Wounds: Six Stories from the Border of Hell

Wounds: Six Stories from the Border of Hell

A gripping collection of six stories of terror—including the novella “The Visible Filth,” the basis for the upcoming major motion picture—by Shirley Jackson Award–winning author Nathan Ballingrud, hailed as a major new voice by Jeff VanderMeer, Paul Tremblay, and Carmen Maria Machado—“one of the most heavyweight horror authors out there” (The Verge). In his first collectio...

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Title:Wounds: Six Stories from the Border of Hell
Author:Nathan Ballingrud
Rating:
Edition Language:English

Wounds: Six Stories from the Border of Hell Reviews

  • Janie C.

    These stories emerge from the depths of mutated pyches, scarring the mind with indelible artistic configurations produced by the mutilation of accepted life forms. From the most remote corners of the abyss come sounds that can only be produced by torn and broken lives. These surfacing beings have been transformed into formidable and awe-inspiring atrocities. Beware the siren, as the song that emerges is as deadly as it is beautiful.

  • Michael Hicks

    Nathan Ballingrud makes for one hell of a tour guide along the border separating life on Earth from eternal damnation. His collection, Wounds, brings together six stories all about the permeation between these two realms.

    “The Atlas of Hell” kicks things off in remarkably strong fashion. Ballingrud delivers a work of Bayou noir that sees a rare book dealer pressed into service by his mob associates into recovering the atlas of Hell. There’s loa

    Nathan Ballingrud makes for one hell of a tour guide along the border separating life on Earth from eternal damnation. His collection, Wounds, brings together six stories all about the permeation between these two realms.

    “The Atlas of Hell” kicks things off in remarkably strong fashion. Ballingrud delivers a work of Bayou noir that sees a rare book dealer pressed into service by his mob associates into recovering the atlas of Hell. There’s loads of terrific imagery here, and I flat-out loved the concept of Ballingrud’s “astronauts” from Hell. The atlas itself was totally unlike anything I had expected, and the author exhibits a knack for overturning expectations over the course of Wounds’ other stories. There were a few elements I wish were explored a bit more deeply, such as a briefly glimpsed lake monster. It’s a minor quibble, to be sure, but also a positive in its own right as I immediately wanted more!

    “The Diabolist” follows the teenage daughter of a recently deceased occultist and her discovery of his misdeeds. We get a wonderfully unique narrator, and Ballingrud again subverts expectations with the particular choices he’s made here. “Skullpocket” was really the only story in Wounds that I didn’t much care for, and it felt a bit too Young Adult for me. It does have some nifty concepts, though, involving a small town and the literal monsters that live next door, the history of which is relayed to a group of children gathered to celebrate a ghouls deathday. It’s a mostly light-hearted, Gaiman-esque affair and a bit of midpoint palette cleanser before Wounds gets back to reveling in the darkness.

    “The Maw” features a small town of a different sort, one that has been utterly devastated by the denizens of Hell who have crossed the border and driven out any traces of humanity. Mix, a teenage girl, agrees to help Oscar navigate the suddenly foreign terrain, acting as a coyote/tour guide as she smuggles him into this dangerous wasteland in search of his lost dog. Ballingrud, again, proves to be a master of imagery, and the work of his Surgeons is truly nightmarish stuff.

    “The Visible Filth” is an incredibly potent story! Bartender Will finds a cell phone forgotten by a patron, and then makes the mistake of answering a text message on it. Darkness permeates this story the whole way through, and Ballingrud plays with our expectations of violence as the mental states of various characters shift in response to Will’s discovery of, and subsequent obsession with, this cell phone. There’s plenty of grisly imagery throughout, as well some hair-raising moments of pure haunting dread, such as a computer monitor broadcasting the image of a tunnel and what lurks inside. This one really got under my skin, and it’s a story that lingers well after you’ve finished reading it thanks to its ambiguities.

    “The Butchers Table” ends Wounds on a high note as Ballingrud takes us back in time to the Colonial era, where a group of Satanists have boarded a pirate ship setting sail across the border into Hell itself, where they hope to dine with their Dark Lord. Once again, Ballingrud provides some great imagery, especially the finale’s dining hall, and while not all loose ends are tied up oh so neatly, he does bring the overarching story twisting throughout each of Wounds’ stories full circle.

    As I noted above, permeability is key here and Ballingrud injects certain narrative strands in one story to be revisited later. Each of these six stories function well enough on their own, but when taken as a whole we’re presented with a richer tapestry and a fresh mythology on the nature of Hell on Earth that encompasses occult and cosmic horror, as well some dashes of fantasy here and there. The border separating us from Hell is highly diffuse, but thankfully the potent horrors pouring through are of the most engaging and entertaining sort. You might want to schedule a trip there soon.

    [Note: I received an advance reading copy of this title from the publisher, Saga Press.]

  • Lou

    Review:

    A literary gothic grotesque extravaganza extraordinary horror inferno walking living breathing ballads of hell in the narrative.

    Consuming stories vividly evoked and careful crafted with arcaneness taken the reader the precipice of malevolence with aspects of an inferno conjured and envisioned by the author.

    Four of six for me the most notable.

    The Atlas of Hell

    Little bookstore in New Orleans, Oleander Books, lurks owner Jack Oleander one connoisseur and acquisitor of books, legally and ille

    Review:

    A literary gothic grotesque extravaganza extraordinary horror inferno walking living breathing ballads of hell in the narrative.

    Consuming stories vividly evoked and careful crafted with arcaneness taken the reader the precipice of malevolence with aspects of an inferno conjured and envisioned by the author.

    Four of six for me the most notable.

    The Atlas of Hell

    Little bookstore in New Orleans, Oleander Books, lurks owner Jack Oleander one connoisseur and acquisitor of books, legally and illegally.

    There talk of a book, a guide, not one like the one in that movie with Jonny deep, The Ninth Gate, but a doorway to hell upon the earth summonings and becomings and the arcane emanating violence decay and destruction from its presence not something to be in the hands of evildoers.

    Beseeching one to violent impulses and desires a languages of different tongues ones of Hell awaits the doomed in its proximity.

    The Diabolist

    Possibly an imp, maybe demon or a labourer form another realm.

    Spoken things of the unspoken in this tale.

    An offering one of a Ballard of hell a token of loyalty and sacrifice.

    Possession of denizens of a town to another.

    Skullpocket

    Something wicked this way comes, talk of ghouls, death, rituals, dreams, fairs, charnel houses, with meetings feeling the creepiness and haunting presence narrated in the Church of the Worm to children.

    Already on my way to his Hob’s Landing ,what great treats awaiting, what great frights and hauntings.

    One best of the six tales.

    A hamlet of horrors awaits all serving the maggot.

    Visible Filth

    Ration to irrational

    Invisible to visible

    Curiosity of the darkness in video and images represents something grotesque and unfathomable.

    There is to be a movie adapted from this, looking at the trailer and the content in this, it will be a gory flick that I hope does not induce shudders and concoct nightmares.

    Channels of an irrepressible corruptible kind unleashed with the grotesque, shame, fear, and the bizarre in motion.

  • matthew

    was tremendous, easily one of the best single author short story collections I've ever read. I had read two of the six stories already—"Atlas of Hell" in

    and "The Visible Filth" in chapbook format, which I guess makes me one of those weird fiction/horror nerds. The other four stories, new to me, with one being new to the collection, ranged from ok ("The Diabolist") to absolutely one of my all-time favourite ever ("The Butchers Table"). The collection is loosely,

    was tremendous, easily one of the best single author short story collections I've ever read. I had read two of the six stories already—"Atlas of Hell" in

    and "The Visible Filth" in chapbook format, which I guess makes me one of those weird fiction/horror nerds. The other four stories, new to me, with one being new to the collection, ranged from ok ("The Diabolist") to absolutely one of my all-time favourite ever ("The Butchers Table"). The collection is loosely, very loosely interconnected, mostly in how the borders of Hell rub up against our world, with all kinds of terrible things bleeding over into our reality. In "Skullpocket," a small town lives somewhat uneasily with a house full of ghouls, whose religion has seeped into the minds of townsfolk, replacing the Christian Church. Every year, children are summoned, by dream, to the house of the ghouls where they learn of the very first ritual in which they're current partaking. It's wonderfully plotted, cutting between flashback and the present, all the while the readers' idea of this story-world coheres, culminating in an incredible "punchline" at the end. "The Maw," which would have been my favourite story if but for the finale, reminded me of Alan Moore: a neighbourhood has been invaded by things from Hell and a small economy has built up in the aftermath: people desperate to find loved ones, mementos, etc left behind in the neighbourhood pay wily children to guide them through the Hellish urban space, where Surgeons, tall shadowy figures who create walls of human flesh, roam, and gaping maws of teeth and skin breathe from the centre of buildings. The last story, "The Butchers Table" might be described as an R-rated

    : a group of Satanists employ a pirate ship to take them to the borders of Hell, where they will Feast on a human being and summon the Dark Lord himself. Hot on their tail are a quartet of hungry, mindless angels who can possess anything, even if the possession in turn destroys the physical body of the host. However, not all the human characters have the same goal; there are competing organizations of Satanists with different plans, a hired bodyguard with ambitions, and a gay Captain in search of his lover left behind in Hell the last time they were there. It all culminates in some of the best plotted finales I've ever read, full of blood and gore and reveals, and did I mention a kraken possessed by an angel? Ballingrud's imagination is on fire with these stories. I can't wait to follow him back into Hell. Highly recommended.

  • Tracy Robinson

    4.5 stars! This review will be up on

    on 4/9 - release day!

    Here's the full review:

    This collection contains five previously published stories and one brand new novella: “The Atlas of Hell” (2014), “The Diabolist” (2014), “Skullpocket” (2014), “The Maw” (2017), “The Visible Filth” (2015), and “The Butcher’s Table” (2019). Note: prior to reading this collection, I hadn’t previously read any of these pieces.

    “The Atlas of Hell”

    Jack is just a sweet used book seller who used to dea

    4.5 stars! This review will be up on

    on 4/9 - release day!

    Here's the full review:

    This collection contains five previously published stories and one brand new novella: “The Atlas of Hell” (2014), “The Diabolist” (2014), “Skullpocket” (2014), “The Maw” (2017), “The Visible Filth” (2015), and “The Butcher’s Table” (2019). Note: prior to reading this collection, I hadn’t previously read any of these pieces.

    “The Atlas of Hell”

    Jack is just a sweet used book seller who used to deal with some unsavory characters…or is he? This story is so much fun – Jack is roped into helping out some thugs “just one more time” as they search for the atlas of Hell. Don’t worry, that isn’t a spoiler, I’m always quite careful. I really enjoyed this one; a sense of adventure combines with hellish terrors, tentacles, and plenty of deception and gore. It left me hurrying to turn the page to see what else Ballingrud had in store for me.

    “The Diabolist”

    After this one, I really started to see the thread Ballingrud uses to weave these stories into a comprehensive collection. This time we hear the story from an unlikely narrator. Who this is is revealed early on, but I won’t tell you here…this is a fun discovery to make. I really enjoyed this one, I liked “Atlas” a little better, but again I found myself tearing through to the next one.

    “Skullpocket”

    Oh my goodness – when I finished this one I KNEW I had found one of my favorites. It is bizarre, unique, and just a beautiful story. This one deals with ghouls who have their own “city” and annual fair; the tale deals with explaining how things came to be and where they might go from here. This one? I’d read an entire novel or novel series built around this world. Loved every piece of it.

    “The Maw”

    This is a quiet tale of love and loss in a world gone to Hell. Literally. One of the shortest tales, it still packs a punch and is a strong middle to the collection. Sometimes in collections I find the stories kind of lag in the middle, not so here. Ballingrud also cements his ability to write as if one is experiencing his story on the big screen. No horrific detail is spared and he truly is able to build entire worlds in just a few pages. Definitely tugged at my heart strings.

    “The Visible Filth”

    Ohhhhh. This one. This one is right up there with “Skullpocket” for me. A more realistic world, to be certain, wonderful characters, and a premise that is at once familiar yet completely fresh. Will is just a bartender who wants to live his life in series of unplanned moments – just a laid back guy. He reminded me of some of the people I hung with in my own college years. Things go down in the bar one night and he ends up with a cell phone that is not his own. A cell phone he REALLY should’ve left alone. I’ll leave it at that. This story is also being developed for film; I am curious to see how they will interpret the nuances of the story.

    “The Butcher’s Table”

    As noted above, this novella is previously unpublished. It takes place years ago in a time of pirates and darkness. Of the six, I didn’t connect with this one as much. This is definitely just down to personal taste – the writing is still beautiful, the premise unique, and the characters are developed. One of my favorite parts of this one was the content – meaning Ballingrud goes dark here – darker (I think) than any of the others in the collection.

    All of these stories deal with, in some way, the veil or border between this reality and Hell, as noted in the title. But it’s more than just throwing together some stories about hellish things and travelling, the author uses similar themes, some intriguing “easter eggs”, if you will, throughout almost every story. In fact, the last story (and a few others) do this quite well and I thoroughly enjoy the elegant way in which these discoveries are presented.

    Looking for a few gripping tales to enjoy this spring and summer? This one fits the bill if you like your horror smooth, visceral, and altogether hellish.

  • Joe Quenell

    Nathan Ballingrud is one of my favorite short story writers. North American Lake Monsters knocked me on my head with its “Raymond Carver meets existential horror” approach, and to this day probably remains my favorite single-author collection of horror fiction. “Wounds” had a lot to live up to. I’m so pleased that it’s every bit as good as its predecessor.

    “Wounds” consists of 6 stories, all varying stylistically and thematically. There is much more of a pulp horror feel compared to some of Ball

    Nathan Ballingrud is one of my favorite short story writers. North American Lake Monsters knocked me on my head with its “Raymond Carver meets existential horror” approach, and to this day probably remains my favorite single-author collection of horror fiction. “Wounds” had a lot to live up to. I’m so pleased that it’s every bit as good as its predecessor.

    “Wounds” consists of 6 stories, all varying stylistically and thematically. There is much more of a pulp horror feel compared to some of Ballingrud’s prior work—some of the stories wouldn’t feel out of place in back issues of EC Comics. The horror imagery is cranked to 11, and the violence is sometimes over-the-top. But the humanity and heartbreak of NALM is still present in these stories. Every story left me feeling emotionally winded by the end. I commend Ballingrud for keeping this collection to 6 long stories; this is a prime example of quality over quantity. It’s hard for me to pick a favorite story, as I immensely enjoyed all of them. But the updated version of The Visible Filth, The Atlas of Hell, and The Maw were all standouts to me.

    This collection was gorgeous and I can’t read to read whatever comes next from Nathan Ballingrud.

  • Adam Nevill

    Been looking forward to this book from the moment I finished the last Nathan Ballingrud collection, a few years back. And I read my copy of 'Wounds' right after the book arrived. One evening and the following morning was all it took and I didn't want the stories to end.

    As with Nathan's first collection, I couldn't leave this one alone. Genuinely entertaining horror containing all of the dread and hideous aesthetics of the best in the field.

    The final novella - 'The Butcher's Table' - is new to th

    Been looking forward to this book from the moment I finished the last Nathan Ballingrud collection, a few years back. And I read my copy of 'Wounds' right after the book arrived. One evening and the following morning was all it took and I didn't want the stories to end.

    As with Nathan's first collection, I couldn't leave this one alone. Genuinely entertaining horror containing all of the dread and hideous aesthetics of the best in the field.

    The final novella - 'The Butcher's Table' - is new to this collection and a work of the imagination that gave me genuine awe, bringing Conrad, Tolkien and early Barker to my mind. I'm still thinking about the portrayal of hell that has the epic feel of the classic depictions, the hells of Milton and Dante. A story worth twice the price of the hardback alone.

    Get some.

  • Sam

    Nathan Ballingrud's debut collection

    was one of the best things I read in 2014. I was surprised that a first collection would be so polished and confident but there is no denying it - Ballingrud's writing is something special.

    His second collection,

    , more than lives up to the high standards set by NALM. Six lengthy stories, consisting of five reprints from anthologies and one original to the collection. I had only read two of the five reprints previously, and u

    Nathan Ballingrud's debut collection

    was one of the best things I read in 2014. I was surprised that a first collection would be so polished and confident but there is no denying it - Ballingrud's writing is something special.

    His second collection,

    , more than lives up to the high standards set by NALM. Six lengthy stories, consisting of five reprints from anthologies and one original to the collection. I had only read two of the five reprints previously, and unless you are a weird fiction hound of the first order, I doubt you have read them all either. I loved and greatly enjoyed them all, even the two I had already read.

    My favorite story, though, is the one original. "The Butcher's Table" is full of intrigue and adventure, pirates and demons, love and hate. It was a ton of fun with an unexpected poignancy that made my eyes a little leaky. Gothic action horror at its finest.

    Ballingrud takes his time writing his stories, and I'm glad he does. I hope we don't have to wait another six years for his next collection, but if we do, I have no doubt it will be worth every second.

  • Tim

    There are two unifying themes throughout the six stories in the spellbinding collection. The first should be obvious from the title: Hell. All of these stories in some way deal with a person having a hellish encounter. Sometimes this involves demons, other times it’s a little less obvious. What makes it fascinating thought is that while each story works well on an individual basis, they create a something of a tapestry when viewed together, creating something like a mythology of Hell. Little thi

    There are two unifying themes throughout the six stories in the spellbinding collection. The first should be obvious from the title: Hell. All of these stories in some way deal with a person having a hellish encounter. Sometimes this involves demons, other times it’s a little less obvious. What makes it fascinating thought is that while each story works well on an individual basis, they create a something of a tapestry when viewed together, creating something like a mythology of Hell. Little things mentioned in one story, are brought back in another, or the origin of an item shown in one story is explained in another. It’s fascinating, and makes the collection better that each individual story would be.

    The second theme is far less obvious from plot descriptions, but it’s love. Each of these, in a very twisted fashion, is a love story. As one of our narrators explains, hell’s favorite emotion is love, as people will go to such great lengths for it. This theme is easily the most terrifying aspect of the book, because it adds to the hints of Hell’s true nature and adds an easily relatable aspect to the incomprehensible.

    As I try to do with all short story collections I review, I will do a brief mini-review for each story as well as a rating.

    The Atlas of Hell – This one is a very creative noir/horror combo that feels like something Clive Barker would have written. It focuses on a rare book dealer who is stuck working for some mobsters who are looking for the Atlas of the title, after a small time crook starts making a huge profit by selling artifacts from Hell. It's a story with some disturbing imagery, but really succeeded in how unique some of its ideas were presented (the atlas itself is truly unique). 4/5 stars

    The Diabolist – This one is... different. It takes a rather strange narration route, in that it is a first person narrator, but the narrator is speaking to the reader the entire time as if they are a specific character in the story. It's not as good as the first story, but again I'm impressed with the ideas at play here. It focuses on a young girl whose father dies and when she explores his basement lab, she finds that he summoned an imp from the “Love Mills” of Hell. 3/5 stars

    Skullpocket – I loved this story, but I imagine it will be easily the most hit or miss story for readers in the collection. It’s written in a simpler style than the previous stories, trying to imitate an almost Young Adult reading level. It focuses on fourteen children who are invited to a ghoul’s home where he will be throwing a festival. There, one of his servants tells the children how this yearly festival began so many years before. The story is child friendly at first, making it shocking after the previous two tales, but then the narration will interject a few comments that take away from that child friendliness, making it a bit of a mood whiplash dissection of YA stories. 4.5/5 stars

    The Maw – While I had enjoyed every story prior to this, The Maw was the first one that genuinely creeped me out. This one has some truly disturbing imagery and some shocking scenes. It reminds me somewhat of a sci-fi novel I read years ago called “

    .” Both stories involves people who go into a dangerous territory that few can comprehend, to pull out items of value. In this case though it is homeless children, who go into a demon-infested city, trying to find items the refugees left behind. The imagery is terrifying and the idea that the demons never try to leave their territory, just build upon it only adds to the horror as you read on. This one could have been a five star read, but I was a little disappointed by the ending. 4/5 stars.

    The Visible Filth – After The Maw reminded me that yes, this was a horror collection intended to scare the reader, The Visible Filth pretty much still sucker punched me, and then kicked me when I was down. This one is an EXTREMELY disturbing story about a bartender who one night finds a cellphone in his bar after a fight. He begins receiving strange messages on the phone from someone who claims there is “something there" with him and sends him pictures of pieces falling out of him. As he begins looking through the phone, he finds a series of pictures and videos… and I will not spoil a thing that happens from there. This one is shocking and brilliantly plotted. Some of these stories ended a touch on the abrupt side, or left me with questions… this one is damn near perfect. 5/5 stars

    The Butchers Table – The final is also the longest tale, at over 100 pages. Unlike the previous stories, which all took place in modern day, this one feels like something of an R rated Pirates of the Caribbean. It follows a young Satanist, in love with the daughter of a cannibal priest, and how they intend to journey to Hell on a pirate ship and be married on its shores… the story is as batshit crazy as it sounds and is very enjoyable. The visuals of Hell presented in this story are stunning, and some of the landscape described strangely beautiful (I particularly liked the mountain/cave which is the corpse of an angel, with wounds in the chest forming the mouth of the cave). It also features one of the most disturbing creatures presented in these stories with the Carrion Angels. Of them I will say no more. A solid 4/5 stars

    As you can see from my descriptions, most of the stories are rated highly and fairly close together. They are all consistently entertaining and as I mentioned before, they work together as a whole in a way that improves upon the entire work. I give this one a recommendation to all horror fans and a solid 4/5 stars.

    But for those curious, I’ll close with a ranking of the stories from best to worst (in my opinion):

    The Visible Filth

    Skullpocket

    The Atlas of Hell

    The Butcher’s Table

    The Maw

    The Diabolist

  • Karl

    Contents:

    001 - "The Atlas Of Hell" (2014)

    030 - The Diabolist" (2014)

    049 - "Skullpocket" (2014)

    089 - "The Maw" (2017"

    108 - "The Visible Filth" (2015)

    178 - "The Butchers Table" (original to this collection)

    277 - Acknowledgments

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