Shadowed Realms, #4

Wednesday, 08 June 2005 03:40 James Palmer
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"Soul Garden" by Mark Barnes
"Park Life" by Shaun Jeffrey
"Johnny Cash (A Tale in Questionnaire Results)" by Ben Peek
"Buzz" by Terry Bramlett
"Doubled" by Eric Marin
"The Projectile Mind" by Mikal Trimm

Shadowed Realms is a free, Australian webzine featuring dark fantasy flash fiction. Flash fiction has become quite popular, especially on the web, which seems to be the perfect place for it. Shadowed Realms joins what is becoming a proud literary tradition with its mix of strange, inventive weirdness.

"Soul Garden" by Mark Barnes, is a tale of blackest fantasy. In the war between Heaven and Hell, both sides have taken hostages, and it is the job of Quill, a neutral monk, to free them. He is guided by a snake named Sapienti, who is coiled around his arm and can transform into a string of beads. They are tracking two demons named Miserael and Roman through the charred remains of a city, and the pistol-packing monk has to face off against a creature called a tarot-golem made from metal.

There's a lot of back story that remains a little unclear at the end of this tale, and would be even better in a longer version. While a bit too dark for my tastes, I like the worldbuilding that obviously went on behind the scenes of this story, and Barnes' total immersion approach to storytelling, putting the reader right in the middle of the action from the beginning, a must for flash fiction.

"Park Life" by Shaun Jeffrey is a tale with a twist ending about a family visiting a zoo. The young boy in the tale is bored and unimpressed with the animals, unlike his sister. By the end of the tale we see why. This is a well-written literary sort of short short.

Ben Peek's "Johnny Cash (A Tale in Questionnaire Results)" breaks the bonds of the traditional short story to spin a tale of government cover-ups, black magic, and Johnny Cash songs. The story is laid out as a series of answers to questions, and is printed in cursive on government stationery (props to the web people at Shadowed Realms for adding an extra touch of reality to this piece). The questions aren't shown, but it's easy to tell what they are from the answers, and the story is quite clear despite the strange format.

Benjamin Li is the head of the Occult Research Division of a shadowy organization called Brandycorp, the owner of which is a magician. There are demons galore, and Ronald Reagan makes a pact with one of them in order to have a hypnotic effect added to his voice whenever it is electronically transferred. Oh yeah, and there are several references to Johnny Cash songs. After that, the story gets weird. This is one of the most inventive flash fiction pieces I've ever read. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Terry Bramlett's "Buzz" tells the story of two wealthy brothers. Peter, who has borrowed money from various loan sharks, and Charles, who lives behind a glass partition in the family mansion with thousands of buzzing wasps. The story is told in first person by Peter, who has come to Charles to ask for more money from their vast inheritance. Charles refuses to give him any more than his set allowance, and in a fit of anger, Peter kills Charles with a chair. The wasps then open the door to the partition and animate Charles' corpse, asking Peter why he did it.

This is a weird one. It's never explained why Charles lives with a bunch of wasps, but the buzzing of these potentially painful creepy crawlies is plenty unnerving, and Bramblett captures that feeling well. The image of them making a dead body move and speak is unsettling as well, which makes this a good short horror tale, if a bit on the wacky side.

Eric Marin's "Doubled" is a short experiment in perceived reality. A man crosses his eyes, and when he uncrosses them, the world remains as it looked to him with his eyes crossed. Identical muggers show up, holding the man at gunpoint and demanding his wallet. They turn toward each other, and frightened, shoot and kill each other. Then the world uncrosses. In only a paragraph, Martin manages a fun literary experiment, playing with a person's perceptions and making that perception reality. Nicely done.

In "The Projectile Mind," Mikal Trimm attempts another experiment of sorts. Have you ever shaped your hand into a gun and pretended to shoot someone who annoys you? Of course you have. This story is about a guy who does the same thing, except this time it works. Literary wish fulfillment fantasy at its best. Another short short that packs a powerful punch.