Morpheus is one of the UK’s premier horror magazines. Some of the best horror authors of today submitted short stories, and 13 were meticulously selected through a grueling process by the editor, Adam Bradley, and have been gathered together to form the spine-tingling anthology, Morpheus: 13 Tales of Dark Fiction. Many of the top names from the horror authors of today are included in this collection, from the very first offering by the renowned author of Sasquatch and zombie horror, Eric S. Brown, to the famed author, Andy Remic. Is this anthology awesome? Is it kick-ass? Is it worth the cover price to purchase it through Smashwords ($4.99 there–just click the word Smashwords to be automatically transported to the site) or wherever else you might choose? Hell, to the ya, to each of the preceding three questions!
Thirteen glorious tales of horror await your twisted imaginations within the pages of this sick (in a good way) anthology. I won’t go into detail about each story, but I will give you an idea of what each tale is about, to whet your appetites further.
As I mentioned, the anthology opens with a choice cut by Eric S. Brown, a dude who is getting more and more attention in the circles of horror writers today. Many of his novels can be purchased on Amazon, such as Bigfoot War, Bigfoot War II, War of the Worlds Plus Blood, Guts, and Zombies, Seaons of Rot, and World War of the Dead. The one that begins this collection is “Civil Beasts.” It is set during the American Civil War in Pennsylvania, and is a nuanced tale of…a not-so-nuanced tale of blood, guts, and a ticked-off Sasquatch on a violent spine-snapping, skull-crushing rampage. Jamie, a private in the Union army, and a couple of other soldiers he’s with witness a Sasquatch being shot at by Reb soldiers. The Rebs have shot and killed an Indian woman who had run out of the woods, shouting “Sasquatch,” over and over again. She was likely trying to warn the soldiers, but they thought she was just speaking nonsense and got tired of hearing her, so one shoots her in the head. Does the story have a happy ending for all involved? It’s a tale about a rampaging Sasquatch–what do you think?
The second story is “Dirty Story.” Despite its title, it is not in the least pornographic–sorry, guys…but, it still is a pretty cool tale, deserving of being included in this anthology. It’s by Gary McMahon, author of horror novels like Hungry Hearts, Pretty Little Dead Things, and The Concrete Grave Trilogy. “Dirty Story,” focuses on a working-class man, harry, and a little hygiene problem he has that develops into an obsession. Harry wants to look nice & clean for his girlfriend, who wants to take their sexual relationship to a different level; but, however hard Harry tries, however many bars of soap he uses, however much he scrubs his skin raw, the dirt keeps coming back. It invades his fingernails, the pores of his skin, and even inside his body. Is this all just inside of his mind, or is it something much, much more?
The third tale is by Alan Spencer, and is “If you Lay Here Quiet Next to Me.” It sounds kind of creepy, like words a serial killer or stalker/serial killer might say to his victims; but, that is not at all what the short story is about. Rather, it’s about the transcending love a man, Robert, feels towards his wife, Stacy. After she dies in a car crash, Robert hits upon a plan to keep her with him always, or for as long as the blood he’s collected in a bottle holds out, at least. But, her existence is tenuous at best–she can only exist within the walls of a locked room, and she is, unfortunately for Robert, very, very, forgetful. She has some dim recollections of Robert, but they come and go. When they go completely, she thinks he’s some twisted stranger who has imprisoned her within a locked room. It’s not easy for poor Robert to keep the love alive, just because he’s somehow managed to keep his wife alive….Spencer has also written horror novels like The Body Cartel, Inside the Perimeter: Scavengers of the Dead, Ashes In His Eyes, and the forthcoming book, Zombies and Power Tools.
The next short story is “Desperate Measures,” by Stanley Riiks. It is a first-person post-apocalyptic tale of survival despite the odds and the horrendous difficuties the remnants of humanity have to face just to even find enough food to eat. That is a very real problem the narrator of this gem deals with, and he takes up residence in an abandoned hospital (or is it abandoned?), trying to scavenge and catch whatever vermin he can to keep himself alive. This includes delicacies that most of us would be disgusted to try, such as rats and cockroaches. Oh, and humans–did I forget to mention humans? And then, what if you could no longer find anything around you to eat, but you were slowly starving to death? Would you make…the ultimate sacrifice?
The fifth short story is “The Tax Collecter,” by Tommy B. Smith, a fellow resident of the city I live in, Fort Smith, Arkansas. I’ve never met him before, but this story definitely proves that he is a very talented up and coming author worth paying attention to. As the title suggests, it is about a tax collecter, but one of the future. As now, it’s pretty much impossible to escape the Tax Collecter when you owe him, big-time. The cool thing is, though this appears to be set in a future time, the characters behave as if they are directly from the times when Fort Smith was one of the wildest cities of the Wild West. The main protagonist, Miguel, takes a bullet from the Tax Collecter in his hand, to protect his friend, Mack Brumbleby. This gives Mack enough time to escape, but can anyone really escape from tax collecters for very long? And, just how far will friendship go, when you’re about to lose your arm from infection?
Short story number six in the anthology is “Organ Grinder,” by William R.D. Wood. Officer Frank Delgado is the main protagonist in this tale, and he’s sent to investigate why a rookie officer hasn’t reported in after being sent to check out a carnival that’s come to town. At first, the carnival seems to be oddly deserted…then, Delgado begins seeing the dead, mutilated corpses upon the ground, and one old man, who looks as if he should be dead, up and walking around. This is one of my favorite tales in the collection, and gives having a case of the crabs a whole different meaning.
Tale number seven, “The Machine,” by Fred Venturini, is also a pretty cool story. You know how quacks and snake oil salesmen have conned people down the ages with “miracle cures”? What if one of the peculiar inventions actually worked? That’s the basic concept behind this well-crafted horror tale. The machine produces UV light, in frequencies that supposedly promote healing and general good health. You place a part of the device under your tongue, which is presumably the best area to achieve the quickest results. The story’s protagonist, who narrates the first-person tale in a series of journal entries, tells of how he got a prototype of the machine to test out from a very reputable “doctor” who is not really a doctor, but whom he calls “Dr. Mexico,” as the guy is from Mexico. Who else is better to trust for one’s medical advice? The machine works wonderfully well, but even a machine designed to bring about “miracle cures,” has its limitations….
Number 8 of the 13 is “To Hear a New World.” It is by Matt Leyshon. This short story is about Joe Meeks, a dude who has somehow figured out a way to cheat death–at least, temporarily–managing to earn a tidy sum of money by risking the odds at Russian roulette on a nightly basis. Just how does a man play night after night, always soemhow ending up the victor, and alive? Could one rig the game, possibly, with the use of music and sound frequencies? Read this to find out what it means to nightly dodge the proverbial bullet, to enter and exit alternate dimensions, and to finally meet a creature right out of H.P. Lovecraft’s most twisted, dark imaginings.
The ninth tale is “Whatever It Takes,” by Joseph D’Lacey. The author riffs on the various meanings of the two-word phrase: “Get up!” The story is one almost any writer can relate to, as it’s about a man who suffers from a writer’s block, and he decides to seek help for his problem. He finds that the solution is not what he had expected, at all; but, the words do come to him–for a while. It all depends on how strong the motivation is–a gun pointed at you is a pretty powerful motivating factor. Still, what if you simply run out of ideas? Read “Whatever It Takes,” to find out what happens, and who knows? Maybe you’ll decide to take a writer’s block in stride the next time you feel your creativity temporarily blocked.
Then, tale number ten, “Wounder,” by Andrew Hook, takes the reader to the world of dreams, and over the edge, into craziness. What does it mean, the words “sane” and “crazy”? Does the male protagonist listen to his friend, Drew, when she tells him about his new girlfriend that she might be crazy? There wouldn’t be much of a story if he did listen to her, now would there? The love between the protagonist and his girlfriend is one which is great at first, as most loves are; but, then, the protagonist decides to try to help his girlfriend conquer her nightmares. That doesn’t go so well, as he discovers. You may think that your girlfriend/boyfriend is crazy–read this tale to find out what crazy is really all about!
Number eleven is “Mongrel Days,” by Andy Remic. Andy is a fantastic author, who has written such books as Spiral, Quake, Warhead, War Machine, Biohell, Hardcore, Cloneworld, Hell’s Legend, and more. It’s set in the future, and the main protagonist is a guy named Mongrel. He has obvious fighting skills, and he gets pushed aorund just a bit more than he decides finally to take. Mongrel gets beaten up and kidnapped by the minions of a crime boss named Riegel. Mongrel has admired the skills of the famous Anarchy Androids, but he doesn’t think there’s any way that they can help him escape from what looks like a certain death. I really enjoyed this tale; I think you will, also. Remic’s at the top of his form with this masterpiece of mixed genres.
The twelfth tale is “103” by Shaun Jeffrey. It’s about the attempts of three people to carry out the wishes of a wealthy dead man, Max Franci, who was also a serial killer, who reportedly had killed over one hundred people. The three are interviewing people to determine if they might be proof that resurrection is possible, that one of them might be Max come back to life in a different body. Max met his end by being hung at the Strangeways prison; but, can even death keep a dead man down? Forever is a long time….
The 13th. tale, “The Watchers at Work,” by Gary Fry, is an excellent piece to close the anthology. It tells the story of a young man who works at a bookstore, and is jealous of the success of his friends. He is also horny, and fantasizes about the 26-year-old owner of the book store. Is she perhaps too perfect in her appearance, though? This tale is about what happens when the protagonist decides to nick some cash from the bookstore’s safe to pay for a vacation his buddies have talked him into taking. What’s one to do when money’s tight? Perhaps a better question the protagonist should have asked himself is: “Who might be watching me steal money?” It’s always great to read a story that has a moral. It should prove to be edifying for the readers of this anthology.
That wraps up my summation of the 13 tales in this superb horror anthology, Morpheus: 13 Tales of Dark Fiction. If you love reading horror stories & novels, I highly recommend that you check this anthology out!
–Douglas R. Cobb–