In the debut collection “Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked,” Christa Carmen presents us with a collection of short horror stories that are nothing short of unique. There is a wide array of topics or themes throughout the book, but they’re arranged in a way where they seem to fit together nicely. I just love short story collections – it’s like waiting with anticipation for my favorite show to wrap up a season, and then I binge watch the entire season over the course of two nights. Apparently, I like my viewing and reading experience to be broken up into little self-contained but similar chunks.
But, I digress.
Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked contains 13 stories meant to give you the creeps. If it’s not a scary story, it’s at least an unnerving story that leaves you thinking. Overall I think that Christa is a strong writer. She knows how to tell a story with just enough detail to help you paint the mental image, but not so much detail that the pace of the story is negatively affected. The stories are creative with twists and turns that are pretty unique, and with colorful main characters that one could relate to.
I think my two favorite stories are “Souls, Dark and Deep” and “Lady of the Flies.” When I was reading “Souls, Dark and Deep” I kept thinking that this should be turned into a movie. I’d totally watch this in the dark and try not to be creeped out by it. So, so creative. I had fun imagining the magic going on there. “Lady of the Flies” is a story where my heart broke for the main character over how she’s treated, then became delightfully horrified in what she does in revenge. This one would be a cool flick, too.
“A Fairy Plant in Grief” is a close third. It’s very short, but it’s heartbreaking and creepy at the same time. My kind of story.
There were just a few of the stories that really didn’t pull me in. They were well-written and all, but they just didn’t capture my interest. These were “This Our Angry Train” and “The One Who Answers the Door.”
Overall, I really enjoyed Christa’s writing style, horror plots and cast of characters. Very enjoyable read!
Ramsey Campbell has been one of our essential voices in horror fiction for over fifty years now, and his admirably prolific stream of novels and short stories shows no signs of drying up. By The Light Of My Skull, his latest short story collection from PS Publishing, helpfully collects together highlights of his short fiction from the past six years. Whilst Campbell has released iconic short story collections in the past like Alone With The Horrors, this new collection easily reaches the heights of quality and consistency of his previous ones, whilst showing off again just how in control of his craft Campbell is. Wide-ranging in approach, yet uniformly chilling and beautifully written, the stories in By The Light Of My Skull are essential for long-time fans of Campbell’s work and newcomers alike.
As much as being a horror writer, Campbell is one of Britain’s leading chroniclers of urban decay. From the earliest of his Brichester Mythos stories, his is a world of crumbling castles, abandoned tenement buildings, empty roundabouts and decaying hotels. In his rich, evocative prose, Campbell uncovers the uncanny in abandoned high streets, isolated urban overfill towns and musty bingo halls. As always with Campbell, setting is key, almost a character in and of itself. In each story he presents us with the landscape of post-industrial Britain, be it the moors dissected by roundabouts or forgotten seaside forests encroaching on stately homes, as an ancient force reasserting its will over an oblivious and vulnerable people. His great talent is his ability to find terror hiding in the mundane, shining a light on the anxieties that haunt the corners of British working class life. At this time of austerity in the shadow of the Tories and Brexit, his vision could not be more relevant or timely.
Appropriately enough, given the early influence of Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm on Campbell’s writing, the collection opens with Find My Name, a modern retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin story. The tale is brought up to date by Campbell’s gritty kitchen sink realism, the collapse of the child’s family due to an abusive father and a suicidal mother, and is never less than terrifying for all that we know the direction the story must go. The Moons, with its malevolent spirit luring children away to their doom, also taps into folklore and Peter Pan, whilst its British north western sea-side setting gives it a vivid and discomforting flavour all of its own. Many of the tales operate on their own macabre fairy tale logic, with children or other vulnerable people under threat, and the protagonist forced to find out the set of arbitrary rules they are playing against or suffer the consequences. At Lorn Hall finds this primal terror in the most unlikely of sources, the automated headphone guides at museums.
Campbell has always been adept at exploring the descent into madness that lies at the core of much horror, couching the reader in the close up first person perspective of the crumbling minds of his characters. In his recent work, this has gained added poignancy and power through his exploration of old age and the fear of the onset of dementia. Stories like On The Tour and Know Your Code achieve their terror from characters realising too late the cruel reality of their situation, with supernatural elements reduced to the minimum, whereas The Fun Of The Fair and Fetched undermine their protagonist’s sense of reality by revealing a past to beloved, safe locations that is hostile and at odds with their cosy reminiscences. At the heart of these stories is a profound understanding of the loneliness of old age, whether from losing those close to you to death and dementia or through the passing of the world you thought you knew and understood. This makes them some of the most powerfully affecting stories in the collection.
At the other age of the spectrum are Campbell’s stories of youth and coming of age, which revel in that shocking moment of discovering that adult figures who are meant to care for you and protect you are prey to their own fears and anxieties alien to those of childhood. In these stories this becomes a source of insurmountable tension. Her Face, The Impression and The Watched see their young protagonists forced into the role of protector as they begin to understand the terrible forces stalking the adults in their lives. In Reading The Signs, we see an inversion of this as the adult protagonist tragically misunderstands the sinister relationship between a boy and a man, whilst The Callers sees old bingo women preying on young men.
The collection also displays Campbell’s wry sense of humour, as well as his deep abiding love and knowledge of his genre. The Page is a wistful tribute to Ray Bradbury, one of Campbell’s key influences. Rather than copy Bradbury’s singular style, Campbell crafts a narrative around Bradbury’s key themes and obsessions – the transience yet importance of books and storytelling – with his own voice. The Words Between sees the nightmare madness of The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari spiral out of the reels of the film and into the head of its protagonist. It is both a wry tribute to the film and an astute dissection of its concerns and power. The Wrong Game, one of the highlights of the collection, is a metafictional tale about Campbell’s own career that manages to be both funny and disturbing.
By The Light Of My Skull confirms that Campbell still reigns supreme as the master of the modern horror short story. His skill at evoking a sense of place, of delineating his characters' psychological collapses, and of finding terror in the mundane, remain as sharp and effective as ever. It's a handsome book too, with each story lovingly illustrated by longtime Campbell collaborator J. K. Potter. As with his illustrations for the stories in Alone With The Horrors, Potter's surreal photorealistic nightmarish images perfectly capture and reflect the dark heart of Campbell's writing. The collection also ends with an Afterword in which Campbell explains the Genesis and gestation of the stories in the collection, providing a fascinating insight into the writer's process.
by tony jones
A celebrated ghost debunker gets a serious case of the chills when he visits the Alexander House in complex and convincing supernatural drama
There is a never-ending conveyor-belt of haunted house novels on the market and at first glance it could be easy to discard Jonathan Janz’s “The Siren and the Specter” as ‘another one of those’. Don’t be put off though, the novel may well start in familiar haunted house territory, but soon it bobs, sneaks, and twists in a variety of directions to raise it out of the pack. I’m very hard to please when it comes to this stuff, but immediately realised there were several strands to this compelling supernatural mystery. It’s an entertainingly atmospheric novel, which goes at its own pace, drip feeding some excellent plot twists whilst all the drifting away from being ‘just another haunted house novel’.
The novel is seen from the point of view from a celebrated sceptic of the spooky kind, David Crane, an academic who has written numerous books debunking the phenomenon of haunted houses. In the opening stages we find out David has agreed to spend a month in the Alexander House, which has recently been bought by one of his oldest friends and his wife. The house has the reputation of being “the most haunted house in Virginia” which the couple hope to turn into local tourist attraction. If a supernatural debunker like David was to write something scary about what he experienced during his month residency it would greatly help their cause. They of course, are banking on something special occurring. The problem is David doesn’t believe in ghosts, but his old friend is certain the supernatural rumours are based on fact not superstition.
The first very strong and page-turning element of “The Siren and the Spectre” was for a good 75% it leads you on a merry dance of whether something otherworldly is going on at all. It could be that someone is trying to con David? However, after settling in he is sure he feels a dark and oppressive mood in the house, and consciously avoids going upstairs, but he puts this down to his overactive imagination. This is all very well balanced and convincingly builds bridges for later in the story. The scenes with David and the house on their own are convincingly drawn and there are some unsettling moments. But is the house haunted? This review is going to avoid spoilers so you’re going to have to read the book for yourself to find out. However, this is not ambiguous ‘make your own mind up horror’ which seems to be popular these days, once Jonathan Janz lets the story spin into over-drive around 75% of the way in he really lets it all hang out.
David Crane was a particularly well drawn lead character who in some ways became more unlikable as the book progressed. We find out, over the years, he has been a real shark with women and has led a particularly self-centred life. There is also long-standing antagonism with his old friend Chris over an ex-girlfriend who committed suicide after she was dumped by David over two decades earlier. What’s this got to do with a haunted house novel? As I said, the book has several layers which make the story somewhat deeper than a haunted house yarn and this is where the twists lie.
Strangely enough, some of the most unsettling scenes have got nothing to do with ghosts, and I’m not sure whether this was deliberate or not. The Alexander House sits on a secluded bank of the Rappahannock river and there are only a few neighbours including a truly dysfunctional couple who openly watch hardcore pornography in front of their two young children, along with lots of other unpleasant antics. This is another story-thread which is cleverly filtered into the main plot which involves the local police. David is the stranger in this rural area and so suspicion turns upon him in further plot developments.
Whether the supernatural is at work or not, David’s past certainly comes back to haunt him in the shape of a couple of plot shifts in the second half of the novel. Along the way there are some good support characters, none of which are window-dressing, bringing extra flavour to the plot. Alexander House was a fine setting and the novel also throws in a full back-story dating back to a 1700s land baron and his sadistic, murdering, son.
You could argue that “The Siren and the Spectre” is much more restrained than many of Janz’s other novels, but the strait-jacket certainly comes off in the final sections. As I said to begin with there are lots of haunted house novels on the market and this offering is well worth having a look at. This is a ghost story, but its real strength are the convincing plots the author builds on top of the more familiar elements. Recommended.
With Halloween just over a month away, this is the time of the year that the horror genre has the best chance of gaining new readers, this is when the casual reader is most likely to pick up a book to get into the spirit of Halloween. And what better way to get into the spirit of things than a Halloween themed anthology featuring some of the brightest names in the genre? Doorbells at Dusk is one such anthology. Edited by Evans Light and featuring some well-established names such as Josh Mallerman alongside some names that might not be familiar to all fans of the genre, such as Chad Lutzke, Jason parent and Evans Light, this is overall a perfect book to bring in new readers to the genre while appealing to those of us who are well versed in the Halloween tale.
As with most anthologies, not every story will appeal to every reader, and your opinions as to what the best stories are may differ from the ones posted here, however, on the whole, this is a very satisfying read, where every story is well written, and filled with great ideas, and where the stories that disappointed somewhat where only let down by a weak ending. Which is a pity, as even the couple stories that disappointed, were well written and up until the finale had this reviewed fully invested and hooked on the story.
PLAGUE OF MONSTERS by Charles Gramlich
It's Halloween night, and Gus wonders why no one else sees the monsters coming to his door, having already dealt with a couple of the monsters the heat is turned up when a pair of cops turn up on his doorstep looking for a missing kid. This is one hell of an opening story, Gremlach has a lot of fun keeping the reader guessing as to what is going on, is Gus crazy or are the monsters real? Within a couple of paragraphs you'll think to yourself, well this is a bit obvious as to what is going on, and you'll probably feel a bit let down with the story, I know I was. Stick with it though, because Gramlich will hook you back in with a great sense of ambiguity, keeping the final reveal as to what is going down until the very end of the story. Plague of Monsters is a fun read, not particularly gruesome or scary, but I get that this is part of the remit of this anthology, but it is a strong opening story, that perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the anthology.
THE RYE MOTHER BY CURTIS M. LAWSON
An atmospheric story with a nice touch of creepiness and otherworldliness, however, this tale of a boy trying to discover what is at the centre of a corn maze and the truth of who he is is a perfect example of a story that sacrifices substance for style and atmosphere. It's a story that feels as though it went nowhere, like a trip to Dundee wonderful scenery on the way, but nothing of interest when you get there. Yes, the reveal has chilling ramifications, but the payoff feels somewhat lacking when you consider that the story up to that point was a compelling one.
day of the dead by amber fallon
Amber Fallon's Day of the Dead, is very much like The Rye Mother, strong writing, and a good sense of what the hell is happening here? Is spoiled by an ending that feels as though the author couldn't decide on what to do with the story, so they tacked on a shocking "Twilight Zone" twist one sentence finale. While the idea may be good the way in which it was incorporated into the story was far too sudden remain genuinely effective.
RUSTY HUSK by Evans Light
Rusty Husk by Evans Light takes the well-used theme of scarecrows, which are nature's second scariest thing after clown and uses them with fantastic effect. Rusty Husk always has the best scarecrow decoration in town. It's become a yearly tradition for both him and the town, despite saying that the year before was his last, Rusty makes one final scarecrow, that may very well prove to be his downfall.
Evans Light's story brings this collection roaring back after the lull of the previous two entries, tensely plotted, with some terrifying visuals, this tale of revenge, comeuppance and colostomy bags is a powerhouse of a story, with an ending that ticks all the folk horror boxes. If after reading this story you don't end up finding scarecrows deeply disturbing then there is something profoundly wrong and unsettling about you. Rusty Husk, captures the essence of a great Halloween story perfectly, it wouldn't be out of place in a Ray Bradbury collection.
ADAM'S BED by Josh Malerman
Ronnie has money, he also some pretty low morales, and wouldn't even blink for the chance to get high on his boat while copping off with the mums of his son's friends. However, he also loves his son, and when his son's birthday party, that happens to be on Halloween takes a chilling turn, Ronnie's life is never going to be the same again. Adam's Bed is the second longest story in the collection and Mallerman uses every page to create a slow burner of a story, that takes a left turn into one of the effectively quiet but chilling passages I have read in recent years. This bedroom scene will give you the worst case of goosebumps. I thought I had over my fear of the ghost nun who lived under my bed, thanks to this story I think I'm going to start sleeping on a futon.
KEEPING UP APPEARANCES BY JASON PARENT
Halloween is probably the best time of the year to go on a crime spree. Not only do you get to rob houses you also get to wear a cool disguise without standing out but be careful whose house you decide to break into. Keeping up Appearances is a wonderfully tense slice of home invasion terror turned on its head. Creepy as hell this and featuring a family more outlandish than the Adams family and far more dangerous than the Manson family Keeping Up Appearances is another highlight of this anthology.
VIGIL BY CHAD LUTZKE
Chad Lutzke's slice of urban terror forgoes the supernatural elements present in every other story in this anthology to deliver a poignant and utterly chilling account of "real life horror" Told in, for want of a better phrase, a matter of fact style, Lutzke tale is devoid of the normal shocks and scares and yet it ends up being a terrifying tale, that will leave you a little dead inside. Lutzke cements his reputation as one of this generations finest genre writers. Intelligent prose combined with an understanding on how to scare without the literary equivalent of the jump scare this is a masterful tale.
Mr Impossible by Gregor Xane
Gregor Xane's tale has echoes of Halloween III, (the best of the Halloween films), replacing witchcraft with a new designer drug distributed in the kids Halloween sweets, Mr. impossible is a gloriously over the top gorefest, crazy as hell, it feeds on every parent's nightmare of someone handing out doctored sweets to bring you a fun-filled story that sees the author gleefully relish.
BETWEEN BY IAN WELKE
Switches gear from the previous story, an articulately touching tale of a woman who is metaphorically lost at sea, who then seeks guidance from her dead parents. Beautifully constructed this story can't help but touch you right in the feels.
The Friendly Man by Thomas Vaughn
In some ways, this can be seen as a companion piece to Rusty Husk, as the main character also likes to provide the most realistic scares at Halloween. It takes a more visceral approach to deliver the scares with a killer ending that is one of the highlights of the anthology.
Many Carvings by Sean Eads & Joshua Viola
They say you reap what you sow, and based on this darkest of dark tales you better be careful when trying to raise an army of children to do your bidding. Disturbing as hell and featuring the creepiest set of evil kids since The Midwich Cuckoos many Carvings will have you looking at the kids who come trick or treating at your door in a whole new light.
Trick 'Em All by Adam Light
Trick 'Em All Is another tale of evil children, when Travis is told that he is too old to go trick or treating he turns to his carved pumpkin head for solace, the only problem with that is the pumpkin head isn't very nice and soon has him doing some rather nasty stuff. This over the top gorefest could easily have stepped over the line fro horror to a farce, but Light knows precisely how to keep this triumphant story on the right side of the track.
“Offerings,” by Joanna Koch
They say Hell is other people; well hell is definitely other peoples children. Offerings is a weird tale, that doesn't entirely work; it's a classic example of a story that needed a little more exposition. Despite some nicely twisted imagery and strong final act, it lacks a cohesiveness to combine the two acts of the story fully into a satisfying tale
Masks by Lisa Lepovetsky
The final tale sadly fails to close the book on a high note. Masks suffers from an ending that feels almost like the author wanted to annoy the readers. All that build up with the approach of the mysterious guest to the costume party is not just squandered but thrown out of the window with an ending that annoyed me even more than the conclusion of N0S4R2.
Despite a couple of slight misfires and one story that failed to click, Doorbells at Dusk is still an excellent anthology, when the stories work they work spectacularly. When you have an anthology where authors such as Mallerman, Evan's Light, Chad Lutzke, Jason Parent and Adam Light are firing on all cylinders, then you have a winner in your hands. And who knows perhaps you will find that the few tales that didn't work for this reviewer will work for you. Doorbells at Dusk captures the essence of Halloween, it is fun, scary, and will leave with a rush that only an overdose of candy corn can match.
BY JOHN BODEN
Nick Cato has been a staple in the splatterpunky wilds of horror for a while. I've read his bizarro work (The Apocalypse of Peter) and his wonderfully weird micro-stories (Antibacterial Pope). I was excited when given the chance to check out an advance of this new novelette from Dynatox Ministries.
Young Beth is hanging out at a bar, quietly reading when she is harassed by a group of rednecks. Sound familiar? Ok, she leaves and head honcho redneck decides they're going to teach this uppity wench a lesson so they trek to her house to scare and things get way out of hand. I don't need to spill much more as the book is touted as a "rape/revenge" thriller. So after that sordid business ends, the next chapter begins and we are indeed on a blood-slick path of vengeance for the second half of this slim book.
Cato has been raised on a steady diet of horror and exploitation films and it shows in his pacing and voice. What he ahs essentially given us here is the unholy child of I Spit On Your Grave and The Craft. Being as it clocks in at around 60 pages it's a breeze of a read, albeit one that will leave you feeling a bit grimy. I mean that as a compliment,
Death Witch will be available from Dynatox Ministries
“Some things should remain buried”
Some things should most definitely remain buried. A murderous witch undoubtedly should. If there was ever a tale about a man being led by his, ahem, ‘other’ brain, this is it. Mike, a carpenter is tasked with making an already haunted house safe, to be opened as a haunted house attraction. Seems like a great idea doesn’t it? The end result, the cattle are taking themselves to the slaughter.
I got many American Horror Story feels from this book; I could picture it in my mind, the different cast members of AHS and which parts they would be perfect for. It really felt like a story that Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk had come up with during the creative process for their next series. It’s a shame really that they have already done the haunted house theme (series 1). I can live in hope though right?
Mike, divorced, living hand to mouth and pay check to pay check, is struggling to pay the rent. He reluctantly agrees to a job offer from his friend Perry, to work on reconstructing Bachelor’s Grove, an infamous haunted house complete with a creepy cemetery. It is to be opened in the run up to Halloween and a scary money making attraction. He meets a girl, Katie, falls for girl and does everything she asks no matter how twisted or bizarre it may seem. Love really is blind.
That was my one fault with this book; Mike was a little too accepting of the situation. Even at the end, all the murders, the bloodshed, and he just seemed to be very blasé about it. He would complain, and say he didn’t agree et cetera et cetera, but Katie would smile sweetly and bat her witchy eyelashes and he would be back to being her good boy. That one thing was my only annoyance. I think we needed a man with a bit more fight in him, not an absolute pushover. Katie really didn’t have to work for it. Also, I have to admit, it was not a huge surprise to find out Katie was a ghost, or even the witch for that matter. It was sadly pretty obvious from early on in the book, although that didn’t curtail my enjoyment.
I felt the haunted house within a haunted house concept worked really well, I loved all the different room ideas and the overall layout and decoration of the house really did sound great. I felt there was maybe a lack of any ‘actual’ haunting within the house when it was open to the public, unlike the subtle incidents, of entrails, noises and footsteps whilst Mike was working on it. That subtle approach was perfect for building atmosphere in the earlier stages of this novel. I would have appreciated a few unintended jump scares from resident ghostly inhabitants during the open house, which would have been a treat alongside the actors dishing out the scares. I think introducing some other spectral figures would have given the house more of a back story, showing us that many people died there over the years. While we were limited with ghostly visitors, despite being told numerous times of the vast paranormal presence within the house, we were not left totally disappointed. It wasn’t until the very last night of business that the ghouls came out to play. Those last few chapters were great, a very big finish, a huge kill count, it was an absolute blood bath that wouldn’t have been lost on an eighties slasher flick.
4/5 – We all love a good haunted house story don’t we?
Lesley-Ann (Housewife of Horror)
The undisputed Queen of YA horror, Amy Lukavics, invites you to join her in
At seventeen, June Hardie is everything a young woman in 1951 shouldn't be--independent, rebellious, a dreamer. June longs to travel, to attend college and to write the dark science fiction stories that consume her waking hours. But her parents only care about making June a better young woman. Her mother grooms her to be a perfect little homemaker while her father pushes her to marry his business partner's domineering son. When June resists, her whole world is shattered--suburbia isn't the only prison for different women...June's parents commit her to Burrow Place Asylum, aka the Institution. With its sickening conditions, terrifying staff and brutal "medical treatments," the Institution preys on June's darkest secrets and deepest fears. And she's not alone. The Institution terrorizes June's fragile roommate, Eleanor, and the other women locked away within its crumbling walls. Those who dare speak up disappear...or worse. Trapped between a gruesome reality and increasingly sinister hallucinations, June isn't sure where her nightmares end and real life begins. But she does know one thing: in order to survive, she must destroy the Institution before it finally claims them all.
21 new tales of fear from modern masters of the genrE
If you know nothing of volume one there is nothing stopping you jumping straight in with this new book, the only connection is the editor and publisher, Titan Books. Morris reiterates in his introduction his hope of recreating the great horror anthologies he remembered so fondly from his childhood with modern equivalents. In recent years themed anthologies have been very trendy, on everything from vampires to zombies or Halloween, so “New Fears 2” returns to the roots of horror with a wide-ranging collection of tales which are only interlinked by the fact that they ignore many staples of the horror diet; vampires, werewolves, zombies and only a couple of ghosts.
The million-dollar question is how does “New Fears 2” compare to its predecessor? Although there are some excellent stories ultimately it falls well short, and in the cold light of day many of the better-known authors provide the inferior entries. I felt around eight of the 21 stories were fairly pedestrian, of course this may well come down to taste, so instead I’m going to focus on the seven I thought were excellent and the other batch which I also enjoyed.
First up, the biggest shout-out goes to the legend that is Tim Lucas for “The Migrants” a quirky story about a man asked by a neighbour he does not know to accompany a third very strange guy out on an evening stroll. I’ve never read fiction by Lucas before, but this cool guy holds a very cool place in my heart for being one of the founders/editors of the cult film magazine “Video Watchdog”. Before the internet, (yes, before!) there was Video Watchdog which I subscribed to in the early 1990s and might even have had a letter or two published. This was a film magazine Bible for me. The gorier end of the horror market always had plenty of publications, but Video Watchdog brought a higher level of sophistication, detail, and analysis to cult movies which was second to none. I loved it. Cheers Tim!
I was delighted to see long-term contributor to Ginger Nuts of Horror Kit Power shine brightly in this anthology and even more stoked by the fact that his unsettling little story “Fish Hooks” smashes it out of the park. Sarah is on her way to work, buying a coffee, before getting the train when she suddenly sees blood on the face of the guy making the coffee. After a closer look she sees fish hooks jutting out of the side of his cheeks, this escalates quickly and she sees these fish hooks everywhere and on everyone. Nobody else seems to notice, including those with the hooks. Thinking she is going crazy Sarah runs home and this queer story escalates nicely. Sometimes short stories built upon a single weird happening are let down by their ending, but Kit keeps us on the hook right until the fishy ending.
Robert Shearman’s “Thumbsucker” matches Kit Power for strangeness and if Roald Dahl had written this story forty years ago it would very likely have featured in his TV show “Tales of the Unexpected”. A man (no names are used) is out with his elderly father for dinner when out of the blue his father starts sucking his thumb. The son thinks this is strange, but says nothing, then their waiter approaches them and asks the father if he would please refrain from doing so. After this strange dinner the two don’t see each other for a while until his father invites him to the most unique of social clubs. This was a highly original story which will have you thinking about when you last sucked your thumb (or the thumb of anyone else).
I’ve read Alison Moore before, who was shortlisted for the Booker Prize with “The Lighthouse” and although I never pegged her as a horror writer, the superb “The Sketch” soon changed my tune and after a closer look at her back-catalogue bought and added her most recent novel “Missing” to my large TBR list. Ailsa, Peter and their small baby have recently downsized to a pokey flat and whilst going through her old junk she discovers her old sketchbook from when she dreamed of going to art school. Whilst nostalgically going through the portfolio she stumbles across an unsettling sketch she swears she never drew or ever seen before, but suddenly which brings back unhappy memories. She then begins to obsess about it. This great story expertly treads the line of suggestion, paranoia, post-natal depression, fear and a marriage in crisis. When the dirty smudges appear around the flat, obsession begins, and you really don’t know which direction this beauty of a story is heading into. Very cool.
Another truly original, unsettling and subdued little beauty was VH Leslie’s “Almost Aureate” which opens with a couple of holidaymakers Sherry, Eamon and toddler twins arrive for their package break in Spain. Almost instantly Eamon spots a man standing on the higher reaches of the complex who is only ever referred to as “the bronze man” and as the holiday develops begins to be weirdly obsessed by this guy leaning against the balcony wearing only his swimming trunks and seems to be watching him. Seen entirely from Eamon’s point of view, this obsession begins to deepen and his family are sucked into a life-changing circumstance. Odd, but strangely compelling.
“The Typewriter” by Rio Youers was an entertaining old-fashioned horror story featuring a guy why gets obsessed about an old typewriter he buys and restores, as it “smells like dead puppies” his wife does not allow him to bring it into the house. But the pull of the contraption is strong and the story escalates into a top-notch fright-fest. Brian Everson has written probably the only conventional ghost story with “Leaking Out” about a luckless homeless man who breaks into the wrong house for the night and has a really unpleasant time of it. “Pack Your Coat” by Aliya Whiteley was another clever tale of an orange coat which becomes the obsession of a young woman which plagues her down the years.
Five other stories have honourable mentions, firstly Stephen Volk’s “The Airport Gorilla” a delightfully wicked tale in which a stuffed toy brings a traveller exceptionally bad luck and Tim Lebbon’s “Emergence” a queer tale of time-travel after a countryside walk takes a funny turn which would have been at home in an episode of the cult TV show “The Twilight Zone”. “Bulb” by Gemma Files focuses on a woman who drops out of society and the usage of technology which is cleverly told via a podcast transcript. Laura Mauro also contributes to the Ginger Nuts of Horror and I enjoyed her intense tale of female obsession in “Letters From Elodie” and finally there can be very few darker places than inside the head of Steve Rasnic Tem with his tale of personal disintegration “Thanatrauma”. All five are top notch stories.
Although “New Fears 2” does not reach the heights of predecessor there are plenty of great stories on offer and I’m sure the few I did not mention by name will get top will get top recommendations from other reviewers. The term ‘New Fears’ can encompass horror and all types of dark fiction however, I did find that ‘fear’ itself was in short-supply. Sure, the element of fear is both cerebral and abstract in some of the entries, but I do like an old-fashioned scare, and in that aspect “New Fears 2” failed to deliver the killer punch.