Halloween Is for Scary Reading , which Fiona tried to point out to her, but Tamara would have none of it. “It’s worshiping the Devil, bottom line,” Tamara said. “And I only wish we were living a couple hundred years back. They knew what to do with Devil worshipers back then.”
Who is this man? Who is this Douglas Clegg who gave me a midnight thrill with his book “The Halloween Man”? This was scary good! It’s up in the ranks with Stephen King and Shirley Jackson and even Clive Barker. Satanist cult? Check. Children bred with demons / angels? Check. Bloody murder? Check. A whole town in on it? Check!
This must be a solid 5/5 that I’ve read in a while for supernatural horror.
I’ve never been a fan of small villages like the one in Stephen King’s Needful Things or religious cults that worship children (ever since reading Watchers – Dean Koontz) and I’ve never, ever liked domestic violence (against spouses or their children). This book offers all! I started reading yesterday afternoon at 3 and had to stop for a movie but then again at midnight I woke up with a case of insomnia and by 3AM I devoured all 300+ pages of this amazing horror. Please Hollywood, please make it into a movie!
This book is genuinely chilling. A good boy meets a good girl, and they love each other. They make their first child, which should be pure and blessed, no matter how accidental the conception, but the existence of the child brings all the old secrets out into the open. This is what happens when a good, sweet child finds himself manipulated by corrupt humans into the presence of the oldest of evils, discovering that the evil that he would escape has been worked into his very genetics.
This is very much unlike your usual horror fare. It’s told is mostly flashbacks and tells of the childhood of Stony Crawford. Much of the story isn’t actually scary at all, but helps focus on characters and plot development. (However, I felt that there was a tad too much filler sex for my taste.) It seems to focus quite a bit on developing the characters and their relationships rather than having a murder scene every other page.
It all starts with Stony breaking into a religious compound to steal their most prized possession: a miracle boy of 12 who is actually his long lost son kidnapped at birth.
The stink was everywhereStony Crawford could smell it like the scent of old blood, the way you knew that something or someone was dead, had been dead a long time and had just lain there in the excrement of death as if waiting for resurrection. He couldn’t wait to get out from among the shacks and mobile homes, and back into his car. And those cages, full of rattlesnakes, all still and eerie beneath the trailer that sat up on cinder blocks. Christ, that was creepy. People who would keep fifty rattlesnakes for their church social weren’t people you wanted to mess with.
The scary part? All the people in the compound in Texas were already dead or dying. He assumes it’s a “let’s drink poison together” type of demise, but it’s much more darker – it’s the child. As he drives away, the flashbacks begin, starting with Nora’s voice (his elderly and blind neighbour, with whom he sought comfort and peace whenever his parents were yelling at each other.)
“A long time ago, and what’s past is past. All you can do is look down the road and decide if it curves and if you’ll take the curve.”
And in this story format (that you mostly hear in folk-tales) unravels the life of 20’s something Stony. He smokes like a chimney and carries a gun and something a lot more dangerous in his glove compartment. His grandfather’s voice follows him next.
“You’re too young to know about a lot of things, Stony. But when you get a little older, when you become a man, you’ll find out things about your mother and father, and you won’t like those things. You’ll find out about what this village is all about. If I was in better health, I’d get out of here, and take you with me, something I should’ve done long ago before your mother got rooted here. We tie ourselves down, Stony, but we don’t have to. Someday, you’ll know why your father is so awful and why your mother is the way she is. But for now, trust that it will all come out all right, will you do that?”
Stony eats at a greasy spoon with the boy and counts his meagre cash stack. He visits the Highway Madonna. He remembers his first love.
Remember how it tastes? The first time you really fall in love, and you don’t know then, no matter what happens, that it’s that first taste of love that is always best? You don’t know that truth until you’re older and you accept what life offers, then you forget. You forget that once, when you were young, you burned with love. Burned .
The scary stories come on rolling out of Nora’s mouth. I found the one with the children absolutely terrifying but I loved the other stories more. How Stony grew up. How his village was like. Nostalgia for an innocent childhood where there weren’t a lot of worries other than going home.
Are there places like this anymore? Where summer seems to last nearly as long as the school year, where the houses all have near lawns, are made of brick or clapboard, all neat neat neat; where all the neighbors’ children play together, play tackle football on summer afternoons down on the small beach by the cove, where there doesn’t seem to ever be an end to the days until the fireflies themselves appear in the nighttime veil of purple as it descends after nine at night? Then the days shorten, until dark comes by five, and the chill of fall sets in, with the scent of rotting blackberries and crisp leaf mold.
And then Stony finds his first teenage love. Not yet 15 the both of them, they fall in love and they fall hard. The notes they sent each other made me smile. Imagine finding love stories in the middle of a gruesome horror book!
In the pocket of Stony’s jeans, a note: Things I love about you: I love your smile. I love when you get angry and stomp around like a big baby. I love all that hair on your chest and tummy. It’s like you’re a puppy. I love when you kiss me. I love when you tell me you love me and all the reasons you do. I love the way you mow a lawn! Hubba hubba! Your soul. Your purity. Your heart. I love how sweet and kind and considerate and wonderful you are Stony Crawford. Don’t ever forget it. And we’re never going to be like your folks or my folks. I think you’re pretty special. Love ya, Lourdes
And the recurring theme surrounding this bad boy is purity. Lourdes is pure, her love is genuine and the love-making leaves them both in the way of parenthood.
The idea of God or Jesus or anything like that had always been abstract, like a cosmic tangle of nerve endings shooting out the birth of the universe and then pretty much staying in the background. He rarely attended church with his mother, and his father never went. But for Lourdes’s sake, for her sense of religion, he concentrated. In his mind, he saw a woman who might have been the Virgin Mary, but then all the color drained from her face until she was white as bone.
“Do you really think she was a virgin?” “I think she was pure,” Lourdes said. “To give birth to God, she had to be pure. Do you believe in purity?”
Stony slips that he’s an expectant father to his older brother – who is also a bit of a weird egg. His older brother has this bee in his bonnet about Lourdes and he only needs a tip in the right direction by his new girlfriend, to escalate from swan hunting, to deer hunting, to Lourdes hunting. He attacks her on her way back home from a date and kills her in a frenzy, with 106 stab wounds.
The knife was no longer a knife in his hand, it was a tool of the ultimate love, and he brought it to her and she accepted it like a flower in her hair. He gave her red poppies for her hair, and then the poppies sprouted along her neck, and shoulders. Her breasts became a garden, her belly a wild row of poppies blossoming. ”I love you,” he whispered, tasting the opium that spilled from the prolapsing flowers, their petals curving and turning and spilling. He lapped at her for the sweetness of the drug, and still more flowers bloomed rapidly along her body.
Time was a river of blood and fire. Van Crawford waded through it, the jagged pebbles cutting his feet, his arms raised above his head. It was only clear, clean water, and he was up to his waist in it now.
The storyline now is moving at a neck-breaking pace and it seems everything seems to go towards the central point where Stony meets his mother. He already knows that his father is the village idiot – also bred through the ages from a line of Imps that apparently came from one of the old gods that use to walk the earth.
“You’re joking. You’re crazy” Stony gasped and in his mind he saw a thick nail being driven in by a flat rock to a man’s wrist on what might’ve been a cross in a large and seemingly endless garden. “Jesus Christ”
“No, not Jesus Christ, Stony. Far older than that, in the fields of western France, a god that walked the granaries and gardens and all that was planted, a god who was king for a season and then was inhaled by certain men, a god that was ritually killed every season, whose blood drained into the earth”
His mother tho, is a complete mystery – until he visits the house of the local gentry – and their esteemed guest – an Alan Fairclough (“he had once upon a time been a monk, and then an academic, and finally, now retired, a man of some wealth, acquired through inheritance, and much leisure“, who loved to dabble in sadistic practices). Meeting Alan takes him to his half-sister – Diana – the woman who bound his older brother Vic in a killing rampage and then delivered him to be slaughtered at Alan’s hand to erase all evidence.
Evidence doesn’t really matter at this point as the tipping point had come: Stony kills beautiful Diana, releasing the beast or angel within her – light particles with the ability to create great columns of fire. She goes on to devour the village nearby, breaking down houses and eating people alive – innocent as well as guilty.
In the mansion chappel, Stony gets to meet the creature which had been bound and raped in order to produce a good human-God hybrid and he sees he’s the only one questioning the sanctity of this being, and the being itself.
[Alan]: I brought the means of communication with the Divine. We midwifed the gods when we brought you into this world, and through you and your children, slowly, over time, mankind will be saved. Diana, she was brought forth in ignorance. These Crown people,” he said with contempt, “they have no respect for the rituals, they think they’re all just so much ancient history, but there’s a reason that religion, in all its forms, exists, Stony, it exists to create a bridge to the gods, to God, to the divine fire the ritual is the way of controlling the power rather than just setting it loose upon the world”
[Being]: I am the image of all that men have worshiped, but I am unknown to man
“It’s a monster,” Stony spat. “It’s a goddamned monster. And you – you and the Crowns have been feeding it.”
Fairclough nodded, smiling. “I see the Divine Fire accepting our sacrifice.”
I loved this section of the book – you can clearly see demented religious fervour, supernatural beings feeding on their believes and the rational mind struggling but failing to comprehend what’s going on.
The conclusion of the story comes from a good case of matricide (Stony goes on to kill “mother”) and 12 years later, hunting down and kidnapping his son to bring back to this cursed place in order to kill him and then himself with a bomb.
The writing is really, really good! That’s why this is a two and a half star book for me. Douglas Clegg is a fabulous writer and I liked the way he tells a story. I really enjoyed this book. I was a little annoyed initially that it was all over the place but it was necessary after a while. It was very vivid and fast paced towards the end. I will be reading more Douglas Clegg books
About the Author
Douglas Clegg is the author of more than a dozen novels in the horror and suspense genres. He has been writing since a child, and decided to write professionally in his mid-twenties. During his youth he spent much time travelling including Mexico, Spain, and Paris. He has been a newspaper delivery boy, a lawnmower man, a bricklayer, a grill chef, worked in a retirement home, a wolf-trap farm, and an insect zoo.
He is now a full-time writer.
His work has been published through Cemetery Dance Publications by Richard Chizmar, mostly in Signed and Limited/Lettered Hardcover Editions: ‘Mischief’, ‘Purity’ and ‘You Come When I Call You’ (2000), ‘Nightmare House’ (2002), ‘The Necromancer’ (2003), ‘The Machinery of Night’ (2005), ‘Isis’, ‘The Abandoned’, and ‘Wild Things: Four Tales’ (2006), ‘Afterlife’ (2008), ‘Night Cage’ as Andrew Harper (2009), and ‘Mr Darkness’ (2011).
Douglas has also written the following series: ‘Harrow Academy’: (which collects the novels ‘Mischief’, ‘The Infinite’ (2001), and ‘Nightmare House’), the ‘Vampyricon Trilogy’: (which collects ‘The Priest of Blood’ (2005), ‘The Lady of Serpents’ (2006), and ‘The Queen of Wolves’ (2007), and the first in the ‘Mordred Trilogy’: ‘Mordred, Bastard Son’ (2006)).