One of Us: A Tribute to Frank Michaels Errington – A+ Horror fills a massive anthology featuring Stephen King, Richard Chizmar, Tom Deady, Josh Malerman, Paul Tremblay, and so many more.
This tome is 556 pages of knuckle splitting, page turning, scares.
And all the while, One of Us is moving in its tribute to Frank Michaels Errington, the gifted writer and reviewer that helped critique and nurture some of the best of a genre over the decades.
Proceeds from the book – that came out in November of 2020 – are donated in Frank’s name to the American Transplant Foundation.
A slew of photos and smiles in One of Us, edited by Kenneth W. Cain, share glimpses into the countless joy Frank gave to others while around them, and to honor his spirit, a slew of stories are presented within it in a fantastical nightmare-inducing fashion, just as he would have wanted.
Touching on a few of the stories therein, it is easy to enter into “I Am The Doorway” by Stephen King.
Previously published in Sai King’s first short story compilation Night Shift, the tale merges science-fiction and the macabre in a painfully realistic manner.
SPOILER WARNING For Stories By Stephen King, Richard Chizmar, and Tom Deady.
Why does realism come to mind?
Space seems to be a lifeless void and a quiet vacuum, but the reaches outside the earth’s atmosphere are the truest unknown.
The astronaut recalls little of his voyage to Venus that might note any apparent cause for his current murderous predicament.
But it is the only explanation.
Unlike so many sci-fi voyages and tales, Stephen King attaches the things beyond human understanding to the too oft black and white deception of science.
The returned astronaut has admitted to killing a boy, though it was ‘they’ who made him do it. He is ‘only the doorway.’
What could be more terrifying than intelligent entities, that manifest themselves like alien spores, a disease, or a parasite, in the form of eyes that continue to sprout from the searing, itching fingers of their space traveling host?
We cannot send life into space, but that does not mean that rabid rabies-like pathogens, or non-carbon-based life forms cannot live there, cannot hunt there for a way onto an earth . . . to feed.
The astronaut is their doorway to the earth, and as far-fetched as that terrifying premise may seem, its sheer plausibility is solidified in that we cannot for sure say that Eyes outside Venus’ atmosphere are an impossibility.
Truth be told, I would have loved to hear more about the astronaut in space in the story, the tale is very much grounded (literally and figuratively) but what King leaves to the imagination has me thinking about this one as I re-read it again and again, shivering and itching between my thumb and forefinger.
In what was one of the most disturbing stories in the volume, Tom Deady’s “A Tattoo For Joey” can be summed up in one chilling shout: “Grampa, you’re hurting me!”
The grandfather lives alone, has had one sever mental ‘incident’ – an instance of a breakdown of sorts – that seems likely to be a sign of dementia.
He loves his six-year-old grandson Joey, that is clear, and he is helping out his daughter, Monica, while she goes away to catch her husband cheating on her.
You feel for all three of the characters so very much in such a short span, especially for ‘Grampa’ as he struggles to do the near-impossible for any parent or grandparent: keep a young child entertained and safe while watching them for a prolonged period of hours or days.
The prize in the knock-off Cracker Jack box may really be a life-draining temporary tattoo (irony, there, as the tattoo seems hell-bent on staying vibrant and alive while the kid fades), or it may be a delusion of paranoia brought on by stress.
The heart is both warmed and throttled by this story.
And hearing the exasperated Joey say, “Grampa, you’re hurting me!” at the end really shakes the reader violently, as the grandfather ‘goes to work’ on the young boy’s tattooed arm.
I do wish the grandfather had gotten some time alone with the father, but that would like have made this great piece a bit implausible and spoil the bubble of the granddad-grandson world that is built so very well.
Some of the greatest short stories create magic in just three or four pages of prose, and that has to be one of the most difficult achievements in fiction, which Richard Chizmar gives us in “Homesick.”
The teenager point of view is frightening enough.
Timmy calls the old house ‘ugly’ and makes fun of the ancient paintings he has come to detest in his loneliness.
Maybe he is a little younger than a teenager; that is not specified, nor is it important (though I kind of wish I knew for sure).
My imagination runs to this being a bad combination.
Combine the lonesome juvenile boy in the White House being called a ‘baby’ by his father and the fact that he has abandoned all parenting time because of the new job, the presidency, and then combine the tragic sense of uprooting that Timmy feels for his hometown, his friends, his school and his ex-girlfriend – who had to find a new boy to go ‘steady with’ in Timmy’s absence – and you have a recipe for wickedness.
So many children are overlooked by their parents. The abuse is a cancer. Could it happen to one of the presidents’ own?
Well Timmy sees no other way to return home than to carefully mix the poison into his parent’s coffee, without getting any of the white powder on the mugs.
As the yelling starts, he is thinking of Sarah, his girl, his old house, and his friends, and he is eating popcorn.
It is such a brilliantly unnerving tale and reminds me a lot of Edgar Allan Poe, were he alive in 21st century America, because it feels all too close to the truth of human fallacy and weakness, and the hurt that the hurt can inflict on others.
These are just brief reviews of three of the great tales in this volume, but all of the pieces selected for this anthology are winners.
The Forgotten Fiction Grade: YEA (read it!)