By SHAWN MACOMBER
Ah, October—four weeks each year when a culture that typically tut-tuts us does an abrupt about-face, discovers its inner horror hound and embraces our dark interests as their own. It’s a wonderful, fleeting bit of service and validation, but at its best, the genre doesn’t play by any rules—and neither should you. So with Halloween in our taillights, why not continue to enjoy the unique, mind-possessing heebie-jeebies and sinister flights of fancy only the written word can deliver via the following five hot-off-the-presses scary reads?
You’ve got nothing to lose save that boring sense of tranquility and contentment the rest of the world is back to cultivating…
- GHOSTS, GOBLINS, MURDER, & MADNESS: TWENTY TALES OF HALLOWEEN edited by Rebecca Rowland (Dark Ink)
The lone porch light was a welcoming beacon. Thomas felt the night’s atmosphere instantly shift from innocent autumn fun to overbearingly sinister—threatening even…”—Jon Steffens, “Foul Treats”
Writer/editor Rebecca Rowland proves herself a wily curator of the macabre via this diverse, rollicking, sometimes fun, often seriously unsettling anthology of Halloween-centered tales. As the title suggests, GHOSTS, GOBLINS, MURDER, & MADNESS covers quite a bit of real estate antagonist-wise, which—along with the distinctive voices and narrative approaches of the various authors—does a wonderful job of keeping the reader engaged throughout its nearly 400 pages. (Rowland also turns in a very fun, gnarly story of her own, “Small Bites.”) Nimble, unpredictable and wisely avoiding tropes or repetitive setups despite its overarching theme, this is a solid cornerstone for your efforts to transform All Hallow’s Eve into an year-round proposition.
- GLASS SLIPPER DREAMS, SHATTERED by Doungjai Gam (Apokrupha)
While he sleeps, she’ll create a new masterpiece using her claws and his throat…
Often, flash fiction—like poetry—serves as a sort of low-stakes training ground for new writers looking to find their lyrical voice without getting involved in the frequently tedious, demoralizing business of constructing coherent plots and character arcs. In the hands of brilliant, fast-rising dark-fiction author Doungjai Gam, however, it is something considerably more distilled, beguiling and powerful. With titles such as “Swallowed, in Pieces, Consumed in Whole,” “The Eater of Dreams,” “Mourninglight” and “Graveyard of Broken Hearts,” the evocative, affecting mini-stories of GLASS SLIPPER DREAMS, SHATTERED slowly build a world where beauty and loss intermingle freely—and the unexpected quickly becomes the most expected thing of all. For those who discovered Gam through her appearances in LAMPLIGHT mag or anthologies such as LOST HIGHWAYS and WICKED HAUNTED, this collection will live up to—and very likely exceed—your lofty expectations.
- RABID HEART by Jeremy Wagner (Riverdale Avenue)
Rhonda cast a glance toward Camp Deadnut’s large and razor-wired fence. She heard numerous Cujos on the other side; their cemetery moans rode on the fall wind. She shivered. An orange October sun made long and haunting shadows. Afternoon would be night soon.
Whether in his role as co-founder/lyricist/songwriter of the legendary death metal act Broken Hope or as the author of the triumphant 2011 heavy-metal-and-hieroglyphics novel THE ARMAGEDDON CHORD, Jeremy Wagner has spent the last 30 years establishing a well-deserved reputation as a provocative, inventive artist possessing an uncanny knack for delivering unforgettable gut-punch scenes and stories that skimp on neither humanity nor viscera. And the multi-medium slayer’s latest, the apocalyptic zombie action-thriller/romance RABID HEART, feels like a crowning achievement, anchored by an inspiring, salt-of-the-earth female protagonist as it brings the heart and horror in equal measure. (Look for an exclusive, extensive interview with Wagner about his life and work in this space soon.)
- KILLENNIALS by Marty Beckerman
Beside the twine sat a large-format paper cutter, built to slice a ream in a single drop. Hmm, Caleb thought. That’s interesting… Its blade was the right size for a guillotine.
The tension between Millennials and Baby Boomers has so far mostly been confined to passive aggressive sniping cloaked in sugary therapeutic language, Who, me? buck-passing and a gentleperson’s agreement to completely ignore Gen-Xers. But what if it boiled over? What if the endless faux empathetic dialoguing one day came to an end and the bloodshed began? Such is the scenario the deft satirist, best-selling author and joyful subversive Marty Beckerman—author of THE HEMING WAY, ’90s ISLAND, DUMBOCRACY, DEATH TO ALL CHEERLEADERS and other clever, subversive tomes—brings to vivid life in his new novella KILLENNIALS. It’s a boisterous amalgamation of DOG DAY AFTERNOON, BACK TO SCHOOL and LORD OF THE FLIES that somehow manages to be simultaneously hilarious, harrowing and informative. Beckerman skewers all, yes, but also reminds us that (almost) everyone’s sociopolitical quirks and rage have a legitimate root cause if we can bring ourselves to look for it. Also, the book’s tagline slays: “They killed shopping malls, chain restaurants, taxis, newspapers, bar soap, landline phones, cable TV and gluten…and now they’re coming for youuuuuuuuuuuu!”
- DEATH WITCH by Nick Cato (Dynatox Ministry)
She closed her eyes tight and, when she realized no white magic was going to save her, and that the darker spells hadn’t done a damn thing either, she prayed directly to the devil and to any one of his demons. One of them had to hear her call.
From UPTOWN DEATH SQUAD, THE LAST PORNO THEATER and DON OF THE DEAD to THE ATROCITY VENDOR, ANTIBACTERIAL POPE and THE APOCALYPSE OF PETER, Nick Cato is an absolute master of conjuring cleverly demented titles—and then penning tomes that not only live up to those self-set expectations, but often significantly upping the ante along the way. In his latest novella, DEATH WITCH, the horror-fiction pride of Staten Island delivers a cool-but-nasty occult/exploitation/revenge crossover—think I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE meets THE CRAFT—which, while not in any way for the squeamish, is definitely a kinetic and satisfying read. Cato continues to thumb his nose at convention—and the most extreme corners of genre fiction are better for it.