Edited by Steve Eller

Irrational Press / 222 pages / (2001)


To use a tired, old expression, if I had a nickel for every short story anthology that included explanatory commentary by each of the authors, I’d be richer than Stephen King. If I had a nickel for every volume that was as enlightening as Brainbox II, I’d still be a starving author. Oh… well… I think you see my point. Anthologies of this significance are something to be singled out for attention and praise.

Editor Steve Eller had the unenviable task of producing a horror anthology for an audience still reeling from the genuine, unthinkable abomination of the 11 September 2001 attacks. Rather than scrap the project — which no one could have blame him for — he chose to give these stories a place to exist and a chance to unleash the feelings within the words.

After the influenza pandemic, there was a place for horror. After the Holocaust, there was a place for horror. And we have seen already that after the tragedies of that September morning, there is a place for horror. It is only our definition that shifts. Here, in this time of changing perceptions and withering beliefs about what we thought was common ground to all of us, the stories behind these stories are suddenly more important than ever before. Perhaps because they sensed that significance, the authors of Brainbox II have reached deep to get at the truth, often so deep the pain is apparent in every word.

Louis Maistros starts the book off with a tale of loss, emptiness, and the wounds we cannot heal, but only try to prevent. It is a story of such intimacy that reading “Gwen” feels uncomfortably like eavesdropping on tearful ramblings. Mehitobel Wilson’s “Blind In The House Of The Headsman” raises the stakes in terms of pain, but questions where the blame lies in such an abusive relationship. But, who is there to blame in “Love Without Fences”? Because when something goes that wrong there must be someone to point the finger at, right?

The emotions build with each story, (Not that there aren’t a few misfires; “Happy Mother’s Day” and its glib explanation seem woefully out of place between Brett Savory’s unsettling “The Time Between Lights” and Julie Anne Parks heart-wrenching “Vigil.”) coming to an almost unbearable peak of pain in the final four stories of the anthology. Richard Wright fans will not be surprised at the passion and compassion in “Bulimia Daemonica,” a tale so intense as to be almost too much to finish at times. The explanation for the story is as sorrowful as the fiction that precedes it. The mournful quality of “Our Lady Of The Tides” lifts it above the genre of the ghost story, the mystery, horror, whatever you might attempt to classify it. Mort Castle succeeds where many have tried, in conveying the loneliness and waste that was Norma Jean Baker’s brief life in “I Am Your Need.”

In an anthology as filled with precious offerings as Brainbox II, it might not seem right to single one story out to represent the whole, but if one selection has to stand alone for this book, for this moment in time, none leaps to mind more than Brian A. Hopkins’ “Eleven Minutes In September.” Without any more information than the title, you already know what it’s about, don’t you? Well, you do and you don’t. But, you will and maybe for the hundredth time this week you’ll remember and you’ll cry. Or maybe you’ll finally be able to smile.

Brainbox II. It may well be Son Of Brainbox, but it’s the sum of all of us, all there in that crowded box.