Night of the Living Queers is a YA horror anthology that explores a night when anything is possible, exclusively featuring queer authors of color putting fresh spins on classic horror tropes and tales.
No matter its name or occasion, Halloween is more than a Hallmark holiday, it’s a symbol of transformation. NIGHT OF THE LIVING QUEERS is a YA horror anthology that explores how Halloween can be more than just candies and frights, but a night where anything is possible. Each short story is told through the lens of a different BIPOC teen and the Halloween night that changes their lives forever. Creative, creepy, and queer, this collection brings fresh terror, heart, and humor to young adult literature.
Contributors include editors Alex Brown and Shelly Page, Kalynn Bayron, Ryan Douglass, Sara Farizan, Maya Gittelman, Kosoko Jackson, Em Liu, Vanessa Montalban, Ayida Shonibar, Tara Sim, Trang Thanh Tran, and Rebecca Kim Wells.
Release date: August 29, 2023
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Print pages: 320
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Night of the Living Queers
“I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.”
— Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
Her grandmother told her once that the sea gets what it wants. If you go against it, it’ll show you who rules. So when her grandmother’s hat had been carried off by the wind, touched its rim to the water, the hat belonged then to the sea. The earth was a lot like that too. You could take and take, build and build, but eventually, the land would take back.
Bathed under the garish tinge of a strange blue moon, Anabel knew for sure she was going to die tonight. From mortification. One glimpse through the hotel’s double doors at the other costumes, and it was obvious she’d made a mistake. No one else was dressed like her. Their masks were ornate, dresses grand. The disguises were more Shakespearean and romantic literary than the polyester shit show she’d expected. These were rich kids—the foamy white cream of the crop, and they’d spent most of her adolescent life making sure she knew she was nothing but the grainy dregs.
She hovered on the gravel road—the never-completed roundabout to the hotel’s entrance. A stiff wind cut across her collarbones through the rips of her tank. Everyone else was already inside, not a car in sight because the only way to get to the abandoned hotel was by a mile-long trek through the swampy forest littered with DO NOT ENTER signs.
She debated for the millionth time if this was a good idea.
The crumbly brick hotel looked like it was only a season away from growing teeth. At three stories tall, the hotel was built on land that had been dubbed Ghost City. The entire up-and-coming community had been deemed hazardous and abandoned due to a lawsuit over protected wetlands, grounds that had gone untouched for centuries. The bed-and-breakfast was the only structure ever completed on the acres of forested land, and it was rumored to be haunted by more than just unpaid contractor debts. She knew this because her father had told her stories. Like mostly everyone else in this shitty town, he’d been involved with the project in the ’90s. He’d worked the land until his back gave out and his life boiled down to Percocets and beer.
People come back changed from that place, Anabel. It’s bad soil. Sometimes you get so deep in the muck, there’s no getting out.
But she was here for another reason. She was here for Chrys.
She pushed back her unruly hair again. From her pocket, she took out the note she’d found earlier today in her locker. The handwriting was so clearly Chrys’s that she felt something sharp and parasitic take root behind her ribs.
Sinkhole Hotel. Ten o’clock.
So she was here, despite the warning bells clanging in her head. Despite Chrys’s silence these past months since their kiss. Anabel had shown up.
She paused at the hotel’s threshold. She could see the silhouette of a girl looking down at her from the ivy-covered balcony. She was dressed in a tattered brown dress and a skull mask that reminded Anabel of Santa Tierra—a sort of mother earth who dealt more in death than in growth. A long black veil crowned the girl’s head with a stillness that set Anabel’s teeth on edge. The costume was kind of messed up, considering their town had a long history surrounding Santa Tierra. An entire village who’d worshipped her centuries ago wiped out for their beliefs.
There was something familiar about the girl’s silhouette, though, and the soft incline of her head, almost as if she were grinning from behind the mask. But she couldn’t be sure, and by the time Anabel glanced away, toward the sound of a sharp laugh from inside, the veiled girl was gone.
Anabel had no idea the hotel would look like this. With all the rumors of it being deserted and haunted, she figured the walls would be stripped bare, the furniture absent, the interior a carved-out carcass eaten by time and neglect. But it must’ve been nearly ready for operations before they shut down. But that still didn’t explain the electricity, the polished floors, or the full staff of servers. The split staircase wrapped the foyer in a homely circle, showcasing a small, intimate chandelier right in the center. The only sign of negligence were the sporadic plants, less a product of interior design and more a consequence of the encroaching wilderness outside, but the structure was unnervingly whole despite the trace of rotten wood in the air.
Still, between the open concept and her crappy costume, she’d never felt more exposed. Everyone in the entire lobby seemed to stop what they were doing as Anabel came in. She didn’t recognize a soul. She was glued to the middle of the room under the sharp, precarious chandelier with nowhere to run.
“Anabel.” The breathless voice was one she instantly recognized. She turned to see Chrys standing there in a full-length dress of white lace dusted with silver. She looked like a dream. “You’re here.”
Anabel’s breath caught. It’d been so long since she’d seen Chrys this close. Seen the way her heavy bottom lip pinched in the center when she was stewing something over. The way her wood-grain-colored eyes pinned Anabel to the earth and made her forget her own name. The last time Chrys had said Anabel’s name, she’d just kissed her. Chrys had taken the syllables of her name and framed them like a question. But Anabel had frozen up, and the surprise of something unexpected must’ve translated into something else. Something she could never take back or set straight, because right after, Chrys ran from Anabel’s room and out of her life for good.
“I came because I saw your note.”
“Right. My note.” Chrys’s expression looked pained for a moment before clearing. She tilted her head, studying Anabel’s costume. She expected Chrys to say it was ridiculous and laugh, because it’s what she would’ve said before. Back when they were brutally honest with each other and they were just two weirdos in a pod. Chrys looked over Anabel’s makeup, the ripped tank and black jeans, the black jacket that used to be hers. “Superhuman undead female lead?” she asked, nailing it on her first guess because of course she did.
“Zombie Jessica Jones.”
Chrys nodded at this. “No one ever considers the implications of an outbreak on the superpowered community.”
“I know! That’s what I keep saying.” They laughed, and for a moment it felt like no time had passed.
“I like your hair this way,” Chrys said, picking up a strip of Anabel’s long, black wavy hair, like dipping her fingers into an oil spill. “Loose and wild.”
Anabel’s throat felt horribly dry. “I haven’t unbraided it in so long.” A last-minute decision. Chrys always liked when Anabel undid her braid that seemed permanently affixed to her head. Her large bounty of hair she hadn’t cut since
her mom died made Anabel’s face look smaller, smaller than it already was.
Chrys smiled. “I know.”
Anabel wanted desperately to keep the conversation going, tell her everything that had happened this past year without her, how much she needed her, but Chrys’s expression suddenly cracked, a desperate panic leaching from her eyes that drew Anabel back. Like a holographic card turned to reveal someone else. “Why did you come here?”
Anabel felt struck. “W-what?”
A waiter showed up then, producing a tray of smoky drinks that smelled of burnt orange. “Spirits?” he asked. Anabel was about to say No, thank you when Chrys plucked two of the drinks and handed her one. The darkness in her expression was completely gone, almost as if Anabel had imagined it to begin with.
“Like I was saying, why don’t you come with me? My friends are right over there—” And Chrys turned toward a dark corner of the room where an old-fashioned couch and pin-cushioned chairs were nestled in an alcove of mirrors. Anabel shook off the wave of shivers, the annoyance at the mention of friends, having no choice but to follow.
Luckily, conversation didn’t halt when they approached. In one of the alcove’s reflections, Anabel could see how weird she really looked. How out of place. Standing beside Chrys, she couldn’t blame her friend for never having looked back.
Anabel swigged the orange drink, welcoming the burn down her throat.
Of course, Elisa was perched right in the center of the couch, her coven of followers glued to her sides like they’d been all through high school. Blair and Sasha, the twins, as they were called, though not related, made space so Chrys could settle in beside Elisa, their skirts like two bodies of water becoming one. Elisa’s pretty face held a secretive grin that set Anabel’s teeth on edge, and Chrys seemed like she was waiting for Anabel to say something or make an objection at the seating arrangements, but she didn’t. How could she? This was Chrys’s world now, not hers.
Chrys introduced them as if Anabel had never met them before. It was bizarre. They’d both known Elisa and her horde since elementary school. Everyone knew Elisa. Her father owned the town, including this plot of land and the hotel that was slowly sinking into the earth, that never should’ve been disturbed to begin with. But Anabel was just supposed to pretend like she’d never met these people at all? Like Elisa had never taunted her in middle school or the twins had never held her down in fifth grade while they rained tampons over her head?
“Isn’t this place lovely?” Elisa asked, settling back. Her fingers played with the ends of Chrys’s chestnut hair.
“Lovely,” Anabel parroted.
From the love seat, someone spoke up. “Holy shit, what are you wearing?” The guy’s name was Michael, another town founder baby—he was a senior who’d gotten suspended last year for painting all the urinals. “I fucking love it. Sit by me,” he said, and she was immediately grateful. Michael didn’t shut up about The Walking Dead or cult classic zombie movies. He barely took a breath between his rants, and she was honestly okay with it because the drone of his voice kept her from having to come up with something
to talk about.
She wanted to ask about this place, though. Wanted to find out how they kept the hotel running and how they’d gotten permission to have so many people brought into a condemned building. But she’d downed her entire burnt orange drink and didn’t think she could string a sentence together even if she tried, and besides, she knew money could buy anything.
But it wasn’t easy watching Chrys with her new friends. She hardly recognized her. The held back laughs, the defeated hunch of her shoulders. Last Halloween, Anabel had lost her best friend. First when she fumbled the kiss, and then again when Chrys had been the only one invited to the annual Halloween party, crossing over the social gap she’d always wanted to. After that, Chrys made it clear she wanted nothing more to do with her, going as far as pretending they’d never even met. Erasing their years of history. Leaving Anabel alone in their shit town when their plan had always been to stick together. And now here she was like a glutton for punishment.
Because of the note. Her second chance.
Anabel’s attention snagged back on the conversation.
“Looks the same as last year—”
She interrupted. “The party was here last year?”
The group went silent. Chrys leaned forward, her eyes strained. Urgent. “It was.”
“But I thought—don’t you all throw the Halloween party somewhere different every year? Wasn’t that the big secret? The whole point?”
“Some things change,” Elisa said, shrugging a thin shoulder.
Michael leaned back, crossing his feet. “And some things stay the same.”
The mirrors—their reflections—were all looking at her differently. They looked … wrong. Anabel had to shut her eyes, rub them to shake the image. The lights were playing tricks on her.
Just then another waiter came by with more orange drinks, ending the conversation. “Spirits?”
As everyone got up to dance, Anabel stayed back, nursing her second cup. Michael tried pulling her after him, but she waved him away and he accepted this good-naturedly, taking the twins instead. He was the type of guy who pretended to get along with everyone, but she knew he had a mean streak. She’d seen him in the halls, lurking like a predator. She couldn’t forget that this whole group was dangerous no matter how nice they were being now. She was here for only one reason.
There was a point when it was only Anabel and Chrys alone in the alcove, an infinite version of them reflected in the mirrors. Anabel thought one of those versions of her had to be brave enough. Chrys kept cutting her a glance, inching her way closer, and Anabel found herself doing the same, blocked only by the armrests of their respective lounges. Anabel wanted to shake her awake, shake loose that dark fog that had settled over her friend for months.
If you would’ve just waited for me to tell you I felt the same, if you would’ve never come here, I’d be yours. We’d be ours.
Anabel swallowed down the sour taste of nerves, wanting to ask what was wrong, what had
happened to them, but Elisa and Michael came barreling back.
Elisa hooked a slender arm over Chrys’s shoulders. “Guess what just got here?” She wiggled her body in anticipation. By this time, Michael sat on the armrest, producing a tiny bag of little blue pills.
Dread dropped into Anabel’s stomach. Parties, drinking, drugs. Duh. She wasn’t sure why she was so surprised. She watched movies, she heard things—she wasn’t that sheltered. But she’d been left out of these functions for so long, she hadn’t expected to run into this choice now.
Elisa and Chrys took theirs. Chrys threw her neck back. She didn’t even pause to debate it, as if the girl Anabel knew, the one who wouldn’t eat anything with red dye or refused to take aspirin for headaches, never existed. As if, together, they’d never driven Chrys’s mom to the hospital when she’d started foaming at the mouth.
Michael mimicked Elisa and dropped his heavy arm around Anabel, leaning too close. His breath hot and uncomfortable on her face. He was holding out a pill for her to put on her tongue. “Want to dream?”
Chrys’s eyes already looked different. Or maybe it was the lights, or the fact she was wavering as if she were only a mirage. “You don’t have to do anything, An. There’s time now for everything.”
What she said should’ve sounded hopeful, promising, but it only made Anabel’s stomach turn. She declined Michael’s offer to dream. Instead, they danced.
The lights cut across her sweaty skin. Her jacket was abandoned in some chair or consumed by the old walls.
What the sea wants, it takes. Like the earth.
The sense of abandon was contagious, even if she didn’t take anything. It felt like she had. Like something was severed inside her, and she’d become untethered.
One second, they were all dancing. Chrys was in her arms. Smiling, laughing, and it did feel like a dream. But now Chrys was leaving. Elisa was tugging her away toward the top of the steps where other couples grappled for each other in the dark. Chrys turned back once, met Anabel’s gaze, and disappeared. Again.
The twins were swaying their hands toward the ceiling, eyes closed as if they were wading through air. Michael held Anabel, pulling at her hips.
“I—” she started, but the music was too loud. Her voice too choked.
“Wait, baby zombie. Not yet.”
She pulled away from him and he let go, eyes already shuttering as if he didn’t care one way or another.
There were too many people crowding the front door, too many servers asking her if she wanted more spirits. She needed air. She stumbled upstairs, pushing
past sweaty bodies, hearing snatches of strange conversation.
“This used to be her land, her people.”
“They worshipped her. Then the village was desecrated.”
Anabel couldn’t meet anyone’s glassy eyes. She made it down a dark hall, opening doors until she found an empty suite, relieved that no one seemed brave enough to venture into the privacy of the vacant rooms.
Again, she was surprised by how everything was so intact. The furniture hadn’t been looted. Instead, it was charmingly arranged to welcome any weary traveler. A bed made with pristine white sheets. She didn’t dare disturb it, though. She opened the balcony doors and relished the wind that blew inside, the unusual moon with its bluish tint making everything colder. Shadier. The moon made the entire night feel off. As if she were looking out at an old, forgotten film rather than reality.
Anabel spun around. She felt something glide across her shoulder, heart lodging in her throat. Until she noticed the drapes. The billowing drapes. She gripped her chest and went inside toward the bathroom.
It was a mistake coming here. Maybe Chrys was cruel. Maybe she invited Anabel to show her what she’d lost. Remind her that she was too late. Or maybe Chrys was pushing her. Testing her, and she was failing.
In the bathroom, Anabel stared at her reflection. Her wild mane of dark hair, her elfish face, and her huge dark eyes that always made her look lost or helpless. Stupid. Stupid zombie makeup and stupid hope that led her to this place. She ran the tap, because of course the water ran just fine. Maybe everyone in town had lied about this place being too dangerous. About it being shut down and uninhabitable. About it being cursed. Maybe the entire sinking forest was a cover-up, a money pit the town founders used to embezzle fortunes. ...
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