Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Black Book of Horror - Charles Black (editor) Mortbury Press 2007

The Black Book of Horror - Charles Black (editor) Mortbury Press 2007

CROWS - Frank Nicholas
REGINA vs. ZOSKIA - Mark Samuels
POWER - Steve Goodwin
CORDS - Rog. Pile
SIZE MATTERS - John L. Probert
SPARE RIB: A ROMANCE - John Kenneth Dunham
LOCK-IN - David A. Riley
"SHALT THOU KNOW MY NAME?" - Daniel McGachey

Cover by Paul Mudie ISBN 978-0-9556061-0-6

Crows by Frank Nicholas: Ronson's parents have been killed in a car crash and now that his uncle and aunt are also dead, Corbiewood Lodge is his. It's a grim old pile in the heart of the country, hidden away behind trees and massive, chained iron gates. The atmosphere builds impressively as he approaches the house, surrounded by corroding statues in the mist.

There are also questions to intrigue us, such as what happened to the driver who walked away unscathed from the crash which killed Ronson's parents? Who is the mysterious Mr Saville and how does he fix Ronson's problems? And why does the house show no signs of vandalism by children or occupation by derelicts?

As Ronson explores the house, he remembers childhood nightmares about the birds which flock in the trees around the Lodge and in its deserted upper rooms. His aunt had told him once that she and his uncle had sworn to protect the birds. The crows had lined the trees like mourners on the day of his grandmother's funeral, when he'd seen black feathers sticking in the earth of the freshly-dug grave.

After reading this story, I started looking around on the net for information about Frank Nicholas. This story is accomplished and sustains its eerie mood well, right up to a nasty – and very imaginative – end. It seemed there had to be more information about him out there. I couldn't find anything. Charles Black tells me that "I think Frank N's only previous published writing credit was about Scottish literature in a guidebook." I'd certainly like to see more of this writer's work, and if it's his first published story, then Charles is to be congratulated at finding an exciting new talent.

Franklin Marsh wrote: Crows is an excellent mood piece. Our main character visits his aunt's house, which he has been bequeathed. Wandering around the spooky interior, frightening childhood memories push their unwelcome attentions on him, as he nears the source of the horror. A disgusting Pan ending.

Coral King wrote: The collection opens with Crows, a marvellously well crafted haunted house tale by Frank Nicholas. Atmospheric and suspenseful, the tension heightening by such seamless increments as to leave the reader positively breathless. A fantastic beginning.

Regina vs. Zoskia by Mark Samuels: I've only read three of Mark Samuels' stories so far, more's the pity, but I've already begun to appreciate the careful way that he sets up familiar and believable, even prosaic settings and characters, before nudging the picture he's created maddeningly askew. So in Vrolyk a couple sit talking in a late night coffee bar and seem to have nothing to do with the insane and brilliant graffiti scrawled on the walls of the surrounding city streets. Then the picture is tilted and the streets become those of some early German surrealist film. But who is Caligari and who Cesare?

In Regina vs. Zoskia, Dunn is a young solicitor who is instructed by his boss Jackson to take on a case which promises to run interminably, and which Jackson expects to "finish him off". He drives Dunn out of the city to a place formerly used as an insane asylum. Its Director is the enigmatic Dr Zoskia. Jackson explains how the firm had become involved.

"When the inmates decided they no longer wished to be classed as insane. They've been challenging the legal basis on which the definition rests for the last forty-odd years."

The description of the former asylum and its occupants, filthy, the place littered with broken medical equipment, is disturbing and fascinating. At one point, the suggestion that Dunn might have either heard or imagined a peculiarly off-key remark adds to the air of disquiet. But I really don't want to give too much away here.

Franklin Marsh wrote:Regina vs Zoskia - Ever thought the legal profession mad? Here's proof! A jobbing would-be solicitor is given the chance to take on his firm's most important and lucrative case - but at a very heavy price. The description of the Zoskia establishment is brilliant - and the Doctor's introduction wonderfully bizarre. A sudden transition early on threw me, but the denouement prolongs the agony...

Craig Herbertson wrote:[As a favourite] I might go for "Regina vs. Zoskia" which seems Ballardian in its style but more menacing.

More to come... Buy the book at Mortbury Press

Monday, June 18, 2007

Noctem Aeternus

Noctem Aeternus is a FREE quarterly PDF magazine where the reader will find science fiction, fantasy, western, or even mystery stories…but all tales will have an element of horror. The first issue (January 2008) will include a short story and interview from master storyteller Ramsey Campbell. Cherie Priest, Charles Coleman Finlay, Tim Waggoner, and Michael Laimo will have stories as well.

Interviews with filmmaker/musician Rob Zombie and featured artist Kuang Hong will also be found. Paula Guran, Michael Knost, and Jude-Marie Green will offer quarterly columns about the horror genre, reviews, etc.

Help us keep the magazine FREE...sign up today!

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The 2nd BHF Book of Horror Stories edited by Christopher Wood

Cover Painting by Paul Mudie

BHF Books, 2007

Edited by Christopher Wood

In the Pipeline by Paul Newman
Show Home by Paul Adams
Romero and Juliette by Gareth Hopkins
The Blood Field by Derek Johnston
The Morris Men by Franklin Marsh
It is Written by Matt Finucane
Home Truth by Christopher L Jones
Roast Beef by Martin J Parsons
Almost Love by Rog Pile
Clean Living by Clare Hill
Still Life by Paul Newman
Separation by Charles Black
You can't sing, you can't dance, you look'll go a long way by Christopher Wood
A Little Dead Man on Clockchanges Road by Wayne Mook
When Hell Freezes Over by Neil Christopher
The Passage by Mark Ferguson
Appeal by Gareth A Williams
Obeahman by Maya McLaughlin
A (Something) in Wardour Street by Franklin Marsh
Jacob Raffles by James Stanger
The Inn by S F Stewart
Cattle by Richard Cosgrove
The Darklands Hall Legacy by Franklin Marsh
Cerberus Rising by Neil Christopher
Crowd Scene by James Brough
Portrait of a Young Woman by Carole Hall
The Oxford Vampire by Thirteen Ravens
The Sea Witch by Mike Ward
Children of the Summer's End by Sam Dawson
The Shadow in the Stacks by Daniel McGachey
Understanding by Jason P Burden

Verse: Tschaichowsky's Lonely Sympathy by Nadia Mook
Out Beyond the Clearing by Matthew Entwistle
Tey by Matthew Entwistle
The Necromancer by Matthew Entwistle
A (Helpful) Warning to the Curious by Mattew Entwhistle

Extract from forthcoming novel: Dead Weight by E H Bourne

The Inn by S F Stewart: Stewart effectively creates a sense of place and mood as his weary traveller breaks his stagecoach journey to spend the night at an inn "of horrid aspect. It stood quite alone, in great fields of darkness not yet scarred by roads or paths..." He is disturbed by the glimpse of a white face at an upper window. But soon he is in his room preparing for bed. He is not long alone...

Separation by Charles Black: The narrator of Charles Black's wicked little vignette is possibly taking his wife's suggestion of a trial separation a little too much to heart. I can't give away any more of this one, but it's one of Charles's best and how Charles dreamed it up is an interesting tale in itself (the behind the scenes stuff that I don't pass on is sometimes as good as the stories!)

Jacob Raffles by James Stanger: In the future "England had become a waste ground of social cripples and desperate solutions" where the narrator of the story lies in a cell, his punishment to hang from one of the trees in one of the country's battle-torn fields to "give back something to the world."

When the hangman appears, he introduces himself as Jacob Raffles and opening a suitcase shows the prisoner the tools of his trade: "He turns his attention to the face-shaped object in the suitcase and proceeds to unravel the silver ribbon. Gently he unwraps. It is a mask revealed before me with a gaping mouth of vine and leaves nourishing the cavity. The hollowed-out eyes are surrounded by thick and ripe foliage. They wrap themselves around the eyeholes like photosynthetic tendrils."

With this one, James Stanger presents a story of death in a bleak, apocalyptic future then reveals the story to be a strange fable where change and hope are possible. This author's Pith was one of the surprises to find its way into Filthy Creations 2.

The Shadow in the Stacks by Daniel McGachey: St Montague's is "one of our older and more forgotten colleges." Perdew is a young and enthusiastic librarian, but when Lawrence wants to find some old and obscure texts, he's puzzled by Perdew's reluctance to look in the cellars. At length Lawrence gets a strange story from him about some antique volumes found while rebuilding work was being carried out on the older parts of the library. The volumes had been curiously bound in a substance which even old Harkwell the bookbinder had been unable to identify, and shortly after their discovery a grotesque red form had been seen in the library.

"The impression that I had was of something crawling just out of sight, into the darkness. Something that was red and peculiarly glistening. Red and wet, like something that you might see in a butcher's display..."

I thought when I started reading this one that it would turn out to be a Lovecraft pastiche; but Daniel McGachey's story is closer in style and spirit to something by M R James, and there's a small tip of the head to Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book (if I remember right). I'd previously heard this one through a radio download, but although the broadcast was well-produced, I think it works much better on the page where details don't get missed through lack of broadcast clarity.

There are a lot more of these to go, and besides Paul Mudie's brilliant cover painting and some sketches, there are photos and illustrations by Lawrence Bailey, Paula Fay, Egerton and Christopher Wood (who has also revealed himself as a pretty impressive artist at the BHF site and contributes a story which will get written-up for the next of these posts). Plus the book contains a few pages of ghoulish poems and a preview of the first chapter of a novel planned for publication later this year.

Get the book here: The 2nd BHF Book of Horror Stories

Rog Pile

More from The 2nd BHF Book of Horror Stories edited by Christopher Wood

In the Pipeline by Paul Newman: Jess returns to the scene of his childhood adventures – and fears. The pipeline under the children's playground was The Dare. Jess's friend Richard had entered it long ago. Great status awaited those who braved its terrors to emerge on the other side of the ring road. But the pipe line is the lair of the Trash Man, and Richard had not come out. The inspiration for this story is obvious, but Paul Newman puts his own stamp on it, and his Trash Man is a grim creation.

Romero and Juliette by Gareth Hopkins: Research scientist George Romero is a dull and grey man, and aside from his research, the only two things of any interest about him are his pet frog Perseus and his seduction of the sexy Juliette (or perhaps she seduced him, which would be equally interesting and incomprehensible). His work interests him, involving watching rats race around mazes under the influence of new barbiturates until their hearts burst. Then comes the day when he absent-mindedly drops some of the mystery serum into Perseus's food. What happens then reminds me of the chapter where Philip Wylie's scientist in Gladiator feeds a trial serum to his pet kitten. This very black zombie comedy comes close to being a contender for Best New Horror. Really.

The Blood Field by Derek Johnston: Two walkers following the public footpaths in north Norfolk lose their bearings and find themselves in the middle of a large grassy area. The rustling and movement of the grass is weirdly hypnotic and soon Martin begins wondering if they have walked through here before – are they walking in circles? All they can see is the tall grass thrashing in the wind - but what wind? This one would provide a perfect plot for someone making a short film subject.

The Morris Men by Franklin Marsh: Billy is getting tired of the Little Dampton Carnival, the usual stalls and squalling kids, when "Ten scarecrows walked into view. Big but somehow decaying men." So begins this story which Franklin has probably grown tired of hearing cited as his best. Normality viewed through a distorting mirror, his usual humour kept well under control, this one's a winner with not a wrong word in it - it also reminds me oddly of Ramsey Campbell's writing.

The Stone Fountain by Billy Turner: "For many years Frank had wondered what it would be like to stare into the eyes of a killer, and now he knew. As far as he could tell, his eyes were no different to anyone else's...

You can : get the book here

Cover Painting by Paul Mudie

You can : get the book here

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Have You Seen Madeleine McCann?

Just received this round-robin message and photo through email from my Dutch friend. I don't watch much News, so I checked it out first.

"Please read this message and pass it on!!!!!!!!!!!!!

"As you are aware my niece is still missing and I am asking everyone I know to send this as a chain letter i.e. you send it to everyone you know and ask them to do the same, as the story is only being covered in Britain, Eire and Portugal. We don't believe that she is in Portugal anymore and need to get her picture and the story across Europe as quickly as possible. Suggestions are? welcome.

Phil McCann"

According to this page, she's been missing since 3rd May, National Missing Persons Helpline

Message posted by Rog' Pile (Calenture/Filthy Creations) who is just passing on the message.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

School: The Seventh Silence by Craig Herbertson

School: the Seventh Silence
an extract from the novel
by Craig Herbertson
Jean Deforte has found a caterpillar. But lost his little sister.

It's a difficult year. Father is dying and mother has sent him to an English school. Nobody likes Jean because he is half French. The girls are laughing. The teachers are on his back. The bullies are waiting in the hallways. Unluckily for Jean there are worse things than bullies: there are vacant black holes in the corners of his mind. There are darker things that would gladly fill them.

Jean is about to discover that his school is more foreign than he could possibly imagine.

Behind the stockroom door there are other classrooms. Classrooms where paper planes carry passengers, statues cry, board games cost your life, books ask you questions. There are endless dusty corridors, back ways, cellars and chimney flues, hidden rooms, and garrets and just occasionally you might find a pupil running for his life. Better join him.

Jean knows his little sister is here. But is she hiding or helping? Is she alive or dead? In point of fact is Jean alive or dead? It's a question that the enigmatic Moonster might answer. But he is trying to get out, not in.

Jean's quest to find her becomes a personal journey. A Journey to the door of the Seventh Silence.

A rite of passage, a symbolic journey through Hades, the struggle between good and evil, the adventure of appearance and reality? There is something here of Dante, Peake, Carroll. Add a little Kafka, Philip K Dick and Conrad and you will have guessed that this is not a book for children - unless like Jean they are very brave.

Mike Glyer, multiple Hugo-winning fan writer and Worldcon chair: "Brilliant."

Mike Don of Dreamberry Wine: "A cracker."

To Jean's surprise, Moonster took off all his clothes and grabbed hold of one of the ceiling ropes. With a wild whoop, he flung himself outwards from the building. For a second, Jean thought Moonster had gone mad and was attempting suicide. Moonster swung out in the rain, his thin, muscular body lit as if with innumerable magnesium sparkles as the water droplets dashed off it. He caught another rope that Jean now saw suspended from a gantry above the garret. Now with each swing, Moonster waltzed further into the abyss and then spun back into the room; and then, like the pendulum of some unbelievable clock, he swung back and forward, to and fro, in wild, ululating joy. He seemed at once both a human boy and a sparkling, amazing water creature, suspended in the biggest open-air bath in the universe.

For a few seconds, Jean could only glare at this sight, his throat dry with fear and his belly gnawing with expectation. Then, overcome with a sheer and fierce joy, he threw off his own clothes, grabbed a rope, and impelled himself out into the dizzying space. In an instant, he felt the weight of a million raindrops bouncing off his body. There was an empty shock as he spun back into the garret, and then the infinite joy of repeating it over and over again: sliding into the rain like a ghost with Moonster. It was as if they were flicking backward and forward in time. It seemed as if they maintained this hypnotic rhythm for hours. Sometimes, they would swing in tandem as though they were riding parallel rocking horses on a roundabout, sometimes they were like two halves of a weather clock, telling fair weather or foul, and then again they spun like reckless dancers around a maypole, entwining in each other's rope. Sometimes, they would cling together, spinning around and around like twin gymnasts.

Jean could not see the abyss below because of the violent rain. But there was one occasion when a sudden bolt of lightning struck a lightning rod somewhere to the west. In that instant, the whole immense arena woke up. It was as though an immense camera flashlight had suddenly revealed an ancient roman amphitheatre. But Jean felt no fear. Even when his hand slipped on the wet rope and he slid one-handed to the knot, he remained unafraid. The abyss was there, he sensed it, but the burgeoning air seemed somehow even safer than the lighted garret.

Eventually, of their own momentum, the ropes came to a standstill outside the room, and there was only the sound of the driven air. Jean and Moonster hung motionless for a while. Then Moonster dropped to the floor of the room and Jean followed him. They both laughed until their bellies ached, staring at their naked and drenched bodies until they could not even stand up. They had to lie down for a while, until Moonster managed to conquer the laughter and the exhaustion. Finally, he got to his feet. Somehow, he produced two Persian towels and then made some tea.

They climbed into the hammocks, and lay there for a long time, swinging idly like two sailors in a becalmed ship. They sipped tea and ate biscuits in the quiet of the storm.

After a while, Moonster broke the silence. 'You asked about the corridor,' he said.

'The cold,' Jean replied.

'Yes. That is the same monster that the Head allowed into English.'

'But what kind of monster is it?' asked Jean.


© Craig Herbertson 2006, 2007.
School: the Seventh Silence is published by Immanion Press.

Now available at Amazon (US) and Amazon (UK)