First published in a collected volume in November of 2016, British author Joseph D’Lacey’s ‘The Veil: Testaments I & II’ was the fourth publication from Horrific Tales Publishing’s premium novella line (a series of beautifully presented hardback novellas released from the incredibly well-respected horror publishers).

The book collected together D’Lacey’s two novellas: ‘The Kill Crew’ (2009) which had previously been released as a standalone publication, and ‘The Failing Flesh’ which until now, had only been published as within Craig Bezant’s apocalyptic anthology ‘Surviving The End’ (2012).

Testament I: The Kill Crew – 90 Pages

The crew goes out every night.  Anyone can volunteer, but only seven will ever take the shift.  That’s the way it’s always been.  The rules of the Station.  If something goes wrong, they only lose a few.

They’d been holed up in the Station ever since The Long Silence.  Two hundred odd bodies, crammed together within a walled-off enclosure that had once been the strip between Neilson and McKinley Station.

They’d named themselves the Stoppers because they lived in a station.  Because they were going nowhere.  And because they put an end to Commuters.

Outside their hastily erected sanctuary, by day, the city was silent.  But come night, the Commuters came out.  Clawing at the walls of the Station.  Pining for the bodies inside.

The Kill Crew were there to protect the Stoppers.  To leave the Station as dusk became nightfall.  When the city took on the strange green hue that had been with them since all this began.  Since the day when anything with a spark of electricity running through it died.

Of course they had their weapons.  Sherri Foley had her two pump-action shotguns – Cain and Abel.  The guns had been enough to keep the Commuters off her back.  Enough to keep her going out into the city’s streets night after night – popping Commuters heads as they went.  Although they still lost men.  And each one they lost, would deplete their numbers further.

But they had to keep going out.  Not only to keep the Commuters away from the Station, but also to make it feel like they were doing something.  Anything.  Fighting back.

They’re the Kill Crew.  Everyone knew, without them the Station dies…

Oh yes, bring it the fuck on.  This here’s one damn entertaining piece of post-apocalyptic sci-fi horror fiction.  Think Richard Matheson’s ‘I Am Legend’ (1954) meets ‘The Day Of The Triffids’ (1951) meets a pretty much anything by David Moody.  Yeah, we’re firmly within end-of-the-world territory here, and things are looking increasingly bleak for the remaining survivors holed up in their makeshift sanctuary.

Outside of the Station’s high walls the city stays silent during the day.  But of course, at night the Commuters come out.  Now, these ingeniously imagined zombie-like office workers are all over the city.  For whatever reason, they’re after the remaining survivors – wanting to take them alive for whatever terrifying reason they may have.

It’s only guess work why it’s the office worker types who were affected and became these mindless zombie-like beings.  But the idea of a silent city, where those wearing suits and ties are the enemy, is quite frankly nothing short of utterly inspired genius if you ask me.

The story is focused around the character of Sherri Foley – an ex-hairdresser who’s adapted to the hardboiled post-apocalyptic world with fucking gusto.  She’s now your pump-action wielding heroine, ready and willing to kick some serious Commuter ass each and every frigging night of the week.  Of course she’s not alone in this fucked-up new world.  Whenever she’s back at the Station, Sherri’s looking after eleven-year-old Trixie as best she can.  She’s also got a boyfriend-by-necessity named Isaac Delgado (aka Ike) always sniffing around her.  Together, the three of them are trying to ride out the horror of this violent new world by forming a loose family unit.

For a ninety page novella D’Lacey certainly crams in the post-apocalyptic goods.  Equal measures horror as there is sci-fi, the story thunders along at a breakneck pace, throwing in enough zig-zagging changes in course to keep you gripped and wondering where the hell the story’s going next.

There’s a hell of a lot of hardass brutality in the story.  Sherri (our principal protagonist) is as stern and unforgiving as they come (when she wants to be).  But she’s also prone to allowing her guard to drop.  Even in these most unforgiving and hostile of times, those moments of compassion can creep out.  They can be dangerous.  But ultimately, it makes her human.  

All in all the novella’s one hell of a rip-roaring post-apocalyptic offering, with so many numerous layers of sci-fi horror shoehorned in that you’ll constantly feel like you’re in motion.  The added emphasis on the human condition, thrust into the maelstrom of end-of-the-world uncertainty, is delivered with the skill of an absolute master storyteller.  There really is so damn much squeezed into this beast.  And don’t go expecting a Disney ending.  It just aint that kinda party.

Testament II: The Failing Flesh – 79 Pages

Rob had no recollection of how he got there.  Suspended upright, high above the floor of some vast, near-pitch black cavern.  He knows he’s not alone.  There are others in there with him.  Although no one speaks out loud.  They communicate only in whispers or screams.  Whispers to share words of comfort, screams when someone is drawn upwards.

Dangling in the dark, no one knows exactly how high up they are.  Although if the tendrils released their grip on them, they’d undoubtedly plummet down into the void and crumple on the cavern floor somewhere below.

All that he had left were his memories.  If only he could access them.  Although gradually, like the gentle dripping of urine from above, the memories slowly began to come back.

He remembered after the Hush, he’d taken his wife and their seven-year-old son down into the cellar.  But he’d soon realised that wasn’t safe.  Even Norton-on-the-Marsh could get dangerous after dark.  So they’d left their home and trekked to an isolated house Rob knew about.  An empty property located about a third of the way up a shallow hill, backing onto dense pine woodland.

There, Rob hoped they could hide away until things got better.  Hopefully stay off the radar of the Stricken.  Out of sight.  Out of danger.

But things didn’t get better.  In fact, things got dramatically worse…

Oh man, this one’s good.  For the second instalment in D’Lacey’s ecologically fucked-up post-apocalyptic series, we move away from the action-rich high-octane maelstrom of The Kill Crew (2009) and instead move into some darker, bleaker, more depressing turf.

The tale is told through our protagonist, Rob, as he tries hard to remember what led him to be in his current predicament – suspended high up in some vast underground cavern, with slimy tendrils pouring at his flesh.  As such, we almost have two halves to the story, gradually converging until the dramatic and nihilistic finale beats us to a pulp.

Compared with The Kill Crew(2009) there are very few characters in this second installation.  For the most part it’s just Rob.  Even his wife and son play backseat roles in the story.  Because it’s not really their story.  It’s Rob’s.  The story of what happened to him.  How he got where he is and all the messed up madness in between.

There’s an underlying gloom and corruption infiltrating every aspect of the story.  It’s hard to escape the feeling of fungal malignancy that lingers around every word.  It incredibly oppressive.  Tainting everything.  Smothering the entire story in a cloying fog of hopelessness.

Yeah, as you’ve probably gathered, this second story’s bleak as hell.  As I said, here we lose the guns, and instead we have corruption.  A gradual, unrelenting, irreversible corruption.  And it’s not just land that’s inflicted by this moldering decay.  Gradually we see everything being tainted.  Right down to the very things that make the characters who they are.

There’s a lot of similarities to ‘War Of The Worlds’ (1898) in the story, although D’Lacey soon veers off with his own unique take on how overwhelmingly depressing the whole thing should get.  There’s also a fuck load packed in the novella once again.  Like with The Kill Crew (2009), D’Lacey’s crammed in so many elements and inter-weaving layers that it feels like a story far longer than its page count.

Although it’s a follow-on of sorts from The Kill Crew(2009), this second instalment is nevertheless a very different story.  There are elements tying the two together, but they’re relatively minimal.  ‘The Failing Flesh’ is a bleaker, more introverted and darker tale.  It focusses more on mankind’s flaws.  On our exposure to corruption, and ultimately our inherently human failings.

I guess if The Kill Crew(2009) was the equivalent of James Cameron’s ‘Aliens’ (1986), then ‘The Failing Flesh’ would probably be Jeunet’s ‘Alien: Resurrection’ (1997).  Less guns, more grime.  That kind of sums it up nicely!

The two-novella collection runs for a total of 170 pages.

© DLS Reviews





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