First published on Halloween of 2010, John Prescott’s monster-horror anthology ‘M is for Monster’ delivers twenty-six varied tales from a veritable spectrum of up-and-coming authors from across the continents.  Sporting impressive attention-grabbing cover artwork by Ron Spencer, this lovingly presented book delivers a whole host of horror tales, each one representing a different letter of the alphabet.  Indeed, each tale is merely titled with the letter it represents and no more.  But for review purposes, the ‘monster’ that each letter represents is given below...

A is for Asrai - Ash Krafton [mistakenly credited to Ash Black] - 7 Pages
When callous developer Victor Hill has his eyes set on a piece of land, no matter how environmentally protected it may be, he always gets his way.  And now he has his sights on an uninhabited forest in rural Pennsylvania.  But one beautiful petite young woman will do whatever it takes to save the forest.  The forest that is so much a part of her life…

For the opening story, Ash Krafton's short plays around with a mysterious suspense which is the mainstay for the majority of the tale, until finally the short, sharp, shock of the twist crashes in at the very end.  Not the most exciting or unexpected of tales, but an enjoyable read nonetheless.

B is for Banshee - Andrew Taylor - 5 Pages
When Shaun discovers what he believes to be a banshee washing a particular piece of clothing that is loved by his wife, he knows from the many whisperings of the locals, that this is a very bad omen.  If folklore is to be believed, his wife is to die very soon.  And Shaun will do his very best to protect her from the deadly wrath of the banshee…

Chilling and atmospheric to the very core, this swift paced slice of haunting banshee action throws in a wealth of tension, fear and nail-biting suspense.  Fifty-percent chill-factor; fifty-percent full-blown fight-for-your-life action.  This fast paced horror short bursts with excitement from the outset to the always-just-around-the-corner ending.  Great stuff indeed!

C is for Camulus – D. M. Youngquist – 11 Pages
Plagued by nightmares from when he was wounded fighting as a solider in Fallujah, Stephen Colemain’s vivid recollections of the moments that ran up to the time when he almost died still haunt him even today.  Memories of a man, clad in armour, striding through the thick of the battle, impervious to bullets, slaughtering every man that comes within reach of his mighty sword.  Surely this was just a hallucination.  Surely...

The tale hits the ground running, with violent disorientating action assaulting the reader from the very outset.  From this literary explosion, Youngquist suddenly slams on the breaks, dramatically slowing down the pace of the tale and setting the somewhat bizarrely epic premise for short story.  The outcome is a surreally constricted read for what transformed into a bravely ambitious story of classic Greek mythology proportions.

D is for Demon – John Prescott – 11 Pages
Billy Blackwater and his parents have just moved house.  However, the first night that Billy spends in his new bedroom is spent tormented by the whispered threats of a beast lurking within the shadowy depths of his closet.  The next day Billy’s father, Steve, has a visit from one of their new neighbours.  The old man warns Billy’s father of the tragic past that their new property has suffered.  “Keep an eye on ya boy.  A good eye, ya hear?”...

Written in a very Stephen King-esque manner, Prescott’s contribution to his monster anthology throbs with an underlying dark tension from the somewhat subdued outset.  Mixed in with a surprisingly dark tale is a slightly risqué attempt at relighting a classic childhood fear, as well as playing around with the time-tested horror premise of a ‘new house with a horrific history’.  Chilling...not really.  Compelling...most definitely.  And with a finale like this, you can’t help but grin from ear to ear with the sheer love of the monstrous horror magnificence of it all.

E is for Elephant - Paul Freeman - 4 Pages
Nzou is a legendary 70+ year old albino elephant residing in Kruger National Park, South Africa.  Local shamans believe that Nzou is the embodiment of their ancestor's spirits, who will unleash their revenge on anyone who harms the "white elephant".  However, this warning does not deter businessman Randolph Gaviston from employing the services of the criminal exotic animal dealer, Joshua Chirumba, to acquire the mighty tusks from the elephant.  Nzou's death will be avenged…

The tale is delivered by way of snippets in dialogue, newspaper articles and inquest hearings; which together paint a very suggestive picture of the events that took place.  The unsurprising outcome is pretty much given from the start, with no real surprise twists or any real degree of suspense injected into the storyline.  As flat as it may be, the manner in which it is delivered, almost like putting pieces of a puzzle together to form the full picture, keeps the tale interesting and reasonably captivating.

F is for Fatback No Neck – Stuart Neild – 6 Pages
Seven-year-old Hank has a very active imagination.  As he tries to convince his friend Carter of the cruel existence of the dreaded child-killing Fatback No Neck, his excitement for the story snowballs.  His plan is to follow a Fatback No Neck back to its lair.  Such a vivid story for such a befitting beast...

As surreal as it is enchanting, Neild’s chaotically bizarre story of childhood misadventure and imagination gone wild soon takes on a much sourer note that plunges this comical tale into a suggestive and suddenly much more real horror story.  Laced with black comedy, Neild clearly had a grin on his face as he rattled off this magically strange concoction of ideas.

G is for Goliath – Geoff Nelder – 9 Pages
Standing tall in front of his army, with Saul’s men before him, Goliath watches in amused shock as the small shepherd boy David walks forward with his slingshot.  A small pebble is all it takes to bring down the biblical giant.  But what of the Goliath and his life before this historical moment?  Was David truly thwarting a towering monster that we have come to believe?

Nelder’s short is born from an intriguing simplistic idea that blossoms early on, transforming this well-known biblical story into an elaborate tapestry of somewhat surreal side-stories, all of which are ultimately bookended with the torturous death of the mighty Goliath.  Sadly, the tale becomes a little too bizarre and meandering to be totally engaging.

H is for Horseman – Zack Black – 11 Pages
When Dave accidentally oversees a satanic ritual being performed during a midnight jaunt within the ruined Cannon Hill Castle of Scotland, he knows his night has taken a sudden turn for the worse.  With the sacrifice of a drugged-up local girl, from out of the darkened shadows of the dungeon bursts forth a horseman from the very pits of hell itself.  The Baron of Ardrossan is back...

Creeping with the occultist subject matter and over-the-top nature of the 70’s and 80’s pulp classics, such as found within much of Guy N Smith’s work, Zack Black’s contribution to the anthology throws in buckets of blood, gore, satanic rituals and horror-tastic suspense.  There’s no sitting around waiting for the plot to be painstakingly laid down here.  Black launches the reader straight into the thick of the satanic mayhem that forms this action packed short.  An explosion of horror delights!

I is for Incubus – Jonathan Green – 7 Pages
A young nun lies on the cold stone floor of the Abbey, fulfilling her sexual needs, alone and away from prying eyes.  Or at least she think so.  Later, the handsome young Bishop Afan comes to her in her solitary cell.  The seduction is easy.  But the deception is truly ungodly...

Erotic with a seductively blasphemous undertone from the very outset. Green’s sexually charged short throbs with a thick and somewhat unsettling tone of darkness, even throughout what is quite a prolonged display of graphic sexual content.  What gradually transpires is a powerfully unnerving tale of horror, with many unspoken questions left unanswered, creating an altogether more powerful tale.  Certainly one of the most atmospheric and unsettling tales in the anthology – and for that, possibly one of the best additions.

J is for Jabberwock – J.G. Andrijeski – 10 Pages
After pissing off their Lieutenant with a prank involving pictures of his wife, the small squadron of men are sent out into the unbearably hot wilderness on a fool’s errand.  Taking shelter in one of the many caves that offer much needed relief from the sun, the band encounter a lonesome man speaking gibberish at them.  When one of the soldiers shoots the rat man, all hell breaks loose...

Oddly erratic and disorientating from the beginning, the tale sets down an underlying tension as it meanders along with no real direction, until the horror hits the reader like a sledgehammer to the face.  From that moment onwards, the shorts takes on a neck-braking pace, delivering monster-mayhem in abundance.  Compelling, exciting, and truly fitting to the anthology.

K is for Kul – Bec Zugor – 11 Pages
Matt Durrant has almost given up on his faith.  Almost, but not quite.  After his wife died, he felt abandoned by his supposed God.  Now, living with his sister, he sits around in a state of perpetual misery as everyone around them sweats out the soaring temperatures of the current heat wave.  But people around Larston are turning up dead, apparently from drinking too much water.  And with the Pastor James Carter somehow dying of suspected hypothermia in these temperatures, something very worrying is going on...

Zugor’s tale of mystery interspersed with monstrous-horror is an intriguing little short playing on the Siberian and Syrian legend of the Kul – a great water demon.  Zugor’s modern day realisation of the demon is interwoven into an elaborate ‘who done it’ mystery, which very neatly wraps itself up in a triumphantly downbeat manner.  Quietly comical in a very black way, this is one which just makes you grin in a purely monster-loving way.

L is for Livingdead - Aaron J French - 13 Pages
After being coaxed into a two-grand drug deal with a grocery store bagboy, Rozz and his somewhat unfaithful girlfriend Maria arrive at the buyer's grand mansion where the deal is to take place.  Unusual is certainly the word.  However, the deal seems to go smoothly, with the buyer, John, offering the young couple to join him and his malformed wife in partaking in the cocaine that night.  But when the party moves down into the basement, their host's terrifying secret will be revealed…

French has the undoubted skill of weaving a gripping and entertaining tale, no matter what the premise or plot.  The writing and characters are just as intriguing as is the whole mystery that surrounds the character of John and his bizarre home.  The short simply flutters along with an unconscious ease, until the shocking realisation of the horror being performed within the basement becomes apparent.  From here on, the short cranks up the pace tenfold until the dramatic and suitably gory conclusion. An excellent addition to the anthology.

M is for Monster – Jeffrey Sorensen – 9 Pages
They’re trapped inside their cabin.  John, Cindy, Todd and Joan have no idea what to do next.  All of their food supplies are in their truck, which is parked outside.  And outside, lurking in the adjacent woods is the thing that killed Brett.  The thing that Todd saw feasting on Brett’s flesh.  Their only chance at survival is to work together to get through this...

Set in a location that one imagines to be remarkably similar to that of Eli Roth’s movie ‘Cabin Fever’ (2002), the short even seems to incorporate very similarly annoying ‘youthful’ characters.  Sorensen throws the reader head first into the tense mayhem of the monster stake-out, setting the scene and carving out the characters as the storyline unravels.  The end result is a fast paced and action packed tale, screaming with tension, and climaxing in a fit of violence to round the whole thing off.  This is what ‘M is for Monster’ is all about.  Pure adrenaline filled fury from start to finish.

N is for Noodle – Simon Kurt Unsworth – 8 Pages
Jimmy and Glyn are sitting in a noodle bar together; Glyn enjoying a bowl of noodles, whilst Jimmy sits back sipping Sapproro lagers and relaying the story told by his cousin – Gerry.  Gerry worked for the public health department before he died.  The weeks running up to his death were spent obsessing over his investigation into a series of noodle bars where insect remains were found within everything.  The suppliers were an untraceable Big Sky Noodle Company.  And people were getting ill.  Very ill.  Honesty now Glyn “I wouldn’t eat that”...

Unsworth’s short is a minute masterpiece in dialogue-heavy storytelling, with the instantly compelling nature of a friend-of-a-friend yarn, that grows wilder and wilder the more beers are consumed.  Fantastically far-fetched and bursting with monstrously rich imagination, this creepy-crawly black comedy flows with the ease of a great storyteller at work.  Such an enjoyable and delightfully far-fetched read to be eagerly swallowed down by the anthologies ravenous readers.  This is most certainly one of the best additions to the book.

O is for Ourobouros – Jonathan Pinnock – 6 Pages
Tom is a runner.  A runner who has now found himself lost in the hostile wilderness of an Arabic desert.  None of the other runners are anywhere.  His water supply and Kendall Mint Cake are all gone.  All he has left is the ring he managed to haggle down to just one dollar for, from the very very disgruntled Arab seller.  Chances are he cursed it knowing his current luck...

As short as it is grotesquely satisfying, Pinnock’s darkly comical tale is delivered in a staggered fashion, setting down the back-story and plot whilst Tom’s final minutes are played out.  The finale hits the reader with the full force of a good dollop of splatterpunk, concluding this downbeat little tale with complete and utter horror-enthusiastic perfection.

P is for Parents - Ian Woodhead - 10 Pages
Julie Carstairs hates her husband's new workmate Mark Clark.  He creeps her out with his letching eyes and altogether slimy appearance.  And so when her husband, John, announces that they're eagerly-anticipated night out together will now be spent with Mark, Julie is understandably livid.  However, Mark's suggestion of a curry house promises to bring out a whole new side to the sleazy friend.  But remember, it's not his fault he's like he is.  It was his over-strict parents who made him this way…

Ian Woodhead delivers a tale bursting at the seams with intrigue and smouldering suspense.  With the three principal characters defined with just the right amount of depth, Woodhead sets down a seemingly straight forward premise that takes on a dramatic and altogether sudden twist; throwing the whole tale on its head.  From here onwards, the tale is nothing short of manic and chaotic; launching into vague and half-formed ideas which confuse, disorientate and ultimately unnerve the reader.  Exciting and haunting to the end with a valiant touch of much-needed comedy.

Q is for Quillen – Carson Buckingham – 13 Pages
Julius Neiman and Todd Ames jointly own the Neiman-Ames Jewelers.  A very prestigious store, specialising in exquisite stones of the highest quality.  However, when a poorly dressed and frumpy little woman by the name of Mrs Quillen comes into the shop exclaiming that she has a piece of jewellery to sell, not even Julius Naiman takes her seriously.  That is, until she pulls out an exceptionally rare orange sapphire known as a padparadscha, which is no doubt the largest and most perfect of its kind in the world.  But the stone has a curse...Mr Quillen!

Comically written from the outset, this almost slapstick short plays around with the humorous premise of a somewhat pretentious jewellers being thrown into disarray by an increasing number of bizarre turn of events.  From elation to near comical misery, the short chuckles along until the final somewhat predictable comeuppance ends the tale in a witty yet charming manner.  Well written throughout, but not necessarily the most fitting addition to the anthology.

R is for Rejuvenation – Rakie Keig – 9 Pages
Granny Winters is not a nosy neighbour, it’s just that she just cares about all of the people in her overcrowded neighbourhood. Ok, so it’s not really the best of neighbourhoods, but still she sees everyone there as her children, however thoughtless and uncaring they are at times.  But with Granny Winters’ age comes ill health.  Whilst almost bedridden from a recent spate of illness, she oversees Margaret from opposite becoming intimate with the store clerk, after having a row with her husband.  She wants to help, to offer advice and tell her not to do this, but how can she from her bedridden state?  But then one night this all changes...

Written with such a compelling charm and knack for capturing an atmosphere, Keig’s tale nestles in to the reader’s subconscious from early on; guiding the reader through the quietly surreal and dreamlike storyline that plays with such an endearing quality towards our narrator – Granny Winters.  The first-person-perspective brings out a delightfully quaint outlook on what could otherwise be interpreted from the outside as a hauntingly creepy vision.  Keig’s imaginatively inspired angle on the whole premise is truly a fascinating concept, which has been delivered to perfection.

S is for Stymphalian Bird – Wayne Goodchild - 14 Pages
John Hathaway is a collector of historical curiosities and supposed mythological artefacts.  Because of his relative wealth, he has been able to put aside much of his life and money towards collecting these oddities.  His latest acquisition is a curious metallic feather, viciously sharp to the touch and supposedly from the mystical Stymphhalin Bird.  Shortly after John has returned to the home he shares with his wife, Miranda, a strange influx in horrific deaths begin to take place around the community.  Deaths that are being linked to a mysterious flock of crane like birds, with beaks and feathers as sharp as knives...

With a premise hailing from the likes of the glorious creature feature pulp-horror novels of the 70’s and 80’s, this action packed soiree into the return of a mystical and terrifying bird is a non-stop rollercoaster ride of edge-of-the-seat excitement from start to end.  The attacks are frenzied and thrilling; the interwoven characters and their response to the threat, bursting with tension.  This truly is an unrelenting short tale quivering at the rafters with untameable horror thrills.  Superb!

T is for Trap - Magen Toole - 10 Pages
Carroll Robinson has a steady job at Sherman Brothers Bank.  He has a loving wife, two sons at university following in his banking footsteps, and lives in a respectable neighbourhood.  There is nothing out of the ordinary in Robinson's life.  That is, other than his growing obsession with a girl that each night is standing alone outside the abandoned and derelict property of 6621 Mooreland Street.  He knows the girl's face well.  A face from his past.  A face that brings back haunting and unforgettable memories…

Well written and intriguing from the very outset, Toole's eerie tale of obsession and entrapment creeps along with a completely ensnaring mystery that keeps the eager suspense burning throughout the tale.  The secret obsession of our principal character is finely developed to bring out an uncontrollable urgency to the cascading storyline.  The finale is powerful and sinister, with a handful of purposeful questions left hauntingly unanswered.  Gloriously dark and twisted and brimming with imagination.

U is for Unclassified – Brooke Vaughn – 11 Pages
It seems to make no sense.  The samples sent by the field teams in the jungles of Bolivia are coming up with no matches whatsoever.  Surely not all of them can possibly be from previously undiscovered animals.  And Dr Louis Barton is annoyed.  His field teams are being wiped out and mutilated by a sudden unknown threat.  Hopefully with sending in the former General Diego Torres and his men, the whole situation can be rectified; maybe even a living sample or two salvaged.  But now there’s only one field team left alive...

Atmospheric and thick with mysterious intrigue from the very start, Vaughn’s brutal short surrounding unknown threat unleashing all hell on a bunch of scientists, throws the reader back to the glory days of bloodthirsty pulp-horror fiction.  The characters and dialogues are carefully selective, allowing the short to gradually unfold with suggestions and snippets of what is really lurking in the jungles of Bolivia.  When the beasts are finally revealed, Vaughn throws in a barrage of action and monstrous horror.  The end result is a heart-racing read, laced with mystery and suspense.

V is for Vampire - Serenity J Banks - 11 Pages
Sam is a young drug-dealer.  He's been dealing for years and knows the ins and outs of his trade.  When he is driven to Rapid Creek by a drunken elderly man wanting to score off him, Sam starts to begin to feel out of his day-to-day comfort zone.  With promises of further money from a woman who will soon be arriving, Sam waits on, but becomes increasingly concerned by his predicament.  When she arrives, the gaping jaws of hell seem to swallow Sam up…

Banks' short is certainly a slow burner, taking up a considerable proportion of the short merely setting the scene and acquainting the reader with the two characters of Sam and the old man.  However, once a good two-thirds of the short has been given over to this, the remaining length of the tale is a mishmash of grotesque and darkly imaginative images displaying the pure evil that is being witnessed.  Banks throws in a veritable barrage of symbolism, amongst an action filled finale that sees a biblical fight against the supped-up vampire and the sudden arrival of our heroic saviour.  Altogether this is a bizarre and grotesquely disproportionate read, that can't help but baffle the reader with its surreal delivery.

W is for Warpigs - Adrian Chamberlin - 11 Pages
Oberstleutnant Hartmann together with SS Major Werther and their driver, are investigating reports of a nest of partisans operating out of the pig-farming village of Sanglier.  Outside of the village they find what can only be the remains of the men that they had sent in advance for what should have been a very straight forward mission.  The trio move on to the village itself where they confront an inn keeper whose disrespectful attitude has Werther riling.  And outside, the peasant inn keeper’s wild boars are restless.  But even in the bitter cold, no misty clouds of breath can be seen from any of the huge beasts...

Chamberlin’s gritty WW2 zombie-pig extravaganza is truly a monstrous tour-de-force of atmospheric horror fiction.  The underlying menace that runs throughout the tale is so palpable that you can almost feel its physical presence whilst reading.  The attention to detail even in such a short piece of fiction is superb.  The frigid and hostile atmosphere skilfully swallows the reader whole within seconds of beginning down the haunting track laid down in this masterpiece of dark and oppressive storytelling.  One final point...the use of the term “Carcass Obedience” – hell yeah!

X is for Xyx – John Palisano – 7 Pages
His world was torn apart when his wife, Mercedes, left him.  Since their split, he has been staying at his friend’s apartment.  There, he has been left to his own devices, in the hope he will get to grips with his loss.  But finding Mike’s gun in the apartment offers up an easy way out of it all.  With gun to his head, he pulls the trigger and the world suddenly goes black.  But then, later, he wakes on the floor, with blood and other such matter around him.  But more than just his flesh and blood has escaped from his head.  Crawling across the bathroom floor is the strangest of creatures.  A creature that must have once been part of him.  He creature that can take away his misery.  A creature that could just turn his life around...

Palisano’s short takes the reader through a veritable tour of misery and despair; setting such a downbeat atmosphere told by our narrator.  The first-person-perspective allows a deeply emotional outlook on the storyline, as it falls deeper and deeper into the abyss of this poor mans sorrow.  That is until it takes on a whole new and unnerving angle.  The creature is so vaguely described, with mere hints at its make-up, that it purposefully flairs up the readers imagination.  With a very Cronenberg style to the whole premise, the downbeat and unnerving tale escalates to an open-ended and equally unsettling conclusion. 

Y is for Yahweh – Dean M Drinkel – 11 Pages
Charlie Digby’s life has been one long descent into the pits of corruption.  A corruption in which, now at the untimely end of his life, he will wallow for all eternity.  The policeman was not the first man he had killed, mutilated and enjoyed.  The blood-bank intern may have been the first time he took a man sexually for money, but was certainly not the last.  The priest who abused him when he was a mere boy was enjoyably where it all began.  But now faced with his eternity in this living hell, who was it who dreamed of who?..

Disturbing and unnerving from the very outset, Drinkel’s horrifically dark tale is one long escapade into corruption, sexual deviancy and human despair.  Bombarding the reader with a litany of early Clive Barker-esque imagery, the short spirals further and further into an abominable hell, until the savagery of the horrors on offer are all that is left.  This is by far the most haunting and disturbing addition to the collection.  Very well written and executed perfectly.  Drinkel is one to look out for!

Z is for Zemu – Kate Jonez – 8 Pages
With her husband now dead and their home gutted by the fire that engulfed him, Jane is forced to move into the duplex property that they had been using as an investment.  Having almost no possessions left after the fire, Jane is left with just her late husband’s escritoire, which miraculously escaped the inferno.  Within its solid wooden interior, surely her husband’s will can be found.  Without it, everything will go to his only son.  The son that Jane had never even known about until now...

What begins as an eerie and mysterious tale gradually begins to form a very morbid and tense story of absolute misery, laced with a thin undertone of betrayal.  The vague characters and the smatterings of provocative dialogue utilised within the short story, further the depths of the unnerving mystery.  The tale builds towards a final haunting twist that smacks the reader deep in the gut with the creepy realisation of the haunting truth behind it.  Another short that perhaps isn’t entirely fitting to the anthology, but its horror qualities do bring it a good way in line with the overall theme of the book.

As a whole, the anthology delivers a wide and varied collection of tales, each one with their own merits and imaginative ideas.  Very few of the stories are noticeably weaker than the rest, although there are some stand-out contributions that really make the anthology the absolute success that it is.  Chamberlin’s hauntingly atmospheric masterpiece ‘Warpigs’ is a triumph of WW2 animal-zombie-horror (if such a gloriously obscure subgenre could exist).  Drinkel’s agonising vision of hell in his story of ‘Yahweh’ is one of the most haunting, unsettling and memorable additions.  And Unsworth’s imaginatively comical tale of a stomach-churning infestation with his ‘Noodle’ inspired piece is so thoroughly entertaining, that it captures the sheer essence of the pleasure to be had from such monstrous fiction.

The book runs for a total of 250 pages.

© DLS Reviews



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