10 – The Crawling Sky
Joe R Lansdale
This is day Ten of my Month of Short Stories – a story a day for June.
And now for something completely different….
After a few days of reading the crème of the postmodern, plotless, postmodern musing crop – we dive headfirst into that dreaded pool of purposeful words – the world of genre fiction.
I have very mixed feelings about the genres. I think it’s a mistake to set out to write a certain genre – especially if you are doing that because you have read somewhere that that is what is selling today. Your work will come out flat and unoriginal, plus I can’t imagine that it will do much to satisfy the ravenous monster in your brain that can only be fed by bleeding heartfelt words out onto the page (and if you don’t have a ravenous monster in your brain – why are you writing? There are better ways to spend your brief span upon this plane).
On the other hand, what if the truthful writing that spills out from your subconscious through your gray matter down your arms and out your fingertips… what if it simply happens to fit a certain genre? Well then, good for you.
When you read the horror fiction spilled out by Joe R. Lansdale, you can’t help but think that he was destined to write this – he has no real choice. I feel for him.
I’m not sure where I first heard of Joe R. Lansdale – though I’m fairly sure I was attracted to his writing because he is a native Texan (East Texas Piney Woods – to be exact). I do remember the first thing I read – an amazingly horrific little tale called, “God of the Razor,” and yes, it was all that.
Now, he doesn’t write only horror – not by a long shot. He is probably best known for his Hap and Leonard series of thriller/mystery/East Texas books. He is a serious student and teacher of the martial arts. One theme that runs through his books is his hatred of racism – I did read an excellent novel called A Fine Dark Line that deals with small town life and a drive in movie theater.
If you would like to try some of his work, his website has a section where he posts a new piece every week.
One of his short novels was adapted into the very entertaining movie Bubba Ho-Tep which finds Elvis alive and living in a retirement home with JFK (after the assassination “attempt” they replaced his brain with a “sack of sand” and dyed him “all over”). The two join forces to fight an evil cowboy mummy that is preying on the residents.
So that brings us to today’s selection, The Crawling Sky. It’s a mashup between a pseudo Western – East Texas Hillbilly Noir (I know there are no “hillbillys” in East Texas – there aren’t even any hills – but you know what I mean) intersecting with a Lovecraftian villian. Its hero is Jebediah Mercer, a preacher that has fallen from the faith and is wandering the west, fighting evil from beyond. The Reverend Mercer finds himself in Wood Tick, Texas – a town where all the women are weak, the men are ugly (the sheriff has a goiter slung in a dirty bag) and all the children are below average. After the world’s worst meal, he rescues a chained down prisoner from being stoned by the kids… and things go downhill from there.
The sky isn’t the only thing that’s crawling.
I love the Lovecraft style evil. It fits with my idea of a membrane between our ordinary life and the horrible void beyond. These stories are a little more literal than most in what can happen when this border is opened and crossed.
“There are monsters on the other side of the veil, Norville. A place you and I can’t see. These things want out. Books like this contain spells to free them, and sometimes the people who possess the book want to set them free for rewards. Someone has already set one of them free.”
“The sucking thing?”
“Correct,” the Reverend said, shaking the book. “Look at the pages. See? The words and images on the pages are hand printed. The pages, feel them.”
Norville used his thumb and finger to feel.
“Flesh. Human flesh is what the book says.”
—-From The Crawling Sky, by Joe R. Lansdale