Jeffery X. Martin’s, “Short Stories About You”
I’ve been reading horror stories since I’ve been reading stories. I didn’t jump in with the easy stuff, either; I followed the American family tree of horror fiction — Poe. Then Lovecraft. Then King. Then I started following the branches. August Derleth. Robert E. Howard. Then their distant cousins — Mickey Spillane. Dashiell Hammett. Charles Portis.
But that gets us away from horror. And yet, to a certain extent, even those gents who were most widely known for horror never stayed strictly “within the lines.” In fact, some of their very best work isn’t strictly within the lines. For example, one of King’s best and most widely known works, Misery, features nary a spook or a spectre. By contrast, one of Edgar Allen Poe’s most notable short stories, “Never Bet The Devil Your Head”, is a morality tale wrapped in black comedy, while Robert E. Howard borrowed heavily from H.P. Lovecraft in order to populate the world of Conan the Cimmerian with menaces equal to the task of putting cold sweat on the brow of that otherwise-indomitable primal man.
I feel the need to remind you of these things as we approach, “Short Stories About You”. Each of the writers I’ve heretofore named had one very special thing in common: They were pioneers. Groundbreakers.
Poe pioneered horror-as-justice, as in “The Telltale Heart.” Lovecraft pioneered absolute immersion in the environments he created — punctuated, at the moment of the final terror, of lack of immersion which could effectively convey overwhelming shock as well as fear. King broke ground by conveying the real and the unreal with such earnestness and subtlety as to render it all crawlingly believable.
Jefferey X. Martin is breaking ground here. And there are body parts on the shovel. They’re your body parts, and they’re moving.
“Short Stories About You” is something that, to my knowledge, has never been done before. Ever. This is horror in the second person. Unlike the common third-person narrator, be it omniscient or not, these are not events you’re safely detached from.
Unlike horror in the first person, there is no “comfort zone” here — this isn’t someone sitting down beside you and telling you about a terrible thing which, no matter how much terror is involved, you know that at least the narrator made it out alive to tell you what happened.
Each and every one of these stories happens to you.
These are nothing so safe, nothing so tame, as horror movies. These are hand crafted designer nightmares. And like the very worst nightmares, few of them rely on gore.
Stephen King is known to have written, and I agree with him on this, that there are three levels of fear in fiction or on the screen:
The highest of these is terror. Terror is that which you have been expertly led to suspect but are never clearly shown.
The second highest is horror. Horror is seeing what you suspected. Both of these rely on emotional context for their impact.
The final, basest level is simply what King calls, “The Gross-Out.” That doesn’t really require any explanation.
What Jeffery X. Martin has done here is deliver 13 perfect slam dunks of fear, and a further story that you will just have to read to find out about, because I’m not going to offer spoilers.
I might tease you, though, just a little. Because, like the God of “Last Rites (There Is No Sky)”, I just have that kind of a sense of humor.
Within the pages of “Short Stories About You”, you will encounter an affectionate wink to Lovecraft… which will proceed to rend the flesh of your mind. You will have the very best kind of luck… that turns into the very worst thing that could ever happen to you. You will face the monster. You will become the monster.
These stories transcend horror fiction as you know it. They achieve something that is simply but absolutely beyond “horror fiction.” Some of these, not to put too fine a point on it, very well may fuck you up for a little while.
These are very short symphonies in the key of trauma. They are masterpieces in the art of Disturbance.
Get “Short Stories About You” at the link below for $2.99 on Kindle.