You never believe in us. You assume we are made up, to explain the nature of man. Child, we are the nature of man, because we have infiltrated humanity, time and time again. Every foul act you blame on your evolution, on your 'human nature' we take pride in under veils of delicious shadow, and hate, and psychic refuse. We bask in the glory of your undoing, one rape, one child murder, one genocide at a time. And you say 'God is dead.' You couldn't be more right. The battle for the world was lost long ago, and as your preachers thump the pulpit with bloody fists, we throw another body on the pyre.
Right out of the gate, Sean M. Thompson comes swinging with his debut collection of stories, Too Late. In just 62 pages, Thompson manages to violate and decimate you with tales of lust, betrayal, murder, urban legends, and demonic possession. Thompson's visceral, hardcore prose will bludgeon you until you are at the threshold, leaving you a whimpering, bloody pulp. And if you manage to survive, his stories will linger within you long after you are done reading them; trauma locked away deep down inside you.
Thompson's collection technically contains five stories, but a sixth story is added as bonus material. While the stories are not related to one another, there is a sense of cohesion, as they all take place in various parts of Massachusetss; this makes the stories, I think, more intimate for the reader, thus having a stronger impact. Thompson's stories are about very real, very flawed people who find themselves in unreal situations that challenge their perceptions of reality. There are terrible, unfathomable things on the fringes that are hungry for both flesh and spirit.
The first story in the collection is Fickle Mortality. A serial killer is on death row, and during her final 60 minutes of life, she reflects on her crimes and how much she enjoyed them; the thrill of the hunt, and taking pleasure in her victims' final moments of life. Our killer also hints at something greater at work, indicating that she will be reborn and live on. Is she telling the truth, or is she just insane? That's for you to decide. With some commentary on childhood abuse, and the celebrity status of serial killers, Thompson starts off nice and slow, tying you to a chair and giving you a small taste of what is coming for you.
The next story, and my favorite of the six, is Stranded in the Storm. Josh and Karen are driving in the middle of a snow storm, on their way to party. Their car spins out of control and crashes into a snowbank. Josh calls for a tow truck to get them out, but is told it'll take about an hour for it to arrive; in the meantime, Josh and Karen sit tight, but have no idea that something is out in the woods, something huge and unnatural, and it's stalking them. Thompson's detailed descriptions of the snow, cold, and the menace that is looming over Josh and Karen, really help to dial up the dread, making you anxious and shaky. This is high-octane horror with a hint of tragedy at the end that is enough to make you shed a tear or two.
Jumpin' Jack is tale about how you can never truly know someone. Our narrator reveals that Jack Brentweather, his co-worker, massacred fifteen girls in one night, and reflects on how no one could've known that Jack was capable of something so horrible, but also reflects on the self-guilt that ravages his mind. The narrator plays back over and over about how he should've been more aware, more in tune with the fact that something was wrong with Jack. It's a great commentary on how we punish ourselves for not doing something, anything, that could've stopped a horrible tragedy from happening. And like in Fickle Mortality, there is some commentary about how killers are immortalized and glorified through songs, stories, the media, and any other medium. Thompson also leaves this one up to the reader to interpret if Jack was just insane, or if something greater was at work, something guiding him.
Dust is my second favorite story in the collection. It's a fine Weird Western, something that we don't have enough of, if you ask me. Clickin' Clarence and Red Robert are looking for a place to shack up in, after robbing some people who were passing by in their wagon. Not wanting to get caught in the sandstorm that is rapidly approaching, they find shelter in a town called "Dust," except that it's deserted. They soon discover, especially Clarence, that there's more to the town than they truly know. This tale is dripping with atmosphere; it's creepy, and nicely paced. The theme of betrayal is at the center of this tale, but I love how Thompson fleshes out the town of Dust and its ghostly residents, and even making the town a character itself, in the sense that it's always looking for people to visit, except they never leave.
The End of Humanity is a maniacal, apocalyptic tale about an author who is in a creative slump. He searches the web for some ideas and come across the site of a demonologist by the name of Henry Scatherty, who only lives a few towns over. Unbeknownst to the writer, Mr. Scatherty is not what he appears to be. The story is told in the first person, from the point of view of the writer, giving the read a palpable sense of the doom that is approaching, and the feeling of degeneration in the writer, as he loses more and more of his humanity, taken over by something malevolent. Reading it makes you feel like the apocalypse is really happening, or that it's almost at your doorstep; it's too late for you to do anything. There is no interpretation to be made here: there are things that exist in places that we only see in nightmares. They are real, and they want you.
The bonus story is Those Damn College Kids. Four friends are on their way to cabin for a little getaway, but things slowly begin to fall apart for them. Tempers flare, motives are revealed, and a tale of folk horror turns out to be true. Thompson adds a sort of commentary within the commentary, as the friends talk about what would happen in a horror movie, but that those things wouldn't happen to them because they are in the real world. The story has the feel of a Friday the 13th movie; there's lust, sex, alcohol, running and tripping, woods, and killer on the loose.
With his debut collection, Thompson brings to the table a nice mix of stories that range in tone, themes, emotion, power, humor, and varying levels of horror and madness. Above all, though, Thompson brings the reader a powder keg of entertainment. These stories are akin to a late night at the drive-in, so bring a friend or your significant other, get yourself a beverage, some popcorn, and sit back for a fun night of gore and terror!