THE TERROR: THE HORROR ZINE Volume 2
This is the second anthology of stories, poetry and artwork from the Horror Zine (www.thehorrorzine.com), founded and edited by Jeani Rector. TWICE THE TERROR features selections from little-known writers alongside seasoned pros, and is stronger overall than Volume 1. This new anthology is good enough, in fact, that the work of the newbies can (mostly) rank with that of the more experienced contributors.
Keeping to the adage that if you can’t say something nice then don’t say anything at all, I’ll refrain from griping about those stories that didn’t resonate with me, and stick to those that did--which, luckily, are numerous. “It’s A Boy” by David Bernstein starts things off in suitably short and nasty fashion, detailing what transpires when a pregnant woman dies in the midst of a zombie outbreak. Chris Castle’s “The Flock” is a powerfully moody variant on THE BIRDS, and Stephen Gallagher’s “Not Here, Not Now” delineates a hit-and-run driver’s fitting comeuppance. An even more severe punishment is visited on the accountant protagonist of Chris Reed’s “This Moment Will Haunt You Forever,” a punishment summed up by the title.
Beyond that there’s a little something for everyone. Christopher Fowler provides “The Threads,” a skin-crawler about a truly hideous revenge visited on an English tourist in North Africa. There’s also a mutant insect story, “The Colony Man” by Dr. Kevin Hillman, about a dead guy who subsumes himself into a colony of ants who do his evil bidding, and an evocation of Cronenbergian mutations in “Flesh” by Dean H. Wild. For those with a taste for the surreal there’s the slip-streamy “Who?” by the 1960s-era small press legend Hugh Fox, while those wanting an old-fashioned monster tale will appreciate “Soul Money” by Terry Grimwood. There’s even a science fiction-tinged entry, “Last Dream” by Michael C. Keith, about a company that specializes in selling recordings of peoples’ dying images to their loved ones.
The best stories, in my view, are “Erasure” by Sandhya Falls, a short and highly resonant account of anxiety and apprehension, experienced by a woman slowly becoming invisible; “Emma Baxter’s Boy” by Ed Gorman, a spare and unforgiving look at a mutant child and its parents’ attempts at keeping it safe; “Bone Lake” by Mark Laflamme, a wholly distinct and individual account of fishermen whose lives are interrupted by (among other things) a reanimated corpse; “The Security System” by Bentley Little, which presents the reality-based frustrations of Little’s novels in admirably compact form; “Underbed” by Graham Masterson, a fun tale in which a boy enters a wondrous and horrific universe through his bed; and the hallucinatory “In Absentia” by Geoff Nelder, about a man coming to the realization that he’s a girl’s imaginary friend.
Onto the poetry. Dennis Bagwell, the Horror Zine’s apparent poet in residence (he was amply represented in the previous anthology), is back with four snazzy poems, including the irresistible “Even Serial Killers Need A Vacation” (whose title is self-explanatory). Also returning from volume 1 is the poetry of Joe R. Lansdale, who was in an unexpectedly discordant, free-form mood here, as represented by the accurately monikered “A Strange Poem” (“Outside on the street/I saw a strange poem/wearing nice shoes/and pleated slacks”).
Also on hand is Gary William Crawford, whose poems are dark, wistful and fixated on shadows. Holly Day provides the lovably perverse “Preacher” (“I can feel you throbbing/in the heat of your religious ecstasy/was it as good for you/as it was shameful for me”). Alec B. Kowalczyk’s work, set mostly in bleak urban environs, is sharp and gritty, while Michael Fletcher’s has a more literate, wordy vibe (“Directed will opens the doors to my once imprisoned dwelling/Committed intellect shapes the bouncing creations in flight”). Theresa Ann Frazee’s earthy and atmospheric work is more traditional in form (her poems actually rhyme) and Bruce Whealton offers three evocative and sensuous poems focused on vampires.
My favorite poems were by John Frazee, who communicates a real sense of alienation and despair in his stanzas (although I’m not sure they entirely qualify as horror) and John Marshall, who conjures a dark universe of ancient evil and enchantment. I also appreciated “Going Home” by Richard Hill, a variant on W.W. Jacobs’ classic tale “The Monkey’s Paw” told from the point of view of a maggot-ridden walking corpse, and the outrageous “Uncle George is Dead” by Peter Steele, about an amoral family anxious to get their paws on their dead uncle’s fortune; the final line is priceless.
Such is TWICE THE TERROR, which gives a terrific sampling of the fine work being done at the Horror Zine. I understand the third volume, set to appear soon, will be even stronger.