I had the immense pleasure of reading Baker’s Dozen in advance to write a blurb for the anthology. It seemed only natural that I would also be writing a review of the collection now that the release date is looming on the near horizon. Rarely has a themed anthology come together so perfectly in capturing a motif and carrying it through all of the component pieces included. There is no question that Baker’s Dozen is overall one of the best anthologies I’ll have the pleasure of reading. Paraphrasing what I said in my blurb, this is a delicious concoction, albeit neither safe nor healthy. If you’re looking for those qualities, you’re in the wrong place. It would have been a challenge, bringing this assortment of spectacularly imaginative authors together and compiling an anthology that wasn’t worth reading; there’s no doubt that Candace Nola deserves a great deal of credit for editing this volume, though. Anthologies are only as good as the editor who brings them together, and there’s no question that this collection was in excellent hands from the beginning. Christine Morgan kicks it all off with the period piece, Pretzels of God, spinning a tale of jealousy and bitterness, of sacred vows broken most violently and unpredictably. Apple Pie & Diamond Eyes by Chris Miller tells the story of an aptly-named Karen being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unfortunately, Karen has a passel of teenage girls in tow, as a trio of criminals gets their just desserts in a truly literal sense. Ruthann Jagge’s The Piebird introduces us to Flora Corolla, so desperate to bring pride to her family’s bakery that she’ll accept guidance from the most unlikely and untrustworthy source. Next Best Baker by Jeff Strand is perversely hilarious. A man after my own heart, I feel like he watches cooking and baking competitions the same way I do, imagining the worst conceivable surprise ingredients being tossed into the mix and laughing as he envisions it all playing out. I assure you that this is no baking competition for the faint of heart. Aron Beauregard hits us with A Muffin In The Oven, and he hits us hard. The announcement of a friend’s pregnancy–an event that should be full of warmth and cheer–turns sour and horrific as the facts surrounding the paternity come to light. Carver Pike’s Blueberry Hill is a tale of bullying, teenage cruelty, revenge, and witchcraft. This one is, without a doubt, the hardest story to read, in my opinion. Hillary Hightower doesn’t deserve any of the terrible things that happen to her, but when seeking retribution, one should probably be careful what they wish for. This story has the “dig two graves” adage on full display. They Are Always Watching is equal parts sad and terrifying, and Patrick C. Harrison, III leans into both qualities heavily. A daughter struggling with her mother’s declining mental capacity is forced to face the truth of what seems like little more than her debilitated mother’s fevered mind. My Lil’ Cupcake by Lee Franklin floats us through a dysfunctional marriage and one woman’s desire to find freedom from the domineering, cruel, and awful men in her life. The method by which Lindsey seeks her emancipation is something visceral to behold. Kenzie Jennings provides us with the worst Florida has to offer in Just A Local Thing. A family on vacation finds themselves at the mercy of the perverse whims of a seemingly prescient baker. Of Dough And Cinnamon brings us heartbreak and satisfying vengeance as Daniel Volpe tells the story of a widower who experiences one more loss than he can handle. Rowland Bercy Jr. introduces us to the most unlikely cryptid in Homegrown Comeuppance. A fierce rivalry between two bakers reaches a horrific conclusion that just might spell the end for not only those involved but also the innocent residents of a Brazilian town. Candace Nola showcases not only her editorial skills with Baker’s Dozen but her skill as a writer as well. County Contest provides us with a glimpse of a small business still struggling to recapture the success once known when Horace’s wife was still around. As a new librarian arrives in town, it seems like her sole purpose in life is to tear down everyone around her with sarcasm and bitterness. But maybe that bitterness is just what the recipe calls for when it’s time to unveil a new flavor. Death, And A Donut by Michael Ennenbach is a most peculiar yet beautiful love story, built on a substrate of random, wanton bloodshed and disorder. A cacophony of disaster paves the way through this narrative, leading us to a surprisingly touching conclusion. You can’t go wrong with a single piece in this collection, and I recommend dedicating some time to taking in the fantastic illustrations that accompany the text. This whole volume was painstakingly assembled with obvious love and care like the best recipes always are.
In Blood immerses us within an epistolary horror penned by Sir Henry Irving, owner of the Lyceum Theatre, to his friend and assistant, Bram Stoker. It is a tale of murder, insidious plots, and the evolution of what would become Dracula. It all revolves around a Masonic conspiracy surrounding the Duke of Clarence and Avondale, his part in the pregnancy of a Catholic girl of low birth, and the prostitutes murdered by Jack the Ripper. As our narrator describes it, his authentically terrified performances in Macbeth are informed and influenced by an all-too-real haunting wherein he sees the deceased ladies of the night in place of the three witches on stage with him. From there, he finds himself driven by strange and monstrous compulsions and a need to witness unspeakable things in an appalling attempt at method acting. As his missive to Stoker continues, it becomes clear that something awful has awakened within him, leading inexorably down the path toward damnation and inhuman brutality. The Professor’s narration of this sordid tale makes the story all the more compelling, its deranged and lunatic protagonist leaping from the page in such a way that the listener feels his frantic, unhinged need propelling the narrative forward. The strangely beautiful prose comes to life in cruel, vivid detail as the exquisitely described savagery spirals out of control.
You can obtain a copy of In Blood by going to http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app to your mobile device of choice. The link is below:
When his teenage daughter disappears, Offi–former Officer Standish learns he will do anything to find her. In his search he will plummet to lows he’d never dreamed possible, braving trials that test the limits of his imagination and his intestinal fortitude. How far would you go to save the life of your only child?
Just in time for Thanksgiving, I’m bringing you a story that should make you hold your loved ones closer, treasuring family. I don’t want to spoil anything, because I delve into the backstory surrounding what motivated me to write this one in the Author’s Notes at the end of the story…but in the midst of this, you’ll encounter the snippet I’d set aside to share as part of the KillerCon 2021 virtual convention. Sadly, I opted not to dive right into the depravity and that decision did me no favors.
You can find this Godless exclusive short by going to http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app to your mobile device of choice. The link is below:
If you’ve already braved the horrors of Lucifer’s Mansion, the earlier prequel to Hellsworld Hotel, you might just have an idea of what awaits you in Mephistopheles Den. That doesn’t stop Matthew Vaughn from crafting a whole new and exciting house of horrors for us to explore. We follow two groups into an abandoned factory that’s been converted, for one night only, into a most graphic and distasteful series of rooms. Meant to elicit terror and disgust from those unfortunate enough to purchase tickets, each new display is more unsettling than the next. We follow along as helpless witnesses, slipping through black curtains into a nightmare from which there is no escape. Or is there? Vaughn brings to life two vastly different groups of people, for the sole purpose of stealing that life away in callously violent fashion. Of course, one of those groups includes Donald and Tony, and any reader is likely to want those two dead before we really get started with the story. This one takes a slightly different direction as we reach the end, presumably leading us into the much larger work that is Hellsworld Hotel. I suspect you, like me, will be eager to dive into that title after reaching the conclusion of this prequel.
This title was released as part of the 31 Days of Godless event at http://www.godless.com and you can pick it up for yourself by going to the website or by downloading the app to your mobile device of choice. The link is below:
Rampage is the story of Howard Unruh, a man who, in 1949, would murder thirteen of his neighbors (and people passing through his neighborhood) before returning to his apartment and returning to bed because he’d run out of ammunition. As the killer himself indicated during an interview, he’d have killed a thousand if he’d had sufficient ammunition. Repressed homosexuality, experiences during the conflict of WWII, and assorted petty grievances against his neighbors simmered for years until finally exploding in a cold, meticulous series of killings that would thoroughly destroy the relative peace of Camden, NJ. Considered the face of modern mass murder, Unruh had no apparent interest in committing suicide at the end of his bloody rampage, nor any plan to be killed by the police. He simply wanted to kill the people he perceived as being aligned against him or of having committed one slight or another, and once Unruh started, he didn’t seem interested in stopping until he had no choice but to do so. The descriptions of the murderer’s flat affect and calm demeanor both during the rampage and during the subsequent questioning, while a bullet remained lodged in his thigh, were unnerving in a way I can’t quite put into words. Steven Weber’s narration was as high quality as it has been for the rest of the Bloodlands stories, and I would love to hear him narrating further true crime audiobooks and even documentaries.
Follow the Maggot Wagon takes the road trip narrative in a deliciously awful direction. Jamie and Adam had been friends for most of their lives, but they’d gradually grown apart as Adam’s impulse control issues and drug use led him down paths Jamie wouldn’t follow. Though Adam’s poor impulse control might have helped to push the friends apart, it was also the thing that contributed to years of pranks, dares, and manipulation by Jamie and other friends. Old tensions arise as the two friends find themselves stuck behind the maggot wagon, a truck that smells like it’s hauling a full load of carrion beneath the tarp in the back, and Jamie takes this as an opportunity to push Adam into doing something risky and juvenile, pushing his buttons along the way. The true surprise of Essig’s story isn’t what’s going to happen, as the reader begins to suspect where things are going long before we arrive at the farmhouse. The shock is the motivation behind it. Throughout the story, we catch glimpses of the eroding facade of civility between the two friends, as the interactions take on an increasingly cruel and bitter tone. We think we know why we’re speeding toward the inevitable outcome, only to find ourselves just as stunned as Jamie and Adam are when more secrets get revealed. I suspect many of us have friendships like this, where old grudges and recrimination are difficult to forget and perhaps more challenging to forgive. Thankfully, most of us don’t decide to follow the maggot wagon as Jamie and Adam did. This was an excellent character study, portraying both individuals with vivid and tragic dimensionality. Both Jamie and Adam are relatable, and that makes it all the more disturbing because one has to wonder how much or how little it might take to push us into either the driver’s or passenger’s seat.
This title was released as part of the 31 Days of Godless event at http://www.godless.com for October of 2021. You can obtain a copy for yourself by going to the website or downloading the app to your mobile device of choice. The link is below:
Growing Dark truly showcases the eclectic range Triana is capable of in a way a reader would otherwise only discover if they took the time to read half a dozen books. Running the gamut from intense cosmic horror to something that could be considered kid-friendly, there’s no doubt any lover of dark fiction will find something to love in this short collection. From the Storms, A Daughter kicks everything off, sharing the story of a town that’s been going through hard times, and they’re only getting harder as the region gets flooded. First responders in boats are struggling to locate stragglers to take them to safety, but what they find instead is evidence that there’s more to fear than the water. Eaters is a post-apocalyptic excursion into the remnants of the old world, as a small party of hunters is clearing the area of zombies. As with most tales like that, things don’t go smoothly. Triana manages to bring some originality to the topic, and an ending that readers/listeners are unlikely to see coming. Growing Dark is a coming-of-age tale gone wrong, as a farm boy surrounded by sickness and decay desperately wants to prove to his father that he can be a man. Sometimes being a man involves making some hard choices, and sometimes they’ll be bad choices as well. Reunion is an insightful story of childhood regrets and how the mistakes we make can haunt us well into adulthood, altering the courses we travel and where we ultimately end up. Before the Boogeymen Come was the most surprising inclusion in this collection. Triana entertains readers as he breathes life into the monsters who plague the imaginations of young children before media and experience provide new monsters to replace the old. The Bone Orchard is a heartbreaking western tale that could be read, depending on the reader’s perspective, as being either pro-life or pro-choice in its message. An old shootist returns to an old haunt and old love, only to discover there’s a sinister secret behind keeping the brothel running smoothly. Soon There’ll Be Leaves is a character study framed by multiple horrors, the most potent of which being reflection on a life not well-lived and the looming loss of family. Returning to a place he’d sooner never see again, our protagonist is approached by an old flame who proves the adage that one can never go home again, as an attempted affair takes an unforeseen twist. Video Express is a nostalgic exploration of the video rental stores of our youth and condemnation of how we quickly turned our back on the family-run establishments in favor of places where we could easily snag the newest titles. Giving from the Bottom is another character study, this time focused on the horrors of everyday life and the gradual erosion of both one’s ability to care and one’s will to live when nothing seems to turn out as expected. The collection ends with the strangely epic Legends, a vision of an afterlife that is not at all what one might expect. In Triana’s captivating narrative, we discover that the dead–if they’re famous or infamous enough–become eidolons of a sort. Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin come together as paragons of what generations of moviegoers and fans imagined them to be, and as such, they are bestowed with purpose and power to protect the world from infernal entities who may have similarly familiar faces. For me, Legends was the best of the whole collection, providing a glimpse into a world I could see the author fleshing out into a much longer piece. The narrations provided by Dani George, John Wayne Comunale, and Kristopher Triana himself were the best of the bunch. Triana especially did an excellent job of providing his characters with distinctive voices, and in the case of Before the Boogeymen Come a level of caricature that was enjoyable. The additional narrators, Michael Zapcic, Thomas Mumme, Jennifer Mumme, and Kevin McGuire were satisfying as well, just not as memorable as those provided by the three previously mentioned.
Unfit is a fascinating mix of dystopian science fiction, bizarro, and splatterpunk that blends smoothly into a narrative that is equal parts disturbing, heartbreaking, and sardonically hilarious. Clarissa has a crying baby in her cart. We’ve all seen it before, many of us having experienced it from Clarissa’s perspective. It’s frustrating. It’s embarrassing. Other shoppers judge her as she desperately struggles to get the baby to be quiet…but nothing calms the infant. There’s only one way to silence the crying and screeching, and this is where everything takes a particularly dark turn, followed by a few more turns. R. J. Benetti has essentially written an episode of Black Mirror that hasn’t been optioned yet, and it’s almost a shame this isn’t a more visual medium, except that I’m not sure anyone would want to see this played out on screen. If you’re looking for social commentary and bleak prognostication, this is the story for you.
This title was released as a Godless exclusive title that you can obtain for yourself by going to http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app to your mobile device. The link is below:
As peculiar, violent, and perversely humorous as Demophobia happens to be–and it is all of those things–it is also a deeply sad story about survivor’s guilt and an insightful discourse on being an outsider. Mr. Foicus is a Pus-Eater, or as he prefers, an Eiterfresser. A packed auditorium watches his multimedia lecture on the history of his kind, distorted and sanitized to elicit sympathy and hopefully engender less of a freakshow aspect to his existence. He’s one of the last of his kind, and he’s regretful of that. While he may be an inhuman, vicious monster, he suffers from the same melancholy any human might experience under similar circumstances. All of this doesn’t change the fact that Mr. Foicus is still a monster, and it doesn’t take long before the story takes a violent and revolting turn when the Pus-Eater shows his true colors. Through the perspective of someone hoping to capture images amid the panicked crowd, we experience the dread of knowing that everyone should have left when things turned sideways. That’s the problem with a crowd, though; they feel safety in numbers, and if a large number of the individuals begin to relax, everyone else will go along with it, even if they think there’s something wrong. I’ve never been more grateful for the fact that I loathe being in crowded spaces with large groups of people than when I imagined the carnage and wash of bodily fluids in the lecture hall. Geick does an excellent job of building the reader up to a conclusion that feels both fitting and depressing.
This title was released as part of the 31 Days of Godless event at http://www.godless.com for October 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:
Ricardo “Blackie” Sanchez is the best MLDBB has to offer. The five-time Home Run Derby champion knows he has nothing to fear from his rivals as he steps up to bat for championship number six, as long as he can keep focusing on the ball…or on the ball being a ball. Unless you live under a rock, chances are you’re familiar with MLB (Major League Baseball), even if–like me–you have neither the patience nor even passing interest in the sport. If I broke down what MLDBB stands for, it would ruin the whole surprise you have in store for you. Wondering where Thomas R. Clark came up with this whole concept has led me to only one conclusion; this is the result of the punchline of a specific subset of offensive jokes being nurtured and allowed to grow into something awful and perversely hilarious. There’s something very wrong with our friend Thomas, and I suspect maybe someone needs to take him out to the ball game, buy him some peanuts and Cracker Jacks, and supply him with a rain poncho like he’s in the front row of a Gallagher performance or an old school GWAR concert. Of all the ways one might think of to celebrate America’s Past Time, this is not within the first dozen or so things I’d have imagined. We just have to be grateful that Mr. Clark went there on our behalf, to liven(?) up the most tedious sport known to man.
This story was released as an exclusive title at http://www.godless.com and you can obtain it for yourself by going to the website or by downloading the Godless app to your preferred mobile device. The link is below: