An officer of an historic trust stays in an old manor house occupied by a pair of sisters, a wistful ghost, and a lot of dust.
Like most Aikman stories, this one takes its time to set up the situation and build out the characters and their relationships. It has few really scary moments, but a sense of dread runs through even the more mundane scenes. Aikman brings his own experience with historical preservation (and surely his experience of the politics within preservation societies) in this story, which adds another layer of interest.
A woman feels herself being watched, at first in quietly uncomfortable ways and then in horrifically terrifying ways.
This is a delightfully creepy story full of paranoia and dread, playing with themes of voyeurism and surveillance.
A representative of a feral cat rescue group visits an unusual colony of cats and their reclusive caretaker.
This is a dark and twisty little story; it didn’t go quite where I expected, and I enjoyed how it kept me guessing even if my guesses were mostly wrong.
A girl and her dog return to a witch’s forest cottage where she made a dangerous bargain ten years before.
A fairy-tale-like story that pulls together a few of Haskins’ favorite themes – dogs, witches, forests, magic; this closes the collection well, while leaving the conclusion uncertain (which is another theme of this collection).
The surviving members of a rock band attempt to exorcise an entity from one of their heroes.
This story has an interesting spin on the typical possession story; it plays with the old “sold my soul at the crossroads” trope and explores grief and regret in some unexpectedly poignant ways.
A cyborg soldier encounters a peaceful village in peril in a post-apocalyptic landscape.
There are some interesting ideas in this story – the enhanced “singers” as a weapon, the robot war, the Central Command seeking to gather the remnant populations into domed cities – that I would like to see expanded into a longer work. While it hews close to the tropes of post-apocalyptic-cum-Western, its characters are fleshed out and the protagonist’s internal turmoil raises the story above the mundane.
A boy takes subtle revenge on his bully with the help of his mother and her misfit friends.
This is an enjoyable story for characterization and voice; not quite what I was expecting of a story in a “new fabulist” collection – it’s almost entirely realist – but Fowler is always fun to read even when she’s not being weird.
Advice is offered to a demon summoner when an exorcist arrives at her door.
This playful story turns poignant and dark as it goes on, and the voice of the narrator and the identity of the exorcist come into focus. I enjoyed the second-person narration and the clever descriptions of the levels of demonic summoning that have gone on leading to the revelation.
A man who works for a company that produces artificial food goes to a festival in his home town where a saint’s statue miraculously generates vast quantities of natural food.
This story plays with the meaning of a “miracle”: the food that Marty’s company produces is miraculous in its quantity, safety, and price; the food that the saint produces is miraculous in both its sudden bursting into reality and its sensuality compared to the artificial food. Its developing-country setting, where famine and unsafe food are recent memories for people who suddenly have access to cheap and abundant artificial food, makes the story particularly poignant – what are the true costs of feeding everyone? What are the true costs of not feeding everyone?
When a team mapping an Alaskan wilderness area disappear, a manager at a Google-like company and a group of friends who operate an adventure YouTube channel go looking for them, discovering that some places don’t want to be mapped.
This is an effectively scary story that ramps up quickly from a death-by-wilderness tale to something more cosmic in its horrors. It felt a bit like “The Ruins” to me, in the way the entity takes advantage of each character’s personal fears.