First published back in November of 2019, British author J.R. Park’s short story collection ‘Death Dreams In The Dark’ offered up nine spine-chilling tales of terror, showcasing the remarkable diversity of the author.

Nunight – 7 Pages
You knew you shouldn’t have looked.  You knew all too well the film would give you nightmares.  But that didn’t stop you watching through the crack in the door as you sat on the stairs in the dark.  Now, sleep evades you.  And in the gloom of your darkened bedroom, you start to glimpse movement.  Was that something moving on your bedroom floor?  Edging closer?  Creeping nearer and nearer?  You should never have looked.  You’ll never do it again…

Kick starting his collection, Park plunges us into a pit of nightmarish horror with an opening story undoubtedly designed to send you back to when you were young and convinced something was lurking in your bedroom at night.  A classic premise.  Classic creepy horror.  However, Park just delivers the spine-tingling chills so damn well.  The tension, the gut-twisting suspense of what’s creeping up on you.  And it really is “you” who’s in the tale.  Park purposefully tells the story that way.  And after all those years since your childhood, the story still manages to send shivers cascading down your spine.

Halloween Night – 7 Pages
She was relatively new to the area.  The suburbs suited her well, being just outside of the busy city.  Nestled away from all the prying eyes.  Early on she’d struck up a friendship with Julie, her new next-door neighbour.  The friendship had blossomed over the last nine months.  Her thoughts turned to Julie, whilst outside her house she could hear the voices calling her.  Taunting her from behind their masks.  The bang, bang, bang on her front door reverberating through the house.  This was Halloween night…

Oh yes, this one’s a hell of a lot of fun.  For his Halloween inspired short story, author J.R. Park crams as many twists and turns as is humanly possible into this increasingly dark and sinister short tale.  Indeed, from the start you’re made to think the story is heading towards a sort of ‘The Purge’ (2013) style of plot.  Without wanting to ruin any of the twists that follow (and there are many), what I will say is, what follows is far from where you’ll originally anticipate the story to go.  In fact, it purposefully keeps its cards close to its chest, sending your thoughts down multiple false routes until the dark and altogether grisly horror is unveiled in those final blood-soaked moments.  A great little Halloween story.

The story was first published as the free-to-download ebook short story ‘Halloween Night’ (2017).

The Darkling – 23 Pages
The house hadn’t changed since he’d last been there.  Some seventeen years later and Darren Prince had finally returned to his Grandmother’s house.  Her death saddened him, but the thought of what he could inherit was what had brought him back there.  Now he was waiting for his parents and the solicitor to arrive.  His mind gradually reliving the memories of when he was last in the house.  A seven-year-old boy with an overactive imagination.  Seeing dragons in the floral wallpaper.  Jumping at the creaks and groans the house made.  Even now the noises emanating from somewhere above him put him on edge.  But it was the lasting memory of the room at the end of the upstairs corridor that haunted him the most.  His Grandma’s words echoing through his mind.  Stay out of the Darkling room, Darren.  It’s dangerous in there…

Here we have a creepy childhood memory revisited years later with the logical but blinkered view of an adult perspective.  But was the threat from all those years ago real?  Was there really something in it?  It’s all very J.R. Park.  Monsters lurking in the dark…or at least a memory of such.  For a tale of this nature to work, the way these deeply evocative images are delivered is paramount.  You need to feel the terror.  The unease at returning to the house, having never really resolved the thing which kept you away all this time.  Of course, we know Park would nail that.  He’s an author who zeroes in on what’s essential for a tale’s success.  That creeping unease, the doubt, the unbearable fucking suspense as we edge closer and closer to unveiling the darkling.  This is cold, creeping horror.

The original (slightly different) version of the tale was first published within the ‘Trapped Within’ (2017) charity anthology.

Late Night Caller – 12 Pages
The words spoken by the emergency services operator were instantly calming.  Penny knew the script well.  The list of key questions the operator would ask her.  Penny herself had previously undertaken the emergency operator role, rising to the position of call quality monitor over her years of service.  Now she was on the other side of the call.  Alone in the darkness of her own house, cowering in her shadowy kitchen.  She’d sustained some bad injuries from the attack.  She knew adrenaline was masking the pain.  She listened closely to the words of the operator.  The calming effect the familiarity of the questions had on her.  Her lifeline…

A violent intruder forcing their way into your home is a pretty darn terrifying situation to be faced with.  It’s a scary possibility I’m sure we’ve all imagined facing.  For some readers it may even be a something they’ve experienced.  It’s certainly the stuff of nightmares.  For his short tale, Park tackles the reality and emotional impact of such an attack.  The crippling mental block that can, and most likely will, hit the victim.  The desperation.  The confusion.  The heart-pounding uncertainty.  And all that adrenaline surging through your body.  Then there’s also how the mind will cling to any possibility of hope, an in-built mental reflex to keep you going.  It’s the underlying concept to the tale.  Hope.  It’s such a powerfully evocative and terrifying story.  One which puts you right there in the house.  Living those terrifying moments with Penny.  And wishing to god you were anywhere else.

Mary – 27 Pages
Father Farrington had spent all morning scrubbing faces out of the carpet.  He could still remember each and every one of them.  The twisting influence of agony that screwed their features into nightmarish masks.  There had been a light inside each of them.  A divine spark the priest had been seeking out.  But so far, the light had escaped him.  He knew he was agitated.  He’d been that way ever since he’d taken pity on that poor, young woman.  A soul in distress which had led to him questioning his faith.  Causing him to seek proof.  He’d been pondering this when the knock at the door came.  A chance thief masquerading as a Jehovah’s Witness.  But Father Farrington is the last person you want to steal from.  What goes around, comes around…

God damn if this isn’t some dark as fuck nightmarish horror wallowing in a rusty vat of soul-destroying depression.  The structure behind the story is probably its most uniquely interesting aspect.  Park’s utilised a strange domino effect perspective, with the first-person-perspective jumping from character to character as they’re introduced into the snowballing narrative.  Absolutely nothing can be predicted along this weirdly infectious route that slowly corrodes away your nerve endings.  It’s like a strange cross between a David Cronenberg and David Lynch film that’s been given a Tarantino style structure and Rob Bottin’s been assigned the duty of going to town with the creepy-ass special effects.  Messed up.  Very, very messed up.

The story was first published within Matt Shaw’s anthology ‘Masters Of Horror’ (2017)

Do What Thou Wilt – 7 Pages
Battles against the walking dead litter the globe as pockets of humanity do what they can to survive in this crippled new world.  With his beaten-up black Vauxhall Corsa, Mark is treated like a king.  Couriering between the rotting towns, he’s paid handsomely; more than enough to cover the bartering for petrol.  It’s dangerous work, but it’s how he and Shelley survive.  With everything changed, with the world redefined as living and undead, the constraints of society have been obliterated.  They now live under Aleister Crowley’s visionary philosophy. Do what thou wilt…

Oh my this is a cheeky little tale.  From a first glance it appears to be Park’s contribution to post-apocalyptic zombie fiction.  But that’s merely a backdrop.  It’s the platform from which the author explores the individual implications of an abrupt end to society.  How suddenly, you’re free to do whatever the fuck you want.  Whatever it takes to survive.  But there’s not a chance in hell you’ll guess where this leads Park to.  And the twist upon twist at the end of the tale is absolute genius.  The nod to Romero’s massive contribution to the zombie subgenre, with the Pittsburgh setting, is the icing on the cake.  Seven pages of post-apocalyptic magnificence.

The Ugly – 29 Pages
Ebon and Lenka had been taken off the streets three weeks ago by the police and handed over to social services.  Which was how Hayley Peterson came into contact with them.  Although, despite the sympathy Hayley felt, despite the engrained desire to help, from the first moment she met the eight-year-olds, she couldn’t shake the feeling there was something wrong with them.  Something that sent a chill through her body and set her nerves on edge whenever she was in their company.  Now CCTV footage of them torturing a defenceless cat before consuming its bloody flesh had emerged.  God there was something dark behind the pair.  Something that scared the hell out of Hayley.  Something ugly…

What a story.  What a goddamn scary as sin read.  There’s just so damn much in this short tale to pull you into its gut-churning embrace.  It reads like an early – 1980’s era – Mark Morris story, only with a distinctive J R Park edge to the final delivery.  There’s a whole underground ‘Candyman’ (1992) style vibe whispered throughout the story.  Something that taunts you.  Plays with your senses and sets your imagination loose to explore darkened passages you may not wish to travel down.  However, it’s how Park brings the story tearing back to reality with a corpse-cold perspective that ultimately makes the tale such a fundamentally ingenious success.  Yeah, all the other elements in the story help.  The dialogue’s believable and wholly without padding.  The characters are well-established yet allow enough room for the reader to personalise them that little bit.  And the pacing is tight and unvaryingly focused.  But it’s the reversion to reality that ultimately gets to you.  And it’ll haunt you for days to come.

The story was first published within the Sinister Horror Company’s charity anthology ‘The Black Room Manuscripts: Volume Three’ (2018).

Diamond In The Rough – 13 Pages
Angel woke to find Diamond gone.  The transvestite had left without waking him, leaving nothing but a short note advising Angel to check out early.  He’d also taken his amulet.  The bastard.  Nevertheless, Angel knew to take Diamond’s warning seriously.  After all, he was on the run from the law and had been ever since he left England.  Although, wherever he goes next, whatever he decides to do, first he had to get the amulet back.  Check out of the motel and then track down that gorgeous transvestite.  If he didn’t do this, he knew all hell would break loose…

J.R. Park’s writing is going from strength to strength.  This short shows the absolute high calibre of his storytelling.  The pacing is fast and urgent, without skipping a beat.  The delivery is tight and to-the-point, whilst still setting the scene and sculpting vividly defined characters.  In a nutshell, due to the writing alone, the short story is a sheer joy to read.  And then we move on to the story itself.  What we have is a gritty (and what feels inherently grubby) short which follows a ‘rough’ supposed criminal-on-the-run after he’s spent a booze-fuelled night of debauchery with a transvestite and then had his precious amulet stolen.  From the outset the story takes on a noticeably Quentin Tarantino-esque tone, with the seedier sides of the urban underbelly producing the main supportive frame for the tale.  Park holds his nerve with delivering all the gritty details resulting from the brutal torture.  Nevertheless, it’s the wholly unpredictable twist that follows which ultimately gets you grinning.  That and the crude, but oh-so-witty, name for the story.

The story was first published within the Jack Bantry’s ‘Splatterpunk Forever’ (2018) anthology.

The Last Horror Story – 29 Pages
Ciaran Eastwood was struggling.  His inspiration had dried up, and the deadline for his short story was looming large.  In his need to extract something from himself, he’d started writing a story involving himself.  A horror writer who lets an old man into his house after the poor lost soul gets confused, ending up at Ciaran’s front door.  However, the moment the troubled pensioner is in his house, the atmosphere changes.  There’s something not quite right.  Something permeating the very fabric of the old building.  Resonating in the walls, in the plaster, in the very essence of what was once an aging care home.  It’d started to infiltrate Ciaran’s life.  Corrupt and distort it.  His wife saw him as the problem.  Him as the influence.  But Ciaran knew it was something other.  Not him.  Not his doing.  Although here he still was, struggling with where to go next.  Struggling with his story…

If you thought that synopsis was more than a tad confusing, just you wait until you feast on what Park has dealt out.  Fellow reviewer George Anderson once referred to Park as being akin to a mad scientist concocting diabolical stories of horror in a lunatic’s laboratory.  It’s a very valid observation of the maniacal creativity of the author.  His work very rarely follows the normal rules of storytelling.  Their construction is just as inventive as the premise within the stories themselves.  Here we have another prime example.  It’s a story where Park more than breaks the fourth wall.  In fact, he wholeheartedly destroys the damn thing, foundations and all.  The story bounces back-and-forth between ‘faux-reality’ and the story the character of Ciaran is writing.  A story-within-a-story-within-a-story if you will.  However, with so many overlapping aspects between what Ciaran is writing and his own life, the edges begin to blur.  This of course is all intentionally done by our resident mad scientist.  The blending, blurring and infiltration between the two unrealities is in fact the very backbone of this strangely disorientating story.  It’s mindboggling.  But ultimately it’s fucking awesome horror.  The Last Horror Story indeed.  But even though the words have come to an end, the horror continues.

The story was first published within the Sinister Horror Company’s charity anthology ‘The Black Room Manuscripts: Volume Four’ (2018).

DLS Summary:
For any fan of Park’s work, in particular his short stories, this third collection in his ‘Death Dreams’ series marks the point where the author really found his rhythm and has absolutely mastered the delivery of his tales.  Of the three collections, this one is the absolute crème de la crème.  The stories offer such a variance of theme and structure.  The delivery, executed to absolute perfection, despite the difference in tone and subject matter involved.

What resonates throughout the collection is the purpose behind each tale.  They all have a goal.  There’s not a sentence in any that’s wasted.  Zero padding.  Simply no fucking around.  Park had an idea with each, a concept, angle or human response he wanted to explore.  And he does just that.  Cuts to the chase and takes us straight to where he wants to be.

The end result is nine short stories showcasing the versatility, originality and nightmarishly dark visions of an author who’s become a veritable master of his trade.  With this collection, Park becomes one of the very few authors to receive an incredibly rare ten-out-of-ten DLS skulls for a second time.

The collection runs for a total of 155 pages.

© DLS Reviews

Other ‘Death Dreams’ collections:

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