Teeth Where They Shouldn’t Be is Chad Stroup’s collection of short stories, released in multiple formats in June 2023 by Oddness Press, the publisher who also produces Forbidden Futures Magazine. The book is illustrated by Mike Dubisch. Stroup is also the author of the novels Secrets of the Weird and Sexy Leper from Bizarro Pulp Press. He is the singer for the band Icepield and a drag queen by the name of Jenn X. Oddness states on the back cover that the collection “pushes boundaries, challenges perceptions, and leaves an indelible mark by delving into a transformed world and the unfathomable depths of the human psyche.”
The short story “The Perfect Playground” from the 2017 anthology California Screamin’ was the first I read of Stroup’s work. I am always interested in setting-forward stories and was glad to revisit the story here. In the opening paragraphs to “The Perfect Playground” Stroup deftly delivers an immersive slice of life of Chula Vista, California, through the eyes of Heather, a “lone driver at her most vulnerable” singing along to the Smashing Pumpkins while driving home after a keg party. The visage of California dreaming does not last long as we flash forward to a glimpse of Heather’s exsanguinated body and a strange creature “tall as a street lamp. Androgynous features. Thin as a mantis. Arms and legs like broken yardsticks. Sheer skin like laurel vellum.” The mysterious unknown creatures kills mirthfully “gyrating like a sea monkey in heat.”
In opposition to this strange creature from Stroup’s wild imagination are a bunch of young California punks who spy the creature while lobbing water balloons full of milk onto cars passing beneath an underpass. The young gang’s “ordinary world” is thrust into the madness of facing down this thing — a thing that is part car-wash-inflatable-bendie-advertisement and yet also part nightmare ripped from the world of HR Giger. With this creature, which to my delight is never named or explained, Stroup embodies the horror of the state of California and life there. This high wire act, easier said than done, is an example of one of the many unique aspects Stroup delivers in his tales. The way Stroup structured the story and the ending place he leaves us with was a bold choice and will be sure to delight lovers of horror. Stroup makes it look easy.
Another standout tale is a story original to the collection, “Voices Carry.” The title shares a title with the 1980s song by the band ‘Til Tuesday, a song and music video with Aimee Mann’s rebellious vocals and spiked hair well known to those of us steeped in the MTV era. I bet this is not lost and likely intentionally done by Stroup, who is also a talented musician with a deep knowledge of music of many styles and eras, not merely the California underground.
Stroup’s “Voices Carry” opens with:
Maddy had no mouth, though she had teeth.
Sweet, sweet teeth with even sweeter secrets. She could never let Richard know the truth that hid behind her reticence. Not that he’d bother to notice. No, it was safer to euthanize her freedom. Keep the lie on life support. Indefinitely.
The passage’s reference to teeth resonates with the title of the collection as well as the ‘Til Tuesday song. In the book’s forward the punk rock spirit of Stroup’s writing is highlighted along with the body horror present in much of Stroup’s work. In the forward, Stroup is compared to horror legend Clive Barker, who influences Stroup with the notion “the worst monsters are not those with a monstrous aspect, like the denizens of Midian, but those with normal appearances and monstrous natures…”
“Voices Carry” is a great example of this influence. Stroup delivers not only a story of masques and masquerades but a world with the horrors of being invisible and the horrors of the violation of trust by a loved one on unflinching, full display.
Those who like their horror infused with a mix of the strange, bizarre, the uncanny and the punk ethic will be certainly find much potent fuel for their fires and will be stoked by Stroup’s 15 stories in Teeth Where They Shouldn’t Be.