“A great addition to the Tales From The Lake series and the impressive back catalogue of one of the most well-respected publishers in the field.”
The most recent release from Crystal Lake Publishing is the latest instalment in their anthology series, Tales From The Lake, and is the first in which head honcho Joe Mynhardt has no editing or co-editing credit. The sole editor for this edition is Monique Snyman, an accomplished author in her own right with three published novels in print and short stories included in numerous anthologies.
The first story, ‘The Owl Builder’, by D. Morgan Ballmer concerns two cousins, Travis and Ashlynn, discussing the whereabouts of Ashlynn’s missing mother and a local myth, the Owl Builder. As the story plays out, a sometimes-heated discussion regarding the character of the mother is interspersed with tales regarding “… That old feathered witch doctor …”. The dialogue is authentically written by Ballmer as he effectively builds the tension and draws us in until the mother’s fate and the Owl Builder’s role are revealed in one swift finale.
‘Tragedy Park’, by Chris Pearce, is a dark slice of urban horror set in a waterpark. There have been stories of kidnappings and disappearances from the park in the past, even deaths, and the main character, Finn, experiences moments of strangeness, including thinking everyone has left. The strangeness culminates in Finn taking a seemingly reluctant trip down the out-of-bounds “Black Vortex” slide with his two friends. But something weird happens halfway down … Pearce uses some delightfully dark imagery and the ending is suitably creepy.
‘Enclosures’ by Sumiko Saulson is told in the style and setting of an old-fashioned Weird tale. The narrator, Reginald Henry Moore III, regularly visits with his elderly grandfather, who resides in a large estate by a lake. The purpose of Reginald’s visits is less than admirable, as he hopes to curry favour in the hope that the old man will leave him an inheritance. What the old man leaves is his property by the lake, with the stipulation that it not be sold and he must stay there for one year. But he finds that he is not alone in the house. Saulson handles the narrator’s change of character very well, as he is forced to leave his old selfish ways in the past and fight for his very existence.
English author, Lily Childs, brings us the next story, ‘Woe, Violent Water’. The story opens with a small party of English puritans trudging over a barren land in The New World, accompanied by a strange woman whom they believe to be a witch. As the group reach a river, they become divided, some wishing to stay by the river while the others carry on. Here the witch, Enid, is blamed for the division and punished, but not before cursing the men of the group and their bloodline. Childs brings the story to the present day and introduces the pregnant Sarah who lives in a town on the same river from the beginning of the story. We learn that her recently deceased brother was in a relationship with a woman called Enid, and Sarah decides to investigate further. Childs weaves the story from the past with Sarah’s story perfectly, delivering an ending that, while not completely surprising, is handled very well.
‘The Cruel’, by Harper Hull, is a relatively short yet satisfyingly creepy tale set in an English secondary school. What begins as an isolated incident revolving around a fight between two boys spreads until it begins to affect the whole school. Hull takes an element that most people would remember from playground fights and adds a horrific twist. In doing so, he creates a spine-tingling tale that ends on the bleakest of notes.
Schoolkids are also the focus for the next story, Paul Edmonds’ ‘Red Scream With Little Smile’, although this tale takes place in Garland, a small town in the US. The schoolgirl protagonist takes it upon herself to revive a long-forgotten tradition in the hope of bringing good luck to the downtrodden townspeople of Garland. In doing so, she awakens a vengeful spirit from the past. Edmonds’ tale could be seen as a straightforward ghost story, but his prose is tight and entertaining, although the very last two paragraphs seem a little tacked on.
‘Maybelle’, by Mere Joyce, concerns a bird made of fabric which has some strange and mysterious powers. The protagonist, Henny, once used the bird when she was younger and, at the beginning of the story, finds it in the pages of a book at the library and decides to put its powers to good use. Joyce weaves her tale of dark fantasy wonderfully well, giving us just enough of the story to figure it out for ourselves without giving too much away. The ending is as we expected it, but told in a very entertaining and fulfilling way.
‘Rodent In The Red Room’, by Irish author Matt Hayward, is a dark modern re-telling of an Irish folk tale, with a noir twist. It concerns the ‘Fear Dearg’, or ‘Red Man’ in English. It is one of the more action-packed stories of the anthology and Hayward handles the action well, as he does with the noir element; the unnamed stranger who appears in the small town, determined to get to the bottom of a mystery and get rid of the bad guy. A thrilling and well-written tale.
In ‘The Deeper I Go, The Deeper I Fear’, author Natalie Carroll brings us a short tale about one boy’s encounter with a mythical creature that quickly endangers his family. While the idea is a good one and overall it is well-written, there are a few moments that are a bit of a stretch, involving how the child protagonist gains a weapon and how his parents allow him to face the danger alone. Otherwise, still a very good story.
The next story is a modern urban legend with science fiction undertones from Mark Allan Gunnells entitled ‘The Pigmalion Pigs’. Here Gunnells plays on the idea of one person having a distinct memory from their childhood that differs from the recorded history. He explores the idea of a parallel world and the idea that something as simple as the title of a beloved children’s story can lead to an interdimensional event, and one man’s whole life being thrown into turmoil, with no way back. Gunnells delivers an effective and compelling tale while also conveying the message that, while not perfect, our lives could be so much worse.
‘Chemical Oasis’, by Tommy B. Smith, is another horror story with an element of science fiction. It reads like a more compact version of the movie The Matrix, where one man escapes from a drug-induced daze to find the world is not what it seems, before deciding to liberate his fellow prisoners from their mysterious captors. It is certainly action-packed and reads like a scene from the afore-mentioned movie.
South African author, Sergio Pereira, brings a little dark urban horror to the anthology with ‘Hush’, a story of witchcraft set in an abandoned hospital in the East Rand area of South Africa. He blends legends from his homeland with tales of witchcraft from Europe to deliver an effectively creepy tale with a cast of believable and genuine characters. The point-of-view remains the same throughout, but there is still a twist on the last page that is done very well.
Kenneth W. Cain’s ‘The Reaper’s Fire’ concerns a young girl who drags her boyfriend to the corn fields of their farming community to discover the identity of an arsonist who has, in the past, robbed her of her father and her best friend. Cain builds up his main character by basing her on a recognisable stereotype (the popular cheerleader) and then giving her layers, quite the feat for such a short story. The author handles the revelation of the culprit wonderfully well and delivers a satisfying ending.
‘Effigy’, by Kate Jonez opens with a young woman arriving at a restaurant at night, for a job interview. Given the young lady’s difficult personal circumstances she has responded to an ad for a nanny, despite having no experience. From the start, this story has an undercurrent of Weird rippling through it with the desperate protagonist in an unfamiliar setting surrounded by strangers. This only continues to grow as the story goes on, with her prospective employer having to rush away and entrust her with a small box and one warning: don’t touch what is inside and don’t leave it alone. Jonez builds the tension by using the idea that the young woman is all alone in this strange environment and it is getting late. And we really want to know what is in the box.
Steve Jenner’s ‘Scents Of Fear’ is a modern tale of dark, urban fantasy revolving around the failed attempt on the life of the mysterious protagonist and the ensuing chase as he hunts his would-be assailants through the city streets mainly using his heightened sense of smell. We are never explicitly told what manner of creature the protagonist is, but we know he has similar abilities to a werewolf, while being able to travel through a bustling city. After the slow build-up of the last few stories, Jenner’s ramps up the action—and the body count—as his main character seeks revenge for the seemingly innocent woman who got in the way of the bullet intended for him, and uncovers more than he bargained for.
‘A Hand From The Depths’, by South African Dave De Burgh revolves around Manolo and the horrors he must endure after being kidnapped from his family. He is held prisoner for many years, tortured and abused, until he is ready to fulfil his destiny, as described by his captors. De Burgh crafts a captivating story as he details the torment of Manolo, from the years spent in his tiny cell to the long march to his meeting with “The Ones Below”. From the very beginning it is a bleak tale which offers little in the way of hope for Manolo, but it is well-written.
‘The Bet’, by New York-based Amy Grech tells the story of an outsider who is chosen to participate in the initiation for entry into a gang that has previously bullied him. The seemingly meek David goes along with the test, to stand in front of an oncoming train until the very last moment. But he hides a sinister desire. Grech’s characters are well-constructed, as is the tale as a whole.
The penultimate story, ‘The Monster of Biscayne Bay’ is brought to us by Roxanne Dent. The main character recalls a day from her youth when she and three friends decided to investigate the holiday home of a famous actress, only to discover a shape-shifting demon known as an “Ishtikini”. Dent’s story is reminiscent of King’s It and she delivers it beautifully, capturing the fearlessness of youth and the horror of the unknown entity. One of the strongest entries in the anthology.
We end the collection on a Weird note with Jack Bates’ ‘The Song At The Edge Of The Unfinished Road’. The story takes place in a very small housing community where neighbours Forsythe and Benson encounter strange occurrences, beginning with the disappearance of their spouses and neighbours, continuing with their unreliable memories and visions of reality-altering beetles and concluding with the realisation that everything, including themselves, is not as it seems. The imagery employed by Bates is as mesmerising as it is bizarre, and his description is dreamlike.
Monique Snyman has assembled stories from a diverse group of authors, some names more recognisable than others. She used an open call for submissions so that she could discover new authors and unique voices, as she explained in the foreword. While a few are still finding their feet in the world of publishing, most of the authors are accomplished wordsmiths and this is reflected in the quality of their stories. A wide range of horror, there is something here for everyone. A great addition to the Tales From The Lake series and the impressive back catalogue of one of the most well-respected publishers in the field.
Publisher: Crystal Lake Publishing
Release Date: 26 August 2016
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