All of the stories in Ellen Datlow’s anthology “Screams From the Dark” are great – she is far and away the best collector of horror, science fiction, and fantasy stories working today – but the closing tale, John Langan’s “Blodsuger,” is especially good. It uses its structure and setting to position itself within the weird tradition going back to Washington Irving, and tells a chilling story with an affecting coda that are sure to linger a while with the reader.
Like so many of the classics of the genre, it’s a story told within a framing device, with the story’s primary narrator – a father eating dessert at a party while his son is outside fishing – receiving the tale from a stranger – an older woman with a frightening warning about the dangers of ice-fishing. “Blodsuger” also nods to the tradition of American regionalism – Langan name-checks Stephen King and William Faulkner, both known for diving deep into their respective neighborhoods for lore both true and fantastical, and with the story’s excursion into a dark chapter of the American Revolution in the Hudson Valley there are echoes of Irving and also Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose stories also abound with Yankee terrors (though none quite like the creature at the center of this one). Also like Irving and Hawthorne, Langan tells his story with a relaxed and conversational pace – while the story is relatively lean, it allows itself a few meandering moments, and little details pile up not unlike the climactic snowstorm in the story to give weight to the characters and to the terror visited upon them.
“Blodsuger” would fit quite well within Langan’s recent “Corpsemouth” collection, hitting many similar notes: the interest in local history and lore, the father and son characters, the connections with fishing, lakes, and rivers. These echoes make reading Langan’s stories as a set especially rewarding: while not necessarily bound together by specific characters or settings, they all have deep and sometimes subtle connections that make for a richer experience than reading any one in isolation would provide.