What does horror mean to you? Is it the loss of a son or a daughter or loved one to some tragedy? The stranger on the street? The person you thought you could trust, only to learn they’ve betrayed you? The deal you cannot rescind? Is it the monster under the bed? The dark unknown?
Not everyone is afraid of the same thing.
Horror is subjective, our fears deeply personal. Sometimes even irrational.
Naturally, you may not be terrified of all the stories served up in the +Horror Library+ series, but you’re virtually guaranteed to cringe from some of the selections. First published by Cutting Block Books and editor R.J. Cavender, the seven-volume series has been re-edited, redesigned, reformatted and reissued under the Dark Moon imprint from two-time Bram Stoker Award winner Eric J. Guignard, who promises to keep the best contemporary indie horror alive with a forthcoming volume.
He was kind enough to send me e-books of each volume in the series to date to review, so let’s dive in!
First, know that none of the authors here are household names.
That doesn’t mean they are not talented wordsmiths with vivid, and sometimes twisted imaginations that will make you quiver, gasp, or flinch in fear. A search on Amazon reveals some have gone on to publish additional works and, if you pick up enough horror literature, you are bound to see their names crop up every once in a while on the table of contents pages.
You never know what you’re going to get in a non-themed collection like this – there are thirty stories alone in Volume One — whether it’s a bizarre alien encounter with sluglike beasts or a grisly story of dismemberment and torture.
Fair warning: Some works are exceedingly graphic and tackle any number of taboos from sex to torture, incest to child abuse, and more.
Cavender makes an unusual decision in leading off the book with one of its grisliest, unnerving selections, “Palo Mayombe in Matamoros” by Boyd E. Harris. The story offers one possible, terrifying scenario accounting for the 1,100 random deaths of taxi drivers throughout the world over ten years beginning in 1997 in what’s touted as a piece of creative nonfiction. Harris, who goes on to co-edit a later volume in the +Horror Library+ series, pulls no punches as he graphically depicts the torture and dismemberment of the story’s main character. With no plot to speak of and no escape for the main character, it’s a torture to read.
In fact, if you were not a stalwart reader of horror, you’d close the book here. But in doing so, you would miss much more interesting and haunting stories – and authors — deserving of your time.
As odd as it may be to admit, that’s part of the fun of a collection like this: reading an adventure that challenges your sensibilities or morals, forces you to confront your fears, and dares you to look upon the darker side of humanity.
Just remember, if you don’t like one story, skip on ahead to the next.
Like many anthologies, some stories naturally stand out more than others.
Take, for instance, “Oren’s Axe” by Jed Verity, in which the titular character discovers a grotesque oddity at his doorstep in the dead of night. Wracked by disgust and fear at the sight of the thing, Oren is moved by its plight and surprises the reader by showing his compassion for the thing, first by snipping away a set of sutures over its lips, and second by giving it fresh water to slake its thirst. But as noble as his intentions are, as often happens in the case of horror stories, he is shocked by the thing’s sudden, unexplained outburst of violence toward him.
Or, consider “Little Black Box” by Eric Stark, in which the seemingly innocent appearance of a small black box in place of the daily newspaper heralds a mysterious, inescapable invasion. The fear comes not so much from the boxes themselves – they don’t do anything other than grow in number – but in the unknown origin of the cubes and the stark realization that there is nothing anyone can do to escape them. “Who’s afraid of a little black box?” his lead character asks. Who indeed?
A simple mosquito bite leads to another unforgettable calamity in John Rowlands’ entry, “One Small Bite.” The ensuing outbreak is eerily reminiscent of the current pandemic’s spread. It hits a little too close to home during these harrowed times, but that’s what makes it so powerful.
“The Mattress” by John Peters is another story that will linger long after reaching the end. It’s a modern-day update on an age-old story of a succubus whose unyielding sexual assaults makes a long-lasting impression upon her victims. At the very least, you’ll think twice about ever buying a “slightly” used mattress again.
“Flamenco Amputee” by Paul J. Gitschner offers up a strange audition by prisoners willing to risk life and limb to impress a panel of judges to earn their freedom.
A shadow-like spider skulking around a mother recently risen from the dead is an eerie Creepshow-like tale of love and family sacrifice in Mark E. Deloy’s “Momma’s Shadow.”
Marcus Grimm entertains readers with a cautionary tale when making the deal of a lifetime in “A Hell of a Deal,” while eerie wishmaster Heman Black solves problems in a unique way in “Dark and Stormy Wishes” by Bailey Hunter. And in “The Exterminators,” Sara Joan Berniker reminds readers to read the fine print on their contracts.
A Boy Scout learns sometimes virtuous deeds are not worth that little badge in Curt Mahr’s shocker, “Helping Hand.”
The main character in Kevin Filan’s “The Remembering Country” is forced to recall an incredible secret about the beast within him.
And, in one of my favorites, M. Louise Dixon leaves readers in awe with a tale of giant worms in “Las Brujas Del Rio Verde.”
Sleep with the lights on
Oftentimes, there is little in the way of explanation for what transpires in each story, which is what makes short horror like this so incredibly weird and exciting. The answers are left to the readers’ own imagination.
By the same token, most stories end on a shocking or tragic note. These are not tales where the final girl prevails in the end, nor should they be.
These are tales that will make you go to sleep with the lights on, if you dare sleep at all.
Next time: +Horror Library+ Vol. 2