Trick or Treat, Volume 2: Historical Halloween – Book Review by Fred Patten.
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
(I considered holding this for October – but Fred reminded me that Trick or Treat Volume 3: Pranks, Parties, and Pumpkins will be out – so enjoy it now!) – Patch
This is Rabbit Valley’s second annual (2014) Halloween theme anthology; “something for the adults to enjoy”, as last year’s volume said. It presents ten new stories; six scary horror “tricks” and four “delectable romantic and erotic” treats. The book’s fine wraparound cover is again by Stephanie “Ifus” Johnson.
Wolf points out in his Introduction that “historical” is treated liberally. “It is also worth noting that much of the original history of Halloween and its roots of Samhain that we ‘know’ are actually still debated in most academic circles.” (I can personally attest to its evolution. When I went to school in the late 1940 and early ‘50s, you were ‘wrong’ if you spelled Hallowe’en without the apostrophe between the two e’s. Today, nobody bothers with it.) “So relax, have some fun, and don’t think too much of this as a history lesson.” (p. 2)
The anthology is again divided into two parts, each presented by one of the anthropomorphic hosts. Trick the wolf gives us six scary “tricks”, and Treat the black cat follows with four erotic “treats”.
“Jenny-Burnt-Tail” by Huskyteer is set in the British trenches during World War I. A Scottish (terrier) trooper carves a turnip into a jack-o-lantern on All Hallows Eve, and Captain fox tells his men a seasonal reminiscence from his childhood. This story isn’t as scary in itself as the way that Huskyteer tells it, with convincing 1915 British accents and slang. The mud and mist and cold and wet, with enemy snipers all around and maybe poison gas – you really feel that you’re there; never mind any spooks that may also be there. It’s educational, too; you’ll learn a half-dozen regional names for will-o’-the-wisps (including Jenny-Burnt-Tail, which is genuine despite sounding like it was created for this anthropomorphic world). A superb mood piece.
In “Witchlight” by Jason “Houston” Walther, Monty, a modern (for about the end of the 19th century) city fox who does not believe in the supernatural, is called to his great-uncle’s dark, isolated swampland manor. He is disgusted by the mold and filth that his eccentric great-uncle let ruin the old manor and its belongings (the furnishings that he was looking forward to inheriting have rotted beyond repair), and he is in no mood to listen to the warnings of Mister Girabaldi, the lone badger caretaker, about the deadly ghouls that infest the moor on All Hallows Eve. Too bad – he should have listened.
Walther does a good job of blending the anthropomorphic world with the real one: “He glanced up at the horse drawing his cart, a laborer he had hired in town to help get his luggage and himself to the manor. He was a solid draft horse, strong hands gripping the long beams and holding them at a high angle to keep the weight of his passenger and his luggage balanced on the two-wheeled wagon. Monty was annoyed at his slow, plodding pace but kept his tongue in check as a proper gentleman should.” (p. 29)
“Furfur’s Violinist” by NightEyes DaySpring is set in New England rather than Old England, but it’s still 1901 and the superstitious past. The narrator, a traveling black wolf violinist with the power to raise ghosts, is trying to escape an anthro demon named Furfur. The leathery-winged towering demon stag may be horrific, but frankly I can’t get scared of any demon named Furfur.
“Suck” by Slip-Wolf is set in 1964. (That’s the past!? You don’t know how old you just made me feel!) Mary Stenson, a teenage rabbit from Ohio not appreciated by her parents, runs off to NYC to attend a Rolling Stones concert. She is knocked unconscious, kidnapped, and bound by Virgil Camphor. When she comes to, Mary frantically tries to escape – but Virgil claims that he has kidnapped her to save her from some supernatural menace that will wipe her on Halloween from ever having existed. As Halloween approaches, Virgil seems ever less crazy and more convincing – or is she coming to psychologically identify with him? “Suck” does itself a disservice by leaving it unclear for too long whether the monster is in Virgil’s imagination or is real.
“Squeezer” by Bill “Hafoc” Rogers returns us to England of the late 19th century, but to Victorian London rather than to the desolate moors. This is an anthropomorphic version of the Jack the Ripper horror legend, but with a difference! You may guess who the Squeezer is, but I’ll bet you won’t guess how he meets his deserved end. In fact, after several hours of pondering, I can’t think of anything to say about “Squeezer” that won’t give too much away – except that it’s the best story in this book; and after “Jenny-Burnt-Tail”, that’s going some! It’s more anthropomorphic than just funny-animal, plus a true Halloween thriller: solid gold in every direction.
“Of Gods and Wolves” by Tarl “Voice” Hoch takes place in the prehistoric past. A Tribe of wolf cave-men are being preyed upon by the White Spirit, a monster they believe is sent by the gods. Only the hunter Amelun believes that it is a mortal creature and can be slain. It’s a funny-animal version of a cave-man mighty-hunter making good adventure; smoothly told in the Jack London tradition, but not really a horror story, and with no real Halloween connection. Still, it’s a good story.
“Zero Sum” by Whyte Yoté is the first of the erotic treats. Well, that’s what it says, although I don’t consider “Zero Sum” as much of a treat. Brandon and Sonny (Salvatore) are homosexual lovers. Brandon cheats on Sonny and gets a fatal disease. The only possible cure is lycanthropy. Sonny (the narrator) and Brandon talk with Sven and Ray, two lycanthropes, to decide whether the cure is worse than the disease. What will Brandon become? What will Sonny do, watching Brandon do what’s necessary to catch lycanthropy? Will Sonny and Brandon still be physically compatible when Brandon is in animal form? “Zero Sum” is probably a treat if you’re into bestiality. It’s very well-written, and very graphic; just not for me. (It’s so well-written and powerful that I’ve only realized as an afterthought that there’s nothing here really about Halloween, or the past. Or has the AIDS epidemic become historical?)
“Dance of the Veils” by Chris “Sparf” Williams returns to Victorian London, but to the other end of the social spectrum. Simon Bartholomew, a fox of no social rank but an especially handsome body, is invited to become a member of the very exclusive Achilles Club. He finds what he suspects; that it is a hotbed of the forbidden homosexual practices that Victorian society professes to abhor in public. There is a clever tie-in to Halloween and the supernatural, but it’s really a long gay orgy; definitely an erotic treat.
“Smoke and Whimsy” by Roland Jovaik is set in pre-Christian Ireland, when Samhain was a major religious holiday and not a fearsome one. Aidan, a stoat youth, prepares to join in his town’s Samhain celebrations. It’s a joyous time for all, with plenty of food, drink, music, and dancing, and when Aidan meets a pretty, young stoat girl, they do what is natural. This is one of the anthology’s only two heterosexual erotic tales.
“The Rite” by Ianus J. Wolf falls further back to the dawn of anthropomorphic civilization, somewhere in Europe. A clan of hounds and a clan of hares are fumbling to establish a joint society. One of its rites is an autumnal equinox mock hunt between a new hound huntsman and an escaping virginal hare girl, choreographed to end with the hound capturing the hare and taking her virginity. Drusan is the nervous hunter, and the hare is more willing to spill her blood on the village’s fields than she should be, despite the hound’s unusual – to hares – anatomy. It’s primitive but sweet, leaving this second Trick or Treat with a good taste.
My favorites are “Squeezer”, “Jenny-No-Tail”, and “The Rite”, and the deliberately unpleasant but impressive “Zero Sum”. The most unusual aspect of Trick or Treat volume 2 is its unusually large type. The book is 373 pages, and last year’s was only 313, but if they were set in the same-sized type, volume 2 would probably be smaller. It’s still worth reading, certainly for these four stories, and you can find others that you’ll like.