This was a first for me; an anthology where each writer contributes two stories. What a great idea! I’ve read many anthologies where perhaps one story didn’t really do it for me, or another was properly wow-mazing, and that was all I had to judge an author on.
But here, they all have two chances to impress. And on the whole, they didn’t need to try twice, although I’m glad to have had double the entertainment from them all.
Christine Morgan kicks things off with Eye See You, in which paranoia is taken to a whole new level. Following an encounter with a giant eye as a kid at Disney, a girl is terrorized for life. Eyes are everywhere and threaten her very existence, or so she thinks. This one was a great start for the book and worked its magic on me, I now check everywhere that no one’s watching.
Morgan’s second, Sharp Obsidian, didn’t quite work for me. A dark fantasy tale of a tribe with ‘interesting’ names is attacked by a hoard of monster-beast things. I felt that in order for this to be truly terrifying I needed to know more about the characters. This could have been the ultimate showdown in a longer piece where the protagonists and monsters had already been introduced. Although saying that, the gore was expertly handled.
From Unclean Spells is the first offering from Robert Essig, and his two tales were my favourites here. In this story a guy holds an open audition to create the world’s loudest burp. Hiring a studio he welcomes many people with a carbonated drink and gets ready to press ‘record’. But he has an ulterior motive for this, and it’s very dark and mysterious; so much so he doesn’t know himself what he’s getting involved in. The burps, and lashings of proceeding vomit, call forth something truly ghastly. This was both gross and hilarious.
Fuel for the King is Essig’s next story and follows a guy who ends up making his own snuff movie. But not on purpose. Imagine if by looking at someone you caused them to die horrifically. Sounds brutal, right? Oh it is. But this is more of a curse than a gift. I really enjoyed these two and I need to seek out more of Robert Essig’s work.
Mark Matthews is up next and his first story, Wicked Smart Carnie plays on the strange carnival trope that we can all imagine. A kid attends the carnival and ends up getting to know one of the carnies extremely and intimately well. This story was unnerving but never a full-on scare-fest, although one particular scene is creepy as hell, with the imagery perfectly presented.
Following that is the dark, dark tale, Goodwin. I don’t want to say too much about this one, other than it is awesome. The twist comes pretty early on and threw me off guard, making the rest of the story really uncomfortable. Just read this one and get ready to wince.
Theresa Braun is up next, and Stillborn follows a nurse on the maternity unit in a hospital. The charismatic doctor in charge is up to something that’s very hush-hush. One grieving mother wants answers and enlists the nurse to help her find the truth. This story was certainly creepy and was firmly cemented in the sci-fi horror category. I didn’t think it would go there but I’m so glad it did.
There’s something very disconcerting about old houses in the middle of nowhere with few people around. And that’s the setting for Homecoming. A young couple visit an old castle for a romantic getaway when things turn bad, unnerving, and very other-worldly. This story had me from the get-go and didn’t release me until it was time. The intro tells you things don’t end well, but you have to endure the terrors in the old castle to find out exactly how.
Highway Hunger by Calvin Demmer is a spooky and bizarre tale about death on the open road. There is a beast that feasts on both animals and humans who die or are injured on this stretch of open highway. The locals know all about it, and never interfere, as that would be catastrophic. This story brought an almost Lovecraftian monster to the open road, and was a lot of fun.
Next up was Motel Madness, a story that reads like a claustrophobic nightmare. This is a tale that’s the less said about it the better, but it was really great and when the reveal was made, although I had guessed what was happening, it still surprised me with a further twist. Great stuff.
Ending things off is Glenn Rolfe. His first entry, The Guide – although good – didn’t quite get me full-on in the Horror-spot. The writing was solid and the atmosphere created was perfect, it just read more like the first chapter in a longer piece. I wanted more, which I suppose is both a good and bad thing.
However, The House on Mayflower Street was superb. It’s not a new trope; the strange house in the neighbourhood with a mysterious past that locals aren’t exactly sure of. Then a couple of kids decide to break in and find out the house’s secrets. You know the score, right? Woah, this one was scary. The secret is revealed to a terrified character, and certainly gave me the chills. This was a really great ending to a really great collection of stories.
As with most anthologies some stories didn’t quite work for me, but on the whole I really enjoyed this one, so am obviously recommending it to my fellow horror-lovers. Involve yourselves in the terrors!!!
Categories: book review