At the end of 2016 I had just started to discover Mary Rickert's writing, and read this story online rather than in the Wastelands anthology.
Rickert paints a picture of a war-torn future in which nothing can be trusted, not even snow or offered candy, and where the children of one particular town decide to take matters into their own hands. Rickert cleverly plays with the readers expectations throughout the story. I did not see the end coming and found it to be genuinely stunning.
This story can be read online here.
An extraordinary story with just the right amount of weirdness and ambiguity to leave the reader haunted and having to come up with their own conclusions.
Three Miles Up concerns two friends, John and Clifford, as they embark on a barging holiday. Following a furious row they pick up a mysterious but friendly young woman called Sharon. After they encounter a turning on the canal not shown on their map, which Sharon gently encourages them to take, they soon come to discover that they've made a terrible mistake.
I have the writer M.R. Cosby to thank for introducing me to this author - (his blog Stranger Designs is always worth keeping an eye on for book recommendations).
From the short story collection The Unsettling, Stranger tells of a couple holidaying in a remote cottage who come under threat from two people who seem to have murder on their mind, but whose true intentions are never made clear. Part of the reason this story worked so well for me was that some of what happens is never fully explained and the reader is left to make up their own mind about what was taking place. Hmmm...I sense a theme emerging here.
4. We Can Walk It Off In The Morning by Malcolm Devlin
One of the stand-outs for me from Shadows and Tall Trees Volume 7, this is a story of two people waking off their hangovers on a New Year's Day morning. I enjoyed the way Delvin introduced a number of possibly explanations for what was occurring without giving precedence to any one of them and leaving the ending ambiguous.
From the short story collection Rust and Bone, on which the film of the same name was based, this is a horrifying (in the truest sense of the word) tale of illegal dog-fighting and pending fatherhood. All told in Davidson's sparkling prose. I was spoilt for choice picking a favourite from this collection as it contains many excellent stories. I probably would've plumped for the title story over this had I not read it before in the excellent anthology The New Black edited by Richard Thomas.
The final story, and for me the standout in Rebecca Lloyd's second collection for Tartarus Press. Where's the Harm? tells of two brothers preparing their family home for sale after the death of their parents. One day the brothers encounter some mysterious women in a nearby wood - the charms of whom one brother is unable to resist. This story builds slowly to a chilling finale.
Elliott tells the tale of Carlo, a young Italian man plucked from obscurity to impregnate a pop star: 'the most oft googled woman on Earth'. Using florid language to brilliantly eviscerate celebrity culture (Madonna and Beyonce seem to be in the firing line here), Elliott still manages to wring pathos from the tale, particularly (for me at least) when Carlo sees his grandmother's eyes in the daughter he's not allowed to see without a heavy security presence and who has become little more than a commodity. Published in The Georgia Review, Summer 2017.
8. The Bridge by Malcolm Devlin
I enjoyed Malcolm Devin's collection so much that I could have picked any number of stories from it for this list, but I felt that this - one of the shorter tales in the book - really stood out. It tells of a couple who have bought their first home and find a more or less accurate model of their new town in the attic. Built by the previous owner, the model lacks a few key buildings. Delvin cleverly allows just enough information to slip through for the reader to give an insight not only into the life of the young couple and what might become of them, but also the tragedy that befell the house's previous owner.
9. Das Stiengeschopf by G.V. Anderson
Published on Strange Horizons and winner of a World Fantasy Award, G.V. Anderton's exceptional tale of a young German man's first assignment fixing a living statue is well worth taking the time to read (or listen to on the podcast, as I did, which makes it hard for me to describe it now). It can be found here.
A middle-aged man visits a summerhouse where he spent many days during his youth with a girlfriend, only to find he hasn't escaped the crime he committed there long ago and for which he must now pay.
Anything Undertow Books publish is always an interesting proposition and this book confirms that they are still leading the charge in the weird fiction market.
11. To Us May Grace Be Given by L.S. Johnson
This tightly written novelette from L.S. Johnson concerns a mother and daughter who capture a vampire-like 'devil' to help them fight off a man who intends to steal their land. Beautifully written and gripping throughout. Published online on Gianotosaurus, this can be read here.
Another gem from The Dream Operator. The editor of a small publishing house is approached by a man who claims to have an anthologies worth of unpublished stories by some of the greatest writers of horror fiction, all of whom happen to be deceased. A clever story that rewards multiple readings.
Wilkinson tells a wintery tale of a retired schoolteacher haunted by a past mistake with a bullied boy. Another standout from Shadows and Tall Tress 7.
Grudover creates our own world in this story, which seemed to me to be a warped send-up of our own. Imagine David Lynch's Eraserhead written by Angela Carter and you've got Waxy - a story of a woman trying to hang onto her man in a society where it's deemed shameful to be without one. For all their strangeness, Grudover's stories wouldn't work if there wasn't some vein of truth running through them, as there is here, however intangible.
One of the standouts from C.M. Muller's Nightscript Vol.III, Rust's story concerns an expectant mother who moves into a house that 'needs some love', who quickly finds herself at the centre of a bizarre love triangle.
Littlewood's affecting story within a story kicks things of in this beautiful book from Egaeus Press: A Midwinter's Entertainment. Seated next to a crackling fire, a man tells of a tragedy that befell an acquaintance of his who fell in love with a young woman at a frost fair on the frozen River Thames, and the bizarre events that followed.