Stephen King, Lisa Morton, Nell Quinn-Gibney, Norman Prentiss, Joyce Carol Oates, and Tim Curran plunge readers into the dark side in this deeply unsettling short-story collection curated by legendary horror editors Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar.
THE OLD DUDE’S TICKER by Stephen King
Richard Drogan has been spooked ever since he came back from Nam, but he’s no head case, dig? He just knows the old dude needs to die.
THE RICH ARE DIFFERENT by Lisa Morton
Even though she made her name revealing the private lives of the rich and famous, Sara Peck has no idea how deep their secrets really go . . . or the price they’ll pay to get what they desire.
THE MANICURE by Nell Quinn-Gibney
A trip to the nail salon is supposed to be relaxing. But as the demons of the past creep closer with every clip, even the most serene day of pampering can become a nightmare.
THE COMFORTING VOICE by Norman Prentiss
It’s a little strange how baby Lydia can only be soothed by her grandfather’s unnatural voice, ravaged by throat cancer. The weirdest part? What he’s saying is more disturbing than how he says it.
THE SITUATIONS by Joyce Carol Oates
There are certain lessons children must learn, rules they must follow, scars they must bear. No lesson is more important than this: Never question Daddy. Or else.
THE CORPSE KING by Tim Curran
Grave robbers Kierney and Clow keep one step ahead of the law as they ply their ghoulish trade, but there’s no outrunning a far more frightening enemy that hungers for the dead.
Praise for the Dark Screams series
“A wicked treat [featuring] . . . some of the genre’s best.”—Hellnotes, on Volume One
“Five fun-to-read stories by top-notch horror scribes. How can you lose? The answer: you can’t.”—Atomic Fangirl, on Volume Two
“If you have not tried the series yet, do yourself a favor and grab a copy of any (or all) of the books for yourself.”—Examiner.com, on Volume Three
“Fans of horror of every variety will find something to love in these pages.”—LitReactor, on Volume Four
“[Volume Five] runs the gamut from throwback horror to lyrical and heartbreaking tales.”—Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Richard Chizmar is the founder, publisher, and editor of Cemetery Dance magazine and Cemetery Dance Publications. He has edited more than a dozen anthologies, including The Best of Cemetery Dance, The Earth Strikes Back, Night Visions 10, October Dreams (with Robert Morrish), and the Shivers series.
Read an Excerpt
The Old Dude’s Ticker
In the two years after I was married (1971–1972), I sold nearly a dozen stories to various men’s magazines. Most were purchased by Nye Willden, the fiction editor at Cavalier. Those stories were important supplements to the meager income I was earning in my two day jobs, one as a high school English teacher and the other as an employee of The New Franklin Laundry, where I washed motel sheets. Those were not good times for short horror fiction (there have really been no good times for genre fiction in America since the pulps died), but I sold an almost uninterrupted run of mine—no mean feat for an unknown, unagented scribbler from Maine, and at least I had the sense to be grateful.
Two of them, however, did not sell. Both were pastiches. The first was a modern-day revision of Nikolai Gogol’s story “The Ring” (my version was called “The Spear,” I think). That one is lost. The second was the one that follows, a crazed revisionist telling of Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” I thought the idea was a natural: crazed Vietnam vet kills elderly benefactor as a result of post-traumatic stress syndrome. I’m not sure what Nye’s problem with it might have been; I loved it, but he shot it back at me with a terse “not for us” note. I gave it a final sad look, then put it in a desk drawer and went on to something else. It stayed in said drawer until rescued by Marsha DeFilippo, who found it in a pile of old manuscripts consigned to a collection of my stuff in the Raymond H. Fogler Library at the University of Maine.
I was tempted to tinker with it—the seventies slang is pretty out-of-date—but resisted the impulse, deciding to let it be what it was then: partly satire and partly affectionate homage. This is its first publication, and no better place than Necon, which has been the best horror convention since its inception, folksy, laid-back, and an all-around good time. If you have half as much fun reading it as I had writing it, we’ll both be well off, I think. I hope some of Poe’s feverish intensity comes through here . . . and I hope the master isn’t rolling in his grave too much.
Yeah, spooked, I’m pretty f***in’ spooked. I been that way ever since I came back from Nam. You dig it? But I’m no section eight. What happened over there, it didn’t screw up my head. I came back from Nam with my head on straight for the first time in my life. Dig it. My ears are like radar. I’ve always had good hearing, but since Nam . . . I hear everything. I hear the angels in heaven. I hear the devils in the deepest pits of hell. So how can you say I’m some kind of f***in’ psycho case? Listen, I’ll tell you the whole story. Think I’m crazy? Just listen to how cooled out I am.
I can’t tell you how I got the idea, but once it was there, I couldn’t shoot it down. I thought about it day and night. There was really nothing to pin it on. I had no case against the old dude. I dug him. He never short-dicked me or ranked me out. Yeah, he had bucks, but I’m not into that. Not since Nam. I think it might have been his . . . yeah, his eye. Jesus, like a vulture’s eye. Pale blue, with a cataract in it. And it bulged. You dig what I’m saying? When he looked at me, my blood ran cold. That’s how bad it freaked me. So little by little, I made up my mind to waste him and get rid of the eye forever.
Okay, now dig this. You think I’m nuts, okay? And crazy people don’t know anything. Run around with drool slobbering out of their mouths, stabbing wetbacks like that guy Corona, stuff like that. But you should have dug me. You should have seen how cool I was. I was always one step ahead, man. I had that old dude jacked up nine miles. I was super-kind to him the whole week before I killed him. And every night, about midnight, I turned the knob of his door and opened it. Quiet? You better believe it! And when it was just wide enough for me to stick my head in, I put in this penlite with the glass all taped up except for one little place in the middle. You follow? Then I poked my head in. You would have cracked up to see how careful I was, poking my head in. I moved it real slow, so I wouldn’t roust the old dude. It took me an hour, I guess, to get my head in far enough so I could see him lying there on his rack. So tell me . . . you think any section eight would have been able to carry that off? Huh? But dig this! When my head was in the room, I turned on the penlite. It put out one single ray, and I put it four-oh on that vulture eye. I did that seven nights in a row, man, seven nights! Can you dig that action? I did it every night at midnight, but the eye was always closed and I couldn’t get it on. Because it was the eye. And every morning I went right into his bedroom and clapped him on the back and asked him how he slept. All that good bullshit. So I guess you see he would have to have been some heavy dude to guess that every night I was checkin’ him out while he was asleep. So dig it.
The eighth night I was even more cooled out. The minute hand on my watch was trucking along faster than mine was. And I felt . . . sharp.
You know? Ready. Like in Nam, when it was our turn for night patrol. I was like a cat. I felt ace-high. There I was, opening the door, little by little, and he’s lying there, probably dreaming he’s balling his granddaughter. I mean, he didn’t even know! Funny? Shit, sometimes I laugh until I scream, just thinking of it. I started to laugh at the idea.
Maybe he heard me, because he started to move around. Probably think I split out of there, right? No way. His room was black as a cat’s asshole—he always drew the shutters because he was afraid of junkies—and I knew he couldn’t see through the door, so I kept pushing it open, a little at a time.
I had my head in and I was getting ready to turn on the old penlite when it knocked against the side of the door. The old guy sits up in bed, yelling, “Who’s there?”
I stayed still and kept my mouth shut. You dig it? For a whole hour I didn’t move. But I didn’t hear him lie down, either. He was sitting up in bed, scared shitless, just listening. The way I used to get sometimes in Nam. A lot of guys used to get that way, thinking those guys in the black pajamas were coming, creeping through the jungle, through the dark.
I heard him groan, just a little one, but I knew how scared he was.
It wasn’t the way you groan when you just hurt yourself, or the way old folks sometimes groan at funerals. Uh-uh.
It was the sound you make when your head is totally f***ed up and you’re starting to blow your circuits. I knew that sound. In Nam, at night, I used to get that way sometimes. Nothing wrong with that, a lot of guys did. Nothing section eight about it. It would come up from your guts like acid, getting worse in your throat, scaring you so bad that you had to put your hand in your mouth and chew it like a chicken drumstick to keep from screaming. Yeah, I knew the sound. I knew how that old dude was feeling and I felt sorry for him, but I was laughing, too, inside. I knew he’d been awake since the first sound. He’d been getting more and more scared. He was trying to, you know, blow them down, but he couldn’t do it. He was saying to himself, It was the wind around the eaves. Or maybe a mouse. Or a cricket. Yeah, it was a cricket. You dig? He was trying to cool himself out with all kinds of shit. But no good. Because Death was in the room with him. Me! Death was sniffing right up his old man’s nightdress. Me! He was feeling that. He didn’t see me or hear me, but he dug me.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I naturally assumed that because the collection was headlined by SK it had to be good. The story by SK was written in the 70s......where it should have stayed The other stories were just plain stupid besides the last, which was well written Hence the reason for 2 stars The last story was the only one worth reading!
Some oddball stories but overall very good
I don't know what some peoples' idea of "horror" is, but I am pretty sure most of the stories in this volume are not. "The Old Dude's Ticker" - Billed as "like The Tell-Tale Heart"...yep. Way too much like it to be even remotely engaging, and the 60s slang is exceedingly irritating. Horror, yes, but a knock-off at best. "The Rich Are Different" - This is one of only 2 stories in this book that actually qualifies as "horror", and it's a good one. Original and chilling. "The Manicure" - If you, like so many, confuse "gross" and "bloody" with "horror", this is a story for you. I found it not at all scary, and it was as nonsensical as it was gory. Not horror. "The Comforting Voice" - If you, again like so many, confuse "abuse" with "horror", then you might like this story. I didn't. It wasn't "horror", except in the general way that all child abuse is "horrible". Not horror. "The Situations" - This really disappointed me, as I do like Joyce Carol Oates' writing, usually. But any story that starts out with someone killing kittens is not going to be received well by me, and I wish the other reviewers had given a heads-up on this. I skipped over the nauseating part and could barely stomach the rest of it, as child abuse is just as awful as animal abuse. Again, it's disgusting abuse. Not horror. "The Corpse King" - The other story in this book that is actually horror. Classically scary and well-written. Extreme violence, gore, and abuse are not horror. They're just disgusting. They are not scary, they are just nauseating. I won't be reading any other anthologies in this series. Since I have never been a King fan - mostly for the violence and gore that accompanies the end of every book he writes - I should have known better. For real horror, try reading JS LeFanu, HP Lovecraft, and other true masters of horror. Oh, and Shirley Jackson, too, to name one woman who really could write some scary stuff.
I received an advance reader copy (arc) of this book for the purpose of providing an honest review. I continue to enjoy this anthology series and this installment again allows readers an introduction to a wide and varied group of authors … some great, some good and some deftly in the category of “other.” This is the largest of the anthologies yet … in terms of page count and the range from great to really bad in stories. I enjoyed King and Prentiss as always. Morton and Oates also livened up the party. I wasn’t thrilled (but not overly disappointed) with Quinn-Gibney and would have rather been in Quinn-Gibney’s story than had to read Curran’s missive. This anthology includes these stories: —The Old Dude’s Ticker, by Stephen King. Would anyone like some re-heated Poe? But, in a good way. Any fan of Poe’s will find this updated a frenetic take on The Tell-Tale Heart entertaining and suspenseful. 4.5 stars —The Rich Are Different, by Lisa Morton, And how truly different are they? Especially with our current political climate, we see what some are willing to exchange or comfort and prosperity. Humanity for sale? 3.5 stars —The Manicure, by Nell Quinn-Gibney, An ordinary mani-pedi day dredges up a memory per digit with sinister results. 3.0 stars —The Comforting Voice, by Norman Prentiss, As is Norman’s gift, he deftly brings this family of characters to life, breathing separate and distinct personalities into each. Does the end justify the means? You will have to decide. 4.5 stars —The Situations, by Joyce Carol Oates, Sometimes the kitty wins and sometimes Daddy wins. I guess it depends on the situation. 4.0 stars —The Corpse King, by Tim Curran, I have never been more disappointed in a story. Tortuous, arduous, rambling … I only finished reading the story as an object lesson in not giving up, painful though it was. 1.0 star
The Dark Screams series of books is a superb collection for those wanting to get their pallet wet in the horror genre. Brian and Richard choose a wide array of authors, some well-known, others, not so much. The stories are just as diverse; providing something for everyone. Dark Screams: Volume Six doesn’t disappoint. As usual with short stories, writing a review of each can be tricky in order to not give away too much, but I’ll try: 1) THE OLD DUDE’S TICKER by Stephen King – this is the only story in the book that has a forward by the author. Not only that, but King goes on to apologize for the story to both the reader and to Poe – from whom the story idea originated. This is Mr. King’s revised version of Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart. I enjoyed it, so no apology necessary. 2) THE RICH ARE DIFFERENT by Lisa Morton – If you’ve followed my reviews, you have heard the name Lisa Morton on more than one occasion. I enjoy her style and technique, and her stories are top notch in the genre. I read this story in Cemetery Dance magazine (Issue 74/75) in December and didn’t hesitate to reread it now. My reading time is very sparse, so I usually don’t reread things – especially not in such a short time span – but I enjoyed this one so much the first time, that I relished the opportunity to read it again. It really points out just what the obscenely rich are willing to pay to get what they want. 3) THE MANICURE by Nell Quinn-Gibney – This story is one of those psychological ones that on the surface doesn’t make sense, until you think about it. I can honestly say I’ve never had a manicure, and don’t think I’ll ever get one after reading this story. 4) THE COMFORTING VOICE by Norman Prentiss – Sorry, Lisa, but Norman’s story wins for being my favorite in this group. I enjoyed this story so much, that I actually found Mr. Prentiss on Facebook and wrote him a message telling him such. Baby Lydia screams, all the time at the top of her lungs, and there is nothing her parents can do to calm her. That is, until her grandfather talks to her using his electronic voice box (due to throat cancer). This hit home as my own daughter, due to colic, would do the same – and the only thing that soothed her was the sound of the vacuum cleaner. Because of that, this story was very relatable. 5) THE SITUATIONS by Joyce Carol Oates – OK, like I’ve said before, in every anthology there is bound to be one story that doesn’t resonate with you. This is the one for me in this collection. I found it to be confusing, disjointed, and just plain weird. 6) THE CORPSE KING by Tim Curran – and taking up more than half the book is this novella. I’ve never heard of this author, but I liked his style. This tells the tale of two grave robbers in Edinburgh, trying to stay one step ahead of the noose, but unable to outrun something more terrifying. This one was unbelievably creepy. Thanks to Mr. Curran’s talent for setting a scene, I had to take a long, hot shower after reading it, and then another just to make sure I was clean. There you have it – another outstanding collection of stories from some very talented individuals. Don’t pass this one up.
Dark Screams keeps the dark pace going with this new volume. The stories in this volume are not for the faint of heart. One of the real stand outs of this volume is The Corpse King by Tim Curran. The story is longer than all the others combined and has a dark quality that is to be enjoyed to the very end. Dark Screams continues to delivery stories that make you shiver and want to sleep with the lights on.
The Old Dude’s Ticker by Stephen King This is one groovy short story. Can you dig it? It gets into your brain like the slapping of nightsticks hitting your palm. It is dated, but I liked the Vietnam era slang. This is a good retelling of Poe’s Tell-tale Heart. The Rich are Different by Lisa Morton This is an interesting tale of star-crossed lovers involving a reporter and the son of a cursed wealthy family. It’s a different take that I haven’t read before. I liked it a lot The Manicure by Nell Quinn-Gibney This is a weird story I think is the weakest of the bunch. For me, it is to disjointed and hard to understand. The Comforting Voice by Norman Prentiss I liked this story of how to soothe a baby and the dark twisted ending it has. The Situations by Joyce Carol Oates I think this is the shortest of the stories. I didn’t understand the ending so didn’t quite do it for me. The Corpse King by Tim Curran This is a novella that is half of the book. It is about the adventures of two gravediggers in 19th century Scotland and I believe is based on a child’s rhyme mentioned at the end. Aye, it is a great piece of work me thinks. This story will make you appreciate my modern plumbing conveniences. I have always liked Curran’s stories, and this is a nasty little slice.
This is my first foray into the Dark Screams series but I definitely will be seeking out more in the future. Nice bite size stories that you can finish in one sitting with the possible exception of The Corpse King which is a bit longer. The Old Dude's Ticker is a very short, very early Stephen King story. Interesting but the intro from him removes whatever suspense the ending may have held. The Rich Are Different is the highlight of the collection to me, tightly written and very creepy. The Manicure was a nice little story that made me cringe in sympathy. The Comforting Voice is disturbing, mostly because I've known people like the grandfather in this story. The Situations was lacking to me and the only story in the collection I wasn't a huge fan of. The Corpse King was a close second to me, with the horror of their everyday lives almost worse than the supernatural element. A bit of uneven pacing but otherwise great. In order, here's how I'd rank the stories from favorite to least favorite: The Rich Are Different The Corpse King The Comforting Voice The Manicure The Old Dude's Ticker The Situations I received an advance copy for review.
Good selection of short stories. Absolutely recommend for a fun read.