Here are classics, such as horror master Stephen King’s “Chattery Teeth,” the tautly drawn account of a traveling salesman who unwisely picks up yet another hitchhiker; Peter Straub’s eerie “The Juniper Tree,” describing a man whose nostalgia for the movies of his childhood leads to his stolen innocence; and George R. R. Martin’s sinister “The Pear-Shaped Man,” in which a young woman encounters a neighbor who likes her a bit too much.
Whether you grew up on Clive Barker’s Books of Blood; Joyce Carol Oates’s “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”; Neil Gaiman’s Sandman; or are newly discovering Stephen King’s son, breakout author Joe Hill; there is something here for everyone who enjoys being more than just a little bit scared.
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Two Decades of Modern Horror
By Ellen Datlow
Tachyon PublicationsCopyright © 2010 Ellen Datlow
All rights reserved.
Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament Clive Barker
My God, she thought, this can't be living. Day in, day out: the boredom, the drudgery, the frustration.
My Christ, she prayed, let me out, set me free, crucify me if you must, but put me out of my misery.
In lieu of his euthanasian benediction, she took a blade from Ben's razor, one dull day in late March, locked herself in the bathroom, and slit her wrists.
Through the throbbing in her ears, she faintly heard Ben outside the bathroom door.
"Are you in there, darling?"
"Go away," she thought she said.
"I'm back early, sweetheart. The traffic was light."
"Please go away."
The effort of trying to speak slid her off the toilet seat and on to the white-tiled floor, where pools of her blood were already cooling.
"Are you all right?"
Now he was rattling at the door, the rat. Didn't he realize she couldn't open it, wouldn't open it?
"Answer me, Jackie."
She groaned. She couldn't stop herself. The pain wasn't as terrible as she'd expected, but there was an ugly feeling, as though she'd been kicked in the head. Still, he couldn't catch her in time, not now. Not even if he broke the door down.
He broke the door down.
She looked up at him through an air grown so thick with death you could have sliced it.
"Too late," she thought she said.
But it wasn't.
My God, she thought, this can't be suicide. I haven't died.
The doctor Ben had hired for her was too perfectly benign. Only the best, he'd promised, only the very best for my Jackie.
"It's nothing," the doctor reassured her, "that we can't put right with a little tinkering."
Why doesn't he just come out with it? she thought. He doesn't give a damn. He doesn't know what it's like.
"I deal with a lot of these women's problems," he confided, fairly oozing a practiced compassion. "It's got to epidemic proportions among a certain age-bracket."
She was barely thirty. What was he telling her? That she was prematurely menopausal?
"Depression, partial or total withdrawal, neuroses of every shape and size. You're not alone, believe me."
Oh yes I am, she thought. I'm here in my head, on my own, and you can't know what it's like.
"We'll have you right in two shakes of a lamb's tail."
I'm a lamb, am I? Does he think I'm a lamb?
Musing, he glanced up at his framed qualifications, then at his manicured nails, then at the pens on his desk and notepad. But he didn't look at Jacqueline. Anywhere but at Jacqueline.
"I know," he was saying now, "what you've been through, and it's been traumatic. Women have certain needs. If they go unanswered—"
What would he know about women's needs?
You're not a woman, she thought she thought.
"What?" he said.
Had she spoken? She shook her head: denying speech. He went on; finding his rhythm once more: "I'm not going to put you through interminable therapy-sessions. You don't want that, do you? You want a little reassurance, and you want something to help you sleep at nights."
He was irritating her badly now. His condescension was so profound it had no bottom. All-knowing, all-seeing Father; that was his performance. As if he were blessed with some miraculous insight into the nature of a woman's soul.
"Of course, I've tried therapy courses with patients in the past. But between you and me—"
He lightly patted her hand. Father's palm on the back of her hand. She was supposed to be flattered, reassured, maybe even seduced.
"—between you and me it's so much talk. Endless talk. Frankly, what good does it do? We've all got problems. You can't talk them away, can you?"
You're not a woman. You don't look like a woman, you don't feel like a woman—
"Did you say something?"
She shook her head.
"I thought you said something. Please feel free to be honest with me."
She didn't reply, and he seemed to tire of pretending intimacy. He stood up and went to the window.
"I think the best thing for you—"
He stood against the light: darkening the room, obscuring the view of the cherry trees on the lawn through the window. She stared at his wide shoulders, at his narrow hips. A fine figure of a man, as Ben would have called him. No child-bearer he. Made to remake the world, a body like that. If not the world, remaking minds would have to do.
"I think the best thing for you —"
What did he know, with his hips, with his shoulders? He was too much a man to understand anything of her.
"I think the best thing for you would be a course of sedatives —"
Now her eyes were on his waist.
"—and a holiday."
Her mind had focussed now on the body beneath the veneer of his clothes. The muscle, bone and blood beneath the elastic skin. She pictured it from all sides, sizing it up, judging its powers of resistance, then closing on it. She thought:
Be a woman.
Simply, as she thought that preposterous idea, it began to take shape. Not a fairy-tale transformation, unfortunately, his flesh resisted such magic. She willed his manly chest into making breasts of itself and it began to swell most fetchingly, until the skin burst and his sternum flew apart. His pelvis, teased to breaking point, fractured at its center; unbalanced, he toppled over on to his desk and from there stared up at her, his face yellow with shock. He licked his lips, over and over again, to find some wetness to talk with. His mouth was dry: his words were still-born. It was from between his legs that all the noise was coming; the splashing of his blood; the thud of his bowel on the carpet.
She screamed at the absurd monstrosity she had made, and withdrew to the far corner of the room, where she was sick in the pot of the rubber plant.
My God, she thought, this can't be murder. I didn't so much as touch him.
What Jacqueline had done that afternoon, she kept to herself. No sense in giving people sleepless nights, thinking about such peculiar talent.
The police were very kind. They produced any number of explanations for the sudden departure of Dr. Blandish, though none quite described how his chest had erupted in that extraordinary fashion, making two handsome (if hairy) domes of his pectorals.
It was assumed that some unknown psychotic, strong in his insanity, had broken in, done the deed with hands, hammers and saws, and exited, locking the innocent Jacqueline Ess in an appalled silence no interrogation could hope to penetrate.
Person or persons unknown had clearly dispatched the doctor to where neither sedatives nor therapy could help him.
She almost forgot for a while. But as the months passed it came back to her by degrees, like a memory of a secret adultery. It teased her with its forbidden delights. She forgot the nausea, and remembered the power. She forgot sordidity, and remembered strength. She forgot the guilt that had seized her afterwards and longed, longed to do it again.
Is this my husband, she thought, actually calling me by my name? Usually it was Jackie, or Jack, or nothing at all.
He was looking at her with those big baby blues of his, like the college-boy she'd loved at first sight. But his mouth was harder now, and his kisses tasted like stale bread.
"I've got something I want to speak to you about."
A conversation? she thought; it must be a public holiday.
"I don't know how to tell you this."
"Try me," she suggested.
She knew that she could think his tongue into speaking if it pleased her. Make him tell her what she wanted to hear. Words of love, maybe, if she could remember what they sounded like. But what was the use of that? Better the truth.
"Darling, I've gone off the rails a bit."
"What do you mean?" she said.
Have you, you bastard, she thought.
"It was while you weren't quite yourself. You know, when things had more or less stopped between us. Separate rooms ... you wanted separate rooms ... and I just went bananas with frustration. I didn't want to upset you, so I didn't say anything. But it's no use me trying to live two lives."
"You can have an affair if you want to, Ben."
"It's not an affair, Jackie. I love her —"
He was preparing one of his speeches, she could see it gathering momentum behind his teeth. The justifications that became accusations, those excuses that always turned into assaults on her character. Once he got into full flow there'd be no stopping him. She didn't want to hear.
"—she's not like you at all, Jackie. She's frivolous in her way. I suppose you'd call her shallow."
It might be worth interrupting here, she thought, before he ties himself in his usual knots.
"She's not moody like you. You know, she's just a normal woman. I don't mean to say you're not normal: you can't help having depressions. But she's not so sensitive."
"There's no need, Ben —"
"No, damn it, I want it all off my chest."
On to me, she thought.
"You've never let me explain," he was saying. "You've always given me one of those damn looks of yours, as if you wished I'd—"
"—wished I'd shut up."
"You don't care how I feel!" He was shouting now. "Always in your own little world."
Shut up, she thought.
His mouth was open. She seemed to wish it closed, and with the thought his jaws snapped together, severing the very tip of his pink tongue. It fell from between his lips and lodged in a fold of his shirt.
Shut up, she thought again.
The two perfect regiments of his teeth ground down into each other, cracking and splitting, nerve, calcium and spit making a pinkish foam on his chin as his mouth collapsed inwards.
Shut up, she was still thinking as his startled baby blues sank back into his skull and his nose wormed its way into his brain.
He was not Ben any longer, he was a man with a red lizard's head, flattening, battening down upon itself, and, thank God, he was past speech-making once and for all.
Now she had the knack of it, she began to take pleasure in the changes she was willing upon him.
She flipped him head over heels on to the floor and began to compress his arms and legs, telescoping flesh and resistant bone into a smaller and yet smaller space. His clothes were folded inwards, and the tissue of his stomach was plucked from his neatly packaged entrails and stretched around his body to wrap him up. His fingers were poking from his shoulder-blades now, and his feet, still thrashing with fury, were tipped up in his gut. She turned him over one final time to pressure his spine into a foot-long column of muck, and that was about the end of it.
As she came out of her ecstasy she saw Ben sitting on the floor, shut up into a space about the size of one of his fine leather suitcases, while blood, bile and lymphatic fluid pulsed weakly from his hushed body.
My God, she thought, this can't be my husband. He's never been as tidy as that.
This time she didn't wait for help. This time she knew what she'd done (guessed, even, how she'd done it) and she accepted her crime for the too-rough justice it was. She packed her bags and left the home.
I'm alive, she thought. For the first time in my whole, wretched life, I'm alive.
Vassi's Testimony (part one)
"To you who dream of sweet, strong women I leave this story. It is a promise, as surely as it is a confession, as surely as it's the last words of a lost man who wanted nothing but to love and be loved. I sit here trembling, waiting for the night, waiting for that whining pimp Koos to come to my door again, and take everything I own from me in exchange for the key to her room.
I am not a courageous man, and I never have been: so I'm afraid of what may happen to me tonight. But I cannot go through life dreaming all the time, existing through the darkness on only a glimpse of heaven. Sooner or later, one has to gird one's loins (that's appropriate) and get up and find it. Even if it means giving away the world in exchange.
I probably make no sense. You're thinking, you who chanced on this testimony, you're thinking, who was he, this imbecile?
My name was Oliver Vassi. I am now thirty-eight years old. I was lawyer, until a year or more ago, when I began the search that ends tonight with that pimp and that key and that holy of holies.
But the story begins more than a year ago. It is many years since Jacqueline Ess first came to me.
She arrived out of the blue at my offices, claiming to be the widow of a friend of mine from Law School, one Benjamin Ess, and when I thought back, I remembered the face. A mutual friend who'd been at the wedding had shown me a photograph of Ben and his blushing bride. And here she was, every bit as elusive a beauty as her photograph promised.
I remember being acutely embarrassed at that first interview. She'd arrived at a busy time, and I was up to my neck in work. But I was so enthralled by her, I let all the day's interviews fall by the wayside, and when my secretary came in she gave me one of her steely glances as if to throw a bucket of cold water over me. I suppose I was enamored from the start, and she sensed the electric atmosphere in my office. Me, I pretended I was merely being polite to the widow of an old friend. I didn't like to think about passion: it wasn't a part of my nature, or so I thought. How little we know — I mean really know — about our capabilities.
Jacqueline told me lies at that first meeting. About how Ben had died of cancer, of how often he had spoken of me, and how fondly. I suppose she could have told me the truth then and there, and I would have lapped it up — I believe I was utterly devoted from the beginning.
But it's difficult to remember quite how and when interest in another human being flares into something more committed, more passionate. It may be that I am inventing the impact she had on me at that first meeting, simply re-inventing history to justify my later excesses. I'm not sure. Anyway, wherever and whenever it happened, however quickly or slowly, I succumbed to her, and the affair began.
I'm not a particularly inquisitive man where my friends, or my bed-partners, are concerned. As a lawyer one spends one's time going through the dirt of other people's lives, and frankly, eight hours a day of that is quite enough for me. When I'm out of the office my pleasure is in letting people be. I don't pry. I don't dig, I just take them on face value.
Jacqueline was no exception to this rule. She was a woman I was glad to have in my life whatever the truth of her past. She possessed a marvellous sang-froid, she was witty, bawdy, oblique. I had never met a more enchanting woman. It was none of my business how she'd lived with Ben, what the marriage had been like etc., etc. That was her history. I was happy to live in the present, and let the past die its own death. I think I even flattered myself that whatever pain she had experienced, I could help her forget it.
Certainly her stories had holes in them. As a lawyer, I was trained to be eagle-eyed where fabrications were concerned, and however much I tried to put my perceptions aside I sensed that she wasn't quite coming clean with me. But everyone has secrets: I knew that. Let her have hers, I thought.
Only once did I challenge her on a detail of her pretended life-story. In talking about Ben's death, she let slip that he had got what he deserved. I asked her what she meant. She smiled, that Gioconda smile of hers, and told me that she felt there was a balance to be redressed between men and women. I let the observation pass. After all, I was obsessed by that time, past all hope of salvation; whatever argument she was putting, I was happy to concede it.
She was so beautiful, you see. Not in any two-dimensional sense: she wasn't young, she wasn't innocent, she didn't have that pristine symmetry so favored by ad-men and photographers. Her face was plainly that of a woman in her early forties: it had been used to laugh and cry, and usage leaves its marks. But she had a power to transform herself, in the subtlest way, making that face as various as the sky. Early on, I thought it was a make-up trick. But as we slept together more and more, and I watched her in the mornings, sleep in her eyes, and in the evenings, heavy with fatigue, I soon realized she wore nothing on her skull but flesh and blood. What transformed her was internal: it was a trick of the will.
And, you know, that made me love her all the more.
Then one night I woke with her sleeping beside me. We slept often on the floor, which she preferred to the bed. Beds, she said, reminded her of marriage. Anyway, that night she was lying under a quilt on the carpet of my room, and I, simply out of adoration, was watching her face in sleep.
If one has given oneself utterly, watching the beloved sleep can be a vile experience. Perhaps some of you have known that paralysis, staring down at features closed to your enquiry, locked away from you where you can never, ever go, into the other's mind. As I say, for us who have given ourselves, that is a horror. One knows, in those moments, that one does not exist, except in relation to that face, that personality. Therefore, when that face is closed down, that personality is lost in its own unknowable world, one feels completely without purpose. A planet without a sun, revolving in darkness.
Excerpted from Darkness by Ellen Datlow. Copyright © 2010 Ellen Datlow. Excerpted by permission of Tachyon Publications.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsIntroduction Ellen Datlow,
Foreword Stefan Dziemianowicz,
Jacqueline Ess: Her Will And Testament Clive Barker,
Dancing Chickens Edward Bryant,
The Greater Festival of Masks Thomas Ligotti,
The Pear-Shaped Man George R. R. Martin,
The Juniper Tree Peter Straub,
Two Minutes Forty-Five Seconds Dan Simmons,
The Power And The Passion Pat Cadigan,
The Phone Woman Joe R. Lansdale,
Teratisms Kathe Koja,
Chattery Teeth Stephen King,
A Little Night Music Lucius Shepard,
Calcutta, Lord o Nerves Poppy Z. Brite,
The Erl-King Elizabeth Hand,
The Dog Park Dennis Etchison,
Rain Falls Michael Marshall Smith,
Refrigerator Heaven David J. Schow Joyce Carol Oates,
Eaten (Scenes From a Moving Picture) Neil Gaiman,
The Specialist's Hat Kelly Link,
The Tree Is My Hat Gene Wolfe,
Heat Steve Rasnic Tem,
No Strings Ramsey Campbell,
Stitch Terry Dowling,
Dancing Men Glen Hirshberg,
My Father's Mask Joe Hill,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
All really good stories. Loved the book