I just finished reading the 2nd Edition of Coach’s Midnight Diner, an anthology of “hardboiled horror, crime, and paranormal fiction with a Christian slant”.

I was mostly reading it because my boyfriend has a story in the anthology. But I’d heard of this anthology before. I remembered being impressed by their submission guidelines. Most Christian magazines and anthologies are way less forgiving of profanity, sex and violence in the stories they publish than, say, the authors of the Bible (to pick a completely random example). So I was heartened to read that it wasn’t really an issue for them; I think the guidelines said something along the lines of “God’s not a pussy, and neither are we.”

They’ve, um, changed it since to something less crude. (“This is not Guidposts or your Sunday School quarterly.”) But I still approve. The first anthology they put out was subtitled “The Jesus vs. Cthulhu Edition”, further evidence that the editors have a sense of humor.

The one I read was “The Back From the Dead Edition.” Some of my favorite stories: “Flowers for Shelly”, by Greg Mitchell, was possibly the most memorable story in the anthology, with the best description I’ve ever read of a first person narrator who turns into a mindless zombie during the zombie apocalypse. Jerry Gordon’s “9th Ward” was also memorably creepy, very short, but with a twist ending that I didn’t see coming. I’d be amiss not to mention Donald’s story (for which he used the byline D.S. Crankshaw), “The Office of Second Chances.” I don’t claim to be offering an objective opinion here, but it was one of my favorite stories in the anthology; it’s probably the most humorous story, with its send-ups of action/thriller cliches and Lovecraftian horrors from beyond time. I also liked Maggie Stiefvater’s “The Denial” (about a demon who falls in love with a human woman, and finds some kind of redemption), Daniel G. Keohane’s “Box” (about a victim of child trafficking) and “Small Accidents of God”, by Virginia Hernandez (a teenage girl is unnerved by the menacing shadows she can see hovering around other people, and hopes that “getting the Spirit” will make them go away).

One thing that the anthology got me thinking about is whether there can even be such a thing as Christian horror. I’m not talking about the window dressing of horror, the zombies and demons and serial killers and such. What I mean is that many critics seem to be arguing that one of the essential features of horror fiction is, at its core, a sense that everything is meaningless. That there’s no underlying purpose to our lives, or to life in general; or if there is, then the mind behind that purpose (if there is such a mind) does not wish us well. Most Christians would agree, I think, that this worldview is antithetical to the essential doctrines of Christianity.

I realize that Coach’s Midnight Diner doesn’t limit itself to horror fiction. But having read the anthology didn’t do much to convince me that there is such a thing as Christian horror. Most of the best stories were neither horror, nor particularly Christian (I don’t mean that they were anti-Christian, just that Christianity wasn’t relevant to the story). Some were one, but not the other. Even stories with horrific or frightening elements often ended on too much of a redemptive note to seem true to the grim and hopeless horror aesthetic.

I think one of the reasons I especially liked “Flowers for Shelly”, though, is that it did a better job than any of the other stories at walking the line between Christian faith (the first person narrator who turns into a zombie is a devout Christian, and of course there’s the question of how God could allow a zombie apocalypse to happen to good people), and grim hopelessness (perhaps there’s a purpose, but the zombified protagonist isn’t going to find out what it is). It’s also a bleakly funny story.

Of course, on the other hand, the Bible itself can be pretty horrific, and not just in window trappings (“I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit,” as the author of Ecclesiastes tells us). I’d argue that if you read the entire book, the horrific bits are just local minima (to use a scientific analogy); overall, there’s a purpose. Not necessarily for individual lives, though. People die without ever seeing the redemption that they’d hoped for.

So I guess I don’t have an answer to my own question. One thing I do know, though; every so often while I’m typing up a blog post, it auto-saves and tells me how many words I’ve written so far; and for an awfully long time while I was writing this post, the word count was 666.