Description (from Panic Press website): The Man of Shadows is a dark collection of twenty-five short horror stories. It begins with “The Mouth of Babes,” a visceral tale of streetwalkers and addicts, morbid voyeurs, cannibalistic tattoos, and witchcraft. Jimmy only wants another photograph for his online Death Images website. But when his good friend, Steve calls him down to the morgue to see a body with a strange tattoo of a mouth on her abdomen, he learns that sometimes the dead have incurable appetites. In “Death Reversal,” a grief-stricken wife hopes to resurrect the husband she murdered by making a long distance call to hell. “The Bridge” pits the superstitious beliefs of the neurotically-challenged, Benson against the very real presence of a modern-day troll. “Dead Flames” paints us a brief love story between the walking dead. From the wicked predilections of children to the varied manifestations of evil personified, The Man of Shadows will have you running for the light.
Table of Contents:
The Mouth of Babes
Yours and Mine
An Inverted View of Wives
A Depiction of Devils
A Woman of Taste
In the Heart of Thieves
Things are Looking Up
Diamond in the Rough
Feed It Some More
The Hired Hand
The Man of Shadows
Review: Angel Zapata’s debut short story collection, The Man of Shadows, is a composite of twenty-five of his published pieces, mostly from smaller e-zines and some anthologies, including Flashes in the Dark, Anotherealm, and Morpheus Tales.
“The Mouth of Babes” kicks things off; it’s the tale of two men who find a corpse in a morgue with a tattoo on her privates that seems to eat people even after the host, a young prostitute, is dead. Although it suffers from a bit of telling rather than showing, it’s a unique tale and the ending was the perfect way to cap off the story.
“Yours and Mine” is a brutal flash fiction story involving some teenage girls and a boy and a curiosity that definitely puts him on the losing end of things. Also a good, short read. “An Inverted View of Wives” is about a guy who receives a very fortuitous but also creepy future-predicting fortune ball in the mail that gives him some disturbing but ultimately uplifting news of his wife while “Death Reversal” is about a demon who twists his victim’s words as they make a deal, but we get to thoroughly more interesting fare with “Halloween, 2032” which reveals a world in which only holograms exist—people, jack o’lanterns—everything is a hologram, which begs the question, do we even exist anymore or is it just a world of illusions? Similarly enticing is the flash fiction short “Cheese,” which takes the theme of mice being able to be lured out with cheese. A bogeyman uses a mother’s child as cheese; definitely worth the read.
With “A Depiction of Devils,” Zapata gets into one of the longer pieces of the collection, a tale of a troubled man who gets duped by a painter and a devil; the main character’s fear is most clearly felt here, and of all the characters, I sympathized with him the most. The title, interestingly enough, refers to a manuscript written by the author’s (artist’s) father. “Compass” is a sort of continuation of the “Devils” tale, and there’s a manuscript called “The Diabolical Devil” which makes an appearance here. In the story, the future is governed by seers and psychics who rule the government. Mankind is going through an Apocalypse to make itself better and fix past mistakes. But the creepiest (and best) part of the tale comes when the main character’s mother asks him to die. You should read “A Depiction of Devils” first as “Compass” will make more sense and the interconnectedness will be much more apparent. I won’t spoil it for you, but the main character finds out whether he’s in Hell or not (and the answer might surprise you).
“In the Heart of Thieves” is a vampire tale with a cruel ending (cruel for the victim, that is). But with “Surrogate Fruit,” I would have liked the last part of this witch story to have played out as a scene because it feels like a plot summary as the story stands, which is a damn shame, because even though the ending was evident from the setup, more development would have improved the tale. I wanted to know more about the witches—why I should have cared whether Wanda survives beyond the obvious sympathy for her situation (she has cancer). What if she were evil and deserved to die to restore the natural order of things?
For those who prefer to avoid torture-type tales, you may want to skip “Whipping Boy” although it’s a short one. Again, the story tells us the ending, and could have done with more development. I think it may have been better to raise the tension by having Jonas think he’s safe until the last second. In “Wishbone,” a young boy wishes that nobody ever has to die, but this seems to raise the dead—who knew that wishing wells could actually work?
In “Skin Deep,” a man pays for his mistake against a creature and the price is his daughter; a sad one. “Feed it Some More” is a zombie tale in which a man has to deal with the consequences of his baby being born a zombie because his wife was infected while pregnant; another of the standouts of the collection.
Another powerful tale, “The Hired Hand” tells the story of a woman who chooses to ignore the consequences of bringing her daughter back from the dead only to see her one more time. Justice is served and the daughter’s killer is found but not without a price.
And the last story, “The Man of Shadows” is more of a short poem that’s on the vague side but still manages to intrigue, and serves as a good way to end off the collection.
Overall, Zapata has a knack for both flash fiction and regular short story-length works, but some of his flash pieces stand out more than others. Because there are so many varied stories, horror fans are bound to find something that appeals to their individual sensibilities; in other words, there’s a little bit of something in here for everyone.
I give it 4 out of 5 stars.