Crowded Magazine #2, September 2013

Crowded Magazine #2, September 2013

Reviewed in this issue are:

“Roll the Bones” by Alan Baxter
“After the Hourglass Empties” by Jason Michael Gruber
“The Jester’s Child” by Ruthanna Emrys
“House Cats” by Tracy Canfield
“Eastern Promise” by Stuart Horn
“An Empty Room” by Gaie Sebold
“Yes – And Also I Really Did Need to Buy Cadmium – Cadmium, I Tell You!” by Tim McDaniel
“The Baby Mimic” by Tory Hoke
“Miss Rahl” by Daniel Barnett

This issue offers many flavors of speculative fiction.

In “Roll the Bones” by Alan Baxter, Skinny is a street kid who is looking for a chance, a lucky break, or an opportunity. When one comes his way in the form of a message he’s paid to deliver, and a small leather bag of magic dice he’s given as the man who asked him to deliver the message is on the ground dying, he takes it. That leads him to meet Luck and Chance in person. The decision he must make then could have serious consequences for Skinny, for humanity, or for Luck and Chance. This is one of those stories where the author takes readers on a journey and leaves them at a fork in the road wondering what the outcome will be.

“After the Hourglass Empties” by Jason Michael Gruber is a set in a post-apocalyptic desert landscape on a world where the few survivors are concerned that “Puissant Toad had grown large enough to shake the world off His back and begin swallowing the stars.” Titus, an old man who has wandered the sand, comes to a solitary outpost and is taken in for a brief time. However, the village elder refuses to let him stay. When he leaves, the young girl, Cecily, who noticed him in the sand and helped him make his way to the shelter decides to go after him, then has second thoughts. This story had a disjointed and ambling feel to it.

Ruthanna Emrys gives us “The Jester’s Child.” It’s set in a fictional Los Angeles where jesters are immortals with clouds that allow them to do things that seem like magic. For all they can do, jesters are not allowed to have children. After a jester, Zaz, notices a young boy watching her at one of her performances, she follows him and discovers that he is a homeless mortal child. She convinces the boy, who we later learn is named Brian, to come home with her and let her take care of him. This decision causes friction in her household of jesters. Feeling unwelcome, Brian runs away. Zaz and a fellow jester, Wes, track him down and have to decide what to do about the boy. Though exciting in many aspects, ultimately this story’s predictability was a letdown.

Kyle from “House Cats” by Tracy Canfield is a stubbly young stranger who happens to be a werepanther. As the story opens, he is getting high in a graveyard and vowing to himself that he is not going to transform. Delores Halderbaum is a widowed, respectable matron and head of the Peacock Guild. Her organization puts on an annual Home and Garden Show as a fundraiser for the Tulip Tree Foundation, a group that helps children with cancer. She’s also a werepanther. Anthony Schomacker, head of the Tulip Tree Foundation is not a werepanther. He’s a greedy schmuck who thinks he can do a better fundraising job than Delores. This story is about what happens when the three collide. It would have been funnier if the cats had been cougars instead of panthers.

Twenty-one year old Danny is the protagonist of Stuart Horn’s “Eastern Promise.” Meeting with a realtor, Danny is looking for his first flat, somewhere in Glasgow not too far from the uni where he will be working. An introductory quote from a fictional tome, Demonology and Vampirism in Europe, clues the reader in to what Danny probably smells when he selects the seemingly perfect flat. Once he’s moved in and settled, Danny finds himself with £100 worth of tools that he can’t remember buying although there is a receipt in his wallet for them. He uses them to open up a hole in one of his concrete walls. All the while he driven by a smell he can’t quite place, though it is pleasant and calms and comforts him. What happens once the hole is finished pushes this story into horror light territory.

In “An Empty Room” by Gaie Sebold, Mark and June are parents grieving over the death of their three-day-old baby. Mark has remained strong as June suffered a breakdown. One night, Mark awakens from a nightmare in which “something hungry… with a lamprey’s mouth, all teeth and parasitic greed,” is rushing toward him. June isn’t in bed and Mark panics, thinking the worst, only to find that she had just gone to the loo. In the morning, June is back to her pre-grief, happy, energetic self. Mark is suspicious of this sudden but welcome change. Nonetheless, June continues to thrive, though she refuses to leave the house. Then Mark finds out what has caused the shift in June. This is another horror light story.

A humpbacked mad scientist has a penchant for rambling and a daughter in need of a babysitter. He is the main character of Tim McDaniel’s “Yes – And Also I Really Did Need to Buy Cadmium – Cadmium, I Tell You!” Doctor Crawley has the annoying habit of repeating everything he says. As a character trait, it is presented consistently. Reading it is annoying. The short version here is that Crawley hires Julie to babysit his daughter, Molly. Julie has a creepy ex-boyfriend, Eric, who is a control freak. After Julie babysits, Molly expresses an interest in fingernail polish, cartoons, and the game Uno. Crawley seeks out Julie to take Molly shopping. However, Eric has decided that he needs to see Julie. Crawley and Julie make a deal that should be mutually beneficial. The story ends abruptly with no real resolution.

Tory Hoke perpetuates a hoax in “The Baby Mimic.” Nora and Greg are childless and want to adopt. They have some rigid requirements, among them that the child be young. When the social worker, Amy, tells them that they would be perfect for a study of bonding between parents and a fake science fiction technology baby, they reluctantly agree. There are conditions, of course, that they must accept. Amy ensures that they do. Anthony is delivered to them late one night after Nora has been undergoing induced labor symptoms. Though Anthony bonds with Nora first, eventually he also bonds with Greg. Weeks later, during a normal check-up, Amy tells Nora and Greg that the trial is ending early and takes Anthony away from them. The story would have been tighter if it ended at the reveal.

When a female visitor comes to see George Hilkins and ask him about “Miss Rahl,” Daniel Barnett shows us the interview. After telling the interviewer quite seriously that “Miss Rahl was straight from Hell,” he regales her with a coming of age story told from the perspective of the man he has become. Even now, he pines for Miss Rahl in a very erotic way. Considering what we learn of Miss Rahl, the story does her an injustice by dragging on and not cutting to the chase as Miss Rahl would surely have done. The ending, however, is a surprise.

A version of this review appears on the Tangent Online website.

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