Book Reviews

Johnny Halloween: Tales of the Dark Season * Norman Partridge

Tonight is his night! Halloween belongs to the Prince of Darkness! It’s not a night for children, and it’s certainly not a night for celebration. No, it’s a night to be wary, a night to lock your doors and read your Bible. And I know that’s exactly what you good folks would be doing if the stakes weren’t so high, right here, right now.

Welcome to the darkness! If you liked Dark Harvest, you’re also going to enjoy this collection of very spooky stories.

Collection Contains:

“Johnny Halloween” Copyright © 1992 by Norman Partridge. First appeared in Cemetery Dance #14.
“Satan’s Army” Copyright © 2005 by Norman Partridge. First appeared in the lettered edition of Mr. Fox and Other Feral Tales, Subterranean Press.
“The Man Who Killed Halloween” Copyright © 2001 by Norman Partridge. First appeared in The Spook #4.
“Black Leather Kites” Copyright © 1991 by Norman Partridge. First appeared in Chills #5.
“Treats” Copyright © 1990 by Norman Partridge. First appeared in Blood Review #4.
“Three Doors” Copyright © 2006 by Norman Partridge. First appeared in At the Sign of the Snowman’s Skull, Earthling Publications.
“The Jack o’Lantern: A Dark Harvest Tale” Copyright © 2010 by Norman Partridge. Previously unpublished.

I liked all stories and they’re great for a Halloween read.

The first story, Johnny Halloween, pairs up well with the introduction to Halloween and that the creepiest monsters can wear human faces. Mix Halloween into the deal with the grinning, blank masks that are supposed to be trustworthy, and it can get trickier. The story started on a different note than the middle dive and then end twist. Plenty of tricks made this short story a treat that sets the story off well. It was my favorite of the bunch and well worth reading.

But it was Halloween, and the kids next door were having a loud party, and I couldn’t sleep. Sure, I could have broken up the party, but I didn’t. I’m a good neighbor. I like to hear the sound of kids having fun, even if I think the music we listened to back in the fifties was a lot easier on the ears. So I’m not sour on teenagers, like some cops. Probably has something to do with the fact that Helen and I never had any kids of our own. It just didn’t work out for us, is all.

When Helen had the abortion, we were young and stupid and we figured we’d have plenty of chances later on. That wasn’t the way it worked out, though. I guess timing is everything. The moment passes, things change, and the life you thought you’d have isn’t there when you catch up to it.

What it is, is you get older. You change and you don’t even notice it. You think you’re making the decisions, but mostly life is making them for you. You’re just along for the ride. Reacting, not acting. Most of the time you’re just trying to make it through another day. That’s how most cops see it. Like my deputies say: shit happens. And then we come along and clean up the mess.

I liked (kidding) how the main character always slaps around – first a suspect, then his wife. It’s like that hindi movie called Singham (google it).

I slapped Helen then, just the way I’d slapped the Mexican girl at the liquor store, like she didn’t mean anything to me at all.

Domestic violence. Welcome to the horror show!

The second story “Satan’s Army” is disturbing. Ties in the evils warned of by fire-and-brimstone type preachers with the paranoia of a small town with a grim finale. The story isn’t the best, but the focus of it is nifty — when it comes to Halloween and all the things kids love about it (horror movie marathons, creepy monsters, traditions and spooks and parties), we all remember the naysayers talking about the corrupted youth turning bad due because of entertainment.

“There you go again, putting words in my mouth. I’m saying that the Devil is strong in this country today, and getting stronger every second. Incidents of ritual abuse have been well documented. Sites of satanic worship are being discovered all the time—in public parks, in public buildings, right here in suburbia. But some people don’t want us to see the reality of the situation. They’d have us believe that incidents of graveyard vandalism are just youthful hi-jinks, not ceremonies that pay tribute to—”

“I know, Bishop. I know. But the way that Satan hides in the most innocent places, and the things we have to do to fight him…well, sometimes it disturbs me.”

Who is the actual evil? Good question!

The third story is more of an essay about his town’s experiences with the Zodiac killer. Intriguing stuff. I realize I never read much on that particular serial killer, although I’ve of course heard the name.

Black Leather Kites, while inventive, confused me at first and stalled on me later. Not my favorite of the group, it crosses into some cheesiness, but does do serve the anthology’s theme well by having a story focus on the ancient traditions of Halloween and the weird occult stories surrounding the season.

There were about ten of them, and just like Dennis Wichita had said, they were flying kites. Nardo saw three bat-shaped silhouettes darting and diving before the bright moon, though it didn’t appear that any of the men were holding kite reels or paying much attention to the aerial acrobatics.

I feel clueless not getting what Treats was about, but I still dug the story. It was creepy and fascinating. Were they killer ants trained as an army and fed on candy? I didn’t get the ending, but it was still one of the most interesting.

“ Mommy ,” Jimmy had cried, “you said my candy would last. Now look at it. Look at them . They ruined it. I want new candy. I want it now!” But Jimmy’s whining had been a lie. Maddie knew that now. Jimmy hadn’t wanted the candy. They had wanted it, and they’d coaxed Jimmy into getting it for them. And they scared her, even if they didn’t scare her son. They’d always scared her.

Three Doors – well, wow. It started out seeming like an almost humorous story about something unbelievable and somewhat silly, but it turns into serious, dark, grim reality. It’s a strong contender for my favorite of the book. It was a tricky and misdirecting tale that’s just….sad. Sad, but well done.

And I know what you’re thinking now. Sure—I’ve heard of “The Monkey’s Paw.” Who the hell hasn’t? A bucket of sour mojo, three wishes going bad, a dead guy knocking on his momma’s door…

The longest, The Jack O Lantern, was one of my least favorites with its cohesiveness and direction, but it was at least creepy.

Cornstalks crackle as the October Boy shoulders into a small clearing. Moonlight fills that scooped hunk of the world, where stalks are rat-gnawed. But hesitation—real or imagined—is not a quality contained within the growing armature of the October Boy’s body. He steps forward, his carved pumpkin head twisting on its braided-vine neck, beams of orange light spilling from his triangular eyes as he examines the shorn clearing.

 

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