Brandon Ford has been published multiple times, both in long-form and anthologies. DECAYED ETCHINGS is his first collection, featuring 18 stories, mostly in the horror genre. Does this tome etch itself into memory, or wither and decay? From the website:
In his first collection, Brandon Ford delivers 18 brand new, never before published tales of the dark, twisted, and macabre. Buried within these gnarled pages, you’ll discover jilted lovers, cheating spouses, bizarre fetishes, acid trips, and roaming sleepwalkers. You’ll meet noisy neighbors, struggling writers, vengeful females, and even a monster or two.
With Decayed Etchings, you’ll dive headfirst into a world of ghoulish delights that will surely satisfy even the most jaded gorehound. In this world, there is always something lurid hiding beneath. You need only scratch the surface.
We begin with Elsie – a breakup gone bad due to a drunken jerk boyfriend. The narrative serves to establish him as a lowlife, which is a recurring theme throughout the book. The Suitor follows up with another lowlife exerting himself at a bar, and as a result is seduced by a lady who wants more than sex. Prognosis Negative sees a female nurse captured by a scumbag unhappy with his diagnosis. The stories above are all very similar and all have a twist at the end, with The Suitor being the strongest one.
Trippity-Doo-Da is Ford’s look at an acid trip and the effects on memory. While not necessarily horror, the narrative and dialogue do well in keeping the reader’s attention. Band Of Gold sees a married man lose his wedding ring to a hooker. This is my favourite story thus far – good characters, quick plot, good gore, and though the twist is telegraphed it provides a fitting ending. Cat Call sees an officer help a child retrieve a lost cat. The officer’s internal struggle regarding his son is poignant, the child is the sympathetic character that he needs to be. The ending of the story left me believing that the wrong character dies.
Pillow Talk has the best character development out of all the stories, both through narrative and dialogue. A man confesses a secret, his lover reacts. Sledgehammer examines a paranoid man living in a noisy apartment. This story hints at the paranormal but leaves readers to draw their own conclusions. A Walk In The Park takes over as my favourite story, it’s a study in sleepwalking and repressed childhood memories. The characters are incredibly well done, the atmosphere is dark and dreary, and while the gore isn’t excessive it is done at the right time. My Sacred Slumber is probably the most disturbing tale of the bunch, told in first-person from a child’s perspective, the story deals with a break in at the child’s home.
Bookends sees a struggling author take his wife on a road trip to meet a fan. The reasoning is a bit of a stretch, but believable. The ending twist simply serves as an ending with no resolution. Camera Shy once again goes with the creepy guy/helpless woman motif, however the dialogue is gritty and real, while the ending does validate the initial plot. Guilty Pleasures is probably the weakest story of the bunch, the plot is unoriginal and the ending is telegraphed from the first page.
Sound Off is a date from hell that goes wrong for the antagonist. The characters aren’t memorable, but the gore most definitely is. Uninvited is a story about a drunk who hears an intruder in his home. I really found this piece to be funny, and though the ending was again telegraphed, it worked. I’m Up Here is also quite funny, a woman’s breasts have minds (and mouths) of their own. The character is somewhat sympathetic, and while the gore is well done, the reactions seem to be a bit less than expected.
Closure is a woman-seeking-revenge story, played out in one scene in the kitchen of the couple’s home. It’s an old fashioned torture story, although Ford’s victim would have far more trouble breathing than he does. Famous Last Words closes the book with yet another disgusting man, who can’t keep his mouth shut. Ford does a great job of making the reader hate his antagonist.
Brandon Ford is an experienced writer, yet I feel that DECAYED ETCHINGS does not make the most of that experience. There are some good stories here, along with some great gore, but they are often in competition with cliches, as well as endings that seem rushed. It’s a good read, but it’s not without it’s flaws.