"You say you found him like this, clutching The Best of the Horror Zine: The Early Years book in his right hand, and in his left the DVR remote?"
It was Zombos' voice. I blinked my eyes open. He was standing over me, looking at me with those accusatory eyes of his. I knew the admonishment he so delighted in imparting to me, often, was coming full-throttle. I think I earned it this time, though. Glenor Glenda, our high-strung maid, must have found me and called out to him. She's such a snitch.
"Here, let us get you up and out of that fetal position," said Zombos, extending his hand.
I gripped it and he pulled me up and into a more comfortable position on the over-stuffed settee. Chef Machiavelli arrived right on cue and handed me a glass two-fingers filled with Armagnac. I downed one finger in a gulp.
"Feeling better, are we?" asked Zombos.
Here it comes. I debated whether to deal with his admonishment on the one-finger of Armagnac. I quickly decided two-fingers would be best and emptied the glass.
He pointed to the television screen. I had paused at the point in Dracula Versus Frankenstein where J. Carrol Naish (the mad scientist) was confronted by Zandor Vorkov's Dracula. It was hideous beyond belief. Naish enunciated his lines into the steadfast camera from cue cards and Vorkov flittered, back and forth, delivering his lines to the floor while the camera had trouble keeping him in frame. I couldn't take any more. Not even Lon Chaney Jr. as Groton (and thank the lord he was mute) could keep me conscious. I think I kissed the floor when Dracula shot out a few etch-a-sketch rays from his plastic ring to threaten Naish.
"What were you trying to do?" asked Zombos. He folded his arms and waited like a teacher delighting in pulling the invisible wings off a student he had just woke up in class.
"I thought I'd try and catch up on my reviews. I hadn't posted any in ages, you know, so when Jeani Rector, the editor of The Horror Zine contacted me for a review, I jumped in head first instead of dipping my toes, so to speak."
Zombos still had his arms folded. I wished I had had three-fingers of Armagnac at that point. Miraculously, Chef Machievelli, as if reading my mind, poured another finger of the numbing liquid into my glass. We exchanged that knowing glance that only people who have to deal with those other people often exchange.
"But how did the book wind up in your hand?" asked Zombos.
"I was reading it, then took a break and put it aside to watch that, that awful movie. I must have instinctively reached out for something of quality as I fell unconscious. For reassurance, I think."
Zombos unfolded his arms. He picked up the remote and turned off the DVR. "Well, any good?" He held up The Best of The Horror Zine and started flipping through it."
"Why, yes," I said. "It contains poetry, short stories, and feverish illustrations. As you know, horror is best served in many different ways and here you will find selections taken from the first four Horror Zine anthologies: And Now the Nightmare Begins, Twice the Terror, What Fears Become, and A Feast of Frights."
"Ways, you said?" asked Zombos.
"Yes. Ways that include the usual and unusual suspects--or what an author leads us to believe as such, the various nightmares of the dead still popping up, the soon to be dead--you know, the characters that are usually clueless in regard to their pending demises, and the unfortunate living who have to cope with all those popping up dead and oncoming deaths, and, of course, the unwelcome nocturnal ghosts bumping each other in the dark."
"How about monsters?" asked Glenor Glenda. She was dusting and listening at the same time. "I like a good monster story."
"Of course," I said, "where would an anthology be without a monster or two, either human or supernatural, also feeding into the terrors? It's all here, written in first person narrative or third person bystander. There's a modicum of dark fantasy, a teaspoon of gory guts-a-spillin', and depressing endings galore. A perfect read on a dreary, dark and rainy night, with a nice mug of hot cider or salted caramel hot chocolate to balance your sympathies and fears."
"Give us a rundown on some of the authors," said Zombos. He sat in the chair opposite me. Glenor Glenda went off on her mansion-keeping duties. Chef Machiavelli returned to the kitchen to tend to his dinner preparations. He wisely left the Armagnac.
"I'll start with my favorite story, Homecoming, by Scott Nicholson. Charlie Roniger is having a bad night. His wife, Sara, is no longer fully alive, and at bedtime he's visited by a lot of deadbeat neighbors who have nowhere else to go. On one particular night his son returns. Cue the remorse, the sadness, the pining over what was and what is. Nicholson makes Charlie's night an emotionally draining one by piling up his life's everydays all into it. It would probably be kinder to take an axe to Charlie's head, but Nicholson has a knack for colorful descriptions and depressed and weary characters that still have so much life in them through what they choose not to do.
For a more traditional backwoods creature-feature, Dean H. Wild's Flesh has the town journalist confront a peculiar family as he searches for a hot story. Unfortunately for him, he's about to find out just how peculiar that family is and how annoyingly deep those backwoods can be when you're in a hurry to get out of them. Monsters also figure into Stewart Horn's Filmland when a DVD rental shop should have closed earlier than it did. The 'kinda chubby' sales clerk meets two odd, and definitely not-regular, patrons, and discovers there's more to life than movies. Horn's story is cheeky-light and leaves you, along with the clerk, shivering in the dark from uncertainty as to what's really out there. I'd be surprised if he didn't turn it into a series of adventures for that poor chubby, and nerdy, sales clerk.
Jeani Rector's story, The Bus Station, takes place on Halloween Night, and the main character implores us to listen to her (or is it his) account of that night first, before we make up our mind at the end. Is it mistaken identity? Mistaken sanity? or how many times does it take a shotgun going off to rattle your brain enough to haunt you?
Let's see, what else? If you're into ghouls, I'd hit up Shaun Meek's The Soldier, wherein a dying soldier meets two others just dying to m(eat) him. And if you're a germaphobe, I'd definitely read Eric J. Guignard's Germ Warfare, which takes cleanliness to lethal extremes."
"What about another cheeky-light story," asked Zombos.
"The Security System by Bentley Little," I said. "It gets my vote for my second favorite story in this anthology. A couple comes back from vacation and finds their home is burgled. They think about installing a home security system, change their minds, and come to regret ever thinking about it in the first place. Cleverly creepy situations escalate to the breaking point. Little's story would be a natural for a Tales From the Darkside episode. Speaking of which, the twist- ending And Baby, You Can Sleep While I Drive, by Elizabeth Massie, would have made an excellent Alfred Hitchcock Presents hour-long episode. A stolen car turns out to be haunted. Living and ghostly mistakes ensue."
Like the stories, which range from just a few pages to longer, the poems range from short verse to multi-line, and conjure up a mood, a feeling, or a tableau centering around death (John T. Carney's The Ghoul), decay (Scott Urban's Your Maggot), the Frankenstein Monster (Dennis Bagwell's If Frankenstein's Monster Were Alive Today), and the one-way ticket with no window seat (Ian Hunter's Calling the Past). Tones and moods run bleak to cheek, so a nice sampling of poetic horror is provided."
"So, all in all, you would say a good, solid read, then?" Zombos summed up.
"Quite," I said, reaching for the Armagnac. I was still determined to finish my viewing of Dracula Versus Frankenstein.
I know, I know, I never learn. Just make sure to keep a copy of The Best of the Horror Zine: The Early Years nearby, just in case you decide to watch that dreadful movie too.