The Gulp by Alan Baxter

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Alan Baxter has created a stunning collection of small town horror that perfectly blends tones and themes of The Twilight Zone, Stranger Things, Castle Rock, The X-Files and Twin Peaks – in an Irresistible concoction of the weird and macabre, small town horror has never had it so good.

What I loved about this collection is how the stories bleed into one another, how there are subtle references that pull this tapestry of a town together, the connecting threads making it a full breathing fully function snap shot of the weird and wonderful and disturbing location of Gulpepper (a place I strangely wanted to visit).

Fictional town or not, Baxter has created a wonderful collection, of unsettling and dark stories, brutal and enlightening – a nightmare vision that showcases how good horror fiction can be!

– Out on a Rim – Richard Blake is a new driver inheriting the delivery route of the Gulp from his companion George, the old timer driver who’s close to retirement. They’re trying to make the deliver and get out before it gets dark, George says that the town is bad enough in the daytime he doesn’t want to get stuck here at night.

Something happens to their truck and they are forced to stay over in The Gulp. The story flits back and forth between Rich (Richard) and George – Richard checks into a motel (something like the motel in Psycho) and he witnesses something happening in the next room, something that he’ll never forget and something that he’ll never unsee!

Such a great way to start this diabolical collection and setting the scene of this strange and peculiar town.

– Mother in Bloom – A familial tale that focuses on the brother and sister relationship of Zack and Mandy. They’ve some difficult decisions to make regarding the care of their mother. They’ve been planning for this day but somehow they’re not ready for what needs to be done. They’ve a plan but will it work? Will they get away with this deception and will anyone notice – they’ve fed lies for months leading up to this day, but are they prepared for where things are heading when something starts to bloom on their mother’s flesh.

– The Band Plays On – A group of backpackers are watching a band in a local pub, they’re transfixed by the bands performance and are soon invited to an after party at the Gulp where the band live. The premise is almost vampiric in its tone and conventions and also of Sirens of the sea (might just be me) the bands music enchants those that hears it. There is some lovecraftian work in this one too, but for me it was my least favourite in the collection, it’s a great story but from what came before this slower pace seemed to stall my enjoyment – it’s strange as if this story was shifted to the start of the collection it might have had a different feel to it – but you can see why it’s here as foundations are laid that cement parts of the overall story on offer by Baxter.

– 48 to Go – Our protagonist Dace whilst out on a boat trying to impress a girl gets robbed by two masked individuals (pirates) who steal his boss Carter’s weed. Dace is given the ultimatum of getting back the cash worth of the weed or having his parents and sister killed. Dance sets out to rob an old couple, break into their house and steal the money they’ve been hoarding, but once he breaks in he quickly discovers more than he’d ever thought possible! This one is bananas crazy good! So many moving parts but Baxter handles it all like a master – the action sequences in this story were fabulously executed!

– Rock Fisher – Troy longs for a family, but a discovery whilst rock fishing might have just answered his insatiable paternal longing. This is a fabulous creepy tale, with a delicate body horror that the great Cronenberg would be happy with. Unsettling and disturbing – also a story that ensures that all loose cords are woven together to possibly start a new thread further down the line – and I for one will be eagerly anticipating a follow up collection!

An arrestingly brilliant collection of horror that bewitches its reader and pollutes the mind with Baxter’s mastery of horror in all its dark shades, whatever you do this year, makes sure you take a trip to The Gulp!

The Gulp is available here.

Alan Baxter

Alan Baxter is a British-Australian multi-award-winning author of horror, supernatural thrillers, dark fantasy, and crime. He’s also a martial arts expert, a whisky-soaked swear monkey, and dog lover. He creates dark, weird stories among dairy paddocks on the beautiful south coast of NSW, Australia, where he lives with his wife, son, hound, and a bearded dragon called Fifi. You can find his full bibliography here: https://www.alanbaxteronline.com/abou…

Alan has been a seven-time finalist in the Aurealis Awards, a six-time finalist in the Australian Shadows Awards and a seven-time finalist in the Ditmar Awards. He won the 2014 Australian Shadows Award for Best Short Story (“Shadows of the Lonely Dead”), the 2015 Australian Shadows Paul Haines Award For Long Fiction (“In Vaulted Halls Entombed”), and the 2016 Australian Shadows Award for Best Collection (Crow Shine), and is a past winner of the AHWA Short Story Competition (“It’s Always the Children Who Suffer”).

Read extracts from his novels and novellas, and find free short stories at his website – www.warriorscribe.com – or find him on Twitter @AlanBaxter and Facebook, and feel free to tell him what you think. About anything.

Reviewed by Ross Jeffery

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