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Reed’s Literary Horror Review of ‘Fright Train’ (2021) edited by Charles R. Rutledge and Scott T. Goudsward

10 min read
baller move to assume your stories can be published alongside Dickens. Here's the thing, I reckon, after the first two, they can...

Every car is a new nightmare

Opening with a run-on sentence is a baller move. It’s the reader’s introduction (well… past the introduction anyway) to the anthology. That’s a seriously “high risk” maneuver that could instantly throw off any reader. For me, it had damn well better be a declaration of how amazing every word that follows is. It stuck out so much I had to include it in my review.

And I have to say, every word that followed was pure poetry. Amazing. Piss me off and stun me in the first paragraph. Bravo. Braken MacLeod paints a vivid picture, one that stuns with its imagery. So while the first words didn’t capture me, the rest got their claws in and kept me. It was a read I could truly feel and a powerful start to the anthology.

That’s basically my review of WEIGHTLESS BEFORE SHE FALLS, but also a hint of what to come and one of the reasons why you should definitely invest in this anthology. The rule remains the same; are there three stories worth the purchase? Quite frankly, the first story is worth the purchase alone.

And, (excluding the reprint of a story by Dickens), the first three stories are very much worth the purchase. Any one of them being well worth the cover price for this anthology. Of course, as an anthology, this collection also gets my ADHD Seal of Approval, but that’s an easy feat for an anthology. It’s more important to note how much each story made me want to read the next. That means I read quite a lot before inevitably putting the book down. In a rare feat, I consumed this anthology quickly as much as eagerly, being delivered to the next story by the success of the one before it, wanting to consume more.

So, of course I recommend this anthology. Get yourself a copy, you won’t be disappointed.

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SPOILERS!!!

THE RHYTHM OF GRIEF, by Mercedes M. Yardley: A fascinating tale… or rather three tales running simultaneously, that supposes trains are sort of harbingers of death. The link between the three stories is merely a moment in time, all surrounding death and moreover the finality of all things. Like the first story, it’s almost a work of poetry and gripped me as a reader. More importantly, it left me pondering the connections, if any, between all three of death’s passengers. Absolutely marvelous.

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THE SIGNALMAN, by Charles Dickens: Another baller move to assume your stories can be published alongside Dickens. Here’s the thing, I reckon, after the first two, they can… I’m not going to review Dickens, it’s not my place. Needless to say, the story is a perfect fit for this anthology.

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WEEPING WATERS, by Lee Murray: One thing you’re guaranteed to get every time with a Lee Murray story is some vividly graphic detail. She’s just amazing at it. She then uses that detail to introduce you to new, and often esoteric, ideas in a way that they come off quite natural. Everything is shown to the reader in context as Murray guides you through the traditions and belief structure of Maori culture. And what better way to do this than through examining the rituals of the dead, wherein lies the very concepts of things like spirits and ghosts. To this day, I’m convinced that horror is the best medium to easily introduce foreign belief structures. Not only can she thread some terrifying yarn, but she can do it while introducing you to concepts that are likely completely foreign.

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THE HABIT OF LONG YEARS, by Charles R. Rutledge: A particularly fun story with vampires. If I had any critique for this simple and delightful short, it’s that I prefer monstrous vampires over the kind that are just kinda creepy. But that’s really a flavor thing. The vampires in this short are still “Monsters,” they’re still the bad guys, they’re just a little more like contemporary Dracula than I’d prefer. In the end, it’s a fun ride with plenty of violence and a compelling story.

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PEPERE’S HALLOWEEN TRAIN, by Tony Tremblay: A few transitions in the story are a bit bumpy, but for the most part it’s exceptionally well written.

It’s a simple yet powerful story about living (but more importantly, dying) with regret. It reminds us that we can’t escape our crimes and often it’s our loved one who suffer for them.

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DEVIL POWERED DEATH TRAIN OF DOOM, by Jeff Strand: If you couldn’t tell by the name of this story, it has an edge of ham. It’s written like a 1950’s sitcom with dialogue to match. I saw the whole thing in black and white like an episode of Leave It To Beaver… that swiftly turns bloody and violent with the only color being red for the amount of blood used. I chuckled through the whole read because of the tone. Like, the whole time the father ‘Harold’ is talking, I imagine him in coak bottom glasses, with a side combed haircut, a pipe firmly picked into his mouth. It doesn’t describe him, mind you, but I’d challenge you not to drum up an image akin to Dick Van Dyke. A fantastic read, with a great sense of humor. So far this one is my favorite.

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TUNNEL VISION, by Elizabeth Massie: Brilliantly written from the perspective of the bad guy. The best villains are always the hero of their own story. In this short, you can hear the double talk in all of the commentary made by the narrator. By their own word, everyone else is the bad guy, the actual problem, their antagonist… but in every paragraph, the protagonist confesses their own biases and shows their nefarious motives, always making excuses for themselves. That’s a really hard line to walk in writing. How do you write a miserable asshole from their own perspective when they see themselves as the good guy? I was frankly impressed by how well Massie depicted the protagonist.

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PLAGUE TRAIN, by Scott T. Goudsward: Wonder what it is about trains that give so many people nostalgic melancholy. This story captures that sense very well. A little of each story kind does that, but this one does it best. Something about trains must drum up memories of loved ones being spirited away on them. In this case, bittersweet. I think this story likely captured the spirit of this anthology.

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THE MIDNIGHT TRAIN, by James A. Moore: Another story about guilty a conscience. Like the nostalgic melancholy, I wonder what it is about trains that drums up feelings of regret and guilt. This, was unique in that the train itself was the focal point of the narrator’s guilty conscience. He describes it as a lumbering titanic shadow bearing down on him. Trains are quite imposing and Moore uses this to drum up an image of death that’s equally imposing.

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LUST FOR LIFE, by Errick A. Nunnally: Never talk to the police. You’ll talk your way right into their suspicions, regardless of your guilt. Remember, you’re there because they think you did something. The more you talk, the more they’ll be convinced you did. It’s funny because the protagonist, Jack, even tried to convince the police that there was a monster on the train. That’s a good way to get yourself a permanent white buckled vest. This was a fun story about comeupance. It was a little dull at first, the characters were all extremely unlikeable, but then, that’s kinda the point. It’s like the setup to a punchline of a joke; you gotta get the audience there, somehow. And the punchline to this joke was really fun and clever.

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COUNTRY OF THE SNAKE, by Stephen Mark Rainey: … Well, that was fucking metal. A fantastic read.

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A TRAVELER BETWEEN ETERNITIES, by Amanda DeWees: A happy ending for a very melancholy ghost story. I was hoping for a little more schadenfreude from the antagonist Alfred, but that’s just not the story that was being told. This is more a story about second chances amongst a life of sorrow. That’s a good story, just not the one I was expecting with the setup. In the end, it was a pleasant surprise what I ended up with.

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THE LOST SPECIAL, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Again a baller move. Though by now I’m firmly sure every author in this anthology belongs here. Not reviewing Doyle. Not my place.

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ALL ABOARD, by Christopher Golden: Jesus fucking Christ, that was depressing. Golden did their job superbly of leaving me to languish with one of the most tragic stories I’ve ever read. It is bitter-sweet, but MAN let’s put the emphasis on bitter.

The story did lul for a bit. There was a point when the pacing seemed off and the story felt long overdue for the ending, but otherwise, it was a deeply emotional and compelling read.

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Final Thoughts:

It was honestly hard to imagine there was enough unique material in the Train theme for this anthology. However, I was both pleasantly surprised by, not only the uniqueness of every story, but also the quality of every story. There wasn’t a single story that disappointed and each was so good, it compelled me to read the next without hesitation. It just goes to show you can get quite a lot of horror out of very simple concepts. And it’s important to note that the quality was good enough to be published alongside the likes of Dickens and Doyle. I recommend this collection as a “must read.”

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1 thought on “Reed’s Literary Horror Review of ‘Fright Train’ (2021) edited by Charles R. Rutledge and Scott T. Goudsward

  1. Reed, Thank you for the fantastic review. As the publisher, I am especially proud of this effort by all involved,

    Note: Tony Tremblay is also an editor, alongside Charles & Scott.

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