IN SICKNESS: STORIES FROM A VERY DARK PLACE by L.L. Soares & Laura Cooney (2010 Skullvines Press / 106 pp. / tp)
Soares and Cooney's first collection features eleven short stories (5 from Cooney, 6 from Soares), followed by the title novella written by one truly demented husband and wife team.
Cooney gets the party started with 'Wasps,' a nifty little ghost story, which is followed by 'The Hirsute You,' a dark look at love that uses hiaku poetry to fine affect; 'Puppy Love,' a tale dealing with the ghastly training of a dog, is my favorite of Cooney's creepers, while 'A Crown of Mushrooms' features the legendary Rasputin living in the modern day, back to fulfill a long-awaited wish. 'Number 808' is a short but sweet revenge story that I didn't think was going to be a revenge story until the final sentences. Good show.
Soares' section begins with 'Little Black Dress,' about a 20 year-old conservative woman who undergoes a dramatic change after finally wearing a sexy witch costume to a party; A man returns to his long-lost daughter (and neighborhood) in 'Second Chances,' only to discover he has actually been summoned by something living under a nearby beach; a slightly off-balanced scientist and a missing link named Billy fuel "Mating Room,' one of the more disturbing tales of the collection. 'Head Games' features recently discovered, highly intelligent simians pulling a reversal on a couple of unfortunate explorers, while 'The No! Place' begins as a domestic abuse/revenge tale then turns into a wicked, unending nightmare. Soares' last short, 'Private Exhibition,' is a study in physical and personal wounds, and will surely leave a mark on your psyche.
The title novella, IN SICKNESS, takes a look at Zach and Maddy, a married couple who are both dealing with personal demons: unable to leave their home, Maddy (continually hitting the bottle) continues to see the ghosts of her miscarried children, while Zach attempts to hold their marriage together despite his demanding, pregnant mistress as well as another, far worse habit he has picked up on the side. Easily the darkest entry here, Soares and Cooney's collaboration is a first-rate horror yarn that (in the end) manages to display one couple's love in the face of supernatural and human terror (although it's an end fans of mainstream romance stories probably won't appreciate!).
With eerie cover art by Valerie Kahn-Dorato and some disturbing interior illustrations from Michele Sizemore, IN SICKNESS is a fine introduction to the "Bonnie and Clyde of horror,*" a duo I hope to see much more from. Definitely check it out.
(*- as referred to by author Brian Keene).