IN THE FLESH by CLIVE BARKER

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As a writer myself, if I had to name the most major influence on my own style of work, Clive Barker would be the one to jump directly into mind. When I first read him, I said to myself, “That’s how I want to write.”

 

I’ve bounced all around genres trying to find a way to get published, and Barker’s style of internal dialogue is always there; his deep, vivid descriptions of the landscape prevails. I’m not saying I pull it off as well as he does, but I certainly try. Once I went with horror writing, I realized where my home is, and it is due largely in part to the influence of Clive Barker.

 

Everything that I love about Mr. Barker is contained within the short stories of In the Flesh: the nightmarish horror that bends the very air around it; the surreal mythos that seek no apologies for being morbid and disturbing; the unabashed propensity towards violence and the grotesque; the living breathing characters of both good and evil; the seedy urban backdrops detailed into life by the author; and the entrancing tales of struggles against insurmountable situations written in the prose of someone who sees beauty in agony and poetry in pain. When it comes to horror storytelling, there is no author as masterful as he.

 

With that said, I loved all four tales in this book. I will offer here a review of each:

 

“In the Flesh”: Darkness confined to a space no larger than a closet, yet Barker expands it beyond the limits of imagination by creating a harrowing, dream-like city for the damned and the depraved. Here he creates fright on a whole new level with a chilling backdrop to paint his visions of pain and suffering. I wish he would give us more stories from this City of Killers because it is fascinating enough to warrant its own legends and chronicles.

 

“The Forbidden: This is the origin of the infamous 90’s Hollywood slasher known as the Candyman. Set in the dregs of a rundown London slum, this tale shows Barker’s appreciation for the downtrodden and the decomposing icons of man’s mighty failures, seen through the eyes of a curious woman fixated on the graffiti murals sprayed across the crumbling architecture of a forgotten and partially-abandoned area of town. I find the setting to be one of gorgeous misery and almost folkloric squalor worthy of a horrifying urban epic. It is an ideal place for the supernatural madman with a knack for eviscerating his victims and removing bits of them to leave behind hacked-up husks of their former selves. Although no back-story of the Candyman is offered, it adds a spicy mystique to his being, making him both frightening and fascinating. I certainly wish Barker would have expanded on the character. But, I am happy with the tiny piece of deadly sweetness that he gave us.

 

“The Madonna”: Undoubtedly my favorite of the collection. The concept contained in the tale’s central narrative is one that is personal to me and my beliefs. It almost makes me feel connected to the author as it appears we may share similar views on such things. The world he creates in this magical tale of fearsome fantasy carries so much depth and potential that I was disappointed when it ended. I wanted to read an entire 600-1000+ page novel on the world and the characters and the myths. What he gives to us is a thought-provoking, enticing scenario of creation and mankind’s role in it. The lure of Feminine Superiority and dominance is a theme that appeals greatly to me, and the play on the fantastical stories about mermaids or Succubae or angels gives an air of classic fairytales, but only told from the shadows: the parts of the stories parents leave out to keep their children from becoming captives to nightmares. I loved this story and was dying to read further.

 

“Babel’s Children”: This short-fiction stands out from the rest in the sense that it doesn’t delve into the twisted and agonized, or the Hellish or wicked. But, it doesn’t fall short on the bizarre meter as it is actually quite a what-if scenario that is excruciatingly horrifying, but also very plausible. Sometimes, if you really take a look at what goes on in the world, you could honestly see the plot of this story not being far from reality. But, this story begins as more of a suspense-thriller and ends under the guise of government-conspiracy-action novel. Either way, I felt this was a satisfying end to the book considering it ended on a note that felt very satiating and didn’t make the reader pine for the rest of the tale.

 

 

So, I continue to thoroughly enjoy Barker’s work, and even more see why he is my favorite author. I look forward to reading more of his stuff as time goes on.

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THE OCEAN INFERNO AND THE SUN INSIDE THE EARTH

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The Firewalker glided along the Ocean Inferno in pursuit of the Black Ship. The Shadow Riders were pulling away, leaping the flaming waves, heading into the Sea of Fire. Much further and Capt. Asmoday might find himself incinerated by the Sun Inside the Earth.

His crew was already down to its bare bones, having been cut down in the skirmishes with these vile creatures up on Hades Hill. That had been one of the worst slaughters he’d ever experienced in his centuries as a soldier in the Crimson Guard. He had battled creatures from all planes of existence and pulled out more victories than defeats, but he’d never seen anything like these beasts. They were as ferocious as any demons, angels, gods, or devils he’d ever encountered, but they were better organized, stronger, faster, and more determined. There was some sort of undaunted instinct that drove them onward. Whatever their mission, it was worth their lives to them. They flew into death headlong if it was necessary.

It had come as a relief during the battle when they finally started to drop. At first, he wondered if they could even be killed. The way they did not flinch even as vicious blows impacted their smoky bodies was a shot to his squadron’s spirit far worse than wounds of the flesh they received in battle. It took hack upon hack of the heaviest weapons to drop these tenacious beings, but they were not invincible. Eventually, they could be brought down.

Capt. Asmoday had no idea what realm they came from. In all his years, he had never even heard of any race like them, let alone seen them. They were all red clouds of undulating smoke that took on solid forms. They had arms, legs, and heads, but their eyes and mouths were hollow sockets that blazed with spiraling yellow light. They wielded no weapons save their arms and hands, which they swung with sharp, fatal accuracy. Each limb had a slicing effect that gashed skin and muscle and ripped apart bone. Their bodies radiated ever-changing auras of heat and cold so extreme that it either made you blister or freeze in just seconds if you were too close. Trying to fight these powerful foes while maintaining a relatively safe distance was almost impossible.

Eventually, through sly use of the surrounding elements–combating their heat with cold and vice versa via Asmoday’s own sources of magical energy–his battalion succeeded in weakening their ranks and pushing them back down the hill. From there, they fled onto their ship and sped across the bubbling sea towards the reddening horizon. The captain wasted no time giving chase. He could not allow the Shadow Riders to make land anywhere else. The damage they inflicted was always too great as they plundered every inhabited stop along their way to whatever destination their trail of devastation was to take them.

Out in the open fires, that dark vessel could run. He was not sure what their motivation was, or the endgame they sought. All he knew was that they were more than just a force, they were a scourge, and they were mighty enough to rip right through all of the Underworld Kingdoms, leaving an apocalypse in their wake.

“I don’t know where you came from,” he said to himself. “But, I’m going to chase you all the way back there, or I’ll burn trying.”

His troops were all in. As they boarded the Firewalker from the hill, he had turned to them and said, “I am going to chase these monsters right over the edge of oblivion if I have to. They will not continue to take liberties with every land they set foot upon, not as long as I ride the Ocean Inferno. The only reprieve they’ll get from me will come when I am thrown overboard and left melting in the fires below us, for then I will be one with the Inferno. Only then will I stop. If you wish to stay behind, so be it. I will not force you along.”

After a brief silence, one of the crew declared, “We signed up to fight for the Crimson Guard, not wait on Hades Hill for a rescue party. I say we sail, now.”

No protest was offered, and the chase began. Now, they were fighting the mighty flames in pursuit of their own demise. They were sailing deeper into the Red Lands, where the Inferno seared the Earth above and below them. The Sun Inside the Earth roared in the distance, miles and miles away, screaming like an angry monster. These were lands few dared to venture to. Even Capt. Asmoday had never been. No infantry of the Crimson Guard had ever come this far. But, these creatures had to be stopped before they defiled the entire Underworld, sending it back into a state of chaos like it was over millennia ago when the Angry Gods escaped.

That was not going to happen on Capt. Asmoday’s patrol. Not as long as he lead the Firewalker through the Inferno.

CEMETERY STROLL

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The leaves rustle in the cemetery winds. The air is still and I am alone. Caught in the fingers of some unseen autumn phantom, I turn to survey the necropolis surrounding me. Some find it odd that I come here, but I do not care what they think. They are nothing to me–people who know nothing of me, see nothing of me. I’d rather walk among the dead than subject myself to their opinions. So, here I am.

My boots–stained with pale, dried mud from the dreary grounds turned to marsh by the intermittent rain–crunch the fallen leaves, obliterating their husks, erasing the remnants of summer life.

Sometimes I hate when the sun shines. The breeze rustles the grass, it sounds like the day whines, crying towards the onset of twilight, unwilling to give way to the moon, like a child angry at bedtime.

“Oh, don’t kick and scream,” I say, gazing up at the darkening skyline. “There’s always tomorrow.”

The paths in this graveyard are hardly discernible; years of neglect in the form of bramble and debris clutter the walkways. Weeds overlap decaying, eroded tombstones, stained with enough moss and lichen to obscure the words. Nameless now are the corpses, ensconced in the dirt of the world. Earthen beds below the footsteps of life, cradled in the arms of forever. How peaceful it must be.

I am just a ghost in the world, but a visible one. These souls may still wander, but unseen. How secure the obscurity. Often times I wish I couldn’t even talk, then I’d have an unwavering excuse not to interact. I could hang back in the shades, hide in the corners, and pretend to be a carcass in a coffin, unnoticed by the passing crowd.

Ugh…sometimes I make myself sick with all this self-absorbed brooding. I feel like an emo kid’s diary, or his notebook of poems. Sickening. I’m too old for that. But, isn’t every person allowed introspection? I mean, I’m not sitting around burdening people with this sudden bout of narcissism; I’m not sitting in front of a mirror with a razor blade to my forearm. I’m just out peacefully strolling along this ruined resting place, overgrown by time. I find solace in the silence here when the world gets too loud.

A rustle in a large mound of decaying branches interrupts my reverie. At first, I imagine a bird or a rat, or some woodland creature scouring this wasteland for dinner, or perhaps nestling into their home. But, when I hear louder cracks ring out, I can’t help but to try and take a closer look.

As I draw nearer, the movement becomes louder, more pronounced. Several of the branches then sail into the air, landing far away on the other side of the hill of shrubbery and tree limbs, beyond my range of vision. I stop in my tracks, realizing that my company is not of the established denizen of a place like this.

I hear the branches begin to shatter as the massive lump of decomposing forestry starts to quiver, sending pieces sliding off the sides. Snorting grumbles cough out from the other side, followed by a garbled rumble that sounds like noises from cracked, distorted vocal chords.

My body tingles from feet to head, numbing all senses beyond fright. I start to back away, but cannot turn. My morbid nature dies to see what it is. A man? A monster? A beast? Entwined with that dread are exhilaration, excitement, and adventure. I have no idea what is actually about to emerge from the other side.

When I see a large black shape rise above the pile–which stands at least ten feet high–I freeze. I can make out a large, black cranium, jagged horns, and shaggy dark hair. The head looks from side to side and I see a prominent bottom jaw with an extremely long nose, curving downwards into a point. From the top lips hang a set of teeth as big as human bones.

“What the hell?” I whisper.

There is an unintelligible series of grunts just before I watch the head start to rise higher above the dead branches. Beneath the head is a broad, beastly, dark-brown body, rippling with muscles. The smell of death permeates the air. I don’t wait any longer to turn and flee.

I don’t make it far before I step on a bunch of twigs. A deafening, ground-shaking roar then sounds out behind me as I hear the pile of branches begin to be crushed and scattered beneath an immense amount of weight. Methodical, angry vibrations rattle my feet as I run. Heavy, rattling breath drags the wind behind me as whatever ungodly titan arose from the trees begins to lumber in pursuit.

The roar rings out again, almost tossing me to the ground. It is so much nearer, now. All the reserve within me is accessed and I set flight as fast as I can, praying that I don’t lose my footing. But, I don’t know where I’m going to go or how long I’ll have to run. How long can this monster endure? Does it have boundaries?

I’ll run until I’m dead.

The rotten aroma of putrefaction begins to swallow me. The abomination is right behind me. I can see its shadow steal the evening on the ground in front of me. My shadow is gone–erased–just like I fear I am about to be.

The unofficial entrance to the graveyard lies ahead: a small opening in the thin woods blocking the grounds from the highway. I see the gray, dying sunlight beyond it. Maybe if I can make it there, this otherworldly beast will not be able to pass through.

Guess I’m about to find out. I cross my fingers because I am almost all out breath.