Though Dean Koontz was a fairly prolific short-story writer in his younger years, his output dipped drastically once his popularity as a novelist began to rise, and at one point, between 1975 and 1985, was nonexistent. He had a bit of a resurgence between 1986 and 1987, publishing nine shorts during those two years. After that, however, his output all but disappeared; in the twenty-three years since he has published just seven short stories (possibly eight, if Wikipedia can be believed).
First published in Tropical Chills way back in 1988, “Graveyard Highway” remains one of the most recently published shorts by Koontz. (It was also reprinted in the UK magazine The Horror Express, issue #4, in 2005.)
The tale begins ominously as, on his way to work, Mason Sondheim passes a strange highway sign: DEATH 2 MILES. He assumes he simply misread it, until he sees another sign. DEATH 1 MILE. The signs count down to the inevitable, and eventually Mason’s car tops a rise and he views a sprawling graveyard—and a shadowy figure, flagging him down. Problem is, the graveyard shouldn’t be there. Weeks pass, but the vision continues to haunt Mason, until he pulls off the highway and follows the man clad in shadows.
“Graveyard Highway” is a story of revelation, of a man being lead back to his destiny and celebrating in that rediscovery. It’s a wonderful story for the most part, but unfortunately, it falls apart toward the end. For me, anyway. Dean takes the supernatural elements and spins a fine yarn for most of the story—then dumps politics and morality on the reader in the last few pages. It’s like Dean realized he was late for dinner and hastily added the ending to avoid an ass kicking from his wife, Gerda—or Gerula, as she was mistakenly named by The Horror Express; a far more frightening name for a woman, to be sure.
Celebrate life. Follow your true destiny. Great advice, really, but “Graveyard Highway” could have taken a few more pages to get that message across.
UK author R. Chetwynd-Hayes is from the old guard of writers that dabbled in multiple genres—science fiction, horror, fantasy—and though you’ll hear him praised for such works as And Love Survived and his Clavering Grange series, the average fan—American fan, at least—probably has never heard of him. Which is a shame, really.
Though he produced a number of novels in his time, Chetwynd-Hayes was most prolific with short fiction, with nearly thirty collections to his name. He also edited an almost obscene amount of anthologies, doing so right up until his death in 2001, at the age of 82.
Cold Terror was originally published in 1973, and it contains fourteen tales of “unearthly possession and ghostly horror.” This is just the second collection I own of the man’s work—the other being “Tales from Beyond.” I found it at a Salvation Army store some months ago (along with The Face of Fear, by Brian “Dean Koontz” Coffey, which was a cool little find, though not all that rare, unfortunately).
The first story in Cold Terror, is “The Door,” a twisted tale of a salvaged antique door that bridges the gap between reality and horror. William, a writer, has plans to use this massive centuries-old door as the access point to a recessed stationary cupboard in his study. After the builders remodel the room and install the door over the cupboard, William and his wife, Rosemary, opine upon what the grand door may have once guarded, and later, Williams finds, through visions, that his wife’s guesswork was far more accurate than it should have been. And then William is in the room, walking its length, staring beyond its windows. As the days wear on, the room haunts him. And there’s a book, which he eventually reads from. It’s in what he reads that brings the story—or nightmare—to life.
“The Door” is a fun little read. It’s a classic kind of horror telling; the kind of stuff the greats of our generation cut their teeth on. The story has been told countless times since, whether the supernatural portal between this world and some other is a door, a picture, or the trunk of a Buick 8. But there’s a reason for that, right?
And for those with time to spare, here’s is the film adaptation of “The Door,” from From Beyond the Grave, an anthology film based on five of Chetwynd-Hayes’s stories.
“The Door” begins at 2:40 of the first clip and plays through 4:30 of part 10.
R. Chetwynd-Hayes. Remember the name.