Darkness on the Edge

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Darkness on the Edge, edited by Harrison Howe

PS Publishing (late 2009)

“Nothing Forgiven” by Lee Thomas
“Fire” by Elizabeth Massie
“Atonement” by Gary A. Braunbeck
“Kneeling in the Darkness” by Lorna Dixon
“The Hungry Heart” by Michael A. Arnzen
“Die Angle” by Lawrence C. Connelly
“From the Dark Heart of a Dream” by Tom Piccirilli
“Ain’t No Angel Gonna Greet Me” by Guy Adams
“Independence Day” by Sarah Langan
“With These Hands” by Kurt Dinan
“Wings for Wheels” by John Palisano
“Across the Border“ by Peter Abrahams
“The Room” by Jeffrey Thomas
“Fog Boy” by T. M. Wright
“Darkness  at the Edge of Town” by James A. Moore
“Lighting Can’t Catch Me” by Gerard Houarner
“In Winter” by Nancy Kilpatrick
“Armageddon Now Available in High Def” by Nate Southard
”Devil’s Arcade” by Mark Charan Newton

Reviewed by C. L. Rossman

This is a collection of fiction inspired by the songs of Bruce Springsteen.  It’s a unique tribute to a musical superstar.  Most of the tales consist of dark fantasy and horror, although a few are science fiction and some are mainstream literature. All of them are moody and evocative.

“Nothing Forgiven” by Lee Thomas, inspired by “Something in the Night.”

If time stopped for you after high school and you wanted desperately to escape your small-town life—what or who would you be willing to sacrifice in order to do it? And what future payment would that demand? A ghost story which is also a darkly lyrical tale filled with images of teenage angst.

“Fire” by Elizabeth Massie, inspired by “I’m on Fire.”

Mac, a double amputee, cannot bear to hear his young female neighbor being beaten night after night in the next door apartment by her drug dealer husband. He communicates with her through the walls when her husband is gone, and urges her to escape. But she is afraid to run away, knowing her husband will find her, so Mac determines to save her—at any cost. A mainstream story with a twist ending.

“Atonement” by Gary A. Braunbeck, inspired by “My Father’s House.”

Several of these stories are inspired by that particular song. All of them are dark and moving.  This one deals with what a man will do when he’s reached the end of his options and lost everything, and is told from the son’s viewpoint. It is really a ghost story, but one of compassion rather than revenge.

“Kneeling in the Darkness” by Lorna Dixon, inspired by “Point Blank.”

This gets off to a fast start with the main character, Teddy, dragging a cop along to the scene of a murder. When Teddy’s girlfriend Nicole died in the old Seawall Bar, the town died with her. Now Teddy is driven to act by the shadowy beings which haunt the bar as he goes back to relive the girl’s death scene, hoping somehow to stop it from repeating over and over.

“The Hungry Heart” by Michael A. Arnzen, inspired by the song of the same name.

A very different take on the Springsteen song, dealing with the victim of a heart attack who is kept in the hospital with an unusual heart-shaped pillow to comfort him. Based on an experience by the writer’s friend, although this takes it much further than that and introduces fantasy. It also has some gritty, realistic scenes, too, about how it feels to have a ventilator tube shoved down your throat “for your own good.” The main character becomes certain that the plush toy heart is really sucking out his life. I remembered this story angle long after I read it.

“Die Angle” by Lawrence C. Connelly, inspired by “Murder Incorporated.”

An old philosophical question asks, “If the world could be made a happy and prosperous place without suffering, if only one person had to be sacrificed, what would you decide?” This takes that theme and gives it a modern twist, adding the option of choice for the would-be killers. The small town has been prospering until someday someone brings in a hired killer. Unfortunately, I could see this one coming.

“From the Dark Heart of a Dream” by Tom Piccirilli, inspired by “Adam Raised a Cain.”

A series of vignettes of fathers and sons—of what fathers expect, and of how sons (all too often) disappoint. Then the writer tells his own story. A realistic, semi-autobiographical slant imbues this moving tale on how we are raised, and what secret expectations hover over us.

“Independence Day” by Sarah Langan, inspired by “The Rising” and “Independence Day.”

This science fiction oriented tale invokes a futuristic society where citizens are implanted with computer ports and must see a “doctor” once a month to get their “bad thoughts” cleared out. Trina, 13, harbors spite for her freedom-loving father Ramesh out of petty childish reasons and determines to “get back” at him but is shocked into changing her life when the Government descends on her family. Mostly a rehash of “Big Brother,” but with a more steely-nerved protagonist.

“Ain’t No Angel Gonna Great Me” by Guy Adams, inspired by “Maria’s Bed.”

Adams begins with the memorable line, “A life can be lived in miles of blacktop as surely as it can be in year,” and follows a man whose special gift is raising the dead so his criminal boss can find out how they were cheating him, and to implicate others. Maria, the narrator’s lost love, is also among those dead.  A horror story with zombies strongly featured, set in a matrix of regret. I am not sure exactly what the writer was striving for here, despite the atmosphere.

“With These Hands” by Kurt Dinan, inspired by two songs, “Factory” and “Two Faces.”

The unresolved conflict between father and son floats through this tale too as the main character has to decide whether he can maintain the striking workers’ lines at the factory with his workmates, or whether he must force his way through and betray them for the sake of feeding his family. At the crucial point, he dons his father’s old work clothes and goes out to meet his fate.

“Wings for Wheels” by John Palisano, inspired by “Thunder Road.”

Mary is torn between choosing to ride with the Hot Rod Angels in their fire-blackened Camaro, or with the Kid, who aims his wheels at the high life outside of their slumbering oceanside town.  She can choose to go with either of the phantoms and change her life. This story, like so many of the others, blends the eerie quality of the past, our past, with the inner conflicts we have for a better and freer life.

“Across the Border” by Peter Abrahams, from the song of the same name; and the writer describes the song (and story) as being “hopeful but with dark undercurrents.”

Mikhail Barkhov and his wife Luba are trying to sneak into America with “Duggy” as their guide. Mikhail has already chosen a new American name for himself, when suddenly Duggy stops them and demands more payment just as they reach the border. The new country is in sight, but Mikhail has no more money to pay, in this tale of mainstream mystery.

“The Room” by Jeffrey Thomas, inspired by “Candy’s Room.” 

This SF tale is written in the first person by “Quick Billy,” who tells of his undying love for Candy and how as an enabler, he gets the parts she needs for her experiment. One day he learns her room has blown up, totally vaporized, and he thinks she must be dead. But Candy is trapped in a far more horrible existence than that. And she appears to him, begging him to save her. An unusual science-fiction twist on this Springsteen song.

“Fog Boy” by T. M. Wright, inspired by “My Father’s House.”

“My Father’s House” has inspired a number of the stories in this work, perhaps because of unresolved issues we have with our fathers. Wright’s tale takes on the nature of an abstract painting, as he wanders between scenes in his childhood with a boy’s pet dog, and skirts a major event in the past which he calls “a huge and unpleasant surprise.” Three shorter “stories within a story” are lined up inside this one, and the writer tells us “My Father built a house of clichés,” and “The father is man to the child.” (Think about that one.) The theme of a boy’s relationship to the father, not the mother, runs strongly throughout this volume. Other than these insights, I thought the writer tried too hard to be “artsy.”

“Darkness at the Edge of Town” by James A. Moore, inspired by the song of the same name.

A ghost story and a love story about Tony and Theresa, sweethearts in the drag racing backstreets of a factory town—until Tony’s desperation drives her away, and he comes into a bar looking for trouble. Again underlain by the haunting themes of being trapped by life, of yearning for something better, but it remains a rather commonplace theme.

“Lightning Can’t Catch Me” by Gerard Houarner, inspired by “State Trooper.”

Don’t dance with the Devil—because he won’t let you go. But is it better to dance with the Devil’s woman instead? The thunder of fast cars and dark nights rumbles through this darkling tale, and the feckless teen equates the law with the Devil forever pursuing him.

“In Winter” by Nancy Kilpatrick, inspired by “The Streets of Philadelphia.” 

“Some say autumn is monster time”—but this author shows us it is always winter when we confront the monsters of our past. Written in the rare second person or “you” form, we follow her through those dark streets searching for the home we used to have. The journey itself is like a dark dream. I think Kilpatrick has handled this theme very well as a literary piece.

“Armageddon, Now Available in High-Def.” by Nate Southard, inspired by “57 Channels and Nothin’ On.”

Emaciated and drug-ridden millionaire heiress Tabby Henson sits staring at her TV, watching scenes of Ravagers invading the homes of the rich and uncaring, and seems to connect with nothing, because nothing seems to be real.  Then the Ravagers in this futuristic tale turn their attention to her gates. The writer says the confluence of the song “57 Channels” and the beginning of TV reality shows made this story click together for him.

“Devil’s Arcade” by Mark Charan Newton, inspired by the “Devil’s Arcade.”

There is something lurking in the night, but what? And her husband is gone from Theresa’s bed—where is he? Ever since Daniel returned from the desert war, he seems to be fine, as he tells his wife Theresa. But nightmares invade his sleep and lately, the bodies of dead veterans have been found in deserted places around town. Will he be next? This modern (realistic) horror story deals with a modern theme, the post-traumatic stress syndrome suffered by youngsters who have faced battle. But the ending will surprise you, I think. This struck me as a well-written tale.

Overall I have to say this is a most unusual collection of tales based on how one man’s music has affected a generation. The writers excellently evoke for us those memories of the dark towns of our past, where muscle-cars roared, and the silent factories overhung our future. A superb anthology, with even the cover especially well drawn to reflect riding the road to the future, with the past forever lurking in our rear view mirrors.