Haunted Nights is a collection that oozes Halloween, it bleeds black and orange, carries a turnip, is cloaked in shadows, and breathes fog. No matter what time of year you read this, for instance May(like I did), all you'll think about is the terror that lurks in the month of October. Ellen Datlow and Lisa Morton collected 16 short stories focused on Halloween/All Saints Day and squeezed them into a form of concentrated evil that'll help jump start the true terrors of Halloween.
It's a fascinating collection that pivots from the past to the present and even up to the moon for the future. All of them are centered around Halloween, but not necessarily on the actual day. Most of them use Halloween just as a backdrop to deliver a terrifying story. What makes it interesting is how the stories revolve around the history and lore of Halloween. I really enjoyed digging deeper into the holiday and found at least one new thing about Halloween in each story.
You'll find a lot of horror fiction's big names in the table of contents, from Seanan McGuire, Stephen Graham Jones, Garth Nix, to Brian Evenson, Kelley Armstrong, and S.P. Miskowski. All of them find interesting ways to scare you into not trusting the shadows during October 31st. I love the fact that each story puts a great twist on one aspect of the holiday. Some of the stories will freak you out, others might make you angry, some will keep you up late, and maybe one or two will make you sad. I give a ton of credit to Datlow and Morton for mixing up all the stories to create a sine wave of feelings to carry you through the book.
Now to pick out some of the stories that especially stuck with me...
Jonathan Maberry's A Small Taste of the Old Country puts us in 1948 Argentina with two "not" German men meeting an Austrian baker. The two men realize how much they miss Germany when the baker offers them some food from the old country. He invites them to his kitchen for a late night feast and a special holiday celebration. I loved how inventive and twisted this story was. I thought it was going to go one way, with the allusions to the ovens, all of the food, everyone hiding who they truly are. But, at the ending I was pleasantly surprised to find out what the baker's true plans were. This is one of those stories that you are happy to discover because of how different it is.
A Flicker of Light on Devil's Night by Kate Jonez is a heartbreaking story about a mother trying to care for her kids, one who might have made a deal with a demon. The apartment they live in is run down, in a terrible part of town, and the mother is struggling with a very angry and disrespectful son. Let me tell you, he is a real piece of work, cussing out his mom, pushing her down the stairs, threatening his younger sister. I mean, the mom is doing her best to keep the kids safe and wishing she could give them a better life, but sometimes there is nothing you can do but just hope for the best. You'll wish you could jump into the story and help them by the end of it. God, I hated that son, he was just the worst.
Nos Galan Gaeaf is a dark story about a boy not happy with himself because he is in love with the wrong girl. Kelley Armstrong sends us to a little town following the ancient Welsh tradition of Nos Galan Gaeaf, where each citizen puts a rock in a bonfire. If the rock is still there in the morning, they get good luck, if it isn't, they'll die sometime that year. The boy, Lance, can't believe he is in love with Seanna, the bully. He hates himself for it and blames her, so to fix the problem, he decides to remove her stone from the fire. But, to add more to this tradition, there is a monster that will hunt down the last person out on Nos Galan Gaeaf. So, we now have a race against time to determine if Lance can do his terrible act or not. It's a suspenseful story that will have you rooting for Seanna, the main character Lance is a bit of a tool that needs to learn to deal with his emotions. I think there is something special in a story that has you angry at the main character, plus it's a really neat exploration of a Welsh tradition.
In probably the most heartrending story of the bunch, All Through the Night by Elise Forier Edie we follow Maggie while she tries to navigate New York's Five Points. She lives in squalor, eating dirt, and maybe lucky enough to get a piece of a thick cake called barm brack. She meets a sly man named Blai Orrit, whom Maggie believes isn't human. Blai Orrit offers her riches for the child in her belly. Of course she refuses only to discover that she might have taken the gift by accident. She spends the next year trying to take care of the child and hoping Blai Orrit never comes to collect. However, the following year she finds that her baby has been switched for a changeling. From there it just gets sadder as she tries to find her child. This story hit me right in the feels. It's one of those cautionary tales that does not have a happy ending and leaves you feeling sad. It's perfect.
There are so many other stories in here that are amazing. What I gave you above is just a taste of what you'll find. I highly recommend you hunt this down and bring it out every October. Read one story a night and you'll have a pretty awesome lead up to Halloween.