The first page of a fiction collection is an introduction to a writer’s mind. The further you go, the deeper you delve into their psyche. In this manner, you can reach any world of their invention and join any journey they imagine. Ray Bradbury and Somerset Maugham were masters of short fiction. If you were to combine the work of these authors with a dash of Rod Serling, you’d have Varying Distances by Darren Speegle.
Speegle’s stories range from the bizarre to the fantastic. He is well traveled and the stories reflect several cultures, both in setting and flavor. The first forays into his collection seem to begin with his unconscious mind and slowly work forward to the conscious. It’s much like a sleeper awakening from a dream. The first story in the collection, “In the Distance, a Familiar Sound,” is as poetic and disjointed as the character searching for the meaning of consciousness. Linear time doesn’t exist.
Each story gains clarity as you move through the pages. Against his will, a painter is commissioned to capture the soul of his subject on canvas, contractors in Iraq encounter a strange and menacing vehicle, Halloween is explored through the eyes of a god-like being, a hitman has trouble discerning between human and machine, a man finds he cannot escape the horror of his past or the people who populate it, an addict sees parallels to his life no matter what country he visits, a woman leads a man to Germany and a haunted house, a man searches for the beast which murdered his aunt, and a confused taxi driver must take a man to his destination.
My favorite story, “For Love of War,” falls in between the fog and clarity. The contractor in the story falls in love with the woman who saves him and discovers she’s more ethereal than mortal. Speegle’s prose borders on lyrical and you can easily imagine this story as a ballad.
“A Puddle in the Wilderness,” is a frightening story. In this tale, aliens masquerade as backwoodsmen alà Deliverance. Pity the poor couple who fall prey to them. (Warning: mature themes are addressed here.)
If you’re a lover of the bizarre, you’ll love this collection. Step inside Speegle’s mind and stay a while. The worlds within are amazing.