Here we are, 2015! The start of a brand new year, post the season of excess and indulgence, of families and functions (both the enjoyed and the difficult).
The funny thing about the holiday season is that while it can bring us together, it can also isolate us. Often, the spirit escapes us or never has a chance. Or perhaps, as some of us do, we appreciate that time, but require a little isolation to ground and centre ourselves. So in that, we bring you a collection you can embrace.
I think Christian Chatman’s piece for our cover captures that connection between the beauty and melancholy of loneliness. In that it is pure, and awful, yet magical—a simultaneous sensation. We’re very pleased to be able to showcase his work as our cover for this edition. And please, if you think it half as incredible as we do, pop on over to his website and look at his wonderful art.
Rex is the pinnacle of the war dog breed. No other can match the powerful snap of his jaws or the destruction he wreaks on a battlefield. The lifelong journey of a loyal friend and his commander, and where their path takes them. A sci-fi with a delightful Roman Empire flavour. SY
My kind is swift to chase, swift to battle. My imperfect memory is long with longing for the fight. Gray and arthritic in the twilight of retirement from valorous service to the Empire, my hackles still bunch at the clink of metal on metal. My yawn is an expression of doom sublimated. I dream of chasing elk across the plains of my ancient ancestors. I dream of blizzards and ice fields that merge with the bitter stars. In my dreams, I always die.
I traveled far from home in my youth. Dad and I slugged it out with a whole platoon of black hats one night as we strolled across the tundra of the Utter North. Military commandos hired to assassinate us; every man and dog marked with the mark of a secret gang, scents masked in case of failure. Poor, stupid fools. Probably sent by General Aniochles who figured Dad was gunning for his job. Bet my bottom chew toy the sonofabitch made the call. He gave Dad dagger eyes whenever they chatted at court. Bastard smelled guilty to me and that’s what I knew. Well, I knew right.
I wasn’t a pup then. I wasn’t approaching my warranty date, either. My eyes glowed red with atomic radiation. My fangs gleamed in a grin that would have made a T. rex flinch, appropriately enough, because they named me, my whole series, after the terrible king extinct these many eons but unforgotten. Dad papered the walls of my kennel with color photos of dinos and wolves and exploding missiles to give me the right idea about how I should behave when he cried, “Sic ’em, Rex!”
Edging ever closer to a new horizon, after her unwilling combination with the visitors, she waits for the inevitable. Alone and afraid, unsure of what her future holds, the daughter waits. A flash of the dilemma of the end. SY
‘It’s all right,’ they told her, when it started. ‘You’re going to be okay.’
It was even possible they believed it, in the beginning. People still got sick, after all.
She wanted to believe it too, but she didn’t feel okay. She felt feverish and shivery, aching, coming back to herself sludgily with too many toxic dreams sweating out of her pores. It felt like she’d been weaponised in her sleep. Made into a time bomb, a booby trap, a layer of microscopic destruction under a ratty, stained duvet.
Reviewed by Mysti Parker
Having been somewhat unsatisfied with the creep factor in the November review book, I decided to try again for the January edition. In my hopeful search, I came across The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon. The title—quite fitting for this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere—sealed the deal. And to my delight, once I ventured into its pages, it provided the creep I wanted.
The Winter People is told from alternating timeframes between 1908 and the present day in rural West Hall, Vermont. Most of the events occur during snowy, desolate winters, under the shadow of an ominous rock formation known as The Devil’s Hand. Rather than being simple backdrops, both the setting and weather were as vivid and mysterious as the characters. This isn’t an easy thing to do, but Ms. McMahon did it well, turning this novel into a truly immersive read. Read the rest of this entry
Highly regarded by all the judges of this year’s Story Quest Short Story competition, Deryn Pittar won with a story of emerging womanhood, in an unfamiliar, post-nuclear world. It was the detailed undercurrents of resistance of the status quo and the alienating effects of religion that truly allowed this piece to shine. SY
I keep a tight grasp of mother’s hand as we hurry down the sloping passage, deeper into the mountain. My small breasts bounce and tingle. They hurt and I wish I had enough boob to wear a bra. I will soon. The walls are warm and already my heavy coat is making me hot. I want to stop and take it off but we have a train to catch.
“When will we see Dad?”
Mother stops and puts her arm around my shoulder, whispering into my ear, “Shhh. The walls are listening.”
I look around. No ears in sight. She is talking in riddles again. I look into her dark brown eyes, her Welsh heritage she tells me, and I see fresh grey hairs around her temple. Today she looks older. She kisses my cheek and smiles. The sodium lights in the passageway pick out the fine lines around her eyes. Why haven’t I notice this before? My excitement for the last month has blinded me to everyday things, but I haven’t seen my father for two years. I whisper back.
Working for an eccentric and fastidious employer can have its drawbacks, especially when the job entails maintaining an immaculate replica of earth for the governor who never leaves his train route on Mars. The detail of Tim Major’s world and the strange characters who inhabit it recommended this story to the judges and brought it in for second place. SY
At a sound at the door, Mick Votel turned from examining the beautifully constructed, but not ticking, clock on the mantelpiece.
Danielle Abresch placed her bulky white helmet on the floor. “Damned claustrophobic thing.”
She shuffled her feet to kick away clods of dust and squinted to look around the room. The wood-panelled walls and the leafy branches that overhung the single window made the interior of the cottage perpetually dim. Gaslight from the desk lamp reflected from the clocks, barometers, brass-effect trinkets and framed pictures that hung from the panelled walls.
“Hi,” Mick said. “How are the kids getting on?”
Danielle scratched at the base of her shaven scalp. “I love how you pick up a conversation as if no time’s passed in between. It’s been another year, Mick. They’re not really kids any more. Anyway. What’s new? Like I say, it’s been a while.”
While waiting for his wife to arrive at the hospital, Mr Goldberg finds himself more and more perplexed with the world around him. The goings on in the ward, in his room, are beyond the probable. That’s when he starts to lose it. SY
I dreamt of you last night. You were on the other side of a canyon and walking away from me. It scared me. I don’t want anything to separate us, in sickness or in health. We know that health cannot be valued by something as crass as money. I wish you would see death differently though, take that gamble with me.
It’s an expensive clinic I’m in, for sure; all flashing lights, touch screen surfaces and devices I haven’t seen before. You know that smell people always talk about hospitals having? That clean disinfectant one that gets in your nose even after you’ve gone home? I don’t smell it. It doesn’t smell of anything here, except fried meat. I can see you wrinkling your nose already. Oh Susan, where are you?
They wheel him in on the second day. He’s in a thin-framed wheel chair, tall and lean, perfect physique. I’m eating breakfast, the same anonymous mush they gave me three times yesterday. It tastes fine but, damn it, I don’t know what it is. He’s got a bucket of fried chicken that he’s tearing into. It smells real good to me, I know you’d hate it.
The smell pours out of the red bucket he clutches and I can almost see the grease rolling through the room. He’s made the whole place feel dirty.
Reviewed by Damien Smith
Disclaimer: I’ve followed Simon’s work for a while. For those with a hard copy of this collection, there is actually an excerpt from an old review of mine on the back cover. Far from prompting any bias from me, I had my extra-critical hat on while reading this because the first collection was such a tough act to follow.
Josiah has struggled to keep his distance from his family for a long time. But when cousin Zeke abducts Josie’s son, and the woman he loves is on his doorstep begging for his help, he is drawn back in again. A dark and supernatural tale about the dark secrets families keep and what we do to protect those we love. This work has also previously received an Honorable Mention in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest. SY
“Josie! Zeke’s taken Sammy,” Connie banged the screen door of my trailer, just in case I hadn’t heard her.
I opened the inner door and squinted out into the bright Nevada sun. My nostrils flared at her scent. I shoved the roast beef sandwich into my mouth, took a big bite and chewed.
“What do you mean he’s taken the boy?” I asked through my mouthful.
“He said he’s taking him home for his second blooding. Whatever the hell that means.” Connie fought back a sob and gave me a look that demanded an answer. She was caught on the fine edge between breaking down and blowing up.
I swallowed and paused before taking another bite. The force of the calling throbbed through me. I hadn’t stopped eating all day. My mouth watered at the sight of Connie. The Calling always enhanced my hunger, and I did my damnedest not to succumb. I tightened my fist, bread oozing between my fingers, and willed myself to take slow even breaths.