Embers by Kenneth W. Cain

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We get a large variety of stories in this collection. We get an amnesia-based version of hell, a story in which people start blinking out of existence, and a story in which a man finds a portal to another world in order to confront his dead wife who was unfaithful to him. There’s a story about a girl trying to reconnect with her zombie brother, another story about a girl trying to bring her vampire brother back to life, and a short story in which a father and son go on a hunting trip (but they’re not hunting deer).

I thought the story about a daughter with an eating disorder ended rather suddenly after quite a bit of build up. “Pirouette” features a drunken, abusive father. I felt it was more of a scene than a full story. There’s one story told from a spider’s point of view, one about a tentacled cave monster, and one about vampires who live in a cave (which, really, when you think about, just makes sense).

There’s one about an elderly man who first gets stalked by teenagers, then by a ghost. Other stories feature water monsters, a giant snake that kills people, a caveman who evolves tentacles, a witch in a post-apocalyptic world, and one in which people encounter more evolved humans on another world and they attack each other for some reason (they apparently evolved within just a decade which is a bit too fast).

There’s a super creepy story about a parasite that grows inside people’s heads and one about an overweight man with a magic ring that kills anyone who comments on his weight (this one contains a scene reminiscent of the infamous zipper scene in Something About Mary). Whew.

I’ve got to say I didn’t care for “The Chamber” which was the first story in this collection. Some of the wording was a bit awkward such as “Recalling the deaths having occurred” instead of “recalling the deaths that occurred” and phrases like “a shortened exhale escaped his lungs.” It’s unnecessarily wordy in places. For example, “three months prior to this day” is used when simply “three months prior” would have done. There’s also unnecessary internal monologue. Most of the time, when he gives us the character’s thoughts, it could be removed without losing anything.

I felt that “Final Breaths”, about a mother watching her daughter die in a hospital bed, was drawn out too long. On the other hand, most of these stories didn’t feel long enough. They’re often just brief glimpses into another world and many of them have the typical “the threat is finally over… or is it?” horror story ending. “Breathing Cave” gives us five named characters in the opening sentences, which is a bit much for a reader to keep track of right off the bat, however I did like the part in which linens that hadn’t been washed “smelled of aging human flesh.” Another story contained the memorable image of a woman covering “her face with her hands, staring out through fleshy prison bars.”

I liked “A Window to Dream By” which was about a monstrous woman coming down from the sky and the man watching her through his telescope. Not only does it succeed in make tentacles sexy again, (Who am I kidding? Tentacles have never not been sexy.) but it also felt very original. Another favorite of mine was “Blackbird’s Breath” in which a bird gets trapped behind a chimney. The owner of said chimney tries unsuccessfully first to rescue the bird, then to put it out of its misery. It had a kind of dreamlike feel to it which I love. In the afterword, we’re told this was based on a true story which is probably why it rang so true.

Another one I liked was the humorous “Strip Poker, Crabs, and Blue Women”. When we first meet Jesse, he’s wearing nothing but a sock over his manhood. He’s the type of guy who sneaks a peak at a girl’s panties while she’s being abducted by aliens. (He and his friends were playing strip poker in the great outdoors during said abduction, so they’re all apparently exhibitionists.)

When he finds himself on the alien ship, Jesse is more worried about his friend making moves on his girl than he is about the aliens. This story contains the obligatory anal probe joke as well as its fair share of genitalia jokes. (When God created his friend Adam, “he must have run out of clay when it came to the old Wang Chung.”) Jesse and his friend Adam joke around and childishly play around with the alien equipment when they should be trying to escape. The reason the aliens abducted them in the first place is rather humorous as well. Kenneth W. Cain has a real talent for humor and I found myself wishing he injected a bit more humor into the other stories in this collection.

Purchase on Amazon

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