Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Kind of Face You SLASH!!! - Day 10: The Black Scent of Clean Bones

Weekends, I think, are going to be relatively light, as far as posting for this horror project are concerned. Tomorrow I do plan on returning to a more adult-sized post, but for right now, considering that it's Saturday, and nobody is going to be reading this, I think another brief foray into the world of particularly short horror fiction is in order.

Luckily, I have a couple of books that cater to such stories, and the one I could easily find tonight is called 100 Hair-Raising Little Horror Stories, edited by Al Sarrantonio Martin H. Greenberg. I think Greenberg has actually edited, or co-edited, every anthology that has ever been published, but we're not here to talk about that, so eyes forward.

I read four very short stories today. The first two I read are by Norman Partridge, a writer, I've gathered, who has been making his presence quite well known in the horror community lately. He's snagged awards, accolades, and all that there, and yet, somehow, his short novel Dark Harvest is one of the worst I've read all year. It's about a giant pumpkin man and a small town and mean adults. In other words, it's a horror novel written after 1980. But I decided to give him a sort of second chance -- knowing that these two stories, which combine to total about nine pages, would really prove nothing either way -- by reading the two stories he had published in the Sarrantonio/Greenberg collection. The first is called "The Hollow Man", and it ain't bad. Unexpectedly, it's another horror/Western hybrid, in this case about a creature holding one of its victims at bay (in what would appear to be the man's own home) while a group of four mean with rifles beg to be let in to share the man's fire and hospitality.

The creature is never named, or fully described, but we know it has wings and scales. It's plan is to simply toy with these four men, and then kill them. That's it, that's the story, and it's actually quite creepy. The creature keeps his victim, his "hollow man", docile and obedient by manipulating the series of rings attached to his neck. The hollow man is so docile, in fact, that he's apparently been won over to a degree to the creature's point of view:

I jerked one ring, then another. I cooed against the hollow man's skinless shoulder and made him pick up his rifle. When he had it loaded, cocked, and aimed through a slot in the door, I whispered in his ear and made him laugh.

Quite creepy, I think. Partridge's other story, "Treats", is somewhat less successful. It's about a woman named Maddie, who we meet shopping for candy, on Halloween, for her son. Not just her son, but his "friends". Maddie is clearly terrified of her son, and his friends, the latter of whom she seems to see everywhere: in her car, at work. Plus, while Maddie is shopping, we're told, Jimmy is at home training his friends for Operation Trojan Horse. So that's that, and the pay-off is, quite frankly, lame. It's ants. I'll just tell you: Jimmy's friends are ants. And it rains, so no Operation Trojan Horse. Also, when Maddie is in the store, she sees a kid grab a Snickers and prepare to eat it by "tearing open the bright-orange treat sack". Bright-orange treat sack. Bright-orange treat sack. I find that four word phrase unpleasantly hypnotic. And when were the "treat sacks" that Snickers come in bright orange?

Next, I randomly picked Avram Davidson's three-page story, "Witness". Davidson was not primarily known as a horror writer, but rather for his fantasy and science-fiction. And "Witness", as it happens, belongs to none of those genres. It's a cynical, nearly satirical, crime story, about a guy who sees an ad in a newspaper asking that anyone who witnessed a particular traffic accident call this number, etc. The man calls the number, described what he saw, asks for money for his trouble, and then meets a certain kind of fate. It's a good story, sharp and effective, but dark endings are not enough to qualify as horror.

Before I close out here, I thought I'd mention that my copy of volume twenty of Best New Horror arrived, and the last story is by Steve Rasnic Tem, who I wrote about last year. It's called "2:00 PM: The Real Estate Agent Arrives", and it is exactly four sentences long. A curious thing about Tem is that the short short story seems to be his chosen form, but this is really pushing it, or it would be if the story didn't work so well. To describe anything about it would be silly, and to simply reproduce it here would probably constitute copyright infringment. The only thing I can think to say about it is that it reminded me of that six-word story that Hemingway may, or may not, have written: "For sale: Baby shoes, never worn." Tem's story is like the horror genre version of that. Unique, to say the least.


John said...

"...dark endings are not enough to qualify as horror."

Sure they are.

Unfortunately most horror stories don't even have *that* much going for them.

bill r. said...

Sure they are...

So The Grifters is a horror novel?

Unfortunately most horror stories don't even have *that* much going for them...

This is true.

John said...

"So The Grifters is a horror novel?"

Haven't read it, though I wouldn't say the movie was horror. But maybe that claim holds better for shorter stories. I suppose it also depends on how much of the story's overall impact comes from the ending.

bill r. said...

That's an interesting point, but I think that are just too many examples of stories with dark endings that would ultimately stretch the definition of horror too far.

Crime is an inherently dark genre, but that doesn't mean it's a subgenre of horror. It's not so much the darkness itself, but how and why each genre is dark.

Greg said...

Crime is an inherently dark genre, but that doesn't mean it's a subgenre of horror.

That depends too. Police procedural/serial killer movies are almost always placed in the horror category. Gangster movies are placed in crime.

bill r. said...

Is Zodiac horror, though? I don't think so, outside of the Charles Fleischer basement scene (a scene, I think, that didn't quite work).

But the books of Charles Willeford, or David Goodis, or Jim Thompson (some people claim Thompson wrote a couple of horror novels, but I disagree) wrote VERY black books. I just don't see why you would want to stretch the definition to include them, unless you wanted horror to consume all other genres. Which is silly. If horror includes all that, then what IS horror? It becomes so nebulous after a while.