This is the third book in Apex’s ‘Voices’ series and is a collection of twenty rather good short stories by Damien Angelica Walters divided into three sections: ‘Part I: Here’, ‘Part II: And The Now’ and ‘Part III: And Away’. The stories are a mixture of horror and fantasy with some stories being a combination of both. Twelve of the stories have previously been published but eight are new. This gives us twenty of Walters stories published between 2011 through to early 2015 although some were published under the name Damien Walters Grintalis.
After the dedication page, there is a quote from Helen Keller, which reads, ‘All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming.’ This provides the basic framework for this collection where all the main characters are suffering in some way but try to get on with whatever is facing them. This is the only commonality between the stories that cover a diverse range of dates and settings. I was going to say fantasy worlds but I don’t want to give the reader the impression this is to do with fairies, elves and muscled men with swords. Most of the stories are set in this world but with a slight twist.
There isn’t a single story that could be used as an example to illustrate the collection so I’m going to open with the very first story which also happens to be a new one, ‘Sing Me Your Scars’. The story owes a lot to the ‘Frankenstein’ story but it is so much more. Let’s assume that each of the body parts retains something of their original owners consciousness and that the good Doctor isn’t good but evil. This is the scenario of the opening story told from the point of view of the monster. Well, from the point of view of part of the monster. Only in this story the female monster is the victim or victims if you want to be pedantic. It is very well written and shocking in some respects as Walters does not pull any punches.
If you haven’t already realised this collection is not for the squeamish, which is a point brought home by the story titled ‘Girl, With Coin’. Again, it’s from ‘Part I’ but tells the tale of Olivia, a girl who can’t feel pain and puts on displays in an art gallery. The shows are designed to see how much people can stand before they turn away. This is one of the longer stories that is cleverly constructed. In between sections describing Olivia’s performances, we learn about her past life and what is currently troubling her. It also becomes apparent as to what is driving her to make these performances.
Not all the stories contain blood, guts and gore. One story from ‘Part III’ that took me by surprise is ‘Melancholia In Bloom’. I found this story deeply moving for no apparent reason. It tells the tale of a mother and her daughter with the interleaving narratives. Basically, the mother develops Alzheimer’s and starts to lose her mind. She uses little pieces of magic to help her remember and hide her condition from her daughter but this only delays the inevitable. I don’t know anyone with Alzheimer’s and have no direct experience of it. The only reason the story touched me so much is the way it is written which managed to convey the feelings of both the mother and the daughter in such a convincing fashion.
It would be remiss of me not to mention a story from ‘Part II’ and my choice is ‘Whisper To You Of Moonlight, Of Sorrow, Of Pieces Of Us?’ I suppose you could call it a ghost story, although the ghost doesn’t make an appearance as such. In common with all of Walters stories, we have a person suffering and, in this case, it’s a grieving husband. Where Walters excels is laying bare the pain the characters go through while they try to overcome what’s happening to them. In this case, there are a number of incidents that follow a set pattern and have been repeated over the years since his wife died. I liked the way the character was wound up until he makes a decision at the end of the story and quite rightly so.
If you have not read any of Walters’ work then this collection of short stories is an excellent place to start. Even if you have read some of the stories in other publications, it is worth getting this collection for the eight new stories. ‘Sing Me Your Scars’ by itself is reason enough to part with some money and treat yourself.
(pub: Apex Publications. 195 page ebook. Price: $15.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-937009-28-1)
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