Roland Allnach

multi-award winning author of the strange and surreal
www.rolandallnach.com
 

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Oddities & Entities

 


                

Bronze Medalist, Horror, 2012 Readers Favorite Book of the Year Awards
Finalist, Paranormal, 2012 Readers Favorite Book of the Year Awards
Award Winner-Finalist, Horror, 2012 USA Best Book Awards
Award Winner-Finalist, Anthologies, 2012 USA Best Book Awards
Finalist, Short Stories, 2013 National Indie Excellence Awards
Bronze Award, Horror, 2012 Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Awards
'50 Great Authors You Should be Reading' Winner, 2013
Winner, Horror, 2014 Pacific Book Reviews Book Awards

             

  From the back cover:

  "There's more to this world than flesh and bone."
 
Set in the mysterious space between the everyday world and an existence just beyond reach, "Oddities & Entities" traces a path through the supernatural, the paranormal, and the speculative.  With moments of horror, dark humor, and philosophical transcendence, these tales explore a definition of life beyond the fragile vessel of the human body.

  A PDF excerpt of Oddities & Entities is available here for your reading curiosity.
(Requires Adobe Reader, download here.)

  To order a copy of Oddities & Entities from ATTM Press, click here.
  Available at Amazon in print, Kindle, and audio formats.
  To order a Nook version from Barnes&Noble, click here

 

Oddities & Entities now available in audiobook from Amazon and Audible.

For an autographed copy of Oddities & Entities, visit the Bookstore right here on this site.

What do the critics say? Check out the reviews here.

  About Oddities & Entities:

  Oddities & Entities, an anthology of six stories, marks my second stand-alone publication.  For this adventure I went down the road of the paranormal and supernatural, so it’s a bit of a departure from my first anthology, Remnant, in terms of subject matter.  But, as I’ve said here in several places, I enjoy the challenge of going in different directions and trying something at least a little bit different as I move from story to story.

 Oddities & Entities explores the conflicts that arise when our everyday world brushes up against states of nature normally hidden from common perception.  Through trial comes truth, and for the characters of Oddities & Entities, it is the inner truth of their varied states of existence.  As the old wisdom goes, it's difficult to perceive ourselves in full until we are somewhat displaced from our inner perceptions of the world.  It’s not an easy thing to do.  States of nature coexist, even as they are at odds with each other.

 O&E, and the stories encompassed therein, came together in roughly two years’ time.  Unlike the stories of Remnant, which found their way together over a rather protracted period of time, and without any forethought to link them in an anthology, I wrote the stories of O&E with a steadily increasing clarity as to thematic context. 

  Starting with "Boneview", my interest in pursuing the strange world around us from different perspectives stoked the fires of my imagination and afforded a fresh wave of ideas.  Once "Boneview", "My Other Me", and "Gray" were all in hand, I then began to consciously consider the notion of a second anthology.  I knew I needed two, perhaps three, more novellas to flesh out such an anthology, and fortunately there was no shortage of ideas to work with.  "Appendage" was next to reach completion, but with its more philosophical aspects, it seemed most appropriate as the closing tale of the anthology’s arc.  So last but not least came "Elmer Phelps", and with that in place, I felt the anthology was complete. 

  I never had any doubt as to the title I would choose: I felt that not only is "Oddities & Entities" a bit of a catchy title, but that it suitably describes the landscape in which much of the book dwells.

 So, with that general background in place, it’s time to talk about the individual stories.  For those who are yet to read O&E, the following essays constitute a spoiler-free zone.

  And as with Remnant, I'll be happy to answer any questions regarding Oddities & Entities.  Just drop me an email at fiction@rolandallnach.com.

 

  "Boneview"

 "Boneview" started with a singular image in my head, that of a young girl at peace in her moonlit bedroom as she was visited by an otherworldly creature.  This creepy critter, the ‘Curmudgeon’, as the underlying supernatural aspect of the story, consumed a fair amount of consideration in the crafting of the story.  I didn’t want to write a straightforward run-from-the-scary-creature type of story.  In degrees of varying subtlety the Curmudgeon is the foil of the lead character, Allison, who is for most of the story amused by what she considers her strange ethereal friend. 

  The Curmudgeon has a plan, though – a plan for Allison – and as such, I knew I had to invest it with the same depth of any other character I try to portray.  Characters with plans are characters with motivations, and so there needs to be some dimension to their personality, no matter how other-worldly they may be.  Without such dimension their actions would hold no gravity, and so leave half the conflict of a story flat. 

 Once I had the idea of the Curmudgeon set in my head, everything else seemed to fall into place.  I wanted the story to have a bit of the Southern Gothic feel, and so came the Florida setting.  That also allowed some descriptive space to portray things that not only solidified the sense of place within the story, but added to that eerie feel as well.  There is something timeless about southern oaks and their dangling lengths of Spanish moss, which seemed to fit well with the apparent timeless age of the Curmudgeon, and the brightness of the Florida sun serves as a fitting symbolic contrast to the darker aspects brewing in Allison’s life.

  Of course, along with the Curmudgeon is that other menace that enters Allison's life, a man known as Sam Culp.  Culp's role serves more than one purpose in the story, however, and it is the shift in his role in Allison's life that put him and the Curmudgeon on opposite trajectories.  There's a phase where Culp the 'man' seems the greatest danger to Allison, while the Curmudgeon appears as an ally.  But this is an exercise of Allison's ignorance, and once she learns the truth, the roles of Culp and the Curmudgeon reverse, though in ways that defy classical interpretations of friend and foe. 

  The idea for the story, and for the greater whole of O&E, was to weave in the idea that the realities which intersect our common world follow a morality and rational that might escape traditional understanding.  By the end of the story, while the realities of Culp and the Curmudgeon have undergone their own twisted evolutions, they may seem more as question marks than absolutes, which is what I wanted.  Either character can be judged on their interventions in Allison's life, and for every judgment against, there is yet a redeeming judgment.  As Culp tells Allison, there's a different set of rules out there, and they're not for us to understand.

  With these little twists and turns in place, I then let the story play out on its own.  In terms of the anthology, I always knew "Boneview" would be the opening story.  Not only does it help set up much of the following tone of the anthology, but it bridges many of the thoughts and conflicts, and the concurrent theme of a person grappling with an unexpected brush of life against something far beyond common experience.  "Boneview" was also responsible for opening the creative paths in me that fostered the rest of the stories in the anthology, so in that regard as well it seemed only proper to give it the opening slot.

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 "Shift/Change"

 "Shift/Change" was originally published in Aphelion webzine, but I decided to include it in O&E for two reasons.  First, I thought it dovetailed rather nicely with "Boneview", as it shows a rather dark and dingy interaction between something 'more than flesh and bone'.  And while it was nice to use that quote for the back cover of the book, as it opens so much of what the theme of O&E explores, the story for all its darkness does hint that even at the darkest interactions between the world outside our normal existence and our mundane world harmony can be established, or at least a semblance of balance.  The second reason I included "Shift/Change" is a bit more self serving. For marketing and promotion purposes, I figured it couldn't hurt including a story that some readers might already know, and so entice them to take a dive into O&E.

  As far as the formation of "Shift/Change", there's a full explanation on the 'Behind the Stories' page, but for convenience I'll have it here as well.  Without giving too much of the story away, I'll discuss some of the story's elements.  I wanted a creepy, gothic style to the setting of the story, so even though much of the story takes place in a hospital morgue, a plain old morgue would not suffice.  There's an abandoned state mental hospital near my childhood home, and over the years as I grew up the state closed the hospital in stages as care moved away from massive, centralized, multi-building facilities to more suburban, less intimidating settings. 

  Nevertheless, I remember how those old buildings looked at night- they were creepy, and they've grown more so over the years as they decay.  Built in stages in the early 1900's, the buildings were interconnected by underground tunnels so that staff could move about during winter without having to brave cold howling winds blowing across the open fields between the buildings.  And while not a direct inspiration for the setting of "Shift/Change", it is the impression of hidden places, tunnels to abandoned places, that set a seed in my head.  Being underground can be a surreal experience, once you are severed from references such as the sun and sky.  The hollow places beneath us are their own world, a world which is crafted by those who fill its space.

  Which leads to the cast of rather decrepit characters inhabiting the underworld of "Shift/Change".  It is a tale of redemption, though, so set against the less savory characters are the two leads, neither of which seem too promising as human beings in their first appearance.  In the original draft of the story the supernatural aspects of John Smith had little mystery to them, and his place in the realm of existence outside of our physical world was rather traditional.  Despite his crime and punishment - which are the underlying drive of the story - I came to feel the spiritual nature of his existence was laid out in too much detail, so much so that there was little mystery left to him. 

  This, combined with interludes of his own thoughts upon his crime and punishment, defused the suspense of his inevitable unveiling before the fallen woman he is trying to save.  In successive revisions I had to gut several parts of the story.  Out went those interludes, out went his exhaustive, thinly veiled accounts of his true identity, and out went some clumsy dialogue that even in a story with supernatural elements was simply unrealistic. 

  The story was stripped to its core, and I then rebuilt it around the notion quoted on the back cover of O&E: there is more to this world than flesh and bone.  Though other realities exist with us, it's not necessarily a good thing when they intersect with us. Using that as a guiding point, the story took on a new life, and with John's hidden nature left somewhat vague and open for interpretation, his other-worldly nature not only gained force but menace.  Where he was an agent of good that had taken a bad turn in the original version of the story, he was now somewhat ambiguous, and even though he has learned the lesson of his crime, a threatening edge remains to his intellect: he may be acting to redeem himself but, at the same time, he is not to be crossed. 

  With all the elements in place and in the focus I wanted, the title itself gained the deeper meaning I always hoped it could possess: the 'shift/change' phrase is not meant to be strictly temporal (the end of the night shift), but meta-physical as well (the transition of John's character, and the effect on those he victimized with his crime).

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  "My Other Me"

  As the third tale of O&E, "My Other Me" is meant to take a bit more of a philosophical look at things, and, as such, is perhaps one of the more difficult stories to describe.  Whereas "Boneview" and "Shift/Change" work around ordinary people caught up with things beyond their understanding, "My Other Me" follows the main character, Noel, straight into the storm.

  The basic vision for "My Other Me" came to me one night while walking across a parking lot.  As I went between the light poles I noticed how my shadow, split into four images around me, shifted, stretched, and spun.  It seemed an odd thing, and I started to wonder what it would be like if one of those shadows had an awareness of its own, and how it might perceive reality.  From there the idea refined to the somewhat more traditional concept of peering through a looking glass, or looking over a fence. 

  Given the train of thought I opened with "Boneview", I decided to take that precept into a darker, perhaps more twisted interpretation.  What came next seemed a natural evolution of ideas.  I recalled a few experiences from my college days, when I had the opportunity to visit ICON, a large sci-fi convention that still makes annual appearances at my alma mater.  The convention drew an interesting crowd, and I remember seeing some interesting artwork, which was quite a contrast to the realms of math and science that formed the core of my classes.  That contrast seemed a fitting background for the elements that would erupt in "My Other Me", so with all the groundwork in place, the story came into being.

  The finished product that is "My Other Me" presented a bit of a problem, at least in terms of how to explain or market the story.  I purposely wrote the story to be a bit of a head-scratcher but, when I made a few attempts to have it published, I found myself at a loss for words as to how to sum it up in a few sentences.  I love stories that are somewhat open in the tradition of the great anime stories such as Akira but, as I said, they can be difficult to describe.  Yet, when I thought of where I was going after writing both "Boneview" and "My Other Me", I was even more convinced that these stories worked better as parts of a greater whole than independent pieces.

  That said, I think the surface plot of "My Other Me" serves up a nice disturbing dose of fiction, and while not perhaps something that can summon a shriek, I think it serves more in the realm of summoning a chill the next time one walks alone.  After all, when it comes to horror, I for one find the insidious chill of a story more lasting than a shock-scare.  Shock-scares are like the candle that burns brightest, having an immediate but short lived effect.  Insidious creeps, the psychological disturbance that finds its way into one's thoughts, is more lasting, and in the end I think leaves the story with a deeper resonance.

  But, if nothing else, "My Other Me" left me hungry to write more along this growing theme of people colliding with unseen orders of nature.  And as is typical with my writing, after going in one direction I like to rebound and write my next piece in a different direction.  So as much as "My Other Me" was written to embrace psychological horror, I wanted to go in the opposite direction, and try my hand at a bit of comic-horror.

  And so came the tale of "Gray."

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  "Gray"

  "Gray" follows a strange circumstance: a rather type-A class of person who is straining to hold on to his sanity is jarred from his perception of reality when a little gray man pops out of his nose.  Well, isn't that a strange thing to happen on a Friday night?

  With "Gray" I wanted to take the lead established by "Boneview" and "My Other Me" and extend it in a different direction.  It wasn't just about taking a somewhat humorous turn with some darkly comical moments, but rather to use a bit of a satirical/cynical tone toward the order of the reality we share.  In the previous stories of O&E leading up to "Gray" the characters are given little choice but to accept the other-worldly aspects of their tales whereas in "Gray" the protagonist, Dave, seems just an ordinary guy until something very strange happens in his life. 

  It's then up to him to come to accept that his perception of life around him is in fact quite flawed, and the madness of his life is in large part due to that flawed perception.  He must learn to adjust his perception not only of his past but of both his present and future to find his way among this new understanding of things around him.  As this understanding grows, he sees more and more that it was waiting for him in every facet of his life and, through this, he is able to come to peace with the transition of his existence: his new terms of life are not bizarre, but rather the long awaited norm he sought.  In hindsight, he learns that it was his old life that was in fact bizarre and motivated by the blind rage of pointless futility.

  I made an effort to invest "Gray" with a number of contrasting set changes.  There is the ocean, vast and mysterious, right down the street from Dave's house, but he pays it little heed until after his life changes.  On the other hand, there are the mountains and open space of Montana, and its tracts of woodland, vast and mysterious in their own right. 

  The townhouse in which he lives undergoes its own transformation, from its implied luxury to the gutted Spartan austerity of Dave's later transformation.  Then there's Kim, the hostile underworld parasite who wants to work both sides of a precarious equation to his own benefit, with the casual contempt of an anarchist.  Underlying all of this, of course, is the strained relationship between Dave, his cousin Peter, and the seeming aloof presence of Pixie, Peter's companion.  But Pixie as well has multiple roles, one as the object of Dave's desire, but beneath her surface the true source of her allure, the hidden awareness she carries as to the world and its unseen order.

  And then there's the little man that popped out of Dave's head, Gray.  Over the years I had numerous ideas for stories involving little gray men wandering around, either as figments of a character's imagination, elusive but benign creatures living in machines, or perhaps in their strangest form subconscious thoughts transformed to tangible form to speak with the person who was their source.  None of these story ideas ever gained enough momentum to compel me to craft a story around them, and I think the main reason for that might have been the fact that none of those ideas left much space for the what the 'grays' would be, in terms of their own character development.  With "Gray" that problem was solved, and so I had a story to tell.

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  "Elmer Phelps"

  As a single story, "Elmer Phelps" nevertheless is the longest piece in O&E, perhaps because of the tricky ground that it traverses.

  What can I say about this story?  Oh, Elmer, Elmer, Elmer. . .where do I begin?  It's difficult to discuss this story without giving too much away, as so much of what happens that might be considered strange, disgusting, and gruesome all find their subjective justifications and explanations.  And that, if nothing else, is what lies at the heart of "Elmer Phelps", and was touched upon for a moment in "Boneview": the idea that once one crosses over the boundaries of everyday life, the common rules of morality we know might not apply in the ways in which they are accustomed. 

  The challenge of "Elmer Phelps" was not only to portray such a situation, but at the same time maintain an awareness that some things, regardless of how they might attain understanding and even moral equivocation, are still to be rejected to maintain a basic sense of humanity.

  "Elmer Phelps" had its origins in something much more ordinary than the story it came to be.  I've always been interested in writing a zombie story, not just for my private enjoyment but for the challenge of writing a different kind of zombie tale.  I still like the idea I developed, so I won't discuss it here in case I do flesh it out (no pun intended) to a full length book.  In its original conception as a novel entitled "Elmer Phelps" I found there to be some deep problems in the basic logic structure of the story.  Despite that I typed up a short two page story treatment, as I often do for a book, containing some basic plot points, character profiles/motivations, and some of the underlying themes. 

  After that, it collected dust for a year, though it never left the back of my mind.  In the meantime I took up another book project, a piece of main stream fiction by the title of Snowflake, and started hammering away at that.  As the title might suggest, it takes place in a wintry climate.  To make this seeming tangent relevant, I mention all this because while I was toying with the ideas of a wintry setting and what type of symbolic and aesthetic elements that could lend to a story, the ideas for "Elmer Phelps" welled up once more, to the point where I put Snowflake aside and dove into Elmer's story.  I backed off from the zombie idea, and went for something more subtle, and perhaps more penetrating, as subtle things tend to be.

  All that aside, "Elmer Phelps" was meant to do what I like to often do with my writing, and that is present the reader with a set of circumstances that on their surface defy explanation but at the same time challenge the innate compulsion to condemn such things.  In this gray area there lurks not only a creeping chill for the story but the the anchor point of what I was trying to map out with O&E.  Life does not always present itself to us in black and white, and as Elmer realizes, it's up to the human mind to make sense of things - the human mind, with all its three pounds of eternity.

  Although Elmer appears as the second to last story of O&E, it was the last piece I wrote for the anthology, and I wrote it with the direct understanding that it was to lead into the final story, which was already completed, a story by the title "Appendage".

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  "Appendage"

  This story, as with several others, started with a singular image in my head.  It consisted of some type of creature, blackened and crusty, chained down in some type of research lab.  The creature was at one point a man, a man who had been exposed to something to cause his horrible transformation.  The story would then continue past this disturbing precept to follow the man/monster through some type of exploit.

  And as the saying goes, therein lies the rub.  I had no idea what kind of 'exploit' this 'creature' might follow, and as I've said with "Boneview", I wasn't interested in writing a straightforward 'monster' story.  No, I wanted something more complex, and at the time I started to consider this idea, I was already committed to bundling a supernatural/paranormal anthology.  And so the more I thought about this initial idea, the more it grew within me, and I felt it would provide a great opportunity to introduce a speculative element to the anthology that could also serve as a philosophical exploration to tie the whole thing together.

  With that, "Appendage" evolved to its final form.  It's probably obvious by now from some of my other fiction that I'm a bit of a tree hugger, and certainly that shows in "Appendage".  I happen to find a great deal of solace in staring at trees.  Often, when I'm writing, I find a spot to sit where I can see some trees, whether I'm indoors or outdoors, and when I look up I find a meditative quality to watching the leaves shift and sway in the air. 

  There are some lessons to learn from watching trees, without getting too far into my Naturalist inclinations.  Just consider that while we run and hide from rain, winds, storms, and cold nights, the trees are out there.  It's not just part of the old idea 'to bend with the breeze' but the idea of being part of something, rather than weaving around things.

  This is part of what I wanted to convey with the character of Randal.  A mercenary, a failed father, a failed husband, a man who took the world by its collar and slapped it around in his contempt, he has yet to understand the mess of his life is as much a product of circumstance as it is his own outlook.  Hence the small disdainful references to transcendentalism and 'New Age' thought trains. 

   As much as his cynicism shrugs off such notions, he is at the same time very much given to follow their lead in his search for not only a sense of peace but a sense of reason to the anarchic existence that has surrounded him.  It is both his shield against the stranger events of the story and his key to unlock his place within those events, and that's what I really enjoyed in writing "Appendage": nothing can be picked apart.  Randal's life is a complicated mosaic, and without any of those elements in place his outcome in the story would have been much different.

  I won't give anything away, but it is for all these reasons that "Appendage" found its place as the closing story in O&E.  It dovetails quite well with "Elmer Phelps", and in terms of fulfilling the thematic arc of the anthology, I believe (that is, hope) it serves quite well.

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  A hindsight view of Oddities & Entities (SPOILER ALERT!)

  Ah, where to begin?  I think the best place to start with a writer's hindsight perspective for O&E is to talk about the sense of location throughout the book.

  The stories cover some varied ground.  From the lazy summer evenings of Florida in 'Boneview', to the frigid northern territory of 'Elmer Phelps', to the Pacific shore in 'Gray', to a nightmarish morgue in 'Shift/Change', to a college campus in 'My Other Me' and last to an exotic jungle and globe-hopping memories of 'Appendage', the wide scope of settings was done by design.  I at once wanted to portray experiences in the world that were somewhat different in some of the philosophical interactions of the characters of the distinct stories, and yet present a cohesive message that no matter the locale, other-worldly phenomena are right around the corner.  This also drove the unifying, summary scope of global settings reflected in 'Appendage'.

  I believe environment has a profound yet subtle effect on the way we perceive the world around us.  The conditions of our locale can effect our outlook, and perhaps our disposition as well.  Excessive states of climate tend to keep people indoors, and so they have more time to reflect on their station in life.  Likewise, expansive beauty such as the coastal scenery alluded to in 'Gray' and the dismal, depressing dungeon of a decrepit hospital morgue in 'Shift/Change' cause the characters to ponder things beyond themselves. 

  A sense of locale is also a sense of comfort and security.  It's a common facet of human psychology to think we are who we are because of where we come from, or currently live.  Part of what I wanted to do with the stories of O&E was pry into that comfort zone of the characters by jarring their innate security with the introduction of outlandish events. 

  For example, in 'Elmer Phelps' I wove several symbolic elements of the wintry setting into the story, and let them evolve over the course of the narrative.  The barren cold at first is meant to represent Elmer's isolation, yet in its second phase it fosters the cozy warmth and tender security he finds with Samantha in contrast to the looming threat embodied in Casey's evolving role in the 'agency'. 

  Likewise - or perhaps in contrast - in 'Boneview' the Curmudgeon is with Allison from her first living breaths, but how she understands its presence in her life changes the way in which she views some of the stranger aspects of the Curmudgeon's existence among the shadows.

  Digging a little deeper, I also wanted to portray a simultaneous yet divergent view of the sanctity of the human body itself.  As the stories progress there is at once an increasing disregard for the violence that can mar the living form, and at the same time an increasing appreciation that the vessels in which we live possibly operate under rules we don't understand. 

  It starts with the apathy of Allison in 'Boneview', demonstrates its first dichotomy in alternate perspectives in 'Shift/Change' and 'My Other Me', and takes a much more pointed - if not graphic - turn in the dark comic gore of 'Gray' and the cannibalistic brain ingestion of 'Elmer Phelps', ultimately culminating in the shape-shifting transcendence in 'Appendage' of Randal from a terminal cancer patient to mutant arborial hybrid to a towering tree.

  These explorations of how we not only interact and view our physical selves inevitably involved some of the sexual aspects of the stories.  The sexual aspect of the human psyche is a powerful force, yet it can be twisted by life experience.  I didn't want to write stories about deviance.  That may sound ridiculous given the relationship between Elmer and his sister Casey in 'Elmer Phelps', but with this story in particular what I wanted to do was use something very jarring - their taboo relationship - to show the insidious way in which moral standards could be derailed and redefined by the intrusion of a new perception of reality. 

   I felt it was an effective way to demonstrate how far astray standards can drift.  More to the point, I wanted to craft a thought model for Casey in which her taboo relationship with her brother Elmer is not only forgivable but inevitable.  To make the story work in the way I envisioned it, that relationship was at the core of Elmer's motivations.  It drove his isolation, it drove his inspiration to do something with himself, it fueled his desire for a 'normal' relationship with Samantha and, in the end, in light of Casey's self sacrifice, showed that love itself can indeed be a murky concept. 

  So, in closing, I'd like to summarize by saying that I didn't write O&E with the purpose of waging war on morality.  Rather, I wanted to portray situations that inspire reflection on concepts of right and wrong, just and unjust, and what it means to even have a moral compass.  One of the whispering themes of the book is that morality is both subjective and absolute.  It's not only the challenge of the characters of the various stories, but also a challenge to us as living people, to find a place somewhere between our private morality and a greater, perhaps cosmic, set of principles. 

  I won't claim these words to be the last things I might say about Oddities & Entities.  In fact, I hope the opposite is the case.  The wonderful thing about being an author is that readers can point out perspectives I as the writer did not see myself.  When that happens, it just opens up another round of thought and discussion.  That, to me, is part of what makes literature so fascinating: words have a life of their own. 

______

  The mind of man is a small thing, for all its three pounds of eternity.

  Don't break the box.

 

Like Pandora, you never know what might pop out.

 

 
     
All original content copyright by Roland Allnach.  Content may be linked and/or quoted, but not reproduced without permission.
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