Short story writer Bird (Nightmare and Nostalgia, 2013) offers five tales of the fantastic, most involving haunted (or haunting) females.
The author makes ghost stories her specialty in this collection, and hers are of an especially gentle variety, grounded more in emotion than horror, with very few things likely to say “boo.” However, it’s not the sole genre in her repertoire. In the title tale, Holy Innocents is a Catholic convent/orphanage in Cincinnati, taking in children during the depths of the Depression as a flu epidemic ravages the city. The narrator, Agnes, lovingly looks after one newcomer, Lizzie, but seems to never interact with the other nuns or children. (Readers get one guess at the benevolent Agnes’ true nature.) Bird distinguishes her tales with pleasing, well-chosen language, and the second, “Magnetic Attraction,” is a standout: an imagining of the fractured family relationships of scientist-spouses Marie and Pierre that uses wordplay and terminology derived from physics and chemistry (although it’s set during a séance, naturally). “A Serpent in Paradise” is the lone sci-fi entry and also the only one from a male point of view. In it, a developer despoiling Brazilian rain forests encounters a fungus that normally infects ants and alters their behavior; now, however, it’s aiming higher up the food chain. In “Monster,” the spirit of a dancer resents her early death and forcibly and grotesquely reincarnates itself in a random woman, resulting in a medical anomaly. The closer, “Walk-In,” describes an eager ghost possessing a willing host—a mentally unstable wife and mother. Readers can finish this collection in the time it takes to watch a Creepshow-style horror-film anthology. The tales don’t have that movie’s gore, but they do offer consistency, intelligence and a few haunting notions.
An offbeat set of horror stories that impart subtle, rather than raw, shocks.