Oxrun Station #9: Tales From The Nightside

A black moon rises. Monsters prowl the streets, formless creatures shift in the shadows, and undead abominations seek to extend their unnatural existence by feasting on the souls of the living. That can only mean one thing: it’s time to return to Oxrun Station with Tales From The Nightside, by Charles L. Grant.

Synopsis:

It’s a collection of short horror stories by Charles L. Grant. There’s no official synopsis available, but here’s the Goodreads link anyway.

SPOILERS BELOW

Technically, Tales From The Nightside is not merely an installment of the Oxrun Station series; it also contains stories set in other horror universes, such as Hawthorne Street. I’m not sure why, however, given that as a setting it’s pretty much indistinguishable from Oxrun Station: seemingly ordinary location with ghasts and ghoulies lurking beneath the veneer of normalcy. Ironically, though, the stories which are not set in Oxrun Station form the superior offerings in this collection. The Oxrun Station stories are, without exception, simply no good. I’ll give you a brief description of them, and see if you can figure out why:

In “Coin of the Realm”, the protagonist Wes, who has never appeared before and will never appear again, meets a horrible fate at the hands of a returning Egyptian god, which has never appeared before and will never appear again. In “Home”, the protagonist Art, who has never appeared before and will never appear again, meets a horrible fate at the hands of Cal Schiller’s little darlings, which have never appeared before and will never appear again. In “If Damon Comes”, the protagonist Frank, who has never appeared before and will never appear again, meets a horrible fate at the hands of Damon’s ghost, which has never appeared before and will never appear again. In “A Night Of Dark Intent”, the protagonist Martin, who has never appeared before and will never appear again, meets a horrible fate at the hands of a group of undead, who have never appeared before and will never appear again.

It’s hard for a story to be scary when it’s so painfully predictable, and it’s hard to get invested in a character who you know is just going to die. One of the strengths of setting stories in a wider universe like Oxrun Station is that you can establish recurring heroes, villains, and supporting characters for the audience to become invested in, building up their characterization through multiple appearances even if each individual story is too short to contain a full character arc. It’s impossible to do this, however, when every protagonist dies at the end of their introductory story and every villain is a mere one-shot menace who never appears again, even if they were still at-large at story’s end. I mean, I didn’t much like The Bloodwind, but at least it had a narrative arc, even if it did move as slowly as molasses: Pat realized there was a supernatural serial killer committing murders using the Bloodwind, uncovered the killer’s identity, and stopped them. That’s a story with a beginning, middle, and end. The Oxrun stories in Tales From The Nightside don’t conclude, they just stop.

The stories from the other two-thirds of the collection are somewhat better, sometimes. They at least don’t all end exactly the same way, meaning it’s possible to read them and feel an emotion other than boredom as you wait for the inevitable conclusion. I still wouldn’t call any of them great, but at least the variety is nice.

I’d say that out of the fifteen stories in the collection, there are three I actually liked – notably, none of them from the Oxrun Station portion. I thought the premise and villain of “Needle Song” were quite interesting, and actually got somewhat invested in the story of Eric and Caren trying to save their street, though unfortunately the ending turned out to be just another variation on the ‘protagonist dies pointlessly without having accomplished anything’ theme the collection has. “The Three Of Tens” likewise managed to be entertaining, despite its heavy use of cliches, what with the little shop that disappears after selling the protagonist a cursed trinket and the ending where the monster seems to be defeated but it turns out it actually wasn’t and is going to be coming back again. It struck me as pretty similar to the Stephen King short story “The Sun Dog”, actually, though without that tale’s thematic cohesion of debt and interest; a connection which I may have made because Stephen King actually wrote the foreword to this collection. The third story I liked was “From All The Fields Of Hail And Fire” because, despite it being another story ending in the protagonist’s death, this one at least had the protagonist die heroically in the act of defeating the monster, thus giving the tale something of a point to it. Plus, I like how evocative the title is, how it paints the picture of snow and burning stone falling down on the field over the monster’s lair after Gary dynamites it sky-high.

But three halfway-decent stories out of fifteen is certainly not enough to redeem this collection in my eyes. Oxrun Station has, once again, failed to entertain or frighten. If you want to read some tales from the Nightside, I recommend you stick to the ones by Simon R. Green.

Final Rating: 2/5

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