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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Shadowed Realms, Issue 11

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“Finding the Words” by Steven Cavanagh
“The Gargoyle” by Douglas T Araujo
“Spin the Witch Bottle” by Shane Jiraiya Cummings
“Shadow” by Stephanie Gunn
“Away From it All” by Charles Richard Laing
“The Coup De Grâce” by Alistair Rennie
“Powered” by Deb Taber
“Enthusiasm” by Philip Tinkler
“Drip” by Brian G Ross
“Pickup Day” by E Michael Lewis
“Truth” by Shaun C Green
“A Skinful of Guilt” by Nathan Burrage

Steven Cavanagh's “Finding the Words” took first place in the 2006 Australian Horror Writer Association's Flash Fiction Competition and is easily the most powerful piece in issue 11 of Shadowed Realms. While technically horror, it’s a touching story of a man laying his daughter to rest. Cavanagh’s style is fluid and uses sense imagery to ground the reader in reality. It’s touching and it's tender and it's heartfelt, something I’m not used to seeing in horror.

I really liked “The Gargoyle” when I first saw it on television 12 years ago with the vocal talent of Keith David and half of the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The story is a vignette about an imprisoned Gargoyle who is forced to watch as a city builds up around him. He is eventually freed by a mysterious person who knows the secret to unlocking his stony state. In other words, it’s the same plot of the Disney animated series, Gargoyles. I’m not saying that Douglas T Araujo ripped off a somewhat obscure animated series from the 1990s; he just doesn’t say anything new. It’s not a bad story, but I didn’t find it interesting.

“Spin the Witch Bottle” by Shane Jiraiya Cummings is a devilishly fun short story with a dark, almost Rod Serling-esque twist. Cummings crafts a story about two teenagers who want to channel a dead sister. I don’t want to say more because it will give away the twist, but it’s a really fun little tale.

I was a bit put off by how quickly the narrator in Stephanie Gunn’s “Shadow” decides that suicide is the only option. So you happen to see things; maybe they’re real, maybe they’re not. Killing yourself in bed with your lover sleeping beside you seems a bit rash. I understand this is flash fiction, but it came off as contrived.

This review is almost longer than “Away From it All” by Charles Richard Laing.  It’s a very creepy flash piece that gives the reader a sense of place, character, and motivation in a small number of words. I think flash fiction should leave the reader wanting more, and Laing accomplishes that goal.

“The Coup De Grâce” by Alistair Rennie tries too hard to pull off a twist ending. Most of the story is written in passive voice which only adds to what's wrong with it. The twist isn’t sufficiently thought out; Rennie seems so intent upon pulling off the twist, he doesn’t set it up properly.  One of his characters has a behavior change so extreme that her husband believes she’s a zombie. Turns out she isn't, but her behavior change is never explained. Lacking a valid reason, the story doesn’t carry any impact.

“Powered” by Deb Taber is one of the longer pieces in this issue and one of the more interesting. In a style reminiscence of early Stephen King, Taber shows us a twisted relationship two Appalachian women have with the table saw they use to build their coffins. Smart and quick, “Powered” leaves the reader asking a number of strange and sick questions. A good read.

I have no idea what story Philip Tinkler was trying to tell in “Enthusiasm.” My best guess is that an actor is in jail accused of murdering his secret lover/director/childhood friend, but other events hint at a gunman-in-a-tower episode as well.  There are two stories, one about an actor in jail and a flashback complaining about how stupid American moviegoers are. The actor could be in jail for murder or for a speeding ticket, but I don’t know, and I missed the purpose of the flashbacks. Actually, I missed the purpose of the story in general.

Brian G Ross uses ghastly imagery to great effect in “Drip.” His lead sentence grabbed my attention, and his simple descriptions left vibrant images in my head. With very few words, Ross manages to tell a story that is both chilling and compelling.

In “Pickup Day,” E Michael Lewis details every parent’s nightmare with sparse, haunting prose when a father arrives at his child’s elementary school to find it draped in crime tape and an eerie silence. Lewis builds the terror with iconic visuals and combines that with the illogical motivations of grief. It’s a powerful story, and in my opinion, the best in the issue.

“First Moment of Dying” is a zombie story told from the perspective of the zombie. Robert Hood tells us about a rape victim who not only comes back to life after having her throat slashed, but wakes up next to her attacker’s body.  The concept isn’t that unique, but Hood pulls it off with style and good form. I think the opening could have been cut, but all in all, it's an effective story.

At only three paragraphs, “Truth” by Shaun C Green takes the prize for the shortest piece in this issue. The problem is, I don’t get it. I think it’s a reference to Superman’s alter ego, Clark Kent, but I’m not sure. It also seems built around a truism that we don’t get enough information as readers to understand.

“A Skinful of Guilt” reminds me of a painting without all its colors. Nathan Burrage tells a story of three people who use mystic forces to forget something—I’m guessing an affair and an attempted murder. It’s interesting, but without more emotional content, I wasn't completely drawn in. I think Burrage got caught up in mystical technobabble rather than the content of his characters’ lives.