Chilled to the Bone (1991) was an anthology edited by Robert T. Garcia which was published by Mayfair Games in conjunction with the horror role playing game CHILL. The game itself was published by Pacesetter Ltd. in 1984 as a modern horror game where the players work for a secret society known as S.A.V.E., which stands for Societas Argenti Viae Eternitata (The Eternal Society of the Silver Way), investigating supernatural events and fighting monsters. The 80’s were a hotbed of tabletop role playing games and CHILL was attempting to capitalize off the success of ones like Dungeons and Dragons and the The Call of Cthulhu but was never able to reach their status.
I bought this anthology from a clearance rack at Gen Con several years back but didn’t get around to reading anything from it until this year despite its having had several prominent names adorning the table of contents. I blame its rather lackluster cover art for contributing to my reticence. Also, I couldn’t find any kind of in-depth reviews by anyone who’d read it online, so I left it sitting tucked away in my packed bookshelf. Once I did delve into it, I found it much better than I’d expected. Several of the stories feature characters who serve as future occult detectives (“Mask of the Hero”and “The Silent One” for example), and it also contains two excellent Weird Western genre tales. Overall this is a worthwhile anthology of horror/weird tales which has been widely forgotten.
My favorite stories were: “Undertow”, “Mask of the Hero”, “¡Cuidado!”, “Heavy Breathing”, “In Her Hands”, and “Wrapped Up In White Linen and Cold as the Clay”.
1. “Corporate Culture” by Robert Zasuly (1991) – A man who creates training material for an Air Force Defense contractor begins to ask questions about the disappearance of one of his co-workers. He soon begins to notice his boss and the security staff acting strangely as he begins to suspect there may be something deeper going on under the surface in this novelette.
2. “Undertow” by Matthew Costello (1991) – A successful writer avoids going into the water after his young son drowning at sea. When his son’s body was recovered, it was found mysteriously covered with welts and bruises. He then begins to receive regular letters in the mail warning him to stay away from the sea or something bad will happen. His girlfriend, however, loves the water and wants him to join her in it. This is a well written, brief tale.
3. “Mask of the Hero” by Steve Rasnic Tem and Melanie Tem (1991) – A seventeen year old orphan named Mark works for a man delivering packages by bicycle. He constantly sees masks everywhere, floating through the air, hovering over people hiding their real faces, etc. These masks hum at him in different pitches all the time. He views himself as The Prince of Masks as a result and soon finds he’s more important than he ever knew when he’s recruited to help fend off an incursion into our realm by an entity known as The Queen in this surreal tale.
4. “¡Cuidado!” By Norman Partridge (1991) – Set in the old west, a one-armed stagecoach driver is forced to fight for his life against a supernatural creature out in the desert when a bad storm forced them to stop. The only person he knows he can trust is his elderly fellow coachman Ben Rose, but the trio of passengers inside all seem to be holding secrets of their own. This is a fun weird/west story.
5. “Heavy Breathing” by Mary Francis Zambreno (1991) – After moving into her aunt’s apartment after she passed away, a woman begins to receive mysterious phone calls with a man’s heavy breathing and saying “He is watching you”. She is also being harassed by her creepy landlord demanding to know what items of her aunt’s old stuff she plans to donate to the community rummage sale. This is a good creepy little story.
6. “Little Evils” by Don D’Ammassa (1991) – Kristi, a CIA specialist nicknamed “The Shadow” for her stealth and expertise, receives an anonymous note in her locked safety deposit box telling her to be at a specific location that night and mentioning “little evils”. How the note got there and who sent it is a mystery. She decides she must go. Inside the abandoned warehouse she finds several eviscerated bodies, a strange mound rising out of the floor and more.
7. “Whose Hungry Mouth” by F. A. McMahan (1991) – A woman who’s still grieving the loss of her husband five years previous receives a post card in the mail with the image of a Geisha standing beside a lake with a dark forest in the distance. The word “Beware” is the only thing written on it. Later, something comes knocking at her door.
8. “The Silent One” by Andre Norton (1991) – A woman seeks out a friend from her school days named Ilse Bergen to help her granddaughter who seems to have become possessed. Ilse is the owner of a bead shop and a powerful psychic with lots of knowledge of the occult. The two go to the old house which was originally built by a millionaire who also brought a small tower over to America from Germany which he rebuilt stone by stone.
9. “Terror By Night” by Robert Weinberg (1991) – Sidney Taine is a psychic detective who’s investigated many cases and been dubbed “The New-Age Detective”. Here he’s called in to investigate a batch of mysterious disappearances from inside a secure building. He goes undercover in a vacant office to determine what supernatural force is behind it all.
10. “Gun Control” by Steve Antczak (1991) – A man ignores a cryptic warning from a young woman who tells him not to buy a weapon from the gun store he was entering and buys it anyway. The old, black revolver he purchases begins to have a strange effect on him, causing him to become obsessed with it.
11. “In Her Hands” by Blythe Ayne (1991) – Narindra is a young man growing up in India with seven brothers and sisters. Although he has many more natural gifts than his siblings, he is very dissatisfied with his life. His family is poor, and he’s embarrassed by his father who sells produce at the street market everyday. He’s driven to mischief as a result. One day an old crone motions him over and has him look into some water in the palm of her hand. There he sees the miniature image of the beautiful, multi-armed death goddess Kali writhing about. He dismisses the vision but begins to see Kali at other times. This is a very well told story which has a great, horrifying finale.
12. “Wrapped Up In White Linen and Cold as the Clay” by Gregory Nicoll and Patricia Ross (1991) – This weird western tale follows Matthew Brackett, an undertaker who can see ghosts. Finishing the embalming of the corpse of a saloon musician, he receives a mysterious warning written out on the floor in spilled blood which reads “Beware Laredo”. As he is not set to travel there, he tucks it in the back of his mind and moves on. The next day as he’s about to board a stagecoach carrying a corpse he embalmed to its family he changes his mind and doesn’t go. This is a really fun and spooky tale with a spooky, spectral ending.
13. “Bluebound” by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens (1991) – Galen Sword, an adept exiled to our world from one world that was filled with vampires and werewolves, receives a mystically bound package which contains a warning for him to stay away from a particular facility. He goes to investigate anyway along with the assistance of his young, halfling-werewolf sidekick Martin and vampire Orion. They end up encountering monstrous shapeshifters and other creatures in this urban fantasy novelette. The character Galen Sword has appeared in a trio of bestselling novels by the husband and wife team of Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens.
14. “But For The Grace Go I” by Charles deLint (1991) – A tough-minded, homeless girl who’s taking care of a mentally handicapped man and a pack of stray dogs receives an ominous letter in her post office box warning she will be killed if she allows the “dark robbed men access”. She tries to figure out what it means and who sent it to her.
15. “God Can Be A Cruel Bastard” by G. Wayne Miller (1991) – A man returns to the town where he grew up, now vastly changed from when he was last visited, to fulfill a promise he’d made to his best friend who died there a few years back. At that time, his friend said he’d haunt him if this promise was not kept.
Reviewed by Matt Cowan