Being a small island, we don’t really have proper road trips here in the UK. Certainly not with the same sense of adventure and freedom available in the US, or indeed the humbling vastness of the terrain. But it’s one of my favourite types of Americana, and should it be in the form of a horror tale, then all the better: the interstate highway is a canvas ripe for helpless peril.
So of course this matter-of-fact title and stark cover caught my eye. And I was soon pleased to discover that the line-up of mostly familiar names have ensured we get exactly what it says on the tin.
The journey begins well with Michael A. Arnzen’s “Damned Potholes”. Told first person, it’s the immediately engaging account of a man driving late at night through the Colorado mountains who spots what seems to be a drunk in a suit staggering along the road. Things get strange pretty quickly in this quirky opener that sports a wry smile and an entertainingly outrageous concept.
Next is the rich and lurid “Black ’47” by Lorelei Shannon. Here we meet Serpentina, a carnival worker showing off her haunted, murderous “death-car” hearse to some unsuspecting punters. Although a couple of pace changes seemed rather intrusive and there was one element of blood spatter that didn’t quite add up, this is intriguing and colourful storytelling with a very memorable cast.
John A. Burks, Jr. provides my favourite of the bunch with “Black Trailer”. Joshua is a divorced trucker who accepts the job of delivering a sinister trailer across the US without asking questions or having a crafty peek. I found it slightly over-described at times, but the lead character and back story hooked me in, and the gore and sheer menace of the truck (my favourite since Duel) make for a ghoulish highway adventure with a pleasing pay-off.
In “Companion” by David Bain we follow Hardesty, a troubled teacher driving a lonely stretch of road who gets stuck behind a lingering pick-up. The occupants – an aggressive male and young boy – start to unnerve him, and a lapse of concentration results in a truly monstrous encounter. I particularly liked the way the bigger picture was layered in via italicized snippets rather than infodumping: a carefully crafted and old-school piece of horror.
Finally, a man nipping for pizza ends up stuck on a barren and silent highway in “5:53” by C. Dennis Moore. This is a suitably spooky finale and a nice take on those “lost between the cracks” kind of stories. With a Twilight Zone-esque wink, it concludes the book on a good note.
This is a decent little anthology for a couple of quid. There’s often a hushed cinematic tone, and the fun and chilling moments sit comfortably together. Admirably, Dark Highways also manages to avoid déjà vu, despite the specific theme.
If you like your scary stories played out beneath huge dusty skies, with something murderous in your rear view mirror, then you’ll enjoy the ride.
Available in both print and ebook from Amazon, Smashwords and the like.