Reed Alexander's Horror Review of 'Creeping Corruption' (2019)
Reed Alexander reviews a book?
My GOD Madness Heart! Where the FUCK you been for the last 10 years? I’ve been in desperate need of strong gripping horror narrative, and frankly, I’m disappointed it took you so long to feed my cravings. THIS MONKEY DOESN’T FIX ITSELF!
Overall, the Creeping Corruption Anthology, edited by John Baltisberger, is a wonderful collection of mostly first-person narratives. Now, I know a lot of readers aren’t into first-person storytelling, and I say to them: Eat a dick, then read this Anthology. Save one story that was unforgivably bad, every last one of these shorts is compelling and interesting, three of which are worth the purchase price of this book by themselves. So, for the cost of this book, you essentially get three gripping narratives that are worth the cost of this book. That’s three for the price of one and every bit a reason to shell out them duckets. So consider picking up a copy at the link below:
Among those three stories is one of the best shorts I’ve read in my life. John really found himself a winner and that brings us to the stories themselves…
But before we begin, of course, SPOILERS!!!
Lord of Worms is a simplistic first-person narrative that begins in a dream sequence. What I love about first-person narratives is that the self can be brutally honest, or be manipulatively deceptive. That’s what Lord of Worms gave me that nothing else has given me in quite some time. It’s true that first-person narrative is simplistic, but this doesn’t mean it can’t have depth. The narration of Lord of Worms wasn’t just captivating, it was encapsulating. It harkens back to H. P. Lovecraft narrations that were so damn dark. The narrator provides such incredible imagery, you taste and feel the filth; the sensation of wet grime along your skin with each parasite, worm, and monstrosity.
There is a bit of a lull after the dream sequence which kills the mood. While still insane, the rest doesn’t quite match the madness of the opening. The pure, dark, esoteric vibe of the dream just shadows the body of the story.
Now, the idea of a human being controlled by parasites is not a new concept for horror but that’s not a bad thing. It gives you something familiar. Some of my favorite movies are parasite horror: Night of the Creeps, The Shivers, Slither; these are all great worm infestation titles.
The important part is how the narrator expresses losing control of his own body. While the first part of the short was a man being brutally honest about his fear, the second part is a man being consumed by it. Is the narrator being infested by worms, or is the narrator suffering from delusions, having been confronted with the word for the first time?
If I had one more complain to make about Lord of Worms, I’d say the third person immolation news real at the end wasn’t needed. We all know how this story ends. The narrator makes that perfectly clear. The rest can and should be left to the reader’s imagination.
This short alone is worth the cost of this book.
Egg Shell was five fucking pages of rambling nonsense. Okay, I get it, you get the sense the older brother accidentally crippled or killed his younger brother. Like they live with a coffin or a child in a vegetative state. But you go from a story about lamprey monsters face fucking some guy, to a little boy prattling on about his Easter accident?
Here’s the thing. It was well-written and there was this sense of coldness in the older brother’s ramblings that was perfectly constructed. Children have this naivety that can be dangerous. Like when they curiously pull all the legs off a spider. They haven’t matured enough to properly connect with other people. That coldness is marvelously expressed in the mundanity of this child’s ramblings. It just hard to fucking care.
Look, if you’re gonna give me a story about the banality of evil, have the kid dissecting the family cat for the school science fair or something. Go big or go home.
Anthem for the Undesirables reminded me of my teenage years. I remember the day my bandmates and I woke up and had more beer than food. We began cooking with beer, even tried making coffee in beer. Does anybody remember Red Dog? It was the only canned beer cheaper than Pabst back in those days. $10.99 for a 30 rack. We’d clean the store out before Sunday blue laws.
You see that paragraph above? That’s what makes this story so fucking right. It inspired memories from whole portions of my life. Now, I get that not everyone was in a band, and not everyone woke up drinking beer. But then, not everybody went with their three best buddies on an adventure to see a dead body and “Stand By Me” wasn’t any less appealing.
That’s what Anthem for the Undesirables offered me: A quiet moment of reflection. The same sense of carefree youth that “Stand By Me” once gave me.
Now, it’s a little shaky at first. The opening stumble over each sentence a bit. It’s not the best written piece among the first three, but it does find its footing quickly. It’s also not the most imaginatively descriptive piece. However, it didn’t need to be. Complicated words don’t always express the right mood and for crust punk, simplicity may be ideal.
Now, the ending is of little importance here. Like “Stand By Me” discovering the dead body actually becomes unfulfilling. It’s the journey that’s important. But one thing the author did that I respect, is cut the ending perfectly. We don’t need an explanation as to what each member of the band went on to do with their lives. The ending is quick, dark, brutal, and leave a lot to the imagination.
The Store is both a metaphor for being gender fluid and a brilliant way of explaining all those weird antique stores that pop up suddenly in horror movies. Suppose for a moment that each store was merely a franchised tendril of the crawling chaos… that perfectly sums up this little piece. It’s cheeky, though a bit droll at times, but never so much that I lost interest.
Taken from the perspective on an individual whose discussing their new interest as though over a cup of tea, you play the silent protagonist. Every now and then you wish they’d just get on with their story, and every now and then you find yourself deeply hanging on every word, hoping there’ll be some explanation.
It’s well-written, but I really wish the author had been a little smarter with his contractions. I hate reading things like "she would" or "I will," unless appropriate. The narrator isn’t Data from fucking Star Trek Next Gen, after all.
Came Back Negative is a fine outbreak story. You know, as a film critic, I often find myself explaining to a disgruntled audience why infected individuals in outbreak movies make the stupid decisions they do. There’s a lot lost without the internal dialog we get from the written word. You have to express like panic and distress where you can only show them. The written word helps us delve directly into the psyche. This story perfectly expressed the complexities of that anxiety.
It’s not particularly original as a concept, but then, there’s not much left to explore with the outbreak horror as a genre.
If I had any other comments, I’d say Tat’s is a neat disease, but the author should have done more research about leprosy.
Memorial Pavilion: Soylent Green is people… NEXT!
Alright, it was well-written and beautifully descriptive, but that’s a fucking long way to go. A talented writer, a solid concept, not a very interesting story.
Addendum: Look, don’t give up. You’ve clearly got something in you worth telling, it just wasn’t this.
The Fall of Forest Lake is thus far the best told story among them. It’s not as well-written as Lord of Worms, but entices the same kind of imagery with far less profundity. It’s just a damn good story and the way I know this is how quickly I became invested. I FUCKING HATED Mother Maggy. I hated her to the point I could imagine myself grabbing the bitch and jumping into the river by Forest Lake just for fucking spite. It’s rare a villain can be so compelling they excite those kinds of emotions. Bravo.
One problem though. Mother Maggy was easy. Self-righteous bible thumpers aren’t exactly a challenge. Maggy is just the second coming of the same old Jesus freak from The Mist. I mean I realize it makes a good villain and writes itself, there just isn’t any real effort in it. Villains like the Governor from The Walking Dead are far more interesting and contemptible. A cult of personality is better than a flat-out righteous cunt.
But this was a damn good story. And for a short, an easy villain is forgivable.
Roe: I’d like to start out with Roe’s problems to get them out of the way. This reads like the notes from a Call of Cthulhu RPG transcribed into a story. Hear me out. The story seems forced to the point some dialog doesn’t seem natural. It’s the kinds of dialog RPG players say to each other before biting on a DM hook. When it’s not forced, it comes off as banter. Nothing about the characters or the story is revealed when the dialog isn’t being forced. In several scenes the characters are too eager to accept something the mind should hardly be capable of processing. Let’s take the scene where the creature is presented to Tommy. The writer tries to express Tommy’s shock but it just falls short of what you’d expect a person to go through. Or like Paige and Matt’s simple acceptance of monster taking less than what would effectively be a 10 second dialog clip. So, the characters will banter about nothing at all for entire pages, but when it comes to the plot, it’s a head nod then off to the races.
From that description, you’d think Roe was a total wash. It’s not. It has its flaws, they’re serious flaws, but they’re excusable flaw. The story itself is compelling and let me explain why. The writer has such a strong sense of voice you can hear the characters. From their dialog to their attitude, they’re masterfully constructed. I can cast the actors who could play them just from their initial introduction. That’s damn hard and it completely makes up for the banter, the forced plot and the "Player to DM" hooks. Even though I found these things annoying as all fuck, it didn’t kill the story or stop me from reading.
Let’s express what I mean by comparing Lord of Worms (LOW) to Roe. LOW is better written, has better use of narrative and is never forced. However, if you were to choose an actor to narrate the made for TV movie of LOW, who would it be? Vincent Price? The voice of the narrator is clearly internal to the reader, not the character. While you get a sense of the narrator’s fears and dilutions, you don’t know who they are. You know who the characters in Roe are. They can’t just be voiced over by some random creep show actor. You KNOW who they are. You’ve met them, you know what they sound like, you’ve shared conversation with them, and you’ve eaten their pizza.
While LOW delivers you into the mind of an individual that could literally be anyone, Roe puts you in a place familiar and comfortable then fucking twists it. That’s worth it’s faults as far as I’m concerned.
The Revelry of Lesser Saints is probably the least interesting of the Anthology. It’s not bad, it’s just beneath the level of the rest. This story is just too cliché. Look, cliché, in of itself, is not bad. Cliché helps the reader identify easily with the story. It simplifies the characters, story, and plot in a way that is easily digestible. This story, unfortunately, is nothing but clichés. It’s like a series of clichés loosely strung together into a story. I feel like someone could design a trope randomizer and produce this story eventually.
Now, this doesn’t mean the story is bad. The story is quite good in fact. But I couldn’t finish reading it because it got quite boring. There is nothing compelling about it to me as a reader. Now, I bet you’re saying, “How is that fair? You can’t judge a story you didn’t finish reading!” Incorrect, I can judge it, because I stopped reading it. If a story can’t compel the reader to keep reading, then there is something wrong with the story. However, I’m wiling to admit this is purely subjective. It can be chalked up to simply being presented to the wrong audience.
In conclusion, objectively too cliché and subjectively boring.
Importantly, even if this story doesn’t belong in this anthology, it doesn’t detract from what I’ve read to this point and how much I’ve enjoyed Creeping Corruption as a whole.
The Being: I’m calling it. This is the best story in the anthology. Not because I think we’ve jumped the proverbial shark, and the rest are just slush fillers, but because I haven’t read horror this good in a fucking long time. I haven’t read anything this good in a fucking long time. I didn’t read this short, I fucking consumed it. I latched onto it with hands and teeth and animalistically devoured ever fucking word. This story spoke to me.
The Being is both a metaphor for mental illness and possession. The "Being" could just as easily be Bipolar Disorder as it could be the Arch Demon Legion. I haven’t the words to describe it or the capacity to express my understanding of it. Just fucking read it.
Madness Press picked themselves a winner here and I’m sure you will one day know the name J. M. Striker.
Ghost on the Line: Man, the first few paragraphs are confusing and directionless. They’re poorly written, poorly worded, and leave me in a haze of questions. It recovers quickly but it almost completely lost me. The next few paragraphs tie everything together and put the story back on track. I have to say, this is a good way to lose a reader. In an anthology with stories like Lord of Worms, The Fall of Forest Lake, and The Being, you have to bring the heat and from the very first sentence. If a reader can be so easily confused and off put by your first page, you run the risk of being the one story in the anthology that no one ever reads. Already, you run the risk of being the story everyone forgets and with an anthology like this, it could bury your career.
I’m not saying this story is bad, but CLEARLY, Daine Arrelle, you can do better than those first few paragraphs.
The rest of this story is quite brilliant. I complained about Egg Shell’s inability to provide a sold story about the banality of evil. This story goes big and does not fuck around. The opening is just a conversation over the phone between two Jersey girls about the end of the world and it’s brutal. From one of their friends becoming a child bride, to people getting executed gang style, to the slow decay of society around them, they talk about it like school gossip. And for them, it is school gossip. That’s what’s left to talk about; trying to make the madness seem normal.
The second half is the girls trying to hang out at the mall. It sounds like garbage, but could you imagine trying to reconstruct some semblance of normality by going to an abandoned mall and trying to recreate the social atmosphere it uses to have before the world started to end? Let’s not forget, this comes with the threat of these teenage girls getting skinned alive and worn like fucking overcoats.
I compel future readers to struggle through the first few paragraphs and read the rest. It’s worth it, trust me.
Contaminated: Does Portugal not have something like the CDC? I mean, they’re not a big rich country, but they’re not third world. Don’t they have emergency quarantine procedures? “Book yourself into a hotel, we’ll see you tomorrow?” The fuck? I don’t know, never lived there. Just smacked as odd.
This was a solid concept with a few general plot holes. Look, I get the fact that a blue color pest control worker calling this stuff “Creeping Death” might make one skeptical, but it should certainly make one think twice. The fact that it grows like kudzu would have been my first concern. The fact that a professional exterminator said it was untreatable and dangerous would have been more than enough for me to pack my shit and move out, possibly burning the place to the ground behind me.
The plot had its faults but the story was good. The idea of the mold taking over a human’s body is just as compelling as the idea from Lord of Worms. It’s well written and there’s a solid sense of the characters.
If I had any other complaints it was a bit clinical and should have been shortened. There’s too many trivialities in the details. The narrator, Nathan just drones on about every damn thing in every damn moment.
The one thing I can say about this story, is that it’s not a long way to go for an amazing ending.
Love Grows Best: I read this three time. I even had it read to me once in case I was just incensed from earlier stories. I don't fucking get it.
Is this a horror story? Did I fucking miss something? This is like the opening few scenes to an episode of Days of Our Lives. What is happening? What am I reading? Why is this story in this fucking anthology?!?! John, why is this in here?!
Poorly written, meandering plot, boring narration. The only thing good about this story is that it’s short.
Maketh the Man is the story of a scene kid slowly becoming something else. Was it the drugs? Was it too much alcohol? The scene does funny things to some people. It changes them. I have a story not dissimilar to this myself. It’s a brilliant narrative and very gripping. You could make the argument that it’s a bit droll, but I think, like my impression of Anthem for the Undesirable, it’s like “Stand By Me.” You don’t need to be a scene kid at any point to appreciate the sense of care free youth. I remember some of the drug cocktails I took back in the days and am actually quite shocked I’m not some sort of freaky flipper mutant.
But it was brilliantly written, and the characters expressed expertly. This story is easily as good as Anthem for the Undesirables, but is actually better written and doesn’t stumble at any point. It goes a long way to make up for that last pile of shit I suffered through three damn times. Seriously John, why was that in here?
Christopher’s Retreat: “I am become death, destroyer of world.”
Marvelous, this extremely short, short story follows the brief wanderings of a man named Christopher as he heralds in the end of time. Not with a bang, nor with endless frost, but with silence and stillness.
This piece leans quite smartly on simplicity. The descriptives in the narrative are don’t use pretty or complicated words. They’re simply an image of what is, as what is slowly becomes nothing.
A Stringless Violin has this rhythm. I can’t describe it any other way. It’s not proper grammar for English, but I don’t give a flying fuck. It’s elegant and not at all hard to follow. Is this supposed to be some sort of modern poetry? I noticed that the references seem Indian or Pakistani, so I wonder if it’s a tradition I’m unfamiliar with. Either way, I like it and don’t much care what anyone else thinks of it. I beg of you to at least try it. Even if you struggle with the rhythm at first, you will adapt.
Here’s the thing, I don’t know poetry, but I know what I like. This is a marvelous way to end this anthology. Not with some silly creature feature or some tale of the undead, but rather with a woman, slowly withering away, in fear of her own mortality, as the silent end creeps ever forward.
If you'd like to learn more about the authors, you can follow the link below to a short bio on each: