Thursday, 5 May 2011

The Power of Three - 24th Installment

It’s hard to believe that a whole week has passed since I last wrote one of these. Time is definitely not standing still at the moment, especially as there is barely a minute to spare between jobs.

However, the spring Bank Holiday season is now firmly behind us and we’re back into that familiar desert of all work and no play making life dull. I therefore consider it even more imperative that I keep on souring your Friday morning coffee breaks with these recollections of some of the greatest horror stories every written.

Here are three more to remind you that life can be a whole lot more torturous than merely embracing us with its nine-til-five drudgery. Enjoy …

The Curse by Ed Gorman

A washed-up lawyer counterattacks the callous boss who stole his girl, by tricking him into offending a homeless man who has the power to cast hexes. A fearsome sentence is duly passed, but messing with voodoo is never a straightforward business.

The harsh reality of corporate life meets head-on with the supernatural in a very cool tale, which, typically for Ed Gorman, proves that there is more to fear from humanity than from the dark forces of the netherworld. The magical element, though it underpins this whole story, takes a backseat for much of the narrative. Instead, it is the hateful actions of worthless individuals that keep us turning the pages. Can people so irredeemably unpleasant really reach such positions of power? Of course they can. In the modern age it’s precisely this unpleasantness that has made these monsters so successful. The yes-men (or in this case yes-women) who follow them are no less malign in their own way, while those who can’t match them and therefore resort to drunkenness, drug-taking and morose self-pity only add fuel to the bonfire of moralities. Against such a backdrop, paranormal entities seem almost inconsequential. But they’re not. We may believe that we’ve degenerated to such a level that we no longer need the Devil because we can do his work for him. But after this story, it’s pretty clear that we’re still no more than his eager trainees.

First published in BLUE MOTEL, 1994.

The Beautiful Ones by Mary Williams

A retired couple move to the Cornish countryside and open a guesthouse. Husband Arthur never really wanted this, and now feels neglected by his shrewish wife. But then a weird old woman gives him a seedling. When he plants it, a mysterious plant starts to grow – with the dimensions of a curvaceous lady.

Another macabre tale from England’s most mysterious county, and in the hands of a skilled author like Mary Williams, one of the most gorgeously written you’ll ever encounter. Of course it’s an outrageous and even perverse concept, no matter how poetic the language; it’s earthy and sensual, and magical through and through, but it has a really dark and frightening undertone, especially in the finale when it becomes clear that the cost of one indiscretion may be felt for generations to come. The basic message is simple: don’t seek for something you’ve no right to possess (especially not in an ancient, myth-ridden landscape like Cornwall), because you may suddenly find that you get it, and then there’ll be no end to the bizarre forces you might unleash. This of course is where Mary Williams is at her strongest. She handles jaded middle-class relationships well, but it’s in the perils of faerie lore where she excels. No-one is going to be offended by this tale, despite its racy concept, but they’ll never regard the phrase ‘green-fingered’ in the same way again.

First published in CHILL COMPANY, 1976

Extinctions In Paradise by Brian Hodge

A bereaved journalist tries to lose himself in the chaos of a South American city, and makes friends with the local street-kids. But when a series of grisly murders commences, he wonders if there’s truth in the rumour that packs of young wolves are responsible.

Brian Hodge is one of the most thoughtful authors working in the genre today, and has here crafted a moving, heartfelt tale about life and death on society’s margins. He captures the exotic but faded atmosphere of Rio perfectly (though the city is never actually named), but also paints a grim picture of desperate slums, starving scavengers and rampant government forces prowling after them. It’s hot, it’s sordid – you can almost smell the fear and decay. But there are deep tracts below this riotous surface. Even the mutilation-killings, which mostly occur ‘off-camera’, are little more than an extra dash of colour in the mix. It’s the fate of neglected children everywhere which reverberates from these pages like a mournful howl. What a depraved world this story portrays. With a stratum of society so utterly abhorred that its members start transforming into monsters to defend themselves, the reactions range from stoic indifference, to sad approval, to “what does it matter? – let’s just keep killing them”. No-one is horrified or amazed except our journalist friend. But neither his bewilderment, nor ours, lasts for too long. Beautiful and grotesque in equal measure.

First published in WEREWOLVES (pictured), 1995.

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