"Evening Primrose" by John Collier
This classic story was read from the anthology "The Dark Descent" edited by David G Hartwell.
A poet, Charles Snell, decided to cast aside society. He found a big department store and moved inside, moving around only at night when the store is closed. He tucked himself away into a dark corner during the day to stay hidden from store employees and customers.
One night while on the prowl through the store Charles saw the night watchman coming his way. Without anywhere to hide, he pretended to be a mannequin. The night watchman passed by Charles without noticing him. Shortly after the watchman passed by a voice came from the darkness towards Charles.
A person steps from the darkness and they introduced themselves to each other. Charles discovered that there is an entire colony of people that are living in the store with him. They all had similar ideas due to the Depression.
He is soon introduced to the leader of the group, Mrs. Vanderpant. She is the one who calls all the shots and determines when they do certain things like call the "Dark Men."
The Dark Men are a group of people that live like they do, but in the mortuary instead of a department store. When they are called upon they "take care" of a particular person. In general whatever they do, the person is never seen or heard from again.
Some time later Charles discovers a young girl hiding away from the others. Her name is Ella. She was kept in the store when she was lost from her mother one day while shopping. Instead of calling the Dark Men Mrs. Vanderpant kept her as a servant. Charles and Ella struck up conversation and decided to meet every night at a certain time. Eventually Charles fell in love with Ella. He tried to persuade her to run away with him, away from the store, and away from all the people that keeping her prisoner and forcing her to act as a slave. Ella is scared that they will call the Dark Men if the group finds out they are leaving.
The group is deathly afraid that someone will discover they are living in the store. Anyone who gets in the way of their lifestyle choice have the Dark Men called on them.
Charles throws caution to the wind and eventually persuaded Ella to run away with him. The question then became how are they going to go about doing it under the noses of people that know everything that is going on in the store. Will they be able to run away together, or will they have the Dark Men called upon them?
This was a really good story. I didn’t judge this story very well at the beginning. I wasn't expecting a lot, but was pleasantly mistaken. I found myself constantly turning the pages (as few as there were) to see what was going to happen. The foreshadowing for the story was perfectly done.
The story was told in diary form. Charles kept a journal during his time living in the store. What we hear and see are from his perspective told to us through his written journal. I like how the way the story was told from a journal perspective because it added intimacy, like we were reading something that we shouldn't be reading. Due to the journal style of story-telling we also found out what is important to Charles. He is only going to write about what he found interesting or important to himself. So we can draw conclusions based on the journal entries.
The Dark Men added a constant dark undercurrent throughout the story. It was a slow boil of horror. Charles didn't know how the Dark Men operated, in fact most of the people living there didn't seem to know, and that added to the mystery of the group. Nobody wanted to be on the receiving end of the Dark Men. The only thing we did find out is that whoever the Dark Men took care of would often become wax mannequins within the store.
Overall this was a superb tale of horror. It carried a constant threat from the Dark Men and a mystery of a group of people living outside society as we knew it. The group was a mystery in of itself and the suspense of the love Charles had for Ella added great tension and great suspense. A great tale indeed!