The Horror Zine Review
Bleed: A Book of Hope
Edited by Lori Michelle
Paperback: 286 pages
Bleed: A Book of Hope
Edited by Lori Michelle
Review by Heather Landry
Recently I had the pleasure of reading BLEED, an anthology created to raise money for The National Children's Cancer Society. Most of this anthology is horror, but there are also notable science fiction and fantasy pieces as well as nonfiction essays. Many, but not all, of these stories involve cancer either explicitly or tangentially. The resulting diversity of themes and genres from a total of 41 different authors creates a rich and varied reading experience.
I found this book to be an interesting and worthwhile read, bursting with creative and imagery-rich horror, science-fiction, and fantasy with many reminders of the very real courage and horror that make up the backdrop of so many lives that touch our own.
BLEED hits the ground running with "True Horror," a real-life account of the anthology editor's experiences with her son's battle with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Reading through the essay with my 18-month-old boy playing in the tub next to me, I had to pause twice because crying was preventing me from seeing the words properly. Certainly, it drove home the purpose of this book immediately and on a very visceral level. Next is "With Paper Armor and Wooden Sword," where fairy-tale imagery manages to convey the monstrous unreality and injustice of children facing off in a protracted life and death struggle against cancer, "The Foe."
These stories serve as a rough introduction into the anthology. As we proceed deeper, we observe that The Foe has many faces. In pieces like "The Addition," "Sludge," and "March," an inanimate, unexplained mass spreads and spreads while horrified onlookers watch powerlessly. "The Addition" explores related problems: perceived indifference of authorities, weakness and disappointing responses from loved ones, and an infuriating lack of answers. "Sludge" takes an amusing tone with the subject, while I consider "March" to be one of the surreal masterpieces of this anthology. Incredibly creative, the story sucks you in...much like its antagonist.
Closely related in tone to the preceding tales are the poem "Where the Wild Welo Waits" and the stories "The Call," "King Rat," and "Sky of Brass, Land of Iron," all describing a faceless, lurking horror ready to burst in on an unprepared humanity. All of these contain horrifying imagery and an alarming "otherness," a face-off between humanity and normalcy and surreal, alien horror. All are well worth reading, and I consider "King Rat" to be another one of this book's little masterpieces.
Several stories in BLEED assign a face and a personality to cancer. "Welcome to the World, Mr. Smiles," "A Billion Monstrosities," and "The Sallow Man" all explore this idea. Cancer appears, respectively, as a repellent and sadistic monster stalking its former host, an avenging angel confronting a quack doctor with his sins, and a smug interloper gloating over the slow progress of corruption in his unwilling hosts. hematically related is "Get the Cell Out of Here," where a breast cancer survivor wryly compares her cancerous cells to a terrorist army, characterizing them as tenacious invaders consciously fighting a war on a million fronts. "The Monster in Me" also deals with an unwilling host to a murderous abomination. Although cancer is not an explicit element, the host feels an isolation analogous to that of many cancer patients; he or she may receive sympathy, but those giving it are ultimately unable to understand how he or she feels or what they really need.
Isolation is a feeling we see throughout the compilation, along with other negative emotions like guilt, powerlessness, and dread. In "Descent" and "Mr. Expendable," the emotions of two widowers mourning wives lost to cancer play heavily in each story. Cut off and disinterested in the world after losing the most precious person in their lives, these men watch life from a distance while dwelling on what they lost and in one case, striking back. "Remission," another gem, presents the isolation of an afflicted man from his loved ones and the disruption of his life better than perhaps anything else I've read...and all in a thoroughly imaginative science fiction story. This same disconnect and disruption can be found in "Death Knell" and the fantastically eerie "Muted," both disturbing portraits of lives that have been temporarily or permanently knocked off-kilter. Guilt and powerlessness are explored more deeply in "The Nightly Disease," and the surreal offerings "No Limit" and "Red-Wat-Shod."
"Dance of the Blue Lady" poignantly captures the powerlessness and fear of a dependent son facing his mother's possible death from cancer, and "The Rooster" is another story about fear: two brothers finding closeness in the face of mutual dread over the future. Conversely, the masterful "All the Sludge" is all about denial. Rather than feeling dread, a man chooses to ignore his impending death and in so doing risks sacrificing the only meaningful thing left in his life.
It might seem unusual to say that some of the more uplifting stories in this anthology deal with the end of the world, but this is the case with "The Gift," "The Unstoppable Annihilation," "I am Disease," "Goddess of the Moxie Moon," "I know This World," and "Fight." Mankind faces a variety of different threats in these stories, from rabid monsters to wraiths to cosmic nothingness and even a zombie apocalypse...yet in every case, we attempt to muster the strength and dignity to rebuild from the ashes. The connection to cancer is obvious, as humanity and individual families join together against a common enemy. Defiance figures in some stories, others focus on rebirth after destruction. Nothing is certain in life, however, and we are often left wondering over the final outcome. Two more fantastic stories, "Ears" and "Unwoven," especially leave us with this chilling sense of unease.
Frank, personal and generally uplifting are the poems and essays detailing personal experiences surviving cancer and sharing hope for survival: "Slippery Love," "Leukemia is Fookin' Stoopid," "Impossible is Nothing," "Five Little Tips," and "Finding Peace by Writing About Cancer" offer intimate glimpses into the triumphs and setbacks on the way to surviving cancer, both for those afflicted and for the people who love and support them. Scattered throughout this book among all of the horror forty-one creative minds can muster, these down-to-earth offerings show us the light on the other side of the darkness.
Lastly and appropriately for this anthology, there are many stories told from the viewpoint of children. "Dreams of Shadows," "That Which is Not Seen," and "Bumper Car Bandit" highlight the courage and fighting spirit of children taking up their arms against The Foe, while "Lost and Found," "The Lucky Mouth," and "The Funeral Portrait" show the extraordinary adaptability and resilience of children in the midst of horror. With the last story in the anthology, "Never Enough," BLEED comes full-circle and once again underlines the over-arcing purpose of this book; to celebrate and help children (and their families) who are in the midst of the difficult battle against cancer.
While BLEED has many of the small stylistic quirks of an independent publication, these do not seriously detract from the often enthralling stories found in this anthology. I only have one serious criticism: the lack of an Introduction or Forward. As stated above, BLEED is a diverse collection of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, most of which is horror but with notable examples of fantasy and science fiction. Many authors are cancer survivors (or have been directly impacted by cancer) and many are not, many of the stories directly involve cancer and others mention it tangentially or not at all. While all of this diversity of approach is quite good insofar as providing a rich and fascinating reading experience, it needs a Forward to give it clarity and focus. The very worthy aim of this book, to raise money for The National Children's Cancer Society, would also benefit from being explicitly stated in a Forward, with further elucidation on how stories and contributors were chosen, and more importantly, suggestions on how the reader can do more to help in the fight against cancer. The reader is likely already interested in helping, and no opportunity to enlist them further in the war against The Foe should be overlooked.
Other than that, I found BLEED to be a powerful anthology capable of changing perceptions and stirring fear, hope and urgency in the reader about the "True Horror" that is with us, every day, even now.
You can buy this book HERE
No one should ever have to deal with cancer, especially a child. BLEED is a charity anthology where the profits will go to help children who have cancer. Forty-seven stories, poems and essays by the best in the horror business, including Bentley Little, Rick Hautala, Joe McKinney, Mort Castle, Benjamin Kane Ethridge, Tim Waggoner, Gene O'Neill, and William Nolan. This is for all the little girls and boys who fight the good fight everyday. Proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to The National Children's Cancer Society HERE
About the Editor
Lori Michelle is the co-owner of Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, as well as co-publisher and managing editor of both Dark Moon Digest and Dark Eclipse. She is the author of Dual Harvest and the editor of Bleed, an anthology to benefit the National Children’s Cancer Society. Her stories have appeared in several anthologies, including the 2012 Bram Stoker® finalist, Slices of Flesh.
Lori was born in Los Angeles, where her dream of being a ballerina was dashed by a career-ending injury. She turned her creative efforts elsewhere, and now lives in San Antonio, where she's a mother of two, a LaTex software formatter, and a graphic designer.
In January 2011, her then three-year old son was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.
About the Reviewer
Heather Landry is an avid horror fan and artist who specializes in the horror genre and loves taking a variety of artistic approaches. You can find her art and comics HERE