Aurealis #149, April 2022

Aurealis #149, April 2022

“What Fresh Hell?” by Michael Pryor

“Advena” by Tom Walters

“God’s Doodle Pad” by Christopher Witty

Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf

Three new stories of strange happenings appear in the latest issue of this Australian publication.

“What Fresh Hell?” by Michael Pryor is a sequel to “To Hell and Back,” which appeared in the May 2019 issue. As in the previous story, the unexplained disappearance of the ruler of Hell leads to demons dragging living people into the infernal regions. Two demons living on Earth in human form rescue some of these unfortunate folks, in return for cash payment. Their latest assignment involves saving a woman who voluntarily entered Hell in a doomed attempt to bring her dead wife back to life.

The narrator is one of the pair of demons, and the main appeal of the story is his hardboiled, sarcastic, wisecracking style. The plot involves a full-scale war in Hell, providing plenty of action. For much of it, unfortunately, the narrator is a passive witness. Finding the woman, for example, takes place entirely off stage. I will give the author credit for not violating the clearly stated premise that the dead cannot leave Hell, leading to a bittersweet ending.

The title of “Advena” by Tom Walters is the name given to an object that fell to Earth a decade before the story begins. The thing gives people horrible nightmares, eventually leading to their deaths. Only regular doses of a special drug prevent this. The main characters are a married couple, living in a community ruled by the man who supplies the drug. They are found to be in illegal possession of a piece of the object and are locked up, to be used as experimental animals in order to investigate the effects of the nightmares. Their captivity leads to an apocalyptic climax.

This is a strange and mysterious story that creates an effectively eerie mood. The nature of the object is never entirely clear, but it seems to resemble the kind of cosmic horror found in the stories of H. P. Lovecraft. The ruler of the community is a stereotyped sinister dictator, but the married couple are more believable characters. Readers are likely to find the conclusion enigmatic.

“God’s Doodle Pad” by Christopher Witty features a private detective who investigates all kinds of weird happenings in a town where they occur frequently. He discusses some of these cases with his newest client, before checking out a grocery store where people are taking on the characteristics of animals.

Much of the narrative consists of the detective talking about previous investigations, ranging from horrifying to whimsical. This makes his current adventure something of an anticlimax. The author displays a great deal of imagination in creating these stories-within-the-story, and one wishes they were more fully developed.

Victoria Silverwolf reviewed the predecessor to the first story in a previous article.