Title: All in Fear: A Collection of Six Horror Tales
Authors: Steve Berman, KJ Charles, Avon Gale, Roan Parrish, Kris Ripper, J.A. Rock
ISBN (ebook): 978-0-9972311-1-3
Original Release Date: 12/1/16
Available on: All Major Retailers
Order link, epub and mobi: Publisher’s Page
Order link: Amazon
Order link: ePub
Horror wears many faces, and its masks can be tantalizing. Some of the top names in queer fiction come together to spin their own versions of horror. Worlds rife with dark beauty and mystery, the familiar becoming terrible, creatures ethereal and alluring—and all bearing the gleam of love. Does hope lie along these grim passages or only doom? It will become clear. All in time—and all in fear.
Company by Roan Parrish
Nick Levy’s family is falling apart and he has no friends, but at least he can escape into the world of his favorite comic book series, The Face of the Vampire. Naturally, when the vampire in question shows up one day, Nick is enthralled. After all, what could be better than his own personal fantasy made real? Except that Nick isn’t exactly sure whether Michel is real or not. And when the arrival of a new boy in school promises romance, Nick sees a side of Michel he never could have imagined. This Michel is cruel, jealous . . . and he’ll do anything to keep Nick for himself.
Love Me True by Kris Ripper
Palmer’s life is as good as it gets. Well, okay, so he hates his mind-numbing office job. But he’s found a hot, smart, incredibly kinky guy. The sex is explosive. The power play is off the hook. And if he gets his way, Jon will soon be his husband.
When Palmer asks, Jon says yes. For the first time ever, Palmer thinks things might be really good. Sure, bad things happen in the world—to other people. But this is all he needs: Jon at the end of the day, in their bed, arms around him.
How could he have possibly been so stupid?
The Price of Meat by KJ Charles
Johanna Oakley will do anything to save her beloved Arabella from the cruelty of Mr Fogg’s madhouse—but ‘anything’ turns out to be more than she bargained for when she finds herself working for a man suspected of worse than murder. As Johanna is plunged from the horror of Sawney Reynard’s barber shop into the foul, lawless labyrinth at the heart of London, can she or anyone get out alive?
His Mouth Will Taste of Chernobyl by Steve Berman
Joining Zeta Psi isn’t Steve’s dream, it’s his dad’s. Nevertheless his dad’s gift of the mysterious Bailey flask gets Steve an in to the frat house, and maybe his best shot at being accepted on campus. But the flask’s silver sheen may only be lighting his way into the darkness at the heart of the frat—and the darkness he’s learning is within himself. Steve wants to choose who he is, but choices are dropping like flies as he learns the true mystery of the Bailey flask. How does he give back a gift that’s also a curse.
Legion: A Love Story by Avon Gale
STAFF SERGEANT JASON ESSEX, YOU HAVE RECEIVED THE FOLLOWING ORDERS FROM THE UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS:
REPORT TO: CAIN INSTITUTE [ADDRESS REDACTED]
ACTIVE DUTY COMMITMENT: GUARD AN ENTITY CURRENTLY HELD IN AN ENCLOSURE AT THE CAIN INSTITUTE. RECORD DAILY MEASUREMENTS. KEEP ANY AND ALL PERSONS FROM ENTERING OR LEAVING THE FACILITY. ENSURE THE ENTITY REMAINS COMPLETELY INCARCERATED. OBSERVE THE ENTITY WITHOUT ENGAGING.
ADDITIONAL INSTRUCTIONS: THIS ASSIGNMENT WILL BE CARRIED OUT IN FULL ISOLATION. PLEASE BE ADVISED.
Beauties by J.A. Rock
When Dr. Lester Usole attends an event at AI developer Carnificiality, he’s introduced to Beauties: artificial beings designed to provide tailored sexual experiences for their human owners. Lester isn’t interested in sex—but he is fascinated by Ira, a Beauty too violent to be sold.
Lester convinces Carnificiality to give Ira to him. Lester has always wanted the chance to work with an adult AI, and around Lester, Ira isn’t violent. He’s strangely innocent, uncannily perceptive, and his company does much to ease Lester’s loneliness. Except something’s not quite right: Ira roams at night, even when Lester’s sure he’s locked Ira’s door.
Soon Lester is certain of only one thing: Ira has a secret. Something that will link their pasts and change the course of their future—if Lester is willing to face what’s on the inside.
My Reviews (plus excerpts)
I was so excited to read this anthology, even though I’m a baby when it comes to horror movies and books. I get scared very easily, but I also love to challenge myself to read books out of my comfort zone. A collection of queer horror tales was the perfect way to do this.
It also helps that this anthology featured a few of my favourite queer romance authors, as well as many I have been meaning to read for a while. It was a great way to get a taste of their writing, and I definitely enjoyed the stories. I also love how this anthology doesn’t just feature paranormal horror, but horror of all varieties: depression, finding out a terrible secret about your lover, people being taken advantage of, college fraternities, government projects, futuristic society. There’s something for everyone in this anthology.
Company by Roan Parrish
Roan Parrish is a massive name in the m/m romance community, but I have as yet to read any of her work. Company is the first short story in the anthology and it was the perfect, creepy start to the collection. Nick, a lonely high school student, has his life changed when his favourite vampire character from a beloved comic book series is suddenly brought to life – but he’s not sure if Michel is real or not. When a new boy arrives at school and Nick begins to fall for him, Michel suddenly turns cruel and violent, and he’s ruining Nick’s life.
Parrish’s writing was lyrical yet set a disturbing, menacing mood that was also depicted through Michel. Nick was a very relatable protagonist – his loneliness was hard to read and you can’t help but feel for him, but that has nothing on how chilling his fear and anxiety is as he begins to question reality. Company was a tantalising story that has the reader examining what is real right along with Nick. My only criticism would be the ending: although it did ultimately make sense with the plot, I felt like I was left on a cliffhanger, desperately wanting to know more!
Excerpt from Company by Roan Parrish:
“Hello, Nicholas,” he said. How the hell did he know my name? I ran through many possible responses and settled, naturally, on the worst one.
“Did my mom send you after me?” I asked, like a total loser.
Michel didn’t respond, just cocked his head as if to say, “I am a beautiful and otherworldly creature. Where I come from there is no such thing as mothers.”
“Are you real?” I asked then, congratulating myself on a slightly more pressing and practical question.
“Of course,” he said.
He was just how I’d imagined him: graceful, and beautiful, and so, so lonely. I realized that I had returned his handshake without thinking and was now just standing there, holding his hand and staring like an idiot. At this thought, Michel smiled kindly, and lifted my hand to his lips in a soft, gentlemanly kiss. I’m not proud of it, but it was my first kiss, and even though it was just on my hand, I felt it everywhere.
Love Me True by Kris Ripper
Love Me True is a story that rips you apart. The blurb is purposely vague and, while the majority of the story is romantic and happy, I had this sick feeling in my stomach as I began to piece bits together. Palmer is about to propose to the love of his life, who is as equally into BDSM and power play in the bedroom as he is. When Jon says yes, Palmer thinks that his life is finally complete. He should have known better.
This story doesn’t feature any paranormal or supernatural activity, the horror is in how realistic and almost commonplace the plot is. It’s literally a lover’s worst nightmare, and I read in dread once everything comes together. This story does feature a non-monogamous relationship, and I have never been the biggest fan of books with that romance (probably because they’re written quite fetish-like!), but in this novel my eyes were opened to different types of relationships.
Story time: my greatest fear is to have what happened to Palmer happen to me. To those you have read the story, I know you’re laughing at me (because it’s ridiculous and will never happen), but from ages 14-16, I read crime novels almost exclusively, and in so many of them, these circumstances unfolded. I think my adolescent brain took this plot line and embedded it in me and that’s why this story really spoke to me 😂. All in all, Love Me True is the creepiest, and saddest, short story of the anthology.
Excerpt from Love Me True by Kris Ripper:
“Truth or dare, Palmer.” He lay back against the pillows of our bed, still idly playing with the band of his shorts.
“Does this game really work if we already know everything about each other?”
He grinned. “You think we know everything about each other?”
“Oh, come on.” I poked him in the chest. “Do you really have secrets from me, mister?”
“Maybe one or two things that haven’t exactly come up yet.” The grin turned into a smirk. “I don’t tell you everything I think about, Palmer. Aren’t secrets supposed to keep things interesting in a couple?”
I rolled my eyes. “I don’t think we need any help keeping things interesting. Plus, I want to know everything about you. Don’t you want to know everything about me?”
“Uh huh. I really do. So: truth or dare?”
“Okay. How about . . . when did you know you were in love with me?”
The Price of Meat by K.J. Charles
You all know KJ and I go way back … well, I go way back with KJ, she doesn’t know me from a bar of soap, but I have read ALL of her bibliography, and I have to say The Price of Meat is the most terrifying. The only f/f story in the anthology, The Price of Meat is KJ’s queer take on the Sweeny Todd tale, and it is as gory and frightening as you already think it will be.
KJ’s writing was first-rate in this story and completely sets the tone as a 19th century penny dreadful. I was drawn in from the very first line, and the story became a favourite the moment the heroine Johanna opened her mouth and spoke. She’s fierce and more capable than any of the male characters. The plot was gruesome and, frankly, horrifying, but so creative too. KJ was inspired by the Sweeny Todd story to be sure, but she’s clearly stamped her own unique mark to the tale. The Price of Meat is the most horrifying of the horror collection, and if you can handle this story, you can handle anything.
Excerpt from The Price of Meat by KJ Charles:
The doctor grasped her arm. Johanna stamped on his instep with everything she had, wrenched her arm free, and fled out of the terrible room, running for the stairs. Reynard gave a roar that might have been amusement or rage, and at the cry his men rose from the shadows with leering grins and stretching arms. Two moved to the base of the stairs. Johanna changed direction and fled for the other door, driven by the instinct of the hunted fox to seek any hole, and this time, nobody got in her way. She pulled it open, hurtled in, batted aside something heavy and cold that swung from the ceiling—
One of dozens of things, hanging from great hooks, cold and pale and heavy in the dim light from the door, white bone-ends showing where the inedible parts had been trimmed off. It was a meat store, full of carcasses. The one she’d shoved swung back at her and on its side, like a cattle brand, Johanna saw an anchor-shaped tattoo.
A shadow fell over her. Reynard, with ragged, grinning men at his side, loomed in the doorway.
“Not a bad idea, Miss Oakley. We leave meat here to tenderise, and this should soften you up nicely. A couple of hours should make you more obliging, don’t you think? I’ve got to gather the Freemen for a meeting, but I daresay we can let you out once I’m done, if you ask nice enough.”
He stepped back and shut the door. It slammed on her like the thud of a coffin lid; the bolt scraped on the outside; she was alone in the dark. She hammered on its unyielding surface with her fists, begging and weeping and screaming for release from this dreadful larder, while behind her the dead men creaked and swayed on their hooks, quietly, gently decaying in the dark.
His Mouth Will Taste of Chernobyl by Steve Berman
TW: Homophobia, non-con, body mutilation.
Although not horror in the immediate sense, this short story is based on the hazing set in college fraternities, a horror in their own sense. But I absolutely love realistic horror, especially the kind that focuses on coming-of-age stories, as is the case with His Mouth Will Taste of Chernobyl.
This story was chock full of angst and it was probably the sickening story of the collection. The characters are awful people – of course they are, they’re college frat buddies! – but Steve, the narrator, had a strong voice and he knew exactly who he was and didn’t change for anyone, despite the rampant homophobia – internalised and outspoken – he experienced. I was also intrigued by the slight magical-realism element of the story, and how that developed through the plot. This was also one of the few novellas that made me have a smile on my face by the time I finished the story.
Excerpt from His Mouth Will Taste of Chernobyl by Steve Berman:
As I push open the trapdoor at the top of the ladder, a moist, thick heat trapped within the attic overruns me. The outside daylight seeps through the oddly peaked roof, enough that I can find the dangling cord of a single bare bulb. One pull and I see the attic is really an unfinished elevated crawl space. By the time I worm off the last rung and onto the floor beams, my face feels like a windshield in the rain.
Carl climbs after me. The brothers ordered me to retrieve last year’s Halloween decorations, but Carl volunteered to help. I almost wish he hadn’t because there’s not enough room in the attic for the two of us to move about comfortably. He ends up on his hands and knees beside me.
The cardboard boxes I brush with one hand are mottled with mold and coated with dust. I reach blindly into one box and pull out a cheap plastic devil mask, the scarlet streaked with thick crud.
“I hate Halloween,” Carl says. His pained face is inches away from my shoulder. Dark crescents bloom under his neck, his armpits.
“No one hates Halloween. There’s all you can eat candy. Free candy.”
He shakes his head like a thick-coated dog after a bath and the sweat flies in droplets. “My folks celebrated the ‘harvest’—”
I hold the devil mask in front of my face. The bits of Carl I see through the cut-out eyes look miserable. “That sounds spookier—”
“It’s just pathetic.” Carl reaches out and lifts the mask off me. “I was . . . quieter before I came here.”
Legion: A Love Story by Avon Gale
I’ve only recently discovered the fantastic novels from Avon Gale, and I’m slowly making my way through her Scoring Chances series. Reading Legion proved to me that Gale one of the leading voices in queer fiction, and I will be reading all of her work now. Staff Sergeant Jason Essex of the U.S. Marine Corps has been given a strange assignment: he has to monitor a ‘being’ in an enclosure for eight weeks, with no contact with any other people for that entire time.
This story is the best of the collection, and I am still thinking about it weeks after I finished reading it (I’ve also reread it like three times since). Legion is written through form of an epistolary format: through a collection of emails, diary entries, Google searches, and voice memos. Right off the bat, this story is unique in how it was written – and it only gets better from there. I was following along with Jason’s fear and anxiety as he researched what it could possibly be. And then, suddenly, I began to worry for a whole different reason. I loved the development of Jason’s relationship with the being, from fear to interest to … well, you’ll have to read it to find out.
Excerpt from Legion: A Love Story by Avon Gale:
Today I asked Cain if demons really did eat human souls. I expected him to tell me that wasn’t true (they don’t live in a lake of fire, either) but . . . well. Apparently that part of demon-lore is true.
“When I’ve broken these bonds of magic and found those who summoned me, Jason, I’m going to feast on their souls so slowly they will die a thousand deaths before I swallow them.”
That probably should have put an end to my thoughts about getting him out of there, but honestly . . . could I really blame him? If I were kidnapped and put into a cage, experimented on and held against my will, I’d be pretty pissed and looking for revenge, too. Definitely.
“Do you need souls to survive? Like food?” I asked. Because there’s only one human here at the moment. Freeing Cain doesn’t mean I have to be his lunch. At least, I hope it doesn’t mean that.
Beauties by L.A. Rock
TW: Rape, and non-con (alluded to quite strongly/off-page).
The last story is the most disturbing/nauseating of the anthology, as it depicts a world where sexual slavery is rampant through the creation of AIs (artificial intelligence). I don’t enjoy stories about sexual slavery, because often they tend to focus more on titillation then about the issues of slavery or even the character overcoming their circumstances, but the importance of consent was a major theme in this story, and the mentions of rape were called out by the protagonist. But still, this is a hard story to read.
Beauties is, frankly, a terrifying story about what life would be like if robots gained sentience on an almost-but-not-quite human level – they can’t quite comprehend human morals, and that is where the horror comes into play. Lester, the protagonist, had a soft-spot for AIs and he, for lack of a better term, ‘adopted’ a difficult AI called Ira, and attempted to quell his behaviour. The story was a little confusing as there is a deeper mystery at play, but everything came together at the conclusion … and certainly not in the way the reader would imagine. A well-executed story, but your enjoyment will depend on your reading experiences and tastes.
Excerpt from Beauties by J.A. Rock:
Lester turned in time to see Ira pinch each end of the worm and pull it in half.
“Ira! What are you doing?”
Ira held the two halves up, each one still wriggling. “I want to see what’s on the inside.”
“But that kills the worm. Don’t you know that?”
Ira frowned at the dark half. “It wipes the worm?”
A sharp pain pulsed behind Lester’s right temple. It’s just a worm. Just a worm. It was startling, to see something come apart like that, is all. “It kills the worm,” Lester repeated.
“It doesn’t,” Ira said steadily. “Both halves can live on and become new worms.” The halves curled around Ira’s thumbs in perfect synchronicity, as though Ira had commanded them. “I just wanted to see what was on the inside. Lester.”
Lester didn’t answer. He studied the dark red clots at each end of the severed worm, unable, for a moment, to move.
A pale mass trailing wires like jellyfish tentacles. Lips moving. No screams. The long, spindly appendages of a cancer cell. Shaking in a white hospital bed. Lips moving. Last words. You had to take things apart to make them whole. That was how ABs had been created—by dissecting the human body until it was nothing. By building its echo.
Ira tossed the worm halves aside. “They have nothing on the inside.”
About the Authors:
Steve Berman loves to tell stories that are both queer and weird. He was a Zeta Psi back in his college days at and remembers being hazed. He survived and graduated and even earned a Masters Degree in Liberal Studies. He has written and sold over a hundred articles, essays, and short stories. His YA novel, Vintage, was a finalist for the Andre Norton Award.
KJ Charles is a writer and freelance editor. She lives in London with her husband, two kids, and a cat with murder management issues. KJ writes mostly historical romance, mostly queer, often with fantasy or horror in there.
Find her on Twitter @kj_charles, pick up book info and free reads on her website at kjcharleswriter.com, get the infrequent newsletter at kjcharleswriter.com/newsletter, or join her Facebook group KJ Charles Chat for sneak peeks and exclusives.
Avon Gale wrote her first story at the age of seven, about a “Space Hat” hanging on a rack and waiting for that special person to come along and purchase it — even if it was a bit weirder than the other, more normal hats. Like all of Avon’s characters, the space hat did get its happily ever after — though she’s pretty sure it was with a unicorn. She likes to think her vocabulary has improved since then, but the theme of quirky people waiting for their perfect match is still one of her favorites.
Avon grew up in the southern United States, and now lives with her very patient husband in a liberal midwestern college town. When she’s not writing, she’s either doing some kind of craft project that makes a huge mess, reading, watching horror movies, listening to music or yelling at her favorite hockey team to get it together, already. Avon is always up for a road trip, adores Kentucky bourbon, thinks nothing is as stress relieving as a good rock concert and will never say no to candy.
At one point, Avon was the mayor of both Jazzercise and Lollicup on Foursquare. This tells you basically all you need to know about her as a person.
Connect with Avon:
Roan Parrish lives in Philadelphia where she is gradually attempting to write love stories in every genre.
When not writing, she can usually be found cutting her friends’ hair, meandering through whatever city she’s in while listening to torch songs and melodic death metal, or cooking overly elaborate meals. She loves bonfires, winter beaches, minor chord harmonies, and self-tattooing. One time she may or may not have baked a six-layer chocolate cake and then thrown it out the window in a fit of pique.
Sign up for her Newsletter to receive updates about new releases, works-in-progress, and bonus materials like sneak peeks and extra scenes!
Kris Ripper lives in the great state of California and hails from the San Francisco Bay Area. Kris shares a converted garage with a little kid, can do two pull-ups in a row, and can write backwards. (No, really.) Kris is genderqueer and prefers the z-based pronouns because they’re freaking sweet. Ze has been writing fiction since ze learned how to write, and boring zir stuffed animals with stories long before that.
J.A. Rock is the author or coauthor of over twenty LGBTQ romance, suspense, and horror novels, as well as an occasional contributor to HuffPo Queer Voices. J.A. has received Lambda Literary and INDIEFAB Award nominations for Minotaur, and The Subs Club received the 2016 National Leather Association-International Pauline Reage Novel Award. J.A. lives in Chicago with an extremely judgmental dog, Professor Anne Studebaker.
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