Author: Cameron Chaney
In the spooky, quaint little town of Autumncrow Valley every night is Halloween, and the things that go bump in this night mean you harm. There is a haunted house show with an animatronic mannequin that suddenly comes alive, a childhood home filled with demons, a runaway with a dream and a cold car, a crypt with a very special resident, a young boy who sees the ghost of a burned man, and a woman who wants to resurrect her dead husband, among others. Each story is a venue, a slightly more gruesome Twilight Zone-esque trip into the dark, the terrifying, and occasionally the poignant: a patchwork between childhood spook stories and Creepshow.
I came to Autumncrow and author Cameron Chaney for the first time through one of my GoodReads book club’s monthly picks. Frankly, this one wasn’t my choice, with its leering yet somewhat comical skeleton on the cover, its focus on a toned down, tamed macabre. It’s a little too simplistic for me, and short stories aren’t my go to either, since I prefer the depth of both horror and humanity that novel length works can achieve. However, I actually found myself enjoying Autumncrow. It wasn’t my favorite, but all of the stories were entertaining and some of them were deliciously good.
My favorite, “Burnt Brownies,” is easily the most terrifying and depressing of the stories. A teenage party is crashed by a very special ghost, one only an innocent little boy can see. He knows that the burnt man wants his older sister, he knows what the dead man is trying to do, and he works to save his family, but the forces of darkness and Autumncrow have different plans. The conclusion of this story is worthy of the darkest Twilight Zone episode. It’s jaw dropping, unforgettable, and poignant in a spine-shuddering way.
My next favorite, “I Have No Mouth and I Must Feed,” is more of the classic hokey horror story type. Here, a haunted house attraction and an alien visitor combine to create something deliciously creepy in the vein of all the best creature features. There is a longer build-up to this story and a little more characterization, giving the reader time to soak in the paranoia.
“There Are Monsters Here” is the final, longest story and something in an entirely different vein than the rest of the book. It is more adult, in many ways, and oddly more surreal. It oscillates between reality and a deeper, more complex meaning. In the story, a young boy returns to his family home to confront the curse and his own demons. There are tones here of getting past abuse, moving beyond the tragedy of broken and addled families, as well as a true out-and-out monster story that stands for something greater.
The other stories in the collection range from interesting (such as “Frost”) to less than spectacular (“CRYP-TV” and “Pumpkin Light,”) yet all of them are entertaining and atmospheric. This is mostly a “light weight” short story collection, probably more aimed towards the horror taste of pre-teens or those who like their creepy a little sanitized, but it is nevertheless a good introduction to the tradition of spooky storytelling and nights filled with monsters and mystery.
– Frances Carden
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