In July of 2009 a new twice-yearly magazine came out that excited me. It was called Shock Totem: Curious Tales of the Macabre and Twisted. I purchased that little digest-sized publication, dove in, and loved the experience of reading the wicked stories within. In every way this new venture excited me; for too long, dark fiction has been under represented in the literary print market. This was a shining beacon in the perpetual darkness.
Months passed. Then a year. Finally, this past July, the second issue of Shock Totem came out. Sure, that’s a long time between issues, but let me tell you, it was well worth the wait.
Issue two of Shock Totem just might be the best magazine I’ve ever had the opportunity to read. Unlike the first issue, in which I found there to be a couple duds, there were none such here. Every story tipped the scales upward towards fantastic. For my review of the first issue, I simply pointed out my favorite two stories, seeing as I didn’t want to expose the ones I didn’t like. For this issue, seeing as all were fantastic, I will give my quick-hit thoughts on each.
The Rat Burner by Ricardo Bare – A creepy tale of city slums, hidden doorways, and the price upon one’s soul. The tone brought me in and wouldn’t let me leave. Loved it.
Sole Survivor by Kurt Newton – A dark and strangely hilarious take on extreme game shows. In a way, it reminded me of a more concise version of Running Man’s concept.
Sweepers by Leslianne Wilder – Wow. This one grabbed me. A short piece about the waters of the world rising. I’ll never look down from a skyscraper the same way again.
The Rainbow Serpent by Vincent Pendergast – The tale of a man on a bus ride and an ancient creature who’s adapted to the times. Definitely my favorite of all the entries. The tone and themes enclosed within are fantastic.
Hide the Sickness by Mercedes M. Yardley – This is a nonfiction essay by one of the magazine’s editors, but it is such a brave and heartfelt piece of writing that I feel I must include it here. Ever wonder about juvenile sex offenders? Let’s just say that the story of Mrs. Yardley’s experience is one you won’t soon forget.
Pretty Little Ghouls by Cate Gardner – Another quirky and fun little tale. I won’t explain much, because the plot hinges on every word, which takes talent. It’s quite good.
Messages from Valerie Polichar by Gra Linnaea and Sarah Dunn – This, for a while, was my least favorite story. The inclusion of technology and technological terms in a work of fiction has a tendency to turn me off because it can date the tale horribly. However, this one, by the end, I grew to appreciate, and it became my second-favorite. It’s the story of a woman who obsesses with the dead and Facebook. Sound like an odd plot? It is. And it works.
Return from Dust by Nicholas D. Bronson – A man is blown to bits and is reconstructed. A good exploration what it means to be human and the point when we lose touch with that humanity.
Leave Me the Way I was Found by Christian A. Dumais – This short tale is very Ringu-like and eerie, about a video that causes sickness in the masses. There’s a melancholy sense of doom that hangs over it like a cloud of acid.
Upon My Return by David Jack Bell – What would happen if a Christ figure were to appear in the present day? This depressing little story of a misunderstood carnival worker says it all.
That’s it for stories. There is also a review section inside, an interview with James Newman, and Howling Through the Keyhole, a Shock Totem staple, where the authors give their thoughts on the creation of their stories. The editors, led by K. Allen Wood, have put together a master collection of the macabre. All in all, it is a rewarding literary experience.
I highly recommend this magazine, and those to come. The only problem I see with it is this: With the quality found within, the bar has been set, and set HIGH. It’s a lot to live up to for issue #3, which I will be waiting for with bated breath.