An Apple for the Creature is a collection of stories on the theme of education, edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni Kelner.
It approaches horror and the supernatural from a range of directions, some of which are more successful than others. Given the school theme presents opportunities to offer a certain revenge of the nerds. Yet it also offers chances to educate the world about the darker side of life.
The first two stories explore the horrific acts that humans can undertake. Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse short story, “Playing Possum”, sees the eponymous heroine watching Brady attack a school. The strength of the story is its understated nature and the backseat of the paranormal. Even as a story which comes from its own universe, it acts as a stand alone story, something that some of these stories might well consider.
Jonathan Maberry’s “Spellcaster 2.0” updates the neophyte summoning the demon story, perhaps taking a slight queue from Buffy. The horror story’s DNA contains a certain amount of interaction with belief, from escaping a stronger religious atmosphere to the inverse here where there is no belief apart from cynicism. What Maberry begins questioning is that if the summoner has now has no belief, then how can the citizens of hell exist in the universe of the story? His answer is that perhaps the supernatural needs protecting from the atheist mundane one, that is being exploited.
The God game is played in other stories with unwitting people tricked out of their souls, yet struggling to regain them. But with an absence of God, could the Devil exist? Although this is not the collection to answer this question, it is a relevant one for any one writing supernatural stories and one that requires a thinking through. Perhaps it does echo a previous time when these beliefs were more prevalent but in this case, the supernatural writer needs to rethink this rather than use the individual props.
For me, one of the strongest stories is Mike Carey’s “Iphigenia in Aulis”, riffing on Euripides’ play. Rather than rushing into the story, he builds up layers and reveals a more nuanced world which asks questions of the characters. Using the uncertain ending of the original play, Carey’s story moves through versions of nightmare and creating uncertainties in the world which resembles an urban story. The story reveals a world made paranoid by invaders, unable or unwilling to accept them.
Yet the tone is made lighter in a couple of stories. Tom Sniegoski’s story is lighter in tone with some nice touches but Steve Hockensmith’s “A Primer on Jewish Myth and Mysticism” uses the Dybbuk and plays on the potentials of mythology. Slightly reminiscent of Christopher Moore’s writing, the story plays on the central archetype with humour, yet keeps an uncertainty in the final sentences, but still drawing from a Judaeo-Christian perspective.
In a variety of tones and voices, this anthology is a slight rag tag bag of stories. Questions can be raised about the nature of horror. As it moves around the religious perspective, it shows a certain terror when it is removed. Some of the stories skirt around the theme or rely on the reader knowing the characters.