What Fears Become: An Anthology Trom The Horror Zine
Jeani Rector, editor
Trade Paper, 382 pages, $16.99
Review by Sheila M. Merritt
Jeani Rector is quite a gal. The smart and savvy editor of the online magazine The Horror Zine has compiled another fine collection with What Fears Become: An Anthology From the Horror Zine. As in Twice the Terror, which received a very positive critique from this reviewer, the editor has selected short stories, poetry, and artwork that are exemplary. The contributors range from well-known, seasoned writers to those who are less established in the field.
In the camp of the well-known and seasoned is Joe R. Lansdale. His tale “Fish Night” is fused with a delusional quality that is at once trippy and terrifying. And it features a stunning opening paragraph: “It was a bleached-bone afternoon with a cloudless sky and a monstrous sun. The air trembled like a mass of gelatinous ectoplasm. No wind blew.”
Horrormeister Graham Masterton’s offering “Reflection of Evil” fuses the Lady of Shallot, of Tennyson’s poem and Arthurian legend, with the demon Lamia. A mirror is the conduit which allows the entity to enter the world. The use of mirrors as an entry way for evil is a popular motif in supernatural fiction. Masterton manages to put an original spin on the concept, as well as adroitly lifting the atmospheric tension with a bit of well placed levity: “He had never seen a dead body before, but the dead were so totally dead that you could quickly lose interest in them after a while. They didn’t talk. They didn’t even breathe. He could understand why morticians were so blasé.”
Far from blasé are the parent protagonists in Bentley Little’s “Dogleg” and Melanie Tem’s “Fry Day.” Little looks at a father’s plight after discovering his daughter has submitted to an Island of Dr. Moreau sort of surgery. The kid’s enthusiastic acceptance of her altered body, in addition the matter-of-fact attitude of others who view it, sends the dad into a frenzy. When he takes steps to rectify what only he views as a problem, the results prove as horrifying as the initial situation.
Tem’s story also addresses a parent’s dismay that deteriorates into profound psychological disorder. A mother, whose daughter was the victim of a serial killer-rapist, goes to a local carnival on the day scheduled for the murderer’s electrocution. While counting the hours to the execution, the woman goes through a myriad of feelings including displaced anger towards her daughter, guilt, and reveling in the prospect of retribution. Justice gets served, but the dish is quite cold, indeed. The carnival setting provides a surreal atmosphere for the unhinging of a psyche; the story is splendid.
As previously stated, lesser known scribes also shine in this compilation. Among the stories that stand out are: Christian A. Larsen’s “Bast” turning upside down the notion that animals help a patient’s recovery; “The House at the End of Smith Street” by Stephen M. Dare, which will make the reader wary of carpeting that doesn’t need to be vacuumed; and “Ubirr” by Conrad Williams. Williams’ yarn is set in the wilds of Australia, and the Aboriginal element haunts this narrative about jealousy and rage: “An imbroglio of figures and faces and fables concealed the true appearance of the rock. Up ahead, a great banyan fig blocked his path. Its roots fell about him like great ropes cast from a ship in distress.”
Horror poetry is also well represented in the book. The first stanza of “The Ghoul” by John T. Carney is marvelously morbid and morose:
The tombstone wall was gray and cold,
Like a corpse’s flesh left in some nameless morgue.
I could almost touch you; feel you; hear you; as in life,
Though your soul was trapped in the eternity of the grave forever.
I placed both hands to caress the faded words on the slab,
My fingers slipping along the rain-drenched granite,
Like a mountaineer losing his grip.
Maybe I was losing mine.
And, surely horror fans will embrace the sentimental musings of the first stanza of Stephanie Smith’s “Summer Twilights”:
hiding under picnic tables
and behind backyard sheds
mingling with vampires in the trees
and reading Stephen King by candlelight
What Fears Become celebrates the joys of dark fiction and art. Editor Jeani Rector’s enthusiasm for the genre, as well as her ability to discern a well written work, is evident in this excellent collection.