First published back in May of 2018, British author Phil Sloman’s short story collection ‘Broken On The Inside’ formed the sixth instalment in the Black Shuck Shadows series of books.

Broken On The Inside
– 48 Pages
Kira Jones hadn’t been feeling well for a long time.  The symptoms had been marginal to begin with.  Unexplained pains; nothing more than dull aches which came and went and a general feeling of lethargy.  She’d ignored it at the time.  But as the aches and pains worsened, so she realised something had to be done.  However no matter which specialists she’d gone to see, none could find what was wrong with her.  That was, until she was referred to Dr Secombe.  He offered her hope of finally solving the issue.  An experimental procedure that had been pioneered in America involving nanotechnology.  The doctor called it the Patient Artificial Monitoring system.  It would change Kira’s life.  Maybe, just maybe, allow her to feel normal again…

Man this is an intriguing read.  It’s the sort of story that quite effortlessly pulls you in with an unspoken mystery lurking behind it all.  You know there’s something wrong with twenty-two-year-old Kira.  Something more than just a mere stomach ache she can’t shake off.  It’s easy to sympathise with her, and not just because of her undiagnosable illness.  Sloman’s made Kira’s a likeable character.  Loyal and loving to her chain-smoking mother.  So when things start going wrong (as they invariably do), your heart cries out for the poor girl.  However, it’s only at the very end we find out what’s ultimately wrong with her.  What her illness is really all about.  And it delivers one hell of a gut-wrenching twist that leaves you reeling.

Discomfort Food
– 30 Pages
The food she’d brought home after had started mocking her again.  Rebecca was tired and in no mood for such annoyances.  She’d just come off another shift at Smithy’s Steaks and now all she wanted to do was shower, eat and get some well-deserved and much-needed rest.  But there it was, her triple decker cheeseburger with fries and onion rings, sitting on the table goading her for what happened.  Saying they knew exactly what she’d done.  Rebecca couldn’t stand it.  Couldn’t stand to listen anymore to all the taunting.  She’d done what she’d done because of what he’d done to her.  Because of him.  And there was no undoing things now.  She just had to learn to live with it…

First published within Stewart Hotson’s ‘Chip Shop Horrors’ anthology (2015), what we have here is a quirky food inspired psychological horror with plenty of madness shovelled in to keep things grim and utterly unpredictable.  And ‘unpredictable’ is definitely the word of choice when describing this particularly delightful short.  From the outset we’re presented with a story in which a burger, fries and onion rings are taunting our chubby and overworked lead character.  It all seems very surreal, and gets no clearer when we learn that our downtrodden fastfood worker is suffering from blackouts.  Fainting when things get too much for her.  Of course there’s an explanation at the root of it all.  And it’s far from bursting with happiness and joy.  Far, far from it.

The Man Who Fed The Foxes
– 24 Pages
Ever since Paul Wilson caught his wife having sex with his one-time best friend, his life had been freefalling downhill at an increasingly rapid rate.  Amelia had left Paul after he’d walked in on the two of them.  Since then, their once well-tended garden had descended into an unkempt jungle.  It wasn’t long before he learnt that the rest of the town had known all along about the affair.  Or at least had their suspicions at the time.  It was another thorn in his side.  Another weight of shame to carry with him.  But it was when Paul reached rock bottom, when life seemed like it couldn’t get any lower for him, that he spied the foxes in his garden for the first time.  Foxes that edged out from the shadows as he sat their watching on.  Foxes that spoke to him…

This cheerful little tale was originally published in James Ward Kirk’s ‘Bones III’ (2014) anthology.  In a nutshell what we have is one man’s mental and physical deterioration as a result of a pretty rough deal from his unfaithful wife.  It’s a gut-wrenchingly sad tale, wallowing in pity, anger and heartache.  However it’s the bitterness in the story that perhaps stands out the most.  It’s so wrought with hurt and anger that it’s almost palpable.  Of course Sloman doesn’t just leave it there.  He’s got one bitch of a twist up his sleeve which completely transforms the story at the eleventh hour.  In fact, prior to this, you don’t really get much of a sense of where the story’s actually heading.  But those last couple of pages absolutely make it.  One hell of a story.

There Was An Old Man
– 26 Pages
John Hinklow had been enjoying his retirement for a good ten years or so now.  He still had plenty to fill his days.  He had his rituals.  He liked to stick to routines.  Stay healthy.  Keep active.  Keep away from illnesses.  But then whilst he was on his way to collect his morning paper, it happened.  He swallowed a fly.  And from that moment on he couldn’t get the thought of that fly out of his mind.  After all, it was inside of him.  It was there in his gut.  No doubt harbouring all sorts of diseases.  He had to do something.  He just had to get the fly out…

Take that age old nursery rhyme, “There was an old lady who swallowed a fly, perhaps she’ll die…”, and then make it into a story drenched in a phobia induced torment.  From that, what you’ll have conjured up is possibly something akin to Phil Sloman’s nerve-jangling short.  In essence the plot itself isn’t exactly brimming with all that much originality per se.  But that doesn’t matter one iota here.  Sloman delivers a story of spiralling anguish and mental instability.  Slowly but surely our protagonist’s actions and sheer desperation escalate, until that pretty-much-unavoidable finale rears its ugly head.  Even with its black comedy undertones, this is still a damn grim read.  But oh is it addictive.  The story first appeared in Dean M Drinkel’s anthology ‘
Phobophobias’ (2014).

Virtually Famous
– 30 Pages
He’d been chosen because of his fame and his looks.  After a brief revival in his career, for a second time Chet Tyler was all but washed up and all before he’d even made it to his thirties.  It was no wonder he took the job when he received the call.  It was a decision that would change his life.  The Game had been a smash hit from day one.  A billion dollar success that had sold out in all territories across the globe.  The rise in virtual reality and the public’s obsession with celebrity and riches had created the perfect storm.  Originally it had started off as Chet’s World.  A synthesised existence where you could experience the life of Chet.  However, over time Chet’s World had changed, morphing into something unexpected, becoming something new with one simple edict.  The Game became how to kill Chet Tyler…

This dark little offering was first published within James Everington and Dan Howarth’s anthology ‘Imposter Syndrome’ (2017).  It’s a messed-up mind-bending virtual reality trip gone bad as holy fuck.  Think ‘Strange Days’ (1995) meets ‘Hostel’ (2005).  If you’ve had the pleasure of reading Daniel Marc Chant’s short story ‘Ultra’ (2017) then you won’t be a million miles away from the gritty little treat that Sloman’s offering up here.  Only whereby Chant attacks the reader with a barrage of ultra-violence, Sloman instead swaps this brutality for something he’s much more at home incorporating into his tale – yeah, you’ve guessed it, psycho-fucking-logical self-destruction!  It’s all pretty grim and grisly.  Of course the backbone of the short tale is nestled in a sci-fi style of premise, but it’s the unwavering draw towards a fucked-up darkness and inner-turmoil that puts the story into an entirely different court.  It’s savage and cold and utterly unforgiving.  But then that’s what Sloman does best.  He might be a happy smiling fella on the outside, but in his stories he’s slicing and dicing the souls of his characters until there’s nothing left but broken shells and insanity.

The collection runs for a total of 164 pages.

© DLS Reviews



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