As much as I enjoy the stories published through Shock Totem, this might be the first time the nonfiction steals the show in an issue. Considering K. Allen Wood and John Boden interview Lee Thompson and Gary McMahon respectively, two of the most talented practitioners of the horror genre to come around in recent years, I should not be surprised. Throw in the fourth installment of John Boden's rock retrospective with Simon Marshall-Jones, plus John's editorial on inspiration and writerly influences, and the nonfiction elements to this periodical have never been better--and that's saying something.
The stories are still there, though. Oh yes.
Ryan Bridger's "She Disappeared" did a really haunting take on Alzheimer’s. It's a quick story, but the mood is set immediately, and I was reminded of my own grandmother when she succumbed to the disease a decade ago.
"Lighten Up" by Jack Ketchum was a surprisingly comical story involving a no-smoking bi-law in New York City. I don't tend to think funny when I think of Ketchum stories, so this was a really nice eye-opener to how funny the guy can be when he wants to be, and still sneak in that tinge of hackle-raising horror.
Lee Thompson's story, "The River," didn't wow me at first, but by the time I reached the end of it, with its ethereal terror and disorienting exploration of death, I remembered that this was Lee Thompson I was reading--and the bastard is just really, really good at what he does.
A couple other standouts were P.K. Garnder's "For Jack," a creepy love story of sorts, and John Guzman's "Magnolia's Prayer," which is another very quick, but very effective take on sin.
Honestly, people, if you aren't reading Shock Totem by now, this sixth issue is probably the perfect place to hop on the bandwagon.