City Slab, #6, Volume 2, Issue 2

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“Changing the Color of Darkness” by Yvonne Navarro
“Little Girls” by Jeanette Draper
“The Color of Blood” by Leslie Claire Walker
“Dissociative Skills” by Jeremy Robert Johnson
“Touring” by Robert DeLura
“Shiny Things” by Patricia Russo
I’m always eager to see what’s new on the Slab. What can you say about an urban horror zine that teases the S&M crowd with photos of dominatrix Lydia McLane and “fetish supermodel” Eve Ellis? And oh, how fondly I cherish the centerfold of Volume 1, Issue 4: Lydia McLane wearing cute little goat horns, a red halo, and nothing else . . .

In Volume 2, Issue 2, you’ll find Robert Bee’s review of The Black Gondolier, a paperback reissue of a collection of Fritz Lieber’s horror stories; Toby Osborne’s interview with scream queen Linnea Quigley (Return of the Living Dead); Werner Hirsch’s report on the Drac Tour, a Transylvanian extravaganza; Andrew Zimmerman-Jones’ review of the PC Game City of Heroes; Amy Grech’s essay on the history of execution devices; and six respectable works of short fiction. On to the fiction!

According to their guidelines page, City Slab is looking for “taut, multi-leveled urban horror.” This issue’s six stories fit the bill to varying degrees. First up is Yvonne Navarro’s “Changing the Color of Darkness.” A murder crime wave is sweeping the world, but Chicago Homicide Detective Jack Radley finds he’s getting used to the mounting body count. With twenty-five to thirty new murders a day, there’s no way he can catch all the perps. On this particular night, Jack makes a discovery that opens wide the mystery of what’s happening to our world. But is it too late?  

The facts of the murders are disturbingly similar:

Most victims, the police were told, were attacked on all sides by a large group of unidentifiable people that everyone swore were no older than kids—children, for Christ’s sake. Small and light-skinned, featureless, and unidentifiable, and all scattered seemingly the instant they were detected, leaving behind nothing but beaten, ravaged and bitten bodies.

Once I’d read this paragraph, the title page illustration by Alfred Klosterman worked as a spoiler for me. I felt certain I knew where this was going, and I wasn’t disappointed. I also found myself getting annoyed at Jack’s hand-waving quasi-scientific explanations of where the murderers had come from, as well as the author’s inconsistency in writing Latin binomials (e.g., it’s Homo sapiens, not homo sapiens: the genus is always capitalized, the species always lower case). If I wasn’t such a biology geek, I might have enjoyed this one more than I did.

Jeanette Draper’s “Little Girls” is a straightforward tale of a predator and his prey. Ajax Bouzada is a white slaver whose business is on the ropes. Interpol has foiled one of his deals, and the local police have been snooping around his home and office. His Mercedes has been repossessed, he owes money to loan sharks, and a second "shipment" has fallen through. Ajax needs some prime meat and fast.

On the train going from Amsterdam to Paris, he meets two young teenage girls. The euro signs flash before his eyes. He’ll get top money for this pair—one American, one French; perhaps he’ll even "sell them as a unit" to the Sultan of Brunei. The bulk of the story centers on Ajax’s attempts to ingratiate himself to the girls, all the while preparing for the inevitable attack.

It’s a simple enough story, but Ms. Draper’s attention to detail makes it a gem. This story drips with authenticity:

Blondie being American was a plus. Americans sold well. German girls were hard to break, whining bitches. He had no use for them unless they could pull off an “Ilsa of the SS” act in black leather. It wasn’t his thing, but his British clientele had a hard-on for Hitler.

I don’t know anything about this demimonde, but Ms. Draper had me convinced that she knew it backward and forward. Mostly because of the author’s sure grip on the subject matter, I found “Little Girls” to be pure entertainment from start to finish. Here, by the way, Alfred Klosterman’s title page illustration works quite well: Ajax is reminiscent of Eric Roberts, circa Star 80, or perhaps Andrew Robinson, circa Dirty Harry, and the girls look like Marsha and Cindy Brady. Once I’d finished the story, I looked back at Klosterman’s artwork and had to laugh.

Leslie Claire Walker’s “The Color of Blood” is an odd tale of masochists and sadists, shadows and substance. It’s a disconcerting story, one that kept me thinking long after I’d finished it.

When we first meet Marlena, she’s fleeing a New Year’s Eve party at which she was beaten for twenty minutes, flogged to the point of screaming. Early on, we get a strong hint this beating was consensual:

He’d made her scream. That was something, wasn’t it?

Her boyfriend, Tobe (not the man who had beaten her), catches up with her. She doesn’t have her clothes or her keys, so together they return to the party to gather up her stuff. Their adventures, back at the party and after, lead to discoveries, both for Marlena and Tobe.

I read this story as a deeply psychological tale, an exploration of ego boundaries and layered personalities. It works well as S&M erotica, too, but when your wife sees you reading it, it really helps to say, “This is a deeply psychological tale, an exploration of ego boundaries and layered personalities.” Facetiousness aside, I enjoyed the unrelenting edginess of Ms. Walker’s prose. She had me squirming (in a good way).

Teenager Curt Lawson is a one-man carnival geek show in Jeremy Robert Johnson’s “Dissociative Skills.” Mr. Johnson sums up Curt’s psychopathology quite neatly:

Curt would think something, and if the next immediate thought was, “Well, I could never do that,” then he’d do it, whatever he’d thought, no matter how wrong. That was the litmus and the litany.

Curt knew how long it took to eat a pound of Crisco. He knew the nervous sweat that preceded smashing his own thumb with a hammer.

And so forth. This time, Curt has decided he needs to see his own insides—his guts, to be specific—and his parents have obliged by going out to a party. Curt’s preparations include a surgical scalpel and Ketamine (a dissociative anesthetic) doped with diazepam, benzedrine, “and God Knows What Else.” The main conflict comes from wondering whether Curt-under-the-influence will have the wherewithal to do the deed, but our hero does not disappoint.

Here, I must apologize to the author. Mr. Johnson, you were unlucky enough to pull a physician and surgeon as your critic. I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t find self-mutilation amusing or horrifying (only pathetic, and all too true-to-life), and your factual errors (Ketamine is not a narcotic; after cutting through skin, Curt has a long way to go before finding the mesentery) were, for me, a distraction. You do have a good story here; Curt’s relationship with his parents, and the lengths he’ll go to make them feel something, is quite poignant. I only wish I could have felt more sympathy for Curt.

There ought to be a sub-genre for stories like “Touring” by Robert DeLura: female erotica as told by male authors. Perhaps the author’s gender shouldn’t be an issue, but as I read “Touring,” I found myself doing repeated authenticity checks with the wife. (“Hey, read this paragraph. Now this one. Would you really . . . ?”) In fairness to Mr. De Lara, my wife had only one substantive crit. “Women don’t fall asleep after orgasm.”


“They’re not tired afterwards. Not like men.”

Again in fairness to Mr. De Lara, I didn’t ask my wife how many women she’d interviewed to come to this conclusion. I’m not sure I want to know.

Back to “Touring.” Becca, new to New York City, is an aspiring stage actress. Roommate and lover Janine is also an actress, a bit further up the success ladder than Becca. They hit the clubs one night, and Becca meets Seth, a mysterious stranger:

The guy is good looking, an Arab or something, slim, with darkish skin, very short black hair, and the thinnest trace of a mustache. His English is good—no trace of an accent.

The story proceeds in diary fashion. Becca and Seth waltz closer, the girl-on-girl erotica becomes girl-on-guy erotica, and then the erotica becomes stranger still. There’s something very witchy about Seth, but I won’t ruin the fun for you.

For me, this story works well as erotica, and I also felt that Mr. De Lara did a fine job with Becca’s and Janine’s evolving relationship. I thought the higher level of this story, the more fantastic aspect, was predictable. A small enough gripe.

Jeanette Draper’s Ajax Bouzada may arguably be the most vivid character in this issue, but in Patricia Russo’s “Shiny Thing,” Lelia and Franklin have the most believable relationship. Last of the sextet, Ms. Russo’s story is another gem, an urban fairy tale with a powerful and memorable ending.

Lelia and Franklin’s wedding is sixty-seven days away, but the love has rotted out of this relationship. Earlier that morning, Franklin told Lelia “they should make an appointment with the vet at least a couple of weeks before the wedding, have it all taken care of before they got busy packing for the wedding.” It’s Lelia’s sixteen-year-old cat Omar that Franklin wants to take care of; not the nicest cat, perhaps, but to Lelia, he’s family. Franklin’s suggestions sparks a vicious argument which, by the story’s start, has settled down into an equally vicious cold war. As much as Lelia would like to leave their apartment to Franklin and get some space, the rain is pouring down outside. She’s stuck, in more ways than one.

Into this mess walks a “short, fat man” carrying a large paper bag full of wet green leaves. He becomes the new focus for their argument: should they take him in? Should they do the favor he asks? The decisions Lelia and Franklin make will stay with them the rest of their lives.

I have only one quibble with this story. I didn’t understand why Ms. Russo repeatedly referred to the stranger as the “short, fat man.” If there’s some symbolism inherent in those words, I’m missing it, and the constant repetition became an annoyance. But this was a minor nit in an otherwise wonderful tale of missed opportunities and lost souls.