Those Below The Tree House: Matt Hayward
Reviewed By Brian Bogart
The world first bared its teeth when I turned thirteen, starting with a drunkard on a riverbank….
That’s the opening line to Matt Hayward’s upcoming book, THOSE BELOW THE TREE HOUSE (Poltergeist Press). Let me tell you- not only is that a wonderful and dark way to start a tale- but it’s goddamned pitch-perfect for the pages that follow.
We are treated to the narrator, Tony, in first person, just an average teen who has already caught a glimpse of how startling and brutal the world can be. His father was lost to a wood chipper accident at the local mill, leaving his caring mother to later date a man who he hates. And with good reason.
Tony thinks it can’t get much worse than the heavy drinking bastard that secretly abuses him. Unfortunately, the joke is on Tony. In fact, it is about to get a hell of a lot worse for the entire town of Riverside. He and his close friends will have to come to terms with the fact that the world around them has grown teeth. And it’s hungry.
Or- at least one tooth. One sharp, gnarled and twisted parasitic tooth with only one purpose: to infect.
Tony and his friends find shelter in the titular treehouse, as they watch everyone they’ve ever known succumb to spreading disease.
Moms. Dads. Other kids. All infected, turned into shambling mockeries with lifeless eyes. Oh, and it’s a pretty interesting take on that old trope, too. Here’s part of a conversation, as Lee, the oldest of the group, tries to wrap his head around what they are dealing with:
“Look, I’m sorry, guys. I have no answers, okay? Moss and shit growin’ across people’s faces? I mean, I can’t even see if it’s covering their entire bodies. I have no idea. I don’t even know what purpose it’d serve. They sure as shit look like mangy green werewolves, but it’s broad daylight and that goes against the whole moon thing so…I just don’t know. And that gangly tooth? All I’m thinkin’ is, like, an organic syringe or something, maybe even the parasite itself, spreading to new hosts….”
Picture it: fungal growths sprouting from their flesh, moss creeping and growing uncontrollably from each pore… mindless killing machines spreading disease, just like mould and vines devouring an abandoned building.
Makes sense, I guess. A great metaphor. There’s no life left in their gaze. They are just empty shells. “No one’s home, man.”
So the horror is there and it is bloody good fun. But a horror story only truly works (outside of the pulp variety) if you feel something. And Hayward does an outstanding job with this. He takes the time to get to know the kids, their hopes, pain and sadness- before and after all of this hell broke loose in town.
It’s a heartfelt, yet brutal and unflinching coming of age tale. Those hours spent in the treehouse, going down to get supplies and fighting for their lives- the pages turn faster as the story progresses. They may not survive this. That is proven early on in the first handful of chapters. And the book never lets Tony and the gang- or the reader- forget that.
I’ve enjoyed Hayward’s writing before, but with each book or short story the author gives us- he becomes more confident in the writing. More at ease with the words he is using. And you can tell he’s enjoying every minute of it. And us, in turn, become infected.
(I will not apologise for that pun. I will not.)
I loved it.
THOSE BELOW THE TREE HOUSE is evidence that the world of horror is damn lucky to have Matt Hayward. Like a knife to the gut, in the best way possible.
It ain’t the movies. The military probably isn’t coming to save the day. And there may be something even worse than the mindless freaks and lunatics lurking down below the treehouse:
Those Below The Tree House
After an attack leaves Tony’s stepfather wounded, his thirteenth birthday descends into a nightmare. His stepdad is home, a bite on his neck, as Riverside’s only officer searches the woodlands for the aggressor. Tony is told not to cause a panic among the few kids living in Riverside’s mountaintop community, and his best friends Ben Rodgers and Lee Tally are unaware.
Overnight, the condition of Tony’s stepfather worsens. His mother won’t leave the bedside. And soon, Riverside is turned upside down as residents morph into moss-covered abominations. Freaks.
Joined by the local bully, the boys seek refuge in Rodgers’ tree house, trapped inside as neighbors, and even family, claw the trunk… Food and water soon run low.
With all hope lost, the boys decide to have their first of what they can before time runs out. Their first drink, their first cigarette, their first of anything at all. Like baby birds thrown from the nest, they will need to fly or fall. And time is running short.
For his thirteenth birthday, Tony learns the world has teeth. And someone else is out there, too, watching. An adult in a butcher’s apron. Waiting…
Brian Bogart is an American author, residing in Northern Ireland. His love of genre fiction started at an early age, consuming every horror and fantasy book available. He has been published in various degrees online and contributed a short fiction piece, “TOCSIN”, to The One Million Project (OMP) Thriller Anthology in an effort to raise money for cancer research and the homeless. He loves to share his enthusiasm for the horror genre with others and help promote other authors.
His latest story, alongside many other authors, can be found in the pages of EPIC FANTASY SHORT STORIES, coming soon from Flame Tree Publishing.
Purchase OMP THRILLER here: Amazon UK
Preorder EPIC FANTASY SHORT STORIES anthology here: Flame Tree Press
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