"The Devil's Coattails: More Dispatches from the Dark Frontier" Delivers
With the new horror anthology "The Devil's Coattails," you get the weird and the wonderful, with 30 pages of artwork and works by some of the best horror writers working today.
- "The Devil's Coattails: More Dispatches from the Dark Frontier" (Cycatrix Press)
- Jason V. Brock's "Object Lesson"
- William F. Nolan's (Logan's Run) Poem "Dread Voyage"
- Gary A Braunbeck's "And Dream of Phaedian Fancies"
- "If You Love Me" by Paul G. Bens, Jr.
"The Devil's Coattails: More Dispatches from the Dark Frontier" (Cycatrix Press)
"The Devil's Coattails", edited by Jason V. Brock and William F. Nolan, is a treat on so many levels. There are the stories, of course, from the likes of Ramsey Campbell, William F. Nolan, Gary A. Braunbeck, Melanie Tem, Earl Hamner, Jr., Jason V. Brock and others, but there are also at least thirty fascinating illustrations to accompany the stories, not counting the headshots of the authors themselves. There is a Foreword by S.T. Joshi and a cover by award-winning artist Vincent Chong of the U.K., whose work has been used by authors such as Ray Bradbury, Stephen King and Joe Hill. One other nice touch in the anthology is the paragraph that accompanies each story, telling us what inspired it, from the author's point-of-view.
Jason V. Brock's "Object Lesson"
Co-editor of the anthology, Jason V. Brock, includes his own story, "Object Lesson," which follows Ramsey Campbell's story "The Moons." For me, it was one of the most powerful in the collection, sharing the memory of the loss of a loved one, in this case, a father. The story is very touching and spoke to me, taking me back instantly to my own father's hospital room at the Mayo Clinic over Labor Day, with the oncologist telling me to "take him home and make him comfortable" as he lay dying of terminal liver cancer. A multi-talented writer, illustrator, filmmaker and musician, Jason has done double duty on this anthology, both writing for it and editing it. His wife, Sunni, also contributes her story, "Dying to Forget."
William F. Nolan's (Logan's Run) Poem "Dread Voyage"
After William F. Nolan's epic poem, inspired by the "Aeneid,", came one of my favorite stories within the entire anthology, "Best Friends," written by Melanie Tem. "Best Friends" is a ghost story...or is it? This short story deals with the undeniable pain that losing a long-time friend leaves. Not loss through death, however; loss while still living. "After all those years and all that work, I'd finally come to terms with the impossible and the outrageous and the unbearable and the then bone-deep truth that Michelle wasn't my friend any more. My life had finally settled into its new architecture without her, the way a body can sometimes but not always do after terrible surgery. It only hurt when I pressed it, or breathed too deeply. Now, here she is again, and everything hurts." Melanie nails this emotion so well, so tellingly. She describes "the long slow death of our friendship" and its demise, saying, "I used to torture myself by wondering if Michelle was keeping up with my life, too." You nod your head in recognition if you've ever lost a close, long-time friend this way. When the author says she is "determined not to let her interfere with my life again" the reader applauds the author's determination. But we know that, even more than the loss of her husband (because she shares this widow's thought), the loss of a close female friend of many years can be even more destructive. At some point, this story of a friend who betrays your long-term friendship, a woman grieving for her former friend, becomes a ghost story. When it does, you will marvel at how well Melanie Tem has captured the inevitable pain that accompanies the loss of a decades-long friendship. She has taken that pain to another level in this story. Bravo!
Gary A Braunbeck's "And Dream of Phaedian Fancies"
Six-time Bram Stoker winner Gary A Braunbeck contributed "And Dream of Phaedian Fancies" to the anthology. Gary has also won 3 Shocklines "Shocker" Awards, an International Horror Guild Award, and a World Fantasy Award nomination. Braunbeck has the ability to describe things so clearly that you feel you are there, experiencing the event with him. This story is interesting in many ways, not the least of which is its unusual structure and viewpoint. A bouquet of flowers lying on the steps of a porch sets off the story that reminded me, in some ways, of the differing viewpoints one gets in a film like "The Seven Samurai." One observer says, "What the hell good does any physical item do for the person who's now dead?" From there, Braunbeck, the author of "Coffin County" and "Far, Dark Fields" takes off on this inspirational spark and delivers as only he can in this short piece.
"If You Love Me" by Paul G. Bens, Jr.
"If You Love Me" is that most horrible of stories: a horror story that could, conceivably, occur in real life. No paranormal beasts or ghosts from beyond doing damage here. Just a simple story of love. "If you love me, you don't die first," says one gay lover to another. As Bens notes so insightfully, "It is a powerful aphrodisiac to find so blatantly in another what is lacking in oneself, and, eventually, life moves on and you have to find your own way." But negotiating the world of AIDS from pandemic to manageable illness forces decisions on this gay couple that circumstances should never force on anyone. The story's impact lingers in your imagination, burned into your consciousness like a photographic image, as you ponder the implications of the plot.
As you read stories from this collection, enjoy the wonderful artwork, the insightful author comments that add so much, and find your own favorite stories. It's a wonderful companion piece to "The Bleeding Edge: Dark Barriers, Dark Frontiers." The stories that touch you the most may be different from those that touched me, but all were well-written, well-edited and beautifully illustrated.