“Water station nine. Hydration, raisins, and knives, knives, knives. Knives for slashing, slicing and cutting, for gutting and jabbing, sticking and skewering — for stabbing in the back. The attendant eyes my blood-spattered arm approvingly.
I snatch up another blade. And another.” (Boiteau, Marathon Girl)
Daniel Soule’s In Tooth & Claw (Rotten Row Publishing), an anthology of surreal and supernatural horror stories, begins with the novelette, Plight of the Valkyrie, the story of a soul-reaping guild that seeks out a empathic, medically skilled serial killer for recruitment. The premise is fascinating, however, the deployment of a extremely lengthy monologue midway into the story concerning the purpose of the spectral guild to which the protagonist (Mortimer) belongs both saps the story of its tension and, at the same time, creates a build-up without a pay-off. That the guild angle is central to the story and also the very thing which removes the unsettling atmosphere the story generates in its impressively moody introduction suggests that the story might have been more effective without recourse to supernaturalism, as Val’s murderous medical proclivities proved sufficiently intriguing so as to have been able to carry the tale in its entirety, should the author have so-desired.
The next story—The Breed—is one of the best in the collection. The tale centers on a number of paratroopers from Nevada who are sent to the Middle East to liquidate a number of Farsi-speaking and thus, presumably Persian, terrorists at the behest of the US military. Of course, given the title, one can assume the novel angle: The soldiers are werewolves, born out of a secret nazi experiment that was coopted by the US government. Despite deploying a premise reminiscent of David Brückner’s Iron Wolf, the narrative nevers falls to schlocky mediocrity, firstly, owing to the deftness and three-dimensionality with which the paratroopers are detailed, secondarily because of the competence of the prose and the structure of the story, and thirdly because the narrative threads are drawn together with a seriousness and authenticity typically absent from the kind of exploitation and shock-horror film it brings to mind. The 1987 film Predator is mentioned in the story’s opening and presents itself as a good point of comparison, as The Breed is as different from Iron Wolf as the beginning of Predator is from its own middle and end.
To Kill A Quisquilia (a title I first erroneously read as ‘To Kill A Quesadilla’) concerns a young woman’s death and a supernaturally gifted boy’s contention with a demon (the titular ‘quisquilia’) disguised as a garbage truck (which, as far as disguises go, is quite original). The tale provides a tonal break from the two proceeding tales, as it begins as a grim mystery and swiftly develops into a jaunty, macabre comedy. A welcome bit of levity to break the tension of the preceding tales.
Next is The Switch, a psychologically introspective murder mystery. Its interesting in that the mystery lies not in who the killer is, but in why the killer did what she did (the reveal is quite gripping, so I shant spoil it).
After that is The Breed: The Last Watch, a continuation of The Breed’s mythos. It fails to match up to the original, chiefly because of its clumsy structure, as the reader is constantly jostled between numerous underdeveloped characters which are scattered throughout different time-periods. The problem with the story is not that there are time-jumps, but rather that one has no idea what is going on as a consequence thereof.
Next up, Only Some Things, the story of a deformed man waiting at a bus stop. Though emotionally evocative, it feels unfinished, namely because it ends so abruptly. As a sketch for a longer work, however, its thoroughly intriguing.
Next is Witchopper, my personal favorite in the collection, which tells the tale of a father and son who set out to investigate the veracity of a local urban legend. Unlike, The Breed: The Last Watch, the time-jumps are very deftly deployed such that never once did I have to re-read a line or skim back up to the preceding page in a attempt to understand what was going on. It also features several scenes of impressively atmospheric tension.
Concluding the anthology is The Lostling, which, much like Only Some Things, is a story about which little can be said, as it also feels underdeveloped. There is no middle or end, but only the introduction of a introduction. That being said, it is also one of the most ambient and haunting of all the pieces.
In Tooth & Claw is a thoroughly mixed-bag, but never a boring one.
My thanks to Mr. Daniel Soule for providing me with a early copy of the anthology.
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Editor’s note: Flash/microfiction length pieces which forms part of a continuous series that goes beyond the length of a flash fiction will be included either under the SHORT STORIES or NOVELLAS & NOVELS sections, depending on the length of the series in totality; they will not be included in the flash section from here on out given that they are only a portion of the whole story and not a true flash/microfiction unto themselves.
Richa Sharma of iScriblr published the appropriately scribbly short fiction fragments, Fahrenheit 451 and Million Dollar Baby as part of a literary challenge to create a story in only three lines. In my opinion, she did a sterling job of it. If you’re a new fiction writer looking for practice, look up her form and try your hand.
“We’ve got 24 hours before they burn them all down! Hurry up!”
The literary journal, Gone Lawn published Empire of Light by the talented and charming Melissa Goode. The short piece is brisk and uplifting as her prose.
“We are a blip in time and space, nothing compared with matter and history, but that does not diminish a single thing about us.”
“I remembered the axolotl. Some creatures aren’t meant to grow up.”
Ramya Tantry of Miles Before I Go To Sleep… recently published Finish The Story: The Art Student. As the name implies, Ms. Tantry’s story is as-yet incomplete; the point of the post is to see how other fiction writer’s build off of her existing microfiction. Its a pretty fascinating tale so far (and getting fairly lengthy so I suppose I could have also placed this in ‘short stories’) concerning art and magic, a burned man, Dante’s Inferno and a pact with a ‘crossroads demon.’ Some writers have already made flash contributions, including circular regular, The Dark Netizen. Go check it out and – if you’re a fiction author – consider trying your hand.
The man removed all his clothes. It was clear that the melted skin was pretty much all over and not a hair grew out of it. Standing on the platform his head brushed the ceiling tiles.
Amy couldn’t resist asking him “Your skin, were you born like that or….” She couldn’t finish the question, but he answered anyway, it’s what most people asked him.
“No, I was a firefighter, at 9/11. I was caught in a fireball.” He could say it now, seventeen years later, without breaking down.
Speaking of The Dark Netizen, he’s been busy with some poetry as well as the moody flash fiction tale, Another Dark Day.
“This fog can be wiped off with a quick sweep of my hand. I wish removing the clouds in my life was as easy.”
Avani Singh of Blogggedit, who we covered in our last installment, made good on her promise to deliver consecutive slices of horror literature with the final installments of her memorably titled, ‘Weirdo Elevator’ series. Below we’ve provided the series in its entirety:
From Burning House Press, Wisconsin by songstress, Sam Lou Talbot, whose fleeting, fragmented narrative is compelling but a little too scattered. Whilst beautifully written I wonder if it might have worked better as a song with the music filling in the narrative gaps in the story. Also from Burning House, Bomb Nostalgic by Mauricio Figueiras; a tale of Hollywood-backed filming of nuclear bomb tests in the wastelands of Nevada. Smacks of Don Delillo.
“His bronchial and alveolar tubes have been replaced with an expanding nuclear mushroom that eats up the entire thoracic cavity.”
From Terror House Magazine, The Manipulators by Jake Belck whose prose reminds me strongly of a less manic Bret Easton Ellis. A tale with many lessons for those with the eyes to see and the best of the week.
“See ya around,” were the last words to his wife of seven years before Leo cut the call.
“This is the inner workings side of the zoo. We’re on our way to see the Elephant Lord.”
NOVELLAS & NOVELS
Seen a promo for a teen urban-fantasy romance novel titled, Imminence: Book 2, by Kat Stiles. Now, I’m not knocking the content of the book, I haven’t read it – seems to be quite good if the plethora of 5 star reviews are anything to go by – but the cover gave me a hearty laugh.
Neha Sharma of Literary Lemonades published, The Damsel In Distress, an apt criticism of the eponymous trope. It bares noting, however, that though her criticism is spot-on, the trend in fiction, literature, film and TV seems to be consistently away from the-damsel-in-distress and more towards The Mary Sue (any female lead who is good at everything to an absurdist degree and typically displays masculine traits). Ms. Sharma delineates the trope and breaks it down further into three sub-categories.
Bushy-haired, bespectacled (optional) shy girl who prefers books over male attention, only to transform later into a gorgeous diva for the hero, who understandably becomes the first ever man in her life.
A smokin’ hot girl from an academic background. She is unaware of her good looks and would finally make the hero fall in ‘true love’ for the first time.
An introvert girl who has clearly suffered some trauma in the past and she cannot trust anyone anymore. She finally meets our jolly-good hero who saves the day.
My summation is that both the mary-sue and damsel-in-distress tropes (when used a a focal point for a character) are around equally efficient at generating unbelievable and fairly boring fictional persons. Now, as ever, 3D characters are key.
STORGY landed an interview with James Frey (who wrote I Am Number Four with Jobie Hughes under the pseudonym Pittacus Lore) that delved into bibliophilia, literary criticism, bad press coverage and what is most important to a fiction author.
Q: “Do you think that honestly, that you sold out at some point?”
FREY: “I don’t know right? I actually had a tonne of fun doing Pittacus Lore and doing End Game. In some ways I don’t think it’s a sell out because it’s the least likely thing anyone ever expected me to do-“
Lastly, gnOme published the aesthetically engorged NEMO by X. Looks promising.
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