First published back in November of 2011, British writer and editor, Dean M Drinkel’s anthology ‘Phobophobia’ offered up a collection of phobia-inspired horror stories for every letter of the alphabet, plus an additional bonus story to end the anthology on a particularly chilly-high.  Due to its relative success, the anthology was later followed up with the similarly themed sequel collection ‘Phobophobias’ (2014).

A is for Aquaphobia – ‘Aqua Mortis’– Adrian Chamberlin – 13 Pages
Upon returning to the village of Haverton, the Witchfinder found a terrible draught had been bestowed on the dry and dusty land.  The innkeeper, Joshua Reynolds, watched from the inn doorway as the tired and weary man drew closer to the village, huddled into himself under the burning August sun.  The people of Haverton remembered the Witchfinder well.  How could they forget?  He had murdered each and every one of their women.  However, for the Witchfinder, memories of Haverton were also etched onto his mind.  For it was here that he had performed the cleansing on Rebecca Moore.  The old woman who cursed him before a lightning bolt had hit the gibbet and set her body alight.  Then the rain came and flooded the land.  And those haunting words had plagued his mind ever since.  “Aqua Mortis will be your curse and your destruction”…

What a way to kick-start the anthology off with.  Chamberlin’s devilishly dark short has well and truly set the phobia-themed collection off on a fittingly sombre note; laying down a bleak and foreboding atmosphere from the very outset, and continuing on without even a hint of respite from the gloom.  In somewhat standard form for Chamberlin, the story is a historically set tale that captures the overall harshness felt at the time.  Trust me, you’re not going to come out of this story feeling good about life.  But it’s one hell of a compelling read nevertheless.

B is for Bibliophobia – ‘Words To the Wise’ - Paul Kane – 11 Pages
For Samuel Kellerman books contained the very worst evils of the world.  Inside their bindings creatures existed.  Monsters that could take shape, using language to mould themselves into something that could never be stopped.  Something that invariably wanted him.  No matter where Samuel was, there were always books.  Words.  Monsters.  And now he’d had enough.  He just had to get away from them all.  So he moved out to the countryside where he hoped he could escape words.  But some things you just can’t escape.  And some fears really are justified…

Here we have one of those seemingly wacky phobias that seem to fundamentally strange to you and I.  A fear of words.  Surely there’s no reason or rationale behind such a peculiar phobia?  But what if there is?  What if Samuel’s fear has a basis to it?  Paul Kane’s story plays with the real-or-not-real question to this fear, gradually building upon a slowly developing idea until the somewhat predictable finale is reached.  Concept-wise the story is certainly an interesting and engaging read.  However, you’ll probably see where the story’s going from a veritable mile off.  Still, it’s not a bad little read.

C is for Coulrophobia – ‘The Clown Cemetery’ - Sean Sweeney – 8 Pages
Camille had always known that clowns wanted to hurt her.  She had always known their true intentions.  And because of that, their presence scared the hell out of her.  She knew this was ultimately the reason for arriving at the cemetery.  She wanted to end her phobia once and for all.  Standing there, surrounded by a blanket of fog, she looked around at the Clown Cemetery.  And then the ground began to move.  Camille wasn’t alone…

And here we have our first contestant for ‘weirdest story in the collection’.  The short reads more like a blurry nightmare sequence rather than a story with any real plot or direction.  Intentional or not, this strange vagueness doesn’t exactly do the short any real favours.  Furthermore, Sweeney decides not to define his principal character and narrator at all.  As such, it’s only as the reader nears the end of the short tale that they find out the narrator is in fact female.  The rest of the story is a bizarre action-rich concoction involving zombie clowns and decaying fairground rides in a cheesy cemetery setting.  Weird and wacky and unfortunately not really all that entertaining.

D is for Dementophobia - Emile-Louis Tomas Jouvet – 11 Pages
Because of the dense fog, he could see no further than an arm’s length.  He edged closer to the water’s edge wrapped in a blanket of mist and confusion.  A small wooden boat rested there inviting him on board.  He had nowhere else to go.  He was alone.  And so he pushed off into the still water, and drifted outwards without direction.  His thoughts his only company.  And then the sound of an accordion could be heard carried through the creeping mist.  He was nearing something.  Some recognition.  Some understanding of it all…

What’s one of the scariest things that can happen to you?  Beasts tearing through a treeline hell-bent on savaging you?  Spectral presences haunting your sleepless nights?  Or perhaps losing all of your memory?  Your mind becoming an empty wasteland of lonely confusion.  I know for me this latter thought is possibly the scariest.  There’s no escaping this nightmare.  There’s no getting away from it.  It’s bloody terrifying.  And Jouvet knows this only too well.  His short is one immersed by a cloak of confusion.  The desolate landscape is as haunting as that of Algernon Blackwood’s ‘The Willows’ (1907).  It’s cold.  It’s too quiet.  It’s a story that seeps under your skin.  And my god if it’s not the most foreboding horror story of the entire collection.  Cheers for messing with my head Emile-Louis.

E is for Electrophobia – ‘Elmo’s Light’ - Kate Jonez – 11 Pages
Elmo had been providing Port May with their light.  But in his home things were getting out of control.  With machete in hand, Elmo was cleaving plugs off the humming silver box that sat taunting him in the corner of his house.  Severed electrical leads clattered about on the aluminium foil carpet around him.  He had a job to do, and he wasn’t about to fail his people now.  But this time he needed a little help.  But he knew just who he could rely on to come right away.  Even with thunder and lightning tearing up the night sky, Elmo’s niece, Dora, would answer his call…

Jonez’s contribution is pretty wacky it must be said.  The story kicks off with Elmo fighting with a buzzing steel box that grows electrical leads.  In the thick of this off-the-wall action, Jonez jumps elsewhere to a group of youngsters chatting away.  In fact, the story jumps back-and-forth between Elmo and Dora throughout its length, causing a bit of head scratching from the reader, until the short finally starts to edge towards its equally far-out ending.  Whether Jonez has made the underlying plot of the story clear enough for the reader is no doubt down to each individual.  Personally, I found the whole crazy concept a tad too ambiguous.  Nevertheless, it’s still a hell of an entertaining read whatever way you go.

F is for Frigophobia - Dave Jeffery – 14 Pages
She woke with her wrists bound to the arms of a chair.  The heat in the room was stifling.  As she looked up she recognised the man that stood opposite her.  Robert Swanson.  He was one of her clients.  And now she was totally at his mercy.  As a successful psychologist, Dr Juliet Tiernay thought she might be able to garner some understanding why her patient was doing this to her.  What triggered this response?  What was it he wanted?  But first she had to confront her worst fears.  First she had to overcome the deep emotional trauma she suffered at the hands of her cruel grandmother…

Author Dave Jeffery has gone straight for the jugular with his phobia-heavy short.  And to be fair, it pulls absolutely no punches.  Tied down and tortured by one of her mentally unhinged patients, and then subjected to her very worst fear – thrown inside a bitterly cold fridge.  Top it off with some brief hints of an incestial upbringing for our psychotic patient, as well as flashbacks of some pretty horrific punishments for his victim, and you end up with something that gets you right in the gut.  There’s absolutely nothing light-hearted or comical in this addition.  It’s mean, it’s grim, and it hits the perfect chord for an anthology on phobias.

G is for Gatophobia - S.L. Schmitz – 6 Pages
For his fifth birthday Kirin wanted a new pet.  Accordingly, the mother sent Kirin out to choose one with their Nannybot in tow.  Upon arriving at the pet shop, Kirin decides upon a nocturnal vampiraptor revenant.  A subspecies of the Borgia purebreds that is sensitive to light and has very specific dietary guidelines which must be followed to the letter.  The creature’s DNA isn’t amphibious-primary, so the mother accepts.  Delighted with his new pet, Kirin names her Miss Ravigale and pleads to be able to take her to school with him for ‘Show and Share’.  But small oversights with ingrained genetics can lead to some very messy repercussions, as Kirin and his class are soon to find out…

S.L. Schmitz’s short is one of those that appears to spend more time relating the various technological advances of the future than it does on the actual plot.  Indeed, the plot in the author’s story is relatively threadbare, with only a dash of anything horror or indeed phobia related in there.  The rest of the story is just ‘Tomorrow’s World’ predictions that’s given a vague smattering of dry wit in its delivery.  Not exactly the most enthralling of reads, but still quite entertaining for a short tale.

H is for Hagiophobia – Symbols Of Damnation - Tracie McBride – 10 Pages
Felix wasn’t having a particularly good day.  He’d just been sent home from work for messing up big time, and there was a good chance that come tomorrow he’d not even have a job to go to.  And it was all because of a stupid crucifix waving in front of him.  A symbol of a religion that had brought him nothing but utter misery during his childhood.  His bully of a sister, Clare, had made the situation worse.  And so, quite understandably, he’d developed a deep hatred for religion.  Which is probably what attracted his new girlfriend, Harmony, to him.  But sometimes the hang-ups from your past can cause bitter consequences for your future…

New Zealand born author Tracie McBride’s contribution to the anthology is certainly an entertaining one.  There’s nothing quite like a feeling of religious blasphemy in a horror story to get you drawn into its plot.  And McBride utilises this undercurrent of anti-Catholicism to a superb effect – delivering a short that not only grabs you by the balls with its hard-hitting backstory, but pulls out a grand and gloriously downbeat ending to make you feel perfectly rotten inside.  Gotta say that I really did like this one.

I is for Ichthyophobia - Ian Woodhead – 8 Pages
Scott Nelson had a strange phobia.  He was absolutely petrified of fish.  Something that his sixteen-year-old sister, Andrea, was all too aware of.  And unfortunately for Scott, his sister also really had it in for him.  And so, together with the twenty-three-year-old she’d ensnared by flashing a little thigh here and there, Andrea decided to play a little trick on her dear old brother…

This is an odd one.  Author Ian Woodhead’s skills with writing have clearly come on leaps and bounds since his first publications.  Indeed, his contribution to this anthology is well-written and thoroughly engaging in its delivery.  There’s a grimy and sleazy corruptness to the whole thing.  But, although it hits all the right notes in its delivery, it sadly fails on the actual substance behind the tale.  At the end of the day, it’s sibling rivalry with a slight splashing of ‘phobia’ thrown in.  And if we’re honest, there’s really very little else in it.

J is for Jesusphobia –
Paved With Good Intentions - William Meikle – 6 Pages
Jack Greenwood had just sent off his submission for ‘Best Tales Of The Apocalypse 2’ when it all went dark on him.  At fifty-three, Jack had suffered a terminal heart attack.  The next thing he knew was that he was sitting in front of a strange marble desk before the Assistant Deputy Demon Ballygrampus.  His time was up and he’d gone to hell.  But for the life of him Jack couldn’t understand why.  Furthermore, when the demon looked into his records, it couldn’t find any sign of sins relating to Fornication, Gluttony, Sloth, Theft, Avarice, Envy or Pride.  So there was only one way to get to the bottom of this.  Jack Greenwood would have to be taken elsewhen until they located the cause of his descent to hell…

You’ve gotta love Willie Meikle.  His work is so rich with energy, wit, and a colourful vibrancy, that you can’t help but become instantly sucked into his stories.  And his contribution to this anthology is no exception.  It’s got a ‘The Twilight Zone’ (1959 - 2003) meets ‘Little Nicky’ (2000) kind of vibe going on, with plenty of humour thrown into it to keep the story entertaining with a suitably light-hearted manner.  The conclusion is as unexpected and delightfully original as the story has been entertaining.  Quite simply a damn fine read.

K is for Kenophobia - Rakie Keig – 13 Pages
From the day it opened, the new university building was less than a triumph.  The dull, lifeless design and the lack of sufficient space for any of the departments made it universally despised.  Furthermore, the large empty area dubbed ‘The Void’, which had been left for whichever department needed more room, was now just a bone of contention.  Cassie, the university’s librarian, hated the place as much as everyone else.  But now there was something else that was bugging her about the new university building.  She’d started seeing things that didn’t make much sense to her.  None more so than the appearance of Aly Turner around the university halls.  How the hell could Aly be here?  He’d been dead for the last six months…

I have to admit that this is a pretty strange one.  Like with most of Rakie Keig’s work, a sizeable portion of the story is taken up with developing characterisation and establishing the foundations for the plot.  Accordingly the story is somewhat of a slow burner, with Keig carefully laying down the building blocks for her supernatural horror story.  However the setting for the tale is superb.  The badly designed university building, with its large empty void, makes for an ideal backdrop for a tale about Kenophobia – the fear of voids.  But it’s the twist ending that Keig spears the reader with that really makes the tale the triumph that it is.

L is for Lygophobia - Richard Salter – 13 Pages
It was day five of the blackout and Frank’s generator was running out of gas.  He had tried the hospital to see if he could stay there for the night, but they’d refused his admission.  Apparently his overwhelming fear of darkness wasn’t serious enough for them.  So he had to make do with whatever lighting he could find to illuminate the rooms in his home.  He just couldn’t allow any darkness to creep in.  It brought back memories of what he and his friend had done when they were eighteen.  What they had done to Marie as she lay unconscious at a party.  He couldn’t handle the thought of what he had done.  The darkness brought whispers, accusations, memories…

This is a frigging awesome story.  In essence what you have is two parallel running storyline threads; one of Frank in the midst of a five-day-long power cut, and the other from a number of years ago when Frank and his no-good-friend Joe had taken advantage of a drunk and unconscious young girl.  The short jumps between these two storylines, gradually unveiling their reaction and the resulting consequences for what they did.  It seems incredible how much of a story author Richard Salter has crammed into his mere 13 page short.  There’s well-developed characterisation, emotional conflicts, repentance, and a nicely executed final twist.  Quite simply put – it’s just a darn good read.

M is for Metathesiophobia – ‘Plus Ca Change’ - Marie O’Regan – 9 Pages
Ava had been seeing Dr Greg Templeton for some time now.  She’d originally been sent to him following an incident which led to her being arrested.  However, it soon became clear that Ava suffered from an extreme obsessive compulsive disorder, so Dr Templeton had been brought in.  And from their very first meeting, Templeton observed the lengths Ava would go to in order to satisfy her disorder.  To correct any changes.  Nothing could be different.  Nothing was allowed to change.  Ava had rituals which Templeton allowed to continue for now.  But then, all of a sudden, there seemed to be a change in Ava.  She no longer bothered with her usual obsessive routines before leaving Templeton’s office.  All of a sudden, Ava herself seemed to be the thing that had changed…

Fully embracing the whole phobia concept, Marie O’Regan’s offering is one that’s utterly drenched in extreme psychological disorders.  Ava appears to be completely dominated by her psychological hang-ups.  Indeed, it’s quite a sad story, as we witness Ava being a slave to her obsessions.  And then O’Regan throws in the change.  Quickly an underlying sense of unease infiltrates the short tale.  And from here it thunders to its not-altogether-unexpected but nevertheless intense conclusion.  All in all a strong addition to the anthology.

N is for Nosocomephobia - Christopher L. Beck – 10 Pages
Derek had been coming to see his psychiatrist, Dr Jacob, once a week for six months now.  However, over the past month there had been some definite progress.  A few months ago he wouldn’t have even considered stopping and looking at the hospital en route to see Dr Jacob.  But today he had done just that.  He was undoubtedly one step closer to getting over his phobia.  However, the memories still haunted Derek from when he was seven years old and in hospital having had his appendix out.  Memories of the crazy old man.  Memories that were the cause of his nosocomephobia.  But, when Derek’s hit by a car on the way back from seeing Dr Jacob, he finds himself in the one place he fears the most.  Hospital…

Christopher L. Beck’s offering to the anthology is certainly a colourful one.  In the vein of your typical 1980’s horror movie, Beck unleashes an avalanche of wacky and utterly over-the-top hallucinatory sequences akin to a terrifying drug-induced nightmare.  Accordingly, our protagonist, thirty-two-year-old Derek, goes through one long sequence of torment at the hands of a crazy old man.  The resulting horror that Beck throws in is brutal in a weirdly 1980’s horror movie way.  And the thoroughly downbeat ending is like something you might find in Boris Karloff’s ‘Thriller’ (1960 – 1962).  Altogether one hell of an entertaining ride.

O is for Osmophobia - John Palisano – 11 Pages
Scott had been born with an intense sense of smell.  As a teenager he’d been diagnosed with osmophobia – the fear of smells.  Now, at forty-two, Scott had become used to his infliction.  He had something else to occupy his mind.  The process of death fascinated him.  He thought if he could observe death, he might be able to find a clue as to how to beat it.  He wanted to find a way to prove death was transitional, and then find a way to show the world.  So he murdered so that he could believe.  But so far, none of his victims had offered anything up.  But he was constantly on the search for his next victim.  Someone who might be able to show him a glimpse of what came next…

Written from the first-person-perspective of Scott, John Palisano’s short is one that attempts to show the thoughts and justifications behind the actions of this intriguing serial killer.  Scott’s osmophobia is only a part of the character.  It doesn’t appear to be the catalyst behind his crimes.  However, it is character defining.  And through this unique character Palisano has managed to create a compelling story that delves into the warped psyche of a colourful serial killer.  Reasonably fast-paced and delivered in an immediate and introspective manner, the tale is one that bounds along, with the murders mere punctuation for the otherwise character-driven storyline.

P is for Pteronophobia - G.R. Yeates – 11 Pages
Walking into Arcane as he carried his greasy fried chicken was a mistake that the two sisters would never forget.  Arcane was not a tolerant man.  He was vindictive.  And he had a blade.  The result from their little run in was a jagged cut across Libby’s face that would leave a permanent scar.  But now Arcane wanted more.  He planned to make those sisters match.  However, Guinevere and Libby had no intention of letting Arcane hurt them.  Guinevere would stand up to Arcane.  And they knew where they could find him. But in the abandoned house, the sound of birds fluttering, battering, beating, struggling, could be heard from behind the walls.  And Guinevere had a phobia.  When feathers touched her skin, when she sees them floating her way, all Guinevere wants to do is scream…

You can spot a G.R. Yeates horror story from a frigging mile off.  Expect a nightmare that’s brought to paper.  A murky vision of torment, turmoil, misery and despair.  And for his contribution to the anthology, the story is just this.  It’s certainly not the easiest to follow.  The prose that Yeates has adopted, like with all his other horror work to date, is darkly poetic; like a modern day Poe contemplating suicide.  That’s not to say that this particular story is completely downbeat.  Yes, it’s grim, but there are definite glimpses of light in there.  However, the real strength in the story is in the imagery that Yeates conjures up so masterfully.  Like a thickened out reimagining of Clive Barker’s ‘The Forbidden’ (1978), the nightmare that Yeates has created here is one that utilises our own responses to images rather than a clearly defined action taking place.  And ultimately it’s this link between the reader’s imagination and Yeates’ literary catalyst that leaves the lasting impression.

Q is for Qiqirn - Simon Kurt Unsworth – 13 Pages
Pollard had been suffering from unexplained bouts of adrenaline-pumping fear for a good couple of months.  The first time it happened, he had been coming down the stairs in his home when he became convinced that there was something frightful in his kitchen.  Before he knew what was happening, he had bolted out of his house in just his underwear.  Since then the episodes had been getting worse.  Becoming more frequent and more intense.  So he decided to seek help.  Now he was seeing Becker once a week.  Detailing his fears.  Trying to explain the conviction that he was feeling.  And over time, Pollard would hopefully be able to face up to the beast that he was convinced was haunting him...

This is addictive reading.  In essence, what we have is a story told in hindsight between Pollard and his psychiatrist Becker.   However, what Unsworth has managed to do with his short tale is really draw upon the reader’s sympathies.  Pollard is a man who’s clearly very troubled.  And through his torment the reader is able to form a sympathetic bridge.  Once again, the question of reality or mere phobia is briefly raised.  However, Unsworth purposefully skirts around this aspect; instead choosing to address the phobia and the mental anguish it creates.  The end result is a hard-hitting and downright powerful piece of fiction which ends on a wonderfully evocative note.

R is for Ranidaphobia - John Irvine – 5 Pages
It had been another boring year in Jindabyne Castle.  As Prince Wombat rolled off his bed, he realised he hadn’t seen a single frog.  He did love to kill them.  To skewer their slimy bodies on his lance.  To watch them squirm and suffer.  It was all a repercussion from his days as a young prince studying at the Prince School in Canberra.  There he’d suffered at the hands of the wealthier Princes.  Their bullying left mental scars that to this day plagued his life.  That was the reason for his amphibian hatred.  Since then, frog annihilation had become a lifelong obsession for him…

Fairy-tale like in its imaginative and ‘long-time-ago’ distortion of history, John Irvine’s short is an odd story that combines a grotesque Prince with the phobia of frogs.  The story is only five pages long, but Irvine nevertheless crams in the reasoning for the vile Prince’s phobia – one stemming from a childhood episode involving a frog being inserted in his rear end.  Of course, Irvine takes the story past the phobia and its roots, ending it with a twisted-fairy-tale style finale which wraps the whole bizarre thing up quite nicely.  Not a bad little tale, especially considering its incredibly short page count.

S is for Sarmassophobia - D.M. Youngquist – 12 pages
Justin had known Shannon ever since they were kids.  They’d always been close friends.  Never anything else.  However Shannon’s profession was something that Justin struggled with.  His Sarmassophobia made it difficult for him to even think about what Shannon did in her leather dungeon.  Where she became Kill Joy.  Where, squeezed into rippling black latex, she fulfilled fantasies in here submissive role to Mistress Calli.  But tonight for some reason Justin let Shannon talk him into having a drink in the club.  Just one drink.  What’s the worst that could happen?...

Not so much horror as phobia-induced S&M porn, akin to something Amanda Knight might pen, D.M. Youngquist’s contribution is certainly one that stands out from the rest of the stories.  Our principal protagonist suffers from Sarmassophobia – the fear of ‘love play’.  So what better way to get over said phobia than to be thrown head first into a fetish club, and then to become a submissive slave to the Mistress.  There’s really very little else in the story.  If you like it sleazy in a Poppy Z Brite meets Amanda Knight sort of way, then you’ll probably get a kick out of this short tale.  If not, then you’ll probably just find it lacking in any real substance other than a cheap fetish thrill.

T is for Teratophobia - John Prescott – 11 Pages
Even at the age of thirty-six, Harry Brayford was still affected by the present his Uncle Ted sent him when he had been just nine years old.  A small hand-carved wooden box that contained a game.  Inscribed across its lid the legend ‘Here There Be Monsters’.  His memories from when he first held that box still vivid in his mind.  The way his finger played across the small, golden triangular relief with the strange symbol in its centre.  And then how the smoke had come out of it and the play pieces, monsters of Hollywood legends, had come to life.  The vision that had cursed his entire life.  And now here it was.  That very same wooden box…

For his contribution to the anthology, Prescott has delivered a story that reads like a tale-within-a-tale-that’s-within-a-tale.  Somehow Prescott has crammed so many intertwining stories together; as a whole culminating to form this one story.  And it’s not exactly your typical tale.  It’s strange in its very own particular way.  We follow the tormented life of Harry Brayford from his bullied childhood on to his life as an adult.  And linking them together is this weird wooden game.  But is what he remembers about this box reality or a figment of his overactive imagination?  It’s a question that is at the root of the tale.  Even if it does all become noticeably side-tracked by a far more dominating sequence from when Brayford was being viciously bullied as a young boy.  All in all, not a bad little tale at all.

U is for Uranophobia - Barbie Wilde – 12 Pages
When Gaia Iliopoulos was a young girl, her mother would tell her the ancient myths from their homeland of Greece.  Tales of cruelty that could warp a young girl’s mind.  And with Gaia, the stories did just that.  But it was as Gaia was on the verge of her teenage years that she found her real inner strength.  Her Uncle Abraxas, who had visited their family many times over the years, let his lust overcome him and stole away Gaia’s childhood from her.  Abraxas would eventually have his comeuppance, but the rape left a mark on Gaia.  As she grew older and her parents died, Gaia would find that she had inherited a substantial amount of money.  Enough to allow her to finally feel safe.  Enough so she could live out the rest of her life locked away from the rest of the world.  But there were those that had different ideas…

This is a slow-burner.  A good portion of Barbie’s short is given over to establishing the disturbed principal character, Gaia, and her devotion to the Gods of Greek Mythology.  From early on it’s quite a hard story to swallow.  Gaia’s rape as a minor, and the subsequent effect it had on her, is tough stuff.  And then, whilst immersed in the misery of it all, the story is split in half, and we’re thrust forward to when Gaia is an adult and living alone in her home.  With the money she has inherited she has a panic room built within her basement, where she can hide and finally feel safe.  But of course the story doesn’t end there.  Wilde’s just getting started.  Throw in a couple of disaffected youths who want to rob the house.  And then a barrel full of blood, carnage and typical Barbie Wilde lustful violence (that makes you feel oh-so-grubby), and you end up with another utterly captivating and hellishly entertaining read.  Oh don’t you just love the slaughter?!

V is for Venustraphobia - Serenity J. Banks – 14 Pages
Michael couldn’t believe he was being subjected to this sort of ridicule by his colleagues at Emprise Media.  If only he hadn’t said anything at the last Christmas party.  What had he ever done to incite his peers to persecute him like this?  So, he was still a virgin.  What business was it of theirs anyway?  The thing was that he didn’t want any female attention.  His Grandpa Joe had seen to that before his untimely death.  He had revelled in instilling his phobia of beautiful women into his impressionable young grandson.  But that was his business, and not anyone at the office’s.  It angered him that he had to put up with such tormenting.  Like the email he’d just been sent containing a graphic picture of a naked red-headed woman.  He’d closed it down without bothering to read what they’d put in the email.  He could do without it.  All those succubi trying to temp him with their flesh.  Their corruption.  Their undeniable dominance…

Oh how Serenity can weave a sinister tale of stealthful dominance and corruption, and then suck the reader in from the word go.  And what makes the story all the more poignant is the fact that not all that long after the tale was penned, it is widely understood that Banks decided to give up writing and follow a more spiritual path instead.  Quite a diversion from what this undeniably talented young writer had been offering up.  Especially when you consider the underlying elements in her work.  But enough of that – let’s focus on this offering.  And what a beauty it is.  Laced with a quivering sense of foreboding that’s clearly on the verge of spilling over, the story gets its barbs into you early on, and then, after weaving together a wonderfully envisioned phobia-strong storyline, throws down a brutal ending that leaves you feeling just that little bit uneasy.  This is a strong candidate for the best contribution to the anthology.

W is for Wiccaphobia – ‘Fear To Tread’ - Jonathan Green – 11 Pages
Suzie Lampeter was six months off turning forty when she finds herself with a choice to make.  She could stay in her one bed flat in London, in the same unfulfilling job, or she could move to the Summer Cottage she’d just inherited following the passing of her great aunt Miranda Goodspeed.  With no real ties holding her down, Suzie decides to finally take the jump and follow her heart, rather than continuing with her somewhat nondescript life in London.  After all, her great aunt’s cottage held a special place in her memory.  No one actually believed Suzie’s great aunt Miranda had been a witch, but her cottage and lifestyle certainly seemed to embrace the image.  However to Suzie it was a place to relax and be herself.  Somewhere where she could begin writing her novel.  But when she finds the first occult symbol chalked onto the wall behind the bookshelf, those old rumours start to spark off some serious unease in Suzie.  And with the first pentagram duly scrubbed off the wall, her mood begins to slip downhill…

Even with the story being somewhat simple and reasonably unambitious, it’s nevertheless quite an entertaining one.  Author Jonathan Green is able to spin a tale that instantly captivates his audience.  Within a matter of a couple of paragraphs you’re hooked and completely taken in by the character of Suzie Lampeter and her mid-life crisis.  It’s a story that plays with the ambience of a quaint setting.  A sort of ‘The Magic Cottage’ (1986) backdrop to really reel in the reader.  And that makes the ending so much more powerful.  So much more brutal.  So much more horrific.  Good job Mr Green.  A really damn good job.

X is for Xanthophobia – ‘Xanthos’ - Wayne Goodchild – 13 Pages
It was on the opening night for his latest play, ‘Children Of Adam’, that John Denton’s life came to a crushing standstill.  They were rushing to get there before the play started, when a taxi hit his wife, Emma, and their seven-year-old son, Billy, killing them both.  Ever since then, John Denton’s life had been one immersed in utter misery.  Furthermore, as a result of the accident, he had been diagnosed with a strange disorder.  Xanthophobia.  But, with the anniversary of his family’s death looming, Denton decides to exercise his demons with a new play.  It was to be his very own magnum opus.  A play that would quickly consume his life.  And as it does, his eighteen-year-old nephew, Simon, would become increasingly concerned for his mental wellbeing.  But this is something that John Denton needs to do.  He needs to write this final play in order to reach Lost Carcosa.  The King In Yellow demands it…

For anyone who’s not already a little familiar with Robert Chambers’ ‘The King In Yellow’ (1895) mythos, this short story is going to come across as pretty darn weird.  In fact, author Wayne Goodchild has well-and-truly embraced the whole ‘The King In Yellow’ (1895) concept with his ‘yellow phobia’ story; bringing the madness behind the mythos into the bleak and down beaten life of our self-obsessed protagonist.  To say that the story is despairing is an understatement.  From the death of the playwright’s wife and son onwards, the story is draped with a blanket of unbreakable gloom.  But it’s with the first mentions of Lost Carcosa that the sparks of something much more engaging begin to emerge.  And from here it just keeps on getting more intriguing until the final showdown.  A brave and well-executed short.

Y is for Ymophobia - Magen Toole – 12 Pages
Dr Elias Paulson realised something had gone wrong in the world when he could no longer perceive his own reflection.  He began to notice the fog in the tinted windows of the car on the way to his next job.  The face that met him wasn’t his own but that of a bony creation made of teeth and leather.  It scared him.  He was paid to make order out of chaos.  He saw patterns in the algorithms. In fact, outside of his job he had been working on the mathematical proof that would see to his immortality.  If he ever completed it.  It was a vast formula that stretched across the internal walls of his house.  In essence he was trying to find God.  But now it was all falling in on him.  And at that point he realised he could no longer trust himself.  Without constants he was nothing.  He now saw contradictions everywhere.  And the madness of the unruly chaos was finally becoming too much for him...

This is a good story.  In fact, this is a damn fine story.  Don’t you just love it when a story comes along, no matter how short, and from the outset it screams of imaginative originality?  Magen Toole has done just that here.  For her contribution, she offers up a wonderfully written story that stretches the readers’ imagination with the complexities and craziness of genius pushed to the extremes of our own comprehension.  It completely captures the imagination.  It scatters seeds of intrigue at every given opportunity, and it brings it all into a dramatic and utterly explosive finale that will leave you thinking you’ve just been crushed by a tonne of bricks.  Makes me want to take up maths.  Love it.

Z is for Zeusophobia - Dean M. Drinkel – 15 Pages
In his hotel room in Rue Caulaincourt, Montmarte, Charley stood alone in the still room, knife poised in readiness.  He had been dead all of his life.  Now he knew was his time to be resurrected.  After all, The Rapture would soon be upon him.  With that lingering thought he drags the serrated blade across his wrists.  The smell of vanilla hits him.  Through teary eyes he sees a man clad from head to toe in black, standing in the doorway.  Had he done a deal with the Devil?  As the life ebbed out of him, Charley’s thoughts were that he was not ready to pay with his soul.

In a maternity room in the American Hospital along Boulevard Victor Hugo, Jean is wondering how the hell she got to be here.  She wasn’t ready for this child.  Surely the pain had to stop soon.  It shouldn’t be this bad.  And the swarms of doctors and medical staff around her weren’t helping matters.  Something had to be wrong.  She could see it in their eyes.  And then the man in black enters, accompanied by a welcome smell of vanilla.

Along the Parc des Buttes Chaumont, somewhere in the darkness along the Avenue Simon Bolivar, Nico and Reda are making sure that they get this job done well.  But after the man’s beaten to the ground and the first drops of blood have been spilled, there’s no stopping them.  Now they want more than his money.  Now they want his life.  However, as the life blood rushes out of their victim, and they turn to leave the darkened alleyway, a sudden scent of vanilla can be detected in the air and a shadow appears from behind them.

In the Church Of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul the Priest is kneeling before the Altar of Repose as the smell of vanilla greets him from behind.  The man in black is here.  And the priest knows they have things to discuss…


You can spot a Dean M Drinkel story from a veritable mile off.  Its all-encompassing gloominess.  Its near homage to Clive Barker’s work.  Its romance with the afterlife and the inherent cruelty that lurks beneath religion.  Indeed, Drinkel embraces a near-poetic prose that sings an almost hypnotising tune for the reader.  It’s very difficult to do anything but become completely enwrapped in the nightmarish visions that Drinkel lets loose on us.  Here we have a story that bounds from one hurtful scene to the next; linking them up with a strange presence throbbing with suggestive symbolism.  But you won’t be expecting where Drinkel’s going to take his grim tale.  You won’t anticipate the revelations.  The bonding.  The blasphemous corruption that Drinkel wants you to witness at the end of it all.  As I said – it’s a textbook Dean M Drinkel story.

[Bonus Story] -
Fear of Snow - Steven Savile & Steve Lockley - 7 Pages
Andrew knew his phobia was pretty peculiar.  You don’t often hear of people suffering from chionophobia.  The fear of snow.  Furthermore, he knew it was completely irrational, but he’d pretty much given up trying to fight it now.  Luckily his phobia hadn’t passed on to his eight year old son Tom.  In fact, Tom was out in the snow now.  It had been snowing for three days and Tom had gone to pick up bread and milk whilst his father cowered behind closed curtains.  But as time crept by, Andrew began to sense that something was wrong.  Tom had been gone for too long.  And then he heard the noise.  It was coming from outside.  Where the snow was.  Layers and layers of snow.  But there are worse things out there than just snow…

What starts out as another masterfully delivered phobia inspired story has another, completely unpredictable right-angled-turn in its plot that is upon you before you have time to prepare yourself.  One way to overcome your fears is to face them head on.  To confront them in a moment of sheer desperation.  Such sound advice.  Now let’s just amplify that concept a thousand times over, and see what we can come up with.  That’s pretty much what Savile and Lockley have done.  And it’s worked a treat.  This is one unexpected but utterly inspired horror story that pulls you in with its skilful writing, and keeps you trapped in its unravelling mania with the superbly escalating menace that it unleashes.  And what an ending.  What an ending indeed!  Superb.

The anthology runs for a total of 289 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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