For example, the opening short story, “Bury Me in Tar and Twine,” by Jess Landry deals with the suicide of a child in a single-parent family. After Miyako’s sister completes suicide, her mom urges them to move on and forget about her. As Miyako’s mother becomes more withdrawn, a strange tar substance begins to manifest in the home, drawing Miyako to the basement where her sister’s room once was.
The second story of the anthology, Paul Moore’s “Husks,” is even more tragic. Carter Reynolds once had it all: a rising career as a police officer and a wondrous wife; however, after his daughter is born stillborn, his wife becomes distant and he turns to the bottle. In the process, he winds up losing his wife and his job. Yet, Carter is able to rebuild his life as he joins AA to become sober and obtains a new job as a process server. It’s a story of personal triumph that should be applauded, and yet during one night serving foreclosure papers to a seemingly abandoned farm, something supernatural takes hold, forcing him to investigate the farm house, eventually winding up with a glass of alcohol in his hands. How did the glass get there? Carter doesn’t know, though the evil scarecrow on the farmstead may have something to do with it. It’s a well-crafted supernatural story with detective elements, yet the defeatism is strong in it.
Lisa Morton’s “Unity Endangered” is a circular story in which the end becomes the beginning, a clever device that underscores the protagonist’s helpless and trapped situation. As in prior stories, at no fault of her own, Unity finds herself on the street after her dad is injured and incapacitated and eventually passes away. As the bills pile up, Unity becomes homeless and seeks refuge in a too-good-to-be-true institution that helps the destitute. As with Carter mentioned in the prior story, Unity begins to piece together her life by getting a job, and yet is punished for her efforts by a nefarious spellcaster also residing in the institution.
Lee Murray’s “Losing Face” is the most tragic and heartbreaking story in the anthology, as it doesn’t deal with the supernatural or magic or anything speculative; it is real-world horror. “Losing Face” has a double meaning in Murray’s story; it refers to anonymous (faceless) online trolls who exhibit extreme signs of toxic masculinity due to them being unable to control the women in their lives, while at the same time referring to their preferred method of “saving face” which is to pour acid on the women who stand up to them. As tragic as Murray’s story is, it ends with an element of optimism and hope that is missing from a few of the other stories in the collection.
Many of the other stories in the anthology follow a similar suit of being well crafted and intriguing, though gut punching and tragic; however, Jeff Strand’s story, “Lost Gator,” arrives and brings a much-needed respite from the emotional weight that has thus been packed on. As the title overtly states, “Lost Gator” is about a lost, giant, man-eating alligator. The entire story is practically a parody of Waiting For Godot as it reads like Samuel Beckett writing a Monty Python sketch:
“I never said he was a giant alligator.”
“Is he a giant alligator?”
Alter hesitated. “Yes.”
The story is side-splittingly hilarious.
Though not a comedy, Chris Mason’s “Out of Darkness” stays in the weird-fiction genre with its heavy Twilight Zone vibes. After his mother passes away, Tom ventures into the desert to look for a mine, but instead happens upon an artificial retirement community in the middle of nowhere populated only with his long-lost dad. It’s a surreal and interesting tale, as Tom has magic powers that allow him to fly (somewhat). The story cuts off too soon and should definitely be expanded to at least a novella, where Tom becomes more acquainted with his father and explores the mysterious mine even further.
The anthology ends on a weak note with F. Paul Wilson’s “Feelings” which is essentially a reworking of Stephen King’s (as Richard Bachman) novel, Thinner, only instead of an unethical, obese lawyer who is cursed to lose weight, there is an unethical, insensitive lawyer who is cursed to be overly empathetic. Initially giddy to use his newfound Deanna Troi superpowers to selfishly benefit himself, he soon becomes overwhelmed by the emotions of others, both living and dead, which drives him into hysterics. Aside from being unoriginal, the story seems out of place in the anthology, as the lawyer does not lose anything. He, in fact, gains something: empathy (though in an extreme fashion).
Tales of the Lost is a rewarding collection of short stories, though not necessarily in a “fun” sense. It is a humanistic collection that requires some introspection on the part of its readers to get the full effect. It’s uncomfortable and challenging, but perhaps needed, especially in these dour times where many folks are right at the threshold of losing something: their home, their job, their insurance, their significant other, and so on. Tales of the Lost is a text that perhaps instills a little bit of fear and awareness in that these are all very real concepts that everyone will eventually confront.
Except for Strand’s giant, man-eating alligator.
Creative Team: Eugene Johnson (editor) and Steve Dillon (editor)
Publisher: Things in the Well
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