Shock Totem Issue 4 by K. Allen Wood, Ed; Shock Totem Press; 2011; 131 pgs; $6.99 US

Shock Totem Issue 4 is packed with great fiction, insightful editorials, and thoughtful reviews, as with its predecessors, but this one in particular is a strong offering with entries from Wechston Ochse (pronounced “oaks”) and Lee Thompson, two of my favourite dark scribes. There are also interviews with Kathe Koja and Rennie Sparks (who also has a short fiction piece included).

Lee Thompson gets the fiction side of things off to a great start with Beneath the Weeping Willow, a tale of the ultimate outsider—a kid who finds out he’s autistic by overhearing an argument between his parents. It’s visceral and disturbing, much like Thompson’s other pieces. The man is a poet and finds new and surprising turns of phrase that will astound any reader.

The child in question serves as a metaphor for David (as in the one from David vs. Goliath), and speaks in a second person point of view, a technique that I’m starting to notice more in horror short stories, and for good reason—when done right, it invites the reader in with an engaging hook. David drowns in feelings that he’s a burden to his family, something that older (and meaner) brother, Jacob, constantly reinforces in him, but just as you’re led to believe the story is going one way, it veers into something so unexpected and shocking that you will just have to read about.

Full Dental by Tom Bordonaro is an amusing story of an employee trying to convince his boss that the new guy is a killer and his boss accusing him of being racist and intolerant. It’s crosses the lines of humour and whimsy, becoming Evil Dead meets The Office—definitely worth checking out.

Weird Tales by David Busboom is a short anecdotal tale involving a group of men exchanging ghost stories that seems insignificant at first, as the tales don’t seem all that scary, until the last speaker, the one who doesn’t talk, reveals his contribution.

Wechston Ochse is also another writer whose work I have recently come to admire, and his offering in this issue, Playlist at the End, is one of his best pieces I’ve read to date. In this sinister tale, the main character starts off in a closet and explains that he has playlists for every occasion—shopping for groceries, going to the dentist, picking up his mother, etc. He’s waiting in the closet, hoping not to be discovered, and begins relating what specific songs have meant in relation to his life events. It’s an interesting narrative technique, and something I think would have worked well in a rock-and-rolled themed anthology like Rock ‘N’ Roll is Dead, which Blood Bound Books released this year (read my thoughts on that book here). The protagonist, Sam, had a sister, as it turns out, and she perished in a fire, which his mother blames him for (they were both at fault, according to Sam). His life went downhill from there, and after everything he went through, he became determined to show people how to understand love—but his methods are more than questionable, as evidenced by this story.

Another notable short piece is Dead Baby Day by Michael Penkas, in which a kid’s older brother tries to ruin his birthday joy by saying he was born on dead baby day, the day that dead babies come back to life with a kiss. But this is more than a silly childhood urban legend, and what someone believes to be true, particularly a child, can be devastating if taken seriously.

Jaelith Ingold and A.C. Wise both have different takes on ghosts in their short stories, each offering a different approach and a different artistic vision, but both pieces are well crafted.

If you haven’t picked up or ordered your copy of Shock Totem 4, I would urge you to do so now. Shock Totem continues to impress me with how amazingly each edition of the magazine they produce turns out.

Nov 15, 2011

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