Death. When the Reaper performs his duty, many survivors seek to fill a gulf in their lives. They immortalize their loved ones, hold on to memories. Some even fashion the loved ones’ remains into art.
This infatuation with preserving memories is embedded within our cultures. Cemeteries and eulogies serve as testimonies. The Victorians famously kept hair and crafted intricate works of art including everything from braided watch bands to broaches. They posed the deceased for post-mortem photographs and wore the images in over-sized lockets.
These days, the ashes of a loved one can be compressed into gemstones and diamonds to create jewelry. Such transformations cost between $3,000 to over $30,000 dollars. Watches specially designed around such a diamond mark time for the grieving. Custom-made broaches or pendants can hold ashes, some crafted into intricate shapes. Children can find comfort carrying bits of their departed loved ones housed within stuffed animals. Fingerprints can be retrieved from a body and crafted into dog tags, keychains, and more. Companies include human remains in the crafting of beads for bracelets and necklaces, colors customized to suit the personalities of the departed or the taste of the bereaved.
Instead of remaining in the cemetery, the dearly departed have left visible marks on their loved ones. Many people use their bodies to convey loving remembrances of their departed, transforming their bodies into memorials with tattoos. From initials and names to miniature footprints and portraits, people carry their grief in this personal way.
Many immortalize their deceased loved ones with tattoos. College student Dylan Black’s ankle bears her mother’s initials surrounded by angel wings. At least once a week, Chris Blick at American Tattoos in Verona, Pennsylvania captures likenesses in portraiture on clients’ skin. Talented tattoo artist Rich Ware at Altered Images Tattoo in Maine tells of one client who carried his father’s ashes with him everywhere. Ware incorporated some of the ashes into the black ink, and now the client carries his father within his own skin. The tattoo depicts a four-armed alien hanging from a cross before Stonehenge. Said Ware, “The alien is a nod to Frank Frazetta.”
In these ways, people cleverly preserve special memories of important people and carry them tangibly, all in an attempt to thereby deal with mortality and loss.
Horror author and HFM managing editor Terry M. West celebrated the release of his highly anticipated horror novella today. Heroin in the Magic Now, described as a dark, paranormal cross between Breaking Bad and True Blood, is now available on Amazon in Kindle and Paperback formats.
Synopsis: HEROIN IN THE MAGIC NOW explores pain and hell. The story is set in a dark make-believe New York. The Night Things have climbed onto our shores from the shadows and they are now part of the system. Gary Hack, a down on his luck exploitation film director with an appetite for heroin, finds himself working in the dangerous world of monster fetish videos. Gary is made an offer he can’t refuse by Johnny Stücke, an immortal crime boss. The video Johnny envisions could be the greatest zombie fetish film ever created. But it could also ignite an apocalypse that could destroy the city. HEROIN IN THE MAGIC NOW is original, startling and brutal. BONUS: Included with the first tale is a lengthy preview of HEROIN IN THE MAGIC NOW 2.
Early reviews have been extremely kind. As we cautioned in an earlier post about this book, it is a dark and extreme tale and it is not recommended for minors or the easily offended. But if you are ready for a true tale of horror, order here!
Many people may ask “Why do grown men watch Godzilla films?” My wife and daughters don’t understand. When a Godzilla film is on, they roll their eyes and make quick passage through the living room, lest I stop them to explain the ridiculous plot, for no apparent reason.
Aside from the original 1954 Gojira, with its serious tone, sociopolitical statement, and allegory sentiments, the entire franchise is not exactly aimed at adults. The films are a myriad of pseudo-science, hokey plots, simplistic storylines, and fantasy elements. They often contain plot-holes big enough to drive a monster truck through.
So, why the infatuation? I will attempt to answer that burning question.
Give a young boy (age’s two to ten) a set of blocks and what will they do? They will stack them as high as they can, stand back to study their accomplishment, then run up and kick them down. If you have two boys in the room they will race to be the one who will kick down the blocks first.
It’s the conqueror ego. It’s the desire to level the playing field. It’s a release of frustrations in a somewhat controlled environment.
Man is born with an inherent penchant for aggression and destruction. It’s part of the survival instinct that keeps him fighting even when the odds are against him. Throughout man’s existence, natural violence was a part of his struggle. In the most recent 100 years, man has taken much of that natural violence out of his life. We have secure homes that shield us from predators and violent weather (most of the time). We don’t have to hunt for food or compete for hunting grounds against other men/tribes/clans. We only have to walk into a supermarket where meat is laid out in trays and packaged in plastic, under bright lights and light FM, elevator music.
Some men will turn to sports, throwing their hands in the air and roaring when their team beats the opposing team into submission. Young men will turn to loud music, banging their heads, waving their fists and even mosh-ing to release pent-up aggression. And an even smaller percentage of men will turn to giant monster movies. They see Godzilla kick down a building and relate that to themselves as young boys, kicking down that stack of blocks.
Naturally, we don’t want to see this kind of destruction in real life. We love to see tornados on film from a safe distance, ripping a roof off a barn. But we are saddened and empathetic when we see the devastation up-close and see the hardships they cause real people and families. We like to see buildings topple, explosions burst into giant fireballs and laser-beams or heat-rays cut through city streets, but are taken aback when we see the real devastation of an earthquake or the loss of innocent lives in a terrorist attack.
What we see in these films is fantasy. Sometimes we cheer for mankind, up against what seems to be an unstoppable force. Sometimes we cheer for the giant monster that can destroy the arrogant man’s world and re-teach him to have respect for mother earth and her adept system of balance.
We are happy to be out of the constant violent struggle of nature but we still have that adrenaline induced instinct that needs to be called upon during emergencies. And that muscle needs to be flexed. So stand back from the Blu-Ray/DVD remote and let us kick our blocks down…metaphorically speaking.
You have heard of fantasy football; picking players from NFL teams to forge a strong team of your own to compete on paper. Well, I want to do the same type of thing but in a way horror fiction fans would appreciate. I don’t know if this has ever been attempted, but if it has, it was surely by a horror nerd with too much weed and time on his/her hands.
Compose your own table of contents for what would be your ultimate horror anthology. There are no limits. Choose from any author you want, at any time you want. So here is my fantasy horror anthology, and though the names may be as familiar to you as your own family, you will notice a mix of obscure tales, that I think should be reexamined (I am an admitted B-side lover), and you will also notice selections that are considered staples of the genre by many fans. For time and space constraints, I will pick ten here as my choices. Just remember, it’s my party…
The very first story would be one by a man better known for his science fiction, but a home run hitter in whichever genre he chose to flex his creative muscles. BRIGHT SEGMENT by Theodore Sturgeon would by the first title affixed to this ultimate anthology of mine. Written in 1953, BRIGHT SEGMENT concerns a lonely old man who finds a near-dead prostitute on the streets. He brings her in and nurses her back to health. As she strengthens and threatens to leave his care and this bright segment of his draws to a close, the old man takes measures to extend his newfound happiness. This is an absolutely brilliant tale that inspires revulsion and sympathy with the same tug.
So next we look at the work of Stephen King for inclusion. I am a child of King, in so many ways. But my favorite works of his go back to his older tales. And my first King tale for inclusion would have to be NONA. First published in an anthology in 1978 called Shadows, Nona is either a figment of the narrator’s imagination or a seductive and evil siren of murder who asks repeatedly at the end, “Do you love?”, before she turns into a hideous creature and leaves the narrator alone in a graveyard for the police to find. NONA is Lovecraft-inspired gem and it elicits creepiness from any of us who have ever loved, and maybe found a little madness in our devotion.
We are not done with King, yet. NIGHT SURF was printed in Ubris magazine in 1969. It was the seed from which THE STAND would sprout. It is a post-apocalyptic tale about a group of teens gathered one night at Anson Beach in New Hampshire. They glow and warm near a bonfire, but the fire that lights their night burns with depraved, solemn and desperate purpose. The group burns a man at a pyre to appease the Gods and protect themselves from a disease called A6 (or Captain Trips).
We come now to the works of Clive Barker and his inclusions will not be the expected standouts. There will be two tales selected, half-filling my collection.
IN THE HILLS, IN THE CITIES is my first of the Barker tales. Two gay men try to rekindle their love on a vacation to Yugoslavia. Mick and Judd bear witness to the macabre war between two villages, Popolac and Podujevo. Each town is represented by a mass of thousands joined in uniform and violent purpose. A battle between two giants occurs, and this is one of the most inspired Barker tales you could ever endure. It is breathtaking.
My second Barker contribution would be HELL’S EVENT. It concerns a contest where Hell is given the opportunity to take and rule the Earth. There is a race in London, and a shape-shifting representative of Hell participates. Joel, a human competitor in the race, realizes the stakes he is running for. This is a bloody and humorous piece of Barker fiction.
My next selection would be the classic YOURS TRULY, JACK THE RIPPER from the great Robert Bloch. It was printed in Weird Tales in 1943. It is a very famous tale, and many horror fans have heard the title in relation to highly regarded pieces of horror literature. But let me ask you a question… have you ever actually read it? It is an intense and well-researched imaging of the infamous serial killer as an immortal who must make human sacrifices to continue his bloody existence. It is masterfully crafted by Bloch, whose creative intensity never dulled. The man was a talented craftsman, indeed. He is largely considered a writer’s writer. And he was a member of Lovecraft’s circle.
Poised to terrify at the seventh spot would be I SCREAM MAN by Robert McCammon. In this tale, McCammon takes something as innocuous as a family game of Scrabble and turns it into a triumph of absolute dread. McCammon is a master at taking familiar and safe boundaries and wrapping them around your throat. He is a powerhouse.
SHATTERDAY is the eighth selection, and it is a story by one of the most enduring voices of speculative fiction, Harlan Ellison. Peter Jay Novins calls his own phone by mistake, and he answers it. Soon, it is revealed that an alter ego is planning to take Peter’s miserable life away and replace him. Peter sickens and slowly fades as his former shadow gains substance and lives a more happy and successful version of Peter’s life. Yes, this was an episode of the revival Twilight Zone series, but the story from Ellison’s collection (itself called Shatterday) is an absolutely chilling tale of losing your identity and purpose. It straddles the genre fence, but inspires enough dread to land here on my list.
The next to last of this fun little excursion would find Charles Beaumont’s THE HOWLING MAN. Beaumont would adapt his 1960 short story into a famous episode of Twilight Zone. The Howling Man concerned David Ellington, a man on a walking trip through Europe who shows up, lost and ill, on the doorstep of a hidden castle. There, he discovers that a man is held prisoner by a group of monks. The monks claim their prisoner is the devil himself, and he can only be released by removing the staff of truth from his prison door. Beaumont was one of the most influential authors of the strange and dark, and his work has inspired several in the genre. And he is a name I would proudly include in this make-believe collection.
My tenth spot would feature THE YELLOW WALLPAPER, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, first published in January 1892 in The New England Magazine. It chronicles a woman’s journey into madness, as she is locked away by her physician husband. The woman is stored away quietly to recuperate from a slight hysterical tendency. The woman slowly begins to have visions in the patterns of the wallpaper in the room that imprisons her. An important and classic tale, which you should seek out if you have not read it, that is also an incredible piece of feminist literature.
So, there would be my top ten. And were this list to continue, you would see tales from Poe, Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson, Richard Matheson, Hugh B. Cave, Peter Straub, Ramsey Campbell, Rex Miller, Joyce Carol Oates, Rod Serling… trust me, the list could easily run into triple digits. The ten I have listed are stories that I hold a particular fondness for. They are stories that have touched me, and left a mark.
If you are inspired to seek any of these tales out, then I have served a purpose here today.