Bram Stoker Award®-winning editor and writer Eric J. Guignard helms the newest addition to the Horror Library series of books from Cutting Block Books, Horror Library Volume 6. One of the things I appreciated most about his stewardship over the anthology was his decision to include little blurbs before each story to introduce them. I have enjoyed this technique in other anthologies he has edited, and thought it was a great idea to incorporate it here as well. Guignard wrote in one note of the anthology that he had a mandate to uphold whereby he tried to publish as many new and/or previously unheard of authors who are not as well known in the horror genre, so although you are not going to see such big names of the titans as Clive Barker or Stephen King, do not let that fool you because this anthology has an extremely high calibre of stories.
We start off with a disturbing ghost story entitled “I’ve Finally Found You” by Garrett Quinn. Con is a troubled young man who is still struggling with the death of his mother. He soon finds out that sometimes it’s best not to poke around where one shouldn’t, and in this particular case, it involves him messing with a CB radio that he believes may be able to help him communicate with his mother’s ghost. If you are chomping at the bit for the new season of Stranger Things to return as I am, this story will slake your thirst in the meantime.
Jackson Kuhl presents “Cartagena Hotel” about a small town in Texas called Ophir where construction workers are disappearing but the reason is unclear and the reader is not sure who is telling the truth or what is truly responsible for the disappearances. Although I felt that the pacing was a bit rushed toward the end of the story, I liked the disturbing implications of this tale.
Next up, “The Night Truck” by Stephanie Bedwell-Grime is the tale of a woman who must heed the consequences of what happens when she ignores her grandmother’s superstitious warnings about darkness in an old house. This is the perfect story to read around Halloween.
Connor De Bruler takes the reader all the way to a Tuscan village in Italy with”Il Mostro” (in Italian, this means “the monster”). Two friends, Earl and Ethan, are wandering around a village when they go to a restaurant where the only other people are the bartender and a man from France. The protagonists are struck by the oddity and unnaturalness of the place, particularly as it concerns a mural that seems like it could be from a Guillermo del Toro movie. Although I was initially a bit confused as to whether Earl and Ethan were tourists on vacation or if they were running away from something, the main theme this story emphasizes is that if something seems too good to be true, it likely is.
Bentley Little reminds us just how unnerving plumbers can be in “The Plumber” while Josh Rountree offers up a World War I tale of historical military horror in “Snowfather.” Next, veteran author Jeffrey Ford presents a semi-autobiographic tale called “Five Pointed Spell” about a protagonist who has traded his city life in New York for farmland in Ohio so he can support his current wife’s dream job. This story does a great job capturing the consequences of people who say they want to live off the grid and be in remote areas who then find that actually, they don’t like it very much and it was not how they imagined when they begin to settle in. Although the ending struck me as a tad anticlimactic, I think it also has a clever edge because it is one of those stories that leaves the reader to guess at the implications of what has actually happened.
For those looking to satisfy their airplane horror lust, John M. Floyd’s “The Red-Eye to Boston” will do the trick. This story is a testament to why it is probably a good idea to minimize speaking to other people on airplanes.
Raymond Little takes readers back to the glitz of 1930s Hollywood in “Elsa and I,” a story in which the ghosts of the past continue to haunt the present for the protagonist.
The first of my two favourite stories from this anthology is “Mother’s Mouth, Full of Dirt” by Rebecca J. Allred. This story deals with a little girl, Vilte, who believes her dead mother still lingers around the house she shares with her physician father. The reasons for the demise of Vilte’s mother are, although easily inferred from the backstory, also shrouded in secrecy. The creep factor is very strong in this tale, and although I was not expecting “tooth horror,” which is a kind of subgenre I have noticed in the past few years, this story takes an excellent and creative spin on that motif. Also notable was how well Vilte fills the role of unreliable narrator.
In “Predestination’s a Bitch,” Sean Eads presents the only humorous horror story in the anthology in this tale of a disgruntled IT worker, Clyde, who finds that his colleague, Roger, tells some off colour jokes that turn out to have very real consequences. I struggled with the offensiveness of some of the jokes at first, but toward the end, I felt that Eads did a good job building up suspense and tension and helping the reader realize the danger that is unfolding at the same moment as the protagonist.
My number one absolute favourite story of this anthology came from Marc E. Fitch, and it’s called “The Starry Crown.” The main character is a doctoral candidate working on his dissertation. He has left behind the comforts of campus life to do field work in the Deep South. More specifically, he is studying folk songs from the southern states “that had neither a time or place of origin not a known composer.” He is particularly interested in songs sung by slaves and slave owners, backwoods preachers, and so on. He is determined to find out the meaning of the lyric “starry crown” in a song that is shrouded in mystery. Fitch mentions a real book, G.H. Allan’s Slave Songs of the United States and explains some of the possibly fictionalized backstory of why this starry crown song confused Allan. He got it from someone called Cobb in South Carolina.
Rather than continuing to describe my ever-increasing interest in the plot, I will sum up by saying that this is another story that warns the reader that it is possible to uncover too many stones in the search for the truth and that even if we do manage to go to great pains to find it, sometimes the results will make us wish we had not. This is a disturbing, unsettling, and phenomenally well-written story. I hope to be able to read more work from this author in the future.
Vitor Abdala presents a short, but creepy tale of cyber stalking in “Instant Messaging” that is another cautionary tale while JG Faherty presents a criminal who gets summoned by the Devil to work for him on “The H Train” only to realize the true price too late.
Another of the memorable stories for me was “Kalu Kumaraya (My Dark Prince)” by Jayani C. Senanayake. This tale deals with the mythology of Sri Lanka, a kind of dark and morbid love story but in a good way. The protagonist invents an imaginary friend as a child, which seems innocent enough until this “friend” starts causing a lot of trouble in the real world. Kalu seems to function as a sort of dark genie. He makes life very difficult for the protagonist, particularly as it relates to her ability to form relationships with boys her age. Once the myth gets explained toward the end, ultimately it seems that some cycles are not that easy to break, which I found disturbing indeed.
Lucas Pederson’s “We Were Monsters” deals with an alternating timeline between the present and 1994 when the protagonist had an aunt (who wasn’t actually a blood relative) who was into vampirism. He and his group of friends soon dub themselves after all the Universal monsters and encounter a disturbing creature that would make all those movie beasts shriek in terror. This tale also ends on an ominous note.
Another favourie for me was “Waiting for Mrs. Hemley” by Thomas P. Balázs, a tale of psychological horror that has shades of The Silence of the Lambs. There is a particular quote from this story that I wish I could frame, which is when the protagonist, a psychiatrist, says: “The unconscious is a bottomless chasm of trauma and repression.” This tale turned out to be one of the most interesting and unconventional–definitely not at all typical–takes on zombie fiction that I have seen in years.
The ghosts of the past continue to haunt yet more protagonists in Jay Caselberg’s “The Ride,” this time concerning a guy, Jason, who lost his girlfriend four years ago when she went missing, but he has been suspicious of the authorities ever since because they never found a body. When a person goes missing, there is always the weight of the dread where their loved ones wonder if the person is dead or if there is still a possibility that they are alive. Will they ever see that person again? It is maddening and frightful to contemplate.
A person does not simply “get over” something as unsettling as this. At best, a person learns to live with it but to do that, one has to move through it, and that is definitely easier said than done. Jason decides to investigate in Scotland, because he knows he is not going to be able to let this go. This trip makes him feel productive–like he is taking action and like he is doing something, so he can give himself a semblance of control over the situation, or as much as it is possible to have control in a situation like this. In the end, he learns that sometimes it is best not to investigate too far because a person may not like what one discovers when going poking around for the truth and that some things are best left buried and unexplored.
Ahna Wayne Aposhian gives us the trope of the old woman who comes to people in nightmares and sits on their chests, preventing them from breathing, in “Old Hag.” The protagonist, Wendy, used to have a happy marriage but since her night terrors, her husband has become unsympathetic and brusque. If you like your body horror in hefty doses, this is the tale for you.
Another of my favourite writers, Edward M. Erdelac, gives us a memorable tale called “Hear the Eagle Scream.” Edward writes an interesting brand of historical horror that spans many different interesting locales and characters and this story is no exception. This time around, a man named Jim Thiemann is the owner of Longview Ranch in Scurry County. Although I initially placed this story as Wild West setting from the 1800s, it was probably closer to the early 20th century.
A man named Horace comes up to Jim telling him he’s the man for the job that is being advertised on a sign outside the ranch. Although skeptical at first, Jim gives Horace a chance and is very pleased with the results. This is one of those brilliant twist stories in which the reader spends most of the time convinced that the protagonist is in some kind of impending danger only to find out that the real source of trouble is far from what is expected.
Finally, to cap things off, Carole Johnstone presents “Better You Believe,” which is mountain horror at its finest. If you enjoyed The Abominable by Dan Simmons or The Ruins by Scott B. Smith, you will get a kick out of this story.
This anthology deserves 6 out of 5 stars. It is always difficult for any anthology series that continues to sustain momentum and to show that each new volume is even better than the last, but Guignard was the absolute perfect choice to be at the helm of the newest “Horror Library.” He has a spectacular ability to select stories that are all fantastically well-written and of such a high calibre that is rare to find in anthologies. Even the stories that did not interest me as much in Horror Library Volume 6 were impressive and I was stunned by the fact that there is not a single dud in here.
I think that Volume 6 deserves a lot more attention than it has been receiving as far as reviews and reader reactions go, because Guignard has done a masterful job. You are not going to find another horror fiction collection out there that tops this one except possibly Ellen Datlow’s Year’s Best Horror (now up to Volume 9), but I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that this anthology is on par with hers in terms of quality. This is one of the best horror fiction anthologies of the year and I truly hope Guignard gets the recognition he deserves particularly with regard to awards.
Crystal Lake’s first pro-paying anthology, featuring Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, and Ramsey Campbell, take readers on a disturbing journey into the beauty that rests inside the very heart of darkness.
From the Bram Stoker Award-nominated publisher, Crystal Lake Publishing, and the editing duo who brought you the best-selling and critically acclaimed small-town Lovecraftian horror anthology Shadows Over Main Street, comes Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories—a disturbing journey into the beauty that rests inside the very heart of darkness.
Awe meets ache.
Terror becomes transcendence.
Regret gives way to rebirth.
Fifteen short stories and one poem span nearly every twisted corner of the horror and dark fiction genres:
A woman experiences an emotional reckoning inside a haunted house.
A father sees his daughter rescued after a cold case is solved, only to learn the tragic limits of his love.
A man awakens a vengeful spirit and learns the terrible price of settling scores.
A boy comes of age into awareness of a secret universe of Lovecraftian scale.
A young woman confronts the deathly price of existence inside a German concentration camp during the Holocaust.
And much, much more…
Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories features the most celebrated voices in dark fiction, as well as a number of exciting new talents:
Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, Ramsey Campbell, Paul Tremblay, John F.D. Taff, Lisa Mannetti, Damien Angelica Walters, Josh Malerman, Christopher Coake, Mercedes M. Yardley, Brian Kirk, Stephanie M. Wytovich, Amanda Gowin, Richard Thomas, Maria Alexander and Kevin Lucia.
With a foreword from Cemetery Dance magazine founder Richard Chizmar.
Cover art by Caitlin Hackett
Interior artwork by Luke Spooner
Edited by Doug Murano and D. Alexander Ward
Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories
An anthology of dark fiction that explores the beauty at the very heart of darkness
Stephanie M. Wytovich — “The Morning After Was Filled with Bone”
Brian Kirk — “Picking Splinters from a Sex Slave”
Lisa Mannetti — “Arbeit Macht Frei”
Neil Gaiman — “The Problem of Susan”
Christopher Coake — “Dominion”
Mercedes M. Yardley — “Water Thy Bones”
Paul Tremblay — “A Haunted House is a Wheel Upon Which Some Are Broken”
Damien Angelica Walters — “On the Other Side of the Door, Everything Changes”
Richard Thomas — “Repent”
Clive Barker — “Coming to Grief”
John F.D. Taff — “Cards for His Spokes, Coins for His Fare”
Amanda Gowin — “Cellar’s Dog”
Kevin Lucia — “When We All Meet at the Ofrenda”
Maria Alexander — “Hey, Little Sister”
Josh Malerman — “The One You Live With”
Ramsey Campbell — “The Place of Revelation”
“It’s a book for readers who love language as much as story, who understand that horror can be beautiful, ecstatic and revelatory as well as down-right scary.” – James Everington
“All of the stories in this anthology have a beauty, whether it is in language or tone or in finessing a hard-hitting theme to disarm the reader. It’s worth picking up this collection.” – Eden Royce
Library of the Dead
Edited by Michael Bailey
Written Backwards Press / Dark Regions Press
Winner of the Bram Stoker Award® for Superior Achievement in an Anthology (2015)
*** Review Copy Purchased Online ***
The Chapel of the Chimes is a crematory and columbarium in Oakland, California in the United States. It is also the focus of all the stories collected in the anthology called Library of the Dead, edited by Michael Bailey. As I mentioned in my review of Chiral Mad 3, the illustrations in this tome are exquisite and did much to enhance the stories.
To start things off we have a piece called “Special Collections” by Norman Partridge. The protagonist is an unsavoury character who we learn has an obsession with his psychiatrist, Rebecca. He gets a job at a university library after some jail time (we’re not sure for what) and while there, makes a Japanese puzzle box for Rebecca (who definitely does not reciprocate his feelings). Some weird projections catch his attention one night and a student tells him he saw a man in a top hat watching him.
This piece was more like a novella and it contained many intersecting and fascinating elements. There’s some striking imagery in this piece, and by the time the protagonist makes his way to the Chapel of the Chimes, the mystery has completely taken over his life. With plenty to unsettle the reader, this piece was a vivid way to start things off as things came full circle for the protagonist.
Throughout the anthology, there are interludes that divide sections of stories and while I think it can be a neat narrative technique to tie stories together, I could have done without them, but they were written very well.
“Those Who Shall Never Be Named” by Yvonne Navarro takes place in the late ’40s and centers around Tommy, who has done some dastardly deeds in his time and finds that although he can avoid earthly punishments, otherworldly ones are a different story.
Next up is a joint piece by Brian Keene and Mary SanGiovanni called “The Last Things To Go,” which revolves around Sharon, who is going through the loss of her significant other, Cameron, who never came home from the Iraq War. To say that she misses him is an understatement. This story had a creepy and unsettling premise that left me chilled by the end.
“I’m Not There” by Kealan Patrick Burke is about a guy, Joe, who is convinced he’s going insane because he can’t see his own reflection. He gets in touch with his ex, Lacy, who he still loves and although she helps him, he’s in need of a much different kind of help. When he finally figures out how to make himself visible again, the reader will make a very startling and saddening revelation along with him.
Chris Marrs takes us into a seedy bar with “A Chimera’s Tale” as we follow Josh, who is convinced his wife wants to murder him so he is planning to murder her before she can get to him. He shares a point of view in this story with a chimera known as The Immortal, who disguises itself as a bartender, Annalise (a play on Josh’s wife, Lisa-Anne’s, name). Things don’t go quite the way the chimera plans them to and Josh succumbs further to his delusions. This story highlighted the theme of balance very well.
“I’m Getting Closer” is one of the last pieces that the late J.F. Gonzalez wrote, and it concerns two teenage girls, Sarah and Jessica, who are walking home. People in town are concerned about a copycat stalker and murderer who is repeating the patterns of a guy who went to the same school as these girls ten years ago. This story was a good example of the modern urban legends that today’s teens are obsessed with.
Weston Ochse takes us into a tale of teenage boys who get up to no good (with a supernatural twist) in “Reliving Through Better Chemistry.” A group of guys mix drugs into the ashes of the Chapel of the Chimes deceased that they get their hands on and in this way, they re-live some of the moments of people’s lives.
One of their former members went a bit too far with terrible consequences. The boys shared a lot of similar traits, so it was difficult at times to distinguish between who was who, but the story of what one of them, Ricky, has suffered, will be enough to make readers understand why he was so desperate to escape into other people’s lives and memories. This tale had an interesting ending, as well.
“Cthylla” by Lucy A. Snyder focuses on Kamerynne, who is the young daughter of Grayce, an actress nominated for an Oscar for her role in a cult favourite called Cthylla. Although Grayce’s sister, Cherity, was a better guardian, she passed away after a short time. It wasn’t difficult to see why such a child would grow up to have abject self-loathing.
One day, the housekeeper brings over her daughter, Natalya, who is a huge fan of the film. She and Kamerynne start a relationship and it quickly becomes clear that something isn’t right with Natalya. It doesn’t take long for Kamerynne to discover that her whole life has been shrouded by a web of lies and that there is far more to Cthylla than just being a cheesy sci-fi film. It’s a very unnerving and unsettling read and one of the highlights of the anthology.
Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon’s collaboration, “Fault Lines,” is an interesting piece that centers around Jane, who is an archaeologist. She and her team members have gone to great lengths to find a rare artifact that has a lot of power. Jane discovers her daughter, Franca, has fallen gravely ill so much of the piece is about how Jane can get back to her daughter in time.
Trouble arises and hostilities ensue among all involved and this story is a stark reminder that nothing comes without a price. If you like stories with an “Indiana Jones” vibe, you’ll dig this one.
“Jaded Winds” by Rena Mason brings some diversity into the fold. With one of the creepiest openers in the anthology, we discover that Ming Li murdered his wife. She hasn’t gone quietly, but Ming is more focused on shady business deals and finding a new wife. His business partner, Lew Hong, is more honourable but faces his own challenges.
This story features many strong visuals and transports readers to San Francisco’s Chinatown in the early 1900s. I felt the author did a wonderful job incorporating unique mythological aspects and features to make this story stand out.
Erinn L. Kemper takes us to British Columbia in the early 1990s with her story of a hockey player, Brent Sharp, trying not to let his demons consume him. To cap things off, Gary A. Braunbeck presents “Tales the Ashes Tell,” which re-iterates the themes reflected in all the stories of this anthology.
It functions as a kind of an afterword before the actual Afterword, written by Mary SanGiovanni, as a tribute to the dearly departed J.F. Gonzalez. “Like souls,” she writes, “our stories are immortal.”
As with all anthologies, not every story is a winner, but every story here was of an exceptionally high calibre and I would highly recommend horror readers to add Library of the Dead to their shelves.