In its illustrious 29*-year print run, Cemetery Dance magazine has published no less than 560 short stories and novel excerpts in 75** issues. As the super fan that I am, Exhumed is my humble attempt to read and review them all in monthly double reviews.
**there were also two “double issues” (#17/18 in 1993 and #74/75 in 2016), each of which squeezed twice as much content into a single magazine.
Last time I reviewed two Steve Vernon stories…
- “In Loving Memory” from Cemetery Dance #2 (1989), and
- “A Wiggle of Maggot, a Curl of Bacon” from Cemetery Dance #59 (2008).
Something very interesting happened with that publication. Mr. Vernon himself read and commented! Woo-hoo! Do check it out if you haven’t already, if for no other reason than to see what he thought. 😉
This month is the 11th installment of Exhumed and, as promised last month, I’ll be reviewing two Bentley Little stories.
Let’s get to it…
THE OLD: “The Sanctuary”
AUTHOR: Bentley Little
APPEARANCE: Cemetery Dance #2: June, 1989. (Story #3 of 11).
PLOT (with spoilers!):
When Cal came home from school, he noticed the windows were drawn. This worried him because the last time that’d happened in the daytime was the day “Father had had to pay.”
Inside, he finds his mother curled up on the couch. She’d been crying. When he asks, she sobs that she hadn’t meant to do it, that she couldn’t help herself, that The Rage had come over her again, that she had had to kill the neighbor man who had been innocently walking his dog.
Cal has by then noticed that there were no other sounds in the house. This worries him, so he asks where his sister, Chrissie, is. His mother explains with blank simplicity that to pay for her mother’s sins, Chrissie had had to die.
Cal runs to the back of the house and into The Sanctuary. There, next to Cal’s father’s cross is Chrissie’s body. She is naked and spreadeagled. Crucified. Her head is hanging limply down and pewter bowls still catch her dripping blood. In the corner are the charred remains of the neighbor man.
“She will be resurrected…” Cal’s mother says from behind him, “…and will sit at the throne of God and we will pray to her and worship her as we do your Father.” She then takes to her knees beside Cal and instructs him to pray.
Cal obeys, joining in his mother’s prayers to “Dear Jim… Hallowed be your name…” despite knowing the words are wrong. He knows not to correct her, for the punishment would be many more hours of forced prayer. He already knows that later he and his mother will drink Chrissie’s blood for communion. He doesn’t want to make matters even worse.
Later that night, Cal pacifies himself by watching television and burying his head into the fur of Bocephus, the family dog, and repeatedly speaking Chrissie’s name. Hours later he is still thinking about his mother, about The Rage, about Chrissie, and about what he should do. Hearing his mother’s snores through the walls, he also soon hears Chrissie’s voice calling his name.
He tries to ignore the voice, but it persists. He knows Chrissie had always been afraid of The Sanctuary. He knows she’s always been afraid of Father. He finally gives in and goes to visit her body. It is then he hears her tell him to kill their mother.
Cal goes to school the next day, trying to pretend everything is normal, but he finds it impossible to concentrate. Part of him knows he should tell someone—a teacher, a friend, the police—but is too frightened to do so. He fears his mother, and he fears having her taken away. He is also afraid of what his father—with the power of God on his side—might do. He never once considers the option proposed to him by his dead sister.
On his way home, Cal knows what to expect. His mother will be in The Sanctuary, praying again—it’s what she did when The Rage came over her last time and his father had had to pay—and he doesn’t want to join her there. But when he gets home, everything appears perfectly normal. The street is filled with the noise of out-of-school kids, Mr. Johnson is mowing his lawn, and his mother is outside watering flowers.
But as he gets closer, Cal sees his mother glance over at him and smile before a change comes over her face. He recognizes it as The Rage, and even as she runs towards one of the neighborhood children, he runs after her. She gets to the other boy all too quickly, though, and all Cal can do is shout, “Mother!” to which his mother slaps him hard across the face and leads the neighbor boy into her garage.
The murder of the neighbor boy is all too quick and easy. Cal’s mother first pushes him to the cement floor, and Cal screams “NO!” but he is again too slow. She then slams a shovel into the boy’s back, sending blood streaming from the long slice it creates. Cal watches him flop around on the cement floor like a fish for only a moment before staggering out of the garage and listening to the rest of the mutilation from afar.
When his mother runs out, covered in blood, he is unsure where she is going. He sees her run to the backyard. He hears her cutting wood and driving nails. It isn’t until he hears the back door slam shut that he understand. She has constructed a cross, and now her newest sin must be paid.
Cal jumps to his feet, determined not to let her get him. He is prepared to run. He is prepared to fight.
Bocephus barks once, loudly, then falls silent. Cal yells his name and runs into the house and down the hall. When he gets to The Sanctuary, the dog is already strung up on the cross, his legs splayed in crucifixion, long nails protruding from his paws.
Cal’s mother drops her hammer, kneels, and begins another broken prayer. It is now that Cal finally understands how far gone his mother is. It is now that Cal finally allows himself the courage to tell the police.
As his mother retrieves and sets fire to the neighbor boy’s body, Cal considers that maybe he should kill her instead. But it is Chrissie’s voice that stops him. “No,” she says, and at first Cal doesn’t know what that means.
He runs outside, still unsure what to do, when he sees little Todd MacVicar riding by on his Big Wheel. Todd sees the consuming look on Cal’s face and asks “What’s the matter with you?” and it is then that Cal feels The Rage come over him.
He feels an unbridled hatred for the boy. He imagines Todd’s bloodied head smashed on the sidewalk. He quickly invites Todd into his garage to show him something.
Later, Cal is standing in the middle of The Sanctuary. He is crying, filled with a sadness and remorse he didn’t think possible. Todd’s body is behind him, already burned. The lingering smoke smells both clean and pure to Cal. When he looks down at his mother, she tells him, “You have no choice,” and he knows she is right.
He presses the point of the first nail into her palm and draws back the hammer. He hears the voices in his head.
“You have no choice.” His father.
“You must.” Chrissie.
Cal swings the hammer and flinches at his mother’s screams. He is thinking this is crazy, that this isn’t what he’s supposed to be doing. But when he looks up, Cal sees approval both in Chrissie’s running, clouded eyes and his father’s dry empty sockets.
He swings the hammer again. And again.
By the time he is finished and his mother’s cross is propped up next to that of Bocephus, he is already feeling better. He is purified. Cleansed. Free from all guilt.
So Cal sinks to his knees and begins to pray, “Our Mother, who art in heaven…”
MY GRADE: A-
This story has a problem which I’ve seen many time, and in this instance it’s repeated multiple times. That problem is a blatant disregard toward believability. Simply put, there are several moments in this story which are each jarring and collectively so unbelievable that we cannot help but be reminded that we are reading a fictional tale in a made-up world.
Here’s a list, with commentary as to their severity, to prove my point:
- Cal comes home from school to find his mother has (among other things) crucified his sister, Chrissie. At most it’s been nine or ten hours since he’s been home, and yet Chrissie is already dead. Death by crucifixion, however, is a very slow, grueling process taking several days to actually kill someone.
Okay, I can forgive this one because it’s easy to assume such a detail wasn’t/ isn’t necessarily common knowledge, and clearly Mr. Little didn’t have the advantages of the internet to learn such details back in 1989. Besides, the symbolic element to the crucifixion is too important to the storyline to nitpick that much. Still, it’s annoying reading those scenes knowing Chrissie should still be fully conscious and moaning in pain. It just feels wrong knowing the detail is wrong.
- Cal’s mother has also killed a neighborhood man… however there is apparently no outcry from a worried wife or other neighbor.
I can forgive this one too because the guy has only been “missing” a few hours and it’s perfectly logical to assume that his disappearance hasn’t been noticed yet.
- The neighborhood man had been walking his dog… however the dog is never mentioned again, and we can easily envision that if it witnessed the murder of its owner, it would likely bark, growl, and make a public nuisance of itself. We might equally envision it hadn’t witnessed said murder, but in that case would it not be wandering around the neighborhood, leash in tow and conspicuously out of place?
This one’s a little harder to forgive. I’ll give Mr. Little half credit. The dog, after all, is unimportant to the storyline and one could argue that taking the time to clean up that little plot hole would be a distraction from what really matters. Still, it IS pretty common knowledge that dogs are extremely loyal to their owners and would behave accordingly should something harmful happen to them.
- Cal’s father has died at some point in the past (enough time has passed for his body to have “dry, empty sockets”)… however nobody seems to have noticed. Wouldn’t his employer or colleagues notice? What about his mother or siblings or friends? How about the other neighbors? If even one of them had made inquiries, the first place the police would have investigated was at his house, at which point they would have discovered The Santuary and, presumably, arrested Cal’s mother.
Sorry, I can’t forgive this one. Not even a little bit. 0% credit. More than enough time has passed for his disappearance to have been noticed by any number of people, and even a legitimately incompetent detective would have easily learned of the truth. I mean… the guy’s body is right there in the house and he’s still nailed to a frickin’ cross. Please. #I’mNotBuyingIt
- Cal’s mother has felt The Rage precisely three times: once many months or years ago… however the other two were within a single 24-hour period.
I’ll give this one a 25%. We can safely assume that her first Rage state took many years to acquire. It started perhaps in childhood or adolescence and culminated at some point over the past year or two, as evidenced by the current state of Father’s body. We can also assume that the intervening time was another building-up phase in which Mother felt that need growing ever so slightly day by passing day. We are even given the shocking oddity of today’s events through Cal’s uncomfortable understanding of the situation when he sees the curtains drawn in the opening paragraph. This is NOT something he sees very often. And yet the VERY NEXT DAY she feels The Rage yet again? Why? Wouldn’t the neighbor guy satiate her need to kill for another few years or months? Give it a week or two at least. The following day is just too weird to feel realistic.
- When Mother kills the neighborhood kid, she does so in her garage, and “the street [was] filled with the noise of out-of-school kids,” AND she comes running out minutes later covered in blood… however nobody hears/ sees anything.
Another 0%. Seriously, Bentley, my boy? All those kids, right after school… one of them is her victim… the sounds of chopping shovel into soft flesh is literally described and Cal is described standing in the effing door… all that evidence, all that noise, and NOBODY notices? Yikes. What kind of pod people are living in this town anyway?
Okay, I think I’ve made my point. But what IS my point?
Readers are always more than willing to suspend their disbelief of certain realities (supernatural creatures, magic, implausible technology) for the purposes of enjoying a better story… however that usually happens in stories that are not Realistic Fiction. Little’s tale is R.F. (the only monsters here are just crazy humans, after all), and yet there is a constant barrage of moments that pull us out of the world built by the storyteller. Each time we are reminded that we are reading fiction. Each time we are asked to suspend our disbelief a little more. When mild, once or twice per tale is perfectly acceptable. But many of these are severe, and coupled with the sheer volume, a significant element of the story’s enjoyment factor is ruined.
Before I move on (I did give this story an A-, after all, so there must be some good things to discuss), I’d like to take a moment to wax poetic about how times change. See, I’ve been reading lots of Cemetery Dance stories from this era, and believe me when I say that this is a common issue. Not all, but many stories employ plot elements that are just not based on reality. They feel lazy, like the author couldn’t be bothered to write a one-sentence solution to a problem or (gasp!) take the time to do a little research. Few are as egregious as this story, but there are so many of them, I can’t help but assume that horror readers have changed in their expectations and that horror authors have adapted accordingly. If I’m right, then this natural evolution of the quality of the genre is a very good thing. It does make me wonder, though, if this lack of authenticity is (was?) as pervasive in other genres, or whether it’s just a construct of ’80s horror. Perhaps its something that all genres go through in their adolescence years.
Alrighty then. On to the good stuff!
Despite the obvious faults, the truth is I really LIKE this story. It hits me on a primitive level, and it does so with oomph and with repetition.
First of all, it’s a nasty tale: Mom is a psychotic religious nut who murders strangers and then sacrifices her own family in a midguided attempt at absolution… and then the son follows in her footsteps. Yikes. Nasty indeed. If you love horror, you’ve got to have a perverse sense of genuine enjoyment at that combo.
But the real kick to the face is how Mr. Little shocks us with alternatives to things we THOUGHT we saw coming. There are many, in fact, but I’ll share the Big Two:
- When Cal’s mother killed the little boy, we know a sacrifice was coming. And since Cal’s sister was already sacrificed, we easily assume it is Cal who would have to fill in that spot. This feeling is heightened by the fact that Cal himself didn’t see it coming until the last moment when he figured out the sounds of sawing wood and hammering nails was his mother constructing another cross. But then we are shocked with the truncated bark of the family dog and are quickly given the visual of Bocephus getting strung up on the cross. This Gotcha! moment is all the more powerful because Bocephus is totally innocent. Also, the death of a dog has long been a staple of tugging at heart strings. You got me, Bentley, my boy. Well done, sir.
- When Cal goes outside to finally decide whether to turn his mother in or take care of her himself, he instead feels his own Rage come over him. Wait, WHAT?!?! Throughout the story, we see events through Cal’s eyes and watch him battle his own conscience. He knows what his mother has done/ is doing is wrong. In fact, at one point he even uses those exact words. And it’s not once but twice that we see him deliberate about how to deal with her. Even the disembodied voice of his dead sister is almost certainly his own mind talking rather than her ghost. But when the moment finally comes—and, full disclosure, I was 99% convinced he was going to kill her… probably by whacking her over the head with that bloody shovel—he is instead struck by his own Rage. The reason it shocks us so much is because Little has spent several pages watching Cal work up the courage to do the right thing in one manner or another. Then, suddenly, he veers in the exact opposite direction and instead of either ratting her out, killing her off, or (that missing 1% I was still open to) standing silently by, he ends up joining her—nay, replacing her. Yep. The instant I read it I thought “Oh of COURSE! It’s in the family genes! He can’t help it either! Duh, Keith!” Once again, I tip my hat to you, Mr. Little.
Last but not least, let’s talk for a bit about the violence in this story and how it is beautifully intertwined with another staple of good storytelling: Names.
First, note that there are a whopping EIGHT murders!…
- We actively witness three (Mother, Bocephus, and the neighbor boy).
- We are told about/ see the bodies of four more (Todd, neighbor man, Chrissie, and Father).
- We can imply the last (whomever Mother must have killed to warrant Father’s sacrifice).
Next, note also that of those eight deaths, only three of those characters have names, all three of which have notable innocence…
- Chrissie (protagonist’s sister)
- Bocephus (family dog)
- Todd (small child riding a Big Wheel)
Finally, note that of those victims who get names, only Todd MacVicar gets a surname. Let’s stop for a moment and think about why. Neither the neighbor man or the neighbor boy Mother killed are given full names. Meanwhile, “Mother” certainly had a real name. So did “Father.” Yet, while they and Chrissie and Cal himself would have all shared a last name, we are never given one. So why does Todd get one where all the others don’t? Answer: It makes his death more personal, which in turn makes Cal’s turn to the dark side all the more palatable.
And that name Mr. Little chose? “MacVicar”? Ring any bells for you? A “vicar” is a religious term, of course. It’s a member of the clergy defined as either:
- One who stands as a representative for a bishop (a higher-ranking clergy member), or
- One who is either in charge of a parish or an incumbant to be so.
Interesting name choice, don’t you think? What might little Todd MacVicar represent? Answer: The next wave of (older) victims. And of what might he be an incumbant? Answer: The Santuary’s fire pit.
Overall, Mr. Little failed at making his story believable, but honestly I can give him a pass. It was the ’80s, after all, and the rest of the story more than makes up for it.
Now let’s see if he learned to work out his faults with a few decades of experience…
THE NEW: “In the Room”
AUTHOR: Bentley Little
APPEARANCE: Cemetery Dance #71: May, 2014. (Story #1 of 13).
PLOT (with spoilers!):
The boy (no name given) is asleep when his father whispers the words, “In the room, I do my dance.” The next morning, his father is gone.
The boy was ten, and his father never gave any reason for abandoning the family. The boy’s mother soon learned it was a planned event, though. He’d packed his favorite CDs, taken out a sizeable chunk of the saving account, and given two weeks’ notice at work. His mother never talked about him again.
As the next few years pass, the boy began to forget certain details of his father: his clothes, his laugh, his favorite food. The one thing he never forgot were his parting words, which had been incorporated into a dream the night he left: “In the room, I do my dance.”
In junior high school, the boy is asked to the Sadie Hawkins Dance by none other than his secret crush: Liz Nguyen. He is overjoyed but, concerned he’d embarass himself on the big day, confesses that he’s horrible at dancing. Liz tells him she is, too, and that they could practice together in her bedroom.
The boy immediately hears the echoed words of his missing father: “In the room, I do my dance.”
So they practice for a whole week, every day after school. Liz, it turns out, is actually a pretty good dancer, and she proves to be a passable teacher as well. The day of the dance, the boy is feeling cuatiously optimistic that he won’t embarass himself on the dance floor.
Their conversation on the ride over is awkward in part because they no longer had the pretense of practicing dance moves to drive the discussion. Topic after topic ends in one-line answers from both of them. Desperate to avoid the worst situation of all—dead silence—the boy asks Liz, “What did you do yesterday?”
She answers, “In the room. I do my dance.”
The boy is frozen and instantly afraid. Fortunately, they had by then arrived at the school and they escape the car to the preliminaries of meeting up with friends. Soon Liz and another girl leave to get drinks, and the boy notices she has a different walk about her than what he’d seen just a day or two before. She seems to have lost the self-possession which had originally attracted her to him. She seems to be another person altogether.
They kill time mingling and chatting with other kids, but eventually one of the songs he and Liz had practiced to comes through the speakers, and they are obligated to get on the dance floor. Immediately he sees the difference. Liz is suddenly far beyond the boy’s abilities. Their plan to dance together is ruined. He escapes the dance floor, leaving her alone to a room of other dancers which each slowly pick up her “unhinged” and “crazy” movements, clearing the space around her bit by bit until she danced alone in the middle of the floor. The boy is more dismayed than ever, and leaves the dance with another friend. Liz does not return to school on Monday, and when the boy calls her home, Liz’s mother answers, in tears, and hangs up on him. Liz doesn’t return to school that entire school year, nor ever. Nobody the boy knows ever sees her again.
More years pass. The boy, now a young man, has graduated college with a teaching degree in English. He dreams of being a writer but eventually learns the teaching goes a lot better than the writing.
By his second year, he has given up trying to write and spends the summer enjoying life instead. Just before school starts at the beginning of his third year, he sees a stranger waving to him from the other side of a parking lot outside a school supply store. Assuming she’s going to try selling him something, he tries to avoid her but she meet him at his car. He politely asks if he can help her with something.
“In the room, you can write your story,” she tells him.
Once again he is frozen into immobility, and before he understands it’s happening, the woman grabs his wrist and writes an address on the palm of his hand, then leaves.
The address is a full 50 miles away in Los Angeles. He goes there and is unsurprised to see the neighborhood is the kind that populates the crime news cycle on a regular basis. He has trouble finding a parking spot, and when he does he is dismayed to realize he has no quarters for the meter. Fortunately, it’s one of the new ones that accepts credit cards, and within minutes he is stepping into the building in question. It’s a multi-story affair. The Room itself is on the 5th floor, and even from the far end of the corridor he can hear music pumping through the closed door.
Nobody answers when he knocks on the door. He tries the door, finds it open, and inside sees a large, dim room crowded with moving people.
One man wears a smock and is painting an abstract picture on a giant canvas.
One woman is playing a piano.
And one of them is his father, dancing with “reckless abandon.”
“I knew you would come!” his father shouts happily.
The young man is instantly frightened, not only because his father hasn’t aged in the years since he’d left, but also because of the WAY in which he is dancing. His arms and legs are flailing, sending a feeling of chaotic freedom he’d never associated with his dad, but most of all he has the distinct feeling that the movements themselves are simply wrong.
He danced in a manner that people were not supposed to dance, a spontaneous and horrifying choreography that should not have existed and that frightened me to the core of my being.
Liz is there, too, doing her own version of the perversion dance.
It was a profane and hateful dance she was performing, and though she was smiling, there was something terrible in that smile. Like my father, she had not aged.
He waits for either of them to say something else to him, but neither of them ever does. They just keep dancing. The young man soon wonders how often and how long his father and old flame have been dancing. He wonders if they ever stop or sleep or eat. He wonders why they haven’t aged.
As his father continued to seemingly ignore his long-lost son, the young man is quickly overwhelmed with the anger of being so easily dismissed a second time. He envisions his father tripping, falling, or collapsing of a heart attack. He admits he wants his father dead.
The woman from the parking lot is suddenly beside him. “In the room,” she whispers, “you can kill your father.”
The young man doesn’t consciously choose to do so—he is only thinking about getting his father’s attention back—but suddenly he finds the lance which had been leaning against the wall is in his hands, and he is swinging it like a baseball bat towards his father’s legs. He wants to break those dancing legs. He is thrilled at the jolt of the impact.
His father falls, and the young man hits him again before he can get back up and dance some more. He hits again and again then moves to his father’s arms and to his father’s head and then his father is dead.
Nobody in the room seems to notice. The painter keeps painting. Liz kept dancing. Everyone keeps engaging in their secret passions within The Room.
The woman from the parking lot is next to him again. This time she whispers, “In the room, you can write your story.”
The young man runs away. He barely has the lung strength to stay conscious but makes it to the hallway, to the elevator, to his car.
He drives, trying not to think about what he’d done. He drives to his sister’s house. She lets him in asking immediately what is wrong, what has happened.
“I saw Dad,” he tells her.
His sister grabs his shoulders and pumps him with questions. He can’t answer any of them until she asks, “What was he doing?”
The young man takes a deep breath.
“In the room,” he tells her, “he did his dance.”
MY GRADE: A-
I give this one the same score, but for an entirely different reason. First all, you should know that from the opening paragraphs, “In the Room” reads completely different from “The Sanctuary.” This tale is about characters, not events. We get to see and feel the boy’s heartbreak and dismay over his father’s abandonment. We are with him when he describes, ever-so-briefly, his crush at school. And each time the ghostly words “room” and “dance” appear out of the mouths of one character or another, the boy’s immediate reactions echo our own perfectly.
Meanwhile, the actual events are completely tame by comparison. I mean, other than the lance-bashing murder at the end, what really happens in this tale? People dance rather than remain contributing members of society. That’s pretty much it. Our protagonist—up until that aforementioned murder—goes through school, gets a job, and is on track to lead a pretty typical life. Comparatively, the events in this story are absolutely BORING compared to those of “The Sanctuary.”
…we have all that character development.
…we have all those subtle fears, slowly growing over the years.
…we have the culmination of abandonment issues and questions left unanswered all coming to a head in the very room
(In the Room!)
which we’ve been teased about since the beginning.
As I said, it’s a different reasoning altogether, but “In the Room” also marks the notch of a solid tale.
Aside from the missing power plot moves that so dominated Mr. Little’s earlier story, there was something else that didn’t sit quite right with me. He included an odd disconnect between his own life experiences and modern references.
To wit: Early in the story, the protagonist is asked to the Sadie Hawkins Dance by a girl. (For those of you who don’t know, a Sadie Hawkins Dance is a traditional social gathering where the girls invite the boys to the dance rather than the usual other way around). If you didn’t know that, I’d be willing to bet you’re under 30 years old. Probably you’re under 35. Now this is a perfectly believable detail for the era in which Mr. Little went to junior high shool (which would have been in the early ’70s), but not one that makes any sense today.
“Wait a second,” you might be telling the screen right now. “That was way back when the protagonist was just a kid. It probably was in the ’70s.” Actually, no.
You see, Mr. Little also makes reference to a parking meter that accepts credit cards. We are also told later that day that Liz was “the same 17-year-old I had left at the Sadie Hawkins Dance nearly a decade ago.”
Though I had my suspicions (and admitedly the results were not as bad as I’d been guessing), a quick internet search nevertheless revealed that the first parking meters to accept credit cards started popping up in the mid-’90s. A “near decade” before that meant the Sadie Hawkins Dance has supposedly taken place in the mid-to-late ’80s.
So there you have it. Mr. Little has dated himself. I know that because I personally was enrolled in junior high school in the mid ’80s, and believe me when I tell you there was no Sadie Hawkins Dance. Moreover, we didn’t dance, let alone get so worked up about being embarrassed on the dance floor so as to warrant practicing the skill for days ahead of time. The 15-ish years between Mr. Little’s childhood and my own, it seems, caused some significant social changes which good ole’ Bentley never picked up on.
Am I nitpicking?
It’s not a big deal, and barely qualifies as being the kind of thing that pulls us out of the fabricated world of the story. It just happens to be one that has been bothering the snot out of me ever since I read that line about the credit card. Maybe I have an unfairly unique perspective? Nah. It’s probably just OCD.
And now for something completely different…
This review would be incomplete without mentioning something that has nothing whatsoever to do with Bentley Little and everything to do with Cemetery Dance. Exhumed is, after all, reviews of the magazine itself, not just the stories within it.
Many of the stories CD publishes come with artwork. That artwork has gotten a LOT better over the years as the CD peeps find more and better artists (and have gathered more funding to pay for them).
Nevertheless, I typically hold my opinions to the story itself, preferring to give the lion’s share of accolades to the authors.
This is not one of those situations.
The reason is because the artwork incuded for this story (provided by artist Alan M. Clark) is simply perfect.
Here’s the panorama that appears on the title page:
On the surface it may appear to be overly simplistic… little more than a sketch version of the type of thing that might be seen in The Room at the end of the story. But then you look a little closer…
The first oddity one notices is that one of the hands at the computer has eight fingers.
The other hand has nine.
Then you notice the left and right hands playing piano over on the right side have eight and seven fingers, respectively.
Then your eye is drawn to the dancing man—the boy’s father—on the left of the page. He has five legs and five arms and no less than three different heads.
But my favorite is the artist at the easel. His legs are normal… because his legs don’t move. And he, too, has five different arms. But it’s his FACE (er… faces) that is most jarring. There are three of them, all overlapped onto the same head. And when Cemetery Dance provides a close-up of that guy on the second-to-last page of the story, you also suddenly realize that the front face has an expression of rage, the middle face has one of fear, and the last face—though just barely discernible—seems to bear the expression of chaotic insanity.
Instantly, the the sheer creepiness of what Mr. Clark has produced suddenly hits you and adds a whole new level of appreciation to Mr. Little’s story. Of COURSE these people are a mixture of rage and fear and insanity. Of COURSE they are completely out of their minds and out of control of their bodies. It’s something that Little never directly states… something we all feel and know deep in the pit of our stomachs… but something that Mr. Clark has also felt and decided to lay out in front of us and force us to acknowledge.
And isn’t that what great art is supposed to do?
There are lots of ways to write well, and when you do, readers can (and do!) disregard whatever mistakes you may make. Bentley Little has made a career of doing this. I’ve never read a story or novel of his that didn’t have something wrong in it, and none of the stories I’ve read of his stand out as being genuinely great. But through all the dated references and totally implausible character moves and blatant attempts at gaining attention through sheer shock value alone (I’m thinking of one novel– [title withheld]– in particular here), I’ve always liked his stories. And I’ll always come back for more.
If anything, his imperfections remind me that authors are humans, too. We’re full of flaws and imperfections, just like all the other real people out there.
But if you have that basic storyteller instinct like Mr. Little clearly has, and if you keep grinding out more stories, you really can make a living doing it. Bentley Little certainly has.
Did I anger you? Frustrate you? Confuse you?
Feel free to bash me with reckless abandon in the comments.
I also like hearing how brilliant I am, should that pop into your mind. 😉
-K. Edwin Fritz
Next month I’ll be reading/ reviewing each of the following:
- “Four-In-Hand” by William Relling Jr. (Cemetery Dance #2), and
- “The Life of the Party“ by William Relling Jr. (Cemetery Dance #4)
Here’s hoping you have access to those tales and will make plans to read them along with me.
Until next time…
Keith Edwin Fritz entered this world on Halloween. The year, 1974, was the same as when Stephen Edwin King published his first novel. Keith prefers to think neither the date nor their middle names were a coincidence.
Today Keith teaches 7th Grade Language Arts and writes to his heart’s content during his “spare time.” The best of these moments are nearly always by moonlight. The worst of them are also by moonlight.
In addition to his Cemetery Dance Online column, Keith writes “The Bone Pile” for FictionVortex.
Keith lives with his wife, Corina, in Lawrenceville, New Jersey.