Prism, by Roland Allnach, is a collection of short stories that have appeared in various literary magazines, one a Pushcart Prize nominee. I thought the collection sounded interesting when TLC Book Tours brought it to my attention, so they sent me a copy. True to the title’s promise, each story is visible through a different genre lens, and turning that lens on the characters reveals sides of them that they might not have meant to show.
The Pushcart Prize-nominated story, “Creep,” is quite short, about a little boy whose mouth is dry with fear going on the journey from his bed to the bathroom to get a drink, only to find, on his triumphant return to the bed, that his mouth is as dry as ever. Young enough to suck his thumb, the narrator is simultaneously old enough to realize that “it’s just his imagination, yet his imagination comes from him. He knows enough to be sure he can’t deny it, can’t separate it, from himself. The monsters may be everywhere, but they come from him.”
While some of the stories, like that one, have literary themes, others have a heroic fantasy turn, like “After the Empire” and the long story of “Titalis” and his sword-wielding enemies, led by a female character referred to as “She of the Plains.” The volume also includes an epic poem, “Of Typhon and Aerina,” and a four-page poem in rhyming couplets entitled “Tumbleweed, or An Ode to a Well Endowed Gunslinger.”
I was intrigued by the amnesiac-seeming opening of what turns out to be an alternate reality story called “Return,” in which a man decides not to follow the white light but to return to his body, which has been severely injured in a car accident.
My favorite of the volume, in a totally creepy way, is “Flowers for Colleen,” a story about two serial killers initially sizing each other up as victims but then meeting each other as something like professional colleagues:
“He flipped the lid up. Two severed legs rested on a sheet of plastic in her trunk.
Instinct drove him down, just as the tire iron whistled over his head. He had no time to contemplate how his killer’s instinct just served to save his life; rather, he moved on her, grabbing the iron in one head [sic] and whipping his handgun free with the other.
Her eyes locked on the simple plastic cylinder of his gun. The open trunk, with the severed limbs, lingered in his peripheral vision. They stared at each other, both befuddled in the realization that dawned between them.
She forced herself to swallow as rain dripped from her hair.
He tipped his head. ‘You should cauterize the stumps, Blade patterns. They won’t be able to identify them.’”
There’s a Walter Mitty-type story about a kid picking his nose, a story about the discovery of alien life and who the discoverer rushes to tell, a lost city story that initially reminds me of the beginning of a Jack McDevitt novel but ends up exposing the secrets of its creators (unlike McDevitt’s usual m.o.). Each story is a bit unsettling—always for the readers, sometimes for the teller, and often for the characters who are being examined closely from one side of the lens or another.