I'm Rebbie, the founder of Rebbie Reviews on Wordpress. I'm very grateful to Gingernuts of Horror for this opportunity to introduce myself on this fantastic site!
A few fun facts before I launch into what got me started on blogging, my big loves are Reading (obviously), Animals and Travelling. I live in a city so I absolutely love getting out into the countryside and seeing some green, it's like a little holiday! I help my husband homebrew so we always have a cellar full of Beer, Wine and whatever concoctions he's dreamed up and we both enjoy films and Gaming.
My favourite Author is the exceptionally talented Mr Lex H Jones, his books captivate me in a way that just makes everything else go away. I read half of his latest release The Other Side of The Mirror in one sitting in a pub while having an Estate Agent show my house. The pub made a fair bit out of me in the way of coffee that day because I couldn't bear to put the book down. I would absolutely recommend any of his works, if you don't want to dedicate the time to a full novel (which you should but I won't judge you too harshly) he's got plenty of short stories in various collections.
My favourite Genre of anything is Horror, despite having several childhood fears that are still extremely present, and my favourite Film is Labyrinth, or Chucky. Not much difference there then! I love a good musical as much as the next person, in fact for a nice blend of both you should check out Repo: The Genetic Opera, that's a fabulous film.
I've been highly passionate about reading ever since I can remember. Everyone I've ever known has commented about my appetite for books and I have a habit of giving a verbal review every time I read something, that's actually how I started Rebbie Reviews.
At one time I had a long commute to work (2 hours there, 2 hours back for a four hour shift) so I used to get through the books like nobody you've ever seen. My Husband, bless his extremely patient soul, was getting so many verbal reviews of books that one day he suggested I start a blog, so I did! I expected it to be like some kind of online diary where I would mumble to myself about what I thought of books and never get any kind of following. After all, who am I? Some book swot from Sheffield that nobody knows, who cares what I think?
I could not have been more wrong! I quickly reached a point where I needed spreadsheets to keep up with the review requests, I had competitions going, signed books being sent to me, interviews, blog hops, beta reading, author spotlights - you name it, I was doing it. I even edited a book! The blog was booming, I even had readership in Indonesia and Malaysia! I had a competition winner who I mailed a book and some chocolate to - in the Philippines! It grew so fast I couldn't believe my eyes!
It was also utterly exhausting. I had authors blocking me because they didn't like what I thought of their books, I had some rather nasty comments on the blog at one stage but I found those quite funny so I authorised them for all to see, haha! I couldn't read what I wanted because I had that many requests coming in that I had no time for choice, as life carried me forward into a busier job, buying a house and ultimately wedding planning and marriage I lost my grip on the blog and unfortunately a lot of that stuff died away as I became quieter. I'm no less invested than I was but sometimes life just gets in the way. So yes there are both highs and lows to it, but I refuse to make this venture any kind of paid work so I can't really put the time into it that I want to in order to keep it as busy as I did.
I've met some wonderful people doing what I do and I'm so grateful to my Husband for his off the cuff "will you please shut up so I can play this game in peace" suggestion. I've had authors handing out bookmarks with my blog address on at Horror Conventions, I've met the creative minds behind so many wonderful stories and never, even when the blog was getting stressful, have I regretted a moment of it. My only regret is having slacked off a bit really, I'm sorry to my readers for that.
If you are a book blogger/reviewer and would like to take part in this new series of articles please drop us an email at by clicking here.
Please include your blog banner, a photo of yourself, and any links that you would like us to include in the article
I know, I know: we've been here before, right? Yes, we most certainly have: the Resident Evil franchise, despite its slightly hokey, B-movie stylings, is still a principle source of some of the most iconic distressing and disturbing moments in video game history, largely due to the time and climate in which the first few games originally occurred:
Like most of us that recall them fondly, video gaming itself was passing through a kind of adolescence, the transition from 16-bit, side-scrolling or top-down two dimensions to 32-bit and three dimensions often painful, ugly, far from perfect, but also wildly inspiring, inventive and allowing access to experiences we had never imagined.
As noted in previous entries, Resident Evil 2 is largely regarded as the most succesful in the franchise, certainly of the early titles, taking the basic formula of the original and expanding upon it enormously, flourishing the George A. Romero influences with a touch of John Carpenter, a pinch of David Cronenberg, more than a smattering of H.R. Giger, resulting in a much-expanded experience not only in terms of environment but also its horror.
For my money, one of the most iconic monstrosities ever created for the Resident Evil franchise, certainly my favourite in terms of design and sheer presence, is the constantly mutating, Lovecraftian body-horror abomination that is William Birkin.
In Resident Evil 2, William Birkin is one of the scientists responsible for the creation of the T-Virus pathogen which wreaked such calamity in the original game. Through a variety of logs, flashbacks and conversations, the game reveals that, not only was he responsible for that particular strain, but also a much-enhanced version known as the G-Virus.
Throughout the mid-to-late game, the player is hunted and harassed by a creature that roars and cries out as though in pain, that, when encountered, swells and mutates before the player's eyes. Initially, the creature appears to be a particularly tumorous form of zombie. However, that impression is soon put paid to as its original, human head becomes subsumed into its left shoulder, its right arm swelling beyond any natural proportions, sprouting bony, scythe-like talons and an immense, tertiary eye in the shoulder.
This is what William Birkin has become: host and victim to his own creation, which, we learn, he injected himself with at the point of death to save his research from the villainous Umbrella Corporation.
Reduced to an undead bio-weapon of incredible strength, he hunts the player throughout the game, each encounter becoming more and more abominable as the G-Virus transforms and adapts him.
In one of the earliest encounters with the monster, it becomes apparent that Birkin has abilities far beyond any common or garden zombie: when we find the corrupt police chief of Raccoon City (whom, we learn, is on Umbrella's pay roll), he's already half dead, having become host to a parasitic worm that Birkin is capable of spawning and injecting into unwilling hosts. The result is an abortive, barely formed monstrosity that bursts out of the chief's body, tearing him apart, which then becomes an early boss-encounter.
This capacity is why Birkin is chasing the player: it's not us that he's after, but rather his daughter Sherry, who is biologically compatible with the parasites and may therefore spawn another, far more aggressive and adaptable species of bio-weapon.
This bizarre, incestuous urge renders the monster not only tragic but highly disturbing: Birkin has effectively -and unwittingly- made himself the ultimate biological weapon: a creature that endlessly evolves and adapts, that requires incineration of its every cell before it can be destroyed, capable of replicating wildly in any environment where there are potential hosts, spawning swarms of abominations.
The encounters with the creature in game are all effectively terrifying, from the first time we hear the creature bellowing, calling for its daughter, to the moment we encounter the once-man and realise that this is far, far more than a mere victim of the T-Virus. The fact that the creature hunts the player throughout the game leaves us to wonder where and when he'll pop up next, and what hideous tranformations he'll have suffered in the interim.
In latter encounters, the creature loses any and all semblance to the man it once was, save for a distorted, smeared semblance of Birkin's original face subsumed into its left-hand breast, what remains a many-limbed, bone-barbed, muscular monstrosity capable of taking apart an armoured carriage in its fury.
In most versions of the game, Birkin is the final encounter: his body finally surrendering to the influence of the G-Virus, resulting in something that is almost beyond description: an explosion of insane anatomy, immense talons, a maw that is little more than a mass of teeth, the creature acting like some wild and rabid beast until the player brings the heavy arms they have accumulated to bear and puts it down.
What makes Birkin so especial is not only the constantly changing nature of his design, all iterations of which are singularly, brilliantly distressing, but the humanity in the monster: the fact that this entity wasn't merely a man at one time, but a brilliant and inspired bio-chemist, reduced to near-mindless, instinctive abomination by his own genius. Not only that, but a doting and loving Father, whose dedication to his daughter becomes obscenely twisted within the monster he makes from himself, degenerating into an animal, incestuous need to procreate.
But even this isn't the end.
Should the player complete all scenarios within the game (A and B respectively for each character), they gain access to the true ending, which occurs AFTER the closing cinematic of the basic scenarios:
Escaping from the gigantic bio-weapons lab beneath Raccoon City on an automated train, protagonists Leon Kennedy and Clare Redfield find that Birkin is far from dead, having somehow snuck aboard the train in search of Sherry, his state now so degenerated that he resembles nothing less than the bubbling, amorphous mass of H.P. Lovecraft's Shoggoth, a creature without clear form or definition, that blisters endlessly with mismatched eyes, gaping, wound-like mouths and flailing tendrils.
The encounter is one of incredible tension, as the player is forced to back down the train as Birkin drags his mass from carriage to carriage, flailing out with bone-barbed tendrils to anchor himself. Should the player not defeat him in time, then they are pressed back against the far wall of the engine by his immensity and devoured whole.
Should they rain enough damage on the creature, however, it finally cannot sustain its mutating form and dissolves into a puddle of bubbling protoplasm, allowing Leon and Clare to finally escape the horrors of Raccoon City with Sherry in tow.
For my money, William Birkin was and remains one of the Resident Evil franchise's seminal monsters, a creature with tragically human origins, driven by a twisted form of parental connection, mindless yet just human enough to realise its own atrocity.
The fact that he'll be playing a central role in the up-and-coming sequel fills me with the most cruel and morbid glee.
This is part and parcel of growing up, of maturing as an imagining, dreaming entity: an evolution of our abstract selves, that is too often neglected or denied by the materialistic proscriptions of our cultures.
The fears of children are often without reason or logic: what is designed specifically to scare or frighten often doesn't, to the point whereby even actual, physical dangers are ignored, whereas images and experiences that have no overtly horrific qualities at all become icons of profound disturbance.
Whilst memory is itself a very poor medium -go and read any study you care to find on the nature of memory; one thing they universally concur on is that the phenomena we call “memory” does not function as a clear or precise record of experience, rather a kind of endlessly self-editing dream or nightmare-, what I recall of childhood is that certain images and experiences lodged in my mind like thorns and, from there, elaborated into nightmares of such detail and florid excess, they still maintain a fascination to this day.
Very often, those experiences would have meant nothing to the casual observer or anyone else engaging with them:
I remember narrow alleys cutting through abandoned industrial estates, overgrown with weeds, littered with filth, their twists and turns leading to labyrinths of underpasses and old housing projects, sink estates etc. I remember the strange thrill of fear standing at their entrances, peering into the grey and dismal murk, smelling their faintly chemical filth on the air, imagining what strange minotaurs and spectres must haunt them. I remember them later featuring in actual nightmares, the paths and ways torn up from their actual locations and cobbled together into dreamscapes that boasted their own bizarre topographies and structures.
I remember, when I was very, very young indeed, the winding stairwell and strangely claustrophobic upstairs landing of a friend's house, its atmosphere so bizarre in the dark, as though there was always something lingering there, unseen, waiting to make itself known. Again, another location that featured heavily in my nightmares.
I remember the old stone fireplace of the house I grew up in, its grey and crumbling structure rising up to pierce the ceiling, in parody of old fashioned chimneys, its strangeness, its incongruity, fascinating me as a child, but also proving potent stuff for nightmare-imaginings:
A particularly vivid scene coming to me in the midst of fever, sleeping downstairs, on the sofa, coughing and spluttering, shivering and boiling hot, the stone seeming to part and peel away from itself, revealing a vivd, glowing red interior, a series of tunnels that wound through some underground place, through which I was forced to crawl, losing myself, hearing but barely seeing the creatures that haunted and burrowed through the condition.
I remember a farmer's field where my grandfather would take us walking with his dog of an evening. One particular evening, late Autumn, already dark, the air shivering cold, we found the field carpeted in a low-lying mist, so still and dense, it seemed almost blue. I recall being fascinated and terrified by it as we walked through the field, on a raised bank of earth that led to the stiles and public paths on the opposite side. What my imagination populated that mist with, what it conjured from the dirt and darkness. . .I can barely recall with any specificity now, only vague images and impressions; flashes of distorted form and feature, things formed of the mist, clotted with soil and worms.
So, so much was frightening when I was a child, as I believe it is for many children: we lack the context and capacity to understand the physical parameters of reality at that point in our development; the same ignorance and lack of experience that allows us to believe in Santa Claus and Tooth Fairies. Imagination is a fevered engine, and the distinction between it and waking reality has yet to be determined: we don't understand that the world is staid and bound by physical laws, by constraints of probability, and, as such, it is a playground of magic and miracles; of potential wonders, but also of monsters, phantoms and horrors.
Every shadow, every unlit room, every stairwell and strange pathway, becomes a site of potential terror; places where ghosts might manifest, where demons might crawl from the darkness, where undead things might shamble from the night.
For a child whose imagination was well fed -and often with material that might, ostensibly, have been too disturbing or horrific in nature-, that was emphasised to the power of N: so, so much scared me as a child, so much coalesced from unfamiliar spaces, that I learned to not only accept it, but to enjoy the experience. It became something of a thrill to find old, abandoned buildings alongside disused rail-tracks, their crumbling interiors pregnant with potential, to explore unfamiliar pathways cutting through woodland and swamps and farmer's fields, where strange sounds and rustlings escalated as dusk fell. Those same monsters, those same demons and entities that my imagination conjured, that scared and made me smile so earnestly, are still very much here, with me; still parts of who I am, what I love and obsess over, what my imagination conjures again and again.
No matter how scared I might have been of them as a child, they have become so much more than icons of fear, nightmares to be projected on the world: As Ogden Nash once stated: “Wherever there's a monster, there's a miracle.” They are my miracles, my therapy, the projections and concepts by which I explore the condition of my own mind, my neuroses, my issues, my concerns, as they once were, but unacknowledged, lacking the language or capacity to define that state, as I did, back then.
As Rowan Fortune Wood, of Rowan-Tree Editing (links below) once pointed out of my fiction: “. . .it is a utopia of freaks,” and that is sublimely true, in a way I never consciously considered during the act of writing: those same beasts and demons that have haunted me since my earliest years are still here, in some shape or form: possessing entities that express the shape and nature of my mind, that then feed and inform it, for better or worse: they are not simply creatures to be disturbed by or afraid of any longer: they are as much projections of love and lust, of beauty and desire, of transcendence and aspiration, as they are of abomination and disturbia. They and the environments that spawned them have become far more ambiguous, both to me and, I hope, to the world at large:
This is part and parcel of growing up, of maturing as an imagining, dreaming entity: an evolution of our abstract selves, that is too often neglected or denied by the materialistic proscriptions of our cultures.
When asked: “What frightened you as a child?” I immediately experience images and recollections that I now obssess over, that recur again and again in my idle imaginings, my dreams, my fiction. Those environments, those images, those strange perceptual distortions and existential crises that children almost universally experience, have become beloved rather than denied for their disturbing qualities. The very experience of disturbance has become welcome, one of transgression and transcendence.
As such, I try to relive those experiences, to conjure and express them through my fiction, through every idle, day-dreaming moment:
As Tolkien and myriad others have expressed, we can never go home again: we cannot conure the exact same experiences and states of mind we inhabited as children, because we're not any more: even if we could somehow contrive to revisit the same situations and places in exactly the same circumstances, we would perceive and interpret them differently. That makes even those strange moments of childhood terror obscenely precious, ephemeral artefacts that will never come again and will never be in quite the same states, shapes or forms. They are the nightmare-gospels of our mythic selves, the stories that inform who we are, what we dread and desire.
So, when I vaguely recall the immense house spider that ran across the back of my hand when I was barely born, thus exciting an arachnophobia that sustains to this day, I do so with a perverse and shuddering joy. When I recall the way shadows used to pool in one particular corner of the room I shared with my brother when we were very young, seeming to form monstrous shapes and figures I used to scare myself to sleep with, it's with a thrill of excitement at the storytelling potential. When I recall the persistent nightmare that haunted my childhood of the silent, abandoned town that I used to reach by descending a ladder from the clouds, the distressing, gaunt guardian who wandered its streets, his immense eyes far too vast for his wasted, skull-like features, their mad glare enough to make me flee into the surrounding alleys and shadows, I do so with a fascination that some might consider morbid, but which I can't deny.
There were stories, when I was a child: rumours and fragments of myth that would spread around playgrounds and schoolyards, parks and street corners, of local houses where murders, suicides and Satanic rites were conducted, friends of friends who'd dared to trespass in them, witnessing things that the storytellers often struggled to detail, but which I and my friends devoured with the appetites of starving creatures, no matter how they terrified or repelled.
Stories of ghost-children inhabiting particular classrooms or corridors, whose faces could sometimes be seen pressed against windows from the outside or in doorways we were obliged to pass. Stories of black, yellow-eyed shapes seen in the darkness of crumbled-down buildings, in the lengthening shadows of fields where we used to play, barely half a mile from home. Stories of aliens in gardens, of psychic fits, visions of tomorrow, of lights and shapes in the sky, of angels on rooftops. The world boasted so few parameters back then, the images that most horror films and books presented seemed so tame by comparison:
The things we imagined, that we gnawed over, that rendered us insomniac sometimes for weeks at a time. . .so much more distressing, so much more vivid and personal, nothing created by others could possibly equal them.
As a child of the 1980s, there were also vaster, proscribed terrors at work: I was one of the last generations to still shiver beneath the looming shadow of the mushroom cloud, the threat of nuclear annihilation, that seemed so real back then, so tangible, almost every element of our media suffused with it, stoking that proscribed fear, amongst numerous others:
Cancer, AIDs, economic and environmental collapse, drugs and addiction, kidnappings, serial killers. . .even our damn cartoons and comics concerned themselves with this material, ensuring that we were a generation perpetually afraid, awaiting the myriad “Swords of Damacles” that had hung over us since before we were born to fall.
It's hardly any wonder that we were and are a generation of fear. That we obsess over our nightmares and express them at every opportunity, that we are depressive and anxious and uncertain in our adult, waking lives, that our childhoods were riddled not only with celluloid and printed terrors, but with projected and imagined ones, too.
I distinctly recall being terrified by the likes of Threads, When the Wind Blows et al, obsessing and imagining over and over what it would be like to be caught up in those holocausts, to be blistered and burned down the bone whilst still alive.
I recall a BBC documentary about Cancer which caused me sleepless nights, programs about the effects of pollution and global warming that made me terrified of tomorrow.
My Dad was and remains a smoker; a fact that will likely kill him or contribute to some significant ailment in his later years. That used to terrify me.
So much to fear, but also so much to exult in, to draw on, to express. It's now amazing to me, confusing and baffling, how what terrified, repelled or disturbed began to exercise its own fascination and obsession, which now consumes and defines me utterly, as an early middle-aged adult, that is the primary focus of my imaginative output, what I seek to consume through literature and art, film and video games.
The fears of childhood have become the welcome nightmares of my adult imagination. Long, long may they continue to swell.
SOMEWHERE BETWEEN HIGH HEAVEN AND LOW HELL
Born in blood . . . the first breath and all that follow, tainted by original trauma, echoing throughout every thought, every heartbeat; blossoming into more profound pain, until breath and thought both cease . . .
What we grow accustomed to...what we can endure:
The days bleed into one another, as we do; hurt defining every moment.
No more. Now, all instants are one; pulsing brilliant, ecstasy and agony, rendered down; experienced in a heartbeat.
Every shame. Every sorrow. Humanity, history. This is what we are; the God we gave birth to.
Better? Yes. Yes. Now, we all suffer the same; no more division; no privilege or powerlessness. We are the same; sexless, skinless, ex sanguine.
And we celebrate, content in our disgrace.
Jackson had lost count of how many days had passed over his head. His blowtorched lungs raw from screamed efforts to reach the surface world from the bottom of the well. Everything was out of reach, towards a freedom which he could barely remember to imagine. Madness was upon the horizon, hot on the heels of disconnection and disorientation.
His clothes sagged on his wraith frame as loosely as the skin of his trembling bones. Delusions and dreams indistinguishable from reality.
Jackson bent down, took a handful of dirt, and stared at it before he shoveled it into his mouth and sobbed as it crunched between his teeth. The moss tickled like spiders legs down his throat, Jackson lurched forward, retching as he gagged trying to keep it all down.
He scraped at the ground, shoveling more dirt into his mouth. He stopped, rolled the sticky dirt between his thumb and fingers. Brought them to his nostrils and inhaled. He had shit here before hadn’t he? He retched until his throat felt raw. Food only good for worms.
Jackson looked down at the rucksack and kicked it. He swore at it. Something, anything to shadow those thoughts of steaming plates and scraping forks.
Where was his wife? Where was Clara? Why wasn’t she out here looking for him?
She was probably glad he was gone. She had spoken of Matt often in soft and sometime awestruck tones. He could do this, he could do that, He swept this woman off her feet and that woman off her feet and so many more. Clara, she would be next on Matt’s list. It was just a matter of time after all. The fact he neglected to tell his wife where he had gone did not cross his fragmented thoughts.
His fingers felt warm, wet, and sore. He withdrew his hands and held them closer to his face. Layers of skin had parted from the flesh leaving bloodied muscle in the departure of the two. Without thinking, he licked his fingers and with it came slices of raw skin.
A crooked smile crossed his lips. The chewable texture appealed to him.
He cleaned the bloodied skin from the wounds on his fingertips with his grinding teeth. He licked his fingers. Salty with sweat.
He looked to the floor and saw the sewing kit peeking out of the rucksack. He bent down and retrieved the scissors. Jackson’s stomach growled like a hungry beast. He wiped his dry lips and he lay his head back and took a deep breath.
He did not look. He pressed the scissors against his hand; he could feel the cold blade against the skin of his palm. He trembled. He felt a nausea ripple through him and he wondered if he could bring himself to do it. Jackson took another deep breath, held it for a moment or two, and exhaled. His foot beat a tattoo as the adrenaline pumped through his body.
The scissors unclenched and his eyes closed as he brought the open blades to the little finger on his left hand, there the blades to lay a gentle kiss against his skin. Jackson wanted to shut the scissors as though slamming a door, but could not bring himself to commit to the act. He slid the blades down along his little finger without breaking the skin; the steel caressed his flesh, making it crawl. He could hear the blades sing like a bow against the strings of a violin.
He wanted to puke. Did he have to lose it? He would need that it one day, wouldn’t he? He didn’t want to make the cut, but the hunger roared.
Jackson stripped his t-shirt off. Jackson realized that been down here longer than he first thought.
He was still a big guy, but what parts of him once held with thick contents of fat were now fold upon fold of loose skin ripe with nerve endings. His deflating pectorals had travelled south to the point that his nipples folded beneath the skin. Jackson opened the scissors and took hold of some flapping skin hanging down like a curtain at his side. The sensation of cold steel waiting to close on his skin like an alligator, a moment from snapping shut, taking a bite.
Wait. Wait. For God's sake, wait. There had to be another way.
He could feel the scissors nipping at his skin, eager to be feed fed and more eager to feed him. That hunger, that raging, painful hunger. The screaming madman bounced off the walls inside his mind, drowning out the voice of rationality. It fell to a whisper. It fell silent.
He held the scissors tighter; he pinched at the skin between his thumb and forefinger and stretched it out like a fleshy elastic band. His breaths quickened. Quicker. Quicker. And quicker still. He would not be starve.
Jackson took one final deep breath. Gritted his teeth and slammed the blades hugging his skin shut as he made the first cut. He bellowed like a wounded beast. Torn and tormented. The first cut only pierced his skin, it would take more than this, if he wanted to live. He would have to make many more cuts yet. Snip. Snip. Snip. With each crocodile snap of the blades shutting down on his flesh, he shouted, he pounded his feet against the walls with every inch of his hurt. He held his head between his legs and threw up into the muddy puddle that he lived in.
The world around him flickered in shades of grey and abyss black.
The pain became intense to the point he could feel the breeze over every severed nerve ending. He threw his head back and began to laugh at the burgeoning moon, a howl almost, the kind of laugh that only a maniac could appreciate. His howls lost their humor as he cut deeper and deeper with the scissors, tearing raggedly through the flesh. And he tore. He tore away his fold of flesh to stop the pain. He pulled the last part from its confines and he held it in his hand, towards the light of the moon. He lay his flesh to one side, on top of the rucksack and he began the painful process of stitching himself back together. Jackson acted quickly as he held together those loose parts of himself together between his thumb and forefinger. He felt faint, as though his very brain was going to explode and his thoughts fragmented to where they were scattered like dust in the wind, lost forever and beyond recovery. He began to sew, sealing together his wounded body. He took several deep breaths and tied off the stitching, leaned back and rested his head against the wall as he clutched at his wound. He waited as he chased his fleeting breaths. Perhaps his screams had attracted some attention. He hoped. He listened out for the slightest movement, only to hear the gentle whistle of the wind passing over his prison. It would be more the case that he scared someone, anyone away. Who in their right mind would answer to a screaming man? Not many, he guessed.
Jackson felt sore, but proud. He wanted to cry. He wanted to whoop with joy. More than anything, there was the hunger. The overriding sense to consume.
The flesh flapped about between his fingers, strangely, there was something alluring in it.
The first bite tasted like chewy cold chicken but not like the bloodied ham, it resembled.
He took another deep breath and held the scissors to his freshly sewn stitches. He stopped just short of cutting the thread. Salivating at hungry thoughts. The closer to the bone, the sweeter the meat. It repeated in his head like a mantra. He stopped the thought.
No. It would do him no good eating himself into nothingness. He had to get out of here or die.
He kicked and punched at the walls. Scraping at the bricks in a frenzy, fingers searching the gaps between each one, and with each swipe and scrape, his fingernails lifted.
His digging continued. The bricks, they were beginning to give! Jackson picked up his pace; he scraped along the crevices harder than before, deeper. He ignored the pain running through his fingers, he gave little thought to the blood running down his palm, he did not think as his nails began to crack, creaking apart from his fingertips. Jackson thrust his raw digits into the gaping holes that were forming in between the bricks, feeding his fingers through until he had a good grip. He drove the scissors in and used it them as leverage. He began to pant as the brick started to wobble like a tooth in his grip. Jackson yanked out the first brick and cast it to the ground along with a couple of his fingernails. His brain registered the pain; he gritted his teeth and let loose a muted cry. He could not stop now, not when his hell was crumbling. Soon brick by brick followed as though he had found the key that kept them all locked together. Frenzied, he was pulling them out two at a time, a hole was forming.
He stopped. He waited.
A noise. A low rumble began to rise promising deafness in its wake. Jackson grimaced. His eyes squinted, and his hands balled up into fists as it built towards its crescendo, louder and louder, it became. The well was beginning to cave in. The dirt rained upon him hard and fast, the bricks began to fall like hammers of hail. Striking him. Jackson held one hand above his head as he ducked down and pushed his way to the top as he scrambled for balance against the avalanche. The dirt was closing in around his ankles, flooding to his knees, showering with no sign of relenting. Jackson’s arms flailed as he tried to dig his way out, the dirt was coming thick and fast. It would not be long before it would climbing towards his chest, his throat and before he would know it, into and down his mouth. The thought spurned him. Jackson noticed a crest was beginning to form, giving him a hill to climb. He pulled at the dirt as it came to his waist, and more bricks were beginning to fall, bouncing off his shoulders, and back, striking his neck with hammer blows. He began to pull himself out of the dirt as it tried to suck him down into the depths. He crawled on his hands and knees and kept his head down and eyes up.
He reached up and clawed his way back. The top came into view one painful stretch after another; he stopped to check his wound. He felt something warm running down his stomach, making its way down his leg. He felt his T-shirt clinging to his body. He bled. His stitches popped. He felt weak. A part of him wanted to let go, roll to the ground, and let the earth claim him. He looked up; the edge of the surface was within reach.
He felt the wind brushing against his open wound as he made his final ascent. He smiled. He winced. Jackson grabbed the edge of the well wall and heaved himself over the edge. His body gave into rest as he lay upon the cold wet grass. He looked up at the stars and fell into a restless and bloodied slumber.
He awoke as the sun broke over the horizon. The red sky conjured memories of blood. He awoke hungry. He had dreamt of eating, ignoring all the steaming plates of rice, of buttered corn on the cob and large bowls of ice cream. He wanted meat. Raw. Pale. Chewy. Yellow with fat.
Jackson stood and left everything else behind. The sewing kit, the rucksack. The half-chewed remnants of himself he had cut away.
He held onto the scissors. He clung to them.
Clara would still be at home.
He was cold and hungry.
Her body would be warm and inviting.
Not for long.
Rob Teun writes Sci-fi, Horror, and Fantasy. He lives in Lincolnshire with his family. He can be found on Twitter: @rob_teun
Exploring The Labyrinth
In this series, I will be reading every Brian Keene book that has been published (and is still available in print) in order of original publication, and then producing an essay on it. With the exception of Girl On The Glider, these essays will be based upon a first read of the books concerned. The article will assume you’ve read the book, and you should expect MASSIVE spoilers.
I hope you enjoy my voyage of discovery.
8. Take The Long Way Home
A couple of decades ago, I had the enormous privilege of seeing Ken Campbell, in the back room of a south London pub, doing a stage show very loosely based on his then-current TV show Reality On The Rocks (1995). The show was about exploring the then-fashionable theories about quantum mechanics, and how much they overturned, or at least profoundly challenged, how we understood the universe to work. It was a serious TV show, in that it featured interviews with people like Stephen Hawking, and Campbell did a fine job as a pretty bright chap but non-subject specialist in trying to bridge the gaps between the planet sized brains and their thinking, and, well, the rest of us. The show was part stand up routine, part live version of a DVD extra, where he deconstructed his own performance, provided commentary and hindsight, and just in general was Ken Campbell in person, which was no small pleasure to be close to.
I found my mind returning to that show as I read this novella for two reasons. The first is that Campbell introduced (via Hawking) to my teenage brain the concept of the multiverse; i.e., the notion that for every single decision, made by every single living creature on the planet, there exists a separate parallel universe where a different decision was made. In one of the crowning moments of the show, he recounted how he’d been allowed one question that was not scripted by the researchers that he could ask Hawking, and how after great deliberation, he’d settled on asking the great man, in essence, if he really believed in these alternate universes as having a real, physical existence, as opposed to a theoretical one - the punchime being Hawking’s single word reply, “Yes.”
As the next book in this project will make utterly explicit, Keene’s work takes place in a multiverse, and Take The Long Way Home seems to me to be taking place in either the same one, or one immediately adjacent to White Fire. Here, as there, angels are real, and the end of the world is triggered by biblical intervention; specifically, the Book Of Revelation as interpreted by born again Christianity. In other words, it’s Keene doing the rapture.
We meet Charlie, Craig, and Steve (our POV character), who are car sharing on their home bound commute when the trumpet sounds, causing huge numbers of people to vanish immediately, and many of the rest to immediately crash into suddenly driverless cars. The scale of what’s happening is epic, but Keene keeps it up close and personal, letting Steve discover for himself just how big the event is. It’s a smart choice, allowing the immediacy and shock of the situation (including the obliteration of driver Hector’s head, courtesy of a pipe fallen from the back of a lorry, a thrillingly horrible piece of imagery that has lingered long in the memory) to play out in real time for the first 30 pages, complete with missing children, spouses, casualties, and psychological disintegration. It soon becomes clear to our small band that there’s no help coming any time soon, and they make the decision to walk the thirsty miles back home together.
From there the book is effectively a travelogue, bringing to mind both large sections of Lord Of The Rings and King-as-Bachman’s The Long Walk - the latter, especially, as there’s a sense of desperation and pressure that accompanies their march, the compulsion to push through physical endurance. Keene writes this well, giving a sense of the scale of the task and the drag of time, providing vivid descriptions of the surroundings and the deterioration of the walkers, yet keeping the narrative moving at a neat clip - I was given the sense of time passing, but the prose remains as readable and flowing as ever, and the story propelled me through the pages quickly.
And although the Bachman novel is dystopian sci-fi focussing on a fascist government rather than Take The Long Way Home’s societal collapse, there’s also a commonality in theme in terms of the thinness of the veneer of civilisation, and the dangerously close-to-the-surface cruelty, sadism, and violence that so many of us are capable of. There’s an encounter along the road with a small group of survivors and a man that’s been hung from an overpass (the sign around his neck proclaiming him to be a child molestor) that’s chilling, both in the ambiguity of the mobs responsibility (they deny it, but our traveling companions have their doubts), but also the more-or-less casual acceptance of the fact of it. It made me reflect on how our current rejection of public killings as punishment (in most countries), and certainly of extrajudicial violence is so recent; how few decades you need to go back to find postcards from hangings and lynchings, public torture and violence both in the name of ‘justice’ and straight up mob violence and terrorism against people of colour, or people who are in any way non-heteronormative, as just part of day to day life. It’s sobering to think about, and in 2019 a little scary to think about how close we might be to returning to that state of violence and fear. Civilisation (a word I have a very complicated, conflicted relationship with) is a very, very fragile thing, if history is any guide. Sure, the intervention in Take The Long Way Home is supernatural rather than man made; still, it’s hard not to reflect on the collective insanity unleashed on the world following the mass trauma that the horrific crimes of 9/11 inflicted on a generation (an event explicitly referenced in this book, and one that feels, appropriately, to inform so many of the whatever-the-plural-of-apocalypse-is that Keene clearly has a creative preoccupation, if not obsession with), and the attendant bonfire of civil liberties and war without end in the middle east, and feel a shudder of recognition and fear.
And it’s worth talking about that supernatural underpinning here, because it’s another key concern of the narrative, and it’s one that, as you might expect given the subject of my debut novel, I have some interest in. Born Again Christianity, especially in it’s American, self-help-and-capitalism-yay form, was somewhere between a fascination and mild obsession for me during my teenage years. As a then-committed atheist, I found it to be a deeply disturbing, alienating movement, so unfamiliar to my Church of England schooling as to be unrecognisable. The witnessing and evangelism seemed aggressive and gauche to me, and the emphasis on earnings and the ostentatious wealth of so many of the preachers seemed corrupt, cultish; even blasphemous, which is an odd reaction for an atheist, but, well, cultural Christian, I guess.
And perhaps one of the most cultish elements is that it has its own prophecy of apocalypse, based on an (IMO) very confused and contested read of the Book Of Revelation; The Rapture.
In The Rapture (a phrase that appears a lot in born again literature but nowhere in the bible), the theory is that the already-saved (i.e. those who are Born Again Christians) are called immediately to Heaven, while the rest of us have to deal with an AntiChrist who leads a one world government through 7 years of hell of earth, with fires, floods, famine, all that groovy stuff, before God returns for a final judgement and a bunch of people get the lake of fire treatment. I’m being flippant, but the dark side of this is that millions and millions of people across the world, and especially in America, believe this is a real thing, and most of them believe it’s likely to happen imminently, i.e. within their lifetime. This belief has has a profound impact on how these people live their lives, and, in many, many cases how they vote; in the eyes of many preachers, any move towards internationalism at any time is one step closer to that one world government, and therefore the end of the world, and a result, there’s an intense, instinctive distrust of international bodies of any kind, and a tendency to vote with anyone who claims to stand against them (and, as a consequence, also standing for nativism and isolationism). Similarly, if you sincerely believe God will trigger the end times by calling the faithful to heaven, you’re probably not going to be that concerned about the environmental impact of fossil fuel use, to pick one frightening relevant current example.
And look, Keene talks in the afterword about how he has extended family who are hardcore Baptists, and how he was raised by people of faith. He also states, with disarming honesty, that he feels like the Biblical God is, if his self appointed interpreters are correct, basically the bad guy, and that comes across in a lot of his work, White Fire and Terminal being strong earlier examples. But what Keene is doing with Take The Long Way Home is asking the question ‘what if it’s real? What if they are right?’.
Which brings us back to Ken Campbell, Stephen Hawking, and multiple universes.
In his concluding monologue, Campbell confessed that, despite Hawking’s certainty, he himself could not quite bring himself to believe in the notion of infinite alternate realities as concrete fact; he found it to boggling, too troubling, just too damn much.
However, what he had hit on was the notion that he could suppose it was so.
And what Campbell said he found was that supposition was enough to allow him to explore the ideas, without being driven mad by the implications.
Keene is a master of such supposition, and through his work so far, we’ve been acquainted with the end of the world in a number of imaginatively awful ways. With Take The Long Way Home, we’re shown what happens if people I am compelled to think of as the bad guys (maybe not intentionally, but by their fruit shall you know them, and all that). Through the eyes of a secular Jewish character, we see the Born Again end of the world. His horror is our horror. His disbelief is our disbelief. And his righteous fury and fear are all ours too.
I can’t be objective about this one. I bloody loved it. And it reminded me that those who look forward to the end of everything are often the scariest people of all. Keenes’ obsessions with the end of the world, on the other hand, strike me fundamentally as creative acts of love for what is - for life, in all it’s tapestry of joy and pain, love and horror - coupled with an acute awareness of the fragility of our existence, and the inevitability of our abrupt, and in most cases untimely, ends.
That’s basically always going to be my jam. And I found Take The Long Way Home to be an exemplar of the form.
All across the world, people suddenly vanish in the blink of an eye. From their cars during the rush hour commute. From the shopping malls. Their homes. Their beds. Even from the arms of their loved ones. Airline pilots. World leaders. Teachers. Parents. Children. Gone. Steve, Charlie and Frank were just trying to get home when it happened. Now they find themselves left behind, and wishing they'd disappeared, too. Trapped in the ultimate traffic jam, they watch as civilization collapses, claiming the souls of those around them. God has called his faithful home, but the invitations for Steve, Charlie and Frank got lost. Now they must set off on foot through a nightmarish post-apocalyptic landscape in search of answers. In search of God. In search of their loved ones. And in search of home. Deadite Press is proud to make Brian Keene's long out-of-print critically-acclaimed Take The Long Way Home available to readers once again! Includes an introduction by New York Times-bestselling author John Skipp!
A kid asked me the other day ‘Why you?’
I was doing a talk about horror writing at a local school to a bunch of fairly disaffected Year 9 pupils, and I was rounding it off by pointing out that I was never in the top sets (true), and I definitely wasn’t the cleverest at school (also true by quite some way). When I’d been the same age as the kids in front of me, I’d always wanted to be a writer, although never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d achieve it. Looking back, I was one of those kids who would have been chosen to finish last, and the question from the audience really made me stop and think.
Why did I manage to achieve this crazy goal of becoming a writer when I’m pretty sure that by now the dreams (professional footballer, Navy Seal, astronaut, film star) of other forgotten classmates from my childhood had been long abandoned?
In response, my answer to the kid’s question was pretty much the following:
Out of the three, I’m pretty sure it’s the first one that sticks with me the most.
Romanticised as they are now by programmes like Stranger Things, the Eighties were actually a pretty cool time to grow up. There still seemed to be quite a bit of mystery in the world, and there was no internet giving you the option of dozens of different series, clips, and films. Back then our main form of escapism was the local video store, and the Eighties were a golden time for film. And without the internet to demystify everything, who knew how possible these things we saw really were? At thirteen, it was easy to wonder if maybe there really were vampires and zombies and werewolves out there, or if maybe some of these things we’d seen in low budget B movies were rooted in a grain of truth in the real world.
One of my friends lost his mum when he was little, and his dad was never around, so by the time we were teenagers we always had a free house, and access to a television and VHS player. As a result of a very laid back guy at our local video store who obviously wasn’t too worried about the damage he was doing to our innocent teenage minds, we had no problem getting our hands on whatever new release we wanted to watch.
If you could get over the sometimes clunky effects (and I’ll take practical effects over CGI any day), there was a wealth of horror that you could choose from back when I was a teenager. And as I tell the students I talk to, most of today’s plots for films and TV are derivative copies or pale imitations of those classic Eighties films. Titles like Scanners, Nightmare on Elm Street, American Werewolf, Poltergeist, Aliens, Robocop, Near Dark, Creepshow provide a starting point, but there’s far too many to name.
A lot of reviews for my debut novel, Whiteout, have said that it’s really filmic, and I take that as a huge compliment, and more proof of how much impact watching those films in my formative years had on me. And if I had to pick three horror films that really influenced my writing, they’d all be movies that I watched during those teen years, ones that wriggled their way into my head, and fuelled my already over active imagination.
So, in no particular order:
John Carpenter’s The ThinG
John Carpenter’s The Thing had me at hello. Isolated, frozen setting, a disparate group of characters, a bleak, nihilistic tone, and a mysterious, otherworldly creature whittling the cast down one by one. I’m in!
I still find it hard to believe that The Thing got so slated on its 1982 release. Apparently, in the wake of ET, cinema goers weren’t up for John Carpenter’s gore soaked adaptation, and it was slated by reviewers and ignored by audiences. Luckily, the subsequent VHS release opened it up to a wider audience and turned it into the cult classic it deserves to be. There’s so much to like here, from the slow realisation that the creature they’ve found out in the ice is a terrifying extra terrestrial able to mimic the appearances of others, to the bleak, ambiguous closing scene between Childs and MacReady that hints that one of them might not be what they seem. As well as delivering ground breaking effects by way of Rob Bottin, the film also hands out some awesome jump scares, my particular favourite being the scene where a non voluntary blood test meant to find out the identity of the alien imposters leads to some horrifying consequences.
For me, though, the atmosphere is what makes The Thing so memorable – trapped far from civilisation, with no access to the outside world, no way to escape, and a creeping sense of doom. These were all things I wanted to include in Whiteout, alongside the sense that no one, not even the characters that readers feel sure will make it, are safe.
I’m not actually sure we got this from the video shop. In fact, I think this was a three part serialisation, played late at night on ITV and secretly recorded by one of our gang then smuggled out on a VHS tape. And although it was a slightly clunky adaptation of Stephen King’s classic novel, Salem’s Lot had some good scares in it. One particular stand out was the scene where the child vampire comes back to life and knocks on his little brother’s window after dark, begging to be let in. Our little gang were on board as we watched the adaptation, focussed, but there was nothing too scary here or really nightmare inducing.
And then Barlow made his appearance.
There’d been whispers and hints, all through the film, about the existence of some ‘master vampire’ character, but it wasn’t until the end of part two that he appeared. I think we were all expecting some well known actor, made up to look like the undead, or a black cloaked riff on the Dracula trope.
What we actually got when Barlow made his first appearance was one of the most terrifying scenes I’ve ever seen in a film, right to this day. In fact, it’s so seared on my memory that I don’t even need to go onto Youtube to check how accurate my recollection is (I’m also a little too scared). After dark, a prisoner lies in his cell, the police station deserted, the town outside silent. A shadow moves out in the corridor, the prisoner stirs, and a long, taloned hand causes the cell door to open. The prisoner sits up, confused, and –
OMG! What the HELL is that thing!!! A terrifying, blue skinned, bald, snarling Nosferatu jolts up on the screen, growls and snarls, and makes its way towards the horrified prisoner. The old school, otherworldly look of the vampire, the way it appears on screen, its bestial nature… no scene has ever shocked me in quite the same way (not even that scene in The Descent where the underground creature appears in the camera’s viewfinder).
When I set out to write Whiteout, I knew I wanted vampires to feature, but there was no way they were going to be the sparkly, alluring Twilight kind. For me, it was Salem’s Lot and Mr Barlow all the way. I think it’s fair to say that I take liberties with vampire mythology in Whiteout, but the character of Barlow and his animalistic, inhuman appearance was a huge influence. Even now, thirty years after I watched it, my friends still delight in posting images of Barlow on my Facebook page when I’m least expecting it. One time, when we were camping out in a deserted farmhouse on a surfing trip in the wilds of rural Ireland, my mates brought along a life sized cardboard cut out version of Barlow’s head. As the trip went on, it frequently appeared in cobwebbed windows, rear view mirrors, dark corners, generally scaring the crap out of me whenever I saw it. Good times.
Not strictly a horror film, but the central idea of James Cameron’s sci fi classic, being pursued by an unstoppable cyborg that ‘can’t be bargained with, can’t be reasoned with, doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear, and absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead’ (tragically I’m pretty sure I can recite the entire Terminator script on demand) always struck me as being utterly terrifying. I found Cameron’s central antagonist to be the stuff of nightmares, from relentlessly taking down a police station to carrying out emergency eye surgery, and the idea of an unstoppable force of nature that wont give up until it has ‘reached down your thrown and pulled your heart out’ (I’ve edited Kyle Reese’s phrasing here) definitely fed into Whiteout. But more than that, it was the pace of Terminator that was something I wanted to channel in my writing – I’ve the attention span of a gnat, and if something doesn’t grab me immediately I’m looking elsewhere. I loved the way that The Terminator gave you no time to even take a breath, and the whole backstory was cleverly told on the run, and I wanted to try to make my writing give you as few chances to look away as possible.
There’s so many other films that influenced me, and probably best not to get me started on books or this article will drag on for a very long time, but the movies mentioned above are definitely the ones that had the biggest impact.
I was in shock when Stripes got in touch back in March of last year to tell me they liked Whiteout and wanted to publish it. I’d never had the courage to send anything away before and if my wife hadn’t bullied me relentlessly to do so I would never have received Stripes’ offer of publication. I must have read that email a hundred times to check I wasn’t dreaming it. People like me don’t get publishing deals, and the whole experience has been incredible. And what was best about it was that Stripes took Whiteout as it was – they helped me to edit it, made it a far better book than the clunky manuscript I submitted, but they never changed what it was at its core, and never asked me to water it down, or reduce the gore or the nihilistic tone. Whiteout is YA horror for sure, with its Breakfast Club style teen ensemble, but I’d like to think that it doesn’t pull any punches, and that it’s exactly the book that my thirteen year old self would have loved to have read.
And more than that I hope it appeals to horror fans of any age, reminding them that there’s still some isolated corners of the world that have a little mystery to them, and I hope that it brings back old school frights to the vampire genre.
Gabriel Dylan is a secondary school teacher who spends his free time living the double life of a YA author. Daddy to two small boys, and a keen surfer and snowboarder, Gabriel loves travelling to snowy or beachy destinations, argumentative children in tow. He is also a lifelong fan of horror writers, such as Stephen King, James Herbert, and Richard Laymon, and the classic horror films of the 80s such as all those mentioned above.
The idea for his debut novel, Whiteout, came to him whilst leading a sixth form ski trip to a remote Austrian resort, getting snowed in, and wishing that a horde of vampires would descend from the trees and devour the students that weren’t behaving.
To find out more about Dylan and to follow him on social media please follow these links
Whiteout is the tenth in the series of Stripes popular stand alone RedEye horror novels.
‘She sat us all down and told us a story. About things that lived in the woods. Things that only came out at night.’
For Charlie, a school ski trip is the perfect escape from his unhappy home life. Until a storm blows in and the resort town is cut off from the rest of the world. Trapped on the mountain, the students wait for the blizzards to pass, along with mysterious ski guide Hanna.
But as night falls and the town’s long buried secrets begin to surface, the storm is the least of their problems….
Read The Housewife of Horror review of Whiteout here
You can buy Whiteout at: