When a story starts out, “You know he’s the one who made your beloved niece disappear,” it doesn’t bode well.
The first line of The Button Bin in Mike Allen’s collection of horror stories, “Unseaming,” is enough to raise the hair on your arms and the back of your neck. Allen, already well known as an editor and writer of speculative poetry, delivered “Unseaming” several years ago in all its luscious, spine-tingling dread and horror.
Imagine standing in front of a window. You’re holding a brick.
You throw the brick through the window. With force.
You step close to the ragged hole and lower your hand, the sensitive flesh between your thumb and forefinger, steadily down toward a jagged shard jutting up at a crazy angle out into the open air.
That, in my opinion, is what it’s like to read “Unseaming.”
If the bizarre, mind-bending tales, often with an unexpected twist, aren’t enough, maybe the serrated, melodic writing will destabilize our repose as unnatural and chilling situations unfurl before us.
For example, we squirm uncomfortably but can’t look away as a grieving woman toes the edge of the abyss:
Soon she heard nothing else. An absence of music, an opposite of laughter, as if a throat sculpted pure mourning, emitted waves that drained away power and life as they washed over whatever they touched.
If horror can be born somehow of lyricism, Mike Allen accomplishes that. And expect nightmares of all types: surreal and self-made. In one story, a hiker witnesses this:
The monster ascended the far side of the gully on legs like arched lightning, climbing into the murk at heart-wrenching speed.
When I go hiking, “legs like arched lightning” is the last thing I want to see. Where’s the racoon family or the friendly old man with the cane? Please don’t put the words “gully” and “climbing with heart-wrenching speed” together and expect me to visit Mr. Baldy again anytime soon.
And then the other type of monstrosity declares THIS in the bookend of the collection:
To you I am a shriveled lump, but I speak with pride when I tell you that I’m a self-made monster, a Mandelbrot set, a Koch curve, a Menger sponge, and inside I have no boundaries.
It’s not easy to find a book of horror, I think, that opines the state of heightened primordial sociopathy approaching omnipotence in such deliberate language peppered with an alarming and passionate undertone. It takes talent to make the words “Koch curve” sound as deadly and sinister as “Nosferatu” or “The Mist.”
As an added point of intrigue, Mr. Allen has another collection of horror out there “The Spider Tapestries.” Spiders? Ughhh. Maybe it has nothing to do with spiders–I don’t know–but then why is she holding one–lovingly, I might add–on the cover?
At any rate, I haven’t delved into this one yet.
Maybe you’ll get there before I do. But be careful if you do.
Don’t cut yourself….too deep.