James G. Carlson
January 8, 2021
Terror Tract Publishing
Reviewed by Brian James Lewis
Hello Horror Fiends! Welcome once again to the Skullcave, home of Damaged Skull Reviewer. Your old pal Skull has something special to share with you today-a collection of short horror fiction by Pennsylvania based speculative fiction writer, James G. Carlson. Published by Terror Tract, Seven Exhumations is way above the average slash and splash version of horror that many people have come to dread. In fact, this collection contains very little gore and is all the better for it. There’s still plenty of chills and lots of things that make you wonder if something similar could happen to you.
But enough pre-game chatter, let’s open that handsome cover-which just happens to be an artist’s rendering of the very first story, “Grim.” That’s brothers, Jack and Daniel frozen in their tracks at the sight of the story’s namesake. Carlson has written a story that mixes ancient evil and the modern day with satisfying results. Exploring abandoned properties isn’t anything new, but now there are videos all over social media of people doing it that pretty much destroy the magic. Despite their cameras and club shirts, most old house explorer groups just find dust bunnies and old clothes. Daniel and Jack do it the old-fashioned way, with just a lighter to illuminate the dark places. They soon meet the strange lifeforce of the house, but things go sour pretty fast. A couple of uninvited school bullies barge into the mix at just the wrong time and the house reveals some secrets to Daniel. Will Grim get his way or is there a chance to escape?
Insatiable is about a man who never feels satisfied, despite all the sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. It’s cool and all, but he just can’t fill the void. Then a friend of his lets him in on a secret, He’s a demon and she’s an angel named Temperance of all things. After a night to remember, they have big choices to make.
Major Arcana: The Devil Reversed is about a man named Gerald who finds a unique way to escape from hell. But now he needs a body to experience life in the modern day, which brings the question: Can a mortal actually enjoy being possessed? Maybe the most terrifying part of this story is the woman who shows up near the end looking for Gerald. The Devil is a fearsome entity, but his accountant is on a whole different level of creepiness.
It’s Always Night Underground As a former mischievous teenager, this one hit me like a ruler across the knuckles. WHAP! When three bored teens decide to party in a dangerous cave on the outskirts of town, it seems like a pretty cool deal. That’s until they find a note from a neighbor girl who’s gone missing. The note is chilling enough, but her mention of an evil creature that guards the cave entrance sends every iota of fun packing, leaving only fear behind. This story reminds of all the stupid shit I did with friends back when we were “invincible.”
Micah And The Hellmouth. Intense tale about the people polite society ignores unless their kid becomes one. Then it’s just to condemn drugs and wave their silver canes about. None of that actually helps the addicts or saves relationships. All the hoo-hah about the war on prescription drugs is just so much news fodder. Most serious junkies are not purchasing their drugs from pharmacies, they get their stuff from a guy named “Oatmeal.” But love is love and to lose it, is to lose everything as Micah finds out. He’s also the reason for the hellmouth in his basement and why the Devil’s accountant is sitting next to it. My favorite quote in the book is this: “To exist is to suffer, whether alive or dead. No way around it. But it is to be hoped that our suffering served a purpose, had some meaning. It is to be hoped that when we fall, we do so gladly.”
Interview On Amen Alley The final story in this book is an apocalyptic dystopia about the future of “Old City” Philadelphia, PA. It contains strong fantasy elements and the often unrealized truth that modern technology cannot always replace the ancient things. Modern day humanity relies far too much on electronic help instead of honing real life skills. But when the future may only be a few hours away, you better keep learning and stay strong. All the stories in Seven Exhumations are great. But for me, this piece is the diamond. Thanks to Carlson’s writing skills, you can feel this story.
So, what about the million-dollar question: How did Damaged Skull rate this collection of James G. Carlson’s work? I rate it FIVE BIG STARS! This is some really groovy stuff that lovers of all things speculative are sure to enjoy. Seven Exhumations has also landed the coveted facing outward spot on the Skullcave’s “Wall of Fame!” James G. Carlson is a great writer who brings new material to the table and gives us lots to think about while avoiding the pitfalls of overdoing it. He presents a nice balance of reality and fantasy in his stories that puts readers right in the action. No flat spots, just pure imagination power at work. Plus, this is a release from Terror Tract, and they only publish good stuff. So do yourself a favor and grab a copy of Seven Exhumations your favorite bookseller today.
Thanks again for checking out another review from your old pal, Skull! For more information check out https://terrortract.net