Evil Jester Digest, Volume 2 edited by Peter Giglio
Editor Peter Giglio explains in his introduction to Evil Jester Digest, Volume 2, that there are two ways to assemble an anthology: send out a call for submissions and read through the piles and piles of stories you’ll get as a result; or seek out exactly those authors you’d like to have in your anthology. In Volume I of Evil Jester Digest, Giglio took the first course, but in this volume he asked the writers he wanted to sell him stories. The result is a clean, tight anthology filled with good stories.
Evil Jester Digest opens with “No More Shadows” by Tim Waggoner. Dan is slowly driving around the parking lot of an electronics store, talking on his cellphone to his ex-wife, practically begging to be allowed to say good night to his daughter, when a man stumbles right in front of his car. Fortunately, Dan is able to stop, but he’s as angry as he’s ever been as he confronts the skinny, broken-down man he nearly hit. It turns out that Dan knows the man, or at least used to — well enough, anyway, to be willing to give Billy Wallace some help when he asks for it. Four big, shadowy guys seem to be after him. Funny, those guys seem more shadow than substance, but that only makes them scarier. Billy’s got a plan, and Dan’s willing to follow it through, until Billy tells him what’s really going on. The ending is surprisingly optimistic for the darkness that pervades the story.
I enjoyed the second story, “A Curse and a Kiss” by Eric J. Guignard, but then, I’ve always been a sucker for a fairy tale. This rewriting of “Beauty and the Beast” combines zombies with the classic fairy tale to great effect, explaining much of the magic of the original tale by adding the single detail that the Beast is a zombie. It’s nicely done.
Mark Allan Gunnells contributes “Depravation,” the story of a girl whose mother has not only grounded her, but grounded her without any access to anything electronic — no cellphone, no computer, no cable television, nothing but a few books and her own thoughts. Can today’s teen really survive under those conditions? The answer is yes, but the consequences might be more than any parent has bargained for.
“The Girl with the Thirsty Eyes” by Scott Bradley is set in one of Amsterdam’s famous red-light districts, in which one can actually window shop for exactly the right prostitute to suit one’s tastes. Paul, an American student in Holland to gather material for his dissertation on Rembrandt, wanders into the red-light district by accident, but stays to take a look around. To his surprise, he sees a woman who’s a dead ringer for his favorite movie star, Shaundra Kane, best known for her odd and beautiful eyes. Or might it actually be her? Paul can’t resist, and buys her favors. But the Method actress has a surprise for him, and it’s not a pleasant one.
Trent Zelazny has two stories in this collection, the first considerably better than the second, both dealing with broken relationships. In “Slink,” Zelazny’s protagonist is Kyle, a newlywed who is already bored with his wife, whom he married because she was pregnant and who promptly thereafter miscarried. He and his wife fight constantly, and more times than not he slinks out of an evening to visit his mistress, who is encouraging him to leave his wife and marry her. What’s a wife to do? This one turns out to be fairly enterprising. The second story, “Windows in the Wreckage,” tells of the hours following a car wreck, and what precipitated it. This tale is competently written, but nothing happens; it pales alongside “Slink.”
In John Palisano’s “Vampiro,” Danny is on his first day as a border guard in California, trying to keep back the tide of illegal immigrants from entering the United States. What Danny doesn’t know is that the U.S. has a new method for discouraging immigration, a method that will change his life. It’s a nice twist on an old theme.
“Kristall Tag” by Holly Newstein is one of the best stories in the book. Newstein tells of Esme, a 14-year-old girl who is orphaned in Berlin at the end of World War II, trying to keep out of the grasp of the Russian soldiers who seem to be raping every female left in the eastern part of the city. She spends her days scavenging for food and hiding from the shelling that’s still going on. On one of her canvasses of the neighboring apartments, she finds a crystal ball, apparently stolen by a German soldier from a gypsy and brought home as a souvenir. She gazes into it for hours; whether it actually shows her events or not, all she can see in the ball are scenes from the past. What good is such a trinket? Esme uses it to save her life. It’s a sad story that spoke to me loudly of how the good guys and the bad guys are somehow indistinguishable in a time of war.
Another fine story is “The Tardy Hand of Miss Tangerine” by Jon Michael Kelly. It’s about Lisa Coventry, a college girl who meets the first person narrator when they walk right smack into another, she engrossed in a peach, he in a book. They start up a relationship that day, but Lisa always seems entirely mysterious. The narrator notices that Lisa has the weird ability to impress a mirror image of words into a surface, the words becoming visible only after the event she writes about has passed, usually many weeks later. This is only one of her oddities, but the narrator isn’t prepared when she vanishes only one day after inscribing his chest with an invisible message that he won’t be able to read until much later. Who was she, really? And what does her message on his chest mean? It’s a complexly plotted and fascinating story.
Simon McCaffrey’s “Vanishing Act” tells of Max and his brother Danny, who has an uncanny ability to hide himself so well when the kids play Hide and Seek that sometimes they never find him at all. And it tells the story of Sarah Winchester, who, after horrible tragedy visits her life, moves to the Santa Clara Valley in California and begins building a home, never allowing construction to cease until her death. How these two intersect, and why, makes for a fine story of eternity and chance.
Gene O’Neill’s “Coyote Gambit” is as puzzling to me as was his novella, “The Blue Heron,” which I reviewed a few weeks ago — puzzling in that it is well-plotted but poorly written. I liked the story, about an apparent survivor of a nuclear war that resulted in nuclear winter, but found the odd use of italics, the misspellings (“confidant” for “confident,” for instance), and other apparent proofreading errors distracting.
The last story in the anthology is a short shocker by Amy Wallace called “Closing Time.” It’s told almost entirely in dialogue, and demonstrates how words can be as harmful as a gun.
Evil Jester Digest, Volume 2, is a nice collection of stories. I’m curious about what Giglio will come up with for the third volume in his series, which he promises will include some stories plucked from the slush pile.