a wonderful, horrible collection of stories spread out across time and place, stuck together with blood and other bodily fluids. they are linked in the broad view by the fact that they all depict circumstances contributing to “how the world is” at the start of the first book in hale’s trilogy, The Bones of the Earth, with references to characters or situations that fans will recognize (♥ mosquito!! ♥), but they are further linked within the collection with recurring characters and more intrinsically—by giving either endings or explanations to previous stories. i was scratching my head over the super-glue thing at the end of Black Occult Macabre Vol. 1 Issue 7* until The Black Hours kindly showed me the light, while black occult, etc explained what became of beatrice after her story ended.
in short: wonderful, gross, funny, but mostly gross.
The House of a Thousand Hearts
”Death tends to make most things more agreeable, so close your eyes if you’d like, because I’m going to kill you now. Then we’ll talk.”
this was my least favorite story in the collection, and i don’t know why. it certainly wasn’t poorly-written, but it took me a while to get into it—maybe i just wasn’t in the mood for a short story because of distract-o-mind. i read it twice, and i liked it more the second time, but it still got sixth place. which is fine—that just means i liked the stories more as i went forward into the collection. spooky house, family curse, monsters & murders; the chronological beginning of the Trauma.
That Which Walks Behind the Graves
”It will take years to wash the blood from the headstones.”
this story introduces herbert north to the mix; a character the perfect blend of affable, capable, and formidable. he is a monster hunter by trade, called to the english marsh-town of cairn to investigate some unseemly dismemberments. it’s like splatterfilm meets x-files meets nick cave murder ballad. really fun, really bloody.
The Easiest Job in the World
For now, for once, her character flaws would become strengths. Too stubborn to die, too irrational to wait. If she had to kill, she’d kill, and if she had to dig her way out, she’d dig her way out. Of all things, Beatrice was a scavenger, and if she had to fight for the last scraps of life, then she would.
this one is my very favorite story, featuring the angry, down-on-her-luck, admirably badass and lamentably-named beatrice bacchus. when she unexpectedly runs into her former professor (and subject of many lustful daydreams) and he offers her a job watching his kid, she takes him up on it, because babysitting is easy money, right?
pause for laughter.
but it’s a great story—reaaaalllllyyyyy gross and also occasionally funny:
The papers crumpled beneath her weight as she moved like a beast along the floor. Most of them could be disregarded and subsequently discarded, but there were a few she couldn’t part with. They were of a heavy paper, comprised of cruel fibers that cut the flesh subtly for sustenance. They were folded three times to give an air of professionalism and burned when held. They were relentless, seemingly endless; torn pages from the tome of the Leech God, written with the blood of its whore, Academia.
They were student loan statements.
because the best horror is relatable horror. but (hopefully) that’s the last part that is relatable to you. if you have experienced the things that happen later in this story, i give you my profoundest sympathies.
Black Occult Macabre Vol. 1 Issue 7
”I told you there was a doll missing.”
the return of herbert north! and the first “real” appearance of connor prendergast, creator of the true crime/horror fiction zine from which the story takes its name. banter, dog boner, carnivorous tree, bloodbath horrorhouse, and yes—a spooky doll.
Nights in White Satin
”If they wanted us dead, we’d be dead. No grand scheme, Herbert. Just monsters doing what monsters do, and people like us making sure they don’t do it as much as they’d like.”
more herbert north! and this time we get to meet his oft-mentioned but only briefly glimpsed partner seth, in the Case of the Horribly Underestimated Wife! fun fact—if you queue up the moody blues song of the same name to begin at the exact moment you begin this story…you will have a pleasant soundtrack to a pretty bloody story. and you’ll probably need to start it over again, because it’s not a very long song, flute solo aside.
The Black Hours
”This is nice,” she said, squeezing them closer to her, eyes wide and nothing but pupil. “All it took was for one little clock to make us a family again.”
at about a hundred pages, this is the longest story in the collection, and in many ways, the most upsetting. not because of the imagery, although—ew. (particularly for the fellas—remember, oral hygiene is very important. just make sure you do it right) but because the family dynamic, both before and after the arrival of a spoooooooky clock, is so toxic, and in a way that isn’t necessarily horror-toxic, just plausibly manipulative/neglectful/selfish. it’s horror that kind of makes you sad. it’s more like a metaphor for the ways in which families can destroy themselves with carelessness and resentment. but also a metaphor for the ways in which they can destroy themselves by listening to a haunted freaking clock. this story also features a stuffed bat named scram, whom i love. and a dusting of herbert north.
i am very excited for the final(?) book in the series!
* although a closer reader/someone not reading this on their commute, subject to the necessary reading-pauses brought on by subway stops, would not have missed chekhov’s super glue.
note to self: do not play an “all gross adjective” version of scrabble with this author.
review to come