There is a dusty old booth at the end of a pier, it is covered in a faded striped canvas, a handwritten sign hangs next to the opening with the words: “Enter the Shadow Booth for you will never be the same again.” Once you enter this mix between an anthology and journal you truly won’t be the same as you are whisked away to a world of dark corners and desperate people.
Tales from the Shadow Booth vol. 1 is a collection of 13 short stories edited by Dan Coxon. It was up on Kickstarter about six months ago and I believe was quickly funded (I know I was one of those supporters along with STORGY Magazine). When it came in the mail I was able to feel and see the amazing work that went into collecting these stories. The book itself is beautiful; a nice paperback that harks back to the small horror novels of the 70’s and 80’s think of James Herbert’s ‘The Rats‘, Richard Lewis’ ‘The Spiders‘ and Richard Haigh’s ‘The Farm‘ and you’ll be in the right ball park for what this book looks like and pays homage to; and once you look inside and start reading the stories, you’ll understand why it was crowdfunded.
The Shadow Booth is filled with an amazing group of authors, some I recognized and others that I have added to my list of authors to follow. There isn’t exactly a theme to the collection, though you could say they are more along the lines of weird and dark fiction. We are taken through back alley bike shops, houses with extra rooms, the life of a border patrol agent, the Hollow Shores (which was a nice surprise, see my review of Hollow Shores to see why), a scary closet, the insides of a computer, the tedium of office life, and a lot more.
Each story takes you through a strange occurrence in someone’s life like a ride through a haunted house. It might be a room that suddenly appears in a man’s house, like in Richard V. Hirst’s The Upstairs Room. The man moved into his son’s second home after his wife passed away. He finds a room that his son never noticed before, the door appearing and disappearing. Could this man actually be seeing something, or is he just having a hard time with his memory? Hirst delivers a slow madness that has you questioning whether the protagonist is actually seeing this thing or is he just trying to find somewhere to wait out his days until he can be with his deceased wife.
It could be questioning whether you can catch the ratty old Winnebago and its murder of crows, like in Sarah Read’s Dead Man’s Curve. Two cops spend their time on a lonely stretch of highway, dumping wrecked cars in a ravine, burying the drivers in shallow graves, and watching out for the camper. There is a manic pace to Read’s story, making you feel the crunch of the dirt, hear the squeal of tires, breathe in the dust of the highway. Once Read decides it is time for you to discover the truth of the RV, you’ll be questioning whether it was worth it for the two cops to find it.
In probably one of the weirder and more wonderful stories of the collection, Betamorphosis by David Hartley, you are put into the mind of a cockroach. Or more specifically, its thoughts, because there just might be something in place of its mind. This story is bizarre in all the right ways. The cockroach Gyrx is trapped inside of a computer, being controlled by humans to live out the life of Lara Croft from Tomb Raider. It is unclear what purpose it is that Gyrx is being subjected to this torture, but you will definitely feel his frustration as he tries to speak to his family, tries to control Lara Croft, and in the end tries to help his colony. I had a lot of fun reading this story.
I could go on describing the stories to you, I could tell you about Paul Tremblay’s Headstones in Your Pocket, a wicked story about a border patrol agent trying to help his junky friend and at the same time try to deal with the challenges of deporting immigrants as well as the memories of witnessing something terrible. I could tell you how Annie Neugebauer’s That Which Never Comes reveals that sometimes the thing in your mind is more terrible than any boogeyman that hides in your closet. I could tell you that you should be careful helping your beautiful neighbour paint her fence because I read Richard Thomas’ White Picket Fences. Or I could point out that sometimes just because you are good at Excel and that you judge everyone at your office, you shouldn’t use your powers for evil like in Stephen Hargadon’s A Short History of Tedium. I really could share with you all of the things that hide in the dark, or in plain sight, or sit right next to you, but that wouldn’t be as much fun as telling you to read this book.
Each author in this collection delivers on the promise of entering the Shadow Booth, which is “you will never be the same again.” I buzzed through the stories, afraid of what I was going to see around the next corner, hoping that I might be able to breathe easier at the next story. But found that was always short-lived when the next one revealed more of what was hidden within the Shadow Booth.
There are going to be two more volumes to this series and if they deliver on the same level as volume one then this is going to be one fantastic collection for any fan of horror, weird, or short fiction will want to have. I know I for one will be subscribing to them to see what is next.
The Shadow Booth is now available to purchase here.
Dan Coxon‘s writing has appeared in Salon, Unthology, The Lonely Crowd, Popshot, Neon, Gutter, Wales Arts Review, The Portland Review, and the DadLit anthology Daddy Cool, amongst others. He is the author of the travel memoir Ka Mate: Travels in New Zealand, and the editor of Being Dad, a collection of short stories about fatherhood that won Best Anthology at the Saboteur Awards 2016. He was long-listed for the Bath Flash Fiction Award 2017, and is currently a Contributing Editor at The Lonely Crowd.
His work has been read at live events on both sides of the Atlantic, including appearances at LitCrawl London and LitCrawl Seattle, as well as performances at Liars’ League events in London, Hong Kong and Portland. In an unlikely – and terrifying – plot twist, he once chaired a writers’ pitching panel at the SCARdiff horror convention.
Dan is a member of The Society of Authors and the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. He runs a freelance editorial and proofreading service at Momus Editorial, and is happy to take on private clients as well as established publishers. Find him on Twitter @DanCoxonAuthor.
Reviewed by Matt Brandenburg
From Trumpocalypse to Brexit Britain, brick by brick the walls are closing in. But don’t despair. Bulldoze the borders. Conquer freedom, not fear. EXIT EARTH explores all life – past, present, or future – on, or off – this beautiful, yet fragile, world of ours. Final embraces beneath a sky of flames. Tears of joy aboard a sinking ship. Laughter in a lonely land. Dystopian or utopian, realist or fantasy, horror or sci-fi, EXIT EARTH is yours to conquer.
EXIT EARTH includes the short stories of all fourteen finalists of the STORGY EXIT EARTH Short Story Competition, as judged by critically acclaimed author Diane Cook (Man vs. Nature) and additional stories by award winning authors M R Cary (The Girl With All The Gifts), Toby Litt (Corpsing), James Miller (Lost Boys), Courttia Newland (A Book of Blues), and David James Poissant (The Heaven of Animals), and exclusive artwork by Amie Dearlove, HarlotVonCharlotte, CrapPanther, and cover design by Rob Pearce.
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