Four in the Morning by Malon Edwards, Edward M Erdelac, Lincoln Crisler, and Tim Marquitz
Four horror authors brought together by their love of the genre and, well, life – specifically, the stages of life, present four, dark tales that will disturb and move you. Each story focuses on a defining moment for a character at childhood, adolescence, middle age, and old age.
NOTE: Four in the Morning is an adult anthology that uses adult language. Each story places the characters in adult situations. Rape, gun violence, and profane language is the norm.
Here’s my review for each story in Four in the Morning:
Half Dark by Malon Edwards
This surreal and magical steam-punk story will raise the hair on your neck, make you wonder if Mr. Edwards is the love child of Tim Burton and Quentin Tarantino, and then leave you wishing for more.
The tale follows a young Creole girl on the cusp of goddess-hood who happens to be a mermaid. The world she lives is in full of fairies, boys with chin-chins, witches, and danger. Oh, yes, lots of danger.
…bad things happen to little girls who walk in the half dark alone.
Told in a first person narrative, I don’t think the reader is properly introduced to our heroine, but we meet her trying to save a faery named Asha. Her wings have been torn off and the blacksmith is trying to fix her some metal wings. Unfortunately, the blacksmith has a black heart and half dark is approaching and things turn for the worse. As our heroine and her good friend Bobby, make an escape, a horrible thing happens. Not knowing she can fix it, she meets a few witches and becomes a goddess.
Mr. Edwards is sure and bold with his writing. The rhythm of his prose and dialogue is lyrical with cajun beats that sets a tone that is easy to read despite world-specific word choices and phrasing. He imbues our Creole goddess with spunk, determination, self-confidence, and just plain, honest goodness that the reader can’t help but root for her as she navigates the creepy half dark and find a way to save her friends.
If you only read one story from this anthology, let it be Half Dark.
Gully Gods by Edward M. Erdelac
I’m not too sure what to say about Gully Gods. I didn’t like it. Maybe it struck too close to home for me. But just because I didn’t like it, doesn’t mean it wasn’t a powerful piece of writing. Maybe that’s why I didn’t like it. Gully Gods was just too powerful for me, too violent and too close to reality.
Initially set in Texas, Gully Gods is another first person narrative that follows the violent (very violent and profane) life of a half-black, half-Mexican gang member nicknamed J-Hoss. Young and cocky, at seventeen years old, he and a friend get in a gunfight with a rival gang, Cholos, or Mexican-Americans, over a dog. Yes, a dog.
Unable to go back home, else he risks incarceration, he goes to live with his aunt and sweet (desperately sweet), young cousin, Adelaide, in Chicago. The very first day he is there, he meets a teenage girl, a Mexican American, and they hit it off. And he also meets a local, black gang, a gang like none other he has ever met.
At a party this girl invites him to, J-Hoss gets into trouble with the local Mexican American gang and violent chaos soon follows with the brutal death of Adelaide the consequences of something far larger than J-Hoss had ever suspected.
Mr. Erdelac immerses the reader into a gang culture that is vivid and frighteningly real. I really had a hard time finishing this story. Though the language of the story is full of gang lingo, Spanish and Spanglish (mix of Spanish and English), Mr. Erdelac does an excellent job of keeping the reader abreast of what each term means while keeping the story immediate. However, it is not his storytelling skills that made it hard to read, but rather the subject matter. I would recommend this story if you want a taste of a culture that is literally in all our backyards that we continually choose to ignore, because it is so hard to look at.
Queen by Lincoln Crisler
This science-fiction-meets-suburbia tale is both amusing and creepy on a level that gnaws at the subconscious in an uncomfortable manner.
Rita is a 42-year-old housewife in a dysfunctional marriage. She’s been having dreams, dreams that are more like vivid nightmares. She’s not happy with her life or herself, and she feels her husband is no longer attracted to her. In an attempt to change her life, she goes online and checks out volunteer jobs she might be able to do to fill her time when she sees an ad:
Local Clinic Seeking Volunteers for Age-reversing Treatment
Of course, she’s answers the ad. As well as signing up to help with the local humane society where she meets a gal her age and makes a friend. She also starts the new age-reversing treatments and that’s when things start to really get interesting…
Mr. Crisler managed to create an entertaining, but odd tale from this third-person narrative. Odd in that on the surface, Rita’s life appears normal, but soon small things here and there begin to show us that nothing about Rita will ever be normal again.
Though I am at the protagonist’s age, I felt removed from this story. That may be because of the first-person narrative style employed by the first two authors, or it could be because I couldn’t imagine myself answering an anti-aging ad. Nonetheless, I found I wasn’t as engaged as I would have liked, but the (inter)stellar ending on this made up for it.
Cenotaph by Tim Marquitz
Ah, the theft of one’s soul is devastating, but what if they stole your body? Just how do you outwit the devil?
In the final story of this anthology, like the final stage of life, we meet a religious, seventy-three old man, James, who has outlived all his loved ones. As terrible as that may be seem, nothing can quite prepare our protagonist from what he will soon discover at the local liquor shop.
Bound by the tenets of a religion steeped in the belief of souls, heaven, hell, and mortal sin, James is given a simple, but blasphemous choice: save the desecrated remains of his loved ones or allow their souls to wander lost in purgatory?
For James that’s really no choice, so he does what any father or grandfather would do.
Mr. Marquitz presented this story in the first-person narrative like the first two in this anthology, and I thought it worked well. The reader discovers the story’s mystery as James discovers it, drawing us into his world. Though I did think some of the activities that James accomplished might be a bit of a stretch for someone his age, when he fired his gun, I was right behind him.
From the APOV:
Outside of the third story, Queen, the stories in this anthology have a deep religious and/or spiritual theme. In Half Dark, we see the birth of a goddess. In Gully Gods, the author weaves a tale with enough violence to kill an evil god. And though I gave Queen a pass, one can argue that Rita’s destiny on another planet foretells her transcendence to divinity. Finally in Cenotaph, James’ actions are a direct result of his beliefs in heaven, hell, and souls. Though religion/spirituality is central to the stories, they are nowhere near preachy. The authors aim was to explore age-related issues. What emerges are moving stories in the context of their story-world’s belief systems, whether that be in a steam-punk fantasy, the ghettos of urban centers, or suburbia. If there’s a message in there, I am not astute enough to decipher it, but I do know that I’ll be thinking about these stories for some time.
Overall, if you like dark, dirty and realistic horror tales, I recommend this anthology.