Inaugural Games by Jonathan Balog

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Max picked up Inaugural Games shortly after reading Jonathan Balog's The Troll from the collection Dread: A Head Full of Bad Dreams.
Such was his impression of Balog's The Troll, an alternative take on what is to be believed of the mythical figures that are Trolls and their true nature, that he was curious enough to explore more of his stories.
His writing and general storytelling form, Max thought, was engaging and his imagination appealing.

Whilst scrutinizing the book online, he began anticipating the stories from this sole collection, as the blurb for each of the five stories enticed him with intrigue.
Cut to a mere week later, having absorbed the tales whole, Max was finally ready to speak of them.
And so whilst in the company of his long-time friend Jake, over brunch at the trendy cafe in the 'burbs on a warm weekend, he proceeded to break the stories down for his friend's benefit. Just enough to get the gist of it; as was his intention.

"The Deviant," he began, "the first in the collection, was... an interesting premise."
"Aren't they all?" Jake responded. "Or else, why even begin to read them?"
"True, but what I mean is, it was unconventional, in what the main character does."
"Which is?"
"Well, it starts with him stealing a
Spoilerpenguin from a zoo
. Takes it home and treats it like a pet. Then he steals another, and then another, until things get out of hand."
"And then what happens?"
"In a nutshell; the main character loses the plot. It's a good story. Well written. Short and fun."
Max takes a break to sip on his coffee while he thinks back on the rest of the stories.
"Inaugural is the 2nd. My least favorite in the collection but only because there was no actual culmination to its story. Not that there should have been, but my expectations were such that I presumed it to be building up to something greater, but instead, it simply served to tell a coming-of-age awakening. Again, well written, but not one that'll stay with me for long."
"Okay. But you're not really selling me this book so far. Do all the stories just kind of fall in the all-right-but-nothing-too-remarkable rank?"
"Oh, no. Because they get a lot better from there on. I loved the 3rd story, Charlie. I wasn't sure if it was going for unnerving humor or impending dread. I was a little disappointed by the ending, but that's not a detriment to the story itself as a whole. I loved the premise of a college student losing his mind over the threatening figure (another student) that stalks him with fatal intentions throughout his college period."
As Max's descriptive manner became more evidently enthusiastic, so did Jake's interest in hearing his take on the remaining stories.
"The next," Max continued, "was The Man Who Sold Flowers."
"Sounds lovely."
"Doesn't it? But, the endearing man who sells flowers has the inexplicable ability to know each and every little thing about his customers and their subsequent futures. It's a fascinating concept that I wish there was a whole lot more to, rather than being as short as it was."
"Maybe there will be, one day. It's not unheard of for writers to expand on stories that they once concluded in short form. Sometimes, they feel like delving back into that world. That is, if they like it enough to go back to."
"Well, if he ever does, I'd read it. There can be a lot of potential there," Max said, his mind drifting into thoughts of the old man and all the secret knowledge he kept hidden from everyone he came into contact with. What types of scenarios could be devised from such a plot device?
"And the last story?" Jake interjected.
"Ah, that's perhaps the best of the lot!"
Max's enthusiasm was not lost on Jake, his curiosity now evident.
"The Truth, as its aptly titled, really had me engrossed. Something about it hit home a little. I guess because it was also the most down-to-earth story, with no hints of anything surreal or extraordinary rearing its head. Like an old fashioned crime mystery with an extra something. I really liked his writing voice in this piece."
"Well, sounds like you liked it then. The collection I mean, as a whole," Jake concluded.
"I did. And if this guy wrote a full length novel, I'd definitely make a point to check it out. I hope he keeps on writing."
"He sounds promising," Jake said, checking his phone for the first time since their meeting. "Shit, I gotta go pick up the kids. Karen's still at the mall. Same time next week?"
"Yeah. Same time," Max said, raising his cup in a mock farewell.