I’m also a huge fan of any person or organization fighting to protect children and advocate for their rights, which is why the Lost Children anthologies are such amazing projects. Last year saw the release of the Lost Children Charity Anthology, which featured 30 stories from a flash fiction challenge issued by Fiona Johnson and Ron Earl Phillips. The book raised over $1700 for two charities, one in the US and one in the UK, and spurred editor Thomas Pluck to put together a second volume, Protectors: Stories to Benefit PROTECT.
Pluck upped the ante this time out, with Protectors featuring a whopping 41 stories from authors Patti Abbott, Ian Ayris, Ray Banks, Nigel Bird, Michael A. Black, Tony Black, R. Thomas Brown, Ken Bruen, Bill Cameron, Jen Conley, Charles de Lint, Wayne D. Dundee, Chad Eagleton, Les Edgerton, Andrew Fader, Matthew C. Funk, Roxane Gay, Edward A. Grainger, Glenn G. Gray, Jane Hammons, Amber Keller, Joe R. Lansdale, Frank Larnerd, Gary Lovisi, Mike Miner, Zak Mucha, Dan O’Shea, George Pelecanos, Thomas Pluck, Richard Prosch, Keith Rawson, James Reasoner, Todd Robinson, Johnny Shaw, Gerald So, Josh Stallings, Charlie Stella, Andrew Vachss, Steve Weddle, Dave White, and Chet Williamson. It also includes an exclusive look at the first three chapters of Ken Bruen’s upcoming novel, Spectre in the Galway Wind.
Obviously it would be impractical to review every story in the anthology, so I’ll simply highlight a few that particularly stood out to me.
“Dark Eyes, Faith, and Devotion” by Charles de Lint is probably most exotic story in the collection. A gypsy cab driver finds himself roped into helping a female passenger get her cat back from her ex, a particularly nasty piece of work the woman claims has magic powers. Initially skeptical, the driver quickly becomes a believer.
“Planning for the Future” by Matthew Funk is the disturbing story of a woman who has her daughter set up in a special “after school program,” one she assures her child is necessary to earn money for college and secure her future. Except there’s nothing secure about the girl’s after school activities, and her mother has other plans for the money.
“A Blind Eye” by Glen G. Gray explores the difficulties facing physicians in deciding whether or not to report suspected abuse; report too rashly and you may wrongly tarnish parents’ reputations for life and do more harm than good, but wait too long and a child may suffer permanent injury, or worse.
“She Comes With the Rain” by Keith Rawson is the interesting story of father daughter combo who mete out punishment to those who hurt children. The daughter acts as the duo’s hand of justice, following the instructions given to her by her father for each new target…and he has an interesting last target in mind for her to rain vengeance down upon.
“Take it Like a Man” by Frank Larnerd recognizes the important fact that bullies and abusers don’t spring from nowhere, they are created. He uses this to fashion a fantastic story about a bullied child and his schoolyard tormentor who end up finding a unique common ground and understanding.
“Gay Street” by Johnny Shaw is a wonderful demonstration of the bond that the bullied and abused can form, as a group of boys who live on Gay Street form a loose gang to protect themselves from the fights and inevitable taunts of “homo” and “fag” that are hurled their way at school. And when one of the members faces a threat closer to home, the Gay Street Boys close ranks with ferocious finality.
“Baby Boy” by Todd Robinson is probably the one that hit closest to home for me emotionally. The story is told in alternating scenes of real time and flashbacks from the point of view of a father whose son was kidnapped by a sexual predator. The man is haunted by the thought he didn’t do enough to protect his son beforehand, and once the boy is found and returned, alive but forever broken, the father is determined that he will never fail his son again…a determination that is put to the test when his son’s abductor is extradited back to the family’s town for trial. Though I am not a parent, I could easily picture myself in the father’s shoes if someone close to me was the victim of a violent crime, and it’s a scary place to imagine being.
The two stories in the anthology that really set themselves apart for me both happen to feature military veterans, interestingly enough. There’s something very powerful about a person who is so driven to serve and protect that they are willing to sacrifice their lives in service of their country, but in both “Runaway” by Dave White and “Done for the Day” by Dan O’Shea it is the sacrifices the men make on the home front that particularly resonate.
“Runaway” finds a veteran working in Jersey as a PI by day and as a basketball coach for players at a high school in a rough part of town in the afternoons. When one of the team’s players goes missing the coach puts his PI skills to work, determined to find the young man and help. He knows very well that you can’t save them all, a tragic event during his time in the service drove that home, but he’s desperate to save this one.
“Done for the Day” will absolutely rip your heart out then stomp the sucker into a pulp. Wounded Iraq war veteran Paul Markham is in the unenviable position of trying to care for his adult son, who suffers from autism, on his own following the death of his wife from pancreatic cancer. Though not one to shirk his duty in any regard, Markham understands it’s probably in his son’s best interest to get into a proper care facility, and Markham’s been trying desperately to make that happen. The combination of a nosy neighbor and an understanding fellow veteran now serving as a local police officer set the stage for a tragic conclusion which will leave no doubt how far a true protector/parent is willing to go for their child.