First published in December of 2010, ‘The Spectrum Collection’ is the first publication from the authors collective known as Dark Continents Publishing. The short story collection was designed to introduce the DCP author’s, whilst offering ten tales and poems that span the spectrum of 'dark speculative fiction’.
The shorts and poems included within the collection are as follows:
The Elms, Morecambe – Simon Kurt Unsworth - 13 Pages
Sitting across a café table, Nakata listens intently as Wisher slows unravels his tale that is centred around an old fashioned hotel – The Elms. When Wisher stayed at the hotel, on the night of his daughter’s wedding, he had a visitor to his room just before he turned in for the night. A sad plain looking young girl wanting to turn down his sheets for the night. A girl who expelled perpetual misery. A girl who he was soon to learn was in fact a ghost. And after showing the poor girl a little affection, and shortly after the hotel closing down, Wisher is to find himself a new and unwanted companion for life. A companion whose misery is infectious…
British author Unsworth kicks off the anthology with a triumphantly ominous ghost story that practically bleeds misery from every page. However short the tale is, Unsworth masterfully sets the scene, seemingly effortlessly casting a bleak and atmospheric cloud over the whole storyline, whilst portraying the vivid backstory of an efficiently (but carefully) characterised principal character. The end result is a creepy and downright depressing ghost story that hails back to the Ambrose Bierce era of haunting tales designed to chill the nerves. An excellent start to the collection.
Wild Goat Curry – Jon Irvine - 3 Pages
It’s a crisp winter’s morning, and the goat hunter is out on the hills again, patiently waiting for the goats to graze closer to his hiding place before he can shoot one down for the Wild Goat Curry his wife will be cooking them that very night. But he is being watched. And the one who watches him has revenge in mind…
Written in the first person perspective of the aged hillside goat-hunter, the tale is atmospheric and tense, with the impending threat always just a goat’s breath away. Although very short, Irvine still manages to capture the quiet mood required for this eerie little tale. The ending isn’t so much of a twist as it a near-predictable but strangely fulfilling conclusion. Enjoyable but certainly not ground breaking.
Wicked Appetites – Sylvia Shults - 7 Pages
Michael is a struggling writer. Single and living alone. Not only that, but he’s a bloodthirsty vampire. In a world where zombies, mutants and of course vampires are now the norm, pure untainted blood is not so easy to come by. But then, as if from out of nowhere, the young girl Leelee arrives at his doorstep wanting a place to stay for a little while. How could Michael refuse that charming face of hers. He’ll just have to keep his blood cravings under control…
American author Shults’ monster loving black comedy is refreshingly light and instantly enticing, with its jovial play on a selection of all-time classic horror monsters, delivered in a slightly surreal manner via the story’s bizarrely mundane surroundings. That is, until Shults suddenly throws in an abrupt turn in the plot that quickly spins the whole situation on its head, finally concluding with a gloriously gruesome twist ending. Written with the ease of a natural storyteller, this is spectacularly enjoyable and captivating little read.
Tooth Fairy – Tracie McBride - 1 Page
What does the tooth fairy do with the teeth that he collects each night? Where do they go? Well, he makes things from them of course. But wait just one minute, aren’t some of those teeth considerably bigger than the others?
New Zealander (but now residing in Australia) McBride’s eerily unsettling poem mixes the blackest of comedy with a gruesome twist on the children’s tooth fairy story. An interesting addition to the anthology, offering a miniature break from the short stories with this first dark little poem. Enjoyable, but quite quickly forgotten.
The Bodymen – Adrian Chamberlin - 22 Pages
Luke Eccles has just buried his dog for the second time. But after living in the shadows of what happened that fateful night ten years ago, he knows it’s not over yet. It’s time he came clean to his partner Jennifer. And so he tells the story of what happened that night - his first night on the job as a dead pet collection man for the local pet crematorium. His first night as a bodyman, where he’ll quickly learn that there’s much more to the job than meets the eye…
From the outset, British author Adrian Chamberlin’s roller-coaster of a short story flings the reader into the gruesome thick of it, with the author’s first-hand experience of dealing with dead animals (the author used to be a ‘bodyman’) regurgitating the stomach-churning visceral elements of the job for the reader’s nauseating delight. With strong resemblances to Stephen King’s ‘Pet Semetary’ (1983) or indeed Stuart Gordon’s cult motion picture ‘Re-Animator’ (1985), Chamberlin’s action packed short throws together a tight and classic-horror plot with ingeniously believable characterisation and an edge-of-the-seat premise; all of which has been delivered within a clever retrospective framing device that ultimately leaves the short on a monstrously humorous final cliff-hanger. A truly superb piece of exciting horror fiction from this talented new face to the scene. Certainly one of the highlights to the anthology.
Lemminaid – Carson Buckingham - 10 Pages
Patterson Sharpe is a wealthy eighty-two year old business man. Over the years he managed to acquire his fortune through ruthless business transactions without giving a second's thought to those he was hurting along the way. But no amount of money could have prevented the sudden puncture his Mercedes-Benz just acquired. As he awaits assistance by the roadside, Sharpe spots a young lad selling homemade lemonade. It's a hot day and he's parched. Might as well have a glass or two and perhaps pass on some of his wisdom as an experienced businessman. However, somewhere in the recess of his mind, Sharpe knows he's heard the lad's name before…Cristillo…
American author Buckingham's short is a slow burner in comparison to the other tales in the anthology. However, Buckingham manages to gradually build upon the atmospheric air of foreboding, delicately touching upon the reader's nerves with the niggling feeling that things just aren't quite right here. Indeed, when Buckingham unravels his inevitable twist, the story suddenly picks up in interest, with the final few yards of the tale accelerating towards the somewhat predictable but ultimately satisfying ending. Not the most thrilling of shorts, perhaps missing the mark a little with the eerie factor, but a good all round short nonetheless.
Lost – Maureen Irvine - 4 Pages
Sam and his wife Jude are lost. After taking a wrong turning, they have found themselves driving down a narrow country lane seemingly in the middle of nowhere. What's more, things are quickly turning towards the downright eerie, when they discover the mutilated carcass of a dead fox splayed across the road. And then on a little further, they come across a young girl, standing in the middle of the road, alone. Odd is certainly the understatement of the year. But what starts off as mildly puzzling will end in absolute horror…
The backbone of the New Zealand author’s eerie little jaunt into atmospheric terror is of course in setting the atmosphere. Alas, here Irvine only partly succeeds. Yes, there's an oppressive and tense undertone to the unfolding story…but perhaps not enough to allow this relatively simple premise to cut through the reader's skin and chill them to the core. The ending, although sudden and stark, is still understated and altogether quite easily predicted. Not the strongest addition to the collection.
Archi’s Story – David M. Youngquist - 11 Pages
It’s getting dark and Archichi doesn’t like travelling about in the dark. You see, at night you can’t see the zombies coming so well. That’s why she pulls up into the parking lot, looking for a place to hide and rest for the night. But then the music starts up. Loud and booming with bass; the zeds will come running. She’s got to get inside the club and shut down that music. But who’s inside and what the hell do they think they’re doing?
American author Younquist’s unlikely of shorts comes across as more of a sample section, or indeed a prologue, to a much longer story. The post-apocalyptic zombie premise is quickly set and our principal character is slowly unfurled. The short is an action packed and utterly engaging tale that brings the likes of Walter Greatshell’s novel ‘Xombies’ (2004), Travis Adkins’ ‘Twilight Of The Dead’ (2005) series, or indeed Alden Bell’s ‘The Reapers Are The Angels’ (2010) to mind. That said, the short doesn’t hold a particularly strong storyline other than survival in a zombiefied post-apocalyptic scenario. It’s fast paced and gripping, but certainly not all that original.
Gift From A Vampire – Maureen Irvine - 1 Page
The bite of a vampire. It's evocative, powerful and sensual. Is there greed or love deep within this most sensual of actions? As the blood drains from the victim’s body, where will it end?...
Irvine's short sharp poem emotionally depicting the bite of a vampire is a sensual trip through the macabre romance of this time old scenario. As beautiful or emotive as it is, you sadly can't help but sigh at how cliqued and overdone this particular scenario is. Laying the romantic vampire embraces to rest once and for all is a must if the horror world is going to continue to strive forward.
The End – Serenity J. Banks - 12 Pages
Nick huddles around the fire contemplating the finality of not only his life, but everyone else’s. Since the world ended, and life is now gradually expiring to the bitter-sound of nuclear fallout, there’s nothing much left to live for but the ridiculous notion of surviving to the very last. Around him sit the other five survivors; each one as disease riddled and rotting as the next. And then there’s what’s left of poor Joey. At least his death won’t go to waste. His cancer ridden flesh is the next meal to be had by the group, just to keep them going for another pointless day…
American author Serenity Banks’ magnificently depressing and downbeat short set in the remaining days of a post-apocalyptic landscape is nothing short of a masterpiece of atmospheric fiction. The setting draws together haunting memories of the early passages from Robert McCammon’s ‘Swan Song’ (1987) or more recently the oppressive and claustrophobic atmosphere of Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’ (2006). The horror and repulsion of the cannibalistic activities is harrowing; portrayed with just the right levels of visceral description without undermining the true gritty force of the tale. The prose is mesmerising. The finale is bleak but utterly compelling in the similar soul cleansing fashion that David Moody achieved so perfectly with the finale of ‘Straight To You’ (1996). Banks’ short is a must read for all post-apocalyptic enthusiasts (of which I’m certainly guilty). A truly incredible achievement.
Lest We Forget – Tracie McBride - 3 Pages
Dawn is breaking as a dad wakes his young son up. This is the first time his son will have joined him in paying their respects to the dead on one of these annual Dawn Parades. As they arrive at the parking lot, the ones who did not attend are quickly noted. As the ceremony begins, the boy's father is praying that they will not choose his young son. Anyone else but him…
Written in the first person perspective, McBride’s short is a powerful display of unnerving suspense which ultimately crescendos with a truly haunting, harrowing and utterly unsettling finale. The mood begins with an eager anticipation, laced with mystery and just a touch of underlying gloom. Soon enough, McBride carefully drops in suggestive ideas of the true horror behind the Dawn Parade, until the final realisation hits the reader square in the face. Breath-taking and heart-breaking. A well written short successfully capturing the necessary atmosphere whilst selling the characters well.
My Sister Doesn’t Live There Anymore – John Irvine - 2 Pages
The house has been deteriorating ever since she passed away. In the thirty-one years since her death, no one has lived in the house. Yet post still arrives there, regular as clockwork…
New Zealander Irvine’s gloomy poem lays down a puzzling glimpse of an obsessive guilt that has plagued the life of the poem’s unnamed narrator. The poem is quietly haunting with its vagueness that seems to slowly itch away at the reader skin.
The End Of Leonard Bangston – John Prescott - 12 Pages
Leonard's mother Betty Bangston has arranged a meal with Penny Sloker at her dilapidated and slowly decaying house. Leonard has heard the rumours about the reclusive old lady. The last thing he wants to do is spend the evening in the ghastly old house with that mad old woman. But his mother had insisted, and what she says always goes. Besides, what's the worst that can happen?…
American author John Prescott’s tale is a slow paced affair dealing with an almost fairytale-esque premise brought into a contemporary horror setting. The scene is gradually set, awash with intricate details of the house and the old lady. Alas, the twist ending is all too predictable and lacking in the clout that is required to pull off such a classic and overdone horror premise. Unfortunately the reader comes away feeling that this final tale was somewhat of a let-down.
All in all this first collection from the Dark Continents Publishing collective offers an exciting array of tales and poems that successfully manage to fit the blueprint of the book. The stories all show their own unique style and place within the world of horror (or 'dark speculative fiction’ as it seems to have been dubbed). However, what comes out even more is the differences in writing styles and settings from across the continents.
Banks’ post-apocalyptic short ‘The End’ is the triumph of the collection. It's hard-hitting yet bleak and desolate storyline is monumentally impactful - especially given the constraints of a short story. Chamberlin’s ‘The Bodymen’ is the beating pulse of the anthology - offering up the most colourful and ingeniously involved addition. McBride’s ‘Lest We Forget’ is by far the most haunting and shocking of the stories. Whereas Youngquist’s short ‘Archi’s Story’ is by far the most fast paced, action packed and thrilling tale.
What’s clear from this first publication is that Dark Continents Publishing has a lot of talent behind them, and certainly a lot to offer in the future.
The collection runs for a total of 104 pages.
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