Keep You Cold: Chilling Tales by A. J. Franks

★★★★   Keep You Cold: Chilling Tales by A. J. Franks is a ghoulish group of 18 stories, ranging from the contemplative to the downright grotesque. Punchy and pithy, almost all of these stories are about a person fleeing from something, whether that be a malevolent pursuer, the pain of a departed love one, or just their own overwhelming loneliness. Standout stories include “Revelation,” reminiscent of Ray Bradbury, in which a long-bullied man seeks to redefine his self-image by getting a tattoo—and gains more than he bargained for in the process; and “Vicky’s Phone,” in which a woman walking home alone in the dark begins to receive menacing text messages—from her own cell phone number.

The key to good horror, as Franks clearly knows, is in carefully toeing the line between fear and fun. It might seem counterintuitive that a collection of stories, most of which contain murder, suicide, or other forms of sinister fate, could be considered fun, but Franks’ writing carries a frisson of voyeuristic pleasure that is undeniably entertaining—and somehow uplifting—for the reader. Perhaps part of the blame lies in the fact that with Keep You Cold, readers will find a rich vein of vengeance, which reminds us that even though, in theory, the variety of eerie encounters Franks writes about are utterly terrifying, they ultimately serve to remind us that there will always be a certain involuntary gratitude in knowing that at least these encounters aren’t happening to us. It’s the same electric thrill that energizes the crowds shuffling uncertainly through haunted houses, proving that to be scared is to be alive.

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