Reviewed in the United States on July 6, 2021
In this thirty-ninth edition of Canyons, we get a plethora of stories from different genres. From a military story between warring factions infused with the supernatural to a tragedy where a grieving spouse finds a new purpose, to a man haunted by his past on a colony world in outer space.
There’s also an apocalypse where dark forces are trying to save humanity and a man giving his account of what happened one mysterious night in a lake where someone disappeared. Read on to find out more about:
Steve Oden’s “The Voodoo Queen” – In a brutal war between children/adolescents against sentient, bio-mechanical toys, a voodoo doll enters the fray with her own hidden agenda. Allied with neither side, she unleashes her demonic forces upon the battlefield to take control of a strategic chokepoint. With that, will she succeed in her goal to influence the outcome of the war?
This story continues to chronicle a war with heavy weapons, high casualty numbers, mysterious soldiers, and crazy tactics, continuing to prove that war, especially this one, is absolute hell. Throw in some supernatural forces into the mayhem and it creates a horrific series of battles where the only outcome is the heartbreaking reality of war and the numerous deaths of the soldiers who fight in it.
The changing alliances between kingdoms of the human children and the Free Toys churn the fog of war further. The viciousness of the combatants against each other makes it hard to stomach the level of violence in this tale. But what adds to the fast-paced level of action is the fact that this is toys versus children fighting each other, lending it an extra level of sadness.
This is also a sequel to this author’s story “Blind in Battle” from “Tales from the Canyons of the Damned: No. 37”. It’s part of a trifecta of stories set in the same universe, the first of which appeared in the thirty-sixth edition of “Canyons.” It delightfully expands on the world created in that story and takes it in new and remarkable directions.
Ernie Howard’s “Talk Box” – Thomas is very sad. Having lost his wife Alex to cancer, he is grief-stricken and depressed. Alex was like a big sister to Charly and all of them were close-knit before her death. Thomas eventually finds out that his wife can have conversations with him through a Talk Box, which is used to echo back what is played on a guitar. This helps with his grief. His deceased wife can only to him once a week at a very specific time, though. Will this help Thomas and even Charly cope with their loss?
At first, we know that Thomas has an appointment to keep weekly and revolves his entire life around it. The sense of pervasive sorrow in the lives of Thomas and Charly is deeply felt with every sentence I read. Fractured friendships and dwelling in the anguish of grief all feel raw and powerful.
There’s also the intrigue as we see how it changes Thomas’ emotions. Through flashbacks, I observed how Alex’s life changed theirs for the better through her positive attitude. And my eyes widened in astonishment as the finale of this story played out in a shocking and completely unexpected manner.
Paul B. Kohler’s “Absolute Dark” – Scott and his teenage daughter are part of a colony on the alien planet Vobos-3 when a mysterious disturbance out on the surface of the planet puts the lives of the entire colony at risk! Going outside to investigate, Scott gets caught up in this problem. So, how come it is bringing up memories of his traumatic past with his wife, Hannah? And will he be able to succeed in coping to grips with that while also solving the present-day problem?
There are dual storylines here: Scott is dealing with this deadly threat to the colony in the first one. It then cleverly intertwines with the flashbacks to what led their family to Vebos-9 and what happened to Hannah. The excitement of the first storyline is connected to the second one in puzzling and ultimately absorbing ways, with one surprisingly informing the other. I experienced Thomas' loneliness of being in a distant colony while being saddened by the depression of this loss. All of this brought the story full circle in a satisfying and emotionally rewarding way.
Jessica West’s “The End…Again” – As Kirsten gives birth to a baby in a grocery store, she knows she’s not going to survive the experience. Lilith searches for Kirsten, seeking her out, but not for the reasons you might suspect. As the baby is born, we learn he is exceptional and talented, but what is his purpose? And what does all of this have to do with the apocalypse outside the building?
There is a thriller and an enigma wrapped into this one short story taut with tension. From the disturbing birth, the identity of the baby, its actions upon being born, and its purpose in life, there's a lot is going on here! Then there is Lilith, who is stalking the baby, trying to find it. But Lilith’s purpose in the story is also secretive too. As each morsel of the truth became more apparent, I kept wanting, no, DEMANDING to know more.
As my distress increased and it exploded into a vicious and shocking finale, everything was finally revealed by the end and WOW, I did not see that coming. Remarkably, there is also much love of a child to its parent and vice versa that drives this story. That is not what I would’ve expected from a story in this genre but it nourished this tale and made it more tender as a result, even with the horror surrounding it.
Daniel Arthur Smith’s “The Lost Tapes: Arrow Lake” – Agents Muldoon and Meyer are trying to get to the bottom of the mysterious circumstances. There’s been two disappearances at Arrow Lake: Hal Landon and his ten-year-old son Peter. As Mr. Westerhausen recounts what happened, he unfurls a story of what happened to Peter and then what happened to Hal. As Hal’s desire to know what happened to his son intensifies, he seeks out the creature that he suspects in his son’s disappearance in the lake. What happened to him out there and was it even real?
This is a compelling tale, surrounded by the mists of a lake with a history of strange occurrences and the local legend of a creature that might reside there. Fueled by vengeance, Hal begins a descent into madness and becomes increasingly more unhinged. The battle that rages in the middle of the lake is keenly felt by the horrifying and surreal finale. Reason and safety take a back seat as trauma and revenge take hold into an exhilarating battle for survival between man and beast.
There’s also a subtle connection “The Lost Tapes – The Rain Man”, from “Tales from the Canyons of the Damned: No. 37”. In that story, agents Muldoon and Meyer were in the area investigating another inexplicable occurrence.
This is a rare “Canyons” issue for me, as I have read many stories by every single author in this issue. They all continue to tell rousing stories of a high caliber that engross me with their gripping tales of darkness, depression, and unsettling storytelling. It’s been a while since the last issue of Canyons and I have missed it. This new issue is exhilarating, continuing to showcase authors with awesome short stories. The entire series continues to astound me and pushes the boundaries of my imagination. As always, I await the next new issue to see where it brings me next.