And Now the Nightmare Begins: the Horror Zine Volume One Edited By Jeani Rector (BearManor Media; 2010)

The latest volume from the irrepressible Jeani Rector (of AFTER DARK, OPEN GRAVE and AROUND A DARK CORNER fame) was this anthology culled from her self-created Horror Zine (www.thehorrorzine.com). The zine, begun in July of 2009, has provided a myriad of stories, poems and artwork, all represented in this book, which alternates seasoned veterans like Ramsey Campbell and Joe R. Lansdale with many lesser known talents (some still in their teens).

Short stories comprise the first and most substantial portion of the collection, followed by 49 pages of poetry. Of the stories, the standouts for me were “The Real-Time Boogey Man” by Chris Castle, a haunting and poetic account of a ghostly Halloween encounter; “The Pass” by Simon Clark, about an apocalyptic landscape invaded by a swarm of apparent monsters that turn out to be something else entirely; and “The Rattling Man” by Alan Draven, a nasty little number about “the meanest of the boogeymen” and the impact it has on a young boy–the ending to this one is a stunner.

I also got a kick out of Rector’s own “Cockroaches,” a good, slimy insect-themed spine-tingler in the grand tradition of Thomas M. Disch’s “The Roaches” and Oscar Cook’s “Caterpillar.” Ramsey Campbell’s “The Hands” is another goodie, a brooding evocation of religious oppression and terror, although it’s readily available elsewhere (in CUTTING EDGE and DARK FEASTS). Another worthy reprint is the short but deeply resonant ghost story “Silent Hours,” taken from the collection THE EDGE OF THE COUNTRY by Trevor Denyer.

I’ll also have to mention Kyle Hemmings’ appealingly odd “The Man with The Crocodile Eyes,” a surreal take on teenage naiveté and genetic mutation, and David W. Landrum’s “The Dream Catcher,” an old-fashioned campfire tale involving a Native American charm that wards off evil. And don’t by any means pass up “For Rachel” by Brian J. Smith, a bloody revenge saga with supernatural overtones, or E.J. Tett’s “Delete Contact?,” about ghostly cell phone messages.

As for the poetry, it’s divided into twelve chapters showcasing 4-5 poems for each author. My favorites were the darkly humorous poems of Dennis Bagwell, particularly “If Frankenstein’s Monster Were Alive Today” (positing that “The monster would change his name to Steve or Ron and Oprah would have him on…The monster would cry and the audience would cry with him”) and “The Itch,” about a terrible itch that leads to psychosis and mutilation.

I’ll admit my bias when it comes to the work of Joe R. Lansdale (a longtime favorite), but I really liked his gruff, hard-bitten poetry; my only complaint about his four poems here is that there should be more! I’m not as familiar with the work of Juan Manuel Perez, but his poems are powerful evocations of death and foreboding. Stephanie Smith’s stanzas, by contrast, are marked by a dreamy and wistful air (as indicated by titles like “A Lover’s Astral Journey” and “Deep in Dreams”). Another of the book’s standout poets is Scott Urban: I guarantee you’ll have a difficult time shaking his poem “Your maggot,” which concludes with the immortal lines “you don’t have to be dead/for me to get under your skin.”

Obviously not all the contents of AND NOW THE NIGHTMARE BEGINS are up to the high standards one might hope for, but overall I feel the book is a terrific sampling of modern horror and a real treat for fans. Also, I’ll have to say the inclusion of Campbell and Lansdale among this eclectic assortment of authors was an excellent choice, and for me an irresistible lure.