Mechanical, Vast

Seize Saturn’s scythe

and turn it upon

all that would scour

and ravish our song

a gaudy red prelude

to usurp the past

our glowering spire

mechanical, vast

The Stitching Man

if you see the shrouds

he’s come to spin a yarn

and thrum a drum

to gift you with

a mask so fine

it can’t but help

to ease the mind

The Stitching Man is a friendly sort

so easy in his eccentric gait

you’d never suspect

the masks he wore

were borne of another’s face

[from a unsigned scrap of paper found in the Tombwood Mental Hospital in 2018]

stitching man, stitching man

s h y i n g  f r o m  t h e  s u n

s e e m s   t o   b e   m a n y

but in truth is only one

S T I T C H I N G M A N

S T I T C H I N G M A N

d  o  n ‘ t  y o u  l  e  t  h  i  m  i  n

else he’ll take off his mask

a n d    r e l i e v e   y o u

o    f         y    o    u    r

S    K    I    N

[scrawled on the back of a battered children’s drawing of a lank, plain-clothed man with a patchwork mask and a pair of scissors, found in Gilder Orphanage in 1913]

Fiction Circular 8/31/18

FLASH FICTION

First up, Nell of The Library of Nell published a sequence of erotic microfictions entitled The Book of the Woodsman as well as the surreal, The Book of Morpheus. Decidedly evocative. Very interested to see her future works.

“We raised our faces at octagon windows of colour, through mirrors, upending to infinity.” — Book of Morpheus, Ely

The persistently consistent Dark Netizen published the mircofic, Buster about a dog figurine that is more than it seems.

Curious Forgotten Lore has published a plethora of fascinating little fictional tidbits, most notably: a continuation of his mythos of Clod, The God Of Clowns. Perchance, in time, he’ll be the new Slenderman; if that is to be the case I just hope SONY doesn’t try and make a movie out of it…


SHORT STORIES

Lucas Barstow has published Deep Vein Trombonist, which begins alluringly, “Deep underground where sunlight can’t be seen, the ore veins glisten in the light of a candle half burned out, dripping wax onto the floor.” Whilst the opening line is intensely atmosphere and the story is interesting, Mr. Barstow often violates the show-don’t-tell edict, describing in a rather flat and matter-of-fact way what is going on and why instead of painting a picture of the actual events in motion; but my, what an ending! Highly recommended.

Also read The Stain from the The Story Hive.

“I petted the fabric, fingers tracing the sewed areas, for the hundredths time, maybe for the hundred-thousandths time by now…

It had been vibrant and colorful, with the reds and blues and yellows thoughtfully arranged on twenty to thirty-five inches. Baby animals playing under the stars and the moon. Pink hearts lined beneath those little paws. My fingertips knew all the stitches.”

Sad, taunt, eerie and moving. Highly recommended reading and the best of the week.

Also from The Story Hive, The Greater Good Protocol.

Terror House Mag published Soul Box by James McHell, a supernatural drama concerning a man whose spirit has affixed itself inside his wife’s TV. Also from Terror House, Sugar-Plum Fearless by Soren James, a sad, creepy tale about a sad creepy man.

Jellyfish Review published Smolder by Hannah Harlow, which was quite good.


NOVELLAS & NOVELS

Little to report other than that I found a old Henning Mankell thriller in a shoebox. Was titled The White Tigress (Kurt Wallander Series #3). Reading through, very good book thus far.


Tune in next time for more.

If you wish to support our work in publishing great prose and supporting up and coming authors you may do so here.

Scalegrave

“What ya looking at?”

“A tire.”

“Tire? Tire-frame is more like it. From an old tractor by the looks of it.”

Dan Kennedy stood over the tire-frame with a glum look and prodded it with his work boot.

“Yep. Says C. B. on it. Whose tractor do you fancy this used to be?”

“Tell me, Mr. Ellis, you ever heard of Chester Bedell?”

“Can’t say as I have.”

“Was a prominent landowner here in Berlin Township in the late nineteenth century. Owned some 1700 acres. This used to be his land. One of the reasons I brought you out here.”

Ellis perked up and swiftly drew a small black, leatherbound notebook and a pen from his red plaid jacket, opened it and began energetically scribbling down his guide’s story.

“Bedell was an atheist. Problem was, most who lived thereabouts, then as now, were Christians. A woman by the name of Mary Hartzell caught his eye and they married in 1851 Mary’s father, Henry Hartzell demanded that Bedell and his family come into the fold. Into the church. Propriety and all that. Wanted his daughters kids to be brought up right. Demanded that Bedell have his baby boy baptized. Bedell, despising the church, would have nothing to do with such a proposition. He had his own philosophy and, in his opinion, no need for a Christian one. Well… Hartzell didn’t like that. Not one bit. So he sent in a Presbyterian minister to baptize his newly born. Bedell was furious and began publicly denouncing the Bible as a myth and Christianity as foolish superstition. Caused quite a stir, as you can well imagine and only furthered the tension between the two men, Bedell and Hartzell, and, as a consequence, tensions rose throughout the whole of the community, some of the folk siding with one or the other in their bitter dispute. Shortly thereafter, there was a string of barn burnings. Arson. One of them burned down with a little girl still inside it and a choir girl for the church. The murderous fire-bug was fingered as none other than Bedell himself. Said he wanted to get back at the Hartzell’s someways and that torching their flock was one of um. Now Chester, he denied he had anything to do with it and said that just before the latest barn had burnt, he’d seen three men heading thereabouts, three associates of Simon Hartzell, Henry Hartzell’s son. Hard to say who was at the bottom of it, but one of the supposed arsonists kilt hisself and the other two were clock-cleaned in court by Bedell how sued them for defamation of character. Bedell publicly boasted of his victory, blaming his old foe Hartzell for siccing his son and his men on him, said it was a frame job and that again and again, he were an innocent man, maligned. As the disputation grew, so did Bedell’s disdain for religion, his contempt for the clerisy, such that he told his family to “Shun priest of all orders.” Well, many years passed and Chester Bedell was now an aged and sickly man, he knew he was nearing the end of his life and, unrepentant, said, “If there be a god, let him fill my grave with snakes.” Shortly thereafter, the old farmer died. He left behind two sons and two daughters, the sons, having took up the irreligious philosophy of what Bedell called “Universal Mental Liberty,” received equal shares of his property, whereas his daughters, who had gone into the fold of the Presbyterian church, received nary more than a dollar each. After the funeral, the bearers took Bedell in his coffin to the spot they’d dug in the North Benton cemetery and then froze to a hissing. They looked down into that gaping hole and saw that it were filled with snakes of every shape and had to put the coffin down and clear out the attendees so they could kill the serpents without making a scene. When Bedell was finally buried, his will dictated that a bronze statue of hisself which he’d commissioned in his final days be erected over his grave. This was done and yet… you know what they found on the statue, not a day after it had been placed?”

Garret Ellis looked up over his notebook and smirked, “Lemme guess. Snakes?”

“That’s right. Snakes. Whole area is infested with um. Don’t matter how many they kill, they jus keep a coming back, as if they’re materializing from the very air…”

At this point in the tale Ellis laughed. “Well, that’s quite a story! I could definitely use this in my book. Uh, look, its getting dark, I’ve gotta head back to my motel.” He shut the notebook and pocked it alongside the pen, “But I wanted to thank you for showing me around, filling me in on the local history. Searching up articles online is one thing but actually being here, seeing the land, the people, hearing their stories, that’s quite another.”

“It was no trouble at all Mr. Ellis-”

“Please, call me El, all my friends do.”

“Well, was no trouble at all El. I hope you just remember to include me in the credits of your book.”

“Of course, I always include my sources.”

*

Ellis drove swiftly, racing against the encroaching darkness and arrived at the North Benton Motel just before nightfall. The moment he closed the door to his room the phone rang. He cursed under his breath and picked up the phone, lighting a cigarette as he did so and gazing out the front window at the half-dead trees which loomed across the road like gigantic, bony claws.

“Yeah?”

“El?”

“Oh, hey Jimmy.”

“Hey Jimmy yourself. You’re wife’s been blowing smoke up my ass ever since you left. You have your phone turned off, as usual.”

“You know how I work. I don’t like distractions. Not when I’m researching.”

“Well take a break, El. You’re wife is worried sick.”

“She only has two hobbies. Worrying and let me know it.”

“Kinda cruel for a man not to give his wife a call.”

“I’m busy Jimmy. Anyways, what are you, my psychiatrist now?”

“The way she’s been speaking, I think a marriage counselor would be more appropriate.”

Ellis chuckled.

“So whats on your mind, Jim. I know you wouldn’t have called just to tell me I’m married to an overbearing witch.”

“Sheesh. Harsh. But true. I just wanted to know how your research was coming. There’s plenty of books out about the history of Ohio but there aren’t many out there that are solely about so small a place as Benton. You dig up anything interesting?”

“Yeah, actually think I might have. Old urban legend. Very juicy.”

“Oh? Like a murder?”

“Nah. A curse.”

“Curses are good. Curses sell paperbacks. Look, I’ve gotta go. You ring me up in the morning and tell all about it.”

“I’ll send you an email.”

He hung up on the editor, returned the phone to the ringer, took a drag and looked out the window once more. He could have swore he saw something moving out there beyond the treeline…

*

The flee market hummed like a overworked engine as Ellis, notebook in hand, strolled down the main thoroughfare, between the stalls of the vendors, busily hocking their wares to the easily ambling faregoers. Upon arriving at the eastern-most stretch of the fairgrounds, Ellis paused and beheld a young Amish woman step up to a clothing stall, wait until the vendor’s back was turned at which point she grabbed hold of a ornate, hand-sewn dress and slipped it up underneath her shirt and began walking away. The stall owner turned about in perplexity, aghast that her dress had vanished. Shortly her eyes met Ellis whereupon the man raised his brows and pointed to the slowly ambling Amish woman. With astounding velocity, the dress merchant leapt over her stall grabbed the Amish about the hair, shouting, “You blind? Sign says flee market, not free market! Only thing free round here is a beating.”

“You must be mistaken-”

The dress vendor yanked hard as she could upon the thief’s hair, snarling, “Don’t bullshit me, sister!” at which point the Amish let out a howl, saying “Alright, alright! Here, here!” Once the dress was returned the vendor, slowly and with narrowed gaze, released her quarry, who, bug-eyed and gulping, ran away as fast as her plump and knocking knees could carry her. A few people turned to look and stare, but most were too absorbed in buying, selling, conversating or trying to thieve their own prizes to notice the incident. Police were no where to be seen.

Ellis walked up to the vendor who had set about re-folding the lifted dress.

“Howdy, ma’am.”

“Oh, hello, thanks for that. She would have got away clean if it weren’t for you.”

“Why aren’t there any police officers here?”

The woman laughed, “You’re not from around here are you?”

“Nope. Coastalite, I’m afraid. Hope you don’t hold it against me.”

“Depends on how smug and over-syllabled your verbiage is.”

The exchanged smiles and momentarily, Ellis strode forth with his hand extended.

“My name’s Garret Ellis.”

She smiled, arching her brows with surprise, “Debbie Barrow. What brings you to our little corner of nowhere. Ain’t much around here of ‘historical significance. We had the mob, steel works… ghost stories and… that’s bout it. You ain’t one of those UFO, cryptid people are you?”

“The who now?”

“You know, tin foil hat types – oh, most of them don’t really believe it, what they write and vlog about, but it sells – we had a couple of guys from the history channel come by asking if anyone had seen any bigfoots recently. The HISTORY CHANNEL. Don’t that beat all.”

“It does indeed. But no, to answer your question. That’s not my wheel house. I’m researching the history of Benton for a book. See it occurred to me a little while ago that though there are no shortage of history books on Ohio generally, there weren’t very many on Benton, give how small it is, that made sense, but I wanted to uncover the reality of the place, all its hidden stories and I was told you were a member of the historical society, thought you might be able to help.”

“You picked a strange time to ask, Mr. Ellis.”

“Yeah, sorry to drop in on you like this – your dresses are very nice by the way – you make them by hand?”

“Yep.”

“Impressive. I quite like them. Think my wife would like them even more.”

“Married? Congratulations.”

“You’d think that would be the appropriate response…”

“Ha. I’m bout to wrap up here. Going to be heading down to Hal’s diner which is inside the historical society council hall. You’re welcome to come along. Could use some company.”

“To protect you from sneaky Amish?”

“Nah. That I got covered.”

*

Hal Hewit was an enormous man with a head like an overripe melon and two small, squinty eyes that twinkled with keen intelligence. He doubled as both the chair of the Benton Historical Society and the rustic diner inside it which he’d named after himself and when he spotted the two newcomers, he smiled broadly and raised one of his enormous, meaty hands and waved from behind the polished wooden counter.

“Well, look what the cat dragged in. Who alls ya friend, Debbie?”

Ellis returned the smile and walked up to the diner counter and shook the man’s hand.

“Garret Ellis. I’m a historian. Researching the history of Benton. Daniel Kennedy might have mentioned me.”

“Oh yes, yes of course. Dan had mentioned you’d be stopping by. Well, ya’ve met Dan and Debbie and now me, that’s half the town already, haha.”

“Dan had told me about Chester Bedell.”

The big man froze. The smile slowly vanishing from his face.

“W-well, ah, I don’t know much about that; how bout some coffee and doughnuts, or bacon and eggs? Yall hungry right.”

“Hungry as a hog,” Debbie replied.

Ellis was confused at the man’s reticence. How could he, the leader of the historical society, “not know much about that?” Perhaps, Ellis thought, there was some family history. Perhaps the Hewits were, at one point, as bounded up with the Bedells as the Hartzells… perhaps…

“Debbie, I got the doughnuts over here, why don’t you come and grab so that our guest doesn’t wither away while I’m rustling up the eggs.”

Debbie stood up from where she sat across from Ellis and then made her way across the patternless green linoleum floor. Ellis watched them from the corner of his eye; the big man was whispering something into her ear, then he stood up straight with a cheezy smile and slide a tray of doughnuts across the table to the woman. When she sat back down opposite the investigator he folded his hands together and leaned forwards.

“What did he say?”

She paused a moment, waiting until the Hal had vanished into the kitchen.

“Hal’s kinda superstitious. He doesn’t like talking about bad things that happened around here. Thinks it will scarce off customers.”

“Well, he’s dead wrong about that. Brought me here didn’t it? Besides, why do you think there are so many ghost hunting, cryptid-catching, conspiracy theory shows on television? So many websites with that stuff plastered everywhere? Its because people love it. They’ll gobble that stuff up. Rather than driving people away, it’d drive people in. By the boatload.”

“Maybe.” She grabbed a doughnut and began munching idly. Ellis’ mouth began to water, it only occurred to him then that he had not eaten all day. He plucked out a fine chocolate glazed pastry and popped it into his mouth.

“Splendid. Ya know my father always said, ‘Be happy for what you have to eat. There are starving kids in Biafra.”

“Biafra?”

“Secessionist state in West Africa.”

“Oh. My mother always used to withhold our desserts until we had ‘earned them.’ She’d say ‘Plenty breeds indolence.”

“She’d have gotten along well with my father then. Oh, tell me, is Hal religious?”

“Yeah, he’s a Presbyterian. Goes to The North Benton United Presbyterian Church.”

“Where is that?”

She smiled and shook her head, “Ya know, you might be a historical expert but you sure aren’t perceptive about the present.” The woman jerked her thumb over her shoulder and out the diner’s front window. He followed her gesture and discerned a large church situated directly across North Benton Road.

“Oh,” he grinned sheepishly.

*

After Ellis and Debbie had finished up at the diner they said their goodbyes and she departed to go see to the dog of a neighbor whilst he stayed and convinced Hal to give him a tour of the historical society. When they passed through the library, Ellis paused to query.

“You have archives I take it.”

Hal’s small, squinty eyes flicked to a door to the left momentarily. “You can look through the records if you like, but its quite a bit of paperwork.”

Ellis pulled out his notebook and smirked, “I’m used to long hours.” He flipped through a stack of records until he saw the name “Bedell” and then flipped upon the folder and rifled through until he lit upon a grainy photograph of a intelligent, yet imposing looking man with a thick, well-groomed beard and dark suit. Chester Bedell.

All the while Ellis worked through the files, Hal watched the man with great interest.

*

When Ellis had satisfied himself as to the archives and filled his small, black notebook up with dates and names and hidden stories, he closed his book and headed for the exit, the image of Chester Bedell burning in his mind. Pausing at the counter of the diner on the lobby floor to thank his gracious host. Hal nodded stoically and then put his hand upon Ellis’ shoulder.

“You ain’t going up to Ole Bedell’s grave, is ya?”

“I was planning on it. Files say his grave was moved up by Canyo on Hartzell Road. Figured I’d go have a peek for my research. Why?”

The big man shook his head, his brilliant black eyes going wide and mournful and filled with something else. Something that looked a lot like fear.

“I wouldn’t say its wise. Now listen, I know its easy enough to laugh. To dismiss the whole thing as nothing more than an ole wives tale… but there’s usually some truth in such tales and I tell ya, there is truth in this.”

“Well… I’ll keep that in mind.” It took considerable effort for Ellis to keep himself from smiling.

*

When Ellis pulled into the wide, gravel drive of Hartzell Cemetry he was surprised at how small and sparse the place was, nothing more than a few slabs of stone stuck into a couple of tiny plots of grassy land, boarded up in the middle by wind slashed oaks. He had expected gargoyle statues and grand iron-works and roiling clouds of mist, maybe a spooky old groundskeeper, yet his only company was a fat raccoon which looked up from one of the graves with an oily hamburger wrapper in its mouth. Its eyes flashed and it bolted into the treeline. The daylight waned as Ellis made his way between the graves, the ground, hard and unyielding; probably thick with clay, he thought idly. He passed a grave which read Henry Hartzell, Ellis tipped his hat towards it and then bent and placed a sheet of paper over the tombstone and ran a piece of charcoal over it until he had a good impression. Then he folded up the paper, slid it into his inner right coat pocket and moved on. He could see Chester Bedell’s grave up ahead, even if one wasn’t looking for it, the edifice would have been hard to miss for it was the largest grave in yard with the largest font. In the archives, Ellis had read that there used to be a statue of the old farmer with a raised tomb in one hand that said: Universal Mental Liberty, whilst his foot crushed a scroll which read: Superstition; however, some yahoos had shot it up in a drunk frenzy and it was removed to a local museum for renovation. As he stood before the grave in the twilight, he tipped his hat.

“Hello, old man.”

Moments later, as if in response, there came a hissing.

Ellis whirled and leapt aback as an enormous snake slithered up from the ground and coiled about the grave. One his heart-rate returned to normalcy he smiled and shook his head and then leaned towards the serpent as if in defiance.

“You seem to have mistaken me for Hal, old girl, I ain’t afraid of snakes. My friend Julie’s got a pet python that would gobble you up for lunch.”

He gingerly grabbed the snake by its tail and, with the utmost caution, slid it across the ground until it was well and clear of the tombstone. Then he bent to Bedell’s grave and jotted down some notes and made a copy of the faceplate as he had done with Hartzell’s. Just as he was about to finish, there came yet another hissing and another; jerking his head to the left he could see two massive black rat snakes coiling up about him. He drew back silently, rising from the grave. Something was very wrong.

He turned to make his way back to his car and beheld a figured in the distance, standing at the treeline. The man was tall, with a thick beard and a fine black suit over which he wore a battered overcoat, drab and dark. His eyes were pits of void and the hissing of the serpents then grew louder as the clouds slithered over the warming light of the sun and choked its bountiful rays from all existence. Ellis screamed and ran.

*

Night fell like a blanket of smog as Ellis drove back from the cemetery to his motel on North Benton Drive. Upon returning he locked the door behind him. His breathing erratic; eyes bulging, slightly crooked teeth grinding back and forth.

“It couldn’t have been real. It couldn’t have been real…” He muttered to himself, pacing, veins flashing out like ruddy-blue worms against the pallor of his skin. He lit up a cigarette and poured himself a glass of wine to calm his nerves. Then he paused, mid drag, a thought flashing through his skull with blinding clarity.

The apparition that I seen was extremely tall. Who else in town is of a similar height?

*

Debbie laughed like a hyena as Hal recounted his twilight haunting in the dimly lit confines of his diner, now closed up for the night.

“Ya should have seen the look on that fellas face!”

“Oh, its a little cruel. I feel bad for laughing.”

Dan Kennedy waved away her concerns as if they were a gaggle of mischievous pigeons and gestured to the owner.

“Don’t be so melodramatic, he weren’t hurt. Just scared. Like Hal said before, this is gonna drive business. Big business. We keep this up, we’ll be practically rolling in cash.”

Hal intervene, suddenly severe.

“That’s as may be, but we’ve gotta be careful,” He stabbed his finger through the air at Kennedy, “This if anyone finds out that you’re the one whose been putting snakes on the grave it will all be for nothing.”

“Well, I always do just like ya say and check to make sure there ain’t no one there before I place um. Them ole rat snakes are easy ta catch once ya can find um, so I been breeding them out behind my barn and ain’t no one ever goes out there.”

Hal nodded as if that were acceptable and then turned to Debbie, “Alright, now when your historian friend calls you – you did give him your phone number right?”

“Yep.”

“Ok. Good. When he calls you and tells his story, you tell him that’s happened before, really ham it up, if we keep saying there’s been tons of these sightings and enough people listen, they’re bound to believe it. At that point I won’t need to play dress up and Danny here won’t need to keep bringing snakes, they’ll be all so convinced about the truth of it, they’ll starting seeing things themselves, now that’s bound to bring in some news stories.”

“Hell,” Dan snickered, “Forget the news, that fella is bound to write this up in his book, I looked him up, he’s pretty well known. New York Times bestseller and all that.”

“Alright we just have to-”

Suddenly there came a thumping, but wherefrom, none of the conspirators could tell. Hal rose first and swiftly, “What was that?”

Dan shrugged, unconcerned, lighting a Marlboro and taking a swig of Coors. Moments later there came a second thumping. Debbie jumped and Dan shook his head, his brows going up and his facade falling to amused disappointment.

“Yall are jumpin’ at shadows, probably just a coon. Ya know how they get up on top of the roof sometimes-”

“It werent no coon.” Hal whispered grimly.

Debbie yelped suddenly as a black snake twined about her ankle. She windmilled her arms and fell to the floor howling and kicking whereupon Hal froze and Dan cursed aloud.

“How the fuck did one of your snakes get loose?”

“It weren’t one of mine Hal, I swear they all locked up.”

Both men paused then and looked at each other as Debbie rose and steadied herself as the snake moved out to the middle of the floor. They followed it with their eyes and when it reached the center of the diner they heard the thump once more and followed its source to a tall man in a dark suit with thick mane of hair who stood at the window outside the restaurant. His eyes were luminous and dark as collapsing stars and his mouth formed a cold and motionless line and the only expression he made were like the face of Death himself.

Debbie cried, Hal went white with terror and Danny swore and took a step back.

When they looked again, he was gone. Only the serpent remained.

*

In the little cafe to the immediate right of Hartzell road, Ellis sipped his coffee; the place was packed to bursting. A Amish woman came in and asked to sit and he nodded, “Sure. Yeah, of course. I don’t own the table.” She sat down beside him, ordered coffee and eggs and asked to see the newspaper. When she flipped it open and raised a brow.

“What is it?”

“Hal and Dan Kennedy, co owners of Hal’s Diner recently claimed that they had been assailed by… a ghost.”

“Oh? Does their ghost have a name?”

“Chester Bedell.”

“Oh. Interesting.”

“They’re claiming that they’ve been cursed. That the grave of Chester Bedell is haunted.”

Ellis grinned like a jackal as he sipped his coffee with his left hand and zipped up a bag filled with a fake wig and beard and a dark, old fashioned dress suit.

“Mighty good for business.”

 

Fiction Circular 8/24/18

WEEKLY FICTION | compiled by KAITER ENLESS


FLASH FICTION

Over at The Dark Netizen, several pieces of flash fiction most notably, Lights In The Water. I’ll be perfectly frank that most flash fiction feels under developed; too airy for public consumption. Simply writing something should not predispose one to put it up for others to read. However, Netizen’s excellent piece baffles expectations with a emotional twist ending. Some much from so little! Also from the Dark Netizen, No Entry, another (very) short piece.

We’ll certainly be interested to see what he can do with longer works where he has more time to build upon characters and themes.

The Story Hive published, The Weight Curse, a short tale about a haunting, tea and, as the title suggests, a curse. Certainly seems like good groundwork for a more elaborate and detailed story.


SHORT STORIES

Longshot Press has a fascinating and sad story entitled Lawrencium by Liz Kellebrew. As I have stated before and will continue to state well into the future, the beginning of any story is the most important part, for if you fail to capture a reader’s attention at the first, they will read no further and then it will not matter how interesting or well-developed the rest of the story. This is a principal Ms. Kellebrew has taken to heart for her story begins, “There was a giant jellyfish in the St. Lawrence River-” I’m hooked already (Why is jellyfish? How is jellyfish? What does it mean?!).

Recommended and the Logos pick for Best Of The Week.

You can find more of Kellebrew’s work at her website: lizkellebrew.com

Speaking of jellyfish, Jellyfish Review has a peculiar story entitled Dump Truck by Robert Long. The plot follows a pig who is observed getting aroused by trash; I’ll not say it is a pleasant read but there is a clever metaphor here that I shant spoil for the prospective reader.

Terror House Mag has a fantastic story this week in The Crowman by Charlie Chitty. Something like a fusion of The Crow and The Mothman Prophecies. It would have been our pick for best of the week but it, far too often violates the dictum: Show don’t tell. That being said, it is still well worth reading. TerrorHouse senior editor Glahn’s darkly hilarious White Dwarf is also well worth a read (even if you aren’t big on fiction, take a gander at the cover image). If we gave out a Most Bizarre Of The Week award, White Dwarf would easily be top contender. You can find Glahn’s Twitter here.

X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine published a excerpt from Drift by Chris Campanioni, entitled Born Under Punches.

“As a rule, I strive for lucidity in loneliness-“

Drift stands out for its stylistic uniqueness, a Delilloesque stream of consciousness which conveys speed and emotional intensity. It is only a excerpt and for this reason can not be evaluated of its own accord given that it is meant to be read as a part of a much larger piece. We can however say that it certainly accomplished its promotional goal; we’re quite interested in reading the full text upon release.


NOVELLAS & NOVELS

I have started going through my old stack of paperbacks and discovered some treats which I had either never read or never finished. One of those I had finished but only read once was the tepidly received Hannibal Rising (2006, Delacorte) by Thomas Harris. Reading it through a second time I liked it much better. Even if it is fairly scattershot and a little too sparse in sections (especially as concerns Hannibal’s uncle), it is stylistically, my favorite Harris novel.

“Night heron revealed

By the rising harvest moon –

Which is lovelier?”

Hannibal Rising, p. 145.


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Thanks for reading.

Film Review: The Bone Snatcher (2002)

*** SPOILERS


Having read the deplorably cheezy tagline: It will scare you out of your skull. and being a SyFy original, my expectations for The Bone Snatcher were quite low. I was pleasantly surprised.


Directed by Jason Wulfsohn, written by Malcolm Kohll and Gordon Render and starring Warrick Grier and a bunch of people I had never seen nor heard of, The Bone Snatcher follows the exploits of a talented but mousey systems analyst, Dr. Zach Straker (Scott Bairstow) who is tasked with moving from Canada to the South African Namib Desert to aid a geological survey team after several members of their crew go missing. There he meets the imposing and steely Karl (Warrick Grier), the beautiful and headstrong, Mikki (Rachel Shelley), the superstitious and perpetually ponderous Titus (Patrick Shai), a mouthy driver and a guy who is apparently only in the film to be the first on-screen person to be bonesntached. Once Karl discovers the corpses of his colleagues he is enraged and vows to find their killers. It soon becomes apparent that what killed them is not human when Karl spies a hideous being stalking through the desert. He shoots it and it vanishes, as if into the very air. Shortly, the creature begins picking off the team one by one, forcing Straker, Mikki, Karl and Titus to put aside their differences and formulate a plan to kill it before it steals their bones…

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Straker.
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Mikki.
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Karl.
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Karl discovers the remains of his team, stripped of flesh.
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Karl scopes the bone snatcher but guns prove ineffectual for dealing with the monstrosity.
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Nooo! Character whose name I don’t remember got bonesnatched!
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The Bone Snatcher.

Impressions & Overview

Though critically panned (it used to be the hip thing for the movie literati to bash Scifi original movies, regardless of their content or quality) I found The Bone Snatcher to be quite enjoyable and far more substantive than I thought it would be. One of the benefits of any survival horror movie is the raising of the question: What would you do in such a situation? Would you act as the meek and attemptedly calculating Straker? The even-keel Mikki? The doomsaying Titus? The by-the-book driver Magda? Or would you strike out for revenge like Karl? Furthermore, the scenery is often quite breathtaking (the film was shot in Cape Town and the deserts of Namibia. Though the film is never scary (which it should have been since it billed itself as a “horror” film) it is very atmospheric and tense with a decent soundtrack and some moments of surprisingly good acting (especially from Warrick Grier who I hope, in the future, to see receiving considerably more starring roles).

The Acting, Characters & Dialogue

The acting is uniformly solid. One of the main problems that some viewers may run into, however, is the strong Afrikaans accents, which may warrant the utilization of subtitles (especially in the introduction to the main geological team members, there was so much mumbling and accent it was like they were speaking a completely different language).

The protagonist of the film, Straker, is boring and tepid and does almost nothing of importance throughout the entire film, yet, it is these very qualities that make him believable and help markedly to ground the fantastical elements of the film, namely the bone-snatching creature itself, in reality. Early on in the film after the first attack by the creature, Straker losses his cool, he’s almost perpetually terrified throughout, even as he tries to focus and craft a logical plan of action.

The standout of the entire film, for me, was Warrick Grier as the hotblooded and fearsome team leader, Karl.  He, together with Straker, have the best moment in the entire film when Karl erupts, “There are no bears in Africa!” and Straker responds, “I know that, Kaaaaarl!” It would be impossible to replicate the tone of the scene so I suggest you watch the film for the full effect, it had me rolling with laughter.

Central Themes

The central theme of the film is teamwork, as none of the members of the crew being stalked by the bone snatcher seem able to agree upon anything, later, after one of them is killed there is a sequence whereupon various characters keep drawing guns upon each other and shouting about how so-and-so is going too far or losing it. All of the characters who bicker and refuse to work in tandem end up dead which I read as the scriptwriters declaring, “If you behaved this aberrantly when a giant bug-bone monster was trying to kill you, you’d end up dead. Form up, or fall down.” And they’re right.

The Creature

Being a creature-feature, we would be remiss if we did not specifically remark upon the titular Bone Snatcher itself. The ant-bone amalgamation is, whilst in no-wise scary (at least it wasn’t to me) a fantastic looking creation (and yes, the “creature” is just a bunch of ants, if you hadn’t guessed from the promo poster for the film, which, though cool, is rather too plot-revealing!). Some of the shots of The Snatcher itself are not CGI but rather a man in a suit (Brian Claxton Payne) and these, in my opinion, are the best in the film (the CGI in the film was very uncanny valley and at times looked like stop-motion which was distracting). The reveal that the creature was an amalgam of prehistoric killer ants was obvious but inventive. What I kept wondering, however, was, how were the ants aided by forming a humanoid mass? Straker says they do it for “survival” but how, precisely? We never really find out and that’s disappointing.

Summation

If you enjoy survival horror action films like Pitch Black (which TBS strongly reminded me of) that are more concerned with atmosphere and character than they are with guts, gore or superfluous jump scares, you might well enjoy The Bone Snatcher.

Film Review: Shin Godzilla

***Spoilers

Alternatively titled Godzilla: Resurgence, Shin Godzilla (2016) is a kaiju-political thriller/action film directed by animator Hideaki Anno and storyboard artist Shinji Higuchi and produced by Toho and Cine Bazar. The plot of the film centers around Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary, Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) who deduces that a turmoil occurring in Tokyo bay could only have resulted from the movements of a giant aquatic creature.

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Perpetually serious, idealistic and sincere, Rando Yaguchi.

He is laughed at by his peers for proffering this outlandish theory and yet, shortly thereafter, is validated when an enormous reptilian tail emerges from the water. The Japanese government is shocked and fall into beauracratic debate, unable to determine what they should do about the titanic beast. The prime minister goes live to assure the public they are safe because the creature is seafaring and cannot broach the land which turns out to be false as that is just what the monster does, rampaging through the city incurring numerous casualties and mutating rapidly as it goes.

 

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A underdeveloped Gojira rampages through the streets after its first appearance from the sea.

Yaguchi is placed at the head of a taskforce whose sole purpose is to research Gojira to better determine how to stop it and is considerably aided by the brilliant, icy and eccentric scientist Hiromi Ogashira (Mikako Ichikawa).

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Hiromi Ogashira.

The US shortly send in a specialist, Kayoko Patterson who tells the taskforce that a political activist and zoologist named Goro Maki had warned about the coming of the creature as his wife had perished from radiation sickness, causing her bereft husband to obsessively research radiation treatment methods which lead him to believe that such a creature as had recently appeared could exist. Maki’s theory, however, was blocked from public circulation by the US. Patterson inquires about the whereabouts of Maki and is told by the taskforce that he had vanished leaving behind his research material, which was indecipherable, a paper crane and a note urging them to do as they pleased. Upon looking through Maki’s research the team discover he had named the creature, ‘Gojira’ meaning “God Incarnate” (‘Godzilla’ in English).

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Adult Gojira, who looms almost 400 feet tall.

Gojira shortly thereafter reappears roughly twice its original size and begins making inroads to Tokyo. The Japanese military attacks but Gojira seems impervious to damage. US stealth bombers appear and drop bunker busters upon the beast, this time, injuring it, however, this infuriates Gojira who then unleashes its stored thermonuclear energy into a concentrated beam, decimating the Japanese military, all the US bombers and destroying an enormous swath of the city. Then the beast, having spent its energy, falls into a deep slumber; the US, now witness to the monster’s destructive capabilities announce that a nuclear strike will commence upon Gojira after a short evacuation period, forcing a hastily reconstructed Japanese government, Kayoko and Yaguchi’s team to scramble to find a alternative way to stop Gojira and thus halt the impending devastation which would be brought to bare upon them by a US-led thermonuclear strike.

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Composite shot of adult Gojira making landfall.

The film, in both its tone, plot, pacing and effects distinguishes itself markedly from previous films based off of the monster which originated in the 1954 film Gojira. Its dry tone and serious treatment of its subject matter is the inverse of something like Del Toro’s slapstick Pacific Rim. Though it is billed as a monster movie, and it certainly is, it could equally be described as a political thriller, as backroom politicking make up the majority of the film’s considerable running time and, surprisingly, that isn’t a bad thing. Due to the massive amount of information needed to convey the story (who all the principal characters are, what is Gojira and how it came to be and what is to be done by the government and how the government operates and who was Goro Maki anyways? etc.) the pacing is incredibly fast, at times, too fast as characters are introduced with their names and designations at the top of the screen whilst the subtitles for their dialogue appear at the bottom, which made it very difficult to keep track of both what a character was saying and who precisely was saying it (a problem that native Japanese speakers, doubtless, did not have). Other than the scattershot, slapdash firing-off of perpetual streams of names and information (which becomes easier to keep up with once Gojira slaughters half the cast) and the fairly outlandish origin for Gojira (giant aquatic dinosaur remnant which adapted to feeding on nuclear waste??? why did no one ever see the predecessors to such creatures?!), there are few things that standout as problems (the constant overflow of bureaucratic positions, persons and protocols is an obvious satire on governmental red-tape policies – meetings to have more meetings to decide only when to have the next meeting).

The acting is perpetually solid, the story is gripping and the monster’s composite model is absolutely beautiful and terrifying. The meticulous attention to detail that the animator’s paid to the Gojira creature was truly impressive (for instance, when the monster first uses its atomic breath, small shiny platelettes click over its eyes, a adaptation to prevent orbital damage due to the intense heat – a thoughtful design choice). The soundtrack is also gorgeous and features the original Godzilla theme as composed by Akira Ifukube as well as his expansions upon it.

As pertains to the themes in the film, there are many. The original Gojira (1954) was a embodiment of post-war Japan’s fears of nuclear annihilation, a blatant metaphor for the A-bomb and its lingering effects on the collective consciousness of the citizenry of the island empire. Whilst the present Gojira certainly embodies a similar fear of thermonuclear devastation (such as the Fukushima Daiichi incident) it also represents other more recent disasters like the earthquakes which have in the interrum, devastated the island nation. There is also a rather humorous dig at environmentalists; when Gojira emerges from the water, a certain eco-contingent demands to the cabinet that the government capture the creature unharmed and later, they assemble in the streets chanting “Gojira is god!” Of all the things to pick as your subject of worship, a giant thermonuclear death lizard is probably not the best. Then there is the aforementioned lampooning of governmental bureaucracies and redtape typified by the fact that, though a giant death lizard is upon them, the Japanese government struggle to come to any conclusion about what to do and debate endlessly about whether they should just evacuate and allow the creature to tear through town until it goes away or whether they should strike or whether they should call upon another government and by the time they finally decide on a course of action, a quarter of the city is gone and countless lay dead in the rubble. It wasn’t the Japanese government’s fault that Gojira showed up but it does raise the fact that swifter action would have saved more lives (a point to which Yaguchi passionately raises later in the film). Another facet of the film which was interesting was its lack of villains. Though the US government is positioned as central threat (given that they deign to nuke Gojira if the Japanese don’t deal with him) they are never really set up as villains, for various US officials are shown talking about the window they have given the Japanese to evacuate before the nuclear strike and one of them states that he doesn’t think it is enough time (thus, showing concern over the potential for civilian casualties). Gojira himself is not a villain either, nor a hero; unlike many of the previous incarnations of the character where Godzilla is portrayed as having emotions and goals, whether to punish humans or protect them from other monsters, Gojira in the film is just another animal, a very dangerous one, but another animal all the same. Gojira is a powerful engine of destruction but the creature isn’t out to “get” anyone and only attacks once he is struck (Because why wouldn’t it? You’d probably fight back too if someone dropped a load of bunker busters on your back and blew your dorsal fins off) and yet, once imperiled the creature lashes out with wild abandon, killing innocent and aggressor alike without prejudice. It is this placement of Gojira as really no different from a wild terrified bear rampaging through central park, that lends the film a great power of unpredictability, for divine protectors and punishments are predictable, wild animals aren’t. At the end of it all, the denizens of Japan are not saved because of providence or because of the goodwill of the monster, but rather through the ingenuity and perseverance of their best and brightest which makes the ominous conclusion of the film all the more intriguing.

Its not Godzilla (2014), nor Godzilla (1998), which both espouse (to varying degrees) a naive neo-hippie philosophy to natural catastrophe; Shin Godzilla instead declares that nature has made no safe nest for us to lie in, that we must, instead, make our own (just as Gojira was trying to do) or perish.

That’s refreshing.

Highly recommended.


Note: I have not yet watched the English dubbed version of the film, though I intend to and will update this post once I do so.

The Photographer’s Dilemma (VIII)

She was so distressed by the mysterious message from the cafe she skipped her gala showing and the meeting she was supposed to have with Thompson afterwards and found herself wandering in The Tombs near where Greely had been killed. She passed by the stoop where he had called to her as night fell like a blanket of smog, the hairs on her arms rising ferine, her breath coming and going erratically. Nothing felt real. She had no idea what she was doing. Pure compulsion drove her to stand where the old man had called out, where, not far away, the strange man with the white jacket had warned her. She removed her camera and snapped a photo of the dead man’s after image and then walked up the stairs to the door of the old tenement, still adorned with police tape that had been severed.

She froze. Someone had been here after the police had cordoned off the area. She reached out her hand to touch the knob whereupon a voice sharp and clear rang out behind her and nearly made flee her very skin.

“Curiosity killed the cat.”

She whirled, eye bulging in great owlish disks and her breath catching in her throat. A middle aged man stood in the alley, he was baggy-eyed and disheveled, dressed all in ill-fitting cast offs.

“You scared the fuck out of me.”

“How much fuck did you have in ya, exactly?”

She rolled her eyes and traversed the steps, “What are you doing here?”

“Investigating. Its what I do. I’m Jervis Lock. Reporter.”

“Ariadne Campbell. Artist. Are you the one who cut the police tape?”

“Nope. Was just about to ask you the same thing.”

He didn’t seem interested in her, his eyes were fixed wholly upon Greely’s former tenement. She’d seen his kind before, lean, cold, restless, cynical; journalism seemed to draw such creatures to its fold as meat drew maggots.

“You know what happened here?”

He nodded.

“Sick fuck was kidnapping kids. Selling them, my sources tell me.”

“Whose your source.”

“Well I’d tell ya,” he grinned wolfishly, “But then I’d have to kill ya.” She didn’t find the jest amusing and for a moment just glared at him until the reporter became uncomfortable. He peaked up moments later, “I feel like I’ve seen you somewhere before.”

“I’ve been holding shows at the Thompson.”

“Oh you’re that photographer! Yeah, I seen ya, in the paper. Ariadne Campbell. Knew I’d heard that name somewhere before… So why are you here?”

“I’m here because I say him.”

“Who?”

“Greely. The kidnapper. Before… before whatever happened, happened.”

“No shit.”

“He was sitting right where I’m standing now. Asked me if I was looking for something. I think its only because I turned down his offer for… whatever it was he was offering that I didn’t end up like him.”

“Oh, I doubt that. See,” Jervis paused, uncertain if he should continue.

“What?”

“Well, its kinda confidential information pertaining to the case.”

“From your mysterious source?”

He nodded and shortly thereafter a mischevious look came into his eye.

“What say we get out of this dump and I can tell you about it over drinks?”

“Are you asking me out on a date?”

“Nah. I gave up on dates after my third marriage. I’m asking you to be my drinking buddy.”

*

The bar was cold and smelled of fried chicken and musk and old varnish. It occupied a seat next to a textile manufacturing plant which had been out of operation for over fifty years and the skeletal remnants of the great site of production loomed over the dive like a massive keep, covering it over in an omnipresent shade. Lock loosened his tie and as the drinks came, his a fruity margarita with an bright red umbrella, hers a forgettablely named bottom-shelf beer. He leaned back and looked his companion up and down briskly and then took a sip of his drink and jerked his thumb over his shoulder.

“You know the old plant?”

“Formerly a steel mill or something like that, right?”

“I’ve no idea. I just saw it and was wondering if we really knew our own history.” He gave a laugh, “Guess we don’t.”

She didn’t know how to respond and set to removing the cap from her beer; it wouldn’t budge.

“Ya want me to get it?”

“No. Its fine. I got it.”

But she didn’t and shortly her grip slipped and a ruddy gash appeared upon her palm. It stung but none too bad, even as the blood trickled down upon the table. It looked so beautiful that she could do nothing but follow the red lines like mercury and ketchup where they ran down her palm and splish splashed upon the smooth faux granite of the old dinner table.

“Shit, are you alright?”

“Fine. Just a scratch.”

“That looks a little deeper than a scratch.”

She ignored him and raised her hand up to her face, running her tongue out from between pristine red lips to slithered against her blood. After she had made the first pass across her bloody palm she gazed up behold the journalist whose face was contorted in confusion and disgust; she smiled and then took a sip of her beer and wrapped one of the cloth napkins at the table around her hand and leaned forwards over the table eagerly.

“So here we are. Drinking buddies. Now, why don’t you tell me why you said that you doubted that I’d have ended up like Greely even if I stayed.”

“What?”

“You said that, earlier, when we were by his tenement.”

“Oh yeah, yeah. Well, see,” he lowered his voice conspiratorially, “What happened to Greely… it’s been happening all over the city, not just in The Tombs, everywhere, for years now. Lot of old cold cases, disappearances are treated like stand alone instances, right, you have some sicko and he wants to diddle kids or eat them or whatever the fuck and the police think, well it’s just this one guy, this one mentally deranged guy. And usually that’s true but what I’ve found is something… quite different. See, I’ve been reading through every dissapearence and homicide for the past couple of years, no connection, no connection, then, suddenly bodies start dropping. One or two at a time, late at night, isolated locations, nobodies… or so it seems. One thing at least fifteen of these recent murders have in common, the victim was always a victimizer.”

He held up his hands, his fingers pressed to palm and them facing Ariadne, he raised his index finger first, “So most recently Greely, child kidnapper, may or may not be involved with a intercontinental human trafficking and drug smuggling ring. Then, last month there was this fellow Eric Graylane, smut peddler and a suspected money launderer, political player of some importance, couple weeks before that, there was this lady, Anna Conrad-Winthrop, criminal defense lawyer, real well esteemed pillar-of-her-community-type. Winds up facedown in a pool of her own blood, knifed through the chest with such force the blade lodged into her spine,” Ariadne’s brows rose, “Turns out, after the investigation, she was a covering for a migrant grooming gang who, only a couple of days before all just up and vanished. Poof, gone.”

“What happened to them?”

Lock shook his head grimly, “A kid found them in the docks, or rather, what was left of them, heads floating in the shallows. Hacked to pieces.”

“You thinking this is a vigilante?”

“At first glance it would seem that way, maybe like a syndicate of sorts that is taking the law into their own hand, cept for one thing… there is another point of commonality between all of the victims – and I do use that word lightly – they were all involved, at one point or another with the Merideth Foundation.”

“Thompson’s gallery is partnered with them.”

“Lots of galleries are. Merideth is the single largest independent non-profit organization in, not just the city, but the country. They’re everywhere.”

“So you think this might be political?”

“Merideth has given a lot of money to a lot of different people. Not all of them savory.”

“Mr. Lock-”

“Yeah?”

“Why are you telling me all of this? I’m assuming its not just cuz you wanted a drinking buddy.”

“Yeah, well… ya might have assumed right. I uh, could use your help-”

“You were just pretending not to know who I was, weren’t you? You were looking for me. You want to use me for your story because I work at Thompson’s. Fuck, I’m thick tonight…”

“I hope you don’t mind, I just didn’t want to come across as pushy.”

She wasn’t upset, she was elated. This was just what she had been looking for. Seeking. New forms of inspiration. Inspiration which the charnel hosue of the city’s filthy underbelly had graciously provided.

Ariadne smiled and closed her fist around the red-soaked napkin, soaking redder still.

“I’d be delighted to oblige.”