This collection of five stories reads more like an anthology. Each tale is so varied that you’d be forgiven for thinking they were written by five different authors. And that, is a great thing.
There are many horror elements on display from dark fantasy to ghost story to Sci-Fi to supernatural terror; all tainted with an uneasy vibe that lingers throughout like a tentacled leviathan in your peripheral vision.
Of the five stories, one was great, one was really great, one was superbly fantastic, and two were – without wanting to sound too crass – extremely prick-teasey.
Let me elaborate.
The opening Alone With the Bones follows a dude who starts the story in jail. He’s a thief and is surely deserving of his place behind the bars. Suddenly some supernatural earthquake-type event unfolds outside his cell, destroying the building and allowing the fresh air of freedom to massage his cheeks.
Massive bone-like structures pierce the earth, decimating buildings and killing almost everyone in the village. Our crim eventually finds out who or what these bones belong to, and his thieving tendencies rise to the fore once again. Perhaps he should have kept his grubby little fingers to himself, or maybe not?
I’m not sure when this story is supposed to be set but I got a real middle ages vibe from it. This was the story I found ‘great’.
In Loving Memory follows, where our protagonist tells the story of his best friend being killed when they were kids. It was obviously a very tragic time and one that he’s never forgotten. Now an adult with a decent job and a happy marriage, things go downhill when his dead friend visits him at work.
This ‘really great’ story gave a new angle to the ghost story. Having your dead best friend visiting you when you’re an adult and he’s still a kid, but a kid with answers and knowledge of some sort of higher power, was really creepy. Things turn weird and horrifying when alive-adult friend follows the instructions of dead-kid friend and visits the place where he was killed.
This story really put a downer on things, awesomely!
Now the first of the teasing tales. Alpha Beta Gamma Kill is set in a dystopian future where people are bred in labs while a militant force hunts them down for kicks. At least I think so. This story was too short, but I mean that in a ‘please give me more’ whiney voice, instead of a critical observation. Had this been the first chapter of a Sci-Fi novel I’d have been hooked.
But I needn’t have worried about all that, because The Rebirth was truly excellent. This had all the elements of otherworldly forces and the great unknown, but presented them in such a way that this could all actually happen. Frighteningly realistic, although fantastical, if that makes sense?
A young teacher is preparing to judge her class’s Easter Egg competition the following morning, when she hears a knock at her door. There’s no one there, but there is this mysterious wooden egg left outside. Awww, how thoughtful of someone to leave it for her. Or not.
She takes the egg into school where it decides to ‘hatch’. But it doesn’t hatch a timber chick or a wooden egg white, oh no. Slick vines covered in slime, muck, and gore sprout forth and attempt to capture the kids. The egg spawns a disgusting forest of sorts, and takes the teacher and one of the kids captive.
This was so well described that I’m not doing it justice here. You really need to read this yourself to appreciate the horror and full-on weirdness of the piece. Things eventually get tied up (after a fashion) but you’re still left wondering ‘whaaaaat?’, such is the bizarreness of the story.
Things close with Vanished. This is the shortest story, a brief flash fiction piece that, again, I wanted more of. I felt this one was too short and the ambiguous ending did leave me a little unsatisfied, but hey, that’s what collections do.
This was a great book that I flew through in only a couple of sittings. I read The Shadow Fabric a few years ago and would recommend that and this in a heartbeat. This is a great introduction to Mark Cassell that will leave you craving for more, like a horror junkie who’s on their last vial of scare-juice.
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