Reviewed by Paula Limbaugh
A few years back Todd would end his emails with this line, “My name is Todd Keisling and I write about horrible things.” I don’t know if he still signs off this way, but I can tell you he still writes about horrible things!
Ugly Little Things is a beautiful collection of short stories. These are stories of those ugly little things that are always lingering just below the surface. Those things that niggle at the back of your mind. You might be thinking, Wait, didn’t I read something with that title before? And, the answer is yes and no. Yes, Todd did have a collection of shorts previously out with some of these titles. But… this goes beyond that and more stories are included bringing everything together in one- made for thought-provoking reading- book.
The book opens with A Man in Your Garden, which by the title alone tells you this is a creepy little tale. I think we’ve all experienced this before. Late at night, you catch a glimpse of something or someone out the window as you’re passing by. Do you look again to see if there’s something there or like me, hesitate because you just know you don’t want to see something that shouldn’t be there?
But, then what? Do you begin to dwell on it, wonder if you should check it out, or do you hope it was nothing? Todd builds up the suspense artfully as you read and I guarantee by the time you finish the hairs will be raised on your arms!
Show Me Where the Waters Fill Your Grave, such a melancholy story of love lost. And, although we know it will never be found again we wait…
Radio Free Nowhere where only a few can hear the siren call of a radio signal beckoning them towards a lake in the middle of nowhere. Ashley and Conrad are driving through a lonely stretch of highway when Ashley first hears the siren’s song. Unable to resist she follows blissfully unaware of the ugliness she’ll find buried beneath the beauty of the lake.
The Otherland Express is a tale of transformation. It’s about loneliness, despair, all those feelings of not fitting in and looking for a way out of the hole you find yourself in. Sometimes it takes a painful transition to bring you out of the darkness.
Saving Granny from the Devil is a work of fiction but it reads like an autobiography. Just like Toddy, Todd did have a Granny that was a very important part of his life.
The story is about 8-year-old Toddy who has been bullied a lot by classmates Gerald and Brent. One day while out on his own he encounters the 2 bullies and ends up being locked in a kennel with a dead dog. It is there through the dead dog that he first encounters the Devil.
The devil takes on the form of a man and becomes Toddy’s “imaginary friend,” whom he calls Harvey J Winterball. As time passes he begins to realize just who Harvey really is but it is too late. A deal had been struck and now Toddy must abide by it.
This is a bittersweet tale, a coming of age story without all the sugar coating. It’s about choices and the consequences of said choices.
The Darkness Between Dead Stars is a bit different from the rest. This one comes across like an episode of The Twilight Zone. Even in the vast solitude of Space, ugliness cannot be escaped.
Human Resources is an email of resignation tendered by one Alex Newmarth. Sometimes it takes the ugly truth to set you free.
The odd-man out in this collection for me is House of Nettle and Thorn. Although the story is good, I didn’t really find it as an ugly little thing, if that makes sense. Two young men are ready to party the night away, but things go awry rather quickly.
When Karen Met Her Mountain is a nasty little story. Karen is woman who has been to hell and back. Recovering from a miscarriage, a failed suicide attempt, and the death of her father, Karen is in a fragile state. While driving home after attending her father’s funeral her husband stops to help an injured woman and things quickly go awry. Karen must find an inner strength she didn’t know she possessed to save both her husband and herself from an unspeakable evil or die trying.
Aah, The Harbinger an omen or sign that foreshadows a future event. This is the ugliest story of all. Felix Proust has arrived in Dalton W. VA to interview the owner of Dalton Dollworks.
There is something odd about the town, the smell of pig feces permeates the very essence of the town. Even more off putting are the dolls, the dolls are posed everywhere, so life-like that they begin to creep Felix out. Unable to secure an interview with the owner of Dalton Dollworks, Felix decides to leave, but some things are easier said than done.
The last entry in this collection is Todd’s novella, The Final Reconciliation. Laid out like tracks of an album, the chapters take us through a journey with a heavy metal influence, all the way to the bitter twisted finale.
The stunning cover art is done by Ben Baldwin; if I remember correctly it is a bit of a collaboration between Todd and Ben. Luke Spooner has done an excellent job, as always, in creating illustrations to go with the stories.
All in all, this is a must-have. Todd Keisling is a master of subtle horror, he has a way of getting under your skin without all the flash and gore. Buy this book HERE!