Grimscribe Press (May 15, 2021)
Reviewed by Ray Palen
Michael Cisco is not a name I was familiar with prior to reading the short story collection ANTISOCIETIES but I can proudly aver that this is something I plan to remedy. This group of horror stories not only left me wanting more but also gave me something to think about. They also branded me with both images and chilling prose which will not be easily forgotten.
Here are some of the personal highlights for me:
- ‘Intentionally Left Blank’ – what really got me about this story was that I was just recently thinking about those Halloweens of my youth when I would go with my mother or grandmother to the Five and Dime and pull those ugly boxed costumes off the shelf, the kind with the rigid plastic masks held to your face by a cheap rubber band that was stapled to the front of the mask. I recalled the excitement at seeing what was ‘new’ that year and remembered as I got older that the original Michael Myers mask was a melted down version of the Captain Kirk mask in this series. Well, this story brought me right back when a young boy who is being raised by his wheelchair bound Aunt starts noticing that the Doctor next door has a bunch of ‘helpers’ who are each wearing a hideous sort of mask. He finds those rubber masks for sale in the local store, and it just gave me chills.
- ‘Milking’ – every morning Lucas came downstairs to find more things missing from his sparsely decorated house. One thing he can count on is the glass of milk waiting for him in the rear room each day. This is a story of colors, white milk, red blood, and other debris that washes ashore from the town beach.
- ‘My Hand Of Glory’- it beings with our narrator sharing that ‘the best Christmas gift I ever received was my hand of glory.’ Yes folks, a literal hand. Initially, it is not something he thought he wanted, but it replaces his stump and slowly replaces more than he thought was missing from his life.
- ‘Oneiropaths’ – it begins innocently enough with two best friends sharing their dreams with each other. It turns into something far more sinister from there. Amelia claims that there is someone who is a voyeur of sorts, constantly watching her inside her dreams. There is a line in this story that has lingered with me ever since I read it: ‘in death, you are forever exposed to a gaze, to the steady and unblinking gaze of an unknown watcher in a dream that cannot end.’
Each of the stories in ANTISOCIETIES comes from a spirit of isolation as if the experience of COVID and the resulting lockdown drove Cisco to look inward and what spilled out were these claustrophobic tales that really make you uneasy while at the same time all are begging to be read and shared as if that is the answer to the loneliness that pervades them. Extremely well done!