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Book in Review: FEED by Michael Bray

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Tyler Matthews is desperate for change. Sick of his life and plagued by alcoholism, he makes the decision to divorce his wife, sell everything he owns and travel the world to try and find focus and rid himself of his addiction. Eventually arriving on the sun-drenched shores of Australia and still plagued by his demons, he has spent all his savings and is facing the prospect of having to return to his old life.

It is here that he meets two men with an outlandish story about a horde of sunken drug money in an area known as the Devil’s Triangle – Australia’s answer to its Bermuda namesake and said to be the lair of a terrifying monster of the deep. Offered a share of the fortune if he helps retrieve it, Tyler agrees to go with the men to the location, skeptical and thinking only of prolonging his journey of self-discovery.

He will learn, however, that this particular urban legend is real, and they encounter a giant of the seas, the previously thought to be extinct Megalodon which makes its home within the area of the Devil’s triangle.

Barely escaping with their lives, the three men wash up on an isolated island – no more than a rocky outcrop with no vegetation, fresh water of food sources. As desperation to survive intensifies, horrifying decisions will be made that will illustrate how man is sometimes the most violent predator on earth and when left with no option will do anything, even the unthinkable, in order to survive.

You may or may not know this, but I’ve got a bit of a phobia towards ocean water. I don’t mind heading to the beach, especially Flordia’s white sand, clear water beaches of Pensacola. That’s not really the problem. The problem is the deep. Or better yet, what lives in the deep, what’s hunting in the deep. Perhaps blame for this phobia can be placed directly on Discovery Channel’s Shark Week specials I’d watched as a kid. Seeing those Great White’s launching themselves, razor teeth and all, up out of the water to snag a morsel of meat. I also clearly remember watching another show on either TLC or Discovery about an old fisher man’s tale about being out at sea and hearing a thudding noise against the bow of his ship. Taking a lantern (because this is late at night, mind you), the captain goes to investigate. Peering over the side of the boat he stares down at something he doesn’t quite understand, and then suddenly it dawns on him…he’s staring down at a giant eye, the looks at him, and then disappears back into the deep. Most likely, the tale was about the infamous Kraken, a so-called giant squid with massive tentacles. Nonsesnse, perhaps, but still…these were the emotions I carried with me while reading Michael Bray’s new book, FEED.

FEED starts off with the main character, Tyler Matthews, who, as the reader will quickly discover, is tired of his ho-hum ordinary life. To escape he must exsponge his controlling misses (soon to be ex-wife), his banal job (of which she helped him get as means of controlling him), and all his meaningless worldly possessions. Tyler is set on exploring the world. His separated wife seems to think he’ll just burn all his money on booze. I really enjoyed the go between here, between Tyler and Amy (the soon-to-be-ex). And you can see where Tyler is at this stage, that they’ve been here before, and how he had failed to purge his life in the past, succumbing apparently to her controlling ways. I found myself easily rooting for Tyler and relieved that he finally stood up for himself. The one thing that stood out as odd was the separation and divorce, and perhaps seeing how Bray is an English chap and I a mere American is the hang up here, but I was questioning how Tyler ended up with everything from the divorce. He sold all his possession. His house, car, everything. And kept the proceeds…or maybe I missed the part where they were going to split everything 50/50. Amy did confess to having an affair, which drove this separation and eventual divorce, but still…

Throughout FEED we’re able to jump from chapter to chapter into various perspectives. Moving to where the majority of the story takes place, Australia’s Devil’s Triangle, I enjoyed the early setup between Scott and his “buddy” Karl, in which Karl informs Scott of an old legend of sunken gold, the only problem being that there’s a guardian of the gold, a giant monster that lurks in the deep. Scott doesn’t believe his stoner buddy’s story but decides to jump in and take a look anyhow. Why not, right? He soon discovers his friend was right, but instead of telling Karl that there is gold down at the bottom, he simply resurfaces to tell him there was nothing but sand, marking the GPS coordinates so he can return later and keep the prize for himself. This was a fun little scene, setting up what will be the eventual motivator of the story, getting that gold, but also being shown that getting said prize will most likely cost something, something very dear more like, as Scott definitely senses something down there stalking him. Or was it just his imagination?

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Somewhere around here, we’re introduced to Nash, a very scarred, very “Ahab” trope character. His face and most of his right side of his body are in ruination. His flesh horribly drafted and pieced back together and over twenty years or so has healed in a not so pleasant on the eyes kinda way. Nash looking into the mirror is constantly reminded of what happened to him out in Australia’s Devil’s Triangle and has his heart set on revenge.

I don’t want to get into too many spoilers here. Understandably, reviews tend to reveal more than a few things about a book. Yet, we need to slow things down here, as around this point in the book, the pace begins to pick up. Needless to say, Scott returns to retrieve what he left at the bottom of Devil’s Triangle, and he brought his older, convict brother with him, Paul. I really enjoyed the go-between with Scott and Paul, and this highlights one of many awesome things about FEED, the dialogue is just about spot on, the reactions feel real, and the motivations, no matter how grotesque or horrifying, are justifiable. Even later on when certain characters are stranded on an “island,” which is basically nothing more than rock, with no food and no water. This scene with Scott and Paul also introduces us to the antagonist of the book, though Bray makes mention a few times, through his characters, that the shark is not malicious or anything, its particular species happens to be very dominate and very protective of its territory, and its territory so happens to cover the Devil’s Triangle. Due to the shark’s size, it needs to FEED quite often, which drives its more violent tendencies. Scott and Paul soon discover how real the legend is…

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Things progress, time goes on, and we catch up with Tyler in…you guessed it, Australia. He’s been all over the world now, adapted to his new lifestyle, and burning through his funds rapidly, mostly due to his alcoholism. He claims “near-alcoholism,” but come on, a spade is a spade. If Tyler wishes to continue his pilgrimage, he’ll need to replenish his bank account. And as fate would have it, he runs into the most unlikely of people, Nash and his son, Liam, as they discuss things over a few pints of bitter. He overhears their conversation and is quickly swept up in a bid for unimaginable riches. My only hang up here is how easily diving underwater seems. I liked the detail with the equipment, knowing the names of parts I’ll never look up, and though I’m not a “diver” myself, I would assume there would need to be some sort of training involved. I could be wrong here. I’ve only ever been snorkeling, maybe any joe schmoe can put on a wetsuit and some flippers and tread deep water. But regardless, this IS a detail easily ignored and doesn’t really effect the overall story. And so, Nash recruits Tyler to join him and his son, Liam, on a mission to get rich by finding the treasure left behind on the seabed of the Devil’s Triangle.

For the rest, you’ll simply have to read the book…

FEED works in many ways because it is and isn’t a traditional monster story. Sure, we’ve got the Megladon that is very protective of its territory. But we’ve also got a cast of characters that are not in the least two-dimensional. Tyler, the main protagonist, has his flaws, but he’s also very human and real and because of that, he is relatable. As are the many other characters, even the ones that don’t last very long on “screen.” Nash would be another great character I liked reading, a very “Ahab” prototype, hell bent on revenge, even at the risk of his own son and Tyler. Survival and the lengths we’re willing to go to survive are strong motivators of the story, some of which play out in very grotesque ways. This highlights that FEED isn’t just a story about a shark gobbling up people, in fact, for most of it, there are other predators and demons one has to watch out for. My own personal phobia of the ocean no doubt played into my reaction to the story Michael Bray has cooked up for his readers, but it also says something of the quality of the writing, to be able to play on those phobias, the isolation, and claustrophobia, the unknown aspects of what’s really out there in the black depths of the water. FEED is definitely a read fans of horror will not want to miss.

You can get your copy of FEED for $3.99 on Amazon!!

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Michael Bray is a bestselling horror / thriller author of several novels. Influenced from an early age by the suspense horror of authors such as Stephen King, Richard Laymon, Shaun Hutson, James Herbert & Brian Lumley, along with TV shows like Tales from the Crypt & The Twilight Zone, his work touches on the psychological side of horror, teasing the reader’s nerves and willing them to keep turning the pages. Several of his titles are currently being translated into multiple languages and with options for movie and Television adaptations under negotiation for others, he will look to continue his growth as a full time professional writer long into the future.

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Houston Haunted Houses: a short guide for local haunts

Finally, the Halloween season is upon us! And what better way to celebrate the month of freight then to visit one of Houston’s (and her surrounding area locations) many haunted house attractions. But which one? Houston does have plenty of options. Before moving to Houston, growing up in the small town of Vinton, Virginia, haunted attractions were slim pickens; however, often times the lesser known beatnik locations can be some of the best in causing youngsters fleeing out the doors. To this day, though I cannot remember the name of the haunted house my responsible loving mother took me to during 1994-95 Halloween season, what I do recall being scared out of my wits thanks in part to a chain saw welding maniac.  With this in mind, i’ve generated a list, in no particular order, of some of what Houston has to offer for popular haunted attractions. I’ve even included a few Hell Houses for the religiously inclined reader. Enjoy!

1. ScreamWorld

Though this list isn’t generated from best to worst, we’re not making that kind of list; however, i’m listing ScreamWorld at the top because of its obviously prestigious notoriety. Not that ScreamWorld is better than the rest; they’re just more accredited.  From 2007-2012, ScreamWorld has been listed as one of America’s Best Haunts, not just Texas (voted #1 in Houston by the Houston Chronicle), but America folks! Opening back on September 20th, ScreamWorld will welcome brave souls through November 2nd, charging upwards of $40 for the VIP Pass and $32 for general admission. There will be a $5 parking fee as well. 32 bucks may seem a little steep for admission, but you’re not paying for just one attraction; you’re paying for 5 separate haunts, which includes: The Skull Cave, Edge of Darkness, Jake’s Slaughterhouse, Maze of Maniacs, and Zombie Graveyard. Not yet convinced? Check out their YouTube video below, if you dare!

2. Phobia

Phobia is another “scream-park” with 5 separate attractions, including: Mind Control, Simon Fowler Woods, ClaustroPhobia, Darke Institute, Dawn of the Machine. The difference here is that you can purchase tickets for each separate attraction for $13 and upwards of $50 for all five haunts. I’ve never personally been to Phobia, so I cannot attest to its quality as a haunt, but the 50 buck admission for all 5 attractions seems a bit steep, especially considering the $32 cover for ScreamWorld.  However, it is nice that you can purchase single tickets for just one house, if you wanted to be in and out without having to attend an entire festival. Phobia is located between Beltway 8 & 1960 on 290 Feeder, RR track side Jersey Village: 18777 HWY 290 – EXIT WEST RD, HOUSTON, TX 77065. If you need a little more convincing for paying up 50 buck-a-roos for this particular haunt, check out the following video.

3. Houston Terror Dome

Claiming to be Houston’s scariest haunt, Terror Dome sets themselves apart from the nightmare pack by focusing on one single attraction. VIP tickets cost $30 with no wait and unlimited access on day of purchase. Regular admission is $20, which doesn’t seem to bad, if they can deliver on all the hipe, claiming to have spent “most of [their] budget into building the most elaborate haunted house legally possible.” Terror Dome is located next to Spookers Halloween Super Warehouse Store on East I-10 exit #784 Cedar Lane. If you want to get a little peak at what you’re visit will be like, check out the following video.

4. Kingwood Asylum

Catering to the more artistic and historical tastes for macabre, Kingwood Asylum offers two haunted attractions with a unique twist: the fictional back story of Dr. Phillip Blackman and his mental asylum of terror! Another interesting tidbit is Kingwood Asylum’s humble beginnings as a private residence haunt over in Hunters Ridge. Now, obviously, the operation has grown from its merger beginnings into a full fledged business located over @ 1965 Northpark Drive, Kingwood Texas 77339. General admission fees are $20, with unlimited access on the day of purchase. Kingwood Asylum is one of the more interesting sites because the haunt has been built around a fictitious legend, giving the audience something more imaginative, instead of just walking through and having things jump out at you. Check out the following hilarious video of a group of teenage girls walking through the haunt!

5. Haunted Trails and Natures Nightmare

Boasting as Houston’s most terrifying outdoor haunt, Haunted Trails is definitely something different then the traditional haunted house, here, as “night falls and the monsters of these woods begin to howl, you’ll enter a realm of terror you could not have imagined. Acres of mortifying scenes and unnatural creatures await eagerly to quench their undying thirst for your screams.” Haunted Trails seems to be, from what i’ve gathered from the pictures on their site, a basic maze with various jump and chase scares. With a $17 admission fee, it may not seem worth it; however, on October 11th & 12th, scream queen Marilyn Burns, who played Sally in the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, will be at Nature’s Nightmare (the second attraction) to meet and greet with fans. I couldn’t find a video for Haunted Trails, but here is the poster for the celebrity guest promotional.

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Houston most definitely has plenty of haunted houses to choose from, and these are only five of the most popular. There are still plenty of others out there not listed above, including: Scream FestFearshire FarmsRedrumCreepy Hallow Haunted HouseHeart Stopper, and many more. And, as promised, for the more religious reader, you can visit fun filled houses of judgement, such as: Hell in a Cell & Judgment House. Another alternative are localized fire-stations who also host mom & pop haunted houses; proceeds normally go to various children s organizations. So, if you’re in the mood for a scare or two, Houston (and her surrounding area) has plenty to pick from, all i’m sure will be fun and entertaining for you and you’re friends.