What an incredible array of featured authors in this horror anthology, All In Fear. I found the stories unique and original and very entertaining. Overall, I would rate this collection very high and recommend it to anyone who loves a bit of the macabre. Let’s take a look at each story individually.
Company by Roan Parrish
Company by Roan Parrish was by far one of the creepiest of the stories in this anthology. Nick’s life is basically a mess—his parents are divorcing and his own social life is, at first, seemingly stable, but quickly changes making him a loner. To make matters worse, his favorite comic book character, a vampire, seems to have come to life…or has he? Michel appears to Nick one evening and then disappears only to return sporadically, causing Nick to long for the mysterious man. However, when Nick becomes friends with a new boy in class, the tables turn swiftly and the strange Michel warns Nick that accidents often happen to those who don’t do as he likes. That’s when Nick’s new friend, turned boyfriend, starts to get injured. Now Nick has a decision to make—continue seeing his boyfriend or give him up—all for the cold arms of a ghost?
Most definitely this story keeps the reader guessing as to what exactly Michel truly is—an apparition of a teenager desperate for love and companionship or a true demon come to life with a very jealous and deadly view on relationships. Either way, Michel keeps coming around just enough to make poor Nick both dependent on his affections and later absolutely terrified of disobeying him. It is an uneasy seesaw of emotions that roil about in this short tale that skirts the edges of insanity—and leaves one guessing clear to the end. Rating: 4 Stars
Love Me True by Kris Ripper
Love Me True was a rather creepy mystery that unfortunately gave away just a few too many clues too soon. I found the premise to be very intriguing, but also realized I knew exactly where the story was headed way before the big mystery was revealed. Palmer is in a open relationship with Jon—both are into some serious BDSM and kink and both are switches—alternating the role of Dom and submissive quite easily. As Palmer states this alone is a rare find and the author does the give and take between the two men very well. Their interactions are pretty intense and be forewarned, there is some interesting kink going on here including a definite foot fetish on Palmer’s part.
After Palmer decides he is truly in love with Jon and wants to make their relationship permanent, he runs into a former high school friend who he also had a one night stand with back in the day. He has a rather odd conversation with her regarding superheroes and how common folk can be just that. He dismisses it as a bit of strange interaction until a few weeks later when she essentially attempts to kidnap him. During this bizarre incident, she keeps talking about how he knew what was happening and how he somehow had to be involved. Palmer realizes she must have been talking about the string of murders that are happening at local casinos—a place he often goes to in order to gamble—something he enjoys. Later, Palmer discovers that the “Poker Killer” is a lot closer than he ever imagined.
This story had a lot going for it—not the least of which was a definite chemistry that was established quickly and believably between Palmer and Jon. As far as the bit of interaction between the girl from school and Palmer, I felt that to be a bit unfinished—too little explanation and a bit contrived. However, with the big reveal at the end it was so very plausible that Palmer was totally unaware of exactly how close he was to danger and how lucky he was that he found out in time. All in all, the mystery element to this tale was a bit too easy and underdeveloped to really bear the weight of being the key to the entire plot even though the characters were very enjoyable. Rating: 3 stars
The Price of Meat by K.J. Charles
By far my favorite story, The Price of Meat by K.J. Charles mixed just enough of the macabre with fast-paced action to produce a story so dark and sinister it gave me the chills. Those familiar with the musical or movie version of Sweeney Todd will delight in this interesting offshoot of the tale that actually has some basis in reality as to locale and the police corruption of the time. But unlike the versions we may be familiar with, Charles takes us into a horrific place that is off limits to any police authority—and what goes on there is akin to your worst nightmare.
When Johanna visits her friend in Fogg’s asylum it is with the intent on discovering a way to free her sweet Arabella. Arabella is an heiress who is to come into her fortune in a few short months and whose relatives have tried everything including “accidents” to end her life so that they can reap her money. While at the asylum, Johanna is asked by another prisoner, Toby, to carry a message concerning the barber, Sawney Reynard of Fleet Street. Toby tells her that Colonel Jeffrey must learn about the man and stop him before it is too late.
Seeing a way to strike a bargain and possibly get her sweet Arabella released, Johanna goes to the Colonel with the story. Unfortunately the Colonel has no jurisdiction over Fogg’s asylum and just as little over the place Reynard lives—his shop being right on the border to Alsatia. In fact it is rumored that the back of his shop leads to the gutters and back alleys of the foul Alsatia, that no man’s land that harbors criminals and murderers, but where police have no leave to enter.
Rebuffed by the Colonel who instead can only send a sternly worded letter on Arabella’s behalf, Johanna sets out to infiltrate the barbershop and make herself a useful spy for the Colonel. However, plans backfire when Johanna is found out and taken below, into the bowels of a place so foul and unnatural that there is sure to be no rescue for the poor woman, but only torture and, if she is lucky, death.
This story was an incredible gem—frightening, suspenseful and so very creepy, it kept the reader hopping with its various twists and turns. Right up to the end where a surprise character is revealed who knows quite a bit about the good Colonel and absolutely could have been the basis for another short story all in itself. I would love to see this author expand this short into a full length novel—there is so much to these characters and the area of London they inhabit that begs to be explored further. Suffice it to say that by story’s end, you are thoroughly entrenched in the saga and desperate to read more about these fascinating people. Rating: 5 stars
His Mouth Will Taste of Chernobyl by Steve Berman
First off let me say that this is my first encounter with this author’s work, but it will not be my last. With a true sense of voice and nicely developed characters who are just this side of strange, Steve Berman takes us into the pledge class of a college fraternity where good old hazing has a definite sadistic twist.
One of the pledges, Steve, carries with him his Bailey flask—as he calls it—a magic flask that conforms to whomever drinks from it. In other words if I wanted Grey Goose Vodka and voiced that, when I tipped the flask to drink it would indeed be Grey Goose and it would never run empty. However, an interesting side effect of this charming container is that the drinker than has unbridled lust for the owner, who in this case doesn’t always like what he has done, but seems unable to stop himself. You see Steve never really wanted to pledge Zeta Psi, but his father, who has mostly contempt for his gay son, would not pay the tuition to Tulane if he chose not to. So, in the end, Steve endures the frat hazing and the tawdry sex with the pledge master, Nobel, and tries not to hate what he senses he has become.
But when the flask falls into the hands of another pledge—a guy Steve senses is actually straight and whom he genuinely cares about, the tables turn and things become very real. Now all Steve wants is to turn back time and rid himself of the flask, undo the fatal moment of lust between himself and Carl and at least salvage the friendship they once shared. But it may be too late…
Gosh I wish this story had been longer. These were fascinating characters and we just began to scratch the possibilities between them and hear bits and pieces about who they were by the stories end. I wanted to see just what could potentially develop between Carl and Steve and if that darn flask was still holding Steve captive in so many ways. I really enjoyed this one—but needed just a bit more story to satisfy my thirst. Rating: 4.5 stars
Legion: A Love Story by Avon Gale
Holy Moly, what did I just read? Avon Gale has written perhaps the strangest story in this anthology and truly the one that made my skin crawl the most. Essentially, reading Legion: A Love Story was like watching someone devolve into madness—and the entire time you hear yourself muttering, “don’t do it—run away.”
Jason Essex is a marine who is assigned to watch what appears to be some type of nonhuman entity in an isolated cell while the normal crew who supervises goes on a two-month vacation. At first, his daily record keeping of time and barometric pressure and the location of said entity is almost mundane. Then the thing…wakes up…
By the end of this story, Jason has given it a name, Cain, and the life he knew, the sanity to which he held dear, and yes, perhaps, his very soul have all…changed. Hands down this story was the most intense in terms of chipping away at one’s nerves. Avon Gale writes so well—so intensely that you most definitely feel as though you are right there with Jason, keeping watch and slowly losing pieces of your sanity. The creature locked away is perhaps the most inherently evil thing I have ever witnessed on the written page and it makes your skin crawl and yet, like Jason, you are drawn inexorably closer and closer to it and by the end need to see what will happen if Jason does indeed release it to the world. Suffice it to say you will need to read this little horror gem in order to find out for yourself. Rating: 5 stars
Beauties by J.A. Rock
I love that author J.A. Rock writes what I like to call thinking man novels. She poses questions through her literature that gives one pause—makes one dig deep to answer and always spark the imagination. With her contribution to the anthology we delve into the area of ABs or artificial beings. To call them robots would to minimize their intelligence, their range of emotions, and their critical thinking abilities. And when we are finally introduced to Ira, a “beautie” gone wrong, we are most definitely aware we have met something not quite human that thinks and feels and, yes, calculates.
Lester is an engineer that works with infant ABs. When he is sent to view a new line of ABs that are being engineered for the more violent pleasures, such as dubious consent or rape, he is both sickened and fascinated by the way in which they react to stimuli. Then he sees Ira and suddenly Lester knows that Ira is different. Even though he is warned that Ira is violent and unpredictable—not quite right, Lester buys him and brings him home, determined to somehow tame him—modify him into being calmer, more rational, more approachable. From the very beginning it is obvious that Ira is a boiling cauldron of contradictions and something is just not quite right. Before long, Lester is both mesmerized and repelled by Ira and as time goes on and more is revealed about Ira’s true origins, Lester realizes that something is very, very wrong indeed about Ira.
As always, this author creates characters with depth and layers—even artificial ones. With each chapter, you find that she peals back another layer in her story and allows a deeper glimpse at the real decay and horror beneath the surface. As you read, you find it easy to place yourself in the role of her characters and when the narrative begins to question the motives of those same characters, you find yourself examining your own motivations. It is an imaginative and gifted author who can make you feel that you are a part of her story—that her characters are really microcosms of real people—yourself included. I love this author and this story was just top notch. The fact that it ended horrifically with a nightmarish twist made it all the better. Rating: 5 stars