Pros: Delightful, intense short horror stories!
Rating: 5 out of 5
I was quite fond of Gemma Amor’s collection of stories entitled Cruel Works of Nature [review], so I was really looking forward to her Till the Score is Paid: 11 Illustrated Horror Stories [Amazon]. It lived up to my hopes!
Have You Seen My Dog? is an unusual ghost story with a very non-stereotypical beginning, end, and middle. There’s a dog who does impossible things, and a poor doctor who’s having a very bad time of things. She keeps running into a possibly-demented old man who accuses her of having his missing dog. And he gets violent when he gets angry.
Pure Water is a short-but-quite-creepy story about why not every stream you run across while hiking is necessarily all pure and healthy to drink from.
Justine introduces us to a young woman who was raped by a man she used to work with, and how she’s handling the aftermath. He’s about to go to trial, and she wants him to face that, but she’s just gotten a call saying he committed suicide. She isn’t about to let him get off that easy. This is a very poignant story about a woman coming to terms with some very dark things that happened to her.
I Am Ghost introduces us to a quiet man named Max, and the Ghost that takes him over once a year on Halloween. He runs into an all-too-knowing Devil Kid as he stalks his prey, and his night takes a sudden turn. This is one of my favorite stories in this volume. It’s chilling and unusual.
Rat Girl features army brat Timmy, who semi-sorta makes friends with the spoiled rich kid Lee at his new school. But he finds that Lee has a secret–he’s keeping a rat-like girl in his basement, who has a tail and furred, shell-like ears. When a tragedy occurs, Timmy is desperate to figure out how to help the girl. Even the children in these stories have a lot of personality to them–including punks like Lee.
My Best Friend is a creepy story about what happens when two best friends get lost in the woods and fall into a mine shaft. Short but clever!
Heart of Stone is another one of my favorites in this volume. The main character is father to a nine-year-old girl named Jenny who’s the light of his life. He likes nothing more than to take her for monster hot chocolates before sending her back to her mother. All he wants is to delight in her love forever, but Julie, his ex-wife, introduces a lot of bitterness into the equation. And well, this guy is not quite… normal. I don’t want to give anything away; I’ll just say that I really loved this man as a point-of-view character, and that this is a lovely juxtaposition between the supernatural and an all-too-human story. Absolutely riveting.
Cell Block B features McCready, who keeps waking up in Cell Block B with no real memory of who he is or what he did to get there. But one of these days, the Warden is going to come for him–and then things are gonna get real ugly.
A Birthday Cake for Brian is short, bloody, and, well, it’s actually kind of funny.
The Strangler delves into a rather monstrous incarnation of the specter of post-natal depression. The narrator has a fascinating run-on voice that really brings the whole thing to life and keeps this story from being too oppressive.
Caleb is my other favorite story in this book. It’s 1940 and there’s a war on. The narrator’s farm is down one person who got sent to war, and they’re taking in an evacuee. That’s when a rash of misfortunes hits the farm, and Johnny, who helps out around the farm, starts acting very suspiciously. This is told in the form of a journal, and it’s very intriguing. The sense of time and place is excellent, and the ending is powerful.
I should include a content note; the various issues are handled with sensitivity, but there are themes of rape, abuse, suicidal ideation, postnatal depression, gore, and animal harm.
This is a wonderful book of short stories, and I heartily recommend it to any horror fans out there.