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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Review: Fresh Cut Tales: A Collection of Dark Fiction by Kenneth W. Cain



Looking for a new twist on old horrors? Kenneth W. Cain's Fresh Cut Tales could be what you're looking for. Eight in particular stand out. Several others are strong contenders.

"Shards" "Spaceship Earth" and "Twist of Pain" may be the collection's special gems. "Shards" relates Gerald's troubled past. He's married but doesn't want kids. He'd abused the neighbor's little kid as a babysitter and doesn't want it to happen again. In fact, he takes his frustration on on dolls and the stuffed animal his wife gave him. When she comes home, she brings news to him as he's trying to hide the bodies of mangled dolls:  They're having a baby.

The narrator finds himself descending an unusual manhole--thirteen miles from civilazation--to board "Spaceship Earth". He learns that not only is the planet being piloted, but he also cannot exit, and his actions are only making things worse. I'm not sure I've seen an SF tale where the theme suggests one generation's unpreparedness for being in charge. Very well done.

I hadn't seen the twist of "Twist of Pain" coming. A young woman is desperate to hide away as she's stolen Emily, someone's baby from their car. She evades passersby and one seems to peer into her, reveals her secrets. It's not just a twist story, but a moving, emotionally engaged one that is heightened by its surprise. Well worth seeking out.

Another fine specimen is "Perfect Little Hands", a rather disturbing mental map of a man who doesn't know how disturbed he is--very much in the style of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart". A stepfather seems to have unnamed designs for his stepdaughter, but she wrecks them when she moves in with a boyfriend. When she dies, he finds her changed in her coffin, smiling. Is she really alive? Is she still toying with him? Where are her wounds?

The collection opens with a word image and illustration that may initially put some readers off, but it's essential to the tale he's telling. In "Of Shadows", Ellen, a jogger, awakes to find herself suddenly thrust into a cage. Other women are trapped in various other cages. No one seems willing to fight to escape. Bodies litter the ground below. Still Ellen's determined to try. She whispers with her neighbor who urges her to keep quiet. Then she spots a neighbor with her mouth sewn shut. Ellen screams involuntarily, bringing in a lumbering beast. But the beast grabs her neighbor instead, which allows Ellen a chance to grab keys off the wall and attempt escape. It becomes an uplifting tale about the type of people who can rise to triumph over life's tragedies.

"Never Free" relates the story of a man, trapped as a statue due to games he'd played as a child. When another child makes the same mistake, what does he choose? Interesting examination of how humans are when dealing with a difficult situation, how quick they are to shovel troubles on someone else.

Allen is a reporter in "Inside Out", investigating an old murder, hoping to get the murderer to give the real scoop, fifteen years later. Strangely, the murderer doesn't. In fact, he admits to one murder but not another our reporter is scooping. He says the true murderer is a guy in a wheelchair, his friend, retaliating for bullying. Maybe the narrator could have been more deeply explored: Why him and why this particular killer?

"Redpath, Stu" tells how Stephen tries to escape from kidnappers how plan his gruesome death. A terrible if possibly expected unpleasant surprise awaits him in the ending.

"Avenged" plays a familiar trope in what may be a novel setting, the old West. Cole Stryder wants to kill Sam for murdering his buds. He finds it more difficult than he imagined, for reasons he doesn't quite fathom (although the reader will likely figure it out). It might have been interesting for the character to explore how he'd come here, to fully flesh him out.

"Rebirth" is a steampunk revenge tale:  A man accidentally killed his daughter due to his wife's intervention. When he rebuilds her brain into an automaton, she may not understand things the way he does.

Other tales round out the collection:  A vampire awaits pizza delivery boys and especially young boys taunting one another to investigate the haunted house in "Ordering Out".  "Old Habits" tells of a wife becoming a zombie and how the husband deals with it. "In the Shadow of the Equine" is a kind of Invasion of the Body Snatchers set on an isolated island where the aliens are starfish that stick to people's heads, controlling their minds. "Split Ends" is a generational tale where the trouble of hair (and other issues) get passed down. A diver explores "Warmth Within Thy Depths" where he runs across not just a monster but all her hungry children. And angels feed on creatures and do battle in "Ahote's Spirit".

A solid collection for horror aficionados with plenty of variety.

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