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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.
A writer - I think that says it all.