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The Creeping Stick

The Creeping Stick by Liam Ronan

Pendragon Press, ebook, £0.99

Reviewed by Sarah Deeming

Raziel M. Spindle was a philanthropist, cursed with a sickly, misshapen body but with a keen intellect and the finances to explore the world. And when a storm wrecks his ship on the shore of a Welsh beach, and the residents of the nearby village nurse him back to health, Spindle decides to create an orphanage there to take in young people from the cities, give them an education and send them out into the world with better prospects. But there is something about Spindle that the local reverend struggles with, and it is more than Spindle’s non-Christian attitudes. When the villagers find out the children at the orphanage will not have a Christian burial, the villagers go on a rampage and burn the orphanage to the ground. But Spindle has his revenge and one night, all the villages’ children are stolen, confirming the reverend’s deepest fears. Gripped by guilt and duty, the reverend will stop at nothing to find them, even if it costs him everything.

The Creeping Stick is a tight novella about the consequences of a closed mind. Both the villagers and Spindle are closed to the point of view of others. The villagers are quite welcoming at the beginning of Spindle and his quirks, including hiring an overseas workforce to build his orphanage, but by the end, they are suspicious about anyone who isn’t one of them. Spindle has such a hatred for Christianity that he can’t see how he is making his situation worse by belittling the beliefs of the people who saved his life. This is not a story about religion before you think it is, but one about the conflicts that occur when people stop listening to each other.

The story is told from the reverend’s point of view, his last confession before his death (no spoiler, he tells you this himself at the start) and is filled with ugly truths about his own behaviour and involvement in the way things turned out. No one comes out well in this story, but then no one is innocent in the events. After his orphanage is destroyed, Spindle goes beyond tit-for-tat to an unthinkable act, destroying not the villagers’ buildings as they had done to him but their lives.

The story is well-told with graphic descriptions of hellish landscapes and implied torture, so reader be warned. I found the imagery and cleverness of the writing stayed with me long after I had finished. The Creeping Stick is a good story, perfect for any horror fan to spend a dark evening with.

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