Heather Fowler's stories are full of sex and magic. That sounds flowery, but in this San Diego writer's hands, it's anything but.

    In the title story of her new collection, People with Holes, published by Pink Narcissus Press, the sexually frustrated protagonist is upset that her lover refuses to let her explore the hole that has suddenly appeared in his elbow. She complains, "You use my holes all the time."

    People with Holes is packed with sudden transformations. A woman dating a hunter wakes up with a deer's head. A scholar's skin ripples like the pages of a book when he's sexually aroused. A lover turns into a duck, and no amount of kissing can bring him back.

    Fowler frequently uses fairy tales and mythical creatures as leaping-off points for her twisted tales. In "Sexwith Dwarves," Snow White learns to love her dwarf companions. All of them. In "The Moth Girl," the fairyresponsible for all the remembering and forgetting in the world is captured by a circus and put on display in the freak show—with devastating consequence.

    The story "Sid, Me, and the Sea" may contain the key to unlocking the collection. The protagonist is in love with a man whose mother is a mermaid. As a result, where his bellybutton should be is a "panel of ocean" that provides access to the sea—and to Sid's dark past. "‘We're all quite horrifying,' he said, ‘when the real things inside us come out into the open.'"

    I never thought of Chilean author Roberto Bolaño as a writer of horror before I read The Return, a collection of short stories translated by Chris Andrews and published in 2010 by New Directions.

    Though the late author is regarded as a poet and writer of literary fiction, there's no shortage of carnage in his work. His groundbreaking novel 2666 features a staggering body count.

    Bolaño, however, is hard to pin down. Some of the fictions deal with crime; others are preoccupied with politics. Many flirt with the supernatural but don't fully commit to the genre. Or as Roberto Bolaño—the name of the protagonist in the final story—puts it, "It wasn't a horror movie. Or not an out-and-out horror movie, but a horror movie leavened with large doses of black humor."

    Gallows humor rules the day in "Buba," the tale of a pair of footballers who enter a blood pact with a strange  new player from Africa. The result is a winning season, but at what price? "Murdering Whores" is a literary  high-wire act with plenty of surprises that suggest its title can be read multiple ways.

    The story that provides the book with its title is perhaps the creepiest. A man realizes he's died and become aghost. He decides to follow his body back to the morgue, only to witness it being whisked away after a strangeexchange. I don't want to spoil the story's many surprises, but, suffice to say, things get weird in a hurry.

    There's plenty of weirdness afoot in Ania Ahlborn's second novel The Neighbors. Ahlborn, who makes her home in Albuquerque, N.M., achieved acclaim when her supernatural horror Seed rose to the No. 1 spot on Kindle's horror list and was optioned for film by Amazon Studios. The Neighbors is published by Thomas & Mercer,  another division of Amazon. But unless you're an indie bookstore, that's not the scary part of the story.

    Andrew Morrison's new roommate is giving him the creeps. The roommate doesn't have a job, lives in filth and keeps the door to a mysterious room locked at all times. Andrew's unhappiness makes him susceptible to the attention of his seductive neighbor, Harlow Ward. Dressed to the nines every day of the week, Harlow woos Andrew with freshly baked cookies and home-cooked meals, much to the chagrin of her husband.

    The Neighbors is told from multiple points of view so that we get a glimpse of what makes each of the characters tick. But with such a limited cast to work with, it's easy to anticipate where the story's going.

    The Neighbors is delightfully dark and demented, but the sex and violence occur between scenes. Usually, horror novels come with the caveat: not for the squeamish. Not in this case. More thrills and chills can be found in your neighborhood haunted house than in this oddly reticent novel.

    If there's a moral to be learned from this odd troika of tales, it's this: There's a monster in each of us, just  waiting to come out. So be careful when choosing a costume this Halloween—your "disguise" may reveal more than you realize.

    Jim Ruland blogs at vermin.blogs.com and you can find him on Twitter @JimVermin.


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