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WesternSFA
The Puzzle Box
by The Apocalyptic Four
Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, $14.95, 238pp
Publication Date: June 28, 2013
Contributing Authors:  Eileen Bell, Rand McCharles, Ryan T. McFadden, Billie Milholland.

Albert Mallory is an archaeologist with a problem.  He owes money – an obscene lot of money – to Morley, the local loan shark, who will enjoy breaking Albert’s legs if he doesn’t pay his debt.  To pay off his gambling losses, he takes certain artifacts to sell.  This time it’s a beautiful gold puzzle box.  He’s got twenty-four hours to figure out how to open it so he can sell it to pay Morley.  Suddenly, at his door is a strange old man who knows about the puzzle box and all about Albert.  He is a Chronicler, a self-proclaimed collector of truths.  

Through the next twenty-four hours, with the help of the Chronicler, Albert and we relive the tales of four people who have previously owned (and opened) the puzzle box, as well as Albert’s own painful past:  

The Awakening of Master March (Randy McCharles):  Warlock, a guitar player with mediocre talent, is a roadie for the Seriously Damp.  He meets a beautiful witch, the devil, and a sphinx; he solves a riddle and finds a magic ring.  When band member breaks his arm, suddenly Warlock is the front man for the band, gets the girl, defeats the devil, and becomes cool -- all benefits of the puzzle box.  

Autumn Unbound (Billie Milholland):  Pandora is sent to the mortal realm to find her true love, Epimetheus.   She is sent as a baby (named Autumn) to be raised by her “aunts,” three spirits of mortals who will guard her and return her before her thirty-first birthday.  She finds the puzzle box at an antique shop (aptly named Epimetheus Antiquaries).  Opening it is a portal back to the immortal realm and the aunts want it to become, themselves, immortal.  In the end, which would you choose?

Angela and Her Three Wishes (Eileen Bell):  Angela has teenager angst:  She hates her job, fights with her mom (her father is dead), discourages friendships, and dresses goth.  She also blows up any TV or computer monitor just by standing to close to it.  Angela “finds” the puzzle box on the front seat of an unlocked car.  Her co-worker Roger is able to open it and out oozes an eight-foot-tall genie named Skip, who will grant Angela three wishes.  After one botched wish that caused unintentional chaos and a free do-over, Angela takes Roger and Skip back to her house to decide how to use the remaining wishes.  Turns out Angela’s mom and Skip have a history and Angela’s father is not dead.  

Ghost in the Machine (Ryan McFadden):  Two men love the same woman.  Sam, a comic book artist, meets Lucy at an art show.  Sam and Lucy love each other, but Sam is the “other man.”  Lucy is the holder of the puzzle box.  Sam takes the puzzle box and solves it.  When Alan bursts in on Sam and Lucy and shoots Lucy and then himself, it’s just the beginning of an unbelievable series of events.  Or, is it really the beginning?  

These are intriguing and unpredictable tales.  A very good read! ~~Marie Davis

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