First published back in April of 2016, Darkwater Syndicate’s anthology ‘Shadows And Teeth: Volume One’ promised ten terrifying tales of horror and suspense from a range of international authors.

Foreword – R. Perez De Pereda – 2 Pages
Fear.  We all know it.  Whether you admit it or not, we’re all afraid of something.  Your fear could just be a response to something.  Born from an entirely sensible reasoning.  Or it could be something utterly irrational.  However, there are two base fears that we all share: shadows and teeth.  An inherent fear.  And it’s for damn good reason…

Water, Ice And Vice – Antonio Simon Jr – 26 Pages
Jeremy Mullins couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw the spacious two-bedroom apartment for the first time.  It was perfect.  Fully furnished and only a short cycle away from the campus where he’d be studying world literature.  He’d only just started checking out the luxurious living quarters when his new roommate arrived.  Jeremy instantly recognised Scott Reynolds for what he was – a meathead.  The guy introduced himself as a lacrosse midfielder – implying he was some kind of big deal.  Not that Jeremy gave two hoots.  But then the guy had the audacity to tell Jeremey to check the place for booze.  He didn’t seem to understand the concept of a fully furnished apartment.  Nevertheless - if only to keep the thick-skulled thug happy - Jeremy checked the cupboards and then the fridge.  And that’s when he realised that their fridge was something special.  Its front sported an LCD screen presenting three options to the user: Water, Ice or Vice.  Jeremy understood the first two, but what was the Vice option about?  Only one way to find out…

Kick-starting the anthology we have US author Antonio Simon Jr’s short which sees two ill-matching roommates put into a luxurious apartment together.  Of course, they have a refrigerator that not only dispenses crystal clear water and ice, but also whatever ‘vice’ the user wants too.  Yep – what we have here is a pretty frigging weird one.  Of course the first attempts are for booze, cigarettes and money.  Each time they get a glass of what appears to be a liquefied version of whatever vice they’ve chosen.  However much of the liquid they consume, they’ll finally an equal portion of the real thing waiting for them within the fridge’s main compartment.  So far so good.  Then of course our resident meathead takes things to the next level and goes for a hooker.  The end result aint going to be pretty!  Expect things to spiral quickly out of control, until the repercussions of consuming the vices have taken a horrific toll on the two young lads.  Drenched in bitter vengeance – there’s really no light at the end of this tunnel.  But from start to finish it’s nothing short of a damn entertaining and incredibly imaginative messed-up ‘Twilight Zone’ style read gone bad.

The Dinner Party - Trevor Boelter – 24 Pages
Kaitlin had to admit that she was getting a bit sick of their dinner guests.  Here she was, slaving over a hot ziti in the oven, and all they could do was pester her whilst they drank copious amounts of wine.  Brian was behaving just as badly.  He’d guzzled away more than his fair share of their personal stash of wine and now he was making a prat of himself.  Kaitlin could hear them all now playing ‘Celebrity’ whilst she busied herself with the meal.  Even Brian’s mother, Daphne, was getting on Kaitlin’s nerves now.  Why didn’t anyone appreciate what was going on here.  They were all just too sucked in by the whole ‘dinner party thing’ to realise the real situation.  To know the danger they were in…

This one’s a strange little one.  Told from the perspective of Kaitlin - the increasingly frustrated host of a dinner party - the majority of the first half of the short story is spent just setting the scene of the party and witling away at the poor woman’s tolerance for her guests.  Author Trevor Boelter does a sterling job at creating just the right atmosphere, with the joviality of the drunk guests in the room next door grating on the nerves of Kaitlin from early on.  Interestingly the unfolding of the darker side to the tale is a very gradual one.  Boelter sprinkles in hints and incredibly small snippets as to what’s really going on, but only finally revealing the true horror of the situation at the very end.  It’s weird and quirky and feels like one of those weird late night European movies that you’d accidentally stumble across and never hear about again.  Ultimately, because of the strange, out of place quirkiness of it all, it does pull you in and entertain you as will the very darkest of black comedies.

Routine – Mia Bravo – 21 Pages
If there was one thing Edward Smith hated more than being even remotely unkempt, it was insects.  He loathed the small critters and everything that accompanied them.  Edward liked order and strict routine.  Not dirt, disarray and disorganisation.  In his job at King Chemicals he was well known for his routines.  It made him reliable.  Consistent.  Trusted.  However, when Virginia wriggles her way back into his life, moving into his home and messing up his finely tuned routines, his frustration begins to mount.  At first it was just the little things.  But as the days passed by, those little things became bigger things.  Something had to give sooner or later…

OCD crops up surprisingly often in horror.  As long as it’s handled well, without too much over exaggeration or a lack of perspective, then it can offer up some damn fertile ground for sowing the seeds for a chilling psychological horror.  Let’s be honest - there’s certainly enough inherent intrigue in the set up whilst putting the reader in the character’s rigid frame of mind.  Playing out day-to-day rituals that tell a much fuller story.  As I said – plenty of potential.  And fair do’s to author Mia Bravo - she’s pulled off a pretty damn well-executed short, awash with quirky intrigue and a delightful scattering of David Cronenberg-esque weirdness.  Admittedly in places the story staggers quite abruptly, allowing the flow of the tale to jut from one scene to the next without enough of a bridge.  But this doesn’t really detract too much from an otherwise thoroughly entertaining read.

The Final Spell – Mark Meir – 22 Pages
Ken Jensen was reading the dustjacket of a book on Magick when he came to the attention of the ancient spirit.  From then on the spirit stayed on him.  It watched as he went about his business.  Looking through the various pieces of magick paraphernalia Ken had around his apartment, the spirit decided this new one was perfect.  He had been chosen.  And so the spirit’s next move was to introduce himself.  Because Ken was already a believer in the ancient spiritual arts, it didn’t take much persuading to get him on side.  Besides, the spirit was an old hat at this game.  Now they could begin the training.  Through the age-old spirit, Ken would gradually learn the powers of true magick.  Through his learning he would be able to accumulate wealth, women and power.  He would truly be in control of his own destiny.  Or at least so he thought…

If I’m honest I’m not one hundred percent sure about this one.  It’s written in the past tense and in the first-person-perspective of the age-old spirit, as if the spirit is reminiscing to the character of Ken about all the things that they had done together.  It’s certainly an interesting idea, however for it to really work well, the spirit needs to have a distinctive ‘voice’ of its own.  The spirit is in affect the narrator of the story, as well as being one of the two key characters.  Giving the spirit a personality, or at the very least a handful of distinctly recognisable mannerisms, would bring the character to life.  Unfortunately author Mark Meir has failed to achieve this, and instead the narration of the tale feels flat and devoid of any personal involvement.  Outside of this, the story itself is reasonably intriguing and chugs along at a good pace, with a noteworthy momentum behind it as we draw closer and closer to the inevitable revelation that we know will supply the tale with that much needed ‘horror twist’.  This all works well.  And the story is certainly entertaining.  Meir just needs to find a voice for his characters.

Back Through The Mist – J.S. Watts – 20 Pages
Detective Sergeant Sharon Comberton didn’t like the situation one bit.  Even less so, knowing that Police Constable Norris was assisting with the investigation.  His ridiculous ideas that it could be anything other than a homicide.  Something beyond our normal realms.  The idea was farcical.  But she had to admit that finding another blood stained corpse sprawled on the ground in the graveyard of the village church was worrying.  Finding a corpse was bad enough, but finding it missing both hands, feet and head, in the exact same spot as where a young American woman had been murdered just twelve months previously was one very bad omen.  All signs pointed to the murders being some sort of ritual.  This wasn’t looking good for the small village at all…

I’m an absolute sucker for a good supernatural horror that’s immersed in a thick blanket of atmosphere and tantalising mystery.  That’s very much what’s on the cards here.  Mystery and plenty of atmosphere.  Set in a typical James Herbert style of setting, author J.S. Watts establishes the foundations of her strangely creeping murder mystery within the first few pages, whilst introducing the two principal characters in the short tale.  From here it’s a gradual meandering walk through a fog of mystery and confusion, until slowly but surely some of the pieces begin to fit together.  It’s certainly a slowburner, taking time to carefully slot the pieces into place, rather than thrust the reader into something more immediate and action-packed.  But ultimately what you have is a story that feels like it needs just a tad more substance to it for it be a satisfying read.  Nevertheless it’s still not a bad little read.

Spawn – Paige Reiring – 21 Pages
Alice was just six years old when the first spawn bubbled out from her eyes and landed in a wet plop on the ground.  She was told the creature had been born of her vanity.  But she was so proud of the young Vice that she named it Mirror.  Then when she was eight, the embodiment of her patience puffed out of her mouth.  Over the following years her two spawn grew to be some of the largest and most impressive she had encountered.  Such spawn were created when one of the Holy Virtues or Deadly Vices were so strong in a person it could no longer be contained.  Extensions of the soul, surviving on both the physical plane and one unique to its auctor - the one from whom it originates.  Alice knew she had two powerful spawn.  So she worked hard to make them stronger.  And then at nineteen she took on her first contract.  She was to kill a priest who had spoken out against spawn, both Virtues and Vices alike.  He had to go.  With her two spawn, it was time Alice became an assassin…

Holy moly this is a read.  Packed full of imagination – US author Paige Reiring has penned a story that reflects the sort of wonderful creativity that so many of us secretly aspire to.  The pacing is spot on.  Indeed it’s a tight, well-executed and utterly compelling read.  We get to follow the swift journey of Alice, from a six year old girl who unleashes her first spawn, all the way to adulthood where she’s a deadly assassin with a pendence for achieving a level of art within her work.  However it’s through the ingenious creation of her spawn – the physical manifestation of virtues or vices – where the real strength in the short story lies.  It’s with these spawn that the reader is really drawn into the tale.  The intriguing details behind their creation, their existence and their purpose.  It has to be said that the only detracting flaw with the short is with the ambiguous nature of our principal character – Alice – during the initial few pages of the tale.  In fact, it’s not until she’s a young woman that we learn her name or even her sex.   But this is only a small niggle, and certainly not one which would prevent this reviewer declaring the story to be anything but a truly brilliant piece of imaginative horror.  Very possibly the highlight of the entire anthology.

The Pied Piper’s Appetite – Rich Phelan - 33 Pages
Donnie “The Gullet” Burkens had won again.  Although he had to admit that Travis “Hoover” Carson had put up a good show.  He’d worked his way through those sandwiches with an almost effortless ease.  But Donnie knew how to eat.  He’d been a professional eater for many years now, and could beat almost anyone at consuming large quantities of food at an outrageous pace.  That’s what he did.  He travelled around the country, taking the prize money for these competitions, saving up the money for his daughter.  Of course this style of life also had its perks.  He’d become something of a celebrity in the small backwoods towns he visited.  All the loose and unfaithful housewives would pour around him, wanting a bit of the Gullet.  He’d bedded more than his fair share of them over the years.  Suzanne Tally was a prime example.  Here she was again, flaunting her aging assets.  Not giving a second thought for the wedding band around her finger.  Looks like he had another good night ahead of him.  He’ll sort her out good and proper…

This one’s another good ‘un.  Author Rich Phelan tells a dark and consuming tale that draws you in with an effortless ease, before hitting you with a veritable sledgehammer of nerve-jangling psychological horror.  For the first third or so of the short Phelan works at setting the scene, gradually establishing the three principal characters in the tale: Gullet, Suzanne and nineteen-year-old Artie who regularly buys weed off Donnie whenever he’s in town.  Once these characters are sufficiently fleshed out, and the ‘travelling-professional-eater’ scene is set, the story suddenly plummets into an abyss of utter terror and gut-wrenching psychological horror.  It’s hard-hitting and pulls absolutely no punches once the real beast behind the story is revealed.  Furthermore Phelan keeps up this grimness until the very last word, signing off the tale with a bittersweet twist that’ll leave you grinning from ear to ear.

Riana In The Gray Dusk – Viktoria Faust - 9 Pages
He’d been working at Candid Shots for a number of years now.  The job suited him.  His father had been a photographer; but a very different type of photographer to him.  Where his father took on commissions and jobs to put food on the table, he would take photographs for himself.  For his collection.  A collection that was amassing to considerable proportions now.  Still, he had to bring in some sort of income.  So Candid Shots worked for him.  He’d have people come in off the street and have their photos taken.  Which is exactly how he met Riana.  How he came to take her photo before she passed away.  Before she eventually consumed herself…

Croatian author Viktoria Faust offers up an unnerving little story awash with atmosphere and a sinister undertone that gradually creeps up on the reader through the length of the short tale.  The story seems to be predominantly driven by a want to chill the blood of the reader – with a subtle, cold and carefully-footed approach used in order to quietly reach under the reader’s skin.  The story’s written in the first-person-perspective of our thirty-six-year-old narrator who gradually learns the fate of this young woman – Riana – who came into his studio one night for an urgent photo to be taken of her.  It’s a tale about an all-consuming obsession and eventual deterioration, with nothing but sterile bleakness waiting upon the horizon.  And on a cold winter’s night – it’s the sort of short story that’ll bore its way down into your very core.

The Autobiography Of An Unsuccessful Author - Brittany Gonzalez - 23 Pages
Neither Maxwell nor his wife Natalie could stand each other.  In fact their marriage had been on a consistent decline for years.  Natalie irritated Maxwell.  Everything she did was in spite.  But what frustrated him the most these days was his writing.  He’d been writing the same old stories for thirteen years and they’d not been getting him anywhere.  He needed to write something different, something drastic, something real.  And that’s when it hit him: horror.  He’d write a story that would scare, shock and haunt the reader.  Twins who tormented and killed their victims.  He’d call them Samantha and John.  Two vicious little creatures.  Thank god they were just a figment of his imagination…

Having a writer’s characters come to life isn’t exactly an entirely new idea.  Over the years - particularly is short story anthologies - the concept has been used time and again.  In fact, some might say it’s been done to death.  That said, US author Brittany Gonzalez manages to muster one last dying breath out of the idea, with a compelling and entertaining Stephen Laws-esque slab of horror.  There’s some nice twists and moderately unexpected turns shoehorned into this fun-filled little jaunt into outlandish horror.  A few hard worn life lessons rub shoulders with proper old school comeuppance.  Its nightmare horror penned without a hint or pretentiousness.  Just a good, solid, entertaining horror read.

Crying – Darren Worrow – 43 Pages
As a toddler, when Vinny was upset his Gran would show him a painting in her living room of a little boy just like him, with blond hair and a chubby face, who was crying too.  His Gran would sing to him whilst she showed him the painting, telling him the little boy in the picture was him.  That he was Bimbo.  That was a long time ago.  Vinny’s Gran had gotten too old for that big old house and was now living in a nursing home.  Vinny and his girlfriend, Rachel, had come to the house to sort through his Gran’s old possessions.  A task that had been bringing back a wave of memories for Vinny.  From when he was a young child.  But for some reason Vinny couldn’t quite put his finger on, he couldn’t stop thinking about that painting, and about that song his Gran would sing to him.  It was all he could think about.  But why?  And why would anyone have a painting of a crying child on their living room wall?...

Darren Worrow can write.  For this final contribution into the anthology we’re treated to an eerie and quietly unnerving story that oh-so-slowly slithers itself under your skin.  Based around the shadowy past of our protagonist – a past which he has chosen to block from his memory – the story brings in some hard-to-swallow undertones that instantly set your nerves alight.  The story’s awash with mystery and careful-footed supernatural horror, which gradually converges to a powerfully emotive finale.  But this isn’t where the short excels.  Not by a long shot.  Rather, it’s with the finely worked characterisation that tells the whole story.  Yeah, there’s no explosive plot.  Worrow has used a far softer brush to paint his haunting picture.   And the after effects are just as impactful.  Nicely done.

The anthology runs for a total of 258 pages.

© DLS Reviews


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