My first encounter with Axl Barnes’ writing was his book of horror poetry, Strangled Epitaphs. It was morbid yet hauntingly beautiful, much like the artwork punctuating the collection. Before Strangled Epitaphs, Barnes published a collection of short stories called Stillborn Gallery. Like Strangled Epitaphs, each story is accompanied by an illustration by Thomas Stetson. His haunting artwork is the perfect accompaniment to Barnes’ brand of nightmarish horror.
This collection starts with a little retail horror story called Numbskull. It’s not a humorous story, but I found myself laughing at the absurdity of some parts. I’ll never look at a watermelon the same way. The retail horror theme throughout the book reminded me a bit of The Night Stockers, by Kristopher Triana and Ryan Harding. It is not the same, but my brain couldn’t help but make the comparison. Come to think of it, there is a lot of retail horror. What does that say about retail work?
I think my favorite of the bunch is A Perfect Day. David was having a perfect day. Everything was going right and all of the annoying little things that usually ruin his day just didn’t happen. Everything was perfect. And then he remembered and fixated on a childhood medical incident. He insists the memory didn’t dampen his mood, but a switch flipped and he went from making plans for a holiday with his loving partner to something darker and more solitary. Sunday Exit was another favorite. It felt like I was sitting in that apartment partaking in conversation and pizza and weed. I knew where this story was going, but I enjoyed the journey. I think it might have been more impactful had it ended with Evelyn, but it’s very good as is.
This collection took me a while to read, not because it was bad, but because it made me confront some difficult thoughts and feelings that I never really outgrew. I guess this is where this becomes less a book review and more me just rambling about the darkness inside my head. Depression is a lifelong companion. Some days are my perfect day and I could be David. I’ve never had cancer, like Evelyn in Sunday Exit, but I have thought about how that would affect my will to live. I’ve always had an exit plan, and while over the years the wanting to die feeling has dulled to just wanting to not exist and coping with a flawed existence through dark humor, I still find myself counting down the years every so often.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. This is a solid collection of horror shorts. It’s dark and brutal and peppered with the right amount of dark humor. There are no happy endings here. It is also extreme leaning, so if you’re not a fan of extreme horror, this might not be for you. I love extreme horror.
You can buy Stillborn Gallery, by Axl Barnes on Amazon for a couple bucks, or read it as part of your Kindle Unlimited subscription. If you’re into bleak introspective type stories, check it out.