Pick Your Poison – A Short Story Anthology edited by Emma Nelson and Hannah Smith (2017) – Just in time for Halloween comes a short story collection with a clever theme: toxins. Whether venomous snakes, raw almonds, quiet magic, or death by any of the other twenty-five poisonous tales in this collection, there’s a fitting demise for everyone.
As with most anthologies I review, I’ll pick out several of the sterling tales that caught my squeamish attention. But all the stories are clever, well-written, and very satisfying.
“Beautiful Shadows” by Colleen Quinn – I felt as if I’d read a classic science fiction piece from Alfred Bester or Philip K. Dick brought into today’s world when I read this. An office manager with a weight control problem receives an unsolicited offer to try a miracle weight-loss drug. She does but the side effects are extreme and frightening. Loved her attitude and the way it ended.
“Cry Me a River” by Rebecca Snow – A wealthy old man keeps his dead wife’s soul trapped in the tears of patients reliving their saddest moments. Extremely well written, and I had no idea had this was going to end. It’s hard to be unpredictable when writing a short, provocative piece. Great last line.
“Unpardonable Sin” by Aaron Max Jensen – I hoped this one would end well, but I was worried. A poor girl saves all her money to buy food for a picnic for a friend, but her fundamentalist father takes the basket and beats her for “thieving and sinning.” He has old “war wounds” and can’t work, but he can instill the fear of God into her with the lash. What’s a “honor they father” girl supposed to do when her abusive Dad falls into a rattlesnake pit off the back porch?
“The Krake Hunter” by Derek Des Anges – I’m a sucker for stories told from a non-human point of view, and this tale of an intelligent sea creature saved by a vet has a very Lovecraft ending.
“The Euphoriant” by Lawrence Salani – And speaking of Lovecraft, this creepy tale of a cult worshipping a plant from outer space has a lot of classic terror atmosphere.
Like the Spider in the Middle of Her Web by Cary G. Osborne – I loved this story for several reasons: one, it’s a nicely crafted dark fairy tale about an arranged marriage for a princess and a handsome prince who has an evil secret, and two, the scene where the family spiders spin her wedding dress around the girl’s paralyzed body is beautiful and horrifying.
Muse of the Cemetery by Sharon Frame Gay – A beautiful young woman of a lower-caste is married to the handsome – and brutal – son of a wealthy merchant. When he batters her so badly there’s a danger she may lose her child, she shows him money can’t buy brains.