“The Demon in the Doughnut Shop” by Bret McCormick
Reviewed by Valerie A. Lindsey
A comment on the publication overall: I was disappointed with the number of typos and editorial oversights throughout the issue. For example, there were several typos in “A Kiss for the Mirrorman” and “Zhar’s Outré House.” See also page 141, 4th paragraph, 2nd sentence – the glove should be ‘taut’ not ‘taught’.
Bret McCormick’s “The Demon in the Doughnut Shop” builds atmosphere with Jeff walking through a thick fog to his favorite breakfast place, Schooner Inn Doughnuts. Everything then seems to normalize as Jeff converses with Gracie. When she leaves for a few minutes, reality gets flipped on its ear. Jeff meets a demon who explains what the world really is and the help he’ll need from Jeff in the future. This story has excellent descriptions, good dialogue…just excellent writing and an interesting story.
“A Kiss for the Mirrorman” by Adrian Cole is a well-written first person story that makes you immediately interested in the nameless protagonist, despite the fact he is obviously not a hero in the conventional sense. Mirrorman is a new, unknown enemy that his boss sends him after as “…you’re the best we have.” Unfortunately, it appears he has met his match and that he will be forced to be the unwitting downfall of his employers...or have they used him as bait?
In “Murkden,” Sean Patrick Hazlett melds history with Japanese and Chinese legend. The Japanese have come to Manchuria to help the Chinese oust the Russians. Tanaka joins with Chinese bandits to gather intelligence of Russian movements for his general. He encounters ghostly and hungry hags called raijins, and a creature (raiju) that mercilessly eviscerates and kills indiscriminately. Betrayed by the Chinese bandits who despise him, Tanaka is irrevocably befouled by death. Undeterred, he continues his quest to learn the Russian movements, but runs into his destiny.
“In the Gallery” by J. Michael Major tells the story of an artist, Trevor Wallace, struggling to find anyone to recognize his talents and set him on the path to success. After another rejection by an eminent gallery, Trevor meets a talented artist, Paul Gilmore, whose paintings appear to breathe with life. Paul takes the frustrated artist under his wing. Under Paul’s patient and encouraging tutelage, Trevor becomes a better artist and finally sells his first piece. The ending reminded me of the best of Night Gallery and I won’t give it away by saying more.
In Franklyn Searight’s “Excavation,” an odd mound in the middle of Morris Clooney’s yard gradually grows, becoming taller and taller each season. Unable to bear the anomaly any longer, Morris breaks down and hires Robert to remove the mound. He plants in the newly level area, but nothing thrives and the mound begins growing again. Troubling dreams torment Morris and he hires the same neighborhood youth to dig until he finds what is causing the mound. Robert digs and digs until he needs a ladder to climb in and out. Finally, he reaches a layer of heavy boulders. That night, Morris dreams of cavemen and a treacherous Neanderthal chieftain killing the clan’s medicine man to gain his beloved for himself. The next morning, they unearth and reassemble a skeleton. It is too late to contact anyone or make a final decision as to what to do. Morris stays up late to watch the hole and make sure nothing disturbs the dig. Undulating mists slowly seep from the grave and so does the murdered man…
Gregg Chamberlain’s “Bunnies of the Apocalypse” is an amusing short story of a Satanist, Mr. Seltzer, who kidnaps a child, Kyrie, to sacrifice to his Dark Lord. He mocks the girl by pulling a wicked knife out of a magician’s hat prior to sacrificing her to the Dark Lord. But Kyrie is feisty and refuses to go meekly. She steals his magic hat and pulls a six foot rabbit out. But the rabbit isn’t Jimmy Stewart’s Harvey. He pulls out his team and they mete out their own form of justice. Ironically, War is nicknamed ‘Harvey’.
I found “Zhar’s Outré House” by Frederick J. Mayer hard to get interested in or to easily follow due to the garrulous writing and zigzagging of thoughts. Most of the descriptions were too verbose and made my attention wander (for example, “the eurdite [misspelled] Celtic lineage female mentioned…” or “She’s a queer one that Lady Jones,” mused C. Vixeela Foxx (aka:”Xanadu”) as she slowly took in her comforting organic black “Tazo Chai” (“A rich blend of teas and spices in the style of the hill dwellers of the Himalayas who serve it to wandering souls”) from her Western blanched porcelain cup." Whew! If you were reading this story out loud, it would be hard to know where to do inflections and difficult for a listener to follow. So many words to say what? Sadly, I found this rambling story hard to get interested in and impossible to actually finish, even by skimming.
“The Devil is Anonymous” by Frank Duffy is a macabre tale of what could happen when citizens fail to control their prejudices and their worst impulses. Luke Ashton applies for a position with a new company that requires social testing. Luke allows himself to respond to an inflammatory computer test. Things slowly escalate from there, resulting in tragic results.
James D. Mabe’s “Touched” opens with Jim Barton relating a gruesome case he experienced when he was a police officer. Despite Abigail’s weak and sporadic protests, Jim insists on telling what he found when he went to the Throckmorton place after a neighbor reported circling vultures. Jim spares no horrific detail. But that is nothing to how he ends his story.
“The Singing Tree” by Lawrence Buentello was an entrancing legend of a woman tormented by her incapability to find joy. Adela has slain three husbands; each when she was no longer happy with them and they refused to release her. After some time alone and still unhappy, Adela goes to the village priestess who advises her to find the Singing Tree to gain her answer as to how to seek happiness. She finds the tree and it sings her answer in a lovely song. When Adela finally understands the song she destroys the tree in anger. This is an excellent story of learning to find happiness within ourselves…hopefully, without the drastic measures Adela resorted to.
In “Blood of God” by DJ Tyrer, an Anglo-Russian survey team is looking for the next big oil deposit under the ocean. A promising area is selected and they begin drilling through an unusually thick crust. The sample they extract is heavier than oil. Excited, the key professor opens the container. It is black and oily, but mobile and launches itself into two of the key members. This science fiction tale is a little predictable and seems familiar.
Scott Harper’s “Bum Fights and Blood Feuds” opens with Branch ruminating over how his bad choices led to the sad state of his life. Desperate for money he gets involved in inciting fights between homeless men, which he and his associates film and upload for scratch money. The story shifts to introduce the memories of a revenant; Branch and his companions find the collapsed revenant, and unwittingly begin beating it and filming the abuse. The revenant awakens, remembers his past, and reverses the initially one-sided fight before leaving to settle old scores.
“Beauty Treatment” by Liam Hogan is a well-written short story of an unattractive woman who desperately pays $50,000 for a virus treatment to change her life. The only catch, the doctor warns, is that she must complete the treatment to ensure she doesn’t infect others. But, the doctor is murdered just before her follow-up visit…changing not only her life, but those whom she seeks.
Andre E. Harewood’s “Persephone” engaged me with the opening sentence and kept my interest throughout. It is a well-written tale of a woman who reluctantly agrees to a marriage that will restore the wealth of her family. Too late, she learns the true cost of gaining wealth for her family. It reminded me of an H. P. Lovecraft story.
It was hard for me to get invested in “My Personal Dream” by James Ward Kirk as it kept shifting back and forth from first to third person perspective. Initially, Dan’s ruminations were italicized to make it clear it is part of him writing this, but that clarity is quickly abandoned. Dan ruminates on his life and his obsession with his mother who haunts his dreams after her death. I think it could have been a much stronger story if it had been condensed and written completely in the first person.
“Mischa in the Window” by Jason Rubis is about a composer, Schaumann, who finds another world on the other side of a window in a room in his basement. The world reminds him of the hell, Sheol, described by his forefathers. Schaumann becomes obsessively absorbed in the evolving world. He becomes aware of one creature in particular and becomes entranced with it, allowing his obsession to affect his real life.
Greg Jenkins’ “Thrill My Soul” is a humorous story of a group of men upset by Death moving into their town and opening an ice cream shop. They decide they must convince him to leave. While the narrator is with Death, Satan moves into town and wants to open a bowling alley. Ironically, they decide to resort to lawyers.
“Trick” by Rish Outfield is an entertaining story of a father who takes his daughter trick or treating. It goes well enough until he gets preoccupied with his cell phone and doesn’t pay attention to who takes his hand. When he realizes something is wrong and looks down…he may learn to pay more attention to his daughter or forego trick or treating in the future.