‘Grey Skies’ by William Becker- Review

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*Disclaimer – I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

 

“The crack of the thunder came from the dawning horizon as I dragged her corpse into the shallow hole where she would lie for the rest of eternity. Droplets of rain were beginning to bounce off of the tombstone, spraying against the tatters of the white dress still attached to her decaying grey skin. I had certainly underestimated how difficult it was to dig a proper grave. Unfortunately, the downpour that had begun to spew from the clouds above resulted in a shallow puddle inside of the grave, which turned the walls into mud. 

She was a nun, which went hand in hand with her foulness. On a stormy night in late spring, I was being forced to bury her. All I could remember were vague details about how I had found her and her name, Julie Hagwell. In the back of my mind there were blurry memories of me finding her mangled body resting in the grass outside of the church. Upon discovering the body, I dove into the building, screaming out for help, but everyone had disappeared. Not knowing what else to do, I took a set of bed sheets from inside, and used them to conceal her. I had known her as a friend of my ex-wife, and by the fact that she practically lived at Saint Elizabeth’s Catholic Church. 

Her body had been sliced and cut up with a blade, leaving her covered with deep gashes, the largest of which was on her neck. The woulds were all fresh, sending blood in puddles of rain that covered the lawn. It was clear that someone had murdered her, but who, and why?”

 

GREY SKIES CONTENT ADVISORY:

This story includes frequent swearing, mild blood and gore, body horror, intense imagery, mild sexual imagery, non-sexual nudity, and drug use. (The two bonus stories include the same as well as violence)

Synopsis:

Grey Skies is the novella length story of Roman Toguri and his descent into madness. Discovering the brutally murdered body of a nun in a church yard, he fails at burying the body and decides to take it home – and that is only the beginning of the bizarre events and questionable decisions that befall Roman.

The White Shade is a short story that takes a look at the motivations of a lone shooter, looking at his life before the event and the steps that take him there.

The Black Box is a short story that follows a boy propositioned by a strange man in a limo to cut some grass. Simple right? Maybe not…

 

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Grey Skies at the minute consists of a novella and two bonus short stories. The overall feel of the book is dark and surreal. The imagery is strong but the characters are less so. Plot is not a priority in these stories, it comes on the back foot after grotesque and harrowing images and shocking events.

 

Grey Skies

The first story is the longest and most confusing. It begins with the main character finding a dead nun and deciding to bring her home and if you think that has anything to do with the plot or that you’ll hear about that nun again – you are somehow wrong. Grey Skies describes in first person the descent into madness of a man who is struggling with his own guilt. The descent is not in any way slow, it’s more like a sheer drop off a very tall cliff, glimpses of feral creatures and mutated people in the little caves on the way down but no real explanation of what made him fall. You can piece together the story from reality that the odd events sometimes represent but for a lot of it there is little rhyme or reason to what Roman is experiencing. I think the most frustrating thing is that he seems to at times be aware of his own insanity, and at times not. This leads to absurd events happening and the main character reacting as though it is the only strange thing even after he’s tunneled out of his own bathroom, run from a human-spider hybrid, and inexplicably ended up on a cruise ship? He didn’t go to a cruise ship, he just appears there. I can’t say I enjoyed this story as it was long, random, and just a series of images. I don’t feel I learned anything about Roman’s character really except that he lost his mind – but that’s just not interesting enough to keep me invested in the story. I won’t be reading this again.

 

The White Shade

The first bonus story is the story of a lonely man who decides to take a gun to the store he works at and start shooting. There is an explanation from Becker at the end of the story that he wrote this when he was fourteen and he didn’t release it because he knew the backlash it would get. He states he doesn’t sympathize with mass murderers he just wanted to explore the thinking behind their actions. Unfortunately his qualifiers did not change my feelings about the story and the impression that the story gives stays the same. There isn’t even much of a dive into motivations, the guy seems fine, the isolation he feels is self-inflicted. Even the slights he feels from the people he interacts with could be easily brushed off. So of course he finds videos of the horrific torture of young women and doesn’t really like them, but watches them anyway? The lingering on female mutilation and brutality can’t easily be explained away and though I feel like the motivation was simply to draw shock and disgust from the reader, it felt unnecessary and told me nothing of the main character’s personality. It was too much for me at least, as was the explanation for the character’s own violence.

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The Black Box

The Black Box was again a confusing read. A young boy and his friends start a little lawn mowing business and a mysterious stranger in a limo stops by and asks them to cut his grass. The main characters father drops him off at this random man’s house and he stays there all day working, but when it’s time to get paid, there’s no one in the house to pay him. I don’t want to ruin the story but things go off the rails then, and there’s no explanation for anything. I understand wanting readers to work a little more, not to spoon feed, but there has to be a give and take, there has to be something there for the reader to find.

I would only recommend this to anyone looking for the bizarre and the absurd. It is certainly experimental and definitely stands alone, but you’ll have to work on your own to keep your motivation through these stories. In saying that, the creatures and description of images were great, but they alone do not a story make.

About the author:

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William Becker is an experimental horror fiction writer. His works focus on pushing readers to search for deeper meanings in his unfathomable tales. Writing his first novel ‘Weeping of the Caverns’ when he was just 14 years old, Becker is a self-published psychedelic dark fiction writer. You can find him on Instagram and Goodreads.

Links to Grey Skies – 

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads

 

Are you a psychedelic horror fan? Do you prefer some order to a story? Or is the writing more important the actual plot? Let me know down below!

Terminal by Michaelbrent Collings – Review

*Disclaimer* I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The terminal.

An appropriate name for the place, which is a squat, concrete box that hunches just this side of Hell and just the other side of Nowhere.

A Shit County Sheriff’s Dept. squad car sits near the terminal. It does not occupy any of the spots closest to the front door, or even to the small exit that leads to the sheriff’s satellite station in the terminal itself. The sign of an officer who wishes others to have the better placing. Or the sign of an officer who wants to get a few extra steps of exercise. Or, last of all, the sign of an officer who is incompetent and who doesn’t want anyone looking when he sneaks out to take a nap during his “rounds”.

The Watcher notes all this. That is the Watcher’s job.

There are other Watchers, of course, but this one is here now. This Watcher has been charged to take note of these things. To prepare the way for what will come next.

As though bidden – for bidden it was, and is, and shall continue to be – a think fog rolls in. It eats the night as it crawls forward, otherworldly and strange.

That is as it should be. That is as it was designed to be.

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Synopsis –

Ten strangers in a bus terminal. A cop who made a mistake and now drinks to dull the pain of a dead end job. A ticket collector who wants her daughter to have the life she never had. Said daughter hiding a dark secret from her mother. A newlywed couple high on love. A makeup saleswoman on the way to meet someone she’s waited far too long to meet. A tattooed man who just wants to finish his book. An autistic man trying his best to function. A nervous man with lots of bags. A beautiful young woman held in a cell who wants to make it to the big screen. An eclectic group that on the surface seem to be holding themselves in check, bowing to social convention, but a fog is rolling in, a fog that happens to have eyes that see much more than light, and for the group and their rational minds, it’s about to get very dark inside that terminal. It doesn’t take long for threads to be pulled and things to unravel. An anonymous source is demanding a unanimous decision – only one can leave, the rest will die. All in favour?

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Thoughts

I’d first like to say that I read the email requesting to review this while I was standing in a recently renovated airport terminal and as I was reading the unsettling synopsis, the lights began to flicker. Well, I wasn’t about to turn down a sign like that. This did lead to me thinking I was going into a story about planes rather than buses – I may have had to read the first passages a few times to get my mind in the right area, but never let it be said that I don’t adapt quickly.

But after my own induced confusion, Terminal turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable read. The plot arch may be a familiar one to any horror movie fans – a group of strangers terrorized by faceless evil, being forced to give up their humanity to save themselves – but in no way did I feel bored or uninterested with how it was laid out in Terminal. The characters are deftly handled, each one presented in depth and realistic detail to leave the reader with individuals who you certainly won’t find easy to like, but will find impossible to dismiss. There’s a very human, flawed element to the story that only becomes clearer and clearer with each turn of the page, like travelling into the fog itself. Greed, insecurity, shame, arrogance; you can find all of it in this novel with a healthy dose of blood, mystery, and terror as well.

What makes the story so compelling and really what stretches out the short timeline and the plot that only has one driving force behind it, are the characters. What Collings achieves with the multiple character perspective that he gives the reader a reason to care. He gives you a snippet of each diverse characters background and desires, without saturating the current immediate moment, but just enough that you can see past the surface stereotype that the characters are seeing themselves. Maybe the lazy cop has a spark of energy in him, maybe the crazy in love newly weds are hiding more than just romance up their sleeves, maybe the middle aged saleswoman isn’t just a perfectly powdered face. There are layers to these people that make them real, and make them more than the 2D outlines that a lot of stories fall flat on. Whatever you make of Terminal and it’s story line, the people are frighteningly real.

The ending was an unexpected delight. I gave up trying to figure out who would be left standing with all of the twists and turns thrown at me, and it turned out I had no idea where that left-hook was coming from anyway. I was too caught up in the human elements/stories to see what was being deducted right in front of my eyes. There were twists and elements that were skillfully unraveled about each character, calling everyone’s motives into question. Whoever you choose to root for, whoever you want to be all in favour of, I think you’ll be surprised in the end.

 

I’d recommend this book for anyone looking for a compelling read with rich characters. It hosts a cast of diverse personalities, tells a modern story of isolation in our technologically obsessed world, and will give you heart palpitations the next time you see a fog roll in.

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About the Author

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Michaelbrent Collings is an international bestseller and a multiple Bram Stoker Award Nominee. He writes across multiple genres, including but not limited to, horror, thriller, sci-fi, fantasy, and YA. You can find out more about Collings and his work at his website.

 

Links to Buy and Review

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads

 

How do you think you would deal with a vote for death situation? Could you keep your morals? Or do social conventions matter in the end?

‘Screechers’ by Kevin J. Kennedy & Christina Bergling – Review

*Disclaimer* I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

“The brilliant blue flash of the electrical storm lit the old city as the thunder raged overhead. The creature knelt in the shadows, knowing there would be no prey moving around in such conditions. The rain didn’t bother it and neither did the thunder-claps, but the giant electrical spears that sometimes came from the sky and assaulted the buildings raised concern. It had hunted with itsbrothers and sisters for the first years of its life, before returning from a rare solo hunt to watch the jagged spears tear a building apart, sending it crashing to the ground on top of its family. The creature was the only survivor and had been on its own ever since.”

Synopsis

Screechers is a post-apocalyptic fantasy novella with dark elements to it. We’re introduced to the world through the eyes of the last adult ‘Screecher’, a humanoid intelligent predator that strikes out on its own owner to later discover that the last new born of its species has survived. We also meet human twins Austin and Denver and their dependent friend Brooklyn as they strike out from their destroyed community to survive in the hostile landscape they live in. Will either of these groups survive in their new isolation? What happens when inexperienced human meets engineered killing machine?

 

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So, yet AGAIN I did not read the description well enough and AGAIN thought this was a novel and not a novella. That being said, is one of my only complaints. The world is so well set up, the characters so quickly real and three dimensional that I think it’s a shame this isn’t a chunky fantasy novel. While reading it, with the disjointed nature, the bad weather, and the predator species, reminded me of ‘The Shadowleague‘ series from Maggie Furey – always a good thing. I was a little confused as to the era of the story, whether its sometime in the future or a separate universe altogether, but as it is a a short story this doesn’t interrupt the reading experience as it would in a larger novel.

Screechers doesn’t take a deep dive into much, but you can dip your toe into what community means, what makes a family, and the tough decisions that need to made when there are no rules to follow. Bergling and Kennedy work well as co-authors, never feeling like there were conflicting styles in the narrative. I do wish there had been a little more gore/horror involving the humans, there are some great fight scenes sure, but not as much darkness as I’d hoped to see. I still really enjoyed reading Screechers however and would happily read it again.

If you’re a fan of post apocalyptic fantasy and creatures that could disembowel you by accident, you’ll enjoy Screechers and if you like it as much as I did, I’m sure you’ll be checking out the many other works that Kennedy and Bergling have put their name to in the horror genre as well.

About the Authors:

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Kevin J. Kennedy is a Scottish Horror author and editor, and a Bram Stoker Award nominee. You can find him on Twitter and on his website here.

 

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Christina Bergling is a an American horror writer from Colorado. You can find her on Twitter and on her website here.

 

Where to find it:

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads

 

Do you want to see more horror in fantasy? Do you have a favourite horror monster? Do you prefer full novels or bitesized novellas to satiate your thirst for darkness?

‘Smitty’s Calling Card (Dark Retribution Book 1)’ by B.R. Stateham – Review

*Disclaimer* I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

“No one could pin anything illegal on this guy. All anyone could say for sure was the guy was an absolute merciless killing machine. He somehow could slip in, silence his victim,  and slip out and no one would know until hours later. And he had connections. Knew everyone who was anyone to be known on the streets. That was the deciding factor. That was single point for him to get this wild idea. Ask Smitty for help. The police department, the entire city, was baffled. Scared. Frozen in indecision. This madman left no traces. He left no evidence behind. He left no DNA material behind. It was like, like he was a ghost who prayed upon those who practiced the oldest profession in the world. No one knew why. 

So maybe it would take a ghost to find a ghost. No one knew why.”

Synopsis

Artie is a police detective tasked with finding and apprehending a local serial killer who has been mutilating sex workers in the area for months. But he knows he can’t find them all by himself, he needs help. So, risking his career and possibly his life, Artie enlists the help of local assassin and ‘boogie man’ of the night, Smitty, a legend among the shadows and a man who will stop at nothing to get the job done. But there’s more to just this mystery than the identity of the killer and Smitty wants to know it all.

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So, I was asked to review this book and as I do normally find some sort of morbid enjoyment from books about serial killers, I thought I’d get something out of it. Turns out I didn’t like it for many reasons, the first being that there are spelling and grammar errors constantly, I mean every other page. I stopped making notes of them because there were just too many, so many that they did sort of become background noise by the middle unfortunately. This book needs another run over by an editor.

 

 

Now onto the real issues with the plot and the writing. Right off the bat I was confused as to why a seasoned detective would enlist the help of some sort of freelance assassin – in some ways a serial killer himself – to help with his search of the killer. It all happened very quickly and without much insight leaving me feeling that the police are wholly incompetent in this story, and that’s not entirely unheard of for crime thriller books, but it was a point that took me out of the narrative. But, this could be seen as nit-picking which would be fair.

“A strong woman. A beautiful woman. A woman of taste and refinement. She didn’t look like a hooker. She looked like a successful business executive.”

Character description is a difficult thing to get right but a good general rule is that you only need to describe someone once. The reader then knows what they look like, they keep this in their mind, and their imagination embellishes when needed. If you are fully describing a character every time they walk in like it’s the first time they are introduced, your reader will die of boredom. They will skip forward to when you stop drooling over Charlene’s ‘divine breasts‘ because we know what she looks like and it doesn’t further the plot.

“The same raw sexual attraction which attracted men to them like freshly spilled molasses attracted ants to a picnic.”

 

The basics of the plot are fine, not revolutionary or unique, but fine, which means the story should really be in the execution and handling of the plot. Unfortunately for Smitty’s Calling Card, the cliches are abundant and repetitive. Yet another serial killer cleaning the ‘whores’ off the streets? A man with a caged animal inside that he struggles to control? High class prostitutes who are unimaginably beautiful, classy, confident, and sexy who need a whole host of men looking out for them to keep them safe because they are such fragile creatures? We’ve seen all this before and quite frankly I was bored with it before the novel even began. Stateham spends so much time making the character of Charlene so irresistible and interesting, switching from the P.O.V. of all the men to look at her, but he never gets inside her head to let the reader see what she is really thinking which is insane when you think that she is the driving force of the entire plot.

 

 

Very Important Things you need to know:

Smitty has dark eyes. His eyes are dark. He is a dark eyed killer. Why does he kill? No reason whatsoever, that’s what makes him interesting apparently. With absolutely no backstory he can kill six of the best assassins in the world with just a pen knife and multiple people report that he is a ghost and no one has ever seen him even though he is constantly wandering around town shooting people. Everyone reports that he is faceless, yet he has no qualms showing everyone his face either, so by the end of this book, he isn’t that mysterious anymore is he?

“Beautiful simply did not describe Charlene Hicks. Words would always fail trying to do so. […] Making her one of the most dangerous creatures he had ever encountered.”

Charlene is beautiful. She has divine breasts. She seems to be telepathic at times and despite being a full time medical student and sex worker, never seems tired, irritated, or aware of a murderer disemboweling her closest friends. Did I mention she is an angelic creature whose hips sway with a ‘girlish confidence’ that makes men weak at the knees? Even nuns stop to stare at her in the street – (That is an actual point made in the book).

 

If you are looking for a formulaic serial killer mystery thriller then give this one a go, but don’t expect much from this book. The characters are paper thin, the misogyny is rampant, and the idea that a group of female sex workers would have no reaction or agency whatsoever in the continuous murder of their peers, is frankly disturbing. Smitty’s Calling Card does not pass the Sexy Lamp Test, in my opinion. I think the Author has some skill and if he could only engage more with realistic characters outside his line of experience, he could write a really good book. But this book wasn’t written for women, or with women in mind.

 

About the Author – 

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B. R. Stateham is crime fiction writer hailing from America. You can find him on Amazon, Goodreads, and Twitter.

 

Links to Buy

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads

‘Sour Candy’ by Kealan Patrick Burke – Review

*I bought this book of my own volition because the cover looked cool and I want to read more Irish horror*

 

Remembering his first and only encounter with the woman prior to the accident summoned once ore dear for the well being of the child and he looked past the woman to the young man by the car, who looked back at him and gave a shrug and a single shake of his head. 

No kid here, buddy. 

Phil swallowed and looked up into the terrible face of the wounded woman as she loomed over him. He was too weak to defend himself, too dazed to understand all that had happened in the past few minutes, and was happening still. Somewhere along the line his life had jumped the tracks and he had found himself in a nightmare, and like the worst kind of nightmare, he could not move, the people around him too busy chatting, redirecting traffic, or filming the scene with their iPhone to realize the very real and possibly dangerous drama taking place on the edge of it. 

The woman looked down at him. This close he could see that the side of her face was swelling, darkening, and her lower lip had split almost down to the cleft in her chin, exposing the dots of blood on her gums. Nausea rose in her chest and he prayed he wouldn’t vomit, for surely the violence of her response would further aggravate his own injuries. 

“Don’t,” was all the self-defense he could muster. 

“Yours now,” the woman said.

 

Synopsis

Phil Pendleton is in Walmart buying some candy for his girlfriend. There’s an irritating child and an exhausted mother getting on his nerves so he leaves… and they follow. Soon, Phil finds that he has no girlfriend, a child that isn’t his though no one will believe him, and a new diet that consists entirely of sour candy. Phil has to decide whether he should accept this new bizarre and forced fatherhood, or figure out who or what this child is, and how to get his old life back.

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So the first thing you need to know about this book is that it is a tiny book. Maybe I didn’t read the description properly when I was buying it but I assumed it was a full sized novel, but it is actually a slim novella, clocking in at just seventy-four pages long.

 

Once I got over that however, I found the initial diving into the story to be irresistible. I’m a sucker for catchy taglines and as you can see in the picture above, ‘Four months to the day he first encountered the boy at Walmart, the last of Phil Pendleton’s teeth fell out.’, hooked me immediately. Not to mention the great cover design – it may seem disjointed between a skull and the name ‘Sour Candy’, however it works and gives the book a dark and gritty look.

 

Instantly I was made uncomfortable as soon as the child showed up. The anxiety was instant and ever increasing as myself and Phil realised that his new reality was not something he could simply explain his way out of. ‘Sour Candy’ is a story of altered reality, terrifying and creepy children, and the horror of an all sugar diet. It’s short, sour, and will stay with you long after you’ve closed those pages. It was a story that sounded unique to me, I’d never heard the like of it before and that’s why I bought it. I wanted to try out Burke’s writing and this one grabbed me fully, my money pretty much walking out of my pocket itself.

I found the story to be well paced and enthralling, a little strange and bizarre however Burke works the story well, keeping the surrealism to a minimum for most of the novella but packing a punch with the reveal of what is really happening. Now, the ‘creatures’ that exact their torture on Phil aren’t fully explained so there are a few questions to roll around your skull once you’ve finished the story, but I didn’t feel cheated out of an answer, it much better suits the story keep the mystery intact. ‘Sour Candy’ is an unsettling story that would easily slot into an episode of The Twilight Zone.

I can say honestly that I would be happy to purchase another one of Burke’s books in the future.

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I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Sour Candy’ as an anxiety inducing nightmare of the worst proportions. Being stuck with an inter-dimensional child to look after and having no evidence to show they aren’t mine, all with that horrific fuzzy teeth feeling that too much sugar gives you, hits me right where it hurts. Burke manages to keep you enthralled in the story, throwing you right in the deep end with Phil and his inevitable and inescapable new reality. It is a short, sharp read that leaves you feeling incredibly relieved that you are not in fact Phil. An uncomfortable story of insidious and unstoppable creatures outside our realm of imagination. This novella will make you uncomfortable, nauseous, and even claustrophobic. I do recommend.

 

About the Author – 

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Kealan Patrick Burke is an Irish author currently living in Ohio, America. He has many acclaimed works and in 2004 was awarded a Bram Stoker for his novella The Turtle Boy. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Links to Buy:

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads

 

Have you been infested by a parasitic child that isn’t yours? Have your teeth fallen out due to excessive sour sweet consumption? Do you know how to get sugar out of the pages of a novella? Let me know down below!

 

If you have a horror/dark fiction/sci-fi/thriller novel, short story, or collection you would like me to review, please get in contact! And don’t forget to follow for more reviews and musings on writing. 

‘A Penny for Your Thoughts’ by Matt Hayward and Robert Ford – Review

Disclaimer – I was given a free copy of this book, not in exchange for an honest review, but I’m doing it anyway. 

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All photos provided by Robert Ford.

Excerpt-

‘After kicking aside a pair of underwear large enough to fit a hippo with glandular problems, that’s when I spotted the tree. The jagged trunk still smoked from lightning, and as the wind changed direction, sour air attacked my nostrils. I pressed my sleeve to my face as I jogged on over. The lone pine sat by the water’s edge, shredded by the gods. A still-flaming branch sizzled on the riverbank. But strangest of all was the crater of blackened earth by the roots. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say a tiny meteor had struck. Roots jutted from the scorched soil like tentacles, and I peeked below at the thing buried in the dirt. Rainwater rolled down the filthy glass. A jar.

My first thought turned to drugs. Could someone have buried paraphernalia for a pickup? Would that attract lightning?

Then (as stupid as it sounds) I thought: silver. Did we have a millionaire Lowback hillbilly hiding treasures outside of town? Parole officer be damned – my hands itched to find out.

I scanned the woods for hikers before hunkering down and pawing at the muck. The dirt came free in globs, gathering beneath my nails, but I soon shimmied my hands around the glass and pulled. The object popped free and I went bassakwards as the thing shot through the air, thumped the soggy ground and rolled as I scrambled to my feet and my treasure barreled toward the tributary.

“Motherfuck!”

I bolted and snatched the jar just as it started down the bank to the catfish. Then I caught my breath.

I took inventory of the woods and once more. Only the sparrows and catfish knew my whereabouts, and the hissing rain cloaked my labored breathing. I hobbled to the shelter of a canopy, squatting back-against-bark as I rolled that cold jar about my open palms.

A seamed glass cookie jar – the very thing Pop used as a swear pot when I was growing up. Sometimes I think he cussed just to give me pocket money, the kinda man he was. “Fuck, fuck, shit, cock, fuck, and there’s your candy. Go on up to the store and grab me some tobacco while you’re at it. Like magic.”

“Like magic,” I mumbled, and popped the lid before peering inside.

I expected a rank smell, maybe from a dead animal some psychotic child had shoved inside, but all I found was paper. Lots of paper. My brow creased. I wiped my hand on my jeans before slipping in two fingers and snatching a piece. Then I pulled a tiny, ripped scroll free and found myself surprised at the weight. Someone had shredded a notebook page before rolling the sections into tight little scrolls. The years only strengthened that fold, and once I unraveled a piece, I placed it on my knee and held it open. There lay a single penny taped next to handwriting..

“The fuck is goin’ on here?”

 


 

‘A Penny For Your Thoughts’ is available to pre-order at the links below and will be released on 1st June 2019 for your reading pleasure. 

 

Synopsis

Joe, a recovering addict fresh out of jail, finds a jar of penny buried beneath a tree, each old and wrapped in the wish of a young child. At first they amuse him, but he soon realises that the wishes he reads come true – no matter what they are. As he and his friends, new and old, try to figure out how to use the wishes to their advantage they find that everything has a price – and it’s never just a penny.

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‘A Penny For Your Thoughts’ is a novel that explores addiction, debt, greed, and secrets that refused to stay buried. It pulls the reader into a fantasy that we’ve all explored at some point – what would you wish for? Except, this novel also forces us to consider the downside – the cost of the wish. Everything has a price, it all just depends on whether we’re willing to pay it or not, and when the wish is really good, we don’t even ask what that price is. Joe and his friends go through all of these and bring the reader with them, funny, gruesome, haunting and all the while steadily increasing in dread.

Joe as a protagonist brings this story to life. Joe has a past, he isn’t necessarily a bad guy, but he isn’t a ‘good guy’ either. He isn’t the hero of this his story or any story really. His drug addiction serves as a mirror for our own addiction to our wants, our own selfishness, and our need for instant gratification at no cost – and as we all no, nothing is ever really free.

As this is the first co-authored novel that I have ever read, I was a little apprehensive about it, imagining that two writers together, particularly if I was to write with someone else, would find it challenging to merge their styles. But Ford and Hayward manage to do just that and form a cohesive narrative. At no point do I remember being pulled out thinking that I’d switched to something that felt like a different writer, a different story, a different protagonist.

I have one pet peeve about this novel that’s irrelevant to most people but I’m going to share it anyway! It’s completely only a thing that would get under my skin, and only recently as I’ve learned that this is a thing – the currency in prisons (American prisons at least) is no longer cigarettes, but ramen instant noodles. As I’ve heard in many documentaries (‘Brooklyn 99’ and ‘To Make A Murderer’) and various forms of journalism, smokes are largely banned and instead, as it’s easy to cook and something everyone and use, ramen noodles are now the currency that prisoners use to barter and stash away. We can all be glad that less people are smoking I guess.

 

About the Authors:

Matt Hayward

Matt Hayward is an Irish horror writer and musician from Wicklow with numerous publications under his belt and a Bram Stoker Award nomination. You can find my review of his short story collection ‘Brain Dead Blues’ here. He is currently working on another co-authored novel with Brian Smith and can be found on Twitter @MattHaywardIRE or at his website sundancecrow.com

 

Robert Ford

Robert Ford is an American author with myriad publications under his belt such as his novel ‘The Compound‘ and his short story collection ‘The God Beneath My Garden‘. He also has several screenplays floating around Hollywood that you may see in time. Ford can be found on Twitter @bobford

 

 

Links to Pre-order and review (ALWAYS REVIEW!)

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Goodreads

 

How do you feel about wish fulfillment stories? What would you use your wishes for if you found a mysterious jar of pennies buried beneath a tree? Are we all too addicted to instant gratification? Let me know down below!

 

If you have a horror/dark fiction/sci-fi/thriller novel, short story, or collection you would like me to review, please get in contact! And don’t forget to follow for more reviews and musings on writing. 

‘Siphon’ by A. A. Medina – Review

“The cadence of the story was beautifully choreographed and flowed like a well-orchestrated horror symphony. This was original, a bit peculiar and out of the ordinary with a very strange and dark sense of humor thrown in to make it all that more eerie and fascinating.” – William Bitner Jr.

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Extract

Control is something I’ve never had.

I didn’t choose my profession – Francis did. He said the only men he respected were men with titles, and his grandson sure as hell had to have one. I had the choice of military or medical school. For eighteen year old scrawny, scared , and awkward Gary, it was an easy decision.

I didn’t choose to live where I live – Francis did. My parents owned a quaint little house on about fifty acres of land about an hour outside of Claybrook City.

Being the next of kin, I own the house. Francis hated that house and refused to live there. I rent out this shitty townhouse, in shitty downtown, to take care of his shitty ass… Well, figuratively shitty.

I examined the bathroom. My clothes were scattered across the floor. Feces, blood, and vomit smeared along the scuffed tile and dusty baseboards. Shower-water, and what smelled like piss, pooled up at the foot of the tub and around the base of the toilet.

I couldn’t even control myself. ‘

 

Dr. Gary Phillips, the resident hematopathologist at Claybrook Medical Center, is a lonely man struggling with the duress of an all work and no play lifestyle. Burdened with the an unhealthy infatuation with his co-worker, a burning disdain for his boss, and an abusive relationship with his grandfather, Gary just can’t catch a break.

That is, until a workplace accident ushers in a bizarre, but empowering experience that evokes a new sense of self , forcing repressed memories to surface while encouraging him to pursue his fantasies with unconventional methods.

 

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‘Siphon’ is the story of disturbed and delusional man who holds no power or control in any aspect of his life, and suddenly finds the strength to act, to take what he wants, when a new urge takes a hold of him – the urge to drink blood. Him being a hematopathologist is convenient in that respect but as repressed memories begin to surface, it may be that he was destined to find his calling in blood.

If you are looking for sympathetic characters to really feel for you won’t find it with this book. Dr. Phillips is a thoroughly unlikable character and it took a few chapters to realise that he was supposed to be. If you can go into ‘Siphon’ knowing that you aren’t supposed to like him however, the story is much more palatable. Probably the wrong word to use there really, but here we are. What would today be described as an ‘incel’, a morose and secluded man who feels no power in his subordinate job supervised by a much younger man, no courage to ask out his attractive co-worker, and no fortitude to stand up to his grandfather, the man who raised him and who calls the shots in both their lives – it is not unkind to describe Dr. Phillips as pathetic, but rather apt, and this explains the stranger events of the short novel.

At times it can be an uncomfortable read, but that is the point of horror, to make us uncomfortable. Like Hitchcock’s Rear Window, ‘Siphon’ plays on all of our voyeuristic tendencies and though your stomach may turn at the events and even just the thoughts of the protagonist in this book, you do keep reading, and you keep looking through his eyes. You might briefly wonder how his young work colleague could tolerate him for a second, how even a sex worker self medicating on drugs can see past the atmosphere of weirdness that surrounds him, but again maybe they don’t. Maybe the smiles he sees are plastic, the acceptance he feels a product of the fear they feel around them. It seems almost inevitable that they are but as we only see things from his perspective, we can only take the story as it is.

 

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Being as disturbed and unhinged as Dr. Phillips is, he presents as a classic unreliable narrator. You may believe that he sees the people around him as he claims to, but can you believe the supernatural elements or are these just another part of his fantasies? Is there really an entity pushing him to drink blood or is that simply a scapegoat for his own actions, an excuse to act out his darkest fantasies? Even his claims to the women he has slept with, clearly meaning to sound unfortunate yet involving scenarios that are unlikely given his personality and general hygiene, could hardly be considered embarrassing when the only two experiences he has could be taken directly from a porno script – teenage friend’s older sister and college threesome? Woe is me. Dr Phillips does not come across as a man you can take at his word. This unreliable narrator side to the novel did have me thinking of Patrick Bateman from American Psycho on more than one occasion, but with a much more submissive energy to it.

The horror of ‘Siphon’ is Medina’s refusal to shy away from the gruesome details of Phillips life. From vomit and feces, to menstrual blood and rotting corpses, if you have a thing for bodily fluids then this novel will peak your interests. You are with him every step of the way, probably wincing, almost definitely not eating, and truly horrified that there are people like him out there, and we are the unsuspecting victims he feels entitled to. Anyone who thinks that referring to a woman’s eyes as ‘mossy ponds’ and thinks it’s romantic must be messed up.

 

Overall, if you have a strong stomach and search for the darker side of horror, if there is such a thing, ‘Siphon’ might just be the book you are looking for. But if you need a happy ending, or someone to route for, I’d be a little worried if you found that in Dr. Gary Phillips, just saying.

 

About the Author –

medina

A. A. Medina is a writer and reader of strange things who believes in the power of stories to inject mystery, joy, and even fear into our every day lives. Living in Arizona with his wife Samantha, their fat cats and a dog, he also co-runs the fiction magazine Aphotic Realm. Follow him here on Twitter

 

 

Links to ‘Siphon’ (ALWAYS LEAVE REVIEWS!):

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

Goodreads

 

What do you think about the unreliable narrator trope? Do you avoid books that have unlikable characters? Let me know down below!

 

If you have a horror/dark fiction/sci-fi/thriller novel, short story, or collection you would like me to review, please get in contact! And don’t forget to follow for more reviews and musings on writing.