Shivers V

For seven years, Cemetery Dance’s has kept readers abreast of the best in modern horror short fiction with the Richard Chizmar-edited SHIVERS anthology series. After a short delay that derailed the franchise’s annual publication, SHIVERS V is now out, and definitely worth the wait.

It doesn’t take long to get properly unsettled, either, once Sarah Langan relates a road-tripping couple’s backseat encounter with “The Burn Victim,” an unwitting passenger who’s awfully messy after having his skin burnt raw by the desert sun. However, the cringes it induces are nothing compared to those generated by the acts of perversion in Mick Garris’ “Forever Gramma.” It’s worth repeating: The guy’s talents are best suited to the printed page, not the silver screen.

John Skipp and Cody Goodfellow team up for “Hazel (Reduxed),” a brief tale involving the torture of someone with Alzheimer’s. With its slightly experimental structure and fill-in-the-holes situation, one wishes for a tad more lucidity. Its fever-dream machinations are put to better use in Brian Freeman’s “One More Day,” with children at the mercy of horrific, repeated punishment from someone called “the Big Man.”

The collection really picks up steam in the middle, starting with “Dog Days,” an odd love triangle — or make that quadrangle — between two doctors, the woman they both love, and one of the docs’ canine companion. Graham Masterton’s twists here are more unexpected and demented than any novel of his I’ve read.

Nicholas Kaufmann treads David Cronenberg territory — and does it well — in “Mysteries of the Cure,” about a newly dumped guy who finds his skin rotting and peeling … until he has sex again. Its grotesqueness is topped only by R. Patrick Gates’ “Dead Head,” in which a military general is keen on testing a virus that not only reanimates the dead, but makes them sexual predators. And by “testing,” we mean using himself as a willing subject on the receiving end.

The protagonist of Steve Rasnic Tem’s “The Stench” is obsessed with a fear of terrible smells; I’m ashamed to say that I and my overly sensitive olfactory nerves can sympathize. Mania of another kind consumes the man in Rick Hautala’s haunting “True Glass”; he finds a thrown-out window that, when looked through, reveals people on the other side for whom they truly are.

Most of the two dozen-ish pieces in SHIVERS V are worthy of the title. Only a few failed to click with me for lack of focus or overly muddled narratives (and sorry, Robin Furth, but I’m not into poetry). Other names contributing to this collection include Al Sarrantonio, Scott Nicholson, Kealan Patrick Burke, Chet Williamson, Simon Clark, Steve Vernon, Stewart O’Nan and Sarah Pinborough. —Rod Lott

Buy it at Amazon or Cemetery Dance.

bonus xxx-cerpt“The panel in the wall in front of him began to slide open. Behind it, the beautiful new girl was on her knees, chained to a platform that would slide out to where the general stood, bringing her head right to his crotch. The general unzipped his pants and exposed his swelling commanding officer.”

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