Written by: Josh Hancock
In late 2016, I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing The Stone Man and Other Weird Tales, author Micah Castle’s first collection of published short stories. Each of the seven tales in that collection was filled with eerie and supernatural imagery, believable characters, and themes that showcased the universal struggle between the mundane aspects of life as well as the inexplicable and the downright bizarre. Castle demonstrated a taught, pared-down writing style that pulled me straight into the Lovecraftian universe of each story and kept me reading enthusiastically until the very end of the collection. So, with that nice memory in mind, it was with great energy that I approached the author’s second publication: Who Spoke on the Other Side. Here, as in his first collection, Castle displays a keen eye for haunting detail in these ten stories of the uncanny and the weird.
Who Spoke on the Other Side is determined to remain a permanent fixture in your nightmares. The title story (and one of the collection’s strongest) is a horrific story about a young customer service agent who begins receiving terrifying email messages on his work computer. When the protagonist eventually tracks down the source of the emails, the tale morphs from an engaging mystery into a full-blown horror fest. At the climax, the imagery is utterly disturbing, the discoveries made by the main character as gruesome and painful as ever. When readers learn who (or what) “speaks from the other side,” they might not ever use their computer in the same way again…
Elsewhere in the collection, Castle employs a lean writing style that gives these stories the feel and ambience of an urban legend or campfire tale. Many of the stories are quite short, the characterization minimal and the plot set-up immediate and gripping. While some readers might enjoy getting to know their protagonists and minor characters a bit better, others will delight in how quickly the action and terrors unfold. “Misplaced Trust” tells a disturbing tale of birth horror that packs a punch in every line; “The House on Chestnut Street” takes the haunted house archetype and turns it into a metaphysical nightmare of inhuman monstrosity; and “From the Inside, Out” uses simple dialogue between two friends to depict an otherworldly dimension. My most favorite story of the bunch, “Sounds of a Silent Forest,” has traces of The Blair Witch Project but with a trippy sci-fi edge. For readers who want both the familiar and the transcendent, they can’t go wrong with Castle’s impressive sophomore effort.
At times, the stripped-down style of these ten stories doesn’t always work. For example, one of the collection’s more intriguing entries, “Notes Under Stones,” opens with the following sentences: “While Greg walked to the dollar store to pick up some milk, he noticed a stone with a note underneath it. He decided to ignore it, so he didn’t waste any time. Though, he thought, if it’s still there on the way back, I’ll grab it.” Throughout this story and a few others, the language is at times too flat; as a result, it becomes difficult to embrace the characters and the bizarre circumstances in which they find themselves. Again, many of the stories in Who Spoke on the Other Side function more like urban legends, or fictional snippets that could be turned into something bigger and richer and even more effective. In addition, almost every story has multiple grammatical and mechanical mistakes that I am hoping the author will remedy before official publication (I received a review copy of the collection, so here’s hoping they will be fixed).
Micah Castle’s Who Spoke on the Other Side has touches of everything that horror fans love: eerie locations, ghastly discoveries, unfathomable creatures, characters embroiled in horrific scenarios, and even a few moments of philosophical insight. This new collection is perfect for fans of H.P. Lovecraft or Karl Edward Wagner–and for anyone who longs to be transported into the ghoulish, ghostly world of the supernatural. What terrors will take place on “A Winter’s Morning”? What horrors lurk within the written words of “Johnny’s Story”? The answers to these questions and more await those fortunate enough to discover this burgeoning horror author. To learn more about Mr. Castle, you can visit his website here and his Amazon page here to pick up your own copies of his work.