Thomas Joyce is back! This week, Thomas reviews Now That We’re Alone, the new collection from Nicholas Day, published by Bizarro Pulp Press. The book contains 11 short stories and fans of weird horror should definitely jump on-board. Thanks, as always, to Thomas for this thoroughly in-depth review.
I am new to the work of Nicholas Day. Sure, I had seen the front cover image for this collection (by Jim Agpalza) pop up on social media (isn’t it incredible!?), but I wasn’t familiar with any of Nicholas’s work. From reading this collection, it became clear that he has been busy doing what many young writers do when they start out; submitting short stories while honing his craft. And it certainly seems to have worked for him. He has already released a debut novella, Necrosaurus Rex (Bizarro Pulp Press, 2015), to critical acclaim and he seems to have done it again with Now That We’re Alone (also from Bizarro Pulp Press).
After the incredibly entertaining and creative opening poem, ‘This is Why Johnny is in Therapy Now’ (I always assumed poetry was flowers and fluffy feelings but, after reading this, you can sign me up!), the first story is ‘The Ghosts in Winter’s Wake’. It seemingly concerns a gardener for a well-to-do family, ruminating on the cold of winter and how it seems to bear a grudge against the family for which he works, recalling past tragedies the Reed’s have faced. But, gradually, it becomes clear that things are not as they seem, and Day does an excellent job of building the atmosphere and dread until the unnerving finale.
‘Chomp Chomp’ tells the story of a group of men reconnecting for their high school reunion. The narrator, Shawn, tells the story of the tragedy that haunts them from their youth when the solitary girl in their little group of misfits falls prey to the town legend, Chomp Chomp, the monstrous giant killer turtle. The underlying tension between the characters when they return to the scene of the tragedy, and the depiction of the action scene when Chomp Chomp makes his inevitable return, are handled equally well, further proving Day’s wonderful skill as a storyteller.
Although containing some uncomfortable and disturbing imagery, ‘Bright Red Mess’ also contains some wonderfully poetic language. After surviving a car crash with his father, but losing his mother in the process, Matthew becomes withdrawn. During an afternoon with his Aunt Emily and her boyfriend Stephen, Matthew asks to visit his mother’s grave. This leads to a horrific chain of events, including a flashback of a disturbing conversation between the grieving father, David, and his sister. The foreshadowing is done superbly and the ending, though not graphic, is not for the squeamish. A well written and excellent story.
‘Negative Space’, one of the shorter stories in the collection, is told entirely from the point of view of Rubin who, having just lost his wife in a car wreck (deliciously described by Day in a dark and graphic way), confronts her lover with a gun. But they are not alone. Someone else is present, just in the periphery. A grim and dark little tale.
After making a compelling argument for the existence of ghosts, ‘Snow Like Lonely Ghosts’ tells the story of Lewis, a man haunted by the memory of his mother and her legacy. The horror is subtler in this tale, yet still thoroughly compelling as a character study of loneliness and depression.
Day adopts a unique narrative style to tell the next story, ‘Spoiling’, combining elements of Polish folklore with a traditional and modern nightmare. Timothy awakes from a car accident but soon discovers he isn’t as alone as he first thought. Day then proceeds the tell the backstory leading up to the accident, in small segments, each describing the scene that came before. It is a very interesting and effective way to tell this story, and he allows the information to flow naturally and in a way that keeps the reader interested, even though it is being told in reverse.
‘My Unshaped Form’ is a little different from all of the previous stories as it is set in the Old West. But it is no less intriguing. It is probably my favourite story of a flawless collection. The characters are so deep and so well-developed given the short length of the story, especially the antagonist, Charles Washington Biddle, a truly unsettling young man. He encounters a farmer, Gideon, while he toils on his farm, and the two soon strike up a conversation, but it is clear that Gideon is never at ease with the stranger’s talk of his holy mission. The tension between the two men is thick from the beginning, and only grows thicker, until the explosive finale. Day does a wonderful job of capturing the voice of old-time cowboys, and his descriptions of the harsh landscape and unforgiving atmosphere are handled with the skill of a natural storyteller which, by this point in the collection, is a title befitting Mr. Day.
‘Jacks’ is very cinematic in style, not surprising given Day’s experience in screenwriting. The story reads like so many horror movies concerning a one-parent family that gets a house with a chequered past for a steal, only to realise (too late!) that there is a reason for the low price and maybe those sounds aren’t “just the house settling”. Two young sisters are left alone one evening when their mother leaves the house in a rush, and they soon encounter creepy goings-on. Noises from the house, especially from the attic, which is off-limits. And then there is the strange old man from across the street who is desperate to get in. Then the eldest sister loses sight of the younger, vulnerable sister and… I’ve said too much. Day really cranks the creepy dial to 11 for this scary tale. Remember to breathe when you get towards the end of the story. And stay away from the attic.
‘Beast Mode’ reads like a love-letter to the B-movies of the 70s and 80s as a biker gang mess with the wrong couple on a moonlit night. This tale perfectly demonstrates Day’s ability to switch modes, here ramping up the action as the man (no ordinary man as it transpires) seeks revenge on the gang that stole his woman and left him for dead. Unfortunately, revenge works both ways and the remaining members of the gang have an idea of what he is and how to fight him. Action-packed from start to finish, this exhilarating tale is a slight departure from the atmospheric and creepy horror of the other stories, but it still delivers in blood.
If ‘Beast Mode’ was a slight departure, the final story, ‘GG Allin and the Final Flight of the Chrysanthemum Byzantium’, is straight out of left field. Now, I have only the tiniest idea of who GG Allin was, but through a small amount of research, it is clear to see that Day really put a lot of effort into getting the character’s voice as realistic as possible. Because GG is the protagonist of this weird, epic science fiction/bizarro story which begins with the line “In the year 2666, GG Allin was supposed to save us all.” The story spans hundreds of years and takes all manner of strange turns including resurrection (Allin did die in ’93 after all), the afterlife, heaven and hell, god and satan, appearances by both Harry Houdini and John Wayne Gacy, a super-flu, and war. The story may seem crazy, but Day pulls it off. As shocking and horrible as Allin may have been in real life (indeed, Day captures this throughout) he is also the hero of the story and the reader will be hard-pressed to do anything other than root for him. His is an interesting and exciting voice, and Day does a wonderful job of weaving a thought-provoking and utterly entertaining tale.
In a collection made up of ten stories and one poem, Nicholas Day has managed to include tales of horror classics like ghosts and witches and lycanthropy, real-life horror like dementia and loneliness and violence, Jewish cowboys and golems, monstrous creatures, cannibalism. And GG Allin. He has clearly demonstrated a powerful talent for storytelling within a wide range of stories, populating each with wonderfully deep characters, telling them with some truly beautiful prose and fantastic description. Not a word is wasted as he takes us by the hand and leads us through these often creepy, always entertaining landscapes of his creation. It is almost impossible to state that all of these stories fall under the same heading. But Day does it best in the foreword: “I like reading stuff that isn’t afraid to get weird, and I like writing weird stories.” If this sounds like a statement you can identify with, you should really check out this collection. And look out for more from Nicholas Day. I know I will.
5/5 faceless horrors from Thomas Joyce.
Pick up a copy from here.
Thomas Joyce has a new short story in the latest issue of Unnerving Magazine This latest issue is a bumper Halloween special and it is very reasonably priced. What better way to spend October than reading a magazine full of frightening tales? Follow the link and support the zine if you can.