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Friday, December 2, 2022

The Dream Horrors of ‘Voices in the Dark’ and ‘The Dreamer’ [Buried in a Book]

Dreams can often be a welcome retreat from reality, but other times they’re a source of dread. The teenage characters in this edition of Buried in a Book find themselves at the mercy of evil when they fall asleep. The answers to their extraordinary real-life problems are hidden somewhere deep within their psyches. From archaic feuds and wish-granting steeds, to a baby-snatching demon, these two books find horror in the unconscious mind.

The 1980s Dell series Twilight: Where Darkness Begins is known for its uncanny creatures, supernatural stakes and cursed romances. The sixth entry Voices in the Dark happens to contain all three of these things, and author James Haynes delivers them with both good pace and decent imagination. The 1982 book begins with the main character Christie Moncrieff overhearing her classmate Sue Ellen Lindsay badmouthing her at school. The mean girl doesn’t like the transfer student one bit, and she’s making sure everyone knows that. Christie has yet to make any friends since she and her parents inherited her late grandfather’s farm in a small Idaho town. All she has is her Arabian colt Prince to keep her company. Everything only starts to change when Christie pins a family heirloom, a horse brass emblazoned with a mysterious beast, to Prince’s bridle.

Voices in the Dark is barely over 150 pages long, so it quickly introduces Christie’s otherworldly dilemma. Without realizing what’s in store, Christie innocently makes three wishes while tending to Prince; she asks for a boyfriend, some platonic friends, and a chance to become a fashion designer. By the second chapter, Christie has gotten what she wished for. A popular jock named Hawk becomes interested in her, she gains a friend named Dee, and the school play is in need of a new costume designer. The speed at which this all happened would suggest something is amiss, yet Christie is too bowled over to care.

It’s only when these granted wishes backfire does Christie take notice. Hawk is way too pushy, so Christie loses interest in him. Christie also failed to realize Hawk was Dee’s on-and-off boyfriend. As for the play, the original costume designer suddenly became ill. Christie does damage control; she patches things up with Dee and rejects Hawk. Having still not figured out the source of her recent luck, though, Christie foolishly wishes that Hawk would go away. It’s not long before Christie’s mysterious genie kills Hawk in a car accident.


In her dreams, Christie gets vague glimpses of the person responsible for her malediction. At night she sees a sinister figure riding a black steed. There’s also the creepy, disembodied whispers only she seems to hear; a voice says things like the name Criosdan. To help the protagonist figure things out faster, the author pulls out a timeless trope; Christie’s class assignment conveniently leads her to the truth. In her grandfather’s things, Christie discovers a notebook detailing the life and fall of an ancestor named Cormac “Cor” Moncrieff.

Back in ancient Scotland, Cor became obsessed with his cousin, Criosdan Moncrieff. She spurned his many aggressive advances before falling ill, but on her deathbed, Criosdan told her coz he could have her if he granted her final wish. Unfortunately, Criosdan died before she could tell him what that wish was. This lack of closure consumed Cor, and he turned to paganism. He tattooed a Pictish Beast on his chest, he used magic to both hurt his enemies and bewitch women — including the wife of a hunter from the Moncrieffs’ rivals, the Lindsay Clan — and he rode a demonic black horse named Athame. Cor’s wickedness was only stopped when a Lindsay hunter killed him.

Voices in the Dark is an “unfinished business” kind of story where the unlucky descendant of an evildoer becomes their victim and the key to their return. Christie, who is either a reincarnation of Criosdan or merely her descendant — the book isn’t 100% clear about this — thinks she can make things right by settling the lifelong and transatlantic feud between the Moncrieffs and the Lindsays. So, Christie tries to patch things up with a living Lindsay: Sue Ellen. But of course that doesn’t work out because Christie accidentally cursed the girl. In the end, Christie has to literally face her demon when Cor comes to collect his bride.

Voices in the Dark is a fast read made better by a fantastical plot, though at least one other Twilight book essentially uses the same motivation for its own preternatural villain. The dream component isn’t crucial here, but the next book uses it with more force. In L. D. Pierce’s 1996 book The Dreamer, a 16-year-old named Ashley Morgan fears for her newborn sister’s life. She’s plagued by portentous dreams that spell out doom for little Nicole “Nikki” Morgan. And until she can make sense of the cryptic images filling her head, Ashley can’t sleep without seeing the entity hellbent on hurting her sister.


As soon as her mother gives birth, Ashley practically becomes Nikki’s sole guardian. Their parents are busy with work, so they leave all the babycare to their oldest daughter and the superstitious housekeeper, Vernettie Blackshear. The problem here is Ashley insists someone — or more accurately, something — is coming to steal Nikki. No one besides Vernettie believes her, though. Her boyfriend Lucas, his sister and Ashley’s best friend Rosamar, and Vernettie’s grandson Clay are skeptical until they can see proof of this so-called threat.

Ashley is revealed to be blessed with a power called dream-knowledge. And this ability is vital to stopping the baby-eating demon lurking in the nearby woods. After learning this monster’s weakness is water, Ashley conceives a bold plan; she and her friends set out to dismantle part of a dam so the area will be flooded. Once everyone’s on the same page about Nikki’s demonic stalker, they go to great lengths to lure out the demon whose flesh is described as rotten and its eyes are nothing but empty sockets. The only problem, however, is Ashley doesn’t exactly grasp what her dreams are telling her. There’s more to defeating the demon than immersing him in water. A lot more.

Unlike the previous and more straightforwardly written book, The Dreamer mixes prose with lyrical writing. Pierce is enthusiastic about description to the point where it’s borderline tedious. There are sections that feel too technical. Not a lot happens in the story to begin with, but the author prolongs scenes with overwriting. There’s no doubt Pierce has a way with words; how Ashley’s visions are worded is poetic. Just keep in mind that the book sometimes feels padded due to its occasional verbiage. Apart from that, this good versus evil tale better utilizes the dream element, and it boasts a more openly menacing antagonist.

Voices in the Dark is sparing with its dream bit, whereas The Dreamer goes all in. James Haynes manages to streamline an entire epic; the story aims high without overstaying its welcome. Meanwhile, L. D. Pierce sets a dark and expressive fairytale in modern times. As much as they differ on the surface and in execution, both books demonstrate how easily dreams can turn into nightmares.

There was a time when the young-adult section of bookstores was overflowing with horror and suspense. These books were easily identified by their flashy fonts and garish cover art. This notable subgenre of YA fiction thrived in the ’80s, peaked in the ’90s, and then finally came to an end in the early ’00s. YA horror of this kind is indeed a thing of the past, but the stories live on at Buried in a Book. This recurring column reflects on the nostalgic novels still haunting readers decades later.


The post The Dream Horrors of ‘Voices in the Dark’ and ‘The Dreamer’ [Buried in a Book] appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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Got any friends who might like this scary horror stuff? GO AHEAD AND SHARE, SHARE!

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