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Old School Paperback – December 25, 2010
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The first poem, the wickedly grim Red Red Rain, does a cracking good job of coaxing one into the dubious territory of The Gorgeous Undead by Gregory L. Hall, a cautionary tale about a young woman whose romantic notions regarding vampires put her in harm's way and lead to a devastating surprise. Full of several good twists and turns, this story ought to be mandatory reading for anyone who keeps a copy of Twilight on their nightstand. Luckily for us, all of the Old School authors have contributed two stories each and Hall's second one is a pleasantly disturbing little piece called Creepy Crawlies that is sure to render arachnophobes all the more phobic. The name really says it all.
The essence of this anthology may be old school but don't expect a stream of historical tales. One of my favorites is set in the future, Natalie L. Sin's gloriously frankensteinesque New Human. Suspenseful, creepy, and truly mortifying, New Human provides a fresh take on an old school theme that never gets, well, old. Another story also appears by Sin, Runaway, a fast-paced, scary sort of Thelma and Louise with hairy dudes instead of Brad Pitt. Definitely a wild and bumpy ride!
Two gems from the always enthralling, David Dunwoody give Old School a fiendishly fun kick in the pants. The highly atmospheric and heart-pounding, House of Dagon, delivers all the classic tension and mounting danger that is the hallmark of a good monster yarn, while at the same time introducing a completely original and entirely mysterious beast that lurks in the heart of the Everglades. But don't expect to catch your breath yet. Dunwoody's other tale, The Missionary, offers readers an even more complex creature feature that is as thought-provoking as it is thrilling. Not surprisingly, these are two reads that should not be missed.
Horace James' work was new to me and I found myself very much caught up in the ominous spell of his writing. The Witch of Chili Gulch not only provides the book with one of the most intriguing story titles, but also one of its most intriguing stories, period. Playing upon a variety of childhood fears in an unexpected way, this story is good old-fashioned spooky. To say too much would be to ruin the surprise. Suffice to say, it made my teeth hurt. I was also quite fond of Mummies of the Caribbean, a horrifying little story that had my skin crawling in the very best of ways, as all good horrifying little stories should.
The Find by R. Scott McCoy takes readers on a breathless chase through the wilderness while having a bit of new fun with an old legend. The ending of this one, I should warn, is not for the faint of heart. McCoy's second offering, the aptly titled, Play Time, is positively chilling. Who doesn't love an experiment gone bad? Both stories are real nail-biters.
Next, Jackie Gamber steps up the pace with two beautiful and rather heartbreaking tales that turn lyrical objects like locks of hair and black feathers into something altogether sinister. A personal favorite, Heart of Stone, takes an uneasy look at the dark soul of a sculptor and the spiritual awakening of his tragic muse. It's both lovely and frightening. Also from Gamber, The Closest Thing, is a good-love-gone-bad tale that leads to unexpected places. Quite nice!
Last, but not least, Louise Bohmer lends a haunting touch (along with pitch-perfect editing) to Old School, providing two ghostly tales that ought to be whispered again and again around a crackling campfire on a dark dark night. Oh boy, and they're a pair of historical pieces too! I can't help it. I'm a sucker for them. So okay, The Legend of Pierson Point, 1979 doesn't go back that far in time, just long enough to drape the whole thing in the sort of disquieting fog that tends to whirl around all nasty bits of urban legend, but not long enough to make you feel as though you're safely beyond it's spectral grasp. This story reminds me of standing in front of a mirror while murmuring BLOODY MARY BLOODY MARY BLOODY MARY... It's hard to get any more Old School than that. Then, there's the fetchingly named, When the Tylwyth Teg Walk Among Us, in which grave-robbers must face the music in 1840 Glastonbury Tor. It's fearful stuff and a great story to finish things up.
If I were to do it again, I think Old School would be best read by quivering flashlight beam in a dark tent with no other sounds but those of crickets and panicked breathing. Take it to a pajama party at the very least, for pity sake! It'll make Marcia Brady wet her pants.