Tales of the Unanticipated #27, Monsters, Autumn 2006

Note: This post was imported from an old content-management system, so please excuse any inconsistencies in formatting.

"Katabasis: Seraphic Trains" by Sarah Monette
"Missing Piece" by Martha A. Hood
"Dances with Werewolves" by Ellen Kuhfeld
"Beer Can Medusa" by Mark Rich
"The Lady of the Lounge" by William Mingin
"Raising the Dead" by Patricia S. Bowne
"Flo & Eb" by Laurel Winter
"Mister Eddie" by Douglas J. Lane
"Tips on Moving to Earth" by Brandon Sigrist
"The Dog at the Camp" by Bryan Thao Worra
"Nosmo Girl" by Judy Klass
"The Facts of Dr. Van Helsing’s Case" by Stephen Dedman
"Turning" by T. Bilgen
"The Orge’s Wife" by Patricia Russo
"With Your Blood I Wash My Hands" by Robert P. Switzer

"The Tale of Roderick Rabbit, by Beatrix Stoker" by Jason D. Wittman

At midnight, a fey train winds through the enigmatic city, leaving suicides in its wake. Music fills the air as a young woman plays for the train, hoping her song will open its doors and take her to her lost love. So begins Tales of the Unanticipated #27, and so begins "Katabasis: Seraphic Trains."
"Katabasis: Seraphic Trains" . . . .

That’s not a title, that’s playing with fire . . . dark, cold fire. With those three words, author Sarah Monette has hit the gothic trifecta—greek heroes, angels, and Victorian mass transit. Any weakness in the story, and that lusciously, gloriously pretentious title is going to crush it. No need to worry, though, for Monette’s prose is every bit equal to the title. It’s not going to be a story for everyone, but if somewhere within you a haughty heart takes secret glee in spelling magick with an ultimate k, take a moment to bask in the moonlight of "Katabasis: Seraphic Trains." You won’t regret it.

A slipstream Single White Female in short story form, Martha A. Hood‘s "Missing Piece" has the creepy thing down. Every since her friend/nemesis, Dori, died, a chunk of Amy’s forehead has starting disappearing. It doesn’t bleed or hurt, and when she finds it she can just pop it right back in. Still, it can’t be a good thing.

My only question with the story is whether it would have been better for it to have revealed less about what was happening than it did. Leaving doubt in the reader’s mind is a tricky thing, and while leaving out Dori’s actual nature runs the risk of being unsatisfying, but it might have added a nice touch of mystery to the story. I don’t know. Idle musings aside, the story works well enough to earn a recommendation from me as is, and that’s really all that matters.

A guy thinks his girlfriend is a werewolf, so he hires an investigator to find out for certain. It’s not that he’s afraid. No, he digs the whole "could-rip-me-apart-and-eat-me" scene. He just wants to make certain that she’s every bit as bloodthirsty and slavering as she says she is. Such is the amusing premise of Ellen Kuhfeld‘s story "Dances with Werewolves." It’s not a world-changing kind of story, and maybe the answers to the mysteries are a bit on the obvious side, but that’s OK. The story is a lot of fun, and that’s all it has to be.

Mark Rich‘s "Beer Can Medusa" is a nice little story about a housewife and a high school girl fighting back against psychic domination by her husband through an amusing twist on ’50s television gender stereotypes: annoying him with vapid chitchat. It all works very well . . . except the title. Medusa is one of the few female monsters, so it’s probably not the best to refer to her in the title of a story of women fighting back against an abusive male. So, ignore the title, read the story, and enjoy.

Frank’s buddy is about to be eaten by a demonic lounge singer in William Mingin‘s "The Lady of the Lounge," and Frank isn’t about to stand by and let that happen. There is a catch, though: Frank’s buddy is enjoying every minute of being eaten. The question is, who is the bad guy here? Is it the man-eating demon or the overly judgmental Frank? For my money, the message you get with the demon being the bad guy—men must be saved from falling prey to aggressive, attractive women—is too bitter and misogynistic, so I’m going with Frank for the bad. Either way, "The Lady of the Lounge" is an entertaining story, but the real value is in the discussions it provokes. Just be prepared for strange looks if you have those discussions in public.

There is a moment within "Raising the Dead." Well, there are lots of moments within Patricia S. Bowne‘s tale of a necromancer and her loves, but there is one that stands above its peers. It’s both wonderful and beautiful in its way, but not in the usual senses of those terms.  Elaine is a necromancer who has lived her whole life among the cold, dead stone of the city. Necromancers in this world gain their power from the death of a living entity, so throughout the story she is constantly finding bugs to squish so she can work her spells. This wonderful and beautiful moment occurs when she finds herself in a parkland for the first time in her life and becomes giddy over the amount of power there. Among the idyllic grass and trees, there is far more death than we can ever dream of. It was a nicely black little twist in a nicely black story, and one that will stick with me for many years to come.

It’s hard to say much about Laurel Winter‘s "Flo & Eb" without giving the whole thing away. It’s under two pages long, which is the right length for the work. It’s less of a story than a mood piece, letting us see enough of the lives of these beings to understand their pain without dwelling on what they are, how they came about, or why they are bound to our society’s mores on age despite the fact that they are seemingly immortal. As you might have guessed, that last bit is the problem I have with the story, and it’s enough of a problem to kill the story for me. Still, it was an interesting concept, and I’d like to see more from the author.

I’d forgotten about the Poe Toaster until I read "Mister Eddie" by Douglas J. Lane. The Poe Toaster, if you aren’t aware, is a mysterious figure clothed black with a silver-tipped cane. On the anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allen Poe, every year since 1949, the Toaster has visited Poe’s grave in Baltimore, offering a toast to the deceased author and laying three roses and a half bottle of cognac on the grave. The identity and motives of the Poe Toaster are unknown. This isn’t so much because it would be impossible to learn, but more because people enjoy the mystery.

As you might have guessed, "Mister Eddie" is a story of the Poe Toaster. He’s beaten to death on his way to the grave in a botched mugging by Jojo, Rondu, and Ty, members of a street gang. Now, members of the gang are dying horrible, supernatural death, and the only way Ty can save them and himself is to learn the secrets of the mysterious man he helped to kill. It’s a great idea for a story, and, while the voice didn’t quite work for my Midwestern farm boy ear, the structure and plot were very well done.

Brandon Sigrist‘s "Tips on Moving to Earth" isn’t the "alien writes a report on Earth that comically yet trenchantly misunderstands human behavior" piece it claims to be. It’s too dark, too uncomfortable, and the social commentary is missing. What is it then? It’s tragic. There is no alien here, just the delusions of a failing mind and a nice job on the part of the author of twisting my expectations.

"The Dog at the Camp" is the supernatural revenge story at its purest. Captian Yee shoots a stray dog in front of his men every day. He says he’s making a point, but really, he just enjoys killing dogs. As you might guess, things soon become very bad for Captain Yee, and there is much rejoicing. Sure, Bryan Thao Worra‘s story is about as subtle as a Sherman tank, but subtlety isn’t always needed. There are times where it’s fun just to see a very bad person get his comeuppance, and this is the story for those times.

Society has split between the hedonistic smokers of Freeville and the new-age ascetic non-smokers of Nosmo, but when boy meets girl, opposites still attract. As I read "Nosmo Girl," I kept waiting for it to turn into a Socratic dialog. It fit the dialog part. There isn’t any plot, just a conversation between a Nosmo girl and a Freeville guy. The characters are straw men stereotypes of their respective positions, but since one is never more blatantly stupid than the other, it manages to avoid going Socratic. I’m not sure whether it’s a comment on the ridiculousness of the straw men or if the author is actually warning that society could go this way. Either way, it’s a better story than I was afraid it was going to be.

Author Stephen Dedman reveals the secret drive of the archetypical monster hunter, Dr. Abraham Van Helsing of Dracula fame, in "The Facts of Dr. Van Helsing’s Case." It’s hard to come up with a horror story that has spawned more derivative works than Bram Stoker‘s classic novel, and it’s valid to wonder whether the world is really in need of more. "Facts" manages to rise above any perceived baggage from its inspiration. The narrative structure is a clever interleaving of the various epochs in the doctor’s life, where the interplay of effect and cause dramatically changes the meaning of previous sections as you read. It’s a nice bit of work and well worth a look even if you’ve reached your Dracula saturation point.

Barry can turn. Sure, it’s the best feeling ever, but you aren’t going to amount to much in life if you spend all of it as a big pile of limp worm-things. This is why Barry spends most of T. Bilgen‘s "Turning" fighting against his turning addiction. I’d be happier with this if there was a demonstrated downside to turning, but all we get is a statement from Barry that he was wasting his life. Call me crazy, but I don’t find being happy to be a waste. Still, the purpose Barry finds for himself by the end of the story is a good one, giving me what I need to like the story despite the fault.

If there is a particular fairy tale Patricia Russo is reworking in "The Ogre’s Wife," I can’t find it. The concept is similar to parts of "Tom Thumb" and "Jack and the Beanstalk," but the details differ. Whether inspired by a specific tale or the whole sub-genre, it’s an interesting look at the classic ogre tale from the point of view of the ogre’s wife with a dash of Nietzsche tossed in for spice.

One of the unavoidable facts of living is that sometimes you screw up and hurt people you care about. It sucks, but that’s life. It’s also the theme of "With Your Blood I Wash My Hands." Robert P. Switzer gives us the story of a young human and the demon he loves and hurts. It’s a painful story to read, which is what the author was going for. If you’re feeling like you need a bit of vicarious angst in your life, I say jump right on in.

TOTU 27 ends with a story where all I really need to do to review it is tell you the title: "The Tale of Roderick Rabbit, by Beatrix Stoker." Brom Stoker meets Beatrix Potter: how could you go wrong? Yes, this is the second Dracula inspired story of the issue, and, yes, the world did indeed need this story. Author Jason D. Wittman‘s take on the story is perfect, and I foresee quoting large sections of it for years to come.