First published back in February of 2018, The Sinister Horror Company’s charity anthology ‘The Black Room Manuscripts: Volume Three’ offered up twenty-five more gloriously gruesome short stories by some of the very best up-and-coming as well as well-established names in the horror genre.

Horrors, Both Old And New – Foreword by Adrian Shotbolt – 4 Pages
Introducing this third volume, online reviewer Adrian Shotbolt (aka the Grim Reader) from beavisthebookhead.com gives us the low down on what he sees as the standout names in the collection; providing a small snippet on each as well as they’re previous work, before signing off with a respectful nod towards the anthology’s publisher.

Prologue – Daniel Marc Chant – 8 Pages
The space craft had suffered substantial damage.  There was now a gaping hole in ship’s side big enough for a man to crawl through and the warp drive was shot to shit.  Getting home was going to be a problem.  Corporal Dave Fermi and Private Willard Deaning were already working on getting the breach in the ship’s side fixed.  God alone knew what they’d do about the warp drive.  However, Captain Vanya Hertz had other things on her mind.  Other things, such as the strange presence that had arrived in their ship.  Something that the ship was reporting as being from beyond their galaxy…

Kick starting the anthology we have anthology compiler Daniel Marc Chant’s first half of a short, sharp and goddamn snappy sci-fi horror offering (the concluding instalment is at the end of the anthology).  It’s the sort of quick-fire offering that’s all about building up the mounting suspense, until the very last sentence when the curtains are suddenly drawn back and the full extent of the horror is revealed.  Well, I say that, but if I’m honest it’s not fully revealed (not at this stage anyway).  But there’s just enough to know that even in space, Chant’s drawn to the same Great Old Gods.  It’s just another excellently delivered, and ingeniously encapsulating horror from a man who’s Lovecraftian / Ashton Smith influence is gradually developing into an obsession.

AC43RON – Lex H. Jones – 16 Pages
Oliver Kent had no idea where he was heading, no idea what was going on, or why his wife and son had suddenly disappeared.  However his gut and every instinct he had told him he had to keep on driving.  Driving through the seemingly endless fog.  Ever since ‘the event’ which saw his family vanish from right beside him, he’d not seen anyone else.  Not a living soul.  Just him, the road, the fog, and something else.  Someone behind him.  Headlights tracking him.  Following him.  Constantly at his heels.  But Oliver knew he had to keep on going.  Keep ahead of the car that always seemed to be behind him…

This is quite an unsettling one.  At first you think you’re dealing with some weird sci-fi style post-apocalyptic story.  However, as the tale progresses, a strange nightmare-like edge to everything starts to creep into the tale.  Author Lex Jones absolutely capitalises on this, shovelling in textbook dream sequence elements to keep you feeling permanently disorientated.  Furthermore it all has a sense of unnerving surrealism about it.  A cloying sense of something that’s far from right.  However, it’s when the final page or so kicks in that the tale absolutely comes into its own.  Wonderfully done Lex.  Executed to near perfection.

The Hidebehind – Jonathan Butcher - 9 Pages
When she was young, Caz had read a children’s story about a creature that was always behind you.  Even if you turn around, it was always there, just out of sight, always behind you.  She called it the hidebehind.  It had been with her all her life.  Lurking there, just out of sight.  But Caz knew it was there.  She could feel its presence.  Sometimes, in the dull monotonous void that was her nine-to-five job in insurance, the hidebehind gave her some companionship.  Gave her something to feel connected with.  Not empty.  Never, ever alone…

And the stories keep getting stranger!  For his offering, British author Jonathan Butcher throws down one pretty bizarre tale, mixing a childhood paranoia with a pale-blooded slice of modern day nine-to-five living.  The story raises more questions, and prods its inquisitive fingers into more shadowy areas whilst circling a vague social commentary, than it does provide any clear, physical, graspable answers.  It’s certainly a short read.  Punchy and full of vigour as its first-person-perspective tugs you in before clubbing you to near death with a brutal finality as the tale comes hurtling to a vicious close.

A Death Most Hideous – Daniel Marc Chant – 22 Pages
It was on the 17th of August 1923 when the tramp steamer SS Halstead set sail for Southampton from the Egyptian port of Abu Sudr.  The ship’s captain – James Renton – had allowed on board a man and his singular piece of cargo.  The man had paid dearly for the admittance.  One such condition being that his cargo – a large wooden crate – be left alone.  No one was to open the crate.  No one to enquire as to its contents.  Renton agreed to this, and was duly rewarded for his discretion.  The secretive traveller was archaeologist Roger Hardwicke.  And he was returning to his homeland after discovering the tomb of the universally disliked Queen Naftret.  A discovery that had gone under the radar of most.  Or so Hardwick thought…

Ahhhhh, it’s that classic horror setup – a sealed wooden crate being shipped back, and no one knows what’s in there.  It’s a premise that’s been used more times than I can recall.  Nevertheless it’s still got so much potential left in it, that why the hell not keep toying with it.  Here author Daniel Marc Chant has used it to create a Hammer Horror style ‘Egyptian Curse’ style of story – written in an E.F. Benson, early 20th century fashion.  As you’d expect from this type of tale, there’s a heck of a lot of mystery and suspense woven into its fabric.  In fact, there’s far less ‘horror’ in the tale than there is ‘mystery’.  But it all comes creeping out of the proverbial woodwork as all is revealed and the classic Hammer Horror ending comes pounding at your cabin door.  Another solid offering from an author who clearly loves trying his hand at a multitude of different styles.

These Are Our Own Town’s Monsters – Paul Tremblay – 6 Pages
Brent and Hannah were clearly very keen on the house.  The realtor could see that from a mile off.  But then there was much to like about the property.  Especially with Tiller’s Swamp spreading out from the back of it.  However it was what came with the swamp that would ultimately secure the sale.  The legend of the swamp monster.  A humanoid being that was said to devour cats, dogs and even small unwanted children.  Then again there are other equally vicious monsters out there.  They might just not appear so…

And here we have the first of the truly strange stories.  It’s very short, with very little in the way of a ‘plot’ par se.  Instead, author Paul Tremblay pushes for a thick slab of social commentary, although he quite oddly doesn’t really explain what angle he’s actually going at the thing from.  As such, the story raises more half-formed questions than it does anything else.  Its oddness eventually edges towards something close to a half-baked idea, but nothing of enough substance to get you feeling one-hundred-percent on the same page as the author or indeed his strange tale.

Deceitful – C.C. Adams – 21 Pages
Elaine had been looking to buy a piece of jewellery for her lover when she saw Tyrone.  The thing was, Tyrone had been dead for some time now.  She’d been to his funeral.  Watched his coffin lowered into the ground.  Now here he was, in the flesh, as if nothing had happened.  It made no sense.  How could he still be here?  Alive.  Living, breathing, acting as if nothing had happened.  As if he hadn’t died.  As if they hadn’t once been lovers.  It made no sense.  Although the flooding guilt was the worst…

British author C.C. Adams comes in next with a quietly smouldering slowburner of a story that gradually, almost methodically, gnaws away at your senses until you feel unnervingly exposed to whatever’s to come next.  There’s no doubting that this is fundamentally a character-driven story.  Or at least, so it should be.  At the root of the tale we have Elaine and Tyrone.  The whole story is about them and what happened.  Unfortunately, neither Elaine, nor Tyrone (or indeed any of the inconsequential other characters) feel like they have any flesh on their bones whatsoever.  Yes there’s a rawness and a sense of aggravated emotional turmoil, but sadly there’s just not enough in the story to bring this to life; to make it feel part of something real.  It’s just hurt and loss and bitterness left to flutter away in an empty void.

Midnight In The Meat Room – Kerry Lipp – 13 Pages
Ernie Burns hadn’t been working in the Meat Room all that long.  He’d been moved to the Meat Room by the grocery store manager when there was a shortage of staff, and since then, that’s where he’d been stuck.  Although he didn’t mind too much.  He’d put his earphones in and just work through the nightshift listening to metal. Cleaning and sanitising the room and the meat cutting machines after the meat cutters had finished for the day.  It wasn’t the toughest of jobs.  Not if they left the room in a reasonable state.  Although sometimes it was pretty grim.  Like tonight.  He’d turned up late and now he had to work through his breaks in order to get it all done in time.  He probably would have managed to as well, if it wasn’t for the arrival of the masked men wielding machetes…

The idea of a job which involves cleaning and sanitising a butchery room that’s been used for cutting up meat all day is fucking grim – but let’s be honest, it makes damn good fodder for a short story.  Here author Kerry Lipp sets the scene along with a suitably edgy mood pretty much perfectly.  Our hapless protagonist – Ernie Burns – is fleshed-out to just the right amount, making him and his situation believable, whilst still allowing the reader to slip under his skin as the tension mounts.  And mount it does.  As soon as the intruders make themselves known, the tension goes through the frigging roof.  A damn entertaining read.

Followers – Paul Kane – 25 Pages
Since he finished university, Ian Sellers hadn’t moved on.  He’d stayed put in the small seaside town.  Working at the local card shop, never building up the nerve to take the plunge into the big wide world.  Everyone else he knew had moved away.  All except his mate Jason.  Now Jason was Ian’s one and only friend.  The two of them firm drinking buddies at their local.  Although Jason got damn tired of hearing about how much Ian missed Sadie since they’re relationship dissolved at the end of university.  She’d moved on, he hadn’t.  He missed her.  Missed her with all his heart.  In fact, he’d just spent the majority of the evening in the pub reminding Jason how much he missed Sadie.  Now he was on his way home.  Stumbling drunkenly through the lanes.  Although behind him Ian could hear the sound of footsteps keeping up with his.  Someone was definitely following him.  But why?...

One thing Paul Kane knows how to do is absolutely nail an eerie atmosphere that creeps through your guts like a flesh-hungry worm gnawing away at you.  Here we have somewhat of an unadventurous no-hoper of a protagonist who’s being stalked by some unknown assailants.  We have absolutely no idea why this guy’s being followed, why these creepy people are standing outside his home, staring up at the windows in the middle of the night.  It’s all very ‘In The Mouth Of Madness’ (1994).  And creepy as hell.  However the link between Ian’s life, his near-obsession with his ex – Sadie – and these strange followers is never truly explained.  It’s unbelievably downbeat and drenched in regret.  There’s also a fuck-tonne of horror in there. But it’s the bitterness soaking the pages that ultimately overwhelms the reader.  And it takes the tale to one surprisingly moving conclusion.

Toad In The Hole – Guy N. Smith – 10 Pages
It was some four to five years ago that Ibbotson had spent all those weeks stranded in the middle of a desert, hundreds of miles from civilisation other than a handful of scattered bush people’s dwellings.  He’d crash-landed with a young woman named Lisa.  They’d survived by making their way to a nearby oasis which provided them with life-giving water and subsistence.  Although whilst there Lisa had suffered a terrible accident collecting water from the small well by the oasis.  She’d died right there in the sun, face down in the water.  Ibbotson was at a loss.  He’d miss the one woman who he was beginning to think he might have a future with.  Although, ever the practicalist, the tragedy of Lisa’s death might offer some further hope for Ibbotson.  Hopefully without repercussions…

The godfather of pulp – Guy N Smith – offers up a quick-fire short utilising a similar premise to Frank Marshall’s film ‘Alive’ (1993), only here set in the middle of a desert rather than the Andes Mountains.  Smith doesn’t hang around before Ibbotson’s plane has crashed and it’s just him and his female passenger left.  The following weeks of survival are depicted as not-too-arduous considering the circumstances – with the duo surviving on lizards and well-water.  However, it’s when Lisa falls victim to a tragic accident by the well that the grittiness of the story starts to come in.  You’ve no doubt guessed where the story’s heading towards.  But it’s in Smith’s delivery where the pulpy appeal of the short leaves its mark.

A Stronger Magic – Anthony Watson – 21 Pages
Their children had started to go missing.  Washed up in the water was all that remained of their second child.  A shredded anorak goading them to fear the worst.  To fear the Qalupalik.  If the Qalupalik was to come then they knew things would get much worse.  They had to do something.  Whatever it took.  So they decided they would summon the Tupilaq to confront the Qalupalik.  To use a demon to kill one.  But in order to do so, their shaman Kayaktuak, had announced to the fearful village that he would have to enter the place of the dead.  Once there he would collect the bones.  Children’s bones.  For only they would work.  A task which makes you question if this is truly the right choice.  If it is the right way…

Dark fantasy is so often brimming with wonderfully inspired imagination.  Author Anthony Watson pushes the creativeness behind his short tale to an incredibly impressive level given the relatively short page count.  Indeed, there’s simply no hanging around with the tale.  We literally hit the ground running, commencing the story in the thick of the unfolding trauma and the villagers’ drastic measures.  There’s barely any time to get yourself adjusted to what’s going on before all horrific hell’s broken loose – somewhere crossed between a Lovercraft Old Ones story and Japanese Monster Movie mayhem.  However there’s a sinister tone behind it all.  A constant foot planted in a concrete base of horror.  Yeah, it’s bloody good fun.

Doody-Head – Lydian Faust – 13 Pages
It was in fifth grade when Jeff’s name was changed to Doody-head.  Todd Snyder and his gang had never gotten on with Jeff.  But it was when they decided to shove his head down one of the toilets at school that Jeff was awarded with his new name.  Of course the teachers at McAllister Elementary did nothing about the matter, other than tell Jeff to get changed.  Jeff also chose to keep the episode quiet from his mother.  Although he was sure she wouldn’t have cared wither way.  He just had to hide the shit smeared t-shirt from her and then she’d be none the wiser.  So he chose to bury it in the old doghouse.  They didn’t have a dog, so she’d never find it.  The only thing that bothered Jeff about doing that was the shirt was the last thing he had to remember his deadbeat dad by.  He’d died when Jeff was an infant.  So Jeff had no real memories of him.  Once the shirt was buried all he had to do was try and face the humiliation of his new name.  Somehow…

Bullying in school is an incredibly emotive subject matter.  Many have experienced or at least witnessed it.  Often it will leave emotional scars on people.  Author Lydian Faust has used the pain of such bullying to form the foundation for her psychologically-geared story, bringing the victim’s helpless hurt into sharp focus.  From here Faust takes us on a surprisingly detached-from-reality journey, until the magnificently thought-provoking twist ending comes crashing down on your skull, making you reassess the pathway the story led you down.  It’s the sort of tale which forces the reader to think at all points – to assess and take stock of what’s occurred and occurring.  And the reward for such is truly crushing.

Making Friends With Fold Out Flaps – Andrew Hook – 13 Pages
Hilary Swainthrope had always sought out the truth in things.  Always looked to shed away the fabric that covered the truth of the matter.  For her, truth itself was perfection.  From an early age she’d wanted to peel back the layers.  Creating dolls with fold out flaps for removing the clothing.  Of course back then she’d been Hilary Parsons.  Artist in the making.  Now she was married to Gavin.  But with that came the thing that she hated the most.  Lies.  A thin fabric of them, hiding his painfully obvious indiscretions.  That was not how Hilary wanted to live her life.  That was not who she was…

This is one of those stories that weaves a delicate web of strangeness that only very gradually begins to form a picture for the reader.  It’s quirky and odd, but all in a very good way.  In fact, the oddness is what makes the story.  It links the tale with the art it’s portraying.  Allows the reader to take the journey with the characters, so you can understand how our protagonist’s art has naturally evolved.  And through that, how the next logical step was made.  Chilling and incredibly compelling reading.

The Angels Of London – Adam L.G. Nevill – 27 Pages
The pub had been closed for years.  The furniture left unused, covered in dust, skeletons of their former life.  Above the derelict bar was the place Frank called home.  Home for the time being; until he got back on his feet again.  But life in London was hard.  His income as a temporary security guard barely covered the cost of rent, transport and food.  But each month he’d been able to put a little aside.  Enough so he’d be able to get out of this hellhole at some point soon.  He’d only been living there for four months and already, Granby, the withered old landlord, had tried putting the rent up each month.  He said he had no choice.  His family needed the money.  And the family came first.  In the Angel, the family always came first…

What a fucking story!  Talk about a creepfest.  Nevill’s offering is so damn atmospheric, so drenched in gloom and dirt and soiled dreams, it seems to penetrate your every pore.  From the very first paragraph the feeling of decay and the very depths of a slipping life begin to worm their way into you.  Nevill paints such a bleak and utterly depressing picture, that it’s nigh on impossible not to feel dragged down by the sheer weight of the misery.  And slowly edging out through this grime smeared gloom, we have one hell of an eerie story.  It’s like something akin to early ‘Books Of Blood’ era Barker.  Honest to god, this is the stuff of nightmares.  Truly terrifying.  What a read.

Haunted By Obscurity – Ash Hartwell – 18 Pages
Parisienne Rose knew that her career was stagnating somewhat.  Although to be fair, she never stayed out of the limelight for long.  She’d been basking in its glory for nearly thirty years.  But lurking behind the warm glow of fame, the former pin up girl was all too aware of all those dark and bitter memories, where drugs and sex had been the currency of her success and self-loathing and obscurity the penalty for failure.  It was a life Parisienne Rose had lived to the full and one she’d collected the scars from to prove it.  But now those dark memories were clawing at her door.  In the quiet darkness of nightfall, her past was reaching out to her one last time…

Everyone harbours memories from the past that they try to swallow down and keep from resurfacing for want of a life away from them.  It’s what makes us human.  We live, we learn, and we grow.  But sometimes those bitterly cold memories can come clawing back from out of nowhere.  And when they do, more often than not, they rip through us with a merciless efficiency.  Now, if you couple such an experience with some seriously heart-wrenching trauma from the past, along with some well-crafted horror, then you’ve got yourself the bare bones of what author Ash Hartwell has achieved with his miserable-as-sin offering.  And the key to its success is with how it’s all woven together so seamlessly.  It’s cruel and cold and ever so human.

Gifts – Phil Sloman - 22 Pages
Much to their frustration, Paul and Lily’s cat, Tibbles, had started leaving little ‘gifts’ for them.  The first was the mangled remains of a mouse that their five-year-old daughter, Susie, had found by their back door.  The next treat that Tibbles brought in was what appeared to be a stoat or a ferret or some other similarly furry creature.  But when Susie slipped on a raven’s carcass, they knew it was time to do something about it.  Time Tibbles had the snip.  Three weeks later he was dead.  However after Paul buries they’re beloved cat in their back garden, Lily starts hearing strange noises in the night.  Something’s not right.  In fact, something’s very, very wrong…

British author Phil Sloman’s somewhat of a master of creepyass short stories where the characters’ sanity is brought into question.  For a little while now this has been Sloman’s ‘go to’ theme.  A niche he’s absolutely nailed to near perfection.  Mix this with an 80’s style story, something akin to King’s ‘Pet Sematary’ (1983), and you’ve got one tasty old school horror that creeps as much as it thrills.  But there’s more than that in there.  Elements of ‘The Outer Limits’ (1963 - 1965) and a thoroughly dark uncertainty about what the holy fuck is going on brings out a desperate need to know what’s lurking behind it all.  Altogether a properly entertaining and eerie little tale.

Mary Mary – Ray Cluley – 29 Pages
Mary was out working on the garden when the Turner family arrived.  Next door hadn’t been empty for all that long before the young family had purchased it.  Mary watched as they started to move in.  The young boy – Peter – clearly bubbling with excitement at the prospect of living somewhere new.  Having a new family on the street brought a smile to Mary’s seventy-year-old face.  It would be good for the neighbourhood.  Good for her.  Although that night she was back out in her shed digging.  She would dig until she felt better, however long that took, and then she would refill the hole and tread the soil down flat once more.  Usually she managed months before the need returned.  But the arrival of the Turner’s had pushed her to return to the shed.  To start digging afresh.  To dig down to the children…

One thing author Ray Cluley knows how to do is spin an eerie, altogether unsettling tale.  They’re never in-your-face or grab-you-by-the-balls horror.  Instead it’s a careful unpicking of your outer protective layers.  It slowly, gradually, meticulously works its way under your skin with the creeping feeling of something that’s just that little bit off.  Mary – the aging neighbour to the young family – has a near-obsession for all things earthy.  All things natural that grow from the ground.  This, mixed with her compulsive need to keep digging up the ground within her shed, produces a feeling that little bit past ‘quirky’.  And as the story gradually rises up out of the soil, so the character of Mary carves a jagged wound right across your exposed nerve endings.  Chilling horror.

Bacon Man – Linda Angel – 10 Pages
As far as Mike was concerned he was a kept man who was more than happy to be kept.  Joni was a good woman to him.  Even though she was a strict, devote vegan, she still catered for exactly what Mike liked.  Of course what it ultimately came down to was what Mike ate.  In fact, as bacon formed almost his entire diet, naming Mike after his go-to-meal was a simple yet effective nickname.  So Bacon Man he’d become.  And she cooked his chosen meat in bucket loads for him.  Luckily her larder was well stocked with the stuff…

With tongue firmly wedged in her cheek, author Linda Angel delivers a quick-witted tale akin to Adam Millard re-writing ‘Delicatessen’ (1991).  It’s an amusing anti-meat-eating yarn that doesn’t take itself seriously for one second.  Yeah, you’ll probably guess what’s going on here from reasonably early on.  It’s not exactly the twist of the century.  But that’s not a problem.  It’s a damn entertaining little read regardless.  It’s all about the delivery.  All about the black comedy that pulses through the tale.  And of course, good ole Mike’s oblivious nature to it all.  Wholesome hearty horror fun.

Indebted – James Jobling – 22 Pages
Danny was in some pretty deep shit.  He owed Jim Mcleod ten mother fucking grand which he was supposed to have paid back last week.  But the real fundamental problem was that Big Jim was a violent, psychotic loan shark and Danny was completely flat-out broke.  No way was Danny going to be able to get the money he owed to Big Jim any time soon.  He knew it.  Big Jim knew it.  Even his two thuggish henchmen currently beating the crap out of Danny knew it.  Danny was in some deep, deep shit…

It’s one of them classic hard-boiled thriller premises – our hapless protagonist’s in a whole world of shit thanks to a pretty hefty debt he has with a notorious psychotic loan sharp.  Yeah, we’ve all come across similar stories in the past.  But where James Jobling’s tale forfeits originality (at least initially anyway) it more than makes up for in utterly entertaining narrative, dialogue and good old storytelling.  It’s a one-hundred-percent unpretentious character-driven read.  There’s a sly dark-witted charm to the story.  An absolute focus upon giving his handful of characters a fleshed-out feel.  Giving them their voices.  Their exaggerated personas.  Ultimately it’s what makes the story such an enjoyable read.  Pure unadulterated entertainment.

The Itch – Jack Bantry – 10 Pages
They were in Amsterdam for a stag do.  A bunch of lads, drinking, smoking and having a good time.  But Todd was beginning to regret his time there already.  A prostitute in the red light district had caught his eye, and against his better judgement, he’d slept with her.  Now he had an incessant itch around his groin.  He better not have gotten a dose of crabs from that prostitute.  God how it itched…

From the man that brought you the Splatterpunk Zine, we have a textbook example of some honest-to-god splatterpunk.  It’s grim and dirty and full of dark wit.  It’s another story where the characters absolutely make the tale.  Well, in this case the single character – that of Todd and his experience in the seedier corners of Amsterdam.  It’s the sort of story that’s designed to make you squirm in your seat.  And squirm you will as it hurtles towards a ferociously abrupt ending.

The Ugly – J.R. Park – 28 Pages
Ebon and Lenka had been taken off the streets three weeks ago by the police and handed over to social services.  Which was how Hayley Peterson came into contact with them.  Although despite the sympathy Hayley felt, despite the engrained desire to help, from the first moment she met the eight-year-olds, she couldn’t shake the feeling there was something wrong with them.  Something that sent a chill through her body and set her nerves on edge whenever she was in their company.  Now CCTV footage of them torturing a defenceless cat before consuming its blood-dripping flesh had emerged.  God there was something dark behind the pair.  Something that scared the hell out of Hayley.  Something ugly…

And we have a winner.  What a story.  What a goddamn scary as sin read.  There’s just so damn much in this short tale to pull you into its gut-churning embrace.  It reads like an early – 1980’s era – Mark Morris story, only with a distinctive J R Park edge to the final delivery.  There’s a whole underground ‘Candyman’ (1992) style vibe whispered throughout the story.  Something that taunts you.  Plays with your senses and sets your imagination loose to explore darkened passages you may not wish to travel down.  However, it’s how Park brings the story tearing back to reality with a corpse-cold perspective that ultimately makes the tale such a fundamentally ingenious success.  Yeah all the other elements in the tale help.  The dialogue’s believable and wholly without padding.  The characters are well-established, yet allow enough room for the reader to personalise them that little bit.  And the pacing is tight and unvaryingly focused.  But it’s the reversion to reality that ultimately gets to you.  And it’ll haunt you for days to come.

Murders On Morgue Street – Orrin Grey – 17 Pages
It’s the middle of the hottest summer on record when they find the body, no bones, nor much in the way of blood.  Just a rubbery skin and no apparent way to have extracted the insides.  You’re working the case with Detective Laughton.  But around every corner there appears to be something blocking the way.  Stunting the progress of you getting to the bottom of the recent murders.  And that’s when, purely by chance, you happen upon the Amazing Dr Mirakle.  A hypnotist whose performances at the local theatre offer a potential avenue for questioning.  Could the murders and subsequent cover-ups be the result of innocent members of the public doing things that they wouldn’t otherwise have even dreamt of doing?  Is it possible that someone could hold such power over others?  To draw out something in them.  Something animal…

Author Orrin Grey offers up an intriguing tale that’s clearly inspired by Poe’s classic ‘The Murder In Rue Morgue’ (1841), although to be fair, Grey’s reimagining of the story sees a whole new angle taken.  Indeed, from the original blueprint, there’s actually very little connecting the two.  Furthermore, what’s most intriguing about Grey’s offering is the injection of you, the reader, into the story.  You’re literally placed alongside Detective Laughton, investigating the recent spate of gruesome murders.  It almost reads like one of those ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ stories, where you’re the principal protagonist.  The story itself is a quirky nineteenth century over-the-top murder mystery, akin to a period set John Llewellyn Probert tale.  It’s damn good fun with plenty in there to have you grinning from ear to ear.

The Cloud Sculptors Of Hachimantai – Preston Grassmann & Chris Kelso – 14 Pages
It was said that the Hachimantai was the mountain belonging to the most powerful of gods.  Those that settled at its base had become accustomed to what the vast mountain brought.  Each day, the gods dropped more and more refuse from the sky which piled higher among the ruins, filling the streets with reminders of how little these people meant to the Olde Ones.  But Mahiro had other ideas.  He was tired of the Olde Ones walking over his kin.  It was time they took a stance.  It was time hope was given a chance.  And so, they began gathering the jewels.  The remnants of the dead.  For Obon was quickly approaching, and with it, the vast puppet-gods of the graveyard city…

Chris Kelso is an author with a seemingly limitless imagination.  His writing is so varied, so wonderfully alive, that each sentence truly captures the imagination.  Stitch in the sci-fi leanings of Locus Magazine’s Preston Grassmann, and you know you’re going to be treated to something that’s far from having its feet firmly on our terra forma.  Indeed, as far as imagination and stepping out into the relative unknown goes, this story ticks pretty much all the boxes.  It’s poetic and so carefully, lovingly sculpted.  Each word plucked from a maelstrom of creativity.  Each sentence a finely constructed piece, requiring more than a fleeting skim read.  And behind all this is a story of hope, strength and courage.  On the surface it reads like a reworking of Clive Barker’s ‘In The Hills, The Cities’.  However below the surface of the tale Kelso and Grassmann are airing other questions.  It’s nudging you to look between the foundations of the story, and at the ideas that float around beneath the layers.  Ultimately it’s something that’ll get you thinking, perhaps flicking back a page or two and pondering what it was that was left so purposefully unspoken.

Pater In Tenebris – Andrew Freudenberg – 10 Pages
As far as they knew, there had been no other survivors.  The world had gone quiet.  They hadn’t seen or heard anything since their daughter had been born.  That had been four years ago.  Ever since then he’d done his best to shield his wife and kids from the monsters that were out there in the real world.  But a small lapse in concentration had ruined it all.  He knew he’d soon be joining the ranks of the undead…

It's a premise any good post-apocalyptic fan is more than a little acquainted with.  Family of survivors left in a world that’s very possibly devoid of all human life except for the bloodthirsty undead.  And then one of them gets bitten.  Cue textbook end-of-the-world dilemma.  Author Andrew Freudenberg delivers the story well, with a tightly written and punchy narrative that keeps its eye squarely on the target throughout.  The story reads kind of like a David Moody take on ‘I Am Legend’ (1954).  Although not exactly brimming with originality, it’s nevertheless a good, solid offering that’ll keep you entertained.

Orson’s Gas N Go – Glenn Rolfe – 20 Pages
Orson Allister was hoping for a big-eyed girl with bouncing knockers to come fill up at his petrol station.  What he got instead was a couple of long-haired louts thinking they were oh-so-amusing.  One of the idiots even thought he’d try a little shoplifting.  Orson may be getting on in years, but he was still able to spot a light-fingered thief in his shop when he saw one.  Luckily he knew just what to do about the matter.  He’d learnt from his father.  “You have to take killing seriously” he used to say.  It was a rule Orson lived his life by.  After all, he sure didn’t want to have Chief Gunter on his back again…

There’s just something about a gritty horror set in the outbacks of some dusty US state that works so damn well.  Author Glenn Rolfe’s penned such a story, that stands shoulder to shoulder with the likes of ‘Wolf Creek (2005), ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ (1977) or ‘A Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (1974).  Orson Allister is the principal character of the piece.  He’s a psychopathic killer who’s gotten away with his crimes for too long.  Rather than have a heroic protagonist, instead Rolfe has completely embraced his murderous antagonist, and instead throws a scared-to-death trucker his way, and a couple of spit-and-sawdust cops.  It’s damn entertaining, with plenty of gruesome scenes of violence thrown in to keep it firing along at a thousand miles a minute.  Great fun.

Nolan Higgs Is Out Of His Depth – David Moody – 18 Pages
Nolan Higgs had let his wife, Maria, down more times than he could remember, but he wasn’t going to let the same thing happen today.  This was his chance.  His big chance to prove to everyone he wasn’t a loser.  He’d not long been out of prison for his last fuck up.  But this time he had a plan.  A solid gold plan he’d formulated from the best in the business, whilst he was inside.  And today was the day.  He was in with the big boys now, and it was finally his time to shine.  His time to bring in the big bucks…

Here author David Moody offers up a gritty crime thriller with a grin-inducing black comedy edge to it.  It’s completely character focused and rich with dry wit because of it.  Our principal character – the hapless Nolan Higgs – is the sort of character who’s so easy to warm to.  And the accompanying story, the unveiling of his great plan, is drip-fed to us in order to keep us perched right on the edge of our seats.  This really is one hell of a fun and entertaining read.  It’s like something Kit Power would write, only with more of a David Moody character focus to it.  Absolutely loved it!

I Am The Storm – Michael Bray – 25 Pages
When James Ellington lost his wife and unborn child to a drunk driver veering off the road, his whole world fell to pieces around him.  In the wake of the tragedy James struggled to pick up any pieces of his former life.  The guilt was cutting him up.  Tearing at his soul.  That was until in the smoking area of the grief counselling building he met a strange man who offered him another solution to his pain.  A second chance to make amends.  The opportunity to see those he lost one last time.  One last chance to put things right.  A small pill that would connect him to his loved ones for one last time.  What if it was true?  What if the pills this man was selling were actually as he advertised them?  Surely anything was worth a shot.  Anything was better than the crushing guilt he felt…

Man is this a sad one.  Author Michael Bray is not one to shy away from the more sorrowful side of writing.  Here we see just that.  A man wracked with sadness and the endless torment of guilt from the loss of his young family.  He’s desperate for a way out of the hurt.  And then from out of the blue a strange man offers him the opportunity to actually speak with his dead wife one last time.  An offer that is surely too far-fetched to be true.  So yeah, we’re instantly on guard.  Instantly untrusting of this supposed opportunity.  Of course, Bray plays with this hesitancy perfectly.  He keeps his cards close to his chest, only revealing one at a time, to keep the compulsion of getting behind the mystery pumping through your veins.  However, it’s the connection we have with our desperate protagonist that really makes the story.  It’s drenched from head to toe in bitter and utterly raw emotion.  And it pulls at your heartstrings from the very first page all the way until the end.

Epilogue – Daniel Marc Chant – 6 Pages
Drifting through the cold, unfeeling depths of interstellar space, Corporal Dave Fermi and Private Willard Deaning had come to the realisation that they were highly unlikely to ever see home again.  Not because of the damage sustained to the S.C. Canute they were stranded within.  Although of course this caused considerable concern.  Rather they felt their inevitable doom was sealed by the octopoid beast that was bearing down on them.  Now Dave heard nothing except that terrible phrase in his head: Pasher Tagoth Imra! And with that he could feel his sanity slipping away.  Pasher Tagoth Imra!...

Concluding his sci-fi horror story, Chant lays down the second half of his tale, creating a bookending effect for the anthology as a whole.  This second slab of Lovecraftian horror launches us straight back into the thick of things, with the Great Old One bearing down on the stranded spacecraft, pretty much sealing the fates of the two remaining astronauts.  However Chant’s got one last twist up his sleeve. It’s a sort of classic 60’s sci-fi twist, embedded in the whole Lovecraftian / ‘Event Horizon’ (1997) storyline.  And it works wonders in getting you smirking from the sheer horror of it all.

Afterword – Mark Richard Adams – 11 Pages
Hellbound Media’s Mark Richard Adams ends the anthology with a look at how and why horror as a genre has so often been attacked, marginalised, criticised and condemned.  However, despite its apparent villainisation, Adams goes on to explain why horror does not in fact need defending.  Adams outlines the absurdness of the accusations thrown at our chosen genre, the impact of the likes of the moral-crusader Mary Whitehouse from back in the 70’s, and the crucial difference between critics and horror academics.  It’s an interesting and well-informed read that not only gets you pondering horror as a whole, but also stirs up a kind of protective-love for the genre and its community.

The anthology runs for a total of 476 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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