A few weeks ago I received an advance copy of Dark Screams: Volume Five in exchange for an honest review. That review will appear here tomorrow. In the meantime I reached out to Bram Stoker award winner Kealan Patrick Burke and asked him to come here and talk about his entry in the book. Kealan graciously agreed to do so. What follows, in a recognizably eloquent voice, is Kealan’s essay.
Sunshine & Shadow by Kealan Patrick Burke
I adore horror anthologies and have ever since I first stumbled upon Stephen Jones’ and David Sutton’s Dark Terrors back in my teens. Through these books, and later, Jones’ annual Best New Horror, Charlie Grant’s Shadows, Stuart David Schiff’s Whispers, Dark Harvest’s Night Visions, Kirby McCauley’s Dark Forces, and others, I found myself not only falling madly in love with short stories, but also writing them. Indeed it is no exaggeration when I confess that the works featured in the aforementioned volumes set me on the path I still travel today. I loved short stories back then, and I still do now, which is why I find it so hard to turn down the opportunity to write one when invited to do so, even if my schedule suggests polite declination would be the most sensible option.
When editor Brian Freeman came to me with the invite for Dark Screams, I was deep into writing a novel (the sequel to Kin), and even though I agreed to try to contribute, I suspected I’d never make the deadline. Even if I somehow managed to find the time, all my mental energy and ideas were being channeled into the novel.
Then, a few weeks later, I found myself having a few beers and Skyping with my younger brother back in Ireland, a ritual we tend to enjoy once a month or so, schedules permitting. He’s a graphic design student and that night he told me about an animation project he’d been tasked to do in which the characters would be silhouettes, much like shadow theater. He asked if I had any ideas or stories he could use as the basis for the animation, and what came to me was a single image, which I explained thusly: “I see an old man wandering crooked streets, searching for something.”
Over the coming weeks, and despite my lack of time, this simple idea coalesced into the shadow-play-as-prose that is “The Land of Sunshine”, in which I took an old man and his mute wife, both of whom exist in a kind of purgatorial elsewhere, and sent him on a short odyssey through an urban hell in an effort to find what he has lost. I love the idea of places that are unmoored from our reality but not in an overly obvious way. It can be nothing more than the absence of proper light or the curious depth of shadow in its stead. It can be a tilted roof or corners that do not quite meet where they should. Places in which water appears to run uphill, the trees are stunted, and the sun is a stranger. It’s no accident that my fictional town of Milestone features many of these traits and as such is a place I like to frequent.
Once “The Land of Sunshine” was done, I went to my brother with it, only to discover that he had already completed the animation project and so didn’t need it anymore. As tends to happen to me quite often, whether due to procrastination or just plain forgetfulness, the deadline for his project had come and gone and he had assumed I’d lost interest, or just gotten otherwise preoccupied. Thankfully this left me with a story for which I had no home, and as it was unlikely I’d get a chance to write another one in time, I sent it along to Brian Freeman for possible inclusion in Dark Screams: Volume Five, though given its poetic nature, I wasn’t entirely sure it would make a good fit. Thankfully, Brian loved it, and accepted it for the book. And whether intentional or not on the part of the editors, the fifth volume of the series seems unified by the themes of love and loss, which I very much like. I’m also somewhat enamored by the work of my Dark Screams compatriots, not just in this volume but the preceding ones too, and I’m proud to appear alongside them. It reminds me of all those much adored anthologies back in my formative years, and I’d love to think that somewhere some youngster with a head full of literary dreams is discovering our voices for the first time and realizing, as I did, that those dreams are attainable.
So, while the book is out there doing its best to creep you out, I’m off to embark upon some chill seeking of my own.
It is, after all, the season for such things.
– Kealan Patrick Burke
October 13th, 2015
Editors: Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar
About Kealan Patrick Burke: Born and raised in Dungarvan, Ireland, Kealan Patrick Burke is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of five novels (Master of the Moors, Currency of Souls, Kin, The Living, and Nemesis: The Death of Timmy Quinn), over a hundred short stories, four collections (Ravenous Ghosts, The Number 121 to Pennsylvania & Others, Theater Macabre, and The Novellas), and editor of four acclaimed anthologies (Taverns of the Dead, Quietly Now: A Tribute to Charles L. Grant, Brimstone Turnpike, and Tales from the Gorezone, proceeds from which were donated to children’s charity PROTECT.) You can learn more about Kealan at http://www.kealanpatrickburke.com/