I was a teenage barbarian. I grew up in a world of might and magic, sword and sorcery. I learned at an early age what violence could accomplish, and tI was a teenage barbarian. I grew up in a world of might and magic, sword and sorcery. I learned at an early age what violence could accomplish, and that nothing gets you out of danger as effectively as brute force. I lost my parents at a very young age and wandered the land, living off of whatever I could salvage and slaying those who stood in my way, be they man or beast. It was a time of uncertainty. It was a time of evil. It was a time of adventure.
PAGES ARE NOT THOSE THINGS Ernest and Melvin, who are both divorced, the latter twice (actually, his first wife died, a year after their marriage, frPAGES ARE NOT THOSE THINGS Ernest and Melvin, who are both divorced, the latter twice (actually, his first wife died, a year after their marriage, from rage), the former only once, told me, on separate occasions, but on the same day, that if a collection of prose pieces were meant to be read one after the other, in succession, pages wouldn’t individually consider the ramifications of being thought of as a perceptible recognition of schizophrenic, transgendered persons. (How many narrators were in that damn novel?). These pages do such things, they told me-- lustily craving vaginal fluids of girls a fraction of the ages of their ex-wives, which reminded me of the threat of thermonuclear war—they never even meet, the individual pages, and that documenters of thoughts couldn’t be blamed for the ignorance of their readers, which describes me. Infuriatingly I acknowledged that they have both lived longer than me.
JAZZ In the dark by candlelight I considered being with one person my entire life. Then I thought about entire life (I mean eternal life). Then my ovaries ached for the usual amount of time. William, a professor, once bragged that he lost his rectal virginity on the same day the CDC proposed a disease name to supersede the previous term, ‘gay cancer’. If students didn’t have their assignments complete on time they would have to deliver their excuses using shadow puppets on the overhead projector. He would play Coltrane and similar musicians with less memorable names almost muted while he lectured. All at once my skin itched in several spots and I knew that my future husband would leave me.
THINGS TIMES OVER I saw Jacob J. at the sex shop and he pretended to be lost in the section where he was. He began talking about literary themes as he shuffled and jittered with obvious discomfort, almost probing something, mind absent, on the shelf, before decisively affixing his hands to his sides, and I became bored; things like certain motifs and their corollaries; courtship, separation, sex, infidelity, death, and loss. He told me about a book and said it was something; he didn’t say it was something good, necessarily, but certainly not bad; He implied an assertion of its existence without ever having previously assumed, I don’t think. We shared a cigarette before parting ways and he hugged me with a tote bag strap quality and mumbled some words that didn’t quite qualify as a sentence. A seizure of anxiety then as concern for my father, my dead mother’s ex-husband, forced me to consider how unlikely it is that I’m here, and how everyone is an imaginary character to themselves, until even imaginary is embellished.
In some manner my literary, musical, and aesthetic sensibilities transmogrify with the season. Once the autumnal gods blow forth the cool air, carryinIn some manner my literary, musical, and aesthetic sensibilities transmogrify with the season. Once the autumnal gods blow forth the cool air, carrying with it their fragrances of dry leaves, patchouli, apple spice, and the harvest, and pumpkins begin to grace doorsteps, the numinous in me is sustained by clichéd images of chilling awe; graveyards (with or without decayed hands rising there from), howling wolves silhouetted by full moons, implied malevolent cackling of jack-O’-lanterns, as well as expectedly evocative music like Toccata and Fugue, Swan Lake Op. 20, even The Monster Mash, or the Misfits, my life is unabashedly enraptured by the nostalgia of manufactured fright. I eat candy corn. I watch horror movies (and Hocus Pocus), and of course, I read material that will ensure the fond memories persist until a headstone of my own may contribute to the moon-lit October backdrop of someone else's dreadful delights.
This will be an intermittently written review throughout the month. I will try to review the stories and celebratory Halloween recollections of this collection as I read them. Until then, Bruce Campbell and I would like to wish you a wonderfully macabre October:
The Black Pumpkin by Dean Koontz: It's not difficult to revel in the hokey nature of a story about an accursed jack-O'-lantern, purchased from a creepy old pumpkin carver, that wreaks havoc on a family, apparently in the name of justice, because as we all know, "you get what you give", which was reiterated I think one-hundred-and-forty-two times in its 29 pages. The story of course is by the poor-man's Stephen King, and it is not the least bit genuinely frightening, but tell it to your children as an October bedtime story, and you'll probably awaken to their screams at midnight more than once.
A Moonlit Night with Rats by Elizabeth Engstrom: I can't recall the precise year I decided I was too old for Trick or Treating, and I don't know why I can't remember. I don't know if I thought it was stupid, or I was too cool for it, or if I abandoned it with some melancholy. Whatever the case, I miss it now. I retrospectively regret the hanging-out aspect of Halloween in the teenage years, because I was miserable trying to behave as if it were no big deal. But like Elizabeth here, who tells of her 13-year-old-and-thus-too-old-for-kiddy-Halloween-fun story of getting abandoned in a dump by her brothers as a prank, I managed, or learned how to, add to the array of Halloween memories as I was living each year's experiences, perhaps with some imagined magic, as Elizabeth fondly summons, "The dump had a certain majesty in the Halloween moonlight."
Lantern Marsh by Poppy Z. Brite: I can relate to this one, albeit on a significantly lesser scale, and with no intentions of retaliation or vengeance on my part. There is this house a couple blocks away from mine, and ever since I moved in, I would walk by it when I took my dogs for walks because there was a tree right in front of the house that obstructed a view of the front door, as well as most of the porch. The tree was dark like a Goya. It begged to be garnished with creepy and horrible things, and ideally, would be home to an unsettlingly glowing-eyed owl when all but a few leaves had fallen. The owl would glare at me, eyes impossibly luminescent, everything silent save for the clanging of my dogs’ leashes and a sputtering hoo-hoo to give me additional-to-the-weather chills. I would be unable to discern if it served as a threat or a warning. I would continue walking, the owl’s eyes transfixed on me until I attained a distance outside of its field of vision, which may have been a distance that didn’t exist. I would stand across the street, staring at this magnificent, natural inspiration of terror, as if the thing existed for me. The gentleman who dwelled inside the house merely a maintenance man for what had been mine to discover. But, as if it were all a ploy, a conspiracy to uproot my wonder, the tree has since been subjected to the same. It is no longer there to send me along my autumnal moonlit strolls with frights of fancy. Like Noel in this tale, who watched the lanterns glow over the marsh “as if they were his own personal light show”, it seemed particularly significant on Halloween. However, unlike Noel, the obsession that consumed him, understandably, was going to be taken away by corporate sprawl. The marsh was purchased and now bore a sign declaring it to be the future sight of Marshwood Mall, in that typically ironic tradition of naming developments in faux-honor of what was destroyed to make it. Noel did not stand for this, nor did the lanterns. There is no comparison in egregiousness between the story and my own example, but I miss that tree.
Nicknames: A Hallowe’en Reminiscence by Rick Hautala: Coming off, at first, more like an old curmudgeon, which I am fast becoming, it was interesting to hear a true account of an incident of unstable town drunks threatening kids for causing some mischief on mischief night. It sounds scary. I’ve been physically threatened by cadres of belligerents before. Rick says that such memories as these (of the very few that he remembers, ostensibly) propels him to write the stories he writes as an attempt to ‘bring it all back.
A Condemned Man by Steve Rasnic Tem: Imagine with me, if you will, after all these store-bought, lower-than-pajama quality, with food-container quality plastic half-masks, and just a shoe-lace quality string keeping them loosely strapped to their heads; after several of the same consumerist, corporation-dictated costumes of (to be culturally relevant), Avengers, Angry Birds, Cheerleaders and Disney Princesses, something shows up on your doorstep wearing a pillowcase over his head, and twined rope tied in a noose around his neck. You ask him what he is supposed to be, and he responds, ‘a condemned man’. I love the outsider kids.
Conversations in Dead Language by Thomas Ligotti: Some stories in anthologies are doomed to be forgotten, going unnoticed if the pages were cleanly ripped out (page numbers notwithstanding); it’s to be expected. What is not to be expected is for one of said forgettable stories to be written by such a highly regarded terrorizing artist. Ligotti is an underground horror titan, but if the best he can do to honor Halloween is a vaguely supernatural murder mystery after vaguely supernatural things occur every Halloween, count me not among the aficionados. Some terror tellers are more prosperous with novels than short tales. I hope this is the case for Ligotti, otherwise I may not fit in with my underground cretins.
My Favorite Halloween Memory by Gary A. Braunbeck: Being chastised and cast out of class by nuns for having an Alice Cooper varnish stained on my face only for it to be vindicated by a hip (note that this is 1974) priest who would provide a cool-guy thumbs up and mutter "Under My Wheels kicks ass" would probably lead me to the conclusion, at 17, that "God dug Halloween" as well.
My Favorite Halloween Memory by Jack Ketchum: Another two pager which hardly merits a synopsis of any kind, but the idea of coupling treats with philosophical quotes is pretty damn good. Kudos, Mr. hippy Ketchum of the early 70’s.
Yesterday’s Child by Thomas F. Monteleone: Despite the fact that memories are mostly false, they are a large part of what makes us, us. They manifest later as regrets often, as dreams of the past self (one of many, all different from the many of which we are composed now) linger on a synapse in a desperate attempt to grasp onto a formative apparition, which by definition will be elusive forevermore. Mistakes are not so much mistakes as a different self disagreeing with a former self about a decision, course, or commitment which that particular former self engaged in. Occasionally I see myself, when I wasn’t me, in my homemade dragon costume on an impossible night of purplish autumn idealism , marching and breathing fire on events that will not have occurred until I have the capacity to realize that I didn’t want to set that fire after all. At least not the dominant me now.
Zombies by Hugh B. Cave: Cave lived in Haiti for a few years and was taken to a ‘zombie farm’. There is a poison powder that can be administered to people which causes them to exhibit all the symptoms of death. That person is then buried, dug up again and provided with a restorative drug, but can then be commanded, like a slave. Similar to the exposition of the book The Serpent and the Rainbow by the ethnobotanist(?) Wade Davis, these mind-altering, or perhaps more appropriately labeled, mind-deadening drugs are ostensibly real, and used for rather sinister purposes. How much of it is Haitian legend, I cannot say, nor could Cave, but it lead him to write a story, which he plugged, and for which he provided a synopsis and conclusion. I suppose I don’t need to read it now. Oh, and his visit took place on Halloween, so it’s not just because of the zombies that it is contained in this anthology.
The Whitby Experience by Simon Clark: Impressive tale of oceanic terror; one of my favorite brands of terror. I will merely issue a recommendation of this story along with my favorite, somewhat Bradburian paragraph:
‘Through the glass she heard the soulful call of the foghorn. Being a city dweller the sound was alien to her; gravely mournful, too. She couldn’t escape the notion that she heard some primeval creature that lay dying on the shore as it called to its long lost mate.
This perfectly describes how I feel sitting on the shore of Lake Superior in Duluth, Minnesota (not quite oceanic, but still), and hearing the horns bellow as I stare out into that other world, the sea, and imagine the ancient, undiscovered creatures that dwell beneath, surfacing for a moment to issue a resounding, somber call, with my personal wonderment being the sole beneficiary.
Halloween Memories by Christopher Golden: Won’t be the last reminiscence in this collection to feature an enviable neighborhood house with its own haunted lore.
In-Between: A Halloween Poem by Ray Bradbury: Attic or basement For Hallowed placement, No substitutes For Bradburian youth. No family smiles Which October reviles. No warm meals, Only darkness reveals The wonderful terror That we can all share. I know what you mean, Mr. Bradbury.
Gone by Jack Ketchum: A night of boredom on Halloween reveals a past tragedy of a kidnapped child (one of many recurring themes in this anthology), and only one less-than-considerate comment to throw a woman into a grief-stricken violent rampage against the only trick-or-treaters she receives for the evening. Ketchum knows that sadness is an inherent component of terror.
That Smell in the Air by Alan M. Clark: This title is probably the most important part of the story. There’s nothing like closing your eyes on an October evening and letting the scent enter you like a possessive spirit. Clark is the kind of dreamer who lives in Halloween land all year round; the type of guy who becomes a special effects guy for monster movies. When you can’t let go of the Halloween spirit; if it has its blissful barbs embedded in you even after that smell in the air dissipates; why not cook St. Patrick’s Day dinner painted up as the wolfman?
Yesterday’s Witch by Gahan Wilson: Why couldn’t I have grown up on a street where a witch was alleged to have lived? I needn’t fret about such things now, not only because I am well past childhood, but also because witches are nonsense, and I shouldn’t waste any mental capacity wishing they were real. I can’t even bring myself to sputter out some lame pronouncement such as, I believe in witches one day out of the year. It doesn’t make any sense, but I used to be impressed by magic tricks involving coins. I know better now, but if a good-intentioned curmudgeon who lived in a moldy, grimed-over-windowed house could have pulled something over on me, such as turn my treat sack into a breathing creature that caused me to drop it and run screaming, I would be grateful still, especially grateful, in fact, knowing it couldn’t have been real. I would love that witch forever.
A Short History of Halloween by Paula Guran: Here is a concise piece of which I am sure plenty of books share the same subject, in addition to some History Channel specials. We all know the key vocabulary to utilize in a discussion about the origins and evolution of Halloween: All Hallows’ Eve, saints’ day, Samhain, Druidic, Celtic, primal fears of death but there are some cool facts about the history that I wasn’t aware of, or that I forget year after year. For instance, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on Wittenberg Castle Church on the 31st of October in 1517, and the subsequent reformation saw that the observance of saints’ day was expunged, and mostly lead to the destruction of celebrations in Europe. As for me, there are no superstitions interspersed with my love for the season, or that ‘hallowed’ night, at least not anymore, and am content with the opportunity to confront and mock death. It’s false power, but the absurdity of life only enhances the sensation.
The Last Halloween by Poppy Z. Brite: “If you’re reading this book, odds are you’ve also read Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree, and I certainly can’t top his descriptions so I won’t even try –but that’s how it was.” There is much pride to be felt in being a, what I will deem, Halloween geek, which often goes hand-in-hand with being a horror geek, and we all owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the late Halloween prophet, Bradbury.
Mask Game by John Shirley: A family is forced to relive brutal secrets from their past as a mysteriously familiar stranger shows up on Halloween night to play a game involving wearing masks of their younger selves. Do you ever conjure the setting of a story you’re reading from some arbitrary place from your past? This story, for me, took place in the living room of my former babysitter’s/neighbor’s house, and I somehow felt like I was watching it all, first person, through the window, from outside, in my costume, just wanting some candy. It was spooky that this was happening right next door to me, and that I was so young while reading this tale.
Criswell Conquers the Alien Elvis-‘Nappers by Tom Piccirilli: Sometimes I think I’d like to be a paranormal investigator. Not like those ubiquitous mooks on those faux-reality shows, who go in with advanced equipment and instruments (none of which are made for detecting supernatural entities), and an already affixed mindset of ‘ghosts are here, and we need to find them’. No, I mean real investigators who seek real answers for strange goings-on, like Joe Nickel. Then, I could get my frightful kicks and simultaneously work at debunking nonsense. Joe Nickel debunked the alleged Mackenzie House haunting, and revealed The Amityville hoax. Tom Piccirilli went to the Overlook Hotel in Estes Park, which is of course the setting for The Shining, and which ostensibly has some actual haunted legends attached to it. I think we have a responsibility to seek the truth, in any situation, and the whiners who claim that real investigators and debunkers are merely ruining the fun, and destroying mystery and wonder, it seems to me, can’t see what Richard Dawkins has called The Magic of Reality. This is how my rationalism and my sense of wonder come together in this splendid way.
1942 by Jack Cady: Another local witch legend of which to be envious.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Out of the Dark by David B. Silva:
Pumpkins and Circumstance Robert Morrish:
Heavy Set by Ray Bradbury:
Year of the Witch by William F. Nolan:
Where Juliet Went: A Halloween Memory by Michael Cadnum:
Boo by Richard Laymon:
A Halloween Memory, Age Four, Hawaii, 1961 by Douglas Clegg:
Fellini and Halloween by Ray Bradbury:
Masks by Douglas E. Winter:
My Favorite Halloween Memory by Stanley Wiater:
A Redress for Andromeda by Caitlin R. Kiernan:
The Santa of Halloween by Richard Laymon:
The Circle by Lewis Shiner:
“First of All, It was October…” An Overview of Halloween Films by Gary A. Braunbeck:
Halloween Dreams by Yvonne Navarro:
Pay the Ghost by Tim Lebbon:
Halloween 25 by Kim Newman:
Buckets by F. Paul Wilson:
My favorite Halloween memory by Owl Goingback:
Needles and Razor Blades by Dennis Etchison:
Orchestra by Stephen Mark Rainey:
Halloween Companion Piece by David B. Silva:
Eyes by Charles L. Grant:
Ugh! Good Grief! R.I.P Pepe, Charlie Brown! By Kelly Laymon:
My Favorite Halloween Memory by Simon Clark:
Deathmask by Dominick Cancilla:
Halloween Frights by Kristine Kathryn Rusch:
Some Witch's Bed by Michael Marshall Smith:
Cyanide and Pixie Stix by Wayne Allen Sallee:
The Trick by Ramsey Campbell:
October! by Ed Gorman:
Porkpie Hat by Peter Straub:
Trick-Or-Read: A Reader's Guide to Halloween Fiction by Stefan Dziemianowicz:
Complaints (Not About the Book): The wonderful thing about literature in our modern era is that one can feel a If Horror can be a genre, so can Madness.
Complaints (Not About the Book): The wonderful thing about literature in our modern era is that one can feel almost elite, sophisticated, and elegantly antiquated by the mere mentioning of a writer who isn’t a pundit, a preacher, or a reality-television star. (I can only speak for my country, the U.S.A.). Reading, among a significant amount (if not a majority) of my generation is viewed as a vestigial and archaic entertainment. (And it’s so boring and time-consuming). If you want a book deal these days, you’d best have had sex with a household name, had a toddler visit heaven, or create as creepily ‘alluring’ of a teen male character as you can.
But, and this part isn’t a complaint, and it is also getting to the book on which I am going to speak, the wonderful thing about underground literature, particularly literary terror, is that there is so little to prepare one for what is in store for them. Scarcely is there a possibility of eavesdropping in a coffee shop (as I am wont to do) and hearing a conversational fragment at all similar to “…but Lovecraft wasn’t space-pirate sci-fi, or Victorian gothic horror. He broke the mold of his time. He was oceanic terror. He was inescapable dread. He was Cosmic Indifferentism…”, let alone something like “…but Hamantaschen is no mere disciple of any forebear of any genre. He is uncompromising psychological carnage…”
ATTENTION: The author, as well as the editors of this volume would like you all to be aware that the stories contained within are about something. It is imperative for all involved in its publication to stress the seriousness, the darkness, the realness of each of these stories.
Whatever I am to make of such an announcement—whether it’s the poor actor-cum-amusement park ride operator delivering a warning before entering a rickety, cheesy tunnel of fog machines and rubber skeletons on strings and recorded shrieks, or I am being genuinely lead by an impossibly cold hand into a cerebrum-liquefying abyss—I just hope I get my (space)time’s worth.
The Substance and The Scares (Of Both Personal and More Universal Natures): Dangerous infatuations can take over your life, and the object of your affection could end up crawling around on your bedroom ceiling like a spider. You can ignore all the signs of doomed love-struck youth until transmogrification occurs to shatter your perception of the world forevermore. I apologize. Let’s get less obscure. Modern references to things like ‘Hot Topic’ and ‘Facebook’ were initially a little off-putting, but ultimately contributed to the turmoil as it added some unexpected contiguousness to the not-quite-explicitly-describable Lovecraftian horror of yore, and that’s just the first story.
Switch gears to sexy, mechanical, rapist traps and a parasite that serves as an antidote to despair. Switch again to sentient turds and extra-terrestrials for which we are comparatively no more than recipients of redirected sunlight under a Fresnel lens. These are such cataclysmic and traumatizing things that we can all nod to each other in silent agreement that it is indeed quite creepy, or all-out horrifying , or would be, granting we were involved in, or bore witness to, such things.
‘A hunter from the darkest wild, makes you feel just like a child.' I apply this line from Jumanji because it represents how some of the imagery in this book created a worm-hole from my childhood to the time of the very sentences I was reading and sucked my fears of prematurity through, preserved and perfectly intact, to supplant my imagined bearded-machismo. With this admission in mind, I present to all of you the story entitled Come In, Distraction, in which “…diseased men swing… across their apartments like monkeys with vines for arms.” Wait… what did you just read? You read what I read. Let’s go back. “…vagina carved out like a Halloween pumpkin,” got that; kiddy stuff, how about “…igniting the discarded skins of the dead,” nice try, but I have a manly beard! And then “…like monkeys with vines for arms.” Help. M-m-mommy. Instantly and without warning, the very first image I remember being utterly terrified by. Behold:
There you have it, my most primal fear; overly extended extremities, stalks, limbs, and so forth. These sanity-compromising details seemed to validate and rationalize my fears of yesteryear in a profoundly cathartic way. I asked the author if any memories of youthful cold sweat went into his work and if he ever writes to unnerve himself intentionally. His response was publicly posted, so I trust he won’t mind my retyping it here:
“. . . I don't write to unnerve myself, and I don't really get unnerved, unfortunately (I'd like to!)… childhood fears. Well, blindness has always been a childhood -and, unfortunately, adulthood - fear of mine, and I incorporated that into "Sorrow." I don't subscribe to the idea that writing about your fears 'purges' then(sic) in anyway; but they do become recurring themes, as they tend to cluster up the ol' medulla oblongata.”
I think that is well put, and when I spoke of the catharsis of childhood fears, it was not to imply that it would be useful in any way to, say, visit the spot where someone you knew was murdered and write about how you feel while you’re there. I don’t subscribe to that either. What Mr. Hamantaschen did for me wasn’t an encouraged confrontation with my past, but an unguided, lucky excavation into the ol’ medulla oblongata.
So, I got a little personal there (as forewarned above), a trifle cathartic, and it was good. I do hope others can relate, but I’d be disappointed if everyone could. This is how I’m bringing it back around to the seemingly tangential preface I gave to this review.
Alas, A Few Complaints (Now About the Book): Grading something with English paper criteria (to which I hope my reviews are not subject), one would have to take into account the distracting, but not destructive, amount of typos in this book. I support independent publications whole-heartedly, but this could have used another thorough proof-reading from somebody, perhaps anybody. A couple of these stories may have been more miss than hit for me. Wonder being one of them, rather pettily angsty as it was, and Sorrow Has Its Natural End, which had an ending worth the read, but which took its time in commanding my captivation.
But all in all, this guy makes the cut, to say the least. This is a terrific debut collection of stories from such a young author, with such seemingly boundless imagination, and I will follow his writing career, assuming and hoping he continues on with one, with great interest and anticipation. ...more
Have you indulged in this sub-sub-genre phenomenon of sub-literary lunacy known as bizarro fiction and thought to yourself, wh The Conflict Defines Us…
Have you indulged in this sub-sub-genre phenomenon of sub-literary lunacy known as bizarro fiction and thought to yourself, what on earth…?. Have you read stories about mythic dildos, midget revolutions, fetuses with superpowers, or literal Nazi assholes and thought I’m all for honest titles but give me a fucking break! Initiating yourself in bizarro is a little like a tickle in the back of the throat that demands a nice thorough clearing, except all of a sudden and without explanation you have cut your own throat and are plunging your fingers into the wound in an attempt to scratch the itch. It's a frustration that takes superfluously extreme measures. I’m not personally knocking the genre in theory, as I think there is much fun to be had in pushing boundaries and traumatizing unprepared readers, but my point in this introduction is that if you find this horror-humor-surreal-absurdism mash-up to be execrable or stupefyingly silly, I implore you to give JRJ a read regardless. Why? Let’s take a look:
First of all, being seen with this book in public is highly empowering. Exhibit A:
Everyone else at Starbucks will be reading the latest derivative piece of erotica pulp and you can laugh at their sexual naïveté and comparatively banal prudishness. There are consequences to sex and we are all examples. We all originate as goopy freeloaders until we violently, dangerously, and painfully force our way into the world to perpetuate the cycle of infection all over again. How different are we really from ringworms and nematodes? Exhibit B:
Second, the cover is waxy feeling with hints of velvet decay, ever-so slightly fibrous, like a nice ripe peach (perhaps with signs of mold), and damned if the contents weren’t just as juicy (and repulsive). Also, it features slightly misleading yet not inappropriate cover art by the child-digesting, parasitic fever-dreamer Alex Pardee of nightmare Urkel fame. Exhibit C:
The stories deal with extremely vulnerable and often quite pathetic people whose fates range from inauspicious to kill me now. Some of them address my daily phobias/apprehensions with shocking profundity to rival the best of mortality-obsessed poets. We are products of chance, and chance is all we have to thank each moment we continue breathing, just as chance is all we have to blame when we cease to do so. An insurmountable amount of factors are clashing together around you each moment to permit your livelihood, and if one of those factors is late, or if another factor shows up early, you are gone. The micro-scale fears of getting into a car, or getting out of one at the wrong rest stop, to the macro, universal doomsday scenarios of outbreaks and pandemics are treated with equal trepidation because it does all come down to personal death, whether yours or those whose deaths would personally affect you, or would be tantamount to your own. Each story dooms us as conception did. Whether it’s a penis-flaying parasite that couldn’t be crueler if it was capable of sadism, a revenge-seeking apparition, or a possum crossing the road that sends your four-wheeled steel death trap spiraling into the embodiment of unimaginable carnage; whether a seductive hustler you mistook for your soul-mate, a sweet taste on the lips that signifies the consumption of you and your child’s intestines, or a powdered curse that results in fingers underneath your scalp, you were born only for that conditional overture.
Departure: I don’t know if I’d label it a gripe, but including an extended version of a previous story (but with more character development, Portland flavor, Shaun Hutson references, a vagina dentata nightmare, and a smattering of prostitutes), in that same collection is odd, and gives me anxiety. This is a bonus, a B-side, along with co-authored stories and a true-ish story about the Mars Volta, so I shouldn't complain, but part of the writer’s job is to edit and revise until they are satisfied with the final draft, or that it is at least fit for publishing, or not, whatever. But you stick by it. Some editors will pervert your story, and interpolate words of their own initiative which you would never use (I know I’m not the only one with this experience), but two editions of one story in one volume upset the compulsive agent in me that will not allow the eschewing of a single page from my reading enterprise. I made a commitment dammit, and if I skip one page of one book, I might as well skip all pages of all books and never read again; all of these restored texts and updates and revisions and expansions and add-ons and companions and unabridgements and unexpurgations and fragments and prefaces and unrated extended additions with thirty more minutes of outrageous footage we couldn’t show you in theaters are enough to do my tiny mind in. Get that annotated Hawthorne out of my face! What can I do to relax? I know. I’ll go listen to The Velvet Underground; one of my favorite tracks, Heroin. Actually, I think I prefer the demo version with several takes in which Lou Reed demonstrates how inconsistent he can be with his voice recordings and I can wonder why he settled on the modulation he did for the official recording and… forget it. Where are my cigarettes and Valium?
Jack Ketchum praises this collection as both entertainment and literature, and I most certainly agree, and would add that it is a wise preliminary (or reaffirming, for those like myself who consider these matters and dangers often) briefing on the unforeseen but ever-present inevitability of anything that could possibly ever happen. ...more