*Disclaimer – I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.*
Kneeling at the base of the structure was a man with his eyes turned up to meet the highest point of the temple, his hands stretched put in unabashed praise. A terrible tremor had taken hold of his body; he was no older than thirty, yet he looked hardened by a life of heavy labour.
His complete nakedness, save for a light layer of dirt coating his unwashed body, revealed the intricate scars that patterned his skin. They spread from the base of his neck, covering every inch of him like tally marks. They traced down his back and across his shoulders wrapped around his arms and chest, cutting into the crevices of his armpits before continuing down his torso. Even the sensitive flesh of his groin was not spared the meticulous and mysterious documentation. The only blank canvas left was his face, but that was mostly hidden by a wild beard.
The oddest thing of all was his expression of bliss. A gleeful smile stretched across his face in joyous defiance against gloom. It was pure adulation that poured out of him: not sorrow, not terror. Kneeling in front of the imposing structure, he could offer only love and worship – his whole body tingled with it.
He fixated on the dark opening like a dead thing glimpsing Heaven for the first time. Thoughts drifted through the light blue of his eyes, and although his pupils remained pinned in place, his irises toiled and drifted just as the clouds above. In the oblivion gaping before him, he found completeness and order. He seemed to feast on it, as if it was something he hungered for.
The man with spectral eyes was waiting for his master. Then, from deep within the Burward Forest, something stirred.
St Paul’s United Church has a small and close congregation, so when one of their own, a husband and father, disappears without a trace, they pray avidly for his safe return. But their lost sheep has found a new house of worship in the forest behind their Church, and a new God too. He wants them to join him in worshiping this new God, locking the doors of their sanctuary and giving them two nights to choose – their God that they have never seen, heard, or experienced, or the creature he has found that can perform real, tangible miracles. Who will get on their knees and pray to the Behemoth and who will die for their faith?
Worship Me is, at times, a gruesome and violent story of faith, religion, and the desperate need to believe in something, even when you know it’s not right. There are a lot of deep questions posed and some answers given for these topics and some real deep thinking behind what the characters fear and the facades that they put up in order to interact with each other and seem worthy of being a part of their church. Growing going to church every single Sunday until I turned eighteen, I found the setting to be perfectly described. I could almost smell the dust in the carpet, feel the polished wood of the pews, and roll my eyes at the hypocrisy of some of those well to do Church elders.
The cast of characters are introduced slowly and methodically, easing the reader into their backgrounds and personalities and setting them each up in a solid stance so you can’t get mixed up. It’s difficult when dealing with so many points of view and characters to keep everything straight but I very rarely felt confused in this story. And you’re drip fed the details that unravel secret after secret, shining a glaring light on this communities sinful ways. It doesn’t take long for the story, for a cheerful church picnic, to turn inexplicably dark and for everything once held sacred to these people to be turned to vile ash – at times literally. To see the carefully constructed and pristine image of their community and their faith brought down around them, makes the story a visceral read. Stewart pulls no punches when describing the violence, the body horror, and the cruelty enacted by these ‘good christians’ or the man and the monster that are tormenting them. In the end there’s not much difference between the three.
One point of confusing for me in the story was when the main antagonist shows up to bring the monster to the church and then quickly disappears for most of the novel. He shows back up at the end for a real show down, but for much of the story he is either not present at all or I seriously missed something. I was looking forward to seeing him manipulate and coerce up close, but he seems to hide in the shadows if he is there at all.
Worship Me is a story up there with King’s ‘The Mist’ and Neville’s ‘The Ritual’. I look forward to reading more of Stewart in the future and if you are missing a story of fanatical religious people learning what a real God would be like, I’d add this one to my shelf. God bless the little children.
About the Author-
(Bio taken from Craig website) Craig Stewart is a Canadian author and filmmaker who learned how to count from the rhyme, “One, two, Freddy’s coming for you.” He’s a creator and connoisseur of everything horror; never afraid to delve into the dark. His written works include short stories, film scripts, articles, as well as his first horror novel, Worship Me, recently published by Hellbound Books. He has also written and directed several short horror films that have enjoyed screenings across North America. You can find Craig Stewart on Twitter and on his website.
Links to Buy and Review-
What’s your favourite religious centred horror story? What’s the scariest thing you find about fanatics? Have you ever read any Christian horror stories? Let me know down below!