Editor D. Alexander Ward
Crystal Lake Publishing
July 20, 2018
Reviewed by Brian James Lewis
Lost Highways, brought to you by the frightening folks at Crystal Lake, is a travel themed anthology. It digs deep into the mysteries of the road and reveals more than blue skies, apple pies, and playgrounds for the kiddies. The roads in this collection are dangerous and filled with strange stuff. Under the cover of darkness, small towns cease to be charming. Is it wise to stop at that tiny little gas station in the middle of nowhere? Or is it better to just keep rolling with your “low fuel” light on and hope for the best? For the unfortunate couple in Jim’s Meats by Kelli Owen, a choice was made for them and it ain’t gonna be pretty.
The collaboration between Doungjai Gam and Ed Kurtz that kicks off this collection of twisted road madness has the fitting title Crossroads of Opportunity. We are plunked onto the bench seat of a blue Buick, next to a man named Eddie who has been driving nonstop from New Jersey with a strange passenger in his backseat. With only rare stops for gas and a handful of road snacks, Eddie and his passenger have made it to a small town in Illinois. They almost make it to Chicago, but before they do, a giant white cross stops them in their tracks. Just as the journey appears to be over, an opportunity presents itself and gives a whole new meaning to “running on faith.”
Looking for nightmare material? Well, look no further than Mr. Hugsy by Robert Ford. The name may sound nice, but Mr. Hugsy is anything but! Think of your worst nightmare coming for you out of thin air with very sharp teeth and a tophat…All summoned by a kid who’s not even old enough to shave yet! Yikes! Little Andy’s old man is a creep and a con who kidnaps Andy for his own purposes. Kind of unfortunate that Andy views his father’s behavior as bad, because bad people get a visit from Mr. Hugsy. It’ll make you cheer and scream! Don’t waste time running…He’s everywhere!
While he’s not the only person to ever drive home stoned out of their mind, the biker trying to make it home in Where the Wild Winds Blow by Matt Hayward has also committed a crime. He’s fallen off the sobriety wagon, is funk as druck and is doing his best to make it home in one piece. Just as he thinks he might just squeak by, a blinding white fog surrounds and torments him. Forced to see what he doesn’t want to, the man crashes his bike only to find another victim of the misery-causing fog. Together they watch it head towards a city…
Every time I read a collection of stories, I always hope for a few standouts. Those are the stories I usually feature in my reviews. Not every collection of stories has a “Wow” story in it. You know the ones I mean, right? After you finish that story, all you can do for a bit is just sit in your chair staring at nothing and say “Wow…that was one hell of a great story!” In Lost Highways the “Wow” story is Room 4 at the Haymaker by Josh Malerman. When I began reading, I was dead sure I knew what the outcome would be. Here’s a 56-year-old woman who’s leaving her home of 31 years to move all the way across the USA from Detroit, Michigan to Denver, Colorado in hopes of starting some sort of new life. Oddly enough, she just can’t bring herself to drive away from the house. It was supposed to be her forever home with a husband who disappeared suddenly after fewer than 100 days of married life. Just, zip! Gone.
But my idea of what Evelyn was going to do was wrong and before I knew what hit me, she was picking up a young male hitchhiker on the highway entrance ramp. Then they were on their way West and my overly active imagination was figuring out exactly what would happen. The old gal probably had a purse full of cash, plus a decent car-so the young guy would…Nope! “Wrong again, Watson!” as a famous detective liked to say. Every time a new situation came up and I was sure I knew where it was going to go, the author would smoothly fool me. He did that right to the very ending of the story. Just whipped the chair right out from under me. Well now, it’s only right to say this: Josh Malerman, you are one sneaky, twisted, and completely AWESOME WRITER! There, how do you like those apples, buddy? Room 4 at the Haymaker is one great story that’ll tear you apart like a cheap re-capped tire and leave you for dead by the side of the road. Consider yourself warned!
LOST HIGHWAYS rates five big stars glowing like those huge illuminated signs beckoning from the roadside. Gas, Eats, and Fun between the sheets! All available for a price. This is a GREAT collection to read while travelling or when you can’t and wish you were, like me. The takeaway? More independent press sales means more independent writers writing and getting paid. By the way, did I mention this collection is 20 stories huge? Good stuff all around. Check it out!