As per my previous blog, Rejected for Content – Splattergore was released recently. Since then, I’ve been slowly working my way through the short stories on hand and reviewing them one by one, with exempt to my own story. This has been taking place on Goodreads.
However, due to space constraints on Goodreads – I only have 20,000 characters to use – I will be posting it in two sections. Part 1 is here now, and Part 2 is over at Goodreads. Once the entire review is complete, the whole review will be posted here and on the J Ellington Ashton Press blog. This way I can work my way through slowly and concisely.
Here is Part One. This includes reviews for stories and poems by Essel Pratt, Alex S. Johnson, Mathias Jansson, Jeremy Maddux, Lance Carbuncle, Toneye Eyenot, Lisa Dabrowski, Mark Woods, and Amanda Lyons.
Part Two will be posted on Goodreads as and when I write them and I will the combine the two for one whole review, once done. I hope you enjoy the reviews as much as I did reviewing the work. Each authors Amazon pages are linked in their respective reviews.
Pubienne Tueur De Cheveux – Essel Pratt
Translate the title and you have: Pubic Hair Killer. Before reading a word of this stylish, dreary noir, you know you’re in for something unique. Detective Mansfield is a tough, female cop in a very male orientated universe, where rape, murder, perversion, and ignorance run rife. Tasked with investigating said killer, this short tale leads Mansfield into an erotic meeting of personal circumstance and revelation that could blow the case wide open…
Leave your home, find the nearest urine drenched, bum filled alleyway, and hide under some damp newspapers. Observe. Breathe in the bile-inducing essence of shit and decay. Got it? Good. That feeling caresses your sweat-soaked skin before fisting you in the throat and dragging you into Mansfield’s depraved world. In a minuscule time frame, Pratt creates a dark, foreboding city that cups your balls – or breasts, equal opportunities – with a handful of razor-wire. This world is dripping with menace, shadowed with evil, and teetering on the edge of redemption. Mansfield is neither cliché nor stereotypical, but very enticing and likeable. And the killer? Well, that would be telling…
Verdict: Excellent start to the anthology. Give Mansfield her own series now. Sin City eat your black heart out. Great job, Essel.
Deatherz – Alex S. Johnson
Each of the stories in this anthology come with their own rejection letter, a nice touch to the overall feel of the theme. Alex’s letter sums up his contribution in one key sentence – ‘I feel like I need a shower for my brain after reading this.’ The average reader may indeed feel this way after reading Deatherz; a story about Mon, a role-playing (aka acting innocent and blasé) party girl, who manages to nab an evening of debauchery with Razor Blakk, an infamous rock star. Once they reach the party house, on the promise of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, Mon realises that she might have to pay some lowly dues before she gets her hand – and other body parts – on rock star royalty…
Deatherz is classic Alex S. Johnson; it oozes heavy metal influence, sublime prose and dark, depraved debauchery. Sex, drugs, rock n’ roll – they all drip and splatter from the page. Mon is a revelation, a tart with a little heart and, ultimately, a craving for substances and carnal activity that needs quelling at the expense of her false, innocent dignity. As the story smoothly rolls along, Deatherz slowly claims squatters rights in your brain, in that little dark corner that lavishly licks the perverted thoughts in your cerebral tissue, a place even the required brain shower can’t cleanse. Johnson has that knack of creating stories that just seem so wrong…but also very enjoyable at the same time.
Verdict: Another story, another great read. Like Mansfield above, Mon could be a great, reoccurring character. However, I’ll never look or think of a black dildo in the same way again…
Spider Man – Mathias Jansson
We have our first poem. Now, reviewing poems is somewhat difficult because of the few words on display, and popping a short blurb will essentially ruin the revelation that takes place here…hmmmm, tricky.
Luckily, Jansson makes it easy for me. The art of a great poet is putting the readers mind to work, similar to making a meal from three ingredients. It takes imagination and creativity. Now, I read this poem in thirty seconds flat, but it lingered in the brain for some time afterwards (until now in fact, an hour later). When a poem can do that, you’ve found a winner. The simplicity is staggering.
Disturbing, dark, effective, and thought provoking. With very few words, Jansson makes you think ‘what the f***’ before smiling and applauding. The undertones are shocking, the ingenuity original. Let’s put it in another way: If you weren’t scared of arachnids or cellars before, you won’t be too fond of them now. Or people who talk to spiders…
Verdict: Simple but breathtaking. Sure, poetry isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but Jansson produces a sick and twisted piece that will linger in the memory. Next time you go in the cellar, turn the lights on.
Pachyderm – Jeremy Maddux
As Catt mentions in the foreword, Rejected for Content has intelligent horror. Whether in the name of the stories alone – like this one, borrowing its name from the french word: Pachyderme, meaning thick skinned mammal – or the actual stories, I’m starting to see a trend here. However, as well as being intelligent, Pachyderm is outright original and cleverly bonkers. It details the misgivings of Ajax, a pachyderm in a man’s body. After heavily realistic dreams (where he’s an elephant) and seeking potentially fatal plastic surgery, he meets like minded humans with various animal appendages. After an unfortunate incident in an animal-human nightclub, he’s taken on a journey to find his power animal…which is where things get interesting.
Originality is a huge factor for me. In this day and age, there are many stories that have been retold or rehashed. Taking the term ‘elephant man’ and shaping it into a twisted, darkly humorous tale of wrong-body syndrome and body horror, Maddux has created a wonderful, eerie tale of tragedy and social outcasting. The horror is clever but lingering, the suspense is ever-present, and some scenes will repulse (the dumpster scene is a highlight), but the main tug of the story is a lonely guy; one who’s not happy with his current form and just wants to fit in. He urges to be something else but can’t be. In a way, there are plenty of people who can relate to this character. It’s beyond me why this relevant story was rejected in the first place.
Verdict: Emotionally poignant, not to mention surreal and unique, Pachyderm is one of those character studies you don’t see very often. This deserves to be read.
Stankpit – Dr. Reverend Lance Carbuncle
Body horror is always worth a read. In a way, it’s the scariest type of horror, things happening to the body, things that could actually occur, are terrifying. However, there’s also the more macabre, the more…imaginative and creative. It doesn’t make the horror any less terrifying, but it does make for great fiction. Such is the case with Stankpit, a story of an ordinary guy who discovers he has an abnormal slit, or pussy as he calls it, in his armpit.
What became obvious from Carbuncle’s story is one thing: The human brain is a curious and morbid one. This is never more obvious then during this story. Our poor soul wakes up to find his acquaintances poking the slit, sniffing it and, in one eerie case, finger banging it. Even the doctors he seeks help from are more interested in probing the slit than actually curing it. It brings a whole new meaning to ‘every hole’s a goal’, a sexual term for people, mainly women, being accepted as sexual objects or a notch on a bedpost, but not as an actual person. This is more common than people think, and is an underlying theme within this tale.
The story is short, excellently written and amazingly creepy. However, in a short four page span, Carbuncle gives us a story of human curiosity that will linger in the brain for some time. Uncomfortable and potentially terrifying, depending on your level of horror fascination, this is a story that could easily have been a full length novella or novel.
Verdict: Stankpit is one of those stories that induces shivers and makes you flinch with horror. After all, who wants a hole in their armpit? The sheer thought of the condition, before any probing and touching, is one to make the average person squirm. Which is horror 101. A job well done, Lance Carbuncle.
Don’t Hang Yourself (Where’s the Fun in That?) – Toneye Eyenot
Another poem, another message. Suicide is a touchy topic with many people. Some deem it selfish, some feel it might be the only solution for people with certain psychological issues. Either way, it’s controversial. In this poem, the topic is debated via some fluid poetry, a poem that basically advocates for killing yourself via a much more elegant and audacious method. After all, hanging is so 18th century, right?
Humorous or serious? You decide. You can take this poem in a number of ways. For me, it was two-fold. In society, everything is in the spotlight now via the internet and reality TV. Horror is around so we can delve into the human psyche. I read this and immediately thought: ‘I can imagine two people discussing this during a suicide selfie.’ Such is the way on social media nowadays, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if this popped up on a front page in the next few years. Second, it read more like a song sung by a metal band – Murderdolls came to mind – with the rhyming lyrics and stunning calmness, not to mention its edge of dark humour that many normal readers may miss. If anything, this is why the poem works. Simple, morbid and very funny/serious: depending on your personal view, DHY is a satirical revelation.
Verdict: The poet has produced a thought-provoking and scarily relevant piece of work. For suicide, against suicide. Either way, this story is likely to offend or unite, in equal or unequal measure. I can’t wait for his second poem in this anthology.
The Obelisk of Souls – Lisa Dabrowski
Rejected, so far, has contained a little humour, mainly dark and perverse. With The Obelisk of Souls, that hasn’t changed. The dark horror has been turned down a little, the humour ramped up, and the bizarre factor has been increased to maximum. Counter 665 abandons his post and makes it his mission, his goal, to fight the corrupt government that oppresses his society. On his journey across Old DC, he acquires a couple of former Presidents (Franklin, Jefferson, Lincoln) and launches a full-scale war on the President Overlord. Think Fallout 3 crossed with 1984 and sprinkled with a little Equilibrium, not to mention Jack and the Beanstalk…and you’re only halfway there…
This story is original and wonderful, rife with political undertones and satire. Set in an alternate, dystopian reality, where the former Presidents-cum-soldiers are drug taking, egotistical horny men, our hero doesn’t realise his significance until late on, and the President Overlord sends flying elephants and asses out to stop them, you’ll be laughing from page to addictive page. The adventure across Old DC is one of sheer genius, where the world is detailed and stark (a primitive fishing trip turns into an orgy of drugs and sexual gratification), yet bleak and oppressive. It leaps from the pages as you scroll through, creating a real sense of adventure and blockbuster thrills. Some might argue that this is a riff on modern/historic politics but, overall, this is a fun, ludicrous and excellently imaginative story.
Verdict: Hilarious, genre bending and unique. However, any story with the following dialogue in it is surely a winner in my book: “What we need is a diversion. Something big and audacious,” said Lincoln. “That would be my dick,” said Washington. Excellent work, Lisa, your first of two in this anthology. I look forward to the next one.
The Year of the Cat – Mark Woods
I’ve said it in many reviews before: Real horror is the scariest. The horror that <i>could/can</i> happen to any one of us on any given day. Serial killers, kidnap, rape…the choice is plentiful. However, what if you use something we take for granted, something that integrates into our normal, routine lives? Majoree is the ‘Crazy Cat Lady’, a former pseudo celebrity who loses her fifteen minutes of fame – talking to animals – when a horse kicks her in the head. Forgotten and lonely, she retires to her house with her cats. After having many removed by the RSPCA, she finds a stray and becomes attached. Then, more cats appear at her house…and things take an eerie turn.
The thing I’m talking about is, of course, cats. We keep them as docile, occasionally aggressive pets. We take them for granted and pet them and feed them, not expecting them to become a threat. Mark Woods draws on this, eking out drops of tension and forcing shivers as the cats become ever more menacing. As a pet lover, this story will speak volumes to you in many ways. As a pure horror fan, the story is concise, excellently written, and paced perfectly. If you don’t own a pet now, this might give you second thoughts about such a thing. If you do own pets? Well, I hope you’re alive to read this review…it might give you some useful survival tips. The premise for this story is so simple I’m surprised it hasn’t been done before…which lends kudos to the writers ingenuity.
Verdict: Stylish, shocking in content (pregnant woman meets aggressive cats, check) and very thrilling, Woods has created a story of intense suspense and horrific consequence. If you ever hear the words ‘feed me?’ from a cat, run in the opposite direction.
All That Remains – Amanda M. Lyons
Next up is All That Remains; another story of realistic horror. The mood is dropped somewhat as the story heads down a more emotional path, one that some of us may be familiar with. The narrator of the story is in the shower when she hears some commotion from her room mates bedroom. On investigation, she finds her female room mate murdered on her bed. Cue a harsh emotional breakdown. It’s then revealed that the narrator was in love with her room mate and was never able to confront these feelings…
Now, some people reading this will be like ‘so far, so romantic lovey dovey Mill & Boon slush.’. Not so. This is a horror anthology. What follows is a stark, emotionally engaged, and mentally exhausting mental breakdown on the part of the narrator. She brings us into her mind and takes us for a dark, traumatised journey into her ever disintegrating world. Her journey is one of dignity shredding sexual gratification, emotionally empty lust filled one-night stands, and something a little darker…something I will leave for you to discover. Dark, scarring and real, you’d think Lyons is putting experience to page. If so, bravo for facing your demons. If not, well, it’s a testament to the authors ability to step into a damaged mind and provide a story so engaging and horrifying, you can’t help but feel the characters loss. A wonderful, if slightly harrowing, character study.
Verdict: Depressing and harrowing; an unflinching look at a fragile, traumatised mind. Loss; none of us can cope with it. Never has it been so gritty, realistic or poignant in this dark tale of grieving for a loved one. Horror at its finest. Well done, Amanda.
The Perfect Woman – Kerry G.S. Lipp
In a book that contains rejected content, it was inevitable that one the stories would contain the more taboo topic in modern horror: Sexual violence and rape. Now, The Perfect Woman isn’t a rape story, it’s actually toying with necrophiliac territory, but it is an interesting and potentially controversial entry in the anthology.
In short, Shelby is willing to fulfil her man’s fantasies. On a whim, she plays ‘dead’ for him during a lust fuelled evening, and discovers this is what he, Jake, desires the most. It develops and becomes an obsession, for both parties. During the most recent encounter, Jake and Shelby take the ruse to the extreme…with varying consequences.
The undertones of necrophilia are, in a rare turn of events, tastefully applied here. True, Shelby isn’t actually dead but the tropes are there: The bruising when Jake gets too rough, the conscience kicking in mid-coitus, Shelby unwilling to move, no matter what happens, until her partners climax. Their motivation is love, both want to satisfy one another, and permission is given beforehand. Some people are thinking it already and it was suggested in the rejection letter: this could be seen as a rape fantasy.
However, this is a story of a mundane/active sex life (delete where applicable), and a couples willingness to take it that step further and really live their fantasy, no matter the cost. In true horror form, this is gleefully twisted into a sadistic love story. It might not be actual rape, but it’s poking the dreaded R word with a pointy stick, and we all know how some people find this offensive. As a realistic horror story though, this is superbly done.
Verdict: Potentially controversial and thoroughly enthralling, this is one of those stories you will either love or hate, depending on your stance for sexual violence. Either way, it’s another great entry in RFC, and a positive way to start the second part of this review. Dark and disturbing with a nodding wink, this is a must-read.
Lust Among The Reefs – Matthew Arkham
This story rang horrific with me. I recently returned from a honeymoon in Barbados, where I spent a great deal of time in the ocean. Climbing on the back of a yacht, drowning, sea creatures. All potentially real threats to a human, which are often taken for granted. A real ménage à trois of innocent horror in one of nature’s biggest, natural beauties. All of which are addressed in this bizarre but concise story of forbidden lust. Oh, and the R word makes a fleeting appearance again.
Cheri is on vacation. Jumping off the back of a yacht and submerging herself in the deep blue, she’s in paradise. Then, she begins to observe the wildlife in a bout of snorkelling…and an unknown, tentacled beast begins to chase her. As she climbs on the back of the boat, it catches her and…consummates their meeting. Yes, you heard that right.
Forced sex, which is blatantly implied here, is always going to strike a nerve. When it’s between an octopus-like being and a non-willing, but willing, woman (more possible controversy with the ‘no means yes’ argument), it enters a grey area of ‘what the hell?’ However, once we are past that obstacle, this is a story of fear and isolation. Beneath the surface, no pun intended, Cheri is terrified of drowning, being consumed by an unknown creature, or being lost at sea. Her husband is sleeping, and doesn’t hear her, so Cheri is alone in one of nature’s biggest death-traps. As a man who can’t swim – although I faced my fear – this is a truly horrific place to be isolated. It sent goosebumps up my arms.
Shockingly, this is also a story of fulfilled lust, a darkly macabre take on a holiday one night stand. The human mind is a dark, obsessive one with temptation heavily involved, and this story taps into that. Whether you see this as a rape story disguised as something creative and unique, or a simple piece of forbidden erotica, LATR is one of those stories that will shock you, much like Jaws did in the 70’s – for the right reasons.
Verdict: Superbly written and tear inducing in its description, especially during the more erotic moments, this is one piece of horror that will stick in the mind for some time. Definitely the most bizarre story in RFC thus far.
Where Here Sorrow Runs To When It Must Hide – Christopher Ropes
In honest curiosity, I did wonder if this collection of macabre stories contained a tale set in a mental institution. Funnily enough, it came in the form of the story that was much discussed during the editing process, and subsequently was a runner up for an Editor’s Choice award. Basing a story in an asylum is never easy for a horror author, but it gives you so much potential for a stunning story. If you knock it out of the park? Read on…
The narrator is locked up. Bored and irrational, possibly due to medication or his offence, he becomes aggressive at the happenings around him. Then, Laura catches his eye…and an unlikely romance blossoms. However, Laura is scheduled for an unknown treatment…
Chris Ropes, I applaud you. This story has so much contained within its dark, descriptive and, frankly, bat-shit crazy, but beautiful, prose. Taken direct from the warped mind of a genius author – trust me, the wording, experiences and characters are so realistic and vivid – this story is gritty, horrific and subtle, controlled almost, in its application. One second, the narrator is talking and out of nowhere, something insane happens, then returns to normal within seconds. I can easily imagine this being the scribblings of a warped mind, kind of like Girl, Interrupted or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest for a modern horror generation.
Ropes pulls no punches, particularly towards the terrifying finale. Until then, he layers on the detail and hate, creating characters we both care for and loathe. The asylum and its shady practices haunt you at every page turn. The characters give you goosebumps. At times, I felt constricted; as if I was in the asylum, rocking back and forth, with the narrator whispering in my ear. My wife was driving at the time of reading. She succumbed to a bout of road rage, shouted, and I dropped my Kindle in shock. When a story immerses you like this, you know you’re onto a winner. Dark, cryptic and mesmerising, this is one of the best short stories I’ve read all year, period.
Verdict: A sublime, twisted masterpiece. If you like having your brain warped, this is for you. It might not put you in the asylum, but for twenty minutes, you’ll think it has. Superb.