Each of the 13 stories in Rebecca Turkewitz’s terrific debut collection involves hauntings of one form or another, and many invite readers to consider how “the past can spread like a deep soft bruise into the present.”

“Here in the Night” serves up ghosts, terrors and eerie happenings: a desk clerk in a historic inn finds affinity with the resident ghost, teenage girls with a burgeoning crush summon a tragic phantom comrade, a boarding school student delves into the mysterious disappearance of her roommate’s boyfriend, two grieving siblings discover a neighbor’s chilling attempt to hold onto lost love.

Turkewitz lives in Maine, and many of the stories here are set in small New England towns. In the moody, atmospheric opening tale, “At This Late Hour,” tourists arrive at a quaint coastal inn hoping for a glimpse of the rumored ghost: “I see (the ghost) in the faces of the college girls who come for a summer weekend, their hair heavy with saltwater, their eyes trained on the white-capped waves. I see her in the women wearing too-thin jackets on October afternoons, holding their partners’ hands so tightly that their knuckles are bloodless and pale. I hear her in the low humming of night insects; I feel her breath in the late-August air.” The ghost is, in part, ginned up by the narrator as a marketing ploy to entice guests. But the haunt escapes the bounds of cheap entertainment, manifesting as a cautionary tale about risking all in love and life. The ghost may be fake, but these people are haunted nonetheless. Age-old hazards and tragedies echo in the present – a young colleague sacrifices her well-being for an ill-advised affair even as the narrator, not without regret, rejects her youthful wildness and turns toward stability.

Like all good psychological horror stories, the terrors here emanate from human fears and frailties – and the humans can be quite menacing monsters. Turkewitz is particularly attuned to the way girls, women and queer people move through a world of threats that can feel like a horror movie unreeling in humdrum daily life. In “Warnings,” a team of high school runners ticks over the list of perils that have been drilled into them – threats that may have claimed their fastest member because she dared to pull ahead of the pack:

“We’d been warned about running alone. We’d also been warned about walking at night, about bus stops and Uber drivers, about the hungry shadows of parking garages. We’d been warned and we’d warned one another about parties at Joe DiCarlos’s house … We heeded most of the warnings most of the time. But we were runners. And no one told the boys team to practice in pairs or avoid wearing headphones at night. Besides, when we ran, who could touch us?”

The title story, “Here in the Night,” is one of the collection’s strongest. Ellie and Jess are driving home to Portland after visiting Ellie’s conservative parents in South Carolina. They’re digesting shocking news of the Pulse Nightclub shooting, a massacre targeting the gay community in Orlando. Even before the tragic news broke, things were tense: “(Jess) hates that Ellie’s family still refers to her as Ellie’s friend. She hates how the couch is always made up for her so she has to sleep without the comfort of Ellie’s long limbs … What Jess wants – all Jess wants – is for her and Ellie to be alone in the car without the crushing weight of other people’s tragedy. She wants to free them from the tangle of other people’s sorrow and other people’s hate.” They squabble, hit a pothole, spring a flat tire, and a truck with jeering men pulls up beside them on a dark road. The suspense and dread are vividly specific – what’s creepier than a stalled car and menacing strangers? – but also evoke the terrifying nature of homophobia’s throughlines, how anemic “tolerance” springs from the same taproot of prejudice that can, given the right conditions, bloom into violence. Turkewitz leans into that dread, bringing us along as the women prepare “to flee, together, into the hot and waiting night.”


A couple of stories here don’t achieve the resonance of the standouts, but they’re outnumbered by the gems. One of those gems is “Search Party,” a very short story that packs a big punch. Marigold, a teen traveling in Spain with her predatory stepfather, is mistaken for a much-publicized missing girl: “I recognized the name instantly. Beth was a dark-haired, doll-faced American girl with plump cheeks and long eyelashes. She’d gone missing from her locked hotel room in Portugal two weeks ago.” The menace in this story isn’t overt: an overly solicitous and controlling father figure, a couple whispering from a nearby table, a palm resting on a shoulder. The horror is that Marigold’s plight goes unrecognized because it appears so unremarkable that it hasn’t grabbed headlines.

In “The Last Unmapped Places,” twins with an uncanny connection are dogged by a sinister specter they call the Webbed-Arm Man. Eight-year-old Rachael is struck by lightning during a raging storm, and so begins her lifelong sense of a skulking threat:

“I felt like someone had broken into the house that was my body and moved all my things around. … I had been beckoned outside by a man in a black rain cape. His voice was low and throaty. His breath smelled like damp soil….”

Rachael bears the lightning bolt’s impact but her twin, Hannah, who is safely indoors, shows its signs: her hair stands on end, “fanned out like a sea anemone.” Hannah is the golden child, as confident as Rachael is awkward. As the girls grow up, Rachael finds success while Hannah founders. Still, they maintain their closeness and the Webbed-Arm Man lurks. In a pivotal scene, Rachael watches his shadow engulf Hannah: “… opening its great webbed arms behind her….The fear I felt was beyond fear. It was fear that the bottom fell off of.” Bereft, Rachael contemplates what remains of their sisterly bond: “And I wonder why the connection that passed between Hannah and me all our lives … as normal to us as eating or drinking – would be severed by death.”

Though Turkewitz’s stories offer preternatural thrills with a moody edge, they’re anchored in earthly concerns: grief, loss, regret and mysteries of the human heart. To be sure, she has plenty to say about the very real ways we menace ourselves and each other. But she gets her points across with a deft touch, and the tales in “Here in the Night” are a sheer pleasure to read. These chills linger.

Genanne Walsh is the author of a novel, “Twister,” and a nonfiction chapbook, “Eggs in Purgatory.” She lives in Portland.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.