Dark Screams: Volume Nine

Edited by: Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar

Published By: Hydra

Reviewed by Melissa Minners

                It’s getting close to Halloween and I’m in the mood to read a little dark fiction and horror.  Where better to find that than in the Dark Screams anthologies edited by Richard Chizmar and Brian James Freeman.  This time around, I selected Dark Screams Volume Nine.

                We begin with Kelley Armstrong’s Invitation to the Game in which a young couple finds they are faced with a difficult decision.  Vivienne has just received an invitation to The Game, a sure way of moving up in the company.  But Vivienne’s not so sure she wants the invitation.  Since the death of their baby, the couple had actually been discussing leaving the company.  Thus, Vivienne declines the offer.  Unfortunately, she is about to learn that nobody refuses an invitation to The Game.

                The Summer of '77 by Stewart O'Nan is a serial killer tale in which a murderer discusses the various ways they hunt down and kills their prey in a beach community set in the backdrop of the years of peace, love and harmony.  Always luring them in with the guise of needing assistance with a broken-down car, these individuals never see what’s coming until it’s too late.

                In The Dead Years by Taylor Grant, a man comes upon a young woman who looks exactly like the love of his life.  Emma was the woman he had planned to marry, but she disappeared after turning eighteen, moving to Los Angeles to get away from years of abuse at the hands of her father and the people who judged her by her pretty looks instead of her mind.  He had been searching for her for years and now he found someone who looked just like her.  Unfortunately, he can never bring his Emma back, but if he can’t have her, no one else can!

                The Blackout by Jonathan Moore is a classic tale of revenge.  In the middle of a horrific storm bearing down on Hawaii, Detective Nakahara is called in to investigate a body missing from the morgue.  The body of a young child has been taken…or so it would seem to the naked eye.  But to Nakahara’s trained eye, this appears to be much more than the nabbing of a dead body.  There is evidence that perhaps the body broke out of the facility on its own, but all forensic evidence just after her death points to the impossibility of this taking place.  As Nakahara investigates further, he discovers he knows the girl…and knows just why this child might have some unfinished business…and with whom.

                In Peter Straub’s Variations on a Theme from Seinfeld, Clyde has been living with a rather strange affliction – his reflection often disappears from the mirror.  Whenever this happens, Clyde must enter the mirror world, hunt his reflected self down and bring him back.  Unfortunately, this time around Other Clyde has very different ideas about coming back.

                The final tale in the anthology is Torn by Lee Thomas.  Not a whole lot happens in the town of Luther’s Bend…not usually.  But on this night, a monster comes to Luther’s Bend, abducting a young girl, luring the adults of the town into the woods.  It’s there that Sheriff Bill Cranston witnesses a horror he can’t quite reconcile in his mind – a monster with an overly muscular man-like body, but a face with a muzzle of a dog or wolf rips one of the men looking for the missing girl to shreds.  When they finally capture this individual, he looks nothing like he did the night before, but there is no doubt he’s the man they are looking for.  He warns Sheriff Cranston that he should kill his prisoner before the sun goes down, but no manner of needling from his prisoner can make Cranston do the deed, even when he threatens to reveal Cranston’s darkest secrets.  Revealing those would be devastating for Cranston, but not half as bad as the horrific danger headed his way.

                I love the Dark Screams anthologies.  They contain some terrific horror/dark fiction tales.  Dark Screams: Volume Nine is no exception to that rule.  My favorites are Invitation to the Game, The Dead Years, The Blackout and TornInvitation to the Game has a familiar feel to it and I just knew they weren’t going to let Vivienne out of The Game, but I enjoyed the read all the same.  The Dead Years is rather sick and twisted.  At first, the main character seems like a likable guy, but then we learn what Emma’s leaving did to him and what he is willing to do to prevent others from enjoying her…whoa!  The Blackout is a classic ghost tale…the dead coming back for revenge – scary as hell and fascinating at the same time.  Torn is the best of the bunch – a classic werewolf tale with a fantastic twist regarding the Sheriff’s hidden secret.  No one is safe in that story!

                What a great read and just what the horror doctor ordered!  Dark Screams: Volume Nine definitely puts you right in the Halloween spirit!


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