Two Horror Anthologies From 2004

From the Borderlands, edited by Elizabeth E. and Thomas F. Monteleone (Warner Books, 2004)
A Walk on the Darkside, edited by John Pelan (Roc, 2004)
I’m looking at these two books together because I read them at the same time, alternating stories to the point where the two volumes seemed almost interchangeable. That’s not meant as a slight to either book; rather, it’s an observation that they both offer up the same sort of material: a wide range of horror from some of the best names in the field.
A Walk on the Darkside is the third in the series edited by John Pelan, following Darkside (Roc, 1997) and The Darker Side (Roc, 2002). There’s nothing to suggest it’s nothing more than a general collection of horror stories with no unifying theme, and the result is a mixed bag ranging from forgettable to unnerving. There are a few stories which really stood out, however. Don Tumasonis tells a midnight tale of a deal with some rather dark forces, and the efforts a man goes through to get out of the pact in “Crossroads.” In “Jikininko” by Joseph Ezzo, another man discovers that his new wife has brought some deadly secrets from her native culture with her, and a misunderstanding may lead to something unimaginably horrific. In Paul Finch’s “God’s Fist,” an ex-cop is driven over the edge by the wickedness and injustice of the world, becoming a murderous vigilante with nothing to lose. “Whatever Happened To?” by d.g.k. goldberg is an all too possible story about a one-hit wonder whose post-fame life has spiraled into a bizarre oblivion while her neighbor perpetrates disgusting evils next door.
John Pelan’s own story, “Memories Are Made Of This” blurs the lines between reality and fantasy as hypnotic regression opens up (or maybe conjures up from nothing) repressed childhood memories for a man with a troubled past. Jeffrey Thomas’ “The Abandoned,” meanwhile, looks at the unholy life one woman leads in an all-too-real post-death Hell, where she struggles to hang on to what’s left of her sanity and humanity in a decidedly hostile environment. Brian Keene’s story, “‘The King’ In Yellow” invokes a similiar-named story from the Cthulhu Mythos, infusing it with some pop-culture tragedy and setting it in an out-of-the-way theatre. In the end, A Walk on the Darkside manages to offer up more than its fair share of satisfyingly disturbing stories, making for an enjoyable read.
From the Borderlands was originally published as Borderlands 5, and is also a non-themed anthology, containing a wide variety of horror, suspense, and dark fantasy stories, with the only real guideline being an admonition to stay away from the traditional horror icons. It too has a number of stories that manage to catch the attention. My personal favorite, the first story in the collection and the one that convinced me to keep reading, is Gary Braunbeck’s “Rami Temporalis.” In it, a man who just happens to have “that sort of face” is always being approached by complete strangers eager to tell him their stories. Indirectly helping them just by paying attention, he’s never quite understood just how important his gift is, until a mysterious stranger shows up with the answers, and an offer that could change everything. John R. Platt’s “All Hands” is a deliciously twisted, offbeat story where it’s entirely normal for hands to switch owners overnight, completely at random. You never know whose hands you’ll wear on any given day, and who knows the stories they could tell? Holly Newstein’s “Faith Will Make You Free” is an unusual tale of a couple of nice Jewish boys fighting for freedom and their country during World War Two. Toss in some mysticism and faith, and their lives take a strange turn as the war grinds on.
Adam Fusco’s “N0072-JK1″ defies casual description. On the surface, it starts off as an innocuous, if somewhat odd, scientific study, but as it progresses, it degenerates into true horror. “The Growth of Alan Ashley” by Bill Gauthier conjures up the spirit of Walter Mitty, examining the secret multiple lives of a man whose fantasies threaten to overwhelm his reality once and for all. Brian Freeman’s “Answering the Call” is the story of those people who stand between the living and the dead, ready to answer a phone call from beyond the grave. For an even stranger, more offbeat story, try “The Thing Too Hideous To Describe” by David Schow, in which the titular creature just tries to get along with its nearby human neighbors, people all too ready to form a lynch mob or break out the torches. And of course, we can’t overlook Stephen King’s “Stationary Bike,” in which a simple piece of exercise equipment becomes a gateway into a man’s past, present, future, and nightmares.
While both of these are good horror anthologies, From The Borderlands does seem to give just a little more shudder for the dollar, with a slightly higher overall quality of story and enjoyment. But both books are worthy collections, and go well together as a pair despite their separate origins.

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