Deranged killers and creatures veiled in darkness inhabit the somber pages of this horror story collection.
This book features a
number of seedy characters, but it seems there’s always something far worse—and
often horrible. Vic, for example, from the opening tale, “Each Dawn I Die,”
tricks naive virgins into unknowingly appearing on his vile website, Maybe
Legal. But in what may be retribution for his deeds, an old woman’s apparent
curse ensures that Vic suffers exceedingly. Monsters, which crop up throughout
the stories, are refreshingly ambiguous. Readers won’t find traditional
vampires or zombies but instead a grab bag of creatures terrifying poor Teddy
in “Hit the Lights” or whatever’s awaiting Darrell and Mike in “Out There.” A
few of the stories have familiar setups to establish an unsettling atmosphere.
Hank thinks a trio of thugs is trailing him on foggy streets in “Wrong Side
Tavern,” and student Susie of “Instant Terror” is convinced audible footsteps
in the cold night belong to a “crazed stalker.” Some of these tales
unfortunately lead to fairly predictable endings, including what happens to
Hank in the titular tavern or the mental ward’s newest hire, Dr. Hoffman, in
“Midnight Snack.” Tullius (Try Not to Die: At Grandma’s House,
2015, etc.), however, astonishes with more than a handful of the 28 short
stories. Readers, accordingly, will see why Burt Brighton is Arizona’s best
life coach in the delectably morbid “Bad Habits”; witness a world in which
people receive a slip that tells them (vaguely) how they’ll die in “Lethal
Injection”; and learn why Paul hates Christmas in the excellent “Surviving the
Holidays.” The frank prose, not surprisingly, can be disturbing: “Shooting
Flies,” in particular, may churn a stomach or two (“A few flies dipped in the
soft, gooey tendrils”). But Tullius manages to imbue his collection with random
moments of buoyancy. “Woodshop After Math,” for instance, highlights the young
love between just-out-of-juvenile-home pariah Tyler and birthday girl Sam,
while William and Rose make a sweet elderly couple in “Every Precious Second.”
These, of course, ultimately turn bleak, but they’re reprieves from the
stories’ otherwise grim tone—even if there’s no happy ending.
Time-honored frights with
innovation infused throughout.