McMara’s Rock (written by Stephen Hargadon, illustrated by Ben Baldwin)
This novelette follows the journeys of brothers Michael and Jerome McMara as they hurtle inexorably toward self destruction. Set against a remote Irish backdrop, it begins with a myth of how the titular rock became split. The myth adds a sprinkling of the supernatural and also introduces conflict between friendly rivals (e.g., a pair of brothers). PS: the rock just happens to be on the property of the McMara family home.
Hargadon creates two completely different characters in the brothers, which only highlights their individual but seemingly synchronized paths to ruin. We spend more time with Michael, and a scene of animal cruelty as he truly begins his descent in to madness was so graphic that my jaw dropped and I squirmed as I read it. It was great! (Not the animal cruelty itself, just that it was so well written).
The pacing quickens for the gruesome ending, which was both to be expected and a surprise for me. I think why is because the way the character of Michael is fleshed out for most of the story made kind of an eccentric man who found all he needed inside his home. But we find in the end that was not the case.
A Home In The Sky (written by Lisa Tuttle, illustrated by Richard Wagner)
Being a Vancouverite, the housing struggle is real for me. This helped me empathize with Cara, whose goal is to own a home. Her experience with a tiny house, apparently a gimmick by the real estate developers, is just the right amount of weird and unsettling. We get enough here to understand how consuming Cara’s goal is, and how much she wants to move out of her parent’s place for the second time. The story is a case of be careful what you wish for, which leaves me a little bitter knowing full well that I will probably never own property 🙂
Pigskin (written by David Hartley)
By far the oddest story in this issue, Hartley’s almost non-chalant writing style takes some edge off the depressing subject matter. I believe this is the first story I have read from this author so I cannot speak to his overall style, but the one he uses for Pigskin works. Perhaps it’s an allegory about how the whole planet needs to work together for a new beginning, perhaps it’s just an exercise in weird fiction, and it’s definitely a sombre read. My favourite part of this story was how base and gross it felt. I wanted to take a shower after reading it. I look forward to more from David Hartley.
Something Deadly, Something Dark (written by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam)
Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam is quickly becoming one of my favourite authors. Something Deadly, Something Dark is an original take on a sort of post apocalyptic world in which the Land of the Dead has overtaken some of our known world, known from inside the Land of the Dead as Out There. A group of musicians takes a trip in to the Land of the Dead to do a show, safe from being trapped there thanks to twice-daily injections. Through the experiences of the characters we learn that death can actually be fertile.
This story is packed full of descriptive details that build a world I want to read more about. The characters are varied and dynamic, and I think we could all see ourselves in the main character as she makes her decision at the end of the story.
Avery’s novelette follows Tom as he tries to regain some happiness as his life crumbles. He is separated from his family and his best friend has just died. At his friend’s home he finds contact information for a company called ISO (In Search Of). He calls and is enticed by what is promised on the other end. After a while it becomes apparent that his own happiness, and that of others, cannot be manufactured. Tom chooses a life of action in the end, a decision I cheered him for.
This story touches on quite a few big ideas such as free will, happiness and our short-sighted selfish natures. I enjoyed the philosophical slant to the story. The ending for me is a reflection of how so few of us care that our happiness is manufactured, obtained from the same people who will quickly destroy it to save themselves. A horror story with a message that true happiness is created within!?
Vaseline Footprints (written by Jeff Bowles)
This story plays on the senses to create a truly memorable read. The narrator talks the readers through his day to day, but from the first sentence we discover that this is no ordinary life. His actions and thoughts are bizarre and off-putting, what drives him not the most relatable to be sure. I admit I was disgusted by this story, and happily so. It was a second visceral bookend to this issue.