Even the bent and twisted young lad smeared across the tarmac outside his house, bubbles of blood blew from his nose as the breath left his punctured lungs, eyes fixed wide, yet remaining as calm as a stoned Buddha, despite his probable broken spine and multiple fractures.
All of them were staring blankly at the house.
And so begins the creepy, darkly humorous, Starers by Nathan Robinson.
With a well-intentioned dad, a slightly depressed mother, an angry daughter, and a wise-cracking uncle, the Keenes are just your average family. Nothing special, nothing too embarrassing, nothing horrific. You probably wouldn't look twice if you were to walk past their house, but that's exactly what thousands of ordinary people do - stop and stare, for no apparent reason. If that doesn't creep you out, then I can only imagine it's because you have no doors or windows in your home, and have never felt that tickle of dread that slips down your neck when you feel like you're being watched.
This is creepy, Twilight Zone-inspired, zombie-inspired horror here, folks. It's the kind of horror that builds slowly, wearing away your defenses, as it gets under your skin. The strangers outside aren't violent, but they're there, more of them by the hour, crowding in closer and closer, without a single word said about why they find you so worthy of their mindless, vacant, yet somehow accusing stares. You begin feeling claustrophobic in your own home. Your family begins looking to one another for answers . . . and blame. More than that, you begin dehumanizing the crowd outside, as your fear struggles to make monsters out of them, in order to justify your fears. Eventually, you just have to get out, but if they won't move, if they won't let you out, at what point does your violence become a rational, even necessary response?
Dark, creepy, and oh-so-very gory, this is also a book that's often laugh-out-loud funny. Such black (and sometimes corny) humour should feel out of place, but it helps to remind the reader of just how absurd the situation is. Kudos to Robinson for being able to manage that balancing act, and for knowing just when to alleviate some of the tension, without denying the story its unsettling heart. Definitely worth a read.
Kindle Edition, 146 pages
Published October 1st 2012 by Severed Press
Devil Let Me Go is a collection of tales that is both unsettling and entertaining. Nathan Robinson dabbles all around the horror genre here, playing with a few different tropes, but making his mark on each of them. The stories are all based on simple scenarios, but defined by the clever way in which he uses his characters to exploit them. There were a few stories that didn't resonate with me as strongly as the others, but they all had their moments of 'magic' (so to speak).
The House that Creak’d opens things with post-apocalyptic tale that seems like madness for the longest time, before slowly revealing itself in a fantastic ending. Crack’d is another tale of disaster, but one that is defined by the madness of motherhood, as opposed to that of solitude.
Not That Way Home offers a major change of pace, with a remarkably tense tale that careens to an unexpected climax. Eat your Heart out Lorena is the darkest, most disturbing tale of the lot, and even if it's a bit predictable, I liked the execution. Banana Boxes was one of my favourites, an exceptionally well-narrated story with a great twist.
The Skeleton Tree is a great tale, one that takes a chilling image, confronts it, challenges it, and then runs away with the consequences. I didn't expect to like Colder than Hell up here, but it really grew on me. As for Fallen, it's the perfect tale on which to end things, the least chilling but the most emotional of all the stories here, and a solid slip sideways to flirt with the paranormal romance genre.
All-in-all, a solid collection. Not as much fun as Starers, but it's nice to see that Robinson isn't a one-trick novelty act. If you're looking for an introduction to his work, it's a great place to start, and if you're already a fan, then you'll find plenty here to enjoy.
Paperback, 202 pages
Published August 28th 2013 by The Bookshop of Doom