A Gentle Hell
Autumn Christian

Dark Continents Publishing
Digital Format, $2.99
Review by Darkeva

Autumn Christian’s short story collection, A Gentle Hell is a great, chapbook-length sampler of what the author can do.

The first story, “They Promised Dreamless Death,” has a creepy Big Brother post-apocalyptic setup that involves people being hooked up to machines and becoming little better than living zombies, for lack of a better term. These machines seem to live for people, and somehow give them an alternate life with no reason to be unhappy, but it’s not really theirs in a true sense. People who undergo this sleep for five or ten years hooked up to a machine, and when they awaken, all their problems are solved. Kind of an existential piece on re-defining existence with machines. The main character starts having dreams toward the end where it seems that he’s imagining something with a former girlfriend when he’s younger, and she’s trying to reassure them that they’re not going to die. This one definitely had a surprising ending.

In the next offering, “Your Demiurge is Dead,” the setup is that the Triple Goddess shows up to the White House, and Jehovah washes up on the Gulf of Mexico. The main character, Officer Redding, goes on a police investigation to a woman, Mimi’s, house, and she has twelve kids, one of whom has committed suicide. One of the other sisters insists the dead girl didn’t commit suicide, and asks if he’ll marry her under the dogwood tree because it’s what her dead sister wanted. Tuesday, the living sister, says God died this week. The police think someone murdered the dead girl. Meanwhile, the Triple Goddess has drawn up a new nationwide healthcare plan (“now that the demiurge is dead”), and she killed Jehovah. It’s a bit of a weightier story, and more of the children die, and the prophet of the Triple Goddess is implicated in their murders. Again, a creepy story that makes the reader question the notion of what ‘god’ is what it really means. Definitely a morose ending.

“The Dog that Bit Her” is about a regular guy and his wife, June, who is paranoid and has an abandonment complex, but her husband thinks he might have a saviour complex. A dog with rabies bites her and she says “he took my wings,” which I thought was interesting. She becomes paranoid about rabid dogs being everywhere to the point that she has to quit her job. The conclusion to this one is also thought-provoking, as with the rest of the stories.

And last but not least, “The Signing Grass” is a semi-autobiographical tale about a seemingly alien girl. The main character, who directly addresses the reading in an interesting narrative choice, describes falling in love with an artist. As with the first piece, this one is also very much about an existentialist undertone, and I had a bit of trouble “getting” it but it was written well and I enjoyed reading it.

If you’re looking for a morbid, creepy, post-Apocalyptic, existential horror short story collection, you’ll find it in Autumn Christian’s A Gentle Hell.

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