Tag Archives: Short Stories

“I’m tired of you being so dark while I’m so impish and whimsical.”

53. Get In Trouble – Kelly Link

Kelly Link’s brand of magical realism is always something I look forward to reading. I bought her Get In Trouble short story collection as soon as it came out and read the eight stories I hadn’t read before quite quickly. It’s been interesting to read the evolution of how Link deals with forming her characters. They seem to be much more realized in this collection than they were in her earlier work and usually a non-character character bugs me, but it never did in her writing.

I don’t like the cover of this collection as much as the past three of hers, it’s too not-whimsical, too graphic designy for me. The feeling I get from Kelly Link stories is like entering a long-abandoned and overgrown mini-golf course with a fairytale theme at dusk and red, cream, and brushy lettering is not quite right.

Pammy would’ve made a good cover model, especially on her shiny 1950s chair. She’s darling and cautious and those sweet eyes hint at an abandoned mini-golf course within.

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Elephant and Castle

57. Looking for Jake – China Mieville

The first Mieville I ever read was for an epics and fairytales sort of class in college and it always surprises me that the book of his that was chosen (and it was in the early 2000s, so it’s not like there were a ton out to choose from) was the most concise and straightforward book of his I’d read until this short story collection. That book was King Rat, the drum and bass/jungle/house/grime version of the Pied Piper, in a way…and now you know the rest of the story.

Mieville tends to get a bit sprawling, to shove in a lot of ideas about London all at once and it can get overwhelming trying to parse out how every random character is contributing to the story. That tendency gets curbed by the lack of space in a short story. There’s no room for fifty versions of old-timey supernatural gangsters, which was comforting. I’m always intrigued by the Mieville novels I’ve read, then I get lost, then I wonder if it’s just because I’m not UKish that I’m lost, then I try to just go along for the ride because London really is my favorite city on earth and I still know bits of it by heart (but why…WHY…did the Piccadilly Circus HMV have to close? That’s where I got the first Grinderman LP – it’s special. Sister Ray’s better never close, I’ll have to cut someone.), then I regret not really reading that much Lovecraft before I started the book, and then I finish it and wonder what just happened. Thankfully, each story in Looking for Jake cannot cause that kind of journey. Not enough room.

Danger Crumples, getting sleepy from the mental taxation of sitting with me while I read Kraken.

We start in, well, what a shock, bizarro-London with “Looking for Jake,” and a breakdown in reality that involves nasty creatures. It’s what I expect from Mieville, but way reigned in and the situation is never really addressed. It seems to me the reigning is what causes the lack of explaining.

“Foundation” was really horrifying and quite sad; the images that it evokes are not ones I want to revisit.

This image of Danger Crumples, however, I will revisit as long as I have eyes.

“The Ball Room” – This is absolutely my favorite story in the whole collection and frankly, it might have inspired Horrorstor. It’s a bit gleeful in its exploration of the evil children’s ball pit in an Ikea-like store. This is the first time this story appeared in print and I would totally buy it just to have this story (I haven’t yet, as usual, I stumbled upon the existence of this collection while hunting for misshelved books.).

“Familiar” – Another tale I enjoyed quite a bit about what happens after a witch ditches his unliked familiar. It’s like Milo and Otis, without one of them, in London, and if one of them was growing in power and evil plotting abilities the whole time they were gone. So, more like Benji.

Okay, okay, don’t turn on the quizzical glare so hard, Dangey, I will admit I have not seen Benji. But I did run into the cover of Benji many times during the period of my youth when I was scared of dogs, okay? Benji scared me. At the video store.

“Entry Taken from a Medical Encyclopaedia” – Words are powerful. Infectious, even.

“Tis the Season” – Privatizing holidays…it reminded me of this pamphlet I found about the war on Christmas being orchestrated by the Bolsheviks way back in the day up until the current dickcheese took charge of the U.S. Now I think it’s not just dystopian London headed for a stupid situation where only rich people can celebrate Christmas.

“The Tain” – This was at one point published separately, but I always think it’s nice to know that there’s more than one way to get a particular short piece. Especially when it’s about mirror fauna escaping.

Danger Crumples was a master escape artist. Once, I got out of the shower to find him standing in the doorway of the guinea pigs’ room. And, when I moved into my current apartment he stayed one night away from me at the home of another and managed to chew himself out of his temporary laundry basket cage…but didn’t get out of the room. It was a solid attempt to Homeward Bound for a guinea pig.

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“In the back shakes a tambourine/Nicotine from a silver screen”

38. Silver Scream – David J. Schow, ed.

In 1988, Dark Harvest published Silver Scream, a collection of movie-centric horror stories edited by Splatterpunk dude David J. Schow. It’s awesome…except for the note at the end. Too much, man, too much. Don’t splatter me with such random tidbits. I prefer to be splattered in a much more specific way. That sounds horrible, not unlike many of the events in the stories of Silver Scream.

Ozymandias is ready to walk the path of cinematic terror. Are you?

“Cuts” by F. Paul Wilson – This reminded me of this movie that keeps randomly playing on Flix Retro called Mark of the Devil. It turns out it was part of a Hammer television series in the 1980s called Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense and involves this dude (Dirk Benedict) who murders a voodoo dude-slash-tattoo artist and grows a tattoo of the murder on his chest that he must – MUST – keep from his new bride Jenny Seagrove. In “Cuts,” things get a little bloodier than murder. Yep. It just proves that you should never mess with anyone who writes about voodoo. Also, do not fuck with books when you make them into movies. Most of the time it goes badly and in this case, you’ll suffer extensively.

“The Movie People” – Robert Bloch – I haven’t read Psycho as of yet, so I believe this is one of my first exposures to Robert Bloch’s writing (I can’t recall if he’s been in any of the other short story collections I’ve read, I’ve read a lot of them over the years). It’s a wistful story of loneliness and reaching out across time and really, really taking one’s craft as an extra seriously.

“Sinema” – Ray Garton – Holy shit this story was great. A basically abandoned kid and a serial killer in the midst of a strictly religious town watch movies together and make friends…until there are reasons for them to be not friends. A little more sadistic at the end than I would’ve liked, but I am glad the basically abandoned kid got the upper hand at some point.

Ozymandias will control what we watch from now on. He has taken control of the remote for all time.

“More Sinned Against” – Karl Edward Wagner – 100% my favorite story in the collection. I know the sacrifices women are expected and conditioned to make so that they can support someone else’s dream. It doesn’t always turn out quite like this, but the excuses were so familiar. “If I just had this, we could do this,” and they never, ever mean it. They were always planning to get ahead of you and expected you to just stay where you were. They were special, you were not. Well, getting your own action figure isn’t all it’s cracked up to be sometimes. Everyone is special.

“Bargain Cinema” – Jay Scheckley – A ballad of co-dependency. Don’t be Chuck and Patty.

“Lifecast” – Craig Spector – Sounds like Troma maybe screwed someone over at some point. Hmmm. This tale of make-up work and, yes, more voodoo, ends in a way that I was not expecting. Yikes.

Ozymandias was always very independent, and very special. He would never have made any mistakes while practicing voodoo.

“The Show Goes On” – Ramsey Campbell – Abandoned theaters are super creepy. I have been in exactly one abandoned theater myself, I was not alone – there was a print of Coach Carter there in addition to other people I came with, and thankfully it wasn’t as far gone as the theater in this story. Parts of this story made my breathing wonky because it was so easy to picture all the dust and mold and musty smells. It was also very tense, as a lot of urban exploration can be, even without the hauntings.

“The Cutter” – Edward Bryant – Delusions of romance and grandeur drive a movie theater owner who used to edit in Hollywood. He re-cuts the movies he shows and he creepily pursues and finally “edits” a young woman with a bad attitude who lets him do things for her. Eek.

There are two other things I took issue with about this collection besides the overly wordy and inside jokey essay at the end. One, the last story was Way. Too. Long. I lost interest nearly a quarter in and never regained it. I’m surprised I made it through the whole thing. And- there are no stories by women in here. There are several stories about women and featuring their perspectives, but I bet there were some stories about movies by women that really could’ve been worth including. It would’ve been nice to see more equal representation.

Ozy and Pammy, equals and Teddy Bear pigs.

 

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“Only the ghosts in this house are glad we’re here.”

34. October Dreams: A Celebration of Halloween – Richard Chizmar & Robert Morrish, eds.

October is one of the months that I always wish I could take entirely off my day job – at least, pre-climate change. Now it usually has a crappy hot week and some not really all that fallesque weeks and way less of what I expect – not enough crisp air and insect and plant death to make my allergies just a bit easier to manage. Also, it should come as no surprise that Halloween is my favorite holiday. I may have even mentioned that before on here. I’m not sure, but it’s still my favorite holiday.

It’s also the month when I adopted Horace, the heart of my herd and the sweetest guinea pig. He was so excited to find out there were other guinea pigs in my house when I brought him home that he didn’t stop vocalizing for half an hour. It was the best. Although I did not get him on Halloween, it was close, October 24th, and so essentially, adopting him is one of my favorite Halloween-adjacent memories.

October Dreams has an interesting structure. It goes back and forth between short stories and “My Favorite Halloween Memory” segments from horror authors. Some of the memories are better than the stories as they truly give a picture of Halloween and they really break up the experience of reading this 660 page long collection. I’m not going to discuss them further beyond saying that they are the full size Snickers of the reading experience.

You could say that Horace is the full size Snickers of guinea pigs. He was a big pig and incredibly sweet.

Dean Koontz – “The Black Pumpkin” – Once again I found myself really enjoying the work of Dean Koontz. A kid buys a super gnarly pumpkin from a super gnarly man despite his reservations and because of some taunting from his jackass brother; and it, well, had the exact ending I expected.

Poppy Z. Brite – “Lantern Marsh” – Before the immense life changes, and really, still after, you could always count on the swampy and mysterious to work their way into a Brite story. This is no exception and plays a little off the weirdness of coming home and reacting to how your hometown doesn’t stay frozen just because you left.

Thomas Ligotti – “Conversations in a Dead Language” – An off-kilter selection covering the ins and outs of handing out candy.

Thomas F. Monteleone – “Yesterday’s Child” – This one had great atmosphere and some creepery to go with.

Peregrine is creeping up on Horace who thinks he’s creeping up on that pumpkin. This herd can handle some creepery.

Simon Clark – “The Whitby Experience” – A vacation gone wrong in the best way. Misty…confusing…pizza gets burned – they’re going to have a bad time.

Ray Bradbury – “In-Between, A Halloween Poem” – It’s a poem. I’m fine with poems. Poems about Halloween are fine.

Jack Ketchum – “Gone” – Sometimes it seems like letting strangers knock on your door for candy really is opening yourself up to psychological punishment. Especially if you’ve lost a child that you’ll never see through the opposite end of the experiment.

Gahan Wilson – “Yesterday’s Witch” – This was just cute.

Paula Guran – “A Short History of Halloween” – Non-fiction interlude! I appreciated this because, to a librarian, there are no celebrations of anything without helpful, verified information.

Horace runs from my nerdery. He did not want to know the illustrious history of pumpkin photoshoots.

John Shirley – “Mask Game” – Family conflicts played out without those helpful puppets you see in movies with family counseling scenes sometimes. The classic example being What About Bob? This story also reminded me of all those times on Supernatural when young people inadvertently summoned old gods or goddesses.

David B. Silva – “Out of the Dark” – It’s always good to be nice to that immortal entity you trapped in a trunk.

Ray Bradbury – “Heavy Set” – I did not expect this kind of a story from Ray Bradbury, I really don’t associate him with assholes who lift weights in their mom’s yard.

Richard Laymon – “Boo” – An interesting twist on the “Bet you can’t go up on the creepy porch” story. He added stalking.

Douglas E. Winter – “Masks” – My strongest anxious memories are about waiting. So this story was very effective for me.

Horace is waiting for me to stop taking pictures so he doesn’t have to establish a new residence atop this pumpkin.

Caitlin R. Kiernan – “A Redress for Andromeda” – I read this story previously in a different collection of hers and I have to say it’s a bit more to my taste than most of her work. A little more plot and less reliance on atmosphere to carry everything.

Lewis Shiner – “The Circle” – One hell of a time travel tale. It also involved those super awkward feelings that happen when you tried to get all your friends to like your new boyfriend and he sucked and then you broke up. Tail between legs.

Gary A. Braunbeck – ” ‘First of All, It Was October…’ An Overview of Halloween Films” – Non-fiction interlude two! This was a great list. But I do not agree about Ernest Scared Stupid. I was in fact scared stupid by that movie. Some of us are scared of trolls. And rolling over to find one in your bed is just well, let’s just say it kept me up at night for years, despite the overall stupidity of the whole enterprise.

This one time I made Horace come with me to investigate whether or not something else that scared me stupid was still in the basement. It was. Horace was a valiant pig, he totally helped me be less terrified.

Tim Lebbon – “Pay the Ghost” – Very reminiscent of True Crime. Loss, weird journeys, pits full of dead things.

F. Paul Wilson – “Buckets” – One time I was grading this beginner college course on philosophy. It actually didn’t really fit my idea of “philosophy,” but anyway, one assignment was an argumentative paper. A student turned in a paper full of the images that anti-abortion zealots use on their posters, images of bloody fetuses and about one page saying she wasn’t a fan of abortion in the least objective terms possible. That was a fail and from my perspective, so was this story.

Stephen Mark Rainey – “Orchestra” – This was an unexpectedly clever story. It was interesting to see old dude pro musicians as the protagonists and it does not have a nice ending.

Charles L. Grant – “Eyes” – Another disturbing story. Damn, dude. The things some people do for their kids.

Horace and Peregrine took a long time to be proper friends. Horace would’ve done a lot for her, including endure many sharp nips until she let him skritch her chin with his face.

Dominick Cancilla – “Deathmask” – Super creepy teenager and mom paranoia story. I really enjoyed this one.

Michael Marshall Smith – “Some Witch’s Bed” – “He will never forget her” – you’re damn right.

Ramsey Campbell – “The Trick” – Not a very nice story at all. There’s a dog involved, just a warning for those of you who want to be warned about that sort of thing.

Peter Straub – “Porkpie Hat” – So, I have to admit that whenever anyone mentions jazz I immediately think of white middle aged men snapping their fingers and trying to seem cool in record stores. I also think “Just play the right notes!” and I can’t even remember where that quote came from anymore. However, Straub managed to suck me in by saying Hat, the main character, was from Mississippi. Fine. We’ll see what you do with it, man. We’ll see. Of course, this is a Mississippi I do not know, one that feels closer in kin to Joe Lansdale’s East Texas than my Hattiesburg, I’m also, like, way younger than the characters, so, that has an effect. Anyway, it was a really solid, image-invoking, page turner of a story. Thankfully, not too much jazz description had to be endured.

Horace had his MA in telling stories to ladypigs.

Stefan Dziemianowicz – “Trick-or-Read, A Reader’s Guide to Halloween Fiction” – Non-fiction informational interlude number three! SO helpful. I loved this list because it allowed me to check things off and to find new books.

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“What’s the creepiest place in town? That’s right. Ross Dress-4-Less.” (Cartman)

10. Women of Darkness – Kathryn Ptacek, ed.

So far, I have to say that all of the anthologies of women writing horror short stories that I’ve read have been really good. Women of Darkness was one that I checked out of the library after reading about it on Too Much Horror Fiction and after I read it, I made sure to find an ex-library copy for myself before I returned it. I really like ex-library copies. Sometimes they’re pretty beat, but, they always have mylar wrapped dust jackets or the paperbacks have been book-taped to hell and back and that’s very satisfying to me. Plus it’s fun to see how many different kinds of “Withdrawn” stamps there are and what classifications have been used. Fun…for me. I know this is not everyone’s idea of a good time.

Merricat’s idea of a good time is posing in front of horror parody paintings of her on a log pillow. I wish she’d been able to pose for more of them, but perfect sassy pigs can’t always stay.

Speaking of things that aren’t everyone’s idea of a good time, the first story in Women of Darkness is “Baby” by Kit Reed and it is creepy as hell. Damn, baby. I really love how Kit Reed is able to make the normal, the stuff we’re told to want, super terrifying. I recently saw a trailer for the horror film Hereditary and I feel like it’s probably going to cover some Kit Reedish territory. Exciting.

“The Spirit Cabinet” – Lisa Tuttle – Another story that I read by Tuttle also dealt with the spiritualist movement and I definitely like this one better – it was scarier and had less mucus. It reminded me of a vastly unsuccessful young adult book I read a while ago- this story mounts the dread and demonstrates a lot of the creeping mystery of ghost stories and buying antique furniture.

Little Merri on some non-haunted antique furniture.

“Mother Calls But I Do Not Answer” – Rachel Cosgrove Payes – The bad side of loneliness and looking for answers in the mirror. The main character reminded me a little bit of Henrietta the goth kid from South Park when she thought she became emo because of invading plant spores and was ever-so-slightly nicer to her mother. Poser.

“The Devil’s Rose” – Tanith Lee – Beware the out of towners. They’re usually not there to rescue you. This story touches on one of my favorite topics – syphilis – and also has a bit of fairytale magic to it. Syphilitic fairytale magic.

Merricat and Peregrine did run off with me when I came to the shelter they were in from out of town, but, thankfully, I was actually there to rescue them. They super needed their nails clipped, I would’ve done that before I left even if I hadn’t adopted them.

“Midnight Madness” – Wendy Webb – Super whispery scary Black Friday-style shopping. It was pretty fun to read a story about shopping that was this chilling. I didn’t think it could be done.

“Aspen Graffiti” – Melanie Tem – A topic just as mundane as shopping – the dissolution of a marriage when the husband suddenly decides he’s got to be younger, cooler, and that wife of his is holding him back… Sometimes the real horrors are pretty familiar. He has an earring and got a younger girlfriend! NOoooo!

Peregrine and Merricat hide from the harmful effects of midlife crises.

“Slide Number Seven” – Sharon Epperson – I know this author better as S.K. Epperson from her book Borderland. It was kind of brutal and that carries through into this story. I love it when women take agency with disease; I really am keen on disease stories – I think because I’m chronically ill. This one is short but packs quite the punch.

“The Unloved” – Melissa Mia Hall – Rachel and Celia, two sisters, on their own, taking in some random manipulative drifter…it goes super well and everyone ends up perfectly happy.

“Cannibal Cats Come Out Tonight” – Nancy Holder – Friends don’t let friends eat their other friends. Until they get stuck in a desert house trying to gain the affections of the same free spirited girl.

Always a true woman of horror, Merricat scares Danger Crumples.

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“Yeah because no offense there’s absolutely no zazz to be found, not here anyway, not in these parts.”

33. 13 Again – A. Finnis, ed.

We have reached the last of the Point Horror 13-based short story collections. This one felt way longer to me, perhaps because there are a bunch of the same authors in the second one and this one and none of the multi-title whizzbang Point authors I’m used to are represented. Not even Diane Hoh. The stories were longer than in the other two collections, they needed a big dose of the old razzle-dazzle and honestly, I got pissed that I was bored. I don’t want to be bored by short stories. For one thing, they’re short so it seems like that shouldn’t happen. For two, most of the time when I dive in to a Horror anthology, I find weird things and gross things and surprising things and zazz. Not so much here. So, with that very inspiring introduction, let’s get on with it.

Ozymandias was the smarter one, so he was always waiting for Danger Crumples to realize that there was less zazz present than necessary.

“Anjelica’s Room” – Laurence Staig – It did have a promising start. A couple arguing about painting, well, never heard that before… I meant that “promising” thing, anyway, a couple who don’t really like each other that much are trying to paint a small cottage and one of the rooms has really ugly brown wallpaper all over the walls. The lying-by-omission male half of the couple leaves the female half and her giant amount of anxiety alone and the room pulls her in and it gets worse from there in a good and gory way. Phew.

“Foxgloves” – Susan Price – This entry was not as interesting as “The Cat-Dogs” from the last collection. It’s hard for me to envision a hetero teenage boy that wouldn’t just follow some ghostly seductive chick into wherever. Especially if he’d just had a bit of a break up with his girlfriend…that’s the most likely time they just wander off the path with ghostly seductive chicks. I mean, geez.

Danger and Ozy basically followed the ladypigs whenever they could. Whenever. It took them forever to calm down around the ladypigs and that’s one more reason I couldn’t suspend my disbelief for “Foxgloves.”

“The Ultimate Assassin” – Malcolm Rose – This just didn’t pack enough punch for me. There’s mild tension, a downer ending, a dog named Chips (I used to know someone named Chips. He was fun but only knew me as “Hey Girl”), and the titular assassin but…it was just okay.

“The Rattan Collar” – Garry Kilworth – Garry with two “r”s has put in some effort here and it’s one of the more interesting stories in the collection. Is the potbellied pig evil? Do I just like this better because there’s some kind of pig in it? The answer to both is no, but, you haven’t read this yet. Uh oh, spoilers.

“Boomerang” – David Belbin – In 1995, this story was prophetic. It seemed so wrong that anyone would go to college, get a solid degree with good marks, and then fail miserably at getting a job and have to move back in with their parents. In the U.S. though, only five years later, it would start getting next to impossible not to become a boomerang. And some of those graduates didn’t try to murder their parents- a tradition that lives on to this day.

Danger and Ozy never tried to murder me while we lived in my mom’s attic. They did order me out of my own bedroom while they were exploring though. It was very insulting, but also funny.

“The Delinquent” – Maresa Morgan – In my current job I am sometimes looked at as though I have just walked in from juvie and am smoking in the corner. I’m not a fan of it and this is the only place I’ve been looked at that way so consistently, but at least I know I’m not as awful as the delinquent in this story. She gets what she deserves; I know I deserve to be recognized for who I actually am, not just the differences between me and the rest of the office. I’m quite good at what I do and have the personalized messages from patrons to prove it.

“The Ghost Trap” – Lisa Tuttle – The girl in this story goes to a haunted house she heard of because of a story. The author of the story is totally living in the house and using some Scooby Doo methods to entrap victims. I have to say, if anyone came to my house (which is not haunted) specifically because of my work I still wouldn’t answer the door because that’s intimidating and it’s possible to see me in public and accost me that way instead. Or don’t accost me. It’s better if no one gets accosted. I’m usually selling something or hunting books down if you see me in public, feel free to distract me, I promise I won’t murder you or pull off my mask to reveal that I own the old boarded up amusement park.

“Close Cut” – Philip Gross – Uh oh, we have a situation here that involves World War II and slivovic. World War II angst and the question of what one is to do when one finds a Nazi (a real, time appropriate one, not just the insecure emulating jackasses from the now time) living near them.

“Grandma” – Colin Greenland – I know that it can be very complicated trying to assist the elderly, especially if they have memory issues or habitually set things on fire. If this household just had some decent books, I bet everybody would’ve gotten along much better and maybe Grandma wouldn’t have minded being locked in her room so much. What am I saying? There’s no way that keeps anyone with any of their faculties remotely happy. But books would help.

Ozy and Danger certainly liked their excursions outside their houses. They wanted to explore and be finicky and demanding and super cute and their grandma totally let them.

“Vampire in Venice” – John Gordon – Here we are in Venice again. Ah, Venice. A place where British girls can argue about who is more attractive and/or stupid to be mooning over vampires. Hint – your friendship isn’t strong if the one the vampire likes more chooses you as her first meal.

“Picking Up the Tab” – Stan Nicholls – Money horror. This just doesn’t have that much impact after you’ve been through the nonsensical labyrinth of trying to afford what you need without making enough and that’s kind of the norm for my generation. Being messed with monetarily is never a surprise. Being valued and paid accordingly is.

“Evidence of Angels” – Graham Masterton – Here he goes again with the sentimental and not particularly horrific. It’s a bit familiar here, after all, having an annoying baby brother named Toby is familiar to everyone who saw Labyrinth. The unfortunate aspect here is that angels do not resemble David Bowie. Believers have nothing to look forward to.

In lieu of David Bowie, I’ll accept Danger Crumples and Ozymandias leading me to an eternal rest in Pighalla, which I made up but also happens to be where I belong after death.

“Hospital Trust” – Dennis Hamley – Again, what happens in this story is kind of normal now in the United States. A doctor that several patients haven’t liked (in the U.S. this part would be played by the insurance company, the ones who get to determine how much care you really get) sending them somewhere they shouldn’t be for substandard care and/or murder. Healthcare really is a right and not a privilege. It’s ridiculous to think otherwise.

Mixtape:
1. “Mud” – Legendary Shack Shakers
2. “Beautiful Gardens” – The Cramps
3. “Phantom of the Motorway” – The Mangled Dead
4. “Comanche Moon” – The Black Angels
5. “Several Sins” – The Birthday Party
6. “Let Me” – Widowspeak
7. “Garbage City” – Hanni El Khatib
8. “Feet Don’t Fail Me” – Queens of the Stone Age
9. “We’ve Seen the Blood” – The Mangled Dead
10. “Rats in Paradise” – The Birthday Party
11. “Kill!” – Raveonettes
12. “Flesh without Blood” – Grimes
13. “The Number of the Beast” – Electric Six
14. “At the Barn” – Wolfmen of Mars
15. “Be Free” – King Dude & Chelsea Wolfe
16. “Cut Me Loose” – UNKLE

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He’s most dangerous when he’s being pleasant.

29. 13 More Tales of Horror – A. Finnis, ed.

And so we shall commence the unholy terror that is the “Christmas in July” theme month. For the rest of this month, the YA horror will be set at Christmas and the mixtapes will be somewhat lackluster because I’m not really a fan of Christmas music. I tried. I really did. And I filled in some large gaps with Kauna’s deeply gloomy metal opus treatment of the Dyatlov Pass incident. Holiday spirit!

There are also sort of presents. Sort of in that they do not become presents unless you buy them and they are only available online. I am way more like Krampus than Santa, I do like hooves and horns and subversion. And if you want “presents” from me in person this year, come to SUPERCON July 12-15 in Fort Lauderdale and Geekcraft Expo St. Louis July 28&29. I won’t have my horns on, my hooves will be hidden, and I probably won’t bring my switch, so it’s painless every way but monetarily.

Present Number One – A very specific sale! Smashwords is having their 2018 Summer/Winter Sale (Hemispheres) and I have discounted the entire Squirrelpocalypse Trilogy by 25% !!! !!! !!! So, if you have been tempted to read my ridiculous trilogy of lab experiments, gore, and friendship, now would be a good time to get it. Take advantage until July 31!

covers-touching.jpg

I mean, just imagine this on your virtual bookshelf for a total of $8.97. …$8.97? What have I done? Get It Here

We begin with a non-Christmas themed book, the second of the Point Horror short story collections, 13 More Tales of Horror, and the mixtape just includes one Christmasy thing – a song/sermon from the Reverend A.W. Nix from the “Death May Be Your Gift” Christmas compilation. Cheery!

“The Cat-Dogs” – Susan Price – So the font that they used for the title pages for each story is straight out of Scooby Doo. Thankfully many of the stories are a bit less predictable than the average Scooby episode. “The Cat-Dogs” is one way to learn the lesson of not bringing home any stray animals you find – especially not if you find them in a bag in the forest. Bringing them home just gives them a better chance to eat you and all your relatives. There was a particularly nice scene in the forest at night in this one. Disorienting.

“The Piano” – Diane Hoh – This is one seriously manipulative haunted piano.

“The Devil’s Footprints” – Malcolm Rose – This story was very weird and refreshing for me as an allergic asthmatic who has had many people say “I don’t smell anything” and “It’s fine” when my canary senses are firing on all cylinders telling me to run from the bad air. A Halloween party, a devil, a house computer named Brian that keeps warning the occupants only they don’t listen…it’s another metaphor for climate change that some people don’t want to listen to because they aren’t personally effected by it. Yet. I’m excited to see the hoof prints leading away from their house someday.

Murderface and Pickles would’ve listened to Brian the house computer.

“Softies” – Stan Nicholls – An interesting concept, but a bit smashed into the short story format. I could easily see this expanded with one of those “stuffed animal with a bloody knife” horror paperback covers. Would’ve been cool. As it is, it didn’t invoke my consistent childhood nightmare that my toys would get mad at me. Thanks a lot, Child’s Play TV trailer, they were all I had.

“The House That Jack Built” – Garry Kilworth – It is really hard to know what to do when you’re stuck by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. If you’re in the wrong place, you’ll end up as an evil talking house’s manservant.

“The Station With No Name” – Colin Greenland – One thing I haven’t mentioned is that this collection is very UK-specific. I’m used to my Point Horror being very U.S.-oriented because the U.S. is a major source for teenager-based horror in fiction and real life. But I did get my MA in England and London happens to be my favorite city on earth, so it wasn’t too hard for me to get into these. This story involved the UK version of tagging and a station that hadn’t been open since WWII…because it’s super haunted. “The bombers got the line.”

Murderface wonders about these children who can’t stop spray painting their own first name onto things. If it was her name or Pickles’ name she’d get it because those are cool names.

“Something to Read” – Phillip Pullman – True hell is not being able to turn the pages because you’re non-corporeal.

“Killing Time” – Jill Bennett – Don’t move that alarm clock, or you’ll have to answer to that creepy dude on the hill who keeps telling you the earth needs blood. Really, the old gods need to get some new tricks – like the ones that did the Christmas crafting on Supernatural. Wreaths and pipes for everyone followed by brutal tooth pulling and other assorted bleeding!

“J.R.E. Ponsford” – Graham Masterton – I always expect a level of vulgarity from Graham Masterton and frankly, this was downright sentimental. I was extremely perplexed when the characters died in a way that was borderline off-page for Masterton. What the hell, Graham? Vulgarity is totally for teens.

“The worst part was when he mentioned an ear turning to ‘red gristle.'” Pickles summarizes the grossest part of “J.R.E. Ponsford” for Murderface so she doesn’t have to be disappointed by Masterton for teens.

“The Buyers” – David Belbin – This was not a horror story, it was a kidnapping story that definitely needed more zazz. Now, I know that in the Library of Congress classification system kidnapping and murder are close together, but that’s not all you need for horror.

“Closeness” – Chris Westwood – Guarantees of “FOREVER” are not for the faint of heart. It’s almost always better when they turn out to be unintended lies in a relationship too.

“The Ring” – Margaret Bingley – I would say this was a case of “Be careful what you wish for,” but when Kate wanted that ring, she didn’t want it because she thought it would allow her to hear all the horrible things her family and friends were thinking about her on her birthday. She wanted it because it was pretty.

“Bone Meal” – John Gordon – Texas Chainsaw Massacre-light for the UK includes way more dusters. Dusters.

Murderface and Pickles never answered the door. So they never had to murder anyone just for showing up.

Mixtape:

1. “Skogens Hamnd” – Finntroll
2. “Under My Chin” – The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster
3. “Cellophane” – METZ
4. “Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man” – Grinderman
5. “Moths” – Wolfmen of Mars
6. “Patterns of Evil” – Electric Wizard
7. “16 Psyche” – Chelsea Wolfe
8. “Someone’s in the Wolf” – Queens of the Stone Age
9. “King of Bones” – Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
10. “Evil” – Grinderman
11. “Scratch at Your Skin” – Ice Dragon
12. “Begin a New Life on Christmas Day, Pt. 1” – Rev. A.W. Nix

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“Doritos, No Doz, bennies, crystal meth.”

25. Thirteen – T. Pines, ed.

While we wait for climate change enhanced hurricanes or nukes to kill us all, I’m keeping in theme with short stories – for the summer! It’s YA Megamix Summer V: The Revenge, now featuring short story collections and a lot more art promos because I’m taking to the other states this summer and bringing my guinea pig art and generally melancholic demeanor to SUPERCON in Fort Lauderdale, July 12-15th and the Geekcraft Expo St. Louis July 28-29. If you want to come tell me how little you enjoy my longer posts in person, be sure to buy a postcard or threeve while you’re at it. Yay!

So, Point Horror, best imprint ever, did three short story collections of thirteen stories each and the first one is called Thirteen…yep. It features such Point luminaries as Lael Littke, D.E. Athkins (to me, it will always be Deathkins), A. Bates, and, um, some dude who wrote about a painting called Jay Bennett. Yes, Jay, paintings can be terrifying but the process of painting is the true source of horror.

We begin with the first in a set of bookend stories by Christopher Pike which may be the best work of his I’ve read. It weirds me out when short stories are better than novels; even though it shouldn’t *cough* Stephen King. In this case, it might have to do with the phone being involved so much. I’m very nostalgic for a time when we didn’t have the ability to constantly get a hold of each other and I like handset and answering machine-based intrigue. Yes, I’ve seen Bells, apparently known in the U.S. as Murder by Phone, a way too obvious title. I think there could’ve been a happy medium between “Bells” which says nothing and “Murder by Phone” which says too much.

Pike did a great job of making the annoying girls competing over some greaser-dressing new dude with his own mixtape both fun and really bitchy, so I was all for “Collect Call.”

Most of Christopher Pike’s novels don’t make “the sense,” at least, they’re just as sound in my Danger parodies as they are in book form. Danger might even be a bit more serious. Here he is with Horace at a rollicking party for two on my couch. They’re both pretty serious about partying and my couch.

The second story in the collection is by author of Prom Dress, The Watcher, and like nothing else, Lael Littke. “Lucinda” involves a sunken town, some graduation day regrets, and a love triangle. It was decent and a little murky.

“The Guiccioli Miniature” by the aforementioned Jay Bennett reminded me a lot of the movie version of Don’t Look Now. It’s set in Venice and involves some weird dude accosting the main character on the street, so that might be why. It is an extremely short entry, and was just, well, not very much in the usual vein of Point Horror, also like Don’t Look Now. I didn’t manage to get mad about the mention of painting theft, which tells you a lot about how engaging this was. As a painter, if someone stole any of my paintings, I’d consult some psychic sisters staying nearby, put on a red hooded coat, and stalk through all those canals until I got it back…

Horace and Danger Crumples are in quite a few of my paintings, so they fully support me going Don’t Look Now on hypothetical painting thieves.

“Blood Kiss” – Deathkins! – Well, sometimes people give vampires bad names. This one’s name is Ken. This story was fun and I know Deathkins could’ve done better than to name a vampire Ken. The immortal Ken. Yeesh.

“A Little Taste of Death” – Patricia Windsor – Bizarre little tale about a bad girl staying with her grandmother. When I stayed with my grandmother during many summers, I did not take candy that would seal my fate from strangers. Granted, on a farm the strangers are mostly cows, so it was easy to accomplish this. We also played the Dastardly and Muttley in their Flying Machines game. And Smess.

“The Doll” – Carol Ellis – Little hands killing people in your dreams…that’s exactly what I’d expect if a doll just randomly showed up in my house. Especially one of those porcelain numbers with the blank facial expressions. Give me Ginny with her gorgeous pout or give me her pony! Or death, I think that’s how that was supposed to go, but I love my Ginny pony and now my secret is out. It’s really cute.

“House of Horrors” – J.B. Stamper – Sometimes it’s not a bad thing to not have friends at work. Especially if your “friends” are really just locking you in a horror house overnight to be dicks. If your making friends story seems like it might have any chance of ending with “and they were never seen again after hanging out with wax figures,” avoid that. Friends who just want to scare you are not real friends, they’re insecure jackasses.

Horace and Danger, real friends to the end.

“Where the Deer Are” – Caroline B. Cooney – A trippy kind of subdivision horror.

“The Spell” – R.L. Stine – “I hypnotized all three of you that day at the Pizza Palace.” NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

“Dedicated to the One I Love” – Diane Hoh – Another thing that used to cause so much heart fluttering – having a song dedicated to you on the radio. While your friends were totally listening. So they knew. And then like, the whole school would know. Because everyone who was anyone listened to certain shows on the radio. But like with anything that can cause heart fluttering or public humiliation, watch out for when the dead start doing it.

“Hacker” – Sinclair Smith – Sometimes I feel like Sinclair Smith is a bit of a hack, so, I wasn’t surprised by anything in this story other than the ingenious use of plants. My problem is that once the villain is found out, they tend to get really loud and crazy, like they’ were holding back until this teenager found them and they have no clue about being arrested or not admitting how obvious your evil plan was even though you were all covert and smart throughout the rest of the story… The typing in all caps is really the kicker here, though. Quit yelling at everyone. Quit.

Danger and Horace make ingenious use of the back of my couch. They never type in all caps. There is no preferred typing scheme for whistles, wheeks, rumbly purring, and little chuckles.

“Deathflash” – A. Bates – I like A. Bates. I feel like when I’m reading an A. Bates story, some level of control is being exercised over the concept. Even in this weirdo entry about an amorphous thing. I’m glad the main character was concerned for the cats, and it is unfortunately realistic to name them “Sunshine” and “Sparkle.” My guinea pigs are lucky my disposition is not so light. Danger Crumples totally would’ve ended up being “Star Beast.”

“They Boy Next Door” – Ellen Emerson White – This was a pretty kickass story and I liked it a lot. I’ve been around the kind of guy who thinks taking out their insecurities on you is a good idea and as I told one of them, “Don’t powertrip at me, I’m not going to do anything you tell me to and you chose the wrong lady to be insecure at.” It did not go over well, but then again it didn’t go over well to me when he tried to tell me I’m supposed to tell him when I’m going to desensitize a book. Not even, son. I will do what I have to when I need to. Don’t take your shit out on other people. Especially women.

And the other bookend, “Collect Call II: The Black Walker” (slash missed opportunity for a way better subtitle). Quit trying to get girls to tell you you’re such a great musician! Let them come to you and tell you. If you’re good, they will. I never directly lie about what I think about someone’s music. If I don’t like it, I’ll say it’s interesting and not explain why. I had to do that once when a song without words or anything resembling musical form was played for me by my drunk boyfriend and he told me it was “for me.” I wish that hadn’t been for me. But I said it was “interesting” because it was interesting to me that he would make something “for me” that involved nothing about music I actually enjoyed. I should’ve taken it as a bigger omen.

Mixtape:

1. “The Otherworld” – All of Them Witches
2. “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” – Queens of the Stone Age
3. “Tales of Mystery & Isolation” – Wolfmen of Mars
4. “Electric” – Boris
5. “Diabolos ’88” – Samhain
6. “Ghosts of Victims Past” – Terrortron
7. “You Don’t Own Me” – Lesley Gore
8. “Wind up Toys” – Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats
9. “Destruction Makes the World Burn Brighter” – Chelsea Wolfe
10. “Holy Christos” – King Dude
11. “Hamlet Pow Pow Pow” – The Birthday Party
12. “Age of Oil & Wax” – Live Skull
13. “Kiva” – Burning Tapes
14. “Dance with Dark Forces” – Electric Six
15. “Killer in the Streets” – The Raveonettes
16. “The Trouble with Being Born” – The Great Tyrant
17. “All Murder, All Guts, All Fun” – Samhain

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Well, he’s not wrong with that subtitle.

20. Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread – Chuck Palahniuk

There are several stories in this collection that I won’t forget.

Especially “Red Sultan’s Big Boy,” I got halfway through that one while waiting for an appointment – I predicted accurately where it was going, and I had a hard time not spewing that forth during my appointment because, well, I had just the right friend to tell about that story, but I had to finish it first.

Belvedere was not that friend.

I am not sure how I feel about his new choice to use animal names for characters. During the story about the poor monkey (I mean, “Monkey”) marketing the cheese it seemed novel. But I feel like Flamingo got pretty screwed over in a later story and frankly, it put a very, very weird set of pictures in my head. There’s a newish Sanrio character, a red panda named Aggretsuko who hates her job and sings metal kareoke and works with a gorilla and a hippo who won’t stop showing baby pictures and…I just don’t really want Palahniuk’s animal characters in the same office block as Aggretsuko. I like her and don’t want her to suffer anymore than she already has to in order for me to identify with her. She’s got a super cute rage face.

Belvedere also has a super cute rage face.

“Cannibal,” well, the less said about that story of high school romance, the better to surprise. If you got through the one with the pool drain, you’ll get through “Cannibal.” High school kids can certainly suck.

Belvedere never went to high school. He didn’t suck.

Anyway, as usual, Palahniuk aims for the uncomfortable and reaches it, digs into its abdominal cavity, and pulls out a spleen and that is why I read him for the most part. I will take the named animals over the freshly invented languages that made Pygmy and Tell-All harsher to get through though, as long as he leaves guinea pigs and red pandas out of it.

No, really, Belvedere agrees with me. Leave guinea pigs out of it. You don’t know what they do well enough to give them jobs. Barely anyone seems to.

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Somebody’s watching that coffee and contemplation.

32. Stalkers – Ed Gorman & Martin H. Greenberg, eds.

One of the nice things about libraries is that they sometimes make purchases from smaller publishers and those things stick around…waiting for their chance. Stalkers was published by Dark Harvest of Arlington Heights, IL in 1989.

It features authors of horror novels for the most part, several of which wrote books on my shelves that I haven’t yet read, like J.N. Williamson. Williamson’s story “Jezebel” was very moralistic but also captured the feeling of being watched when you’re really not doing anything worth watching as a lady very well.

Pickles was constantly doing something worth watching. Here she is, looking alert.

Some I forgot about, like John Coyne (The Legacy aka that book/movie poster with the cat head sticking out of the green, zombie looking hand that scared and intrigued me as a child). Coyne’s story “Flight” was one of the weirder ones. A man takes off with his child when he’s totally not supposed to and ends up in a cabin with a paranoid old coot and it gets very bizarre from there. Features ye olde proverbial “They.”

Some I hadn’t heard of, like Michael Seidman, the editorial director of Zebra…a publisher that probably would have published me back in the day and stuck lots of weirdo skeletons on my covers. Oh, to go back in time. Seidman’s “What Chelsea Said” was a creepy little urban nightmare. Bumbutt.

Edward D. Hoch, “The Stalker of Souls” was an academic mystery. I haven’t read any of the Sherlock Holmes stories, but I got that vibe from it nonetheless. The reveal was a little tiresome, but the atmosphere leading up to it was great and very on theme.

Belvedere raises his head while being accused of nefarious plans by Pickles. Again. She’s the guinea pig Sherlock. Sort of. Not really. She’s far too cute and not nearly addicted to heroin enough to be Sherlocky.

The story that stuck with me the most has its own introduction, an oddity for short story collections, usually there’s just a short paragraph introing the author (if that, and sometimes the contributor bios are in the back). The introduction discusses how long Dean Koontz had the idea and other situations where the story didn’t work out to be published and it’s a nice insight. I’ve read one Dean Koontz book, The Funhouse, it was written under a different name and it was weird but didn’t make me want to dig in to the rest of his catalog. I think my main turn off, as usual, is the font they use for his name. It doesn’t appeal to me.

Anyway, now I’m a little more intrigued. I will at least always look for his stories in more of these weird little horror story anthologies because “Trapped” played right into my worst stalking fears and also hit several areas of my interest – isolated homes, mad science corporate bullshit gone awry, smart heroines who don’t freak out, a hero very much like Chief Hopper… But as I was saying, those worst stalking fears – RATS. Genetically engineered rats who are even smarter than rats already are. Also bigger. And they cut off your phone while staring at you with their beady little eyes. And they thought about the car. And they’re huge and white with red eyes. And of course there was a fucking illustration for that story. NO. I try not to show fear around real rats because I appreciate how smart they are, but, No. Also, rats are not afraid of people. They like people.

Pickles hides from smart rats in her hay. According to a 1921 book about pets I have, rats hate guinea pigs, so she doesn’t really need to.

 

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