Twice The Terror is a horror story anthology compiled by, Horror Zine editor, Jeani Rector. The book is 370 pages long and contains a mixture of short stories, poetry and art. I am not a lover of poetry, so it would be unfair for me to pass comment on any of the poetry. I will gladly pass comment on the art though. I like it. Some very talented artists have contributed work to the book and their work ranges from surreal to semi-erotic to . . . rather scary!
There are 26 short stories in Twice the Terror. The first one is David Bernstein’s “It’s a Boy”. The central Character is a soon-to-be-father named Jim. He and his wife, Beth Ann, live on a farm on the outskirts of a small town in upstate New York. With all of the fresh county air, it should be a great place to bring up a child and it probably would have been, but eight months ago there was a zombie outbreak. Jim has only run into one zombie so far and he feels the threat is minimal, but he still worries. It’s hard not to when you are dealing with zombies. Strangely enough, when trouble comes it is not from the undead, but in the scaly form of a copperhead rattlesnake.
The second story “The Flock”, by Chris Castle, is also about a farmer, but in this story, the threat comes from a flock of birds. They are gathering in the trees and increasing in number each day. Jacob can see them while he is out working the fields and he has heard the rumours. The old man from the neighbouring farm says that the flocks ravaged the next town over and swarmed through people’s homes. It does not sound good, but Jacob has other worries. He and his wife never seem to talk to each other. Then when she meets the old man’s nephew for the first time, she is positively exuberant—laughing and joking with him until Jacob feels like an impostor in his own home—and all the time this is happening the flock grows larger.
Zombies make a return in Jonathan Grey Chapman’s “We The Zombies” and these zombies are intelligent. They can even masquerade as the living if they wish to do so, but are enslaved to the service of their master. “We The Zombies” is written in the first person and the reader gets to hear the zombie’s side of the story from the main character, who is the slave of a man named Fedor, who forces him to kill people. He does not want to kill but has learned from bitter experience that he cannot resist Fedor’s wish. Any attempts to do so only cause his victim more pain. The story diverts in an interesting direction when the zombie falls in love with his master’s daughter. Forbidden zombie love—talk about taboo! Sadly the relationship is doomed from the start; it’s never a good idea to pretend that you are something you are not.
There is not a zombie in sight in the fourth story, “Uncanny”, written by Terence Faherty. The central character is called John Mohr and he is on holiday with his wife, Dial. Their marriage is on the rocks, but John is trying to save the relationship. His psychiatrist has taught him some anger management techniques and now John and Dial are taking a cruise through Alaska’s Inner Passage. The cruise was Dial’s choice and John is not enjoying it so his anger management skills are coming in handy. John gets a further chance to practice his skills after three of his fellow passengers insult him. Moment’s later, when they die in a freak accident, all eyes are on John, and perhaps it is his fault. He has been suppressing his emotions for a long time and it is possible that they may have found an uncanny way of expressing themselves. Then again it could be the work of the spirit of the fjord. That is something that each reader will have to decide for themselves.
The next story is “Erasure”, written by Sandhya Falls. This is a strange one and no mistake. It would have made an excellent episode for The Twilight Zone. Can you imagine anything more frightening than the prospect of being erased from existence? Just like that! No warnings and no explanation, you just cease to exist. Nobody can help you and nobody will remember you when you are gone. There will be no headstone, no mourners dressed in black and not a tear shed because to all intents and purposes you never existed. Such is the fate of Nethra Joshi, a writer who is about to have a very bad day.
The Sixth story is the brain-child of the English novelist Christopher Fowler. It is called “The Threads” and, like “Uncanny”, it is about a married couple who are taking a holiday in a last-ditch attempt to patch up their marriage. James and Verity Markham have chosen a warmer venue than Alaska though. They are in North Africa and, after yet another failed business venture, James is looking for a way to make some extra cash. When opportunity knocks it comes in the form of a rare and valuable carpet, but the owner of the carpet refuses to sell it to James; so he steals it instead. This turns out to be an extremely bad move and the Muslim salesman’s revenge is as unique as it is macabre.
The seventh story comes from Hugh Fox. It is called “Who?” and it’s about a man who wakes up with amnesia. He has no idea who he is, what he is, or even where he is, but it soon becomes apparent that he is a man of education because he seems to have a surprisingly good knowledge of many different languages. So good, in fact, that he is not even sure what nationality he is. As the story progresses his memory begins to return, but some things really are best left forgotten.
Stephen Gallagher’s “Not Here, Not Now” is about a man who likes to live his life in the fast lane. This is a guy who keeps the pedal to the metal and his brain in low gear. When you live like that sooner or later you will hit something and the shit will hit the fan. In this case, the mess happens when he turns a corner and is faced with a choice. He can hit the parked cars, choose the garbage truck, or hit a child. Hitting the brakes is not an option because he is going too damn fast. Guess which he chooses. If you guessed the child, you guessed right, and after he has mowed her down he just keeps on driving and tells himself that it was everybody’s fault but his own. And does he slow down? Not likely, some guys never learn until it is too late.
In Michael W. Garza’s “I Hate Clowns”, three thirteen-year-old boys break into a big, creepy old house. Abbey Manor has over a hundred years of bad history and the rumours connected with the house range from murders to bizarre rituals. In short, it is just the sort of place that young boys cannot resist. They are not the first to break in and they probably won’t be the last, but getting out of the house proves to be a lot harder than getting in. Climbing through the window was easy, but the window has locked itself, they are now trapped and, just to make matters worse, something is moving in the shadows and it is moving towards them.
Ed Gorman’s contribution to Twice the Terror is a story called “Emma Baxter’s Boy”. It is set on a remote farm and the opening of the story finds Joel and Emma Baxter standing on their porch and watching the police search the outbuildings. The Sheriff has received reports that a child has been seen playing on the Baxter’s property. The Baxters deny this, but the Sheriff and his deputy are searching anyway and Emma is worried in case they find the entrance to the root cellar. Joel is less worried about this and it soon becomes apparent that, if there is a child hidden in the cellar, he does not share his wife’s love for it. He has his reasons for this, of course, and that is where the real story lies. And the horror.
In Larry Green’s “A Bad Day” a woman named Melanie is laying on a cold tile floor, nursing a bullet wound, and listening to the gunman threatening the cashier, at the front of the store. Everyone else is dead. Melanie should be busy getting dead too, but she isn’t. She is having a bad day and is much too busy getting angry to worry about the bullet hole in her stomach. In fact, Melanie welcomes the anger and you do not have to get far into this story before you realize that the gunman is probably destined to have a bad day as well. But that’s all right. He’s a nasty guy and he deserves it. Go get him, Melanie.
In “Soul Money” Terry Grimwood takes the idea of getting mugged, turns it on its head, and presents the reader with a ‘runt in a suit,’ who is wielding a knife, and a big, scruffy-looking ex-con as the victim. The big guy is called Nick and he does not want any trouble because if the police get involved he thinks it unlikely that they would take his word over that of his clean-shaven attacker. Especially not if he told them that the man demanded that Nick take his wallet. Nick has little choice. He takes the wallet and its contents make a startling difference to his life. The guy in the suit had a good reason for his strange behaviour. Nick learns this the hard way and then he too must try and get rid of the wallet.
Dr. Kevin Hillman’s story, “The Colony Man” gets full marks for strangeness. It is an extremely imaginative tale that begins with a death. Joseph Blackthorn has just been murdered by his best friend, who hopes to step into his shoes and take a walk on the wild side with Joseph’s wife. Joseph is dead; let’s get that straight right from the start. When your body is nothing but a broken mess of flesh and bone and a colony of ants are busy snacking inside your head, it is pretty hard not to be dead, but in his own strange way Joseph lives on and the story takes an interesting turn into the further weird when he gets the chance for a reunion with his wife.
Kurt Jarram’s story begins with the statement ‘First you must understand that I am about to die.’ “Beheld” is written in the first person and as the central character writes his final words he has a syringe ready. It’s filled with poison and he has every intention of using it. He is not the reluctant possessor of a sinister wallet and his mind is not filled with the fear that his brain will become the playground of insects. His problems, though equally strange, come from a very different source—canvas and paint. He has dedicated his life to the study of the macabre and the terrible, the latest addition to his collection is a painting, and it’s inexplicably bad.
What is it like to die and will we be allowed to enjoy one last dream before we go? In Michael C. Keith’ s “Last Dream” that is exactly what happens. The people at Last Dream Incorporated record such dreams and they have been doing it for so long they no longer check the videos before they send them to grieving relatives. Why would they? Last Dream Videos have always been a positive experience for their viewers. It never pays to cut corners and everything turns sour when a customer receives a video nasty that reveals her husband’s real feelings towards her. It’s not good at all, but the people at LDI are nothing if not resilient and they soon learn how to adapt their business.
I’m not sure how I would feel about fishing waters that bore the name “Bone Lake”, but in Mark LaFlamme’s story the characters do not seem to mind and the story opens to find two friends, Carlton and Rupert, sitting in a shack on top of the frozen waters and fishing through holes in the ice and drinking Jack Daniel’s. I suppose a little Dutch courage may be necessary to fish a haunted lake, but Bone Lake isn’t a ghost story. The lake is haunted by a living man named Joseph. His wife and young daughter vanished in a storm and were in all probability claimed by the lake, but their bodies were never found. This has made Joseph’s loss harder to bear because he still has hope. Now the big man wanders the area around the lake and is forever asking one question: “Have you seen them?” The answer is always “No.” Then one night Carlton and Rupert pull something big out of the water that shocks them so much they never fish the waters again, but, when Joseph asks them, “Have you seen them?” the answer is still “No.”
I’m not sure that I would class this as a horror story, but Lee Landers’ “The Twinkie Killer” certainly has an unusual title. It is set in Dallas on a cold Christmas Eve morning. A man called Harrold is sitting in his car drinking whisky and trying to share a Twinkie with his dog, while he watches a house across the street. Inside that house, his friend Jimbo is busy having sex with Harold’s wife and all poor Harold has to keep him warm is a bottle of whisky and his temper. And he has run out of Twinkies! This guy is not having a good day and you will probably not be surprised to learn he has a gun in his pocket.
“Bottom Feeder” is the brainchild of Deborah LeBlanc. I was looking forward to reading this one and was not disappointed. The story is set on a farm where a runaway named Nina has been offered some work. A big part of the job will involve slopping up the pigs’ dinners, but Nina’s hardest job is stomaching the idea because their food smells as bad as it looks. And it looks terrible! Strangely though, even the biggest, ugliest pig on the farm, a boar named Ol’ Maudawan, is decidedly more pleasant than the farm owener, Lervette. As far as career choices go, Nina is onto a loser, but she tries her best, even though she fears there may be something strange about Lervette and her farm. Then, when a ghostly girl appears and tells Nina that she is in danger, Nina decides to flee the farm, but she will have to get past Lervette first.
In Paul Levinson’s story “The Harmony”, three boys are singing on a street corner when a policeman wanders over to them. The boys expect him to give them the inevitable time to break it up and take it on home lecture, but Officer Dave surprises them. He joins in instead and his voice is in perfect harmony with theirs. When they do ‘break it up’ Dave gives the boys the address of a place on Simpson Street. One of the boys visits it and is welcomed into a haven for singers, where he gets the chance to add his voice to those of some incredibly talented singers. He soon becomes obsessed with the place on Simpson Street and spends most of his time there. It is like an addiction and once he is well and truly hooked, he learns that, like any addiction, it has its price.
Bentley Little’s weird and wonderful offering is called “The Security System”. It is about a married couple who return from vacation and discover that they have been burgled. Disillusioned by the local police force they decide to install a security system, but one company, ABS, seems to have cornered the market and Kent and Debbie dislike the ABS representative, Mr. Rollins, and refuse to have anything to do with the company. Rollins is not so easily deterred though. He is a man who takes high-pressure sales tactics to a new level and is willing to break into their home, sniff Debbie’s panties and take a dump in their bathtub just to prove how vulnerable they are without an alarm. And that’s just for starters.
Graham Masterton’s “Underbed” is about a young boy named Martin who is one of those rare children who are happy to go to bed early. Martin is an imaginative child and as soon as his mother closes the bedroom door he pops his head under the blankets and travels to any and every place his mind can dream up. Martin has just watched a programme about potholing and he decides that tonight he will rescue a young boy who is trapped in an underground cavern. When he cannot find the boy he finds a new mission instead and goes in search of a missing girl who is lost somewhere in Underbed. Martins search takes him into dangerous territories though, and when he eventually does find the girl she is in Under-Underbed and that is where the darkest things live.
The next story is Bruce Memblatt’s “The Police Station” and it’s a strange one. The central character is a man named Michael Reardon. He does not know how he got there, but he is being interrogated at a police station unlike any he has ever seen. The two guys who are playing good cop bad cop with him are a little strange as well, but as they fire their questions at him Michael’s memory begins to return and he finally remembers the events that landed him in his present predicament.
The central character in Geoff Nelder’s “In Abstentia”, is also a little confused. Like Michael, he does not know where he is or how he got there, but he also has a further problem—he has no idea who he is. All he knows is that he is in a park and the little girl with him seems to have all the answers. Is she his daughter? He does not know. He discovers who he is in the end though, and he also finds out she is not a girl who likes to play nice.
I’ve read some strange stories in my time, but demonic scrunchies? That’s a new one on me and Shawn Oetzel’s “Scrunchies” is easily the weirdest story in the book. It is about a man who has a perfectly normal and happy life until the day his girlfriend comes home with a bagful of scrunchies. At four for a dollar, they were such a bargain she bought eight. Unfortunately, all she can see is their startling colours; not the hair-raising monster within.
In Chris Reed’s story “This Moment Will Haunt You Forever” a hard-hearted businessman gets his just deserts. His name is Paul and what begins a normal day at the office quickly becomes anything but normal when he looks up from his desk and finds a Native American Indian man standing in the doorway. Paul cannot understand how the man got past his secretary, but that little mystery soon becomes the least of his worries. The Indian’s name is Mr Wood and Paul’s company is suing him for credit card debt. Wood has been ill and he has two young children to take care of, but he is willing to pay the original debt, it is the extra charges that he cannot manage. With little regard for Wood’s problems, Paul sends the man away and soon finds himself on the wrong side of an Indian curse.
Neither Indians nor curses feature in Dean H. Wilde’s “Flesh”; instead the reader is granted the dubious privilege of meeting a very strange family who live out in the woods. If you are scared of dark, lonely woods though; try not to worry because the central character, a reporter named Rich, will be there to keep you company. Rich has decided to go out to the Clevelle place because a clan member has recently turned up floating the wrong way up in a bog and Rich can smell a story. Rich’s is right, there is a story and he soon sniffs it out, but it is a lot more story than he can handle and it may have been better for him if he had kept his nose out of the family’s business.
“Flesh” is followed by forty-three pages of art and poetry before the reader reaches the Editor’s Corner, which contains two of Jeani Rector’s stories “Under the House” and “The Burial”. The central character in “Under the House” is a ten-year-old girl named Kayla. She is an only child, but, unfortunately, in Kayla’s case, this does not mean that she receives any extra love or that she is spoilt. Just the opposite, in fact. Her father has a drink problem and is abusive when he has been drinking. Kayla and her mother are invariably the targets for his drunken wrath. When Kayla discovers a hole in the clapboards underneath the back porch she crawls through the gap and believes that she has found the perfect hiding place to shelter her from her father’s rage. It is not long before she has a chance to use her sanctuary and while her father rages on the other side of the floorboards above her head, Kayla sits in the damp darkness, listening, waiting and hoping that her father will not find her.
Well, folks, this is it, the last story in the book, “The Burial”. When one of the tribal elders gets sick Fourteen-year-old Ahija is forced to take his place and be a pallbearer. This is a big responsibility for the young man, a scary one too because if the ceremonies are not performed in the correct manner the malevolence of the Chidis will escape from the body of the dead man and, once free, will find somebody else to possess. Ahija may be frightened, but he is no longer a little boy and he is of the correct bloodline, and besides, his father will be there with him and with many years experience in such matters, what could possibly go wrong? Something does go wrong; very wrong indeed, and Ahija has a tough decision to make.
Twice the Terror is quite a mixed bag of stories and I am sure that most lovers of the dark fantastic will find something to get their hearts racing against the shivers that are running down their spines. I have my own personal favourites of course. “The Flock” was an early favourite because the farmer is such a believable character it was hard for me not to feel sorry for him. I love Bentley Little’s story and the dark humour of the piece was not wasted on me. LeBlanc’s story is also a dark favourite—that Lervette is one scary old lady! Did I hate any of the stories? No, I can honestly say that there was not a single one that forced me to skim through the pages or skip the paragraphs. If you decide to read the book you will probably find several favourites of your own; there really is something here for all tastes. Even Twinkie-loving readers need not be disappointed. What? You don’t want to read it! Well, that is okay, each to their own, as they say. You will never know what you are missing and, as an added bonus you will be able to save on electric and sleep with the lights off; but remember, sometimes twice the terror can be twice the fun.