Review of “Dust to Dust” by Tom Howard


Spy novelist Alex Poe has returned to his home town of Bidderville. He first left Bidderville thirty years earlier when he was eighteen. His last trip back was twenty years before now for his mother’s funeral.

Today he’s returned for another funeral and a favor. He’s come to visit his great-aunt Phaedra. Her trailer is the one with the “Fortune Teller” sign in front of it. He brought a sample of his late friend Jimmy’s ashes and tells his great-aunt he wants to know if maybe Jimmy’s wife killed him.


The creepy atmosphere of this story offers a welcome respite from the run-of-the-mill horror stories Theme of Absence has been running. The reader is drawn immediately to Alex. It’s easy to understand his grief for his friend, Jimmy, who died too young.

But Aunt Phaedra… she dons on a wig when she hears a knock at the door. She doesn’t recognize Alex, her niece’s son. She charges ten dollars—even for family— and likes to play Canasta. What kind of psychic is she?

When he first arrives, Alex notes a round table with a crystal ball on it that wasn’t there when he was a teenager.

Aunt Phaedra snorts. “The rubes expect a little mumbo jumbo for ten bucks,” she tells him.

Is Aunt Phaedra a phony, a cold-reading charlatan? Or is the reality more complicated?

If the ending is not a complete surprise, this story is engaging for its mood and its quirkiness. There is an underlying element of sadness that adds depth and humanity to the story.

I liked it a lot.


According to his blurb, author Tom Howard writes science fiction and fantasy and lives in Little Rock, Arkansas. In an author interview with Theme of Absence, Howard says he’s been writing for ten years. “Dust to Dust” marks his 104th sold work.

The story can be read here.

Title: “Dust to Dust”
Author: Tom Howard
First published: Theme of Absence, March 6, 2020

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

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