How Much To..? by Matt Shaw (2020 Splatterpunk Awards)

HowMuchToA group of people arrive at office block to take part in a contest, the winner of which stands to walk away with a life-changing sum of money. The competitors are given a series of ten questions, each one fitting a simple format: how much money would they accept in return for performing an unpleasant act? Each candidate is free to pick a sum as high or as low as they like, but only the individual who has chosen the smallest collective amount of money across the ten questions will win. The winner will be given their chosen sum in cash – but they will also be forced to carry out each of the acts.

The first question the candidates are asked is how much money would they take to drink a pint of cold, congealed gravy. As unsavoury as this challenge may be, it is tame enough that some of the players agree to do so for free, as a means of staying ahead while the game progresses. But later questions up the stakes, and before long, the contestants are no longer being asked to put disgusting substances in their mouths, but to take part in acts of self-mutilation and sexual degradation. They are free to drop out at any time during the course of the game – but there are those who press on to the bitter end, so tantalising is the cash prize.

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One for the Road by Wesley Southard (2020 Splatterpunk Awards)

One+for+the+Road_Wesley+SouthardSpencer Hesston is the guitarist for Rot in Hell, a ramshackle metal band in the early stages of its career. He spends his time on the road with his cohorts: drummer Vinnie, a close friend of his; bassist Les, a spoilt snob; Steve, the band’s boorish frontman; Shelly, Steve’s girlfriend; and D-Rail, an aloof and intimidating individual who acts as their driver.

Steve has high hopes for the band, and is arranging their first European tour. Spencer and Vinnie, meanwhile, are tired of the abusive Steve and night after night spent sleeping in the band’s trailer. They want to escape Rot in Hell and start their own band.

But just as these tensions are bubbling to the surface, something inexplicable happens. After a night of booze and weed at a Missouri bar, the band wake up in their trailer to find their possessions – from their instruments down to their van’s ignition key – mysteriously absent. Moreover, they appear to have been transported from Missouri to a southwestern desert. This is just the beginning of their troubles: as the world continues to warp around them and all manner of bizarre creatures begin crawling through the cracks in reality, the members of Rot in Hell start to fear that their name has taken on a more literal meaning.

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Saint Sadist by Lucas Mangum (2020 Splatterpunk Awards)

SaintSadistCourtney is the daughter of a sexually abusive father, and shortly after her nineteenth birthday she finds that she is pregnant. Despite her mother’s pleas, she runs away from home, and her travels begin with a spiritual experience:

On the side of the main drag, some five miles from Daddy’s property, I have a vision:

A genderless angel falls, wings on fire. When it hit the ground, the sky turns red. I’m caught in the internal blast radius. My child swims like a fish in my belly. Tongues of fire rise alongside me like burning buildings. They line the road ahead, and I walk on.

A prophetess whore in exile, onward to Canaan.

Her subsequent exploits form not only an escape, but also a religious journey. Courtney earns money as a sex worker, all the while being haunted by visions that channel her emotional state through religious imagery: the demonic figure of Baphomet; a puritan witch-hunter eager to punish her transgressions; an Aryan Jesus; the hanging of a female Judas. Eventually she meets a strange yet charismatic individual named Brother Ambrose, who claims to be a prophet. After joining Ambrose’s religious commune, Courtney hopes to find a safe space to give birth to her child – but it soon turns out that she has traded one abusive environment for another.

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White Trash Gothic Part Two by Edward Lee (2020 Splatterpunk Awards)

whitetrashgothic2In this shorter sequel to the Splatterpunk Award-winning White Trash Gothic (itself a continuation of threads from other Edward Lee stories, most notably The Bighead and Minotauress) readers are taken on a return trip to Luntville, West Virginia. In this backwoods town, the locals follow their own code: all manner of hedonistic perversions are rampant, but at the same time, those deemed transgressors are punished without mercy.

The main character is a visiting novelist revered to simply as the Writer, recovering from a recent encounter with a doppelganger. The mysterious double set him a strange task: to exhume the body of Ephriam Crafter, a man reputed to have been a magician. The Writer is accompanied on his mission by amputee Dawn and albino Snowie, a pair of voluptuous but not-particularly-bright young women who are ready to help him dig up Crafter’s remains – so long as he can keep them from catfighting, of course. Together, the three head to the purportedly haunted house where the grave is located.

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Paradise, Maine by Jackson B. Thomas (2020 Splatterpunk Awards)

paradisemaine_jacksonrthomasDarren and Vanis Caswell are a young couple, but already their marriage has been disrupted. Vanis has caught her husband spending time with an Internet camgirl, although her anger at him lessens when he is injured in an accident. The couple agree that a visit to a cabin retreat in the coastal Maine town of Paradise will give them a chance to begin patching up their relationship.

But Paradise is not as idyllic as it purports to be. The town is home to the Watcher, a deformed cannibal who lurks nearby, eager to dig his axe into those who get too close to his domain…

It scarcely needs mentioning that Paradise, Maine evokes memories of 1980s slasher films. The central villain of the Watcher would have fit right in alongside Jason and Leatherface: a misshapen face with one eye higher than the other, a loincloth torn from the clothes of some unfortunate passer-by, and enough cunning for him to catch each victim unawares.

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Weeping Season by Seán O’Connor (2020 Splatterpunk Awards)

weepingseasonA man wakes up to find himself naked in a forest, chained to a tree. Nearby is a young woman in a similar predicament. Neither person remembers of how they came to be there, or even who they are: their only means of identification are numbers tattooed onto the backs of their shaved heads. But whoever chained them up appears to be playful as well as cruel, as they soon find that keys to unlock their manacles have been provided.

Even when they are free from their chains, the man and woman are far from safety, as testified by the charred corpses fused to a nearby electric fence. Before long they find that fellow survivors have banded together into a communal camp. Some can remember details from their past lives; one, Tom, even recognises the man – whose name is Richard – and helps to jog his memory. The woman also begins to recollect her identity, remembering that her name is Tiff.

Exactly who is behind their ordeal remains a mystery, but a clue to their captors’ sadistic motives soon becomes apparent. The forest is rigged with cameras and loudspeakers, and the numbered survivors – even those who have found the comparative safety of the camp – are being watched. When the watchers desire further entertainment, they begin presenting terrible tasks to the people in the forest, tasks that must be completed if the participants hope to survive…

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“Param” by Susan Snyder (2020 Splatterpunk Awards)

triggerwarningbodyhorrorThe final contender for the Splatterpunk Award for Best Short Story hails from the Madness Heart Press anthology Trigger Warning: Body Horror. The main character of “Param” is an individual of unspecified gender who frequents a certain club. There, our anti-hero routinely picks up women for one-night stands, taking them home and torturing them with a range of implements.

The story opens with the protagonist smoking a cigarette while looking upon the corpse of their latest partner, the sex toy of that night having been an immersion blender: “I started using it on her breasts but the splatter of tissues and fat was off-putting and killed the mood.” This act, we are told, was consensual. The club is a gathering place for sadists and masochists, and the protagonist has a connoisseur’s ability to identify the most willing partners – although this latest woman is, so far, the only one willing to die. But then, heading upstairs from the basement torture chamber, the killer makes a terrible discovery: they have managed to lock themself inside.

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“Shoulder Pain” by Chandler Morrison (2020 Splatterpunk Awards)

macabremuseumPublished in the debut issue of The Macabre Museum, “Shoulder Pain” is a second-person story that places the reader headlong into a zombie apocalypse. But any preconceptions about the zombie genre can be set aside, as author Chandler Morrison makes a concerted effort to strip away all macho romanticism and antisocial wish-fulfilment:

You weren’t prepared for this.
The movies, the video–games, the television shows…they’d led you to believe that it would be different. That it wouldn’t be so dreadful. That, maybe, it would even be fun.
You imagined yourself lingering up headshots with ease. Hacking off necrotic limbs without breaking a sweat. Cruising down abandoned highways on a big, roaring motorcycle. You weren’t prepared for the bugs in your hair. Bugs that have gotten so big you could name them. Bugs that you can’t wash out because you haven’t bathed in weeks.
Nor were you prepared for the smell.

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“Breaking the Waters” by Donyae Coles (2020 Splatterpunk Awards)

nightlightHere we have a first for the Splatterpunk Awards: an audio-only nominee. Donyae Coles’ story “Breaking the Waters” was read by Cherrae Stuart for a joint episode of the podcasts Nightlight and Pseudopod, the latter celebrating its 666th instalment, and can be heard here.

The story begins with a young woman named Bootsie being approached by a man with no face, clad in a pristine white suit. He claims to have known her deceased mother, and makes a strange offer. “This is our proposition”, he says; “you let us impregnate you, use your womb, and track your dreams. Before the thing sinks its tentacles into you, we’ll get rid of it. Everything will be taken care of. You just have to open your legs. You can do that, can’t you, Bootsie?” She is uncertain, but the faceless man makes it clear that he will pay little attention to a refusal: “You can say no but the answer is still the same. The asking is a formality.”

Over the course of three nights, Bootsie submits to the man with no face. She subsequently becomes pregnant, and is visited by a faceless man outwardly identical to the first – although she concludes that he is “a different man, exactly the same but completely different.” He announces that he and his vaguely-defined associates will keep an eye on Bootsie’s dreams “until the beast comes, until she blesses us with the waters of her birth, the milk of her many-titted chest.”

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“Angelbait” by Ryan Harding (2020 Splatterpunk Awards)

BigBookBlasIn another story from The Big Book of Blasphemy (see also Jeremy Wagner’s “Norwegian Woods”) three people – Tilda, Michael and Isabella – awake to find themselves chained to a wall inside a dark building. They are being held captive by a man named Otis and his leprosy-scarred assistant Simon. When asked for an explanation as to why he is holding them prisoner, Otis answers, “I can almost feel the holiness radiating from you.” He knows about their personal histories: that Michael acted as a missionary and medical volunteer in the developing world; that Isabella works in a soup kitchen; and that Tilda witnessed an alleged miracle involving a radiant, bleeding statue of Mary. He also knows that all three live within fifty miles of one another, a fact that he finds deeply significant.

Otis’ theory is that Michael, Isabella and Tilda are living saints, and so he has captured them to make use of their gifts: he wants their help in capturing an angel.

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