Published by Black Shuck Books way back in 2017, There Is A Way To Live Forever contains thirteen stories by indie press stalwart Terry Grimwood. It opens with “Demons and Demons”, a traditional horror story that would make a great movie. Mike picks up hitch-hiker Sara, with the demon Ash, who claims to love her, in hot pursuit. Mike is dealing with issues of his own, which in part contribute to his willingness to help Sara, but it ain’t going to be easy. Grimwood gives us a fast paced, action packed story, with well drawn characters and some horrific scenes along the way to an open ended denouement.
The “Fracture” is a solar phenomenon that causes certain people to transform into flesh eating monsters. Richard is accused of being such a lyke and hunted by ‘normal’ people. This is a story that is moving and with layers, Grimwood using an approximation of the werewolf template to expose our prejudices and the ways in which we deal with those who are different. It’s a story that touches on racism, homophobia and other forms of bigotry, while remaining uniquely its own thing. Title story “There is a Way to Live Forever” is about the tentative love affair between bereaved Rob and Miriam, which is violently opposed by his daughter Anna, except nothing is quite as it seems. The story cleverly misdirects the reader, having us sympathise with poor Rob as his child dictates the course of his life, and then horrified by what we suspect has taken place as more information is given, with Anna’s rage and jealousy taking on a new significance. Sometimes we do terrible things for what we regard as the best of reasons, but there’s always a price to be paid.
“Think Belsen” is a savage satire on the fashion industry and the quest for weight loss, with the protagonist willing to do almost anything to achieve her aims and coming up with self-justifications for her actions. As conveyed by the title, there is a Swiftian extremism to this piece, with gestures and actions all exaggerated to telling effect. “A Child is a Woman’s” is a haunted house tale, with estate agent Maria finding that she has placed her child Bethany in danger by her attempt to set matters right and lay the ghost. It builds well, with the unease mounting gradually, the characters beautifully realised and the spectral effects gratifyingly minimalist. “The Higgins Technique” is told from two perspectives, that of pornographer Geoff and writer Emma, who takes doing research to a new level. Grimwood is superb at outlining the attitudes and motivations of both, each the different side to the same coin, while the open ending hits just the right note of ambiguity.
When a mysterious woman ask harmonica player Martin to perform “Romance in D Flat” it’s the key to unlocking secrets of his past. I wasn’t sure what to make of this. It’s a story that merges the love of music with childhood betrayal in an attempt at redemption with surreal overtones. It’s a heady brew, one which I think will require further reading to get all the marrow out of those bones, but the first reading suggests that it will more than reward the effort. In “Long Train Runnin’” estranged grandfather Ray tries to save the soul of terminally ill grandson Nathan, the story heartfelt and moving. The train set at its heart is emblematic of the journey to the other side of life, but here translated into terms that horrify. Kristen is enamoured of her new boyfriend Daniel, who is an “Incubus”, the story fixing on themes of abuse and addiction. It cleverly uses the supernatural to highlight very human flaws and failings, with Kristen’s inability to leave her abuser brought to unsettling life on the page.
In “Jar of Flies” a village is plagued by killings and with hints of witchcraft at the back of it all, a tale of revenge many years in the making, told from the viewpoint of Reverend Karen. A gripping story, it reads rather like Midsomer Murders as horror fiction, with clergy in lieu of Barnaby and Troy. As supernatural horror it works extremely well, but Grimwood goes that bit further, with commentary on the small-mindedness of village life and themes of prejudice, and hatred that rebounds on the oppressors. Illegal immigrant Khaled joins a gang involved in harvesting “The Devil’s Eggs”, but soon finds that his morals require him to take action to right the wrong that is taking place. A long, meandering story, this touches on many subjects, but central to it all is man’s inhumanity to man and the need for good men to do the right thing no matter the consequences. This is exemplified in the relationship between Khaled and drug addict Dawn, two flawed human beings who yet find the strength to rise above their circumstances. Oh, and there are monsters, aside from the humans that is.
John Chamberlain and others are coerced into joining aliens on a “Journey to the Engine of the Earth”, but the Visitor seems uncertain what exactly it is looking for, and as tensions mount in the group it may be that humans themselves and their emotions are the much sought after engine. This was a fascinating story, with the world shown in microcosm as the group cross through a hostile landscape and seem intent on making the wrong decisions, but at the same time I found it a little too oblique to succeed entirely, with the Visitor and its purpose not really adding anything much to the narrative. Finally we have “NM”, which stands for Non Mourners, those who exempt themselves from the national outpouring of grief when a much loved royal dies. This is another story that falls into the satire category, and reading between the lines it is hard not to think of Princess Diana’s death and the media induced frenzy of mourning that required everyone to demonstrate how much they were saddened by the tragedy. It is a story about emotional manipulation and the ways in which heart strings are so easily tugged upon, with those who stand apart condemned for being different, which is a theme of several of these stories. It’s the perfect end to a rich collection that straddles the boundary between horror and science fiction with ease, presenting us with stories that both entertain and require the reader to think about what is happening to us as a species.