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A Curious Collection

“Curious Things”

by the CWC & North State Writers, 2019

This anthology was grafted together by members of the California Writer's Club and the North State Writers. Each year these organizations gather a couple dozen of the members' best works and publish the results. In 2019, the theme was ghost stories.

We begin with “Touched”, a tale with a classic setting, that of a traveler in a tavern, listening to a story being told. The story itself is reminiscent of the legend of the Jersey Devil. Not a bad start. ****

Edgy and gritty, “My Mercury and the Swami” is the story of an ex-GI, on his way to a date with destiny. The hitchhiker on the side of the road has been done before in horror; heck it's a trope. But rarely has it been this well done. *****

“Tuffy” is another, well-used trope that's has appeared many times before, but it's always chilling when you realize it's a true story. ****

“The Ghost of Minnie Quay” jumps from up-close novelization to a more distant history lesson. The former works better. ***

In “The South Haven Keeper's Ghost” we're given another factual ghost story, but this one in a fictionalized presentation. It flows well. ****

“A Dream”: Was it just a dream? Did it really happen? Was it meant to be a story? ***

“Nothing to Fear” by the previous author, is exciting and packed with action as a narcotics officer finds himself outgunned. This is a great story, more than making up for the previous one. *****

“Little Darling”is a different kind of ghost story, more about despair than fear. *****

Like the star of a one-woman play, the vile Thelma has a dark tour de force in “Wireless Calling 666”. What will she do when destiny comes a-calling? Nice fake-out at the end, too. *****

“The Campfire Story Never Told” is an unnerving tale of what might have been. Great idea, but could be polished better. ***

The same author gives us “A Foggy Night” and it works better. This is a universal fear, in an era before cell phones: getting lost in the fog in the middle of nowhere. This is one of the few stories where this kind of ending actually works. *****

A housewife's encounter with “The Visitor” is a harrowing and humbling. Is it an incubus? Black magic? Or a dream? ****

It's great to live next to folks who are “Neighborly”. Or is it? Competing narratives tell the story of two neighbors and a new diet. ****

“The Opinionated Closet” is a humorous tale of architecture that no longer wants to be used for packing away unwanted and unused items. ****

A “True Story Y'all” about Bigfoot has a skeptical woman and her mother arguing over who's stealing fruit from the porch. Fun. ****

The author's next tale, “The Woman in the Walls”, is a nightmarish vision from beyond the grave as a mother attempts to protect her child from a terrible revenge. Potentially, this is a great story—the characters and the ending are excellent. Unfortunately, it's a bit clunky and confusing in a few places. One last good edit and it would've been among the very best in the collection. ****

In “Meeting the Bone Man”, we are shown a mom and her girls visiting a curious old psychic healer. Not much happens, maybe nothing happens, but this comes across very real to me. Working as a reporter years ago, I used to seek out curious folks like this. I could see and feel the rickety cabin. Really, I've been there. ****

A woman takes a wrong turn onto a country road. Driving along in the hills, she hears an ominous “Thump”. The tension builds effectively to a nice ending. *****

“Guard Dog” is a brief tale of love and loyalty. Saying more would ruin it. ****

The same author gives us a young boy's Halloween adventure in a “Graveyard”. Despite the confusing use of the unattributed word “he” a couple times, it's a good story-within-a-story. The ending is a bit of a let-down, though. ****

“The Black One” is despised by the villagers, accepted only by an old woman. It's an all-too historically accurate tale of life in the Burning Times. Nicely told. ****

Set in the bayous of the South, “Night of the Silver Moon” is full of atmosphere and a pervasive sense of doom. I needed a second reading for the denouement to make sense, but you can put that on me. *****

And finally, we have “Igor's Climb”, reminding us that the past continues to live on in the present. And sometimes, the past can consume the present. Points for the setting. ****

All in all, “Curious Things” is a very good anthology, more thoughtful than scary, but worth a read for any fan of ghost stories or meaningful fiction.

4 stars.

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