(note: I realized when this hit 4 pages that I probably wouldn’t be able to post this on GoodReads like Will had asked for, so this is the Big Fat Review besides the basic omg this is awesome review. This has Links To Things)
Don’t Look Away by William Dalphin
A collection of 35 short horror stories, which, frankly, are pretty awesome. A short version of the review would be: dude, this is awesome and you should read this, especially if you’re a fan of scary stories. But, since I can’t do a decent review by loud squee-like noise and trying to convince people to read it because dude this is awesome, I’m going to go story by story as most of them have narrations that I can link to.
Artwork is by Emily Holt, which is reminiscent of Stephen Gammell, Edward Gorey, with a hint of Charles Addams, and a sprinkling of Dave McKean
The book in its entirety reminds me of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series by Alvin Schwartz, Darkness Creeping by Neal Shustersman, and other various scary story collections that I used to collect and read as a kid. I found myself having to stop reading every two or three stories in and going to read something else. Usually a Discworld novel. Most of my narration links will go to NoSleep Podcast and Chilling Tales for Dark Nights. NSP’s first 2 seasons are completely free to listen to, while seasons 3 and on have SeasonPass memberships with the first one or two stories being free to listen to. CTFDN has their own website you can sign up for to listen to more stuff, or you can check them out on youtube. All the links I have for CTFDN goes to their youtube posts so you can listen to the narrations. (note: NSP is short for the NoSleep Podcast and CTFDN is short for Chilling Tales for Dark Nights, both wonderful podcasts).
She Found Her Way Into My Home: An entity finds its way into a guy’s home and hangs out. I don’t know what it is about this story, but it always creeps me the hell out. There are two narrations for the story, one by NSP and one by CreepsMcPasta .
Ragged Lake – The Eye: A kid grows up with a “summer cabin” that he and his family go to every summer. He wakes up one night and finds something staring at him through a knothole. The story is creepy and I found myself continuing to question what the hell was that well after the end.
Ragged Lake, part 2 – One Mean Grip: The kid has grown up and been given keys to the little “summer cabin” to have fun with friends out in the middle of nowhere. The description reminds me of Smith Mountain Lake and that deep-rooted fear most people have that there really is something in the water.
The Crystal Egg – It’s a story about a gift that keeps…on giving. And not in a good way. This is a terribly sad story and I read it and went “What the F—” out loud. It’s also kind of creepy because it has this ominous ending, like the thing notices the main character and follows him around.
The Man in the Attic – Hey look, a babysitter tale. I’m not much of a fan of babysitter tales, but this one is a little more “is there really a person living in the attic?” than there is “the phone call is coming from inside the house.” KingSpook does a narration of it.
The Body on Main Street – A Halloween tale that, well, does what it says on the box. There’s a body in the middle of the street. It’s a neat little tale and I thought there was a narration for it, but a quick Google and Youtube search revealed nothing. I could’ve sworn CTFDN had done it.
Why I Refuse to Work Late Anymore – A computer programmer/designer winds up getting stuck working by himself on the weekend to try to finish a project for a customer. It ends up building up to a creepy story of a haunted building. Personally, I find the whole thing unnerving, but that’s because public restrooms creep me out and hallways of any kind freak me out. There is a narration on NSP to help bring up the creep factor.
Dinner by Swamplight – A guy recollects a strange series of events he had as a kid after moving to a new location due to his father’s job. Trekking off with a friend and his siblings ends up getting hurt and causing the series of events. The art is creepy as hell and NSP has a narraion for it.
Terror Haute – Guy comes back from college to find there are no jobs, only to be offered one by his parents, who own various rental properties. It’s a haunted house style story that starts with the base nightmare of moving home and slides into a strange encounter with a house. It continues to build up dread and, for me, keeps giving the expectation of turning a page to find some art that would jarr you back into reality. NSP does a narration of it.
A Game of Flashlight Tag – It is what it says: it’s a retelling of a game of flashlight tag, something I can only guess at and imagine what is like. It is the nightmare of parents, this story: a child goes missing and a child gets chased through the backyards of a neighborhood while kids are running around and having fun. The art is creepy as hell and there are quite a few narrations of the tale. CTFDN , CreepsMcPasta , KingSpook , and NSP
The Crawling House on Black Pond Road – Bugs. It’s bugs. omfg it’s bugs. The art is awesome and reminds me of Edward Gorey. There is a narration from NSP , so have fun with that one.
We don’t Talk about Sarah – This is a really sad story. A little girl talks about how much she wants a little sister and finally gets her. She spends time talking about how wonderful it was and then the one day where her little sister is no longer around. It’s a sad story that takes a moment to sink in before you realize how messed up it is. Both CreepsMcPasta and NSP does a narration.
She Found Her Way into My Home, pt 2: Bedtime Stories – A little girl tells her parent spooky stories; classic ghost stories you’d expect from a kid who’s been read the Scary Stories series. Only, the parent learns that she never got them from a book. I think it’s the same family as the first part, but I’m not 100% sure. It makes it seem as though it’s a different family, but who knows. I could ask, but that would take away some of the fun. A quick search brings narrations for part 1 even though I could’ve sworn there was a narration for part 2.
Will-o’-Wisps – A guy is telling of an event he had when he was younger, going to visit his grandparents’ house and traipsing through the woods, only to get almost lured to his death. I hate this story. Not for the story itself, which is a really great idea, but the implied accent, which I found jarred me out of the story time and time again. Maybe it’s because I don’t need the extra implication as it reads as a kind of Appalachian accent and not just a basic “Southern twang,” or maybe it’s just how I read things. But, a hilarious line from the story is “I felt myself tippin’ head over biscuits…” because I’ve always known the line as “ass over tea kettle.” A quick search brings about no narrations, although it’d be really neat to have one and see how the narrator would work it.
Uncle Wallace’s Shack – Going to visit a far-flung uncle, who spends time standing vigil and waiting on something, only to screw everything up that the uncle had been working on. There’s a build up of intensity that levels out into hilarity. There wasn’t a narration that I had found. Looking through my notes, I had to stop at this one and try to figure out why I’d written “f—ing a vigil all to hell” before laughing and re-reading the story.
A Conclusive Demonstration – Two dorm mates become best friends, one volunteers for a very “hushhush” experiment with maybe the science department, maybe the government. The whole thing reminded me of “How to See the Future” from Season 4, Episode 1 of NSP (the story with the time-goggle things, rampant paranoia, and all). There is currently no narration, but the quick youtube search brings up various conspiracy theories.
The Babysitter – A babysitter tale that harks back to another NSP tale (“Poor Little Babysitter,” season 3, episode 1) as well as, if memory is correct, a Bentley Little story (I think it was a Bentley Little story, possibly called “Chicken.” But I have misplaced my paperback of “The Collection” so I can’t verify it). It starts off as you’d expect and then veers off a bit towards urban legend territory. There is currently no narrations of it, which sucks because we need more babysitter narrations to mess with people’s heads.
The Ashland Express – A woman catches the wrong bus because she’s too busy reading and wanting to give off a “leave me alone” vibe. It’s part how I feel on the bus, part “oh gods I’m going to miss my bus” paranoia that runs through my head on a frequent basis. There’s a mention of H. H. Holmes! Woohoo! The story reminds me of a story by Ramsey Campbell, I believe, except his story involved a train and I’m having a brain fart on the name (It’s in the same collection as “Again, Again” but I can’t find our copy of the book, so don’t hold me to it) It’s almost as though it’s a less ominous version of someone else’s story, like he read it and went “I wonder if it was a bus” and got strung along until he wrote it out. Unfortunately, there is no narration currently, but I could see it as like a Jessica McEvoy/Peter Lewis piece on NSP.
She Found Her Way into My Home, pt 3: It’s in the Blood – There’s a monster in the closet and at first, the parent thinks that it might be imagination or something that the thing from Part 2 told the kid. This story made me really glad that we removed the doors to the closet in the bedroom when we moved into the house because nope nope nope. Like part 2, there is no narration, but it’d be nice to have all 3 parts narrated and compiled together, almost like how Dr Creepen on youtube has been doing narrations for stories like the Helltown Experiments and such.
Peek-a-Boo – A family line is doomed. Doomed because there is a thing following the bloodline no matter where they go, no matter what state they move to. It’s a messed up tale and a really neat take on the “peek a boo” game people play with babies. There are no narrations.
The Room with too Many Shadows – Kid attends a birthday sleepover where the birthday boy shows off the laundry room and the extra shadow that lives there. It’s a highly enjoyable story that reminds me of something you’d find in a horror anthology easily found on the shelves of B&N or something. There is no narration, but the quick youtube search brought up a bunch of Lindsey Stirling videos.
The Pigman of Northfield – An urban legend about a creature known only as “The Pigman” with the question of is it one person, is it one thing? Does the Pigman cause a form of pig-based lycanthropy or transformation? The description made me think of a Tennant-era episode of Doctor Who and brought on the thought of the whole transformation-by-cryptid concept. The art made me think of something that I could imagine being depicted in Aparment 16 by Adam Nevill. There is a narration by KingSpook as well as Sir Ayme.
A Room of Pitch Black – A creepy ass house with a sealed off room, strangely roped off. Yep, no thank you. It’s description is pretty much “a long hallway of doorframes.” Nope. Hallways are damn creepy. The whole thing kind of reminded me of Stephen King’s “N.” There is one narration that I was able to find by KingSpook.
An Unexpected Guest – A guy visits an old friend and winds up getting set up in the “soon-to-be” playroom for the kid as the wife’s uncle has unexpectedly come to stay with them as well. This is a story of how bad PTSD can manifest itself and the artwork reminds me of “Me Tie Dough-ty Walker” from the Scary Stories series and is narrated on NSP .
The Haunted Cave – A story about a story of a haunted cave attraction. Yeah, nope. So, this guy is driving his wife and her younger siblings out to this haunted cave that he went to when he was a teenager. As he’s taking them there, he’s telling everyone about the time he went to the cave with his buddies and how he wonders if it’s the same goofball setup as it was back then. It’s got some really well done imagery and I found myself imagining scenes from Hostel as I was reading it. There is a narration for this story on NoSleep, however it is for the Season 3 Halloween episode for SeasonPass members, and therefore I can’t link to it.
Bdellophobia – Imagine Wil Wheaton screaming “Leeches!” and you’re halfway there. As someone who spent summers growing up playing in a “leech-infested” creek, I’ve actually never seen one in real life and my knowledge of leeches comes from documentaries and science shows. I find them fascinating, but this story is horrifying and I can easily see it being used against a child to keep them out of a creek or pond. There are no narrations for this story and if you search on youtube “bdellophobia” it comes up with a “not found” page and I find this hilarious yet kind of disappointing. As someone who is used to the sound effects of NSP, no matter how wonderful or disgusting, I’m disappointed that this one hasn’t been touched yet.
Olivia – A friend talking about their now deceased friend and the anxiety she faced before she died. It’s a really sad story, but also hard-hitting for people who have been in abusive relationships even though it just barely scrapes the surface. The artwork is very reminiscent of the practical effects makeup from the Insidious films. The only narration I could find was from NSP .
The Devil Lives on Old Mill Road – A child goes against their grandparent’s wishes and meets the devil down an old dirt road. It’s like a tall tale that a friend tells at a party while sitting around having drinks and it gives a nice chill down your spine because it’s easy to imagine it to have really happened to someone. NSP does a narration for it.
The Cross by the Railroad Tracks – A boyscout hiking trip goes awry after the group stops for the night near some abandoned railroad tracks to set up camp and tell ghost stories. It’s like a twisted tale of a ghost train, but from a different perspective. It’s a wonderfully spooky tale and NSP does a narration for it.
Hunger – Simply: it’s a misunderstanding by a doctor of an eating disorder. Beyond that: it’s a twisted freaking story that I will avoid as much as I possibly can because my introduction to this story was from NSP and, even though I don’t normally get grossed out by sounds, especially in an audio-drama format, I died a little inside with it. I walked into work listening to the story and a coworker told me I was visibly green. CTFDN also does a narration for this story but, after it cut on from autoplay after an Otis Jiry narration, I freaked out, yelled “NOPE!” and immediately cut it off. Reading the story isn’t as traumatizing as listening to the NSP version, but it’s still pretty squicky. Don’t eat anything while you’re reading this story.
The Jack Monster – There’s a monster in the basement and the narrator’s dad didn’t do a good enough job preparing his kid for dealing with what was there. Unlike “Hunger,” NSP doesn’t do the story justice because the story itself is much more twisted than the audio adaptation of it.
The Painting of a Hallway – The narrator’s dad sends him a painting of an innocuous hallway, which kind of brings to mind an average hotel hallway. The painting slowly changes and brings more dread to the narrator. It’s kind of like that episode of Night Gallery, but instead of being campy and the butler driving his “new master” insane, it’s this uneasy mounting dread of terrible things about to come. Both NSP and CTFDN
do a narration for this story, but I find that the written version is better than the audio version.
The Ant King – A young child is terrified of ants, the father is tired of dealing with this irrational fear and let’s the kid suffer until the kid finally winds up killing an ant, which turns out to be this huge, strangely marked ant. And then the tables are turned. Reading the description of the ant, I was reminded of a haunted house story from the Midwest I’d read as a kid where this couple had found “huge black ants” coming out of their dishwasher that were described as about the size of an average adult thumb and immediately thought of that as the size of the Ant King. The descriptions are pretty visceral read as well as listened to. NSP and CTFDN have narrations for these, but beware the sound effects of NSP.
The Well Went Bad on the Pierson Farm – A teenager decides to take a shortcut home from work through the back part of a farm that is known for having ornery owners, which reminds me of all the farmers I’ve met who don’t like anyone just wandering on their land (and for good reason). He finds a well and something that tries to lure him down into it. It’s a great story that leaves a lot to the imagination and I found myself guessing what happens, what will happen after the story, and what happened before the story. Both NSP and CTFDN have narrations for this story.
The Last Halloween – A kid goes trick-or-treating and ends up getting conned into pranking the little old lady down the street by his friend. Terrible things happen, which causes the story to be more trick than treat. It’s a great story that is perfectly paced with enough background information and fast-paced fear to keep you intrigued. It’s a great finish for the collection. Again, both NSP and CTFDN have narrations for the story.