Homestead is the kind of story that I love to trot out around Halloween and force on my friends who don’t usually read horror. Instead of trying to explain to them how horror is capable of more than the cheap thrills of a haunted hayride or the voyeuristic glee of the latest Hollywood gorefest, I can let someone like James A. Moore explain it for me. He can better demonstrate that horror; when crafted carefully and with the proper amount of attention paid to things like atmosphere and character and imagery, his work is capable of far more than “gotcha” scares and quarts of blood. It’s capable of getting under your skin, whispering unsettling things in your ear, and haunting waking hours and bedtime alike.
Homestead is the story of Kathy Erinson. Kathy is a busy mother of three, wife to Tom, homemaker and occasional artist. When we first meet her she’s sketching, something she only recently took up again to help fill the scant idle time in her day. On this particular day she set out to sketch some simple landscapes of the family’s farmland. It is land she’s quite familiar with, as she lived there before as a young girl. She’s got mostly happy memories of the place, unless you count the memory of her first boyfriend, Mickey, who disappeared at age 12. Five other area children disappeared as well, none of them found, their absence never explained.
When she looks up from her sketching she’s surprised to see that several hours have passed. She makes a run at some household chores before setting out to meet her kids at the bus stop. In a scene that quickly sets the tone for the rest of the book, Kathy glimpses someone in the bus as it pulls away – Mickey, his eyes wide, his mouth open in a silent scream. She blinks and he’s gone, but from that chilling moment on, things in Kathy’s neat and orderly world begin to slowly turn upside-down.
As the days pass and more memories of Mickey begin to surface, Kathy finds herself consumed once again by the old mystery. Tom picks up on it as well, pointing out morbid little details in her drawings that she doesn’t even remember putting in. Because the town they live in is small and most of the people who lived there during that long-ago time have either died or moved on, Kathy has little in the way of resources to draw on. She finds that she doesn’t even trust her own memories, which had been suppressed so deep for so long. Why are they just now coming to the surface? Is it only her memories that are demanding to be heard, or is something else trying to get her attention?
Moore packs a lot into this single-sitting story: the tension, dread and outright creepiness he creates is plentiful. It’s a wonderfully spooky tale of vengeance, and an examination of just how far people are willing to go to protect themselves and the people they love. Pass this page-turner along this Halloween, or share it with some friends around the campfire, and let them see what really being scared is all about.
Blu Gilliand is a freelance writer of fiction and nonfiction. He covers horror fiction at his blog, October Country, and contributes interviews to the Horror World website. Follow him on Twitter at @BluGilliand.