Weird Tales of Horror by David J. West is an entertaining collection of short fiction. Some of the stories you’ll find here include Ernest Hemingway meeting a werewolf, how New York City dealt with King Kong’s body after he died, and soldiers encountering ghouls during Operation Desert Shield. Also, Lovecraft’s Nylarthahotep is worked into the Biblical story of King Solomon.
One story, entitled “The Dig”, takes place at an archaeological excavation in Africa during World War II. I felt it ended too soon, though. Right when things really got interesting, it was over. I’ve got to say “The King in the Wood” felt a little cliche to me. A woman buys a magical artifact from an antique shop only to discover the shop has been abandoned for a while. It’s the type of story you feel like you’ve read before. I did like the ending, though. West also delves into Mormon folklore in a few of these, which I liked.
Porter Rockwell is the hero in three of these stories. According to Mormon legend, Joseph Smith gave Rockwell a blessing that no blade or bullet could harm him as long as he didn’t cut his hair, giving him quite the advantage over his foes. This doesn’t mean he’s completely invincible, however. There are many other ways to die that don’t involve blades or bullets.
Making Porter Rockwell a hero is a bold move, since the historical Porter Rockwell is a controversial figure, best known for allegedly trying to assassinate the governor of Missouri at Joseph Smith’s behest. Whether he was indeed guilty of that crime or not, he’s still most famous for being a Wild West gunslinger. In addition to this, he was the owner of a brewery and hotel, bodyguard to both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, a Deputy U.S. Marshal, and husband to four wives. Like the Rockwell of history, West’s version loves his Valley Tan Whiskey, although none of his wives make an appearance in this collection.
In one of the Rockwell stories, “Garden of Legion”, (which also features one of the three Nephites from Mormon legend), Porter has to battle a herd of demons who were cast out of a man into a bunch of tumbleweeds. Jackalopes are featured in another one of the stories, and the third story, “Fangs of the Dragon”, features a fun scene in which Porter battles the Bear Lake Monster (one of Utah’s versions of the Loch Ness Monster).
“Fangs of the Dragon” also includes a Godbeite named Stenhouse as a minor villain. The Godbeites were a Mormon splinter group who were opposed to Brigham Young’s practice of polygamy and also believed they could communicate with the departed Joseph Smith via seance. Stenhouse (who was Scottish in real life) has an English accent in West’s retelling and is referred to as an Englishman, which threw me off a bit. I’ve got to admit I disliked the fact that being opposed to Brigham Young was equated with being evil in this story. Can’t someone who holds a different religious opinion than you still be a decent person otherwise?
As Porter investigates the Bear Lake Monster, one character tells him he thought he saw the monster, then realized a moment later it was just a herd of elk crossing the lake. I liked this moment since skeptics have discovered that nearly all the lakes said to have a lake monster have been found to have otters in them. People routinely mistake a line of three or four otters swimming across a lake for a single creature at first. Of course, this wouldn’t be a weird tale of horror if the monster just turned out to be otters, so Porter Rockwell does indeed end up encountering the monster. As a fellow KMFDM fan, I liked that West worked in the lyrics to “Beast” by having one character say “I am naked terror. […] I am your fatal error.”
West also includes a short story titled “Stumps” concerning the Mormon legend that Cain is still alive today in the form of Bigfoot. I was looking forward to this story since I wrote a story on the same topic called Sin Lieth at the Door. I was a bit let down though, since this story was too short and only scratched the surface when it came to this interesting legend.
Unfortunately, this collection was full of typos and really could have used an editor. The most common grammatical mistake is using apostrophes when they aren’t needed and not using them when they are. For example, in order to indicate the plural form of American, he writes “American’s” instead of “Americans.” He’ll sometimes leave out an apostrophe in contractions such as “its late” instead of “it’s late.”
The improper use of apostrophes isn’t consistent either, as in “with my bites and scratch’s attended.” He correctly doesn’t use an apostrophe for bites, but then incorrectly uses one for scratches immediately afterward. There are other instances of awkward wording such as “not more than a dozen of paces” rather than “not more than a dozen paces.” These are minor issues, but they occur often enough to distract from the stories.
West assumes his readers are Mormon, so if you aren’t a Mormon, you may get confused in a few places. Also, these stories often portray a simple good versus evil dynamic, so if you prefer stories with a bit more nuance, you’ll probably want to look elsewhere.
“Gods in Darkness” was my favorite story in this collection. It takes place during the Cold War. Astronauts and cosmonauts in orbit around the earth battle each other while a madman tries to summon a Lovecraftian monster from the void. I really enjoyed the zero gravity fight scenes. Overall, David J. West shows a lot of promise and I hope he continues writing.