We Bleed Orange & Black (review)

bookshelves: short-storieshorrornostalgickindlebuddy-readfantasymythology-folfloregrimdarksci-fianthology
Recommended for: lovers of the Halloween spirit

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

First and foremost, thank you, Mallory Hawes, who singlehandedly helped persuade my decision to read Jeff C. Carter’s “fun-sized” collection. The download was free of change, after all, and who am I to balk at free books? Its price wasn’t the only factor, though. I’d also been wanting to welcome the Halloween spirit with open arms, so this was rather ideal.

As the author wrote in his forward:

This book is my love letter to Halloween. It channels my yearning, nostalgia and obsession with the greatest festival of all. It is not only a harvest of childhood hopes and fears, but a time for both teenage hedonism and somber adult reflection. It is a twilight mixture of summer glow and winter darkness, when the veil between worlds grows thin.

The forward also contained a parental guide, which came across as authentic, passionate, and certainly not something usually found in the confines of the genre, regardless of theme. For discerning parents of potentially curious children, I don’t doubt they’ll appreciate the time and consideration put into it. But even if you don’t have children, it’s nice to get an idea of what you’re getting yourself into.

For this review, instead of reviewing each story individually (which I’ve done in the past,) I thought I’d cover my Top Five. They are as follows, in no particular order:

Eye Witness

What did I just read? It rendered me unable to fully process what exactly transpired in just a few pages. They were easily some of the trippiest moments I’ve had the pleasure of reading, before or since then. Largely because of this, but also simply because it left such an impression, I had to reread it. Doing so clarified things, and I’m very thankful for having revisited it. Even now, months later, Eye Witness possesses the unique ability to leave me kind of speechless. I’d read this mind-bending tale again. 4 stars

Red Snow

Wow. Brutal, atmospheric, fully engaging, and a testament of mankind’s will to survive, this one chilled me to the core, both skin and bone deep. The end result was haunting, stunning, and horrific. 5 stars

All Gallow’s Eve revolved intimately around Tom, the local hangman, and the town’s disturbing traditions as they celebrated the titular holiday. Its tone, mood, and even the writing style itself were distinctly different than anything else in the collection, and that alone should be recognized. Most impressive of all were the character developments, both Tom and the worldbuilding. They were exquisite. And while it wasn’t a place I’d fancy visiting myself, I felt like I was there physically. I felt what Tom and the townsfolk felt. With a work as complex and well-executed as this, it almost slipped my mind that categorically, it was a brilliant mixture of western, horror, and grimdark fantasy, with healthy splashes of the historic thrown in. 5 stars

How To Preserve Your Pumpkin

A lot of people, kids especially, yearn for and thrive on Halloween; a time unsurpassed by nothing throughout the year. Then, fall harvest wraps up the all too brief season, which—some might feel—is spoiled by the harshness of winter. Our protagonist, known simply as Ben, surely would agree. But what can you do when your façade is socially acceptable just one night a year? Or when the most meaningful and lasting friendship you have is a symbiotic one? Can anyone imagine the desperation necessary to finally escape the loneliness inherent to that kind of life? An existence which is, sadly, far too common. What would you do to change your circumstances? How far would you be willing to go?

Clearly coming-of-age, How To Preserve Your Pumpkin was much more than that, or anything I’ve said here. My hope is that it haunts me for years to come. 5 stars

Nearby Incidents

Karen swam through the river of news, complaints, questions and gossip that surged endlessly through her computer screen..

A series of unusual murders. An amateur investigator with dreams of grandeur. A world obsessed with information, technology, and slander. And yet, there are much darker things—horrific entities out there, vying for our attention. 4 stars

Determining my Top Five was not at all easy. In some ways, doing so was daunting. Due to that, I thought I’d also share a few honorable mentions:

Haunted House—1 Star

Anonymous I.R.L,
 if only because it served as a follow-up to Nearby Incidents

Copper Nails, The Dog Walker, and among others, The Low Dark Place.

Overall, Jeff C. Carter’s We Bleed Orange & Black was an impressive offering. A collection which, despite its Halloween motif, far surpassed my expectations. Some took place on or around the pagan holiday, but don’t let that deter you. Of the many that bore no mention of October 31st, there were subtle (or not so subtle,) nods toward the season, be they by various moods and/or tones, ominous weather patterns, lunar phases, or with sinister impressions. At the same time, the author explored a myriad of themes and concepts. Most prominent among them concerned isolation and loneliness, mental illness, the value of friendship and family, the masks we wear metaphorically, and on the heels of that, personal identity.

As remarkable as it felt to me, the whole could have benefitted from an editor. Which is not to imply that the prose was egregious or even poor. Quite the opposite, really. There were many passages highlighted–almost dutifully because I was so taken by them– on the Kindle. Rather, I can’t help but wonder how much better and more impactful it could’ve been. For instance, the characters would be more rounded, the world(s) richly built; some of the themes and ideas would be fully realized, the tales increasingly pronounced, with less abrupt endings. I guess what I’m saying is I recognize the potential for greatness.

I remember, growing up in New England, how the October wind would shake the tired trees and fill the air with orange and red leaves. I dashed after them, flailing my arms to capture every little piece of fall (sometimes I still do this.) It was delightful, in part, because it was impossible. Autumn never lasts. The wind that strips the trees also brings winter. Yet even winter thaws. Don’t forget that Halloween waits on the other side of summer, just beyond the veil.

There were, however, a few stories that, in all seriousness, felt almost like filler. “The Great American Scare-Off,” “The ABCs Of A Healthy Halloween,” and “Top Ten Tips To Get Your Body Ready” would be some of those. Yes, they might have been intentionally less serious and more just for fun, and I appreciate any artist who’s unafraid to take risks (I respect that, in fact,) but again I ask: how much more improved might they have been? Of the three listed, “The Great American Scare-Off” had the most promise.

I’m eagerly awaiting the next story, Jeff.

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