Short Story Review: “Ash” by John Shirley

3 of 5 stars.

Humans act as their own worst enemies, letting their emotions and worries inhibit and undermine themselves. Perhaps no emotion betrays like Guilt as it entices one to continuously mull one’s decisions, words, and actions.

Cash-strapped Ash decides to pull off a robbery for $10-15K as a one-time solution to his problems. He cases a dodgy San Francisco check-cashing joint timing the police’s response time to his own anonymous tip, observing the habits of the daily delivery of cash by the overweight, cop-wannabe security guard arriving like clockwork in his armored truck, and even running his escape route to the nearest BART station for his commuter train getaway.

The actual robbery goes off less well when the security guard gives an armed chase and shots are fired. Ash’s last view of the dying security guard, is of the guard holding onto his Yoruba amulet and whispering a prayer. By the time Ash jumps on the train, he’s seeing trippy hallucinations that involve mutilations and other forms of depravity. He cannot escape the visions, losing his own sense of the city in the process . . .

Whether the psychological bender is curse, or guilt is nicely left open as the result remains the same.

This tale appears in Street Magicks edited by Paula Guran. I received this new anthology from Netgalley. The short story was originally published in Dead End, City Limits: An Anthology of Urban Fear [1991]. I’ve previously reviewed this author’s “Aftertaste”, “At Home With Azathoth”, and the excellent “Isolation Point, California”.
[Check out my other reviews here.]


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