It’s great when a short story collection presents itself incognito. Chuck Palahniuk’s Haunted is one such example. This collection of tales from Gary Buller was a superb take on this style of storytelling, and worked really well.
Things start off with a kind of horror cliché; a couple – Eddie and Banksy – with a flat tyre in the pouring rain in the middle of nowhere. They notice a light on in a creepy old house that advertises itself as a Bed & Breakfast. They have no other option, though; they need to get to that party. So they decide to knock on the door and see if they have a phone.
It seems too good to be true, but these two are punks so are more than able to take care of themselves, right?
After being invited inside by the old and unnerving lady owner, they dry off in the reception area (wait, there’s one of those in a B&B? Hmm, weird). Obviously the proprietor has no phone but what she does have is a book of short stories that she insists on reading to them while they wait.
What then follows is four tales read to the couple by this weird woman. After each the narrative returns to Eddie and Banksy as they discuss the story and survey their circumstances; their current situation becoming increasingly creepy.
So what about the stories then? Well, the first, Cords, was my absolute favourite. Cosmic sci-fi horror is always a winner with me, and is a style I don’t think I’ve read from Buller before. But he delivered it brutally and brilliantly.
Following an invasion of earth by some mysterious and malevolent alien race, a pact is made between them and the humans in which the denizens of this planet only have until their 45th birthday to live. When their fateful day arrives they are visited by strange alien-insect type bastards who attach themselves to their wrists and drag them through the streets towards ‘the fissure’, a giant chasm in the world that transports them to, well, somewhere they’d rather not be visiting.
A shocking, dystopian nightmare; what a way to start!
After a brief chat about Eddie and Banksy’s party they probably won’t be attending, we’re/they’re treated to The Brace. Here a father takes his son hunting, so he can finally ‘be a man’. But this kid doesn’t want to kill defenceless creatures, he just misses his mom. The dad’s plan backfires terribly, and the son soon realises exactly what happened to his mom. I shouldn’t really say anymore, just read it.
The Weight of Nostalgia will bring back childhood memories for many, especially with all the talk of sweet shops! What if you could relive your past with the knowledge of how life would ultimately unfold, would you change anything? It’s quite a deep concept when you really think about it but in this tale a dude really does have this choice.
What will he do? Would you do the same? The writing here magically takes you back to your youthful days (depending on your age I suppose), and hits deep once you realise what is about to unfold.
Back in the B&B it appears these punks may be in grave danger. But wait, there’s another story to tell.
In The Greyfriars Transcript a guy boards a train to Scotland. He’s warned to not take the trip but does he listen? Erm, no. What follows is a journey played out like an inescapable nightmare. Surely he could just wake up? Well he can’t. Rotting food, corpses, claustrophobic train carriages; do you need more?
The collection ultimately ends with the goings on in the B&B, but I’ll let you find out the details for yourself. All I will say is that it’s not disappointing.
One may argue that reading a story within a story takes away from the horrors described. The thing is you never get this impression as the stories are so good, and knowing that a depraved mind wrote them (I mean the old lady, not Mr Buller – although who knows, he may very well be depraved himself), it adds to the whole creepy vibe.
So check in at this Dead & Breakfast (sorry did I say ‘dead’? I meant ‘bed’), and engulf yourself in these scary stories of terror and woe.
Categories: book review