Well, another day and another attractive cover from illustrator Adrian Baldwin for the latest entry in Demain Publishing’s Short Sharp Shocks! series. I’m having a lot fun doing mini-reviews of these horror shorts, all of which so far that I’ve read certainly living up to their series title. Another tranche were just released by Demain, and to my delight one was written by Calvin Demmer, an author I encountered all the way back in May 2018 when I reviewed his first title, the short story collection The Sea Was A Fair Master. I found it to be an impressive and assured title that demonstrated an inherent understanding of how to write good horror, and I looked forward to seeing what he would come up with in The Town That Feared Dusk.
The story opens with a fairly brutal opening, exposing some home truths about journalism that could as easily apply to being a writer – in the Horror genre or otherwise – with the same sparse, tight and effective prose that Demmer demonstrated in The Sea Was A Fair Master. Desperate to find a story that will ensure she doesn’t share the fate of her late colleague, journalist Sylvia finds something – scraps of story about a ‘Suicide Bridge’ that takes her to a town plagued by suicides. Demmer easily sketches out a Rust Belt town, like something from a New Yorker election year article – dated diner, single gas station, quiet locals. But there’s a sinister secret hiding just under that rural silence, something to do with the bridge and the setting of the sun.
As always with the Short Sharp Shocks! series, their brief length means I can’t go into detail without comprehensive spoilers; and in this case that’s all for the better, as Demmer’s contribution is certainly the best in the series so far. It’s creepy as hell, to start with, Demmer deftly pairing the boring, almost generic nature of the town with the inhuman phenomena inhabiting the bridge to great effect; and creating a particularly intimidating and unsettling supernatural presence to boot. The mythology around the bridge, and exactly why it’s never been investigated by outsiders before is also skilfully done, with two engaging but violently differing sides presented as the narrative progresses. But by far the best part of The Town That Feared Dusk is the sense of history that Demmer imparts, especially in such a small word-count; through character discussions and his excellent descriptive prose, he builds up a picture of a town struggling with a secret that stretches back decades, and sacrifices made – both professional and personal by those trying to keep it from affecting the outside world.
Perfectly paced, deftly written and infused with an intense atmosphere of horror and unbearable tension, The Town That Feared Dusk is another outstanding piece of Horror writing from Calvin Demmer and another feather in the cap of Demain Publishing