The Dark, edited by Ellen Datlow (Tor Books, 2003)

I’ve had this book since it first came out, reading it in small doses both to savor the contents, and to avoid from overloading my brain with too many ghost stories all at once. For that’s the theme here. Ellen Datlow asked a number of authors to come up with new ghost stories for the modern era, stories to disturb and discomfort and cause restless nights and bad dreams. I’m happy to say that she succeeded, with The Dark. Frankly, while they were appropriately spooky back in October, the stories are even more effective in the dead of winter, with the long nights and the constant feeling of being cold whenever you go out. (Admittedly, this is a regional thing; those who can wear Bermuda shorts in winter, not a word out of you.)
As with any anthology, certain stories leap out. For me, those include Tanith Lee’s “The Ghost of the Clock,” which imbues a simple household item with a deadly history and an eerie nature, and Joyce Carol Oates’ “Subway,” in which a young woman races inexorably towards her ultimate destination, and her final fate. Both of those possess the power to make me shiver a little with anticipatory dread at turning out the lights, in their own way.
They’re not alone, of course. Jack Cady’s “Seven Sisters” reinvents the subgenre of the haunted house to great effect, offering up enough fascinating characters and concepts to warrant an entire book on the subject. When fine architecture and immortal obsessions collide, a town feels the consequences in something straight out of Stephen King’s finer moments. Sharyn McCrumb’s “The Gallows Necklace” is a chilling tale of youthful indiscretion, repeated mistakes, and casual cruelty, with the past refusing to stay buried. Kathe Koja explores a different sort of obsession and another haunted house in “Velocity.” Jeffrey Ford, Gahan Wilson, Kelly Link and others also add to the spook factor with their own stories. All in all, The Dark is exactly what it sets out to be: an excellent collection of stories that’ll creep you out late at night, and now’s as good as time as any to check it out.

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