Between a Spider’s Eyes, ed. River Dixon (2022 Splatterpunk Awards)


While some of the anthologies on the Splatterpunk Awards ballot are bulked out with large numbers of stories, Between a Spider’s Eyes offers a selection of tales that are comparatively few in number (there being eight in all, hence the title) but quite substantial in length.

The opening piece is “Carla’s Conundrum” by Aron Beauregard, about a woman who copes with personal loss by using a pair of puppets as alter egos; the story becomes an oddball character study as we see her behaviour through the eyes of various different members of her social circle, before arriving in a visceral climax. Elizabeth Bedlam’s “Poached Eggs” is similar in that it likewise brings to life a rather thin narrative through well-drawn characters. This time the protagonists are a meth-addled couple, Ron and Crystal, the latter of whom develops a strange rash after scraping her back on the wall of a public lavatory. Not a large amount happens here – until the twist ending, the plot consists largely of the rash growing worse while the characters try without success to diagnose it. Yet the story works thanks to a portrayal of the couple’s low-life existence that is as textured and as toe-curling as the growth on Crystal’s back.

Things get weirder still with “Blobert” by M. Ennenbach, depicting an apocalyptic event in which blobs of alien jelly rain down on earth, devouring any lifeforms that get too close. All of this is witnessed through the eyes of Gary, a man who is presently experiencing a bad trip, making the already weird situation all the more surreal – particularly when Gary adopts a large blob as a pet, calls it Blobert, and sics it after neighbours he dislikes. This excerpt is typical of the story’s tone:

I didn’t know it was the end of the world either, so as I watched raccoons and squirrels melt to nothing inside of an ever-expanding blob that was now nearly fifteen feet wide with wobbling balls of gelatin slowly oozing their way to join the main mass staring eyelessly at me, it was with a smile of eager anticipation. This was, unfortunately, where the trip began to go very bad.
“What the fuck is that thing, Gary?” Pat called to me from the fence line.
I smiled even wider. “You can see it too, Pat? I’ll be damned. It just ate up some squirrels and a couple of raccoons. Gellif I know what it is.”
Pat nodded slowly. He did everything slowly.

Perhaps the strangest aspect is that there is an actual emotional arc running through the story, with the burnt-out protagonist receiving a new lease of life from his blobby friend.

Another example of the bizarre being treated as mundane is “Perceptual Disturbances” by Simon McHardy. This story’s protagonist is a man who suffers from auditory hallucinations, hearing assorted inanimate objects (a stove, a knife, his notebook of dirty limericks) encouraging him to commit various acts of self-harm. He heads outside for his medication but the walk to his pharmacist simply opens the door to a whole world of cajoling objects – not to mention bystanders to get caught up in his violent compulsions.

Moving a little (but not too much) closer to conventional horror territory we find “Sincerely, Charlotte” by Rayne Havok. This tale begins with a letter by a woman to her lover, starting with a graphic description of how their relationship began and following the narrative all the way up to a certain incident that came between the two. From here, the story blurs not only sex and violence but also reality and imagination, forcing the reader to make a cerebral analysis of the brutality unfolding on the page. Where many a horror story would end, “Sincerely, Charlotte” is just beginning.

The longest entry in the anthology is “The Water Revival” by River Dixon. A twisted series of events culminates in a mother cutting off her son’s penis, prompting her husband – a surgeon – to perform a series of botched gender-reassignment surgeries, even tattooing feminine make-up on his face. The boy is kept as a shut-in and treated as a child, despite being in his twenties when the story takes place. The general tone is shaped by a clash between the utterly hideous situation and the aspects of mundane family life that persist (the son’s love of Batman comics, the father’s genuine affection for the boy he has mutilated).

“Just a Friend” by Daniel J. Volpe is the book’s weakest story, offering a trip through the sexual politics of a high school senior year that culminates in a rape-revenge narrative with few surprises. But the anthology concludes on a high note with “Telepathol” by Regina Watts: a shaggy dog story in a literal sense. Bored married couple Jack and Marietry out a drug that allows them to experience each other’s memories; this inspires them to adopt a dog. The dog then swallows one of the pills, thereby passing its memories onto Jack – who learns the hard way exactly how the pooch ended up in a pound in the first place. The pieces of the story end up slipping together far better than might first be expected.

There is plenty of blood and gore in Between a Spider’s Eyes but the anthology’s stories never resort to violence for its own sake. The brutality is offset both by a pervasive tone of surrealism and by an assortment of strong characters, whose various perspectives on the weird and horrific goings-on are a major part of the stories’ appeal.

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