Strange Weather is a collection of short stories from the brilliant mind of Joe Hill. The author of some amazing stories like Horns and The Fireman.
Not that it matters, in regards to story telling ability and quality of reads, but Joe Hill is also known as Joe Hillstrom King. Joe Hillstrom King is the son of Stephen and Tabitha King. I was aware of this, and it was this lineage that made me initially want to try his books. Fair, or unfair, that is the truth. I started with The Fireman and fell in love with the book, and Joe Hill as an author. NOS4R2 came next and I would class this man as one of my favourite current authors, regardless of parentage. Aside from those, Joe Hill is the author of some other fascinating stories such as Horns, Heart Shaped Box and 20th Century Ghosts. The guy is great. I wonder where he gets it from!
So, when my eye caught a collection of stories called Strange Weather, that I hadn’t yet read, my eyes lit up. Strange Weather contains 4 short stories, all very different but all connected via peculiar weather patterns. Okay, some of these weather connections aren’t really clear in two of the stories where they are critical elements in the others.
The first story up in Strange Weather is called Snapshot. Snapshot tells the story of Michael Figlione, a bit of a nerd and a lot of an eater. He could be described as a loner though it doesn’t appear to be a situation he has chosen. His mum is absent, his dad is often working. Set in the 80’s, Michael tends to keep his self occupied by tinkering with machines and his closest relationship is, or at least was, with the lady who took care of him before she became unable to through age. A Shelley Beukes. That is really where our story starts.
As Michael is hanging around, alone of course, he comes across a ragged and confused looking Shelley who is approaching his house. A concerningly vague conversation with her leaves Michael concerned as he escorts her back to her home. On the way she warns Michael about The Polaroid Man but gives nothing else away. Her concerned husband thanks Michael for bringing her back and asks him if he would mind spending time with Shelley. Keeping an eye on her while he runs errands. How the tables have turned. Years earlier she babysat Michael and now he will be babysitting her. But he can’t quite get that line out of his head.
Just who is The Polaroid Man? Well he does, as Michael finds out when a chance encounter at a petrol station sees him run into a man with a Polaroid camera. A heated situation occurs which sees this strange, menacing man with the camera get in an argument with Michael and the shop owners. It ends when the man snaps a picture of a kid in the shop, one of the few people in the town who are nice to Michael. Instantly the kid no longer seems himself and certainly doesn’t remember Michael. With absolute truth, The Polaroid Man warns Michael that he is next before leaving.
What ensues is a dark and frightening game of cat and mouse as Michael gets hunted by a man who seems to be able to suck the very soul out of people just by taking their picture. How can he, a fat, lonely and frightened child possibly survive and what about his friends like Shelley?
The second story veers away from the supernatural. This one is called Loaded. On the face of it, a simple crime story but look closely and you will see a terrifying reflection of modern society. Loaded jumps in time a little and we start off with meeting a young girl called Aisha and her close brotherlike friend, Colson. Both decent kids, Aisha looks up to Colson who himself has big dream of being in theatre and moving to London. Unfortunately Colson’s life ends too soon when a cop with a twitchy trigger finger is out looking for an actual criminal and young, black Colson is in the wrong place at the wrong time. We fast forward to the future where we meet Randall Kellaway. A bit of a drunk, a gun lover and all round dangerous human being.
We meet him getting a restraining order from a sheriff in relation to him threatening his wife and child with a gun. Kellaway is a security guard at a mall, an ex soldier who was dishonourably discharged, has a history of racism, prejudice and generally being an arse. Despite all his failings, Kellaway becomes the hero of a town when he foils an attempted mass killing at a mall, saving countless souls while only failing to save 3 or 4. As he revels in his new found adoration, little gaps in his story start to appear and a now grown up Aisha Lanternglass, a journalist, starts investigating the story feeling there may be a bit more to it. Something about Kellaway doesn’t sit right with here. Something that brings back memories of Colson.
The third story in Strange Weather is called Aloft and is probably the strangest of the bunch. It tells the story of Aubrey and Harriet. Well, it really Aubrey’s story but Harriet is key and really the reason why Aubrey finds himself in this situation. Aubrey is a pretty nervous guy. Load him up with some extra sides of anxiety and fear of heights and you may be wondering just what he is doing at altitude strapped and ready for a tandem skydive. Well, he is there for Harriet. It turns out that a mutual friend of theirs, June, passed away recently.
In her memory, Harriet and some others are jumping out of a plane. Not wanting to look weak, and also not wanting to leave Harriet’s side, Aubrey found himself also agreeing to take part. Now, on the verge of throwing himself out of a plane, his base instincts are kicking in and telling him not too. A strange cloud sighting and an aeroplane fault later and Aubrey finds himself hurtling towards the ground at speed. Not long after jumping, Aubrey finds himself on solid land. Only issue is he is still thousands of feet up in the air. He appears to have landed on a cloud Except it isn’t like any cloud you or I know. It is solid enough, large and also appears to be sentient. His thoughts seem to manifest cloud like versions of what he needs.
A bed? Check. Water? Check. A way to the ground? No. That is the one thing he can’t have. This cloud, or whatever it is, may have saved his life when he landed on it but it doesn’t seem to want him to leave.
Rain completes the book and brings us into apocalyptic styled fiction and certainly lives up to the Strange Weather moniker. We meet Honeysuckle who is about to move in with her girlfriend, Yolanda. The story starts at a frantic pace as barely a few pages pass before a downpour of rain decimates the area. Rain, you question? Well, this is no ordinary rain. As dark clouds amass overhead, suddenly, falling from the sky at pace are crystal like nails that rip and shred everyone they land upon. A 9 minute rain shower decimates half of the local population and Honeysuckle’s relationship.
As we progress, the rain evolves too with more and more of it falling around the world and with ever increasing nail size. The global population is declining rapidly as even shelter isn’t entirely safe from the force of the falling spears. A distraught Honeysuckle heads off towards Denver in a new apocalyptic landscape, carefully watching the sky to inform Yolanda’s parents of her untimely demise. But the rain isn’t the only thing she should be concerned with as end of the world cultists, a paranoid Russian and more become as much as a threat to her journey.
So, 4 stories and all really fresh and exciting to read. I adore the story Loaded. That is such a powerful story. I love how much variety is on show across all 4 stories. A crime drama, a monstrous camera, an alien spaceship and apocalyptic rain. Okay, not that straightforward but you get the point. These are 4 wildly different stories set in differing sub genres but connected by one thing. Brilliant story telling. Joe Hill has a gift that quickly captures your imagination and ties you into the story and that is on show plentifully here. Strange Weather is another fine example of Joe Hill’s talent. Even in short story form, he manages to quickly get you caring about characters and his story pace is nigh on perfect. Another excellent read.
Strange Weather by Joe Hill