Nightfall and Other Dangers
Jacob Steven Mohr
JournalStone Publishing (April 7, 2023)
Reviewed by Andrew Byers
While Jacob Steven Mohr has published a couple of novels and a variety of short stories, his work was new to me. I’m delighted to say that Mohr’s new collection, Nightfall and Other Dangers, assembles an eclectic set of horror and weird fiction tales that spans the breadth of the genre, from body horror to cosmicism, and ghost stories to slasher killers. Nightfall contains fifteen stories in all, ranging from a couple of very brief tales that open the collection to a full-size novella. Some of these stories are quiet and unsettling, while others are savage in their brutality—you never know what you’re going to get when you start one of them. I’m going to focus on just a handful of these stories, some of the ones that especially stuck with me.
I’ll start with “Song of the Summer,” which featured some of the strongest characterization in the entire collection. It’s only got three characters in it, but I feel like I know these people. Shanna, Cameron, and Hyde are three college friends who row out to a deserted island for a camping trip, but their love triangle and suppressed feelings prevent it from being a relaxing time away from the stress of college. An old story (an urban legend?) about another set of friends who once stayed on the island and ended their time there in an orgy of bloodshed complicates the situation. Is that tragedy going to repeat itself?
Mohr’s weird fiction game is extremely strong, perhaps best highlighted by several additional stories. In “The Panic,” an inexplicable event has led to a mass drowning in the ocean, told through a series of interviews, newspaper articles, and incident reports. Chilling and a great example of how to do modern weird fiction. In “Mister Mickenzie,” a teenager is babysitting two little girls, Max and Libby. The girls seem to have gotten involved with a being they call Mister Mickenzie. There is a great deal that is suggested or implied in this story, and I found it utterly chilling. In “A Real Likeness,” a college student is doodling while in class one day and draws a picture of a girl in his class. Then he encounters the girl’s boyfriend, who, well, uses the artist’s talent to draw a portrait of the girl that truly captures her essence. This turns out to be horrifying and mindblowing, almost in a literal sense. A reminder of just how pregnant with possibility for weird fiction the art world, and the creation of artistic works, really is.
While many of Mohr’s stories are firmly set in the modern day, he excels in unsettling historical fiction as well. I’d highlight everything from the weird western “Some Bad Luck Near Bitter Downs” to “1855,” which is about a doctor running an orphanage who encounters a boy who is far more than he seems, as is his mother. Wow.
I must also note two tales of life (and death) after the apocalypse, which nominally take place in the same setting (according to the author’s notes), but are otherwise unlinked: “Last Supper” and “The Machete at the End of the World.” In “Last Supper,” one of my favorites in the collection, Corpumond and his wife Ellisanae are gluttons beyond compare, and in fact may be the very last gluttons on Earth. Human civilization has crumbled and these two sit atop the ruins of a skyscraper devouring what may be the last members of whole species. Utterly fascinating, and disgusting on multiple levels, of course. “Machete” depicts the final confrontation between a slasher killer (a la Jason Vorhees) and the true final girl he had tormented before the apocalypse began. Very intriguing perspective and premise.
I should mention “Sometimes You Get Two,” a novella original to this collection (as well as the longest story in the book, so it’s worth discussing a bit.) Joan and Barb are friends, though their relationship is fraught, fractured by a disagreement somehow connected with Barb’s fiancée Liz. The pair has traveled to visit Barb’s grandparents, who live way out in the country. The idea is that they’ll spend a few days deer hunting and teaching Joan how to shoot. This is a slow burn, a meditation on relationships, and how even (especially) very close ones can grow attenuated over time, as well as what predawn mornings spent staring off into the forest waiting for something to emerge—a situation that will resonate with hunters and nature watchers—can be like. There is a steady sense of menace and unsettling atmosphere throughout.
Nightfall and Other Dangers is a fascinatingly eclectic collection. Jacob Steven Mohr is a genuinely gifted writer, and his unique vision comes through strongly in this collection. Definitely recommended.