Therese Szymanski (Editor)
Just in time for your spooky autumn reading, the latest Bella Books anthology, Call of the Dark, has arrived. The 23 stories represent the work of well-known authors as well as new writers. Selected and arranged by Therese Szymanski, this collection is thoughtful and entertaining, sometimes witty and touching, often creepy and always arousing. The focus of the collection is "erotic" and it is not surprising that most of the stories fall into two categories: possession by or seduction at the hands of a vampire or a spirit. Nevertheless the stories are neither repetitive nor entirely predictable.
The vampires range from the dashing, charismatic Daron in Szymanski's "Dream Lover" to the horrific entity in Patty G. Henderson's "In the Blood." Henderson's tale questions the price of life, the cost of loyalty and the pain of survival. Victoria A. Brownworth's "The Feast of St. Lucy" is an aching little tale of loneliness and survival filled with vivid images of the ancient and ageless New Orlean's French Quarter and the scent of bergamot. Perhaps one of the most interesting twists is Ariel Graham's "Games of Love" wherein she illustrates how a really long-term couple keeps the relationship … fresh, and answers that nagging question of what is the appropriate gift for your 500+ anniversary.
The spirits (formerly human, and now ghosts or demon) who haunt these pages are equally varied. An ultimate surrender overwhelms the lead in Radclyffe's "By the Light of the Moon." In Heather Osborne's "That which Alters," the succubus finds herself falling in love with her victim in a fascinating role reversal. "Specter of Sin" allows Kristina Wright to provide a new variation on a traditional kind of ghost story set in the lonely despair of the Texas desert. The switch in perspective is explored by several writers, as when Rachel Kramer Bussel (a contributing editor at Penthouse) opens the door to "The Haunted, Haunted House." There, a ghost provides a heated coming out for a lovely young visitor.
Without question, the most amusing entry of the collection is "Lilith" by Karin Kallmaker. In this wry tale of a queer succubus who outlives her creator and is left to drift through the dreams and fantasies of humans without intent to consume them, Kallmaker opens the anthology and a discussion of the nature of fantasy, focus, and consent.
Szymanski's skillful selection and arrangement of the stories provides valuable contrasts and flow for the reader. Thus, Julia Watt's charming "Visitation" is followed by Barbara Johnson's "Loving Ophelia." The former provides the reader with a satisfying "all is right" even in the "other world" with a psychic who helps a wronged spirit, and has several of her own questions answered in the process. In the latter, Johnson pens a creepy little story worthy of the Twilight Zone.
This placing and pacing of stories allows the reader to read several stories in a row, moving between the touching, humorous, and thoughtful, to the downright creepy, then back again. The lighter entries, like those sunny days or well-lit rooms in a horror movie, serve to lure the readers into letting down their guard for that unexpected twist or nerve-jolting revelation of the next story. And while readers might not find all the stories entirely to their taste, it is not from lack of imagination or skill of writing. None of the stories failed to elicit a response in this reader.
Kallmaker's Lilith laments at one point, "I gathered ever more fantasies and yet had no witch with whom to share them. Truly, to have tales and no one to tell -- is there anything sadder?" (7)
Thankfully, Kallmaker and the other writers in this collection have lots of readers with whom to share their fantasies and we are all the richer for the experience. Pick up a copy of Call of the Dark, light a candle, pour yourself a glass of rich, red wine, and enjoy.