Saturday, May 26, 2012

Flesh Worn Stone by John A. Burks, Jr.

Chalk one up for free e-books. It's unlikely I would ever have heard of Flesh Worn Stone had it not come up in a list of books available free for the Kindle. But the name of the author, John A. Burks, Jr., also rang a bell from my time at a message board years ago. Said message board inspired a horror anthology, Damned Nation, which was co-edited by David T. Wilbanks, with whom I would later form Acid Grave Press. And Burks's story was one of the highlights within.

Flesh Worn Stone, despite its inscrutable title (which is mentioned near the end of the story), is a gripping novel that held me in its thrall for an entire weekend. A handful of people wake up to find themselves caged on a beach.

When they are taken out, these folks are introduced into an unfamiliar society overseen by an faceless individual who judges them on how well they perform in the Game — and who decides if they will eat or if one of them will be eaten.

The Game is an occasional event where two numbers are displayed and the people whose arms are tattooed with those numbers are expected to perform the requested action or pay the consequences. The consequences to breaking just about any rule involves being that night's dinner.

Burks has taken the post-apocalyptic-society scenario and taken out the apocalypse, and it still works.  This makes Flesh Worn Stone all the more interesting as the question, "Why are these people in this situation?" remains unanswered for quite some time. 

The answers are eventually forthcoming, but Burks skillfully holds them back and dishes them out carefully one by one when they'll yield the most dramatic punch.  I even gasped a couple of times — actually, physically gasped out loud — from the shock of some of the revelations in Flesh Worn Stone. And you know how rare that kind of physical reaction is with fiction, however much blurbers would like you to believe otherwise.

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