The Shadows of Kingston Mills
David B. Silva
Dark Regions Press
Limited Edition Hardcover, Short Story Collection, $45.00
Review by Sheila Merritt
The trend in recent horror fiction is that bigger is better: The threat should be gigantic; a huge covert government agency should be involved; the implications should be monumental. A grandiose conspiracy doesn’t hurt, either. In The Shadows of Kingston Mills, David B. Silva reminds that small towns have their own demons, and that they can be just as pervasive and shocking as the big scale variety. On a per capita scale, the enormity of the supernatural aberrations in the town of Kingston Mills can easily go mano-a-mano (or fang-to-claw) with the larger implications of a global threat. In reference and reverence to Ray Bradbury and Stephen King, Silva harkens back to the terrors of a contained community. Sometimes a place with no anonymity, where everyone knows everyone, can be scarier than a world that has internet access.
There are several themes in Silva’s tales: The agony of aging, the yearning of youth, the dealing with death. The most common thread, however, is stagnation. The motivation of many of the characters is based on a need to alter their lives. They feel, metaphorically, trapped in amber. As the protagonist in “It’s All Happening on Fillmore Street” states: “Funny how you look at yourself in the mirror every morning but you never really see yourself. You see what you have to see … the stubble that needs shaving, the hair that needs combing, the teeth that need brushing. But you look past the tired eyes, the extra weight that’s beginning to show in your face, the hair that’s starting to thin and turn gray. There’s a stranger staring back at you and somehow you’ve learned to look past him.” This introspection leads to a sojourn of the soul; and the result is tragic and startling.
In “Love Never Lost,” a phone call from a decades old high school sweetheart forces a man to come to grips with the waste and horror of stasis. The man’s long lost love has been turned into a vampire. She looks just as young and desirable as she did before she disappeared thirty years ago. Her former boyfriend has, of course, physically aged. Emotionally, however, he is stuck in time; he never got over her, and his subsequent relationships have suffered. Their reunion is sad and eerie. In exposing her true fearsome vampire visage to her ex-love, she viscerally verifies her condition. This justifiably jolts the man, who comes to understand that she is doomed to a forever unchanging non-life. It mirrors his own joyless, solitary existence. The couple join together to transform their conditions. Change is achieved in a heart wrenching way.
Transformation also occurs in the story entitled “The Itching.” In it, a young man who feels unfulfilled in his life discovers his destiny with the help of a local elder. In Kingston Mills and its vicinity, no one is quite as benign as they seem. The elderly may have secrets or some tricks up their sleeves; there can be no cries of “ageism” in these tales.
As with all collections, some stories are less successful than others. “Darkness and Light” has elements of King’s Carrie and the movie Pan’s Labyrinth, but doesn’t reach the heights of either. It is the least satisfying of tales in the compilation.
The twelve tales that comprise The Shadows of Kingston Mills are mostly of very high quality. There is one reprint story: “Nothing As It Seems,” which features a remarkable creature called The Abductor: “He was maybe five feet tall, thin, wearing a lightweight jacket over a tee-shirt, both of them the same color, which was not really a color at all. It was something metallic-like, almost chrome-like, and even more surprising … it matched the man’s pigmentation perfectly.”
Stoker award winning author David B. Silva makes sure the journey to his small town is most memorable. In Paul F. Olson’s brilliant introduction to the book, there is a favorable comparison to The Twilight Zone. This is certainly true; but Silva’s prose is very much his own. After leaving Kingston Mills the reader will still feel a part of the place; and learn a valuable lesson from one story: Beware of book store owners who want to give away a signed first edition of Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes.