Review of A Haunting of Words Part 3

Every year, authors from Fiction Writing, a Facebook Group hosted by Brian Paone and Laurie Gardiner, produce a short-story anthology in the ‘Of Words’ series. This year, from Scout Media comes A Haunting of Words—the third volume in an ongoing short story anthology series featuring authors from all over the world.

If you love dark, delicious twists, this is your true home. If, as the days draw in, you fancy a plethora of shivers down your spine, this is your ultimate dream. Whether you love macabre psychological thrillers, you relish tragic romance, you want the catharsis of a heart-wrenching tear-jerker, or you want to laugh until your belly aches, there is a story for you here.

These stories will haunt you forever…

Worm by Jacob Prytherch is a darkly chilling yarn about a frustrated songwriter who takes a drive into the country and is given a song by a mysterious stranger. That song seems a boon from the skies but turns out to be a disturbingly poisoned chalice. I love the horror influences that pepper this story (and chill you to the marrow.) The story also raises thought-provoking questions about music’s power of influence. Can its draw become so strong that it ends up being dangerous?

The Rub by Lauren Nalls is excellently written, highly gripping, evocative horror fiction. The imagery in this story is truly magnificent. A paedophile lands in hell but is given the chance to escape his punishment by sending the devil another soul in his stead – by driving them to suicide. The description of the serpent devil is so sensory and so intense that I could almost feel his hot breath. An electrifying story…if not for the squeamish.

Storm House by Monica Sagle is the twisty tale of a vengeful wife who returns from the dead, every time there is a storm, to haunt her husband. But who is dead and who is alive? And is there any way either party can ever find peace in death? Again, extraordinary depth of storytelling and highly evocative imagery. Delectably Halloweenish!

Salted Ground by Amy Hunter is one of the anthology’s most moving tearjerkers. Marley is crushed beyond hope when her fiancé is attacked and murdered. I just love the way Marley’s world-shattering grief is evoked. This is a cautionary tale about moving on, the long shadows of sin, and revenge. One of the most outstanding tales in times of hooking storytelling, this tragedy keeps you gripped until the end.

Groceries Every Day by Quinne Darkover is one of the shortest but also one of the most powerful stories in the anthology. A heart-wrenching tale about grief and nostalgia. Though loved ones move on, the good times stay with us forever. A young woman is haunted by the parents she lost in a car accident, and by the fantasy her father invented about a panda called Martha living in the wardrobe. Whether the panda and the ‘groceries every day’ are real or whether it’s all in her mind is left open. But the ending will melt your heart.

Jimmy’s Shadow by Sunanda J. Chatterjee is a devastating and chilling account of a woman’s mental breakdown. The crushing breakdown of Cheryl’s marriage is followed by the tragic death of her infant son in a swimming pool – something she cannot, and will not get over. What I love about this one is that there is strong ambiguity about whether the ghost of the boy, seeimgly calling to her, is real, or just the long shadow cast by her sadness and guilt at his death.

The Jonathan of Bracken Manor by R.J. Castiglione is probably the finest example of the writing pedagogy adage ‘show don’t tell’ in the anthology. This story is simply sublime. It is flawlessly faithful throughout to the perspective of its child narrator. Jonathan, a naughty boy who distrusts everyone not called Jonathan, accidentally sets fire to his opulent home in 1927, where he haunts successive inhabitants as a ghost, trapped in child form. The dark humour and shock value of this story come from Jonathan’s misinterpretation of adults’ behaviour and his own failure to grasp the consequences of his actions. Jonathan is endearing in his innocence, despite being a deadly menace to the living. Possibly the best drawn character in the anthology.

Black Butterfly by B. Sharpe is a no-holds-barred Gothic horror tale, black as pitch, about a young woman, Phaedra, recruited to take the graveyard shift at the bizarre, goats-piss smelling Belle Reeves Sanitorium for the “beyond help and quite possibly criminally insane”. Writhing in the clutches of Dr Ramenstein, her slightly psychotic boss, seemingly dishy nurse Claude, the ‘Rhiannon’, a being who can control ghosts, and Corey, a bloodlusting schizophrenic, Phaedra must come face to face with her own cold, dark and twisted soul. This is a blistering supernatural thriller, with thunderous building of suspense.

Fragments by River M. Daniel is a dark cautionary tale. In fact, it’s arguably the darkest story in the anthology as it deals with one of western civilisation’s last taboos: raising the dead using magic. When young Lucy is killed by Preston Addams in a hit-and-run incident, her parents are grief-stricken. They blow their life savings when a ‘priest’ offers to raise her from the dead for a £250,000 payment, alongside the body of Preston, with whom she shares a special spiritual bond. However, as with the Resurrection Stone in the Harry Potter series, there is a terrible price to pay for the restitution of a loved one.

The final tale, Nightfall by talented ten-year-old author Duaa Hyder is a fitting tale to end the anthology – and if this story is anything to go by, it’s going to get even tougher to win a place in future anthologies with authors like Duaa showing such prodigious promise. The story also bridges the gap between this and the group’s next planned anthology, to be released in 2018, A Contract Of Words, in that it involves a ghost bound by a contract.

To buy A Haunting of Words from Amazon.com, click here.

To buy A Haunting of Words from Amazon.co.uk, click here.

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