Turn Down the Lights
In 1988, Richard Chizmar decided to publish a magazine. The magazine would contain publications of works by newcomers and well-established authors in the areas of dark fiction such as horror, suspense and crime. Alongside new works would be interviews, reviews, commentary and more. At the age of twenty-two, this may have seemed like a daunting task for Chizmar, but in the end, it was a successful venture and Cemetery Dance Magazine has become a favorite of fans of dark fiction over the years. Of course, this led to Cemetery Dance Publications and the recent anthology celebrating twenty-five years of Cemetery Dance, Turn Down the Lights.
Turn Down the Lights features ten dark stories from some very well known names in dark fiction, with an introduction by Richard Chizmar himself and an afterward by a friend, co-worker and author Thomas F. Monteleone. The introduction lets readers know what hard work went into the creation of Cemetery Dance. The afterward advises readers of how much Cemetery Dance has meant to readers and authors alike. And while the entrepreneurial adventure may excite writers out there, it will be the stories collected in Turn Down the Lights that will captivate the readers.
First up is a short story by Stephen King entitled Summer Thunder. In this tale, we meet a survivor of nuclear war who knows what his eventual fate will be. Out in the wonders of the Vermont woodlands in the summer, it would be easy to forget the horrors of a modern world gone terribly wrong, but for the approaching inevitable death made possible through nuclear fallout that remains. The story is heartbreaking and yet uplifting all at the same time. I found myself utterly depressed at the loss of the main character's furry best friend, but happy with his decision to die under his own terms.
Next is a supernatural thriller by Norman Partridge called Incarnadine. In this tale, revenge and blood intertwine to create a monster bent on destruction and the imbibing of more misery and blood. This is followed by a zombie tale set in the wild western days by Jack Ketchum entitled The Western Dead. Brian James Freeman provides us with an interesting entry of dark fiction called An instant Eternity. In this tale, a journalistic war photographer plays a dramatic role in the aftermath of a war, rescuing a refugee from certain death. His own few moments of Hell serve as an inspiration for the rest of his life and he will always remember what he did that day and the lessons he learned. In An Instant Eternity, Brian James Freeman reminds us that horror doesn't always appear in the form of supernatural or serial killer entities. Horror can be found in the real world and events that surround us on a daily basis.
In the Room by Bentley Little follows and offers up a strange sell your soul to the devil sort of tale with an ambiguous sort of ending that left me wondering whether this story was slightly unfinished. Next up was a story I enjoyed a great deal - Flying Solo by Ed Gorman - about two men, dying of cancer, who decide to use what little time they have left in this world to help people who have been seriously...and sometimes painfully...wronged. The story played out like a movie and I could see Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas in the roles of Ralph and Tom, reminiscent of the toughness in the allegedly over-the-hill bad boys they played in Tough Guys. I got a real kick out of that story.
The rest of the stories in the anthology are heavily steeped in the supernatural, including the monsters hiding under the concrete base of The Outhouse by Ronald Kelly, the birdlike mountain men in Lookie-Loo by Steve Rasnic Tem, the mysterious hold of a long-buried wooden toy in Dollie by Clive Barker and the weird and sinister presence of Mister Nothing Nowhere Nobody and Freddie in The Collected Stories of Freddie Prothero by Peter Straub.
I was very pleased with Turn Down the Lights. Though only 174 pages in length, the stories included in this anthology are so captivating as to make the book seem that much longer. Each tale was similar in that they represented elements of dark fiction, yet each tale differed in the path that dark fiction would take, whether supernatural, man-made horror or simply darkness we find in every day events. Turn Down the Lights is the perfect way to celebrate twenty-five years of Cemetery Dance, bringing to the forefront some of the best dark fiction I've read recently by authors who definitely know their way around the genre. Thank you, Cemetery Dance for twenty-five years of entertaining darkness and here's hoping for twenty-five more!