Review: Bad Apples, Five Slices of Halloween Horror by Edward Lorn, Evans Light, Jason Parent, Adam Light and Gregor Xane

Available from Amazon

Amazon Blurb:
The five freshest voices in horror will make you reconsider leaving the house on October 31st with these all-new Halloween tales:

• A brother and sister creep out of the darkness with bags full of deadly tricks in Gregor Xane’s THE RIGGLE TWINS.

• A boy with a misshapen skull just wants to be normal in Evans Light’s PUMPKINHEAD TED.

• A group of thrill seekers learn that looking for terror is a whole lot more fun than finding it in Adam Light’s GHOST LIGHT ROAD.

• Two bullies go looking for trouble but instead find a young boy and his imaginary friend in Jason Parent’s EASY PICKINGS.

• When a mysterious, Halloween-themed attraction comes to the town of Bay’s End, everyone is dying to pay a visit in Edward Lorn’s THE SCARE ROWS.

Ade’s Review:
Given that I was drawn to this collection by the inclusion of Gregor Xane, it goes without saying that I’m bound to be biased towards his story above the others. “The Riggle Twins” has the same discipline as “It Came From Hell And Smashed The Angels” but is much more humorous and befitting the holiday season on which it is set.

The story revolves around two playful, yet sinister children acting on behalf of a Halloween deity. What I liked the most about this story was the tonal shift depending upon whose eyes we looked through. Whilst the action focused upon the children and the world they inhabited, the macabre scenes are befitting their mental age. Xane describes the events in very much the spirit of the season, taking gruesome concepts but delivering them with humour. On the flip side, as soon as we shift to the viewpoint of adults whom the children terrorise, we lurch into straight-up horror. The purpose of this (or so it seems to me) is clear: for children Halloween is magical, for adults there is only cold stark reality.

Whilst I believe that “The Riggle Twins” is the gem of the ensemble, the quality of the other stories is consistent and worthwhile. First up is Evans Light’s “Pumpkinhead Ted”, a tale of persecution and retribution. The villains are odious, the protagonist pitiable, and when revenge is taken you are cheering it all on. The ending came a little out of left-field for me and I felt it actually detracted from the impact (there I go, dwelling upon structure again), but for others it might be just the right spooky element to wrap it all up.

Adam Light’s “Ghost Light Road” creates an atmospheric late night drive that soon goes awry for a small clutch of friends. Adam Light does well at creating tension within the group and keeps you guessing at just where the shocks are going to come from. In the end “Ghost Light Road” is a stew of horror concepts, with all sorts of juicy lumps to root around for.

Easy Pickings” by Jason Parent toys with the reader until the final nefarious presence is revealed. A flip of “Pumpkinhead Ted” we now perceive Halloween bullying through the eyes of the assailant, though when he picks on a scrawny kid with an imaginary friend, he soon finds the world is not has he originally perceived.

So how do they all fit together? This is pure conjecture, but I imagine each author agreed to submit a piece, but didn’t run their ideas by the others until it was all done. The result is a collection slightly too lopsided towards the concept of trick-or-treating, a few too many cruel bullies getting their just deserts. That being said, this is a Halloween collection, so maybe I just read them all too quickly one after the other and should chill the fuck out.

Fortunately the final story, “The Scare Rows” by Edward Lorn takes us in an entirely different direction, instead dwelling upon the autumnal harvest aspect. Instead of focusing in on a single character, the author casts a wide net across a small town, bringing various viewpoints and equally various fates. Humorous rather than creepy, “The Scare Rows” makes small town Halloween seem rather appealing. On a side note, I think I spotted references to Troll 2, or at least thematic ones.

Overall, Bad Apples is consistent in tone. It starts strong and no story in the bunch lets the team down. If you have Amazon Prime you can borrow it today and have a Halloween read, and for that my friends, it is perfect.

Review: It Came From Hell And Smashed The Angels by Gregor Xane

Available from Amazon

Amazon Blurb:
Thanks to his big ugly mug, Ben Coburn always played the heavy in Hollywood. Yeah, his name was in the credits of a bunch of low-budget B-movie horror shows, but at least he could say he was in the movies.

That was a long time ago.

Now Ben sits alone in a trailer park listening to an old married couple across the way argue about money, just nursing a beer, waiting for something to happen.

But nothing ever happens. That pisses him off.

No, Big Ben Coburn isn’t going to wait around anymore. He jumps on his motorcycle and tears off into the night.

Intent on escaping into a new life, he races past a field of scarecrows, barreling headlong down the highway toward a blazing inferno and a bottomless pit.

Ade’s Review:

I’m rather fussy when it comes to short stories. It’s not that I object to mysteries that lack the word count to be fully explored, or reject characters only glimpsed in passing. These are realities of the medium. What often puts me off is structure. Yeah, that’s a pretty boring thing to be going on about, but for me a short story structure is what turns the words from a loose collection of ideas into a narrative. All manner of absurd notions can be thrown into a short story, as long as the structure is planned and thought through.

Well that sounds pretty damn pretentious doesn’t it? Forgive me, I didn’t mean to come over all arrogant, I’m sure plenty of my stories fail on this account, but I wanted to establish this principle to explain why I describe “It Came From Hell And Smashed The Angels” as elegant.

Gregor Xane’s short story (STRUCTURAL SPOILER) tells you all you need to know in the first couple of pages. Only then, with the rules and the reality established, does he take you on the journey. But of course, what keeps this so elegant, is that you are unaware of these rules being laid, so when they rear their ugly heads at a later point, his careful work is revealed.

I may already have given away too much, so I’ll refrain from discussing the plot lest I make everything too predictable. On the surface “It Came From Hell And Smashed The Angels” is an angry and spontaneous story, but beneath it is concise and methodical. It is free, well worth a read, and can be found here.

Review: Six Dead Spots by Gregor Xane

Available from Amazon

Amazon Blurb:

Frank makes a startling discovery in the shower. He finds six strange circles of skin gone completely numb—three neatly spaced down the center of his chest and abdomen, and three more down his spine. His doctor takes sadistic pleasure in carving out bits of Frank’s flesh and a perverse childlike glee flipping through hundreds of pictures of his interior. But when the tests come back, he’s unable to make a diagnosis and refers Frank to a psychiatrist. Under guided hypnosis, Frank uncovers clues in a repressed dream, but his sessions on the couch are soon cut short when he loses his job and his health insurance. Now Frank is forced to solve the mystery of his six dead spots on his own. Armed with nicotine patches, pornography, sleeping pills, and a stack of books on lucid dreaming, Frank delves into a world of nightmares to do battle with the monsters lurking inside his head.

Ade’s Review:

My first lucid dream occurred rather early in life when I was still small. In the dream I was swimming in a public pool and moments after ducking under the surface a strange thought occurred to me: I was breathing underwater. That very second the façade of the dream fell away and I was presented with all the freedoms of a lucid dream, the possibilities normally afforded to gods alone.

But this freedom was framed within my young mind, and I presented myself with an 8-bit select screen reminiscent of those navigated frequently on my Sega Game Gear, and it was from this menu that I was to select my ideal dreamscape. Various idyllic settings were laid out before me and – embarrassingly cliché I know – I chose a tropical beach.

But my mind didn’t take me there. Instead I appeared in my family home, alone on the landing. There was little light, but I could just about see a shape moving in the darkness at the foot of the stairs. I was trapped, alone in a dream with the very worst monster imaginable. It was the notion that I had created it and purposely chosen to torment myself that terrified me the most.

Lucid dreams have always held a fascination for me, and will continue to until we get a Better Than Life reality simulator (though Rimmer, like my infant self, found that the conscious and unconscious minds are rarely in synch), and it is this strange quirk of the human experience that Gregor Xane explores in Six Dead Spots.

The piece is a descent into madness, an ever-shifting sand beneath the reader’s feet. I was immediately reminded of the storytelling style of David Lynch, in that I was never sure if what I was reading was real, or another dream. Sometimes I’d be sure we were back in reality, only to suddenly veer into surreal and disturbing imagery. Other times, I’d have guessed we were trapped in a macabre nightmare, only to deduce later that it was in fact within the waking world, albeit as seen through a disjointed mind.

To give the piece grounding, Xane shifts the pov from Frank (whose madness we share) to his brother Steve. These breaks from the surreal nature of Frank’s experience allow us space to breathe and the occasional piece of solid ground to recoup like explorers before the next big push.

Six Dead Spots is a cleverly orchestrated sequence of nightmares, though ones sprinkled with humour so not to become overly sour. Recommended for anyone who has wanted to explore their own unconsciousness and find the demons that lurk there.

Gregor Xane’s Blog can be found here.