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

Weirdbook Annual #1: Witches, edited by Douglas Draa

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Weirdbook Annual #1: Witches

 

Edited by

Douglas Draa

 

(Wildside Press, October 2017, tpb, 243 pp.)

 

 
Thou Shalt Not Suffer” by Matt Neil Hill
No Holds Bard” by Adrian Cole
Laying the Hairy Book” by Josh Reynolds
Here is Where Your Proud Waves Halt” by Erica Ruppert
Vicious Circles” by Paul Dale Anderson
Assorted Shades of Red” by Franklyn Searight
Strange Days in Old Yandrissa” by John R. Fultz
Fertility Rites” by Glynn Owen Barrass
The Witch’s Heart” by Rachel Bolton
Hag Race” by Andre E. Harewood
Best Friend Becky” by Wayne Faust
The Rat in the Rabbit Cage” by Ashley Dioses
Two Spells” by Neva Bryan
Pulled Over” by Paul Spears
The Witch of Skur” by L.F. Falconer
Cat and Mouse” by Duane Pesice
Last of the Ashiptu” by Paul Lubaczewski
Firestorm” by Richard H. Durisen
The Witch of Pender” by John Linwood Grant
The Nora Witch” by Brandon Jimison
The Broken Witch” by Scott Hutchison

Reviewed by Kevin P Hallett

This anthology contains twenty-one original stories, including one flash fiction.

Thou Shalt Not Suffer” by Matt Neil Hill

A dismal future England is the setting for this SF short horror story. A boy must pass his coming of age ritual by lighting the pyre under three witches. An isolated England has regressed to a medieval culture in which people blame women for all the problems. Any man can simply claim a woman is a witch and then the people will burn her alive.

To pass his test the boy must light the pyre, if he fails then they will burn him as well. But his elder sister has sabotaged his efforts, blaming him for the loss of their mother, who died in childbirth.

Hill has portrayed a stark future, and alluded to many aspects of the boy’s situation, letting the reader develop their own views. This aspect of the story was interesting, but the over-all pace was slow.

No Holds Bard” by Adrian Cole

Michael is an ambitious man in this Macbeth-like short fantasy. Newly promoted to the board of directors, Michael meets three old women who tell him that one day he will be the CEO and then later the Chairman.

After he tells his wife the prognostication, she is intent on fulfilling their prophesy. After the old CEO dies, allowing Michael to take this role, he waits to see if his life will continue to follow the Shakespearean tragedy.

This plot was too similar to the famous play to offer much mystery to engage the reader.

Laying the Hairy Book” by Josh Reynolds

In this short horror tale, a dead wizard gives Bass a powerful but deadly book that the evil King of the North wants back. Bass has until morning to render the hairy book inert, otherwise the King will take it and him too.

His only choice is to bury the book. But leaving his house to dig the grave is extremely dangerous as the King’s minions swarm around seeking any way to stop him. With the sounds of the approaching King’s cloven feet, Bass battles to the very end of the night.

Reynold’s story has action, mystery, and danger. It read okay, but the prose was a little slow as it relied mostly on telling the tale and not showing the story.

Here is Where Your Proud Waves Halt” by Erica Ruppert

Ruppert’s macabre SF short tells us about Aster, a young pregnant woman in a future decimated by a blight. She travels to a mostly abandoned seaside village, where she gives birth to a boy who dies soon afterwards.

Deciding to continue to live in the village, near her dead son, Aster ekes out her life as a fortune teller. In time, using a magic mirror she finds, she befriends blight-ridden Rebecca, who also is about to give birth. Can the two of them find a way to survive in this dismal future for humanity?

The story felt choppy as it covered several years in short snippets. But the mystery did draw the reader through to the unexpected end.

Vicious Circles” by Paul Dale Anderson

Samuel is about to accomplish his life-long goal in this short fantasy. The local witches have invited him to attend their annual gathering. After years of preparation, he finally has the chance to connect with other worlds and become a powerful wizard. If he is successful, he will learn all about the past and the future, and will even learn the exact time of his death.

After shedding his clothes, the witches lead a blindfolded Samuel inside the circle. The Sidhe begins her song, which transports Samuel through the veil to see his destiny.

This short fantasy was easy to read, but rather predictable.

Assorted Shades of Red” by Franklyn Searight

Walter and Gloria have just moved into their new house in this short horror story. On the first day they notice some curious blood spots on the staircase. Ignoring the warning, they complete their move-in and within a week have forgotten about the strange blood spots.

But they cannot ignore the large blood stain that appears a week later, nor the mangled and half eaten corpse of their dog. When more bizarre blood stains appear, and equally disturbing dreams invade Walter’s sleep, they come to realize the house is haunted. What do the malicious ghosts want, and how far will they go to get it?

This was a run-of-the-mill haunted house story. The prose was okay, but it didn’t add much to the horror genre’s ideas.

Strange Days in Old Yandrissa” by John R. Fultz

In this short horror tale, Ligeus searches for a wizard to help his cousin, the King, free the land of a curse. Unable to find any wizards, Ligeus decides to take back to court a bedraggled traveler, Pebble, possessed by demons.

Back at the royal court, the King takes a liking to Pebble. Meanwhile, Ligeus and the King’s wife, Camryl, are plotting against the King. Camryl loves Ligeus and she is maintaining the curse on the land. The demons possessing Pebble are an unknown factor that could upset the young lovers’ plans.

The plot wandered with no clear direction. Overall it was a difficult story to comprehend.

Fertility Rites” by Glynn Owen Barrass

Barrass’ short horror starts with Constance experiencing an intense erotic dream. Ever since the pastor gave her a demonic crucifix, an unseen demon has visited her each night, propelling her to the limits of ecstasy.

Her father, a simple moral person, discovers her nightly secret. He plans to whip her raw. But Constance has other plans.

The prose engaged the reader; however, the plot was predictable. In the end it was an okay story that did little to advance its genre.

The Witch’s Heart” by Rachel Bolton

Tara’s fiancé jilts her in this short fantasy-horror piece. And there’s a price to pay when you ditch a witch. The coven’s rules trap the pregnant Tara, she must use her magic to break her erstwhile lover, or face a slow withering death as her powers fade away.

Tara still has feelings for him and her heart is too gentle to be a good witch. As the day approaches for his marriage to a new girl, can she save herself and her unborn daughter?

This was an interesting story where the author managed to keep the mystery going and the reader engaged.

Hag Race” by Andre E. Harewood

It’s the final round of the Reality-TV show Hag Race in this short fantasy. Witches compete to be the apprentice of a TV personality wizard. In the final round the three finalists must perform a personal task and a much grander task, using their unique skills.

One contestant uses her well-known dream skills to influence people to resolve some problems in the world. The other two use their skills to manipulate modern social media outlets to accomplish their goals. The judges weigh the various approaches. Meantime, the outgoing apprentice tells the audience how much her skills have developed in the last year. But not all is as sedate as it appears.

The story premise was unusual and interesting. The end was unexpected. But the prose was slow and dragged on too much.

Best Friend Becky” by Wayne Faust

In this endearing flash fantasy, Sammy, an eight-year-old, wakes to voices. Her doll is speaking to her, asking her to play and admonishing her for ignoring it. Sammy is a smart kid, but a talking doll should be more than enough to scare even the hardiest of souls.

The story possessed a style that easily engaged the reader and the ending had a wonderful charm to it.

The Rat in the Rabbit Cage” by Ashley Dioses

Emily is visiting her distraught sister, Theodora, in this short horror story. After accepting a strange white rat from her equally strange neighbor, Theodora’s pets are disappearing. Color changes in the rat convince Theodora that it’s eating each pet. The rat acquires a patch of fur the same color of each pet when that pet disappears.

Emily hears how Theodora returned the rat to her neighbor, but her new dog still goes missing soon after she brings it home. Now she has convinced Emily to go and confront the old witch next door.

The intrigue about the rat provided enough pull and the writing craft was okay. It was an interesting story that left the reader mystified.

Two Spells” by Neva Bryan

Cathy loves her coal miner husband, Henry, in this poignant short fantasy. On the day she discovers she is expecting their first son, an ornery cow crushes Henry and he dies overnight.

Desperate for her love and her unborn child, Cathy seeks help from the local witches. Ignoring their dire warnings of a price to pay, she uses one of their spells to bring her husband back. But it isn’t at all what she hoped for. Henry is a poor shadow of himself, more dead than alive. And soon she’ll have to pay the price for going against God’s laws.

This was an easily read story where the author developed Cathy’s character well. The touching end helped make it a nice tale.

Pulled Over” by Paul Spears

In this short fantasy, Bob pulls over a native woman on a road running through the Arizona desert. Nothing seems normal to Bob, as the woman demonstrates a scary control over him.

All she seems to want to do is talk. Torn between arresting the obviously drunk woman, and just letting her go, Bob listens. She talks about the fate of her people and about Bob’s policeman life—which she has no right knowing. Still Bob can’t decide what to do.

The author has created a mystery that was hard to put down. But the ending seemed to lack bite.

The Witch of Skur” by L.F. Falconer

Born a lynx, the witch of Skur works for the shape-shifting dragon in this short fantasy. The witch has just one cat-life left as the dragon directs her to seduce two soldiers and take a special talisman from one of them.

The witch hates, but fears the dragon. She entices the soldiers to her lair, which she has decorated with the skins of all the other men she has seduced. As she tries to charm the soldier to give up the talisman willingly, things go wrong and she finds herself in peril of losing her last life.

The prose was slow and most of the story described the situation. The ending was sudden and incomplete.

Cat and Mouse” by Duane Pesice

Me is a cat in this short fantasy. She is one of several that live with a witch who fights with her husband. Me watches the witch as she makes a doll to torment her husband.

Meanwhile, Me and her sisters and brothers live the simple life of cats. Sleeping and dreaming during the day and going hunting at night.

This story was hard to follow with much of the mystery fabricated by the author’s choice of names and perspective. It was difficult to comprehend the purpose of the tale.

Last of the Ashiptu” by Paul Lubaczewski

In this short fantasy, Will is an ambitious and successful young man, with no moral compass. He seduces his boss’s Iranian wife, Noora, just to prove he can. But then things start to change. Everything he touches, be it business or a personal matter, goes wrong.

Noora calls him to say he’s cursed. They agree to meet at a local waterfall. Here Will learns some disturbing facts about Noora and her family’s long history dating back to ancient Persia. He also discovers a way out of the curse if he has the guts to take it.

This was a slow but engaging story, the pace picking up in the second half, making for a pleasant read.

Firestorm” by Richard H. Durisen

An Irish mystic uses his knowledge to help others in this short fantasy. Sean hears that a British bombardier, Phil, has moved into a cottage nearby. When he hears Phil screaming at night he wants to help the tormented young man.

His mystic guidebook says that he must be intimate with the airman. So, Sean calls upon his dead sister to help. Can Sean overcome his own inhibitions to aid Phil, who is consumed by guilt over his role as a bombardier during the Dresden raid?

This story had some unexpected twists throughout. An okay read, but a little on the slow side of a good pace.

The Witch of Pender” by John Linwood Grant

Mamma Lucy is a conjurer in this short fantasy. She comes to Pender county to help two families, one white and one black. The Cooperson’s daughter is deranged and pregnant, and the family blames a black boy for her condition. The menfolk are building up the resolve to take revenge on the innocent black boy when Mamma Lucy arrives.

Soft spoken, Mamma uses her skills to slowly unpeel the onion of truth. A truth that is much stranger than rape and will hit much closer to home for the Coopersons. Along the way, Mamma Lucy seeks a cure for the stricken girl.

The plot was well constructed, and the prose kept the interest going. A pleasant read.

The Nora Witch” by Brandon Jimison

Two men ride across the dessert to deliver church money in this short fantasy. Kairo is the hired gun, guarding the priest carrying the money. At night, they camp atop a dangerous escarpment. Kairo can’t sleep, as he once worked for a pharaoh and after centuries of sleep, he doesn’t require any more nap time.

Down in the valley, Kairo sees some strange blue-green lights and leaving the priest asleep, he goes to investigate. As he approaches, the lights resolve into small girls glowing with an eerie light. Joined by the priest, the two travelers confront a witch, who holds the little girls in her thrall.

This was an interesting tale. The writing style was easy to read, and the mystery and danger engaged the reader.

The Broken Witch” by Scott Hutchison

In this mysterious short fantasy, Effie Mae is a simple witch who can charm snakes to give up their venom. One day, after selling her venom to a local merchant, three widows confront her. They complain of a new witch who killed their loving husbands. Their husbands were loggers, and the recently arrived witch, Claire, loves trees and protects the spirits living within them.

After listening to their stories, Ellie Mae goes to visit Claire. Claire is a powerful witch; she shows no fear of Ellie Mae as she invites her into her home. Can Ellie Mae find a way to trick this powerful witch and bring peace once more to her quiet region?

The plot was interesting, but the prose was slow which made it a cumbersome read. The end left a lot of unanswered questions for the reader to think about.

This was an okay anthology with half the stories of average quality. In amongst these were some better stories that were a true pleasure to read.