Wild Things Edited by Steve J Shaw, 2015, Black Shuck Books, Website, p/b £8.99
Reviewed by Nigel Robert Wilson
There could be no better celebration for a publishing house named after a spectral hound than to produce an anthology of therianthropy or humans changing into other beasties.
This reviewer will admit to an appreciation of short stories as they are an ideal tool in taking the tedium out of commuting. I no longer have to submit to the vagaries of public transport but the habit has stuck, along with the shortened attention span.
Be warned this book is not for bed-time reading. Do not under any circumstance read any of these stories before you switch off the light to go to sleep. Each has its well-fabricated terrors which could easily come back to bite you during the night. As it was I read most of it with an aging cat snoozing on my lap in the sure knowledge that she has ambitions, as yet frustrated, to become human and relate at length the injustice of nature that made me a man and her a cat.
There are stories of werewolves, sure. But also were-birds, a were-centipede and were-pretty, little dogs. For myself, and I recognise that the whole point of anthologies is that there is something in them for all tastes, the best is Rachel Halsall’s `Hunting’. A powerful story of difference, cruelty and identity built around the silkies or selkies, those mythological creatures, part-man and part-seal who are said to inhabit the North Sea. Are they a memory of those hunter-gatherers in Mesolithic times who drowned on Doggerland when the last of the ice melted? A hidden portion of my or our collective unconscious?
There are thirteen stories of which all contain quality writing with plots to a high standard.
`Fish’ by Anna Taborska is a well-executed, ironic tale of the unfortunate outcome of mistaken identity involving a puffer fish. It contains a strong moral message.
`Confession’ by Christopher Law is almost a shape-changer in itself. It starts out as a fairly mundane tale involving familiar clichés when it is actually about a man who finds he can turn into a bird of prey. The story goes wild as our hero becomes a junkie who eats children – mmm, delicious – as he yearns to be free from his ravening hunger!
`Scruffy Dog’ by D S Ullery is a delightfully whimsical story about a little stray dog. We have been conditioned to see were-wolves as horrific creatures of the night, only this one isn’t. Or is it?
`Hunting’ by Rachel Halsall is a wonderful tale which is to be recommended. It pulls no punches as sea creatures are hunted down by men for their meat and for the purpose of sex-slavery. The heroine is a child trapped between her human and selkie origins. It contains some excellent writing and is a challenging experience. Take it and enjoy!
`A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing’ by Darrel Duckworth is a humorous tale of lycanthropy in modern dress. Are all company boardrooms populated by were-wolves and wizards? In this case the wizard gets it wrong as he relied upon an ancient archive rather than the scientific method.
`The Shape of Nothingness’ by Scott Shoyer assures us that a shape-changer is immortal, so he fears being dead. If a sexual partner falls in love with him sufficiently to fear losing him then he involuntarily turns into a monster and eats them. Then he comes across another woman he quite fancies, but she is an immortal too!
`The Fragility of Flesh’ by Laura Mauro is a strong narrative of a poor kid, badly bullied at school who no longer wants to be seen by anyone so becomes something else.
`Golden Moments’ by James Park also introduces an immortal woman with the dietary habits of a praying mantis. For a price she traps a man who lusts for her fleshly attributes. This is an exotic tale of revenge eaten in the best way possible.
`Leydra’s Maiden’ by Kelda Crich tells us of Matilda, a housekeeper on the make who can become a crow. She seeks the hand of her employer whilst slowly poisoning his wife. Leydra is an aspect of the Great Goddess who sees all and knows all. This is an ingenious story about the outing of wickedness that draws upon our deeper nature.
`Santa Marimbondo’ by G H Finn is about an anthropologist in Brazil researching the cult of Santa Muerte or St Death, a version of the Grim Reaper. Then a peasant tells her about Santa Marimbondo, a demonic wasp that has to leave its eggs in a human host to develop. This is an excellent plot set out to induce an exquisite sequence of tensions.
`Centipede’ by Helen Catten-Prugl returns us to the poor kid bullied in school. Only this one has the ability to turn into a centipede to eat babies, policemen and, in a fit of jealous anger, the girl he fancies. I think I prefer it when they just turn up with a gun.
`The Change’ by Callum Chalmers tells the story of a man with a secret shame. Every Thursday he has to get home early before he turns into an animal. This is a wonderfully detailed account of a man forced to hide his true nature for fear of being ridiculed.
`The Were-Dwarf’ by Johnny Mains is about what can happened when a height-challenged disc-jockey is attacked by a were-wolf. This develops into a hilarious tale of a bizarre celebrity trying to manage an insane condition. The denouement is quite superb. Read it!