Along with reading some of the classic horror stories (and let’s be honest, so far they’ve left me pretty chill-free on the whole) it seems only fair to try some of the writers currently working in the field of horror. Where better to start then than The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror. There are 23 volumes of this series of anthologies so far – my choice of no. 19 was scientifically selected on the basis of its being the cheapest available for Kindle at the time. So here goes with the first story in the book for this week’s…
“Either way, you go past Noqualmi cemetery now, or the one in Elum, and the ground there looks like Swiss cheese. A lot of empty holes, though there are some sites yet to burst out, later waves in waiting.”
Did I hear you groan ‘Oh, no, not zombies!’? Fear not (or rather, fear differently), although zombies do play a part in this story, believe me, they’re not half as scary as our human narrator! The story is told in the first person with our narrator describing his daily routine. Holed up in a cabin in the woods, he starts his day by checking the tripwires he has laid all round to alert him if anyone has approached his territory overnight. He leads a simple existence, trying not to draw attention to himself, and living by the lesson his father taught him – ‘Look after Number One’.
The story is told very matter-of-factly, so that the horror elements appear without warning – no fiery crosses, screaming women or clanking chains here. The zombies have been released on earth as a result of an unspecified event that the narrator refers to simply as the thing. Society has broken down and human survivors seem to be few and far between. Our narrator still has enough bullets to deal with any zombies that head his way…
“Afterwards I had a good look, though I didn’t touch it. Poked it with a stick, turned it over. It really did smell awful bad, and they’re not something you’re going to consider eating – even if there wasn’t a possibility you could catch something off the flesh.”
Our narrator has two main concerns that worry him much more than random zombie attacks – finishing the odd sculpture he is building in the grounds of the cabin, and finding enough food to eat. Wildlife seems to be in short supply after the thing so, having scavenged what he can from the nearest towns, he now must fall back on any way he can of topping up the supply of meat that he keeps hanging in the shed…
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The story is very well written and is actually more blackly comic than really scary though there are a couple of chilling moments. It’s not particularly gruesome – the horrors are hinted at rather than described. And there’s a great little twist at the end that made me both gasp and laugh. This may not have made my hair stand on end, but I enjoyed it a lot – it’s cleverly done and very effective. I’d certainly look out for more of the author’s work, and am hoping that the rest of the stories in the book match up to the standard of this one.
Fretful porpentine rating: 😯 😆 😆 😯
Overall story rating: 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀