(Editor’s note: SHORT SHOTS is a column where I review short stories from horror anthologies.)
“The Sun Sets Nonetheless” by Priscilla Bettis appears in the 2020 anthology by Nightmare Press titled Todd Sullivan Presents: The Vampire Connoisseur. Surprisingly, this is the first published work by Bettis, and what an outstanding debut it is.
On her website, the Virginia author explains the inspiration for her tale of a Midwestern man fighting off vampires. “It was inspired by a wind gust that blew white petals off a flowering tree in our back yard,” she writes. “The image stuck with me, and I wrote a dark story around the image.”
Dark, yes, but intimate and oddly uplifting as well.
“The Sun Sets Nonetheless” introduces us to a man alone and resigned to his fate. “My face itches for lack of a shave. Ain’t no one else left, so I don’t bother.”
He drags a kitchen chair onto the front porch and parks it over a bloodstain. “There’s a good view of the crops back here, so none of them fanged creatures can sneak up on me.”
So we know vampires are on the loose, and we soon learn the man had a wife and son. He shares their encounters with “the blue creatures” in his plainspoken way that reminded me of Steinbeck’s style in “Of Mice and Men.”
Like Steinbeck’s classic, the beauty and power of “The Sun Sets Nonetheless” are in the simple details.
“Opal, she helped me count the bipedal beasts — there’s a couple dozen left now, hiding in the windbreak — and we started naming them, too. Sky, for the color of his skin; Fatso, Navy, Treetop, Knockers, Scarface, Toothpick.” Personalizing the monster pack is such a human behavior in the midst of a crisis.
Bettis’s creatures are original creations, but they maintain the nocturnal nature common to most vampires. I love her description of the creatures when they step from the treeline to test the daylight. “They’re like little kids at the beach, braving the water’s edge, then running back to safety with each advancing wave.”
“The Sun Sets Nonetheless” is packed with dead-on details and observations. It’s all killer, no filler.
Another favorite observation is when the man remembers what his wife said about the creatures. “They must have visited our planet before,” Opal had said. “Where else would all our vampire literature come from?”
My favorite line? “I let go of a long-held breath, and it’s like blowing out another candle that’s been lighting the day.” Simply gorgeous.
Inspired by his wife’s subtle discovery, the man makes his last stand against the creatures. Just him, a rifle, and nine bullets. The climactic scene is so poetic, so full of grit and grace, that I felt like simultaneously crying and cheering.
According to her website, Bettis is working on a horror novella for 2021. If “The Sun Sets Nonetheless” is any indication of what’s to come, count me an instant fan.