I stumbled across a copy of this one at Barnes and Noble. Ania Ahlborn was a new author to me, but the title and promises of a good horror read lured me in. I wasn’t disappointed.
A boy aged ten, Stevie, worries over his missing cousin and best friend, Jude. Stevie’s mom and aunt are in a state of shock over the disappearance and the search party and police won’t let Stevie help in the search. So, like any good friend, Stevie goes searching on his own. He goes into the woods where their hidden fort is, and where an old house had been built many years before. Stevie finds a creature at that house, something distorted and grotesque. He runs, and convinces himself that what he saw was like the other things his boyish imagination had showed him in his nightmares.
Jude reappears, though very much a changed boy. His mother is so elated that she doesn’t seem to notice, but Stevie does. Jude’s new personality scares Stevie, and he tries and fails to convince the adults around him that there is something else wrong.
Along with Stevie’s story is the tale of Rosie, a lonely woman who tragically lost her unborn child and husband in a short period of time. Her husband had built that old house out in the woods. In her despair, she traveled to Big Sur and spent the night at a house she did not know with a man who seemed nice enough. She had nightmares of a restless sleep in which she couldn’t move, but woke the next morning and left. When she returned home, she found that she was pregnant. The baby she gave birth to was barely human. Rosie took care of it, even as it grew sharp teeth and bit into her as she fed it.
The baby grew into a beast. Rosie lived her life alone with her son, hoping that no one would ever find out about him even as he started bring home local pets and eating them. Even when stray cats hung around their property. Even as a small boy ended up on their doorstep, a victim of her sons appetite for flesh.
These two intertwining stories are each as interesting as the other, which was surprising to me. Usually when I read a book that goes between two stories, regardless of how intertwined they are, I find one is more beguiling than the other. Ahlborn tells both stories so seamlessly that I couldn’t wait to see where they led. One tale from a boys perspective, and the other from a heart broken woman. Told with such conviction that I felt for each character equally.
The Devil Crept In is truly a horror masterpiece. Scary and filled with horrifying imagery that terrifies both the boy and the woman. And the reader. I highly recommend if horror stores are your jam. Even if they aren’t, Ahlborn brings enough character study to her writing that you’ll be so engrossed you won’t want to put it down.
I’ve already ordered her other books. I can’t wait to read them.