Unhinged, Rick R. Reed
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Publisher: Wilde City Press
Genre: Gay Horror/Romance
Tags: Anthology, Addiction, Ghost, Grief, Horror, Incubus, Romance, Vampire, Violence
This review is NSFW.
Horror. Romance. The two seem at odds, yet in provocative author Rick R. Reed’s hands, the pair merge like a match made in heaven…or hell. Prepare for a dark journey into an unhinged world populated by ordinary and extraordinary monsters. Unhinged brings you tales that are sometimes chilling, sometimes romantic, sometimes hilarious but always thought-provoking. Stories include:
A chilling and redemptive ghost story
A most unusual and shocking first-time meeting for two lovers
A story revolving around one of the 20th century’s most horrific serial killers
A darkly comic take on the vampire mythos
This collection will make your heart race with passion…in all its forms.
I’m going to get this out of the way before I get to my review. I have been mostly absent over the past few weeks due to the death of a very close family member. I keep hoping to try to play catch-up on my reading and reviewing but it’s been difficult for a variety of reasons. Thank you to everyone for understanding and to my amazing blog partner and friend who’s been forced to carry the entire load. I hope to be back to normal soon, or as normal as I can be anyway. 🙂
With that being said –
It’s common knowledge that I’m a huge Rick R. Reed fan. I lost count of how many books of his I’ve read a long time ago. The last count it was close to 40, I think? There is a wonderful introduction in this book by the author that shouldn’t be skimmed over by those who pick up the anthology. He thanks readers who read Unhinged whose familiarity with him is through his romance, which is mostly what he writes these days. Then he thanks those of us who originally discovered him through his horror. I’m the latter. Oh, I’ve read a ton of Rick’s romance books but it all started with his creepy horror stories. It actually started with one of the stories in this anthology, How I Met My Man. That was my very first Rick R. Reed book, read in October of 2012, and I haven’t stopped since.
I recently promised Rick that I’d read his latest romance, and I will soon, but there are times I really need horror and this is one of those times. People have comfort reads, and I do as well, but I also have a comfort genre and that’s horror. I’ve always said that Rick is my comfort author as well so I got both with this anthology. It should also be noted, because I have read so many of this author’s books, that I read the original versions of all of these stories except two. That in no way took away from my enjoyment the second time around.
For Echoes to be one of the first books I’ve read since the death of my family member is actually a very strange coincidence. Echoes is a story about addiction, something I’m all too familiar with. Not me personally, but I’m close enough to it to understand how it can affect a person and those they love.
Not long after Rick and Ernie move into a small apartment, Rick starts having odd dreams about a man he doesn’t know. The man looks thin and emaciated and shows other signs of addiction. A neighbor, Paula, fills Rick in on the couple who lived in the apartment before, Tommy and Karl. The story she tells about this couple is heartbreaking. One of the men disappeared without a trace, leaving the other one lost and confused. It doesn’t take long before Rick is convinced that the man in his (sometimes waking) dreams is the one who disappeared. Why would he appear to Rick? Is this his way of letting everyone know what really happened to him?
I won’t say more than that other than this is a very haunting and disturbing story about a lost soul who needs to find his way. My original review tells my thoughts on this story pretty clearly and I feel the exact same way after rereading it. You can find that review here.
How I Met My Man
How I Met My Man was my very first read by Rick R. Reed. I was in a group on Goodreads that had a Halloween challenge and I needed to find a lot of horror shorts quick. I found this one, and others by him, on a Listopia list on there. I’ve not looked back.
It all starts with a creepy card. On the front is a simple photo of a white feather on a dark background. Not too bad, right? It’s what’s written inside that gives Stephen pause: I’ve been inside your house. Stephen rushes to his apartment and he knows within seconds of walking in that someone had, in fact, been inside. From his books being rearranged, to even a used condom on the now unmade bed, there’s no doubt. Later, after he goes to bed, there’s a break-in but thankfully whoever made entrance didn’t hang around long enough to harm him.
Along with the creepy card, there’s also an invitation to his friend Tabby’s annual Halloween party coming up in a few weeks. That, he can look forward to.
Weeks go by and the weird card and break-in no longer bother Stephen, though they should. Sure, they’re in the back of his mind, but with no more incidents he assumes someone was likely just playing a prank. The day he received the card he’d also read a newspaper article about a serial killer who was killing gay men in the city. That article is forgotten as the weeks go by as well.
He shows up at Tabby’s party, dressed in a leather “costume” and eager for whatever comes his way. Tabby’s parties always ensure a good time – from drugs, to alcohol, to even a special playroom where the all-male guests let their hair down, if you will. *grin* Stephen can’t wait to get in on the action. Tabby is a character in himself. Absolutely hilarious. Stephen has a couple of drinks and kinda stands off to the side, checking out all the other party goers. Things haven’t gotten interesting yet but he knows it’s only a matter of time. He has a light buzz but he’s not so drunk he doesn’t notice one of the most beautiful men he’s ever seen walking in and heading straight toward him. Of all the men in the place, this godlike character is interested in him? They chat a little, though Stephen would love to just disappear off to the playroom with the guy. Every time he attempts to get him alone they’re interrupted by this annoying man wearing all black and a weird ‘Jason-like’ mask. All Stephen wants to do is see what’s hiding behind Mr. Hot Guy’s leather shorts but the weirdo mask guy just won’t leave them alone already. Finally, finally, he manages to evade the interloper and talks Mr. Hottie into leaving the party.
This is where things get interesting, and this is also where I stop. You don’t want me to tell you the whole story, do you? 🙂 Suffice it to say things aren’t at all as they appear and maybe that weird card and break-in weren’t pranks after all.
One thing I’m really enjoying about this anthology is that the author has personal notes at the beginning of each story, telling the reader what inspired them. How I Met My Man’s inspiration was scary, though it did give the readers one hell of a story.
I actually enjoyed this more the second time reading it.
The Man From Milwaukee
This is one of the two in this anthology I’d not read. It’s a very short story. It should also be noted that there’s one particular scene that may be disturbing to some. It’s not in regards to Jeffrey Dahmer.
The Man From Milwaukee takes place during the time when Jeffrey Dahmer’s crimes came to light. The main character, Emory, is following the Dahmer story in the newspaper and on the news. He lives with his
bratty sister and his ill mother. After arriving home from work one night, he cares for his mother before retiring to his bedroom. There, he thinks back to an experience he’s ashamed of, but not so ashamed where he’s unable to derive pleasure from it… at the exact moment he sees something on the news.
Emory oddly relates to Jeffrey Dahmer. Perhaps it’s because of lack of control? Dahmer had control while he was doing the killings. Once caught, that control disappeared in an instant. Emory feels a kinship of sorts with him because of his own lack of control from not just his family but his shame mentioned above. I could be off base, but that’s what I got from what I read.
I mention the author’s intros above but the one in the front of The Man From Milwaukee was really interesting. I don’t know of anyone who wasn’t glued to their television screens when Jeffrey Dahmer was caught and his atrocities were made known. I remember seeing him in courtrooms and thinking how much he looked like your typical boy next door, someone I wouldn’t have hesitated to go off alone with. People always described Ted Bundy that way, but I didn’t. There was always something about him that creeped me out. Not Jeffrey Dahmer. He just looked so… normal. Like the author, I’ve always been fascinated by serial killers. I want to know what makes them become the people they are, what makes them do what they do. I was especially fascinated by Dahmer because he looked like some random guy you might pass on the street, not a sick individual capable of doing the things he did.
Nice, short read.
Sluggo Snares a Vampire
Unlike the others up to now (with the exception of a couple of scenes with Tabby in How I Met My Man), this one has a bit of humor in it.
Sluggo is addicted to online chat rooms. In these rooms he can be whoever he wants to be, not the bland loan officer with a comb-over. In the chat rooms Sluggo becomes Sir Raven, the dark-haired, wild-eyed Cuban stud whose depravity knew no bounds and whose witty repartee would enchant and seduce, inspiring the most fervent love and devotion. He’s totally nothing at all like Sir Raven in the real world. Just sayin’. Sir Raven even has his own private room, the “Master of the Night” room. He’s witty and sexy and can imagine all these men in these rooms anxiously awaiting his arrival with bated breaths as they stroke their eight-inch dicks… yeah, Sir Raven, aka Sluggo, is a bit on the delusional side, but endearing in his own weird way.
“I am Sir Raven, master of the night.”
A screen name Sluggo had never seen, TepesAllure, popped up. “I thought I was master of the night.”
Bitch! How dare someone try to horn in on his carefully selected persona!
Well, there’s something… different… about TepesAllure and it doesn’t take poor Sluggo long before he gets a chill down his spine. TepesAllure says some things that cut just a little too close to home for Sluggo. Of all the people he’s spoken with anonymously online, this guy knows who Sluggo really is and even what he looks like. After getting more than a little freaked out, Sluggo turns off the computer and goes to bed. He’s awakened later by the sound of his computer alerting him that there’s a message. But how? He knows he turned it off before bed… and that’s all I can say about the story without giving it away.
I really enjoyed it. Poor Sluggo is just lonely and wants love and doesn’t feel he can find it in the real world so he creates this fake persona. You can’t help but feel sorry for the guy. The ending was classic Rick R. Reed. If you’ve read any of his other horror stories you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
You can read my original review from April, 2015, here. It’s not much different from what I wrote here.
The Ghost in #9
Taken (in part) from my original review, dated March 24, 2014:
Tony and Carter meet often in room number nine at the Galaxy Gold Motel, in the now seedy section of Seattle. The Galaxy Gold has been around since its hay day when Seattle hosted the World Fair in 1962. Their relationship isn’t in the open, and from the looks of it, never will be. They have to hide their relationship from the outside world and room number nine is their refuge. It is the only place where the two lovers can meet and just be. They can love, talk, and dream of a future that can never be – one that would destroy one of them if their relationship was ever made known.
Someone else is in room number nine, someone who isn’t seen nor heard, until he makes an appearance to one of the men.
“I’m always here. I was here when you and your boyfriend were fucking today and every time before,” the ghost named Bill Silver says.
“As I said, I’ve watched you and that colored guy have sex. Pretty racy. In my day, even here in Seattle, that kind of behavior could get a man in a lot of trouble. The queer stuff is bad enough, but throw in the mixing of the races and even in the northwest here, you’ve got big trouble. Still, it looked very sexy, watching that colored dick go in that white ass.”
Bill has his own story about love – about loss – about tragedy. His story absolutely broke my heart. I won’t give the details, but it was not quite what I was expecting. Part of it yes, but not all. Bill speaks with the man and tells him his story. By the time the conversation is over, the young man has made a decision – walk away from the love of his life if it means having to hide. The love is there, but does he want to remain the dirty, little secret to someone who has another life and can never be with him in public? Or in any type of real, normal, relationship? Decision made, he contacts his lover.
There is much more I could say about this but it’s a very short story and I don’t want to give it all away in my review. I am purposely leaving out specific details, and the reasoning for Bill’s sudden appearance. It’s a short story, so I recommend that you read it yourself. You won’t regret it.
Every single book I’ve read by Rick R. Reed has some type of message in it. This one is about being who you are and the consequences of what could happen if you don’t. Bill’s story is tragic beyond words, and it is his hope that Tony and Carter are able to either move on as an openly gay couple or go their separate ways.
As much as I enjoyed the story, and the fact that the ending was exactly what I normally hope for, I have to say that I would have been perfectly fine had it gone in another direction entirely. I felt that the character deserved more, but that’s just me. However, the story did end well, and exactly the way it should have for the message of the story to be told. It’s been awhile since I read this the first time but I’m finding myself liking the ending better this go round. So much so that I upped my rating by a half star after the reread.
This wasn’t at all what I was expecting. Honestly, I don’t know what exactly I was expecting. This is the second story in this anthology that I’d not read before, though I’ve owned the previous edition for quite some time.
Ryan and Oliver are coming home from their wedding/honeymoon. They are young and happy and eager to get home to begin their married life together. They are close to the safety of their apartment building when there’s an attack. They see the man up ahead and Ryan tries to get Oliver to go around the block to avoid him but Oliver insists they keep going. Didn’t they just see a bunch of strange characters on the train? What’s another one? They’re too close to their home to go out of the way, even if it’s just a block.
In the attack Ryan is killed trying to save Oliver. Oliver falls into a depression so deep he doesn’t care if he lives or dies. He ignores his job, doesn’t pay his bills, and basically cuts himself off from the rest of the world. Four months after he loses his husband, Ryan makes an appearance in the apartment they shared. Oliver feels that the grief has finally gotten the better of him and he’s officially lost his mind. Who could blame him? The Ryan who makes appearances looks like his husband but his eyes are… off. Also, every time they’d had sex before Ryan was gentle and caring. Now he’s cold and rough. Determined to find answers for what he’s experiencing, he goes back the way he and Ryan came the night of the murder in hopes of finding a specific man they’d passed as they made their walk home. For some reason he’s convinced that this man knows why he’s seeing his dead husband. While he does find the answers somewhat, it turns out to be much more than that.
This was a good story. My only complaint is that I wish it would’ve been a little longer and I wish a couple of things would’ve been explained in regards to Ryan. That didn’t take away from my enjoyment. I just would like to know why in regards to a couple of things. The ending was expected, though some might not be too happy with the way it played out. I don’t think it could’ve ended any other way.
Overall, this is a fantastic collection of horror shorts. If one doesn’t work for you, I guarantee there are others that will. If you’ve never experienced the author’s horror before, you really should start with this anthology. You get a taste of a little bit of everything. Highly recommended for fans of horror and fans of romance. While each one might not be traditional as far as romance is concerned, I still think you’ll enjoy them as much as I did.
This book was provided by Wilde City Press in exchange for a fair and honest review.