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on 9 February 2014
Obsession:

1. An idea or image that repeatedly intrudes upon the mind of a person against his will and is usually distressing.

2. The action of any influence, notion, or 'fixed idea', which persistently assails or vexes, esp. so as to decompose the mind.

3. The hostile action of the devil or an evil spirit besetting any one; actuation by the devil or an evil spirit from without; the fact of being thus beset or actuated.

When I found out that Little Visible Delight, the anthology of dark fiction by S.P. Miskowski and Kate Jonez, was themed along the lines of 'obsession', I felt compelled to get out my copy of the Compact Oxford English Dictionary. Each definition seemed scarier than the one before. It was a good omen.

There's nothing quite as inviting as a collection of dark fiction, especially with every story being new to me; and every page of this publication is to be savoured, consisting of edgy, unnerving tales of subtle strangeness. Proceedings kick off with The Receiver of Tales, by Lynda E. Rucker, in which Aisha recalls her intimacy with Ruben, and of how he had been usurped by people's stories; and of how it ruined him. Has this curse been transferred to her? It seems so, as she carves precious words all over her body. Is she stronger than he, or will she take the easy way out? She embarks upon a dreamlike journey, and at its conclusion, Aisha realises she cannot live without the very obsession she railed against.

Preoccupation with the fountain of youth and the ruthless pursuit of immortality is tackled in the complex Needs Must When the Devil Drives, by Cory J. Herndon. It seems we must be careful what we wish for, and be grateful for being a long time dead! Next up Kate Jonez provides A Thousand Stitches. Laura Beatty finds herself at Malley's Dry Cleaners, a down-at-heel establishment which she hopes is a stepping-stone to the exciting life just around the corner in New York. She repairs wedding dresses with Judy, a worker who seemingly has a murky past with the firm. When conditions and pay are changed for the worse, Laura Beatty faces the fact she may never be able to achieve her dream of escape; yet a chance is given and taken both immediately and gratefully. Once she is safely in New York, however, the reader has cause to question both her motives, her methods and even her identity.

Johhny Worthen's intriguing tale The Point, set in the dark bunker of the mind, tackles death and Armageddon, leading on to Calligraphy, by James Everington. Blake rises one morning, not as a beetle, nor even to be arrested, but to find 'elegant, cursive writing' all over his face. He is, however, unable to decipher the meaning of the words. Forced to forsake his preferred seclusion in order to seek some kind of explanation, a neighbour leads him to an unfamiliar church, in what has become an unfamiliar world; in front of the congregation, the priest reads the words on his face. Does this bring enlightenment, or just the opposite? A typically compelling story by this author.

This Many, by S.P. Miskowski, explores the world of the competitive parent. Stay-at-home mother Lorrie dreams of the perfect fairy dress for her daughter Frances, and forces her to don it for her birthday party: '"Mom made it so I have to wear it," Frances said, and rolled her eyes.' During this extravaganza, an extra adult appears and causes much confusion after disappearing somewhere within the house. A search reveals nothing, but the contact between the sinister intruder and Frances has caused something to change, so that next year's party may not be looked forward to quite so enthusiastically... Miskowski deftly exposes the cracks present behind the facade of the perfect family, leaving the reader to wait for the inevitable collapse.

JP, by Brent Michael Kelley, explores a child's seemingly innocent obsession with a pet which has died; and of how a strong desire not to be separated ends in something gruesome. Deceptively simple, this story is not for the fainthearted, and is as close to conventional 'horror' as this collection gets. Black Eyes Broken, by Mercedes Yardley, is the sad tale of Natalia, who has the unfortunate knack of destroying everything she loves. Her relationships inevitably end in tragedy, and this leads to her withdrawal from the world. Worse is to come, however, as she thinks of the future.

This fine anthology is topped off by Bears: a Fairy Tale of 1958, by Steve Duffy. This is a finely-wrought take on Goldilocks and the Three Bears, documenting the Bear family's attempt to assimilate into late-1950s society, but suffering from discrimination, heartache and practical problems at every turn. Tongue-in-cheek it may be but it still packs a satisfying punch.

There is not a weak story here; and, add to this the excellent design and presentation of the Kindle version I bought, means I would recommend this wonderful collection to anyone who enjoys short stories.
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