Author: Gillian Church
Genre: Horror Anthology
Publication Date: 13 August 2022
Available As: e-book
A collection of three dark short stories:
- In Connection Lost, a grieving mother hides a memento from her husband.
- I’ll Poison Your Dreams features a surprising wedding gift from a bride’s estranged sister.
- Bergamot and Blood features a husband reaching out to his wife after ten years.
Anyone who follows my Instagram or is a regular visitor to my website should be more than a little familiar with Gillian Church; through her main Instagram account and her alternative account, Horror Prompts, she posts regular drabble, writing, and monthly challenges for authors and I have been a participant in these on a semi-regular basis. Gillian’s contributions to the writing community cannot be understated; she has a real knack for bringing people together, inspiring writing, and encouraging authors and it’s a real pleasure to finally see her work in print and to see her take the spotlight. Although I’m no stranger to reading anthologies, Connection Lost and Other Dark Stories is my first time actually reviewing one; however, based on my method of reviewing horror anthology movies, I believe the best way to tackle this is to talk a little bit about each short story and then give some overall thoughts.
First up is the title piece of the novella, Connection Lost, a harrowing and haunting tale of a grieving mother, Katie, who’s struggling to move past the death of her baby, Micah. Her toxic and abusive husband, Derek, certainly doesn’t help matters; his solution to their loss is to move on from it, forcing them to literally move to a new place and constantly using loaded language that sounds like he’s not blaming her for Micah’s death but at the same time is absolutely implying that he thinks she should’ve been more attentive. What really gets his back up, though, is Katie’s insistence on watching recordings from Micah’s baby monitors; he flew into a rage at her growing obsession with watching the footage, insisting that all she was doing was staring at a black screen and refusing to acknowledge the loss and move on, but Katie’s fascination with the baby monitors takes a disturbing, supernatural turn in this short opening tale. I definitely feel like Gillian captures the pain of child loss in this piece, as well as fantastically relating the struggle of being in such an oppressive and abusive relationship. There’s definitely a sense that all of these factors, coupled with friends and family trying to convince Katie to see just how bad Derek is, may have caused her to snap and imagine seeing things on the monitor, and this reading is just as justifiable as the more vert supernatural tones when she starts seeing and hearing past events played back to her through the footage that motivate her to finally take action. Gillian starts off strong with this one and Connection Lost definitely sets the tone of this collection.
Next up is I’ll Poison Your Dreams, a piece centred around estranged sisters Mary and Anna. Although close when they were younger, the two haven’t spoken or seen each other for some time, not since Anna cheated with Mary’s boyfriend, Christopher, and then went and married him. The two are recently married and enjoying their happiness but Anna is touched when her sister sends her a beautiful wedding gift: a set of exquisite emerald green bed sheets and a note seemingly indicating that she wishes to bury the hatchet. The tale jumps back and forth between relating the dispute between the two sisters and how Anna quickly moved on from her guilt thanks to Mary isolating and removing herself from her and the family, and the present day where she and Christopher slowly start to suffer from a debilitating sickness. Stricken by agonising headaches and drained from a near-constant fever, the two initially believe their symptoms are due to mosquito bites but, when Christopher’s condition improves during a work trip, it seems that there’s something far more sinister going on. This was a darkly morbid little tale of revenge and spite; I loved seeing Anna justify her actions and wash over them with a gloss of selfishness and self-righteousness, and Gillian really builds a sense of mystique around Mary as she’s physically absent for much of the story but always looming in the background. Probably the most cerebral tale in the collection, this one reminded me of similar cursed tales seen in The Outer Limits (1963 to 1965; 1995 to 2002) and Thinner (Bachman, 1984).
We end with Bergamot and Blood, in which widowed wife Nora is startled to find a letter from her long-dead husband on her pillow. For Nora, this is especially troubling as she has first-hand knowledge of Craig’s death, and yet her wedding ring is contained within the envelope and his familiar cologne is all over the bedroom. Having lived her entire life believing that the universe and fate are not only on her side but actually encouraging her to make bold and macabre life decisions, Nora suddenly feels a sense of dread as the wheel of fate turns against her and Craig returns to her in the most gruesome of ways. This was easily the most pure horror of the three stories, in my opinion; Gillian spends the majority of Bergamot and Blood building tension regarding Nora’s reaction to the letter and her recollection of Craig’s death, before paying off this build-up with a pretty ghastly ending. In the short time we spend with Nora, it’s pretty clear that she’s quite a reprehensible and twisted person, but Craig’s note, his promise to reunite with her and forgive her even in death, shake her to her core and ensure that she pays for her brutality in the most fitting of ways.
In the end, Connection Lost and Other Dark Stories is a great little read; featuring three short, snappy horror tales, it’s a fun way to pass an hour or so and really shows the range and imagination of Gillian’s writing. There are some common themes throughout the three tales – such as family, relationships, loss, and revenge – that really tie the whole thing together. Gillian makes fantastic use of her words to build a sense of character and context in as little time as possible, utilising clever and varied techniques (from flashbacks to recorded footage) to quickly allow her readers to latch on to each short’s characters. I personally dislike it when I read reviews of short stories that criticise them for being “too short”, so I will avoid that here; for me, Connection Lost and Other Dark Stories was exactly the kind of palette cleanser I needed between longer works and I am fully confident that we’ll see more from Gillian in the future so I am more than happy to recommend this one to fans of hers or the horror genre.
If you’re interested in checking out Connection Lost and Other Dark Stories, and to learn more about Gillian and her journey as an author, visit the links at the top of the page.