Curiously Twisted Tales is a masterful collection of short stories from the devious imagination of horror writer P.S. Gifford. If you are not familiar with Gifford’s previously published works, this book will serve as a deliciously wicked sampler of some of his most fiendish tales—both old and new.
From cutthroat garden competitions to honeymoons from hell to wanna-be writers who are willing to do almost anything to get published, each story delves into the dark side of humanity with wit, charm, and a delectable dose of depravity. Creepy stories, twisted endings, unearthly beasties lurking in the corners—these nerve-rattling narratives will keep you turning pages as you turn on more lights!
“Gifford delivers the kind of story that jabs slivers under your nails, thorns in your palms, and needles and pins in your eyes, always with a sardonic smile. The sharply-drawn portraits are all the more effective for their overall brevity, delivering their tiny thrusts in just the right tone. This collection of 33 curiously twisted tales will enhance any rainy evening’s reading, leaving a taste for more of P.S. Gifford’s mystery stew.” — W.D. Gagliani, Chizine Reviews
“The stories of P.S. Gifford are smart, inventive, and scary as hell. This is horror writing at its very best.” —Jonathan Maberry, “New York Times” Bestselling Author, Rot & Ruin and The King of Plagues
“P.S. Gifford is a writer of great wit and talent. He remembers that most treasured of all storytelling purposes: entertainment! Keep an eye on this writer, because he’s going places and he’s delivering a lot of joy along the way.” —Scott Nicholson, Author, The Red Church and Liquid Fear
“P.S. Gifford’s stories are like being on the last seat of an out-of-control roller coaster—and the first carriage has just jumped the tracks.” —Paul Mannering, BrokenSea Audio Productions
“P.S. Gifford’s combination of horror and wit make his stories the ‘potato chips’ of the genre: betcha can’t read just one!” —Billy Tackett, Dark Artist
“Gifford returns with a vengeance! One of the best collections of horror fiction at any level I’ve seen in ages.” —Lawrence Dagstine, Author, Allegiance to Arms
“Indulge in Gifford’s tawdry tales of deliciously wicked woe and let them ply your subconscious with evil twists. You’ll dream dark the whole night through.” —John Everson, Author, Covenant and Sacrifice
The hammering downpour battered mercilessly against Philip’s apartment windows, threatening to break in at any moment. Philip, oblivious to the torrential storm, sat at his cluttered desk typing away frantically on his laptop. His strained, bloodshot eyes, receding hairline and drawn-out features made him appear far older than his forty-one years. The single radiator in the close, one-room apartment was no match for the chilling wind penetrating the ill-fitting windows. Philip shivered and pulled his frayed cardigan tighter around his torso. A wry smile infiltrated his customary impassive features as he paused to read what he’d just spent the last six hours writing. Then he blinked away the fantasy of his words as reality breached his comfort zone.
Glancing at the time at the bottom of his computer screen he realized in five hours he was supposed to be back at the accounting office, along with thirty-plus other anonymous faces, balancing ledgers and accounts within their nondescript cubicles. Even state prisoners have bigger cells, he mused. Nevertheless, work he must as the writing royalties he’d earned recently barely keep him in food, liquor, and smokes—let alone the modest rent of a dilapidated place such as his.
He popped three Valium® into his mouth and chugged it down with the warm remnants of a store-brand can of beer. Then he saved his current work in progress, shut the computer down, and got up to pull open the sagging sofa bed. Slumping down onto the mattress, he reached over to set the alarm, and closed his eyes.
This was his Monday to Friday ritual. By day, he was a mild mannered office rat, but in the evening and on weekends, Philip transformed into a man with an obsessive passion to write.
Ever since he was a young child back in his native England, Philip had always enjoyed reading. He often read up to four books a week, finding extraordinary comfort in the realities and alternate worlds that were deftly created within his mind. And as he grew into a teenager, what had particularly captivated his imagination was the world of horror fiction. He read all of the classics again and again, from the masterpiece tales spawned from the twisted, brilliant minds of Ambrose Bierce, Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft to the modern masters of the trade—Stephen King, Peter Straub and Clive Barker, to name just a few.
It was when he moved to Chicago with his father that the urge to write, which had been building up inside of him for as long as he could remember, took its hold over him. Whereas other teenagers dated, went to movies, and got into the usual trouble that teenagers tend to get into, Philip wrote. At first his words were pathetically clumsy, and he received a quick rejection from every publishing house where he submitted his work. Yet Philip persevered, working eight hours a day at his mundane desk job, and a further eight hours each evening writing. Finally, after years of disappointment, he managed to get published in a few small-time journals, which led to a few magazines, which ultimately progressed, over ten years of writing, to his first novel. While the book itself received a mixed reception from the critics, it sold surprisingly well. In fact, it sold well enough to garner Philip a coveted writing contract with a major publisher.
Philip bathed in whatever glory he could garner from his modest accomplishment for a few months, even managing a leave of absence from his soul-draining accounting job. Philip appeared on local radio shows and attended book signings and genre conferences. He experienced a tiny—yet sublimely tantalizing—glimpse of the life of a successful writer. And in these few short months, it became his addiction—far more than any drug could ever get a grip.
Alas, Philip’s success was short-lived, for his follow-up book got tepid reviews and barely sold a few hundred copies. For amongst his critics, one voice was distinctively louder and more vehemently raised against him than most—a certain Justin Holloway, who wrote literary reviews for several of the nation’s leading newspapers. Mr. Holloway’s reviews were held in high esteem by his peers, and he never hesitated to express the opinion that horror fiction was a dead (or at least, fatally wounded) genre in his distinctly glib and patronizing style.
Unfortunately for Philip, Justin Holloway seemed to particularly relish attacking Philip’s work in his reviews. In the years following that first successful book, Philip had penned three more novels, and each one received an even bigger panning in Mr. Holloway’s review column—almost as if the reviewer had some twisted personal vendetta against Philip. And unless his latest book generated greater sales, his publisher had advised him that his contract would not be renewed.
As he pondered this grim reality, Philip’s gaze fell on a tabloid page he had hung on the wall over his desk for inspirational purposes. Once more he read the words that continued to fuel his anger—words that had completely transformed the once kind-hearted Philip with the force of their unsavory venom:
The Revenge of a Madman
by Philip McGregor
A book review by Justin Holloway
What has the world of horror become over the last twenty years? It seems that all originality has been replaced with variations upon the same few tired and mundane themes. Case in point, the newest book by the author (and I use the term in its loosest form) Philip McGregor.
To my great horror, I was assigned to review it—and I hasten to add that having to read it was the only horror that I felt during the whole experience. Mr. McGregor writes using a formulated series of plastic, transparent clichés. You are fully aware when reading his work that Mr. McGregor has not experienced anything remotely horrific in his life. In fact, I would go as far as to say that he has obviously never as much killed even a rat. Mr. McGregor, if you are reading this, I strongly urge you to either give up on this style of writing or go out and experience life.
# # #
Philip felt the thrill of adrenaline, spawned by his hatred, course through his veins. He stood up, stretched languidly, and then read aloud the paragraphs he just had written:
Rudy simply sat there, cautiously examining the scene he now found himself in. As he pulled his long, black mohair coat tighter about him, he lit another Pall Mall cigarette and greedily inhaled it. His hands finally stopped trembling as the nicotine penetrated his blood. Glancing at his watch, he realized it was approaching midnight; it was time for him to get going. Walking methodically over to the body, he could still see the intense fear alive within the dead man’s eyes. With no hint of emotion, Rudy reached down and slowly retrieved his ten-inch butcher’s knife that, moments before, he had effortlessly slipped into the unfortunate man’s heart.
This was Rudy’s twelfth murder. His skill at butchery had inarguably become quite refined. Suddenly, an image of his very first victim abruptly replayed within his mind. He recalled how the man had squirmed, begged and whimpered. It had taken eight stabs of the knife and a few bangs over the head with a baseball bat before he finally extinguished the life from him.“Yes, I have come a long way over the last six months,” Philip mumbled as he fondly remembered the real-life rehearsal of the scene he had just written. “This is certainly going to be my finest hour!”
# # #
Spurred on by Mr. Holloway’s review, Philip had indeed discovered that the art of murder wasn’t as easy and straightforward as he had initially assumed—and he had enthusiastically concluded that this lack of experience could well be just the illusive and missing ingredient that his writing needed to soar. Philip appreciated that some basic knowledge of anatomy was going to be absolutely essential if he was to master the art of murder, without which any sense of reality in his books would not be achieved. So he spent many a night at the library, reading, learning and evaluating, and after completing each anatomy lesson, he would set out into the night to put his newfound knowledge to the test.
Of course, all of these early murders had been merely rehearsals—just experiments in technique to improve his ability to write on his favorite topic. But now, after months of planning, he was finally going to achieve his ultimate objective. At long last, he was ready to serve the man who had spawned so much hatred within him the ultimate comeuppance. Philip’s eyes sparkled as he focused on his latest eBay purchase; a book simply entitled The History of Torture.
Remembering vividly the contents of Chapter Seven, Philip got up quickly from his desk and felt his rage to manifest into blind courage. As he put on his black mohair coat, he stared wistfully at the address he had finally, after many years of searching, discovered—Justin Holloway’s. With that, he felt for the duct tape and crochet needle he had placed in the coat’s inside pocket, and then methodically closed his apartment door, heading into the stormy night towards his car.