Nightmare’s Eve by Stephen H. Provost
Black Raven Books (February 2018)
266 pages; $13.95 paperback
Reviewed by R.B. Payne
Presented for your consideration are sixteen Twilight Zone-inspired tales and ten dark poems in Nightmare’s Eve by Stephen H. Provost. Paying homage to Rod Serling, these stories are told in a highly omniscient style that slips between character point of view and occasional god-like narration. Generally this approach provides a satisfying read but this stylistic choice comes at the cost of emotional depth in some of the stories.
The genres in this volume span horror, fantasy, and science-fiction, and each is handled deftly. My favorites were in the science-fiction arena although I thoroughly enjoyed the horror and fantasy stories and particularly the poem “Lost at Sea.”
The story “Virulent” was my hands-down favorite. A pioneer farmer on a Mars colony, Severus Wu, finds himself in a locked room with a reticent and un-talkative female companion. His only choice is to surrender his possessions on a daily basis to his unseen hosts who communicate only by written note. Buoyed by his faith in “The Path,” he strategizes to survive day-by-day as his resources dwindle and he strives to outwit his captors. There are many delectable twists and turns in this tale.
In “The Howl and the Purr” we discover what happens when unbridled ignorance combines with the law of unintended consequence. A series of news dispatches analyzes the events and causes of an alien invasion and the seemingly illogical terms of surrender. Here, the author delights us with his own personal newspaper writing and editing skills and this really gives this story its gravitas. Before putting my pets to bed the other night, they insisted I read this story to them again.
They were transfixed.
On the horror front, there is plenty of terror, blood, and psychological angst. If you like maniacs and gore, you might take your set of butcher knives elsewhere. These are stories to challenge the mind and only mildly churn the stomach.
Interestingly, pen-and-ink illustrations precede each story and give the book, which has a modern cover, a somewhat Gothic or Victorian feel in the interior. I was not sure of the intent of the drawings as most of the stories are modern or fable-esque. This created a slight disconnect at the beginning of each story as the illustration often belied the setting of the tale and it took a moment, as a reader, to engage. My advice is to only glance at the illustration and head straight to the lead-in paragraph.
In summary, many of these stories aspire to the Twilight Zone standard of “here comes the twist” ending. This is ambitious for any writer especially in a collection of sixteen stories. After all, Rod Serling had Charles Beaumont, Ray Bradbury, and Richard Matheson at his beck and call. Even though the endings may not always work as strongly as intended, Mr. Provost is to be commended for an excellent effort. Nightmare’s Eve should be on your reading list. The stories are at the intersection of nightmare and lucid dreaming, up ahead a signpost… next stop, your reading pile.
Keep the nightlight on.