Demonic Vacations: Go Home Already (Demonic Anthology Collection Book 5)
JM Paquette, Editor
4 Horsemen Publications (October 15, 2021)
Reviewed by Elaine Pascale

Everyone has a vacation nightmare story. Vacations are never what you hope they will be. Your expectations fall short. Most of our vacation horror stories involve issues such as “Montezuma’s revenge” or lost luggage. The stories in Demonic Vacations venture into supernatural sources of dread.

There are themes to the frightful vacations. The first is that of being unaware of  who or what inhabits the vacation land. “Teach a Man to Fish Today & Two Merrows Eat Your Life,” by Valerie Williams, concerns a married couple that wants to top off their dream vacation in Ireland with a fishing trip. Helpful “locals” find a way to make that happen and readers are introduced to some scary marine mythology. Al Hagan’s “A Little Fishing Trip” tells the tale of Paul and Jake, who are on a quest to catch frogs from a dark and murky swamp. Unfortunately, the swamp is inhabited by creatures that want to catch Paul and Jake. “When the Music Stops” by Mark Towse features a forest quest for Ethan and his father to find a letter buried years before. Little do they realize they are being stalked the entire time. In “Rock Pool of the Gods,” by DJ Tyrer, Jenna envied her friends’ exciting vacations as she was stuck stay-cationing with family. An eerie exploration of tide pools with her brother leads to excitement of a different kind.

The second theme was of sacrifice, typically carried out to appease the host culture. “Erupt,” by Evan Baughfman, recounts an ATV trip with twins Esther and Brandon and their estranged father. They are learning about their Chilean roots and dad’s love of volcanoes. I don’t want to provide any spoilers, so I will simply say that I was struck by the sentimental ending. “Debt,” by Joseph Valadez focuses on the gap between selfishness and selflessness via a deal between Remy and the devil. “Last Chance,” by Laura Kaschak is the third story of sacrifice, this time focusing on a more mundane vacation taken by Dan and Gemma to save their marriage. This story belongs to the horror subgenre of danger awaiting where you least expect it.

The third theme relates to heeding the warning of not looking in the closet/under the bed/in the basement. In the case of Demonic Vacations, characters would be best served by not looking too closely at the hotels and motels where we stay. “Housekeeping,” by Erika Lance, warns that bedbugs are not the worst type of infestations found in seedy motels. I considered “Vending Machine Candy,” by Georgie Cook, to be the creepiest story of the collection. Young Adam’s family stops at a motel during a days-long road trip that has created animosity between his parents. When Adam sneaks out to the vending machine in the middle of the night, he encounters a character straight out of childhood nightmares. “Trip Trap,” by Rebecca Rowland, cleverly intersperses a story with hotel reviews. We have all allowed Yelp reviews to influence our choices; main characters Shannon and Lily should have read about their hotel more carefully. The story has a delightful twist at the end.

Demonic Vacations also includes a few stories that seem to be an homage to films. “Sturdy Comfort,” by W.T. Paterson is a tongue-in-cheek look at 80s slasher flicks focusing on my favorite subgenre: camp horror. The story is incredibly meta and fun. “Hoyts Family Vacation,” by Alexander C. Bailey finds a family of cannibalistic freaks on vacation. They are pursued by a criminal contingent hoping to gain an in with local police, which again leads to fun-filled splatter. In “Midseason Finale” by Mark Robinson, travel agent Paul offers what is basically the fight club of vacations. He helps hooligans looking for an escape to get their rocks off. One client is not happy with the results of his voyage and comes after Paul, seeking revenge.

The stories are a nice, short length which helps maintain momentum and there is enough diversity in settings to appeal to a variety of readers. The writing is strong and there is both an overarching tone to the collection and an assortment of voice in the stories. There is a great deal of black comedy included in the collection, which makes for an enjoyable read. I recommend Demonic Vacations, especially prior to planning any holiday trips.

About Elaine Pascale

Elaine Pascale had been writing her entire life. She lives on Cape Cod with her husband, son and daughter. Her writing has been published in several magazines and anthologies. She is the author of Blood Lights, and If Nothing Else, Eve, We’ve Enjoyed the Fruit. Elaine enjoys a robust full moon, chocolate, and collecting cats.