Short stories that find horror in the familiar

December 09, 1990|By Wiley A. Hall 3rd dTC | Wiley A. Hall 3rd dTC,Mr. Hall is a columnist for The Evening Sun.


Edited by Thomas F. Monteleone.


334 pages. $3.95 (paperback).

The typical horror story features the same, tired monsters: zombies and devils, werewolves and ghouls. Even vampires, for crying out loud.

But Thomas F. Monteleone, editor of "Borderlands", a newly published anthology of horror and dark fantasy short stories, knows what really terrifies us.

Everyday life scares us.

Past masters of the genre such as Rod Serling and Alfred Hitchcock found stories that took the frightening aspects of life as we know it and bent it, just a little. "Borderlands" bends the familiar yet again.

It is "The Twilight Zone" with a twist.

"I made it clear I didn't want stories which employed any of the traditional symbols and images of the genre," writes Mr. Monteleone, a resident of Pikesville, in an introduction to the volume. "I wanted writers to expand the envelope, to look beyond the usual metaphors. . . . Some fresh meat, so to speak."

And so, the first story in the collection, "The Calling," by David B. Silva, features a young man who has moved back home to care for his dying mother.

The monster in this story is cancer: the slow, excruciating mental and physical deterioration of a loved one, the damnable lack of

affordable medical care for the ter

minally ill, the future that any of us might face and all of us dread.

This is a suffocating, claustrophobic story that traps us in the tiny home with the young man and his dying mother. We are there as he helps her to the bathroom, as he changes her !B bedclothes. We are there every time he enters her bedroom and chokes on the atmosphere thick and foul with death.

"God," he thinks, hating himself for thinking this way, "God, I hate this."

"The Calling" is not the kind of story one reads lightly. The same is true of most of the stories in "Borderlands."

Nancy Holder's "Glass Eyes" features an artist who has just been told she is going blind. Sick with grief, delirious with anger, bitterness, self-pity and despair, she rushes from the doctor's office and runs until she finds herself in a strange and dangerous part of town.

Jeffrey Osier's "Oh, What a Swell Guy Am I" appears to be about a madman.

the other hand, it is hard to tell for sure because Mr. Osier locks us into the madman's head and never lets us out again. It is a slimy experience.

There are stories in this collection about drug abuse, mass murder, unemployment and divorce. Not all stories work -- which, of course, is always a danger when you are being tricky and weird with the familiar.

In several, such as John DeChancie's "The Grass of Rememberance," about a factory worker who has just been laid off, the story opens with such intensity that the payoff at the end, the twist to the twist, is a disappointment.

But for those who have the stomach for it, who find that they aren't sufficiently chilled by the morning news, "Borderlands" is an excellent collection.

A hardcover collector's edition of "Borderlands" was published last summer by Maclay and Associates, of Baltimore, and is available at local bookstores or by mail order from the publisher. Mr. Monteleone is working on "Borderlands Volume 2," and expects to publish it through his own publishing company by next spring.

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