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

Weirdbook #31, September 2015

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Weirdbook #31, September 2015

Chivaine” by John R. Fultz

Give Me the Daggers” by Adrian Cole
The Music of Bleak Entrainment” by Gary A. Braunbeck
Into the Mountains with Mother Old Growth” by Christian Riley
The Grimlorn Under the Mountain” by James Aquilone
Dolls” by Paul Dale Anderson
Gut Punch” by Jason A. Wyckoff
Educational Upgrade” by Bret McCormick
Boxes of Dead Children” by Darrell Schweitzer
The Forgotten” by D.C. Lozar
Coffee with Dad’s Ghost” Jessica Amanda Salmonson
Missed it by That Much” by Gregg Chamberlain
A Clockwork Muse” by Erica Ruppert
The Rookery” by Kurt Newton
Wolf of Hunger, Wolf of Shame” by J. T. Glover
Zucchini Season” by Janet Harriett
The Jewels that were Their Eyes” by Llanwyre Laish
The Twins” by Kevin Strange
Princess or Warrior?” by S.W. Lauden

Reviewed by Eric Kimminau

Weirdbook was started in 1967 by Paul Ganley and last published in 1997. This new incarnation edited by Doug Draa (available in print and kindle formats) starts with the premise that to be included, a story must “satisfy.” At 213 pages packed with over 20 stories, this issue is LOADED with great material. I am satisfied you will find several that will satisfy your need for Fantasy and Horror.

The honor to be the first story in the reincarnation of Weirdbook goes to “Chivaine” by John R. Fultz. Ghost Rider meets a twisted Lady of the Lake, the Witch from the Mountain, resulting in an Arthurian Chivaine rising from the dead in resurrection to save the Willowlands from Barain Hawkheart, Lord of the Horses and his ravaging hordes. Just as Chivaine has repeated his heroics as tales of legend, so he continues and returns peace to the valley. As a reward he again tastes the fruits of this world and then returns to his place of eternal rest. But the legend of Chivaine has been reborn! For it is the way of the world that Peace never lasts. But it has been well satisfied for at least a short time.

Give Me the Daggers” by Adrian Cole is not your typical detective story. Nick Stone, aka Nick Nightmare, specializes in the weird and strange cases. When the Chief of police calls him to the grisly scene of the murder of the Mayor’s son, his first clue is to hunt down the owner of the murder weapons, throwing knives, believed to be members of Count Rudolfo’s Hungarian Extravaganza, specifically Dokta Dangerous and the Daggermen. To do so Nick would have to travel to another “dimension” known as “Pulpworld.” Nick discovers that the Angel of Malice framed the Daggermen in an attempt to force them into his service and they are more than motivated to assist Nick in bringing the demon to justice back in his world. Some great twists and turns worthy of the best Saturday morning pulp reel and more than satisfying my True Detective fix. I give this one 2 thumbs up, hanging 10 on an Astral Surfboard.

The Music of Bleak Entrainment” by Gary A. Braunbeck discusses entrainment, whereby externally-imposed sound vibrations can have a profound influence on human physiology. In short when you are exposed to certain audio vibrations your body can respond and react and, given the ability, supply feedback together and as a result of the frequency with harmony. A very technical/musical story. The story begins as an interview, a journalist interviewing a mass murderer who supposedly killed 17 people but only admits to killing 12. Directly, unequivocally, unapologetically admits to it. The story proceeds to tell a fantastic tale of an experiment gone horribly wrong which opened a path to hell and calls forth an ancient spirit of evil, forcing him to murder 12 pathologically insane patients in order to save humanity. Mental note to self. Never participate in a Cymatics study. Creepiness and geek technology terror satisfied!

Into the Mountains with Mother Old Growth” by Christian Riley begins with Kevin Cooley driving into the mountains for his first ever two-week solo camping trip into the wild of the Northern Cascade mountains, in an area that experienced murders believed to have been committed by a serial killer, the victim found dismembered and stuffed into his own backpack. Oh, the portents of things to come. What begins as a foray into self-discovery, rapidly transforms into a horrific journey of terror, leaving the reader with the gut churning question whether the Mother has been satisfied.

The Grimlorn Under the Mountain” by James Aquilone is the story of Maxwell, a failed, lonely, anti-social entrepreneur, supported by his father, and his brother, Richard, the schemer, who were taking “an excursion in nature.” When Richard suddenly shoved Maxwell into a gaping hole and yelled “Don’t worry, Maxwell! You’ll be fine. You’re always fine.” Maxwell began to realize things were not going to be fine. They went from bad to worse when out of the darkness someone or something called him by name. The Grimlorn is a magical female hag who lives/has been trapped for an unknown time beneath the lonely mountain and she bargained with Richard, giving him “riches beyond your imagination” in exchange for making Maxwell her husband. One can only imagine whether they would or could be satisfied, be able to follow the rules, to learn to see in the dark, to see the possibilities for happiness. Would you be rewarded or would you feel the pain? Either way the Grimlorn would be happy.

Dolls” by Paul Dale Anderson tells of Lizza, a living doll who killed her first human when she was seven years old, and her mother, a Witch, who had created Lizzie to find young, beautiful, alive female donors to keep mother young and beautiful as well. “Not only were Lizza and mother invisible to ordinary eyes, once a woman wandered within mother’s sphere of influence, the donor disappeared from ordinary sight, too. Lizza or mother could do anything they wanted, and no one would know.” “You are what you eat” and only pure alive souls and their life essence would sustain Lizza and mother and they are becoming harder to find. But they must feed every seven days or they would shrivel and die. They inherited all of the thoughts, hopes, memories and aspirations that they absorbed but they had no soul and they could not take one from their donors. Lizza and mother remained beautiful because they fed off the life essence of the most beautiful souls they could find. But mother needed to teach her child doll a lesson, to wean her like a severed umbilical, to teach her about the power of love and the cost of hate. Mother whispered “Faire thee well, child”, satisfied she has done what was necessary.

Gut Punch” by Jason A. Wyckoff is a crushing tale of Devin, a gay man who has been called to an insane asylum to assist a Doctor Duenger in determining what has caused his formerly drug addict mother’s current, seemingly unexplainable psychosis. Drugs do not seem to affect her. Her toxicology reports are clean, even after being administered barbiturates in the hospital. The Doctor convinces Devin that a trip back to his mother’s home may shed light on what has caused her dementia. The psychedelic purging that follows is a mess of random thoughts, memories, and a series of muddled and confusing images that left me personally, what? Disgusted? Disturbed? Not damaged. Depreciated. I now feel less clean than I did before. I did not enjoy this story.

I had no idea what to expect with “Educational Upgrade” by Bret McCormick. To say it rapidly went in a totally unexpected direction would be near the understatement of the year. Murray Gebhardt has been referred to Mind Expansion Enterprises by a friend. Murray wants to apply for a new job that will require that he live and work in Beijing, China. To do so, he must be able to quickly learn how to speak Beijing Mandarin fluently. “You see, the human brain is not the source of consciousness, nor even really the storehouse of information. Basically, it’s like an antenna. Through this antenna we can receive and transmit information.” Daniel, the owner/operator for Mind Expansion Enterprises, facilitates “transmissions” between other people so they may acquire new skills. Any skill that anyone on the planet has is available, for a price. In Murray’s case, a Buddhist monk will grant him the ability to speak Beijing Mandarin in exchange for allowing him to sit quietly in Murray’s body for a specific amount of time and meditate on a daily basis. He also wants an annual trip to a cherry orchard in bloom. You have no idea the skills I wish I could suddenly have access to. But what would have to be given to satisfy my passenger?

Boxes of Dead Children” by Darrell Schweitzer started off as an interesting tale of an unnamed reclusive, once successful celebrity inventor, the “New Thomas Edison” of his day who has just moved into his new furnished Victorian era mansion in Eagle’s Head, Maine. He decides to explore the expansive abode. “That the place should be haunted was only appropriate.” As he explored, he tried to “open himself to the influence of the house” and a black and white photo album full of pictures of dead children rapidly turns this into to a tale of possession where the line between reality and insanity is dramatically crossed after following the path of a model train through the empty house. It surely satisfied my interest in the twisted macabre and is one I wouldn’t read alone with the power out.

The Forgotten” by D. C. Lozar is a story of Jake, venturing out to an old, lightning-damaged fig tree where his parents had fallen in love, decided on his conception, and where he played as an infant. But since their death he had learned about social services, government run temporary homes. He had an assignment to write of a place that held special meaning for him, so he had sneaked out to visit this special place and to refresh his memory. The sudden twist that forced me to re-read from the beginning, searching for the clues that would have led me to different assumptions made for a satisfying journey, reminding me of how much we all need to be held and loved.

Coffee with Dad’s Ghost” by Jessica Amanda Salmonson is a very short story that reminisces of a ghostly visitation and in a short amount of time manages to bring in images of Satan, implies that all homosexuals go to hell, and that you can somehow earn positions of power there. It ends as abruptly as it began and left enough questions unanswered that I chose to just move along.

For the vast majority of the under 30, or possibly even 40 year-old generations, the phrase “missed it by that much” probably doesn’t hold the same comedic memory as for those of us who grew up or were around to see the Don Adams comedy series Get Smart. Every time he took a risky chance he always missed, but just barely.  Then he would deliver this line and hold up his finger and thumb about an inch apart. I went into this story with this in mind and “Missed it by That Much” by Gregg Chamberlain satisfied the memory of that slapstick comedic value with just a bit of surprise twist to make a wry smile appear. If it weren’t for the old “go back and start all over again” trick, this would have been a great story!

A Clockwork Muse” by Erica Ruppert is strangely alluring yet lacking the details to make it a complete mosaic. The apparent story of Delia, an artificially intelligent yet lifelike automaton with some memories of a previous life (lives?) and her “creator,” Stephen, who may also at least be partially mechanical and who draws and paints Delia over and over and Szmenski, who repairs her (them?) as needed is a richly covered canvas. Whatever mental torment the imperfection within Stephen’s creation has caused results in Delia (Adele?) constantly trying to destroy herself. While the story itself does not satiate, the resultant wondering as to the mental state of a humanoid AI just might.

The Rookery” by Kurt Newton is the story of a young boy stealthily hunting through the woods seeking “the ones who had been eating all the crops and carrying all that disease.” They all live together in their house of sticks and they are all killed by the boy and his father, first with guns, then finished with knives. Unless hunting an unknown bothers you there’s not much else here.

Wolf of Hunger, Wolf of Shame” by J. T. Glover is an interesting tail (that was intentional) of a gray timber wolf in winter in the forest who spies a clockwork mechanical wolf, Luper Kyphrian, who convinces him to travel to his home across the plain to Vex Trassilia “where we are warm and never hunger.” His brief foray brings him into an entirely mechanical city where all who live there consume only oil. When Kyphrian excuses himself for a “forgotten appointment,” the wolf follows and discovers Kyphrian has gone to a “House of Shame” where his mainspring was retightened by clock men in robes. This is the final oddity of this new place that the wolf could stand and so he returned to the forest, better to be starving and free in the forest than a helpless clockwork. I was satisfied with the obvious message, that being that it is better to be alive and free than dependent upon our technology.

Zucchini Season” by Janet Harriett is an interesting tale of death, commenting on Death's role through history, doing his job and assisting “passengers” to the transport crews, helping in their transition, removing pain and regret, giving some last bit of comfort and, in rare cases, granting a dying wish. For this particular event we have a woman who is begging for more time before her passing because it is August and zucchini season and she promised herself that she would never die during harvest season because her girls wouldn’t know what to do with it all. This amuses death as something that has never been asked of him before and so he grants this final wish as only he could. Definitely an interesting take on the portfolio of death.

The Jewels that were Their Eyes” by Llanwyre Laish is a truly wonderful and unique tale of ravens seeking fame and honor in the court of the Raven King by obtaining jewels, the eyes of dead humans, in exchange for silver rings on the King's tree. The first cadre to obtain 50 bright jewels would be granted immortality by the Raven King and so Chi, Ro, and Ta, the runt with broken feathers, but also the cleverest of the three set out to win the Raven King's favor and are nearly at their goal, only needing two more jewels when the waning warm seasons of war are slowing their pace and decreasing their successes. They decide to travel several days’ flight to seek their prize and find a single lone knight lying alone on the battlefield, but he is surrounded by magic, protected by his falcon, his hunting dog and then his wife, heavy with child, but with the dullness of death in her eyes. Chi and Ro return to the Raven King without success but Ta stays with the woman, comforting her until her death. At her passing, she whispers “Show you have learned loyalty; return the jewels you have stolen.” Upon his return, Ta is renounced and set upon by the flock but he does not die. Instead, he spends generations daily being set upon by the flock, his tattered limbs then regrown and returning the gathered jewels from whence they were stolen so that one day, when his task has been completed, his own bright eyes will be returned and he may have one last look into the sun before becoming a living monument. A testament to satisfying the dying woman’s wish.

The Twins” by Kevin Strange is a twisted story, one to match the author's name. Treyvon finds himself in grief over the death of his twelve year-old son, Trey junior. Trey was accidentally murdered by his wife Tamara, who backed over him with the car. She wasn’t paying attention, using her phone. In his grief Treyvon turns to the Dark Net, the hidden internet, to learn the Vatican's black magic secrets to bring Trey Jr. back from the dead. But he didn’t know all the rules and he didn’t do things correctly and the result is a pair of abominations that require feeding on death. He has now become a custodian, a janitor, cleaning up the mess he has created, which returns (for eternity?) every third moon cycle. A very gruesome story which placates the need for horror.

The final story from this issue is “Princess or Warrior?” by S.W. Lauden. Mark is a rich kid drug addict who has started robbing liquor stores to pay for his habit. His next target has been selected and the gun is stuffed into his jeans, his new tattoo on his left forearm (the Chinese symbol for Warrior, or so he had been told) still pink and tender. When a vagrant asking for change suddenly starts telling him more about himself than anyone should, or could, know he must accept the conclusion that it really is himself, bouncing back in time to warn him of the consequences of his next robbery. And that his tattoo really is the character for princess, not warrior. As his time-visiting self disappears from view, Mark chooses to continue on his destined path but it is unclear whether he will take his own advice or not. Just enough future tech and mind trip vuja de to satisfy me that this has been a fantastic issue of Weirdbook. You are what you believe, no matter what your tattoo says.

Eric Kimminau is a BBS geek turned IT professional seeking fame or fortune in a world full of soulless corporations.