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

Fiction River #25: Feel the Fear, ed. by Mark Leslie

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Fiction River #25: Feel the Fear

 

 

Edited by

Mark Leslie

 

 

(WMG Publishing, September 29, 2017, pb, 288 pp.)

 

 
 
"Murmuration of a Darkening Sea" by Lee Allred
"Swimming on the Grass" by David Stier
"Get Inside" by Dayle A. Dermatis
"The Dark Queen" by J. F. Penn
"Fear in Black and White" by Dory Crowe
"A Fall of Life and Death" by Michael Kowal
"High Places" by Laura Ware
"Legs" by Steven Mohan, Jr.
"Power Outage" by Bonnie Elizabeth
"The Taste of Red" by T. Thorn Coyle
"The Playground of Lost Children" by Erik Lynd
"Tin Can Man" by Annie Reed
"Piggyback" by Robert T. Jeschonek
"The Well" by Lauryn Christopher
"Mechanical Advantage" by Eric Kent Edstrom
"The Visit" by Anthea Lawson

Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf

Although not all the stories in this anthology contain fantastic or speculative elements, each one deals with terror in some form or another. They all fit a broad definition of horror fiction, although many contain other moods as well.

Leading off the volume is the longest and, in some ways, most traditional story. "Murmuration of a Darkening Sea" by Lee Allred takes place in the 1920s. A horribly disfigured veteran of the Great War, desperate for work, accepts a strange offer of employment from a blind widow and a sinister German hunter. In the woman's isolated mansion, he transcribes the contents of a strange old book, written in an unknown language. Things become even more bizarre as he enters into battle with an inhuman entity of immense proportions. This story will appeal to readers of Lovecraft and other weird fiction.

Closer to home, "Swimming on the Grass" by David Stier deals with a man whose elderly, senile father is near death. He must confront painful memories and make one final decision before the end. This story is likely to raise powerful emotions in many readers.

Set on a space station used as a school for teenagers, "Get Inside" by Dayle A. Dermatis adds a touch of the supernatural to science fiction. The narrator, locked out of the station by her peers as a cruel prank, not only faces the terror of death in space but the feeling that something unknown is out there with her. Despite some profanity, this story reads like fiction for young adults, and has a weak ending.

In "The Dark Queen" by J. F. Penn, an archaeologist feels compelled to dive into the waters off the coast of Alexandria, where a legendary evil monarch waits in the underwater ruins of an ancient city. This is an effective, if simple, chiller.

Terror takes on a more familiar form in "Fear in Black and White" by Dory Crowe. An ordinary car ride turns sinister when a routine traffic stop evolves into a dangerous confrontation. This story deals with racism and the police in a way which some may find controversial.

The protagonist of "A Fall of Life and Death" by Michael Kowal is a tree cut down by loggers. It fears the end of its existence as much as a human being facing death. Although it borders on sentimentality, this story is a moving parable of the cycle of life.

A woman with severe acrophobia is the main character in "High Places" by Laura Ware. During a hiking trip with her husband, she must overcome her fear to save him when he is injured. This is an enjoyable, if uncomplicated, tale of triumph over terror.

"Legs" by Steven Mohan, Jr. is a complex, multilayered story, which makes use of flashbacks to enhance the impact of its plot. An ambulance races to an abandoned factory in a dangerous part of Chicago where a woman lies dying. The paramedic aboard is addicted to the excitement of danger. In addition to the medical emergency, he has to endure working with a partner he dislikes, the fact that his marriage may be breaking up, and an unexpected threat at the factory. This story works as horror fiction, thriller, character study, and domestic drama.

Confined to a wheelchair, the heroine of "Power Outage" by Bonnie Elizabeth is trapped in an office building when the electricity goes out. The situation becomes much worse when a supernatural entity attacks her co-worker. She must defend both of their lives against the being. This is a fast-moving story of good against evil.

The protagonist of "The Taste of Red" by T. Thorn Coyle loses her ability to understand simple things. Barely surviving with the help of her husband, she blames her mental deterioration on a bizarre invasion of her brain by an outside source. This story is either dark fantasy or an account of paranoia. In either case, it is unsettling.

In "The Playground of Lost Children" by Erik Lynd, a woman returns to her childhood home to confront the monster that captured her brother when they were both very young. Decades later, more children are disappearing. The woman must face her own guilt and make a sacrifice to prevent future tragedies. This story is as much about internal fears as external ones.

The title character in "Tin Can Man" by Annie Reed is a homeless beggar with whom a woman has a frightening encounter, not fully described until near the end. Since then she stays at home, hardly able to sleep, obsessively cleaning her apartment at all hours of the night. A friend tries to bring her out of her isolation, leading to tragedy. The author creates a surreal portrait of insanity.

"Piggyback" by Robert T. Jeschonek is narrated by a parasitic creature, undetectable by humans, which controls the actions of a homeless alcoholic. As frightening as this is, the creature itself is terrified of the god-like being it serves. This story is likely to raise a few goosebumps with its notion that there are many unseen entities among us.

More of a prose poem than a story, "The Well" by Lauryn Christopher uses multiple metaphors to depict the experience of a woman emotionally abused by her husband. None of the characters has a name, and there is hardly any external action. This work is all feeling and imagery.

Very dark comedy fills "Mechanical Advantage" by Eric Kent Edstrom. An elderly woman with a poor grasp of reality makes use of her skills as an engineer in a gruesome plot against her family. The reader needs a strong stomach to laugh at what happens.

Set in Nineteenth Century England, "The Visit" by Anthea Lawson features a man on a terrifying errand. The nature of his quest comes as a surprise to the reader, and ends this grim anthology on a light note.


Victoria Silverwolf is a scaredy-cat.