Their faces--no longer marred by the horror of Dream transfiguration--were still intact. What she had been afforded was a glimpse into the future world. Of the fate that the song would condemn them to, as it had done to her over time. Rook knew at last what would become of all things.
My first introduction to the work of Farah Rose Smith, and it did not disappoint. A chapbook published by Ulthar Press, The Visitor is about Rook, a musician in a goth rock band, who longs for fame and fortune. Her desire for wealth is so great, that she allows herself to be seduced by a being known only as the Visitor, from a place called the Afterworld. Rook travels to the Afterworld in her sleep, and receives lessons from the Visitor. Unfortunately, she cannot remember the sounds in her waking hours. One song, in particular, captures the ear of Rook; she says it would change the Rock 'n' Roll landscape. In exchange for bringing him to the realm of Earth, the Visitor tells Rook he'll give her the song. It's a Faustian bargain that will not only end badly for Rook, but the entire world.
What really stands out in The Visitor is Smith's prose. She deftly merges the beautiful with the grotesque, creating a vibrant, surreal world; reality and fantasy are blurred, as if you are experiencing a fever dream. The atmosphere is simultaneously ethereal and dreadful, possessing a dizzying effect. You wonder if Rook is in a sort of liminal state, caught between the real world and the Afterworld. Smith's language flows in and around you, smooth, exotic, and rotting. With such a level of quality and care, you can't put it down.
At the heart of Smith's tale is not just Rook's bargain with the Visitor, but the power of music, as well. Rook is desperate for a change; she wants to get out of her trailer; she wants a life of wealth and luxury. Without giving any thought to possible consequences, Rook is all too eager to make a bargain with the Visitor, even at the expense of her secret lover, and fellow band mate, Miller, which does eat away at her, after the deed is done. Rook takes the life of Miller, allowing the Visitor to use his body as a vessel, giving him free reign over thie human world. It's terrifying scenarios like this that remind us of the mutability of our flesh; they remind us of our vulnerability to beings that far surpass us in every aspect, and are capable of using us as vessels, tools, puppets, playthings, and much more. Rook soon becomes aware of what she has let into her world, and the horror that is to follow.
The Visitor touches on the power and lasting effects of music. Smith vividly describes the Visitor's music as being otherworldly; it's not meant for human ears, and it has a maddening effect on Rook and the rest of her band mates, during their practice. This being the first time the Visitor plays while in Miller's body:
The overture was a quiet orchestration. One of abysmal melancholy, growing ever stronger with each passing whir of the strange, ethereal guitar. It grew shriller, louder, until the rapturous pounding of rhythmic muscle overcame the subtleties of the beginning. It had theatre, poise--an erotic tension so powerful that one would feel as if a serrated wheel ran back and forth over the genitals, ever-satisfied with a cosmic teasing. Every second thrust the listeners into a seemingly orgasmic fury. A lustful thirst unquenchable in the land of men.
The outro commenced. An exhaustive depression hovered over Rook--an omnipresent cloud. The others struggled to recover, overcome by the mad genius of the composition.
Music being used in such a manner brings to mind stories like Lovecraft's The Music of Eric Zann, which, I believe, is similar in the use of music never before heard by human ears. The vibrancy of the story is akin to Anya Martin's tale, Sensoria, featured in the anthology, Giallo Fantastique, published by Word Horde. Both Martin and Smith's tale touch on the power and lasting effects that music can have on us; how it can change not just us, but the landscape, as well.
In the case of the music played by the Visitor, Rook doesn't realize what it's true purpose is until it's far too late. At the beginning of the story, Rook is in the Afterworld with the Visitor; however, it is in ruin. It is merely a husk of what it used to be. Vegetation is gone, dusk is eternal, forests destroyed. It is a land in peril. Through his music, the Visitor plans to restore the Afterworld to what it used to be, by sacrificing the inhabitants of earth. It starts with Rook. After the band's first practice, essentially, Rook's body begins to break down; and that is what will happen to everyone else, as Rook sees in a vision at the concert they are playing at, towards the end of the story:
The swaying of limbs, the flashes of flesh. Women and men alike removed their clothes and took to pressing their bodies together in a hypnotic rhythm; a new and obscene ritual that only the sound of Rookie Swallows could incite. The thrashing of arms, waggling of tongues, the clattering of genitals. And then, a single face was illuminated--a harbinger to a devil's denouement. A melted face of flesh, indecipherable amidst the muck and mortar. A frozen form so like Rook in the land of dreams, in the throes of flesh-melt; the highest form of dream transfiguration.
Much to her horror, Rook understands what will happen to everyone, and there is nothing she can do to stop it. Everyone will be used as fodder to bring life back to the Afterworld. "This was the song in its proper form--an indelicate means of melting man into feast, into fertilizer. It was terrible. It was magnificent. It was... over." That last bit about the proper form of the song as being terrible and magnificent at the same time is a great way of displaying human thought in the face of something way beyond our comprehension. How do we respond to such sites? How do we perceive them? It's also interesting to ponder the character of the Visitor. It can be argued that there is a level of ambiguity to him, concerning him being bad or good. As in, good intentions with horrifying consequences. He saves one world, but destroys another. And Rook is the one responsible for the fate of everyone; she let the Visitor into her world because she wanted wealth, even though she came to greatly regret her decision.
With The Visitor, Smith has weaved a tale of how we let our desires and obsessions cloud our judgment and ability to make rational decisions, often ending with terrible results. It's about music and the language it produces; how it impacts and changes us and the world. It's a haunting, grotesque, beautiful work of literature born in the dark recesses of some unholy world. If this is what is to be expected from the rest of what Farah Rose Smith has to offer, you can call me an instant fan who eagerly desires to devour more of her work.