Like most dark fiction anthologies, Expiration Date is about death. Unlike most collections, however, editor Nancy Kilpatrick does not hand us page after page of brutality, horror, mutilation, and death that haunt our worst nightmares. The authors here explore the horrors of death, but through well-planned chapters, this anthology does, as Kilpatrick suggests in her introduction, touch us not only through fear, but through a wide range of emotions.
The collection is divided in three major sections. “Negotiating Oblivion” opens the book. The stories in this chapter focus on that fine line between the living and the dead. Vampires, banshees, and other monsters lurk here. A highlight in this section was Daniel Sernine’s “Banshee,” translated by Sheryl Curtis. The haunting cry of the mythical Banshee is an ancient tale that still resonates deeply in our modern world that feeds on the terror of the greatest unknown of all: death. Elaine Pascale’s “Riding Shotgun” is also a highlight here. Using our own superstitious nature against us, Pascale weaves a strange tale of mystical signs, numbers, and of course, their role in the randomness of death. It’s a very intriguing look at a peculiar human habit with seemingly no purpose in our lives, particularly in our world of science, rationality, and practicality. The second section, “Resisting Extinction,” we move from the symbolic (made literal) monster to the battle for survival. Our protagonists are not ready to die, but it’s inevitable. They fight. They cry. They struggle. Death comes, but it’s not as easy as it once seemed to let go. “Sooner,” by Morgan Dambergs, stands out in this section. Laurel is suicidal, but Death (and it is personified here) is not ready. Death is in control, not Laurel, and that is both comforting and disturbing to her and the reader. It’s that nagging fear that our own mortality lurks in the shadow just around the corner. The third section, “Best Before/ Best After,” takes death head on. Paul Kane’s “The Shadow of Death,” with its powerful line, “And today Death is angry,” tears apart the illusion of impartiality. Sometimes, yes, death stalks us down. Death comes for you. Amy Grech’s “Ashes to Ashes” examines the horror of loss, and the overwhelming power of grief that reunite loved ones… but only through death.
This is a stellar collection. Definitely Gothic, dark, sinister, strangely hopeful, macabre yet alluring. These authors do not resort to the gross-out, the violent, the easy narrative, or the Captain Obvious. The stories are delicate, haunting, and evocative. The terror creeps over you, like the fog at twilight. It crawls under your door; all the while you are unaware of the dangers drifting down the hall. A must read.