WAITING FOR OCTOBER
I doubt I’ll read a stronger horror-themed collection this year than WAITING FOR OCTOBER, the genre-busting follow-up to Dark Arts Books’ 2006 anthology CANDY ON THE DUMPSTER. Like that publication, WAITING FOR OCTOBER features four authors each contributing three stories.
The contributors here are unusually strong: Andrew Mayhem creator Jeff Strand, whose Mayhem books include GRAVEROBBERS WANTED (NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY) and SINGLE WHITE PSYCHOPATH SEEKS SAME; Adam Pepper, best known for his hallucinatory 2003 novel MEMORIA; Sarah Pinborough, whose novels include last year’s BREEDING GROUND; and Jeffrey Thomas, creator of the PUNKTOWN series and one of my current favorites.
The opening story, “Gramma’s Corpse” by Jeff Strand, is what you might call a grabber. It features a kid who as punishment for getting bad grades is forced--on the very first page--to sleep in the same bed with his grandmother’s rotting corpse! Color me grabbed. Strand’s other tales are “Bad Candy House”, which taps into every parent’s worst fears about contaminated Halloween candy, and “Here’s What Happened...”, a darkly comedic monologue that grows increasingly outrageous.
Having recently read MEMORIA, I thought I might have some idea what to expect from Adam Pepper. Was I an idiot or what? If there’s one element uniting his three tales here, it’s the unexpected.
First up is “The Admirer”, a bizarre three-page portrayal of a delusional peeping tom. It’s followed by “Buried A Man I Hated There”, which is almost diametrically opposed to the earlier tale, being a haunting and subdued account that develops in deceptively subtle fashion. Then there’s “Old Maid Syndrome”, an intense, stomach-churning horror tale that somehow doesn’t announce itself as such until the very last page! Say what you like about Pepper, but he’s definitely got range.
So does Sarah Pinborough, who offers up the sci fi-tinged “Express Delivery”, in which the concept of cloning is given a disturbing workout, followed by “The Fear”, a dark look at a blocked fiction writer. Her last tale is “Crystal Carla” which mixes illicit drugs and zombies to memorable effect.
From there it’s onto Mr. Jeffrey Thomas. As fine as Strand, Pepper and Pinborough’s contributions are, its Thomas’s stories that for me really elevate this collection to classic status. All three tales are small masterworks, with spot-on characterizations, page-turning narratives and a real understanding of the inner workings of fear and apprehension.
“The Hosts” unnervingly explores the potential for disease in our modern world through disgusting worm creatures that burrow into kids’ heads and take over their brains. A disarming tale, at once repellant, sad and unnervingly true to life. “Adoration” twists the traditional zombie tale in an entirely new direction with its demented depiction of a lonely man who pays to have sex with the reanimated corpse of Marilyn Monroe, while the head-scratching “Star Est Control” takes the Philip K. Dick-inspired idea of living, breathing advertisements to wildly surreal heights.
Obviously readers looking for a consistently themed anthology won’t respond
to WAITING FOR OCTOBER. For me, however, the book’s magic is in its incredibly
wide-ranging, always unpredictable contents. Those who say there’s nothing new
in the horror story universe (and I’ll admit I’ve made that claim myself on more
than one occasion) need to read this book--as, in my view, does everyone else!
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