NIGHTSCRIPT Volume Two
An Anthology of Strange & Darksome Tales
Edited by C.M. Muller
Chthonic Matter 2016
Stories by Michael Griffin, Kristi DeMeester, Christopher Slatsky, J.T. Glover, Eric J. Guignard, Malcolm Devlin, Gwendolyn Kiste, Ralph Robert Moore, Christopher Ropes, Steve Rasnic Tem, Jason A. Wyckoff, Gordon White, Nina Shephardson, Kurt Fawver, Rowley Amato, Charles Wilkinson, H.V. Chao, Daniel Mills, Rebecca J. Allred, Matthew M. Bartlett, José Cruz.
When I real-time review this book, my comments will appear in the thought stream below…
The book’s cover spread above is Edvard Munch’s ‘The Lonely Ones’ (1899) and it is as if the first story (now just read) has been for the two characters to grow and dis-attenuate into the painting’s two-sided jigsaw, and the white colour of her dress, as you can now see, has started to grow yellow…pre-figuring an as yet hidden CARNIVAL of colour or consensus reality about to emerge….
THE CARNIVAL ARRIVES IN DARKNESS by Michael Griffin
“Could he shift the world somehow, just by waiting and listening?”
The Storyteller – now more self-important (“half monk, half alien”) these days because of recent successes – is awaited by Subject in the dark urban corporate horror underlay of a story, a story not a painting, but a painting is perhaps how cinematics are ignited, like a fantasia of real-personed cartoons suddenly shuttling into life, intertwining? This is a relatively brief meta-fiction (meta-fictions are usually fabricated and unsatisfying when over-done) but this extreme meta-fiction is miraculously satisfying due to the gradual process of “consensus reality” and decartoonisation, as Subject and the Girl Who is Love become real, perhaps outside the Storyteller’s control…
Subject awaiting the story to be told around him, awaiting his “script”, and at last finds his nightscript without needing to learn it. The Storyteller as a character (and ironically as representative of the author himself?) spurning his own sense of becoming over-done? Routing his demons?
Provoking and potentially memorable.
[Any by-line hyperlinks in this review are to my previous reviews of each author.]
IN THE DARK, QUIET PLACES by Kristi DeMeester
“Syllables play tricks in the air, dip low and then rise and reverse back on themselves, so the words sound like another language. Something harsh and lyrical at the same time.”
Twin sisters, Lou(isa) and Tessa, now women with various items of the past impregnated within them but the burdens buried elsewhere – but burdens and memories ever unbury themselves. Rolling and unrolling like pill bugs. This is an immersive work where words intertwine within the women as a way to describe them. A text that is a crawlspace of sister within sister, like the impregnations they once lost, the men who once mastered them, memories cutting into each other to allow harsh emotions their quiet expression by synchro-appropriately named DeMeester’s darkly lyrical literature of which these memories form part.
Expression, in its true sense.
Pingback: Real-Time Review: Nightscript vol 2 | Rebecca J. Allred
PHANTOM AIRFIELDS by Christopher Slatsky
“Nothing but time these days.”
“Wide open space. Makes me think.”
“Randall knew she needed time and distance.”
Time and distance, needed by all of them, and Randall has lost his son mysteriously to some astronautic abductor, he thinks, about to lose his wife and remaining child through such attrition, and he spends his time at the derelict airfield – still thinking. Time and distance, haunting and mind-twisting for him and and for us to see him thus, and just like this book’s cover (and Griffin’s work) crystallising, now crystallising into that astronautic child-like story, now a ‘chartreuse glow’ rather than yellow alone, with attenuation more like a strength than a weakness, beyond ‘oblivion’, beyond ‘entropy’, even beyond ‘piety’. Poignant with the power of some game of storytelling Chinese Whispers, I guess. Loved also the ‘anthropomorphic train’ as some form of symbol permeating my thoughts here.
“The haunted were capable of depths of compassion most were not capable of expressing.”
That earlier ‘expression’ of DeMeester?
Pingback: Nightscript 2 Real-Time Review by Des Lewis – GriffinWords
EN PLEIN AIR by J.T. Glover
“What does she have on her palette? Looks like umbers, sienna, ochres, white.”
This story, of painting (en-plein-air being a term for painting that entails its completion at the open air site whence it was painted in real-time from scratch), a story of the narrator meeting a woman at the en-plein-air location. She is also painting, and the story evokes a comparison of colour tones, bright or muddied, colouring moods and destinies, a story that stands alone as a very effective piece of fiction literature. One that I find very impressive, especially with my being someone who often enjoys fiction that centres on painting. (I recently completed a review of short Weird Fiction prose pieces that entailed me studying nearly seventy (!) colour plates of paintings.)
On top of this, I find this story also literally startling – when considering it not as a standalone but also within the context of this book so far – to encounter such a theme of certain colours in a painting scenario after what I wrote yesterday above just before the Griffin story about this book’s cover painting that turned out in my mind very relevant to emergent muddied colours….threatening to become brighter and primary.
“‘Paintings help me remember,’ I said slowly.”
Dreamcatching or public gestalt real-time reviewing also helping me remember books or stories.
THE INVETERATE ESTABLISHMENT OF DADDANO & CO.
by Eric J. Guignard
“Thing Is, everyone else died that morning, so who’s gonna buy the word of some old funeral man over what the coppers trumped up?”
Not Guignol, but the much feistier, dustier Grand Guignard!
The burying and unburying in the DeMeester relived transformationally here for those earlier days of Chicago gangsters, Capone, dismantled coupe, et al! But, sitting from where I do today in the U.K., more a metaphor of what’s arriving as Tentacles across the Atlantic this coming Tuesday…?
Starting as an engaging portrait of a family business by one of its members, now older, looking back at those Capone days. A funeral firm neat with “sensitive disposal matters”, but one also with some street nous, and ready to mix it with the monsters that are man itself and whatever circles man’s deaths… and whatever that is, is not only plain vengeance, protectionism and recrimination, but also ineluctable mayhem and massacre. And there is a monstrously conceived something else in this story I dare not describe here for fear of its spoilers and its tentacles reaching me sitting here like a toe-rag many miles and decades away… “growing together”…
A mighty upheaving tale. It even touches a plain man’s “lyrical”.
“…the ones who ultimately got him, trumping up tax offenses.”
WHITE ELEPHANTS by Malcolm Devlin
“: bright and varied of color, moving with confidence through the drab and familiar…”
I have never been disappointed by this author’s work; in fact I have never been less than enthused by it, and this is no exception, tantamount to a potential classic strange story. A story replete with the atmosphere of a William Brown type (here after pocket money to participate in the fair’s lucky-dip of a pocket lady), or perhaps I should say, a Jane Turpin type, too, a scenario featuring sideshow stalls, bric a brac for sale aptly called white elephants (a more wishful contrasting image to black spiders you would go far to find), a politically-incorrect beer tent, small talk of allotments and other local gossip… all enhanced or debased or ripened or sharpened by Aickman himself and his swords or by my childhood’s nursery rhymes…
Slightly salacious, parentally darkened, forbidding and unforgetful.
REASONS I HATE MY BIG SISTER by Gwendolyn Kiste
“Outside, the buildings bleed past like melted oil paintings, and I wonder if it’s already too late.”
It is as if the painterly attenuation earlier in the book has melted the two sisters from the DeMeester together and into the William Brown / Jane Turpin ethos of the Devlin (Mother with Rotary club friends and naughty boys looking through the fence etc.)
But this strong tale stands alone, too, of course, as intended, a shocking but lyrical tale like the Guignard, but in fact more overtly lyrical, where physical sloughing-off as a disease is treated with deadpan nightmarishness in interface with sororal rivalry and identity. Protector and monster as one.
NEARNESS by Ralph Robert Moore
“…isn’t just one dark colour. There are speckles of emerald and sapphire along one side, and a jigsaw splotch of pale topaz on the other side,…”
I have been looking forward to this, having read much work by RRM previously in Black Static. This story deploys the highly believable and importuning viewpoint from a toddler as she learns to walk, and as we follow the slow-motion pointillism of, say, grass blades and a butterfly, and the approach of birds like pigeons, and the tutelary shapes gradually growing definition, from the lessening attenuation via a small child’s adaptive sight, the definition of two women looking after her. Alongside her, we eventually reach our own growing definition of what might be going on. The experience is tantalising and disturbing. I am still sitting here dwelling on what I found out about those two women and what other things the toddler saw, with increasing disturbance of my equilibrium. Subtle and exponentially worrying. Nearer and nearer to nearness, without quite reaching it, like a nightmarish Weird Fiction version of Zeno’s Paradox in media res.
Cross-referenced this story with another here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/20016-2/#comment-14785
Pingback: A Couple Nice Notices | J. T. Glover
THIS LONELY HECATOMB by Christopher Ropes
“You’ll see, hon, that the world is a big ole mess of unconnected dots just waiting for someone with your brain to put it all together.”
And only obliquity or brainstorming will manage it, I have always felt, and this tantalising work confirms me in that belief, being a portrait of a black woman, faced with what America itself is faced with today, who summons, at her father’s funeral (the loving father of her teddy bear and tyre-swing moments), her past, her friends, her ex from his Hell or Purgatory, her defiant ability not only to study the history of her kind but also of, say, the ancient Mediterranean world and the propitiation of gods… a flashmob of people summoned by the funeral to represent some of the many particles of life’s gestalt as a test for her defiance.
I don’t think it is an accident that one of the book’s page numbers constituting this story is page 99. And the word “immaculate” split between that page and page 100.
APARTMENT B by Steve Rasnic Tem
“Desperate reds and desperate blues. Desperate greens. Their eyes looked tired and pale, as if worn out trying to make sense of all the bright colours.”
This book seems to be cohering, shaping, as Tem’s character reaches his Plan B, an apartment insulated and within other apartments, instead of his once evolving standalone house, marriage now ended by one of their deaths, their fruit as son grown up and elsewhere…
This is an anguished shaping, a new evolving, but now inward, insulated from understanding the intentions of others, even (or especially) from the intentions of self.
A story swaddled by those reading it. But perhaps I alone understand it, feel it, too, as coming…as it has already come for this story.
UNDERSTAIRS by Jason A. Wyckoff
https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/jason-a-wyckoff/ : The Hidden Back Room etc.
“…it emitted a bright blue-tinted beam … which still couldn’t dispel the gloom beneath the stairs.”
As if one HOUSE of Leaves is a mirror image of another HOUSE of Leaves, at the interface of its stairwell. My mind went plain crazy reading this, and it is probably one of the strangest reading experiences of my life, leaving me dazed.
It was also a powerful extrapolation from the concept of someone else taking over one’s home, not just a neighbour walking in uninvited and sitting on the sofa as in that neighbouring Tem Apartment B story, but an attempted takeover by Apartment A of Apartment B, or vice versa, as it were … Jason (A) Wyckoff.
AS SUMMER’S MASK LIFTS by Gordon White
“What does it mean when the insects go quiet, too?”
A slowly consuming story as we follow the daughter of a man like that in the earlier Tem story, recently old, then deceased, now beyond the point of Zeno’s Paradox, when death finally emerged from its disguise as him, just as Summer in this daughter’s tranche of time is being disguised by the painterly colours of Autumn amid this wild land wherein the father’s home was situated, she only remembering seeing it in Summer, the land wherein he lived buried before he was buried, as it were, or figuratively drowned in its lake, or strangled by the twisted roots of Tem’s Onion Songs or subsumed by Tem’s ranks of oldsters fishing on the land’s lake bank? But that is when this story begins to unpeel its own disguise with, for me, the impending slowness of Zeno’s Paradox, hinting at the Earth itself having its own skull within, and the story continues to take off or launch like a canoe on your mind’s own lake Into its own true slow-motion suspense as the well-characterised daughter is pursued, pursued by what or whom? An inchoate vision of her father when younger or something more prehensile? A story that threatens to remove your own disguise, I suggest, whatever your version of disguise happens to be. Specially, I feel, for any oldsters fishing or, in my case, trying to dreamcatch stories like this.
AND ELM DO HATE by Nina Shephardson
“A tall wych-elm stood in the center. Drooping boughs festooned with bright green leaves formed a cave around the wrinkled gray trunk.”
A DeMeester-Kiste immersively prefigured theme-and-variations symphonically put together by Shephardson upon wych-elms as inimical forces. I will never look at such a tree again in the same light. Nor will I play hiding-seek near them. For fear of the bark. Wood waking up, wyckoff-elm munching up…
A SILENCE OF STARLINGS by Kurt Fawver
“‘Today is a day when things might get better, when things might change. There’s energy in the air.’
But the starlings didn’t sing today.”
A compelling narrative from an old man, looking forward today to being taken out for his granddaughter’s birthday, an old man not unrelated perhaps to the old men in the previous Tem and White, here in a convincing Care Home residence situation (I am familiar with such residences), some of the residents suffering from Alzheimers…
I will not describe the exact situation that accretes here around him, as it would spoil the haunting quality of what actually happens, but it is skilfully conveyed with many striking turns of phrase.
A mysterious calling, humming as anti-music, a mysterious silence and attenuation outside the Home…sunlight turning grey or white, and a black that is not a colour at all.
You will not forget this story. Nor this story’s special ‘today’ today.
“The plot included ghosts and a talking dog and the president of the United States…”
AYCAYIA by Rowley Amato
“He was mesmerized by its unnatural changes in color: one day it was a dark gray that swallowed up the sunlight. The next it was a bright, St. Patty’s green…”
This, for me, was a particularly effective beauty and the beast type story, except the beauty and beastliness is more an inchoate synergy than the more straightforward versions of this story. Indeed, I could easily visualise the inimical-seeming aycayia with bare breasts emerging from the canal in New York as the monster, to importune the handsome boy as the threatened one, together with the highly atmospheric environs of the dark city. This effectiveness was accentuated by the fact that the boy had already been told about such an encounter by his grandfather with an account of his experience of a similar situation years before, leaving him with a livid scar.
I cannot do justice to this quality horror tale and its implications. And which of them was the victim, which the attacker, which the welcomer of such an attack, if attack it was, or what the permutations of all of these factors … or whether it was – and still is – a synergy proper.
Like a budding Flannery O’Connor.
THE WHITE KISSES by Charles Wilkinson
I bought this book when I discovered there was a story in it by this author, an author whose works I try to exhaustively collect and study (as can be seen from the link above if you ‘sign in’ there as it were), just like Norvin in this story studies the architectural work of Korcorvian. Beware any Mogson virus though.
I also see that my review so far has been fortuitously centred around the battle between pale and bright colours, as have many of the other works in this book itself. I tried to list the various phrases in the Wilkinson story relating to colours and they are numerous. I was particularly struck with: “One of the man’s eyes was a pale blue, the other discolored: the broken black egg of the pupil had leaked into the iris.” And there is the accretive attenuation towards bleaching into white and more white, via an albino character, to the ice, frost and snow, in this seaside resort, of his wife’s message for which The Mogson is the go-between. Rest assured this is a Wilkinson classic to be added to his other classics. Absurdism on the edge of sheer insidious horror.
And I am convinced one of Korcorvian’s buildings was not the hospice as suggested but the previous story’s Care Home in the White above.
DOWN BY THE RIVER by H.V. Chao
“Or a drop of color spreading in water soon to recall it only as hue.”
A highly textured, rarefied set of webs as words, woven across the page one day, taken down the next, as, alongside the man and woman item with a large age gap between, we follow their hike across France to transcend this book’s earlier Zeno’s Paradox, to stretch its elasticity via their different takes on time and ageing, the nature of Nature that looks more beddable than it is lethal, to reach the man’s goal of a more youthfully seen or dreamed village that can never be reached. We learn much about this couple without being directly told. And the ethos of spiders building and of different time relativities between different people is now, for me, not so much a Butterfly effect as a Spider Effect – or a Chao Theory?
Landscapes not people, taken like photographs by the text, yet the people are there and their poignancies of existence. The denial not only about death, but about life itself, and that endlessness stretches on and on with neat turns of phrase underpinning some desperate faith that destinations are still reachable. (And her “humming” akin to that Care Home humming in the White earlier….?)
“There was a dwelling in the moment, and dwelling on it — dwelling on, she pointed out, always happened after.”
“Life’s too short for anything but first times.”
ARENA by Daniel Mills
“The first would be last and the last would be first: the slave become master, the master made slave. He would break our chains. We would be free.”
A religious feel to this dual narrative winding around each other with echoes of the Bible, where fishermen’s nets, like this my own literary dreamcatching, used as battle weapons as well as for hidden truth … and provender. And the centurion, then other opened sides spewing innards, like gutted fish. A battle between hopelessness and faith. It seems a perfectly oblique fable for what we have lived through in the real world in recent days as I have read this book. The bright certain colours then parable-pale colours mingling within pastel blackness near evolving into a different blackness.
“The blood flies loose in drops that catch the sun like red fires winking, going out.”
“…and saw the nets hauled up dripping with his naked shape inside.”
FROM THE FERTILE DARK by Rebecca J. Allred
“…Charlotte paints the shadow child on a wall the shade of wilted daffodils.”
A narrative prose poem of a woman’s abandonment by her man and child, the latter through miscarriage, abandoned, too, by others in her community as if she is the one abandoning any goodness, and they damning her as a Whore’s temple, I guess, and so I also sense a Biblical feel, in oblique tune with the previous already oblique Mills, obliqueness upon obliqueness of vying colours and meanings, but now a new brainstorming upon constructively mutant Biblical images which may or may not be true, as she fore-shadows the child as grown up or as herself mugging up on its childhood by using that child’s intended swing in the garden… until I really believe Charlotte had that child for real, along with the thorny stigmata imposed on her body… I need to experience this hauntingly beautiful work again and again so as to absolve what I think lingers there.
NO ABIDING PLACE ON EARTH by Matthew M. Bartlett
“After a time, the house awakens with a hum and the lights flicker bright, too bright, blinding, then back to their usual weak dimness.’
A bit like White’s Care Home in this book and, elsewhere, Harold Billings’s Angel Bird a bit like an owl, but here in the Bartlett – Bartlett Fartlett of the amazing books I reviewed at the by-line link above, books that make your dreams filled with the most nightmarish things EVER – the owl birds multiply and are not noticed by reporters reporting other things, as this old man, and at the age of 54, by God, not just a Tem oldster, but someone utterly something else nudging up to his cat – and his grown-up daughter has fled back to him, because of her husband or is it because the creatures in the sky are homing in on them all, and death is that something else that either touches you or doesn’t, and you are not sure what to believe, with you, yes, me, dead – or not… Utterly Bartlett, squirrel in the wires, utterly this book, writ already before it was writ in or by the nightscrit.
No abiding place on Earth for the Trump bird!
PAUSE FOR LAUGHTER by José Cruz
“I was born into the circus a small wormish thing, fish-belly white on a bed of hay laden with dung. Already I was the color of the clown,…”
A pause for laughter indeed, but still a nightmarish Bartletting or Pulveracity laced with other facets of this book, shadows as souls, spiders on windows, a sundried old man, scavenger birds etc, and even our clown hero with his moplah sword becomes a Billings bird himself for a nonce, plus an abandoned ice-house as theatre or circus, as we follow the gestalt of thought-pattern madness of this clown hero from birth unto the world today. And a mysterious boy called Boggs straight out of Dickens or Caligari, a paper heart and a Figaro Earwig sequence. “Laughter is medicine.” A diminishing audience dogged by Fever Men leave him to prat-fall alone. But the biggest clown of all, we can easily infer that. The clown villain is not our clown hero. This mighty weird story ends a mighty weird book. Weirdness with truth at its heart. The color of the carnival clown.
“Their screams are never as loud as the flames. They register only as a soft hum…”
“EVERYTHING HAS CHANGED.
Nothing has changed.”
Pingback: New Short Story – Little Bitty Bad Things
Pingback: Nightscript 6 acceptance and pre-order | tomjohnstone