Roar! Roar! Yell and howl! Nearing the end of the week and I’m realizing I might have to add an extra day or two to this week. That’s okay, the Grendel doesn’t go by our Calendarian Limitations anywho. He makes his own days, marks his own weeks, thumps his chest and burns the world with whispers.
I picture this grendelbeast like the one at the start of Gardner’s Grendel book. That chaos of the world, that pain of unknowing. The stomping of feet, the howling! Such a primal ache. That is the ache of our Grendelsong.
Aherm. Now we come to Matthew Kressel. Damn that man, he not only was the editor of the fantastic Sybil’s Garage, but is one hell of a writer. If you don’t believe me, check out this story, and check out his novel King of Shards. Here’s the story so you can read it and discuss it with me-
It’s so nice sitting here and talking about these short stories with you. Like a cozy scene, just the two of us, a fire growing to coals with the light, maybe a drink or two, and that good conversation. That kind of conversation that keeps you until dawn and you’re not even yawning because the thrill of the discussion is what propels you onward. Did I tell you yet that I love shortstories? That I love sharing these shortstories with you? That they deserve your attention? I do, they do, it’s all true.
This story starts with something that feels simple. They, whoever they are, like to feed on our emotions. A bit of poetry in these sections, a bit of otherness, of strangeness. Like every story here in Grendeland, these focus on liminal beings. Outsiders, creatures on the edge of what we see. Never here, never there, but always just outside.
And the character, yes, who stumbles into the sight of them. On one hand it’s a Weird story through and through. It would’ve fit in the backpages of weirdtales once upon a yesteryear. It’s terrors are of the unknown and unknowing, and those who spy them? Feel anxiety and fear.
One nice bit here is the poetry sections settled in with the strangeness, and yet the human sections are written more straight forward, more about the character experiencing. This shift in tone gives us an unsteady feeling, like the world is fluid and the fluid world makes us feel strange inside. Strange like all good weird fiction makes us feel.
And it’s amazing too, the way it slips back and forth and catches you off guard. They ate his laugh. They saw it in their no-space and ate his laugh. The human section, the human response, feel all too mundane and it throws you off, catches you off guard, so you’re scrambling to gain hold of the world.
Much like Jaym Gate’s story I mentioned earlier- this is the fantasy as existential crisis. And I absolutely love it. Some sections are mystery, some are full of holes, others are ground and all the more real. And in doing this you’re thrown further off guard. Soon, soon, the whole world is acting in what Sartre called Bad Faith (which had nothing to do with religion).
Egad, and then it goes after the children and you feeling your skin crawl. Even the normal sections are becoming less and less grounded, there is a slippage, everything is sliding away. They devour his gods. They devour his everything. There is a dark side to imagination, as food for whatever these things are. You can’t help it, this unsettles you.
As you continue you wonder if this is somehow a metaphor for depression? But as I said for earlier stories, the concept of a metaphor is too simple. In a story like this it is a literal thing and a thing that stands for all things. It’s archaic, it’s symbolic, it is a rite and a ritual. Reading this feels like a ritual, like you’re burning away at those things.
Even the ending. Almost a happy ending, a happier ending then what you expected, and that comes as a shock, as a welcome surprise. It feels like being able to breathe after having your head underwater for so long, so long…that breath is natural and simple, but the most important thing in the universe.
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