Shimmer, Autumn 2005

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Image“Sour Hands” by Kuzhali Manickavel
“Nobody’s Fool” by Edward Cox
“White Burn” by Stephen M. Dare
“Valley of the Shadow” by Dario Ciriello
“An Interrupted Nap” by Richard S. Crawford
“Finders Keepers” by J. Albert Bell
“The Shoppers” by Michael Mathews
“And Death Will Seize the Doctor, Too” by Jeremiah Swanson
“A Convocation of Clowns” by Mel Cameron
The premier issue of Shimmer seems to have a lot going for it: numerous well-told stories by many unknown names, wonderful artwork weaved into each story, a pleasing and original layout, and a book review by the Slush God himself, John Joseph Adams, of F&SF fame.

“Sour Hands” by Kuzhali Manickavel opens the issue, showing the reader what to expect in further pages. Ezhil hates Grandmother very much, for the old hag is a mean and twisted soul that constantly reminds Ezhil of the wickedness living inside of her. It is because of Grandmother’s comments that Ezhil now believes her hands to be sour, ruining any and everything she comes to touch. She prays to God at night for both a new bicycle and Grandmother to be killed. But will that be enough to cleanse her hands of evilness?

This tale is strange, off-the-wall, eerily dark, and downright mesmerizing. Manickavel has a way of making the reader truly hate Grandmother, showing her at her worst. The outcome is a story as black as the devil’s heart. Her prose and subtle observations on humanity and what it means to be wicked come off as quaint and honest. It makes me wonder if Manickavel ever knew a woman as spiteful as Grandmother.

In Edward Cox’s “Nobody’s Fool,” Franklin, the Old Nobody of town, believes himself to be a bird trapped in a man’s body. Max, a recent graduate from the university, is searching for jobs in writing, while Franklin, who stumbled upon a pen that will enable him to free himself of his outer skin, is searching for just that kind of help.

I enjoyed this quirky tale from the very first sentence. Cox lays down the central pieces to his story early, allowing character development to follow second. The short scenes all have a purpose and come together in the end to make the reader wonder about what truly happened to Franklin, a wise owl that tried to fly as a man.

Stephen M. Dare’s “White Burn” showcases the life of an unnamed man, a school bus driver, and the horror-filled bus route that he takes every day. The man’s life constantly smells of diesel, and he now frequently passes by a white Jetta which contains a pale girl, dark sunglasses covering her eyes and a trickle of blood flowing down her chin. Something strange is happening to his route, his passengers, to him…

Described as literary horror, “White Burn” had me captivated by its words, descriptions, and language, but lost me when the main plot fizzled at the end. There seemed to be so much building upon who the girl in the white Jetta was, why the constant diesel references were popping up, etc. Maybe Dare knew where it was going, but not I.  

The longest entry in the issue, “Valley of the Shadow” by Dario Ciriello is a gripping experience from start to finish. The dead now exist with the living, and for Tom Shroeder, that is not the worst of it. The world is falling apart thanks to the spooks, the economy is going on, everyone is on meds, and suicide is at an all-time high. Tom meets a fellow American while staying in Athens, and together, they plan on surviving what they hope to be a short phase in societal history.

The world of the dead and the world of the living coming together is not the most original story element, but Ciriello makes it work in such an original way that from here on, I’ll always think of him as its founder. The descriptions of the ghosts and house spooks being secondary in life make them so much more creepy than descriptions filled with gore and eyeless faces. Tom is a sympathetic hero, doing what he can to save those he loves, to keep the world sane along with himself. This is the shining gem of the premier issue. Check out Shimmer for it alone if your interest is the least bit piqued.

“An Interrupted Nap” by Richard S. Crawford is a quick glimpse into the event of the Rapture, where God literally reaches down and plucks believers up into the heavens. All of this is going on, of course, when Simon is trying to get some shuteye. He is interrupted from his nap at the sound of his aunt’s body hitting the ceiling as God tries to pull her straight through the roof. Crawford writes with a certain ease, showing a world where the strange is considered normal, and things like the Rapture are events to ready for. I would have liked to read more from this piece, especially about what happens when the selected arrive in Heaven.

J. Albert Bell’s “Finders Keepers” sheds some light on the afterlife, a recurring theme in this premier issue. Rupert works for a Mr. Fox, who has done many bad things, such as making way too much in illegal money and ordering the murders of dozens of people. On a rainy night, loud knocks sound at the door and a mysterious man arrives with something Mr. Fox has longed for his entire life. But what will it cost Mr. Fox—and Rupert—to keep it?

An interesting take on several old ideas, Bell’s description and vivid setting skills show his talent as an upcoming name-to-be-remembered. While I did enjoy “Finders Keepers,” there were too many mysteries left unsolved by the end to comfort me with closure. If that was the author’s purpose, to allow the imagination to answer all questions, I guess it works, but for the story’s length I was hoping for direct results.

“The Shoppers” by Michael Mathews compares the phenomenon of shopping masses to that of prides of lions. A man watches this obscurity unfold one day as he tries to refund an unused gift voucher at a local store. When he doesn’t get his way, he begins to notice habits in the store’s shoppers—strange habits, animalistic habits.

An intriguing story, but honestly, I’m not sure what the reader is supposed to take from it. Is “The Shoppers” a critique on American culture? Are we to sympathize with the narrator, even though he, too, in the end, falls victim to the wave of absurdity? Or are we all just a bunch of animals, herding with one another, hoping to survive whatever comes? I have no real answers and neither does “The Shoppers.”

Jeremiah Swanson’s “And Death Will Seize the Doctor, Too” is about Christian Thompson, a man with an amazing gift to give and take lives through contact transference, trying to save his wife from the coma she’s in. Unfortunately, he works for some people who try to manipulate him into using his ability for unspeakable actions. How much life will Christian take in order to give his wife just enough?

An engaging glimpse into a dark world filled with corrupt men and godlike abilities, Swanson really pushes the reader to feel bad for Christian, a man who’s job it is to take lives on a daily basis. In any other story, he would be the villain. The writing is fast and fluent, filled with just enough emotion to keep me absorbed. With so much death abounding in this tale, Swanson really came through in the end to surprise me with a glimmer of happiness. I enjoyed the raw desires and actions of Christian. Others might not see what is so redeeming about him, but I do.

“A Convocation of Clowns” by Mel Cameron confirms every fear I’ve ever had about the circus devils in a short scene where a tiny car of clowns arrives in a line of traffic. All seems fine, if a bit weird, as the clowns offer balloon animals to drivers. But then they pop them.  This story was scary to read and worse to imagine.  “A Convocation of Clowns” should not be read before heading off to the fair.