Following on from last Thursday’s post, here is the second part of a feature on work written and/or inspired by Clive Barker that originally appeared in Black Static #53:-
CLIVE BARKER (continued)
In his 1988 novel Cabal Barker introduced us to the hidden city of Midian, home to a race of creatures known as the Nightbreed. The Nightbreed were the outcasts of society, the monsters and demons of human mythology and folklore, but on their own terms just people who wanted to be left alone. The book ended with the destruction of their home and the Nightbreed’s dispersal to the four corners of the earth in search of a new place of sanctuary, somewhere they can live in peace.
Edited by Joseph Nassise and Del Howison, the anthology MIDIAN UNMADE (Tor hc, 302pp, $24.99) is subtitled “Tales of Clive Barker’s Nightbreed’ and contains stories dealing with the post-Midian adventures of some of these special people (a good comparison would be with the concept of mutants as developed in the Marvel Universe, albeit Nightbreed mostly don’t wear skin-tight costumes and are a lot further under the radar than Wolverine and co.). And though you don’t need to have read Cabal or seen the 1990 film Nightbreed to enjoy these stories, it’s a familiarity that would probably help with the less obvious nuances.
After a preface by Nassise detailing the appeal of Barker’s seminal work and an introduction by Barker himself, reprinted from 1990’s The Nightbreed Chronicles, we get down to the nitty gritty, or at least we appear to from a cursory glance at the Table of Contents, but in fact it’s a false start. Lisa Majewski’s ‘Return to Midian’ is a secondary introduction, recounting the unique qualities of the Nightbreed, detailing the differences between them, the things that make each one unique, and also the common ties that bind, and finally it touches on the way in which they have come to represent the Other for mankind. And now we are up and running.
‘The Moon Inside’ by Seanan McGuire is set in a Seattle where young people play at being Nightbreed and pretend to have found Midian, much to the disappointment of Babette, who is the genuine article. Evocatively written and with a wry humour, it’s a story that pokes gentle fun at the Goth vampire role playing scene, but at the same time is filled with compassion for the plight of the monster without a home to call her own. In the sensitive and moving story that is ‘The Night Ray Bradbury Died’ by Kevin J. Wetmore one of the Nightbreed and a disfigured human bond at night on a beach in LA, the narrative conveying both the commonality of experience and a strong sense of loss, and while the premise was very simple to my mind it was one of the most effective stories in the book.
Nancy Holder’s ‘Another Little Piece of My Heart’ tells of Coeur, who falls in love with a human boy, one who wants her to run away with him, but despite their love ultimately she cannot escape her heritage, the story dealing with themes of obsession and dedication to higher ideals, even when those are the very things that hurt most. Interaction between humans and Nightbreed is also a concern in ‘The Kindness of Surrender’ by Kurt Fawver, with the abandoned Asteria taken in by Amy and given a home, only she is unable to control the monster side of herself and the need to feed. Again there’s a universality to the subject matter of the story, the dynamic between a mother who thinks she has failed her daughter and the girl herself who only wants to be who she truly is, while underlying all that are themes having to do with the nature of monsters, what they are and how they behave. There’s an almost Jacobean feel to Brian Craddock’s ‘The Angel of Isisford’, with one of the Nightbreed wreaking a terrible vengeance on a town whose people slew his family. The moral of the story would seem to be that monsters are not born, they are created by the things that are done to them, and there is something truly terrible about the way in which this story unfolds until we have the final, grisly revelation.
There’s a familiar feel to ‘Pride’ by Amber Benson, with four men on the prowl for a victim only to find the tables turned on them by the young girl they had intended to abuse and kill. Most will have seen something like this before and know exactly where the story is going, but it’s well executed and seeing scumbags like these get what’s coming to them is always a guilty pleasure. In ‘Button, Button’ by Ernie W. Cooper a lonely, disconnected boy hanging out in a graveyard is befriended by one of the Nightbreed, the two sharing forms of OCD, the connection culminating in the death of a bully and the human boy realising that he is every bit as much the monster as his new friend. It’s a strange, mesmerising story, one with characters who are convincingly outré, but with events in their past to account for the differences. C. Robert Cargill gives us a monster that feeds on the sins of others in ‘I Am the Night You Never Speak Of’, the first person account of his use of a human to lure two other Nightbreed into his trap. It’s an engaging and ingeniously told story, a satisfyingly vicious addition to the anthology, with some memorable villains.
Set in Afghanistan, ‘The Devil Until the Credits Roll’ by Weston Ochse has Special Forces sent to recruit one of the Nightbreed to fight for them against the Taliban, but once again the issue of who the real monsters are raises its ugly head as we learn of what happened on a previous mission. It’s a fast paced story, with some interesting ideas, plenty of twists and turns to the plot, a couple of nasty monsters, and some vivid, gory imagery, the complete package in fact. In Ian Rogers’ tale ‘The Lighthouse of Midian’ the girl Luna survives by begging on the streets of a city, but circumstances give her a mission and a new purpose in life, to summon others of her kind to a possible place of safety. Competently done, the story develops well, with a picture of Luna and how she uses her power against men who see her as a victim, but also with a depiction of those who really are the monsters in the human world.
Nerine Dorman’s story tells of a young girl who makes friends with ‘Lakrimay’, the Nightbreed hiding in the basement of the house where she and her mum have come to stay with an abusive man. It’s a sensitively written piece, with a keen awareness of how it feels to be an outsider, a story in which the reader knows far more than the child protagonist and all the more effective for that. Kaleb, the protagonist of ‘And Midian Whispered Its Name’ by Shaun Meeks, is able to communicate with the dead of Midian, but it only leads to him becoming captured by Decker, the deranged killer from Cabal, who has grown even more insane and plans to embrace godhead. It’s a powerful story, satisfyingly off kilter and with some bizarre imagery, while as an incidental it gives us the idea that some of the Nightbreed could betray their own kind. Manda and Ozlet hide in the open as members of a travelling freak show in Timothy Baker’s ‘Cell of Curtains’ but inevitably their appetites betray them, the story a deft variation on the film Freaks with the polarity of that piece reversed here. Manda’s interest in fire eater Brigid and strong man Serge’s lust for her prove to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
‘Tamara’ in Paul J. Salamoff’s story is haunted by guilt over the man he/she killed when Midian was attacked, and tries to make amends by shapeshifting and visiting the widow, but this only leads to a greater tragedy. There are echoes of Sommersby in the plot, but Salamoff makes it different enough to intrigue and with a tragic ending, one that shows that on occasion in trying to make amends we only cause things to get worse as our best intentions betray us. ‘Raphael’s Shroud’ by Karl Alexander has one of the Nightbreed join forces with a cat to seek revenge on the man responsible for the death of its owner, the story a twitchy, nerve shredding delight, almost as if Carl Hiaasen had decided to do a revamp of Poe’s ‘The Black Cat’. One of the most haunting stories in the book, Edward Brauer’s ‘Wretched’ is also, to my mind at least, the story that feels least like a Nightbreed piece. Four people on a boat help save a fisherman from drowning, only to realise that he is not entirely human. There’s a sinister undercurrent to this with hints of paedophilia and something truly ugly and contagious, with a memorable monster in the form of the nasty Gideon Skillet, while tensions between the yacht’s alpha male and his rival in love are built up convincingly, but at the same time it would have worked every bit as well without the Nightbreed references, which in the event came in at just the one usage of the word “Midian”.
The Nightbreed have their own monsters, creatures of legend that they fear, and foremost among these is the Pariah. Stephen Woodworth and Kelly Dunn tell of how it hunts down a group of them and how one of their party learns the true nature of this beast in the aptly titled ‘A Monster Among Monsters’, a story that puts a different slant on the subject of who the monsters really are, adding yet another layer to this conceptual onion. I didn’t quite know what to make of ‘The Jesuit’s Mask’ by Durand Sheng Welsh, a story in which a character, one of the Nightbreed, called the Mongrel goes in search of the titular Jesuit with a Button Face mask that belonged to Decker. I found it all too oblique and slightly confusing, though there was some nice imagery involved, and perhaps I’d have got more out of it if I’d read Cabal recently. Rob Salem’s ‘Rook’ is one of the Nightbreed whose talent is to access the memories of others by eating their eyes; when he saves a woman from an attacker and she offers to help him find Midian there is only one way to get at her knowledge. With an end twist that took me completely by surprise even though it seemed glaringly obvious with hindsight, this is a story that in part helps humanise the Nightbreed, or at least this example of the species, but at the same time there is a sense of some terrible fate playing out on the page, a realisation that in helping Rook the woman has doomed herself, even though he wishes it were otherwise.
Gang raped and set on fire by three youths, an old bag lady is brought into her power by a chance meeting with another of the Nightbreed in ‘Collector’ by David J. Schow, learning how to access the memories of her attackers and planning retribution. This was a powerful story, one that initially solicits our pity for this broken down lady, and then pitches in with the revelation of who she really is and what she may be capable of, the transformation that turns her into a being more than capable of defending herself from the likes of the boys who attacked her. Two of the Nightbreed are lured to a new Midian by the terrible Seraphine, who has her own plans for them in ‘Bait and Switch’ by Lilith Saintcrow, but ultimately it is the good ones who triumph, overcoming the shackles of the past, the ways in which history binds them, with the final realisation that they don’t need to find a new Midian, that they can build it for themselves. Last but not least we have Christopher Monfette’s story ‘The Farmhouse’ in which a young boy finds a group of Nightbreed hiding in the basement of a barn and solicits their help in curing his dying mother, which proves to be the first step in a new journey for these people. It is a story of trust, of the bonds between those who are not even part of the same species, and of how things like motherhood can bring them together, with a common sense of loss and joy in life. It’s a song of hope, and the perfect note on which to end this volume of stories that come from a strange place and a land where the monsters roam free, if only in the imagination.
(TO BE CONTINUED)