Horror editor extraordinaire, Ellen Datlow, has been collecting and anthologizing fantasy and horror stories for four decades. Each collection brings a new focus to a new movement in the genre(s), brings together stories and novellas sharing a common theme, or anthologizes her “best of the year” decisions in delicious annuals (she’s already working on year nine!).
Datlow is, hands down, the place to turn to for the great short horror and dark fantasy fiction of our time. And I’m grateful to her for it.
This, her newest collection, Nightmares, covers horror over the last decade—from 2005 – 2015. It picks up where one of her very popular anthologies, Darkness, which covered horror from 1985 – 2005, left off.
Here is a sample of the first story, “Shallaballah” by Mark Samuels. It’s a creepy one. But then, these are supposed to give you nightmares…
Get this book. You’ll love it.
A wig covered his bald scalp. His face was a patchwork of skin joined together by ugly black stitches. Mr. Punch told him that, given time, the resulting scars would be scarcely noticeable. Eventually they would almost fade away and leave only thin lines that could not be seen except under an extremely bright light. But as Sogol examined his own features in the mirror, tracing his fingers over the threads that held the flesh together, he found it difficult to believe that what he saw would ever again resemble his old familiar face. His reflection was like a mask, dead and expressionless. Sogol tried to remember that Mr. Punch had told him this was to be expected and that nerve-to-muscle control would take a few days to return, yet he had not really been prepared for the reality of just how ghastly he would appear in the interim. He poked a fingernail into the skin but felt nothing. It was like touching another person.
A gigantic industrial estate with narrow walkways, corridors and alleys. The squat, square buildings are made of concrete. They are run-down and dismal. Many of the windows are broken. On the flat roofs there are crooked TV aerials and grimy satellite dishes. They look like bizarre scarecrows and are framed against an orange-coloured sky. Subsidence and age have made the structures lean together. Flights of twisted stairs link one level to another.
Sogol sat on the edge of the camp-bed. Its mattress was soiled and hollowed in the centre, a reminder of all those who had been here before him. Mr. Punch’s “clinic”offered the most meagre hospitality, despite the exorbitant cost of his special type of treatment. Those who went under his knife did so in the knowledge that the gentleman was a criminal, possibly even insane. But still his patients came. There was nowhere else for them to go. This horrible little building with its dusty windows and peeling paintwork, hidden away in a run-down ghetto estate, was a recondite Lourdes where one offered up hard cash in exchange for miracles.
He’d heard rumours about the celebrities that had passed through here. Film actresses who, beyond the help of lighting and make-up, even of face-lifts or plastic surgery, had extended their shelf-life by more than a decade by utilising the services of Mr. Punch. One did not approach him. There was no way to contact him. Mr. Punch would call on the telephone offering his services to those he knew were most in need. Celebrities of course. Only ever celebrities who could afford the fees he charged. And then his black ambulance would call in secret at an appointed time.
In Sogol’s case it was after the car accident. The TV company had paid a lot of money to hush the thing up. This was, after all, right in the middle of filming the episode that was going to be next year’s ratings triumph. Only Mr. Punch could repair the damage that Sogol had suffered in the crash; only Mr. Punch could reconstruct his monstrously burnt face in time.
Sogol coked up to the eyeballs, driving a sports car, a bottle of scotch with just a dribble left in it laying beside him on the passenger seat, and a hairpin bend on the hillside road…leaving behind some woman…who meant nothing to him…’
– Mark Samuels, “Shallaballah” (Nightmares, ed. Ellen Datlow, Tachyon, 2016)