NIGHT WHISPERS, edited by Amanda S. Green, is a short seven story anthology put together by Naked Reader Press. It features a number of scary stories from a number of different angles, but could otherwise be called “variations on terror, human style.” There are some funny stories here — or at least some stories with funny moments in them — but the tone, and tenor, of this anthology is more grim than not.
First up is Dave Freer’s short story, “Jack.” This is a story about Hrolf Ragnusson, a fighter, and his men, trying to last a night on Gnita Heath during the medieval (or proto-medieval) era. Hrolf and the others are out there because way too many men have been getting killed by Jack o’ the Heath — a monster reputed to be terrible and vicious. However, what Hrolf finds isn’t exactly what he was expecting . . . let’s just say I enjoyed this story and its novel take on Scandinavian myth and appreciated its take that sometimes, what’s truly scary isn’t what you think it is — it’s what you know it isn’t.
The next story was my personal favorite of the anthology, Sarah A. Hoyt’s “Till Your Proud Heart Break.” This is about three magicians — Glennys, her first husband, Amyas, and her second husband, Thelko. There is a terrible plague, and Glennys and Amyas have come to try to stop it, though they’re still in the first month or so of marriage. In Hoyt’s story, magic is far more powerful when a married couple shares it — but to gain the greater power, something must be sacrificed. Here, what happens is that Glennys and Amyas can no longer cast spells alone — they must cast them together or they have no chance at all. As for Thelko, he’s been a magical singleton — that is, he’s never married — and he’s also trying to stop the plague or heal the victims as much as he can. But his magic works differently than either Amyas’s or Glennys’s, something none of the three of them seems to realize, and this causes great problems for all of them.
When Amyas passes on, Glennys suspects that Thelko did away with him because Thelko, like many men, was taken with Glennys — but Thelko, unlike most of these men, was also a capable magician, which gave him a motivation for murder. But did Thelko really commit murder to be with Glennys? If so, why did Glennys marry him? And will anyone, ever, stop the plague?
“Till Your Proud Heart Break” raises many more questions than it answers, and is a stunning story about pride, loss, redemption, heartbreak, sacrifice, and much, much more. Excellent story, and my pick as the best in the entire NIGHT WHISPERS anthology.
Charles Edgar Quinn’s “Gobble, Gobble, One of Us” is about a vampire hunter in our present-day world, which means this is a contemporary urban fantasy. Christopher Mauldin is a guy who can’t seem to get it right; he’s geeky, nervous, doesn’t date often (and when he does, tends to screw it up royally), and really cannot stand vampires. Yet now, there’s a girl he likes at his latest job at a copy shop — but she’s not what she seems. So what will he do to “save” her if warranted, and how will it change him if he does?
I had a few problems with this story; for one, the nebbish at its heart was a bit too stereotypically drawn. This is a guy who doesn’t have anything going for him — he lacks self-esteem — yet he wants to be a present-day version of Bram Stoker? What gives?
And why, oh why, would he put everything on the line for this girl when he’s not been able to make a move in her direction in the particular way he chooses (which I will not spoil)? (I can see making some sort of move, but why he picks that one, I just don’t know.)
All that being said, this is a competently rendered story and I’d like to see more from Mr. Quinn in the future.
Robert A. Hoyt’s story “Bite One, Get One Free” is about biological packaging run amuck. Here we have store manager Gavin Shlen as the one human running an entirely biological grocery store. The carts, shelves, etc., are all living plants which live off both biosynthesis and a certain type of nourishment that’s supposed to be provided by tanker trucks. Yet the trucks haven’t shown up for a week or two now, and the store is obviously getting restless — will Shlen be able to outwit or outlast the plants as they attempt to take over the store? And why haven’t those gosh-darned trucks shown up, anyway?
“Bite One, Get One Free” is an unusual and highly original story that combines the worlds of high tech, “green” jobs and manufacturing, bureaucracy, and the most outlandish take on vampirism I’ve ever read. While it’s a dark story, there are bits of humor here, and I rooted for Mr. Hoyt’s hero, Shlen, all the way through. Kudos!
Ellie Ferguson’s “Predator or Prey” is yet another dark fantasy with some humorous moments. Here, we have teachers, shapechangers, and a town that has seemingly lost its bearings — yet Miss Patterson, the town’s newest teacher, will get things back on track, or else.
Here, what drew me in was the character of Miss Patterson; it was obvious from the start she wasn’t what she seemed, yet she has the same concerns of every teacher — plus a few more. And how she takes on two extremely obnoxious parents, who are convinced their son is right no matter what he writes or says, is well worth cheering. “Predator or Prey” is a romp, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Next is Kate Paulk’s “Hell of a Job,” another dark fantasy romp, this time about an Earth woman who’s been picked to be the newest Dark Lord of Hell. Elizabeth Antonia Harrisfield had never wanted this job, but now that she has it, she’s going to do her best to be the best Dark Lord ever — even to perhaps snaring the Dread Lord’s hand in marriage if she plays her cards right.
Here, the story is more about how Elizabeth adapts more than anything else — we already know that the main “hook” is that of a good woman forced into a bad situation through no fault of hers — and the laughs come in whenever Elizabeth finds a way to not kill people (or at least not kill so many), or whenever Elizabeth points out that being good to her loyal Dark minions is better for business than scaring, then killing them. I enjoyed “Hell of a Job” quite a bit, and look forward to whatever Kate Paulk writes next.
Finally, we come to the final story in this short anthology, Sarah A. Hoyt’s “Zebbie.” (Yes, this is her second in the anthology.) This is all about the “little people,” and cats, and how sometimes the lowest-priced house around isn’t the one you want to live in if you have a choice.
Zebbie, the title character, is a cat — no, not a speaking cat, a regular house cat — who stumbles upon something, kills it, and brings it back to his owners. However, what he killed wasn’t human — it was a fairy (and a very small fairy, at that, smaller than most birds) — and that means Zebbie’s in trouble. Will his humans figure out what’s really going on? And will they all get away before the Others become malevolent?
In total, I enjoyed NIGHT WHISPERS quite a bit, but it was a little too short for my taste. However, it’s priced about right at $2.99 (American dollars), and it’s well worth reading.
Overall Grade — B-plus.
— reviewed by Barb