Written by: Josh Hancock
In the eerily subdued and smoothly-written title story from Micah Castle’s promising self-published collection The Stone Man and Other Weird Tales, a curious geology professor discovers a strange pile of stones placed near an isolated stretch of river. What follows is a frightening and eye-opening exploration of not only the hypnotic structure, but of the supernatural being behind its ominous creation. The first story in this collection of seven tales, “The Stone Man” makes for a fine introduction to an emerging writer who manages to strike an even balance between the weird and the real, the sublime and the everyday. Throughout many of these stories, Castle takes the preoccupations and mundane details of life and merges them successfully with cosmic horror, science fiction, dark humor, and fantasy. Though the writing comes with some problems—grammatical mistakes, punctuation errors, and at times a narrative distance that makes feeling empathy for the characters difficult—Castle’s The Stone Man and Other Weird Tales is a collection worthy of any horror reader’s bookshelf.
The Stone Man and Other Weird Tales employs horror archetypes and settings and uses them to guide readers into hellish and fantastical worlds. From the stuck-in-traffic menace of “Death Toll,” the otherworldly night terrors of “Three Unseen Hours,” and a terrifying haunted house that may very well be a portal to hell in “Once Haunted,” Castle demonstrates a vivid imagination and the ability to craft monstrosities that are both horrific and weirdly alluring. Tentacles slither, corpse-like arms dig into innocent flesh, and creatures beyond the scope of humanity will invade even the most remote and seemingly peaceful of settings. In “Hugo the Clown” and “The Dark Butler,” characters and imagery that might normally bring one comfort and joy are inverted and turned into harbingers of supernatural doom. “The Shadow on the Belfry” shows the ungodly torment hiding within otherwise calming stretches of morning fog. In every tale, the author takes morbid delight in lulling readers into a false sense of complacency before jolting them with both visceral and metaphysical terror. Despite the occasional error, the writing is lean and taught, tinged with a Lovecraftian flare but never overwrought or unnecessarily wordy.
A fast-paced read filled with nightmarish visions, Micah Castle’s The Stone Man and Other Weird Tales grabs you with the first tale and doesn’t let you go until the last. I can only imagine what ghastly creations this author has in store next.
Micah Castle’s The Stone Man and Other Weird Tales can be ordered here.