Halloween Carnival Volume 1

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Robert McCammon, Kevin Lucia, John R. Little, Lisa Morton, and Mark Allan Gunnells put the horror back in Halloween with a quintet of devilishly delightful tales, curated by acclaimed author and editor Brian James Freeman.

STRANGE CANDY by Robert McCammon
Chocolate bars and sour suckers are trick-or-treat staples, but beware the odd sweet at the bottom of your bag. You never know who it’s from—or what it might do to you.

THE RAGE OF ACHILLES by Kevin Lucia
Father Ward should have heeded the warnings about hearing confession on All Hallow’s Eve. Because a man is about to tell him a secret more haunting than any he has heard before.

DEMON AIR by John R. Little
Fear of flying is not uncommon. But on this transpacific airline, the real danger isn’t the flight itself. It’s whoever—or whatever—is up in the air with you.

LA HACIENDA DE LOS MUERTOS by Lisa Morton
Trick McGrew, former cowboy star of the silver screen, has never believed in tall tales. But down in Mexico, the land of La Llorona, he’s about to find out just how real urban legends can be.

#MAKEHALLOWEENSCARYAGAIN by Mark Allan Gunnells
Some people will go to any lengths to rack up retweets, likes, and follows on social media, no matter who they end up hurting . . . or even killing.

Praise for Halloween Carnival Volume 1

“[Halloween Carnival: Volume One] provides festive entertainment from an assortment of the genre’s most accomplished regulars.”—Unnerving Magazine
 
“Entertaining . . . I’d suggest reading them in the daytime.”—Journey of a Bookseller
 
“A solid collection . . . A Halloween fan who reads ebooks can’t go wrong here.”—Battered, Tattered, Yellowed, & Creased

Under the Cover

An excerpt from Halloween Carnival Volume 1

Strange Candy

Robert McCammon

“Now this,” I said, “is a piece of strange candy.”

“Yeah, I’ve seen it,” Carol answered. “Jenny saw it, too, and she said no way she was eating it. She put it right back in there. Said you could have it.” Carol smiled faintly, saying if you dare. A faint smile was about all she could muster this Halloween. It had been a tough year.

“Hm,” I replied, looking more closely at what I’d just taken from the bottom of the bag of treats. It was a small hand, five-fingered and ghostly white. It sparkled, as if covered with small grains of sugar, but instead of being grainy it felt very smooth. “Weird,” I said. “Do we know where we got this from? A haunted house, maybe?”

“No idea.” Carol cuddled up next to me on the sofa. “I do know it’s not wrapped, so I wouldn’t let anybody eat it.”

“Beware the poisoned hand.” I dropped it back into the bag, which our eight-year-old had decorated with colorful stickers of bats, black cats, owls, and witches’ hats. Jenny had done her work this night, dressed as a fairy princess along with a brigade of neighborhood zombies, ghouls, Batmen, vampires, and walking pumpkins, and had gone on to bed pretty much exhausted, leaving me and her mom to prowl through the trick-or-treat bag after Jenny had taken out the best “loot,” as she called it, the little individually wrapped candy bars, the small bags of M&M’s, and the Reese’s cups. Smart kid we had. She put everything she wanted in a smaller plastic bag on the kitchen counter, and I was sure she’d know if anything was missing. Therefore, no looting through the “loot” tonight.

We lived in a small town. Not too small. But a place where there were not too many streets and not too many houses and not too much stuff to get in the way of life. It was a good town, and we lived in a good neighborhood. I had gone out with my wife and daughter tonight and walked many streets in search of the prime loot. Of course you always got strange candy that seemed to collect at the bottom of the bag, and no kid would touch it and no adult ought to. That was part of Halloween, as well.

It had been, as I said, a tough year. It seemed colder this Halloween than it had last year. A little darker, too, and for sure it was quieter. Maybe I should say “more solemn.” The family photographs in our house were diminished. It was the way things were.

Carol and I talked about our day tomorrow. A Saturday. We could take things easy. We had nowhere to go, and no particular plans. It was supposed to rain early in the morning and get chilly. Winter was on the way. I thought of bleak days and trees without leaves, and I realized I wasn’t ready to think about those things yet.

It was nearing midnight. Time for my horror movie. Yes, that’s what I did near midnight every Halloween. I watched a horror movie, usually an old one, from my DVD collection. And I had a bunch. Carol was tired, and she wasn’t a big fan of horror movies, anyway, so I kissed her and said good night, and when she went upstairs I looked through my collection for the flick I had in mind. There it was: The Haunting, the first version, 1963, in glorious and spooky black-and-white. I’d seen it before, several times. Last year I’d watched it. It was familiar.

I put the DVD into the player, settled back on the sofa, and started the movie. I heard the wind blow past the house, like a keening cry. Yeah, suitable for Halloween, all right. Except Halloween was almost over, all the witches and black cats and ghoulies and ghosties of the night either already asleep or headed to dreamland.

When did I reach into that bag and take out the sparkly white hand?

I don’t remember, but I did take it out. Maybe it was when you got your first view of Hill House, that beautifully gothic pile of fright. Maybe. But I was suddenly looking at the strange candy, and I wondered who had dropped it into the bag. I sniffed the thing.

Pepperminty.

Eleanor . . . Eleanor . . . it knows my name . . .

A great movie. But I had the strange candy in my hand—a ghostly hand in my hand—and I began to think that not only was it beautiful, with its long, tapered five fingers . . . and that it smelled good . . . but that maybe it tasted good, too. Not poisoned at all. Just . . . different. Unique. I’d never seen anything like it before. So . . . well, I mean, I didn’t want to die, but . . . still . . . it was just a piece of candy, shaped like a hand. What was the big deal?

Man or mouse? Kind of ridiculous to be afraid of it. I mean, I wasn’t afraid of it. So I bit off one of the fingers first. Crunchy. Definitely . . . peppermint? No, not quite. Minty, yes, but . . . a little cinnamon in there, too? Oil of clove?

I thought it tasted like something I’d had a long, long time ago: a pair of wax lips. The taste of that was memorable, and yet . . . unexplainable.

No harm done. I ate the whole thing. Crunchy, crunchy. Now back to the drama, and the black-and-white fright, and the suffering spirit in Hill House who walks alone.

It was nearing midnight, as I said. Midnight, almost. A few ticks of the clock away, and then Halloween would really be gone.

Only I was no longer in my living room, watching a movie on the big screen.

No.

Not there.

Halloween Carnival Volume 1

Halloween Carnival Volume 1

— Published by Hydra —