Ginger Nuts of Horror
What Do Monsters Fear
Peter Laughlin is an ageing rock star, his life has become an albatross around his whiskey-scoured neck, and he is miserable. Waking in his own filth, with nothing but numbness and misery to fill the spaces and pack the wounds with. He's just about to give up when he decides one last time, to try and get his act together. A small advertisement for Dawson's Rehabilitation. It seems remote and straightforward and likes it might just do the trick.
Upon arrival, he meets his fellow attendees, and they're a motley crew, indeed. After they are briefed on the rules and expectations, Peter and his new friend, Henry, begin to realise something is entirely wrong with this place. It seems like the clinic is the haunt of an ancient God. One that feeds on fear and misery and one that has heard the frantic ringing of the dinner bell.
Matt Hayward's debut novel is a feral dog, it barks loudly and bites with vicious tearing. It builds a cast of well-drawn characters and shows us how quickly things can swivel from bleak and tragic to downright terrifying. The tagline of "The Thing meets One Few Over The Cuckoo's Nest" is entirely on point. When the scares come, and they do come (I'm not sure I'll ever not be haunted by the image of Donald at the window!) they come with fists clenched and teeth bared. A stunning and wickedly fun debut.
What Do Monsters Fear? Is available from Post Mortem Press
Brain Dead Blues
This one came out about a month before What Do Monsters Fear? And is the first exposure to Matt Hayward's work I had. Before reading this, all I knew was that this soft-spoken fellow was a fellow music fan. He was a professional musician and a damn good one at that, and that I could listen to him speak for years. But on to the stories.
The opener is a dark hard rock romp called "God Is In The Radio" wherein an ageing rock god discovers a new power and uses it to channel some even older deities. In "Critter" a strange little girl finds an even stranger monster beneath her bed. "Cordyceps" brings a fungal invasion to a rural mountain community. "Meeting Gregory" is my favourite in the bunch, a tragic and melancholy coming-of-age reflection that is a bitter and salty thing. "The Price You Pay" finds a pawn shop owner in possession of a unique artefact that has a specific segment of the population dying for a glimpse.
"Hunger Pains" finds a big man with a hearty appetite struggling with the end of the world. "The Faerie Tree" offers an examination of the cost of wishes and the high price of faith. "No One Gets Out Alive" is another odd coming-of-age tale about a strange town with an even stranger secret and the pair of siblings, who with the help of others set about changing things for once.
I didn't touch on every story in this collection, but I did like them all. The writing is crisp and clear. The characters are all relatable and the monsters, oh man, the monsters. Hayward understands what fear is. And that a lot of times the monsters we see and fight are just skewed reflections of ourselves. But then sometimes, they are monsters.
Brain Dead Blues is available from Sinister Grin Press.