"Rotten Times" by Robert Hood
"So It Ends" by Kenneth Brady
"Turn, Turn, Turn" by A. Leigh Jones
"A Tale of the Ragged Mountains" by Edgar Allen Poe
Originally posted at Ideomancer on February 1st, 2003.
The themes of death and decay run through the February issue of Ideomancer, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that death and decay remain standing while the stories in IIdeomancer crumble around them. Robert Hood starts off with "Rotten Times," followed by "So it Ends" by Kenneth Brady, "Turn, Turn, Turn" by A. Leigh Jones, and the classic "A Tale of the Ragged Mountains" by Edgar Allen Poe.
"Rotten Times" is a standard entry in the "digging up things better left buried" genre of horror. A horned, humanoid skull excavated from the foundations of a house is the source of a contagious curse of decay. The story takes place on December 31, 1999, and January 3, 2000, but the connection between the curse and the turn of the millennium seems purely coincidental despite a pronouncement that "This is the End of the World." Disease, aging, mortality, all passed on and accelerated by sexual contact — are these such unusual horrors as to warrant the heavy foreshadowing that pervades "Rotten Times"? Somehow, the story does not quite jell, perhaps because there are too many potential causes and motivations provided yet none developed strongly enough to carry the story.
"So It Ends" succeeds rather better, despite being narrated in the second-person present tense, surely the most irritating narrative voice possible: not omniscient enough for the third person, not intimate enough for the first. How does the narrator know what "you" — me, the reader? Some other guy who's wandered onto the page? The narrator him/herself, who for some reason doesn't want to admit to taking part in the action? — is/are thinking, feeling, experiencing? The description of a potential space between death and life and the choice to go one way or another is powerful, even so. Brady eschews the tunnel-of-light NDE cliché in favor of a rift in reality and a journey to the north that echoes the ancient concept of death as a long march, yet within a completely modern mentality.
"Turn, Turn, Turn" is a meditation on fall and winter that still looks forward to spring. The journey motif is present here, as well, but it's a potential journey after a period of hibernation and rebirth. Molting, shedding, cocooning contrast with the dessication and decay that pervaded "Rotten Times," tying the three stories together into a nice thematic whole.
"A Tale of the Ragged Mountains" adds an interesting perspective to the issue, reminding us how even weirdness has its fashions and, incidentally, points up the remarkably impoverished vocabulary of contemporary writing. Folks in the nineteenth century just knew more words than we do, and they weren't afraid to use them. Nor were they afraid of using commas with a lavish hand. Mesmerism, doppelgängers, alternate realities encountered while walking in the woods, palindromatic names revealed by a printer's error, and a potentially mad doctor are no longer the stuff of horror, but maybe they should be. Poe's story implies that, under certain circumstances, a writer can literally create reality through the act of writing, and isn't that horror enough?
Leslie Ellen Jones is a writer and editor living in Southern California. She is the author of Myth and Middle-earth: Exploring the Legends Behind J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" and other books and articles on folklore, mythology, and popular culture, all arising from her misguided acquisition of a doctorate in folklore and mythology studies from UCLA.