The tagline for Andrew Cull’s fabulously dark and terrifying collection of short fiction is ‘A Collection of Monsters‘ and how damn accurate it is!
I searched out this book after seeing it feature over at our good friends Kendall Reviews (you can check out the fine work by this Horror Magazine here) – and with my supporting independent writers and publishers more this year, I thought I’d dive in and test the water!
My word, the undercurrent in this book pulled me straight under, laid its murderous mitts around my ankles and pulled me deep into the dark and suffocating waters…it’s a collection that has it all, and told with a remarkable talent for the macabre, with many stories disturbing me long after reading.
There are a few structural issues, which I feel is a minor blip in what I would say is a wonderful discovery. For instance, The Rambling Man is a wonderful folktale type of story, full of tension and the ending is superb – but I feel that this flash fiction of a story lost some of its power as it followed the unrelenting and masterfully delivered Knock and You Will See Me – which is one of the longer stories in the collection, and my personal favourite. If it had been switched up, with Knock and You Will See Me finishing the collection, in my opinion all of these stories would have bruised me like a peach, I would have left feeling as if I had been mugged by a bloodthirsty horde of the damned. But as I said, it’s minor, so let’s get to the meat and the bones of it all…because let’s face it, that’s why you’re here.
Did You Forget Me – This first story perfectly sets the crazy ride the reader will experience as they delve into this superb collection of horror stories. Did You Forget Me had me reminiscing about The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson and early Stephen King. It’s a story that subtly builds to a deep and dark conclusion as Cull guides us effortlessly through the eerie undertones that he’s sewn majestically into his prose. It’s the story of a brother, sister and dead father and the unspeakable acts that have scarred their childhood – do we ever get over the harm our parents inflict on us? As they return to the house of their childhood one last time. As they do so, they are also returning to the ghosts of memories that lurk in each damp corner, and every dark nook. The story is tension filled and raises the heart rate, a perfect introduction to the horrors Cull has in store for his readers…
‘I saw it move, low, close to the wall. I heard its rotten feet stick to and peel off of the concrete. Sticking and sucking as they carried its weight around the edge of the room. ‘Youu caaame.’ Its words were distorted, slow, wet air sliding over what remained of its rotten voice box. ‘I kneeew… I kneeew…”
Hope and Walker – This story follows the life of Em Walker who is the daughter to the manager of one of the two funeral homes that occupy this small sleeper town. The roots of why there are two funeral homes in this quaint town go back some years to a huge grudge between the Hope and Walker families which was never resolved and in turn each set up their own funeral home, with the feud continuing, the families now fight over the dead of the town. A dramatic and awful crime hits the town, as this unravels and we learn more, we slowly discover that Em is hiding something very special, a supernatural gift. Cull builds the story masterfully and it also has some bittersweet moments in it too, but at it’s core it feels like it fell from the pages of a Stephen King novel – the way in which Cull has created his young protagonist and got all that childhood angst and believability on the page screams of those youngsters we all champion in the best of King’s works!
The Trade – A fabulous story which takes us again, back into a family dynamic. As the story develops, we discover that something or someone is leaving dead animals at the families door, creepy and scary enough, right? We then have the caveat of the breakdown of the family dynamic, as the parents also being waring with each other, too busy hurling insults and fists, whilst something evil lurks at the outskirts of their home, with bloodlust in its nostrils. Cull has developed fabulously rich characters (which is key to the whole collection) that make this story even more appealing – as the horror of the unseen and the seen, build to a heady suffocating conclusion. I also love how ambiguous the ending of this story is – I came away feeling that the monster that was lurking was in fact a projection of our young protagonists fears and observation of domestic abuse – turning these troublesome issues into his own evil, as he tries to compartmentalise what he’s been exposed to. But that’s what makes this story so rich, each reader I am sure will come away with another standpoint and viewpoint. Cracking!
‘Normally I hated the smell of smoke, but that morning I was grateful of it. Underneath it, the smell of the thing baking in the sun, the stench of spoiled meat, caught in my throat. Looking at it, I noticed that the thing on the doorstep didn’t seem to have a head. Instead, each end of it came to an abrupt, raw stop.’
Knock and You Will See Me – This story absolutely destroyed me, it is a deep and rich tale about a mothers love for her children, and what lengths she would go to, to protect them from harm. The story and the way Cull delivers it, is outstanding and reminded me of the great Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Tell-Tale Heart‘ but in all honesty I found Cull’s offering creepier and quite possibly better! The tool that Cull uses to pull this story off and add the dramatic tension is both original and harrowing in equal measure. Each passing letter that arrives builds the tension to an unbearable and deafening crescendo. Knock and You Will See Me, is, in my opinion, the jewel in the crown of this collection and totally blew me away. If you are looking for a story full of terror, with supernatural elements, haunting and harrowing originality and all delivered in an insidious mastery of horror…look no further. A slow burner that builds to a raging fire, engulfing everything in its path in a fireball of mass destruction…there is something oh so very special about this story.
‘”A mistake’s something you regret. So, no, you definitely weren’t a mistake. You weren’t planned. But that’s different altogether.”‘
The Rambling Man – As I mentioned previous if this was switched around with Knock and You Will See Me – then I feel all of these stories would have hit home like nails in a coffin. But to be honest that is minor personal preference. This story is a wonderful little folktale which is self contained within another flash fiction piece. Having said that, I feel that this story has legs to be developed into something quite special, whether that be novella or novel length – it was quick and unsettling but had me like – oh geez that’s where you went with that. Bravo.
The whole collection left me wanting more – but I guess that’s good, because I understand that Cull has a novel coming out soon, and I for one will be first in line to pick up a copy if this collection is anything to go by.
Bones is available to purchase here.
Andrew Cull’s first screenplay attracted the attention of BAFTA award-winner, Philip Saville. He went on to develop film projects with Hammer Films, Paul W.S. Anderson’s Impact Pictures and wrote for cult TV hit, ‘Urban Gothic’. Alongside this, Andrew ran a video rental store in London with the largest horror collection in the UK.
in 2007 he created the YouTube sensation ‘In The Dark’. Regarded as the first YouTube horror series it is considered to have been the inspiration for such renowned projects as Marble Hornets. This was followed by his first feature, ‘The Possession of David O’Reilly’. It quickly garnered much praise and enjoyed a UK theatrical and DVD release with Momentum Pictures. In the US, it was picked up by IFC Films VOD and DVD release.
Andy recently completed his first novel, ‘Remains’ and is in pre-production for his next horror feature.
Andy loves Horror and Hitchcock and, like you, he’s not easily scared.
Reviewed by Ross Jeffery
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This is the tale of a town on the fringes of fear, of ordinary people and everyday objects transformed by terror and madness, a microcosm of the world where nothing is ever quite what it seems. This is a world where the unreal is real, where the familiar and friendly lure and deceive. On the outskirts of civilisation sits this solitary town. Home to the unhinged. Oblivion to outsiders.
Shallow Creek contains twenty-one original horror stories by a chilling cast of contemporary writers, including stories by Sarah Lotz, Richard Thomas, Adrian J Walker, and Aliya Whitely. Told through a series of interconnected narratives, Shallow Creek is an epic anthology that exposes the raw human emotion and heart-pounding thrills at the the genre’s core.
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