"The Smiling Undertaker" by Brent L. Petretti
In the body of the anthology, the author’s name is listed as “Brent L. Petretti”; in the Table of Contents, it is listed as "Petrelli". A little Google search revealed that Petretti is most likely the correct spelling. How many mistakes has Nicky made now in the Table of Contents? I've lost count.
In this story, after two little boys are killed (in some never specified manner), the family – the boys’ mother and father, and the mother’s sister and her husband Doug – gather at the house in grief. Doug hears a knock at the door and he answers, only to find a business card left on an empty door step. An undertaker’s card. After both his wife and her sister have strange reactions to holding the card, he gets a bad feeling about the undertaker and goes to visit him. Things progress from there.
This story was was the most frustrating to read so far because there is a good idea hiding in here. But it is buried under too many words. The plot gets bogged down in description, interior monologue, and waffling. Even then, some important details are missing. For example, we never learn how the boys are killed or why their father would feel guilty.
The story is told mostly from Doug’s POV – although some massively distracting head-hopping occurs in a couple of scenes – and comes aross as melodramatic at times. I just wrote that same word – melodramatic – in a review yesterday. I think there is a fine line between emotion and melodrama. Melodrama comes from exaggerated emotional reactions, and in this story, while the grief over losing two children is intense, it is presented in an over-the-top way. A little restraint would have gone a long way towards making the emotional tone of the characters more believable.
Finally, the ending is too ambiguous; there are earlier hints that the undertaker is evil, but the climactic scene leaves the reader with the opposite impression. This story is supposedly horror, but I don’t see the horror if the undertaker is a good force rather than an evil one.
“Kissing Off Amber” by Ken Goldman
This story previously appeared in Death Head Grin #13. The story involves a young actor who wants to brush off his latest girlfriend and the consequences of accepting help from his shady agent.
I generally enjoy Ken’s writing, and this story was no different…until the final scene. Instead of resolving the climax in the scene before, it just made me think, “huh?” And then I re-read the last pages again. And again. And again. And I’m clearly missing something because I just don’t get it.
“Where Did Everyone Go?” by Kayla Thomas
This story is about a girl who wakes up one morning to find her town empty. The main character is a teenager, and the story is written in such a simplistic manner, with very little description, that it makes me think the author is a teenager as well. The ending is whimsical, rather than scary, but the main character – this story is written in first person – is likable and you want everything to work out for her.
Interestingly, Nicky “The Story Butcher” Pacione has put his touch on this story. In the “Editor’s Lounge,” he writes: “The other one that struck me is the one written by a writer I discovered on Fan Ficiton.net and she said the story was quite original – so I gave her a spot in the magazine. This story reminds me of when I wrote The Statue so when I edited the story for the magazine I gave her story that same vibe putting her name for the name of the narrator and all the other cool things that gave The Statue it's magic in 2004.”
Long time EONs will remember that “The Statue” is Nicky’s Twilight Zone fan-fiction piece. Sure enough, Nicky added an opening paragraph to this story where the author appears to be addressing the audience a la the voice overs at the beginning of each Twilght Zone episode. Then Ms. Thomas’s story begins. Ms. Thomas’s writing is far better than Nicky’s.
Grade: B (considering that this is probably a young writer and ignoring Nicky’s “edits”)