Short Stories 365/337

“Passion, Like a Voice – That Buds” by Steve Berman from Glitterwolf: Halloween (October, 2014). Edited by Matt Cresswell.

You may question the veracity of this statement, but I assure you I am serious: I enjoyed this story. True, it’s not cheerful, but it’s not depressing either. It is that thing I come to books looking to find: a window onto another world, a different situation.

The narrator has been HIV positive for a decade. He’s not well, though it isn’t clear how much of that is due to the virus and the meds needed to stave off its effects, and how much is owed to the fact that he’s made himself a hermit. Living on disability checks, he hasn’t left his sweltering apartment or even cracked open a window in months. He has only one visitor, every Monday: the guy who delivers pre-prepared meals courtesy of the charitable outfit MANNA.

Remember the “manageable fear” and almost unbearable sexual longing we saw in the first and third stories of this issue (which each also dealt with HIV)? Here they are again. There’s an attraction between the main character and the much younger man, in large part (or entirely?) stemming from the danger of contracting or transmitting the virus. It’s fascinating to watch their dance.

As with many of this author’s works subtler elements of the motif are strewn all throughout the story. The name of the magazine the main character edited, but has neglected of late. The name he ascribes to a .gif of cells of the virus as viewed through a microscope, and on and on and on. I equate reading his work to going on the very best type of treasure hunt. [“You Google the strangest things,” my husband once remarked, as I neared the end of one story a few months back.]


In case you still aren’t convinced, here’s a snapshot of a page from an index I used to compile, of things I’d videotaped. (The number of tapes grew exponentially, until indexing them became an impossible task.)

K-6 videotape index

Remember, my mother’s friend Michael Kearns was diagnosed with the virus. He disclosed his status on Entertainment Tonight in 1991. So the latest research on folks who’d been infected for a long period of time? Heck yes, I wanted to hear that. I still do.

Short Stories 365/335

“Haunted” by Amy Shepherd from Glitterwolf: Halloween (October, 2014). Edited by Matt Cresswell.

I’ve read a few stories now in which a ghost is one of the central characters, and this is a great one. I really liked the main character, Heather, a veterinarian who is able to commune with the deceased. The ghost, Tristan, was equally intriguing. I wasn’t as crazy about Stacy, the girlfriend / ex-girlfriend, but she had a lesser role. Unlike Heather, she can’t see and speak with Tristan.

I liked that Heather was forty-one and Tristan frozen in time at seventeen. Their respective voices and reactions to things seemed entirely believable, and it was a great device for allowing Heather to ruminate on growing older and the many things she’d learned along the way.

It’s rare to find a story that’s funny and moving in equal measure, but this one is. Heather and Tristan begin as rivals and end as friends, and I wanted Heather to find a way to make the situation work indefinitely. The fact that she doesn’t makes it a bittersweet story, but then again, so is life. These characters were so realistic that if the doorbell rang right now and I found them standing on the stoop, I wouldn’t be surprised.

I’d be overjoyed, but not surprised.

Short Stories 365/334

“They Sing the Horizon” by Matt Cresswell from Glitterwolf: Halloween (October, 2014). Edited by Matt Cresswell.

This story would have been perfect for Touch of the Sea. It also—and here let me apologize, because what I’m about to reference is one of the most depressing stories I’ve ever read—reminded me of The Giver.

Jonah lives near the sea. He feels the pull of its tides, hears its song in his ears, and dreams of Tidelings crawling up the beach toward his bedroom window. Not everyone experiences this, and those who do—and are found out—are grossly mistreated by society. Understandably, Jonah’s mother and father are frightened for him, but they let that fear cloud their thinking. Instead of seeing their child for the person he is and questioning the rules of their society, they first tell him that the song isn’t real, and then that not every one can hear it, and finally instruct him to lie and say he doesn’t hear it. To please them, he tries to put all thoughts of Tidelings out of his mind. When he fails, he pretends otherwise.

I embarked on the caretaking of my grand illusion with great passion, and gradually the gaps between my mother’s warnings of the Tidelings grew wider.

Jonah keeps hearing the song and dreaming about the strange figures. Then one day he looks out his window and sees a boy on the beach. It’s his true beginning and also the end of life as he knew it, because of the reality of his world. The choice he makes, to go out to the beach and be known as someone who hears the song of the sea, requires an enormous sacrifice. People who hear it are treated as criminals just for hearing it. They’re condemned for existing as they were created. With men convicted of actual wrongdoing (robbery, murder) they are put into oarless boats and shoved out to sea.

So it’s not a cheery story, but the language used to tell it is beautiful and I was engaged right up to the depiction of the Tidelings as female. After that, I was confused. I know the sea is often thought of as female, as are sirens, but why are they female in this story? Unlike the true criminals, who do succumb to the creatures and are pulled under the waves, the boys are able to resist. I assumed the others were sent to sea for the very real crimes they committed, not because they heard the Tideling’s song. But could it be that they heard it, and it inspired them to commit those crimes? Jonah and the boy from the beach, Tobias, didn’t commit any true crimes and are not pulled under by the creatures, so why did they hear their song in the first place?

Is it that Jonah just interprets the Tidelings as female because they are terrifying creatures and his basis for what is truly terrifying is his mother, who was supposed to be loving and nurturing but wasn’t? (When he’s discovered on the beach with Tobias she rejects him for it.) Does he see the monsters as female because of her? That would make sense. But then I’m an Atheist, and as such I subscribe to the notion that humankind creates gods, not vice versa.

It would make more sense to me if they heard the song of male Tidelings, and the simple fact of being able to hear them resulted in their being condemned and sent forth. But that still wouldn’t explain being called by the song and able to resist at the last possible moment.

Or is it that he would have gone the way of the others, were it not for his mother’s actions? Here I’m thinking not of sexuality but of dogma. Does the sea represent, say, Christianity? Is the song really faith, destroyed by the cruel actions of the weak and frightened within the ranks of organized religion? But then what of the criminals?

You can try to make the case that the ending is somewhat hopeful, but it’s a pretty specious argument. Jonah and Tobias may survive their ordeal, but look at the price they will have paid. They’ve been cast out from their families and the only world they’ve ever known, for no reason at all. It’s a stark, tragic and, sadly, all-too-familiar story.

Short Stories 365/333

“Another Night at the Reiko” by Carlton D. Fischer from Glitterwolf: Halloween (October, 2014). Edited by Matt Cresswell.

There’s been a zombie outbreak, and ostensibly a long, terrible period of time where chaos reigned but, thanks to science, things have calmed down. There’s a pill the afflicted can take which halts the decay, quenches the urge to bite, and renders the venom (for lack of a better word) harmless. The amount of time someone was infected before taking the drug determines their state of decay. Consequently this is a world in which people are wandering around with body parts simply missing, rotted away. It makes me think of the television commercial (aired in the States, at least) that has a zombie talking to a co-worker in the break room and his arm falls off.

Technically speaking, those who are on the drug regimen are referred to as “UDs” and those who aren’t are called “Zs”, but the narrator uses the terms interchangeably because he objectifies all of them. He’s not alone. A whole industry has sprung up to cater to people like him. When we catch up to him he is in a club that features Z dancers.

Remember the “maintainable fear” and sexual longing that compelled the main character a couple of stories back? Those elements run all through this collection. This narrator entertains thoughts of UDs skipping doses and turning wild. It isn’t all that unlikely. There’s a black market where UDs sell their drugs to the uninfected because the drug causes a significant high. So it’s quite possible that a UD off his meds will go berserk. The idea of being torn to bits by a Z—or many of them—greatly excites the main character. It’s very similar to the climax two stories ago, isn’t it? And of course it has a parallel in the real world. So the question becomes, how far is this character actually willing to go?

Short Stories 365/332

“Syndrome” by Eric Mathieu from Glitterwolf: Halloween (October, 2014). Edited by Matt Cresswell.

A black tail. Pointy ears. Claws. Where had I seen this before?

That’s what the main character of this story wonders during a sleepover at his boyfriend’s house, after he spies a strange creature during the night.

I don’t know where he’s seen that combination of things before, but I have been reading stories like this all year long and let me tell you, I thought I knew where this particular story was headed.

As it turns out, I was wrong.

Just what the heck is going on in this story is never really explained, but that was okay. I took it at face value and was completely creeped out by it, at a time of the year when that was precisely what I was after.

Short Stories 365/331

“Halloween Parade” by Tom Cardamone from Glitterwolf: Halloween (October 2014). Edited by Matt Cresswell.

My intention was to purchase a digital copy of this issue and review the stories in it in advance of Halloween, only a digital format wasn’t made available in time. (Actually, the last time I checked it still wasn’t.) I was able to read seven of the stories via a “free taster” floating around social media, and was absolutely blown away by the strength of every one of them. Still, I wasn’t going to review a partial edition here. When I ended up with seven slots to fill, though, I took it as a definite (and eerie) sign….

It’s the Halloween parade in New York City and Stephen is teeming with nervous energy, at once praying for something exciting to happen to him and dreading it won’t. He’s been this way all his life, relishing the “maintainable fear” that horror movies deliver while trying to rein in the almost unbearable sexual longing that threatens to pull him within the reach of a very real killer in the form of disease.

As is his Halloween custom, he’s counting the number of Freddy Kreuger, Jason and Michael Myers costumes he sees, in order to ascertain the zeitgeist, when a particularly authentic-looking Michael comes into view. Stephen watches, transfixed, and then attempts to follow the man, but bumps into someone dressed as The Flash. There’s a strange, highly improbable similarity between the two strangers that flusters and excites him. It should be noted that the pacing of the piece is excellent. It steadily builds up the suspense and sexual tension, so that when Stephen, rattled, at last staggers into a bar and meets yet another character oddly similar to the first two, we believe it’s all the convincing he needs to indulge his most dangerous desires.

I did not anticipate the turn of events at the very end of this tale and found it thoroughly unnerving.