I spent Friday speaking with students at Emmerich Manual High School, the University of Indianapolis, and the Center for Inquiry II. It was a terrific experience, especially at CFI II where the staff very much made me feel at home. That evening a group of us read short selections for an audience at the Service Center for Culture and Community. The group included Cat Valente, Maurice Broaddus, Gary Braunbeck, Matt Jager, and a couple of folks whose names I've misplaced.
Saturday afternoon found me back at the center holding a workshop for a clutch of local authors. The focus was on cosmic horror, but we covered quite a lot of ground in those two hours. Wrapped up my stay with a latenight confab in the lobby of the Quality Inn with Maurice, Gary, Jerry Gordon, Brian Shoopman, and Janet Harriett.
Thank you to Lou Perry, Jerry Gordon, Maurice Broaddus, and Carrie Gaffney for escorting me around town, and to Ken Honeywell and the rest of the folks behind the scenes. In addition to it being for a worthy cause, I had a nice time, and I highly recommend the event to future participants.
Almost got trapped in Detroit due to hurricane Sandy, but all's well that ends well...
"Got me a jug of hooch at the store durin’ my last visit to town. Lugged it with the flour and the coffee back to my shack over the mountain on Slawson River. There’s gold in that there river. People gonna be cuttin’ each others’ throats this spring when the passes open and the cheechako panners come a runnin’ from the lower Forty-Eight. Gonna be a blood and thunder, rip-roarin’ claim jumpin’ summer. I eagerly await the party. Oh, yes I do.
Built my shack when I first come here in 1869, or ’70. She’s drafty. She leaks. The floorboards hang out over a cliff that falls clear down to rocks and the gnashin’ teeth of the river. Marten and mice scuttle in the eaves. A rude and homely abode, but she’s my castle.
So, there I was, skinned outta my duds, lyin’ naked but for a pair of holey, grimy socks, sippin’ off the neck of the jug and feelin’ no pain. This was round abouts mid winter and cold as a witch’s tit. I’d stoked the fire in the pot stove and warmed my toes near the flames and stared at the antlers and the smudged photographs hangin’ from the walls. Didn’t recognize no folks in the pictures--none were of my kin, nor associates. Kept ‘em up there all the same as I didn’t have no pictures of my own. My family, what’s left of it, scattered on the wind long ago.
My eyelids had almost shut. That strange, breathy groan might’ve been the wind in the trees whisperin’ my name. I knew better. My heart did too. It plumb froze for a couple of ticks and I lay helpless as a baby in my cot. Something heavy moved along the porch and then there came a scratchin’ of long nails on wood. The front door creaked open and frigid air rolled into the cabin. I smelled the foulness of wet fur and rotten meat mixed with the sharp, clean taste of spruce boughs and snow. A huge shadow fell across the wall.
I turned my head and beheld a bear halfway through the door. A big old brute, its shaggy black hide rimed in frost, bits of ice and snow caught in its clabbered jaws. Beady black eyes flared red in the fire glow, rolled in the sockets to the whites and back again.
“Oh, shit,” I said.
The beast swayed in place and growled. That growl sounded a lot like Custer, I’m here for you, you sonofabitch. Sounded like it wanted to say more, too. The Colt was in my fist and I rolled onto my belly and shot the bear five times and it slumped, the red light in its eyes coolin’ right quick. Gods, the cabin stank of shit and piss and gun smoke.
Custer, it gurgled with its dyin’ breath.
“Fuck you too, Brass Balls,” I said. My hand was shakin’ so bad I dropped the pistol. Despite the bitter cold and the flakes of snow twirling about my head, my sight grew dim and I slept for a while." --The Beatification of Custer Ferragamo
"Yeah, it was me who assassinated Brass Balls Heyward during the War of Northern Aggression. We was fixin’ to portage Gillis Crick and comin’ on to dusk. Pointed my trusty six shooter at the back of his skull and squeezed the trigger. A lick of flame shot from his hair and he dropped, dead as dirt. I didn’t roll him over, or nothin’. Was a bad business puttin' down poor old Brass Balls; made me sick to my soul and I turned and walked away while the smoke still rose from his corpse. I heard tell from the drovers who packed him into a box that he didn’t have no face left on account of the slug blowin' it off, just a black and bloody hole.
Didn’t need the drovers to tell me that. I see that awful wound all the time, peepin’ at me from the shadows."
“At first, the sight of death makes you want to puke,” my dad said when I was eleven. Without looking, he worked the action of his rifle, chambering a bullet. We crouched in a blind near a swamp. We shared a six-pack of Pabst, waiting on a moose to wander into the killing field. Gnats were fierce, crawling into my collar and ears to bite. Our family hadn’t eaten meat in nearly a week.
Years before he’d served with the Marines who overran Huế and lost some other places. He was accustomed to waiting and suffering. “Men cry and scream when they see their buddies shot. After a while you get used to it. Get used to anything, really. You’ll be eating a sandwich in the foxhole and a mortar shell explodes nearby and you’ll just crawl out of the hole and wipe what’s left of the guy next to you off your face to make sure all your own parts are still attached. Then you go right on eating lunch.”
A few minutes later a cow moose and her calf ambled into view. He dropped them with his .7mm, bang-bang, and we got busy gutting and quartering amid the swamp stink and the swarming bugs. He whistled while he dragged the guts free into steaming piles as high as my knee and the blood overflowed the toes of our boots. Said we had to work fast and make a lot of noise because a bear would likely come sniffing around the entrails and he’d forgotten to bring the shotgun with the heavy slug loads. Neither of us cared to meet a blackie without the shotgun." The Blood in My Mouth
And in that spirit, and having read so much this year, I want to point out a few, and only a few, additional items that I admired.
Enter, Night, a novel by Michael Rowe. A vampire novel that reminded me of vintage Stephen King.
Every Shallow Cut, a novella by Tom Piccirilli. Tom's got balls of steel to write a piece so beautifully relentless, so devoid of Hollywood redemption. I went cold when I read it.
Let's Play White, a collection by Chesya Burke. Raw, authentic, unconventional. Burke's going to be a force.
Picking the Bones, a collection by Brian Hodge. Horror, crime, generic lit, smooth as glass, tough as nails.
Nightingale Songs, a collection by Simon Strantzas. Fine, fine work in the tradition of the weird. His power grows.
We Live Inside You, a collection by Jeremy Robert Johnson. Unsung hero working the Bizarro trenches.
"No Takebacks," a novelette by Stephen Graham Jones. I selected this for Phantasmagorium. I don't think there is a better writer of horror alive and afflicting us with his visions.
"Final Girl Theory," a short story by A.C. Wise. Creepy and cunning take on life imitating art.
"The Final Verse," a short story by Chet Williamson. Nasty take about an old folk tune.
"Artificial fire flickered in the hearth. Rainbows of exotic fish shifted within tiered aquariums. These rainbows undulated across the woman and the dog as they silently watched him rush to drop the metallic drapes on the windows. The rainbow pattern splayed over the blinds, sealing off his glimpse of the front yard and the outer darkness that pressed just past the porch lights.
“Where are we?” he said.
“Yamagata,” she said.
Yamagata was many kilometers north of where he’d left his companions. Before the blinds dropped he’d gotten an impression of big rocks and trees and assumed the property lay beyond the city limits. Several feet away the oak finish of a wet bar shone like true love and abutting it lay the cherry-panel turntable emitting its classic rock music. He opened a drawer and fixed himself a tall glass of Okuhida, tossed it back and poured another for himself and a fresh glass for the lady. She accepted the drink without comment. He stared at her and downed his liquor. Neither of them blinked.
The dog whined uneasily. Its teeth were daggers.
Sweat trickled into the seams of Nanashi’s forehead, began to seep along his cheeks. He felt the stirrings of power, the surging vitality of a gorilla, a shark, a tiger. Fire kindled in the center of him, his flesh tingled and tightened and his asshole contracted to a marble. The sweet-bitter tastes of adrenaline cut with vodka prickled his tongue. A ferocious recklessness built within him not unlike the approaching climax of a sex act. He yawned, not quite ready, not quite there, but close.
“Oh, I like you,” she said without sounding as if she really did." --Man with No Name