First published back in September of 2014, ‘Campfire Chillers’ formed a collection of twelve creepy horror short stories all containing a ‘told around the campfire’ theme that were penned by British author Dave Jeffery.

The collection begins with a ‘Tales From The Crypt’ style introduction by the anthology’s charismatic undead Scoutmaster.  Following this small introduction, the Scoutmaster returns at the start of each short story (ala ‘The Cryptkeeper’) to throw in his two pence worth by way of a humour-filled introduction.  If you’ve seen any episodes of ‘Tales From The Crypt’ then you know the score.

The Grave – 6 Pages
Harry had gone to visit the grave of his father, Eric Theodore Arthur, so that he could pay his respects.  It had been a year since his father had been killed.  And on this sombre anniversary, there was no one more befitting to accompany Harry than Jonas Smith.  After all, Jonas’ father had been there when Eric died.  And some things just aren’t forgotten.  Even when you’re six feet under the cold, dark earth…

Here we have a suitably ‘Creepshow’-esque short to open the collection with.  You’ve got your typical eerie backdrop, with a suitably vague understanding laid out of what’s going on.  There’s enough intrigue and unveiling mystery to keep the short tale unwinding at a solid pace; ultimately coming to a smirk-inducing twist-ending that sits nicely with the overall theme of the story and indeed the collection as a whole.

The Screaming Scout – 8 Pages
One of the things that Hugo Champion enjoyed most about being a Scout Leader was retelling his favourite campfire story late at night and then watching the young scouts’ faces go white as a sheet.  And that night the story had worked a treat once again.  Young Josh Nichol, the troop’s new arrival, had clearly had quite a scare from the tale.  So much so that later in he’d woken the whole camp up screaming in the middle of the night.  Hugo was beginning to think perhaps he shouldn’t have told that particular tale.  Not on Midsummer Eve at least…

Here we have a typical campfire story with a textbook build-up towards a horror-fuelled conclusion.  In fact, it’s exactly the sort of tale that is no doubt told by Scoutleaders around campfires to this day.  It’s got all those delightfully clichéd horror elements in it that make a story like this work so well.  A thoroughly time tested and winning formula.  Although it’s admittedly about a thousand miles clear of anything that could be classed as original.  But who cares?!

Witch’s Brew – 8 Pages
Richard Sparks, Wayne Jukes and Debbie Harding had been hiking out in the hot sun for hours and now they were thoroughly tired and thirsty.  And so when they spied a well at the top of the nearby hill they thought their luck had well and truly come in.  An inscription chiselled into the well’s side stating a witch had cursed the well’s water back in 1650 wouldn’t dissuade them from quenching their thirst with the crystal clear water.  After all, who believes in witch’s curses these days?...

I’m really beginning to get the idea of this collection.  Textbook campfire chillers, each story sharp and with just enough of a shock in them to keep you turning the pages.  Okay, if we’re honest they’re not exactly going to scare the hebejebes out of anyone over the age of eight years old, but they’ve got just the right amount of wistful nostalgia in them to keep you entertained.  And this story’s absolutely no exception.  You can predict the decidedly gruesome outcome from a mile off.  But that doesn’t seem to dampen the enjoyment of the short.

Rock Face – 7 Pages
Steve Wilding was an Explorer scout who relished the challenge that nature threw at the feet of men like him.  He respected the landscape and what it could offer.  And the mountain he was currently scaling was no different.  In the past twenty years over one hundred people had vanished whilst attempting to scale this mountain side.  Steve didn’t want to add to that number.  But when he was lowered down the rock face he heard a small voice coming from within fissure.  Someone was trapped in there.  Someone needed help.  And he wanted to be the one to give it…

Yep, once again you know where this one’s going.  Predicable it may well be, but it’s nevertheless still one fun read.  Don’t take these little shorts too seriously.  Simply sit back and embrace the sheer delight of a good old fashioned horror yarn.  Because that’s exactly what this story (like all the others in the collection) is.  Expertly told with just the right build-up for a short of this length, and signing-off with a suitably horrific ending.

The Camp Creeper – 11 Pages
Daniel Carlson was on his first camp with the Redditch 21st.  In the run up to St George’s Day, the scouts had made it something of a tradition to camp out in the Lickey Hills in Worcestershire.  It was an annual gathering of scout groups that always went down well with the boys.  But of course there was one small problem with the event.  Each year the Camp Creeper was said to stalk through the site.  The scouts would hear it creeping around, but no one ever saw the alleged Creeper.  That is, other than their pack leader Ed Jansen.  But now that Daniel Carlson knew about it, he wanted to see the Creeper for himself.  Even if it went against everything his pack leader said…

This is a fun one.  Typical scout campsite setting.  Typical story about a creature roaming around the camp each year.  It’s pretty much the story that encapsulates the entire theme of the collection.  And, although (once again) somewhat predictable with its ‘ironic twist-ending’ it’s nevertheless another thoroughly entertaining read.

The Wolf Of White Wharf – 27 Pages
Lucas Walker and his best friend Elmo had gone up the White Wharf when they happened upon a boat coming to shore.  A boat that was clearly smuggling something in.  Hiding close by they watched as the men on board heaved a huge crate over the side of the boat, only to have it burst open and a huge white wolf come pouncing out.  The two young lads flee to their friend Beatrice’s house where they relay their strange story.  However, the magnitude of the problem at hand makes itself known the very next day when a field full of slaughtered sheep is discovered.  The quiet rural village of Dorsal Finn clearly has a problem roaming its sleepy fields and woodlands.  And the young friends all want in on the story…

A veritable homage to Guy N Smith’s classic pulp stories, Dave Jeffery has penned a short that encapsulates so much of the master pulp writer within its small page count.  On the face of it we have a beast running wild in the countryside, which quite quickly starts leaning into a lycanthropic direction.  It’s clearly a respectful nod towards Smith’s work, and you can tell Jeffery’s enjoyment at penning the story through the eagerness that’s evident within the pace of his writing.  There’s no real blood or pulpish action, but what there is, is a very tightly-paced tale, with plenty of twists keeping the storyline energetic and intriguing.  The only downside to the short is a surprising lack of characterisation.  But bloody good fun nevertheless.

House Of Shapes – 13 Pages
The four of them had gone hiking up the hills together.  Andrea Smart was the hike leader who had organised it all.  But a huge wall of rain and wind had made their weekend trip into the hills a complete washout.  When the thunder and lightning came along, they decided enough was enough and made their way back down the muddy embankment.  And then, as if to their rescue, they saw a collection of lights off to the side of the track.  A mansion out in the middle of nowhere.  The building, Constantine Manor, was somewhere they could hopefully take refuge from the storm.  However as they stood in front of the property they realised one of their party was missing.  But Jenny’s disappearance was to be the least of their troubles that night…

Okay, so we well and truly know the vibe of the collection by now.  And here we have another story of hapless young campers venturing into a sticky supernatural-horror situation.  It’s as clichéd as they come.  The predictability meter has shot deep into the red.  But still there’s just plenty of fun to be had here.  You’ve probably read a thousand horror shorts with a similar premise.  And at times Jeffery’s offering does feel a tad too contrived.  But I guess it’s the simple pleasure of the fast-paced get-in-get-out nature of the story that makes it still a barrel of horror lovin’ fun.

Guess What We’re Having For Supper? – 11 Pages
Mark Hanson and the six other members that made up the Tiger Patrol were on their way up Snowdonia when the fog hit.  Scout leaders Mark Ashton and Craig Howes decided that the best course of action for them was to set up camp and try to wait the fog out.  However, as the days stretched on, and the blanket of fog continued to thicken, their predicament gradually became more and more precarious.  To make matters worse, the small group of scouts had heard the sound of some animal in the nearby vicinity.  Their options were slowly running out, as was their ever dwindling food supply…

This is a great little story.  A bunch of scouts stranded up Snowdonia with some sort of wild animal hanging around them in the impenetrable fog.  A suitably fertile plot for some horror.  And Jeffery works the situation nicely; throwing some much needed tension into the group to keep things grinding away until we get to that glorious (although again slightly predictable) twist-ending.  Utterly entertaining from start to finish.  And very possibly the highlight of the collection.

New Boy – 6 Pages
Robert Moyles couldn’t help but think that there was something different about the new boy.  Something mesmerising.  Even though Robert was sitting with the rest of his scout friends, he couldn’t help but stare at the new boy; sitting there by himself on a tree stump staring down at the timepiece in his hands.  Well, if no one else was going to make the effort to talk to the new boy, then at least Robert would.  For some reason, he felt compelled to make contact…

Here we see Dave Jeffery venture into more subtle and creepy territory.  At only six pages in length there’s very little to the short other than building up to the big revelation at the end.  As such, it’s all about gradually, piece by piece, laying down the ambiguous groundwork for the final moments to turn everything on its head with.  And fair do’s to Jeffery – he pulls it off to near perfection.  Nicely done good sir.

Cross Your Heart… - 8 Pages
Richard Clay had been just eight years old when he died in the River Severn.  For the three older boys who had been with him on that fateful day, it was a moment that would continue to haunt them.  Now the three boys had met at the very place where it happened.  Exactly one year afterwards.  They were the only ones that knew what had happened to the boy.  Richard Clay had been consumed by the river because of something they did.  Or rather something they made him do…

This decidedly downbeat little tale has a sort of Stephen King ‘The Body’ (1982) / ‘Stand By Me’ (1986) vibe going on.  That’s not to say it had a similar storyline.  Far from it.  But it’s a premise involving the tragic events in a group of young boys’ past that seems all so familiar.  King loves to utilise such an angle.  It’s instantly engaging.  It pulls on your heartstrings.  And to be fair, Jeffery has used the premise particularly well within his depressing little tale.  And I really do mean depressing – because there’s not a glimmer of anything remotely jolly in this short.

Cold Compass – 8 Pages
Charlie Boswell and Harvey Robinson were out on the sprawling moors of Dartmoor National Park as part of an orienteering exercise for the adventure scouts.  However, when the clouds above them start converging and thunder rolls across the horizon, the two young scouts begin to worry.  The old-fashioned compass that Charlie had recently found hadn’t been working the entire time they’d been out hiking.  But now, as the two boys realised they might be lost on the extensive moors, suddenly the compass had sprung into life.  The question was, could they trust its reading?...

Once again Jeffery has favoured a creepier, slower-burning storyline, with time spent on building up the atmosphere and escalating-tension to bring the reader to the tale’s dramatic final moments.  All through this the short is projected upon a cold and bleak backdrop, which magnifies the increasing desperation of the two young characters.  It’s another short that works well with its mission to unnerve and creep the reader out.  Okay, so again it’s not exactly ground-breaking stuff – but for a short tale of this length, it pretty much does what it sets out to do.

Wish You Were Here? – 10 Pages
After receiving a torrent of abuse from grumpy retired gravedigger, Mr Rowling, for merely staggering onto his lawn whilst a little boozed up; the four lads decide to get their own back.  They were due to go off on a ‘lads holiday’ together down the southwest of England, which gave them the perfect opportunity to get their own back on the grumpy old sod.  Rowling’s pride and joy, Liam the Gnome, was about to embark upon a tour of the southwest with them.  And to top it all off, Aled Jeffery planned to take a picture of the gnome as it went skydiving into the Atlantic at Land’s End.  But what the four of them are soon to realise is that all pranks have consequences…

It’s like one of those really bad (but oh so enjoyable) 80’s horror films.  A vengeance-fuelled gnome on the rampage.  You’ve gotta love it!  Okay, so Jeffery probably nabbed the idea from fellow author Stuart Neild’s novella ‘Gnomes’ (2010), but who cares?  It’s just 80’s style low-budget horror fun.  Don’t take the story too seriously.  Jeffery clearly had his tongue in his cheek when he penned it.  It’s stupid, and over-the-top, and just so goddam fiendishly entertaining.

Tooth And Claw – 9 Pages
Sabre the Siberian White Tiger had been stolen for convenience rather than anything else.  Jerome Smith was a successful entrepreneur and businessman of spurious background.  And now you could add dangerous animal thief to his CV.  You see, he had an idea of how to make some very, very good money.  There were those out there who would pay an awful lot to be able to hunt such a rare and prized animal. Those wealthy enough to hand over a million each just for the chance to kill such a beast.  And Jerome Smith was more than happy to exploit such a window of opportunity…

Back to the Guy N Smith style stories.  And this one’s a beauty.  Jeffery utilises a fiendishly clever concept, combining it with a big-cat-hunter-cum-stalking-horror storyline which races along at a perfectly blood-pumping pace.  Another one of those definite highlights to the collection.  The story is pure unadulterated entertainment from start to finish; with plenty of gruesome comeuppance to keep the horror fiends happy.

The Truth Will Out – 14 pages
The quest for truth was a doctrine by which John Walker lived his life.  It was something that was instilled in him from a young age by his parents.  So it was no great surprise to anyone that John Walker ended up following a career in law.  However, on the night when he celebrated passing his Bar Exam, against his better judgement, John Walker took the decision to enjoy a second glass of champagne before getting behind the wheel.  It was a decision that would prove very costly for the poor soul John would hit and kill on the way home.  However, it was also a decision that would eventually prove equally as costly to John.  As his dear mother always said…the truth will out…

To end the collection with Dave Jeffery offers up a short tale of devilish comeuppance and grim justice told from along a wonderfully gory road.  We’re talking some good old fashioned pulp here.  The end result is as you’d predict, but the over-the-top visceral gore that accompanies said plot is perhaps not what you would have banked on.  And the final punch to the gut at the very final moment of the tale is one hell of a way to sign the collection off with.  Nice one!

The collection runs for a total of 155 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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