First published back in February of 2017, independent publishers The Sinister Horror Company released the second version of their compilation volume entitled ‘The Offering’.  Previously a free promotional ebook, the original version of ‘The Offering’ (2015) contained just three stories by the trio originally behind the company.

This new version of ‘The Offering’ contains considerably more stories (nine rather than three) from the now duo behind The Sinister Horror Company.  The expanded re-release also includes a foreword by reviewer George Anderson.

Foreword: A Winter’s Feast – George Anderson – 5 Pages
Reviewer George Anderson opens the collection with one of the finest forewords I’ve had the pleasure to read.  Anderson sets the mood perfectly, with a wonderfully evocative analogy of how, in choosing to read such horror fiction, we are willingly letting the terrors of the night into our place of sanctuary.  Anderson goes on to paint author J.R. Park as a deliriously unhinged mad scientist, splicing and dicing styles to create monstrously enjoyable hybrid tales that wreak havoc upon its unsuspecting readers.  Chant is portrayed as the “quiet, reflective one”, ensconced in a high backed leather chair in some ancient high ceilinged library.  The whole foreword is nothing short of an eloquently scribed masterpiece unto itself – giving the authors and their Sinister Horror Company the perfect entrance to begin their curiously dark and macabre work.

Soft Centred – J.R. Park – 12 Pages
It had been nearly three months since Emma lost her job.  A victim of the first round of redundancies, as the local supermarket began their downsizing.  Since then Emma had been on a gradual decent into depression.  Her husband – Mark – noticed she’d taken to comfort eating during the day.  Her waistline expanding ever so slowly as the days passed them by.  However today Mark sensed something was up as soon as he walked through the door after work.  Emma didn’t want him to see her.  She kept staring into the mirror, blaming the chocolate for what had happened.  The question was: what had happened?...

God damn Park can write a damn fine yarn.  From the outset of the short story were plunged into a vat of mounting dread that seems to cling to every fibre of your being.  The premise, as we see it, isn’t altogether unusual.  Redundancy followed by a near-unshakable sense of despair and worthlessness.  It’s something most of us can appreciate the reality of, especially if we’ve experienced something similar in our own lives.  However Park takes this slice of reality and weaves in the first wispy tendrils of something that’s not-quite-right.  Something that feels just that little bit off.  There’s an uneasiness lurking in the roots of the tale.  And as the dread gradually sucks us downwards, the horrifying reality of what’s really happened breaks the surface, dragging us under once and for all.  So well executed.  So all-consuming.  What a way to kick start the collection!

The story was first published within Matthew Cash’s anthology ‘Death By Chocolate’ (2016).

The Last Of Vincent Hunt – Daniel Marc Chant
– 6 Pages
As far as the art world was concerned, Vincent Hunt was a very minor artist with a knack for painting pictures that were mediocre but hardly Earth-shattering.  Such opinions did not however dissuade the artist from his self-belief.  He could often be heard proclaiming himself a genius.  Comparing his life and work to that of the great masters.  A few of those he spoke with regarded him as a harmless eccentric, but to most he was at best a joke and at worst someone to be pitied and humoured.  However, Hunt felt he could pinpoint the trigger of his gradual, yet utterly unfair downfall in his public’s eyes.  It was because of one critic whose comments had left Hunt’s reputation in tatters.  A moment Hunt often reflected back on.  And as the artist stood alone in his empty bedsit, staring into the mirror, he could have sworn the image before him was gradually fading away…

Chant writes with such eloquence.  His words paint a carefully crafted picture that depicts more than is being said.  It’s the essence in-between the words.  The atmosphere and sentiment of the story, of the man within the words, that pulls you in.  Here we see a picture that forms of a singular life, and the slow, pitiful stagnation of the man’s one and only goal.  It’s a sad tale to read, spiked with bitterness which seems to physically hurt as you read on.  For such a short page count it’s a magnificent achievement.  And the ending sits so perfectly with the preceding story that it feels that much harder to swallow it down...even if there’s a glimmer of a sorrowful smile at the end.  This for me is Chant writing to his real strengths.

Fear Is Seldom Silent – J.R. Park - 24 Pages
The Gaia space station had lost radio contact with NASA control a week ago.  Being the only shuttle prepped and ready to fly, Commander Chris Bennett and his small team had been sent to investigate what had happened aboard the orbiting space station.  Upon their arrival they saw no signs of damage or any breach to the space station’s exterior.  Furthermore, when entering the hull they found no signs of life.  The silence of the seemingly deserted space station was unsettling.  A strange fog-like mist, severely limiting their vision as they made their way through the space station’s corridors.  The one question reverberating around their minds: what the hell had happened to the space station’s five crew members?...

What we have here is pretty much Park’s reimagining of James Cameron’s ‘Aliens’ (1986), only with less gun-toting explosive warfare and more creeping, crawling, tense horror thumping through its veins. In fact, in some way the short story’s got more in common with the original ‘Alien’ (1979) film than its sequel (although the plot’s still closer to Cameron’s follow-up).  Indeed, one thing the story has in absolute bucket loads is the suspense and almost palpable tension it creates.  As is so often the case with sci-fi horrors of this nature, it’s a little while before the story’s antagonist is revealed to the reader.  So it’s all about the build up to the grand unveiling.  The nerve-racking suspense as the rescue crew edge closer and closer to what will invariably be some form of deadly beast (or similar).  And when the “Lifeform Alpha” is revealed in this story, its presence is nothing short of spectacular.  Park depicts his alien beastie with just enough squirm-inducing detail to send your imagination into a maelstrom, as you piece together the image of the horrifying alien Park’s unleashed on the hapless crew.  ‘Alien’ (1979) taught us “In space, no one can hear you scream”.  Park’s response is simple...“Terror knows only how to scream”.  Love it!

The original version of the story was first published within Park’s rare giveaway collection ‘Fear Is Seldom Silent’ (2016) which was created as a gift to friends over Christmas 2016.

The Beast Of Bowline Moor – Daniel Marc Chant – 10 Pages
The night was drawing in when the Caxton family decided to set up camp on the Bowline Moors.  Whilst the parents set the tent up for the night, the kids sat around the campfire telling each other ghost stories.  Thirteen-year-old Andrew had started the stories off, but it was eleven-year-old Sarah who decided to up the ante.  She had a story about a vicious beast, as big as a lion, with savage teeth and claws that feasted on human blood.  One glimpse of the beast was enough to turn a person’s hair white with fear.  And according to Sarah’s story, it was last seen right where they were camping, on the Bowline Moor…

This is a pretty straight forward campfire style chiller.  It’s basically a story within a story that ultimately breaks through that barrier and suggests a potential reality behind it all.  Don’t worry, that’s not ruining things for you.  It’s a ‘twist’ you’ll see coming from the very first mention of the beast.  However, despite the glaring predictability of the tale, it’s nevertheless a joy to read.  Well written with enough colourful dialogue to keep you fully engaged.  For a super short horror, it’s not a bad offering at all.

The story was first published within The Sinister Horror Company’s free promotional ebook ‘The Offering’ (2015) and was later included within Chant’s short story collection ‘Into Fear’ (2016).

The Incident – J.R. Park - 2 Pages
Mary awoke to the green flames of an unnatural fire gradually engulfing the room.  Although dazed, the scientist knew what she had to do.  She knew what her final task must be.  But some things were worse than dying by fire.  Far, far worse…

There’s absolutely no hanging around with this fearsome piece of flash fiction.  In just two pages (actually it’s more like one page of text) Park fires out an explosive piece of classic-plotted horror fiction, in which we barely have chance to get to grips with our protagonist (or indeed her surroundings) before it’s time for the final card to be played, ending it all just as swiftly as it’d begun.  This is a story so condensed down it feels like you’ve just woken from a car crash.

Ultra – Daniel Marc Chant – 26 Pages
Wilbur Edgar couldn’t deny that playing the VR game ‘Nazi Hunter’ was damn enjoyable.  He got to slaughter as many Nazis as he wanted, and show the young women on there who were the real superior race.  But he always had to cut the game short.  He had a job to hold down.  The powers that be at Arthur and Lawrence didn’t appreciate lateness.  Although he’d noticed that his colleague, Mickey Stratton, was beginning to let his VR gaming take over his life.  Mickey had become obsessed with ‘Slut Slayer’.  A VR game with the reputation as the vilest, most evil game on the planet.  Of course it was banned.  But as Mickey put it, once it was on the internet, the genie was out of the bottle.  The idea of the game intrigued Wilbur.  And when opportunity presented itself for Wilbur to give ‘Slut Slayer’ a go, he did just that.  Just out of interest.  Just to see what it was like…

It’s that age old argument: how much influence does playing a violent video game have on the psychological state of the player?  Will they want to re-enact what happens in the game in their real life?  Chant takes the issue head on in his vicious and uncompromising offering – ramping the appalling violence up to ‘Hostel’ (2005) levels for added emphasis.  In fact, the short tale delivers a veritable barrage of misogynistic violence that doesn’t pull a single punch to ensure its delivery hits like a tonne of bricks on your exposed scalp.  The whole things is quite a surreal experience.  You can’t help but feel disconnected from Wilbur, voyeuristically viewing his corruption from the proverbial sidelines – helpless to call an end to it all.  It’s a brilliantly written, but gut-wrenchingly harsh work of (thankfully) fiction.  Whether you see it as a potential warning or not, is up to you.  But whatever it is, it’s a damn fine piece of disturbing horror fiction.

Easter Hunt – J.R. Park – 22 Pages
Each year Old Pat would go down to the village fields and hide Easter eggs for the customary Easter Hunt that had become tradition.  Even after his wife had died, Old Pat carried on hiding Easter eggs each Easter Sunday.  He loved seeing the smiles of joy on the faces of all the children as they poured out of Sunday School, excited to be searching for more of the sugary treats.  This year however, it appeared one child had smuggled down to the fields early, wanting a head start in the big hunt.  Although through the strange mist that had descended, Pat struggled to work out exactly who it was.  But as the vague form before him gradually came into focus, Old Pat realised his error.  It would prove to be a mistake which would cost him his life.  As a gust of wind parted the mist, the mutant bunny came forward and in one swift motion, disembowelled the old timer.  The mist swallowed the cooling corpse of Old Pat as quickly as it had parted.  It wouldn’t be long before the kids came pouring out of Sunday School and the Easter Hunt was on…

With tongue firmly wedged in his cheek, Park launches into a gruesome tale of monstrously over-the-top pulp horror crossed with the comical wittiness of some honest-to-god bizarro.  If you thought ‘Night Of The Lepus’ (1972) was silly, then you really haven’t seen anything yet.  Here we’ve got a giant mutant Easter bunny that’s on the rampage, slaughtering all the chocolate egg hunting children in the vicinity.  It may not take itself too seriously, but the gore in the story is still just as grisly and visceral as the best of pulp horrors.  Kids are cut down and slaughtered like there’s no tomorrow.  Literally no one is safe in this tale.  The pulply nature just makes the surreal comedy work that much better.  Kind of akin to an early Peter Jackson movie ala ‘Bad Taste’ (1987) or ‘Braindead’ (1992); every drop of blood is a smile on the lips for a gorehound.  Nice one Mr Park.

The story was first published within Matt Shaw’s Easter horror anthology ‘Easter Eggs & Bunny Boilers’ (2016).

Which Of The Favours Will You Deny? – Daniel Marc Chant – 6 Pages
As Little Lucy looked out at the mass of screaming fans, she had something to ask them before she brought her set to a close.  “Do you love me?  Would you die for me?  Would you kill for me?”  The answer she received was always the same.  “Yes, yes, yes”.  However it was what the pop star said next that instigated the slaughter.  “If you love me, kill!”.  And so they did.  To think, less than three weeks ago she had been plain old Lucy Nielsen.  One of life’s nobodies, a complete loser trapped in a dead-end job with no friends, no lovers, no prospects and no hope that things would get any better.  Now she was famous.  Her record sales were phenomenal.  Millions adored her.  And she was universally acknowledged to be the most beautiful woman in the world.  She lapped up the fame.  Because she knew all too well the price it had come at…

Another absolute corker of a short story with a gut-punch of a twist-ending.  This is one of the stories which takes you completely by surprise, following a completely different course than you thought it would.  Indeed, at first it appears to be a story of audience corruption, somewhat akin to Richard Ayre’s ‘Minstrel’s Bargain’ (2015) trilogy.  However, at the last minute, the whole thing suddenly shifts, throwing down a surprise twist that’s as unforeseeable as it is inherently grim.  A very well executed short offering that delivers a swift punch to the gut before signing off, leaving you slack-mouthed and reeling.

Contacts – J.R. Park – 21 Pages
Ever since his wife had run away with his best friend, taking with her the kids, the house and the final dregs of his self-respect, Andy had started doing whatever he could to pick himself up.  He’d stare at the women on the front of all those top-shelf magazines, fantasising about how he would make love to them.  But today he was after something more than just a glossy magazine.  He was after the real thing.  Her name was Joanna.  He’d found her in one of the ‘Contacts’ mags.  Even in the nineteen-eighties, prostitution was still a roaring trade.  And today he had another appointment with her.  The anticipation had been killing him.  The thought of her firm body.  He could hardly wait.  However, what Andy didn’t know was that the forty-five-year-old prostitute was going to give him far more than he bargained for.  Much, much more…

Eeewwwww…this is one hell of a revolting little tale.  Guy N. Smith’s original ‘The Festering’ (1989) was grim enough, with all the weeping boils and dripping pustules making you feel decidedly queasy.  But Park’s taken the gross factor a good few steps further, giving a prostitute the highly contagious festering plague, and then letting the story play out with truly hideous results.  It’s as nauseating as you probably imagine it to be.  Furthermore, Park doesn’t hold back one bit with his graphic descriptions of the festering flesh.  And all the time the story’s racing along with a seemingly uncontrollable urgency.  The horrific events just escalating by the second.  Afterwards you feel desperate for a long, scolding-hot shower in order to scrub yourself clean.  Hats off to you Mr Park – you really made me squirm.

The short story was first published within the ‘Hell Of A Guy: Fans On The Rampage’ (2016) anthology celebrating 25 years of the Guy N Smith convention.  
The story was later included within the limited edition chapbook 'The Festering Death & Contacts' (2016).

The collection runs for a total of 135 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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