[For the previous countdown post, click here.]
8. “Lesser Demons” (2010)
By his own afterword admission, Partridge doesn’t put much stock in H.P. Lovecraft’s stable of bloodless, swooning characters. No, Partridge subscribes to “the Macbeth school of horror. Which means I like heroes and villains who go down swinging no matter what a pack of witches, or the vagaries of fate, or the universe might have to say.” This utterly harrowing cosmic-horror story (which opens with a scene of laughing, grave-rifling children picking a corpse clean with their filed teeth) has the author’s approach/worldview stamped all over it. The narrator, Sheriff John Dalton, is a classic hardcase, and he has to be, considering all the awful, razor-jawed entities seeking to chomp into him (or even be born from his corpse). Dalton learns to navigate this haunted new world by confronting the hunters and “reading tales written in muscle and blood,” whereas his deputy sheriff, Roy Barnes, pursues answers to the macabre developments by sticking his nose in a grimoire (guess which methodology prevails). All told, this is the best account of the apocalyptic eruption of otherworldly monsters (e.g., “a hoofed minotaur with centipede dreadlocks”; “a giant worm with a dozen sucking maws”; “rat-faced spiders”) since The Mist enveloped Stephen King’s fictional town of Bridgton. With its hard-boiled fortification of Lovecraftian pulp elements, “Lesser Demons” constitutes one of Partridge’s greatest literary feats.