And Hell Followed: An Anthology
Publisher: Death’s Head Press | Release Date: Jan. 15, 2019 | Pages: 218
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
If you believe the statistics, The Bible is allegedly the most widely read book in the world. Having sold millions upon millions and millions of copies and placed in thousands upon thousands of hotel room nightstands, it is easily one of the most popular, most published, and most purchased works of epic horror fantasy ever written. Even people who claim they don’t read horror presumably claim to have at least read The Bible. And make no mistake about it, The Bible is most certainly a work of horror, what with its mutilations, murders, plagues, infanticides, rapes, incest, demons, and apocalypses. This fucking book is head-high in horror and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise!
Beyond inspiring one of the world’s largest and richest cults, one built off bloodshed, Nazi gold, pedophilia, rape, torture, and murder, it’s hard to deny just how much of an influence The Bible has been for horror writers, providing a sandbox for authors of all stripes to play in, one richer than even Lovecraft’s mythos. Long before there was Cthulhu and a spate of other Elder Gods, there was the Christian God and Satan and the Book of Revelations.
It’s this latter sandbox particularly that the authors of And Hell Followed have gathered to stomp around in and kick up a storm. It says a lot that as a new independent, small press publisher, Death’s Head Press is opting to make their debut with a wonderfully heretical, no-holds barred horror anthology of sixteen different takes on the End of Days. As contributing author and atheist Wrath James White notes in his introduction to this volume, “Very few blasphemies were left unblasphemed.” Hell if that ain’t a fact!
Christine Morgan brings the blasphemy big-time in her story, “Censered,” about an angel denied the privilege of tooting a trumpet to signify the arrival of the apocalypse. Foul-mouthed and eager to voice his doubts on the legitimacy of scripture, he rightfully describes the historicity of the Bible as “sketchy as fuck” and mentions with a whiff of understatement that “the Lord God Almighty could be a real dick.”
“Censered” is a hilarious romp, and it was a truly pleasant surprise following a handful of more serious takes on God’s wrath. I had expected And Hell Followed to be thick with dark, gory horrors, but it also has a rich current of humor running throughout. I knew with Jeff Strand on the roster there would be at least one bit of comedic horror here, but it was a blessing to find a few other works aiming for laughter alongside Armageddon. Some are flat-out funny, like Morgan’s, and others are farcical, like Strand’s, who deftly balances wit with gross-out descriptions of a boil’s unending ejaculation of pus in “Outpouring,” and C. Derick Miller’s “Hell Paso,” which finds Private Dan Daniels on the run, with his superior officer in tow, after panicking and shooting Jesus Christ in the face. “How was I supposed to know Jesus was brown?” Daniels insists. “Sunday School told me he looked like bearded Ewan McGregor, not the reanimated corpse of Osama Bin Laden floating through the fucking sky!”
While I have no idea how many of Wrath’s fellow authors here are atheist, agnostic, irreligious, or anti-religious, a good number of the stories presented in And Hell Followed tilt neatly toward the skeptical end of the belief spectrum. Several contributors routinely call out the Bible’s many, many, many discrepancies, or use the Holy Book’s mythology as a launching pad for some out-of-the-box stories. “Apocalypse… Meh” by John Wayne Comunale gives us a look at the heavy metal scene post-Revelations. "Ham and Pudge” by K. Trap Jones also us gives a post-apocalyptic short, but this time from the viewpoint of a pair of rat-like creatures charged by Jesus Himself to clean up the battlefields and prep the Earth for God’s next not-so-Intelligent Design.
To be sure, there are plenty of serious stories playing it straight throughout, as well. While Revelations is an obvious basis for many of the stories within And Hell Followed, Chris Miller finds more than a bit of inspiration from The Who in his “Behind Blue Eyes,” as a man mourns the loss of his partner as the trumpets sound in sky. “The Whore of Babylon,” from Sam West, opens the anthology with a slight erotic charge as a novelist best known for his zombie books hooks up with a comely barfly. Wile E. Young’s “The Day and the Hour” is a flat-out terrific tale of a small group of survivors hiding from the four angels sicced upon Earth to destroy a third of mankind. Wrath James White puts his own spin on the horsemen of the apocalypse in “Horse.” Inspired by the actual Dark Alliance news reports on the CIA’s involvement in flooding the black neighborhoods of Los Angeles with cocaine, White posits a similar scenario as a new drug appears on the scene strong enough to make heroin obsolete.
While there were a few stories I didn’t care for, standard for just about any given anthology I’ve read, they were few and far between. The bulk of this book is seriously strong, the stories smartly organized and well-balanced against one another, and it’s a terrific anthology to not only ring in the New Year properly, but one that heralds the arrival of a new small press publisher to watch. Jam-packed with heretical horrors, And Hell Followed is the kind of book that makes you more than happy to say “Fuck church!” (presuming you’re the church-going kind to begin with…) so you can stay home and read. Trust me, this book a billion times better than any bloviating pastor’s service you’re likely to find. Swap out the Good Book for this even better book and give it a read right now, goddamnit. It’d be a sin not to!