Ill At Ease by Mark West, Stephen Bacon, and Neil Williams

Ill At Ease is one of those books that you really have to get your hands on in order to understand it thoroughly. A combined effort by West, Bacon, and Williams, this is a chapbook that will challenge, entertain, and horrify you with its simple prose and ambitious stories.

See more after the break. Continue reading

This Little Light Of Mine by Nate Southard

This story is amazing.

The first 8 pages alone are just so brutally gut wrenching that it is virtually impossible to look away. Having read nearly everything Burning Effigy has to offer in terms of horror, I am not in the least surprised. What I am surprised about, however, is how someone can like Southard, for example, can come strolling into the genre, take a few well placed swings, and completely own everything and everyone in sight.

If Nate Southard is the face of the new breed, I’m happy to say that the genre is in incredibly capable hands.

It was supposed to be a normal day for Brandon, but then the earthquake came, trapping him in a collapsed parking garage with a pair of strangers. Now, he’s buried underneath Manhattan with no light, no food, and no way of knowing if rescue is on its way. And there are sounds in the darkness. Something’s coming, and saving Brandon is the last thing on its mind.

The first couple of minutes that the reader will spend with this story are absolutely wonderful. The beauty that Southard conveys through the relationship between Brandon and his wife Amanda is absolutely wonderful. This author obviously knows how to control the emotions of his captive party (the reader), and ultimately exploits that ability with the snap of his fingers, and the turn of a phrase. Within the space of 5 minutes, I went from being very interested to absolutely riveted.

And then the action started.

To say that this book surges forward like a typhoon of relentless action and purpose would be an understatement. The sheer amount of lyrical prowess that this author holds in completely awe-inspiring. One minute the main character is talking on the phone, thinking random thoughts, and living a normal life – and then a moment passes, and the world comes crashing down around him. Almost literally.

Southard’s ability to describe a scene vividly is brilliant. He has such a way with words that one cannot help but be absolutely forced to see what he wants them to see. In my opinion, that’s very rare these days. The style is not grandiose or over-dramatic. On the contrary, it’s rather subdued and meticulous. The author seems to choose his words very carefully, placing everything in the best possible order that they could be in. The result is an overwhelming success, bringing the reader to his/her knees with the finality of it all.

While Southard does allow space for the imagination to run free, he also paints a very detailed, terrifying landscape for the adventure. Southard’s characters in this story are thick, layered, complex, and surprisingly heavy for a piece this short. They’re instantly identifiable, perfectly sympathetic, and not at all unbelievable. While speculative fiction usually relies on the reader’s ability to suspend their disbelief, This Little Light of Mine and it’s characters never ask that of their audience. The story is there, and will go on even without being read.

It is, in and of itself, one of the most perfect pieces of fiction that I have ever read.

Now, that being said, I would like to express the fact that I’ve read Southard’s work before, and have become quite used to his style. His novel Red Sky blew me away, but his short story “In The Middle of Poplar Street” left me wanting more. Granted, I have yet to read the author’s complete works, but I can say with authority that this is a writer to watch. He is a master of his craft, and deserves to be known the world over.

Southard’s writing does more than grab the reader and force his/her attention to be focussed on what transpires within the page. He takes the reader away on a journey. It just so happens that it’s sometimes to a place filled with things one would rather not see. I would take a trip with Southard anywhere, any day.

This Little Light of Mine can be purchased from Burning Effigy Press. While you’re there, I implore you to check out some of the other titles available. Burning Effigy has been one of my favorite small presses for some time, and I can guarantee you that the quality of these stories is the absolute top notch.

You can visit Nate Southard at his website, and connect with him on Twitter, and Facebook.

Colum McKnight

Abolisher Of Roses by Gary Fry

In January 2011, Spectral Press dropped a great little chapbook on the genre called What They Hear In The Dark, by Gary McMahon. With that publication, Spectral Press peaked my interest, and satisfied my need for an emotion and evocative story.

This time around, Spectral is offering up an intense, emotional, and psychologically-challenging read with Abolisher of Roses, by Gary Fry – cementing themselves as a press to watch, and delivering yet another incredible piece of short fiction.

It’s not always the guilty who have the darkest secrets…

Peter has been married to Patricia for nearly thirty years. He’s a practical man, the owner of a thriving factory, and the father of two fine lads.

He also has a secret mistress.

One day, his wife takes him along to an outdoor arts exhibition involving some of her paintings, staged in a dark, deep wood.

But his are not the only secrets in this marriage, and as Peter strays off the only path through the woods, he soon realizes that Patricia has more than a few secrets of her own…

A powerful piece is always a great treat, and this story is just that. Psychologically gripping, Abolisher of Roses makes the reader take a look at infidelity and relationships from a different angle. The relationship presented in this chapbook, between a husband and wife, is a perfect example of the idea that sometimes out past indiscretions can catch up to us and make us pay in the strangest of ways.

What the author does here is phenomenal. The story starts off at a walking pace, coaxing the reader into thinking that they’re looking at a sleepy little tale, only to amp up the pressure like a slow cooker, and eventually throttling the reader into a forceful introspection of their own deeds. Fry decidedly plays with the imagination in a wonderful way, offering very subtle instances of creepiness that will haunt the reader long after the story is finished.

The characters are well played out, the setting and surrounding ambiance are delightfully transgressive, and the overall feeling is a mixture of a semi-sedated, creeping terror and the outright finger-in-the-face kind of accusation that makes this read feel like a roller coaster ride to certain doom.

Fans of UK horror will definitely love this story, and those who are unfamiliar with them will be in for a treat. This is definitely something to grab and throw yourself into.

C.

The Collectors by Matt Bell

Matt Bell’s The Collectors might really be the most disturbing, but beautiful example of cross-genre literature I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Short yet epic, disturbing yet beautiful, and absolutely haunting to the core – this is truly the stuff of nightmares and, most assuredly, a diamond in the rough.

From mdbell.com:

The tale of compulsive hoarders Homer and Langly Collyer so shocked 1940s Manhattan that the brothers and their Harlem brownstone live on today as one of the most notable American case studies of acute disposophobia. With nervous energy and obsession to match his protagonists, Matt Bell’s prose burrows, forensically, into the layers of the brother’s lives, employing a multilinear narrative structure and a prenetic plurality of perspectives to reach a core of despair that is both terrifyingly primal and distressingly familiar.

First off, I have to that the incredible Judy Black for pointing me in the direction of this little story. It’s an incredible piece, and more incredible is the fact that you can catch it for free. In all honesty, this is an absolute crime, as I would pay good money for a story this impressive and satifying.

Bell’s prose is immaculately crafted, leaving the reader completely in awe and unable to tear him/herself away from the story. The words slide off the page beautifully, but leave a film on the brain that just reeks of desperation and sorrow. It’s virtually impossible not to feel something deep down inside while reading this. This, in my opinion, is a work of art. A masterpiece.

The two main characters in this story – brothers Homer and Langly Collyer – were compulsive hoarders who lived in Manhattan until 1947 – when their bodies were found in the Harlem brownstone where they lived as hermits. This part of the story is true. With Bell’s help, we are given a unique and harrowing fictional account of their last days in that brownstone, and the reaction of the community upon their demise. The truth of the story is just as terrifying as Bell’s interpretation, but it is this author’s ability to string together so perfectly that really steals the show. Bell adds layer upon layer to a story that is already twisted and disturbing, thus giving it more of a dark fairy tale feeling than normal historical fiction.

The overall result here is astounding. Bell has really created an incredibly unsettling, vibrant, disturbing, and beautifully haunting piece of fiction.

Grab yourself a free copy at Matt Bell’s website here, or a direct download here. Also, check out his collection – How The Were Found, available at Amazon, B&N, Amazon Kindle, and other online retailers.

C.

What They Hear In The Dark by Gary McMahon

 

Creepy. Creepy. Creepy. What They Hear in the Dark is a first rate ghost story that grabs your soul, tugs at your heartstrings and leaves your head in a fog. Author Gary McMahon has given us a dark tale that gorgeously weaves the feelings of anger, frustration and helplessness that accompany the loss of love.

Rob and Becky are looking to rebuild their lives after the intensely brutal murder of their young child. The decide to focus all of their sorrow and grief on a dilapidated old estate, feeling that by restoring the house they will somehow be able to repair the damage done to their lives. Instead, they discover a room not found on any of the original floor plans. The room is devoid of any sound. The Quiet Room. The room begins to take hold of Rob and Becky and ultimately becomes the manifestation of their greatest hopes and darkest fears.

What They Hear in the Dark is nothing short of brilliant. Dark, emotional and frightening. Basically, everything you want in a well told ghost story. McMahon’s style is truly sophisticated. He is able to incorporate secondary themes and insightful flashbacks without ever removing the reader from the central plot. He ties all of this up with an ending that will haunt you for days after you put the book down- begging you to read it again and again.

What They Hear in the Dark is the first in a series of chapbooks being put out by Spectral Press. Each will be in strictly limited quantities of 100 only, signed and numbered by the author. If What They Hear in the Dark is any indication, I think Spectral Press will be an imprint worth following.
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