October’s End is a collection of three novellas written by Kevin Lucia, Jason Parent, and Jeremy Bates that is released by Crystal Lake Publishing as the third book in their Dark Tide series. Going into October’s End, I didn’t know this. I didn’t know that the community of Clifton Heights was woven within the fabric of the stories that I was about to read, or that they were all linked to ongoing lore of a very…I want to say f*cked up place, here. Because that’s what Clifton Heights is, massively f*cked up. I also didn’t know that the characters across “Daughter of the Mists,” “Once Upon a Halloween Night,” and “Brothers” would have at least a passing knowledge of the other people involved in October’s End—and I would assume that every character within the Dark Tide series knows of the existence of the others—and that’s for one very simple reason. I don’t read horror.
That’s not to say I don’t read anything as I do, but my bookshelves are full of the likes of Bukowski, Kerouac, and Thompson instead of King, Barker, and Koontz. You are going to find me curled up of an evening with a Chandler in my hand and not a Straub. And to prove just what I mean, I had to look up who Peter Straub was for that last line, as I’d run out of horror authors with my first trifecta. This is down to my belief that horror works better as a visual medium than anything else, and that there is nothing within the pages of a book that can frighten me. My brother Tom, on the other hand, just thinks it’s because I have bugger-all imagination and need things spelled out for me for my tiny brain to get any shock from them. He may have a point.
Nonetheless, when the offer to review October’s End came up, I was compelled to throw my hat into the ring for some reason. Maybe I fancied something different to spend my weekend with? Or maybe it was the influence of Contessa Victoria Williams calling to me from the ePub?
Contessa Victoria Williams is one of the main characters in the first piece on offer in October’s End—segues, I’ve got them—“Daughter of the Mists” by Kevin Lucia. The story revolves around Earl Flanagan, a modest man who seems quite happy to just live. He is a librarian whose over-riding passion is for classic monster movies. In fact, Earl is so obsessed with these films that he’s not only built a home theatre for himself to bask in their glory, he writes weekly columns about them for different websites and runs the annual Frightfest that is held in the town every Halloween. On his way to work one morning, a flyer literally flies before Earl who becomes possessed to catch it, and when he does what he sees starts off a chain reaction that will leave a nasty scar on Clifton Heights.
“Daughter of the Mists” is probably my favourite out of the three stories on offer in October’s End, if for no other reason than I see a lot of myself in Earl. I mean, here’s a guy who spends all of his free time watching old horror movies before writing articles about them that nobody will ever seemingly read. If that isn’t gimmick infringement, I don’t know what is. Yet Earl is kind of a tragic figure, someone we can all relate to, and the situation that he finds himself in is not of his making, at least, not initially. The beauty of Kevin Lucia’s narrative is that you don’t realise that you’re getting wrapped up in everything that is going on in Earl’s life until it’s too late to stop yourself, and you are caught hook, line, and sinker, hoping that there is a way that he can turn it around before it’s too late.
In “Once Upon a Halloween Night,” Jeremy Bates brings us the tale of siamese twins, Fred and Red. Life isn’t easy for the boys joined at the hip. Their dad is a horrible drunk who tortures them whenever the mood takes him and the kids that happily played with them when they were younger, now bully them every single day. I don’t want to give too much away about “Once Upon a Halloween Night” as, well, then you’d have no reason to read it, but I will say this. Jeremy Bates gets the balance between humour, sadness, and horror spot on here. It would’ve and could’ve been easy for him to just double down on one of those, and the story wouldn’t have worked. One misstep would’ve made Fred and Red seem either trivial, melancholy, or insane and it would’ve taken away from what unfolds as Once Upon a Halloween Night unravels. Horror stories, especially shorter-form ones, live and die on their main character’s believability, and in Fred and Red, Jeremy Bates plays it to perfection.
The final story in October’s End is “Brothers” by Jason Parent, and it is, by far, the hardest read of the lot. This has nothing to do with the quality of the piece itself, mind you, as it is very well written, but the subject matter which might cut a little close to the bone for some people. Again, without wanting to spoil it for anyone, let’s just say that two guys want to join a fraternity and what happens to them, and because of them, makes me glad I live in England, where if you tried that sh*t we’d cut you in ways that would make you useless to a woman. Jason Parent should be applauded for the way he handles the storytelling here. Like “Once Upon a Halloween,” this was a delicate balancing act, though for completely different reasons, and what could’ve just degraded into a case of shock for the sense of shock, exploitation for the sake of exploitation is handled gracefully enough that anyone reading “Brothers” will hopefully find themselves angered by what the Alphas did more than by what they’ve just read. Having said all that, this is the internet so someone somewhere is going to get on his case.
So there it is, my review of October’s End, and I’m not going to lie, dear reader, writing spoiler-free book reviews is a lot tougher than writing pieces on 50-year-old movies that everyone has already seen. Did I like October’s End? Yes. Yes, I did. It was a good read and something that you can burn through in a couple of days. Maybe less if you don’t have kids. All three stories within October’s End were very entertaining, and I could see them being picked up as actual factual movies somewhere down the line. They had believable lead characters, bad guys that needed kersplatting, and enough hocus pocus to keep the most ardent horror fan enthralled. After all, it kept me hooked, and I’m a non-horror reading reader.
However, would I read October’s End again? No—no, I wouldn’t. The problem I have with horror stories is that once all the twists and turns, jumps, and scares have been unleashed, then there’s no point in revisiting them unless they happen to be written by a man called Poe. Once the genie is out of the bottle, well, he ain’t going back in. But that’s just me, you might be different, and the one thing I will say before I wrap this all up is that October’s End has made me want to go and read the first two volumes in the Dark Tide series. And considering that I don’t read horror, for Crystal Lake Publishing and everyone involved, that’s got to be a win, right?