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Dark Forces: Part 3 –

Dark Forces: Part 3

Sunday , 8, January 2023 1 Comment

I read the last third of stories in Dark Forces.

Karl Edward Wagner, “Where the Summer Ends”: I read this one back in summer 1983 in the collection In a Lonely Place. Wagner was a rising star in the late 1970s. He was viewed as the new hope in sword & sorcery. He also wrote horror fiction, mostly for the small press. Graduate student Mercer is friendly with Gradie who has a junk yard with second hand store. Gradie drinks lots of alcohol and is spooked. Something killed his dog. The corpse of his buddy is found in the kudzu that is overtaking a blighted section of Knoxville, TN. Wagner is in boomer mode with Mercer and his girlfriend smoking weed and listening to awful 70s music (Fleetwood Mac- Buckingham-Nicks era, not Peter Green). There is a climax with the revelation that something came over with kudzu. It hides in it. Gradie figured it out from occupation duty in post-war Japan. Wagner is riffing on Arthur Machen with the kudzu monkey devil attack at the end. The story ends abruptly. I would have loved to see a longer version with Mercer fighting his way out with a shotgun using double 00 buck. Rating: pass/thumb’s up.

T. E. D. Klein, “Children of the Kingdom”: I first read this one in the collection Dark Gods. I don’t remember when. Klein like Wagner, was a rising star in horror. He edited Twilight Zone magazine and Night Cry magazine. He produced one novel and a handful of stories. Then he quit writing. This story is set in the summer of 1977 in New York City. It is a long one, novella length. First person account where character has to place his grandfather in a personal care home. One of the characters encountered is Father Pistachio, originally from Costa Rica. In the conversations, Pistachio talks about the legends of a pre-human race, the Thrice-Accursed. God sterilized their women so they carry off human women to mate with. The New York City black out happens and narrator’s wife is raped. She has an abortion. Klein has a great scene at the end of the story:

“For there was something in the opening, just beside my shoe: something watching intently, its face pressed against the bars. I saw, dimly in the streetlight, the empty craters where its eyes had been­-empty but for two red dots, like tiny beads–and the gaping red ring of its mouth, like the sucker of some undersea creature. The face was alien and cold, without human expression, yet I swear that those eyes regarded me with utter malevolence—and that they recognized me.”

Klein like Wagner is channeling Arthur Machen. The story is overlong and could have have had more power. The emphasis is on the wrong stuff. Rating: draw. Great idea but less than optimal delivery.

Robert Bloch, “The Night Before Christmas”: Kirby McCauley was able to get seven writers who got their start in the pulp magazine era. Robert Bloch and Henry Kuttner carried Weird Tales in the late 1930s after Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft died and Clark Ashton Smith quit writing. Starving artist gets a job from wealthy Argentinian shipping magnate to paint the portrait of his trophy wife. Artist has affair with wife while husband is away. She plans on leaving husband. I saw the ending half-way through the story but Bloch is a pro. Rating: pass/thumb’s up.

Ray Bradbury, “A Touch of Petulance”: I mentioned this story a couple years back when reprinted in the Hard Case Crime collection, Killer, Come Back to Me. Time travel story where protagonist meets the old man version of himself on the train. Old version is trying to change the past so his young version does not kill his wife.

Joe Haldeman, “Lindsay and the Red City Blues”: Tourist decides to leave over-crowded French Riviera for Morocco. He has not read his travel book well and a series of bad things happen to him. This is a very unpleasant story to read. I don’t know how to rate it as it works for what it is.

Manly Wade Wellman, “Owls Hoot in the Daytime”: Wellman and Ray Bradbury carried Weird Tales in the mid-1940s. This is a story of John the Balladeer. John travels to a rural area following on a story. He finds a dwarf living outside a cave where people have disappeared. There is a demonic entity that lures people with jewels to the underworld. John speculates it might be Moloch. John battles the demon sealing the hole in the cave. Wellman is in good if not top form in this story. Rating: a big pass/thumb’s up.

Richard Matheson & Richard Christian Matheson, “Where There’s a Will”: Character wakes up inside a coffin, six feet under. Put there by his enemies. No one is going to keep him down. This was sort of like an old E. C. Comics story. I liked it enough to dig out anthologies I own with stories by Richard Christian Matheson. Rating: pass/thumb’s up.

Stephan King, “The Mist”: The longest work in the book, novella in length. The anchor story for the anthology by the ultimate boomer horror writer. Destructive summer storm tears through Maine. Young artist drives to town with young son to get supplies accompanied by obnoxious big city lawyer neighbor. While in town, a thick mist enshrouds the area. Power is out but generator is working in the grocery store. Strange things are half seen in the mist. Then tentacles carry of a bag boy who ventures outside. King has a series of other worldly creatures that are predatory. Some characters get eaten. There are big spider like creatures, flying pterodactyl things, and the big tentacles attached to something massive. There is speculation on a top-secret military base might have something creating a door to another dimension or world. Finally, six decide to make a break, four make it to artist’s jeep. The story just ends mid-story with character writing down story at a motel lobby. I have read little King over the years, just a few short stories. He was popular so I avoided him. He does move the narrative but destroys the mood at times. Tentacles are carrying out the bag boy, one tentacle wraps around a red apron. The character thinks of his mother saying when he was young that he need that like he needed that “like a hen needs a red flag.” Lovecraft would not have approved. King needs to return and write a sequel/resolution to “The Mist.” Darabont gave the movie version a very nihilistic ending. Rating: pass/thumb’s up.

I have finally read Dark Forces beginning to end. I has spurred me to seek out more Richard Christian Matheson and dig out and finally read some unread Russell Kirk. If you read Dark Forces, have some awful 70s music on hand like Jackson Brown, James Taylor, and Bruce Springsteen to play in the background.

One Comment
  • John E. Boyle says:

    “awful 70s music on hand like Jackson Brown, James Taylor, and Bruce Springsteen”

    Cruel but I can’t really argue with that.

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