Countdown: The Top 31 Norman Partridge Works of Short Fiction–#14

[For the previous countdown post, click here.]

 

14. “Treats” (1990)

Here’s a piece that’s short and anything but sweet. It’s also another Partridge effort that builds suspense through narrative uncertainty (the reader can’t quite grasp the situation at first). At the start of the story, why is Maddie dreading her son Jimmy’s preparation for “Operation Trojan Horse”? Why does she scream a warning to children at a supermarket on Halloween, “Eat your candy! Eat it now! Don’t let them come after it!”? The subsequent explanations are surely unnerving; Jimmy is an Evil Little Kid to rival Anthony in “It’s a Good Life,” and his invasive army (which exerts control over its alleged General) forms the ultimate holiday nightmare. This fiendish twist on the candy-tampering motif makes Maddie’s skin crawl within the story, and mine follows suit every  time I treat myself to a read.

 

Dracula Extrapolated/Countdown: The Top 31 Norman Partridge Works of Short Fiction–#15

[For the previous countdown post, click here.]

[And here’s a countdown post that doubles as the latest installment of the “Dracula Extrapolated” feature.]

 

15. “Do Not Hasten to Bid Me Adieu” (1994)

What if Quincey Morris transported Lucy Westenra’s coffined corpse to West Texas?

That’s the premise of this piece first published in Poppy Z. Brite’s vampire erotica anthology Love in Vein. But the rough and tumble Texan isn’t simply mourning his lost love, nor is Quincey just looking to bury Lucy in American soil. His intentions gradually clarify as the narrative cuts back and forth between past events in Whitby, England, and Quincey’s present, unwelcomed return to his hometown. “Do Not Hasten” is conscious of Stoker’s Dracula and overtly dismisses the novel as a distortion of reality: “that tale of mannered woe and stiff-upper-lip bravado was as crazy as the lies Texans told about Crockett and his Alamo bunch.” Indeed, a great part of the story’s appeal derives from its variations on the characters (e.g. Dr. Seward and Arthur Holmwood prove to be villains here) and iconic scenes of Dracula. Stoker never seemed to know quite what to do with his cowboy hero (his working notes for the novel point toward an expanded role), but the same cannot be said for Partridge’s take on the darkly driven Texan.

 

 

Countdown: The Top 31 Norman Partridge Works of Short Fiction–#16

[For the previous countdown post, click here.]

 

16. “The Pack” (1995)

Here at the pivot point of the countdown (fifteen previous entries, fifteen more to follow) is a story whose interpretation can be taken in opposite directions. Is the prisoner (arrested for eating the banker’s wife’s pet chihuahua raw) at a small-town jail an actual werewolf like he claims, or is this leather-jacketed, pentagram-tattooed kid just some hoodlum who has seen too many movies? The prisoner warns the sheriff that if he’s not liberated before tomorrow night’s full moon, his motorcycle-gang cohorts (also alleged to be a pack of shapeshifters) will spread slaughter throughout this California equivalent of Mayberry. The gnawed bones dug up in the cemetery (and then arranged to form the message “LET HIM GO”) point to unnatural appetites, but the ambiguity concerning lycanthropy is never resolved. Either way, “the Pack” entertains with its 50’s setting and sensibility. While the climactic showdown between the local law and outlaw bikers never occurs, there’s a witty battle of the sexes running throughout, and the gun-toting women of “The Pack” prove to be a whole other bunch of wild ones.

 

Halloween Kills: Rapid Reactions

Just finished watching Halloween Kills on Peacock. Some immediate thoughts:

*I knew going in that the film would pick up right after the events of 2018’s Halloween. What I wasn’t expecting, and became fascinated by, was an early flashback to 1978 that picks up with the ending of the franchise originator. Events are considered from different angles, and holes in the storyline are filled in in quite interesting fashion.

*There are a lot of connections to Halloween history here, from the featuring of older versions of characters such as Tommy Doyle, Lindsey Wallace, and Leigh Brackett, to the importation of the iconic masks from Halloween III: Season of the WitchDr. Loomis also makes welcomed appearance here (woven so organically into the scene, you have no trouble believing that’s Donald Pleasance up there on the screen).

*Michael’s escape from the inferno that Laurie left him trapped in at the end of the previous film involves a bloody rampage through the first responders to the blaze. I-camera presentation of the slaughter through the viewpoint of a downed fireman’s face-shield creates a neat variation on the masked vantage point (young Michael’s murder of his sister Judith) in the first Halloween.

*Like its immediate predecessor, Halloween Kills offers some fine moments of comic relief, here in the form of a gay couple (the current occupants of the Myers house) who square off against a bratty pack of trick-or-treaters.

*Halloween Kills is a film very much about Haddonfield and Michael’s long-term effect on the community. That these people who have been victimized and terrorized by Michael’s evil assaults for so long would take to the streets seeking cathartic carnage just felt terrifically plausible. It also seemed a perfect reflection of the way Americans hasten to act these days. Of course, the vigilantes are overly rambunctious, and the situation soon goes sideways in spectacularly tragic fashion, but the emphasis here is on the psycho killer’s damaging legacy rather than on trumping up the grossly-outnumbered Michael by making the Haddonfield populace seem monstrous in their own right. All told, one of the best angry-mob scenes ever filmed for a horror flick.

*I’ll admit, I suffer from Jamie Lee fatigue, and wasn’t all that eager for another faceoff between her Laurie Strode character and Michael. But the film does a clever job of undercutting expectation and deemphasizing the connection between the two long-time nemeses. By decentering Laurie here, the film makes the scenes she does appear in that much more compelling.

*The commitment to telling a uniquely-angled story instead of rehashing a stale formula makes this one of the most satisfying entries in the entire Halloween series, and one of the smartest slasher films to be released in a long, long time. I wasn’t blown away by the 2018 movie, but Halloween Kills is aptly titled. When it comes to serving up entertaining horror fare, this film positively kills it.

Countdown: The Top 31 Norman Partridge Works of Short Fiction–#17

[For the previous countdown post, click here.]

 

17. “Dead Celebs” (1992)

A perfect example of Partridge’s ability to meld the genres of horror and dark crime. Ray Meleski and Cardell Word are a pair of movie-industry aspirants and memorabilia collectors/dealers who arrange for some illicit business with a whacked-out Hollywood producer of horror movies (destined to be played by Dennis Hopper if this story were ever filmed). The deal involves the delivery of a capital Bela Lugosi memento, but Ray (who also appears in the collection’s title story) gets his head all turned around when he shows up at the producer’s home and finds a bizarre costume party in progress. Every attendee is dressed as a dead celebrity (there’s Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, JFK, and John Dillinger, but the blue-skinned, seaweed-sashed, dead-crab-coiffed Natalie Wood surely takes first prize). Double-crosses, dire twists, and grisly discoveries abound, amazingly so for a story this short. The subject matter of “Dead Celebs” might not be the most tasteful, but this is one delectable piece of horror noir.

 

Autumn Lauds Anniversary

Back on 10/14/14, I published my collection Autumn Lauds: Poems for the Halloween Season. In honor of today’s seventh anniversary, here’s another selection from the book:

 

Hardly Martha Stewart

By Joe Nazare

 

A jack-o’-lantern avalanche at the foot of the front steps;
Licorice whips and chains dangling from the threshold;
The Dead-Headless Horseman draped in a tie-dye shirt;
Hitchcockian flocks perched atop cabinets and curtain rods;
A human-hand candelabra, its five waxen fingertips flickering;
Pitchforks and straight rakes in a barrel labeled VILLAGE DEFENSE;
Tabled trays of sand-witches topped with conical black hats.

And pallid Alexandra the “ghostess” for the evening.

The party guests all delighted at her macabre décor,
Remarking upon their new neighbor’s ingenuity,
Her wonderfully morbid wit and punny ways.
No one realized that Alexandra was actually a literalist,
At least not until drinks were served and the presumed straw
Periscoping from each mug full of her Spider Cider
Proved to be both thick-bristled and twitchy.

 

For more on/of Autumn Laudscheck out my website’s dedicated page, this post from last year, and the Look Inside feature on Amazon.

 

Countdown: The Top 31 Norman Partridge Works of Short Fiction–#18

[For the previous countdown post, click here.]

 

18. “Coyotes” (1998)

Amigo, New Mexico, is decidedly unfriendly to outsiders, as evidenced by the opening scene of this story, in which a pair of lawless border patrolmen tie an illegal immigrant to their van’s bumper and drag him to his death. But this is more than a basic tale of racial violence (I don’t want to give too much away, but will mention that the story was first published in an anthology titled The Conspiracy Files). The narrator–animal control officer Roy–is not the most forthright guy, Amigo keeps some sinister secrets, and the titular coyotes signal more than wild-animal roadkill. Throughout his career, Partridge has demonstrated a knack for depicting desert places, but his sunbaked New Mexican setting here just might be his most chilling. “Coyotes” hits the mark for X-Files-type horror, and its conclusion also features a fine echo of Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado.”

 

Lore Report: “Ever-Present” (Episode 182)

Mention Nevada to most people and they’ll talk about the Vegas Strip–slot machines, neon signs, fake pyramids, and all-you-can-eat buffets. And sure, that’s a part of Nevada, but it’s not the entire picture. The larger story is older than the lights of Vegas, and much more dangerous than the risk of sunburn or dehydration. It’s a tale filled with big dreams, bigger losses, and more than a few disasters along the way. Yes, you may think you know Nevada, but right around the corner is something wholly unexpected and downright terrifying.

In this week’s episode of the Lore podcast, host Aaron Mahnke explores the dark history of the Silver State. In the mining boomtown of Virginia City, a hotel built over the site of a deadly mine-fire becomes the scene of a series of haunting incidents (later in the episode, Mahnke discusses some other hotel ghosts, the ominously denominated “Red Lady” and “The Stabber”). In the town of Genoa at the end of the 19th Century, a criminal strung up on the “Hanging Tree” by a mob of savage vigilantes levels a generational curse against his persecutors just prior to his lynching. These central narratives lead to a host of unnerving anecdotes (Mahnke’s last account of a cursed Genoan is an absolute goosebump-raiser). A perfectly chilling episode for the Halloween season, “Ever-Present” establishes the ghostly and Gothic as continuous threads running from America’s shadowed past.

 

Countdown: The Top 31 Norman Partridge Works of Short Fiction–#19

[For the previous countdown post, click here.]

 

19. “10/31: Bloody Mary” (2013)

Serendipity would have landed this post-apocalyptic holiday story as the 31st’s countdown post, but today also seems an apropos slotting of a piece first published in October ’13. Within the narrative, the date 10/31 has the same tragic associations as 9/11, but references a whole other order of terrorizing: one fateful Halloween, for no known reason, the monsters of lore overrun the earth. The macabre marauders include witches, werewolves, mummies, gargoyles, bat-riding goblins, and zombies, but the sentient, sirening jack-o’-lanterns might be the most seasonally sinister of all. There’s a certain Dark Tower aura here, with the title character (who has a complicated relationship with the teenage boy she mentors) forming a female version of Stephen King’s itinerant gunslinger Roland Deschain. By Partridge’s own admission (in the Author Spotlight interview appended to “10/31”), he was testing out the premise with this story, and it’s clear that he has plenty more territory to explore in this strange, Halloween-eclipsed world. A novel-length development has been in the making for over a decade now, and promises to be the ultimate dark treat when it finally drops into readers’ begging hands.

 

Countdown: The Top 31 Norman Partridge Works of Short Fiction–#20

[For the previous countdown post, click here.]

 

20. “The House Inside” (2003)

If the previous entry on the countdown was Partridge’s most lighthearted story, this apocalyptic piece qualifies as his bleakest. Think Toy Story by way of The Twilight Zone: a fundamental change in the sun kills off the human population, while turning plastic toys into real action figures. Assorted cowboys, Indians, and soldiers attempt to make their way from the yard to the shaded safety of the house, fighting rats and scorpions along the way, and finding a Mathesonian spider (gargantuan from the toys’ perspective) lurking inside a dollhouse in a child’s bedroom. Partridge plays masterfully with matters of scale, offering descriptions of “cat-hair tumbleweeds” and a dead boy sprawled in the yard “like a giant, pudgy mesa.” The situation also leads to some harrowing images of body horror: one hapless (and now faceless) cowboy has his “features melted slick as an eggshell,” while a sun-punished sergeant ends up glued in place from the waist down, “his bottom half smeared across the floor like the leavings of some goddamn gutter-slug.” As if the narrative weren’t dark enough already, it also presents a grim climactic twist reminiscent of Night of the Living Dead. Not a feel-good story for sure, but unquestionably a real good read.