Edited by Lee Allen Howard
Published by Dark Cloud Press, 2006
In the Christian faith, it is believed that Moses went to the mountain top and, after a brief conversation with the Almighty, brought down two stone tablets containing the ten laws by which folks should govern their lives. Although there are only ten, it seems that mankind just can’t seem to get along without breaking those laws time and again. In days of old, traveling companies of actors put on plays designed to show people the dangers of engaging in any of the seven deadly sins or the perils of breaking the Ten Commandments, but those days are long gone. Enter into the picture Dark Cloud Press, who gives us Thou Shalt Not…, a collection of short horror tales based around the Ten Commandments, and the horrific things that happen to those that break them.
Thirty-seven horror scribes came together with demented little tales, each one ascribing the commandment-breaker to his or her own private version of Hell. What is interesting about this volume is that, for the most part, the message of the pieces come through without sounding preachy. Moreover, in a few cases, the stories come with such evil intent that one forgets that they illustrate a point and are just plain good horror stories.
While each of the ten sections has multiple entries, they all have their stand-out stories. For the first section, “Thou Shalt Not Worship False Gods,” that stand-out is Jennifer D. Monro’s “Blood Sacrifice.” In it a woman enters the world of New Orleans Voodoo in an attempt to escape the pain caused by the dead child she still carries inside her. Section two, “Though Shalt Not Engage in Idolatry,” contains “The Wood and the Brass” by Marguerite Croft, in which a young woman gets far too caught up in her love of music. In section three, in which the perils of misusing the name of God is the subject, Michael Arznen’s Blasphemebus shows that God’s not the only one who takes offense at poking fun an others’ religions. Lawrence C. Connolly’s “Flashback” is a great psychological tale of deception, all taking place in violation of the day of rest. Section five cautions children of all ages against dishonoring the parents, and Derryl Murphy’s “Clink Clank” illustrates the point quite clearly. Barry Hollander’s “Lord Torquiere” is a twisted, yet fascinating, tale set against the backdrop of the commandment against murder, even if you murder with style and flair. Section seven, in which the dangers of adultery are explored, contains Kevin Anderson’s “Between Sisters,” in which a death-bed confession brings out more truth than imagined. Bev Vincent provides the illustrative point against bearing false witness in his story of the same title, in which an old woman tries to deal with a hoodlum in her neighborhood, but with worse results than she’d planned. The final section, “Thou Shalt Not Covet,” contains “The Seventh Reflection” by K. Tempest Bradford, a story that could very well have been taken from the pages of an episode of The Twilight Zone.
There are also quite a few other stand-out stories, such as Stephen D. Rogers’ “Set in Stone” and Eugie Foster’s “The Wiggly People.” Also, “Hungry Ghosts” by Sarah Brandel and “The Agonies” by Lisa Silverthorne deserve mention, as does “The Good Life” by Michelle Mellon, “Marked” by Mark Tullius and “The Method Coach” by Alison J. Littlewood.
If there is any shortcoming suffered by this anthology, it is due to the concept itself. While the stories are good and the concept interesting, the problem comes from the practice of setting each story in sections detailing what commandment is being broken. Such a set up lets the reader know what’s going to happen before the first paragraph is even finished. There are also a few stories in which the section is so telegraphed that the reader can see the ending coming without too much trouble. However, where the stories lift the reader out of the book and take them away from the obvious is where this volume really succeeds.
Perhaps they are a far cry from the passion-plays of old, but this collection of stories does manage to deliver. Warnings or not, the stories contained herein are worth reading.