Scoutmaster Tim Riggs should have postponed the Troop 52 camping trip to Falstaff Island off the coast of Prince Edward Island when he heard that a storm might be heading their way. If only he’d done so, the tragic and horrifying events that followed could have been avoided. Of course, if that had been the case, what would Nick Cutter have written instead of The Troop? The book begins with an emaciated, starving man, sick in appearance and erratic in behavior, venturing into a diner where he struggles to satisfy his intense and unrelenting hunger. Filled to bursting, he leaves and ultimately makes his way to the shore of Falstaff Island, where he takes the hideous and insidious life teeming within him on a collision course with Tim and the five boys of Troop 52. With no way to escape, a storm brewing on the horizon, and an unseen threat looming beneath the sick man’s skin, no amount of scout know-how can prepare the boys for the nightmare that is about to devour what should have been a fun and adventure-filled camping trip. Intensely disquieting body horror meets man-vs-nature in an absolute masterpiece that combines Lord of the Flies with an almost Cronenberg-style narrative of infection and parasites. As Ephriam, Max, and Newt struggle to survive, they tap into resources they didn’t know they had and learn more about themselves and each other than they’d ever expected. It’s not only the microscopic peril brought to the island by its host but also the unbridled machismo of Kent and the serial killer-in-the-making of Shelley that pushes the boys past their limits. Interspersed throughout the narrative are supplemental reports and investigative elements that fill in the blanks for the reader, adding to the discomfort as we learn more about what awaits the boys than they know for themselves. There is harm done to animals throughout this book. That can be uncomfortable to read, but it serves the narrative well and never feels gratuitous. In particular, the experience with the turtle is poignant, and it reminds us that these are children we’re following on this harrowing and torturous odyssey. Corey Brill’s narration of the audiobook is fantastic. He does an excellent job of providing each of the boys with their own distinctive voices and cadence, never forcing the listener to keep track of who they’re listening to at any given time. While I loathed the character, Brill’s performance of Shelley was the stand-out portrayal, instilling the skin-crawling sensation that boy would surely produce.
Things haven’t been going well for Ross Lowry. He’s lost his engineering job and struggled to find a new source of income. His troubles are essentially ignored by members of his family, many of whom had no difficulty accepting his assistance when he was in the position to offer it. All of that begins to change when his cousin, Lita, and her husband, Dave, invite Ross to spend some time at their ranch in the isolated, small town of Magdelena, AZ. There’s something about the peace of being there that makes him feel like he can take them up on their offer of staying for an extended period. It seems like an excellent opportunity. Ross figures that he can sublet his place in California while assisting Dave and Lita around the ranch and continuing his online job search. Everything seems fine at first. But during the New Years’ celebration at Cameron Holtz’s ranch, when the celebrants fire their guns into the sky, something other than spent ammunition comes falling down. From that point on, everything begins to change. Animals begin dying. Those that don’t die, begin undergoing strange and unsettling transformations, both physical and behavioral. It isn’t just the animals, though, as the residents of Magdelena change as well. The status quo shifts in unpredictable manners as fortunes and positions within the community go topsy turvy. Will Ross and his small group of friends and family be able to figure out what’s going on before it’s too late for them to avoid a fate similar to seemingly everyone else? What is the monstrous thing being worshipped on Cameron Holtz’s ranch, and is it something worthy of adoration? While this isn’t the best of Bentley Little’s work, it is as deeply unsettling and imaginative as anything else he’s written. Elements of body horror and psychological horror meld perfectly with supernatural and spiritual elements to create a narrative that demands the reader/listener not turn away. Joe Barrett’s narration captures the confusion and desperation Ross and the others experience as the story grows progressively more disturbing and unreal. The characters are distinctly voiced and three-dimensional.
Scott Smith pulls no punches with The Ruins, delivering an increasingly disorienting barrage of horrors until the reader arrives at what can be the only conclusion this story could have. There will be no ersatz happy ending shoehorned into the tale Smith shares with the progressively uncomfortable reader. I must rip that bandage off right away. The Ruins is a horror story that mingles body horror with the terror of isolation and the unknowable. While on vacation in Mexico, two couples befriend a German tourist who was on a holiday of his own with his brother. When Mathias’s brother doesn’t return from an archaeological dig he’d ventured off on, the two couples and another tourist–one of a trio of Greeks who speak no English–join Mathias in his search. The journey takes them deep into the jungle of the Yucatan, far from the beaches and resorts crowded with revelers. Following a crudely drawn map, the group manages to find themselves approaching a vine-covered hill where Mayan locals accost them for unknown reasons, though seemingly attempting to keep the tourists from venturing any closer to the mound across the clearing. When one of the tourists backs into the vines while trying to capture a photo of the language barrier-hampered exchange taking place, the Mayans’ attempt to keep the six of them from approaching the hill transforms into a merciless bid to keep the tourists from venturing back across the clearing. As misfortune and decreasing odds of survival strain the group’s optimism and belief they’ll walk away from this misadventure unscathed, it gradually becomes clear that they’re facing something insidious and terrifying that defies comprehension. Discovering the truth behind the Mayans’ desperate need to keep the six of them confined where they are, threatens to push the group of friends and acquaintances beyond the limits of what they can endure. Scott Smith does an excellent job of balancing the threats, making the experience feel as claustrophobic and intense as he can without placing the reader in similar circumstances. Between the Mayans patrolling the perimeter of the hill, the diminishing supplies, the environment itself, and the terrifying life inhabiting the mound, it’s always up in the air which hazard will prove to be the deadliest. Patrick Wilson’s narration is both professional and competent, effectively differentiating the characters and articulating the narrative. He also successfully tackles Mathias’s accent and aloof character without dropping the ball.
Colt Skinner’s debut, brought to us by the unholy alliance of D&T Publishing and Godless, is one hell of a ride. Your English Is Good introduces us to Eddy, a biker hired as protection for Grace as she entertains clients for the night. On the surface, Grace appears to be a prostitute or dominatrix, but appearances can be deceiving. We learn a great deal about Eddy–both his past and aspirations within the Dead Mariachis Motorcycle Club–as he finds himself drifting through reminiscence and reflection in the strangest way upon first meeting Grace. She seems to have a peculiar effect on him, but it’s nothing compared to the influence she has on her clients, but that’s what they’re paying her for. While short, this story succeeds in blending elements of cosmic and body horror with a meditation on morality and sacrifice. In the end, we’re forced to consider that it may be that the most inhuman among us who display the most compassion and decency and that it’s all-too-human to exhibit a total lack of humanity. Skinner leaves the reader wanting, hoping there’s more to the story of Grace and Eddy than what we’ve been exposed to. More than that, we’re left hoping there’s a lot more on the horizon from this emerging author because his English is good, but his writing is excellent.
You can obtain this story from http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app to your mobile device of choice. The link is below:
This story begins with what appears to be a charming little family gathered together near the tree to open presents on Christmas morning. Of course, knowing that this is a story from Matt Henshaw should give you pause, and provide some indication that things will not remain so tame and prosaic. It isn’t until grandma and uncle arrive with three presents left near the front door that things begin to change for the worse. Driven by compulsion, the trio of Daniel, Sally, and Billy start unwrapping the presents with disastrous consequences. A lump of coal is just fine with me if that’s an alternative to what happens to this family when they find themselves on Santa’s naughty list. Thankfully, Henshaw isn’t in R&D at Santa’s workshop, because Christmas would be a rather different experience for a lot of people.
This story was released as part of the AntiChristmas event at http://www.godless.com for December of 2021. You can obtain it for yourself by going to the website or by downloading the Godless app to your mobile device of choice. The link is below:
The Breed begins with Theo seeking refuge, hoping for nothing more than to use a phone to call his mother, his bike broken down in the rain. When he knocks at the door of Cullis House, his belief that he’s found a refuge is short-lived. Ericmore leaps ahead a matter of decades and we join two friends hoping to stay at Cullis House in the middle of their backpacking trip. Sore feet and the attention of a sleazy guest already in attendance are soon the least of their concerns. This story could be adapted to serve as a Hellraiser sequel with only minimal alteration required. One needs only think of the house in place of the Lament Configuration. Ericmore crafts a grotesque, sexually-charged nightmare that even Barker would be hard-pressed to deny as a suitable abbatoir for his playthings to explore.
In the third installment of the Vasectomus Trilogy, Tim Eagle brings us back around to Charles Effucuss, the former courier who supplied Sabre with the fluids he required for his parasitic children. While “Chuckles” was a bit player in the original story, Effucuss fleshes him out in detail. From the moment he begins buying drugs from Sabre, the small-town dynamic of Stevats begins to feel like a force of destiny. Coincidences and happenstance proliferate his everyday life, propelling the young man on a collision course that will take him from isolation and sexism, through the shattered remains of Sue and Sabre’s doomed marriage, to a peculiar sort of fatherhood. The bizarro and body horror elements from Vasectomus are back in full force in this conclusion to the trilogy. As Eagle takes the components he introduced and amplifies them for this final tale, we’re left wondering how and why all of these events came to pass. But perhaps it’s best not to question these things.
Effucuss was released as part of the 31 Days of Godless event at http://www.godless.com for October of 2021. You can find this story for yourself by going to the website or by downloading the Godless app to your mobile device. The link is below:
Tim Eagle’s Walking Free reintroduces us to Sue, sometime after the events of Vasectomus, as she’s about to participate in a peculiar ceremony, presumably something isolated to the town of Stevats. We find her wearing a mask as she takes her turn to publicly share her stories of Sabre. Sue joins in a ritual with other residents who gather together near a bonfire to share these often unflattering and purgative tales that wouldn’t be appropriate at a funeral. Sue’s life before Sabre appears to be one of success and upward mobility, with a bright future ahead of her until she decides that she’s missing only one thing, a family. Unfortunately for Sue, Sabre wasn’t the best choice with that future in mind. We discover that she knew of Sabre’s machinations and that she was pulling strings to get what she wanted long before the events of Vasectomus took place. And though she’s a widow now, is it possible she might just have the family she was searching for, despite Sabre’s protestations? This middle story of the Vasectomus trilogy wasn’t quite as peculiar and captivating as the first installment, but the ending certainly provides a snapshot containing a healthy dose of bizarre and unsettling family.
You can pick up Walking Free and the other two volumes of the Vasectomus Trilogy by going to http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app on your mobile device. The link is below:
In Vasectomus, Tim Eagle invites us to spend some time with Sabre and his wife. They’re an unhappy couple fueled by acrimony and bitterness. The primary source of spite between the two is Sue’s unrelenting insistence that she and Sabre have children and Sabre’s unflinching contempt for the whole concept. A peculiar encounter with the old woman next door interrupts the couple’s most recent argument, and from there, Vasectomus leads us along a strange path blending bizarro and body horror. Eagle gives us a story of secrets, lack of communication, and backstabbing that befits the most absurdly over-the-top soap opera marriages. That is, assuming those soap operas are written by the likes of David Lynch or David Cronenberg. In the first of three tales, Vasectomus introduces us to the strange town of Stevats and the residents living there. Eagle manages to entice readers to return, against all better judgment, by sharing with us a place that thankfully can only exist in the feverish imagination of its author.
You can pick up Vasectomus as well as the two sequel stories by going to http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app to your mobile device of choice. The link is below:
Wayne expected a normal evening of hockey, announcing the penalties and the scores just like any other day at the arena. When he started feeling ill, he thought it might just be a cold, until he saw the tiny figure he’d coughed up. Unfortunately, for Wayne, that little person is only the first of many. As the announcer’s body is pushed past its limits, and what starts off a curious–albeit revolting–spectacle for the fans becomes a nightmare of body horror as an unstoppable surge of humanoid figures continues to erupt into the arena. Ludens blends body horror and science fiction in an entertainingly vile fashion with Sudden Death. Sadly, death doesn’t arrive suddenly enough for our poor, besieged protagonist, as his suffering continues beyond what anyone should experience.
Sudden Death was released as a Godless exclusive short at http://www.godless.com and you can pick it up for yourself by going to the website or by downloading the Godless app to your mobile device. The link is below: