If you’re enjoying my reviews of Cemetery Dance short stories, complete with both full spoiler summaries & my humble opinion of their value, you’ll definitely want to check this out.
Not only will it keep your collection up to date, it’s also published by Cemetery Dance themselves, which means I picked the best of the best stories to review, and I give them an especially detailed look.
For now, though, let’s look at some new stories & discover why ‘bad’ can also be ‘good’.
THE OLD: “Leg Man”
Cemetery Dance, issue #1
AUTHOR: Chris B. Lacher
APPEARANCE: CD Issue #1 (December 1988), story 5 of 12
PLOT (with spoilers!): [Warning! This one gets graphic!]
A guy named ‘Slash’ – a rock musician who fits *all* the stereotypes– takes a break from his set out in the alley behind the dive he’s been working. There is a girl there. She seduces him. Easily. Halfway through their impromptu make-out session, Slash bites at her nipples. The nipples first stiffen, then… ahem… bite back.
Yikes! Just look at that image! Ewwww!
Izzy, Slash’s band-mate, pokes his head into the alley and discovers Slash moaning over by the dumptser. He is alone in the alley and, as he turns, Izzy sees his mouth is a mess of blood and hanging skin. He dies soon after.
Days later, Izzy is still having nightmares about his friend & the rumors of a girl that was seen leaving the scene. The weird thing is that despite the coronor suggesting that a high-powered drill of some kind had been used on poor Slash, the girl hadn’t been seen carrying anything, and Izzy hadn’t heard any drill. In each of Izzy’s dreams, he always sees Slash kissing a girl as she bites off chunks of his lips.
The door to his apartment bursts open and Axl, the third member of their band, staggars in with a pair of girls in tow. Axl tries to convince Izzy to indulge in the opportunity for wild sex. Izzy declines and goes back to sleep.
Izzy wakes to the sounds of Axl moaning. Izzy goes back to sleep.
Izzy wakes some time later and this time hears more moaning but also… chewing. Izzy goes back to sleep.
Izzy wakes one last time to hear no moaning, more chewing, and now also lapping sounds. Izzy thinks its another bad dream, but then he’s walking towards the stairway where the girls have escaped their apartment. Then he looks down and one of them is there, already engaged in giving him oral sex. When he looks down he is surprised to see her mouth is empty. His penis is actively moving in and out of her breast. Instead of nipples are a set of thin, brown lips. Understanding FINALLY hits Izzy and he shoves the girl backward, slamming her head against the wall and his naked buttocks through a window. Streaming with blood from the rear end, Izzy grabs the girl and heaves her through the broken window to the street below. He hears bones break and blood splatter even from his height, but then she stands up.
Izzy runs back into his apartment, glances at Axl’s bloody, unmoving body for the first time, and quickly stages a trap. He plugs in an electric guitar, turns the volume to zero, plugs the kitchen sink, and turns on the faucet to full blast. The girl staggars in just as the water crests the sink and begins to pool across the kitchen floor. She is topless. Her large breasts sway as she taunts him with more sex. Izzy gives her a single line: “Not much of a tit man,” and charges. He stabs her in the chest with the guitar and retreats beyond the boundaries of the pooling water. The girl fries, gugrling & screaming as she slowly burns to death.
From across the room, another bedroom door opens and Axl & Izzy’s two girlfriends poke their heads out. Izzy tells them to call the police. Axl’s girl obliges while Izzy unplugs the guitar & goes to his girl. He kisses her on the forehead. Her breasts graze his shirt when he does so, and he was nearly certain he felt them shift slightly.
No, wait. A-!
No, wait… um… C+?
No…. aaaaaarrg! Uh…. ok… um… B-.
I give it a B-.
Simply put, this story was so predictable–
(Oh no. The other band member brings two girls home and one
of them turns out to be the killer alien-thing girl that murdered
the first band member? Gee. Nobody saw *that* coming!)
– so lame–
(Really? Their names are ‘Slash’, ‘Izzy’, and ‘Axl’? Wow. Where’d you
get *those* ideas from… actual rock band frontmen, maybe? Also, how
many times can this guy fall back to sleep before he figures things out?
Also, wait… there were TWO girlfriends twenty feet away all that
time and they never heard anything?! Come ON man!)
…and yet, it was also so damned fun and unexpected!
Ok, here’s the part where you think I’m a little off my rocker. You may be right, but bear with me a second. I have a point here. First of all, there actually is some legit creativity here. Who would’ve ever put the mouth of the monster on the breasts? Surely not I. I’d have used the more conventional female, er, opening. And who would’ve ever thought a rocker would have the intelligence and forethought to stage an elaborate electrocution using an electric guitar to kill a monster from beyond? Again, not I. I’d have thought a rocker guy would’ve simply had a gun or a knife or maybe a well-used baseball bat behind one door.
The author blurb on Chris B. Lecher provided by Cemetery Dance.
Secondly, you have to understand that the tone of this story doesn’t come across in my simple summary. Thing is, it doesn’t feel serious. In fact, it borders on humor. Yes, it’s gross. Yes, it’s disturbing. But also the whole thing is so damned ridiculous & sad it’s also the kind of thing that you look at and think, “This is nuts. Am I supposed to be scared here? Or just grossed out? Because I’m actually neither. It’s SO crazy and SO stupid, I’m actually kind of… god, I’m really going to say it, aren’t I?… yep, I’m actually entertained.”
Full stop: This story was written and published in 1988, the hey-day of graphic horror. There were thousands of stories like these printed all over the world. None were meant to be viewed as literature. None were meant to make us think great, deep thoughts about life. All were meant to make us smile or cringe or perhaps even laugh as we ponder buying another throw-away magazine next month and not worry about the couple of bucks we just blew.
Kind of like “Sharknado”. Have you seen it? It’s so god-aweful bad it’s actually weirdly good. They even had movies like that back in the ‘70s. One comes to mind about a scientist who created a guy named Rocky. It was also Horror. It was also a well-known (and today, beloved) Picture Show.
I don’t think “Leg Man” is going to be remembered much beyond the pages of Cemetery Dance or this blog, but one does have to give credit where credit is due. For the few minutes it too me to read it– and perhaps for the few minutes it took you to read about it– we were undeniably entertained, albeit in a jaw-dropping manner.
Sometimes, that’s how things go.
THE NEW: “Voices Without Voices, Words with no Words”
Cemetery Dance, issue #73
AUTHOR: Amanda C. Davis
APPEARANCE: CD Issue #73 (March 2016), story 5 of 5
PLOT (with spoilers!):
Jeremy has been down on his luck for some time. His electricity has been off for a while now. Yet his work is important and he continues it every day. Beside the phone– yes, the phone that doesn’t work b/c there is no electricity– he keeps a pad and pen. He picks up the receiver and hears the sizzle of white static and then, deeper, voices. The voices say Names. They say Numbers. They say Words. He writes it all down. It takes hours until the voices repeat themselves. That’s when he knows he’s ready for the second part of his job… panhandling for quarters.
Jeremy’s phone doesn’t work– well, not really– so he needs to use a pay phone for the final part of his job, and there aren’t many of those left these days. Yet Gordon’s Bar and Grill still has one, and he goes there again, much to Gordon’s displeasure. He saddles up to the phone with his bucket of quarters and begins calling the numbers from his notepad.
Cover art for “Voices Without Voices, Words with no Words”
Each phone call is short. He doesn’t bother to explain himself anymore. He used to when this all started four years before. These days the conversations are likely to confuse people at first, though Jeremy believes in his heart of hearts that each recipient is hearing exactly what they need to hear:
“Carol, the number you’re looking for is eleven.”
“Mike, stop at two.”
“Ask for Veronica.”
“What would your mother have done?”
“Left. Left. Right. Wait for the squirrel to run.”
It goes on that like for hours until he reaches the last number and hears something he’s never once heard before: the buzz of a dead line. It makes no sense. EVERY call has ALWAYS gone through immediately. On the first ring. And always to the right person. He tries again. Still nothing. He looks closer and realizes it’s his own phone number. The one that’s been disconnected. The last message is for him.
Flashback to Beth. His girlfriend. Several years back. She’s asking why the weird voices don’t call these people directly. He patiently explains he’s the only one– the only one he knows of anyway– who can hear their messages through the static. They are voices without voices. They are word with no words. Beth is confused but allows his strange behavior. She’s still in love with him back then, after all, and she would rather make love than talk about this.
Back to the present, Jeremy looks at the final message. It reads: “It ends. Be at the side of the lost queen at midnight. Twenty-five twenty-one.” He has no doubt the ‘lost queen’ is Beth. He calls her. She rejects him. Asks to talk to Gordon, who stalls for time while the ambulance Beth has called from another line makes its way to the bar & grill. Jeremy hears the siren in time & runs.
Story headers provided by Cemetery Dance on Amanda C. Davis’ story.
That night Jeremy lurks near Beth’s house until she arrives home. He meets her on her front porch. She threatens to call the police. Jeremy tries to stop her, tries to tell her about the final message, tries to tell her he thinks he’s going to die tonight. Beth calls the police, and Jeremy runs for the second time that night.
He scrounges a cheap meal at McDonalds, wondering what to do. Then he remembers the message said to be by the lost queen at midnight, and resolves to try again. At twenty-to-midnight, he leaves. On the way, he thinks of the numbers. 25 and 21. He was 21 when this had all started. He’s 25 now. The numbers left him no hope of seeing 26. “It ends” keeps returning to him.
He arrives at Beth’s house and sits calmly on her porch swing. In mere minutes, Beth opens the front door and comes out to him. She asks what he’s doing there. He tells her again about the final message. She tells him he needs to leave… and then the phone in her hand rings. The voice on the other end asks for Jeremy.
The woman on the phone is confused, but she dutifully relays a message. “It says, um… your shift is over. You’re dismissed. Um, then there are some numbers. Twenty-five twenty-one.” She goes on to say she did a Google search on those numbers and the first thing that came up was a Bible verse: Matthew 25-21, which states “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Jeremy is overjoyed. He gives the woman on the phone advice about her new duty: Use payphones to avoid getting callbacks. Don’t bother with an introduction, just give the message and move on. Let people do the Google searches themselves. And most of all, keep believing.
The woman on the phone asks Jeremy point blank if this is really happening and if it’s worth it. Beth, meanwhile, has come to sit by Jeremy. He tells the woman on the phone that he doesn’t know, that it is a duty and she just has to do it. Then, as Beth and Jeremy hold hands, he does what he always did: when an important message had been delivered and his duty was done, he hung up.
MY GRADE: A+
My initial thought on this story was that it was an A, not an A+. Looking back over it now, I can’t tell you why I thought that. Maybe the sentence structure failed to wow me. Maybe the pacing was a hair too slow for my liking. But to be honest, those things– even if they are true– pale in comparison to this other thing which happens to be one of the rarest things of all in a Horror story: This one has a genuinely happy ending.
That doesn’t happen too often, as I’m sure you could guess. But please understand that a happy ending alone isn’t enough to earn my respect. If so, every feel-good story would get my nod of approval. No, what’s happening here is that Ms. Davis has manages to trick us into getting a happy ending we didn’t expect. And maybe that’s not so surprising. Jeremy didn’t expect it. And he was such a… well, for lack of a better word I’ll use ‘loser’… that we really didn’t expect it either.
At the outset of the story, we are thinking perhaps Jeremy is crazy. The ‘Voices Without Voices’ and the ‘Words with no Words’ just really might be in his head, after all. And the evidence of his social ostracism is all around. He’s lost his girl. He’s lost his job. He’s lost electricity in his house. One little detail I didn’t mention in my summary is that he’s living in his “dead parents’ house” and sleeping in his “dead parents’ bed”. This deail alone should (and does!) give us a certain sense of the heebie-jeebies. All around us is sadness, depression, and loss. So is it such a stretch to think he’s off his rocker? Nope. Not at all.
But this IS Cemetery Dance Magazine, after all, which means this is the Horror genre and it’s equally likely that something supernatural really IS going on. It’s equally possible– and by the end we are given proof– that the voices on the phone are real and that the duty he is performing is for the good of all those people. Yet he is made to suffer in spite of his good deeds. He is a true martyr. He’s already sacrificed everything for this duty of his, so why not end the story by going full-martyrdom and kill him off? It would certainly be within Ms. Davis’ rights to do so. It “fits the genre”, if you will.
The author blurb on Amanda C. Davis provided by Cemetery Dance.
But she doesn’t do that. Instead, she gives Jeremy (and us) a welcomed breath of fresh air, allowing him no only to live, but even getting his girl back in the process. It is a grand moment. A powerful and enjoyable ending. And it works all the more because we likely didn’t see it coming. We may say this is because the genre has taught us to be ever-wary, ever-alert, and get used to death and horrid endings. Sometimes, though, Horror is just the opposite. Sometimes our fright along the way is rewarded.
There is one other thing though…. a little tweak… one little stab to our hearts which, when it came down to it, is what I think solidified my confidence to the quality of this story. It’s perhaps the reason it truly deserves an A+ rather than a mere A. That thing…? The martyr and the duty goes on. The woman on the other end of the phone has just been thrust into a world of sadness and depression and loss. We know she’s about to spend the next few years suffering even while she continues helping even more hundreds and hundreds of other people.
And maybe, just maybe, that’s the biggest message of all.
Maybe each of use is supposed to be a martyr for at least one stretch in our lives.
With the addition of “Voices…” I have finished reading and reviewing all 5 of the stories in CD #73.
To recap, their scores (with links to my reviews of each), in my humble opinion, were:
–“A Devil Inside” by Gerard Houarner (A)
–“Down There” by Keith Minnion (A)
–“The Inconsolable” by Michael Wehunt (A+) [published separately over on my ‘Exhumed’ column]
–“Citizen Flame” by Nik Houser (B+)
-“Voices Without Voices, Words with no Words” by Amanda C. Davis (A+)
CD #73 Table of Contents
Along the way, I also read all the other, non-fiction, stuff this awesome magazine had to offer which included:
-“The Rise of Modern Horror Fiction” by Christopher Fulbright
-“Feature Review: The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King” by Bev Vincent
-“Feature Review: Finders Keepers by Stephen King” by Bev Vincent
-”Stephen King News: From the Dead Zone” by Bev Vincent
-“MediaDrome” by Michael Marano
-“The Mothers and Father Italian Association” by Thomas F. Monteleone
-“The Last 10 Things I’ve Read” by Ellen Datlow
[side note: I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Datlow at a recent
writing group I attended where she graciously talked about the
state of Horror today. Fascinating stuff. Fascinating woman.]
-“Fine Points” by Ed Gorman
-“Horror Drive-In” by Mark Sieber
-and finally, the standard collection of other Cemetery Dance Reviews. This time I learned about the newest books by:
-Wrath James White (400 Days of Oppression)
-Scott Nicholson (After the Shock)
-Robert McCammon (The Border)
-Benjamin Percy (The Dead Lands)
-David Morrell (Inspector of the Dead)
-Kristopher Rufty (The Lurking Season)
-Foinah Jameson (Mostly Dead Melvin)
-Jonathan Janz (The Nightmare Girl)
-Clive Barker (The Scarlet Gospels)
-Tim Lebbon (The Silence)
-& Damien Angelica Walters (Sing Me Your Scars)
NOTE: Cemetery Dance does NOT give automatic glowing recommendations to all of
their reviewed books. In fact, these are non-sanctioned reviews which come from
outside sources. As such, we are given honest opinions which sometimes border
on warnings to stay away. Other times, they all but beg you to go spend your
money. In other words, CD isn’t paid to promote books. They are given
free copies by the authors, and they give genuinely honest reviews in return.
So what did I get out of all of these extras? In short, I learned a lot more about the design, the progress, the movies, the current state of, and the future of Horror fiction… and I also added another half-dozen new books to my To Read list.
Overall, I give this issue a solid A.
Nothing surprising there.
Agree or disagree with any of this?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
-K. Edwin Fritz