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Saturday, October 3, 2015

Meet a Few Vampires You Never Knew Existed

Seize the Night, edited by Christopher Golden (Gallery Books, Simon and Schuster, October, 2015, ISBN 978-1-4767-8309-3, $18.00, 544 pages) is a horror anthology about vampires. Golden wanted to put the terror back into vampire legends, and he succeeded.

He collected 21 original stories from some of the best horror writers around. Two common themes connect the stories: surprise twists and good writing. You may also be surprised to discover Tony Orlando described as a real dog in several of the tales. Dawn is nowhere to be found.

Scott Smith’s “Up in Old Vermont” is reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” in its tone. This is unstated horror at its best.

“Something Lost, Something Gained” by Seanan McGuire is beautifully written and comes close to being a true masterpiece. The pacing, the imagery, and the right words in the right place make the story’s opening a joy. Louise—a thirteen year old caught out in a summer storm when her evil step-father had warned her she was getting too old to hunt fireflies—fears the lecherous creep will beat both her and her mother when Lou returns home soaked to the bone and carrying a jar full of fireflies. But Lou rushes home anyway because it’s still her home—the home her real father had left her—and her mother is waiting. The story takes a much darker turn when Lou falls into a rabbit hole, breaks her leg, breaks the jar filled with fireflies, and the broken glass slices her chest and carotid. When Lou dies out in the storm, POV shifts to Mary, Lou’s mother. I only wish McGuire had made the story longer, taken the time and space to more-fully develop the supernatural elements. McGuire does little more than hint that lightning and fireflies, also called “lightning bugs,” have more than a name in common. “Something Lost, Something Gained” is one of the four best stories in this anthology.

“On the Dark Side of Sunlight Basin” by Michael Koryta turns indian legends and an evil man named Medoc into a night terror for a girl who wont say die. “The Neighbors” by Sherrilyn Kenyon is very short with a weird twist at the end. “Paper Cuts” by Gary A. Braunbeck presents a different perspective of history and gives new meaning to the term “Banned Books.”

Charlaine Harris contributes “Miss Fondevant,” a chilling tale about a girl who suspects her teacher of being an energy vampire. Is Miss Fondevant really a vampire? Or is Susan delusional? What will happen when Susan tries to kill Miss Fondevant?

“In a Cavern, In a Canyon” by Laird Barron illustrates why Good Samaritans finish last and also asks the vital question, “What Would Clint Eastwood do?”

“Whiskey and Light” by Dana Cameron is another Shirley Jackson-type/Hunger Games tribute tale. Farmington, a farming community near Stone Harbor, is haunted. Every fall, Farmington residents leave tattooed sacrifices at a mound to placate the resident demon. Animal sacrifice plus ritual blessings from the local priest prevent the demon from devouring the town. This year, however, the priest has died and there is no time to fetch another. To placate the demon, Marr’s sister Jenn is offered. But without the priest’s blessing to confine the demon, the entire town is decimated and only Marr is left alive to kill the demon.

“We Are All Monsters Here” by Kelley Armstrong is the tightest tale in the book, a brilliant rendition of what a vampire story should be. This story alone is worth the price of the book. But there isn’t a single lemon in the entire anthology, and they are all worth a read.

“May the End Be Good” by Tim Lebbon features Winfred, a Roman Catholic monk during the 11th century siege of William the Conqueror. With French troops rampaging through the English countryside, rape and cannibalism have become common. In the midst of so much evil, what can a good man do besides pray?

“Mrs. Popkin” by Dan Chaon and Lynda Barry is just plain weird. But it’s weird in a fantastical way that draws you in before it spits you out. It’s about mothers and children and rabbits. More than that, I won’t reveal. You need to read the story to discover on your own all the horrors hidden beneath a coat of fresh paint.

“Direct Report” by Leigh Perry is a twisted tale about an out-of-work woman executive who finds upward mobility in a new job can be a real pain. “Shadow and Thirst” by John Langan tries to pack too much into a short story, and I got lost several times before reaching the end. Time and space shifts in a maze-like tunnel, plus multiple Tonys, made the tale a bit too complicated for my tastes.

Joe McKinney is the consummate craftsman, and his finely-wrought stories are always a treasure. McKinney’s “Mother” ties together Aztec legends with a sound scientific explanation for a different kind of vampire. When five children are murdered in a small town in south Texas, paranormal investigator Dr. Ed Drinker wants to learn the truth almost as much as he wants to beat arch-rival Charles Marsh to the story. Drinker does learn the truth, but at what cost?

“Blood” by Robert Shearman is a strange tale about a teacher and an underage student on holiday in Paris. He knows it’s wrong, but he’s compelled to do it anyway and compulsion can be dangerous. “The Yellow Death” by Lucy A. Snyder is half-vampire lore, half mythos. It’s about a woman’s strength as she wanders through hell on earth. “The Last Supper” by Brian Keene is a grim tale about loneliness. For so it is written, What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?

“Separator” by Rio Youers takes place in the Philippines after a typhoon and tsunami kill thousands. David Payne, a Canadian real estate developer, believes in the reality of money, not the superstitious nonsense of the local populace. David pays dearly for his irreverence and his sins, of course. But will the sins of the father die with the man? This is another of the top four.

“What Kept You So Long?” by John Advide Lindqvist is an exquisitely devised tale of longing. Longing for blood. Longing for redemption. Longing for another person like you who feels the same longings. The tight writing and final twist make this another contender for my top four picks.

In “Blue Hell” by David Wellington, a young girl is tossed down a well as a sacrifice to the rain god. She had gone willingly to insure rain for the crops her people planted. But she does not drop all the way to the bottom where the gods await. She lands on a ledge that shatters one leg and shakes up her beliefs. At first she is ashamed that she failed to be the sacrifice her people wanted and needed. But when a skeletal creature emerges from the depths to suck her blood, she decides she wants to live. She intends to somehow get out of the cenote and inform her people about the monsters in the well, and to tell them their beliefs are only a bunch of lies. There are no gods in the well to accept the blood sacrifices. There are only monsters and the bones of countless sacrificial victims. The story, told from the sacrificial victim’s POV, is nicely done.

All 21 tales are worth reading. There are all kinds of vampires in the world, and Seize the Night will introduce you to a few you never knew existed before. Definitely worth the read.

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