Whispered Echoes by Paul F. Olson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This collection was received free in return for an honest review from Crystal Lake Publishing.
When a collection of stories is reissued, you know it must be regarded as special by the publishers, that it is still ‘valid’ in some way. Even though this book included a brand new novella, I was still slightly sceptical, thinking that perhaps the stories might seem dated, jaded. Would stories published in the late 80s still hold up today?
Firstly, I must admit I have never read Paul F. Olson’s stories before so I was not quite sure what to expect but I did read the stories in the order printed as suggested by the introduction which indicated a clear progression in the quality and depth of writing – something with which I must concur.
The early stories were entertaining, dark happenings in small towns very much in the mould of Stephen King but without as many of the little details he throws in to set the scene so perfectly. However, these touches of increasing atmosphere and tone began to come through stronger for me from Through the Storm onwards.
Before this though is The Visitor. An unsettled autumn sees the return of a yearly visitor and strange happenings occur—very much ‘something wicked this way comes’. Attempts to encourage his leaving or prevent his returning fail and nothing, nothing can be done to change it. This inability to prevent disaster, to ward off the darkness that is out there continues in From a Dreamless Sleep Awakened, The Forever Bird, Homecoming and They came from the Suburbs. Each story finishes in such a way that the reader has to fill in the gaps … although they are very clearly signposted.
Then there’s the ‘something horrible in the cellar’ trope of Through the Storm. The imagery of nature’s fury as the backdrop for the escalating conflict between Andy and his great aunt ratchets up the tension in this tale; the build-up mirroring the seething anger and resentment in the boy until he erupts … with such disastrous consequences. The More Things Change brings a surreal, Daliesque quality to an horrific situation which results in paranoia and ignorance and a witch hunt. Ghosts, curses, facing fears and confronting the past are all covered in Guides, Getting Back, Faith and Henry Gustafson and Down the Valley Wild.
Finally you are left with the meatier, and newest, offering from Olson, Bloodybones. It wrong-footed me straight away, at least for the first few pages, and then the perspective shifts as David Mahon describes his hunt for Amy, his missing girlfriend and you realise the tale began as a story within a story. Even though time has passed and his girlfriend is assumed dead, he still searches the area of her disappearance and, together with her sister, eventually discovers the old story of Bloodybones and past murders, of a ghost who is no longer resting. Bloodybones is the standout story for me here. Olson’s imagery and pacing was spot on and the ending was much more satisfying than those earlier stories.
Whispering Echoes is certainly an entertaining collection and a worthwhile read with carefully crafted stories. All shades of darkness are represented here.
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For those of you who do not know, The Infernal Clock (originating as an anthology which I co-edited with David Shakes), is in the process of evolving into a brand in its own right. Both of us hope to develop it in such a way that we can provide a platform for horror writers to develop their own writing and get wider exposure - something that is very difficult in the publishing industry, as well as to further our own writing careers.
Following the publication of The Infernal Clock we announced the Infernal Flash Competition, challenging writers to create a 500 word (max) horror story based on the prompt to be found here.
This week we are delighted to announce that Mark A Morris is our Fourth Place winner.
Please drop by The Infernal Clock and read his story. If you want to find out more about him, check out his website The Assorted Writings of Mark A Morris and look for him on Facebook where he is a frequent poster of quality flash fiction.
My Microcosms 74 flash entry. Joint Community Pick and HM from the Judge. Not bad when trying to combine my elements from the spinner which threw Pegasus, Thule and horror at me. If you like writing flash, why not join in? Microcosms is every Friday and offers the chance not only of being selected by the Judge but also by the community.
Weary eyes followed the boy’s directions. A mass of white slowly loomed into focus, stark against the ink of night. The crew shrugged their shoulders and turned away. It was just another iceberg.
Only the Captain paid any attention. He had not quite given up. Slowly the ship drifted towards the frozen mound, the temperature dropping so that by the time they reached the hostile shoreline frost dusted his men, transformed them into ghosts.
The mysterious island of the northern wastes. “Prepare to go ashore,” he ordered.
“But Captain, the stories …”
He looked sadly at his men, his ghosts. “We have no choice. No food, little water. Here—we might have a chance.” Then he looked back at the ocean, the never-ending emptiness and they saw it with him.
It was as bleak as expected, ice and barren rock, but they found an easy path leading them inland. Soon snow started to fall, obscured their vision. The group huddled together as the flurry became a blizzard.
“Did you see it?”
The Captain turned.
“A horse,” said the man, pointing. “I saw a horse!”
The Captain looked in the same direction. Could see a shape that might be a horse, might not. Might be false hope.
“A horse, Captain!” Others were pointing now and they could all clearly see the creature, whiter than anything they had ever seen before. “It must come from somewhere.”
Hope sparked dead eyes. Until the horse stretched out impossible wings.
“Pegasus,” said the crew, voices awed.
“We can never follow him,” said one sailor. “He belongs to the spirit world.”
But the Captain smiled. That was no longer a problem. The storm had dropped and the horse led them on. It left no mark on the snow. And they left no footprints.
... sort of. I've had a bit of a declutter here at My Playground. When it's a wet Bank Holiday, thoughts usually turn to housekeeping of some sort and I thought it was about time to blew the cobwebs away from this site.
Some things have gone, some remain but in particular you might notice a Reviews page. A recent step for me was to become part of Crystal Lake Publishing's advance reader group. They send an email asking if I'm interested in a book and I say yay or nay. I've been lucky in that the two they've sent me so far, second to be posted in June, have been good - as far as I'm concerned. I know others may disagree. If I don't like something, I will say. I reviewed a Grey Matter Press book recently, Mister White and only gave it 3 stars which made me feel bad, even though 3 means I liked it! Others have rated it much higher. But reading is subjective and publishers will be prepared for this, just as much as writers have to be. The Mister White book, by the way, was one I purchased as part of my determination this year to read more from small and independent publishers.
I have put a note on my Reviews page that I will consider approaches to review books when I can. You can get in touch with me via the Contacts page or send me a message over twitter @el_Stevie.
What else have I been up to? Working behind the scenes for The Infernal Clock. This wonderful anthology - I am allowed to say that as I am biased - is available on amazon. If you would like the chance to win a print copy why not enter our Infernal Flash Competition. You still have a chance to enter your story, maximum 500 words, closing date 3/06/2017. Go here for more details and to check out the prompt. The winner also gets consideration for a slot in our next anthology and the top four will get their stories published on The Infernal Clock blog. I look forward to reading your stories.
Talking with Psychopaths and Savages: A Journey into the Evil Mind by Christopher Berry-Dee
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Thought there would be more to this than there was. Touched very lightly on a number psycopaths, giving accounts of interviews etc but throughout there were references to the author's other books and considerable references to his publisher, John Blake which felt almost like book 'product placement' which was very irritating.
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Kingdom of Fire and Darkness was my entry for last week's Microcosms flash fiction contest. The special challenge asked that you create a 'new' myth as well as incorporate the prompts. I chose the creation of the Underworld.
Kingdom of Fire and Darkness
Half-flesh, he crawled through dead tunnels. The skin of him, albino patches splintered by bone. Blind eyes bleeding tears of despair as fingers tore at rock, guided old roots of ancient trees into a mouth forever hungry. Exhausted, he collapsed and once more allowed himself to remember.
“Creatures move beneath our land,” had said the Elders as the ground opened to swallow the year’s harvest. “We need a warrior to go down into the dark, destroy those who seek to destroy us.”
Erebus had volunteered, entering the belly of the mountain with eyes wide open only to close them as he starved and found his nails picking at the meat of himself, making him lesser. His mind began to wander and his mutterings echoed along tunnels, crept out across the valley, disturbing those who had long since given him up for dead. The lands had been quiet since Erebus had gone into the below world.
But then he returned. Half-man, half-abomination he crawled out of the dark, slithered amongst villagers frozen in horror, wrenched a child from its mother’s arms, dragged it back into the tunnels from which he came. There he showed it the lakes of fire, the bodies of others, strangers he had captured, taught the child his ways.
“This is my kingdom,” he rasped. “I will let you return above but you must tell them of the fires that await them, tell them of this world of the dead, tell them to send me their madmen and murderers. If you do not, I will come for you.”
So the child, now a youth, returned to the light; told of the inferno below, spread the story of Erebus, travelled far and wide until all knew of the horrors of the Kingdom of Fire and Darkness.
This was my Runner Up entry for Microcosms weekly flash fiction competition. Elements I used: 'The Empty Room' (Burt Bacharach song) and horror genre.
A frail hand caressed the thick stone wall, felt its solid reassurance. Dim light filtered through a crack in the brick canvas, an almost accidental slit admitting only a weak jagged ray which settled on papyrus skin, illuminating the calligraphy of age. The hand moved and continued to trace its unsteady path around the perimeter of the tomb. For many years the hand had marked the passage of time in this manner, fingers trailing the white powder of mildew in never-ending rotation, dragging fear and despair in its wake. Occasionally the hand would feel cold metal break the monotony of brick, chain links heavy, weighting down weary flesh, would linger over the smoothness of iron, its curves the curtailer of a freedom long-since lost. Deformed feet allowed the hand to lead, soles immune to the soiled floor, its soft slipperiness. It was a path they had walked many times before and, until now, always in company. The voice belonging to the hand tried to sing, a weak and feeble sound compared to the strength of the screams which had once echoed around the chamber. It was a song he missed. The voice broke with frustration, let out a sob. Death had been impatient, had stolen what he had intended to give, a gift which he had been lovingly preparing for years with such exquisite tortures. The hand led the feet to the door and back out into the world leaving the room empty behind him. But it would not stay that way for long. His eyes would choose another guest and soon his hand would be caressing more than stone.
Title: Hekla's Children
Author: James Brogden
Publisher: Titan Books Ltd
Synopsis from the book: A decade ago, teacher Nathan Brookes saw four of his students walk up a hill and vanish. Only one returned - Olivia - starved, terrified, and with no memory of where she'd been. After a body is found in the same woodland where they disappeared, it is first believed to be one of the missing children, but is soon identified as a Bronze Age warrior, nothing more than an archaeological curiosity. Yet Nathan starts to have terrifying visions of the students. Then Olivia reappears, half-mad and willing to go to any lengths to return the corpse to the earth. For he is the only thing keeping a terrible evil at bay...
Review: A thoroughly enjoyable tale which I would describe as a dark fantasy rather than horror. As I read, it brought to mind the stories of Alan Garner – particularly the Weirdstone of Brisinghamen – which I had loved as a child. It took me a while to work out what it was about the book that brought this back but eventually figured it out to be the tone and atmosphere and the tantalising sense of the ‘otherworld’ in the present or only just beyond the veil. The story focuses very much on Nathan Brookes and his attempts to make sense of what happened in the past and, in a way, his redemption. I felt truly sorry for him when he was left behind in Un as Scattie took on the role of saviour. It was a bit of a pity that her character was not as rounded out as Nathan’s as her story is told as a straightforward recount. This makes her seem somewhat lacking in emotion and prevented me from engaging with her more, for example when she describes leaving her child or refers to her daughter, there is a strange distance I would not have expected. However that was the only downside (perhaps to be addressed in a future story?) and overall this was well-crafted and original escapism.
This book was received free in return for an honest review from Crystal Lake Publishing.
Initially when I looked at the cover and read the blurb I wasn’t too sure that I would like it. The cover itself would’ve put me off and the blurb which talks about a ‘perky blonde’ added to that feeling; I pretty much share Sarah Killian’s views on the type, although I doubt I would kill. BUT. Once I started to read, I was completely drawn into the book. The chatty, friendly tone of the book, of Sarah herself, meant that I could not but help warm to her. I cared about a serial killer, regardless of who her intended victims were, and the killings were actually secondary. It didn't matter that it the prospective victims were young people - and I am a parent with a horror of school violence and the mindless massacres that crop up in the US. I should care about the youngsters but in the end their possible demise faded into the background. It became all about Sarah and whether she survived the attentions of a former colleague who wanted her to join him in a new organisation set up in opposition to that which she worked for, or, if she refused, he would have killed her. A very easy read, I really enjoyed this book and look forward to further adventures with Ms Killian.
Zeroflash is a monthly competition which I have only occasionally entered - something which I really should rectify as it's a good place to exercise those old flash muscles. This particular story was my first entry here for some time, probably because they chose a genre dear to my heart ... horror, naturally.
Zeroflash 2nd Place
Mary held out her hands, palms up. Blood dripped on the floor.
“The stigmata of the damned,” said the priest. She moaned at his words, a bleeding Madonna. His tableau was coming along nicely. “Mother Mary,” continued the minister kneeling down beside her. “Mother, giver of life, but that’s not you … is it?” He nodded at the body lying next to her, still and silent. “Your only begotten son,” he said. “That too is a lie though … isn’t it? For our sins God gave his only begotten son. Would you do the same?”
She shook her head, whimpered in pain.
“No? Another lie,” he said. “You’ve done it before.”
Did she remember? Was that shameful memory buried so deep she’d forgotten? Her sin. A baby left to die. He watched carefully for that light of awareness to reach her eyes, was gratified when he saw it. Now she knew who he was, this preacher she had welcomed so unquestioningly into her home.
“But I didn’t die, did I mother? So here we are—a holy family, a trinity—remembering the message of Easter, the power of the Crucifixion.”
The empty cross he had fashioned stood ready against the wall. Hammer and nails lying at its feet. Metal already bloodied from Mary’s own martyrdom. Now it was Adam’s turn. The priest dragged him across and raised him up onto the wood, ropes holding him whilst iron pierced flesh. When he’d finished, the minister kissed his brother on the cheek. “They named me Judas,” he said, ripping the dog-collar from his neck. “Pretty apt, don’t you think?” Then he turned and walked away, leaving behind a Madonna and Son waiting for a resurrection that would not come.
A writer - I think that says it all.