Dreams of Lake Drukka & Exhumation, by Mike Thorn

If you’re looking for someone to deliver impactful short sharp shocks, you’ve come to the right place. Mike Thorn has crafted two delightfully dreadful stories demonstrating that family secrets are best kept buried and once you leave home, there’s no going back.

Dreams of Lake Drukka: Two sisters return to the scene of a sinister family mystery and learn the true price for success.

I loved the sister’s strained, yet connected, relationship with both each other and their father, and the atmosphere built up as they discover what’s waiting for them in that cold, grasping lake.

Exhumation: A man returns home after many years to attend a family funeral – and gets way more than he bargained for.

This one is creepy as hell and reminded me why the next funeral I’ll go to is probably my own. Really. Don’t go to funerals and talk to people you don’t remember. Don’t!

Mike impressed me with his fabulous collection Darkest Hours, and these two tales are a solid addition to his body of work. Well worth your time! (and while you’re at it, check out the rest of the Short Sharp Shock’s series – great stuff)

5/5

About the Author: Mike Thorn

Mike Thorn is the author of the short story collection Darkest Hours.

His fiction has appeared in numerous magazines, anthologies and podcasts, including Dark Moon DigestThe NoSleep Podcast, DarkFuse, Unnerving MagazineTurn to Ash and Tales to Terrify. His film criticism has been published in MUBI NotebookThe Film StageThe Seventh RowBright Lights Film Journal and Vague Visages

He completed his M.A. with a major in English literature at the University of Calgary, where he wrote a thesis on epistemophobia in John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness. 

Publisher: Demain Publishing

Only Pretty Damned, by Niall Howell

Who doesn’t love clowns? Oh right… Well, better question. Who doesn’t love those small, cool circuses and carnivals that rolled into town periodically when you were a child (and yes, I’m assuming everyone reading this is both ‘this’ tall and ‘this’ old -> points to to the wooden cutout of a cartoon character)? You know the ones I mean. If you close your eyes you can still still smell the popcorn and the elephants, imagine the aerialists and the knife throwers and, yes, the clowns.

Rowland’s World Class Circus. You see the sign and know you’re in for a real treat. And you are entertained! How could you not be. Every performer a talented professional. You especially love the warm up for the main event. Freddy Folly. A clown’s clown. Once a headliner on the trapeze, but… well, let’s just say it’s complicated.

Toby (Freddy) has been with the circus a hell of a long time. He has his ups, his downs. Drinks entirely too much (but hey, it’s a stressful job). And knows things. Dark things. About the circus. About other performers. About himself. And he knows most of all, he wants back on the trapeze. One way or another. It’s noir, however. Carnival Noir. So the going is going to be rough.

I love the atmosphere of this book. The feel of it. All the bits oozing out as the character’s populating the story come alive, transporting me to a different time, though definitely not a simpler time. So next time you see a clown, wonder what he or she is thinking of under that makeup, understand that they probably aren’t plotting your unfortunately demise – but if they are, you probably deserve it.

4/5

Hollow Kingdom, by Kira Jane Buxton

Stories told from the point of view of animals are a hard sell. Usually it feels like a gimmick, or a lazy way to gain reader sympathy because, y’know, animals. I’m a bit of a monster, it’s true, but not an animal-hating monster. Except for birds. Don’t like ’em. Especially owls, those feathered ghouls are terrifying.

Anyway, this story is told largely from the POV of a crow.

And I freaking loved it!

Described as Walking Dead meets The Incredible Journey, this novel is a crow’s eye view of the zombie apocalypse. There’s a message about tech addiction, environmental conservation, and even an animal analogue of the current human discussion around gender identity, but it plays out organically.

Through S.T. (short for Shit Turd), we get a foul-mouthed corvid’s meditations on humanity, survival, and the interconnectedness of everything. Hollow Kingdom is horribly funny, tense as hell, and bursting with heart and hope.

4/5

Wounds, by Nathan Ballingrud

An unsettling collection of the dark fantastic starting off with a jaunt through the swamps to retrieve a terrifying artifact of Hell and ending up in the water again with a historical pirate novella tying off the collection. First off, I love short stories. I love ‘em. Horror lends itself particularly well to the short form and this collection is a solid example of why shorts rule and novels drool (and I say that as a novelist, so take it with a pillar of salt). Secondly, as with any collection, I had favourites and less favourites, but overall, Wounds is tight.

“Atlas of Hell” has moments of visceral dread at an intensity I’ve rarely felt in fiction, and the imagery in this story absolutely kills. “Visible Filth” (recently adapted to film) is body and tech horror in one. I’ve never found the idea of “angels among us” to be of much comfort and now I know why. Yuck. My favourite of the bunch was “Skullpocket”. One of those gems where you spend most of the story wondering what the damn hell is going on and slowly, so slowly, like stitches ripping out one at a time, you get it. Giving details would ruin the magic; I’ll only say that particularly in “Skullpocket” and “The Diabolist”, Nathan Ballingrud reads like nihilist Neil Gaiman and I am 100% here for it. At the same time, there’s tenderness in these stories. Between parents and children, childhood friends, struggling lovers, even strangers thrown together by desperate circumstance as in “The Maw”.

Horror is tricky. It needs to check a lot of boxes to work, and Wounds pulls it off. These stories are not keep your light on at night scary. They’re look over your shoulder in the middle of the day and wonder what dark worlds are rubbing against the skin of our own. If you’re a fan of horror and wonder in equal suffocating measure, you’ll love this book.

4/5

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We review books, music, trail races, deep sea creatures, colours on the visible spectrum, and whatever else we feel like, on a rating scale of one to five sin-purging flames.