Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #59

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Edited by Stephen Theaker (my ‘links’ to the eponymous publisher too numerous to list) and John Greenwood

Cover artist: Howard Watts

Stories by Charles Wilkinson, Elaine Graham-Leigh, Rafe McGregor, Michael Thomas, Chris Roper, Jessy Randall and David Penn.

My previous reviews of TQF are linked from HERE.

When I real-time review this magazine’s stories only, my comments will appear in the thought stream below…

8 thoughts on “Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #59

  1. The Devil’s Hollow by Rafe McGregor

    A story that ends dead stop with the eponymity.
    A New England cult and counter-cult, Cthuga and Dunnich, in Old England (a small community near Goathland), where inbreeding is more a sudden virus like lightning rather than a slow-motion one between scions over centuries: “Another two dozen men, women, and children, carrying flails, rakes, crooks, sickles, billhooks, knives, hammers, and pans.” But. No. Pitchforks.
    An engaging narrator meets, in one of his academic like meetings in Whitby, Fletcher a man whose own male scions and siblings are cursed with downbeat failure. Not the female ones, thankfully. But by the end Fletcher (Christian?) becomes more like a one man heroic rescue by the cavalry.
    Pitcairn Islands? Yep, not the Pitchfork ones, and the British Empire soaked in blood links, fern-like feathering of blood vessels, the Old Faith in fustian or fusty narratives now made caricatural with a swing at MR James and gentlemanly behaviour. Though the narrator is a gentleman and so is his new friend Fletcher he drags up by the bootstraps. A game of Consequences from scene to scene, with tenuous audit trail of guns being won by playing Old Maid.

  2. Give You a Game? by Michael Wyndham Thomas

    “Only Paul was left, looking down at his shoes and the small ridges in the concrete road, wondering if the press of his feet had made the road go like that.”

    Yielding?
    On all the evidence, this enticingly evocative semi-poetic internal monologue as a narrative boy called Paul takes place in the mid 1960s of not-my-place, judging by the yeah yeah yeah earworm. Mine was the 1950s. A Davy Crockett hat not a space helmet.

    “Adult things.”

    We follow Paul through the gaps in his eyes, the dangers, the pleasures, too, and the mysteries for kids. Dan Dare as Space Buccaneer, a valiant razalia of the spirit foreseen as an adult thing. A tree with supporting roots visible, as his base on Earth. But go through one of those gaps to be throttled by a tartan scarf or choked by a magic conker? In those days, you were safe from gaps while in one’s own house. But now the gaps come through machines like the one I’m typing on, even at home?

    “Je touche le tableau noir. The picture he’d conjured now seemed as mystifying as that. The butterflies were a snow-storm.”

    “Under the lid, the scarf. Sometimes ya gotta. Good out of bad. By doing? Letting?”

    A letting tree, if not a yielding one. Or at least a telling one.

  3. The Baby Downstairs by Jessy Randall

    “Maybe they don’t realise how thin the floor is.”

    …as slid between these stories. You can never tell whom you might find as your vertical neighbour. And this newly married couple, idyllically in love, suddenly find their new flat heaven of home is seriously, serially disturbed by the eponymous baby downstairs. The outcome is a gestalt of Secrets.
    A neat come-uppance via the insidious tell-tale gap in the previous storey? Now let’s see who lives in the next storey…

  4. The Constant Providers by Charles Wilkinson

    “Felt disquiet stirring beneath the flat surface
    like the graves of thin people
    shone until its lustre seemed more than surface deep.
    glanced up at the windows on the second storey….
    there are connections we cannot see.”

    That little free verse is made up of separate quotes from the first half of this story, in honour to its whole – showing connections with what I said about the previous story before I read this one!
    It takes place in the autumn after an Indian Summer in Wales, a community where the sole parent male narrator’s 16 year old daughter – a girl feisty but gradually sullen, too, as affected by what appears to be blue vans in the area with flower-like satellite dishes, a blue art installation or sculpture in the hands of more and more youths, all seemingly tied up with static and other effects … and a civilisation’s subsumption much in the way I imagine the Internet is becoming. A tantalisingly subsuming story also in its own right, one in the Mark Samuels thematic tradition, but with the unique well-meaning flavour of Wilkinson works that I have grown to love after first reading one of them in TQF a number of years ago.

  5. Man + Van by David Penn

    “Kind of out of spite towards Pete I bought a Volkswagen camper van and painted it electric green and pink. I planned to use it one day to drive around Europe,…”

    …in contrast to the plague of white vans and white van men that has begun to subsume our land (what I see as a caricatural dystopia of Post-Brexit Britain). This ties in neatly with Wilkinson’s earlier blue vans and the onset of the Internet beyond the thin floor of fiction.
    This Penn is a plain-spoken novelette that I consumed with a ready relish and a hop, skip and a jump, with two men, both artistic, hippy even, at college together, one of them having hit hard times, but the other one has been impinged upon by some sort of X Factor, a slide towards tarmacked front gardens and letter-boxes stuffed with leaflets advertising white van men, streets crowded with them, crude behaviour, and a dislike of Art and Culture. What turns out to be a right wing plague. There is a romantic triangle of people and not just people but ways of life hardened into hate, depicted, ending at some virally-Van-affected Glastonbury festival…
    It perhaps has a double-edged effect for some who read it while parked on a hard shoulder of the M25…? Suddenly finding their own vehicle has morphed outside into a white van? Madness on the sound system. Only a thin veneer away.

  6. The Night They Sacked New Rome by Elaine Graham-Leigh

    “But no VR could capture the scent of them, the hint of spice that was the smell of narrow alleys, overlain with cheap body spray and sweat.”

    His backstory lived retrocausally, the Governor of New Rome in some far future timeline, ours or yours, an island on piles – he views his young catamite, and also three intruders, “VANdals” (my upper case) perhaps from the equivalent in the Wilkinson and Penn, and this does have politically some bearing in our own present history of Toynbeean or Post-Brexited ‘challenge and response’…
    “Democracy only worked after all if you had good enough communications to make sure people voted the right way,”
    “the long road that had once been the artery of the artistic district but which now bisected the worst of the slums.”
    He stems from training in Des Moines. He now stems from this gestalt review, and from these issues, emotions and memories. Including his time at the Academy in Heidelberg. I read a novella in recent months about an equivalent Academy outside of Ingolstadt
    A complex and satisfying story and character study and alternative history extrapolation, a work that needs re-reading. All my reviews, however, are based on a work’s first reading, as this has been. Patois and governmental Latin, notwithstanding.

    “He supposed the closer you were to shame, the more you had to fight against it.”

  7. Anathema: The Underside by Chris Roper (and HERE)

    “Mesmerised, the settler watched the wild man’s skin shrivel to the veiny translucence of a fly’s wing, then flake away like old varnish; the hair on his head and of his beard blew away in wisps until all that remained was the brilliance of his skull and the jutting ends of thighbone.
    The lammergeyer will eat tonight, the settler thought.”

    It is the powerful apotheosis of this gestalt of fiction’s sap, giving saplings and the here mentioned swollen roots at the base of its tree. img_e2909The language is as strong as Conan might wield words, but here about vulnerability, transfiguration and transcending the previous story of man and catamite, here to one of father and son. Not swords and sorcery, but a sort of fantasy faith, as the settler is in a quest with a burden of canvas sack towards the healing or spitting-out of a pit, we are never sure. There is horror, wounds that will not stop, leaning trees, pungent messes of cure, repulsive disfigurement, sharp preternatural eyes, mephitic mist, mysterious vapour, an antidote for land, an occult female oracle, as it were, and much other sinew of text to chew. Rafe’s horror hilarity finally converted, via a rite of passage from a gestalt of fiction, into an alchemy of utter unmitigated horror and hopeful healing.
    You need to enter this forest, too, and come out with twisted roots of words themselves. A settler in more ways than one. A yielder.

    End of Fiction

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