Deadsville by T.D. Trask and Dale Elster
Downtown Books Publishing (September 2015)
200 pages; $22.49 paperback; $2.99 e-book
Reviewed by Josh Black
1 TOWN. 2 AUTHORS. 13 TALES OF HORROR.
That’s the short and sweet pitch for Deadsville, the first anthology from authors T.D. Trask and Dale Elster. The fictional upstate New York town of Rock Creek is host to some strange and horrible things. Being a big fan of Kevin Lucia’s Clifton Heights mythos, I was intrigued by the idea and eager to get lost in another town full of stories to explore. Trask and Elster alternate tales here, their styles ranging from subtle to slapstick to gore-drenched, and all this from moment to moment rather than story to story. You never know what you’ll get next, and it’s done in a way that won’t push away readers who lean hard toward any particular aspect of the genre.
Before getting to the stories I’d be remiss not to mention the eye-catching cover by Gary McCluskey. It’s a great fit for the book. The presentation is impressive all around, and the paperback is one of those that just look good on the shelf.
As with any anthology, some of the stories hit harder than others. Highlights include:
“The Pit,” in which a young bully and troublemaker gets what’s coming to him after falling into essentially an oversized grave. This tale of poetic justice and justice of a darker variety sets the tone for what’s to come.
There’s a legend in Rock Creek about a sound long-time residents hear shortly before they die. In “Knacker Man,” a man whose wife is dying of cancer seeks out the truth behind the legend. For better or worse, he gets what he’s looking for.
“What Happened On Black Hill Road” is divulged through intersecting timelines. A husband and wife make their way to the house where, many years ago, her family was torn apart by tragedy. There’s something in the old oak tree beside the house, and it thrives on seduction, madness, and murder.
A man with a psychic gift hitches a ride with a trucker in “Knew It All Along,” a story wherein fate catches up with those who try to elude it.
“Still Water” continues in the psychic vein as two boys cross a railroad bridge and one has a vision of a murder in the river below. The truth is revealed early the next morning when both return to the tracks and only one walks away, his life changed forever.
“The Other Redeemer” begins as a battle of wills between a nurse and her obnoxiously cruel patient. As he ridicules her faith she stands up for it, until something comes between them and casts a dark light on the spaces between the lines.
In “A Job’s a Job.” a new hire at a convenience store turns out to have more than a little hellfire in him. After inspiring the store’s manager and giving him a new lease on life, it’s time to move on, but the manager doesn’t want to let go.
A strange world lies hidden beyond brambles in “The Children in the Meadow,” and its black-eyed denizens are looking for someone to play with.
Although all of the stories are apparently set in the same town, that’s about all that holds them together, and in some the setting isn’t clear at all. There aren’t any recurring characters, and themes vary widely from story to story. If a location from early in the book comes up again later, it’s a nice little surprise rather than a contributing factor to any sort of overarching plot. This ends up not being an issue, as each story stands well on its own.
The prose is basic but gets the job done. Both authors do well with description and paint some vivid scenery in the mind’s eye. As for characters, it’s tough to be invested in them when they aren’t fleshed out, let alone be afraid for them. The ones here could have done with more development. The stories themselves are a lot of fun, though. They don’t overstay their welcome, and they scratch the Tales from the Crypt/Twilight Zone itch nicely. They’re all interesting and will keep you turning the pages, and some are legitimately creepy. I’ll be awaiting what comes next from both of the authors. If you’re looking for some fun and twisty tales, Deadsville is well worth a visit.