There's nothing quite like snuggling up in bed with a book of spooky stories,
relishing the delicious chills that walk up your spine when it gets good and
scary. So what if you lie awake for hours afterward with your comforter pulled
up to your chin, eyes flying wide at every little creak of your settling house?
That's part of the fun.
in Mind, a collection of paranormal fiction published by the very real Rhine Research
Center in Durham, North Carolina, is tailor-made for those who love being scared -- or
at the very least, spooked. The twenty-three stories within (plus occasional
moody illustrations by artist Chris Pugh) are the winning entries from the RRC's
first Mystery Stories Contest. The Rhine Research Center as a nonprofit
institution, renowned for first
introducing laboratory research into the realm of the paranormal in the 1930s, is serious about its scientific research to better
understand psi phenomena. That it is willing to put its imprimatur on a book of
fiction revolving around the broad theme of the paranormal signals the
open-mindedness that such a field of inquiry would demand of its students. After
all, one doesn't often hear of biochemistry labs or pharmaceuticals sponsoring
anthologized tales of viral outbreaks or drug trials. But then, the general subject matter of Mystery in Mind can't help but lend
itself to spine-tingling flights of fancy. It's about things that humankind as a whole has not yet gotten a firm handle on -- clairvoyance, divination, the great (or is it?) divide between life and death.
As with any anthology, some stories are better than others, but the good ones
really make this book worth it. Martha C. Lawrence (Murder in Scorpio, Ashes of
Aries) kicks the whole shebang off with the wry "A Little Light on the Subject," featuring a psychic investigator who relies as much on normal senses of observation as on her gift. L.L. Bartlett's "Cold Case" is an appropriately shivery tale about the capacity for darkness lurking in the recesses of the mind, just waiting for our well-ordered worlds to be upset to leap forward.
"The File on Virginia Fairchild" by J.M.M. Holloway opens a window onto the
life of a lonely woman wanting simply to belong, and more afraid of a sad life
than of what she might have to do reach the mysterious place where she can fit in.
A plain, quiet girl is the only person who can connect with a local war hero
after his return from the killing fields in David Terrenoire's "After the War,"
and she braves his inner horrors to let herself love him.
In "The Thirteenth
Hole" by Lee Driver, an arrogant board member of a men's-only country club golf
course gets a well-deserved comeuppance on the links from a dead woman. Jordan
Carpenter's "Special" features a precocious little girl and her imaginary friend
-- a shiny, talking pool of blood only she can see. "Unique Tours, Ltd." by
Michele Lassig takes a homely girl from a well-to-do family and her oafish
husband on the Twilight Zone version of an Hawaiian honeymoon. Rosemary Edghill, perhaps best known for her work in the speculative fiction genre, takes pagan Manhattanite Bast (the sardonically funny main character from the mystery novel Speak Daggers to Her) to the country -- against her better judgment -- for a pagan retreat that's less than authentic and, unfortunately for some attendees, deadly as well.
All in all, Mystery in Mind is a solid and sometimes scintillating collection, a refreshing blend of literary and mystery-genre pieces that are certain to provoke further speculation in some readers. But don't forget to put fresh batteries in that flashlight you'll
want to take with you to bed.