Knee Deep in Little Devils by Various
My Rating: 3/5 TARDISes
Date Published: October 20th, 2018
Publisher: WorD Publishing-pgh
Pages: 84 pages
Synopsis: In a restless suburb of Pittsburgh PA, there dwells an odd writing and critique group called Write or Die. Celebrating a mysterious annual rite, the authors disclose secret and sometimes tragic circumstances; evident only to those who have experienced the incidents . . . until now.
The stories in this collection will take you for perilous jaunts on All Hallows Eve, send you sprinting down a beach at midnight, drown your soul in inky waters, soak you in the blood of wizards and dump you down the rabbit hole of insanity.
Whether these are parables that predict or tales to instruct, prepare yourself to be,
This is the first WorD (Write or Die) Halloween-themed anthology. The short stories contained herein were all written for, and read, during the first three annual Halloween reading events.
These stories range from wonderfully frightening to frightfully preposterous. Sometimes shocking and unpredictable, this disquieting collection will keep you guessing at the sanity of the authors who write these tales.
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*
This is a spoiler-free review.
I absolutely love short story collections and I have just recently begun to journey into the flash fiction category. Flash fiction is quite new to me, but I can tell how incredibly difficult it must be to write and I have a tremendous amount of respect for authors who can accomplish this well. This particular collection is quite mixed, as were my opinions on the stories. While these writers have a great deal of talent and that remains clear throughout, I personally felt that not all of these stories worked well in this abbreviated format. Topic-wise, each one was unique and creative but definitely quite hit-or-miss.
This collection begins with an extremely inventive forward which is a fantastic hook. It is a humorous and entertaining take on the creation of the Write or Die (WorD) writing group—the writing group that has brought us this work. This story combines fictional events with background information on the origins of WorD. All the other stories are interspersed with creepy haikus written by author Vincent Baverso as well as darkly stylized pen drawings. Both are wonderfully imaginative and fit extremely well with the overall theme of the collection.
For the rest of this review, I will go into some more specific—and still spoiler-free—details about each of the individual stories themselves as well as my thoughts on them.
A Check-Up for Mr. Bangles by Michael A. Amzen (4.5/5)
In this first story, a daughter asks her father to check on her doll because she believes it is dying. The father, of course, plays along and begins the check-up, finding most things normal—until he begins to feel around the stomach. This story was definitely one of my favorites from the collection. Amzen’s characterization was fantastic and he used a great amount of detail that truly carried the tone of the story. He established solid characters with a realistic child-parent relationship as well as a convincing setup to the story. It was very short but was still extremely creepy, and Amzen builds suspense well within such a small period of time.
A Walk in the Park by Frank Oreto (3.5/5)
In this story, we follow a middle-aged man who decides to take a walk down a dark path through a seemingly empty park one night. It is near Halloween and he wants to feel scared in a way he has not since he was a teenager. Initially, he is met with disappointment as his plan does not produce the desired reaction. Then, he passes parents and a child who all seem normal at first—that is, until he notices the overly large heads and sharp teeth.
I found Oreto’s detail and world-building to be absolutely fantastic. The story had a very distinctively eerie tone and atmosphere. It was very short of course and was somewhat predictable. There was not much time to build up too much suspense, but it was still quite enjoyable overall.
A Storybook Halloween by Kevin M. Hayes (3/5)
A man named Dimitri is out volunteering for the Neighborhood Watch on Halloween and finds a young girl named Lucy standing in front of one of the houses on his street. Lucy is dressed as Little Red-Riding-Hood and appears to be lost. She tells him she has been followed by a wolf all night, and soon one appears from the bushes and begins chasing them down.
Like all the other stories so far, the writing and descriptions were great. The atmosphere of being out trick-or-treating was present at the start, but I felt that it was lost by the end. It was as if the entire neighborhood ceased to exist when the wolf entered into the story. Nonetheless, the wolf’s pursuit itself was still intense and harrowing. In my opinion, the ending was a bit too full of twists that took place within a few sentences of each other. It was unexpected but maybe a bit much and too confusing for the story’s length.
From the Deep by Larry Ivkovich (1/5)
It is All Hallows’ Eve and Alanalla Steadman tells us that she has experienced a dream state that has allowed her to realize what she truly is and where she comes from. She grew up in a normal human family, adopted when she was young, but her life has been built completely on lies. Now, she sees images of treasures, ship-wrecks, an undersea civilization, and the race that she belongs to. This night, Alanalla is going to embrace her destiny and rejoin her people.
This was definitely my least favorite story within the collection. The writing is detailed but incredibly flowery and a bit over-the-top. I could see this potentially fitting the character’s voice and personality to some extent, but it is taken a little too far and sounds too pompous. Personally, I was just not a fan of the plot itself. The length was definitely not sufficient enough to tell it and it felt far too rushed. It also was not overly creepy or spooky and it did not feel like a horror or Halloween story in any way.
Dead Dog Gone by Katie Pugh (5/5)
Nancy is really good at three things: making pancakes, necromancy, and getting rid of Jehovah’s Witnesses. She loves Halloween and always prepares early in the month. On Halloween, she leaves one of her cleaned-out cauldrons outside her door filled candy for the kids and then sits inside to wait for Death. Death is one of few people who she ever lets into her house, mainly due to her collection of curious wares and potions.
Nancy dresses up as if for a date night since it is their tradition to get together on Halloween. However, this year things change when a small puppy with two horns appears in her cauldron among the candy, frightening all the trick-or-treating kids away. She takes an immediate liking to it and decides to keep the puppy despite the dangers brewing as Death tells her that hellhounds have escaped into the world.
I would have to say that this was one of my absolute favorite stories from the collection. The start is very strong and extremely attention-grabbing—it definitely pulled me right in. I loved the character of Nancy and the way Death was depicted. The characterization was phenomenal. The writing was quirky and charming, and Pugh created the perfect atmosphere and tone for the story that she told. This one was more light-hearted and silly and I loved it.
The Author by Karen Yun-Lurz (4/5)
This story was written in verse, which was a unique and interesting change to mix in with the regular short stories. It was a rewriting of “The Raven” and focused on this author’s experience trying to come up with a new piece of work for the Write or Die (WorD) group. It tells of the struggles to begin a piece of writing and the process as ideas form in one’s mind. Then, she moves on to the editing, rewording, and perfectionism that inevitably follows.
This was such a creative take on the original poem and matched up with it very well. This poem was humorous and over-dramatized, which I loved. Yun-Lurz did a great job of blending in the theme of being a writer at work while staying faithful to the classic. The way she personified aspects of the writing process—like writer’s block into an imp that came to pester her—was very clever.
Coney Hijinx by Joe Coluccio (3.5/5)
A man named Rufus sees someone dressed as a rabbit walk into his local tavern and, as this is, of course, a very curious sight, he decides to follow and talk with him. The rabbit-man insists that he is not in a costume and Rufus notes that he speaks with a cartoonish voice. When Rufus asks what he is, the rabbit-man’s name sounds like a bunch of odd letters and clicking sounds, but he then says he just goes by Claude. Rufus follows Claude and gets in a car with him for a very strange journey down a rabbit hole and into another civilization entirely.
This was yet another extremely quirky story which I definitely liked. I will say, it felt very random and left me with quite a lot of questions. I would have liked a little more detail and set up but, as this is flash fiction, I understand why it was not in the story. The writing was light and clear and the characterization was solid. The author did a decent job creating this story in the constrictions of the short length. Overall, it was really weird and I enjoyed it.
Halloween Haiku by Douglas Gwilym (5/5)
The format changes here from short stories/flash fiction to haikus, which I absolutely loved. Having this poetry interspersed with the full stories worked extremely well in this collection. The work found here is a series of creepy and dark haikus that are perfect for Halloween. Gwilym conveys an eerie atmosphere and conjures up detailed images in such a small number of words. This section was a nice change of pace and served to enhance the atmosphere of the book as a whole.
In His Own Blood by Jon Carroll Thomas (3/5)
In this story, our narrator is summoned through a book and into an ancient artifact. He is arriving to meet his new master—a necromancer—but things do not go as planned. This is about all I can give in terms of a synopsis for this one. It is by far the shortest of the stories as it is only a few paragraphs in length. However, the author does a great job of establishing the tone and voice of the narrator very quickly. The writing is very strong and uses a lot of detail. It is hard to judge something this short, but it definitely left me wishing there was more. And the last few sentences were gruesome and really packed a punch.
To Bridge the Night by Brandon Ketchum (3.5/5)
While stumbling drunkenly along Betsy Ross Bridge, Tyler comes across a woman dressed in a Victorian outfit. He starts to talk with her and finds that her manner of speaking is very old-fashioned and out-of-place. The lady asks where he goes to university and their talk turns quickly to the bridge they are standing on, as well as the new parking lot of the school, both of which have recently been completed. They were both built on land that previously consisted of cemeteries and, mid-conversation, Tyler finds the woman suddenly becoming quite angry.
I personally thought that the characterization was very good, particularly with Tyler. Ketchum definitely captured his drunken attempts at flirting and generally how a guy Tyler’s age might act decently well. I also quite liked his writing and storytelling style. The story was a bit predictable but still engrossing and I think that Ketchum did a good job making a complete story within the small amount of space he had. It still felt rushed, but it was a solid story overall.
A Sandbox Singular by Thomas Sweterlisch (2/5)
This story begins with a guy named Reggie who has just woken up and is stretching in preparation for a run along with a number of other runners. Immediately we get the sense that this is not the world we know, as Reggie refers to other people as “organics” and speaks about how everyone is not only running naked but that they all have visible burns on their skin from acid rain. It is established that runners who accumulate the most laps win the day and that this is some sort of task he and the others have been assigned to do. The curiousness of the situation hits its peak when the point-of-view of “the Mother” is worked in—a mysterious, omniscient being that wipes away all motivations and pleasures from those she watches over.
The descriptions of the characters and most of the environment were very detailed, but I was not a huge fan of this story. There were way too many questions left in the end and not in a good way. Rather than leave me imagining the possibilities, it felt incomplete. I understood parts but, since it was so short, there were a lot of things that never made sense and never got explained. It was mysterious, but some aspects of it did not seem to fit with others. I could comprehend what was literally happening within each moment. However, it really did not make much sense overall and I lost interest. I love weird stories, but this was a bit much for the short length.
Etymology of WorD by Diane Turnshek (3/5)
In this final story, one of the founders of the Write or Die group describes how all the participants came together and helped each other for many years with writing critiques. She speaks about how it began with her hosting a gathering for anyone interested in joining a critique group and that many more people showed up than she had expected. They remained a group that was open to the public and had very few but strict rules to focus themselves.
They welcomed all writers and supported each other through everything, whether it was the publishing process or work just written for fun. By 2011, many members had left due to moving from the area or because of various other commitments and it was disbanded in June of that year. It sounds like it was an absolutely wonderful group that did so much to bring like-minded individuals together and provide the strength and support that they all truly needed.
Overall, I had some varied feelings about this collection, but it made for a fun, quick read that I did enjoy for the most part, especially as a pre-Halloween read. Short stories are always nice to have around to mix in amongst a long list of full-length novels. As I said before, I believe these particular stories would be classified as flash fiction, so the collection as a whole is extremely short. While I do not think that all of the ideas present here worked as well as they could have if they had been fleshed out into longer stories, the great amount of talent and creativity housed within these pages is very recognizable.