Horror Library Reviews

Horror Library Vol 1

Horror Library Vol 1

Horror Library Vol 1

+Nick Grabowski+

Horror Library Vol. I chief editor R.J. Cavender (2006 Cutting Block Press)

Several months after 9/11, a single star dropped from the sky and must’ve hit R.J. Cavender clear smack on the noggin, invoking the desires which festered in his mind to probe the internet for others of the literary like-minded and consequently put together a network from which he grew in stature. The resulting afterbirth of this inevitably led to the formation of a group of talented horror fiction writers crowned “The Terrible Twelve” by R.J., an innovative web presence, and the entity/anthology that was to become The Horror Library. Not long afterwards, its first published volume chanced to fall under my scrutiny.

With the contributions of 30 authors, some of whose works outside of this collection I’ve truly admired, and superb editors, I’d say this volume is essential for any personal horror library. It presents examples of some of the best damn talent out in the field today, based on these tales alone in my opinion, some talent that currently has yet to be discovered by the industry as a whole but well deserves to be, as well as some currently making their marks in horror literature as I write this.

This anthology, I might add, comes in handy on that camping trip where you have to read at least one good scary story around the fire. Just close your eyes, open the book and point. And there you have one.

 

+SF Reader+

Horror Library Vol 1, Edited by R.J. Cavender
Reviewed by James Michael White

Reading new anthologies from new publishers full of new writers (well, new to me, anyway), is something like going trick or treating. Sometimes you find something surprising between the covers of this trick-or-treat bag, and sometimes you find some real stinkers.

Horror Library, Volume 1, is a mixture of surprising treats, disappointing tricks, and simple mediocrity — and it’s the latter kind of stories that are most in evidence here. Many are not outright bad, they’re just not very distinctive, and therefore not all that remarkable in a market that, like everything else, thrives not upon the pale, the colorless, the uninvolving, but rather upon the stark, the livid, the engaging.

Horror, after all, is about evoking dread, discomfort, things beyond the pale. It’s even about shocking revelation, whether of self or of society, in which the exploration of evil, and our reaction to it, speaks to common humanity in both its darkest and brightest forms. Horror doesn’t just tell us what we’re afraid of, no matter the forms of its sublimation, but at its most effective tells us who we are as human beings as we participate in the vicarious resistance to the terrible, and as we sit back, comfortably safe as readers, and evaluate its predations upon the innocent, calculate at some level how we might improve our own odds in a world gone madly wrong.

Which brings us once more to this collection and these stories. Some work well, and some work very well, to do these things, and it’s as they serve this function — the exploration of the terrible — that the collection achieves its most effective moments. Yet many more of the stories function at far simpler levels, merely telling average sorts of stories in average sorts of ways, neither saying to the reader much nor demanding much. In this manner the majority of the stories are structural examples of how one might compose a particular kind of genre story, yet lack the compelling nature of their betters because they reach no farther than the common, touch nothing deeper than the commonplace, achieve not at all the spellbinding that, in the end, remains the most difficult trick of all in any genre. Those curious enough to look in new places for new voices will find rewarding fiction here, but a lot of what they find will also be the work of writers still learning the craft.

So now to the stories themselves:

Palo Mayombe in Matamoros
by Boyd E. Harris
Rating: 4

Based upon a true story, several true ones, in fact, Boyd Harris reaches high and comes up short in a story interweaving accounts of real crime, African magic (the “palo Mayombe” of the title), murder, and all the possibility that playing off of real horrors in the real world might afford. Except instead of using such accounts to achieve a Harlan Ellison-like epiphany of social-commentary proportions — wherein the story might function as “a fantasy that explains reality in a way reality cannot explain itself” (Ellison speaking of his similar “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs” — we have merely an account of horrific crimes ending with the most trite of observations: bad things happen … they could even happen to you. Well, yeah. No revelation, there.

The triteness of the ending defeats the force of the story’s opening account of torture and death, reducing the realm of story potential to little more than a nightly news cast. In the face of terrible crimes and the consequent search for meaning — at least one we can’t fathom for ourselves — we are left wanting a better explanation than the one we’re given. It isn’t here. The power of fiction goes unused.

Oren’s Axe
by Jed Verity
Rating: 4

An example of pitched hysteria and stuttering storytelling — the latter often a device intended to heighten anxiety, yet here coming off more like, well, a stutter — we have this fellow named Oren confronted in Poe-like fashion with something tapping, as if someone were gently rapping, rapping at his chamber door. What is so long put off, opening that door, tells us that the main character is a nutball or the story an overamped attempt at wry humor. After all, Oren finds himself seriously freaked out by an utterly common event, a knock at his door, and so we have to wonder why — why on earth is he so knocked off-kilter by something so mundane? Once the door is finally opened, however, we’re confronted with a sufficiently startling something-or-other to both get our attention and make us wonder just who this Oren fellow is, and why Verity doesn’t get more mileage out of the seeming confluence of clue, “…found himself scratching his own scars…” and potential revelations like, “Its mouth was sewn shut…”, and, “…somehow familiar eyes.”

Trouble is, these dots don’t connect, and the prose is bad in ways that may humor some but will probably put off too many others.

Flamenco Amputee
by Paul J. Gitschner
Rating: 5

Chaps in prison gotta get out and they get one shot before the axe falls, buddy, but it’s by talent show with only one winner. To say more of this extremely short story would simply give away a surprise that really isn’t surprising (has something to do with the title, after all), but potentially worse is that the prisoner protagonist seems to have a theory about this contest that his own actions don’t support: he explains that “no one had the valuable knowledge of what had been the clincher in the previous years,” then goes on to say that he paid for such knowledge. Wait a minute. He has reasoned that what makes a contest winner cannot be known, then tells us that he paid someone for a secret that cannot be known? Eh? This could be made to work with more words, but there are too few here to sufficiently explain and support the deliberate taking of a bad decision. Admirers of short-short stories may dig this groove, but for others it’ll be just a touch too shallow.

Little Black Box
by Eric Stark
Rating: 6.5

Strangely reminiscent of the persecution-without-explanation Kafka world, and early Philip K. Dick prose and machination, this story marches smartly right along to tell the tale of a mathematician and his wife caught up in a strange series of appearances at their home one day of little black boxes. Curiosity turns to consternation turns to outright fear in as cold and meticulous a manner as the appearance of those wee black boxes. Those seeking explanations won’t get them, and those seeking to extract sense or meaning from an otherwise well-enough done tale will have to stretch far to try and find it. Some stories, after all, are much, much more about the simple nature of their events than they are about things deep and profound. This is one such story.

Lemonhead
by Vincent VanAllen
Rating: 0

Jokes, if they work, are great things. Entertaining things. But joke fiction, when it doesn’t work, leaves readers feeling tricked, often badly tricked, and this story is a case in point. Here’s why: if a story’s setup arrives imbued with X number of dramatic possibilities built in as a result of its opening moves, it’s the writer’s job to pick the best among those possibilities and wring them out for all they’re worth. What we have at the beginning of this story is a cancer-stricken protagonist returning to the U.S. from Mexico to meet his brother after a last fling with, and final farewell to, life. Yet it turns out his brother can provide for him a curious new wonder drug, an outlawed one at that, which kills every pain and “inhibits instinct.”

This sounds like a collection of good ideas, and they give the story powerful directions to take, even significant ones, but instead VanAllen dodges such possibility and goes for a joke ending involving a lemon of a car, sourly defeating dramatic possibility and horror itself. Result: the ending comes off looking like either the easy-way-out authorial solution to knotty and emotional story issues, or the punch line to an inadequately set up joke that doesn’t invite us along for the ride as much as it simply turns us into gawkers at a crash.

Garces Circle
by C.J. Hurtt
Rating: 0

Short-short fiction, flash fiction, just doesn’t do it for me, and this extremely short story hasn’t changed my mind. Goes something like this: Claire and Paul are out driving one night when they speak of a statue and its mysterious properties before finding out firsthand whether or not those rumors are true. End result, this tiny tale comes off more like a fragment than a finished story, and the inconclusive conclusion, though avoiding mere statement of the obvious, also avoids any real opportunity to nail down something cool.

The Grove
by Michelle Garren Flye
Rating: 6

What does it take to run a successful business? Lisa learns the answer from her grandfather, Manuel Gutierrez, who runs a cocoa farm in Central America, supplying American chocolatiers with an unrivaled product. The answer is almost as plain as the fact that this is a horror story, which thus limits our options, after all. Yet this is a well-executed start of a story, and it’s that “start” that is the main problem. A very interesting idea is engaged, but not given room to fully develop. Result: readers may feel teased in a, “You can have a bite of my chocolate bar, but not the whole thing,” kind of way.

One Small Bite
by John Rowlands
Rating: 6

Here’s another well-written yet incompletely realized story, and in it we have a botanist conducting research in Brazil in 1918, who then returns to England with a flea-bitten monkey and hints of impending disaster. Now, the story isn’t unfinished — it has a beginning, a middle, and an end — but it seems to beg taking advantage of its earliest parts in its later ones, tying the solution to potential disaster to the Brazilian experiences of the protagonist in such ways that grander conclusions might be achieved than presently are. Except the story doesn’t do that, doesn’t achieve its own potential, and so stays smaller than it should.

Momma’s Shadow
by Mark. E. Deloy
Rating: 7

Some stories are flash-in-the-pan entertainments — well done enough that you forget there’s nothing really there till it’s over — and thus they function as the literary equivalent of cotton candy. Deloy’s “Momma’s Shadow” tells of the experience of a little boy whose mother dies and literally comes back from the grave. Question is, was she really dead to begin with? That this questions seems convincingly dealt with helps move the story while at the same time giving readers a sense of dread, just in case things aren’t as hunky-dory as they seem. This being horror, you might well imagine that what seems calm is not, what seems peaceful is not. Thus the expected arrival of cataclysm isn’t a fault at all — that’s what these kinds of stories do — but the fault here, though a minor seeming one, is that though the story is well told, it’s an all-too-common one that doesn’t rise appreciably above many, many others like it.

A Hell of a Deal
by Marcus Grimm
Rating: 7

An entertaining trifle, “A Hell of a Deal” tells about a young fellow looking to buy his first house, and the one-trick-pony show here involves a devilish realtor and what happens when you don’t follow good advice. That the crux of the conflict depends on whether or not certain papers were signed may well be a flaw of omission, and that I haven’t gone back to reread the story to see whether it’s there or not may be another kind flaw in a story that briefly holds interest but can’t sustain it.

The Mattress
by John Peters
Rating: 5

Don’t pick up strange women in bars. Not only is that the moral of this morality tale, in which Jack Kellum picks up an alluring siren in a place where no one else seems capable of noticing her, but it’s the constantly recurring kernel of woe kick-starting many a tale. Using a common idea, though, doesn’t always a common tale make, and here the literary hand reaches though a Clive Barker-esqe “Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament” early structure and into a world of magic, tawdry sex, and victims, to finally grab an ending of disappointing simplicity.

Oh but what does that mean, disappointing simplicity? There is a species of story known as the “suffer and die” kind, in which main characters wallow in misery before dropping dead. The best of these stories do not merely recount suffering, but do so in ways that evoke a sense of greater purpose, and so through the depiction of suffering have something interesting to say. Not so here. Instead, we have an average specimen of the suffer-and-die type of story tinged with fantasy and horror. Though we might imagine the purpose is to demonstrate that, in the horror universe, good does not always triumph, what might make this even more interesting is to use the opportunity to explore the nature of evil, the particular evil, in this story. Doesn’t happen. An average story, averagely told, reaches an average conclusion.

Under the Floorboards
by Cordelia Snow
Rating: 10

An example of how handling common ideas in uncommonly good ways can yield excellent and moving work, Cordelia Snow’s “Under the Floorboards” captures a sense of sorrow, childhood’s unquestioning acceptance of the strange, and leaves us with a lingering sense of melancholy in this story about a young girl, her imaginary playmate, and the dismal home life in which she finds herself.

A Sunny Day Turns Dark
by Chris Perridas
Rating: 4

A story from the suffer-and-die school, this one moves along in extended sex-joke mode as its beach-combing protagonist suffers a mysterious rotting disease in the space of about two-and-a-half pages. Some will find this amusing. Some won’t. Once again, a demonstration of how very difficult it is to make an extremely short story satisfying.

The Remembering Country
by Kevin Filan
Rating: 8

Part mystery, part dream, a few more parts memory, “The Remembering Country” offers us a psychologically scarred man in Doug McKenna, whose visits with a psychologist and lightning-quick involvement with a local girl help him overcome an identity-wounding trauma. Though McKenna’s hookup with the local girl seems forced in ways that can only be called “service to plot,” most of the rest of this tale works with an assurance that achieves sharpness where it must — at the moment of climactic self revelation — while falling short in a denouement that, though necessary, seems an awfully paltry one, given the building force of what we’ve just read.

Snowbound
by Ian R. Derbyshire
Rating: 3

Luke gets lost in a snowstorm in a broke-down car. Tries to hike to safety. Collapses. It looks like curtains for him, but no, he’s saved by a “young, beautiful, dark-haired woman.” Or is he? Well, it’s a horror story, and it’s short, so if you think you see the easy way out, you’re probably right. Too bad it doesn’t make sense, and manages to do so in several ways at once that may fleetingly, all too fleetingly, remind you of “Bluebeard.”

And why doesn’t it make sense? Too little explanation. The villain has motives at two places in the story that are utterly contradictory and no explanation for the contradiction is given, nor even a hint of why the villain desires to perpetrate villainy. And, when the literary clock runs out on this tiny tale and the final scene occurs, you’ll find yourself asking, “Why did that happen?” Alas, the reason seems to be that the image — involving hungry beetles — is cool, befits in a minor way what preceded it, but does less to help tell the story than it does to merely stop it.

Helping Hand
by Curt Mahar
Rating: 5

Geriatric humor horror, this dark trifle pits the good will of a Boy Scout against that of an aged book collector and cookie baker whom said Boy Scout one day helps across a busy street. Nothing here is as innocuous as it first seems, which is fine for engaging readers with minor surprises, but the real heart of the story remains the little old lady’s book collection, her relationship to it, and all of the other unanswered questions that surround it. Instead of exploring why those books are important, what they mean to the woman who owns them, we get a routine account of trickery and murder, the latter of which, in the absence of a good explanation regarding its purpose, merely twiddles away what could have been a much more interesting story, leaving a pretty routine one instead.

Dark and Stormy Wishes
by Bailey Hunter
Rating: 6

Jack’s wife Sherri is a nuisance and a bother, but one night it’s her demand that he investigate a stranger on their front lawn that sets the stage for the fulfillment of his deepest wish. This stranger, Heman Black, is a granter of wishes, come to see their daughter, Jessie, who declines the meeting. Jack sends Mr. Black on his way, but keeps the man’s business card, a fateful decision if there ever was one. See, despite Jessie’s claim to no longer want Mr. Black’s service, Jack finds himself tempted. What unravels from there on is a tale of the perils of wish fulfillment, here every bit as cataclysmic as that depicted in W.W. Jacob’s classic, “The Monkey’s Paw,” only without the panache.

One Button Eye
by Jason Robert Beirens
Rating: 0

Not sure what Beirens is attempting, here, but I’m convinced it isn’t working. The story doesn’t make any sense. That said, here’s what’s going on: we start in fantasy land as a Raggedy Ann type character works on a clay sculpture, then we end up in the real world before quickly, very quickly, finding ourselves in fantasy land once again where we’re told that the character is working on a golem as a means of escaping her unreal world and into the real one. This seems to say that what we might otherwise believe to be an unreal world is in fact the primary world of the story and that the character therefore wishes to escape a fictional world and enter a real one. Or something like that. Maybe. Dunno. Seems either that there’s just not enough here to grasp what’s up, or I’m insufficiently schooled in whatever code Beirens is transmitting in his story to get it.

Las Brujas Del Rio Verde
by M. Louis Dixon
Rating: 6

Sometimes an otherwise okay story can disappoint with an ending, and that’s what we have here. American fellow Gerald doesn’t get much respect from his wife’s Panamanian relatives while visiting them and so decides to prove his mettle by one night investigating the distant sounds coming from a nearby river that throw his wife’s family into fear, causing them to mutter about witches down there and losing one’s soul if foolish enough to look upon them. You might say the gauntlet is thrown down and Gerald, sophisticated city boy whose tale of suffering at the mercy of an armed robber merely makes the in-laws chuckle, marches off bravely to get his red badge of courage, as it were, by facing alleged spiritual terror. The account of his nocturnal trip is one part “The Blair Witch Project” and, ultimately, several parts disappointment as the discovery he makes affects him to inexplicable purpose. It’s the latter outcome, a staple one for such stories, that begs appropriate explanation and, if not explanation, at least convincing set up. Alas, no such thing occurs, leaving us with an ending that stretches no farther than the common.

The Puppet Show
by Rick J. Brown
Rating: 8

Great and creepy SF horror set in an ill-defined post-apocalyptic world, we meet Mark Petrov and his young daughter Leyna as they travel through a decaying city to take in a puppet show at the local theater. The usual post-apocalyptic marks are assigned — plague, fear, paranoia, ruin, decay — and in this milieu we are introduced to The Grinding Machines, foggy references to an invasion of some sort, and creepily-assembled-from-the-parts-of-other-human-beings “Refurbished” ones who are either shambling go-betweens from unseen invaders to humans, or simply stumbling automatons of no great purpose. There’s fleeting romance, atmosphere, and an effectively building sense of dread as the mathematician father does what he can to protect his daughter in a world gone inexplicably topsy-turvy. And that’s where the story bumps against its own limits. Though Petrov was a mathematician working for SETI in an attempt to communicate with the invaders, and though he might have been in a position to provide some insight into just what the hell, exactly, happened, he doesn’t. Thus we find ourselves in a nightmarish world with virtually no explanation. There are reasons to write stories this way, and there are reasons not to. Brown plays his literary cards a little too close and makes what should be a satisfying story a pretty good, but ultimately frustrating, one.

Surrender
by Vince Churchill
Rating: 5

A mysterious sex plague provides the only hope for sexual gratification for a repressed woman in this tale deliberately tweaking the rape myth via choice of the central character and a modus of parasitic inflammation that is more than a little reminiscent of the similar plague in William S. Burroughs’ “Cities of the Red Night,” in which that disease, too, drives its victims to sexual frenzy. Except here there seems to be little purpose beyond taking an interesting idea to its very quick and foregone conclusion. Though the ending pits desperate and amoral choice against immoral injustice, this final contrast merely hangs, tripping over an oddly out-of-place theistic reference, and then the story simply ends, snipping off any potentially lingering interest.

Wings With Hot Sauce
by Fran Friel
Rating: 0

Reading like a combination of fan-fiction and an enormous in-joke that I’m not in on, this story depicts Lucifer (“Lu”) as a henpecked lug with a wife named Hillary (yes, that’s right, and if you’re thinking this one is that Hillary, you’d be just as right) who stops off at the local pub for a momentary respite from the wife. Marilyn Monroe is there, and Hitler, too, but aside from the name-dropping, they serve no real purpose in a story that seems as much, or as little, about an allergic reaction to hotwings as anything else. That’s the trouble with jokes. Sometimes they work, sometimes not.

And Mother Makes Five
by John Mantooth
Rating: 8

Hardboiled detective meets humor horror in this fun, no-time-for-subtlety, clash between viewpoint character, Cleveland Walker, and a demon bent on making its entry into the world through the toilet in Walker’s pizzeria. The appearance of a mystery man, operating here in said hardboiled detective mode, may or may not save the day, depending on whether or not Walker can talk the kid he just fired into returning. An effective choice of viewpoint succeeds in misdirecting expectations in an otherwise straightforward battle between good and evil.

Insensitivity
by Sunil Sadanand
Rating: 10

Excellent conjuration of mood and atmosphere propels Sunil Sadanand’s “Insensitivity” past mere plot-mongering and into more literary registers to tell the anguished story of paraplegic gunshot victim, Dennis, as he pines for a woman he will seemingly never have, nor in the ways he wants to. The title derives from his quest to feel, relates to his strange attempts to regain physical sensation, and even resonates with the one thing it does seem he feels — which is soul-searing anguish in the face of torment he can do nothing about — and finally connects directly to the consequences of his pain. As an examination of the casual infliction of torment it succeeds, and as an examination of how the flames of evil are fanned, it succeeds all the more.

The Mother
by John Lovero
Rating: 8

Telemarketer Ed keeps seeing a “missing child” sign inside his favorite bar till one day, on a whim, he decides to call the phone number on the sign. That’s what’s called an inciting incident, kiddos, making that phone call, and all of the other incidents that the call incites become more bizarre, more frightening, until it’s apparent that Ed hasn’t contacted merely a bereaved parent, but something else entirely. Wondering just who or what is on the other end of that line, and what will happen next as a result, is what helps generate interest in this tale of a guy quickly finding himself in over his head.

A Violent Descent Into Livid Territory
by Esteban Silvani
Rating: 5

A by-the-numbers variation of the “it was all just a dream” story, this one is about an insurance agent, Frank McGraw, and what happens to him during a late night at work, involving a nasty run-in with a client.

Now, that sort of sums up what the story’s about without giving things away, but here’s why trying to tell such stories is usually a bad idea: No matter how they vary in reaching their ends, they all invariably share the same end. Yet it’s one best approached not as the terminus of the story, but as an important obstacle to overcome. To merely end on an all-too common revelation halts matters in the realm of the commonplace instead of reaching past it. Reaching past it can make better stories. After all, “The Matrix” didn’t merely stop when Neo discovered that the life he thought he was living was just a dream. The story moved on and excelled for it. “A Violent Descent Into Livid Territory” neither moves on nor excels.

Shadows
by D.X. Williams
Rating: 5

Here’s one of the rules of horror: Dead people are evil, especially when they come back from the dead. Knowing this, you’ll also know that Jack and Natalie’s desire to prematurely bring their medically resurrected daughter back home is probably not a good idea — and that it will not be a good idea in ways beyond those merely warned about by kindly Dr. Kelly, the girl’s duly concerned physician.

Thus what unfolds becomes a routine trip through evil-dead land as the strangely adamant father ignores all good advice, refuses to acknowledge reality, and ends up paying for it while the bad seed snickers.

That’s another one of the rules of horror, too, by the way: otherwise intelligent characters sometimes suffer situational lobotomies at the convenience of plot. Here, though, pop’s situational lobotomy is thinly supported by his great love for his daughter and the desire to overcome the psychic wounds that her death inflicted upon him. “Thinly,” though, is the operative term. We’re told of Jack’s great love for his daughter, but there’s precious little here to make us believe it, and certainly nothing to make us feel it.

A great opportunity to explore the nature of the father/daughter relationship — and to thus explain why pop is so nuts for her — occurs when the daughter tells the mother that the father hated the mother. This dramatic opportunity fizzles into nothing, despite its Electra complex potential, and gets pushed offstage by a fairly ordinary desperate battle to the death. Ultimately, it is the reduction of what is not ordinary through the filter of ordinary handling that makes for a merely ordinary tale.

The Exterminators
by Sara Joan Berniker
Rating: 4

Molly and Richard dream about getting rid of their baby with the same sort of normal desire for peace and quiet that many a parent has had. Then one day a case of mistaken identity, exterminators, and the wishes made in a dream cross paths. That most readers will know by the midpoint where this story is going isn’t the problem. What seems diminishing is that the very shortness of the tale seems to have robbed it of any potential for richness, if not deeper exploration of, and by, its initiating dream.

Skull Farmers
by Matt Samet
Rating: 9

Matt Samet’s “Skull Farmers” succeeds exceedingly well at putting us into the mind of a villain who offers neither apology nor explanation for his villainy beyond the great ending lines that nail things ever so stupendously down: “Because this matters. Because this matters to me. Because this is what I do.”

And what does he do? Well, let’s say he shares a curious gardening habit similar to that of T.S. Eliot’s Stetson from “The Waste Land.” You remember that one, it involves corpses, after all. Thus this great big fellow would rather watch a stranded motorist struggle in a snowstorm than lift a finger to help him, and when the poor sod comes knocking on his door, he would fain let the chap enter but for circumstances a touch beyond his control. No matter, that failed visitation. He’s a patient one, and often rewarded for it.

Though readers will appropriately root for the victim, they’ll just as likely find themselves fascinated with the psychology of evil as depicted here. With the exception of one or two minor confusions, first-rate stuff.

Scavenger Hunt
by R.J. Cavender
Rating: 7

A snuff film killer catches a case of conscience in a story evoking a strong sense of pathétique in its account of the terrible days of our narrator and a buddy, Dodger, doing their awful work for Stu and some creepy clients who happily pay for footage of people getting horribly tortured and killed. It’s what they do to a particular victim, Amanda, and how she reacts throughout, that haunts one half of the dynamic sicko duo. There’s rhythm here, thrumming through the prose, and it’s for this that readers will wish for more grounding of the primary character, wish to know more about him and who he is and how he came to be and why, because in that rhythm is a voice that has something to say. That we learn nothing of the narrator beyond his turning point leaves us no reason to feel moved by his psychological transformation from heartless killer to one with a bad conscience. Yet to evaluate the story solely on the merits of character development would be unfair, because the dramatic force of “Scavenger Hunt” depends less on his transformation and more upon the story’s critique of and commentary on genre (and those who read it). But there’s the problem: just as the primary character seems ill defined and ambiguous, so too the lacerating message in this art — as if the telegraphic transmissions of setting, detail, circumstance, theory, leave out a few too many dots and dashes. Thus an interesting idea finds its possibilities dulled by a lack of sharpness. What we’re left with is a pretty good case of literary “might have been.”

 

 

 


 

Horror Library Vol 2

Horror Library Vol 2

 

+The Fix Online+

Horror Library, Volume 2, edited by R.J. Cavender and Vincent VanAllen
By Michele Lee

Horror Library, Volume 2: An Anthology of Terror, edited by R.J. Cavender and Vincent VanAllen, starts out with the short but haunting “A Season of Sleep” by John Rector. The characterization makes this story-Mattie, a young girl left in her parents’ farmhouse to care for her sick brother; Nathan, burning with fever after being attacked by a strange man; and even the setting itself, a house far off the beaten track surrounded by corn fields that give birth to wandering zombies. Aspiring horror writers should take note of the skill with which Rector weaves emotion and desolation into words, crafting an ending that creates an inescapable feeling of doom, no twist required.

In “A Chainsaw Execution,” Stephen R. George walks an impressively delicate line between a first person narrative and losing the story to the character. Greyeyes is a chilling gang leader who punishes an invader from another gang with the most brutal of executions. The seriousness of the man’s crimes is not that great, but Greyeyes demands an example to send back to the rival gang, the Tráiganos. But, as is usual for these stories, violence begets violence, and it’s not only the memory of the chainsaw execution which haunts Greyeyes. Neither the gore nor the musings of the narrator intrude upon this story, though the ending will haunt the hand shakes of those who read it.

“I am Meat, I am in Daycare” by Cameron Pierce is a bizarre tale. The prose is dreamlike, or nightmare-like, a twisted bit of the strange. Susan is hired by Ted Branson to add his “child,” a large slab of meat, to her in-home daycare service. The substance of the story after that consists of this child moving around and infecting others, turning them into meat puppets wearing human, or other, skins. A sense of horror and the surreal is strongly woven into the story, but the lack of an explanation or even a resolution is off-putting for readers whose tastes don’t extend that far into the bizarre.

“Trapped Light Medium” by Sunil Sadanand is a horror story of a more passive nature. The main character is a psychic who sees events of extreme brutality and arranges to get access to these scenes before the cops show up in order to take pictures. The photographer, it seems, is not just after the money the horrendously gory pictures bring; walking through these scenes, making no attempt to save a life or report a crime, he hopes to find a true evil. Sadanand leaves it up to the reader to decide if witnessing the darkest deeds of humanity and not doing anything to change them makes someone part of the evil or not.

At first glance, “Apple” by Marc Paoletti appears to be yet another tale of a serial murderer, a man with a questionable percentage of soul, lying in wait to complete his latest job-the assassination of an African leader. It could also be just another story of a man twisted by his childhood into acting out against humanity. But as the reader follows the killer’s thoughts through anticipation to action, a layer comes to light that sets it apart from other serial killer stories as it tightens to a horrific ending like a silk scarf around your throat.

“Next Stop, Babylon” by John Mantooth is a chilling glimpse of the future in which Tamara, seeking to escape the cruel fate shared by those members of society who are no longer useful, must balance her fear of the grim, prediction-making robot bus driver against her terror of being found by the sweepers-even though she suspects the driver is taking her to her doom. A glimmer of terror, this tale lets just enough slip that the reader knows why they should be scared, but not enough for more than a momentary stab of fear.

“Opening the Eye” by Michael W. Lucas is a trepanning story with a druggie angle. The main character, an addict in a world where his fix is hard to find, decides to drill a hole in his head in the belief that doing so will bring about a permanent high. Trepanning stories are not uncommon in horror, but this one offers something new in the creepy form of a feathery-spider. Created by the gory bit of self-mutilation, it acts as a counterbalance to the mind-expanding high he experiences. But “Opening the Eye” doesn’t throw this interesting curve until after a leisurely description of the trepanning, leaving the reader chewing the fat before finally getting to the meat.

“Phaedra’s Baby” by Matthew Fryer is a not-entirely-convincing story of doom and entrapment. Jason, fleeing into the woods after a fight with his pregnant girlfriend, finds his longtime missing schoolmate, Phaedra, locked in a prison in the woods. His fantasies of rescuing her and becoming a hero quickly fade when she decides not to cooperate. The chill factor on this one is interrupted with major questions of motivation like “Why not just call the police?”

“Immortal Remains” by Tom Pendergrass is a war-themed story where the horror isn’t the war itself, but what foreigners find within the borders of strange places. On a hunt for members of al-Qaida, Logan and his troops stumble upon a strange paradise, an ever-blooming city reachable only by a narrow footpath. Convinced the enemies he seeks have hidden in the little village, Logan cautiously takes two of his men inside to hunt them down. But inside, he finds more than Rasul, the target of their chase, and more than a populace of beautiful, wordless women who have never known Taliban rule. He also finds strange survivors of past invasions-a Russian, a Mongol, and a British man via India-immortal, but in a state no man could envy. Other than a few, overly convenient moments, this is an enjoyable story that uses a very immediate war as a backdrop but not a preaching point.

“The Garbage Collectors” by Ron McGillvray is about a man, who, from rumors his kids hear from their school friends, discovers the town they live in is not only inescapable, but will one day demand the life of one of his two children. His attempts to disprove the children’s theories only seem to give them more credence. In the dark of the night, he seeks out the home of the shadowy “Garbage Collectors” to determine the truth. This story reads like an episode of a TV show specializing in creepy tales, from the dialog to the setting, with a very adult stab at the end.

“Free to Good Home” by Lon Prater is not a tale of gore and violence like the ones preceding it but horror of a different, highly allergic sort. In it, a man finds an odd PDA that appears to grant his wishes, providing he finishes a “To Do” list. Following the list traps him in his home with an obscene number of feline companions, despite the boons that the machine grants him.

“Bound” by Alan Smale is a titillating story that takes place in its entirely as Jackson, an amnesiac bound painfully into a rigid pose, is flung via a blanket into the air by thirteen people he feels he should recognize. The routine persists daily; thirteen people fling him higher and higher with a blanket, as if they want him to look over the wall of the courtyard, until his body can bear no more. When they stop, he seems to as well, falling asleep before they bring him inside and waking only as they begin flinging him again. A strong tale, more so for its limited action, setting, and characterization; this story offers just as much nausea and horror as the ones before it.

“Alien Fajitas” by Boyd E. Harris serves up some fun with its chills. Calvin Hollis has scoped out the next big deal at his job in the restaurant field. Close Encounters of the Culinary Kind is a shticky greasy spoon, but a highly successful one, thanks to the secret of its meat marination. When Calvin stops by for a surprise visit, he finds he’s on the wrong end of the surprise. The owners come clean, and Calvin is left locked in the cooler, forced to make a grim choice. Harris doesn’t let the reader off with only that, pushing his secret further in a creepy-fun final scene. While it may not be hard to figure out what the Close Encounters cooks are up to, it’s a fun ride all the way.

“The Trauma Statement” by Stephen Bacon is reminiscent of science fiction tales meant to leave the reader feeling insignificant. Rarer in horror, this story follows a man who finds among his recently deceased wife’s things an accounting of events, each labeled as “credit” or “deduction.” This strange discovery is explained when he receives a phone call which gives him ten seconds to choose between his son losing his job and a man he doesn’t know being wrongly imprisoned for nine years. The calls don’t cease, and the consequences of his decisions-always a personally significant event versus a more abstract one-grow grimmer. A myriad of paths open up, sprouting from the many judgments he makes. The horror in “The Trauma Statement” is as much in the anguish of those who must decide as in the powerlessness of those who are toyed with by fate.

“Charlotte’s Frequency” by Ian Rogers has a science fiction slant. Morris, all set to enjoy his newly purchased big screen TV, instead discovers a modern-day Charlotte, a la Charlotte’s Web, feeding off something far worse than the crickets living around the water heater. Morris and his wife, Jude, both start to feel sick, weak, and dangerously vulnerable. Charlotte herself seems to be half organic and half electronic, spinning webs that feed off electricity and the people around her. This fable, however, doesn’t end with three happy children and their anthropomorphic porcine friend. On the cutting edge of today’s hi-tech world, stories like “Charlotte’s Frequency” will drag horror kicking and screaming into the new century.

In “High Tide Coming” by Ken Goldman, as a child, Leah’s feelings of being wanted by the sea morphed one night into something dangerous. Since almost drowning, she’s had a violent fear of the sea she once loved. She tries to tell herself it’s all in her head, but the water is determined to claim her, one way or another. Feelings of dread and descriptions of the sea are built well, allowing the reader to practically scent the salt air. The end is a bit overexplained, but otherwise, the story successfully touches upon the traditional horror tools of fear and a skewed reality.

“Preacher Mike and the Black Cross Revelation” by Kevin L. Donihe is the stuff horror is made of-one part religion, one part zombies, and one part crazy. Charlie is a reformed drug addict turned religious man, and Father Mike claims to be the next Messenger of God after an “encounter” with angels. It feels like an explanation, a set-up for a longer piece, but the spinning dizziness of a tilted world runs the show. Fine writing and a huge dose of twisted imagination make this tale worth skipping forward to read.

“Reins in the Night Season” by Lorne Dixon is a western tale-contributing to the anthology’s mission to provide a wide range of horror-of betrayal, murder, and honor among black hats. When a man in their care dies, Phelps and his partner are bound by a sense of duty to honor his final request. Haunted by the memories of his daughter’s death and his wife’s mutilation, the man begs to be buried with a doll he bought his daughter. Phelps and his partner travel back past the border on their mission and find more than they bargained for, both in the dead man’s last wish and in the family he left behind.

In “Filth Eater” by Glen R. Krisch, a nameless homeless man wanders the street witnessing the cruelties of others and taking the worst of human emotion into himself in order to free them. Representing yet another kind of horror tale, “Filth Eater” is more a dark voyage through human brutality than driven by a traditional plot.

“Crushed Neem” by Kim Despins is a fiery ghost story boasting a chilling setting as it pits Sam against his own will. Despins puts a winning lottery ticket in front of Sam, and only a door-and the myriad of specters that haunt his apartment building, keeping him and his neighbors captive in what should be their safe haven-stand between Sam and his million dollars. The story reads effortlessly, its parts blended together like a fine recipe. While it’s neither the darkest nor the most horrific story in this anthology, it is a fine example of horror.

In “Drawn” by Daniel L. Naden, a couple is terrorized by their “special” daughter, inexplicably drawn by her strange eyes and living in fear of her strange powers. The narrator tells of their discovery of little Anna’s powers and their worries and denials along the way. Naden waffles between whether little Anna is evil or just an infant that happens to have superpowers. In one scene, Anna is a Hulk-like character with a base set of needs and wants and the means to get them, but essentially harmless at her core, and in the next, her parents act as though she were the incarnation of Rosemary’s baby. This vacillation weakens the end of what could have been a powerful story.

Peter Hynes’s “Meat-Boy” is a confusing tale about a morgue attendant who witnesses a soul crossing over. At times, the prose is stunning, at others, over the top, leaving the reader fighting to follow the story beneath the words. A second reading might be in order to be sure you don’t miss the conclusion.

Delilah is a single mother with something dark and wrong growing inside of her in Petra Miller’s “You’re A Good Girl, Delilah.” While stories pitting a protagonist against someone else as well as a mother versus her child are both familiar in horror, Miller makes this one a success by conveying a strong understanding of and insights about motherhood.

In “The Losers vs Beelphegor” by Mark Justice, a team of social misfits and potheads do battle with an ancient demon determined to get the world back under his thumb. Heavy on irony, this is one for the losers, those who feel they’ve never managed to accomplish anything and who may not realize how far the ripples of their actions can spread.

“We Fall On Each Other” by Paul Walther is a chilling, atmospheric tale set in a cabin in the country, starring two traumatized young adults. Gwen, the survivor of a vicious attack by several teenage boys, and Justin, who survived a violent attack by neighborhood dogs, find some relief with each other on Thanksgiving from being paraded before their respective relatives, bombarded by looks of horror and pity. But when darkness falls, they realize they aren’t alone. What haunts them is more solid than the nightmares of the attacks that changed their lives. The vague ending is appropriately doom-filled but left this reader wondering if a more solid conclusion would have strengthened it.

M. Louis Dixon’s “H19N1” doesn’t involve the supernatural unseen but rather the biological unseen. The man who won the Nobel Prize for finding a cure to avian influenza experiences emotional turmoil, and nothing is safe, nothing sacred, least of all the child he never knew he wanted until his wife stole him away. Capitalizing well on recent fears of pandemics and biological warfare, “H19N1” leaves no question as to how it earned its place in this anthology.

There are several “out there” stories in this anthology, but none are quite as bizarre or quite as understandable as “The Show Must Live On” by Matt Hults. Hults doesn’t try to play games with his prose; instead, he brings a sickly surreal feeling to the rotting remains of a not-quite-forgotten carnival and the family that keeps something highly profitable within. Jason and his father charge high prices for the use of Buttons the Clown and the strange fantasy fulfillment he brings. Their busy, and invariably rich, clients leave healthy and satisfied with the toys Buttons gives them. “The Show Must Live On” is one of the few stories in Horror Library Volume 2 that doesn’t have violence or gore in it. But that doesn’t keep it from being disturbing . . . on several levels.

In “White Balloon” by Matt Samet, a man walking his dog along the river finds a popped white balloon and then spends much of the story musing upon how it ended up there. But, after surrounding the balloon’s journey in an ominous atmosphere, the reason for the infusion of doom is revealed mere moment before the end. Creepy and unexpected, this is one of the best written offerings in the anthology.

Horror Library Volume 2 ends with a more traditional tale, “The Horror in the Bookstore” by Clinton Green. A cultured man on an endless quest for knowledge and rare books stumbles into the corruptive care of a foreign shopkeeper. The atmosphere of tranquility unravels bit by bit as comprehension dawns, making this a fine homage to H. P. Lovecraft.

All the stories in this anthology are fine examples of and additions to the genre of horror. Absent were clichés or repetitions upon tropes, and this volume easily lives up to the moniker, “Horror Library.”

Publisher: Cutting Block Press

 

Bookgasm+

Don’t recognize any of the authors in Horror Library: Volume 2? That’s exactly the point: to introduce you to some fresh talent. Some highlights: Stephen Bacon’s “The Trauma Statement,” in which a man is constantly receiving phone calls forcing him to make difficult choices on a dime (inoperable tumor in your stomach or a child you don’t know gets hit by a motorcycle?), while in John Rector’s “A Season of Sleep,” a woman is forced to pull the trigger against a family member turned zombie.

The protagonist of Sunil Sadanand’s “Trapped Light Medium” uses his future-predicting powers to tip off photographers for cash, while the narrator of Michael W. Lucas’ “Opening the Eye” describes a homemade trepidation with a drill he finds in a dumpster. Other stories try to get by on disturbance alone; shock still requires story to work effectively, and when at least three stories end with an abrupt gunshot, conceit has become cliché. Still, even with well-intentioned missteps — Cameron Pierce’s dreamlike “I Am Meat. I Am in Daycare” — there are plenty here to make this Library worth repeat visits.

 

Skullring+

An Anthology Worthy of a Stoker Nomination
by Joe McKinney

Horror Library, Volume 2
Edited by RJ Cavender and Vincent VanAllen
Cutting Block Press, 256 pages.

Every once in a while you get lucky with an anthology. You flip through the table of contents and you only see a few names you know. You think, Well, maybe. Hell, even a blind hog finds an acorn every once in a while, right? Then, you read the first few stories, and they’re pretty good. You think, Ah, they just put the heavy hitters up front, that’s all. So you read on, waiting to get to the soft, worm-eaten spot in the wood. And you keep reading…and you keep reading…and the soft, worm-eaten spot in the wood never appears. You find a few stories that don’t exactly grab you, but nothing’s soft, nothing’s worm-eaten (at least nothing that’s not meant to be worm-eaten), and before you know it, you’re done with the book and then there you are, sitting in front of your computer late that night, logged on to the Horror Writers Association’s website, recommending the damn thing for a Stoker Award…because it’s that damn good.

That was what my weekend was like after reading Horror Library, Volume 2, the latest multi author anthology from Cutting Block Press. There is a lot of blood and guts in this book, so if you’re squeamish, beware. But then, that’s not really a secret. Clara Chandler’s introduction waves off the faint of heart at page 1. Many of the stories included here would fit more or less comfortably under the heading of Splatterpunk. They are disturbing and graphic, they revel in the shock of violence, and many are frankly nihilistic. But none of the stories here resort to violence as a smoke screen to hide bad writing. Where you find blood, you also find well-drawn characters, snappy dialogue, and tight plotting.

But don’t make the mistake that everything here is Splatterpunk, because there’s a whole lot more. A good many of the stories are science fiction-horror cross genre pieces. Some are dark fantasy. Some are almost gothic. A few are traditional horror in the pulp era sense, with delicious little Twilight Zone style hooks at the end. And there are a few others that simply defy any attempt at classification.

I’m not going to try to discuss all the stories in this anthology. There are way too many for that. But I do want to mention two in particular because I like them so damn much. First of all, Sunil Sadanand’s “Trapped Light Medium.” This is an outstanding tale of premonition faintly reminiscent of Stephen King’s The Dead Zone. The main character is a photographer. He gets these pictures in his head, pictures of violent, horrible things that are going to happen very soon. And when the bad things do happen, he’s there with his camera to capture it all. The other five star story in this anthology is Tom Pendergrass’ “Immortal Remains.” Somewhere in the mountains of Afghanistan is a picturesque little valley where the women really enjoy taking a bite out of their men. Armies from all over the world, and throughout history, have moved through Afghanistan. This story shows you why none of ever managed to stay very long.

You need to check out Horror Library, Volume 2. I can almost guarantee you that my favorites won’t be your favorites, but that’s okay. In a book like this one, there’s a lot of potential favorites to go around. Enjoy!!!

 

Monster Librarian+

Horror Library Volume II edited by R.J. Cavender
Cutting Block Press, 2007
ISBN: 780977826223
Available: New

Horror Library Volume II is an excellent collection of short stories that can be enjoyed all at once or savored over many days. The pleasant surprise with the Horror Library is that in addition to stories covering familiar territory, as seen in John Rector’s “A Season of Sleep” and Kevin Donihe’s “Preacher Mike and the Black Cross Revelation ,” there are also original ideas that result in enjoyable tales, such as “Charlotte’s Frequency,” by Ian Rogers. The collection has no particular theme and the stories cover a wide variety of subjects.. Although the stories in Horror Library Volume II vary in length and in theme, they are all strong, entertaining reads. Most are short enough that readers will find themselves easily starting another. then another. in fact, the book should come with the tagline “you can’t read just one.” Strongly recommended for public libraries. Contains: gore, violence, suicide.

Stories included are:

Clara Chandler – Blood: An Introduction
John Rector – A Season of Sleep
Stephen R. George – A Chainsaw Execution
Cameron Pierce – I am Meat, I am in Daycare
Sunil Sadanand – Trapped Light Medium
Marc Paoletti – Apple
John Mantooth – Next Stop, Babylon
Michael W. Lucas – Opening the Eye
Matthew Fryer – Phaedra’s Baby
Tom Pendergrass – Immortal Remains
Ron McGillvray – The Garbage Collectors
Lon Prater – Free to Good Home
Alan Smale – Bound
Boyd E. Harris – Alien Fajitas
Stephen Bacon – The Trauma Statement
Ian Rogers – Charlotte’s Frequency
Ken Goldman – High Tide Coming
Kevin L. Donihe – Preacher Mike and the Black Cross Revelation
Lorne Dixon – Reins in the Night Season
Glen Krisch – Filth Eater
Kim Despins – Crushed Neem
Daniel L. Naden – Drawn
Peter Hynes – Meat-Boy
Petra Miller – You’re a Good Girl, Delilah
Mark Justice – The Losers vs Beelphegor
Paul Walther – We Fall on Each Other
M. Louis Dixon – H19N1
Matt Hults – The Show Must Live On
Matt Samet – White Balloon
Clinton Green – The Horror in the Bookstore

 

 


Horror Library Vol 3

Horror Library Vol 3

 

Rue Morgue

Focusing primarily on the vilest of human needs and deeds, R.J. Cavender assembles 30 new short stories for this third installment of the Horror Library series. Avoiding as many genre clichés as possible, this assemblage steers clear of your more straightforward supernatural monsters and apocalyptic tales. Instead, the slant here is towards the sorts of real-life dangers that come along with sharing a planet with millions of potentially unstable people.Boyd E. Harris and R.J. Cavender open with an introductory story that bears a warning: every relative, neighbor, and colleague is a lurking danger. The tale reads like a barrage of news statistics claiming nothing is safe, not even a trip to the airport.
That is not to say there aren’t supernatural elements in the pages of this book, but the monsters are lurking in the background here, using their human minions to lure their prey.The stories are uniformly well crafted and original, but a few really stand out. Sunil Sadanand’s “Them” is a microscopic nightmare about a man being invaded by brain parasites. The reader follows his thoughts and actions as they become increasingly disjointed and robotic from the deepening invasion. Michael Louis Calvillo’s “Consumed” finds a man buried alive within a pit of corpses – his only possible means of escape is to eat his way out. The most intriguing stories in this book follow the thought progressions and internal monologues of their characters as they pass in and out of unusual and horrifying states of consciousness.
As well, several tales explore particularly current-day concerns, including authoritarian torture and pedophilia.Each story deserves a proper reading, but to consume this collection as a whole is like digesting a storm of insults against human nature. By compiling these works into a single volume, the editor presents humanity as something hopeless and lost. All of the characters – even the protagonists – are cowardly, selfish, and desperately lacking redeeming qualities. As readers, we are looking to set ourselves apart from the monster, but here we are greeted by a twisted mirror image of ourselves. And that is true horror indeed.

Horror World 

Horror anthologies over the last several years have not been traditionally big sellers for the large publishing houses and thankfully the small press has come to the rescue for those that enjoy reading them.

But regardless of who publishes them, I have avoided reading them in the past for several reasons, the main one being that it takes me too long to get through them as their very nature makes it too convenient to take a break between the stories.  Adding to my disinterest is the continuous change of pacing from story to story, the different narrative styles of the authors, and most importantly, the varying quality of one story to the next.  And let’s face it, although it’s not impossible, it is difficult to become emotionally invested in a story that’s only 3 to 10 pages long.  So when Horror Library Volume 3 arrived I was a little apprehensive.  With thirty stories in this anthology I thought it might take me at least a month to get through it.

I am happy to report that it took less than a week for me to finish it due to the outstanding job of the editor, R. J. Cavender.   The quality of stories in this volume range from average to excellent, there’s not a bad one in the whole bunch.  These stories contain top notch writing with contributors ranging from heavy hitters like Bentley Little, John Everson, Kealan Patrick Burke, and Gary Braunbeck, to others who could be considered obscure.

On the dedication page, Cavender states that he hopes these stories will scare the hell out of the reader.  Devoted readers of horror fiction know that is a pretty tall order, but in Horror Library Vol. 3, a few of the stories manage to do just that.  Space prohibits me from commenting on all the stories, but I would like to point out those I believe are standouts in the anthology.

“Teeth”, a story from A.C. Wise, is a tale of survival and sacrifice.  In “Teeth”, we tag along with a 12 year old boy and his father as they raid a field littered with discarded bodies scavenging for items of worth.  This includes using pliers to pull the teeth from the deceased.  They soon discover however that the dead have something against amateur dentistry.

Eric Grizzle’s, “When The Skies Toss Down Rain Heavy”, tells the story of a young boy, who along with his brother, find a puddle that’s best not to play in.   This is a spine tingling tale that had me engrossed from the first paragraph.

“Fish Bait”, by John Everson, is everything the title implies.  It’s the tale of a couple of losers who decide to stop into a remote bar for a couple of beers before embarking on a life in the great outdoors.  They are tricked into playing a bar game of strategy against each other with the loser having to “get dunked in the tank”.   Too bad they were too drunk to notice that everyone else in the bar was missing limbs.

“The Apocalypse Ain’t So Bad”, by Jeff Strand, is a humorous, gross out tale about a survivor of a zombie epidemic.  Is it really that hard to remain optimistic while everyone around you is being eaten?

My favorite story in the book, Mark Justice’s, “Being Supreme”, tells the tale about a man that walks into a bar, has a beer, and begins telling the bartender his story.  It seems the man used to be God.

Gary Braunbeck and Matthew Warner’s story called “Under The Bridge Downtown”, details the life of a man forced to care for his disabled daughter.  Maybe he should have been a little more attentive to her, after all, how would he like it if he had to trade places with her?

Bentley Little’s, “The Station”, is a story that I found to be original and extremely well written about a gas station located in a remote desert that has a chair where the recently dead appear.  Even with a predictable ending, this story might be considered by many to be the centerpiece of the book.

There are many other stories in this book that deserve a mention, and I believe readers would enjoy most, if not all of them.  If there is a theme in this anthology it isn’t very apparent other than these stories are extremely dark, and they all end badly.  So I would recommend putting a little time aside for reading and then pick up Horror Library Volume 3, it will be time well spent.

 


 

Horror Library Vol 4

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Fearnet

Book Review: Horror Library Volume 4 edited by R.J. Cavender

by Blu Gilliand, Wed., Jan. 18, 2012 12:00 PM PST

When writing a book review, it’s natural to gauge the value of a piece of work by how much it’s enjoyed and likely to be enjoyed by others. After all, that’s what books often are – escapism and entertainment.

However, a book can be successful even if the word “enjoyable” doesn’t seem appropriate. It depends on the mission of the book’s author (or, in this case, editor), and upon the needs of the target audience.

I don’t know that R.J. Cavender put this collection together with the word “enjoyable” in mind. And I definitely don’t know that potential readers should approach Horror Library Volume 4 looking for a slick, easily digestible bit of entertainment. Instead, I believe that words like “challenging” and “confrontational” are more fitting for what Cavender sought in this collection. If you’re a potential reader and those concepts are inviting to you, then by all means – pick this one up today.

This book has claws, and it uses them to get under your skin and into your head. Stories like the ones Cavender has assembled can make you cast a more suspicious eye at the world around you; they’ll have you looking for the cracks in reality, for the places where the mask slips aside and the monster beneath shows through.

They’ll mess with your head, they will. If that sounds like your idea of a good time, then this is the book for you. The table of contents is packed with nearly 30 short, impactful tales, little bursts of surreality that throw the rules of both reality and genre fiction out the window. It begins right away with the introduction, “A Very Important Message for Those Planning to Travel to Costa Rica” written by Cavender and line editor Boyd Harris, which is a piece of fiction that challenges the very nature of fiction itself, while also serving as the perfect introduction to the book. From there, everything you know to be true is on shaky ground.

“Into the After” by Kurt Dinan looks at our very human need to put things right in the face of tragedy, to return as quickly as we can to solid and familiar ground. Dinan examines the lengths we’ll travel to get our lives back on track, and ends the story with a sucker punch proving that we don’t always know the people we love as well as we’d like to think.

In “Jammers,” Bentley Little takes something as innocuous and every day as the traffic jam and spins it into something sinister. Greggard Penance’s “Sporting the Waters of the Bermuda Triangle” reads like a fever dream, taking you along for the strangest fishing trip this side of The Twilight Zone, while Charles Colyott’s “In the Red” gives a new, disturbing meaning to the term “creative juices.”

Story after story, these authors (established names like Little, Tim Waggoner, and Brian Knight mixed in with relative newcomers like Penance and Jeff Cercone) take the normal and humdrum and transform it into things unfamiliar and extraordinary. In doing so, they in turn transform, at least within these pages, the humble horror story, removing it from the usual characters, slashers and creatures and giving us new nightmares to contemplate. It’s a credit to Cavender and Cutting Block Press that they are willing to give new authors and new ideas a chance to shine.

So, “enjoyable?” Depends on your definition of the word. If what you’re after is something new, something challenging, something like you’ve never read before, then you’ll find plenty of that in these pages. If you’re looking for the same old familiar “scares,” well, you might want to move along.

Horror Library Volume 4 was released in trade paperback in 2010 by Cutting Block Press. The Kindle version was released January 2012.

Hellnotes

Horror Library, Volume 4 – Book Review
posted by Dave . Horror Library, Volume 4
R. J. Cavender, Boyd E. Harris, editors
Cutting Block Press
Trade Paper, 254 pages, $18.95
Review by Sheila M. Merritt
The editors of Horror Library, Volume 4 are smart cookies. They understand the need to hook the reader from the get-go. In collaborating on the opening tale in the tome, anthologists R.J. Cavender and Boyd E. Harris set the tone of the compilation. Their highly effective effort, “A Very Important Message For Those Planning to Travel to Costa Rica,” establishes the flavor of the ensuing narratives. Reality and fantasy overlap, as Cavender and Harris explore the hazards of traveling alone to a remote location. The authors render something cautionary and creepy. It lays the ground work for the compilation’s subsequent short stories. And what follows is most excellent, indeed.Another opener which garners immediate attention is the first line of “Skin,” by Kim Despins: “This thing wearing his sister’s skin stands at the foot of Jeremy’s bed, just as she has every night since he moved back into his father’s house.” Jeremy returns for his dad’s funeral, and reconnects with his past; not a pretty picture. Veneer gets peeled away as abuse and hypocrisy are revealed. Despins digs deep within the psyche of the protagonist, and delivers a chilling study of rampant rationalization and trite remorse.Guilt recurs as subject matter in the works of Jeff Strand and Mark W. Worthen.
In Strand’s “Drain Bamage,” a young boy cannot forgive himself for dropping his infant sister while holding her. As the years pass, he never discloses the occurrence; just keeps scrutinizing her for signs of possible mental impairment. The weight of a bad conscience increases with age. It’s a burden that leads to pathological pathos. Worthen’s “Final Draft” is set during the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The striking imagery conveys the complicated emotions associated with that war and time. It is painfully precise in hitting the chords of anguish and attrition inherent in combat. Febrile phantoms plague and remind. Soulful and sad, the horrors, both earthly and other worldly, hit home.Mental metamorphosis and mutation of the mundane are themes in “I Am Vision, I Am Death” by Erik Williams, and Colleen Anderson’s “Exegesis of The Insecta Apocrypha.” In the Williams story, dreams/visions blur with the seemingly substantive. Perception of identity is fragile and dicey. Persona pales when a mysterious hitchhiker catapults the central character into a twilight zone of recognition and acceptance.
The final tale in the book belongs to Anderson: It is a doozy. Insects rule in this yarn. They are the protagonist’s objects of focus and desire. Obsession is taken to horrific heights, as the author weaves and buzzes; bites and burrows; getting firmly under the skin.From its stunning first selection to its hard-hitting last, Horror Library, Volume 4 tantalizes with terror. It relishes probing personal demons and examining external evils. The scares are fresh; the 29 stories of high caliber. What a diabolical delight.
 Dark Deva’s Friday Fright Feature

Darkeva’s Friday Fright Feature 1.13.2012
Posted on January 13, 2012 by darkevaHorror Library Volume IV
Edited by R.J. Cavendar and Boyd E. Harris
Paperback Edition | Kindle Edition
253 pages
October 6, 2010
ISBN: 0977826260
How appropriate is it that on the first Friday the 13th of the year, I should choose to profile a horror anthology that contains some of the scariest, creepiest, crawls-on-your-skin short fiction? You may find yourself asking, But Darkeva, don’t you always make it a point to profile horror fiction all year round?Well, obviously it is a horror and dark fantasy review blog, but I still think it’s a neat little timing coincidence to celebrate, and it’s a coveted, but well-deserved, time slot for this week’s Friday Fright Feature, which is the fourth installment in the ongoing Horror Library volumes edited by Cutting Block Press, Horror Library Volume 4.Before you’re off to plan your latest Friday the 13th prank, or perhaps to watch any number of the Friday the 13th films (or whatever the case may be ), consider cracking open this tome of terrors.
There’s certainly no shortage of “Best of” or themed anthologies on the horror and fantasy shelves with the usual suspects–Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Simon R. Green, George R.R. Martin, etc, and although Horror Library Volume 4 contains works mostly by new and emerging authors like Nate Kenyon, Jeff Strand, Tim Waggoner, Lee Thomas, and Bentley Little among others, you’ll find some of the best short horror fiction within the pages of this anthology.My top recommendations are “Drain Bamage” by Jeff Strand (yes, you read that right), about a man who is consumed by fears that he’s given his baby sister brain damage because he dropped her on the head as a baby. This tale has a nice unexpected swerve at the ending. “A Very Important Message for Those Planning to Travel to Costa Rica,” which kicks off the anthology is a fusion of fiction and non-fiction–a brilliant introduction featuring a story within a story structure that acknowledges the reader. “Ghost Under Glass” by Tracie McBride is another great piece about a woman’s birth not going quite as she planned; this is one of the best pieces of the bunch.It’s so hard to choose favourites, because each of the pieces has something different to offer and is unique in its own way.
Other highlights include “The Dreamcatcher” by Nate Kenyon, which is a moving story of a fatherless boy who can’t let go, while Bentley Little impresses with “Jammers,” which sees the main character tormented by his belief that there are always cars at the start of a traffic jam who cause it in the first place–and they do it on purpose. Even more troubling, they’re not human–and they taunt the main character.”In the Red” by Charles Colyott is a piece that all writers should read, especially horror writers. It relates the bitter, disturbing reflections of a rejected writer, how much he hates his writer’s group and his wife, and how much he struggles with getting work done. But then he writes so much that his hands bleed, and the more he hurts himself, the more success he gains. The TV talk show circuit wants to do interviews with him, Hollywood wants to adapt his works, but he’s not interested in any of it. And in the end, the grim call to action is a tad on the disquieting side.
“Skin” by Kim Despins is another wonderfully sinister piece about a former priest who longs to return to the priesthood, perpetually doomed to be attracted to his sister–although he insists it’s not really his sister and it’s a being who has taken on her form. Freud would have been all over this one–oh, and there’s an ailing father in the mix, too (just when you thought the story couldn’t get any grosser) This is one of those stories that will really play with your head and makes you question everything that just happened; brilliant Tim Waggoner goes a slightly different route with “Sleepless Eyes,” which, after I read it, I thought it might have been a parody of gross-out horror, because it’s basically one gross description after another until it leads to an over the top conclusion and an ending paragraph that will make you laugh (but it’s intentional); definitely an interesting one.
“Flicker” by Lee Thomas is all about an abused girl who has big movie star dreams and gets involved with the wrong guy and finds herself on one of the weirdest film sets ever; kind of had a Marilyn Monroe vibe to it. Michele Lee’s story “What Was Once a Man” is also quite moving, almost with a triptych structure that deals with three characters–Meghan, Rick, and Sean. Megan becomes paralyzed after a vicious beating from her abusive father and completely loses the ability to fight back; Sean escapes his controlling mother and lives with the man he loves only for an accident to change everything and put the reins back in her court; and Rick becomes a zombie with a puppeteer, but it becomes apparent that his intentions aren’t as good as the other two. And they’re all stuck in a basement–definitely a good tale.”Santa Maria” by Jeff Cercone deals with a stain on an overpass wall that people flock to because it looks like the Virgin Mary to them, but the stain speaks to the main character, and tells him to return to the spot. He does, and it all goes downhill from there”All Dead” by JG Faherty is about a man who dreams of his deceased wife but can’t separate reality from his imagination and it has dire consequences; also a nice twist ending for this one.
You’ve got it all in this anthology of awe-inspiring tales that, even though it doesn’t have some of the bigger names you may traditionally be used to seeing, contains gut-wrenching, provocative, thought-provoking and dare I say literary horror fiction–horror for the thinking man (or woman). Not that a good old-fashioned vampire or zombie apocalypse plot isn’t great, but put the predictable stuff away and pick something up that’s got a lot more bite (By the way, is it just me or does the new Underworld movie look like it’s trying to imitate Resident Evil?)

Horror Library Vol 5

HL5_cover

FearNet+

review by Blu Gilliand

The term “horror library” conjures certain expectations. If you go to a library, you can assume you’ll find more than one specific kind of book. Likewise, a “horror library” is going to be home to more than one kind of horror – you’ll have your “Quiet Horror” section, your “Splatterpunk” section, your “Haunted House” section, your “Demonic Possession” section, and so on and so forth.
I believe that Cutting Block Press was very intentional in naming their anthology series Horror Library, and editors R.J. Cavender and Boyd E. Harris continue in this, the series’ fifth edition, to take an all-inclusive approach in collecting its contents. While readers who are only attracted to certain kinds of horror may find such far-reaching collections a hit-and-miss affair, those who are open to varying approaches to the genre will find plenty worth reading here.
Some of the terrible things you’ll stumble across here: a graveyard that harbors a horrible family secret; a bathtub in which drowning is the least of a small child’s worries; a frighteningly effective sex toy; a tale of all-encompassing grief, and vultures; and fresh takes on old standards like demon-summoning rock music, ghosts, haunted houses, and more.
Often in collections like this there will be one or two stories that really jump ahead of the pack in terms of impact, but that wasn’t the case this time around. There’s a consistent level of quality throughout the 30 stories presented here, a somewhat surprising accomplishment given the number of relative newcomers who appear alongside genre stalwarts like Ray Garton, Bentley Little and Jeff Strand.
“Themed” collections featuring various takes on common plot points (the apocalypse, vampires, etc.) have virtually taken over the market these days, which makes the Horror Library series all the more important as far as I’m concerned. It’s the sort of sampling that can give you satisfying versions of the kind of horror you enjoy, while at the same time introducing you to stuff you might never have investigated otherwise. Horror Library Volume 5 is an investment of time and money that yields nothing but positive returns.
[Full Disclosure: The author of this review published a short story, “Toll,” in Horror Library Volume 3.]

Blu Gilliand is a freelance writer of fiction and nonfiction. He covers horror fiction at his blog, October Country, and contributes interviews to the Horror World website. Follow him on Twitter at @BluGilliand


The Best of Horror Library: Volumes 1-5

Read all of the reviews here.

Order the paperback here.

 


Horror Library Vol 6

 

Irene Cole (Thoughts From Irene)

I love short horror stories so this was a huge treat for me. It was a great way to discover some new authors and also read some of my all time favorites. (My heart skipped a beat when I saw Bentley Little.)

This book contains 27 dark and delicious stories sure to fill you with dread…

My absolute favorites (in no particular order) were “The Plumber” by Bentley Little, probably because he is just so good at taking a mundane every day normal occurrence and turning it into something terrifying…

“We Were Monsters” by Lucas Pederson was quite clever but it’s hard for me to say too much without giving it away.

“The Creek Keepers’ Lodge” by Kathryn E. McGee reminded me of that old saying you can’t go home again. Or maybe it’s that you just plain shouldn’t go back if you managed to escape.

“The Night Crier” by C. Michael Cook was simply brilliant. I had never heard of this author before but this story just blew me away.

“Kalu Kumaraya” by Jayani C Senanayake  was another excellent story. If you have ever had a child or grandchild who spoke to an imaginary friend this one will give you chills.

“Five Pointed Spell” by Jeffrey Ford was spectacular. This was my first time reading anything by this author but I think I need to keep an eye out for anything else he writes from now on.

 

The HORROR LIBRARY ongoing anthology has a well-deserved repute for literate horror penned by talented authors. This volume ranges from first publication of an author, through not yet well known talent, to horror household names, satiating a wide interest range while simultaneously inspiring a desire to explore these authors further. 27 stories are accompanied by an illuminating introduction from the new editor, whetting readers’ horror-loving appetites.

I think one of the best things about this book is that the tales have a range of gore, naughtiness, and even some humor. Normally, I like visceral and brutal stories, but the authors selected for Horror Library Volume 6 have ways of communicating horror with the minimum of disturbing imagery, but the content… oh, the content of each expertly crafted tale is phenomenal.  This is the first Horror Library volume I have read. It makes me want to pick up the first five to see what they have to offer. Run out to get this immediately. Highly recommended.