The Crossroads at Midnight by Abby Howard is a graphic novel collection of short horror stories. The five tales within explore the lives of everyday people who have become entwined in some way with beings beyond natural understanding. Some are dangerous and not to be trifled with, best left alone, some will seek you out unbidden, and some can be a surprising source of comfort and companionship. There’s no way to know until you’ve cross the precipice, however, and by then it is already too late.
This book was my first experience with Abby Howard’s work, though her book The Last Halloween is what first grabbed my attention. So, I really didn’t know what to expect from this collection, I just knew that the art looked really appealing to me. In my experience, short story collections or anthologies, for horror especially, can be a bit of a mixed bag, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this book is an exception.
Though each story is rather unique in their own way, I found that one of this book’s great strengths was the theme that unites them of people becoming dangerously close with unnatural or otherworldly things. Of course, most horror stories involve run-ins like these in some way or another, but these stories go deeper than a surface-level exploration of this idea. There’s a yearning at the heart of these stories, whether it’s wanting a playmate, a longing to be where you feel accepted, the weight of loneliness and regret in your twilight years, or even just a need for a place to bed down after a long day, the unnatural connections in these tales are forged in experiences people live every single day.
My favourite among the collection was “Our Lake Monster”, about a family living in the country that has a monster living in the lake on their property. They used to take it for tours until it became too big to handle, and one of their children feels she has a special bond with the creature, that they understand each other, even if everybody is now afraid of the thing. Now, her father is allowing a university to take the creature away, much to her dismay. It was an excellent riff on the trope of “a boy/girl and their X” (sub in an animal or creature as you see fit) that was surprisingly disturbing for such a straightforward idea.
What worked especially well was that you really can’t know for sure at the outset of each story what direction it will go in, as the first story “The Girl in the Fields” does not turn out the way you might expect it to. There are plenty of creepy red flags and warning signs, keeping things tense until the pivotal moment, but it demonstrated well that you can’t be entirely certain of what to expect, setting the stage for the rest of the collection.
Storytelling aside, I really enjoyed the art of this collection as well. The style is reminiscent to me of some newspaper cartoons, fairly simple but still abstract yet good at making characters look distinct. There was something homey I found about the style, which worked great for when the art shifts to became more atmospheric or outright horrifying, turning that sensation on its head for me. This was especially the case when the book becomes violent, which was always an effectively jarring contrast. In that vein, you may appreciate being warned that the book does include some graphic violence toward children, which I suspect some people may find too disturbing, though I personally had no objections.
I had a feeling I would enjoy The Crossroads at Midnight, but I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did. I honestly have no complaints about this book; I have my favourites among the collected stories, but none of them failed to capture my interest and unsettle my nerves in some way. They all craft something deeply, organically relatable with their characters whilst pitting them against a diverse menagerie of haunting forces. If you’re looking to read more horror comics, I strongly recommend checking this book out.
My Rating: 5 out of 5