by John F.D. Taff
Books of the Dead, May 19, 2012
Reviewed by Darkeva
Little Deaths by John F.D. Taff contains 19 pieces of short horror fiction – some previously published, others new. The first story, “Bolts,” is about a collector of sci-fi and horror memorabilia (particularly items from the old Universal and Hammer horror films) who sells some products, but mostly buys, much to the chagrin of his girlfriend.
He sees a listing for the prop neck bolts used in 1931’s Frankenstein with Boris Karloff, and doesn’t hesitate to purchase them. His girlfriend, however, isn’t so keen on his latest acquisition, but when an unexpected and tragic occurrence ensues, the protagonist takes matters into his own hands, which results in an even more tragic conclusion. This was one of my favorite stories of the collection, and it’s a great piece – you have to discover its ingenuity for yourself.
“Calendar Girl” is a fantastic follow-up, even more impressive than its predecessor is. Josh and Melinda seem like your average over-the-moon happily married couple, except he has a black datebook that he carries around all the time and soon enough, Melinda’s curiosity gets the better of her, so she takes a peek. This story contains one shocking twist after another. Josh was expecting Melinda to sneak a peek, but what she finds is even more disturbing than she could have imagined. It becomes an intriguing battle of wits and the ending will have you asking all sorts of questions.
Moving deeper into the sci-fi oriented pieces of the collection, Taff presents “But for a Moment … Motionless,” which starts off with the protagonist walking through an empty city not knowing where he is or what he’s doing. This philosophical tale ultimately turns out to be about the End of Days. If you’re a fan of stories with a tendency toward the theological that question whether higher beings have free will, this one is a must-read.
“Snapback” also focuses on dark sci-fi, which changes up the format of the narrative and shifts things to summaries of scientific reports and email exchanges between two characters. I’m usually not a fan of this structure, but Taff pulls it off well and things do get more interesting when the web messages get more personal.
“The Mire of Human Veins” starts off with an odd little girl who finds dead flies in her cereal and seems to be frightened of her mother. If you ever wanted to read a story that combined Corraline by Neil Gaiman and and Metamorphoses by Franz Kafka, this is as close as you’ll ever get.
Another highlight for me was “Child of Dirt,” which begins with the protagonist’s wife revealing that she’s pregnant, but it’s unusual for many reasons, the most suspicious of which is that he finds dirt in the bed, so he wonders if someone else is the father of his child. The next story, “Orifice,” deals with the protagonist’s girlfriend wanting a tattoo, which becomes an entity on its own-a familiar trope that readers will have seen before. Nevertheless, it’s an entertaining story.
Going back into sci-fi territory, “In Men, Black” is an alien takeover story with interesting developments, while “Here” is one of the author’s most personal tales and revolves around the loss of a beloved dog.
Another story I highly recommend is “The Mellified Man,” which is about a guy named Bobby, who is as healthy as can be, but he loves refined white sugar, and, noticing a new candy store in town, decides to pay a visit and check out their inventory. The owner takes an instant shining to Bobby for reasons that become more apparent as the story goes on. He leads Bobby down a life of sweets, sweets, and more sweets, until he finally reveals the sweetest thing he’s ever made – a mellified man, which is a corpse macerated in honey. Although I knew where the story was going and saw the candy shop owner’s intentions from a mile away, the journey of reaching the ending was a delicious experience.
“Box of Rocks” deals with the circumstances that befall a kid when he’s convinced that his mother’s good for nothing boyfriend has discovered a dangerous secret about the kid’s pet cat, which is another tale that will have you questioning what really happened.
Taff includes a section at the end of the collection in which he shares notes on each story, and as he acknowledges, not every story is a “winner” for the reader, but there are definitely more than a few knockouts in Little Deaths that are well worth reading for horror and science fiction fans.