Halloween Carnival: Volume Four

Edited by: Brian James Freeman

Published By: Hydra

Reviewed by Melissa Minners

                With Halloween coming, I was thrilled to be offered the opportunity to review a series of anthologies put together by Brian James Freeman just for the occasion.  Each tale is different, but all have one theme: they take place on or around Halloween.  I now bring you a review of Halloween Carnival: Volume Four.

                We begin with The Mannequin Challenge by Kealan Patrick Burke.  In his sixties, Theo isnít much for parties or hanging out with the work crowd.  He would rather be at home, relaxing comfortably with the only being he trusts in the world: his beloved dog.  But, though he skipped all of the regular Halloween office decorating and eats, Theo is shocked to discover that he has still received an invitation to the office Halloween party.  To say Theo is apprehensive is downplaying things, but once he takes the plunge, he is all inÖespecially when sees a moment to take revenge for all the slights Ė real or perceived Ė he has been a recipient of.

                Up next is Across the Tracks by Ray Garton.  Kenny, JayJay and Sam were from the wrong side of the tracks.  They werenít exactly rich and, in some cases, they were downright destitute.  They three were also the favorite target of local bully Ed Mortimer and his cronies.  On Halloween night, the trio would be engaged in the age-old art of trick-or-treating, but they wonít just stick to their side of the tracks.  After all, the best candy could always be found on the better side of town.  When the kids come upon a large estate with an unlocked door and sounds of a party emanating from the backyard, they canít resist checking it out.  What can be worse that bullies?  Bullies with monsters on their side?

                The Halloween Tree by Bev Vincent is set in a close-knit community in the early 1970s.  Luke is getting ready for Halloween, making his costume rather than buying it.  This year, he is going as a member of The Planet of the Apes.  His friend Benny is Robin Hood.  Terry is dressed as Paul Bunyan.  Donnie is just wearing a clown mask over his regular outfit.  The plan is to grab as much candy from the folks in the neighborhood as possible, especially The McCormack home where they could snag the best treats.  Unfortunately, that meant treading past the treeÖa monstrous, rotten looking tree that has scared Luke for years.  This is the first time the parents arenít coming on the trek across town and the first time that the kids will have to deal with this specter of a tree alone.  Without any adults around, will they succumb to the fear or unit against it?

                C.A. Suleimanís Pumpkin Eater is about a marriage gone astray.  Peterís favorite holiday is Halloween and he will not let the fact that he has just discovered his wife is having an affair ruin it.  In fact, he is planning to make this yearís Halloween the best one ever.  Marlene always makes his life difficult, especially around this time, but how can she stand in the way of such carefully laid plans?

                We wrap it all up with the longest tale in the book: When the Leaves Fall by Paul Melniczek.  Chris used to enjoy Halloween.  That was before his mother left without warning and his father began throwing himself into his work, spending long hours at his job and little time at home with his son.  Chrisí best friend is his dog, Boffer, and Kyle, an outgoing kid with a daring personality.  This year, Kyle has decided, against all advice, that the two had to visit the creepiest place on the outskirts of Haverville.  So, instead of raiding and pulling pranks, the two are about to visit Graverís Farm.  Ignoring all of the no trespassing signs, the two venture onto the property, but what they see there is horrifying.  In fact, ten years later, living with his uncle in another town, Chris still canít quite reconcile what it is he saw out at Graverís FarmÖbut he knows he has to go back.  Graverís Farm hides the secret to what is haunting all those Chris holds dear and now that he is old enough, he is going to handle the problem he left behind.

                This edition of Halloween Carnival wasnít perfect, but I still enjoyed a great deal of it.  I could give or take The Mannequin Challenge.  There was something that really bugged me about this story, but to discuss it in too much detail would give away too much of the story, so I will refrain.  Across the Tracks was not at all what I was expecting.  I thought that the trio of bullied kids would finally come out on top Ė I could never have expected what the author had in mind for them, not in a million years.  The Halloween Tree was a terrific tale of friendship overcoming horrific challenges.  I wasnít rather fond of Pumpkin Eater and already figured out the twist in the tale before it was half finished.  When the Leaves Fall drew me in and I couldnít put it down until I knew just what was going on in Haverville, and though the storyís ending is a bit on the open side, I can understand exactly where the author was going with this tale and loved it.

                So far, the Halloween Carnival series has won me over.  I canít wait to check out Volume Five, the last in the series.


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