Dark Screams: Volume Three

Edited by: Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar

Published By: Hydra

Reviewed by Melissa Minners

                A new horror anthology has arisen.  Edited by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar (Cemetery Dance alumni) and published by Hydra, each volume of Dark Screams contains five short stories by some of the most celebrated horror authors of the time.  Having read the first two volumes of the anthology series, I was thrilled to be offered the opportunity to read Dark Screams: Volume Three.

                The first story, The Collected Short Stories of Freddie Prothero, is a Peter Straub tale that I had read before in another anthology called Turn Down the Lights.  When I first read this story, I found it kind of weird.  It's supposed to be a posthumous collection of stories written by a horror author who was ahead of his time and died too young.  We soon find out that these stories are tales written by a child between the formidable years of two to eight, the year of his death.  As you attempt to decode the messages written by a child with no sense of spelling or grammar, you begin to realize that he is haunted by a presence he calls Mister Nothing Nowhere Nobody that we can presume to believe caused his death.  But who exactly is this presence really?  Is it a ghost...a demon...his father...or is it really a manifestation of himself?

                Group of Thirty by Jack Ketchum stars a horror author who has become incredibly jaded.  He is unsatisfied with life...unhappy with himself and those he's surrounded himself with...or pushed away.  He agrees to attend a science fiction reader club meeting in New Jersey, all expenses paid of course, as a way to break up the monotony.  While there, he encounters a different type of horror - people who hate his work!  Who not only hate his work, but want to punish him the same way he punishes his characters!  Now, how's a horror writer supposed to get out of this trap?

                The next story, Nancy, by Darynda Jones, is a ghost tale with a surprising twist.  It's sort of a Mean Girls with a horror motif.  In this case, the story is written in the first person point of view of a teenager who has moved around a lot thanks to her father's job.  She finds herself in a new school, immediately accepted by the "in crowd."  She knows that this won't last long.  As soon as the group realizes she is not interested in social appearances, she knows she will be deserted, yet she just can't help but be drawn to Nancy, a social misfit whose loud outbursts and multiple bruises and scratches are allegedly caused by the ghost of a child who was murdered in a fire.  A little research on the subject reveals that not all is as it seems.  This new girl is about to get all she can handle from a ghost she never believed in.

                I Love You, Charlie Pearson, by Jacquelyn Frank is a stalker story featuring another social misfit.  Charlie is in love with Stacey Wheeler, the beautiful, popular high school head cheerleader with the equally beautiful and popular jock boyfriend.  Charlie is a nerd from the wrong side of the tracks with an alcoholic mom and non-existent father.  Charlie watches Stacey from afar, hoping to understand all of her likes and dislikes, in an effort to discover his way into her heart.  He keeps everything in his home just perfect for the moment that Stacey enters his home - he's that sure he can win her over.  He just has to be patient and wait for the opportunity...and then it comes, the moment he has been waiting for...but now that he has gotten there, will the object of his desire have other plans?

                The final tale in the anthology is The Lone One and Level Sands Stretch Far Away by Brian Hodge.  As I first began to read this tale, the longest one in the anthology, I wondered why it was considered a horror story.  All I saw was a married man who finds his new neighbor, Marnie, fascinating, much to the chagrin of his wife.  The interest in his new neighbor's hobbies was as predictable as the affair that the married man and his neighbor become involved in.  Even Marnie's talk about preparing for the end of the world and their adventures in abandoned locations aren't all that horror-esque.  It's when the void appears - the black nothingness that seems to be following Marnie ever since they visited the local abandoned brewery - that things start getting spooky.

                I had been a tad bit disappointed in Volume 2 of Dark Screams, but my belief in this anthology series was restored with Dark Screams: Volume 3.  This volume features very different sorts of horror here - the horror of the supernatural, the horror of being stalked, the horror of having the tables turned on you, the horror of the unknown and more.  My favorite stories are Nancy and I Love You, Charlie Pearson for their completely unexpected twists toward the end.  I love the unpredictable plot twist that makes your jaw drop open and your eyes pop wide. 

                But that's not to say that all of the stories weren't just as enjoyable.  Each one was able to draw me in completely.  So engrossed in this anthology was I, that I completed it in one day.  How's that for a good read?!    I can't wait to see what comes next in Dark Screams: Volume Four!


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