Well, this day's not going the way I'd planned. One of my big posts for this month was going to be about Arthur Machen's "The Great God Pan", as well as M. John Harrison's story of the same name -- you know, a compare and contrast kind of thing. Well, before the month had even quite gotten started, someone told me that they thought Harrison's novel The Course of the Heart was an expansion of that short story. I didn't bother verifying this until last night, when I was going to begin reading Machen's story. It would be a little hard to explain to you why this knowledge has put me off reading these two short stories (not forever, just for now), but suffice it to say that for the sake of my own reading interests I want to put them off for another time.
So what do I read now? I haven't decided yet. In the meantime, here's another half-assed post about a few stories that are only about three or four pages in length (I was going to do this today anyway, in addition to a larger post, in order to get the post count to 31). You might remember that the first time I did this I read a story each by Steve Rasnic Tem, William F. Nolan and Chet Williamson. Well, I've decided to stage a rematch, and read another story each by those guys. Last time, Chet Williamson smoked the competition with his terrific "The Assembly of the Dead". Who will win this time!?
First up is Chet Williamson, and his story "Ants". Williamson's not going to repeat his victory, I'm afraid. This is one of those stories about a down-on-his-luck asshole who cheated on his wife, so she divorced him, and now he's poor and has very few pleasures in life. But among those few pleasures is the delight he takes in killing ants. And the ants, as you know without me having to tell you, don't like that, so they take the battle to him. And so on. The copyright for this story is 1987 -- I would have thought this particular horror sub-genre had been exhausted at least twenty years before that. Actually, it probably had, but people kept writing the stories anyway.
Next is William F. Nolan's "Dead Call". Our narrator, Frank, receives a call from his old friend Len. The problem is that Len has been dead for several months. Frank was under the impression that the car wreck that killed Len was an accident, but Len informs him that he is mistaken. Len actually killed himself, because his life was falling to pieces. And, Len points out, isn't Frank going through some pretty rough times himself?
You may be able to tell where this one's going. At three pages, though, I think that's to be expected. It's a pretty creepy little story, though Nolan's dialogue skills are fairly pedestrian. Still, this one's eerie, and it might make you pretty uncomortable if you sit and think about it for too long.
Finally, we have Steve Rasnic Tem's "At the Bureau". It concerns a man who works for a government licensing bureau. The function of this office has changed repeatedly over the many years he's worked there; last time they issued fishing licenses, but they're about to change again. The narrator seems content with his job, even though it's a dead end. There's no room for advancement beyond his current position, and there will be no more raises. His wife wants him to quit. And the guy in the office next door keeps standing in front of the narrator's frosted-glass office door, casting his shadow as he tries to peer in. Whenever the narrator tries to catch him at it, the guy hurries back to his own office.
The twist to all this is pretty bleak and hopeless. I would say this is the best of the three, as it's the most interesting, and it's better written than the other two, though I still prefer Nolan's central idea. But I don't believe these stories were intended to do much beyond sending a brief shiver through their readers, so it's best to end things here...
There will be another, more substantial post later today.