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by Alexander S. Brown
reviewed by Hydra M. Star
In this collection Alexander S. Brown offers up fifteen horror stories featuring traumatized character that just might traumatized the reader as well;
“Bloodlines”, the tale of a group of people who win an overnight visit to a Civil War era mansion is a classic ghost story with a few minor twists. The story makes several references to karma and the past dirty deeds of the characters. This more or less sets the tone for the rest of the collection, as many of the following stories follow this same theme of wrong doers getting what they having coming.
April the title character from the next story in the collection, “April”, is a teen girl in her last year of high school who may or may not be losing her mind. She is experiencing nightly black outs and losing time. The only person to which she feels she can turn is her older sister who quickly tries to convince her that she has a personality disorder, but this answer just doesn’t feel right to April.
“The God Complex”, a gut wrenching story about a charismatic small town preacher who not only takes advantage of his congregation but also feeds them drugs. One woman it seems is the only person in the town that sees through his act, but will she have the courage to stand up to him? Or will she keep up the act of devoted follower in order to keep getting her fix?
“From Midnight to One”, is said to be the witching hour and one lonely housewife is about to get a visit from the witches in the woods behind her country home. This story plays on the old tales of witches out to steal the life of children and blood from other women in order to make themselves young. It is also one of the few in the collection where the evil is not overcome. For this reason I liked it, though it is not a horribly original story line.
“The Acquired Taste”, the horrific recounting of a family dinner out that ends in madness and murder. There are some aspects of this story that don’t seem exactly logical, but it’s still a fun read for those who like gore.
In “It’s All True” a paranormal writer spend Halloween night in a Civil War era haunted house, all alone with his confidence that ghosts cannot hurt him. Like the first story in the collection this one is pretty much a straightforward old fashioned ghost story. I’m not going to nitpick it, but there are some holes in the plot of this one as well, but they give the story a sort of urban legend feel.
“Live Through This”, is the story of how a stalker and his prey fell in love, sort of. Not to spoil the story for anyone, it IS revealed fairly early on anyway, but both of the characters in this story are men and only the stalker is gay. This adds a whole other level to the distress the prey finds himself in, but might come off as homophobic to the more politically correct and overly sensitive reader. I personally thought this ‘twist’ worked well for this story and it is one of my favorites in this collection.
In “Two Miles” a man takes a walk through his life as replayed on a desert landscape. It is revealed fairly early on that the desert he is in is Hell, though this truth is not believed by the main character, who writes off all the strange events and sights around him as him having been drugged. Normally, I’d find this kind of story, a deserved soul being delivered into Hell, to be rather predictable and boring, but the way in which Mr. Brown handles the recounting of the life of this soul is powerful.
In “The End of Summer”, the main character, Summer, returns with the man she plans to marry to clear out her great-aunt’s decaying house. The couple find a few magical surprised among the older ladies things and Summer’s future husband quickly becomes obsessed with the old lady’s collection of occult books he insists upon keeping. Throw in some pretty powerful displays of magic and an ex-boyfriend playing the ‘we can still be friends routine’ and the situation quickly begins to spiral out of control.
“Feast of the Pigs”, a story wherein the cops eat well and criminal are on the menu. This story to me has some pretty big holes in the plot, which were hard to over look. For example, how would five cops working in a large city be able to gain so much privacy within their station, which was describe as being far too small for it’s location. However, the gore level in this one is high and that makes up for some of this holes and saves it from being a waste.
“A Dead Ringer” is about a woman and her lover who together murder her husband, the town’s undertaker. It’s all a rather neat set-up. The lover and wife will plant the husband in the ground and take his money and leave town. No one will ever suspect that they killed him, unless of course he’s not really dead.
In the “House by the River” lives a man who with an interest in murder and voices in his head. It’s only a matter of time before bodies are planted in the watermelon patch beside his house. The only issue I had while reading this is why in the name of all things bloody and gore covered did the women in this man’s life continue to speak to him and go over and have dinner with him AFTER he showed up one night at her house carrying an ax and looking deranged? She was smart enough to hide outside of his view when she looked out and saw him that night, but she goes over for dinner a few days later like nothing happened. That just didn’t make much sense to me. Love and attractions only go so far.
A modern day Jack the Ripper is killing prostitutes in “Althea’s Last Dance”, but will he be smart enough to heed the warnings of the witches of New Orleans before the tides turn and he finds himself in danger? Or will he keep on his current path?
There is a monster on “Bliss Hill” that’s been terrorizing the farmer and his family who live there, for generations. The shortest story in the collection this to me was the most fun story to read. I found the backwater thinking and speech of Bliss Hill to be quite charming and a departure from the style and voice Mr. Brown uses throughout the rest of the collection.
In the final story, “Zoe’s Swan Song”, a darling of the music and modeling industry, Zoe, contemplates her fame and her beauty and is offered a deal by a mysterious stranger which she believes will improve both. She quickly discovers, however, that she’s going to get more then she bargained for and the cost will be much higher then she dreamed. This is also by far the most gory story of the collection. Truly the only one that made me squirm.
All together I found Mr. Brown’s writing to be imaginative and interesting. Though he does tend to repeat himself a bit, harping on certain ideas or emotions more then was needed, he uses phrases and descriptions one is not likely to find in any other writer’s work. This talent for word play is missing in a lot of what passes for creative writing these days and Mr. Brown deserves great praise for this.