The Red Empire and Other Stories by Joe McKinney
Publisher: Redrum Horror
Joe McKinney grabs ahold of his readers and pulls them inside his stories. He makes sure he carries you along in his worlds so that the one around you fades away.
The Red Empire and Other Stories is made up of eight stories. I’ll comment briefly on each:
Story One – The Red Empire: The first story of the collection is the longest. It’s based on a military experiment that gets unleashed on the public. At the same time, a convict escapes. A young woman and her daughter (who just had surgery on her eyes) have to deal with both. Luckily for them, one of their new neighbors cares enough to make sure they’re okay.
Story Two – Blemish: A man is haunted by a choice from his past. He didn’t step in when he knew that one of his old girlfriends was being abused by her new boyfriend. She ended up dead. He sees the dead girl’s ghost…from time to time, and this costs him his sanity and his job. The regret and guilt over knowing he could have done something about it eats up his entire life. He meets back up with his main girlfriend from college who always seems to be taking care of him, but her dad dies, and for once he has to step up and take care of her. They decide in the end, that it’s best if they take care of each other.
Story Three – Cold Case: A man who is joining the police force is awed by the pictures and stories of past servicemen who grace the wall. He becomes fixated on a certain one and vows to himself to find out what happened to him. He searches and searches, only to find out through old records what caused the man’s death, but he was never able to find the man’s grave… Still he searches.
Story Four – The Old Man Under the Sea: A man by the name of Ernest Hemmingway wins a boxing match and saves a rich man’s daughter. He and the daughter stumble upon strange wreckage while strolling on the beach. The father appears and tells Hemmingway to stay away from his daughter, but he doesn’t listen. In the morning, he is ordered by the father to assist them in finding out about the wreck, as it was his nephew’s boat. Reluctant, but curious, Hemmingway goes. What he finds is completely beyond what he could have ever dreamed up.
Story Five – The Millstone: A woman comes home from work to find the police surrounding her house. Her boyfriend has been murdered. Her younger sister, who is beautiful and home all day, tells her that her boyfriend came in jealous and killed him. The woman tries to deal with her loss, but soon finds out that her sister had been having sex with her boyfriend. She ends up killing the neighbor lady when she shows her the murder weapon as proof. She kills her neighbor and her sister, and gets away with it.
Story Six – Empty Room: A man and his friend are outside a party, having drinks. The man starts talking about his failed divorce…and about ghosts. His friend listens and tries to comfort and reason with him. But, the man claims to be haunted and blows his brains out with a gun he has with him.
Story Seven – Burning Finger Man: A cop is assigned the slums, and he has to deal with everything that’s going on, from drug dealers to crazy women with mentally retarded daughters who live in the complex. A rash of sexual assaults happen in the area and they can’t find the man responsible. The cop finds the man’s hiding place and blocks it off, but doesn’t tell anyone. This leads to the people of the slums capturing the man and taking him down to the furnace room while he’s on another call. He gets there in time to see what they do, and even though he pleads for them not to punish the man, he doesn’t stand up to stop them either.
Story Eight – Eyes Open: A police officer and his partner try to help a homeless man. They succeed in getting him to a hospital right before he rips his own eyes out. He warns the officer that he’s now marked and he’ll be seen; soon his eyes will be open. The officer doesn’t know what the homeless man means, but the next day his life begins to change. He ends up following homeless people into a barn…and something tries to attach him. After that, his eyes are open, and he becomes the crazy homeless man on the street that his old partner tries to take care of.
The Red Empire and Other Stories is an eclectic mix of heart felt and twisted stories. Each one has their own draw and pull. Of all of them…Blemish, Burning Finger Man, and Eyes Open are my favorites.
As far as technical errors, there was some missing punctuation and a couple missing words here and there.
I give this book: 2 QUILLS