I detailed the story behind the publication of the Mister October tribute anthologies in my review of Volume I last week; go here to read the long version. The short version is that respected/revered horror author Rick Hautala passed away unexpectedly earlier this year, and his friend and fellow writer Christopher Golden worked fast to assemble this anthology that would stand as a tribute to Hautala and as a means of providing some much-needed financial assistance to the Hautala family.
Volume I was packed to the rafters with top-shelf genre talent, but the response to Golden's call for submissions was so strong that he was able to build a second, equally stacked volume to accompany it. Volume II boasts names like Clive Barker, Jack Ketchum, Brian Keene, John Skipp, Sarah Pinborough, Peter Straub and Tim Lebbon, as well as work by Hautala's wife, Holly Newstein, Golden, and Rick Hautala himself.
Rick Hautala's story concludes Mister October Volume II, but it's the one I want to talk about first. "Ghost Trap" is the deceptively simple tale of a startling discovery made by a diver looking for some lost lobster traps. What he finds instead is a body held fast to the ocean floor by a cement block and a barnacle-covered length of chain. While the diver is sharing his story at a local bar that night, an old man pulls him aside and speculates on the identity of the body. He says it may be "Old Man Crowther," who supposedly buried himself at sea 30 years ago to save the town from a mysterious plague.
As usually happens in these stories, that which should be left to rest isn't, and Hautala teases us with the idea that the plague is about to make a comeback. It's material any horror reader worth his or her salt is familiar with, yet Hautala's brute strength as a writer elevates the story from mere comfort food to a haunting piece of art. The two major locales of the story, the local watering hole and the ocean floor, are brought to vivid life, with Hautala's description of the way bodies are often found on the ocean floor standing out as a particularly ghoulish and memorable passage. Seeing what he can do with what would, in less talented hands, be a simple throwaway campfire tale really brings home what a tremendous loss the genre has suffered.
Golden's own "Breathe My Name" appears in this volume, and it eerily mirrors the sense of isolation found in Hautala's "Ghost Trap." Where Hautala takes us to the bottom of the sea, Golden takes us under a mountain, where a group of coal miners are waiting for rescue after a
cave-in. Tommy Betts is among them, as is his father, a veteran miner who once entertained young Tommy with stories about a spectral figure called "The Lost Miner." With time and hope running low, Tommy calls out to the figure for help, and later thinks he sees someone - or something - passing among the men as they succumb one by one. Like Hautala, Golden takes this time-worn trope and polishes it into something memorable.
Mister October Volume II is full of such treasures and, together with Volume I, is a fitting tribute to a man who contributed much to the craft he loved. It's comforting, at least for those of us who will only ever know Rick Hautala through his work, that his legacy will endure – not just through his own work, but through the work of those he encouraged, mentored and inspired.
Volume II is available now from JournalStone Publishing in digital, trade paperback and hardcover editions. A special limited edition, signed by every living contributor, is also in the works.