The most terrifying stories are those that strike close to truth – those that make you question your understanding of the world and your grip on reality. In Footsteps in the Dark: Stories of the Bizarre and Unusual, author Carlo Armenise manages to capture the best elements of strangeness, teasing them out into brief, dark stories that are recognizable, and so all the more chilling.
From gruesome murders and strange bedfellows to magical potions and nightmares that can kill, the book is a fast-paced collection of scary stories that brush against the paranormal, but don’t quite leap over the line, allowing for plenty of chills for more moderate readers. While some readers may question stories that go too far beyond the realm of belief, these stories are masterfully crafted and set in the real world. This makes most of the characters relatable, perhaps because the majority of them are rather average, so when extraordinary things occur, such as body switching or communicating beyond the grave, readers feel a disturbing shudder of “what if” fear.
A number of the stories are quite dark and violent at times, while others are tongue-in-cheek or more lighthearted, but each of them has an edge of danger and intrigue. Some of the tales are quite short, hitting readers with a quick build-up and emotional payoff, before dropping them into the next story, as though each piece is a prelude or preparation for the next. The ordering of the stories is also excellent, with particularly powerful stories offset by the next “Step,” which will often be more of a thought-provoking tale.
As a whole, the writing is intense, but the narrative flow is occasionally close to rushed. Short stories aren’t necessarily meant to wax poetic, but things like additional character development or a realistic conversation can help engage readers more than the straightforward telling of a story. However, what the stories lack in description or patient suspense is made up for with creativity and a number of twist endings that are clever and well-delivered.
On another level, this book also touches on subjects that supernatural genres don’t often address – the foibles of human nature and the flaws in society. The discussion of evil is present as a consistent through-line in these tales, but Carlo Armenise makes the subject of evil a much more tangible idea, a character in itself.
That said, these stories should not be considered parables or morality tales, but if you read them with an eye for buried wisdom or subtle social commentary, the experience can be enlightening. Ranging from the state of marriage in the modern age to the manner in which psychiatric patients are treated, Armenise’s stories span a range of demographics and subjects, always with a creatively unique flair of horror.
The stories in Footsteps in the Dark make for quick reads, but will often stick with you long after you finish them, which is the sign of a great collection. With a bit more patience and focus on characters, rather than so much on the final twists, this series of stories would be even stronger, but for readers seeking a scare and some high-quality storytelling, this horror collection won’t disappoint.
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