Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, January 2017
“Sheila Slinkypaw and the Penguin” by Kevin J. Guhl
Reviewed by Christos Antonaros
In the Eldritch short story “Sheila Slinkypaw and the Penguin” by Kevin J. Guhl, Cindy works at an amusement park, where the employees dress as cartoon characters. Herself wears a “Sheila Slinkypaw” costume, a cat cartoon character. Cindy becomes obsessed with Gene, one of her colleagues, who has never been out of his penguin costume. There’s a non-stop mystery behind Gene’s identity, which heightens when the police start looking for him. A nice short story, with quick but efficient dialog and a mystery that pays off, if you read it through. Since the setting is an amusement park, I would have liked to have heard some more details about it.
In the first scene in “Godmother Death” by Kate O’ Connor, a woman dies while she is giving birth to her daughter. When the mother sees Lady Death standing over her, disguised as a maid, she will ask, as her death wish, to be her daughter’s godmother. Consequently, Death forgets her cold nature for a moment and gives a definite answer to the dying mother. Growing up, Death’s goddaughter must adjust her lifestyle between two worlds, the world of the living and the grim realm of the dead. An amusing story, with a twist that readers might see coming early, but which nevertheless rewards with a slight smile. The best feature of the story is the human traits shown by Death, such as feelings, caring and, ultimately, love for a living person. The way Death acts reminds one of the Ancient Greek Pantheon and the gods of Olympus.
In the science fiction short story “A Meeting of Spirits” by Russell Adams, Old Sam Wilson experiences the afterlife, immediately after he dies in an accident inside the old Sun Lizard silver mines. His spirit slips outside his body like a snake changing skin, and as he witnesses the sheriff’s department retrieving his body, he also realizes that he is not the only ghost wandering the mines. The spirit of a creature that does not belong to any of the races on planet Earth asks for the old man’s help. The conception of afterlife demonstrated here is intriguing. Both monologue and narration are so smart and genuine that you can picture perfectly an old man’s ghost trying to communicate with an alien.
In the short story “Black Annis and the Bargeust” by Sarah L. Byrne, Black Annis is an outcast, a scary tale for children who ignore their parent’s demands. There are so many rumors around Annis’s name, but none of them seem to be valid when we meet her. Annis is not a monster; she is just different from the rest. However, one day a Bargeust, a monstrous wolf-like creature, chases a group of young men near Annis’s home, in the woods where she lives. To save the children, she must decide between killing the Bargeust or taking care of it. A pleasant read, which focuses on the Black Agnes figure in English folklore. Unlike the English bogey-woman legend, the author offers a different aspect of Annis, more humanitarian rendition. She is not wearing skins around her waist or eating children, but rescuing them.
Next, in the short fantasy story “With the Breath of his Bare Hands” by Tyra Tanner, we find that Elu is a warrior who used to kill thousands of demons with the power of his breath weapon. Now, though, after many years, demons are only a myth, a long-forgotten era, and Elu is no longer needed. Not until Elu smells a demon, that is. An attention-grabbing story, with an interesting background, a solid theme and continuous character development. The action climbs towards a fascinating climax, keeping the reader focused on what is coming next. The concluding message?: “Never give up, never surrender. Even if heroes die.”
In the short SF story “In Zarbok's Kitchen” by Matthew F. Amati, Chef Zarbok is not a usual cook. That is why he runs the galaxy’s only fifty-star restaurant. Every restaurant, however, will always have a customer that will ask for the impossible. Chef Zarbok must serve Yobb, who expresses in a rude manner the hazardous demand to eat a raw Chthuloid. An entertaining tale, with extraterrestrial characters and a menu for fastidious eaters. Those who have worked in a restaurant, such as myself, can easily sympathize with the server, who is the story’s narrator, and the awkward situation between a problematic customer and a very proud chef.
In “Fruits of Victory” by Jonathan Shiple we find ourselves within a kingdom placed upon an asteroid, millennia and millennia ago, when dragons had been at war with Angels and their kind for centuries. Beneath the dragons, the hierarchy continues with their royal offspring, the saurian servitors, and at the bottom of the pyramid the mindless mammals. Obeying the command of their progenitor, the great golden dragon Iliantne, the protagonist, and her twin sibling, Jre-nar, prepare for the next battle, and, therefore, they visit their allies to oversee their army. Ilianthe meets Prince Tantavon and marvels at his fascinating garden, where she decides to taste a fruit for the first time in her life. Dragon's Offspring in human form and clad in golden armor, endless armies heavily equipped, and flying castles built into asteroids, wandering in the endless milky-way are some of the wonders to be found here. Even through a very short story, we find more than enough to feel satisfied by its end. The most interesting part is the concept of endless war between dragons and angels, thousands of years before humans could even speak.
In “Thief or Felon Bold” by Alter Reiss, we meet Ander Villar-Marn, a genius in the field of literature, with a love for poetry, who finds it as addictive as cheap red wine. Following the myth of one of his favorite poems, Ander meets three fairies who promise to give him anything he wants, in exchange for something that he considers precious. Ander decides to trade a piece of his beloved poetry for a golden flute and two bottles of wine, a red and a white. Ander’s trade with the fairies doesn’t go unnoticed, and Odem, an avaricious man with enough connections in the underworld to sell anything he holds in his hands, pays him a visit and makes him a proposal that sadly he cannot deny.
Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, along with the author, offered readers a pleasant epilogue, with two important messages: wealth is not always translated into money and valuable objects, but there may be an ideal, deeper and much more important; and finally, as the myth of the fairies teaches us, be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it, and if you get it then you may not know what to do with it.
Christos Antonaros is a Dark Fiction author, soon to publish his first novel in the Greek language.