Not saying it five times cause we all know what happens next, especially if you’re a 90’s kid. But now with Nia DaCosta’s revamped spiritual sequel to the 1992 original film, a whole new generation can fear the hook. It’s no surprise that I was a huge fan of the original, and some of the old school horror fans didn’t take it well when this sequel was announced. I, instead was excited to see this franchise be resuscitated and now after viewing the film (first film I’ve seen in an actual theatre since the pandemic hit), I’m even more thrilled to see where the Candyman journey may take us in the future.
The absolute pro that this film has is that it manages to seamlessly connect the 1992 film with the current one in a way that doesn’t seem forced nor stilted. We follow the protagonist, Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), now an adult, but in the 1992 film was saved from the fire by Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen), unknowingly returns to his origins when he’s back to living in the former Cabrini Green only now filled with high-rise luxury apartments that he shares with art curator girlfriend.
Anthony is introduced to the Candyman legend by William Burke (Coleman Domingo) who gets him up to speed on how the legend originated (the superb use of shadow puppets is used to depict the violent backstories). As it’s true with any urban legend, details have been distorted or forgotten so we soon find out that Candyman isn’t merely Daniel Robitaille (Tony Todd) wronged painter, but that it encapsulates an array of different black men that have been wronged throughout the years that have taken up the scepter of Candyman and kept the legend alive.
My only gripe with the film is that it lacked any real feeling of dread. The body horror element added a bit of creep factor, but it’s hard to make a film about a legendary ghoul if the one you’re using isn’t as compelling, frightening, and seductive as Tony Todd’s Daniel was. In fact, the strongest scene in the film is when we’re finally graced with Tony Todd’s cameo, his commanding voice lulling the audience back into a trance that is equal parts mesmerized and scared shitless.
This is not to say though that the franchise doesn’t have room to grow, because I think it does and I honestly can’t wait for a new installment to be made.
Shriekfest is a Horror Film Festival that is a goldmine of both upcoming and veteran horror talents. Denise Gossett, the founder and organizer of the festival has helped many debut directors and screenwriters find an audience at Shriekfest, which is very much appreciated. There’s suddenly been a resurgence in the horror genre, but Gossett has been an advocate for horror for the past twenty-one years, which is to say that she has seen a lot of horror films to know exactly which ones are worth showcasing and which ones need better tweaking.
I was very excited to receive Press Passes for this event because as a huge horror enthusiast, watching horror films for thirteen hours straight is basically heaven. Not to mention that I really love the chill vibe that the festival has and how appreciative everyone is for being there to view their films and support them. Plus, I really have a soft spot for the Charlie Chaplin theatre at the Raleigh Studios. I’d give anything to watch ALL my movies there. Seriously, folks, if you haven’t seen a film there, you’re missing out.
That being said, I was so happy that this year the event wasn’t canceled as the previous year (pandemic and all – ya know the drill) because the films I got to see this year were incredibly good. The previous years, the shorts tended to be more on the campy side of horror (which I don’t mind cause who doesn’t love the OG Evil Dead am I right?), but I do love it when horror can also be on the uber dark and creepy side, so I was all for that.
I ended up watching 31 shorts and 2 features and I know many of the directors and screenwriters I spoke to asked me how I was going to remember all of them and I told them that I was taking notes of the film titles and what they were about, but that mostly after one day of viewing if I could easily recall my favourites then that means that those were the ones that really stood out to me and were worthy of my mention. Although, I have to admit that there were probably only one or two films I wasn’t too crazy about, for the most part, the shorts were extremely well produced, edited, written, and acted.
One of my favourite shorts was from the Spanish director Alvaro Vicario called Polter. The film was about a guy trying to get rid of poltergeist in his home. The film didn’t take itself too seriously, and the fact that it was fun and campy is what really honed in the ending for me. I really suggest you guys check it out if you can because it’s very well worth the ten minutes it takes to view it. Polter was followed by another very well acted and written short called, A Strange Calm. This short was very dark and sad as it followed two friends, Rosie and Mills who encounter a strange man while they’re out playing in rural California in the 70’s and end up getting abducted. The short was full of tension and dread and overall it was excellent. Now, the shorts seemed to get progressively darker as A Strange Calm was soon followed by Killing Small Animals which was a very disturbing short where the protagonist kills various animals throughout the movie, slowly graduating to bigger ones until the very end where she’s seen abducting a little girl. I wouldn’t say that the short was bad, but I wasn’t that keen on the storyline and wasn’t a fan of seeing various animals getting killed (guess it’s just not my kind of horror).
Meanwhile, The Rule of Three expertly explored how a young woman suffering from severe OCD has to try to overcome her demons while trying to survive a home invasion. The short was filled with dread and suspense and tied everything up in a way that wasn’t cheesy. Wide Awake in Bridgewater may have easily been my favourite short. It was mysterious and held an element of sci-fi that I really liked. An elderly man receives a phonecall from his teenage girlfriend and he tries to figure out what happened to her fifty years ago when she disappeared. It was easily the best written, acted, and edited short and had a satisfying ending. Seek was a fun, thrilling short about two sisters who stop at a rundown restroom only to find out that a strange entity haunts that area.
Love Bite was a refreshing and hilarious take on the zombie trope. A bickering couple soon find out to what lengths one of them will go to just to be proven right, despite the dire consequences that it will bring. It was easily very funny because it was also very relatable. I think any couple whose been together for awhile could easily see themselves in the couple. Being a huge fan of A Nightmare on Elm Street Nancy played by the incredibly awesome Heather Langenkamp, it was a pleasant surprise to see her star in the short Cottonmouth. The short easily flourished cause of Langenkamp’s star power, but it was also engaging as the viewers can’t help but wanting to know who or what is continuously drinking from a glass of water that the protagonist keeps next to her bed stand. Selfie was another short that I enjoyed, where a girl’s photoshopped self somehow manages to come alive and become the monster that she is.
The Otherside dealt with the very real horror of child trafficking and how the mother’s of the victims tend to be haunted by their grief and in this case, one mother in particular not only haunts but seeks revenge to those that do the same to other kids. And last but not least the shorts cycle ended on a high note with Half-Cocked where two doctors find a way to bring a man to life and make him immortal only to find out that that man isn’t appreciative since he had committed suicide. The film was definitely on the campy side of horror but it was a very funny and thrilling ride.
The two features I was able to view were Ten Minutes to Midnight and Redwood Massacre: Annihilation.Ten Minutes to Midnight was a campy fun vampire film about a radio show host (played by the ever charismatic and alluring Caroline Williams) who slowly manifests the signs of vampirism after she’s bitten by a rabid bat. Apart from being a fun film, the movie also focused on an important message, especially for women, how we’re often easily discarded after we’ve passed a certain age. That’s why I love horror, because it’s a genre that dares to tackle difficult topics that other genres simply gloss over.
The last film I viewed was Redwood Massacre: Annihilation that starred horror veteran Danielle Harris (which you may recognize her from the Halloween franchise). I was really excited to check this film out as I have an affinity for killers who choose to use a burlap sack as a mask. All in all, I did enjoy the film, although once we started to surpass the sixty minute mark and no one had died I started to fret when the massacre was going to happen (no need to worry, the promised bloodbath does occur and doesn’t disappoint).
Thirteen hours of film watching was an intense feat but can you truly call yourself a horror fan if you can’t do that? Am I right?
Stay spooky my friends.
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I read the novella that this movie is based on, Max Booth III’s “We Need to Do Something.” And I’ll admit that in this case, you may want to see the movie prior to reading the novella, only because the film follows the novella very closely, so the surprise factor will be gone. However, this didn’t completely spoil my viewing of the film because I was very curious to see how the filmmaker would direct certain scenes.
As we’re in full hurricane season, watching a film about a family who decides to hole themselves up in a bathroom to brace a storm is very fitting. For 90 minutes we watch the horror unfold as a very dysfunctional family have to try to stay in the same room for what seems to be days. Pat Healy plays the alcoholic father who loses his mind once he runs out of booze, Vinessa Shaw plays the mother, a Pollyanna-type figure who clearly doesn’t want to admit that bad shit is happening even when she’s soaked in blood, Sierra McCormick is the resident goth Mel who is plagued by guilt over a supposed-spell gone wrong, and finally John James Cronin is younger brother Bobby who seems to have been plucked out of a 50’s sitcom and feels a bit out of place for such a movie.
The whole premise of the movie is that we, the audience, don’t know what the fuck is going on beyond the bathroom door, but some gnarly crazy shit is happening there that we’re never made privy of. The element of the unknown is what keeps the film going, and as we’re bombarded by flashbacks of Mel and girlfriend Amy casting several incantations (and in horror movies, this is code for, shit is going to get bad real fast) we have to try to stitch the pieces together and try to understand what the hell is happening.
The movie’s strength is in the characters and the setting. The only time you’re taken a bit out of the story is when the director rely on special effects that probably due to budgeting issues, aren’t as effective as they should be. The film’s climax (as well as the novella’s climax) is the chilliest scene you’ve seen in awhile. Not to mention, if you’re a rockfan, you’ll readily recognize Ozzy’s voice (and it’s used for the best purpose ever). But overall it’s an enjoyable, dark ride, and I would recommend for you to check it out if you’re a fan of confinement horror, and highly suggest you read the novella the film is based on because it seriously delivers on the chills.
You can now stream on demand on most major streaming services.
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The excerpt below is from the short story, “Comets Tear the Skies.”
When I open my eyes, I have legs.
“The operation was successful,” the doctor beams.
I lift the white sheet with tentative fingers, and peek at my new set of legs. I had seen them in photos and in movies, prior, but on me they look foreign, almost hideous. I try to raise one but am unable to.
“Don’t,” the doctor says. “You’ll have time to learn how to use them before your mission begins.”
“I leave in two months. Is that enough time?”
“Yes, we’ve had some patients running within a month!”
I’m impressed. Maybe it won’t be so difficult after all. If I can manage the pain. I take another look beneath the sheet. They’re there, two perfectly toned pair of legs with a little drawing of a daisy chain circling around my right ankle.
“You couldn’t get rid of that?”
“Unfortunately, no, we were unable to remove that. But it won’t interfere with anything. It’s just a feeble embellishment.”
And also a constant reminder of the former owner of these legs.
But I don’t say that to the doctor. He seems so pleased with himself and the result of my operation. I don’t want to burst his bubble.
“Don’t worry about it, besides you can cover it up with clothes afterwards,” he says to me as though he’s read my mind. “Have you decided what name you’ll use during your mission?”
I manage a tiny smile and nod.
“Brenda,” I say. “My name is Brenda.” The name sounds foreign to me, much like my legs, but it reminds me of a character from the TV series I’ve been watching with the other missionaries to learn the new language. A name that will help me fit in.
“Your new life starts now, Brenda,” the doctor says. “We’re all aware of the great sacrifice you had to make in order to be chosen for this mission. Don’t think that our community isn’t humbled by your courage. You’re strong. You should be honored that you passed the selection process. Not many do.”
I sigh, thinking about the abomination below the sheet. What may seem like an honor to some, feels more like a curse to me.
But I can’t think like that.
I’m a new person now.
And in a couple of months I’ll be bound for Earth.
Between the ages of 11-14 I readily devoured all things R.L. Stine at a speed that would make anyone’s head spin like Regan’s in The Exorcist. I was also very lucky to have a dad that didn’t mind shelling out hundreds of dollars a year to sustain my R.L. Stine book addiction. And although many people loved Goosebumps, I was always a Fear Street stan and out of all the stories within that series my absolute favorite was what I dubbed as the “Fear Street Cheerleaders.” meaning “The First Evil,” “The Second Evil,” and “The Third Evil.”
Maybe it was nostalgia sparked by the recent viewing of Netflix’s Fear Street films, but I found myself compelled to reread the first book of a series that I so dearly loved and whose creepiness has followed throughout the years.
“The First Evil,” is about the Corcoran sisters, Corky and Bobbi are newly transplants from Missouri to Shadyside and live on the unfortunate street called Fear Street. The two sisters were cheerleading sensations at their former high school and hope to recreate their past success at their new school, only the cheerleaders at Shadyside aren’t so easily won over by the charming Corcoran sisters, especially Kimmy (second in line to becoming Cheerleader captain). Thankfully, they manage to win over the coach’s and Cheerleading Captain Jennifer’s hearts and secure themselves a spot on the team.
Things take an ugly turn when Jennifer becomes paralyzed after a bus accident and Bobbi takes over as the Cheerleading Captain which enrages Kimmy even more. Soon, sinister things begin to happen and the reader isn’t sure if it’s teenage bullying or an evil entity (cause ya know, teenage girls can be as cruel as a demon).
YA has come a long way since R.L. Stine was penning his chilling stories, so I quickly realized how very “dumbed down” the writing was in regards to today’s YA selections (I also believe that nowadays, YA is simply a genre that has a teen protagonist but many times the writing level in the novel is on par with that of adult fiction). Despite the simple writing and one dimensional characters, Stine excels when it comes to painting a sinister picture, and he’s the master of the innovative causes of death (and the reason why all of my phobias have originated from his books).
The Fear Street Cheerleaders is a series that has heavily influenced my writing especially my most recent completed manuscript, “Girl that You Fear,” where Spencer Torres (also a cheerleader) becomes possessed by an ancient demon (and in honor of Corky and Bobbi, beautiful girls with seemingly masculine names, is why Spencer was my only choice when it came to naming my protagonist).
I only read “The First Evil,” one time when I was 12, but re-reading it now almost twenty years later, I recalled many of the events that occurred (especially a particular death in a locker room shower). Overall, “The First Evil,” continued to be a thrilling ride and I noticed that two more books have been added to the series since the last time I read it, so I’m eager to find out what else lies in store for Cory Corcoran and her hapless group of cheerleaders.
Growing up I was a HUGE fan of R.L. Stine’s books, in particular the Fear Street series. Basically, those books were my crack and I bought at least three books a month. So when Netflix announced that they were gonna come out with three Fear Street inspired films, I knew that I was going to check it out.
From the very beginning 1994 opens with a very Scream-esque sequence – a recognizable actress is first chased and then stabbed to death by a guy dressed in a black cloak and skull mask. I didn’t mind the heavy handed reference because the inside of a mall after hours was definitely creepy. However, I was soon annoyed by the following scene where the protagonist is listening to the radio and Garbage’s “Only Happy When It Rains” in 1994, when the song came out in September of 1995. That aside, the film’s soundtrack was completely awesome if you’re a lover of 90’s music.
I loved the look of the movie and feeling like I was reliving my high school days, but what didn’t work for me was the fact it simply had too much going on. What I mean is, you have killers, ghosts, and zombies. ALL AT ONCE. It’s just too over the top.
Meanwhile, 1978 was very reminiscent of Friday the 13th franchise with the setting of a summer camp and a possessed killer that wields an ax and wears a burlap sack as a mask (which if you’re a fan of Jason Vorhees you know that he used to wear that as a mask long before he donned a hockey mask). Just like 1994, 1978 had a killer soundtrack (lots of Bowie, and lots of Bowie references, my heart was full). But what made this film superior to 1994 was that it had better fleshed out characters, and I was more invested in these characters than I was in the previous film. Not to mention that this installment mostly focused on ONE possessed killer rather than have a smorgasbord of all things spooky.
I’m really looking forward to the third and final film, 1666. I truly hope that the film is based off of R.L. Stine’s origin saga, The Betrayal, The Secret, and The Burning because those books were truly top notch for MG and it really explained by Fear Street became so cursed (I’m looking at you Goode!).
Let me know if you’ve checked these films out or any of the books when you were young! I’d love to talk more about all things Fear Street!
If you listen carefully, sometimes at half past midnight, you can hear her voice. Florence Wakefield. The ghost of Gold Petal Fields. Her blood is in these fields. It’s why the trees are sick, their roots gnarled. Some say if you cut through the wood, you can see it—her blood in the lumber. They never should’ve used this land for anything, but the modern man rejects folklore, says that it’s mere superstitions, that there’s nothing to be found in these fields but your own shallow breath.
I know you may think that I’m crazy, but if you’re going to heed any lesson from my testimony, it’s this: Don’t tread on Florence’s land, or you’ll be sorry. I saw her ten years ago, it’s why I look like this, so I beg you, don’t go. Don’t go to Gold Petal Fields. That land is cursed.
“What do you make of that mumbo jumbo?” I say to Dave as I dip another chip into the bowl of salsa sitting between us.
“I don’t know. We can’t discredit her story as false, something happened to her in those fields to look the way she does.”
I nod, although I’m skeptical of the paranormal. Just because I’ve ventured on this podcast adventure with Dave doesn’t mean that I necessarily believe all the crazy stories we get sent to investigate. Especially since we’ve been able to debunk all of the ghost sightings we’ve investigated so far. Dave and I began our podcast “Agents of Spook” together three years ago, and ever since, our weekly listeners have increased exponentially. Our winning card is having video footage of our ghost hunting to go along with our podcast on our YouTube channel.
“I believe that she had a freak accident,” I concede. “But do I think that a two-hundred-sixty-five year-old ghost is to blame for her blindness? No, I don’t.”
Dave moves the cursor back on the video, rewinding it to the last few minutes and replays it.
“It’s why I look like this, so I beg you don’t go.”
He freezes the frame.
“You see that, Blythe?” He’s pointing to the computer screen, where Amanda Manthis stares blankly, or at least just sits there—I’m not sure how you can describe someone whose eyes are missing.
“What does that prove? Besides, she sent us this video, but then warns us not to go. It’s almost like she’s begging for us to go.” I dunk another chip in the salsa, scooping up a hefty amount before putting it in my mouth
“Maybe she only wants to know if what she thinks she saw was real or if something else happened to her entirely.”
I grab the packets of paper Dave printed earlier. Anything he was able to find about Florence Wakefield are in these papers. Legend has it that Florence Wakefield, the only child of the widowed oil tycoon Beau Wakefield, was brutally murdered by a group of villagers when rumors of witchcraft surfaced. Florence allegedly gave a poisoned concoction to a young teenage girl, Lydia Carson who had sought her herbal services. Modern medicine notes that perhaps the girl, unbeknownst to her, was deathly allergic to “eye of newt” or nowadays known in less Gothic terms as mustard seeds. These seeds were found to be part of the herbal tea that the young Lydia ingested. But Lydia’s father was distraught by his favored daughter’s death and vowed to seek revenge. When Beau Wakefield left town for a business venture to San Francisco, Mr. Carson, along with eleven other men, marched to the Wakefield estate. If Florence were a typical girl of her upbringing, they wouldn’t have been able to do what they did to her. But Florence wasn’t safe at home when they came looking for her. No. She was out in the fields. According to the historical documents and newspaper clippings, the men beat her and then tied her up to a stake where the crows pecked at her eyes. By the time the servants found her, it was too late. Florence was dead.
I set the papers back down on the desk, shaking my head.
“This is so disturbing.”
“Oh, but you haven’t heard it all . Exactly one month after her death, people began to see her ghost in the fields at night. Or as they said, a young woman wearing a pale pink dress. According to legend, it’s believed that if you try to communicate with the ghost, she lets you taste a dose of what she went through.”
“And that brings us back to why Amanda Manthis’ eyes look the way they do.”
“Yes,” Dave says. “That’s exactly it.”
“All of this is very fascinating, but you know that I don’t believe in ghosts.”
“I know you don’t. But that’s why we need to investigate and capture any weird phenomena with our trusty Canons.”
I look back up at Amanda’s freeze-framed face. She doesn’t look much older than thirty. Her brown hair is tied back as freckles adorn her button nose. But her eyes, or at least where her eyes used to be, are hollowed out. Heavy scar tissue now covers what used to be bleeding wounds. A chill runs down my spine, but I ignore it.
A whirlpool of darkness churns at the heart of a macabre ballet between two lonely young women in an internet chat room in the early 2000s—a darkness that threatens to forever transform them once they finally succumb to their most horrific desires.
What have you done today to deserve your eyes?
This dark tale begins with Agnes looking to sell an antique apple peeler and Zoe contacting her to buy said peeler. I know, I found the way the two protagonists virtually met strange for a horror novella, but it was very intriguing how their bond slowly grows. As the days go by the two women forge a tight relationship which slowly descends to sadomasochism and careens to absolute horrific madness.
The writing is very engaging and very vivid, creating a visceral rollercoaster that will leave you wondering WTF did you experience. It’s told in epistolary format of email exchanges and IM’s, making the reader feel that extra layer of voyeurism that ramps up the creepiness factor. I recommend reading this book in one sitting – it’s much more impactful that way as the tension and dread increases with each passing page.
The ending is a masterclass of true horror and one that readers won’t easily forget. Read this novella for a violent, wild ride full of debauchery and horror.
*Thank you so much to the author for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!
SHORT Q & A WITH AUTHOR
What inspired you to write the novella in the format that you did?
I’ve always been fascinated by books with unconventional formatting. I admire any opportunity to tell a story in a way that might be unique for the reader. The reason I chose this particular format for the novella was because I wanted the reader to feel voyeuristic in their reading, as if they were reading something they knew they shouldn’t be reading. That’s profoundly unsettling to me as a highly desensitized lover of horror. I shudder when I think of accidentally stumbling upon something that wasn’t meant for me to see—something horrible, something truly disturbing. I’ve been dabbling in unconventional formatting for many years now and this novella seemed like a natural progression for me and my work.
The novella establishes that the two protagonists are women – but the internet being the internet I was suspicious whether one of them or both were being truthful about their identities and their genders since it was commonplace in the 2000s to find men trying to pass off as women in lesbian chatrooms. The fact that the two protagonists never see each other through webcam nor exchange photos kind of makes you wonder if one of them is being catfished. Was it a conscious decision to create that suspicion in the reader?
That’s a fascinating reaction to the work. I actually had never considered that before and I’m quite disappointed in myself for not thinking of it first. I approached this concept quite literally when I first wrote it. In my head, they were always two women interacting with one another across the infinite gulf of the internet. As I was working on this piece, I definitely wanted there to be a sense of suspicion—a sense of distrust in the reader when considering the two main characters. Who can you trust? Who is telling the truth? Which one of them is the real monster? Of course, Zoe is less than savory for asking Agnes to perform such horrible acts. However, is Agnes a monster as well for being so agreeable?
What are your current fave horror books that you recommend?
Oh, so many to list. I’ll try to be brief. Lately I’ve been recommending Hauntedby Chuck Palahniuk quite a bit to fellow readers. I’ve read that book several times and it always unsettles me. I also heartily recommend Gwendolyn Kiste’s phenomenal The Rust Maidensif you’re looking for truly poignant body horror. Lastly, I usually recommend I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Ian Reid. Such an inspiring tale of existential dread.
Do you have any other projects that you’re currently working on and are going to be released soon?
I’m currently at work on a bunch of different writing projects. Most of them involve contracts, so unfortunately I’m unable to share full details until the publisher makes the official announcement on social media. I’m so happy to report that I’ll have work being consistently published over the course of the next few years and I certainly hope my readers stick with me as I continue to release new material.
Honestly, this is too good not to ask but what have you done today to deserve your eyes?
Nice try, Zoe . . . Just kidding. But seriously. Kindness. The answer is always kindness. Whether it’s showing kindness to another living thing or receiving kindness gracefully, that should be our priority as human beings every day we’re on this planet.
June is Pride Month and this year one of my short stories, “Some Kind of Monster” will appear in the Queer Anthology, Unburied. Proceeds from book sales will be going to a LGBTQ charity, so what better way to read some cool stories AND help out for a good cause!
I could never see the monster, I just knew that it was large because anytime I found myself in his viscid stomach, I was swallowed whole. Never chomped up in little pieces.
Last night, once again I had the same nightmare. I was in the monster’s belly, the acrid scent of his stomach acid made me gag as I floundered in it, blind. I can’t ever see the inside of it because of how cavernous it is. All I can feel is the stifling sense of being wrapped in an unwanted hug.
The nightmare usually laves me feeling unsettled. No amount of hot tea and buttered biscuits can comfort me back to normalcy. After one those nightmares, I tend to spend the rest of the day jumpy and tense, my shoulders sore from my inability to relax. Another side-effect of this reoccurring nightmare was that whenever I woke up, drenched to the bone and shaking, it would leave me so wound up that attempting to fall back to sleep was futile, even if I had three hours to spare before my alarm would sound off.
There I was, sitting my cubicle both in dire need of sleep and also very afraid of being met with the same feeling of dread and anguish that the nightmare always delivered. My eyelids felt heavy, like keeping them open was a task in itself, and one that I was certain I’d fall victim to if I didn’t get my ass out of the chair and mainline some caffeine into me stat.
I hurried to the break room not caring that I had already taken a break twenty minutes ago. My sanity depended on staying awake. I felt like those scream queens on A Nightmare on Elm Street where they conjured up inventive ways to keep themselves awake, lest they become savory kebabs for Freddy’s expert razor claws.
“Another coffee? Tough morning, huh?” My co-worker Jack asked with an easy shiteating grin that made the other girls in the office swoon but that I despised. His dockers were perfectly pressed and the button down shirt impeccably ironed. He ran a hand through his sandy blond hair.
I knew I looked as much as disaster as I felt. My curls still tangled and pinned to the top of my head in a messy bun, yesterday’s eyeliner smeared under my eyes, and a gel manicure outgrown its natural stay that my half-moons where visible. I just shrugged not wanting to commit to an answer. Hoping that maybe this would dissuade him from small talk.
“You look like you could use some sleep, Sharon.”
No shit, Sherlock.
I plastered a fake smile and replied, “You’re so very astute, Jack.” I silently begged for him to leave the break room so that I could have a few moments to myself. But Jack lingered with his dopey grin.
“What’s this?” He pointed to something on the side of my neck.
I hope it’s not a hickey, although I haven’t made out with anyone in weeks. I went towards the mirror placed above the sink, to inspect and oddly enough there on the side of my neck were three punctures holes. I carefully touched the wounds, not understanding where or how I could’ve gotten them.
Richard doesn’t have a past. For him, there is only the present: a new marriage to Tamara, a first chance at fatherhood to her son Elijah, and a quiet but pleasant life as an art teacher at Elijah’s elementary school in Danvers, Virginia. Then the body of a rabbit, ritualistically murdered, appears on the school grounds with a birthday card for Richard tucked beneath it. Richard doesn’t have a birthday—but Sean does . . .
Sean is a five-year-old boy who has just moved to Greenfield, Virginia, with his mother. Like most mothers of the 1980s, she’s worried about bills, childcare, putting food on the table . . . and an encroaching threat to American life that can take the face of anyone: a politician, a friendly neighbor, or even a teacher. When Sean’s school sends a letter to the parents revealing that Sean’s favorite teacher is under investigation, a white lie from Sean lights a fire that engulfs the entire nation—and Sean and his mother are left holding the match.
Now, thirty years later, someone is here to remind Richard that they remember what Sean did. And though Sean doesn’t exist anymore, someone needs to pay the price for his lies.
This is my second sampling of Clay’s writing and I must say that I really enjoy how strong his novels begin. This novel is steeped in reality as it’s based off of the 80’s Satanic Panic that made people suspect of anyone in getting caught up with witchcraft. In the 80’s a California preschool was in the news for the teachers were accused of being Satanists. Obviously, it all ended up being one big lie, and this book explores what happens when a little boy delivers a lie that changes not only his life but that of many people. Sean is five years old when he accuses his kindergarten teacher of worshiping the devil. Years later, we see how that lie comes back to haunt him.
Some parts of the book were creepy (I really enjoyed the Gray Boy) and some of them were kinda slow. I liked how it explored the Satanic Panic craze as I was too little to recall any of it when it was happening, not to mention that since my parents weren’t the crazy types, they never thought that Cabbage Patch Kids or The Smurfs were “Satanic.”
I did enjoy the dual narratives between Sean in 1983 and Richard in 2013 as it amped up the mystery of what happened and trying to figure out what exactly what went on. The imagery was dark and creepy and I was compelled to keep on reading as more and more of the mystery began to unravel. I liked how the book ended but it felt like the novel began to drag towards the end, so I would’ve preferred a more tightened end, but I did like how we were left with a question rather than all answers.
*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Quirk Books for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!