Horror Library, Volume 3
R. J. Cavender, Editor
Cutting Block Press
Trade Paper, 254 pages, $16.95
Review by Sheila Merritt
Tortured souls inhabit the stories in Horror Library, Volume 3. They commit violent acts; see their worlds hideously transformed; face fearsome facts; descend into madness; and reflect on mortality. But wait… there’s more: The 30 tales in the anthology explore eruptions that run the emotional gamut from the slow and sinister simmer, to the bravura boiling point. Set in locales as disparate as Tokyo and an American town with a population of 57, there is plenty of variety in the volume. The writers included do an excellent job conveying angst, anger, and antagonistic feelings.
In “Clover” by Gina Ranalli, a dying pedophile reflects on his vices; smoking and children: “Goddamn, he was a sucker for the kids. Boys, girls, didn’t matter. As long as they were young and pretty and looked up to him with those big innocent eyes, smiled at him with genuine liking. And when they laughed! Oh, God help him, when they laughed, it was all over for him.” As a janitor in a school, Danny Clover had ample opportunities to victimize those who he referred to as “vices.” The kids come back to torment him before he dies: “He did indeed have screams left inside him and the first one escaped when he felt someone kick his ankles apart, felt little hands with razor-sharp claws digging into the tender flesh of his calves as they held his legs open. And then something unbearably huge, hard and cold forced itself between his buttocks.” Brutal in her images and clarity of feeling, Ranalli creates a retroactive retribution that pulverizes with its power.
Another older man is scrutinized in “The River Child.” Based on the Japanese folklore of Kappa, a malign river entity, R. Michael Burns uses an elderly homeless person as the conveyor of the narrative. With a tenuous grasp on reality, the societal outcast watches as Kappa does what comes (super)naturally: “Not two meters away, a roughly human form lay twitching and spasming, inky liquid splashed and pooled all around. The thing that crouched over the dying man looked at first like a badly disfigured child – hands and feet splayed and webbed like the appendages of a toad, facial features scrunched and simian, absurdly punctuated by an almost duck-like bill. Hair as thick and bedraggled as kelp surrounded a circular hollow in the top of its elongated skull, a thick, phlegmy liquid sloshing around inside. A knotty, chitinous shell covered the creature’s humped back like some grotesque parody of a samurai’s armor.” The exotic setting of the work is noteworthy, but Burns primarily deserves praise for descriptions so precise and palatable.
Guilt: The crux of much anguish. Gary A. Braunbeck and Matthew Warner examine culpability with compassion and remorseful responsibility in “Under the Bridge Downtown.” A father resents his young daughter who has cerebral palsy. After she is killed when a bridge collapses on their car, he is regretfully relieved. His paternal regard for her was tempered by her unalterable, deteriorating physical state; she became an abhorrent burden to him. Going back to the scene of the accident, he wallows: “He didn’t know why he called her name. Of course he’d imagined the sound of her voice calling for him. Of course. She was nothing more than a memory-ghost now, like him – hell, they’d both been ghosts for so long, haunting what should have been happier lives. Still, he called her name again, as if it were some act of penance. It clouded in the cold air, chill as the grave, then wisped away.”
In Horror Library, Volume 3, editor R. J. Cavender collects an exceedingly admirable array of works that zeroes in on follies, frailties, and fears. What is encountered is not always human, but perhaps once was. The dynamic between cause and effect, and liability and loss, is poignantly probed.