Review: Split Scream Vol. 4 by D. Matthew Urban and Holly Lyn Walrath

cover of Split ScreamSplit Scream Vol. 4 by D. Matthew Urban and Holly Lyn Walrath
Tenebrous Press (October 2023)
152 pages; $13 paperback; $3.99 e-book
Reviewed by Joshua Gage

This book begins with an introduction by the series editor Alex Ebenstein regarding the novelette. He describes it as “longer than a short story and shorter than a novella,” or between ten to twenty thousand words. As such, the book is presented as a “double feature” of sorts, pairing “Nonsense Words” by D. Matthew Urban with “Bone Light” by Holly Lyn Walrath. The stories have nothing to do with each other beyond being well written and scary, and the whole concept of this book is really quite clever and appealing. 

“Nonsense Words” by D. Matthew Urban is the story of Dr. Paul Duncan, a Pre-Classical Studies scholar. Readers are introduced to him through his former colleague, who first sees Dr. Duncan at a lecture where he’s discussing the linguistic possibilities of what seems to be a pre-Latin fragment. She builds a relationship with him, even meeting his family and attending a wine-soaked dinner party where the guests deciphered a Lemnian phrase from the Etruscan. One day, she reads that twenty bodies were discovered at Dr. Duncan’s house, which he claims were part of a ritual. After that, things get weird. Urban’s story provides just enough detail for the horror to be evident, but is vague and mysterious enough for the tale to work. The whole point is that the words that are being used are supposedly nonsense or playground rhymes or similar, but possibly not, and the ambiguity is where the horror lies. This is a Weird tale in the classic sense, well written and well told.

“Bone Light” by Holly Lyn Walrath is a historical ghost story about a 19th-century lighthouse being tended by an injured Civil War veteran and his wife. The story itself is told in epistolary style as the lighthouse keeper’s log. Initially, the log goes back and forth between veteran John Long and wife Mary Long, until John passes away, and Mary is left by herself. Only, the island is haunted by ghosts. Then, her childhood friend, Ida Boyle, is also alone, and joins Mary at the lighthouse. Together, they explore their family histories with witchcraft and build a relationship between themselves and the ghosts that haunt the lighthouse and its island. This is a cozy horror story, one that is sad and haunting, but also loving and tender. Furthermore, the creative narrative and the elegant language couched snugly in history makes for a wonderful tale. 

The two tales in Split Scream Vol. 4 could not be more different if they tried, which is exactly what makes this book so clever. At less than $15, readers are paying the price of one story, but actually getting two. For fans of Weird fiction and serial killer horror, D. Matthew Urban’s “Nonsense Words” is a haunting nightmare of a story. For fans of more Gothic horror, Holly Lyn Walrath’s historical ghost story “Bone Light” is beautifully written and stunningly told. And for those lucky fans of horror fiction no matter what the subgenre, this is a two-for-the-price-of-one treat that they will absolutely enjoy.

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