This post provides some generally spoiler-free commentary about the stories in Stains of Atrocity, comments I left out of the book in order to keep it from getting any longer (and more expensive–now, the e-book is $2.99, and the trade paperback is $19.99). As for the book as a whole, I take the business of horror seriously. This book wants to horrify and offend you, to stretch your mind with the surreal and the grotesque until your assumptions break. If the sensation is always pleasant, I’m not doing my job. Prepare for twenty flavors of the outré and outrageous.
Blot One: Stains of Loss
After a roadside mishap, a woman visits a strange house to seek help. Later, the people around her disappear inexplicably. This story, one of the oldest in this collection, has long been a personal favorite because I find the sadness of the protagonist’s surreal predicament scary. This version differs from previously published versions: it includes expansions from the award-winning screenplay adaptation.
“House of Butterflies”
Two sisters meet at their uncle’s house to prepare for their mother’s funeral and discover that their family is the target of a bizarre supernatural phenomenon involving… butterflies. Another older story, this one is mostly the same as earlier published versions. I’m fond of the imagery—never seen anything quite like it—and like that the characters are American royalty, from a echelon of culture I rarely touch.
An entity called The Grizzle Man tells a woman she will kill her neighbor, and she becomes obsessed with the idea of doing it. The protagonist’s psychological perspective makes everything feel off, even to me. This story is previously unpublished, and like all seven previously unpublished stories in Stains of Atrocity, it is relatively new.
“David Langley and the Burglar”
A burglar fantasizes about hurting the people he robs while his latest mark tries to comprehend the supernatural force that ensnares him. Maybe the title should be “The Burglar and David Langley” because the first half is from burglar’s perspective, the last from David’s. The surreal convergence of the ending, however—if it works for you—is what the story is really about.
Blot Two: Stains of Collusion
A truck driver feels drawn to a boy he sees in a car on the highway, and the boy seems just as drawn to him—but their attractions take a violent turn. Readers who don’t get the (unsubtle) references to Lolita and Poe-via-Nabokov will get less out of the story, but an early reader in such a position still liked it. The final section is stream of consciousness, but it’s accessible. Previously unpublished.
Supernatural lizards descend upon a popular nightspot in downtown Louisville and cause a frenzy of murder and mayhem. This story’s goal is fun, assuming you can take your fun with some extreme gore infused with questions about color that might be connected to race. Of course, I am also thinking about all those reptilian conspiracies out there. I provide a sort of cameo.
“The Long Flight of Charlotte Radcliffe”
A young woman falls back into the clutches of her abusive uncle. Charlotte takes a long flight, but this story is very short. For readers who don’t pick up on layered references, I think the story is mostly about the ending. However, “Charlotte Radcliffe” is a nod toward Charlotte Brontë and Ann Radcliffe, and the story is thinking about the history of tales about women in peril and a radical direction for the future.
“Jar of Evil”
A scientist of sorts captures the essence of evil in a jar, drops the jar, and chases it, hoping to catch it before it starts the apocalypse. Humor masks horror here, and narrative style overpowers narrative content. Nevertheless, if you’re able to step out of the protagonist’s warped perspective and envision what he’s actually doing, the sickness will shine through the silly veneer.
Blot Three: Stains of Allegiance
All the stories in this section are previously unpublished.
“Dinner for Two”
A young man obsessed with online exposure decides to commit and stream a mass shooting, and one of his followers, enchanted, decides she’ll join him. The very real-world horror and apparent cheapness of life in this story will likely make it one of the book’s most difficult to take. I developed the lead characters first in two short scripts (one award-winning, one kept private). Terrifying people.
A group representing different minorities decides to strike back at the white supremacist terrorizing their neighborhood, but the murderous bigot refuses to die. I imagined this story as a kind of inverted slasher, with the emphasis on the “good guys” hunting the unstoppable bad guy instead of the reverse. While the tale offers suspense and gruesome violence, much of it is tongue-in-cheek.
“Around Your Neck”
A psychic gets pulled into a plot involving murder, human trafficking, and a supernatural “familiar” with a taste for slaughter. Although there’s not much mystery, this one ended up with a neo-noir-ish edge that pleases me. Marty the psychic and Vorzien the monstrous familiar are characters I’ve already used in a feature screenplay and might use again. This point is not a spoiler about who/what dies when.
“Food for Flies”
A white couple with racist tendencies accidentally (?) kills a brown young man, and after they dispose of the body, swarms of flies appear with a gruesome agenda. This story is the most recent in the book. Some readers will find one of its scenes to be the most disgusting—but a couple of early readers found said scene to be hilarious as well, so hey, find out for yourself. Call this one “body horror.”
Blot Four: Stains of Will
As I mention in the book’s brief foreword, the last eight stories will make more sense (which isn’t to say they’ll make sense) if you read them together. The stories in this blot relate to the universe I’ve built around a character named Dr. Allen Fincher and his book The Alchemy of Will, a universe reflected in my novels Burning the Middle Ground and Descending Lines as well as my story collection Leaping at Thorns.
“Blood and Feathers”
At the dawn of the 20th century, Dr. Allen Fincher confronts Dean Elijah Eagleton at Harvard about nefarious activities. After a display of power, Allen lays out a plan for cooperation and human sacrifice. This story plays in a weird register, more dark fantasy than horror but plenty horrific if you think about what happens and what it portends. The middle is pretty goofy, making the whole rather unbalanced.
“Kindertotenlieder” (Songs for Dead Children)
In a reimagining of “Pied Piper” tales, a town ends up with a glut of babies that couldn’t belong to their mothers’ husbands, who are off fighting World War Two, so they turn to a woman with mystical powers for help, unaware of the price they’ll pay. The story features Matilda Roan, a key player in several Fincher tales. I’m very fond of the imagery.
“Year of the Wolf”
A man lets a friend kill him so that his essence can travel back to the 1943 Pacific Battle of Tarawa, where he takes the form of a monster that hunts both sides. The man in question is Louis Jardin, a Fincherverse regular. His friend is Matilda Roan. To me, the story stands out because it’s supernatural historical fiction that climaxes with a scientific oddity made grand. The teeth recall “Silence.”
“The Broom Closet Where Everything Dies”
A boy with access to arcane powers summons creatures from fiction and catches the attention of a mentor who leads him toward more destructive goals. This story connects to a lot of other fiction, my own and others’, and links the Fincherverse with TR4B, which I’ll get to in a moment. At its heart, though, it’s a sweet story about an imaginative boy who gets a taste for killing.
Blot Five: Stains of Curiosity
The stories in this section all relate to crimes committed by two boys at a house known as TR4B. In the aftermath of those crimes, the house has become a place of supernatural distortion, which makes most stories about it rather surreal. I wrote about the original crimes in an unpublished novel, Curiosity, twenty years ago, but I wrote these tales knowing no one has read it. Curiosity remains a theme.
“Eternal Recurrence of Suburban Abortion”
A young woman travels to a house notorious for the crimes committed there in order to have a medical procedure, and she ends up on a surreal journey between life and death. This story is about pain, giving up, and becoming something you’d never have imagined. I think it’s either poignant or gibberish. The… surgeon?… is from “Heart on a Stick,” in Leaping at Thorns, but you don’t need to know that.
The mother of boys who committed unspeakable crimes in their house takes a hallucinatory walk through her basement that transforms her. For the most part, this story begins in a shaky but traversable perspective and then dissolves into surreal imagery, but it still manages to shed light on “Eternal Recurrence” while presenting a dark character arc.
A young man and woman who met on the internet visit a house famous for atrocities committed there and find themselves trapped in a bizarre and deadly game. Even though the imagery is extreme, and the storyline is mind-bending, this story shows that even TR4B can be a little silly. The tale probably works better if you know about Schrödinger’s cat and/or Freud’s dream of Irma’s injection.
“Mandy Schneider Makes Friends”
A budding psychopath meets two older boys, brothers famous for rape and murder, and after a bizarre initiation, the three turn their attention to a group of campers and their chaperones. Previously unpublished, this story is the most extreme in the book, also the longest. It is the one most likely to get me accused of being a terrible person. In the foreword, I advise you not to read it. Here, I’ll say that—if you can handle it—you might find that it’s quite good. But I don’t think most people can handle it.