SINGLE SLICES Volume 1, edited by Patrick Beltran.

SINGLE SLICES Volume 1, edited by Patrick Beltran, Cutting Block Books UKSA p/b $12.95 (USD) 264 pages, 

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan

With the proliferation of themed anthologies, an initial reaction is to see what the stories in this volume have in common. I am happy to report that the one thing they all have is quality.  As one would expect from this publisher, the stories involve a degree of horror and most of them are contemporary with settings on several continents though most of the authors are American.

Houses, especially ones not lived in for a while are a likely source of terror. Very different stories in this volume take such place as a setting. The most traditional is perhaps 

‘Jackson House’ by Kristin Dearborn when Kelsey, trying to fit in with her peers at her new school agrees to the dare of spending the night in a haunted house. Kelsey’s background is slowly revealed as she seems more prepared to face the supernatural than her would-be friend. She is a character I would like to read more about. 

The house in ‘After Sunset, in the Second Drawing Room Garden’ by Felice Picano was never totally unoccupied but on the death of its owner it is bought by a young couple expecting their first child. Here it is the room, rather than the whole house that is haunted and the presence as unfortunate effects on the person who spends time in it. Although a house is the focus of Samuel Marzioli’s ‘Behind the Walls’ it is only part of a walled enclave. When Coen takes up residence in one of the houses he doesn’t at first appreciate the presence of the oversized cat that appears to adopt him. It takes him a while to discover that the neighbourhood cats are the protectors of the residents.

While it isn’t strictly a house, the large storage unit in ‘The Lottons Show’ by Marsheila Rockwell and Jeffrey J. Mariotte is the cause of all the trouble. When the rent on the unit stops being paid, Dave Slater opens it up to discover the costumes and props, including puppets, from a TV show he remembers from his childhood. His intention is to sell the contents to cover the arrears. The puppets have other ideas. This is not the first story to have animated toys causing havoc, but this is well handled.

The homes that come into Mason Ian Bundschuh’s ‘Dead Letter Department’ don’t exist. When postal worker Caleb is posted back to his home town to care for his frail mother, he is intrigued by the pigeon-hole where the undeliverable letters are put. Some of these are addressed to people who are dead, or to houses that don’t exist, yet the pigeon-hole is never emptied but it never gets full. It is a benign spooky story.

None of the other stories are really centred around homes unless the jungle compound in Brian Lillie’s ‘The Shiro’ where the narrator accepts a job, can be counted. Here the hand-picked team are investigating fungi. ‘The Coroner’s Collector (A Good Body Washed Up On The Beach Story)’ by Tom Johnstone is set in Brighton, England is a stolen identity story, while ‘Jason A.Wyckoff’s ‘Florie Detail’ is the only one which involves a member of the police force as a central character. Here, the Sherriff is on the fringes of a disaster happening in the city. ‘The Desolated Orchard’ by John F. D. Taff is part historical and part a musing on what happens to gods when people no-longer believe in them.

All of these stories are excellent, in some cases looking at traditional tropes from different angles. Highly recommended.