Gristle & Bone: A Collection of Dark Fiction including Werewolves, Conspiracy Theories, Monsters, Cannibals and Vengeful Ghosts is the title of this collection by Duncan Ralston as it appears on its Amazon page. This title attracts more attention than the cover title Gristle and Bones but no matter which one you pick the idea is that you will be reading some unusual stuff. All seven stories are a bit twisted and out there. If you are a fan of this genre, welcome. If you are easily offended by dark stuff, run away. Scavengers is the more complex story in this novel. The character of the narrator is important even though the narrator is mostly unidentified; the development of the narrator character is superb. The language used in Artifact #37 and Fat of the Land warrant a warning to the squeamish or those easily offended by graphic language.
With a collection like this, I like to look around the book before diving into content. I looked first at the section “Thank You.” I was interested in who influenced the author. Fans of Ken Preston and extreme horror author Matt Shaw are referenced. This might give a reader an idea of what to expect. Then there is an introduction by Chris Hall. It is an excellent introduction all by itself and sets up reader expectations. It is so good that I felt it occasionally oversold the referenced story. Nevertheless, it is worth reading and by itself is entertaining writing. And then, there are the stories.
BABY TEETH Candace Murray wanted a baby. She didn’t believe the doctors who told her she couldn’t have one. When she had thought she was pregnant a doctor had called it a “hysterical pregnancy,” it was all in her mind. But Candace had experiences with more physical reality than what was only in her mind. Welcome home.
BEWARE OF DOG He had run away from the Army while serving in Afghanistan. Under the care of Dr. Baswell he was trying to find his way back. Dean didn’t run away from things because he was scared. He was only afraid of the way he would react. He had dealt with bullies both in high school and the Army. It did not turn out well for them. Now he was back home and thought to make amends with Patrick, an enemy bully from his high school days who Dean had marked with a facial scar during a fight. Patrick didn’t want to accept amends; he wanted vengeance. Patrick had even named his dog Dean so he could remember Dean’s “abuse.” But, per the title, beware of the dog.
VIRAL Tara Maxwell believed that the girl on the video had been asking for help just before she disappeared. Millions had watched Daria Walker disappear (the title). Tara thought this was a story which would boost her journalistic career. She had to check it out more closely. But the investigation would bring out some of Tara’s own ghost memories. This was even more so when she visited the site of Daria’s disappearance. As she sat at Daria’s computer, Tara felt compelled to type out her own confession about failing to help a suicidal university friend. Confession brings rewards.
ARTIFACT (#37) This might be a reality show gone wrong. The artifacts were “guests.” But artifact #37 was broken. No one wanted to remember #37. But she remembered them. The lesson from this story is “Don’t play with Ouija boards.”
//END USER In a collection of dark stories this title immediately raises eyebrows. Mason woke up to his phone delivering messages about what would happen in the coming day. That was bad. Then the messages referenced some of the things he had been thinking about. That was worse. Then his phone sent links to his office computer. He and his colleagues on the shared network were treated to video clips of his youth. This was the worst, or so Mason thought. He had to confront the AI entity attempting to control him with terms more favorable to humans. But what does one do when there is nothing left to learn? An answer is in this story.
FAT OF THE LAND This is a tale of old tradition defending itself against new tradition brought by immigrants. In the middle of these two groups we have David and June. Members of neither of the two groups, they are just in Monte Verde to attend the wedding. While there they will explore the wonders of a recommended restaurant, the “Ambrosia.” It is monstrously good.
SCAVENGERS Humans most of the time, they turned into something else at night. In the evenings, they scavenged; mostly they dined on small pets but with just a slight stretch of the imagination the meals might expand to include children and, later, adults. Jim Taymor had seen them outside his restaurant, had poisoned one of them to death. When another of the scavenger tribe tried to bribe restaurateurs Jim and Leanne, Jim told Leanne everything and the couple decided to find and kill the threat rather than submit to blackmail. Unable to live with the guilt from their success, they confessed first to the story’s narrator, then to the police. But there is one big surprise and a few consequences left in this story that appears concluded.
The seven stories are followed by a preview of another novel. I didn’t want to spoil my overall satisfaction with this novel so didn’t read the preview. All of the stories are good and will lead the reader mind down twisted paths. Because of Scavengers, I give this collection a five star rating on Amazon.