over all these barriers: the way she works background information, character development and eerie atmosphere into a series of scavenger hunt instructions is seriously impressive. And there’s some very nasty business with a pumpkin.
Finally I enjoyed ‘Soul Cakes’ by Catherine McCarthy, a rare British-set story with the little rituals of home and hearth as its focus, and drawing on the emotional ambiguity of the festival. The quiet accumulation of well-observed domestic details makes the final revelation especially poignant, and a reminder of the real comfort Hallowe’en can provide to the bereaved, however fleeting, melancholy or just plain scary it may be. This theme is certainly at home in Literally Dead, an anthology with a lot of heart but enough darkness to keep the temperature of your spine well below the seasonal average.
LITERALLY DEAD: TALES OF HALLOWEEN HAUNTINGS BY GABY TRIANA
Do you love All Hallows' Eve? Ghost stories? Tales from beyond that leave you feeling unsettled while walking to the kitchen at night? The orange-and-black vintage Halloween aesthetic? Haunted houses with shuttered windows?
Edited by Gaby Triana with John Palisano, this anthology of 19 short stories by some of the most terrifying names in horror is the perfect collection for a dark and stormy October night. Featuring tales to make you hide under the covers by: Jonathan Maberry, Gwendolyn Kiste, Catherine Cavendish, Tim Waggoner, Jeff Strand, Sara Tantlinger, Lee Murray, Alethea Kontis, Lisa Morton & more.
JONATHAN MABERRY - "When You See Millions of the Mouthless Dead Across Your Dreams in Pale Battalions Go"
LISA MORTON - "Halloween at the Babylon"
TIM WAGGONER - "No One Sings in the City of the Dead"
JEFF STRAND - "Ghosts of Candies Past"
LEE MURRAY - "The Ghost Cricket"
GWENDOLYN KISTE - "A Scavenger Hunt When the Veil is Thin"
SARA TANTLINGER - "How to Unmake a Ghost"
ALETHEA KONTIS - "The Ghost Lake Mermaid"
CATHERINE CAVENDISH - "The Curiosity at the Back of the Fridge"
SCOTT COLE - "Postcards From Evelyn"
DENNIS K. CROSBY - "Bootsy's House"
STEVE RASNIC TEM - "When They Fall"
CATHERINE McCARTHY - "Soul Cakes"
MAUREEN MANCINI AMATURO - "A Bookstore Made of Skulls"
HENRY HERZ - "The Ghosts of Enerhodar"
JEREMY MEGARGEE - "Always October"
DANA HAMMER - "A Halloween Visit"
DAVID SURFACE - "The Crawlers in the Corn"
EVA ROSLIN - "Pink Lace and Death Gods"
With an introduction by Lynne Hansen