Last year Cemetery Dance published a series of short story ebooks with the theme of Halloween. I bought all of them, but I wasn’t able to read them all. I could have, but I decided to save a few for this year. So for the fourth week of Six Weeks of Scares, I’m looking at The Halloween Phantoms.
One night a few weeks before Halloween, Ellen hears a knock on her door. Ellen is a young recently widowed woman trying to raise her daughter Julie alone. It’s rather late for someone to be knocking, and Ellen has finally gotten Julie to bed. She’s afraid the knock will wake Julie up. She’s right.
There’s no one there. Just a bag hanging on the doorknob. Ellen and Julie take the bag into the house. It contains candy, and a toy that appears to be a puzzle, and a note. The note tells Ellen that she’s been BOO’d. Now she needs to fill three bags with candy and small toys, knock on three doors, and leave the bags on the doors without being seen. She’s to include a copy of the note in each bag and to put a sign on her door saying she’d been BOO’d to avoid repeating BOOing. If she doesn’t, Bad Things Will Happen, namely she’ll suffer the wrath of the Halloween Phantoms.
Ellen doesn’t think much of the whole thing. It doesn’t help when the neighborhood mothers tell her she has no choice and she needs to follow their instructions.
I doubt I’m giving much away by saying Ellen doesn’t and Bad Things Happen. This is going to be another one of those stories that people who don’t like children in threatening situations might want to avoid. You might have a problem with this one.
My problem with The Halloween Phantoms wasn’t that Julie is in danger. It’s that this story isn’t a short story. It’s a novel that hasn’t found its proper length. There were so many things the author could have done but didn’t. For instance, the puzzle in the bag Ellen and Julie get seemed to have some internal light source. Okay, that could be pretty spooky and even be incorporated into Bad Things Happening. Never mentioned again.
Also, the three neighbor women had the potential to be creepier than they were, especially when one of them hits on Ellen. Ellen’s husband had been hit by lightning and died shortly after they moved to the small town in which the story is set. She’s still grieving and has never been accepted by the local women. I saw a lot of potential there that wasn’t utilized.
I’m not saying this was a bad story. I rather enjoyed it, although the ending was a little bleak for my taste. I saw so much more it could have been. I love the idea of the chain letter trick or treat bags. Unfortunately, I didn’t think a short story wasn’t the best medium to develop all the potential in the idea. YMMV.
Still, The Halloween Phantoms was well written with interesting characters. I intend to read more from this author and already have some of his other work on my ereader. I’d especially be interested in reading a novella or novel length version of this story.
Cemetery Dance is one of the most consistent publishers in terms of quality ebooks (and other books as well). The formatting was well done, and there were no typos or weird page breaks. A much better job than you’ll see from other publishers who ask a lot more money for their ebooks.