Saturday 2 May 2015

Their Cramped Dark World reviewed on the Vault of Evil

David A. Riley - Their Cramped Dark World and Other Tales (Parallel Universe, 2015)

Hoody (When Graveyards Yawn, Crowswing Books, 2006)
A Bottle of Spirits (New Writings in Horror & the Supernatural 2, 1972)
No Sense in Being Hungry, She Thought (Peeping Tom #20, 1996)
Now and Forever More (The Second Black Book of Horror, 2008)
Romero's Children (The Seventh Black Book of Horror, 2010)
Swan Song (The Ninth Black Book of Horror, 2012)
The Farmhouse (New Writings in Horror & the Supernatural 1, 1971)
The Last Coach Trip (The Eighth Black Book of Horror, 2011)
The Satyr's Head (The Satyr's Head & Other Tales of Terror, 1975)
Their Cramped Dark World (The Sixth Black Book of Horror, 2010)

A bit cheeky perhaps, as I've not yet got a copy, but I've no hesitation in recommending Their Cramped Dark World. Why? Because, most unusually, I'm already familiar with all bar one of the stories. So, collected from around the board and tarted up ever so slightly, a patchwork instant commentary.

Hoody: "Black Magic Link To Serial Killer. In the wake of a fatal stabbing outside The Red Dragon, Laurence Huxtable, computer artist, grows fearful of the lonesome hoody who has taken to hanging around the car park at Highgate Station and watching his flat. It transpires that the murder victim, Paul Gilligan, was himself a serial killer whose freezer was stocked with the thumbs of his five victims - one of whom was killed after he'd been pronounced dead ....

A Bottle Of Spirits: As revealed to aspiring medium Phyllis Harker. After watching a performance at the Grand Theatre in Clayborn, Rob is so fascinated by the uncanny ability of mind reader Sebastian Preskett that he murders his elderly assistant to create a job vacancy. Rob just HAS to know how the guy gets it right every time so he can steal his act and make loads of cash. Studying him at close hand, Rob is convinced the key to Preskett's powers must lie in the fairground organ and outsize phosphorescent bottle he uses as props. Increasingly worried that Preskett has known all along who murdered his friend, Rob decides it's time to leave. But first, he'll remove the stopper from that weirdly glowing blue bottle if it kills him ....

Now and Forever More: Holidaying at a typically welcoming Cornish coastal village ("You'll be glad to leave 'ere, I s'ppose?"), John and Julie Daniels fall foul of the local inbred degenerates, a bunch of goat-worshipping Satanists presided over by Marsh, the landlord of The Broken Mast. Moral. When in the West Country, never let a native overhear you mention that he's inhospitable, deformed and would benefit from the occasional shower, or he might take offence.

Romero’s Children: Twenty years after the OM (Old Methuselah) eternal youth wonder-drug hit the street, and those who either resisted it's lure or simply were yet to be born now have to live with the consequences - a world full of drooling cannibal zombies. Fortunately, these undead are of the ambling, mindless variety and easily picked off with a shot to the head. Until ...

Stocking up on tinned food supplies from the remnants of a Wal-Mart, ageing loner, Jack, and punky young survivalist, Candice. chance upon Lucy, who can not only talk but seems to have shaken off the effects of the drug. Against his better judgement, Jack brings her home and cleans her up ....

Swan Song: A Black Book Of Horror classic. "Nights In White Satin. Overrated, degenerate trash, just right for a pair of ancient hippies high on drugs." Three elderly Right Wing thugs - retired schoolteacher, Bennett, Pinky Pinkerton, chairman of the Conservative club, and self-made businessmen, Sam Nedwell - make it their business to rid the local park of a pair of decrepit tramps. Bennett and cronies pack their baseball bats, confident this last hurrah will prove the most one-sided confrontation of their brutal campaign versus "undesirables." But the Huntingtons are not the pushovers they seem. Filthy rich ancient hippie philanthropists, Cider Man & Wino woman own a villa on the exclusive Maple Road. Back in the day they ran a refuge for the homeless until it closed amidst rumours of Black Magic and mysterious disappearances ....

The Farmhouse: Kendale, near Tavistock. Surrealist Biblical artist Preskett committed suicide here by turning himself into a human torch amid much talk of ritual murder, drugs, and orgies on the hill. Stopping at the deserted house, hikers Melbury and Janet discover a metal box hidden in the wall, inside which they find several books. The one Melbury picks up opens on a quote from Poe's The Conquering Worm.

Later, Janet leaves Melbury asleep in the tent they've erected and returns to the farmhouse for the books. He comes awake with a terrible sense of foreboding, and goes off to find her ...

Perhaps my all-time favourite story.

The Last Coach Trip: It's the Hemer Street Working Mens Club's final day out to the Ripton races and veteran Eddie is taking it as a bereavement. Harold does all he can to cheer up his old friend, but it's no use. Eddie arrives late looking like death, skips the traditional fry up and - to the incredulity of all - hardly touches a drop all day. Any other year, and they'd have to carry him back and forth from the coach. It's only as they're returning home to Edgebottom that Eddie perks up and Harold realises to his horror that these boozy excursions won't be coming to an end after all.

The Satyr's Head: Yorkshire. Student Henry Lamson's world is one of Wimpy bars, pubs, going to watch the Rovers play on a Saturday afternoon, and attending screenings of The Shuttered Room at the film society with his friend Alan Sutcliffe. He's been dating Joan for some time but she's shown no interest in sleeping with him.

Walking home across the Moors one night Henry encounters a filthy, diseased tramp who proves impossible to shake off - the malodorous one even sidles up next to him on the bus. Turns out he wants to sell him a relic for a nominal fee. Despite himself, Henry shells out on the evil looking bauble ... and that's when his nightmares begin, nightmares in which he's visited and raped by the original of the satyr.

When he next catches up the tramp (who is by now pretty much decomposing on his feet), the old boy sneers that the relic chose him because he is the "right sort" and Henry, mortified that he may indeed be a homosexual, books a session with local prostitute Clara Sadwick. But where Henry goes, his incubus goes too ...

A story I detested as a lonesome teenager because it made me feel kind of queasy on the grounds of it's subject matter, but on revisiting it several years later I found it an absolute peach.

Their Cramped Dark World: Fifteen year old's Pete and Lenny spend Halloween in a reputedly haunted house, derelict since the torture-murder of an entire family 25 years ago to the night. It soon becomes worryingly clear to Lenny that the rest of the gang aren't going to show and, what with Pete acting strangely, and the rats scratching from inside the walls, he's all for shifting their Vodka stash elsewhere. Pete won't - can't - hear of it .....

Wizard, 30 Sept. 1939

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