Today’s featured horror story is The Store by Bentley Little. Stephen King has called Bentley Little, “A master of the macabre” and, “The horror poet laureate.” He has good reason to because The Store is a masterpiece.
(Like Bentley Little? You might like my books, too. I’d be honored if you joined the tribe so I can let you know when they’re hitting the shelf. Subscribers can often get them for free. Sign up and click the skull on your right to join. Now let’s get back to The Store.)
SYNOPSIS of THE STORE:
The town of Juniper, AZ lures The Store (the name is that simple, that creepy) to town with tax breaks and a wealth of other incentives. Right from the start, Bill Davis knows something isn’t right about the new business at 111 Highway 180. Dead animals litter the construction site. So does a dead human.
Shortly before The Store’s grand opening, Bill’s wife has an eerie experience with a convoy of black trucks delivering merchandise to Juniper’s new retail outlet. The series of dark happenings continue, fueling the novel’s tension and creating a weird sense of disbelief within small-town-normalcy, business growth and progress. Then The Store opens and it’s clear that Juniper has made a deal with the devil.
Both of Bill’s daughters pursue positions in The Store, against his wishes. They are hired. At the same time, The Store manipulates its way into local government and assumes control of the parks department, the police and fire services and ultimately the public schools. This escalation of control creates the catastrophic events that drive Bill to take on the evil force up close and personal. Soon, he is face-to-face with Newman King, the smiling CEO / evil mastermind behind The Store’s rise to power.
I won’t give any spoilers. I’ll tell you that lives are changed, none of them for the better. I’ll also tell you that people die. Some perish at the hands of the Night Managers, a vicious and cold blooded tool of The Store.
Anyone who’s ever loved a small town and witnessed the change that a big box retailer brings with it (think Sprawlmart from the Simpsons) will understand one of the main issues at play within this story. But this is a horror novel through and through, not a social commentary on the evils of corporate chains. In fact, the big box retailers are angelic in comparison. Furthermore, this book takes the obvious issues to their deepest levels, where they are both inescapable and most troubling.
The Good: The best horror stories are those that unfold in the real world. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take a simple monster story any day. But there’s something about a beast that lives in broad daylight and does its nasty work in plain sight – while we’re too busy to notice – that is ultimately more horrifying. For that reason alone, this Bentley Little story is the horror genre’s best kept secret.
Secondly, the book is rich with disturbing symbolism. Given some of today’s current events, the story couldn’t be more timely. (I’m not referring to WalMart and economic issues, by the way. I’m referencing another issue that blurs the line between corporations, the politicians they own and our future as a free democracy. Pay attention to the news, horror fans.) Through it all, the Night Managers add a hideous layer of good dreadful intrigue for the horror purist.
The Bad: Nothing about this book could be considered even remotely bad – in my opinion. However, some readers on Amazon and Good Reads expressed disdain for one aspect of the story’s resolution. The common thread to these complaints appeared to be that some elements of the antagonistic force weren’t fully explained. Keep in mind that reading a book, as opposed to watching a movie, is a thinking person’s game. Bentley Little leaves it up to the reader to decide what the antagonistic force is. He requires that you ask yourself is it demons, aliens, maybe demonic-aliens, zombies, another form of the undead? Or is it something far worse, something that’s in each and every one of us, hidden deep within our own skin?
If you identify the dark forces as the latter then the ending is executed with masterful precision. I could be wrong in my interpretation, but Bentley Little dropped plenty of clues throughout The Store. The biggest was perhaps the name of the CEO – Newman King, or New Man King. One can only ponder what the true king of all mankind is… Hint – it isn’t charity work.
I wish I could tell you to follow Bentley Little on Twitter or Like his page on Facebook. His site states that he prefers to be judged by the merit of his work. Therefore he does not take part in self-promotion. In fact, “He avoids going on-line and has no regular access to the Internet.” Read more about Bentley Little at his site right here and click here to get a copy of The Store. This is not available on Kindle, unfortunately. But a classic like this deserves to be read in hardcover.
Have a book recommendation? Let me know in the comments below. You might also like this article about Joyland by Emily Schultz or the review of Michael Richan’s The Bank of the River. Thank you for visiting The Scary Story. Until next time – sleep with your lights on.