Horror Library, Volume 4
R. J. Cavender, Boyd E. Harris, editors

Cutting Block Press
Trade Paper, 254 pages, $18.95
Review by Sheila M. Merritt

The editors of Horror Library, Volume 4 are smart cookies. They understand the need to hook the reader from the get-go. In collaborating on the opening tale in the tome, anthologists R.J. Cavender and Boyd E. Harris set the tone of the compilation. Their highly effective effort, “A Very Important Message For Those Planning to Travel to Costa Rica,” establishes the flavor of the ensuing narratives. Reality and fantasy overlap, as Cavender and Harris explore the hazards of traveling alone to a remote location. The authors render something cautionary and creepy. It lays the ground work for the compilation’s subsequent short stories. And what follows is most excellent, indeed.

Another opener which garners immediate attention is the first line of “Skin,” by Kim Despins: “This thing wearing his sister’s skin stands at the foot of Jeremy’s bed, just as she has every night since he moved back into his father’s house.” Jeremy returns for his dad’s funeral, and reconnects with his past; not a pretty picture. Veneer gets peeled away as abuse and hypocrisy are revealed. Despins digs deep within the psyche of the protagonist, and delivers a chilling study of rampant rationalization and trite remorse.

Guilt recurs as subject matter in the works of Jeff Strand and Mark W. Worthen. In Strand’s “Drain Bamage,” a young boy cannot forgive himself for dropping his infant sister while holding her. As the years pass, he never discloses the occurrence; just keeps scrutinizing her for signs of possible mental impairment. The weight of a bad conscience increases with age. It’s a burden that leads to pathological pathos. Worthen’s “Final Draft” is set during the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The striking imagery conveys the complicated emotions associated with that war and time. It is painfully precise in hitting the chords of anguish and attrition inherent in combat. Febrile phantoms plague and remind. Soulful and sad, the horrors, both earthly and other worldly, hit home.

Mental metamorphosis and mutation of the mundane are themes in “I Am Vision, I Am Death” by Erik Williams, and Colleen Anderson’s “Exegesis of The Insecta Apocrypha.” In the Williams story, dreams/visions blur with the seemingly substantive. Perception of identity is fragile and dicey. Persona pales when a mysterious hitchhiker catapults the central character into a twilight zone of recognition and acceptance. The final tale in the book belongs to Anderson: It is a doozy. Insects rule in this yarn. They are the protagonist’s objects of focus and desire. Obsession is taken to horrific heights, as the author weaves and buzzes; bites and burrows; getting firmly under the skin.

From its stunning first selection to its hard-hitting last, Horror Library, Volume 4 tantalizes with terror. It relishes probing personal demons and examining external evils. The scares are fresh; the 29 stories of high caliber. What a diabolical delight.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This