“Wolf Song” by William F. Nolan
“Landing Day” by Michael Canfield
“Two” by Jack Skillingstead
“Sweep Me To My Revenge” by Darrell Schweitzer
“Mildred’s Garden” by James C. Glass
“The Old Husband’s Tale” by Patricia Russo
“Death Comes But Twice” by Mary Robinette Kowal
“A Little Animal Throb” by Andrew Tisbert
“Iron Ties” by Hayden Trenholm
“Wolf Song” by William F. Nolan kicks off the 35th issue of Talebones. A traditional, movie-style werewolf tale, straight from classic Wolfman movies, in it, a cold young boy, already in a dispassionate family, is attacked by a werewolf. But instead of experiencing horror at his full moon changes, he finds a chilling joy in it. In fact, Donny only seems to feel anything when he’s biting into some poor victim’s throat. More comfortable by far with his runs in the woods and with hard facts and figures, Donny eventually finds himself drawn to a coworker, Edith. With what is best termed “a strong attachment” also comes concern that he might one day be facing his darling Edith while fanged and furred. “Wolf Song” ends somewhat abruptly, as many werewolf tales do, with blood, moonlight, and sharp teeth.
With “Landing Day” by Michael Canfield, the issue jumps from classic horror to social science fiction. Two stories in one, the first follows a triumph of humanity that echoes the first moon landing. April Greer is part of a two-person exploratory team, the first to walk on an ethereal new planet, across our solar system. The second occurs on Earth, where Tom Greer takes advantage of the holiday and slips into a bank for enough cash to keep running, getting distracted by the televised account of his daughter’s landing. The story muses on whether Tom’s darker nature predestines April to bad happenings as well. Can luck cross bodies with DNA and determine the best or worst of a person, before they even have a will of their own to exercise?
“Two” by Jack Skillingstead continues the science fiction trend. Reminiscent of Deb Taber‘s “How To Raise a Human,” it focuses more on the science fiction angle than the social one. Bingo is a human secretly created and raised by something that calls itself Rogue. Whatever or wherever Rogue’s people are, he scorns their fear of humans. Certainly one human can’t make too much of a mess of things?
“Sweep Me To My Revenge” by Darrell Schweitzer is an amusing story of time travel, rivalry, and Shakespeare. A Shakespearian professor ventures into the University’s equivalent of a time machine. The time travel in question isn’t to save the world or prevent some great event from happening. It’s petty, vindictive, and in the end, the impact is lost on all but the irritated professor himself. That doesn’t stop this from being a good tale.
The next story, “Mildred’s Garden” by James C. Glass is one of the best of the issue. What could have been a pretty horror story turns out to be more of a strange urban fantasy. After her husband dies and her daughter becomes far to busy with her own life, all Mildred has is her garden. Her plants keep her busy; they become like her children. Even weeds and invasive plants have a home in Mildred’s garden. What doesn’t have a place, however, is the neighbor’s son, whose pranks and destructive behavior get more than just Mildred angry with him.
“The Old Husband’s Tale” by Patricia Russo is another tale with subtle fantasy veins. Short but lovely, it focuses on a husband who has learned too much about his wife and must choose what it means for them. Saying anything more might spoil this one.
“Death Comes But Twice” by Mary Robinette Kowal is a style of horror (with a spike of science fiction) not seen often today. Obviously rooted in classics like Robert Louis Stevenson‘s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Bram Stoker‘s Dracula, this tale of a medical experiment to ward off death addresses the reader directly and has a dark finale and the fine writing that readers have come to expect from Kowal.
“A Little Animal Throb” by Andrew Tisbert is possibly the best story in this issue. A take off of classic ghost tales, Tisbert mentions that it came from a dream. The prose is definitely dreamlike, pulling the reader in and making the experience surreal with effective point of view shifts. The story speaks of the loneliness of isolation, and of invisibility, before showing the reader that there’s a dark point to the plot.
“Iron Ties” by Hayden Trenholm is a dark tale with a streak of the paranormal in it. Beginning with a feeling of not belonging, of being lost to one’s own history, it builds from there. David is the axis and enabler to his little family of three. The sane one, comparatively, among the druggies, thieves, and prostitutes, he’s the one who makes sure the needs of his family are met. He tries to walk the line between indulging their needs and preventing them from losing themselves to their own dark sides. It’s a line David walks better than expected as the story builds to a close and he faces a choice between his answers and another’s path.