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Route 13: Highway To Hell, an anthology of horror stories by members of the writing collective, The Hive, uses fiction as a medium to explore some everyday horrors.
“I didn’t believe in ghosts or anything otherworldly. The world was already overpopulated. Where could the ghosts fit in?” ~ Quote from The Haveli, a story by Anshu B in the anthology Route 13: Highway To Hell.
One of my strongest childhood memories, is of sitting with my friends, tired and sweaty after playing and running around, and using the last few moments before evening turned to night to tell and listen to ghost stories. We would compete –whose story was the scariest? The most believable? We would scare each other into nightmares, but yet, there was a safety in that fear –we knew that in the end it was all make believe. As a grown up, I miss the “teen mundi waali aurat” (three-headed woman) and candle-toting, white saree clad ghosts.
As life in the times of coronavirus proves, reality these days is way more terrifying.
The writers whose work is included in Route 13: Highway To Hell draw on both –the familiar warmth of shared stories, and the horror of everyday life, to craft stories that have a lingering effect. To quote from the entertaining foreword by bestselling author Neil D’Silva, “Just as the Indian reader wants, these stories aren’t mere jump scares; they have that slow-burn buildup that leads to the final moment of dread, stuff that great horror is made of.”
This anthology of 13 stories (obviously!) each by a different author begins with an intriguing set up. It positions the writers as travelers returning from a lit fest on a bus travelling on a mysterious Route 13. Bad weather and lost telephone network set the stage, and so the writers resort to telling each other horror stories to pass the time –and these are the stories that find their way into the pages. The banter between the writers, which precedes each story is just as entertaining as the stories themselves!
Coming to the stories themselves; unless you overdose yourself with horror on a daily basis, these stories are best read in broad daylight. If you have an overactive imagination, it may serve you well to reign it in a bit, because trust me, you do not want to imagine some of what is in these pages in too much detail. There is blood and gore, yes, but also some truths that venture too close to life. One realizes that what happens in the stories is actually preferable to the more hopeless outcomes of real life.
As the very helpful content warning at the beginning of the book states, there are scenes of abuse, violence, rape, swearing and harm to children. So, do approach with caution.
The “vengeful female” is a strong horror trope, and it is one that is repeatedly found in these pages. Yet, it doesn’t become stale or repetitive. Each writer does it justice, and manages to infuse enough freshness to make it stand apart from the other stories. Other themes, so relevant to real life include, oppression in the name of caste/class, the growing influence of technology, and the fragility of mental health in these troubling times. These are all common themes in horror tales, but the writers tackle them with amazing inventiveness.
While each of the stories is a winner, there are some that stood out for me personally.
Finding out that someone else has already written a story based on an idea that one has had is a nightmare for any writer, and Killing Murakami by Venkatraman Ganesan takes this premise on a fabulously weird and chilling ride. In Old Macdonald Had A Farm, Varadharajan Ramesh takes something as childlike as nursery rhymes and twists them into a freakishly terrifying tale of revenge. The Haveli by Anshu B relies on very desi tropes to invoke memories of classic horror movies like Bees Saal Baad, while staying relevant to today’s world. “My virgin challenges the done to death horror trope,” Tina Sequeira promises, and boy does her bizzare, acid-trip of a story, The Adventures of a Virgin, deliver!
Macabre Melody by Sreeparna Sen struck a chord with me as it reminded me of the story Hungry Stones by Rabindranath Tagore. Memory Of A Face by Kanika G is a masterfully written and layered story which keeps the twists coming. I have always been a fan of Ell P’s work, and in The Case of the Séance, she delivers once again, in a story that is as sensitive as it is scary.
Also worth mentioning are the 100 words stories, included at the end of the book, chosen from among the winners of weekly writing prompts posted by The Hive on social media.
This section features excellent mini tales, some of them by much loved Women’s Web writers like Pavi Raman, Seema Taneja, Moonmoon Chowdhury, and others. If the short stories were the satisfying main course, these pieces of flash fiction are the tempting dessert course that one always has space in the stomach for.
On the whole, Route 13: Highway To Hell is a truly engaging collection of horror stories, both for seasoned readers of the genre, and for those who are just cautiously dipping their toes into it for the first time. It has something for everyone.
The Hive is a platform dedicated to publishing anthologies of short stories, and they have promised to bring out anthologies every year in different genres. Honestly, I can’t wait to see what they come up with next!
If you would like to pick up a copy of Route 13: Highway To Hell by The Hive, use our affiliate links at Amazon India, and at Amazon US.
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Image source: Pixabay, book cover Amazon
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