With award-winning, superstar editor Ellen Datlow’s “superb sampling of some of the most significant short horror works published between 1985 and 2005” Darkness being featured as part of the Humble Horror Book Bundle, we’re sharing excerpts from nine select stories over the next seven days.
Our next glimpse comes from “Stitch” by Terry Dowling.
Soon Bella would find the nerve to go upstairs. Soon she would be able to excuse herself from her uncle and aunt and climb the familiar old stairs, counting every one, enter the toilet in the alcove of the upstairs bathroom, and confront Mr. Stitch.
She couldn’t leave without seeing him. Not this time. It was Auntie Inga’s birthday, occasion enough, yes, but this time Mr. Stitch was the reason for being here. Bella had always tried to see him once or twice a year, just to make sure he was still there, shut tight behind the glass, locked in his frame. This time it had to be more.
“Your boyfriend couldn’t make it, Bel?” Auntie Inga asked, but gently, in case there was a point of delicacy involved.
“Roger? No. He had to work, like I said.” Bella knew she had said. It had been the third or fourth line out of her mouth when she arrived. “Sends his best wishes though. ‘Manniest happiest returns’ — quote, unquote. His exact words.” What he would have said anyway. “He has to work every second Saturday.”
Bluff and hearty as ever, but it’s what you often had to do where Roger was concerned. Maybe it would have been better if he were here. Having someone to be with her through it. Through this. Bella couldn’t remember feeling such dread.
But this time she had to be alone. This time she wanted more.
“This photo of your mom was always my favourite,” Auntie Inga said, returning to the page in the old album, going through them as she always did when Bella visited. Possibly when anyone visited.
Bella ignored the mention of her mother, concentrated instead on what Uncle Sal was doing. He smiled kindly at them both and poured more coffee. Bella couldn’t remember him any other way. It was as if at some point in his life he had discovered the word “avuncular” and had resolved to be precisely that for the rest of his days. With Mr. Stitch upstairs, it made him seem positively sinister, a gleefully distracting conspirator. An avuncular usher, Bella thought, then was reminded of the old witch in the story of Hansel and Gretel. And witch rhymed with stitch, so back she went, into the panic loop again, with both hands steadying her coffee cup, her heart hammering and her feet flexing inside her shoes, itching to run. If only Roger could have been here, could have at least made an effort to understand what this meant. Stayed close. That would have made all the difference.
Though alone, alone. Some things had to be done alone. And today had to be different. Today she had to change it all.
Check out the Humble Horror Book Bundle which includes works from Stephen King, George R. R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, Joss Whedon, Joe Hill, Max Brooks, Robert R. McCammon, and Dan Simmons.
For more info about Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover by Ann Monn.