OR: Bare Bone #3

A review that originally appeared in The Fix #6:-


Edited by Kevin L. Donihe

While it might be called Bare Bone, this third issue certainly gives the fiction aficionado plenty of meat to chew on, with no ads and no illustrations, every inch of space packed with text, and poems by the likes of Cathy Buburuz, Charlee Jacob, Steve Rasnic Tem, Nancy Bennett, and Wayne Edwards, many of them excellent, used to fill the white space at the end of the shorter pieces. There are twenty-five stories, with the emphasis on horror and weird fiction, and no reticence about stepping into the gorier reaches of the genre.

Leading off is ‘Spider Willie’ by Donald R. Burleson, a humdrum tale about an old man haunted by imaginary terrors that pans out pretty much how you expect and is just going through the motions, but hard on the heels of this is the excellent ‘Trick Or Treat Or…’ in which Kurt Newton conjures up a sort of guardian spirit for Halloween, sworn to protect the innocent from malicious pranksters, a short piece characterised by lively writing and a genuine feel for the spirit of that dark festival. More good stuff from James S. Dorr with ‘Dirty Windows’, an entertaining diversion on the theme of the homicidal madman with a neat twist at the end, and in ‘The Bridge’ by C. S. Fuqua a man is reconciled to his own death, the story developed credibly and evoking real empathy for what the character is going through. Written as if the journal of an inmate at an asylum, Tim Emswiler’s ‘The Grand Gesture’ catches the attention with a strong narrative voice and imagery, but the story seems to fizzle out for want of anywhere interesting to go.

In ‘The Cut of Words’ D. F. Lewis’s wordplay and confident prose style are a joy, but the link between the strong opening passage about a man with a skirt fetish and the rest of the story which concerns a woman reaping the consequences of marrying beneath herself seems tenuous and looked at as a whole the story is unconvincing. This time around the pros just about outweigh the cons. ‘The Monkeys Thought It Was All in Fun’ by Kendall Evans has a psychiatrist writing a book about her serial killer patient and slowly drawn into his fantasy world, only with this being horror the fantasy is far more tangible than it should be, a well realised version of familiar material, with clever use of the jack in the box as an image of terror. Bob Schmalfeldt’s ‘The Family Circle’ gives us a convincing picture of religious obsession though the ‘surprise’ ending is more than slightly telegraphed, while the protagonist of ‘Dunbar’s Razor’ by Thomas Deja has an obsessive compulsive disorder that is somewhat disturbing to say the least, the matter of fact and minutely detailed narration competently capturing his mental state, though ultimately the story has little else to offer. ‘One Day in Late March’ by Denise Dumars has three ancient priestesses granted visions of their future lives and attempting to change fate, a story that’s well written and certainly holds the interest but doesn’t deliver quite enough by way of payoff.

More familiar ideas in the amusing ‘Perfect’ by Lawrence Barker, with a man rescuing some kind of hobgoblin and receiving the perfect woman by way of a reward, though this time around it’s the hobgoblin who gets cheated, a story that is perhaps no more than a joke at the expense of male aspirations, but a joke that is well told and with a surprise punch line. Donna Taylor Burgess gives us a lively version of ‘The Tale of Bluebeard and The Room of Trespass’, though the fun is in the telling rather than any plot contrivance. Far more sinister is ‘Kiss Them For Me’ by Jeff Somers with two fiendish children threatening the life of their father, a chilling last line and some gratifying ambivalence regarding the narrator’s mental competence, while the gruesome ‘Back Outside the Creature Barn’ by C. C. Parker is a powerful examination of redneck culpability set against personal perversion and definitely not for the squeamish. Less effective but still mildly entertaining is ‘Game’ by Terry Alexander, a by the numbers piece about revenge from beyond the grave that holds no surprises, the kind of thing Richard Laymon might have written on an off day.

The shortest story here, ‘The Law’ by Lorin Emery, is pure atrocity show, about a man with an unusual fetish, no attempt to explore the psychology of this, just take it or leave it schlock value. ‘Night of a Thousand Eyes’ is a disappointing entry from the usually excellent Don Webb, a parody on the Island of Dr Moreau sub-genre that is a bit too restrained for its own good, coming over as slightly silly rather than genuinely funny. ‘Missing Heinrich’ by Phyllis Pyle feels like a third rate TV producer’s idea of cutting edge supernatural drama, a mediocre story about a woman helping reunite a tormented soul and her lover, along the way finding a solution to her own romantic troubles. Stefano Donati’s ‘Out of His Head’ has perhaps the most original premise in the issue, with a woman who, when she has sex, takes away bits of her partner’s memory. With convincing characterisation, a strong feel for the situation and a bittersweet ending the story is one of the highlights, though the idea could have been developed more. Ardath Mayhar’s ‘The Hole’ has a nasty little boy beguiled by some kind of monster, another piece that will leave the reader with little more than a strong sense of déjà vu and bewilderment as to why the author bothered.

Just five more to go. ‘The People’ by G. W. Thomas has a serial killer finding a place where he belongs, a story that conceptually comes on like a poor man’s Cabal and doesn’t evoke any strong feelings either for or against. Much more fun is ‘Writer’s Block’ by Byron Starr, which plays games with the old cliché of fictional characters taking on a life of their own and an author trying to reel in his creation who simply will insist on shooting the dog. Religious obsession is touched on again in ‘Witcher Woman’ by Daniel C. Bonasky, with a hypocritical preacher stirring his flock up against a harmless old woman. The story develops well and the payoff is satisfyingly low key, for all of which I have some problems with the idea of superstition exercising such a strong hold on young minds in the modern world. Say witch to most kids nowadays they think Willow and go all dreamy eyed, or is that just me? At three times the length of anything else, ‘Angel Wings’ by Gene KoKayKo, Craig A. Strickland, and Sherrie Brown is about the best thing here, so who says size isn’t important? It tells the story of Rubin, who until a few days ago was dying of cancer. Now his previously healthy wife has passed away and Rubin has gone into remission, a miracle that is the cue for much heart searching. The story plays deftly on two strings, on the one hand giving us a mystery complete with bad guy and on the other the inner torment of a man coming to realise that he owes his life to the sacrifice of the person he loved most in the world, and that he himself made this terrible bargain, so great was his fear of death. The mystery holds the attention, with some great characters, including a kindly doctor and a suspicious insurance investigator, while the torment is credibly realised, evoking genuine sympathy in the reader with its portrayal of love and loss. I’m not a big fan of stories written by committee, but this one works. And so to the last story in the magazine, ‘The Beauty of Sin’ by Jeffrey A. Stadt. It’s a weak note on which to end, a prose poem about a man being done in by an angel, with strong imagery undercut by the self-pitying narrative voice.

Bare Bone has much to offer and while there are more than a few clunkers there’s also a lot that is good. Chances are anyone who likes horror is going to find plenty to enjoy in this substantial magazine.

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