The delivery of a Spectral chapbook is always one of life’s little ups: a pearl on the doormat amid the bills and other straight-to-shredder offal. The single-story issues are generally of creepy tone rather than visceral, and the most recent two volumes continue that tradition by merging melancholy, loss and memory with exactly what makes reading horror so much goose-bump inducing fun.
Volume VIII sees David Tallerman’s “The Way of the Leaves” narrated by a broken man. He succinctly whisks us back to his childhood to meet Charlotte – a friend and fellow misfit – as the two of them climb a hill one summer afternoon in search of a place to relax and read. I was immediately struck by the evocation, almost blinking against the sun and prickled by gorse scratches on my legs. And things soon turn beautifully menacing when they discover the entrance to a barrow.
“The shadows behind were too black, too deep.”
From that moment on – and the ensuing claustrophobic adventure into the barrow – the tale oozes menace from every angle. I won’t spoil what unfolds, but the author is a sound judge of how much to show and how much to leave steeped in malevolent mystery, keeping our imaginations on their toes.
I completely empathised with the protagonist and his actions as a youth, and his poignant, troubled relationship with Charlotte could’ve been expanded into a novella, perhaps even a novel. But that’s not to say “The Way of the Leaves” is rushed. This is perfectly paced storytelling with some splendid turns of phrase, and I’ll keep my eye out for David’s work in future.
Volume IX brings “Creakers” by Paul Kane. Here we meet property developer Ray, alone and unsettled in the middle of the night after landing the task of renovating his old family home. He soon realises that it’s a creaker: a property prone to late-night, nerve-jangling groans regardless of the building’s age or construction. But this seems to have meaning, and may be connected to his recently deceased mother and the childhood upon which he’s deliberately turned his back.
From its spine-chilling opening in the house, this muscular tale holds the interest throughout with crisp prose and chills, and I enjoyed Ray’s developing friendship with an attractive, lonely neighbour. As well as character development, this element also served to balance the haunting moments with some cold light of day.
I found the overall concept familiar, but the piece still builds to an assured – if not breathtaking – finale. As with the previous chapbook, the author keeps us guessing as to whether events are concrete, psychological or supernatural, or even a combination of them all. And tip-toeing around a scary house at midnight by torchlight is always a blast in safe hands like Paul Kane’s.
If you like thoughtful horror with heart and darkness in equal measure, then visit Spectral Press. With each volume signed and limited to 100 prints, these superbly edited chapbooks sell out fast, and should please collector and reader alike. I’ll certainly be renewing my subscription ad infinitum.