Before You Blow Out the Candle (2020) is an anthology of ten stories edited by Marc Damian Lawler. These stories range from the chillingly creepy, as with “A Troublesome History” and “Steepe Holm”, to more lighthearted ghost stories, as with both of Lawler’s “The Ghost’s of St. James’ Cemetery” story contributions, to the Twilight Zone-ish in style exhibited by “Fear Makes Good Materialists”. I enjoyed the intros, or in some cases the postscripts, Lawler added to each of the stories and the images or drawings which accompanied most as well. Each of the stories here are new with the exception of the final two, one of which was written by Charles Dickens. This anthology is a pretty quick read containing a good batch of highly enjoyable tales.
My personal favorites were: “The Ghosts of St. James’ Cemetery: Grave Drawings”, “Fear Makes Good Materialists”, “They Say You Should Never Go Back”, “A Troublesome History” and “Steepe Holm”. My favorite overall was Jim Moon’s “A Troublesome History”.
1. “The Ghosts of St. James’ Cemetery: Grave Drawings” by Marc Damian Lawler (2019) – While reading an E.F. Benson story on a bench in Liverpool’s St. James’ Cemetery, a girl encounters three unique ghosts from long ago eras, each having unique and quirky personalities. The girl who encounters these specters isn’t afraid as they tell her of their past lives and occasionally bicker with each other, but when she’s shown the tragedy of how one of them met their demise, it’s a terrible sight. This one contains a chilling final stinger at its end.
2. “The Ghosts of St. James’ Cemetery: A Hard Day’s Fright” by Marc Damian Lawler (2019) – All still alive, The Beetles (Paul, John, George and Ringo) go to St. James’ Cemetery where they interact with a group of ghosts that haunt the graveyard. Later, they come to discover they have as much to fear from their ravenous, deceased fans as they do the living.
3. “Red Eye to Nighfolk” by A.P. Sessler (2019) – After just missing what he believed to be the last bus late at night during the holiday season, a struggling student manages to coax another bus driver to let him on even though it’s full. He’s told that the bus is kept dark inside due to its passengers being visually impaired, but he soon begins to realize something isn’t right about those with whom he shares the midnight ride.
4. “Fear Makes Good Materialists” by Lemuel Caleb Gonzalez (2019) – In attempts to sell a rare a piece of spirit photography to an interested buyer, a man learns there may be more at play in the photo than he originally suspected.
5. “Chiaroscuro” by Brad C.Hodson (2019) – A young girl stumbles across an old, abandoned church near her house when her gravely ill mother sends her out to play. Inside she finds an altar with burned out candles surrounding aged photographs. She places one she has of own her mother with them and lights a candle in hopes it will help her recover, but when she returns home she learns that she’s passed and begins to experience a dark presence lurking through her home.
6. “They Say You Should Never Go Back” by David Little (2019) – Lawrence receives messages from some old high school friends telling him that the school they attended and hated so much is scheduled to be demolished. One of them named Charlene says she wants to burn it down before that happens and encourages all of them to join her in doing so. Her strong personality brings them all together intent on the task, but when they split up inside the school, Lawrence begins to see and hear things that shouldn’t exist stalking him. There are some very spooky sightings in this one.
7. “A Troublesome History” by Jim Moon (2019) – A local historian researches the dark history of an old ruined manor house he used to see and be fascinated by in the distance as a child. This research brings to light many disturbing deaths and strange happenings during its many years of existence. This is a superbly chilling, haunted house tale.
8. “Steepe Holm” by Vince Stadon (2019) – A police investigator becomes obsessed with solving the strange case involving a fisherman who’s said to kidnap women from the beach and his connection with the strange, uninhabited island known as Steepe Holm. This is another excellent tale of creeping dread.
9. “A Trial For Murder” by Charles Dickens (1865) – A well-to-do banker is summoned to serve as foreman of the jury for a murder trial. Shortly beforehand he witnesses a specter who he learns was the murder victim. Throughout the trial he sees this apparition in the courtroom reacting to the presented evidence. There are some intriguing psychic threads here in that the ghost seems to have attached itself to the banker specifically and others don’t see the ghost unless they come into physical contact with the banker.
10. “The Horror Under Penmire” by Adrian Cole (1974) – When Phil receives a call from his friend Roy asking him for help in locating the mythic town of Penmire, which he believes to be located in a remote section of Cornwall, he’s intrigued and promises to come in a few days. When he arrives however, he discovers Roy has gone missing and the locals claim to have not seen him, but after he finds Roy’s book filled with his notations, he knows they are lying. One of the notations mentions Dagon, a name instantly recognizable to any fan of H.P. Lovecraft.
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Article by Matt Cowan
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