Mark Allan Gunnells is one of the best writers out there. I discovered Mark’s work when my friend James Newman recommended WHERE THE DEAD GO TO DIE by Mark and Aaron Dries.
I’ve read quite a few stories by Mark at this point, and he never disappoints. When he was sending out ARCs, I was extremely honored to receive one. Thanks again, Mark, and a huge thanks to Crystal Lake Publishing.
I love short stories, poems, novellas, and collections, so I knew this had to be good. I wasn’t wrong.
Book Haven is the title story. It’s a novella and an interesting read.
It’s a futuristic piece where a virus has wiped out all the books. The search is on for mythical library containing physical books. Any physical books that turn up are locked away like the treasures they are in library vaults. Some jobs require books to be rewritten so they can continue to be enjoyed and not forever lost, but some of the writers are rewriting them the way they want them to be.
Human Bones in a China Cabinet is about human bones in a china cabinet. Jesse collects bones as a hobby. They’re human bones, and his friend Mike thinks it’s a bit weird. This story reminds me that people aren’t always who you think they are. So much sadness here.
Welcome Home is a different take on the haunted house story. Evan disappeared when he was kid, but his father never stopped looking for him. He never believed his son just vanished into thin air. I wasn’t expecting this ending. Bittersweet.
Oh, what a haunting tale!
Monica is always on her phone playing games, texting, and keeping up with what’s happening on social media. Texting with her boyfriend, Philip, while driving, she’s killed in the accident. Only Philip feels weird about Monica being buried with the very cell phone that killed her. He’s full of guilt, and when he starts receiving text messages from the grave, he might lose his mind…
This poem left me feeling empty and drained of words. It kind of let the air out of me.
Going to See a Man About a Dog
I’ve heard the expression “going to see a man about a dog” many times in my life, or maybe I heard “going to see a man about a horse” instead. I never really put much thought into what it actually meant or could mean. I always took it to mean someone was going somewhere to do business of some sort, do some trading, or to get away for a bit. Small children take such sayings to heart; they take what we say literally. When four year old Ethan’s stepfather tells him he’s “going to see a man about a dog,” Ethan gets excited. He wants a doggie! What four year old wouldn’t?
All Ethan wants is the doggie Skeeter has mentioned. Skeeter finally agrees to let Ethan go with him, although Ethan can’t understand there wasn’t ever a dog. Skeeter was actually surprised to see a dog tied to the tree when they arrive at his “friend’s” house, and he makes Ethan promise to wait in the truck. Four year olds can only contain their excitement for so long, and Skeeter isn’t in any hurry to return.
There isn’t much that infuriates me more than druggie parents who are too selfish to see past their own “needs” to give their children a decent life. This story gutted me. It infuriated me. It made me sad. This story is the stuff reality is made of, sadly.
Excellent, horrific story.
Chills. CHILLS! I made a note in my kindle when I finished this story. It simply said, “Chills. CHILLS!” That’s what The Sandbox did to me.
Timothy is a friendless outcast, sitting in a sandbox, playing alone. A seemingly familiar stranger comes over to talk with him. He gives Timothy confidence by sharing positivity and being kind. It’s life-changing. This story is a reminder that no matter how small we think a simple act of kindness is, it can mean the world to someone who hasn’t been shown kindness. A little positivity can go a long way. As I read over this story again to refresh my memory before writing this review, I got chills all over again. There is magic on these pages. Mark Allan Gunnells is a word magician! Wow!! A beautiful, ghostly story.
There’s no better title for this story.
Janet finds Carol crying in the copier room. Carol’s son has been accused of a heinous crime. She wishes she could’ve been a better parent. No matter what she did, she couldn’t seem to get through to her son, Jimmy.
They have a heart-to-heart talk about parenting. When Janet walks into her home that evening to hear her own son and husband yelling, she takes the advice Carol gave her, even if it is wrong.
A post-apocalyptic story of lost love, unlikely friendship, and revenge.
After a plague wipes out most of the population, Lowell and his boyfriend, Rick, are attacked by some barbaric morons. Dru, almost too cold and distant to call a friend, saves Lowell from the gang. As he heals physically, his emotional pain increases along with his thirst for revenge.
What if a material object, and maybe a little magic, could really take away something bad, heal, or cure? Take care with those little trinkets and tokens of love, they could really be more a token of love than you know!
Ping! After reading this short story, you might be a bit more selective of the people you accept as friends on social media sites. Beware of the smoking hot babe requests! Some things are exactly what they seem…
A Day Like Every Other Day
A poem about the monotony of life and how doing the same thing, or a slight variation of the same things, every single day can wear on a person. Change up your routine. Try something new. Do something different. Say yes more often. Break out of the cycle. “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow your credit card may run out,” so to speak.
The Man Who Watched the Ocean, or Twelve Steps Down Into the Sea
This short story packs a punch. It’s filled with sadness but also, in a way, a relief.
Mourning the loss of love from the past, Isaac comes to the lighthouse every couple weeks to watch the ocean. On this particularly cold and rainy autumn day, he decides he’s not to visit the lighthouse anymore.
This story was completely unpredictable for me.
Nick Henson has moved into an old house that needs upgraded a bit. The previous owner had died a year ago. Nick has writer’s block and deadline, but he’s been getting the house cleaned and fixed up instead, doing anything to avoid writing. When he finds something the previous owner has left behind, he could easily use it to his advantage. No one would ever know. Could this solve his problems and help him meet his deadline?
When Gas Was 52 Cents Per Gallon
It’s hard to write a mini review on this without getting into spoiler territory. Brandon has had a massive crush on his roommate for months. When their car breaks down at a deserted gas station, Brandon risks entering the abandoned building to use the bathroom. What waits for him inside? Is this what he’s been looking forward to, or is it a nightmare?
This isn’t one I’ll soon forget.
The Little Boy Who Lived in the Library
When I’ve gone through rough times, my best escape has always been reading. Music helps some, but my mind tends to wander too much. Reading takes more focus, so I’m able to escape reality and live in another world even if for only a little while. It’s good to see Paul is able to use the library to escape his reality.
Waiting for the Fall
After Darrell’s stroke last winter, he has proved everyone, including his doctors, wrong. They’d expected him to live no longer than a few weeks, but here he was, sitting in a rocking chair on the porch eight months later. His daughters seem to think he’s waiting for something, possibly their brother, his estranged son, Philip. He’s unable to communicate and feels useless. He’s just sitting her waiting, “waiting for the fall.”
An erotic yet horrific tale about a man purchasing a used tanning bed.
Matthew’s lover doesn’t like the tanning bed from day one, and he’s constantly badgering him to get rid of it. Things tend to heat up in more ways than one inside the machine, and Matthew is rather enjoying his tanning sessions. Wes’s dislike and possibly even jealousy of “Tanner” is mutual. If the warnings you’ve heard about tanning beds aren’t enough to deter you, this story might make you change your mind.
Go to Sleepy Little Baby
A man and woman are living a luxurious lifestyle. What they sacrifice for the luxury is unfathomable. Is a life of luxury really a life at all? Is it really synonymous with happiness?
Victor has bought a farm that was the scene of a horror movie. He gets a few unwanted visitors every month. He’s considering fencing his property to keep sightseers away, but things change once Becket, a “Farm” freak, as Victor calls him, arrives.
The Hidden Cemetery
Billy is driving Beth down a rarely used road that leads to The Limestone Cemetery which is not a well known place around town. She is hoping to smoke some weed and hop into the backseat, but Billy has plans for a whole lot more fun…
In a nutshell: hoard all the books, don’t trust anyone, never give up, don’t take someone else’s advice to heart, seek revenge if you must, take care with the simple gestures, do a background check on anyone before allowing them on your social media sites, break out of the monotony of every day life, be persistent, do the right thing, don’t wander off in deserted places, read to escape reality, be patient, heed tanning bed warnings, don’t believe a life of luxury is all it’s cracked up to be, don’t trust anyone, and don’t trust anyone.
This collection delivers everything: warmth and hope, anger and sadness, paranoia, fear, everything.
Five out of five stars.