by Richard Thomas

Keylight Books/Turner Publishing
2022, 246 pages, $17.99

ISBN 978-1-68442-754-3

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SPONTANEOUS HUMAN COMBUSTION is a single-author collection that focuses, in a way, on the darkness our lives, or in the lives of the protagonists of these stories. In “Repent,” a corrupt cop realizes that the only way to fight the darkness is to make a sacrifice to save his son from a terrible disease. In “Clown Face,” a professional clown uses the makeup and clothes as a mask to hide not from the humor, but from pain and sorrow. In “Requital,” a man sees a real girl, or perhaps merely an imagined one, who is either his lover or evil personified. “Hiraeth” is a tale of a boy who notices a mysterious hole in his chest and is tasked with trading for goods in the village, and his relationship with a girl who can perhaps cure him of the terrible hole and bring him joy, despite any other excessive hardships he is undergoing. In “Nodus to Illens,” a poker-playing man loses it all, including his automobile, to an uninvited, unknown guest at a friends’ poker match. There is redemption, under one condition: that the “loser” take a gold coin and flip it once a month, and if the coin turns up heads 10 times in a row, the now-winner must kill somebody. This deal-with-the-devil tale has some dire consequences. In “From Within,” creatures invade and enslave humans on earth. And just like in the H.G. Wells tale of invading Martians in “War of the Worlds,” there could exist a very natural and deadly weapon on the planet to turn the tide in the war. In “Ring of Fire,” Aman works on a mine in the Arctic, alone and isolated (under some sort of “contract”), with spotty memories of how he got there or how long he’s been there. But he knows he has been mining for precious ores. He is visited periodically by Rebecca, his only human contact, of whom he falls in love with. But the nature of his situation is baffling, at the least. Is what he endures some kind of test of the very nature and measure of his culpability and capability?