First published in July of 2016, The Sinister Horror Company’s follow-up anthology ‘The Black Room Manuscripts: Volume Two’ brought together another twenty-two short stories by some of the very best up-and-coming and well established names in the horror genre.

Dissecting Lucifer’s Scripts (Foreword) – Chris Hall8 Pages
[Write-up by Justin Park]
Highly regarded reviewer and all round horror enthusiast, Chris Hall from DLS Reviews begins the proceedings with a passionate and interesting foreword, detailing his love for horror and the dark charms of his beloved genre. Taking a look at the intriguing nature and variety of different sub genres and championing the use of labels whilst metaphorically (and literally it would seem) toasting the blood-splattered scene with which his shadowy soul belongs. A fantastic beginning that gets the juices pumping with an enthusiasm to explore the twisted menagerie that is to come.

Prologue – J.R. Park - 2 Pages
Upon entering Horsfield Manor, Officer Ridsdale had to work hard in order to suppress the urge to be violently sick.  The place was like an abattoir.  The remains of the partygoers littered the blood-soaked carpet.  The stench of death was sickening.  Upstairs, away from the carnage, Ridsdale found a bedroom door with deep gouges scarring its surface.  On the ceiling above the door, scrawled in crimson blood, Ridsdale could just make out the legend “Pasher tagoth imra”…

As with ‘The Black Room Manuscripts: Volume One’ (2015), this second collection begins with another purposefully bisected story which forms a smart little bookending framing device to kick start the events with.  Park knows what needs to be done in these initial couple or so pages – and delivers the required goods.  It’s appetite whetting stuff that leaves the readers on a smirk-inducing cliff-hanger, with blood and guts and plenty of horror-a-go-go just round the darkened corner.

The Drawers – Tim Clayton - 19 Pages
Every morning and every evening he’d go down into the cellar and check upon them.  Down there, away from any prying eyes, he kept them hidden away in the drawers.  The temperature kept suitably low in order to preserve their fragile bodies.  Their cold dead forms.  These were his children now.  He loved them all. Which is why he kept them here. Kept them safe and secure and hidden away so no one could ever find them.  But the strange noises were of a concern to him.  Something wasn’t right.  Something felt out of place.  And it was unsettling him.  Breaking his routine.  Messing with his children…

What a grim little opener!  Dead children who have been abducted and killed and then their bodies hidden away in a temperature controlled cellar for some messed-up serial killer to obsess over.  And obsess really is the key word here.  Our whacked-out child abducting serial killer friend here has a pretty damn severe case of obsessive compulsive disorder to cope with.  And fair do’s to Clayton – he’s captured this life-altering obsessiveness perfectly; and without the need to over-embellish or annoyingly hammer in the point.  Furthermore, the methodical diary-like construction - delivered from behind these hideous sociopath’s eyes - further compliments the ‘detached-from-reality’ tone of the tale ever-so-nicely.  A sinister and quietly unnerving opening gambit that sets the overall mood perfectly (i.e. chilled to the frigging bone).

Spores – Jack Rollins - 22 Pages
Bill had been out in their paddock for long enough for Sheila to start getting concerned.  He often went out into the garden, particularly to his precious compost heap, but he was always back on the dot of noon for his lunch.  But not today.  And so, with the first flutters of uneasy in the pit of her stomach, Sheila wondered out into their back garden to locate her husband.  Of course he was fine.  She found him out by the compost heap covered from head to toe in mud.  He’d slipped on some damp grass when he’d offhandedly gone to kick some strange mushrooms growing by the compost heap, only to end up arse over tit.  The fall must have knocked him out cold.  But no harm appeared to be done.  Although, when Sheila had taken him back into the house, he noticed a small round growth had sprung up behind his right ear.  Then he noticed a cluster of bumps had appeared in the webbing between his right thumb and forefinger.  On closer inspection the growths appeared to be embedded in his skin.  Actually anchored to his body.  Some sort of fungal growth.  And the spores were sprouting up rapidly…

This is proper 80’s style pulp horror.  Harry Adam Knight eat your fungal-infected heart out!  From early on you can pretty much guess where Rollins’s going with this short tale.  Yeah, we’ve all seen ‘Creepshow’ (1982), or read some other delightfully pulpy fungal-inspired body horror that plays around with a similar idea to this.  However, the short’s not about hitting a home run for originality.  Oh no – what Rollins is undoubtedly aiming for here is to make his unsuspecting readers squirm in their seats.  You know those moments when you either screw up your face in repulsion or grin from ear to ear at the over-the-top grotesqueness on show.  Well Rollins has gone for some of that goodness.  And by Alan Titchmarsh’s shrub-bothering fingers has he pulled off a grim little beauty.  You know when you just can’t help grinning whilst reading some pulpy horror which ticks all the right lowbrow boxes.  Well that was me during ‘Spores’.  Absolutely love it.

What The Dark Does – Graham Masterton – 20 Pages
David had never been keen on the dark.  At night he’d go to sleep with his bedside lamp on; his father coming into his room and switching it off later when he was asleep.  David’s Grandpa used to say “Dark is the same stuff that’s behind your eyelids, only there’s more of it”.  But David knew it was more than that.  He knew in the darkness things could happen.  He’d heard his Grandpa’s old wooden puppet – Sticky Man – dancing around his bedroom.  He’d heard his dressing-gown moving and breathing in the dead of night.  It was the dark that did it.  These things came alive in the dark…

Homing in on an absolute core fear – veteran horror author Graham Masterton delivers a story that returns to that age-old chill factor of creepy noises in the dark.  We’ve all experienced that gut-wrenching fear as youngsters – when you’re 100% convinced that something in your bedroom, whether it’s in your closet, under your bed, or just lurking in the shadows – is moving.  When you’re absolutely sure there’s some malignant presence in your room.  Of course it’s just the darkness and your imagination playing tricks on your young mind.  But at the time the fear seemed so real.  And often the memory of that fear stays with us.  But what if the darkness could change things?  What if in the dark, inanimate objects could come alive?  Some people believe in such as a notion.  It’s called ‘crepuscular animation’ and it forms the very basis for Masterton’s eerie little offering.  Although not exactly packed out with all that much in the way of adrenaline-pumping scenes of horror, the story instead goes for a more subtle approach – carefully planting some seeds of unnerving doubt which gradually develop into a blood-chilling realisation, leaving you feeling just that little bit colder than when you began the story.

Screams In The Night – J. R. Park - 11 Pages
It had been two months now and there’d still been no sign of a let up.  Daryl was getting to the very end of his tether.  It was the middle of the night.  He’d barely slept a wink and now the screaming had started up again - just as it had done every single night for the past eight weeks.  The sound reverberating through the walls.  The screams of his Eastern European next door neighbour’s young child – Roman – pulling at his sanity.  It had gotten too much for him.  He’d finally reached his limit.  Half-asleep, half in a daze of mind-crushing weariness, he’d gone out of his flat an made his way to his neighbour’s front door.  But when he got there he found the lock smashed and the door sitting ajar – broken and forced.  Suddenly all that ear-piercing screaming took on a much more sinister tone…

Is there anything more nerve-jangling or teeth-grindingly grating, than an infant screaming its little lungs out?  That ear-splitting screech that pierces right through your eardrums.  The way it seems to pummel your brain and cause your jaw to ache with helpless frustration.  Now then – couple that with unrelenting tiredness and you’ve got the backdrop for an instantly jarring story.  Author Justin Park knows this well, and uses this air of rising irritation to its full effect.  In fact, the atmosphere that Park lays down is so palpable that it’s hard not to feel that little bit on edge as you read on.  And then all of a sudden Park derails the rising tension with the sledgehammer effect from the discovery of a forced door in the middle of the night. From here its heart-in-mouth tension, followed by the sort of brazen-faced horror that these anthologies are all about.  Park’s one of those authors who knows how to build upon an atmosphere and then capitalise on it perfectly for its full effect.  He also knows his audience.  Put the two together and you get stories like this.

Night Patrol – Paul M. Feeney – 22 Pages
Police Constable Alison Durant was out in a patrol car with Sergeant Michelle Preston when the first call came in.  Up until now it had been a relatively quiet night.  But with the report of a group wandering about the Hillington area threatening people – the night was beginning to look like it might be a busy one.  Constable Durant was already feeling a little uneasy, no doubt due to the threatening letter she’d received that morning from her now ex-boyfriend.  Furthermore the fog that seemed to form a thick near-impenetrable blanket over everything didn’t help matters.  So when the second call came in - one detailing a further, more serious incident - mild unease escalated to a barely suppressed feeling of unshakable fear.  Sergeant Preston’s story of a riot which had turned gut-wrenchingly nasty was probably also to blame.  Nevertheless, the young Police Constable couldn’t shake that feeling of utter dread…

Fog.  The best friend to a horror author.  It can hide so many menacing bastards who want nothing more than to creep up on your ass and give you the scare of your life.  Understandably it’s crept its way into a seemingly endless list of horror books and films.  And here it is again – swallowing up the world around this hapless duo and leaving them prone for a bit of nerve-jangling terror.  Of course just dumping them into the setting and then leaving it at that wouldn’t do at all.  So author Paul M. Feeney goes to work really laying on a creepyass campfire-style story to get us all in the mood for a good old scare.  And fuck me sideways if he doesn’t do just that!  You’re kind of expecting some grim tale for this atmospheric story-within-a-story; but perhaps not for him to go all Shaun Hutson ‘Compulsion’ (2001) on our ass.  Brutal, sadistic and utterly terrifying.  Yep – mood well and truly set.  Time for Feeney to tip us over the edge.

Cut To The Core – Rebecca S. Lazaro – 13 Pages
Ellie was fuming. How dare that bitch Rin call her unstable?  Her mother had been unstable.  She’d been positively messed-up in the head.  But she was nothing like her mother.  Rin had gone too far now.  She’d pissed Ellie off rotten with that final comment.  Now all she could think of doing was putting on some pounding metal, having a good few hits from her bong and knocking back a fair few glugs of her father’s whiskey.  But as the music came on, and the grass and whiskey began taking their effect, she started hearing things.  Something was messing with her.  Something was in her head.  A real demon…and it was playing games with her.  Maybe she really was going crazy…

Holy shit I wasn’t expecting this.  Rebecca Lazaro’s offering starts off like a pretty inoffensive smattering of teenage angst.  But don’t get too comfy in your seat.  Things are about to jump from a pretty mundane show of mildly annoying self-indulgent depression to something a fuck load more sinister.  Demonic possession’s an often used tool in horror.  William Peter Blatty utilised it in ‘The Exorcist’ (1971) to its full effect.  And since then we’ve seen possession used in countless novels, films and the like.  However, it’s not often that you see it used in such a brutal and nerve-cutting way as you have with Lazaro’s short.  Here we have a truly disturbing depiction of self-harm depicted in harrowing detail.  Even with the perpetrator of these acts being possessed, the delivery of the self-harm is nevertheless so gut-wrenchingly horrific that it left me gasping for air afterwards.  Utterly unforgettable stuff – whether you want it to be or not.

The Glen – Nathan Robinson – 13 Pages
After the shouts and screams and sounds of helicopters buzzing overhead had ceased, after enough time had passed for it to feel safe again, he’d finally brought his family down from their hiding place upstairs.  When they left through the barricaded front door they found a world empty, the living gone, the sick now dead and rotting in the streets having run out of things to eat.  At first it was the three of them and their dog Charlie.  He felt lucky that his family was intact and now there was nobody to bother them.  The sickness seemed to have finally burnt itself out.  It looked like their self-imposed quarantine had actually worked.  So they’d headed north to the Glen.  There he hoped they’d claw back something akin to a life.  For his daughter’s sake if nothing else…

Next up we have Nathan Robinson’s downbeat and utterly sombre post-apocalyptic offering which bears quite a considerable resemblance to that of  Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’ (2006).  Robinson homes straight into the mentally downtrodden emotional state of our lead character as he faces a world with just his daughter and him left alive in it. Indeed, the short is told from a very ‘close’ perspective – with the catastrophic annihilation of mankind zoomed down into what lies ahead for just this one father and his five-year-old daughter.  Robinson plays around with all those usual questions, the ones that no one really wants to ponder on but nevertheless need to be weighed up when faced with such a terrible predicament.  Throughout this Robinson maintains a calm and somewhat tranquil mood which further accentuates the sadness of the piece.  This is one of those stories that worries away at all those quiet thoughts in your head as it tells its increasingly sombre story.  And all the while it’s calmly guiding you along towards the inevitable coldness of the end, to finally nudge you back out into reality feeling just that little bit sadder than you did at the beginning.

The Vile Glib Of Gideon Wicke – Lily Childs – 16 Pages
A coin.  That’s all it was.  But when eighty-three-year-old Joseph Willoughby plucked it from the mud, he felt the energy from it resonate through his tired old hands.  With the coin in hand, he brought that day’s scavenging to an end and made his way back home with his faithful retriever – Betsy – by his side.  However, that night age finally caught up with Betsy.  And so Joe called Doc Deemus over to his old cottage to put her to sleep once and for all.  With Betsy gone forever and the quietness of the cottage weighing heavy on his mind, Joe eventually got to sleep, with the perfectly polished Charles II shilling he’d found that day resting in the palm of his hand.  But the next morning Joe would feel more tired and alone than he’d ever felt before.  He knew what he wanted to do now.  He knew his time had come.  He wanted out.  He wanted it over with.  He wanted to be with Betsy again…

Some tales read more like poetry than they do stories.  That’s not to say that there’s not a story in there – but the eloquence and beauty of the writing can sometimes speak louder than what’s being told.  Lily Childs’ offering is one such story.  From those initial first few stepping stones, from the quiet ambience and respectful graciousness of our tired protagonist, we’re pulled into the mesmerising charm of the story and the gentle flow of its direction.  Indeed, reading Childs’ offering feels somewhat akin to drifting down a gently flowing stream; watching as around you things gradually float by and the world plays out its endless tune.  But of course it’s not all roses and sunshine.  Even though the story maintains a compelling beauty in its prose, the path it follows is clouded with heartache and sorrow.  But there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.  And to show this Childs executes a near flawless wrapping up of a lost soul’s final journey.

Red Mask – Lindsey Goddard – 16 Pages
Billy hadn’t been right in the head ever since that terrible night that his four and six year old niece and nephew had been murdered.  The media had dubbed the perpetrator the ‘Red Mask Killer’.  He’d killed eight others since that fateful night.  Of course Billy blamed himself.  If only he’d tried to save the kids first, instead of getting his sister away from the killer, things might have been different.  But he hadn’t, and he’d been living with the consequences ever since.  Living with being brain damaged and tormented by recurring visions from that night.  However now he’d been caught hugging two corpses in the funeral home he worked at.  Some would say it had only been a matter of time before what was left of his life fell apart…

This one’s a bit grim.  Here we have a story born from the messed-up after effects of a psychotic serial killers murderous rampage which leaves one of his victim’s brain damaged and in deep remorse for not saving his niece and nephew.  So yeah – a nice light-hearted read!  To be honest there’s not actually all that much meat in the story, however, through the piece-by-piece delivery author Lindsey Goddard has managed to pull off one hell of a gripping but emotionally-heavy yarn.  Furthermore, the cleverly conceived ending that’s the culmination of all the remorse and regret, is a stroke of perfectly-executed literary genius. It’s grim and downbeat and told with a heavy heart.  But nevertheless it’s a story that maintains just the right balance to keep it on target for a truly heart-plummeting conclusion.

The Ring Of Karnak – Daniel Marc Chant - 25 Pages
When Carter Donovan received an unexpected package from the firm Pickett, Carpenter and Smyth, he instantly felt somewhat agitated. He didn’t like surprises.  It was one of the main reasons why he’d moved from London to the sleepy village of Fennelcliff.  Nothing ever happened there.  And that’s the way he liked it.  But now he had a mysterious package to open.  And he found the contents equally as perplexing.  It contained an ugly ring etched with strange symbols which his late uncle had apparently bequeathed to him after his untimely death.  Alongside the ring Donovan found a parchment carrying the message “Destroy this thing.  Be stronger than I”.  Interest suitably peeked – Donovan decided then and there that he would learn of the ring’s history and how it came to be in his hands now.  However, as Donovon was to learn, such a thing would prove to be a particularly difficult task, and one that would often bring about a wall of hostility whenever he spoke of this strange and ancient ring…

What we have here is another one of those Lovecraft-meets-Tolkien style of tales that have become somewhat of a staple addition to modern-day horror anthologies.  As you’d expect, it’s got its feet firmly rooted in the sort of early twentieth century style of writing that compliments the storyline so well.  And fair do’s to Chant – he’s pulled the whole thing off masterfully.  There’s all the gentlemanly decorum and old English charm that go hand in hand with such a story.  For the most part we’re treated to a typical mystery-style plot, whereby our protagonist is on the search for answers surrounding the strange ring he’s inherited.  We get all that ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973) hostility which of course goes from being plain old rude to something far more sour.  If we’re honest, there’s nothing overtly original nestling in the story, but fear not, that doesn’t stop it from being a damn entertaining yarn.

The Gift – Shaun Hutson - 9 Pages
Having his twin sister in hospital for so long had clearly affected Dean Morton.  He was only nine-years-old, so the enormity of the matter would no doubt be tough for him to understand.  The doctors said that Holly had a hole in her heart.  And until she got a new one, they’d do what they could for her.  It was now just a waiting game.  Plain and simple.  All she had to do was hang on in there.  Hopefully sooner or later one would become available for transplant.  Of course Bill and Carol Morton were struggling with the endless waiting.  Having their daughter in hospital for so long was killing them.  Luckily they had Dean.  Such a good boy.  He really would do anything for his sister…

Oh how I love Shaun Hutson’s work.  He’s one of those author’s so many of us have grown up reading.  His writing has continued to push the boundaries.  It’s continued to go in bare fisted and ready to kick your chubby arse.  As soon as you start reading something by the man, you instantly recognise it’s him.  There’s that fluidity to the story which just seems to allow it to flow so naturally.  The cut-to-the-chase raw emotions on show from the start.  And then of course, that little glint in his eye as he unveils the horror of the piece in all its blood-soaked glory.  Admittedly it’s reasonably obvious where the story’s heading from the outset.  If the opening conversation about poor old Holly’s need for a heart, along with the story title itself hasn’t given it away for you, then I’m pretty sure the sledgehammer like clues that pave the way to the dramatic finale will.  But it’s all good.  You don’t read Hutson for some Agatha Christie style twist.  You’re there for the crazy-as-they-come ride and that all-important blood-drenched conclusion.  Man I love Hutson’s work!  He’s the Godfather of Splatterpunk.  He’s a frigging legend.  And this here story’s just another example of the reasons why he holds such a title.

The Father – Rich Hawkins - 20 Pages
The town on the coast was the end of the line for many travellers.  For Cort it was certainly no exception.  He’d driven to the town with one thing on his mind.  Here he would end it all.  With the sodden hills behind him, the rust and grim of the promenade echoing his own tiredness, here he’d finally find an end.  He just needed the courage to do it.  To end it all the way he saw fit.  If he was going to take his life, he’d do it with the wind at his face and the roar of the sea in his head.  There was no other way.  And so he made his way up the rain-drenched hillside, with his son’s favourite blue bear in his pocket, and went to meet his fate…

Okay, so now I’m depressed.  I thought Nat Robinson’s offering was a sombre affair.  But holy shit, if Rich Hawkins hasn’t just taken the anthology to even gloomier depths.  But hell, that certainly ain’t no bad thing when you’re dealing with horror.  If done well, a grim and downtrodden story can make for one hell of a good read.  Just look at G.R. Yeates’ work for proof.  And Hawkins has done just that.  In fact, his contribution has quickly become one of the stand out stories in the collection.  Again we see some truly superb wordsmanship at work here.  The prose is almost lyrical.  The atmosphere is so palpable, you feel like you’re sat within a thick smog of urban decay just reading it.  Furthermore the vagueness of our protagonist’s plight works perfectly with the setting and the gradually unfolding story.  It all feels so clinging, so compelling, and so damn truthful.  In short – ‘The Father’ is an absolute triumph of down-beaten and depressing modern-day horror.  Now where’s that noose…

Oranges Are Orange – Stuart Park – 14 Pages
Jack lived in a big house.  It was the perfect house for playing hide and seek in.  He’d have his friends over and he’d hide in one of the many cupboards and he’d not be found.  He’d stay there for hours.  Always the winner.  But he had to be careful.  His Mama and Papa were always beating on him.  It was hard to keep track of what was the right thing to do and what was wrong.  As he got older his Papa seemed to grow less patient with him.  And so the punishments became more frequent.  And then his friends went away.  And Dr Olden and his Papa did things to his head.  Things that were supposed to help.  Things to make him better.  But what is better?...

Whoa!  This is some freaky messed-up shit we’ve got here.  Stuart Park is clearly a man who likes to toy with his readers.  It’s written from the first-person-perspective of Jack, who it appears is a severe autistic savant with a hefty slab of OCD thrown in for good measure.  Seeing the slowly unfolding story purely from behind the eyes of someone who can’t understand or grasp the entirety of what’s going on around him is always a slightly disorientating and challenging thing.  It makes the story a puzzle.  But it’s one that draws you in as you gradually become more and more accustomed to the character of Jack and the way his mind works.  Of course it’s a difficult read in more ways than one.  You’re reading about a vulnerable child/young adult who’s struggling with understanding the complexities of our world.  In that alone it’s quite a heart-wrenching read.  Now throw in the impact of being mistreated as a young child – and then how it derails the poor lad – and you’ve got a story that not only gets you on an emotional level, but then messes you up when you’re at your most vulnerable.  See what I mean about the author?!  He knows what he’s doing.  It’s hard-hitting and horrifically chilling.  I swear to god I needed a shower after reading it.

Drip – Dani Brown - 17 Pages
You can’t escape.  You’ve already tried that once since waking.  You worked yourself into a panic and it took you ages to calm down afterwards.  The ceaseless dripping was no help.  Drip.  Drip. Drip.  You open your eyes.  You’re surrounded by darkness so deep it seems like it’s swallowed you whole.  All around you can feel the sides of whatever the hell it is you’re confined within.  Trapped within.  There’s no room to move.  It’s cold, and wet, and painfully restrictive.  And all the while that incessant dripping.  Drip.  Drip. Drip…

I love this one.  In fact, it’s become my standout favourite of the entire collection (and that’s saying something considering the incredibly high calibre of all the stories).  There’s just something about claustrophobia that grabs me by the throat.  Combine that with utter pitch black darkness and you’ve got yourself something truly terrifying.  And that’s what we’ve got here.  Think ‘The Pit And The Pendulum’ (1842) crossed with the gut-wrenching claustrophobia felt in the likes of ‘The Descent’ (2005).  There’s another quite recent film that’s even closer to the premise of this adrenaline-pumping short, but to name it would be to give away that all-important unveiling that concludes the story…so I won’t.  But if you suffer from claustrophobia (or even if you don’t), I promise you you’ll get one hell of a kick out of this nerve-jangling short.  I absolutely loved it.

Renewal – William Meikle - 15 Pages
After attending five funerals in just two days, George Sanderson needed a drink.  In fact after the burial of the one man who had been the closest thing he had to a best friend, George decided it was time to make his leave so he could finally drink away his sorrows in relative peace.  He was getting on in years now.  War had worn him down.  And he missed his friends.  Those he’d left behind.  All he could think to do now was drink.  So he caught the bus into town and hit the pubs.  But as the night drew onwards and the drinks had their intended influence on him, it suddenly dawned on George that he was in an area of London he hadn’t been to before.  And that’s when he also realised he had company.  An elderly woman had sat down beside George and started comforting him.  Whether it was the booze or the fact that this woman was offering her ear for the night – whichever it was – George decided to tell her everything.  The friends he’d lost.  The loneliness.  The pain he felt.  But what if he could see them again?  What if it wasn’t over?  Even through the blur of alcohol George new what this woman was saying made no sense.  But he went with her anyway…

Willie Meikle can write a good yarn or two!  He’s got the gift.  He can just write whatever weird and wonderful stuff he wants and it’ll still just draw us in.  It’s undoubtedly down to the way he writes.  The charm of his words that reels us in.  And then when were in the palm of his hand, does he start weaving in that wonderfully vivid imagery that triggers our imagination.  It’s an incredible talent – and one he’s utilised so many times.  The story in all its bare bone essence is (another) reasonably sombre affair.  However, Meikle doesn’t dwell on the misery too much, but instead puts it on the table then moves on into more fantastical territory.  It’s just a great story, brimming with wonderfully imagined visual imagery and the beating heart of something vaster than its short length.

Eleven – Matt Shaw – 18 Pages
He couldn’t believe that she’d actually come.  Eleven years old and seemingly with the confidence of a young woman.  He knew she was just putting it on.  But he didn’t mind.  She was petite, almost stick thin.  Just the way he liked them.  And now here she was – in his flat.  He’d told her he had a new litter of puppies.  Cute little things that could fit in the palm of your hand.  Of course, she was interested in seeing them.  It was a conversation that ended with an offer to come round sometime to play with them.  It was never forced upon her.  It was always her choice.  But of course, the puppies were only imaginary.  A lie he had planted early in their online conversation.  Nevertheless she’d come round.  Told her parents she was at a friend’s.  Oh he felt good about this one.  He could barely keep the lust out of his leering eyes…

Oh hell we have a tough one here.  Yep – once you’ve read the synopsis you’ll know what sort of gut-pounding extreme horror we have on offer here.  Ninety-nine percent of the world’s population are going to find this a tough read.  Me included.  Even after anticipating that what we have here is something akin to a short story version of David Slade’s ‘Hard Candy’ (2005), it’s the run-up to the (somewhat foreseeable) twist that’s just fucking horrific reading.  Credit where credits undeniably due – Shaw’s portrayed the whole grooming process so hauntingly believably that just thinking about the thing sends shivers down my spine.  No shit – you feel like you’re in the frigging room with them.  Silent and unable to do anything but watch on as this vile excuse for a human attempts to have his way with an eleven year old girl.  However the more horrific and vivid this grooming process is, the more explosively satisfying the finale will ultimately be.  I swear I was a gnat’s pube away from punching the air when the twist came.  Can’t say I loved the story because it was so utterly disturbing.  But Shaw has undoubtedly achieved what he set out to do here.  So hats off to the fucker.

Mutant Building 101 – Duncan P Bradshaw – 23 Pages
It was bring-your-child-to-work-day.  For Doctor Schmidt that meant bringing his young son - Timmy - into the top security military base where he was one of the head scientists.  Of course, Timmy had brought his pet milk snake – Sidney – along with him.  Sidney was to be kept in a small tank, so Schmidt couldn’t see the harm in having him along.  That is until Timmy left the milk snake on top of some barrels which were destined for the waste storage room.  Things quickly go from bad to a whole lot worse when Schmidt sends one of his lab technicians down to retrieve the snake, only for the hapless fool to drop the snake’s tank on the floor after a spider lands on his hand.  On the floor where a luminous green liquid has pooled from a nearby barrel.  The next second the Technician’s nothing more than a pile of fine carbon and bone.  Something strange has mutated from the spilt toxic chemicals…

This one’s an absolute blast!  Duncan P Bradshaw is such an imaginative and creative writer.  The stuff this man conjures up is just so much fun.  Invariably there’s always that wacky off-the-wall vibe going on with his stories.  And of course, that all-important comedy element to it all.  This latest short is no different.  Indeed, with tongue firmly wedged in cheek Bradshaw unleashes one of his most spectacularly over-the-top storylines yet.  The premise is akin to a Japanese monster movie co-written by the guys behind and ‘The Return Of The Living Dead’ (1985).  Oh, and the monster special-effects from the ‘Power Rangers’.  It’s wacky and hilariously ambitious, but oh so entertaining.  In the story we learn what happens when a snake and a spider come into contact with toxic waste – you get a gigantic mutant beast that’s half snake and half spider – a ‘Snakider’ if you will.  But the fun doesn’t end there folks.  What better way to fight off such a beastie than create another colossal mutant who’s got a taste for snakes and spiders.  Oh my, the fun you’ll have in this story!

The short story was later reprinted in the EyeCue Productions sampler collection ‘Brain Taster’ (2017)

Backbone Isn’t Always Enough – Dr Lynne Campbell – 9 Pages
He could plainly see the deterioration of his condition beginning again.  He knew it was time for the very painful, but ultimately just temporary cure.  A pain that he would have to endure repeatedly, as was necessary, to control his affliction.  As Bo made his way out into the world outside, he could feel his bones were getting old.  He knew all too well that too much pressure on his limbs could mean an easy break or worse.  The delicate nature of the human body angered him at times.  At others he marvelled at its beauty and complexity.  Coveted it even…

Haha!  This is a clever little one.  From the very start, like a trail made from breadcrumbs, Dr Lynne Campbell drops numerous hints as to the true nature of ‘Bo’.  Yet – for this reviewer at least – you don’t really connect up all the dots until the fair doctor’s good and ready for you to know.  Aside from the story-defining-twist at the end, there’s not all that much else in the short tale.  It’s all about the hints and the suggestions that keep you guessing.  But the 80’s sci-fi style conclusion makes it all so very worthwhile.

And The Light Is His Garment – Jasper Bark – 8 Pages
Folk all over the Empire still argue about his miraculous new clothes.  Some factions claim that he was dressed in military splendour to lead the people to unending victory against the enemies of the Empire.  While other factions argue that he wore the simplest of garments to illustrate that the true wealth of the Empire lies in the faith of its people, not the possessions it accrues or the nations it conquers.  However, there was another seditious faction of malcontents who claimed the Emperor wore nothing at all.  That he was naked as the day he was born.  Locked up in a small damp cell, one which was overrun with cockroaches, they had one such believer.  A prisoner who was universally loathed, irrespective of the principles or beliefs of those that held him captive.  For believers and unbelievers alike know they lost something precious when they lost their vision of the Emperor.  This man robbed them of something sacred, and so he must be punished for it…

This is a weird one.  For his offering, author Jasper Bark has reimagined the Hans Christian Anderson tale of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ with a darker outcome to the proceedings.  Centred on the unfortunate prisoner locked away in a damp cell, the story flickers back-and-forth between the prisoners perspective and that of the courtiers who show the morbid and curious around the dungeons.  Aside from telling the backstory of how the prisoner came to be incarcerated and despised so universally, to be honest there’s very else told in the short tale.  Nevertheless, Bark’s delivered a tight and utterly intriguing story with a touch of the truly reverent.

Terry In The Bed By The Window – Laura Mauro – 19 Pages
Terence Westwater had been occupying the bed by the window since he arrived on to Sycamore Ward in February.  In the two months he’d been there he hadn’t uttered a single word.  However, him being nonverbal and seemingly bedbound didn’t really trouble the nurses.  What did was the fact that nobody knew anything about him.  He’d been found sitting in the atrium over ay Guy’s Hospital, alone and confused, with only a brown leather wallet and a dog-eared paperback tucked into the inside pocket of his jacket.  They’d only knew his name because they found it on a library card inside his wallet.  He was a mystery to them.  But there was something that also worried twenty-four-year-old nurse Dolores.  The way his health constantly spiralled downwards, then the next night he’d seemingly be the picture of health.  It made no sense.  But nothing seemed to with Terence Westwater…

Author Laura Mauro’s contribution is one of those ones that purposefully puts the reader ever-so-slightly ill-at-ease from the outset.  Mauro maintains the mystery behind the story and the mute character of Terence Westwater for the majority of the tale; only very slowly peeling back the layers, so that the when the truth of the matter is unveiled, it has the desired punch.  Admittedly this is one of those stories where you can probably predict where the author’s going with it from early on.  Nevertheless this doesn’t seem to detract too heavily from the chilling hit of the final conclusion – or indeed the overall enjoyment of the short tale as a whole.  It’s a story that’s all about the atmosphere and the creeping chill of not knowing what’s going on.  And with those two factors alone, Mauro’s absolutely nailed it.

Three Sisters – Sam Stone – 12 Pages
The three sisters who lived next door to the victim were not only similar in looks but also incredibly beautiful young women.  They were maternal triplets.  Non-identical, but nevertheless held similar characteristics.  They also had a strange way of speaking – as though they were always continuing each other’s sentences.  Still Inspector Philip Peak found them pleasant to question after arriving at the scene.  Although they didn’t offer him any more information about what had happened to their neighbour, Janice Bailey.  Not that they would have known much more than he did.  He’d been informed that the victim had died some three days ago, and since then her dog had been chowing down on the body.  According to the neighbours the dog had been barking non-stop for the last they days.  Something that had clearly annoyed everyone around the property.  After all, this was a very nice and respectable neighbourhood.  Not really one for the likes of Janice and her dog to be in…

This is a fun one.  It’s one of those stories with a handful of chunky pieces to it which don’t at first fit together all that well, and it’s only at the very end, when the gruesome horror of the piece is revealed, that they finally all make sense.  The backdrop for the story is an idyllic suburb neighbourhood.  One that the painfully middleclass often aspire to live in.  Think ‘Edward Scissorhands’ (1990) – only with a reasonably grizzly death casting a temporary shadow over the neighbourhood.  In fact – the whole story has a particularly Tim Burton-esque feel to it.  However, where it comes into its own is with the unexpected twist ending.  I didn’t see this one coming.  And so the sudden revelation, as the story drew to an end, plastered a nice big grin across my face.  Nice one!

Epilogue – J.R. Park – 4 Pages
The hospital was nothing more than a memory to her now, as was the doctor that lay on the floor, bleeding out from a biro to the throat.  The invisible eyes had watched her commit the act, and now she felt their judgment upon her.  She felt them all the time.  Not even sleep provided respite from the unknown evil that had followed her ever since she walked into that room back in Horsfield Manor.  And now she was on her way back there.  Drawn to the property.  Compelled to do this one final act…

Justin Park concludes the fictional offerings in this second collection with a grim slice of horror that forms his bookending epilogue.  Similar in concept to the opening and closing stories of Clive Barker’s ‘Book of Blood’ collections – together the two story halves pull together the anthology into a nicely defined whole; ending on a suitably downbeat and horrific note.  Perfectly fitting and very nicely executed.

Afterword – Howard Gorman – 15 Pages
Howard Gorman of Scream Magazine begins his afterword with a quote from horror director Eli Roth which gets the whole afterword rolling – “The best movies now are called ‘thrillers’ because if you use the word ‘horror’, people’s associations are straight-to-video crap.”  Not exactly the most positive note to begin the piece with, but an honest and very relevant one which deserves exploring.  And through the next fifteen pages this is exactly what Gorman does.  Gorman starts off with detailing how the horror scene has been picking up some serious pace over the last few years.  From here he looks at the dedicated diehard fan base that have continued to support the scene like no other.  Gorman then grills the guys behind LuchaGore Productions for an insight into what the plans and objectives are for an up-and-coming horror production company as they embark upon their work in such an overcrowded and competitive industry.  Following this Gorman speaks with the guys behind SpectreVision and to learn a little of about their hallmark traits.  Following this Gorman goes on to examine the detrimental backlash that meddling producers often have on the indie scene.  Finally, the afterword looks into technological advances (particularly in terms of how literally everyone has access to some sort of video recording device), and how it has levelled the playing field these days.  With showing that the gap between Hollywood and the indie scene is now growing smaller every day – Gorman signs off, ending the anthology on a wonderfully positive note for such indie horror works.

So there we have it.  The entire anthology dissected and examined piece-by-piece.  And it has to be said that each individual contribution definitely has its place in the collection.  With the anthology we’re offered a vast array of different stories showing the variation that’s very much alive in the horror scene.  Furthermore it showcases the incredible imagination and skill of so many up-and-coming authors, as well as some of the most highly revered names in the scene.  Indeed, once again the Sinister Horror Company boys have brought together one hell of a collection talent – all of which has been done in support of the charity Alzheimer’s Research UK.  Hats off to all three of you (in particular Justin Park who took on the leading role with this second anthology).  ‘The Black Room Manuscripts: Volume Two’ more than just delivers top quality horror fiction – it floods the veins with a concoction so imaginatively varied and versatile that the genre’s never looked more alive.

The anthology runs for a total of 394 pages.

© DLS Reviews

Other ‘The Black Room Manuscript’ volumes:

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