A father drives into the desert with his young son, a small family on an exciting road trip to any police officer or petrol station attendant that looks their way. But this father isn’t the pleasant soul he acts for strangers. And it’s not suitcases weighing down the back of his sedan.
Young traveller Kai has spent years in search of salvation, a cure for his debilitating curse. When he discovers the cleansing Bright Water and is taken in by the kind priests who keep it, blessings soon become blights as Kai sinks in his crushing need for purity, and discovers the shattering truth behind his curse.
Journalism student Christine enters a tavern to conduct an interview with self-proclaimed wizard singer Darren Brown. Her goal: to unearth Darren’s hidden truths. Her obstacles: his annoying fans, and Darren himself. Her benefactor: a puzzling woman who will pay well to know why Darren fled their town when he heard an extraordinary young man from a temple far away had vanished.
Dead Birds is a good, fast read that gets your mind churning and keeps your fingers flipping pages. Admittedly, some flips of mine were backwards to make sure I hadn’t missed anything important, but that was mainly my fault for skimming ahead, keen to follow the progress of protagonist Hollister, a man living on the streets.
Chad Inglis wastes no space in this thoughtful yet abrupt short story, describing a mutated, unsettlingly familiar world populated by strange, hurting people, some of whom exhibit even odder behaviours. In response to one such behaviour, the serial beheading of pigeons, Hollister breaks through a severe case of “not caring” (an ailment most are afflicted with), and investigates. Hollister encounters kindness in his dark urban world, and ever-stranger acquaintances on his short quest. Dead Birds culminates in an event so unexpected and written so matter-of-factly that I had to read the sentence several times to be sure it had happened.
A story about a simple witness to the world’s madness maintaining his goodness in the face of (what on the surface seems to be) pointless evil and hopelessness, I found Dead Birds to be quite intelligent and well-written, altogether a satisfying read.
Beverly loves and trusts uncommunicative, artistic Carl, missing him terribly when he fails to visit. When she begins to waste away, it is him and only him she thinks of, needing him. And then he comes. But however idyllic a chick-flick the circumstances seem to create, this nicely-flowing short story had me gnawing at my fingernails. Flinching at symptoms described with succinct gore. Eyes widening in slow realisation of Carl’s absolute betrayal. Though at its core a story of love, this is no soppy romance. Mary Ann Mitchell’s The Hyacinth Girl tells a slowly creeping tale of intimacy gone horribly wrong in the worst sense.
I have not read the award-winning novel which was inspired by this short story - I plan to at one point now, though - so can write uninfluenced by any previous opinions on the story concept. And, my uninfluenced opinion is that this concept is enthralling. Repellent - as all good horror concepts should be - but so wonderfully thought-provoking and novel. Mitchell has created a highly-relatable protagonist in Beverly, and Carl is so intriguing and intense. Not quite evil but far from good, this selfish man, driven by fear, comes across as neither selfish nor cowardly in demeanour. This makes him all the more threatening, and his confessions all the more unbelievable. My main critique of the writing is - and this, I’m sure, is a matter of opinion - that occasionally the dialogue seems a touch staged, not quite realistic.
I was very much drawn into The Hyacinth Girl, an example of my favourite type of horror - subtle and disarming. By the time I read the final words I almost felt ill, stomach unsettled and head gone fuzzy. And this is without buckets of blood. It was the notion, the story concept, that got to me. I am sure, in the dark and silence of pre-sleep, my thoughts will stray to Carl and his perfect drawings for days to come.
After reading only the first paragraph, I was primed to like Sam Seudo’s The Gatekeeper. The author’s clear, simple, and honest style appealed to me immediately, as did the protagonist Matteo. Other characters, Gino and Tom, won me over as well with their idiosyncratic personality traits and revealing dialogue – this author has created a cast of immensely likable characters using very few words.
This short story revolves around an unpaid exorcism and the moral dilemma of Matteo, who doesn’t want to get involved with Gino and his old life even when murder has been committed. This story introduces two faiths, both of which Matteo has left yet employs to do his job. I admit, I had to read some of the explanations of the faiths a few times to make sure I understood, though the important terms being italicised assisted greatly. I giggled at the comfortable dissonance between Matteo and his disbelieving assistant, and enjoyed the description of the exorcism, explaining step-by-step how the protagonist explored a sea of souls and found that which was causing the haunting. Also, I found Matteo’s shying away from sexual terms, even in his own mind, to be very endearing.
If I’m to be picky, I did stumble across a homophone-related error, but found to my surprise that I – I, who have stopped reading books in the past due to grammar issues – didn’t care. The rest of the story was clean. And I was enjoying it far too much to stop.
The use of both present tense and the first person generally makes for a fast-paced, reader-involved literary experience, and The Gatekeeper is no exception. Realistic despite a paranormal context and boasting this lovely, haunted-yet-caring protagonist, this story would definitely be receiving four-and-a-half stars if I could give half stars here. With leeway left for more, I very much hope the author continues this clever, addictive story.
Life controlled by his unbearable need to pick up and hoard coins, Emerson Cartwright discovers the origin of his fixation and fights to overcome it, however dire the cost. A Slave To The Coin is a well-written, succinct, and tense story that captures well the desperation and struggles of a man unwillingly obsessed.
Debra Dunbar has created a pitiable yet quite likable protagonist in rich businessman Emerson. Suffering due to another’s choices, I wanted him to succeed, making the story’s ending all that more gripping. I particularly liked the recurring character of the unsettling beggar man, his seemingly harmless requests for spare change taunting and tormenting Emerson.
Quick to read and rather dark, this short story gives a bit of a harsh reminder of how unfair and cruel reality can be, even when reality is somewhat fantastic in nature.