Nothing Is Strange by Mike Russell – Competition to Win a Signed Copy!

It’s time for a new giveaway!
Enter here to win a signed paperback of Mike Russell’s Nothing Is Strange.

Nothing Is Strange by Mike Russell - competition
Nothing Is Strange by Mike Russell – competition

Good luck!

Short Story Saturday – 10 Science Fiction Short Story Authors

I usually feature one short story on Short Story Saturday, but it’s a little different this week!

  1. Henry Kuttner – 1915 – 1958, American.

2. Fritz Leiber – 1910 – 1992, American.

3. Frank Belknap Long – 1901 – 1994, American.

4. Catherine Lucille Moore – 1911 – 1987, American.

5. Clark Ashton Smith – 1893 – 1961, American.

6. Donald Wandrei – 1908 – 1987, American.

7. H. G. Wells – 1866 – 1946, English.

8. Donald A. Wollheim – 1914 – 1990, American.

9. J. G. Ballard – 1930 – 2009, English.

10. Jerome Bixby – 1923 – 1998, American.

My Favourite 101 Free Short Stories

  1. The Catskill Witch by Charles M. Skinner
  2. The Foxes’ Wedding from Tales of Old Japan by Baron Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford
  3. Teig O’Kane and the Corpse from Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry by W. B. Yeats
  4. The Soul of the Schoolboy from The Man Who Knew Too Much by G. K. Chesterton 25822401._UY200_
  5. The Story of the Merchant and the Genius by Andrew Lang
  6. The Diaries of Sun City by Mike Russell
  7. The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe
  8. Count Magnus from Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by M. R. James
  9. The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
  10. The Shunned House by H. P. Lovecraft
  11. Old Judas by Guy de Maupassant
  12. The Story of the Fisherman from The Arabian Nights Entertainments by Andrew Lang
  13. Before Noon by Jacqui Rose from The Perfect Murder: Spine-Chilling Short Stories
  14. She Commands Me and I Obey by Ann Leckie LeckiePhoto-220x331
  15. At the Mountains of Madness by H. P. Lovecraft
  16. A Guiding Light by Gerard A. Whitfield
  17. Entropy of Imagination by Ryan Somma
  18. Godspeed Inc: A Naomi Kinder Adventure by Vincent Miskell
  19. Dark Resurrection by Lee Willard
  20. Chasing the Jewelled Throne by Ben Miller
  21. Mother by Bryce A. Beattie
  22. Beautiful Red by M. Darusha Wehm
  23. Pieces of Me by Lee Willard
  24. Kindred Spirits by Ashanti Luke 7090bd0e74434c1ac1f2a1dd4ec5d6e00f4274df-thumb
  25. Intimations of Immortality by J. Ray Paradiso
  26. Mission Alpha by Lee Willard
  27. Wires by Harriet Bunting
  28. Flock by Mike Russell
  29. A Night at the Tarn House by George R. R. Martin
  30. The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H. P. Lovecraft
  31. The Debutante by Leonora Carrington
  32. Dinosaur Wars: Earthfall by Thomas P. Hopp
  33. Fatal Boarding by E. R. Mason
  34. Mariposa (2173) by B. B. Irvine cover225x225
  35. Never the Twain by Simon Stanton
  36. Free Radicals by Alice Munro
  37. Palomino by Olivier de Beventine
  38. “… for a single yesterday” by George R. R. Martin
  39. Police!!! by Robert W. Chambers
  40. Old Mr. Wiley by Fanny Greye La Spina
  41. The Guest Rites by Robert Silverberg
  42. The Lake by David V. M.
  43. Megan by Lauren Bell
  44. Friend Island by Francis Stevens 2370004923796
  45. To Florence by Lord Byron
  46. Witch-Burning by Mary Elizabeth Counselman
  47. Where was Wych Street? by Stacy Aumonier
  48. The Nail by Pedro de Alarcon
  49. The Devil and Tom Walker by Washington Irving
  50. How the Leopard Got his Spots by Rudyard Kipling
  51. The People Who Wear Black by Mike Russell
  52. The Middle Toe of the Right Foot by Ambrose Bierce
  53. The Little Frenchman and his Water Lots by George Pope Morris
  54. The Whispering Mummy by Sax Rohmer Sax_Rohmer
  55. The Emir’s Captive by Clark Ashton Smith
  56. The Secret of the Glowing Gold by Bram Stoker
  57. The Assassination Of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered As A Downhill Motor Race by J. G. Ballard
  58. siseneG by Arthur C. Clarke
  59. Salvage in Space by Jack Williamson
  60. Nemesis by Laird Barron
  61. Lightbringers and Rainmakers by Felix Gilman
  62. A Season of Broken Dolls by Caitlin R. Kiernan
  63. Clod, Pebble by Kathe Koja and Carter Scholz
  64. The River Knows Its Own by Jay Lake the-river-knows-its-own
  65. The Goosle by Margo Lanagan
  66. The Faery Handbag by Kelly Link
  67. Will the Earth One Day Be Destroyed? by Roger Martin and David Ohle
  68. Descent into Shadow and Light by W. H. Pugmire
  69. The Pilgrimage by Justine Allen
  70. The Banquet of the Lords of Night by Liz Williams
  71. The Belonging Kind by John Shirley and William Gibson
  72. The Cold Flame by Joan Aiken
  73. Nethescurial by Thomas Ligotti
  74. Broken Miracles by Peter Levrai
  75. Dunce from Nothing Is Strange by Mike Russell
  76. Quest of the Gazolba by Clark Ashton Smith wt0947.jpg
  77. Four Faultless Felons by G. K. Chesterton
  78. Seashore Macabre: A Moment’s Experience by Hugh Walpole
  79. In The Graveyard by Anton Chekhov
  80. Curious by Sreyus Palliyani
  81. Canon Alberic’s Scrap-Book by M. R. James
  82. The Agent’s Meal by Navo Banerjee
  83. Alexander Alexander by Algernon Blackwood
  84. Dagon by H. P. Lovecraft
  85. Number 13 by M. R. James
  86. Azathoth by H. P. Lovecraft Azathoth
  87. The Way of Cross and Dragon by George R. R. Martin
  88. The Book by H. P. Lovecraft
  89. The Ugly Chickens by Howard Waldrop
  90. Theatre of Cruelty by Terry Pratchett
  91. The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Neil Gaiman
  92. Retaliation by The Marquis de Sade
  93. Children on a Country Road by Franz Kafka
  94. A Fallen Soldier by Sarah Faie
  95. A Tranquil Star by Primo Levi
  96. Mary Margaret Road-Grader by Howard Waldrop waldrop
  97. A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud. by Carson McCullers
  98. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
  99. The Legend by Edith Wharton
  100. Rapunzel by The Brothers Grimm
  101. The Enchanted Castle by Edith Nesbit

Lord Dunsany (Edward Plunkett)

A Dreamer's Tales

Irish fantasy author Lord Dunsany (1878-1957) is one of my all time favourite writers. His work is so different to anything else that I have read, and the exciting point for me is that I haven’t read them all yet (it’s a pretty big body of work)!

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The King of Elfland’s Daughter is my favourite so far, and it’s probably the most famous of his books too. It’s well known that Dunsany was a keen hunter and it’s not so well known that I’m a keen vegetarian and animal lover, so I’m sure I receive The King of Elfland’s Daughter (which contains a fair amount of hunting) quite differently to how he perhaps intended. Having said that, Dunsany was also an animal rights campaigner and was president of his local RSPCA branch, so he confuses me greatly! I guess it had something to do with the difference between animal and pet.

The Charwoman's Shadow

Dunsany made his first literary tour to the USA in 1919, and made further such visits right up to the 1950s, notably to California. Dunsany’s own work, and contribution to the Irish literary heritage, was recognised through an honorary degree from Trinity College, Dublin… In 1957, Lord Dunsany became ill while eating with the Earl and Countess of Fingall, in what proved to be an attack of appendicitis, and died in hospital in Dublin at the age of 79. He had directed that he be buried in the churchyard of the ancient church of St. Peter and St. Paul, Shoreham, Kent, in memory of shared war times… The catalogue of Edward Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany (Lord Dunsany)’s work during his 52-year active writing career is quite extensive, and is fraught with pitfalls for two reasons: first, many of Dunsany’s original books of collected short stories were later followed by reprint collections, some of which were unauthorised and included only previously published stories; and second, some later collections bore titles very similar to different original books. In 1993, S. T. Joshi and Darrell Schweitzer released a bibliographic volume which, while emphasising that it makes no claim to be the final word, gives considerable information on Dunsany’s work. Wikipedia

Many of Lord Dunsany’s stories were illustrated by Sidney H. Sime, who I created a blog post about earlier this year.

If you haven’t read any of Dunsany’s work before, I highly recommend you try a couple of his short stories. Most of them can be found for free online, or through your Kindle! The Public Domain is a wonderful thing. Please comment if you find any particularly good stories that you wish to share.

I hope for this book that it may come into the hands of those that were kind to my others and that it may not disappoint them. —Lord Dunsany (the preface for A Dreamer’s Tales)

Mike Russell and his Surreal Stories

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Mike Russell is the author of two short story collections; Nothing Is Strange and Strange Medicine. His work is surreal and often humorous, with some stories even being described as erotic, absurd or disturbing. Mike has performed his stories in the South of England for over a decade, wearing his famous top hat with its all-seeing eye.

A review for Mike’s first collection, Nothing Is Strange: “Reader Beware: If you enjoy reading stories that are written with structure, stories that are comprised of a beginning, middle, and end, or stories that do not transcend the boundaries of reality, then this book is not for you. If, on the other hand, you want to read stories that will free you from the chains that are attached to the anchor of reality, then this is your must-read collection.

Nothing is Strange is a collection of twenty short stories in which everything is strange, but strange in a good way.

The twenty stories are miniature narratives. The collection is well written and highly imaginative. Each story takes you on a journey where the imaginary becomes reality. Instead of reason we have imagination. In place of the banal we have passion for liberation. Instead of the ordinary, we have magic.

By their very nature, the stories are freeing. They will take you to places within your mind you never knew existed. For those unaccustomed to reading surreal stories these stories may be hard to swallow. One might compare it to looking at modern art for the first time. I can only imagine how people felt the first time Duchamp exhibited his Readymades, or Picasso his art. A typical first reaction might raise the question of whether or not the artist is authentic, or is he simply trying to put one over on us.

The concept of these stories first appears to be too simple to be called art. Yet, as one delves into the collection, and crosses back and forth between the boundaries of real and unreal, one comes away with the feeling that there is more to them than at first appears – and you would be correct in this assumption.

Reading these stories feels as if you’re following footprints in the snow, footprints that take you somewhere and nowhere. Sometimes the footprints are deep and easy to follow, but sometimes they are obliterated and nearly imperceptible. The reader may, for a time, get lost. For some, tripping through these stories may be a harrowing experience. But for others, the journey on the wind of imagination will be a mind-blowing and rewarding experience.

But the magic doesn’t end there, for once discovered and devoured, the effects of a surreal adventure multiplies the further out one travels.

My advice then, dear reader, is for you to read this collection. Take a chance you may be hooked on the reality of non reality, which, in turn, will inspire you to explore other artists of the genre, some who are long gone, and others, like Mike Russell, who are our modern guides on the surreal journey.

So go ahead: Jump into the swimming pool with your clothes on. You may very well find you won’t want to get out of the water.” – Gerard Bianco

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Mike Russell’s website is StrangeBooks.com and both books are available in paperback or for Kindle. You can also read Dunce, a story from Nothing Is Strange for free here, and Flock, a story from Strange Medicine for free here!

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The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers

The King in Yellow (1895) by Robert W. Chambers. It’s strange, it’s weird, it’s horror, sci-fi and romance all in one. The King in Yellow is a book of loosely connected short stories, full of fear and madness.

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Dare you read it? This collection has been called the most important book in American supernatural fiction between Poe and the moderns. H. P. Lovecraft, creator of the famed Cthulu mythos, whose own fiction was greatly influenced by this book stated that The King in Yellow ‘achieves notable heights of cosmic fear’.Moly

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“Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard in
Dim Carcosa.”

—From Cassilda’s Song in The King in Yellow, Act i, Scene 2
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As well as being the title of the anthology, The King in Yellow is also the name of a play within the book, bringing madness to all who witness it. Although the play is never shown in full, it is referred to in a number of the stories.

 There is also a graphic novel by INJ Culbard. One of the UK’s most prolific cartoonists, his work always guarantees an intelligent and instantly recognizable graphic style. Clean lines, bold colors, and characters that wriggle right into the readers’ brain are Culbard’s trademark. In the realm of The King in Yellow, those skills are put to dastardly use as what begins in intrigue ends in poisonous insanity and palpable fright. Publishers Weekly

 Just as T.V. series True Detective borrowed the term Carcosa from Chambers more than a century after The King in Yellow was written, Chambers borrowed the term from Ambrose Bierce and H.P. Lovecraft later borrowed it from Chambers! This all just makes me want to watch series one of True Detective for a third time.

 You can download an audio version of Chambers’ The King in Yellow from Downpour.

10 Old-School Weird Fiction Writers that are Not from the UK or USA

We all know Lovecraft, Poe and M. R. James, but how about broadening our horizons? Here are ten of the original Weird Fiction authors from around the world.

  1. Ryūnosuke Akutagawa – Tokyo, Japan, 1892-1927. Ryūnosuke Akutagawa was a Japanese writer active in the Taishō period in Japan. He is regarded as the “Father of the Japanese short story” and Japan’s premier literary award, the Akutagawa Prize, is named after him. He committed suicide at the age of 35 through an overdose of barbital. Ryūnosuke Akutagawa was born in the Kyōbashi district of Tokyo, the third child and only son of father Toshizō Niihara and mother Fuku. – Wikipedia. Read one of his short stories for free here.

  2. Hanns Heinz Ewers – Düsseldorf, Germany, 1871-1943. One of the wrongly forgotten masters of the strange, H.H.Ewers was a german writer, writing from the turn of the century to the 1920’s. – Eldritch Dark. Listen to a free audio version of one of his short stories here.
  3. Mercè Rodoreda – Barcelona, Spain, 1908-1983. Books available here.

  4. S. Ansky – Chashniki, Belarus, 1863-1920. Books available herescreen-shot-2016-09-30-at-19-15-11

  5. Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué – Berlin, Germany, 1777-1843. Read his works for free herescreen-shot-2016-09-30-at-19-18-36 He was introduced to August Wilhelm Schlegel, who deeply influenced him as a poet (“mich gelehret Maß und Regel | Meister August Wilhelm Schlegel”) and who published Fouqué’s first book, Dramatische Spiele von Pellegrin, in 1804. – Wikipedia

  6. Dino Buzzati – San Pellegrino, Italy, 1906-1972. Read his works for free here.

    Poem Strip

  7. Stefan Grabiński – Kamionka Strumiłowa, Poland, 1887-1936. Read one of his short stories for free herescreen-shot-2016-09-30-at-19-22-23

  8. Théophile Gautier – Tarbes, France, 1811-1872. screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-19-25-54

  9. André Breton – Orne, France, 1896-1966. screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-19-28-51

  10. Gustave Flaubert – Rouen, France, 1821-1880.

Gustave Flaubert

Dunce – A Short Story

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Dunce

Everyone calls Dunce ‘Dunce’. Everyone thinks that Dunce is an idiot. I used to think so too but not any more.

Dunce is completely bald and has a really pointed head so the temptation to get him paralytic on his thirtieth birthday, carry him to the tattooist’s and get a nice big ‘D’ smack bang in the middle of his forehead was too much for me. Trouble is he can’t afford to have it removed so he wears a big plaster over it. Gangs of children tease him.

‘What’s underneath the plaster, mister? Show us!’

They swear he has a third eye under there.

My name is Bill but Dunce calls me ‘Fez’ on account of my hat. I’ve known Dunce for over sixteen years. I don’t have to use my memory to work that out; I just count the number of boxes of Turkish Delight I’ve got stashed in my cupboard. Dunce buys me a box every birthday. Dunce thinks that because I wear a fez I must be Turkish (I’m not) and that being Turkish I must like that powder-covered gunk (I don’t, I hate the stuff).

On my last birthday, after saying:

‘No, Dunce, I’ll eat it later,’ and stashing box number sixteen in the cupboard, I decided to take Dunce to the theatre. He’d never been before.

The play was called ‘Death in the Dark’. We had front row seats. Dunce was captivated. He stared at the actors with a gaping mouth.

The lights dimmed to darkness. Kitty Malone, the beautiful star of the show, was stood centre stage. A shot was heard. Dunce jumped right out of his seat.

‘What was that?’ he said.

The lights came back on and Kitty was lying in a pool of blood. Dunce let out a scream then shouted:

‘Someone call for an ambulance! And the police!’

The audience thought that Dunce was an actor, that the play was being cleverly extended beyond the stage, questioning the boundaries of theatre.

‘What’s wrong with you?’ Dunce shouted at the audience. ‘How can you carry on as if nothing has happened?’

‘This is wonderful, just wonderful,’ I heard someone say behind me.

Kitty was stoically sticking to her role, thinking that the show must go on, but Dunce was clambering up onto the stage, crying, stroking Kitty’s hair and checking her pulse.

‘She’s alive!’ he shouted with relief.

‘No I’m not!’ Kitty hissed at him through clenched teeth.

That was it; I was in hysterics. What a birthday treat this was turning out to be.

‘I’m acting. It’s part of the play. No one really shot me,’ Kitty hissed at Dunce.

The realisation was excruciatingly slow. I watched Dunce’s face change from shock to confusion to understanding to embarrassment. He made his way back to his seat. He didn’t speak or look at me until the play was over. The play got a standing ovation and we headed for the bar.

Kitty was in the bar too. She smiled at Dunce who blushed. She seemed to be fascinated by the top of his head. She walked over and invited him to her dressing room.

Twelve hours later and Dunce was in love! How about that? And what’s more, Kitty was in love too! And not only that but they were in love with each other! Kitty fell for Dunce. Not ‘fell for’ as in ‘was deceived by’ because there’s no deception where Dunce is concerned, he can’t do it, but she fell from her deceptions towards him. I couldn’t believe it.

‘It won’t last,’ I said to Dunce. ‘Enjoy it while you can but face facts: you are Dunce and she is Kitty Malone. Think about it.’

Dunce told me that Kitty had a thing about ice cream cones, a fetish you could say. She ate six a day. She liked to bite off the tip of the cone and suck out all the ice cream. She had a recording of ice cream van music that she played whilst they were having sex. She was forever stroking the top of Dunce’s head.

Then came the day. Dunce came round looking really worried.

‘Fez, have you seen Kitty? Do you know where she is?’

‘No, I haven’t seen her. Why? What’s the problem?’

‘I had a dream last night,’ Dunce said. ‘I dreamt that I was in bed and I looked at the calendar by the side of my bed and it was tonight. I put out my hand to touch Kitty but she wasn’t there. There was just this cold sludge covering her side of the bed and this smell: vanilla. It was melted ice cream.’

‘So what’s the problem?’

‘I think that something is going to happen to Kitty. I have to find her before tonight. I don’t want to wake up tomorrow morning alone in a bed full of melted ice cream.’

‘Dunce, dreams don’t mean anything and prophecies are impossible. Sit yourself down. Let’s have a couple of beers.’

I opened a cupboard, reached in to get the beers and a pile of boxes of Turkish Delight toppled over and fell out, breaking open and spilling their contents all over the floor. Dunce looked at the boxes then looked at me. I watched his face go through the same slow transformation from shock to confusion to understanding to embarrassment that I had witnessed so many times before.

‘You don’t like Turkish Delight?’ he said.

I said nothing and guiltily handed him a beer.

Dunce sighed then said:

‘So why did I have that dream?’

‘No reason at all,’ I said.

We sat in silence for a while then Dunce suddenly stood up.

‘It’s no good, Fez, I have to find her.’

Dunce found Kitty in the centre of town, lying on the pavement in a pool of blood. An ambulance and the police were on their way. An ice cream vendor was crying and yelling:

‘I don’t understand! I don’t understand!’

A huge, plastic ice cream cone was protruding from Kitty’s chest. It had fallen from on top of the ice cream shop for no apparent reason, smashed through her rib cage and crushed her heart.

Dunce cried. Then he cried some more. The next day, he cried and the day after that he cried. Three weeks later, he awoke, dressed, ate some breakfast, then cried. The next day, he came round to see me. He was crying.

‘Hello Dunce,’ I said. ‘Do you want a beer?’

‘What’s wrong with you?’ he said. ‘How can you carry on as if nothing has happened?’

‘It was an accident, Dunce,’ I said angrily, ‘a random occurrence. These things happen. You just have to get on with life. Why are you so stupid?’

I regretted saying it as soon as I heard it come out of my mouth. Dunce stared at me with tears in his eyes.

‘A fez is only a severed cone,’ Dunce said. ‘At least I have a point.’

I took off my hat and looked at it sullenly. Dunce had a point that he had a point. If he’d found Kitty a moment earlier… if I hadn’t delayed him with my arrogance, my cynicism…

‘Fez,’ Dunce said, ‘you remember the tears that I cried in the theatre when I thought that Kitty was dead but she wasn’t? I think that the tears I am crying now are the same as those. I didn’t understand what was going on in the theatre and I didn’t understand what was going on when the cone fell on her. I think that maybe we only cry because we don’t understand what is going on. Maybe if we understood what is really going on we wouldn’t cry at all, ever.’

Dunce smiled through his tears and beneath the plaster on his forehead I swear I saw something move.

 

Copyright © 2014 Mike Russell. All Rights Reserved.

This story is one of twenty that can be yours by purchasing Nothing Is Strange.

20 mind-expanding short stories

Inspiring, liberating, otherworldly, magical, surreal, bizarre, funny, disturbing, unique… all of these words have been used to describe the stories of Mike Russell so put on your top hat, open your third eye and enjoy… Nothing Is Strange!