by Terry Grimwood
Spectral Press (2013)
Some horror stories can just make your skin crawl. Soul Masque did that, but also managed to make my brain crawl. Now how in the heck did it do that?
In the latest chapbook from Spectral Press, the tone and style come off as vastly different than I've become accustomed to, offering a more visceral experience than the quietly menacing tales of the stories that came before. Soul Masque seemingly blends an 80s era Clive Barker sensibility with a staccato narrative that felt a little Christopher Nolan in tone. A little skin-bearing here, a little bloodletting there, peppered with some grotesquerie. I mean, the story starts with its epilogue, and an intense one at that, for crying out loud.
So, once you see the pale white monstrosities erupt onto the page to devour the enigmatic Singer and his masochistic followers, you can't help but wonder how everything got to that point and why. And that's what Grimwood endeavors to show you, as each successive chapter in this little book ramps up the horror bit by bit. Featuring four equally tortured, but wholly different characters, which include a drug-addled reverend, a doting dominatrix, a woman working with a cult to keep her cancer at bay, and a sad sack with a conscience and now way out from under his taskmasters.
What should have been spellbinding came off as a bit disorienting reading experience for me. Each character comes through in all their grim splendor and the imagery is palpable, but the scenes felt so brief at times that it was hard to get a proper foothold before being grabbed by the collar and hurled into the next scene. It's definitely a story I'll have to revisit at least one more time to fully appreciate it, but its first impression left me a little cold. Still, what would could coarsely be called the weakest entry in Spectral Press' line of chapbooks still comes off a cut above of much of what's out there.