African-American horror writer and editor Massey has another slam dunk with his third Dark Dreams anthology (after 2006's Voices from the Other Side). Outstanding stories by returning contributors include Tananarive Due's "Summer," exploring a toddler's eerie possession; Robert Fleming's "The Wasp," a heartbreaking portrait of an abused wife; Chesya Burke's "My Sister's Keeper," examining a sister's terrifying choice; and the best of the bunch, Terence Taylor's brilliant discussion of racism, friendship and Hurricane Katrina in "WET PAIN." Bright newcomers' tales include Lexi Davis's hilarious cautionary tale about bad brothas, "Are You My Daddy?"; Randy Walker's obsessive-compulsive "To Get Bread and Butter"; and Tenea Johnson's provocative meditation on revenge, "The Taken." In Massey's introduction, he hopes someday "any black writer can pen a tale of horror and suspense... without being likened to being merely a black version of a white author, without being viewed with suspicion or even fear." In the meantime, this excellent series continues to fill a now shrinking void. (July)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Whispers in the Nightby Brandon Massey
Beyond Your Darkest Dreams--
From the deceptive safety of your very own bed to the seeming stillness of country roads and the bustle of urban streets, your darkest realities reveal themselves as you enter hidden realms, crossing the threshold into one man's tortured mind--a mind haunted by the mocking, derisive voices of his youth. . . Quench your/b>… See more details below
Beyond Your Darkest Dreams--
From the deceptive safety of your very own bed to the seeming stillness of country roads and the bustle of urban streets, your darkest realities reveal themselves as you enter hidden realms, crossing the threshold into one man's tortured mind--a mind haunted by the mocking, derisive voices of his youth. . . Quench your insatiable thirst for terror at a bar where the drinks are abominable and the patrons never leave. Relive the infamous, harrowing Middle Passage that brought millions of African slaves to America, but this time with a spellbinding twist. . .
Lie Your Deepest Fears. . .
From scenes of pulsating ecstasy to unspeakable tragedy, surrender yourself to a world inhabited by bizarre sex cults and violent gangs. Meet the malevolent entities that feed on human misery in the midst of a hurricane's wrath. Endure a sweltering summer on a swamp inhabited by mischievous spirits intent on possessing the most innocent within their slimy grasp. Submit to the tantalizing temptation and the irresistible pull of the unknown in eighteen stories that will illuminate the horrors within--and without. And whatever you do, don't turn off the lights. . .
"Showcases the best in horror and suspense by noted African American writers." --Library Journal on Dark Dreams
"Funny. . .horrifying. . .the end is always unexpected. . .a book worth reading if you like looking over your shoulder or peering into dark corners." --The RAWSISTAZ Reviewers on Voices from The Other Side: Dark Dreams II
"Strong. . .a volume whose universal human themes will resonate with many readers." --Publishers Weekly on Dark Dreams
In his introduction to this, the third installation to the "Dark Dreams" series, editor Massey expresses his wish to see a literary landscape in which he and his fellow black writers can gain respect in the horror genre. "The only way for us to achieve it," he writes, "is to deliver stories that challenge, thrill, educate, entertain, and delight readers." Massey and the nearly 20 African American writers who contributed to this anthology certainly delivered on their end of that bargain. These tales cover a wide range of themes, styles, and topics. There's a stark tale of a gathering of lost souls at a desert tavern, explorations of the psychic torment family members are capable of inflicting upon one another, and the strangely satisfying spectacle of a Katie Couric stand-in being devoured by zombies live on national television. Massey evidently suffered no shortage of work from which to choose, as the collected stories are mostly quite good. In addition to including many tales that are simply good reads, the collection also includes a few stories that benefit remarkably from their authors' cultural perspective. Terence Taylor's excellent story, "Wet Pain," for example, deals with the lingering racial wounds of the Old South and our culture's sometimes superficial salves for them. Recommended for horror, African American fiction, and short story collections.
Read an Excerpt
WHISPERS IN THE NIGHT
DAFINA BOOKSCopyright © 2007 Brandon Massey
All right reserved.
During the baby's nap time, a housefly buzzed past the new screen somehow and landed on Danielle's wrist while she was reading Us Weekly on the back porch. With the Okeepechee swamp so close, mosquitoes and flies take over Graceville in summer.
"Well, I'll be damned," she said.
Most flies zipped off at the first movement. Not this one. The fly sat still when Danielle shook her wrist. Repulsion came over her as she noticed the fly's spindly legs and shiny coppery green helmet staring back at her, so she rolled up the magazine and gave it a swat. The fly never seemed to notice Angelina Jolie's face coming. Unusual for a fly, with all those eyes seeing from so many directions. But there it was, dead on the porch floorboards.
Anyone who says they wouldn't hurt a fly is lying, Danielle thought.
She didn't suspect the fly was a sign until a week later, when it happened again-this time she was in the bathroom clipping her toenails on top of the closed toilet seat, not in her bedroom, where she might disturb Lola during her nap. A fly landed on Danielle's big toe and stayed put.
Danielle conjured Grandmother's voice in her memory-as she often did when she noticed the quiet things Grandmother used to tell her about. Grandmother had passed three summers agoafter a stroke in her garden, and now that she was gone, Danielle had a thousand and one questions for her. The lost questions hurt the most. Anything can happen once, Grandmother used to say. When it happens twice-listen. The third time may be too late.
It was true about men, and Danielle suspected it was true about the flies, too.
Once the second fly was dead-again, almost as if it had made peace with leaving this world on the sole of her slipper-Danielle wondered what the flies meant. Was someone trying to send her a message? A warning? Whatever it was, she was sure it was something bad.
Being in the U.S. Army Reserves, her husband, Kyle, didn't like to look for omens. He only laughed when she talked about Grandmother's beliefs, not that Kyle was around in the summer to talk to about anything. His training was in summers so it wouldn't interfere with his job as county school bus supervisor. Last year, he'd been gone only a couple of weeks, but this time he was spending two long months at Fort Irwin in California. He was in training exercises, so the only way to reach him was in a real emergency, through the Red Cross. She hadn't spoken to him in three weeks.
Kyle had been in training so long, the war had almost come and gone. But he still might get deployed. He'd reminded her of that right before he left, as if she'd made a promise she and Lola could do fine without him. What would she do if she became one of those Iraq wives? Life was hard enough in summer already, without death hanging over her head, too.
With Grandmother gone from this earth and Kyle in California, Danielle had never been so lonely. She felt loneliest in the bathroom. Maybe the small space was too much like a prison cell. But she didn't fight the feeling. Her loneliness felt comfortable, familiar. She wouldn't have minded sitting with the sting awhile, feeling sorry for herself, staring at the dead fly on the black and white tile. Wondering what its message had been.
But there wasn't enough time for that. Lola was awake, already angry and howling.
Long before the bodies were found, Grandmother always said the Okeepechee swampland was touched by wrong. Old Man McCormack sold his family's land to developers last fall, and Caterpillar trucks were digging a man-made lake in the soggy ground when they uncovered the bones. And not just a few bones, either. The government people and researchers were still digging, but Danielle had heard there were three bodies, at last count. And not a quarter mile from her front door!
Grandmother had told her the swampland had secrets. Lately, Danielle tried to recall more clearly what Grandmother's other prophecies had been, but all she remembered was Grandmother's earthy laughter. Danielle barely had time to fix herself a bowl of cereal in the mornings, so she didn't have the luxury of Grandmother's habits: mixing powders, lighting candles, and sitting still to wait. But Danielle believed in the swampland's secrets.
All her life, she'd known Graceville was a hard place to live, and it was worse on the swamp side. Everyone knew that. People died of cancer and lovers drove each other to misery all over Graceville, but the biggest tragedies were clustered on the swamp side-not downtown, and not in the development called The Farms where no one did any farming. When she was in elementary school, her classmate LaToya's father went crazy. He came home from work one day and shot up everyone in the house; first LaToya, then her little brothers (even the baby), and her mother. When they were all dead, he put the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger-which Danielle wished he'd done at the start. That had made the national news.
Sad stories had always watered Graceville's backyard vegetable gardens. Danielle's parents used to tell her stories about how awful poverty was, back when sharecropping was the only job for those who weren't bound to be teachers, and most of their generation's tragedies had money at their core. That wasn't so true these days, no matter what her parents said. Even people on the swamp side of Graceville had better jobs and bigger houses than they used to. They just didn't seem to build their lives any better.
Danielle had never expected to raise a baby in Graceville, or live in her late grandmother's house with an Atlanta-born husband who should know better. The thought of Atlanta only six hours north nearly drove her crazy some days. But Kyle Darren Richardson was practical enough for the both of them. Coolheaded. That was probably why the military liked him enough to invest so much training. Do you know how much houses cost in Atlanta? We'll save for a few more years, and then we'll go. Once my training is done, we'll never be hurting for money, and we'll live on a base in Germany somewhere. Then you can kiss Graceville good-bye.
In summer, with Kyle gone, she was almost sure she was just another fool who never had the sense to get out of Graceville. Ever since high school, she'd seen her classmates with babies slung to their hips, or married to the first boy who told them they were pretty, and she'd sworn, Not me. All of those old friends-each and every one-had their plans, too. Once upon a time.
Danielle wasn't sure if she was patient and wise, or if she was a tragedy unfolding slowly, one hot summer day at a time.
Lola cried harder when she saw her in the doorway. Lola's angry brown-red jowls were smudged with dried flour and old mucus. Sometimes Lola was not pretty at all.
Danielle leaned over the crib. "Go back to sleep, Lola. What's the matter now?"
As Danielle lifted Lola beneath her armpits, the baby grabbed big fistfuls of Danielle's cheeks and squeezed with all her might. Then she shrieked and dug in her nails. Hard. Her eyes screwed tight, her face burning with a mighty mission.
Danielle cried out, almost dropping all twenty pounds of Lola straight to the floor. Danielle wrapped her arm more tightly around Lola's waist while the baby writhed, just before Lola would have slipped. The baby's legs banged against the crib's railings, but Danielle knew her wailing was only for show. Lola was thirteen months old and a liar already.
"No." Danielle said, keeping silent the you little shit bag. "Very bad, Lola."
Lola shot out a pudgy hand, hoping for another chance at her mother's face, and Danielle bucked back, almost fast enough to make her miss. But Lola's finger caught the small hoop of the gold earring in Danielle's right earlobe and pulled, hard. The earring's catch held at first, and Danielle cried out as pain tore through. Danielle expected to see droplets of blood on the floor, but she only saw the flash of gold as the earring fell.
Lola's crying stopped short, replaced by laughter and a triumphant grin.
Anyone who says they wouldn't hurt a fly is lying.
If Lola were a grown person who had just done the same thing, Danielle would have knocked her through a window. Rubbing her ear, she understood the term seeing red, because her eyes flushed with crimson anger. Danielle almost didn't trust herself to lay a hand on the child in her current state, but if she didn't Lola's behavior would never improve. She grabbed Lola's fat arm firmly, the way her mother had said she should, and fixed her gaze.
"No." Danielle said. "Trying to hurt Mommy is not funny."
Lola laughed so hard, it brought tears to her eyes. Lola enjoyed hurting her. Not all the time, but sometimes. Danielle was sure of it.
Danielle's mother said she was welcome to bring Lola over for a few hours whenever she needed time to herself, but Mom's joints were so bad that she could hardly pull herself out of her chair. Mom had never been the same since she broke her hip. She couldn't keep up with Lola, the way the child darted and dashed everywhere, pulling over and knocking down everything her hands could reach. Besides, Danielle didn't like what she saw in her mother's eyes when she brought Lola over for more than a few minutes: Jesus, help, she can't even control her own child.
Danielle glanced at the Winnie the Pooh clock on the dresser. Only two o'clock. The whole day stretched to fill with just her and the baby. Danielle wanted to cry, too.
Kyle told her maybe she had postpartum depression like the celebrity women she read about. But her family had picked cotton and tobacco until two generations ago, and if they could tolerate that heat and work and deprivation without pills and therapy, Danielle doubted her constitution was as fragile as people who pretended to be someone else for a living.
Lola could be hateful, that was all. That was the truth nobody wanted to hear.
Danielle had tried to conceive for two years, and she would always love her daughter-but she didn't like Lola much in summer. Lola had always been a fussy baby, but she was worse when Kyle was gone. Kyle's baritone voice could snap Lola back to her sweeter nature. Nothing Danielle did could.
"She still a handful, huh, Danny?"
"That's one word."
Odetta Mayfield was the only cousin Danielle got along with. She was ten years older, so they hadn't started talking until Grandmother's funeral, and they'd become friends the past two years. The funeral had been a reunion, helping Danielle sew together pieces of her family. Odetta's husband had been in the army during the first Iraq war and come back with a girlfriend. They had divorced long ago and her son was a freshman at Florida State, so Odetta came by the house three or four times a week. Odetta had no one else to talk to, and neither did she. If not for her cousin and her mother, Danielle might be a hermit in summer.
Odetta bounced Lola on her knee while the baby drank placidly from a bottle filled with apple juice. Seeing them together in the white wicker rocker, their features so similar, Danielle wanted to beg her cousin to take the baby home with her. Just for a night or two.
"Did she leave a mark on my face?"
"Can't see nothing from here," Odetta said. But Danielle could feel two small welts rising alongside her right cheekbone. She dabbed her face with the damp kitchen towel beside the pitcher of sugar-free lemonade they had decided to try for a while. The drink tasted like chemicals.
"People talk about boys, but sometimes girls are just as bad, or worse," Odetta said. "We went through the same mess with Rashan. It passes."
Danielle only grunted. She didn't want to talk about Lola anymore. "Anything new from McCormack's place?" she asked, a sure way to change the subject. Odetta worked as a clerk at City Hall, so she had a reason to be in everybody's business.
"Girl, it's seven bodies. Seven."
Seven bodies left unaccounted for, rotting in swampland? The idea made Danielle's skin feel cold. Mass graves always reminded her of the Holocaust, a lesson that had shocked her in seventh grade. She'd never looked at the world the same way after that, just like when Grandmother first told her about slavery.
"My mother still talks about the civil rights days, the summer those college kids tried to register sharecroppers on McCormack's land. He set those dogs loose on them," Danielle said.
"Unnnnnhhhhh-hnnnnhhhhh ..." Odetta said, drawing out the indictment. "Sure did. That's the first thing everybody thought. But the experts from Tallahassee say the bones are older than forty-odd years. More like a hundred."
"Even so, how are seven people gonna be buried out on that family's land? There weren't any Indians living there. Shoot, that land's been McCormack Farm since slavery. I bet those bones are from slave times and they just don't wanna say. Or something like Rosewood, with a bunch of folks killed and people kept it quiet."
"Unnnhhhh-hhnnnnnhhh," Odetta said. She had thought of that, too. "We may never know what happened to those people, but one thing we do know-keep off that land."
"That's what Grandmother said, from way back. When I was a kid."
"I know. Mama, too. Only a fool would buy one of those plots."
The McCormack Farm was less than a mile from Danielle's grandmother's house, along the unpaved red clay road the city called State Route 191, but which everyone else called Tobacco Road. Tobacco had been the McCormacks' business until the 1970s. Another curse to boot, Danielle thought. She drove past the McCormacks' faded wooden gate every time she went into town, and the gaudy billboard advertising LOTS FOR SALE-AS LOW AS $150,000. The mammoth, ramshackle tobacco barn stood beside the roadway for no other reason than to remind everyone of where the McCormack money had come from. Danielle's grandfather had sharecropped for the McCormacks, and family lore said her relatives had once been their slaves.
"How old's this baby?" Odetta said suddenly. "A year?"
Lola had only been a month old last summer, when Kyle went off to training. But Danielle didn't want to talk about Lola now. She had enjoyed forgetting all about her.
"Your grandmama never told you nothing about summer and babies?"
Danielle stared at her cousin, whose eyes were slightly small for her face. "You lost me."
"Just be careful, is all. Especially in July. Summer solstice. Lola may seem strong to you, but you gotta pay special attention to any baby under two. It's always the young ones. And now that those bones have been unburied, you need to keep an eye out."
"What are you talking about, girl?"
"I'm surprised your grandmama would let you raise a baby in her house. When your mama was young, she moved in with her cousin Geraldine. She never told you that? Lived in their basement until your mama was two."
The story sounded vaguely familiar, but Grandmother had died soon after Danielle married Kyle, when Danielle had still been convinced she'd be moving to Atlanta within six months. She hadn't even been pregnant then. Not yet. She and Kyle hadn't planned on a baby until they had more money put together. If not for Lola, they might be living in Atlanta right now.
"What do you mean? Is the water bad?" Now Danielle felt alarmed.
Odetta shook her head. "Leeches." Danielle remembered the flies. Now she could expect leeches, too? "You mean those nasty things people put on their skin to suck out poison?" A whole army of leeches could crawl under the back door, with that half-inch gap that always let the breezes through. "Those worms?"
"Not that kind," Odetta said. "Swamp leeches are different. It's just a name Mama used to call them by. You could call them lots of things. Mostly people call them demons, I guess."
Danielle would have thought she'd heard wrong, except that Odetta had a sense of humor. She had Danielle cracking up at Grandmother's funeral, of all places, when Odetta whispered to point out how everyone who gave remembrances called Grandmother by a different surname. Grandmother had been married four times. When I knew Mrs. Jenkins ... When I knew Mrs. Roberts ... And on down the line. Once Odetta pointed it out, Danielle had to pretend to be sobbing to stifle her giggles. That laughter was the only light that day.
"What did you put in that lemonade after I fixed it? I know you're not sitting there talkin' 'bout demons in the swamp like some old voodoo lady," Danielle said.
Excerpted from WHISPERS IN THE NIGHT Copyright © 2007 by Brandon Massey. Excerpted by permission.
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