The collection’s first entry, “The Hocco Makes the Echo,” may be the best example of this. It is both deceptively simple – a father realizes too late what his son understands about the voice-mimicking creature in the Mississippi woods – and unnerving on a primal level. Interestingly, the author revisits the family in a later story, “Puppet Legacy,” this time with the son of the earlier tale now an adult. Aaron discovers an unsettling truth grounded in very human, rather than supernatural, acts.
Another pair of connected stories, “The Wise Ones” and “Limited Edition,” center around an old woman who knows more about the ancient objects in her shop, and later at an Antiques Roadshow appraisal site, than anyone else…except possibly for those who seek her out. Both stories are well-constructed and intriguing, but it is the curious item under consideration in the second story, and the narcissistic appraiser Hovelan, through whose perspective the story is told, that makes “Limited Edition” resonate long after the deal has been struck.
I want to single out two stories in particular, as both show Fritzius’ facility to craft eerie tales that use uncertainty as a powerful and surprising tool of resolution. “…to a Flame” is winningly comic for most of its length, a likeable yarn about an Appalachian man who needs his friend’s help when he accidentally shoots and kills a mythic Mothman. (No true spoilers here, as the victim’s identity is revealed early on.) It’s a great subversion of expectations: no other author would use the scenario for backwoods humor, yet Fritzius does, and the tone is perfect. But it is the ending, which masterfully returns to many threads smartly set up at the start – involving a rusted freezer, a battered arc-welder, a late-night radio show, and the menacing Men In Black – that provides an unsettling coda that won’t let the reader dismiss the comedy that has come before.
The other story that still resonates with me is “Wolves among Stones at Dusk.” Once more, the elegance of explaining enough but not too much makes this story special. It is told from the perspective of a desert wolf who watches a human drama unfold in the darkness below. The gambit, which involves the wolf interpreting actions and motives of men with the behavior that he knows of his own species, is successful and very compelling. And then there is a man in darkness, also at the edge of the cliff, watching and waiting, and this figure adds another uncanny dimension to the scene. As with many of these stories, by the end we have some of the facts but not all. Yet that which cannot be explained still feels real and right for the world that has been created.
Check out this smart collection, available in print or eBook through Amazon.com. You can also listen to podcast adaptations of several of the stories from A Consternation of Monsters by visiting this page.