#Book Review: Behold!: Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders

Behold is a colourful kaleidoscope of weird, wacky and bizarre stories and poems.

About the Book

Want to see something weird? Embrace the odd. Satisfy your curiosity. Surrender to wonder.

From Crystal Lake Publishing and the Bram Stoker Award-nominated co-editor of the smash hit Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories comes Behold! Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders.

Sixteen stories and two poems take you into the spaces between the ordinary—and the imaginations of some of today’s masters of dark and thrilling fiction.

A travel writer learns the terrible secrets at a hotel that’s not at all as it seems.

A disfigured woman and her daughter explore methods of weaponizing beauty.

An amateur beekeeper acquires an object that shows her the true
danger of the hive-mind.

Drifters ride the rails seeking something wondrous that could change their fates forever.

A strange creature that holds our very existence in its hands shapes the lives of two lovers to touching and devastating effect.

A young man helps his grandfather—and something much more monstrous—atone for bargains made during wartime.

And much, much more…

Best Read

Lying in an empty grassy field on a splendid sunny day or in a giant tent, while sipping on something magical.

My Thoughts on the Book

 

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of this book for months and I’m delighted to have received a launch day copy to review! Behold!: Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders is an anthology from Crystal Lake Publishing, edited by Doug Murano and featuring a vast array of authors, including Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker. My obsession with short story collections was triggered by another Crystal Lake anthology, Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories. Gutted was also co-edited by Mr. Murano, so I had very high hopes for this.

This is another cracking anthology from Crystal Lake. This is a wondrous collection, full of strange other-worldly tales and fans of Fantasy Island will devour this.  Every addition is unique and leaves the reader feeling like they are entering different tents at a carnival, with many different, some grotesque wonders to behold. Below are snippets of my favourite stories.

Larue’s Dime Museum

This story opened the anthology – a stylish and clever take on “carnival freaks” and curiosity. Beware of what you pick up in Larue’s Dime Museum!

Wildflower, Cactus Rose

A strange tale that is sad in parts. The most horrific part to this story is humanity and our obsession with outer beauty. This was brutal in parts, but I loved the message. The author quotes it perfectly: “The world is a mirror, what we see is a reflection of who we are. So the question is, what do you want the world to see?” The ending leaves the reader keep pondering the question.

The Baker of Millepoix

Set in a beautiful French village, this is both charming and grotesque. A miraculous baker with a secret ingredient that will leave a taste in your mouth.

 Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament

Clive Barker’s sprawling tale mingles horror, pleasure, obsession and love. Brilliantly written, this is a monstrous story with gore and heart. Jacqueleine is unlike any other woman, imaginary or real.

An Exhibition of Mother and Monster

I don’t normally read poetry, but I loved this nighmarish poem. It features a delicious collection of Nature’s freaks for a cheap price – “A Wholesome Fee for the Devil’s Smile.”

Chivalry

Neil Gaiman’s addition to the collection is a quirky, magical tale, with a lovely touch of humour. Mrs. Whitaker, the main character, is a feisty old lady with a great eye for antiques.

A Ware That Will Not Keep

A dying Grandfather tells his son of his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp. It’s a tale of escape, release, true horror and desperation.

Earl Pruitt’s Smoker

A wonderful, vivid flight of the imagination with a bee-keeper.

As A Guest at the Telekinetic Tea Party

I loved this poem, the second I read the alliterative title. The second poem anthology is vivacious and the cadence reminds me of a dance. It’s a dark tale of a witchy afternoon tea.

Knitter

Knitter reminded me of a gruesome Grimm’s Tale, where the unsuspecting characters have a sad fate awaiting them. Creepy and disturbing with a mystical twist.

Through Gravel

A surreal, strange tale of an underground world where the Kindred pluck their offspring from the world above.

Each story in Behold!: Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders is a gem. I don’t want to ruin the surprise for you, so dig into this treasure trove and you won’t regret it.

 

Click here to purchase the book.

 

 

My Final Letters – Part 1

Toast some marshmallows and settle in by the campfire for a creepy tale… 

I’m writing this in hope that my final days in this life are somewhat peaceful, in the hope I won’t have to wake every night to my screams, drenched in sweat as I have for the past 10 years.

God,  how have I managed this long? I’ve had my moments where the pain has felt too much, where I’ve tried to end it all, but somehow I’ve never had the guts , the coward in me always prevails and I sink away back to the miserable existence curled away in the blackness I endure everyday, stuck behind the mask of a “normal” functioning member of society.
Last month, I was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The disease spreading across my body like oil across the open ocean consuming the life within me. It’s ironic in a way all this time I’ve been dying slowly and it seems faith will rob me of the opportunity to finish the job myself.

The story I’m about to tell doesn’t paint me as a hero, nor an adventurer thrown against a unfathomable task only to struggle my way to victory. No, this story paints me as something much more vile, it paints me as a murderer.

A decade ago I was a young traveller, hiking the wilderness of the United States. My partner in all of this was my friend and brother in arms, Donald Moorehouse. An amazing man, burley and built like a redwood, with a heart of gold and a kindness I have never seen since in any human being.
One night while drinking in a tavern high in the Rockies, nestled between two beautiful valleys, we made the decision to trek along an old trail situated along the side of Pike Peak. The story goes that the trail was made by early pioneers in the 1840s, but somewhere along the journey the group disappeared. Fur trappers trekking the area found only tents and carriages rotten, decayed from the winter freeze. No bodies were ever discovered and tales about the group have sprung up across the area of ghosts and monsters, even a tale of ancient UFOs is heard in a bar or two around the peaks.
The trail is avoided by most, because of superstition and folklore that surrounds it, but myself and Donald had never paid attention to old wives tales or campfire tales used to entice a few gullible teenagers. Instead the idea of roaming land without the interference of another human being is what really drove us to take the journey – open air and lush spruce forest, what more could one ask for?

If only we had heeded the warnings then.

We set off early in the morning before dawn  to reach the start of the trail before the sun rose across the plains. We arrived just as the sun came up across the valley, illuminating the peaks of the mountains around us. We packed our gear, enough for a weekends trip, along with a double tent to hold the two of us.
The trail begins at the mouth of a thick spruce forest , between two peaks both topped with thick icey snow. The location of the forest, hidden between the mountains, covers it in shadow throughout the day, giving it an eery look like a place locked in twilight never truly seeing the light.  Looking back, I knew as we walked from the morning sun into the gloom of the spruce, that something horrific waited within.
The first hours of walking were slow paced, myself and Donald spoke very little, instead we tried to take in the scenery and enjoy some of the sites, like we always do on our hiking treks in the area, but something was different this time. Instead of the serene feeling that accompanies treks in the wild, there was a tension I can’t describe with words. A thick harrowing blanket that seemed to cover the air around us and seep into the bark of the trees. Along with this, I believe the both of us felt….. We were being watched.
I plucked up the courage to mention this to Donald and he agreed it was best to make camp somewhere along the inner line of trees up the trail and try to relax for the evening, setting a fire to scare any potential predators in the area  and try shake whatever unnatural feeling had seemed to descend upon us.
We set the tent, gathered firewood and lit a campfire just as the sun set below the mountain and another level of inky darkness covered the forest around us. I remember trying to make small talk as we ate in attempt to force myself back to feeling my normal self, but nothing worked, it clung to me like tar, an unshaking nervousness, like I was waiting for something terrible to happen . During the night, we heard faint cracks and snaps in the forest around us. This isn’t abnormal in the wilderness, these trails are covered with wildlife and game, but the real fear of it all came when we recalled we had not heard one single chirp of a bird of deer call on the whole journey up.
 

The snaps and cracks became louder, heavier and now a faint skittering could be heard in air and God I know between it, I heard some inhuman muttering, silently fading off from time to time.

Myself and Donald shouted into the inky black, in the hope whatever lurked around us would scatter in fear but the noises continued until suddenly, all at once, silence fell among the dark again.
I want to tell you we relaxed, that we returned to our happy go lucky selves, but the darned silence was much worse. I still felt eyes on me in the dark, the hairs standing on neck. I waited for some ungodly demon to run at us from the shadows and pull us into the black to disappear like the pioneers all those years ago, but it never came.
We both huddled ourselves in our tent a few minutes later, making sure to lock the clasp blocking us from the outside under the feeble guise that a thin layer of nylon could protect us from the dangers outside. We both agreed not to sleep for fear whatever lurked outside would return late in the night….  it did.
It started with the snaps and cracks in the brush, but now much closer to the tent, then the muttering and jibbering, we both tried to make out words but the sound was so unnatural it was impossible to do so. I began to shake and I felt Donald trembling beside me, as the noises came closer.  I wanted to scream, but terror silenced my voice when suddenly the noises once again stopped. Replaced by a soft padding close to the tent, accompanied by skittering footfalls moving closer. Until in the faintest light of the fire, the shadow of some inhumane form pressed against the opening of the tent.
I watched in complete terror, tears rolling down my cheeks as the locked clasp began to shake the thing outside trying to make its way in. I can still see its’ shadow to this day, bent and frail, shaking in the light like an animal in excitement or about to feed…. about to kill. The clasp shook for a few moments until a blood curdling squeal rose up from the thing, joined by a chorus of others around us.
The next few moments are a blur of panic and chaos, as the thing outside swipes against the from of the tent tearing a long opening across the nylon layer. The smell hits us like a arctic truck. Stinking rotting meat like a carcass of a deer or game  left to melt against the forest floor festering away. Then pale emaciated gangly arms reached in, filthy hands clawing at our feet and in the pale light i saw the outline of its face. I want to tell you it was human and indeed some of its features were,  but a unworldy death hung about it and the space where its eyes were supposed to be only black caverns lay and a wide mouth opened it jaw hanging far too low,  black and rotted test sharpened at points thrusts out from it mouth and wet saliva dripped from its jaw. The terrifying thing is I knew it was watching with some ungodly sense and it was hungering for us.
In a flash I somehow grabbed for my hunting knife below my belt and in the blur of screaming and snarling,  sliced my own opening in the side of the tent and scrambled out into the cool night air. Donald followed after me and I tore down the path we had trecked hours before. The light from the fire was stronger outside the tent and in my peripherals I saw more of the things bent and snarling like a pack of wolves waiting for the moment to finish an elk surrounded and terrified.
They began to squeal and snarl, that ungodly sound rang out in the silence of the woods and I listened as they tore after us down into the cover of the spruce crashing against the brush.
There’s another level of fear and adrenaline most humans will never experience, a built in primal response  that the safety of society has numbed out over centuries. You’ve probably heard of fight or flight,  to experience it is the most terrifying thing I have ever faced.

I listened as those creatures raced after us, their snarls becoming closer, just one mistake and those thing would pull me into the dark to feast on me.

In the madness of it all, I noticed Donald slip. In the moment it was like slow motion,  his face twisted in terror staring to me as if hoping I could catch him as he lost his footing slamming against the forest soil.
I stopped at first and tried to pick him up but I wasnt strong enough, for god sake, the man was like a concrete block. I watched as he tried to stand but collapsed in pain.

Then suddenly the silence came again and I knew….. They had caught us.

In the silence I could make out panting and wheezing, as the forest floor began to crack as they moved in closer. The smell of death hung about the air as before and I could feel their eyes anticipation for the feast they would now have. Donald began to scream for help,  breaking down like a child crying for his mother and for God, but no God came.
What happened next has haunted me all these years and I have played it over a million times, but the outcome is always the same. I knew standing there in the dark, those things surrounding us ready to pounce and finish us both, and my closest friend babbling like a new born injured on the floor. Only one of us would leave.
Something in me, some long forgotten base instinct for survival took me and although I admit I am a coward, somehow in the moment it was as if my control was no longer my own.
I stood above Donald his hands wrapped around the leg of my jeans, clutching at them screaming for help. I swung my free leg back, giving space and smashed my knee forward landing just beneath his jaw. As strong a man as he was, I felt the impact as his head slumped downwords unconscious.
I ran,  I ran knowing they would grab him. I ran knowing his death would buy me time to escape. Leaving my closest friend to be taken by those demons to die alone.
I expected one to jump from the blackness at me as I ran, but it never came. As I realised I might have escaped,  I began to hear the screams. The pain and anguish in them the agony in every moment. They rang out as I made my way deep down into the canyon and even after they stopped I could still hear them in my mind….  I still hear them today. I wonder how he must have felt in that moment of betrayal, how he felt as those creatures sunk their rotting teeth and hands into him. Did he expect me to return to save him?
The story told to the authorities and Donald’s family isn’t the story I’ve told you. I lied in my statements, telling them a cougar  attacked us in the night dragging Donald off. That I tried to fight it off to save my friend but lost it in the darkness of the woods. They searched for 3 weeks and found nothing, only our tent and remain of the campfire.
I moved to another state, into an apartment in a quiet neighborhood. I quit work,  I started drinking and picked up a needle habit in hopes it would drown out my thoughts,  but it was only a temporary escape.

I murdered my friend that night and left him to die in agony and I can never forgive myself.

Ive made the decision with only a short few weeks left before this disease rots my insides and robs me of my mobility. I’m going back the the trail. I’m going back to find Donald.
To find out what happens next, tune on later this week! 

#BookReview Karl Drinkwater’s Horror Collection

A Facebook competition graced me with two gorgeous printed copies of Turner and They Move Below by Karl Drinkwater.

I’m a fan of Karl’s writing since listening to the audio version of Harvest Festival and had They Move Below waiting on my Kindle, so I was delighted with my prizes.

Turner

Karl Drinkwater's Horror Collection

The bright and bloody cover of the novel Turner drew me in instantly. The book was full of action, gore and gutsy characters.

I loved the isolated Welsh setting and the overall atmosphere of the village. The village reminded me of Summerville Island in the classic horror  film, The Wicker Man. The more gore,  the better for me, and this did not disappoint. Turner would make an excellent horror film, with its twists and turns and constant action.

I loved the clever use of the words ‘turning’ and ‘turner’ in the book also. Like Harvest Festival, tension builds steadily throughout the book to a horrific and shocking ending.

They Move Below

Karl Drinkwater's Horror Collection

They Move Below is a collection of 15 dark tales. Like all of Karl’s other work I’ve read, the writing is excellent. These are my mini reviews of a few of my favourite short stories.

If That Looking Glass Gets Broken

This was the most surprising of the stories for me, I did not guess the ending at all! And I read a lot of horror stories! The ending was shocking and horrific and I really enjoyed it.

They Move Below

The title tale was a strange one. The main character was very unlikeable and I found myself wishing bad things would happen to him… Let’s just say the ending was fitting! A surreal tale where the things that lurk below come alive.

Creeping Jesus

Creeping Jesus was an unusual tale of a school trip to a natural history museum. I laughed out loud at the ingenious ending.

Just Telling Stories

Just telling stories was my favourite of the tales, it definitely has the creepy chills factor. I could see each scene unfold in my head and I’m sure next time I’m wandering down a lonely hotel corridor, this will creep into my head.

Claws Truth Forebear

This tale reminded me if an Indiana Jones movie. I loved the exotic location and the claustrophobic feel to it. I always dreamed of being an archaeologist when I was a child, so I was equally  enthralled and horrified.

Breaking the Ice

Breaking the ice was written like a recording of a police interview. This style works really well in horror and leaves the reader’s imagination to wander as we are fed the information bit by bit.

How It Got There

I loved the red herring in this one, the writer does an excellent job of misleading the reader. A very clever tale.  I also loved the way it tied in with the novel Turner.

The Scissor Man

The Scissor Mam reminder me of a grim, moralic fairytale, featuring a particular dislikable little boy. The reader is left to imagine a deliciously gruesome ending for him.

Overload

Overload was written in a very unusual style with shots of internet conversations (I’d love to know how it was done!) It’s format is perfect in this social media driven age. It’s also a cautionary take about taking everything that you see online to be true.

Living in the Present

This started out as a nice heartwarming Christmas tale, but the reader receives subtle hints that all may not be as nice. This was quirky and grisly.

Bleeding Sunset, Dancing Snowflakes

This original take on the vampire genre was ethereal and slightly erotic. There was beautiful imagery, even in the name.

I find it very hard to fault this collection, each tale is unique, some horrific  and all leave the reader’s imagination run wild.

Harvest Festival

Harvest Festival was a brilliantly written and exciting Sci-fi horror novella. I was very lucky to get a gift of the audio version of Harvest Festival. This was my second audio book ever.  I enjoyed every minute of it and I’m hooked on audio books for car journies now.

The book is excellently written, every word seems to be there for a reason. The tension builds from the end of an average day on the farm for Callum and his family. The ordinary strains on family relationships is very evident in the first few chapters. I loved the realism of those scenes.

The fact that those scenes are so normal allows for tension to build rapidly once the family ends up facing a horrific invasion of an alien kind. Dramatic and terrifying, the scenes move speedily along to an ending which stayed in my head for some while. Though it was a novella, I loved the changing dynamic in the family’s relationships from start to finish. 
Karl Drinkwater's Horror Collection
Karl Drinkwater’s Horror Collection

Karl Drinkwater is originally from Manchester but has lived in Wales for half his life. He’s a full-time author, edits fiction for other writers, and was a professional librarian for over twenty-five years. He has degrees in English, Classics, and Information Science.He writes in multiple genres: his aim is always just to tell a good story. Among his books you’ll find elements of literary and contemporary fiction, gritty urban, horror, suspense, paranormal, thriller, sci-fi, romance, social commentary, and more. The end result is interesting and authentic characters, clever and compelling plots, and believable worlds.

When he isn’t writing he loves exercise, guitars, computer and board games, the natural environment, animals, social justice, cake, and zombies.