Matters of Time brings together 13 stories penned by members of the Outliers, a writers’ group based in Kawartha Lakes, Ontario. The stories span a range of genres including fantasy, science fiction, horror, and contemporary fiction. Between the pages, readers will find mermaids, witches, and androids as well as everyday people.
The collection is organized by author, and opens with Altaire Gural’s post-apocalyptic tale “Clocks are Meaningless Here.” Works by Sharon Overend, Lori Jean Rowsell, and Sara C. Walker are also included.
Some of the stories are very short, flash-fiction length, while others are longer and meatier. One of the more compelling stories is Rowsell’s “The Calm of the Herd.” Though some of the sections are dark in tone, including a piece where a group of neighbourhood bullies tie the protagonist to the railroad tracks, the story carries the reader forward with a sense of mystery. Rowsell’s story is layered with meaning and speaks to family secrets, the compassion of animals, and the toll that small-town life can take. There are emotionally resonant segments, including one in which the protagonist’s grandfather talks about how he felt when the circus came to town:
“The circus rode through here on the trains, but their stop was three towns over in Norland. When news spread that they’d stopped early to water the animals, the whole town showed up at the station. They flung the car doors open and people clapped and smiled at the animals. Only, they weren’t the grand animals they were meant to be. Not to me. Not in those cages. Their lifeless eyes didn’t bother with the faces in the crowd. They snuffed and cried, calling out to their friends in the next car . . . I couldn’t imagine locking an animal in a cage like that. It takes the life out of the beast, and it takes a piece of the man’s soul that does it.”
Gural’s “The Contract” blends darkness with laughter. When the protagonist, a mer-woman, falls in love with a prince, she asks the Grand Mer, the great Sea Witch, to transform her so she is able to walk on land. When the mer-woman, who is a princess in her own right, goes to visit the man who has captured her affections, the clash between cultures provides a basis for humour:
“There were so many customs to overwhelm the princess. When she joined the royal family in their pew at church, the priest spoke of souls, and how only those with souls could be saved, and she worried because her people did not know souls. She sat quietly, looking round the congregation, wondering who she could steal one from. And when she passed the guards in the hallway, they could not help but smile at the pretty little thing in bare feet, but smiling, and showing teeth, were signs of aggression in her people, and so she avoided the guards altogether lest she be forced to bite them.”
Sara C. Walker presents novel characters in her stories “The Bluebird Code” and “Adeline de Grimstead.” “The Bluebird Code” features a detective, a hacker, and a renegade android.
“Adeline de Grimstead” is the story of a woman who was born with “a rare disease that rapidly deteriorated her spine.” As a young child, Adeline undergoes an unusual operation involving a graft of oak infested with mistletoe to repair her defective spine. What happens next is even more unusual:
“For a time, Adeline lived a life of a normal girl. Then a most unspeakable thing happened. Adeline reached puberty and the grafting took on a life of its own. Branches sprouted from the base of her neck, and even when they were cut—at great pain to Adeline—they grew again overnight. Left untrimmed, the tree grew up, spreading branches over her head as though she now carried her own living parasol.”
Adelnie finds herself gifted with the ability to “read the patterns of leaves that fell from her branches with the most accurate twin gifts of sight and mediumship the world had ever known,” talents she is forced to draw upon when confronted by a formidable adversary.
As is often the case with flash-length fiction, some of the shorter stories in the collection are more suggestive than conclusive. However, most of the stories conclude with a satisfying and often unexpected twist, particularly Overend’s “Bad Luck Leaper” and Rowsell’s “The Final Shift.” Though two of the collection’s 13 stories have been previously published, the remainder are released for the first time in this volume.
- ASIN : B09L4NYW62
- Publisher : Independently published (Nov. 5 2021)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 154 pages
- ISBN-13 : 979-8760392053
Lisa Timpf is a retired HR and communications professional who lives in Simcoe, Ontario. Her writing has appeared in New Myths, Star*Line, The Future Fire, Triangulation: Habitats, and other venues. Lisa’s speculative haibun collection, In Days to Come, is available from Hiraeth Publishing. You can find out more about Lisa’s writing at http://lisatimpf.blogspot.com/.