Lucas Mangum listed Bradbury and Laymon as his inspirations when writing Bone Cider, but he didn’t need to tell us that. Reading this story made me want to pick up my worn out copies of Bradbury’s The October Country or The Illustrated Man or Laymon’s Night In the Lonesome October. Mangum’s descriptions of the sights, sounds, and experiences shared by our young protagonist evoke reminiscence of the Octobers of childhood. Reading these words, we can’t help but feel the chill in the air, the fallen leaves blowing with a light rattle across the sidewalk as we trespass in the gloom of dusk or full night, and the tingling deep inside that remained only so long as we still believed in the magic of those nights. Some of us hold on to that tingling sensation well into adulthood, and Mangum is clearly one of those people. Bone Cider is a story of loss, of family, and of the way the world seems–or is–different when the nights are long and the world is only thinly separated from other worlds we glimpse only in our dreams. Lucas Mangum brings all of that to life in the tale he tells.
Bone Cider was released as part of the 31 Days of Godless event at http://www.godless.com for the month of October, 2021. You can grab a copy for yourself by going to the website or using the app on your preferred mobile device. The link is below:
A friend of mine brought a Kickstarter campaign to my attention months ago. Upon checking it out, I absolutely had to get on board. It was to be a graphic novel showcasing a variety of Texas-based comic and literary talents in an anthology setting. Since a lot of my favorite indie authors and small presses are based out of Texas there was no way I wasn’t going to support this campaign. My digital edition of Texas Horror arrived just a few days ago, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. We begin this anthology with Kitchen Witches: Origin of the Ramen Witch, brought to us by Halo Toons. A late-night visit to a convenience store becomes something unexpected as a cup of ramen in the microwave behaves in a way that defies any conceivable safety precautions. Aerobicide: Blockbuster night, written by David Doub with art by Terry Parr, takes on a harrowing adventure that arises from a simple attempt to return some videotapes. You’ll find references to horror video rental royalty throughout this brief but entertaining escapade. Demons In the Darkness: Part 1, written by David Doub, with letters by Daniel Chan and art by Dominic Racho, tells the story of a group of outcasts getting together for a night of tabletop role-playing after a rough day in school. As the story unfolds, an in-game ritual to purge some of the negativity from the real lives of the players might turn out to have some real-life consequences. The Texas Horror Writers Showcase brings us flash fiction from some of my favorite writers in the industry today. John Balitsberger shares a tale of the famed Goatman’s Bridge and the sacrifices people will make to unlock secret knowledge. Lucas Mangum tells us the story of a camping trip gone terribly wrong in a story of beautiful flowers and mental illness. Wile E. Young brings us back to the world of Salem Covington (of The Magpie Coffin) from a different perspective. And finally, Max Booth III brings us a strange tale of gardening and family that will leave you wondering “What the fuck,” just as much as the father in his story. Luna Vino, written by Mike Howlett and drawn by Howard Kelley, takes us to a manor where, no matter how unexpected the night might turn out, losing one’s favorite wine might be the worst thing that could happen. Finally, Mask It or Casket, written by David Doub with art by Miguel Angel Hernandez, shares a poignant tale of the current pandemic. In this violent clash of ideological perspectives taken to extremes, it’s difficult to consider even one’s own side correct, though it’s hard not to sympathize with the antagonist’s frustration. All in all, this is a great sampler of the fantastic horror-themed art coming out of Texas. It’s certainly added some names to the list of creators I’ll want to keep an eye on.
Though the campaign for this project has been over for a while, readers might be interested in some additional details. I’ll include the link to the Kickstarter below:
If Italian director Lucio Fulci were alive today, creating movies at 94-years-old like those he’d filmed four decades ago, this novella could be the novelization of his newest masterpiece. Southard and Mangum display a sincere and passionate love for the atmosphere, over-the-top gore, and idiosyncratically disjointed flow of Fulci’s oeuvre. That deep and abiding adoration is necessary to so accurately capture the feel of a Fulci movie with The Final Gate. The more dedicated fans will perhaps experience a sort of wavering, rippling effect in their imaginations, seeing the face of Bob from House By the Cemetery transitioning into the much older face of Robert, the caretaker of St. Luke’s Orphanage. As pleased as we are to make his acquaintance again–and to see that he’s grown into a man who found a way to help children who were orphaned just as he was–it would seem that Bob’s encounters with supernatural horrors aren’t over. After racing into the orphanage in response to a young boy’s desperate cries for help, Robert’s story comes to an end when he enters Bryce’s darkened bedroom. The rest of the book follows Brandon, Bryce’s older brother, and various other characters as Brandon desperately tries to make up for the mistakes of his earlier years. He hopes that by locating his younger brother and rescuing him from an orphanage that seems increasingly sinister, the deeper he digs into it, he’ll find a sense of fulfillment and redemption. With the assistance of Jillian, his girlfriend, and Jillian’s ex-boyfriend, Dan, Brandon faces something far more mysterious and awful than he could have anticipated. In true homage to Fulci, the authors leave you wondering who–if anyone–will survive and whether there’s any chance of a happy ending when the gates of hell are involved. Any fans of Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento, Mario and Lamberto Bava, Ruggero Deodato, Umberto Lenzi, Bruno Mattei, and the other Italian greats should immediately pick up a copy of this book in August when it releases. No other book I’ve read has so perfectly demonstrated the Italian exploitation cinema tone the way this one has.
This one is a fast-paced and frenetic descent into horrors that lurk just below the surface of our reality, much as the dark web lurks just below the surface of the conventional, everyday internet of Google, Facebook, Twitter, and such. There are some fascinating parallels to be discovered in this story because of that mirroring aspect. Most of the novella focuses on true-crime novelist Niles Highsmith and his search for a missing younger brother, Leon. Through Leon’s friends, Niles soon learns that his brother had recently been searching the dark web in hopes of obtaining a firearm for protection–only to be diverted along the way–witnessing perversions and unsettling horrors instead, just before he disappeared. With no other avenues of inquiry available to him, Niles dives into the dark web as well, unaware of the attention he’s drawing to himself. Fans of the author will be pleased to find references to other works within the story as Niles explores the dark web for himself. The story, while captivating, takes a backseat to the intense, graphic visuals that Mangum conjures in his writing. If one were to toss the paintings of Zdzislaw Beksinski, Salvador Dali, and H.R. Giger into a blender, they might come up with something approximating what Mangum describes in parts of this narrative.
Certainly, someone out there found themselves wondering what it might be like if Terry Pratchett had taken the time to focus his considerable talents toward writing an action-packed, ultraviolent ninja story. Or maybe not? Either way, Brian Asman’s Nunchuck City provides us with a glimpse of what that story might have been. This book is imbued with the same irreverent wit and hilariously meandering narrative elements one might have hoped for from just such a tale. If you’ve ever wondered what could have been, if only David Wong (Jason Pargin) had written the screenplay for American Ninja…you need look no further because this would surely be the novelization of that magnificent piece of absurd cinema. The story begins with Skip Baxter, a middle-aged, delusional sensei who proclaims himself to be The Most Dangerous Man In Turbo City. Imagine that kid from middle school, the one who bragged about being a black belt and how his hands were deadly weapons…now age him a solid 30 years or so, and you have Skip Baxter. Now, imagine Skip Baxter beaten senseless and hospitalized without even putting up a feeble effort to defend himself. That’s ok. This story isn’t really about him. You’ll see him again, though. This story is about Nunchuck “Nick” Nikolopoulis, a former ninja with a dark past. Nick is a man who studied under two masters, first, to become a formidable ninja and second, to become a stunningly proficient master of fondue. All he needs to do is get a signature from the Mayor of Turbo City, and his dreams of establishing a fondue restaurant, Fond Dudes, with Rondell (his only friend in Turbo City) will come true. Nunchuck City would be a painfully short book if it was that simple. Suddenly, a specter from Nick’s past throws the city into turmoil, unleashing devastation and kidnapping the Mayor for the express purpose of beating him in combat and usurping the title for himself. With another unexpected visitor from his past, Nick must find a way to save the Mayor–and the city–or admit that he failed to get the business license for Fond Dudes filed…and Nick isn’t one to accept failure. Stay tuned after your feature presentation for Lucas Mangum’s Curse of the Ninja, a terrific short story about Catholics, ninjas, and exorcism…something you probably don’t know you need just yet, but I assure you that you do.
Filth and purity. These words will mean something to you as you follow along with Courtney’s awful narrative. They’re appropriate words to have in mind as you read Mangum’s Saint Sadist. In a strange sense, there’s an overarching theme of filth and purity, the duality of those two things, and the way they reflect one another throughout the whole story. Courtney’s father was a violent and abusive man, until she discovered she could use her burgeoning sexuality as a shield to protect herself from those bouts of cruelty and violence. Becoming a victim of a wholly different sort of abuse, teenage Courtney believes she’s taken control of the situation, both protecting herself and preying upon her father’s weakness. Then she gets pregnant. Reading this, you might think this is the end…but it’s only the beginning. Courtney escapes from her home, hoping to provide a better life for her incestuous offspring by living the life of a harlot. Few authors would look at what they’d created thus far and decide they haven’t gone far enough. Lucas Mangum is one of those few. The story grows increasingly vile and violent. The voice in Courtney’s head and the visions she experiences force us to wonder how much is real and how much is the result of severe psychological damage and depravity visited upon a young girl. This is an unpleasant, raw, and disgusting masterpiece. Melody Muzljakovich breathes life into both Courtney’s Texas drawl and the hissing whispers and chanting of her inner voice with equal skill. Other characters are similarly well-narrated.