Mountain Dead edited by Jason Sizemore and Eugene Johnson
Mountain Dead edited by Jason Sizemore and Eugene Johnson (Apex Publications, 2013) is a chapbook anthology comprising four stories. Think of it as a kind of overflow. The publisher put together an anthology under the title Appalachian Undead but had some stories left over that it felt were too good to leave on the shelf. Note the cover artwork is the same on both the chapbook and anthology save for the title. I suppose I should approve a left-handed banjo player showing himself an outlier even among zombies.
The problem in the structuring of any story is knowing where to start and when to stop. On the way through, it may be necessary to dump information or to include flashbacks to clarify the ongoing situation. The ideal is to enable everyone to arrive at the end in possession of all the relevant information. The more unanswered questions the reader has at the end, the worse the story. In “Deep Underground” by Sara M Harvey, we have a man returning to the valley where he and his family have lived for more than one-hundred years. We know of one motive for this visit, but the other is never made explicit. It’s obvious he’s spent considerable time researching his family and the valley as he comes with notes to consult as he goes through the story. But we’re never told why he should have made this effort nor what he found. This is a serious oversight. Even though we are given hints, e.g. that other hamlets in the valley have disappeared, there’s no detail given and no context. All we have is an innuendo that the village he’s returned to could be next. It’s not that this story is badly written. It’s that there’s been an insufficient effort invested in fleshing the story out to a proper length to make the overarching situation clear. Only then would the ending make sense. As it is, I have no idea why this particular decision appears to have solved the problem.
“Unto the Lord a New Song” by Geoffrey Girard is wonderfully macabre idea. Many moons ago when I was young and was stuck for something to do, I was won’t to experiment with bottles. Did you know if you take a set of identical bottle and partially fill them with water, you can tune them into a primitive form of xylophone. It’s the same with wine glasses except, instead of striking them with padded hammers, you can wet your fingers and run them round the rims. This is all tangentially relevant to this story. Read it to find out why. “Let Me Come In” by Lesley Conner is a delightful fusion of fairy story and zombies as the three little pigs and the big bad wolf find they have a common enemy, but the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend, or something.
“And It’ll Haunt Me (For Long Days To Come)” by K Allen Wood is a story about credibility. We all hope that, if we tell the truth as we understand it, others will believe us. Even though what we say is not the everyday story of human folk, there will somehow be sufficient empathy that one human will trust the word of another. If that faint hope fails, what are we left with? This is rather a pleasing answer. The structure of this story is that of a frame with an embedded narrative. This is an ideal format because it gives us a chance to watch the story being told and to have third party confirmation of the outcome. I find myself baffled by the decision not to print this full version in Appalachian Undead where a truncated version appears. When this is so obviously superior, there’s no reason to save this fuller version for the chapbook. Unless I have cause and effect the wrong way round. Perhaps the editors felt they had three good stories but not enough for a chapbook. They therefore adopted this version as the fourth and printed a cut-down version in the anthology hoping readers would accept it in context.
So three out of four better than average stories makes Mountain Dead a winner. For a review of the paired anthology, see Appalachian Undead edited by Eugene Johnson and Jason Sizemore.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.