Review: “Fountain of Drowned Memories” by Erik Hofstatter

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Lorcan Carmody is scared. He can’t understand where he is or why he’s there. Strange people surround him… and a monster lurks in his room. Is the monster real or imagined?

Fountain of Drowned MemoriesThis tale from Frightful Horrors – a UK small press dedicated to our love of weird fiction chapbooks but presented in easy digital form – is quite a triumph given its length. It took less time to read than to write this review, but leaves quite a melancholy malaise upon putting it down.

We meet Lorcan Carmody, trapped in a strange bedroom and losing his memory. He becomes obsessed by the shifting stains on the ceiling and also the sink in the corner – which he knows as the fountain – as he struggles to recall words, the past, and even his own identity.

At first, the fountain seems to have healing properties and is the only thing to bring him peace in his confusion. But when it sprouts monstrous tentacles, Lorcan begins to wonder if the fountain is actually draining his precious memories. He’s occasionally visited by other people, but is suspicious that they’re colluding with the fountain and his insidious loss of recall.

This short story took me by surprise. It’s instantly engaging and easy to empathise with Lorcan’s fear and frustration. The prose is robust, evoking the rain, the trees and figures that he glimpses out of the window, and suffusing the whole account with loneliness. This elegiac tone is accentuated by glimpses of normality – such as memories of drinking in pubs and the smell of bacon – but nothing lasts, and even these brief snippets only bring him more misery as they become tainted and dissipate.

Any piece like this initially keeps the reader guessing as to his plight. Is Lorcan a prisoner? On drugs? A mentally ill patient with paranoid delusions? Suffering from dementia? Or perhaps he’s being menaced by actual supernatural horrors? It gauged my subconscious questions well, and everything falls neatly into place.

Fountain of Drowned Memories certainly leaves a mark, laying bare the fragility of mental health. Whether any of what Lorcan believes is actually true – the fountain’s tentacles, the conspiratorial visitors – almost becomes irrelevant. His claustrophobic existence is all, and this story presents how trapped someone can become by environment and more importantly, their own capsizing psyche.

I was lost to Lorcan’s descent as the tale progressed, and the last few pages are heart-breaking. It’s rare that a work of this length (only about 14 pages) can elicit such feeling and Erik Hoffstatter ensures that he has finished wringing you out before most poignant fiction of this kind would’ve even got into gear.

A slick combination of Lovecraft and McMahon, it’s available for free on kindle/pdf download here.

Review – “Phantasy Moste Grotesk” by Felicity Dowker

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Maybe it’s because I’m British, but recently so many great stories have fallen into my lap that I’ve had nothing to moan about, and I’ve kinda missed it.

groteskI thought the opportunity might come with this little chapbook from Corpulent Insanity Press, purchased on a whim simply because I liked the title and cover. But it wasn’t to be.

Phantasy Moste Grotesk is an exceptional novella, a colourful and emotive horror tale that rubs its hands gleefully whenever you pull a face in distaste.

It follows the tale of Josh, whose evening with a takeaway pizza and a book is upset by the arrival of a ghastly, black-eyed kid at his front door. Along with his troubled ex-girlfiriend, he visits a circus tent that has mysteriously sprung up in a nearby playing field: a sinister carnival that promises monsters moste grotesk and phantastique.

That we certainly get. The tale is a claustrophobic descent, just as notable for the emotional destruction that ensues as well as the twisted attractions within the big top’s yellow canvas walls. I think the carnival theme can be precarious ground for horror and dark fantasy writers. There’s a danger of unoriginality and cliché, and because the opportunity is there to really let the imagination go, there’s a risk of exposing oneself as not being able to pull the punches when the golden chance has presented itself.

Felicity Dowker’s story avoids these pitfalls with a sneer. There’s some vividly sick images that cling in the memory (the ferris wheel is stunning), but more important is the way some of the horrors entwine with the characters and the deeply personal anguish of their plight. This chapbook seems to give an actual taste of madness, not just somebody’s guess as to what it might be like.

I’ve no complaints. It begins with a wheel-spin, slows to let you get your breath back, then slowly accelerates, faster and faster until by the climax, you’re clinging to the pages, appalled and intrigued in equal measures.

If you’ve missed out, then keep your eye out for Felicity Dowker. I hope, actually I’m sure, that we’ll be seeing a lot more of her deliciously sour prose in the future.