In the silence of the night, unquiet things rustle and scuttle. Are they they products of our unsettled imaginations, or are they…something more? These unquiet things are the subjects horror author Charles L. Grant loved to write about. He was perhaps one of the best horror writer ever at conveying a sense of unease and dread, and his novelas set in the New England town of Oxrun Station display this talent to its fullest. Necon’s series of Charles L. Grant re-releases in ebook form, if you’re a fan of horror fiction, are a great way to read these gems and celebrate the genius of the horror
genre that was Grant.
The Complete Short Fiction of Charles L. Grant Volume II: The Orchard is composed of an introduction by Kealan Patrick Burke, a prologue by Grant, and four of his Oxrun Station novelas: “My Mary’s Asleep,” “I See Her Sweet and Fair,” “The Last and Dreadful Hour,” and “Screaming In the Dark.” The stories are loosely linked by their setting, by a spooky old blackened apple orchard at the outskirts of town, and by recurring characters from the first tale in the collection, “My Mary’s Asleep.”
What are the short stories about? “My Mary’s Asleep” tells the tale of college students who ought to be preparing for their finals, but who instead choose to use their Sunday to have a picnic, have fun, and blow off some steam. Something mysterious lurks in the old orchard near to where they picnic, but what is it? They enjoy the picnic, have fun playing a game of tag with few rules, and one of the group gets smashed into by a car and dies. That person is the boyfriend of Mary Oster. The main protagonist of the story, the overweight Herb Johns, has the hots for Mary, and so is not unhappy when her boyfriend bites the dust. But then, the other friends at the picnic also begin to die off; Herb mysteriously loses quite a bit of weight in a short time; he carves an elaborate coffin with Mary’s visage on it and a life-sized version of Mary; and then, he eventually finds himself alone in the old apple orchard. Or, is he truly alone?
The second novela, “I See Her Sweet and Fair,” has as its main protagonist a middle-aged police officer who has a teenage son who may be a murderer. Policeman Brett Gilman wonders which of two women in town might be showing the most interst in him, and if he can still find love this late in his life. His teenage son, Les, has been on eof the last people seen with young teen girls who have been showing up dead, ran through by an unknown weapon, perhaps an icepick. Brett tries to confront his son, but Les takes off and runs away, afraid that he is about to be arrested, and that his father doesn’t trust him. But, is it really Les who is behind the murders, or some mysterious creature form mythology borught to life by the hopes and wishes of an obsessed woman?
The third tale in the collection, “The Sweet and Dreadful Hour,” is one of my favorites, as it is a bit more bloody and gory. Ellory Phillips and assorted other characters find themselves hopelessly trapped in a movie theater during a storm. He is watching a movie with a woman he’s asked out on a date when there’s a power failure. An old man falls, and gets knocked unconscious. People try to leave the theater, but find that the doors are all locked, though two people do manage to leave through the doors to get help. They never return. The glass windows are impossible to smash, despite the best efforts of those trapped within. There are shape-shifting demonic figures like Ginny. She acts very seductive, and her clothes somehow fall off of her body. But then her flesh falls away and she’s not so seductive anymore. There are people who disappear mysteriously; and, the concept that it’s all just a dream, and soon they will awaken. But, Herb for one still can feel pain. If it’s all just a dream, then whose dream is it?
The fourth story, “Screaming, In the Dark,” is a nice conclusion to the collection. It’s about a reporter who is recovering from a broken leg in a hospital. But, then he gets an odd bunkmate in his room. Too bad his insurance didn’t cover a private room…but then, there wouldn’t be much to this gem of a horror story.
Check out The Orchard by Charles L. Grant if you love reading quiet horror stories full of dread that creep up on you and without warning, rip your throat out. Happy reading, and pleasant screams–er, dreams.