“It’s too late for him too, said the man in a high-pitched voice, drooling in anticipation, like a dog with a bone. Eli stood frozen, his brain issued a hundred different commands that his body would not obey. The man let out bone chilling cackle and, with lightning quickness, sunk the blade of the scalpel into Eli’s left thigh. The pain hit Eli like a train and he was instantly brought back to reality. He looked over at the parrot, who was now calm and quiet. Its mysterious gray eyes connected with Eli’s, and he felt as if the bird was staring into his soul.”
This is The Bird Room, a compendium of bizarre fiction written and put together by author Chad Hofmann.
The book is comprised of a collection of seventeen short stories ranging from two or three pages to slightly longer, though still easily digested bite-sized tales. The presentation of the book as it is isn’t particularly special, though perfectly readable with a good mix of shorter and longer stories. The eponymous “The Bird Room” heads the collection with a good four times the length of many of the shorter tales, and really starts with its best foot forward.
The stories on their own are fairly standard short horror bits following the kind of slow drip, confused tension and reveal that would fit as much beside Poe as R.L. Stine. The book isn’t here to redefine the elements of a classic horror story, just to tell them, and that’s fine. The stories are full of interesting little details of, usually, an average life that is interrupted in some way with the abnormal. Dialogue in most cases is rather utilitarian and the author writes in a concise way that keeps the tales short and to the point. Whether you prefer to imagine the extraneous details and wider context or have it imagined for you may well be a make-or-break point on your enjoyment of the author’s style, as while neither is a wrong way to enjoy a story – especially campfire tales that subsist on the core principles of a story over all. They each follow a typical scary story build up with a lingering open ending and a buzz of the unknown, though their premises differ pleasingly; one story follows a mysterious murderous parrot, another is set in a futuristic Dystopia, and yet another is barely more than a chilling thought. The collection is a good grab-bag of concepts and it’s easy to find at least one you’ll enjoy out of them.
As the writer himself admits, a lot of the stories have no proper ending point and finish on a cliffhanger that in the majority of cases ultimately robs from the experience with its predictable ‘or do they?’ thrill rather than leaving the story itself to speak for itself in its lingering discomfort or wonderment. There isn’t much of a joining theme except for the author’s own sense of what makes a good horror piece, and there are no specific standards for this, although it makes the collection far less homogeneous or stale as a result. There’s a lack of direction and sometimes only some sense of what the story should be, which in at least one case may be because it was written “when [the author] was working in a call center at a ski resort in Colorado,” or by “a sixteen-year-old pothead” (“you may come across a story and think, “Hmm, that was good, but it seems kind of like a sixteen-year-old pothead may have written that story.” The reason it sounds like that is because a sixteen-year-old pothead did write it.”) Regardless, it’s a decent selection, though the shortness of the tales sort of leave you wondering if they could have been much better given the proper time.
In all, The Bird Room is an excellent little pick-up-and-read sort of collection that’s a good read for the bus, or to spark your own creativity with its typical-everyday ideas as well as outlandish head-spinning and open-ended focus that make good bases for original thoughts. As a book to read cover-to-cover the variation in length and quality might only really afford re-read value of your favorites when the bang of the story has already been read through, but its still a good collection and a fun read nonetheless, with the same oddly entertaining hit-and-miss quality of episodes of The Twilight Zone the collection takes spirit from.