When you hear your footsteps echo, don't turn around
Haunted Nights, edited by Ellen Datlow and Lisa Morton, is a collection of sixteen previously unpublished stories with the theme of Halloween. The settings and subect matter is diverse, ranging from tales about the trickster Jack of the lantern, to unearthly monsters, and even one set on the moon. As is always the case with anthologies, some stories are better than others or will appeal to different people, so I will focus on a few that stood out to me:
A Small Taste of the Old Country- by Jonathan Maberry
Two men in a cafe in Argentina encounter a baker who offers to share with them some authentic German baked goods which remind them of home, but admitting to being German is a risky thing in Argentina since the war never truly ended for some people.
The Seventeen Year Itch- by Garth Nix
A very creepy story about an elderly patient in a psychiatric hospital who has a terrible itch he feels a desperate need to scratch every Halloween, especially every seventeen years. This one haunted me after reading it.
Nos Galen Gaeaf- by Kelley Armstrong
Nos Galen Gaeaf is set in Cainsville, the setting of Kelley Armstrong's Cainsville novels, but it will still make sense if you haven't read the Cainsville books. Cainsville is a town in the USA built by Welsh settlers that preserves many of its own customs and traditions, such as celebrating the holiday of Nos Galen Gaeaf instead of Halloween. Lance, a young boy who lives in Cainsville, has taken a dislike to a girl named Seanna Walsh and resolves to use the rite of Coelcerth, a ritual where participants each put a stone inscribed with their own name into the bonfire to see which of them will live for another year, as an opportunity to murder her. Things do not go according to plan.
Sisters- by Brian Evenson
A fun and original ghost story about other-worldly outsiders wanting to fit in and try out human traditions like Trick or Treating. This one was a little more light-hearted than most of the collection and made me laugh.
A Kingdom of Sugar Skulls and Marigolds- by Eric J. Guignard
A teenager drunkenly tries to use his grandmother's book of black magic to summon his dead best friend into a carved sugar skull for the Day of the Dead, but he doesn't get the spell (or rather the spelling) quite right. This story was a mixture of fabulous imagery, humour and pathos. It reminded me of the stories from the Bordertown series, edited by Terri Windling.
Jack- by Pat Cadigan
A young witch is charged with protecting a newly dead soul from the trickery of Jack of the lantern. I found myself wanting to hear more about the main character because this story seems to have the makings of a great novel, but unfortunately there doesn't seem to be one about her.
Lost in the Dark- by John Langan
This one is oddly meta (a story about an interview about a fictional film based on a documentary about a piece of folklore), but it's not as confusing as that sounds. Ten years after the release of the popular horror movie Lost in the Dark, the director lets slip that the film was supposed to be a documentary about real events. Her former university lecturer tracks down the director to try and find out the truth about what really happened in the abandoned mine that is the setting of the film and separate the facts from the legend. It's a very eerie, atmospheric story that doesn't leave you with a definite conclusion. The First Lunar Halloween- by John R. Little
The last survivors of humanity now live on the moon. A school teacher encourages the children of the colony to learn about their heritage by celebrating Halloween with a journey to the surface in decorated spacesuits, but she fears that they may not be alone up there. It's a story that plays on the universal fear of the unknown to great effect.
Haunted Nights is a varied collection of creepy tales that make great reading for Halloween, or any time of year when you're in the mood for a bit of a scare.
Disclaimer: I was given a complimentary copy of this book by Knopf-Doubleday, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.