Kevin – A Short Story about Customer Service

(It has been quite a while since I wrote any fiction. I came up with an idea for a short story on my way into work on Thursday and had finished writing it before I went to bed that night. It’s based on a guy I used to work with. He was a good friend. More of this is true than you might want to believe. I hope you like it.)

Kevin, a carpark attendant at Mundrum Shopping Centre, is facing an extremely rude and irate customer. The customer is complaining about a parking coupon that she believes to have malfunctioned. Kevin calmly delivers the rote explanation of how the system works – the coupons deduct two hours off the parking, not two euros; if you’ve stayed longer than two hours, you still need to pay. The customer’s rage has overpowered her ability to think rationally, and she predictably demands to speak to Kevin’s boss. When the boss arrives, he comes down on the customer’s side and gives her free parking with a smile, apologising for Kevin’s attitude. Without making eye contact with the employee he has just stabbed in the back, the manager tells Kevin to wipe down the ticket paystations and withdraws to his office.

The service corridors that run behind the carpark walls are almost always empty. There’s a turn at the end of one of these corridors that leads to an emergency fire-exit. About 3 metres before this turn, there’s a door to the garbage-collection area. This small section of the corridor is a safe haven for slackers. There’s no security cameras, and on the off-chance that an intruder enters this realm, the echoey nature of the corridor will provide ample warning to the truant worker and allow them to escape in the opposite direction. This little patch of land is where Kevin has established his snail farm.

Every now and then, a car drives into the carpark, sheltering a snail under its fender. Sometimes the snails fall off and end up on the carpark floor, and whenever Kevin finds one of these forsaken gastropods, he takes it to his snail sanctuary. There are 7 snails on the wall here, growing fat on a diet of mayonnaisey lettuce from the turkey sandwiches that Kevin buys in the shop upstairs. He feeds them every day.

Sitting on an upturned shopping basket, facing the creatures he considers his closest friends, Kevin comforts himself with a large bag of crisps. He does his best to ignore the rancid stench from butcher’s dumpster that’s just around the corner, a stench exacerbated by the hot weather. Kevin is thinking about the events in his life that have led him here – dropping out of high-school, emmigrating in the hopes of a new life, taking the first job he was interviewed for and staying in it despite it making him unhappier than he has ever been. This job is awful. Not only are the customers cruel and the shifts long and dull, but Kevin is 350 lbs and the heavy steel-toe leather boots he is required to wear are Hell on his feet. Daily bouts of prolonged mental anguish and physical pain have recently been leading him to thoughts of suicide. He concedes to himself that tonight might be the night that he goes home and overdoses on pain medication. He doesn’t want to face another day at the carpark.

He gets a call on his radio telling him to help a customer that has gotten stuck at the exit, but the radio signal is bad in this corridor and after a delayed response, he takes another five minutes to journey to the exit to free the distressed soul. He opens the gate without question and waves the car on. The exiting driver rewards Kevin’s effort with a vulgar comment about his weight and mental capabilities.

Kevin is called to the office afterwards and the boss asks him where he was when he was being called and why he had taken so long. Kevin claims that he had been using the toilet. “You have to ask before going to toilet!”, the boss informs him. Kevin later jokes with his younger coworkers about how he would promptly soil himself if the boss ever denied such a request. He claims that he would gladly disregard his own discomfort and hygiene and finish out the day’s work with a turd in his britches if doing so would cause offense to the customers and dismay to his boss.

There’s soon another rude customer, this one is looking for his car – “You don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve already checked Level 1.” But Kevin does know what he’s talking about; he goes through this routine several times an hour. He tells customer again that his car is actually on Level 1M, the level between Level 1 and Level 2. The customer informs Kevin that it is stupid to have two Level 1s. He’s right, but he’s speaking as if it was Kevin who had been in charge of naming the levels of the car park. Kevin, doing his best to maintain the appearance of sympathy tells the customer that he will show him a shortcut to the right level. They head into the corridor that leads to the snail farm. When they are near the end of the corridor, Kevin points to the door that opens onto the garbage-collection area and tells the customer to go ahead. As soon as the customer has his back to him, Kevin takes the shoelaces that he has removed from his heavy, leather boots from his pocket, lunges forward and swiftly wraps them around the customer’s neck. Pulling tightly, in an act of seething, malevolent hatred, Kevin’s face reddens in synchronicity with the customer’s. His eyes are open so wide that they seem to be stretching his sockets. His greasy lips are pursed tightly in a delirious grimace. After 30 seconds of intense struggling, he has to remind himself to breathe, his conscious mind overcoming his self-loathing and extinguishing his deathwish vicariously through the demise of his victim. During the attack, Kevin’s mind is aflame. He acknowledges to himself that what he is doing is terribly wrong while simultaneously contemplating the factors that have led to this – is this the end-result of not being breastfed as a baby? These thoughts follow each other in quick succession, the idea of breasts encouraging his already growing erection. It has been a long time since he has been this close to anyone. The tinge of sexual excitement now fully unhinges his mind. “Mama, Mama!” he whispers in the dying man’s ear, his breath still reeking of cheese and onion crisps, “I just want you to love me. Please, Mama, I need you to love me!”

Leaving it as late as possible, Kevin calls into his boss at 9.30 pm and reports a potential gas leak by one of the fire-exits. At this stage, all of the customers and most of the mall’s staff have gone home. A few carpark attendants are kept on site to help cinema-goers and restaurant diners as they exit. The boss is about to head home but decides that a potential gas leak sounds serious enough to necessitate a check. He reluctantly follows Kevin into the service corridors, bringing his stuff from the office so that he can leave directly once this is sorted. Once they get to the snail farm and the boss notices a large mound by the wall that has been covered with a tarp, Kevin takes the fire extinguisher from its mount beside the fire-exit and uses its rounded edge to viciously wallop the back of his boss’s head. With the boss’s body now lying parallel to the corpse under the tarp, Kevin slips off one of his own laceless boots and peels off a slimy, hot sock. The stench from this sock is more vile than anything he has witnessed today. He stuffs it into his boss’s unconscious mouth. Kevin takes off his other boot and sock and drops them to the floor. Next, he removes his trousers and underpants, leaving his sweaty, hairy ass completely exposed. His penis remains out of sight, hidden behind his sizeable paunch. Kevin steps one foot over his boss’s head, squats and begins to push out a hot loaf. “Please sir, may I go to the bathroom, please?”, he softly murmurs as the first log slides out solid, followed by a fart-powered spray of hot shit-chunks. He stands up and grabs two snails from the wall, quickly chucking them into his mouth and chewing violently. Shards of shell dig into his gums and his mouth fills with blood and snail guts. He lowers himself back down, suspending his head directly over the boss’s shit besmeared face and lets the disgusting  mixture in his mouth pour out, covering the chocolate cake like an exotic sauce. “Breakfast is served”, he chuckles to himself as he stands up and picks up his remaining sock to wipe his horrid ass. After calmly putting his pants and boots back on, he places one foot on the dirty man’s throat and exerts all of his weight on it. The man’s trachea is crushed instantly and he dies.

Tidying up is a surprisingly simple operation. The shops are long closed, and there’s nobody about to hinder the work. Kevin strips the corpses, puts their clothes into plastic bags and then puts these into his backpack. He drags the bodies a few meters and loads them into the butcher’s dumpster. This will be collected in the morning and emptied at a depot far away. The bodies might be discovered once it gets there, but they’ll probably just be minced up and turned into fertilizer.

Driving home that night in his boss’s Mercedes, Kevin feels good. He stops off at the off-license and buys a bottle of expensive brandy. When he gets home, he orders a tasty pizza. He sits on his bed, enjoying his feast. For the first time in months, Kevin is not dreading tomorrow.

 

 

H.P. Lovecraft and the Black Magickal Tradition – John L. Steadman

h.p. lovecraft black magickal tradition - john lH.P. Lovecraft and the Black Magickal Tradition – John L. Steadman
Weiser – 2015

H.P. Lovecraft was a horror writer who did not believe in the supernatural. Despite his clear declarations of the contrary, some people believe that Lovecraft’s horrors were real. This book examines both the beliefs of those people and the beliefs of other occultists that have some similarities to the ideas in Lovecraft’s fiction.

Let’s start with the first group, the nutjobs that believed that Lovecraft was psychic. Both Simon and Kenneth Grant believed that Lovecraft had channeled his horrors from another dimension. I’ve talked plenty of shit about those lads before, so let’s just say that Grant was mental and full of crap, and “Simon” is a con-artist. Steadman, the author of this book, spends paragraphs defending the legitimacy of the Simon Necronomicon, but in a note at the end of the book he concedes that Simon might just be Peter Levenda. Also, Steadman, while discussing Simon’s work, refers to Michael Baigent as “a reputable scholar”. When I was reviewing Dead Names, the book in which Simon referenced Baigent, I called him out for referencing a bullshit artist. Dead Names might best be described as a work of pseudo-non-fiction though, so a reference to a bullshit artist doesn’t really make it any less enjoyable. Steadman’s book, however, is presented as an academic work. How could any person hoping to be taken seriously refer to the author of Holy Blood, Holy Grail as “a reputable scholar”? Come on.

lovecraftian occultistsThe authors of these occult texts were clearly influenced by Lovecraft. It’s a pity they’re all garbage.

There are also chapters in here on Chaos Magicians and LaVey’s Church of Satan. Like Simon and Grant, these lads deliberately brought Lovecraftian elements into their belief systems, and although I wasn’t hugely interested in the precise ways in which they did so (I’ve already read lots of the original literature being summarized here.), I can’t complain about their inclusion in this book.  This stuff on the Lovecraftian occultists was fine. The chapters on Wicca and voodoo were not.

Wicca and voodoo have nothing to do with Lovecraft, but Steadman spends chapters trying to show how these belief systems are similar to some of Lovecraft’s ideas. There is no reason to believe, nor has anyone ever suggested, that Lovecraft was responsible for the foundation of Wicca or Voodoo, and I thought that the purpose of these chapters was to show how Lovecraft’s ideas resembled parts of these foreign belief systems in an attempt to suggest that he was psychically in tune with their practitioners and/or spirits. However, in the conclusion to the book, Steadman claims, “I have shown that Lovecraft has had an indirect, though clearly definable, influence on current Vodou and Wiccan practices.” That’s not what I got out of what he has written at all. In saying that, I have to admit that I found it extremely difficult to pay attention to these boring, lame chapters.

Steadman goes into quite a lot of detail on the beliefs and practices of wiccans, voodoo practitioners, members of the Typhonian O.T.O., and Satanists. I’m so sick of reading this kind of rubbish that I found myself skimming large passages of it. I suppose it’s my fault for choosing to read another book on the occult.

lovecraft collectionsI’ve been meaning to go back over Lovecraft’s own work for a while. It has been about 10 years since I last read some of these stories. I’m going to use the Wordsworth editions next.

H.P. Lovecraft and the Black Magickal Tradition is not a good book; it’s actually quite unpleasant to read. It’s the literary equivalent of Nickelback writing an album about a Morbid Angel song. The academic presentation combined with the author’s willful naivety is infuriating. There was a part in here where Steadman tries to make it seem that it’s common knowledge that the Knights Templar were Satanists. If he’s trying to get away with rubbish like that, who knows what other falsehoods he has slipped in here. I’d be a bit meaner, but this book is only a few years old and the author has an internet presence, so he might see this review. John L. Steadman, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry, but your book is handicapped.

 

The Spear of Destiny – Trevor Ravenscroft

spear of destiny ravenscroftThe Spear of Destiny – Trevor Ravenscroft
Weiser Books – 1997 (First published 1973)

I’m going to have to summarize this one before I comment about it.

In the late 50s, the author of this book, Trevor Ravenscroft, met a lad, Walter Johannes Stein, who had spent years researching the Holy Grail and the Spear of Destiny. Stein was going to write a book about the stuff he had learned, but he was dying, so he gave all of his information to Ravenscroft so that he could write the book instead. The Spear of Destiny, or the Spear of Longinus, is the spear that pierced Christ’s side when he was on the cross.

One morning, when he was a young man, Stein woke up and started reciting entire paragraphs of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival, one of the seminal Holy Grail texts. Fascinated by his strange new ability, he decided to buy a copy of Parzival, presumably to compare with the passages he was reciting. Well, the copy he bought had some interesting notes in it. He tracked down its previous owner through his bookseller. The previous owner was Hitler. Hitler and Stein became friends (kinda). Together, they went to a museum in Austria to see a spearhead that some had claimed was from the Spear of Longinus.

When they were standing in front of the spearhead, Hitler started to glow and Stein realised that his friend was being possessed by Satan.

You see, Hitler was interested in the grail and spear because he thought they could provide him with access to the Akashic records. The Akashic records, for those of you who don’t know, are the imaginary library of memories of every human experience ever experienced by anyone. Hitler wanted access to these records for the purposes of gaining power, but he didn’t want to spend a lifetime of meditation to get there so he took a bunch of hallucinogenics in a black magic ritual to speed up the process. Unfortunately, while tripping on peyote, Hitler became possessed by the Devil. The Devil is actually one of the negative powers that came into being after some of the species that lived on the lost city of Atlantis evolved from stretchy mutants into Aryans.

Oh, and Heinrich Himmler was a zombie.

Ok, so Ravenscroft goes into a lot more detail than that, and I’ve left out all of the stuff about psychic time-travellers, but the above is a pretty fair summary of this book.

There are many, many issues that a student of history might take with Ravenscroft’s account, but there are two facts that are especially worth considering.

  1. The Hofburg Spear, the actual, physical spear that the events in book revolve around, is definitely not the Spear of Longinus.

The Hofburg Spear is of medival origin. It didn’t exist until hundreds of years after the death of Christ. This single fact obliterates nearly all of Ravenscroft’s claims.

  1. Ravenscroft never actually met Walter Johannes Stein, the supposed source for nearly all of his information.

Ravenscroft starts his book off telling his reader that Walter Johannes Stein, his good friend, deserves most of the credit for writing this book. The first chapter of this book describes, in detail, the pair’s first meeting. A few years after this book was published, Ravenscroft admitted that he never met Stein in person. He said that he had only ever been able to talk to his spirit through a medium.

When you take away the subject and the source, there’s really nothing left. It’s hard to find a footing for any meaningful criticism of this book. It’s too stupid a book to bother pointing out where it’s factually inaccurate. Ravenscroft is clearly attempting to be a part of the fantastic realism movement started by Pauwels and Bergier, but his book is one step stupider than the stuff they put out. While they encouraged speculation, Ravenscroft just tells lies. In Arktos, Joscelyn Godwin describes The Spear of Destiny as “the ultimate degradation” of the Frenchmen’s work and “blood-curdling work of historical reinvention”. A fair assessment.

Some have claimed that this book was originally meant to be a novel but that Ravenscroft’s publisher convinced him to write it as non-fiction so that it would sell more copies. I’ve no idea if that’s true or not. The book is so inflated with shockingly boring details that have little relevance to the story that it’s hard to imagine how it would have turned out as a novel. The story here is rather anti-climactic too, so I’d hope that Ravenscroft would have come up with something better for a work of fiction.

As a work of non-fiction, this is seriously one of the worst books I have ever read. I know I say that kind of thing more often than other people, but this really was a turd. The Spear of Destiny was written in an era when it was considerably more difficult for people to fact check an author’s claims, but much of the stuff that Ravenscroft tries to get away with is so clearly rubbish that I can’t imagine anyone being able to believe this shit. This book makes Holy Blood, Holy Grail seem like a serious academic study written to impeccable standards. Batshit crazy books can be entertaining, but this one wasn’t. It was tortuous.

The Spear of Destiny is a surprisingly popular book (my copy is from the 9th printing!), and you’ll find plenty of other articles online that do a better job of discussing its specific inaccuracies. I liked this one, in which the author worries about how to write about this book “in a way that was not plain sneering.” I hold myself to no such standards, so here is a picture I made of Jesus and Hitler spit-roasting Ravenscroft:

jesus hitler

Meeting the Other Crowd – Eddie Lenihan

meeting the other crowd - eddie lenihanMeeting the Other Crowd, The Fairy Stories of Hidden Ireland – Eddie Lenihan
Gill and Macmillan – 2003

I first encountered the author of this book in a Tg4 documentary about Alice Kyteler, the witch of Kilkenny. Just looking at him, you can tell that the man is a legend. There are loads of videos of him telling stories online, and you’d be better off watching them than reading this review. About 3 years ago, I was visiting Ireland and somehow ended up in the Freemason’s Hall in Dublin. I got chatting to one of the lads there about books on Irish folklore, and he recommended this. I bought it the next day.

The astute reader will have noticed a decline in the amount of non-fiction being reviewed on this blog recently. This is largely due to my developing revulsion towards occultism. I don’t know whether it’s having a kid, a job and less time or if it’s just that I’ve come to know what to expect from new-age imbeciles, but I simply don’t have the patience to wade through the sort of rubbish that I used to review. Standing in front of my bookshelf, trying to choose between an outdated book about aliens and a pamphlet about magic beans, I cast my eyes to the ground in despair. It was on its way to the ground that my line of sight crossed the copy of Meeting the Other Crowd on my bottom shelf, wedged in between books on the Holy Grail and serpent worship. Yes, this book would work. The topic is occult in every sense of the word and from what I had seen of the author, I knew it would be interesting

Fairies though. Isn’t that a bit lame?

Let’s make this very clear. The fairies of Ireland are not the pleasant, wingèd creatures, fluttering about and turning little girls into princesses that some might expect. Fairies are wrathful, violent, and manipulative entities that live in a shadow world, emerging to kidnap children and seek violent retribution for any actions they have perceived as wrongs against them. They’re not objectively bad or evil, but they are certainly the kind of things that are best avoided.

This book is a collection of stories that Eddie Lenihan collected over what seems to have been several decades. He traveled around Ireland, recording old people telling the fairy stories that they had heard throughout their lives. The tales have been transcribed fairly precisely, and they retain a flow of speech that makes it easy to imagine the voice of the teller as you’re reading their words. While all of the stories are followed with a brief commentary by Lenihan, I would have liked a little more information about the story tellers and when they were recorded.

The other issue here is the consistency of the different stories. Some of these accounts are absolutely fascinating, but some are little over a page long and present only minor variations to other stories in the collection. I suppose this was probably inevitable given the nature of the book though, and I’d prefer for these shorter stories to be included than omitted.

Unlike the authors of much of the occult material that I have reviewed on here, the tellers of these tales had, as far as I can tell, an honest conviction in the stories they were telling. These people weren’t out to proselytize or to make a buck. They were telling stories that they had been asked to tell. That in itself makes it much easier to both enjoy the stories as stories and to consider them as something more than imaginary.

A skeptic might claim that these accounts are the attempts of uneducated, rural people to rationalize the traumatic events in their lives (infant deaths, thefts, abductions) but that interpretation doesn’t do these stories justice. Whether or not the events in these tales occurred precisely as they are described has no bearing on their beauty and cultural worth. While I’m not entirely convinced about the objective existence of fairies, I don’t think I’d ever enter a Fairy Fort, just to be safe.

I’d recommend this book for anyone with an interest in folklore and/or malevolent shadow people. I’m looking forward to reading more of Lenihan’s books in the future.

It’s a Long Way to the Top…

…and this book isn’t even halfway there.

shock rock - jeff gelbShock Rock – Edited by Jeff Gelb
Pocket Books – 1992

Shock Rock is a collection of horror stories about rock music. I love horror stories and rock music, so this book seemed very appealing to me. Unfortunately, out of the twenty stories in here, maybe four are interesting and only two of these are really good.

The longest story by far, and probably the book’s biggest draw, is Stephen King’s You Know They’ve Got a Hell of a Band. I read this in Nightmares and Dreamscapes when I was a kid and again a few years ago. I didn’t bother reading it a third time. It’s basically a second rate version of Children of the Corn but with dead rock stars instead of creepy children.

The only two stories in here that I really liked were Richard Christian Matheson’s Groupies and Thomas Tessier’s Addicted to Love, neither of which feature any supernatural elements. And while I did quite enjoy reading Tessier’s story, it’s a blatant rip off of American Psycho. (Tessier’s copyright is from 1992, Bret Easton Ellis’s novel had been published in 1991.)

The rest of the stories aren’t absolutely horrible to read, but they were mostly pretty forgettable and fairly similar. They are nice and short though (they’re more like music videos than films in their scope), so this book made good reading for my commute to work.

I reckon it’s fairly difficult to overestimate the power of music; it changes the ways in which people think and act. It’s is a very elusive force though. A song that brings a person to tears might have no effect on that same individual at a different time. Also, unlike a painting, which exists as a physical object, music isn’t something you can point a finger at. Trying to use text to describe the way that music sounds is absolutely futile, but without its sound music can have no effect. Novels or short stories about music can never really deliver what they seem to promise. I suppose that the only way around this would have been to have put out an accompanying soundtrack with the book.

I actually think a book of short stories with a prescribed musical soundtrack could be really cool, but I don’t think this would would have saved Shock Rock. There’s a pretty wide range of stories in here, covering several genres of rock music, and the musical accompaniment for the collection would be too discordant and jumbled to be enjoyable.

And maybe I’m just an annoying jerk, but my complaint about Michael Slade’s Ghoul can be applied here too. The music discussed in this book is largely inappropriate for the subject matter. Why would anyone write a horror story about Jimi Hendrix or Bob Dylan? Neither wrote scary music, and neither of these stories’ plots actually rely on their featured rockstar; the authors could have replaced Jimi with Jim and Dylan with Kristofferson with minimal effort. The editor of the book, Jeff Gelb, thanks the following bands, singers for their inspiration: The Beach Boys, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Tangerine Dream, Vangelis, Kate Bush and AC/DC. While those bands (or at least most of them) are cool, I probably wouldn’t include any of them on the soundtrack to a horror film.

I suppose that the line between commercial appeal and a worthwhile product is a tricky one to walk. A book of stories about a living Glenn Danzig fighting off werewolves in an attempt to track down a copy of a cursed, unreleased Morbid Angel demo might not have had the same appeal as Shock Rock, but I guarantee it would have been a better book.

I’m discouraged, but not defeated. My search for the perfect blend of horror and rock’n’roll continues. Coming soon:
horror rock novels

Henry James was a Dry Shite

turn screw aspern james henryThe Aspern Papers and Turn of the Screw – Henry James
Penguin – 1984

I first read Turn of the Screw five years ago. I remember it taking a far longer time to get through than I had expected. While it’s only a novella, the text is remarkably dense, and I frequently needed to reread paragraphs to understand what they meant. I have worked as a teacher/tutor for many years, and rereading Turn of the Screw felt like an exercise in professional development for me; it allowed me to feel the confusion that a student goes through when they are confronted with text that is above their reading level. By the time I got around to rereading the book, I had mostly forgotten what happens in the story, so it was just as difficult the second time around.

Many, if not most, reviews of Turn of the Screw remark on the frustrating complexity of James’ sentence structures, and I have read several reviews that claim that the complicated text adds to the story’s atmosphere of claustrophobia and confusion. It’s an interesting technique, but I didn’t enjoy it. The story here is grand, but the writing ruins it.

Also included in this book is The Aspern Papers, another novella by James. This one is about a man trying to get at some papers that are in an old lady’s closet. It has no supernatural element to it, but I enjoyed it more than Turn of the Screw.

ghost stories henry james
Ghost Stories of Henry James
Wordsworth – Supposedly published in 2001

Last time I was home, I went to one of my favourite book shops and bought a bunch of books from the Wordsworth Tales of Mystery and the Supernatural series. I had picked 5 out, but if you bought them in groups of 3, they were cheaper. This collection by James was the only one that I didn’t already have and I had forgotten how unpleasant reading him was, so I threw it in.

These stories are generally fairly crappy. The Ghostly Rental was probably the only one I actually enjoyed. The Romance of Certain Old Clothes was readable, but much like the exceedingly boring Owen Wingrave, the ghost bit only happens on the very last page. The Private Life and the Jolly Corner are based on interesting ideas, but they’re not spooky stories. The Third Person is one of the most boring, shitty, pooey-bum-bum stories I have ever read. This collection also contains Turn of the Screw.

These aren’t ghost stories for people who like ghost stories. They are stories that feature ghosts for people who like imagining that they’re clever and smelling their own farts. I really, really hope that I never have to read anything by Henry James ever again.

M.R. James > Henry James x 1000.

Ghoul – Michael Slade

ghoul michael sladeGhoul – Michael Slade
Signet – 1989 (Originally published 1987)

I bought this book at a library booksale last year because it had a spooky name and it only cost 25 cents. I don’t think I have ever made such a fortunate purchase.

After a prologue which describes a gang of teenage boys burying their friend alive while listening to Black Sabbath and talking about H.P. Lovecraft, I put the book down and took a deep breath. A novel about teenage mischief, heavy metal, and classic horror? This had to be awesome.

I read a few chapters more. After some remarkably graphic violence, the narrative moves to a rock club in Vancouver that is “Situated on the main floor of a rundown skid row building” with “no sign to mark its presence for those not in the know”. Now, most of my readers won’t know this, but aside from reading and reviewing spooky books, my other main hobby is attending and playing concerts in unmarked, rundown buildings on Vancouver’s skid row.

13730910_10157361294280724_6129985222740697217_o
At this point, I wondered how a text, written by another person, could be so specifically relevant to my interests. I first considered if the author had stalked me and then gone on to write a book tailored to my tastes. I was only one year old when the book was written though, so this seemed unlikely. No, this book was not written for me to read. I was born to read this book.

The rest of the novel is a fast paced thriller about a collection of insane, depraved murderers, at least two of whom play in a Lovecraft themed rock band named Ghoul. The horror here is of the bloodthirsty, slimy, two-headed freak locked in a cage variety. I’d be afraid to call anything splatterpunk because I’m not really sure what that means, but this book defines itself as such, and the label seems quite fitting. It has guitars, mohawks and a lot of blood and guts. I’ve read books that describe horrendous acts of violence before, but don’t think I’ve read anything quite as grossout gory as this. One scene describes a man disemboweling another individual, cutting a hole in his skull, debraining him, and then proceeding to fill the victim’s cranial cavity with his own internal organs. Cool.

Just because a book is about cool things doesn’t mean it’s going to be a good read. Ghoul, however, is a mighty enjoyable novel. It’s extremely well researched and plotted out. The authors are a pair of lawyers who specialise in the criminally insane. They are also clearly fans of classic horror. One wouldn’t have to be a horror buff to enjoy this novel, but I was glad to be able to understand the bits about Lovecraft’s stories. The only aspect of the book that I felt the authors could have researched more thoroughly was rock and roll stuff.

First off, Ghoul’s music and how it sounds isn’t very important to the book at all. Whether it’s punk rock, goth rock, heavy metal or some other genre of cacophony is unclear. I’m going to refer to it as heavy metal based on other bands that are mentioned in the book.

Iron Maiden, Alice Cooper, Motley Crue, Twisted Sister, Black Sabbath, Grim Reaper and AC/DC are Ghoul‘s musical influences. Aside from Grim Reaper, these bands are all household names. Heavy metal fans might listen to all of these groups, but within any underground metal scene, it’s standard practice to champion lesser-known bands. Bands who play in the venues that Ghoul play in and who act like Ghoul usually make a point of letting people know how esoteric their tastes in music are. I know this book was written more than 30 years ago, but even at that stage Venom and Mercyful Fate had put out several albums each and been brought to the attention of the public by the PMRC, the Misfits and Grave 45 had put out a bunch of horror themed punk records, Metallica had recorded and released several songs about Lovecraftian entities, and Death and Black metal were starting to take off. Instead of researching and referencing this stuff, the authors chose to go backstage at a Motley Crue concert for their insight into rock’n’roll. The novel was presumably written to appeal to lots of people and referencing bigger bands might make it more accessible to the masses, but seeing that the authors worked pretty hard to make the detective stuff believable, I thought they should have put a bit more effort into the rock’n’roll side of things. The version of rock that they present is the imaginary rock of which evangelical parents are afraid.

At one point, they refer to Highway to Hell as a Grim Reaper song. Grim Reaper have lots of songs with Hell in the title, and I wouldn’t hold it against anyone for getting them mixed up, but confusing Grim Reaper and AC/DC is a sin against rock.

That being said, some of the trends in heavy metal that these authors imagined soon became reality. It was only a few years after the publication of Ghoul that the shit hit the fan in Norway’s Black Metal scene and heavy metal band members started murdering people and burning buildings down. Also, Lovecraft’s mythos has become an extremely popular topic for death metal bands to write songs and albums about. Most prophetic of all though, would be the authors’ idea of a band called Ghoul that put on elaborate stage shows and sing about death and violence.

Ghoul (the real ones) are a metal band from Oakland that have been together since 2001. Like the Ghoul of the novel, this band also have a hyper-violent horror theme going on. I can’t say for certain how deliberate their choice of name was, but I can’t help but presume that at least one of the members has read the book. Their song lyrics are about sewer dwelling maniacs (Sewer Chewer), axe murders (Maniaxe, Bury the Hatchet), catacombs, crypts, graveyards (Into the Catacombs, Forbidden Crypts, Graveyard Mosh) and torturing freaks (Mutant Mutilator). These are all important motifs in the book. The band even have an album (and song) called Splattertrash. A few years ago, I actually saw the real Ghoul playing a show in a rundown building on Vancouver’s skid row, almost exactly like the Ghoul in the novel.

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Written in the era of Video Nasties and the PMRC, Ghoul’s stance on rock music and horror is a bit confusing. One would think that the authors of an extremely gory, horror novel would do what they could to defend their creation, but the text seems to imply the potential culpability of both horror and rock. Not only are the dangers of reading horror fiction and attending rock concerts discussed at length and demonstrated by the characters, but a list of actual rock’n’roll-related acts of violence is given at the end of the book. Were the authors just trying to give their novel an extra edge by making it seem dangerous, or did they actually write it in an attempt to encourage violent acts? The latter option might seem ridiculous, but remember that the authors were both criminal lawyers. By encouraging acts of violence, they’d be setting themselves up to get more work.

I have never been so pleasantly surprised by a book. Ghoul is an awesome, awesome book, and I recommend that you read it immediately.