It Calls From the Forest is a selection of 24 stories compiled by Eerie River Press (Michelle River and Alanna Robertson-Webb). They range from very short to medium length, though none of them are quite novelettes. The authors are a motley bunch from both sides of the Atlantic and Pacific, and the talent compiled here is solid.
The SauceThis is a horror anthology filled with the grisly, the gruesome, the weird and the wild. The only unifying theme is that ‘something terrible is lurking in the forest’. As you’d expect, there are a lot of wild beasts and savage semi-humans, but no two authors have the same approach and that is exactly the beauty of an anthology like this.
My favourite part of most short story anthologies is the sheer number of quality authors gathered in one place. I usually like to spread my reviews out to give attention to all the contributors but, for 24 stories, that was going to be a challenge. Instead, I’ve focused on the stand-outs that I particularly enjoyed.
The Hike by E.E.W Christman was the first story that really pulled me in. I’ve long believed that a horror story needs a likeable and interesting protagonist rather than the usual irritating slasher-bait that horror movies are peppered with. I identified with and cared for Steph very quickly. The climbing tension throughout kept me gripped right until the climactic twist. And, while I did see the twist coming, it was so well-delivered I simply didn’t mind. I also dig lesbians and nothing keeps me invested like a threatening romance.
Knotwork Hill by C.W. Blackwell stands out with its command of sleek, stylish prose. In a genre that tends to be littered with overwrought, purple description, it was nice to see a story so dedicated to making every sentence count. This story hit every beat and, though the ending wasn’t much of a shocker, it was a smooth ride through some beautiful scenery. The horror genre needs more voices like C.W. Blackwell.
Forest Man by Holley Cornetto taps into a vein of horror I only recently discovered a love for, that being the ‘group of traumatised adults try to conquer their childhood misadventure’ sub-genre. ‘Meddling Kids’ by Edgar Cantero is an excellent example of this and I can now add Forest Man to that list. The story strikes a perfect balance between present day events and flashback, gradually revealing more and more about the incidents of the past and their consequences for the future. The characters feel real and interesting and they keep the story moving along at a fair clip. The story ends the only way it really could end but that just makes it all the more upsetting.
Thirteen by Craig Crawford is a stand-out for its unique concept alone. The story is told from the perspective of a predatory spirit trapped inside a haunted shack. It’s a well-written and nerve-wracking piece, but the narrative conceit is its real strength.
Automatic Contamination by M.A. Smith is another excellent read in the same vein as Forest Man. In particular, I have to give this story credit for the character, Clem, who reminds me just a little of my girlfriend. I adored the fusion of cynicism and simplicity in the narrative, and the effort that had been put into the prose to make this a rewarding read on every line.
Fairies in the Forest by Jason Holden has a lot of strengths, chief among them the characters. The father and son are both charming and that’s what generates the story’s simmering tension. Later, when said-tension is realised, the fear for the characters is real. The horror genre has a nasty habit of making its characters act rashly and stupidly in the face of the supernatural but this doesn’t happen here and Jason Holden should be commended for it. It’s a solid story that doesn’t neglect its principle ingredient - personality.
Hollow Woods by Brian Duncan is the perfect final story for an anthology like this. A story that reminds us that, sometimes, the most dangerous things aren’t the ones that call from the forest, but the ones that walk in there with us. I cannot say how impressed I am with that bit of formatting on the part of Eerie River. The story itself is excellent. The dialogue seemed natural, the situations plausible and the outcome subtly surprising but deeply satisfying. It strikes the perfect final note.
The SaltyOne unfortunate issue with some of the pieces in the book is that they can be derivative at times. Sure, I liked Stranger Things and other people liked It, but it’s important to approach things from new perspectives. Even so, those stories didn’t necessarily put me off. I still enjoyed them, probably for the same reason the original stories were so popular to begin with.
There’s also a problem with overwriting in some of the longer stories. In places, it felt that descriptions had been padded or struggles drawn out, either to increase tension or simply to add words. A couple of the stories left me fatigued but others, like the ones listed above, rocked along at a brilliant pace and I didn’t slow down once while reading them.
Horror can be very on-and-off for me. When it’s done well, I love it. It is not often done well. It Calls From the Forest has some tremendous fiction in it, some solid examples of note-perfect horror that give me hope for the genre.
Despite how many great stories this anthology had, my Pick of the Platter Award goes to Forest Man by Holley Cornetto, a story which has stayed simmering in my head throughout. I am already looking forward to Sky and Sea in this series, and can’t wait to see what else might come floating down the Eerie River.