The Abyss Within: 13 Chilling Tales to Keep You Up At Night Edited by: Verity Stuart, Isabelle Panay, Giulia Milazzo, Natasha Wright
SmashBear Publishing, ebook, £5.99
Reviewer by I. Rosenfeld
The Abyss Within (2020) caught my eye, even though horror is not one of the genres I often read. The title of this short story collection reminds us that horror, as a genre, lends itself to questions about the human psyche. The obsessions of horror fiction are about the abnormal: visions, ghosts, monsters, the living dead, deluges of violence, trauma, cannibalism, madness and ‘unnatural’ practices based on magic or unlikely science.
The opening story, Vermin by Kerri Spellar, kick-starts this collection with entrancing prose, detailed descriptions of nature and wildlife and vivid details that made me feel as though I inhabited its landscape. The story is narrated from the point of view of a barmaid returning home from work. As she drives along a dark country lane, a masked man in a dark suit with blood-matted white rabbit fur pulled across his face terrifies her. The plot gathers momentum, the forces revealed towards the end of the first tale are dimly echoed in the suspenseful and cruel last story in this collection, When The Dead Walk by Cassandra Jones.
All the stories were inventive, well-told and driven by a variety of forces: the malevolent goddess Baba Nooa, an evil voodoo Mask that affects the wearer, a ghostly child who drowns divers, a darkly humorous, whimsical tale of pregnancy and childbirth that turns spookily bloodthirsty, and many others.
Apart from the accomplished first and last stories by Kerri Spellar and Cassandra Jones, my top favourites were Chris Tattershall’s Dark Times and two stories by Tabitha Potts: Crow Girl and Masquerade. Dark Times is compact, matter-of-fact and clever. It takes a common obsessive-compulsive pattern of behaviour such as ensuring you’ve locked your home before you sleep – something we all do with various degrees of care, but this story throws you into the terrors of OCD impulses turning into a hallucinatory alternate reality. Without an external monster, zombie or voodoo prop, the terror ‘within’ becomes palpable, making this tale as compulsive to read as the condition it describes.
Tabitha Pott’s work is also outstanding. Masquerade uses the imagery of predator, prey and camouflage in nature as a vehicle for the story of a relationship. It’s a dysfunctional relationship between human prey and predator, told in mesmerizing prose. Tabitha Pott’s second offering, Crow Girl, also caught my eye. Told like a traditional fairy tale but using language in sparse, poetic and powerful ways, she follows the life of an abandoned child who is protected more effectively by animals rather than human society. Expelled from her village, she learns to assert a power that bridges human society with the natural world and ultimately acts as a healing force.
I’d like to end by quoting a reminder about the publisher of this anthology who states: ”We are all working together towards a common goal, to eliminate domestic abuse around the world. All profits from this anthology will be donated to Women’s Aid, so thank you for supporting this anthology.”
The Abyss Within will interest readers who like horror or simply enjoy the thrill of suspenseful, potentially disturbing short stories.