Lost Highways – Dark Fictions From The Road: Edited by D. Alexander Ward
Reviewed by Brian Bogart
We’ve all been there before.
You’re driving along, the lights from your car’s high beams splashing the black top ahead of you, the fog seeming to part and then swallow the space behind you. You may have taken a wrong turn, or an errant shortcut- but now you are unsure where you are. The GPS has been negligible on the journey and now whines and screams in digital confusion. You turn the radio down, pretending that the silence will somehow get you back on track.
Then, there’s a shriek of fear and agony, somewhere in the darkness.
Well, maybe not that last part. But D. Alexander Ward has compiled a collection that could make your imagination run wild the next time you are in that position.
After an introduction by Brian Keene, we rev the engines with a tale from doungjai gam “Crossroads of Opportunity” (writing with Ed Kurtz). A man, driving with his wife down the highway. She isn’t ill or dying. She’s deceased. And still commenting and conversing with her husband, though. A stop alongside the road’s edge is a bloody reminder that she isn’t his wife any more. Not really. An excellent way to start. I was already a fan of Kurtz and this made a great introduction to doungjai gam for this reviewer.
“Where The Wild Winds Blow” by Matt Hayward is next. It’s a tale of a man and his motorcycle, the past creeping up behind you and a mysterious fog hell bent on forcing you to remember. It’s a good read and an example of how highly readable Hayward is. A little like a Stephen King short, wrapped inside of a knowing nod from Carpenter’s “The Fog” for flavor. Hayward’s been getting tons of recognition lately. This tale is merely a hint at that and one that could be fleshed out and expanded upon in longer form, I think.
Joe R. Lansdale brings us “Not From Detroit”. You know, I almost feel at this point in his career, I just have to say “Lansdale”. Translation: it’s good. Death may not be from Detroit, but he always honks to let you know he’s there. He’s more fair than you think. Sometimes.
Kristi Demeester’s “A Life That Is Not Mine” examines the madness of depression and the inevitable certainty of that gradual decline. This is an excellent read and I give it high marks because of not only what was written, but the things omitted. It’s those unspoken things that whisper as you turn each page.
Robert Ford’s “Mr. Hugsy” is the tale of a father and son. The man has learned of his boy’s special “gift”- and dreams of using it to his advantage. Easy street may be on the map, but it might not be his final destination.
Lisa Kröger’s “Swamp Dog” is a slow burn. It inches at first, then crawls, gaining speed with each page. When the story starts, you don’t know where you are going. The only thing you are sure of is it is NOT going to end well for someone.
“No Exit” by Orrin Grey weaves the tapestry of a grieving sister , cults and murder. It’s well-written passages are visceral, sprinkled with vivid descriptions.
“On his head he wore that same cow skull, its teeth and horns missing, transforming it into something else, the helmet of a cyclops, the head of an insect. On his hands he wore claws made from the bones of small animals; the same claws he had used, according to the coroner’s report, to tear out his own throat…”
“The Long White Line” by Michael Bailey feels like an episode of The Twilight Zone, with a dash of cocaine rush on the side.
I’m not going to touch on every story, but I will highlight a few other favorites. While some fit the theme perfectly, some are more of a loose fit. It doesn’t change the fact that there are some great stories here, though. Just a passing thought.
With a title like “Jim’s Meats”, Kelli Owens hints at what kind of story it may be. And like a good B-movie, it unashamedly hit home for me. A deadly game featuring tourists and the locals of a sleepy Michigan town. I would have easily read more.
Bracken MacLeod’s sad story of real world horror “Back Seat”… Man. It really lingers after you read it. Some will read this and feel the same way, I’m sure. It’s just beautiful. It is cold and exact in its approach though, just like life itself can be at times.
“She pulled off one of her gloves and leaned forward to touch his cheek with the tip of a shaking finger. She didn’t know why she wanted to touch him, but she did. The boy terrified her, but she needed to touch him. Needed to know he was real and not a ghost. It felt like he needed her to touch him.
He was so cold….”
Josh Malerman’s “Room 4 At The Haymaker” is the tale of a woman who picks up a hitchhiker. But he looks so damned familiar…. Like the man who had left her years prior. In fact, she is so sure- that the taste of revenge is palpable. Unavoidable.
“Your Pound of Flesh” seems like a well-known urban legend or campfire tale… but Nick Kolakowski turns it into something better. Saying anything else would give it away and cheapen it.
KR: Kendall Reviews had a chat with Nick. You can read it here
I highly enjoyed Rachel Autumn Deering’s “Dew Upon the Wing”- a tale of grievance and bargaining with strangers. It was an unexpected favorite, with dialogue that is smart and just brutal heartbreak and honesty on the page. I love when collections introduce you to a new author that you’ve never read. I am definitely going to look into reading more from her.
There are quite a few I am leaving out, including big names like Jonathan Janz (the ending of his story was an unmentioned favorite).
There are twenty authors here, so let’s just say that while they may not all hit home perfectly with every reader- the majority of the tales within will resonate and easily earn a few favorites. I know I found some.
That’s what a publisher looks for when compiling collections and Crystal Lake Publishing should be proud. Solid stories throughout, with similar themes and different approaches. This year has been great for collections and LOST HIGHWAYS is no exception to that trend.
Star Rating (out of 5): 4.5*
It’s dangerous out there…on the road.
The highways, byways and backroads of America are teeming day and night with regular folks. Moms and dads making long commutes. Teenagers headed to the beach. Bands on their way to the next gig. Truckers pulling long hauls. Families driving cross country to visit their kin.
But there are others, too. The desperate and the lost. The cruel and the criminal.
Theirs is a world of roadside honky-tonks, truck stops, motels, and the empty miles between destinations. The unseen spaces.
And there are even stranger things. Places that aren’t on any map. Wayfaring terrors and haunted legends about which seasoned and road-weary travelers only whisper.
But those are just stories. Aren’t they?
Find out for yourself as you get behind the wheel with some of today’s finest authors of the dark and horrific as they bring you these harrowing tales from the road.
Tales that could only be spawned by the endless miles of America’s lost highways.
So go ahead and hop in. Let’s take a ride.
Brian Bogart is an American author of dark fiction and horror/fantasy. He has written stories most of his life and has been a fan of the genre since the age of seven. His approach to storytelling is a tad macabre at times but tries to capture the nuances of the humanity and sometimes, inhumanity, beneath the surface. He supports the horror community with bloodied open arms and demonic vigor.
Dream Darkly and Keep Writing.
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