Published by Inkshares on October 31st 2017
Some of my favorite horror stories involve haunted houses, because after all, a home is supposed to be a place of warmth and shelter. The idea of what was once a safe haven being invaded by malevolent spirits creates such a sense of wrongness that the terror is elevated to a whole other level. In Kill Creek, a character even ventures to explain why such stories fill us with dread, positing it’s because we never expect such awfulness to lurk so close beneath the surface of what is considered normal.
This novel is a good example of such horror, the kind that sends chills down your spine, making you wonder if anything is even safe anymore as you steal nervous glances over your shoulder to make sure you really are alone. At the center of this story is the house at Kill Creek, an old abandoned three-story that was built in the mid-1800s on a lonely road in the middle of the Kansas prairie. Lovingly constructed by its first owner, the house saw a few good years before tragedy struck, and people say it has been haunted ever since. Nobody could stand to live in it for more than a year, and gradually the house fell into disrepair until in 1975, a pair of twin sisters named Rachel and Rebecca Finch decided to buy up the property and upgrade it with some modern renovations.
Unfortunately, the new owners did nothing to improve the house’s reputation. Rachel and Rebecca were recluses and were almost never seen outside, and the whispers about Kill Creek being haunted continued. After the Finch sisters died, the house sat empty once again, its notoriety growing until it catches the attention of Justin Wainwright, founder of the horror website WrightWire which is famous for its viral videos and publicity stunts. One day, four well known horror writers receive invitations from Wainwright to spend Halloween night at the house on Kill Creek, with the promise of a large paycheck in exchange for an interview which will be livestreamed to millions. The authors are Sam McGarver, T.C. Moore, Daniel Slaughter, and Sebastian Cole, all of whom end up accepting Wainwright’s proposal because they are either in need of the money or of the publicity. However, none of them are prepared for the horrors that await them inside the old abandoned house at Kill Creek, the evil within its walls stirring once more with the arrival of new visitors.
The novel itself features a bone-chilling story, starring an interesting cast of characters representing four very different subgenres of horror fiction. Sam, the closest to being our main protagonist, is what you would call a “mainstream” author whose work appeals to the masses, his books the kind to be found everywhere from supermarket shelves to airports. After writing several bestsellers though, he has hit a writer’s block, and he agrees to the WrightWire interview in the hopes that it will buy him more time. Then there’s T.C. Moore, a self-published author who became a phenomenon after her shockingly explicit style of horror-meets-erotica quickly amassed a sizable loyal following. Furious that she has been shut out of the creative process on the movie adaptation of her novel, Moore decides to spend the night at Kill Creek in order to regain some semblance of control over her career. Daniel Slaughter on the other hand is a Young Adult author and a devout Christian, whose books often serve as an extension of his faith depicting goodness and morality triumphing over evil. However, worried that his work might be getting too dark for his audience and that he might soon be dropped by his publisher, Daniel hopes that the publicity from the WrightWire interview will help salvage his image. And finally, Sebastian Cole is our old school “classic” horror writer, whose name is practically a household word. But having been around so long, Sebastian also knows better than most that few authors can remain relevant forever, which is why he accepts Wainwright’s invitation in order to get his name out to a new generation of readers.
With that, the ingredients are all in place for an exquisite horror tale. We have an eclectic crew, whose disparate writing styles and personalities make for plenty of epic clashes and amazing dialogue, especially between Moore and Daniel. As well, it becomes apparent after a while that there’s more to Wainwright’s interview, and Sam is unwilling to believe that this whole sleepover party at Kill Creek is nothing more than a publicity stunt. All this tension is magnified in a house that feels alive, its oppressive atmosphere putting everyone on edge. When strange things start happening and our characters being seeing things that can’t be explained, we’re left with a disturbing sense of uncertainty. Are there actually supernatural shenanigans afoot? Maybe the stress of being confined in a spooky place with all these random strangers is simply getting to our authors. Or maybe it’s just Wainwright messing with their heads.
The first half of the book reads very much like your classic “haunted house” scenario: A ringmaster gathers together a dissimilar group of people for some seemingly innocent reason, bringing them into a house that is rumored to be haunted. At first, no one believes that it’s anything more than a creaky old house, but then a slow fear starts to build as the characters realize that is not the case. Later parts of the book take a drastically different turn, however, moving away from the subtle, creeping dread to an all-out violent and in-your-face kind of terror. Sam, a literature professor, outlines the four main traits common to the gothic horror tradition in the beginning of this novel, and the plot of Kill Creek almost follows this roadmap. It also feels as though each of the author characters wind up injecting a piece of themselves into this story, leaving behind the influence of their individual styles, which I thought was a clever touch.
All in all, this would be a splendid book to get you in the mood for the Halloween season. The story’s unique blend of literary horror and psychological thriller made it an addictive read, keeping me reading into the night, its creep factor levels notwithstanding. Kill Creek is for sure one of the better haunted house stories I have read in a while.