10 thoughts on “Darkness Creeping II: More Tales to Trouble Your Sleep

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    Collections of short stories were a staple of Neal Shusterman in the 1990s, and he again plunges beneath the dark surface of the human mind in this followup to Darkness Creeping Tales to Trouble Your Sleep Invigorated by Barbara Kiwak s spectacular black and white drawings, the eight stories in Darkness Creeping II More Tales to Trouble Your Sleep take exotic angles on paranormal happenings, angles the reader won t recognize until the moment each story s true nature is revealed Join the Sto Collections of short stories were a staple of Neal Shusterman in the 1990s, and he again plunges beneath the dark surface of the human mind in this followup to Darkness Creeping Tales to Trouble Your Sleep Invigorated by Barbara Kiwak s spectacular black and white drawings, the eight stories in Darkness Creeping II More Tales to Trouble Your Sleep take exotic angles on paranormal happenings, angles the reader won t recognize until the moment each story s true nature is revealed Join the Storyman for this exploration of the existential blind spots many of us would rather not know about, and it will keep you thinking long afterward Riding the Raptor leads off, arguably the finest story in this collection Brent and his older brother, Trevor, have looked forward for months to the grand opening of the Kamikaze, a roller coaster touted as one of the world s most intense The brothers love extreme coasters, but Brent worries about Trevor No thrill can sate his hunger for bigger and better, and he gets bored whenever he goes a few minutes without stimulation When Trevor is bored, he causes trouble Not even the Kamikaze is able to surmount Trevor s sensory fatigue, and Brent doesn t know how his brother will react until the next gigantic roller coaster is built They don t have to wait long A private invitation for a new coaster, the Raptor, is extended to the boys, and they follow a hidden path to its location The Raptor is visually stunning its tracks stretch from one horizon to the other, soaring hundreds of feet into the sky in loops and drops that shouldn t be possible Trevor is chomping at the bit to ride, along with several other kids, but Brent figures out the game before he boards The Raptor is an exercise in self destruction, the one ride Trevor could never tire of because it won t be returning to port with its passengers safe and sound This is the last roller coaster they ll ever go on Brent begs his brother to disembark before the Raptor carries him to his eternal reward, but Trevor is calmer than Brent has ever seen him He knows this is his last hurrah When a person decides the only great adventure left is death, it may be impossible to persuade them to forgo it Brent watches helplessly as the Raptor and its laughing, screaming passengers head to their doom, understanding as he never has before that opportunities to destroy one s life are many, and it takescourage to decline that fatal thrill ride than to embrace the enticing darkness of nihilism After that chilling start, we move on to Trash Day Lucinda Pudlinger s family is nothing to brag about No friend or boyfriend will visit her house for fear of running into her rotten brother and parents, and she can t blame them for staying away Then one day an industrial size dumpster shows up on the front lawn without explanation Lucinda s family ignores it, but they don t realize the dumpster has targeted them for removal Lucinda doesn t mind having her gross family gone, but the excision of unsavory material from one s life is rarely simple Being surrounded by quality people means you have to be the sameor risk getting taken to task for the mounds of trash you keep hidden behind closed doors An Ear for Music is next, a repeat from the first Darkness Creeping volume, about a thirteen year old violin prodigy named Lee Tran whose talent as a performer and composer crosses into the supernatural His playing is so good it can change the weather, even start fires This brings him to the attention of Madame Magnus, an elderly woman who runs an exclusive music academy Lee accepts her invitation to study with her, but the school is a bizarre place As he explores, he closes in on the academy s menacing secret, the reason Madame Magnus established it in the first place An Ear for Music is a powerful piece, a vivid picture of the way super talented individuals are immolated by the system and themselves, enslaved to a one dimensional obsessive pursuit of perfection in their chosen expertise Whether you re a phenom or not, it s something to think about If Riding the Raptor isn t the best of Darkness Creeping II, Soul Survivor is It s the rawest, most emotional tale of the eight Peter dies a few seconds in, his body demolished by an airplane crashing into the second floor of the house where he lives with his parents But that isn t the end of Peter His violent death separates his soul from his body, leaving him to wander as a spirit He can be in the same room as his parents, but has no means to communicate with them or anyone else Peter wearies of hanging around his grief stricken mother and father with no way to comfort them, and moves on He explores the earth inside and out, and accompanies astronauts into space He learns to become the sea, the ground, to join with people s minds and inhabit their bodies He can briefly share control of the body if he chooses to, interacting with the world as though he never died But people aren t ready to believe in spirits taking over human beings, and Peter s narrative doesn t have the positive trajectory one might hope This is one of Neal Shusterman s best short stories, a complex, emotional whirlwind of commentary on the human condition It drives home the reality of what it s like to lose pieces of yourself that others take from you without caring, bits of freedom and joy that mean nothing to the one doing the taking, but are irreplaceable parts of your life Those losses each make life a little less happy, leaving less reason to endure the anxiety and heartache of being alive As Soul Survivor puts it, Losing your house, and your things, and your friends, and your family is all bad enough but to lose yourself along with it that was beyond imagination To lose my thick head of hair that I never liked to brush To lose those fingernails that I still had the urge to bite To lose the feeling of waking up to the warm sun on your face To lose the taste of a cold drink, and the feel of a hot showerIt was not a fun way to be Soul Survivor is an unnerving depiction of what it s like to lose the little things that make up a pleasant life, and to see only in retrospect how much they meant to you Moving on, we come to Security Blanket Marybeth s five year old twin brother and sister are a constant torment with their whining and bickering In her darker moments, Marybeth wishes she had no siblings When her family purchases a quilt made from glowing fabric at a garage sale, it appeases the twins for a day or two, but then they fight over it Something is odd about the quilt, however Marybeth doesn t like how the eyes of the people pictured on it seem to stare at her This is no normal quilt, and if Marybeth isn t careful, the twins could become its victims Will Marybeth be sorry when her siblings are less than a memory to everyone but her Growing Pains is next, an unsettling story of night terrors become real Seventh graders Cody and Warren were always best friends, even now that Warren has hit his growth spurt and Cody is still as small as the fifth graders One night Warren wakes up screaming in his bedroom next door to Cody s house He screams all night and into the morning before he s removed to a mental hospital Cody is a sleepless wreck why was his friend screaming The adults chalk it up to sudden psychosis that can be treated and improved, but Warren tells a different story when Cody visits him in the youth sanitarium They ll come for you at night, Warren mumbles dazedly, eyes filled with dread Who will Should Cody be worried Maybe, maybe nothe won t know until they come for him, too Neal Shusterman occasionally spins a strange yarn that ends without full explanation Such is the case in Connecting Flight Unaccompanied on an airplane flight from Chicago to her Boston prep school, Jana sees some inexplicable things Passengers seem to appear and disappear, and the scenery is vastly different out the widows on the right and left sides of the plane Only when the flight nears its destination does it dawn on Jana that these arethan wacky visuals She and the other passengers are in terrible dangeror are they Connecting Flight is weird, but it s interesting reading The last story is Crystalloid, about an angry boy named Philip who s been dumped at his grandmother s house so his father and his father s girlfriend can travel and have fun without him Philip rages at first for the way his father abandoned him, but his grandmother is a glassblower who owns a boutique, and he learns to love glassblowing when his grandmother teaches him how to do it Philip s pent up anger reveals itself in his glass works of art scary, macabre pieces that frighten his grandmother A large, fierce looking dragon is his favorite, which he doesn t wish to sell in his grandmother s shop for any price There sto the dragon than provocative art, Philip soon understands He may have found a companion whose lust for destruction is equal to his own, but who s really in charge here I m divided on whether to round my two and a half star rating for Darkness Creeping II up or down The first half is strong, especially Riding the Raptor and Soul Survivor There s quality in the back end, as well, but the book does fizzle out somewhat in the last few stories I think I ll round up to three stars, because Riding the Raptor and Soul Survivor are that good, but it s a tossup Speaking of Soul Survivor, I wonder if it partly inspired Neal Shusterman s Skinjacker trilogythan a decade later Skinjacking is undeniably similar to what Peter does in this short story It s fascinating to consider how good ideas evolve into great ones If you like Neal Shusterman s other short story collections Mindquakes, Mindtwisters, etc , you ll find some of that excellence in Darkness Creeping II I hope you enjoy it as I did


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