So, anthologies. You either love them or hate them. I love them from the point of view that sometimes they are full of authors that are totally new to you so you pick up some really cool new people to read. I hate them sometimes because I can find it difficult to finish them if they are huge, due to not liking constantly reading short stories. I tend to read half of an anthology then read a novel then finish the anthology. It’s my way of getting through them. This one is produced by The Sinister Horror Company, in my opinion, a new upcoming press with a very very bright future ahead of them due to the stories they put out there and the way in which they present the final product. The fact that this is all for charity also highlights the character of the guys in charge at SHC.
This anthology also features a foreword by Jim McLeod, owner of the Ginger Nuts of Horror website and an afterword from Jennifer Handorf, producer of the 2013 movie The Borderlands. link
So what did I think of The Black Room Manuscripts Vol 1? Let’s find out.
THE STRANGER BY DANNY KING
What I would call a flash fiction piece about a man sitting in a bar having a drink when he is approached by a stranger who starts to tell him about something that has happened to him recently.
Is this just a dream? Are you really the stranger? A thought provoking opener.
TIME FOR TEA BY DUNCAN P BRADSHAW
A group of people have all been invited to the opening of a new Tea Room. They are all unconnected and have no idea why they are there. They are all presented with pieces of paper with instructions on them. Instructions that will lead to blood being shed. A lot of blood.
Excellent short story that shows the horrors of being in a situation you cannot control or get out of.
HIDE AND SHRIEK BY VINCENT HUNT (AGED 34 AND A HALF)
Gretchen and Andy have been invited to Danny’s birthday party. Everyone loves Danny’s parties because it is on Halloween and it is said his house is haunted. A game of Hide and Seek starts and Gretchen and Danny hide in a cupboard on the top floor of the house. Danny gets bored and goes to the toilet. Gretchen stays in the cupboard by herself. She should have given up the game.
A superb story about a simple game that goes horrifically wrong. Did you ever play hide and seek as a kid and wonder if your hiding place was so good that no one would ever find you? Or that maybe something would find you?
ROOM AT THE INN BY ADAM MILLARD
A doctor on his way to stay with friends at Christmas time needs somewhere to stay for the night. His driver drops him off at the Kirkstone Inn. A derelict looking building, but the only place for miles around. He really has no choice but to stay there. He is welcomed by the landlady and given his room key. She has a strict instruction for him though: do not, under any circumstances, go near room 7. In the middle of the night, something pulls him towards room 7. He should have listened to the landlady.
This is a gothic tale of horror. Beautifully written. And perfectly scary.
CLANDESTINE DELIGHTS BY J R PARK
Ben is a man who has everything. He has enough money to buy whatever he wants, when he wants it. Something is missing though and he is always looking for the ultimate high. The ultimate sexual high. In an exclusive hotel that you can only get into by invitation, he has heard a rumour of a secret room where he could get that ultimate high. He eventually gains access but doesn’t quite get the high he wanted.
This one I found a bit weird. I really liked the writing style and it did keep me glued to the pages but it was more weird than scary.
WAITING FOR THE RIGHT STOP BY MADELEINE SWANN
Lilly is on a bus on her way to her boyfriend’s house. They had an argument the night before and she is hoping to patch things up with him. Everyone on the bus seems to be a bit weird. It’s almost like they are all dead. Is this all a dream or is there something more sinister going on?
An interesting take on the subject of death. Do you go to heaven or hell or do you just end up on an everlasting bus journey?
EQUINOX BY CRAIG-ANDERSON JONES
Four astronauts are sent into deep space to search for a planet that can sustain human life after Earth is basically destroyed. One crew member, Kurt gets hit by space debris and ends up falling to the planet where he encounters horrors beyond anyone’s nightmares.
I found this very refreshing. I don’t see too many horror stories like this set in space anymore. Brilliant writing and very creepy.
HE SAID, IT SAID BY LEO STABLEFORD
People on the earthly plains can use chants and incantations to summons demons from the “Outer Hells”. One such fellow brings forth a bit of a rogue demon to do his bidding. Things don’t work exactly as planned for either of them.
I have no idea what I have just read. Seriously. No idea. Weird.
PLAGIARISM BY MARTIN JONES
A story about things you can do in life when you pretend to be someone you aren’t. This follows one person from his teenage years when he discovered that using a fake ID could get you beer when you were too young, through to his adult life when he discovers you can do all sorts of things when you pretend.
I was disappointed in this one due to the fact that the horror aspect of the story is left until the last couple of pages. It could have been so much better to me if that side of the story had come out half way through. It is horrific when it arrives though.
LANMO BY THOMAS S FLOWERS
1964 Mississippi. John is a young black man canvassing for votes in the Delta during the fight for civil rights. He is pulled over by a local police officer and ends up being murdered by some members of the KKK. They thought they had got away with things. They didn’t bank on the powers of the good old southern voodoo.
Absolutely loved this story. Very atmospheric. Gives you a true feeling of the times and the horror of the times. Makes you feel ashamed in many respects. Very creepy.
WHEN THE PIN HITS THE SHELL BY KIT POWER
Dan lives in the Wild West. This story follows his life from a young child through to possibly his mid-twenties. It is told in twelve segments like a clock ticking backwards from midnight.
Although the writing in this one was really good as it always is with Mr Power, I have no idea what I have just read. I just didn’t “get” it. I was confused and couldn’t really follow what the story was about or where it was supposed to go.
HAND JOB ITALIANO BY D K RYAN
Fatima is an Italian lady who has moved to the UK for a better life. She would not class herself as being the most attractive person in the world, being a bit overweight and sporting a rather large hairy wart on her top lip. She does believe however that she has the most beautiful hands in the world and wishes to become the first ever “hand supermodel”. She meets Derek for her first job on English soil. Derek has a large collection of body parts in his studio. Fatima should be scared of Derek. Maybe Derek should be more scared of Fatima.
Another weird one. A bit bizarre but again the writing is good. Not among my favourites in this collection.
LONG HAUL BY DAVID JAMES
A space ship is on a long journey through space. The cargo bays are full of cryogenically frozen humans. The first crew to waken to look after getting the ship into orbit and looking after everyone else on board. They soon notice that something isn’t right. It looks like someone from the cargo bay has thawed out too early. They haven’t thawed out in a good mood.
Second story in this book set in space and again I absolutely loved it. The writing in this one is superb but the story for me is way too short. I really hope this is a prequel to a longer story. I will certainly be buying it if it is.
CUTTINGS BY DUNCAN RALSTON
Katie and Gavin are happily married even though Gavin has lost his job. They decide to start up their own florist business. Gavin makes a rash decision and buys an old van that is falling to pieces and full of cassettes of old 80’s rock music. When he is in the van, its previous owner Tony seems to speak to him and make him do weird things. Who is Tony and why is he doing this?
You can’t go far wrong with a short story written by Duncan Ralston. Again very easy to read. Flows very well. Perfectly paced. Would have liked it a bit scarier though.
CONDUCTIVE SALTS BY DANIEL MARC CHANT
Emma and Brett are a couple. They love metal detecting. Whilst walking along a beach they discover an old bronze statuette. Their dog Bramble doesn’t seem to like it. Neither does Emma. Brett however doesn’t want to part with it. It soon becomes clear to Emma that the statuette is affecting Brett in frightening ways.
Another one I’m not really sure what to make of. I know this is a short story but it seemed a bit rushed to me and could have had more background and build up to the finale.
SKIN BY KAYLEIGH MARIE EDWARDS
Amy and Martin are boyfriend and girlfriend. One day Amy gets bitten on the leg by a spider. She has a reaction to the bite after her leg starts to swell and turn black. She has obviously got a really bad infection from the bite. Or has she?
This story had me intrigued. It was building and building to what I was expecting to be a huge finale but didn’t really get there for me. Good writing but went a bit bizarre at the end.
NEEDS MUST BY A S CHAMBERS
Oddbod lives in a well. His life has been okay. Every time a wooden bucket is lowered into the well he gets food when he pulls it. The bucket hasn’t come down in a while and Oddbod is hungry. He needs to leave the well to search for food. When he gets out, he meets a little girl called Emily. Emily should be scared of Oddbod. Or should it be the other way around?
This is how to write a short horror story. That’s all I need to say on the matter!
THE OCTAGONAL CABINET BY IAN CALDWELL
A gentleman and his girlfriend are invited by Lord Aries to his country estate for a day of entertainment, dancing and a buffet. He shows them an octagonal cabinet he has. The cabinet has different rooms inside it depending on what way the door is positioned. Everyone thinks it is a trick and don’t believe the rooms actually exist. Lord Aries forbids anyone to go near the cabinet at night because at night, the rooms become evil. Of course no one listens to him.
Another fantastic story. Not sure exactly what time period this story is supposed to be set in but it is very gothic / Victorian in writing style. Almost reminiscent of a Carnacki story.
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY BY PAUL TOWNSEND
Celebrating their second wedding anniversary, a man has pulled out all the stops for his wife. Limo to a fancy restaurant, best of food, best of everything. All his wife does is complain about the cost even though he assures her he has it covered. They argue at dinner and she storms off. He doesn’t want to waste anything and has his wonderful dinner before going home to face the music. His wife is not at home. Where could she have gone? Did she maybe stay for dinner after all?
For a story about two people going out for dinner this is really good. The writing is perfect in the build up to the last scenes. The only negative I have is that the horror doesn’t come until the last couple of pages but still an excellent story.
AND IN THE ENDLESS PAUSE THERE CAME THE SOUND OF BEES BY JEFFREY X MARTIN
Bobby is a caretaker in what seems to be a glorified trailer park. Shonda is a princess in the park. They love each other even though they probably shouldn’t. When the Queen dies Shonda becomes Queen and Bobby doesn’t see her for three years. One night Bobby is summonsed to Shonda’s “palace”. It could be the best night of his life. Or possibly his worst.
Bizarre. I have no idea of the point of this story or even if there was some meaning to it that I possibly missed.
Conclusion: So there you have it. An extremely mixed bag of short stories making up The Black Room Manuscripts Vol 1. As with all anthologies there were a lot of stories I liked and some I didn’t like so much. I generally find when I finish an anthology that it turns out about fifty – fifty in terms of good and bad. I would have to say in this one though there was more good than bad.
Highlights for me would have to be, well nearly all of them. If I had to pick favourites I would have to say Hide and Shriek, Room at the Inn, Lanmo and Needs Must.
The one thing that impressed me so much was the variety. There is definitely a story in here for everyone. Some people may hate the ones I loved and some people may love the ones I didn’t like so much. That’s what makes a book like this so much fun for everyone. You will get something out of it no matter your taste. There are definitely some authors in this book that I will be keeping my eyes on.
Reviewed by: @nevmurray