Gay horror, hetro horror, is there really any reason as to why it has to be segregated? No, not really, but evidently it is, and the mainstream horror genre and its aficionados are always looking for some new thing to read to entertain them, but anything that deals with the main characters being gay, especially in a non-sleazy or a non-exploitive manner is totally verboten. So, ghod bless the small specialty presses, without them we wouldn't get anthologies like this, and all three stories here are worth the time and trouble to track down and read by those that would normally overlook anything with a whiff of homosexuality. All three stories here have their elements and periods of eroticism, but nothing that should offend those that aren't gay, and nothing that could be read as exploitive.
--"A Holy Time For All The Dead" by John Michael Curlovich is the story that I bought this anthology for. I have been an increasing fan of Curlovich's since I bought and read his novel "Steel Ghosts" that he published under the name of Michael Paine. Enough of a fan that I have finally ordered from Amazon his first three out of print novels and this anthology. I wanted to see if the material that he has published under his own name was any different than the stuff that he has published under his pseudonym, and truthfully, not really.
Young and newly minted minister Steve Merchant has come this close to being booted out of the tv evangelist's Pastor Jack Cantworthy's Baptist seminary because of an incident with Daniel Forman, another student who WAS expelled. Unfortunately, this incident is a black mark on Merchant's record and has prevented, with Cantworthy and his predatory toad Marvin Heebler's help, from getting any jobs with the better Baptist churches. However, Cantworthy has come up with a way for Merchant to purge his record and get in Cantworthy's good graces. Merchant is to take over The Old Stone Loaves and Fishes Full Gospel Fellowship Church of
Glowney Junction in the back-back-backwater town of Glowney Junction now that the last pastor has died.
The idea is that will get back in Cantworthy's good graces if Merchant can get Glowney Junction to give up the sinful holiday of Halloween and rediscover Halloween's Christian roots. Merchant knows that the whole concept is ridiculous, but to continue to do God's work, he has no choice. The only trouble is that Merchant is still struggling with his sexuality, and he is getting phantom e-mails from Forman, who it seems will simply not leave the past alone.
Curlovich is not a goremaster, nor is he addicted to the idea of violence in his novels, and the same is the case here. Curlovich's style is to let the story take its own sweet time to be told, by letting the hauntings gradually increase in intensity and by letting Merchant struggle with his sexuality. Little by little Merchant comes to realize that he will not only fail to resurrect Halloween as a Christian holiday in the apathetic town, but that he can't, with Forman's help, deny his own sexuality. Curlovich pulls a sleight of hand here, for the first half you think that this is going to be a traditional ghost story, but it DOES turn into something different. The story does have some of Curlovich's faults as a writer though. Merchant is pretty much of a non-identity as a character, Curlovich's fondness for jarring apocalyptic endings is in full force here, on the other hand, Curlovich's fondness for acerbic observations sweetens the story considerably. With a better ending and a stronger lead, this could have been a five star story; it still gets four stars though.
--The next story is Michael Rowe's "In October" and like Curlovich's it starts off giving the impression as one thing, a "Carrie" clone, and ends up being something else entirely. "In October" is not just a novella, but is almost a full-length novel as we are introduced to Mikey Childress, small, gay, and bullied in the redneck town of Auburn, Ontario. His father is constantly away, his mother a holy roller, and he is constantly tormented at school by the thuggish, no-neck, over-muscled primitive Dewey Verbinski and his dopey sidekick Jim Fields. Then, one day goth girl Wroxy moves into town and they find that they have some shared interests, like the occult, and become friends for the next three years.
"In October" falls into the category of the "be-careful-of-what-you-wish-for" story as the first half of the story looks like it will be a gay version of "Carrie", but then goes in a different direction as Mikey is targeted by a cult that will give him what he wishes for. People start dying, and Mikey gets a dream protector and lover who isolates him from his one friend. The main problem that I have with the story is that Rowe overstates his case somewhat. Mikey is such a dweeb that while I will have to admit that even though I don't like the ending a whole lot, such an ending is most likely inevitable. The papers are sadly filled with such characters that are willing to make such decisions against their better judgments all in the name of love and security. So, Rowe has written a character driven horror story in which he examines not only the prosecution of gays and outsiders in a small isolated town, but also what happens when that outsider has a weak personality and is easily swayed by an outside agency to commit and/or support acts that he wouldn't normally commit and/or support. All that being said, I still don't like the ending. Four stars.
The third story in this anthology is "The Secrets Of The Fey" by David Thomas Lord and it is completely different than the other two stories. Tom Hogan is a retired man who is still mourning the death of his long time companion. It seems that his other friends and companions have been trying to draw him out of his shell and back into society, but it doesn't seem to be working. On Gay Pride Day he separates from his friends and goes on a pub crawl looking for what he's not sure. What he finds is something completely outside of his experiences, and it is one of the fey, and he is given one chance to wish for anything that he wants, and he wishes to be loved. Unfortunately for Hogan, this story is also a story that falls into the "be-careful-of-what-you-wish-for" genre, as the fey then says that he will love Hogan for as long as Hogan lives. Don't plan a long honeymoon. This is less a horror story than more of a dark fantasy as Hogan realizes that he has bitten off more than he can chew and his wish starts to go sidewise. I will admit to my ignorance as to the story's ending as it depends on a mythology that I am unfamiliar with and therefore cannot judge, although it reminds me of Tennessee William's story "The Black Narcissus". Four and half stars.
While Curlovich's story is about how a miserable man is saved by love, at a terrible price to be sure, but Steve Merchant IS saved from a life of pain, both Rowe and Lord give us stories in which a character is destroyed by love, although Lord's story's ending can be looked at as rather ambiguous. I was a little bothered that in both Curlovich's and Lord's universe EVERYBODY is gay, but, I guess you gotta figure in the target audience, and I got over it. The stories are almost British in their views of religion and alternate religions, but a quick look at the copywrite page shows that this was a Halloween anthology published in October. Well, okey dokey then. Good stuff.