A collection of slow-burning psychological horror, Things That Go Bump in the Night, Volume One: Urban Legends by JC Bratton holds four chilling and unpredictable stories, originally published separately.
In “Who’s At the Door?” a young woman named Jamie is left at home while her parents go on vacation, but two weeks of enjoying an empty house quickly turn terrifying. Whether it’s a cruel prank or something even more sinister, bizarre things keep happening at 3:33 AM, from invisible front door visitors to ghastly appearances on empty country roads. With the help of Mark the heartthrob, Jamie continues peeling back the layers of this creepy mystery, even as it leads her into the middle of a murder investigation. This updated twist on the classic Bloody Mary urban legend is addictive and taut with suspense, as it leaps between timelines and plot perspectives to construct a truly chilling thrill.
“Parasomnia” unravels the impossible bond between a sleep-troubled Alex and her perfect man, Scott Collier, a gifted and gorgeous research scientist at MIT. The only problem is that her new obsession recently died in a car crash, after years of battling his own dark nightmares. As Alex’s walls between sleep and waking begin breaking down, she realizes that she may be the next target for the sinister Fedora Man, a monstrous hunter of the dream world. Solving the mystery of Scott’s death may put her squarely in the sights of an ancient evil. Blending paranormal science, fairy tale terror, and modern horror, this quick story wraps up as neatly as a well-crafted dreamcatcher, but as with many of Bratton’s stories, it hints at more scares to come in its final page.
In the cleverly foreshadowed “Dollhouse,” the third piece in the collection, a seemingly harmless dollhouse holds untold horrors from the dark lives of its inhabitants. Buffy, Muffy, and Duffy are beautiful handcrafted dolls, but as their new “owner” is about to discover, their frozen smiles hide a dark history of violence, abandonment, and control. Though some of the plot jumps in this soul-snatching tale are hard to follow, and the prose feels more rushed than necessary, it delivers a tingle of stomach-tightening discomfort that horror fans seek.
Finally, the collection wraps up with “Who’s Back at the Door?” – a satisfying bookend sequel to the first story that brings Jamie back as a doomed protagonist for a creepy curtain call. As it turns out, Bloody Mary wasn’t done with Jamie, kicking off a desperate search that pushes the bounds of impossible for some reality-based researchers. As with all the stories, this story makes for fast reading, unfolding cinematically, and building the suspense ceaselessly and methodically.
From start to finish, Bratton’s collection brims with slow-building tension, compelling the reader to turn the pages. At times, the narrative veers into the cliché, sometimes reading at more of a YA level and not always diving deep into character psychology to establish an even darker atmosphere. Granted, some of the characters are college-age, but it can feel as if some darker emotion is left unsaid, which would up the ante of the suspense. That aside, the overlapping plot points and subtle easter eggs give this writer’s spooky universe a continuity that carries readers eagerly from one story to the next.
Overall, this collection of Bratton’s stories is entertaining and fast-moving, with each story having an eerie, evocative payoff, making for a particularly strong work of psychological horror.