The opening short story in my new collection The Knife and the Wound it Deals was inspired by Henry James’s The Beast in the Jungle, a subtly unsettling 1903 novella about a man, John Marcher, who defines his existence by the “beast in the jungle” that has been lying in wait for him all of his life. (The novella is available for free on Amazon’s Kindle). I’ve always been taken with the story’s exploration of destiny, longing, loneliness, and unbearable loss, themes which are as relevant and keenly felt now as they were over a hundred years ago in James’s time. Thus, I re-imagined John Marcher amidst the peculiarly violent and lurid obsessions of our current times, yet still driven by that universal sense of alienation and existential dread. A haunting scene from the equally haunting film In a Year of 13 Moons, the 1978 German drama written and directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, helped the narrative along, and the result is one of my favorites in the collection…
This Thing Lives
The first shovelful of dirt skittered across the casket as if Death’s nervous fingers were trying to grab hold of their slippery new prize. As Will Aughten watched the glossy black lid disappear under mounds of damp earth, a part of him wished that the still-preserved corpse inside would pop out of the ground and point at him, shout out loud, shake her fist—anything to indicate to these somber-faced strangers what he had been to her.
They had been nothing at all, and yet some fourth cousin once removed now had more of a claim on her than he did.
As far as the rest of the world was concerned, Will Aughten, the kindly gentleman friend of Anya May, had lost nothing but one more piece of an already rapidly disappearing past. If only they knew that yesterday the kindly gentleman friend had bought and paid for the plot right next to the woman now patiently waiting for him to join her beneath the ground.
Neither of them had ever had anyone else in life, so why not preserve the arrangement in death?
He looked around at the small group of far-flung relatives whose heads were already full of whatever useless trinkets and trifles they could seize from Anya’s no doubt meager estate. They knew nothing of the far greater inheritance he had received while she was still alive—and which now was utterly, eternally lost.
With Anya’s death, William Aughten had lost the only person on earth who understood the unspeakable “Thing” that had haunted his existence and shadowed his soul for over seventy years.
Even more disastrous, he had also lost the only person capable of helping him to keep it at bay…
Read “This Thing Lives” and twelve more gothic tales in the Kindle edition of The Knife and the Wound it Deals at a special introductory rate on Amazon: click here for purchase.
Print edition also available.
|This Thing Lives…