Horror For Good
Eds. R.J. Cavender, Mark Scioneaux, Robert S. Wilson
Cutting Block Press
403 pages, March 30, 2012, Paperback, Digital
Review by Darkeva
Horror for Good is a charitable anthology of horror fiction with all revenue (less direct costs for production, marketing, and distribution, net profits of each purchase, estimate to be at least 10 to 15%) being donated to amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research.
Loss permeates throughout all of us – we lose people, friendships, relationships, jobs, and even a grip on life. There’s a strong undercurrent of this emotion in most of the thirty-two stories presented in Horror for Good. Editor Mark C. Scioneaux shares his loss with the story of his uncle’s passing from AIDS and Hepatitis while also expressing well-deserved gratitude to all the people who made the Horror for Good anthology possible. After you’ve read these stories, you will be reminded that despite how much we lose, as the great James Buckham once said, “Every trial endured and weathered in the right spirit makes a soul nobler and stronger than it was before.”
As with all anthologies, there are a few stand-out stories and Horror for Good is no exception to this, but there is a high proportion of great fiction included within these pages. In G. N. Braun’s “Autumn as Metaphor,” a father seemingly struggles with the loss of his daughter while a shady October ritual prevents a monstrosity from emerging in Joe R. Lansdale’s “On a Dark October.” Nate Southard has an interesting take on monsters in “Mouth,” in which an entity, known only as The Mouth, brainwashes the residents of Juniper Ridge into serving its ghastly desires (watch out for the kids in this story – they have a role far more sinister than it appears).
Werewolves have become high-powered executives of the Founding Fathers Foundation in Lisa Morton’s “Blood for the American People” but as one unlucky “cleaner” who deals with crime scenes finds out, it’s not so easy to escape from this sophisticated pack. Ray Garton examines the tragedy of self-delusions taken too far when a parent deals with the grief of losing a child in “Reception,” one of the most inventive stories in the bunch while Jeff Strand also impresses in “The Apocalypse Ain’t So Bad,” a hilarious account of the survivor of the Apocalypse (yes, there are zombies) that continues to showcase Strand’s superior ability to mingle humor with horror.
It’s not often that you see personification of the sky, something Monica J. O’Rourke pulls off well in “The Gift” about a man convinced he’s being visited by God, but the sky has a much darker gift in store. Taylor Grant highlights the difficulties of a character who finds that he’s invisible, but not dead, and not a ghost, though he questions what he is in “The Silent Ones,” and though he finds others like him, it’s not as simple as joining the club.
One of the early stand-outs of the first half is Joe McKinney’s “Sky of Brass, Land of Iron.” McKinney’s ability to infuse every one of his short stories with a developed sense of history that keeps getting more intriguing by the page comes through well in this tale about Robert Garza, who helps a friend, Resendez, with a construction project in a small town. They find a journal written in German that dates from the 1720s in a church only to uncover a dark family that would put the Borgias to shame with their sins. Add to that an ancient evil that’s been itching to get out for centuries, and you’ve got a fantastic story. In keeping with the “families gone bad” theme, Lorne Dixon reveals twins, a brother and sister, who have extracted a key from their great great grandfather’s coffin in “Consanguinity,” and learn of a troubling family history that they embrace -things take a turn for the downright disturbing in this one.
British horror legend Ramsey Campbell introduces a group who are about to do a séance, and despite the skeptics in the room, things start to get far more real and everyone takes the threat of spirits seriously in “Dead Letters.”
Another stand-out and favorite for me is “The Monster in the Drawer” by extreme fiction scribe and former fighter Wrath James White. A little girl lives in an odd house, and at the outset, her brother has just passed away in his crib, something she attributes to “the monster” that only she can see. They embrace each other, because both feel like outsiders and their company makes the other feel wanted. I won’t spoil the twist at the ending, but this story felt like what Guillermo Del Toro should have drawn inspiration from for his remake of Don’t be Afraid of the Dark.
Tracie McBride explores the kinky and dangerous side of mermaids that are a far cry from Disney’s Arielle in “Baptism” while Boyd E. Harris, publisher of Cutting Block Press, explores another aquatic theme in “Atlantis Purging” in which corpses that wash up on a shore have fish-like parts mixed with human ones. A journalist for the Times Herald investigates the deaths and finds that there’s a lot more to the news story he’s so convinced he has right.
Perhaps just as sombre and tragic as Ray Garton’s piece, Jack Ketchum’s “Returns” is about a recently deceased man who, as a ghost, finds out his wife has a remorselessly cruel plan in store for his pet (cat-feline lovers, don’t say I didn’t warn you). Brad C. Hodson also explores the grief of a parent dealing with the loss of a child in “The Other Patrick” in which a man is convinced that the doll his son once owned is on the grave of a child who has the exact same name as his own son only to uncover a world he never knew existed – the ending will tug at your heartstrings.
Shaun Hutson strings the reader along on an interesting tale about a man who starts off saying pedophiles should be killed, and that he’s not one, and for an unreliable narrator, he does a pretty good job of tricking the reader until the very end when the big reveal comes out in “A Question of Morality.”
If you thought China Miéville’s novel King Rat was unsavoury, Jonathan Templar’s “Meat Man” won’t be your cup of tea. Charlie is an exterminator who prefers to live underground. When he meets the eponymous Meat Man in a subway tunnel who warns him that it’s wrong to kill rats, he believes those words when the rodents display an interesting reaction to his ways.
For fans of the rarely seen golem, Lee Thomas offers “A Man in Shape Alone,” which chronicles the struggles of one particular golem while Benjamin Kane Ethridge takes a more science fiction bent to his horror with “Solution” about Py, who is going through a ship manual, remembering shipmates but not finding anyone, unsure of what’s happened, but when he finds out, the truth is a hard pill to swallow.
F. Paul Wilson chronicles the exploits of a girl named Tammy in “Please Don’t Hurt Me,” which the reader will be convinced is going one way, but goes in a completely different direction. In John F.D. Taff’s “The Depravity of Inanimate Things,” the protagonist hears voices that tell him to hurt and kill people and questions where they’re coming from while G.R. Yeates presents a dismal commentary on how dreadful the workplace can be in “The Lift.” Upon asking his supervisor why no one uses the elevator at work, he finds that it’s best never to question anything, particularly at this office.
Another very interesting tale was from Steven W. Booth and Norman L. Rubenstein, “The Widows Laveau.” Marie Laveau is one of my favorite historical figures, and I was glad to see her involvement in this tale about Honore Laveau, who claimed to be Marie’s cousin, but was one of her favorite sons, and a powerful houngan, or voodoo priest. He knows who put him in his grave, for the dead know all secrets, and enacts his revenge inventively.
In Stephen Bacon’s “Somewhere on Sebastian Street,” two guys venture to an abandoned lot of empty houses on Sebastian Street, where it’s rumored many nefarious things happened. They go exploring in one of the houses and get more than they bargained for. Danica Green tells a zombie tale from the perspective of a mother grappling with her daughter’s zombie transformation in “June Decay.” They say a mother’s love is stronger than anything, something that those who trust the mother learn the hard way.
Although Laird Barron’s “Shiva, Open Your Eye” is another great story in an anthology full of fantastic tales, I would have liked to see a different piece cap off Horror for Good. And although the first half has more gems, I think the overall organization was well done, placing the thematically related stories close together. As Rocky Wood, president of the Horror Writers Association, attests in his introduction, horror has the ability to terrify, of course, but to heal as well. Although many stories will strike a painful note for readers, the best stories of this bunch share the ability to dig their claws into the hearts of every reader who decides to pick up this compilation of truly good horror fiction and not to let go.