Book Review: Shades: Eight Tales of Terror by D. Nathan Hilliard

16187498Title: Shades: Eight Tales of Terror
Author: D. Nathan Hilliard
Genre: Ghosts, Horror, Short Story Collection
Publisher: Amazon
Publication Date: March 18th, 2012
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Review copy provided by the author in exchange for honest review.

Here there be ghosts…

Within these pages lurks a cast of phantoms who have returned from the grave with a vengeance. You will find no friendly ghosts here, just eight deathly horrors with their own personal bones to pick with the living. These are the ghosts of our nightmares. Whether driven by madness, vengeance, pain, bloody evil, or primordial rage…they are all specters that are as dangerous as they are frightening. So get comfortable, get that night light ready, and find out who survives and who doesn’t in this anthology of the baleful dead. Stories within include…

Death and White Satin – A young bride-to-be unearths the wrong wedding dress and discovers that horror and madness can echo down through the decades.

An Echo of Blood and Mirrors – A young man is surprised in the boy’s bathroom by the head cheerleader. But things quickly take a turn for the worse as he discovers she’s on the run from a triple murderer who has been dead for over a century.

Dance of the Ancients – Three lawmen search for a missing state trooper on a hill doomed to disappear under the rising waters of a new lake. Fearing the worst, they find something even worse than they feared.

A Memory of Me – A night spent in a forgotten graveyard lands three college boys in a situation that none of their classes have prepared them for.

Legacy of Flies – A young woman discovers she is the heir of a vast family fortune. But she also finds her inheritance comes with a ghoulish legacy that may very well be the death of her.

Storm Chase – A hurricane approaches and Bernie March’s wife is standing down the hill beside the tractor he needs to bring in ahead of the storm…exactly where he buried her three years earlier.

A Singularity of Purpose – A callous young punk discovers that returning from the dead isn’t just the prerogative of humans when he finds himself in one last desperate race with the dog he tormented in life.

A Long, Cold Forever of a Night – On a humid July night, a middle-aged couple find themselves alone in a deserted rural intersection…with the deadly phantom of a high school classmate who died in an ice storm decades earlier.

Shades: Eight Tales of Terror is a collection of short stories that focus on ghosts. Some of these ghosts are terrifying and murderous, while others are less frightening. What these stories have in common is that all of them leave shivers running down your spine. I had to glance behind me several times while reading this collection, in order to make sure a phantom wasn’t standing behind me, breathing down my neck. Scariness guaranteed.

“Death and White Satin” is the first story of the collection and immediately starts out strong. Jessica is getting ready to get married to the love of her life, when she discovers an old wedding dress from a dusty box on the attic of her mother-in-law’s home. The mother-in-law, Marge, is anything but pleased to see the wretched thing belonging once to the woman who murdered her brother, Priscilla Hatcher. She tells Jessica the story of Priscilla, a young woman who was beautiful and superficial, and murderous on top of that. When Marge leaves afterward to go to the shop, Jessica is alone in the house with the wedding dress…And Priscilla’s ghost decides this is the perfect time to pay a visit to the future bride-to-be. I liked this story, mainly because it gave an original spin to the supposed ‘haunted wedding dress’ urban legend I’ve heard plenty of times before. It’s great when an author manages to take things that have been done before, but add an original spin to it.

“An Echo of Blood and Mirrors” is a dark, gruesome story. Corvin and his classmates visit a museum located in a house once belonging to a supposed mad man, nicknamed The Necromancer. One of his class maters decides to impress his girlfriend by stealing a pen from the museum, thus unleashing the spirit of the mad man. Since she has the pen, Laura’s been chased by strange apparitions in mirrors and glass windows, apparitions of the murderer. Although Corvin is initially convinced the dead can’t harm them, he may have to rethink that assumption…This story was a bit too bloody for my tastes, especially toward the end. I did enjoy it though, but it wasn’t my favorite.

“Dance of the Ancients” however, was one of my favorite stories in the collection. Sherrif Carl Gartner is forced to go to a small island, once called Deerhunter Hill, to recover a missing trooper. The island is inhabited by a man named Luther Cole, who was always a bit eccentric, but grew crazy during the time he spend on the island. What the Sherrif and his officers find on the island however, is a lot more than they bargained for. Mutilated corpses and ancient spirits are only the tip of the iceberg. What I liked here was the originality of the plot, and Sherrif Carl – he was an intriguing character, complex and well-developed, which isn’t an easy feat in short stories.

“A Memory of Me” added another nice twist to a well-known story. Three friends spend the night at a graveyard, and one of them, Jack, destroys a grave marker. Unfortunately, that sets loose a murderous spirits who will kill them one by one if they don’t remember her name. I’ve heard plenty of times of teens spending the night at the graveyard and then being chased by a spirit, but never because they destroyed her grave marker and she doesn’t want to be forgotten. It’s a nice twist, and this story was fast-paced and enjoyable.

“Legacy of Flies” was disturbing, horrific, and exciting at the same time. Janie is asked to come to the large, majestic estate of her family, a family she’s never known, being the bastard child of one of its ancestors. The current ladies of the house need her help: the family fortune will keep decreasing unless there is a ‘master of the house’, a descendent of the family, present in the house. Persuaded by luxuries and money, Janie agrees. She goes outside to sit near a tree where something horrible happened centuries ago, not expecting to be tormented by the spirit of the boy who had his father murdered by Janie’s ancestor…Because of its originality and unique approach, its great descriptions and oppressive, claustrophobic atmosphere at the end, this was my favorite story of the entire collection. I actually read it twice – that’s how much I enjoyed it.

“Storm Chase” went more down a familiar road than the previous stories, and left me with a lot of questions. One day, Bernie sees the spirit of his deceased wife – a wife he and his mistress murdered – down the hill of his house. Convinced his wife has come to claim him and take her bloody revenge, he flees. It’s not a bad story, it’s definitely scary and fast-paced, but continuously I wondered: why now? Why does Charlotte decide to rise from the dead after being dead and buried for three years? It’s never properly explained – or if it is, then I missed it – and this kind of made me like the story not that much. It makes no sense, unless something strange happened to anger her spirit, that she’d come back now of all days.

“A Singularity of Purpose” is about a ghost dog, and well, I never thought ghostly animals could be scary as well, but I’ve now changed my mind. Russell takes the same route home every day, straight through the territory of Purvis, a dog who likes nothing more than to chase Russell and try to bite him. This day though, he’s not being chased and soon after, Russell finds out why: the dog is dead. Unfortunately that doesn’t keep Purvis from following him home, and appearing seemingly out of nowhere, ready to do in death what he couldn’t accomplish in life. I loved this story. Purvis may not be the typical villain one has in mind when thinking ghost stories, but he’s delightfully creepy. I didn’t like Russell – he could’ve just stopped going through the neighbor’s territory – and I actually liked Purvis’ revenge on him (I wouldn’t like it in real life, of course, just saying that as this is a story, the revenge seemed fitting).

“A Long, Cold Forever of a Night” brought me on the verge of tears. A ghost is haunting the road Carol and her husband stranded on, the ghost of a girl who died there many years ago, a fellow schoolmate of theirs. A terrible accident happened on that road, and while all students helped each other, they all forgot about the poor girl. She was found with her face half frozen. Her spirit still haunts the road, but soon enough, Carol and her husband will learn that all the girl wants is not to be left alone…This story isn’t as horrifying as it is saddening, and I really felt for the girl ghost. It must’ve been terrible to be left all alone, in the coldest night in history, slowly dying with no one around to safe you.

As a whole, this collection offers a wide variation of ghost stories, from surprisingly original ones to stories offering a surprise twist to more classic tales. Some of these stories left chills running down my spine, while others, especially the last one, brought me near tears. The writing throughout the collection is strong and solid. The characters are well-developed, and come from various social and cultural backgrounds as well. There’s variety here: something for everyone.

I highly recommend this collection as a Halloween read, and to all fans of ghost stories.

Author Interview

I asked author D. Nathan Hilliard some questions about his writing, his short story collection Shades and his upcoming work.

1) When did you know you wanted to become a writer?

After I came down with Charcot Marie Tooth in my forties, I started hunting around for something new to do since I could no longer do any of the jobs I had held in the past. I remembered that I had been pretty good at writing in high school, so I decided to try and approach that with the same seriousness that I would any of my former jobs.

2) What was the inspiration behind Shades: Eight Tales of Terror?

Having grown up in assorted small towns in Texas, I was exposed to different tales of ghosts and hauntings that had a decidedly local flavor to them. They usually involved ordinary, small-town people and combined a sense of local history with a flair for the ghastly. These tales were usually told by kids to each other, although I imagine they were handed down from their elders. I tried to capture some of that flavor in this anthology.

3) Which short story in the collection did you enjoy to write the most?

‘Storm Chase’ came the easiest, because I actually incorporated a lot of elements from a recurrent childhood nightmare in that one. I used to dream as a child of looking out my bedroom window and seeing a distant ghost getting closer and closer to the house. So I got to get that one out of my system.

4) Which story was the most difficult for you to write?

I would say ‘A Long, Cold Forever of a Night’ due to the issues and emotions involved in that story. Life is sometimes monstrously unfair, and takes things from people in the cruelest ways. Yet in the end, it’s up to us to find a way to make things right as best as we can and go on. Because this story dealt with those issues, it ends in a different tone than the rest.

5) How long did it take you to write Shades: Eight Tales of Terror?

About eight months. It was originally going to be a simple anthology of horror tales, some of which I had already written, but about two months into the project I decided to make it a more focused work that dealt exclusively with ghost stories.

6) Which story did you find the scariest?

Depends on the setting. ‘Death and White Satin’ is the one that comes to mind when I’m alone in a house, but if I’m taking a walk outside alone then ‘A Singularity of Purpose” is the one I don’t want to think about. That’s the one my sister complained about when walking down to mailbox out at her house in the country.

7) Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Right now may be one of the most exciting times in history to be a writer. The opportunity to get your work published has never been greater. So go for it, because the only thing that is holding you back is you. But it’s also important to remember that due to that opportunity there is a lot of poorly written and edited work out there, so it is vitally important to take the time and effort to apply that extra layer of polish and editing to your story. In this field, your work is your resume.

8) Are you working on something right now? If so, can you tell us more about it?

I have just released my latest novel, Dead Stop. It is the story of a diverse group of people trapped in a rural Texas truck stop during a howling storm by the denizens of a nearby graveyard. The dead are now staring in the windows and they discover they only have until dawn to escape. Now that I have that one published, I’m studying different ideas, and also a couple of unfinished novels, before starting on my next project.

Thank you for answering my interview questions!

Giveaway

Mr. Hilliard was kind enough to offer an eBook copy of Shades: Eight Tales of Terror for giveaway. Fill in the Rafflecopter form to participate!

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