The Horror Fields is a collection of ten "rural" horror stories published by Morpheus Tales. I ordered the paperback version which was a chapbook design, something I guess that managed to keep the production costs down but which has had the unfortunate effect of forcing the text into such a tiny font size that it's quite difficult to read. (Especially when you're as old as I am).
The back cover proclaims Morpheus Tales to be "the UK's darkest and most controversial fiction magazine" so it was a bit of a surprise to find that the first story in the book, Untouchable by Rosalie Parker was so - well, gentle I guess. It's a tale of the past resonating into the present when a ranger, James, finds a torn red dress whilst working on a wall repair. There's a story within a story within a story here with hints of witchcraft and a subtly created sense of unease to provide an atmospheric start to the collection.
Figures in a Landscape by John Coulthart takes ley-lines and standing stones as its starting point in a wonderfully atmospheric tale which contains some lovely imagery and which hints at nature taking revenge for its desecration, here evidenced by lines of pylons extending across the countryside, reclaiming its powers in the most terrifying of ways.
Bluehill Gang by Don Webb seems a strange story to include in this collection. Actually, it's a strange story full stop, telling of an initiation ceremony for a group of kids made to spend the night in a remote hut. Enlightenment ensues, with glimpses into the nature of evil but - to be pedantic - the "rural" aspect of the story is slight to non-existent so it's odd that it's found a home in a themed anthology.
Where the Marshes Meet the Sea by Edward Pearce, on the other hand, perfectly encapsulates the theme of the anthology with a tale in which the landscape itself provides the horror, telling of the eponymous location, a place that doesn't feel right, evil even - sensations that turn out to be entirely justified.
It's odd to find that Live Bait Works Best has two authors, being as short as it is, but so it does - Murphy Edwards and Brian Rosenberger. Quite how the labour was divided I'm not sure, there's certainly no changes in flow or tone in the story to indicate where responsibilities for the narrative changed. This is a good thing and this is a good story. The title will probably provide enough hints as to what's to come but this story of an angling break for a businessman still manages to provide some extremely well drawn characters and a shocking conclusion.
There's political allegory overflowing in James Everington's Across the Water (even in the story's title) which tells of Griffin (and yes, that's a very specific and pertinent choice of character name right there) taking a summer job maintaining and operating a lock on a canal, a job that does indeed involve opening floodgates. It's a cleverly written tale of karmic revenge with Griffin's prejudices coming back to bite him literally (or not - as the case may be) by a bunch of parasites. Lovely stuff.
Bus Routes Through the Sticks is by Richard Farren Barber and it wasn't until I'd finished reading it that I spotted the lovely pun in the title. It's a familiar set-up - hiker gets onto a bus in a remote location and begins to wonder where it's taking him - but it's a fine variation on the theme with a well crafted sense of slowly building paranoia.
The Rocking Stone by Ian Hunter didn't quite work for me given the suspension of disbelief it required was just a wee bit too much. Not in the overall concept - which is a very good one (though similar to that of the Coulthart story) - but in the narrative framework that it hangs on. A shame, as the conclusion is very well done and very effective.
There's a fine line between literary writing and purple prose and, unfortunately, I feel A Remembrance of the Strange by Justin Aryiku falls into the latter category. I found it overwritten and overblown, the indulgent prose having to be clambered through to find the slight story hidden within it.
Whether you regard surrealism as a way to "resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality" or simply as a load of self-indulgent bollocks, that opinion will inform your appreciation of the final story of the collection Stale Air by Rhys Hughes. I know little of absurdism, it's a genre I rarely encounter, I can't tell my Auster from my Albee and, given that it mostly revolves around characters discovering there is no inherent purpose in life, there seems little purpose in trying to offer an opinion of this story (other than it put me in mind of a pickled cabbage suspended over a sea of pink typewriters through which swim sharks singing Happy Birthday, backwards, in Portugese. Harsh, I know -but hey...)
As with any collection, The Horror Fields is a curate's egg. The good outweigh the bad though and I do recommend that you buy it - which you can do here.
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