Dark Masques edited by J.N. Williamson

dark_masques_j_n_williamsonWhen it comes to books, I’m lucky to have found several hundred worth keeping. (And packing into boxes, dragging around the country, unpacking, re-shelving, etc. Books are a blessing until moving day, then they’re a curse. That’s a different blog.)

One of the recent acquisitions is the short horror story collection, “Dark Masques” edited by J.N. Williamson. This lightweight volume includes many of the masters and quite a few classic tales.

A few highlights:

“Popsy” by Stephen King

This wicked story peeks into the divide between monsters and monsters. We all know the world is full of vile creatures, perhaps none more repugnant than a man who’d abduct a little boy with ill intent. Told from the antagonist point of view, this is young Stephen King at his finest.

“Fish Story” by Dennis Hamilton

The story begins with, “Hooke’s first thought was: Artie’s rotted body is down there. Somewhere beneath that black water.” One is submerged into artful creepiness immediately afterwards. If night fishing already conjures your darkest worries, you might want to skip this one.

“The Man Who Drowned Puppies” by Thomas Sullivan

As if the title isn’t alarming enough, the focus character is cloaked in dread and expertly draped in mystery. Townspeople keep their distance from this man. One is left to wonder if they do so out of understandable distaste or out of respect and admiration. The twist ending may give you a jolt, exactly as a tight horror story should.

“The Boy Who Came Back from the Dead” by Alan Rodgers

“He was filthy, covered from head to toe with graveyard dirt, but all the things the car had crushed and broken when it hit him (things the mortician hadn’t been able to make look right) were fixed.” It’s a breathtaking opening to a story that will both force your skin crawl off your bones while it’s breaking your heart into several, sad pieces.

“The Litter” by James Kisner

The macabre happenings begin with a beloved housecat giving birth. It should be a wonder occasion. Unfortunately, these are no ordinary kittens…  (Incidentally, long ago I had the pleasure of studying with James Kisner via a correspondence course. He was an extremely kind teacher and patient with an over eager writer. James has passed on now, but his work stands the test of time.)

This edition of Dark Masques was quite popular. Copies can be found at many used bookstores. If you can throw a fiver at your local bookseller, please do. If that’s not possible, snag your copy at Amazon here. Enjoy. LL

My Writing Partner Died

SHAMU Sept 8, 2012 - Nov 20, 2014

SHAMU
Sept 8, 2012 – Nov 20, 2014

She didn’t do a lot of actual writing, obviously. Her tiny hands were too small to manage the keyboard. However, she kept me company through two years’ worth of story ideas, various plotting, my enthusiasm for one project, frustrations over another and a joyride of other writer-emotions. Through it all, she maintained a positive attitude of joy and curiosity. Therefore, she earned the title writing partner.

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If you’ve never enjoy rat companionship, it’s akin to having an extremely small dog. Rats are inquisitives creatures that will explore every cluttered portion of your desk. They crave the attention of their humans and will gladly join you for a shoulder ride, play time or other adventure. Most of all, they enjoy treats. Shamu in particular enjoyed treats. So much so that her veterinarian once put her on a diet.

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Of the three creatures we cared for from pup-hood through old age, Shamu had the biggest zest for life. She never lost her sense of adventure or joy for being alive. Even in her last hours, she insisted on climbing, playing and taking a final trip around the house. (We knew the end was near when she settled down on my lap to watch a horror movie. She’d never sat still for so long in her life.) Nor did she lose her appetite. In fact, she died in mid-chew, her mouth full of food.

Shamu is survived by her doting dads and preceded in death by two sisters, Gremlin and Grinder. Final arrangements were handled by Pikes Peak Pet Crematory. We will forever miss her and remain grateful for the brief time we shared together. RIP Shamu.

DOCTOR SLEEP, Stephen King

doctor sleepI believe that characters are born in a lone writer’s imagination and roused to life with ink on paper. However, the character takes human form only in the minds of others. This experience is unique to books and reading. One imagination triggers others and in that whirlwind fictitious people gain our empathy, admiration or disdain, and become flesh and bone. In the hands of a master story teller, a character can attain the same emotional fondness as someone we cared about in our past. We return to them in memory, ignoring the fact that they’re imaginary people, and hope that their post-story existence was well lived.

This unique phenomena was especially true for Danny Torrance, the son of Wendy and John Torrance, who spent one disastrous winter at the Overlook Hotel in the mountains of Colorado. Given the author’s notes, this was true for many readers. If you ever hoped that Danny grew up to be well adjusted, found someone to love and who would love him back, and survived not only physically but emotionally, you were not alone.

Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep simply answer the question, “Whatever happened to the kid from The Shining?”

Danny, now a middle aged man, carries all the demons one would expect from a childhood splintered by trauma and undead things. He’s his father’s son, no doubt about that. He’s also Wendy’s gentle boy. Most of all, he’s Dick Hallorann’s friend, and Dick’s lifelong influence over him is a lesson to us all.

King loads this story with devious symbolism. One might expect a heavier hand from the book’s title (Remember Danny’s nickname? What’s up, Doc?), but King take the higher, more poetic path from the first pages. Early in the story he writes, “Shattered vertebrae and broken ribs heal, but they never cease crying out.” Such is the truth of King’s work here. Such is the truth of any horror story.

I won’t summarize Doctor Sleep’s plot here. It’s far too epic, its tapestry too complex for a short blog article. Many of the Amazon reviews will attempt to, but keep in mind they contain spoilers and misinterpretations. My recommendation is simple: if you have not already done so, pull out your copy of The Shining and sink into that cold, world again. Look after Danny. Root for him. Know him as he used to be. Then join him as a grim, eight year old in Florida. Hang on during his haze of adulthood as he’s licking wounds so deep they’ve never healed. Finally, stare into the possibilities – both victorious and tragic – fueled as strongly as ever by the shining. LL

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