DarkFuse publishing. The publishers have established a fine reputation with their novels and novellas, many of which I've enjoyed myself so expectations were high for this, their first foray into the shorter form. I'm pleased to say that those expectations were met, and surpassed - this is an excellent collection of stories without a duff one among them.
The collection kicks off with a story from William Meikle, She Sleeps in the Depths - which incorporates most of the trademarks we've come to expect from the prolific Scottish author. There's shades of the opening scenes of Close Encounters of the Third Kind with - instead of visions of a mountain - a mysterious folk tune compelling Fallon to the seas around The Old Man of Hoy to discover its origins, a trip that brings him into contact with Val who shares his obsession. The source turns out to be suitably Meiklesque and spectacular, providing an exciting and entertaining start to the collection.
Better Heard and Not Seen by Michael Penkas is a creepy little story of night-time hauntings which cleverly plays on the old themes of the "thing in the closet", neatly subverting them and showing that the age old defence mechanism of hiding under the bedclothes isn't always the best strategy...
Carrion Fowl is by William R Eakin and is my favourite story of the collection. The premise is clever enough - a PA scenario in which a "plague" transforms people into the eponymous birds but it's the style of the piece, the way in which it is written that's the most impressive. A first person narrative that changes in tone and style to mirror the transformation of the narrator, the calm, measured pace becoming ever more frenetic and driven as the story progresses. It's a gem of a story from an author new to me.
Jaws of Life by E. G. Smith is an intense piece centering around the attempts of a man trapped inside his crashed car to escape from the wreckage, trying to enlist the help of some very weird children who stumble upon him. There's a great sense of atmosphere generated here - the car has crashed in an isolated location, deep within the woods - and the desperation of Chandler is well portrayed, realising his only hope lies in trying to get through to the children. The story's conclusion has a horrible inevitability about it and will probably not come as a surprise but still manages to provide some effective shocks.
Gary McMahon provides Netherview which turns a seemingly innocuous visit to a show-home on a new development into a tense story of paranoia and mistrust where nothing is really what it seems. The air of superficiality and soullessness is beautifully conveyed and there are hints as to the history of the place (with nods to The Shining and Poltergeist) which subtly add to the atmosphere of dread that slowly builds as the story progresses. The ending is a shock, but suitably bleak...
The collection is rounded off with Christopher Fulbright's Children of the Horned God. An atmospheric tale that provides a very dark take on Wiccan mythology and shamanism, another story in which nothing is really as it seems, a tale of murder, sacrifice and regeneration.
DarkFuse #1 is an impressive start to what will hopefully be a long series of short story collections and I look forward to the next one with much anticipation.