Four Gentlemen of the Apocalypse
“The Ballad of Terror Tiny Tim” by Douglas Hackle
This one has a hilarious and shocking twist in tone and content about midway through the first chapter. I won’t spoil the exact shift, but I will say that the narrator’s desire seems particularly at odds with the fate of his handicapped son during a Little League game. I empathized with the son at first, having, at one time, been the worst player on a Little League team as well back in the late 1980s.
During chapter 2, I thought about the difference between Comedy and Bizarro; the difference is: darkness. Yet it is an absurd darkness, not necessarily a pure and unrelenting darkness with sick humor as in the film Heathers. So we have dark absurdism grounded in a palpable American experience, at least in this one; the literary movement contains practitioners from other countries as well. The dungeon scene was unforgettable and offers a new meaning to the concept of portion control.
In a Bluebeard-style room, we meet a surprise guest. The satirical rap sessions caused me to chuckle and wonder if that genre of music would ever cease dominating the charts and the radio. Yes, there are current gems (Run the Jewels comes to mind), but in most rap the lyrics often plummet in at least one of the following four annoying directions: misogyny, narcissism, materialism, or sentimentality. This is parodied effectively in this ghoulish tale by Douglas Hackle.
“The Canal” by Dustin Reade
Bizarre waterways and a fridge full of frozen cats greet the reader like an invitation to an alternate dimension at the beginning of this tale.
Bathing cat corpses is routine as is sitting next to a cockroach smoking a cigarette on the commuter train homeward. Once back in our vicious narrator’s humble abode, we witness a bizarre and sadistic ritual replete with the skinning of discoveries from the local canal. This lurid passage is certainly not for the squeamish; nor are the after-effects resulting from wearing the skins, although the disgruntled neighborhood is undoubtably aware of his presence afterwards.
The chapter entitled “Cat People” was my favorite, featuring hairless cats lumbering about on two legs while wearing robes. One might feel as if she’d jumped off a diving board into a sea of psychedelic nightmares by this point.
Further fun adventures lay in store with a visit to the library with a cat lady and various other men in cat suits who also abide by Bartleby’s famous mantra. I particularly liked the moment when, on the verge of getting fixed, Russell witnesses a nurse torn apart to reveal stethoscopes and surgical instruments as her internal organs.
“I Took One Apple to the Grave” by G. Arthur Brown
This is the most dreamlike piece in the book so far, despite there being less fantastical elements than in the others; Brown’s wicked sense of humor is more subdued than in other works I’ve read of his. This one has passages that alternate between a fairy tale mood and a bleak Dostoevsky scene.
I wanted to hear more about the three brass dwarves swimming until they found a black swan. The image of a tiny hand emerging from a lanced boil is not one I’ll soon forget.
Angel Hair: five golden cigars. I wonder where this whimsical but dark tale will lead.
Two men wait for a diamond ship to rescue them while talking to a snowman who may very well benefit their conditions by stabbing them.
An island of wild ponies who can swim but also bite and kick, spoiling dreams. Or a girl writing in code about her grandmother before being pecked to death by geese. Such nightmarish stories lie almost buried within this transfixing tale.
The mysterious wolves, talked about frequently in this tale’s first section, do eventually emerge; yet I refuse to spoil the details of their grotesque entrance.
The scene with the Winter Witch will certainly cause your toenails to curl and your eyeballs to explode. Either that, or Brown’s deranged imagery will haunt your dreams forever.
Horses flicker in and out of existence and wolves float into a child’s coffin. Characters are deemed redundant and then, in a rather aggressive metafictional act, are whisked from the story retroactively.
I did laugh out loud during this one when the conversation took place about the significance of certain characters with hilarious names like Glasscock, Bracgirdle, and Bonebrake.
I loved the sophistication of this story’s odd but cohesive structure; it sort of resembles an experimental film made by a ghoulish Monty Python team. It’s my favorite of the quartet on display here.
“Wizard and Robot in the World of Sand and Bones” by S.T. Cartledge
Girl Robot and The Wizard Made of Glass must fight against the influence of sand during their otherworldly but love-fueled journey.
They search for dragons in the sky as they discover dragon bones in the ruined sandcastles of former homes.
This one has a more lyrical flow than the other three.
The odd reality created herein fuses corporeal diffusion with sailing trips through sandcastle skies alongside dragons and a wizard who ages more quickly based on the level of strenuousness contained in each of his magical tasks. Yet, luckily, a dragon bone heart may await his resurrection.