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BEHOLD! Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders by Doug Murano
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This collection was received free in return for an honest review from Crystal Lake Publishing.
The new weird has arrived. A collection of the strange and the freakish, the dark and the fantastical. Divided into Oddities, Curiosities and Wonders, this is a literary cabinet of alternative delights.
Oddities starts off with the freaks of LaRue’s Dime Museum, a frozen image of a past thought dead and buried. But is it? Wildflower, Cactus, Rose ponders the eternal question of the nature of beauty and the power of image over others, “The world is a mirror … What we see is a reflection of who we are.” The Baker of Millepoix gives himself in more ways than one to help those in his village. And then there is Clive Barker’s Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament. Dark and disturbing, it’s story of who truly wields power “We cannot believe, we men, that power will ever reside happily in the body of a woman … Not true power … The power must be in male hands.” Jacqueline has power, but does she have real control? This tale is my favourite amongst the Oddities.
Curiosities begins with Madame Painte: For Sale, a cursed ornament which wreaks destruction on those who dare to take it into their homes. It is followed by the wonderfully humorous Chivalry by Neil Gaiman. I loved this story for the sheer pragmatism of Mrs Whitaker when the Holy Grail enters her life and an Arthurian knight appears and tries to cut a deal with her for its return. She packs him off with cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches, what’s not to love? Then we plunge from the gentle humour and uplifting nature of Chivalry into the grim holiday-from-hell world of Fully Boarded. The hotel inspector doesn’t stand a chance. In Amelia’s Wake takes us back in time to Canada and the clash of old-world superstition with non-belief, a theme also developed in John F.D. Taff’s A Ware That Will Not Keep. The latter is a tragic tale of what one will do in order to survive, in this case the concentration camp, and the price that had to be paid both then and now. A heart-breaking story. Earl Pruitt’s Smoker pulls us into the world of the hive and the section closes with Hazelnuts and Yummy Mummies, a hallucinogenic trip into the past to make peace with oneself.
Too soon you find yourself coming to the end of the book and its Undefinable Wonders. The Shiny Fruit of Our Tomorrows with its train-hopping and dream-chasing, The Wakeful and a very strange garden. My favourite here, Knitter, a story of creation and destruction, of making and unmaking, scary in its far-reaching consequences for those who see the Knitter. Then it’s underground in Through Gravel, and finally Hiraeth with its elements of folklore and superstition in the tradition of the Brothers Grimm.
Special mention must go to Stephanie M. Wytovich and her poems An Exhibition of Mother and Monster and As a Guest at the Telekinetic Tea Party. The poems are placed at strategic points in the anthology perfectly linking the tales before with those to come, dovetails of darkness which should not be overlooked.
I honestly loved this anthology, the quality of writing and sheer imagination is second-to-none. Diverse and endlessly entertaining, this is story-telling at its best.
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My Runner-Up entry for Microcosms 79. The prompt was to include the line 'The rain seemed to be writing cryptic messages on my window panes.'
Life was being difficult. People would look at me oddly, speak in languages I didn’t understand, move further than they needed to when I joined their queue. Even the rain seemed to be writing cryptic messages on my window pane. Somebody was trying to tell me something. I just needed to tune-in, decode the transmission. So I listened with greater care to the babble of those around me, felt their words spike my brain, repetitive waves of command merging into something I could not ignore, something I had to share.
“Mummy, tell me a story …”
So I told her a story, a story made of the words from the world beyond. I didn’t notice her shrink from me.
“Mummy, can you draw me a picture …”
So I drew her a picture made by the words hooked onto my heart. I didn’t notice her tears watering the page.
The word was even stronger in the hospital. It was everywhere. But I never told anyone. It was my secret.
“Time for Mary to go now, Mrs Williams.”
“Can we have a minute alone?”
A smile, a nod, a closed door.
The word crawled on my tongue, itching to be released. My gift to my child. A secret to be passed from mother to daughter.
“I have a present for you, Mary.”
I pulled her tight to me, whispered my secret word into her ear. I didn’t notice when she stopped struggling.
A scream. “What did you do?”
Still the word itched. It had tasted freedom and wanted more.
“Do, nurse? Come here and I’ll tell you. Let me whisper in your ear …”
Recent times has seen the return of VERStype's regular Jigsaw Cut-up poetry challenge. The site posts two poems from which the writer selects words and phrases to create their own found poem. June's choices were Rudyard Kipling's A Charm and Angel or Demon by Victor Hugo. These are great fun to do and a real challenge as well as exposing you to poems and poets you may not have read. Why not give it a go next time? Look out for the alert via @VERStype.
Below is my response to Kipling and Hugo:
Clutch the hand of Virgil
Take thy ease in his presence
Treasure the soaring of his voice
The echoes dazzling, breathless
Spreading the loveliest reverie
To sweeten and make whole
The woe of all uncounted folk
A writer - I think that says it all.