THE COLLECTED SHORT STORIES OF FREDDIE PROTHERO by Peter Straub
A mere child yet a precocious writer, young Freddie records a series of terrifying encounters with an inhuman being that haunts his life . . . and seems to predict his death.
GROUP OF THIRTY by Jack Ketchum
When an award-winning horror writer on the downward slope of a long career receives an invitation to address the Essex County Science Fiction Group, he figures he’s got nothing to lose. He couldn’t be more wrong.
NANCY by Darynda Jones
Though she’s adopted by the cool kids, the new girl at Renfield High School is most drawn to Nancy Wilhoit, who claims to be haunted. But it soon becomes apparent that poltergeists—and people—are seldom what they seem.
I LOVE YOU, CHARLIE PEARSON by Jacquelyn Frank
Charlie Pearson has a crush on Stacey Wheeler. She has no idea. Charlie will make Stacey see that he loves her, and that she loves him—even if he has to kill her to make her say it.
THE LONE AND LEVEL SANDS STRETCH FAR AWAY by Brian Hodge
When Marni moves in next door, the stale marriage of Tara and Aidan gets a jolt of adrenaline. Whether it’s tonic or toxic is another matter.
Praise for Dark Screams: Volume Three
“Well worth picking up and reading . . . If you have not tried the series yet, do yourself a favor and grab a copy of any (or all) of the books for yourself.”—Examiner.com
“Freeman and Chizmar have brought their A-game to Dark Screams: Volume Three. If you pick just one installment in this series to read, pick this one.”—LitReactor
“A gathering of perfect little bites of fiction . . . As you finish one story you’ll definitely be ready to move on to the next one.”—Sweet Southern Home
“Every story has something to offer for horror fans. They’re creepy, thought-provoking, scary and quick reads.”—The Reader’s Hollow
“[Horror] needs to hit you in the sweet spot where the amygdala and the cerebrum whisper to each other, where intellect and emotion intertwine, and all of these stories do that, and they do it well.”—Bibliotica
“A fun, frightful read . . . If the editors keep raising the bar, I’ll be back again and again.”—Atomic Fangirl
About the Author
Richard Chizmar is the founder, publisher, and editor of Cemetery Dance magazine and Cemetery Dance Publications. He has edited more than a dozen anthologies, including The Best of Cemetery Dance, The Earth Strikes Back, Night Visions 10, October Dreams (with Robert Morrish), and the Shivers series.
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The Collected Short Stories of Freddie Prothero
Introduction by Torless Magnussen, Ph.D.
The present volume presents in chronological order every known short story written by Frederick “Freddie” Prothero. Of causes that must ever remain obscure, he died “flying solo,” his expression for venturing out in search of solitude, in a field two blocks from his house in Prospect Fair, Connecticut. His death took place in January 1988, nine months before his ninth birthday. It was a Sunday. At the hour of his death, approximately four o’clock of a bright, cold, snow-occluded day, the writer was wearing a hooded tan snowsuit he had in fact technically outgrown; a red woolen scarf festooned with “pills”; an imitation Aran knit sweater, navy blue, with cables; a green-and-blue plaid shirt from Sam’s; dark green corduroys with cuffs beginning to grow ragged; a shapeless white Jockey T-shirt also worn the day previous; Jockey briefs, once white, now stained lemon yellow across the Y-front; white tube socks; Tru-Value Velcro sneakers, so abraded as nearly to be threadbare; and black calf-high rubber boots with six metal buckles.
The inscription on the toaster-sized tombstone in Prospect Fair’s spacious Gullikson & Son Cemetery reads frederick michael prothero, 1979–1988. a new angel in heaven. In that small span of years, really in a mere three of those not-yet-eight-and-a-half years, Freddie Prothero went from apprenticeship to mastery with unprecedented speed, in the process authoring ten of the most visionary short stories in the English language. It is my belief that this collection will now stand as a definitive monument to the unique merits—and difficulties!—presented by the only genuine prodigy in American literature.
That Prothero’s fiction permits a multiplicity of interpretations supplies a portion, though scarcely all, of its interest to both the academic and the general reader. Beginning in 1984 with childish, nearly brutal simplicity and evolving toward the more polished (though still in fact unfinished) form of expression seen in the work of his later years, these stories were apparently presented to his mother, Varda Prothero, née Barthelmy. (Baathy, baathy, momma sai.) In any case, Momma Baathy Prothero preserved them (perhaps after the fact?) in individual manila files within a snug, smoothly mortised and sanded cherrywood box.
As the above example demonstrates, the earliest Prothero, the stories written from his fifth to seventh years, displays the improvised variant spelling long encouraged by American primary schools. The reader will easily decipher the childish code, although I should perhaps explain that “bood gig” stands for “bad guy.”
From first to last, the stories demonstrate the writer’s awareness of the constant presence of a bood gig. A threatening, indeterminate figure, invested with all the terrifying power and malignity of the monster beneath a child’s bed, haunts this fiction. Prothero’s “monster” figure, however, is not content to confine itself to the underside of his bed. It roams the necessarily limited map of the writer’s forays both within and outside of his house: that is, across his front yard; down Gerhardie Street, which runs past his house; through the supermarket he, stroller-bound, visits with his mother; and perhaps above all in the shadowy, clamorous city streets he is forced to traverse with his father on the few occasions when R(andolph) Sullivan “Sully” Prothero brought him along to the law office where he spent sixty hours a week in pursuit of the partnership attained in 1996, eight years after his son’s death and two prior to his own unexplained disappearance. The commuter train from Prospect Fair to Penn Station was another location favored by the omniscient shadow figure.
Though these occasions were in fact no more than an annual event (more specifically, on the Take Your Son to Work Days of 1985–86), they had a near-traumatic, no, let us face the facts and say traumatic, effect on Prothero. He pleaded, he wept, he screamed, he cowered gibbering in terror. One imagines the mingled disdain and distress of the fellow passengers, the unsympathetic conductor. The journey through the streets to Fifty-Fourth and Madison was a horrifying trek, actually heroic on the boy’s part.
A high-functioning alcoholic chronically unfaithful to his spouse, “Sully” was an absent, at best an indifferent father. In her role as mother, Varda, about whom one has learned so much in recent years, can be counted, alas, as no better. The Fair Haven pharmacists open to examinations of their records by a scholar of impeccable credentials have permitted us to document Varda’s reliance upon the painkillers Vicodin, Percodan, and Percocet. Those seeking an explanation for her son’s shabby, ill-fitting wardrobe need look no further. (One wishes almost to weep. His poor little snowsuit too tight for his growing body! And his autopsy, conducted in a completely up-to-date facility in Norwalk, Connecticut, revealed that but for a single slice of bread lightly smeared with oleomargarine, that Prothero had eaten nothing at all that day. Imagine.)
In some quarters, the four stories of 1984, his fifth year, are not thought to belong in a collection of his work, being difficult to decode from their primitive spelling and level of language. Absent any narrative sense whatsoever, these very early works perhaps ought be considered poetry rather than prose. Prothero would not be the first author of significant fiction to begin by writing poems. The earliest works do, however, present the first form of this writer’s themes and perhaps offer (multiple) suggestions of their emotional and intellectual significance.
Among the small number of us dedicated Protherians, considerable disagreement exists over the meaning and identification of the “Mannotmann,” sometimes “Monnuttmonn.” “Man not man” is one likely decipherment of the term, “Mammoth man” another. In the first of these works “Te Styree Uboy F-R-E-D-D-I-E,” or “The Story about Freddie,” Prothero writes, “Ay am nott F-R-E-D-D-I-E,” and we are told that Freddie, a scaredy-cat, needs him precisely because Freddie is not “Monnutmann.” “Can you hear me, everybody?” he asks: This is an important truth.
This precocious child is self-protectively separating from himself within the doubled protection of art, the only realm available to the sane mind in which such separation is possible. Ol droo, he tells us: It is all true.
It should go without saying, though unhappily it cannot, that the author’s statement, in the more mature spelling and diction of his sixth year, that a man “came from the sky” does not refer to the appearance of an extraterrestrial. Some of my colleagues in Prothero studies strike one as nearly as juvenile as, though rather less savvy than, the doomed, hungry little genius who so commands all of us.