“The Late Shift”

This is last week’s piece of weird fiction being discussed over at LibraryThing. I nominated this one for discussion since I used to work the graveyard shift at a convenience store about the time this story is set.

Review: “The Late Shift”, Dennis Etchison, 1980.

This is a wonderfully creepy story full of Etchison’s keen eye for details of life in Southern California particularly the demimonde of the graveyard shift which this story concerns itself with, specifically in convenience stores.

The story opens with the protagonist, Macklin, and his friends en route after leaving a midnight screening of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Massacre (“Who will survive and what will be left of them?”).   

Somebody comes up with the idea of stopping at Stop ‘N Start, a convenience store. Entering it, the first thing they hear is the clerk arguing with a customer who wants a specific box of film. All the clerk says is “Please, please, sorry, thank you”. Macklin and friends pick up their items and head for checkout. 

One of the men, Whitey (who, it turns out, is an American Indian), points the clerk out to Macklin. It’s Juano, a waiter at a Mexican restaurant they frequent. “How’s it going, man?” asks Whitey of Juano. “Thank You” is the reply. Macklin notices the milk he’s picked up is sour and tells Juano not to ring it up. “Sorry” is Juano’s reply who sounds like he’s dazed sleepwalker.  Whitey asks about one of his favorite dishes over at the Mexican restaurant. Juano says nothing.  A radio in the store starts playing The Doors’ “Light My Fire” whose lyrics will show up at several points in the story. 

Macklin asks Juano if he remembers him. No response. Juano just turns about, drags his feet and eventually says  “Sorry. Please.” Disgusted and because the convenience store is creeping them out, Macklin and Whitey throw some money down, take their stuff, and leave. But, at the door, Whitey turns around and glares at the building. Whitey says he’s coming back at the store’s shift change since he’s owed 20 dollars in change. Through the door, they can hear Juano say “Please. Sorry. Thank you.” 

Continue reading

“It Only Comes Out at Night”

The week’s weird tale being discussed over at LibraryThing.

.Review: “It Only Comes Out at Night”, Dennis Etchison, 1976.

This story was very evocative for me. 

While I have never driven between Flagstaff, Arizona and San Bernardino, California through the Mojave Desert anytime much less at night in the summertime, it brought back memories of night car trips through largely deserted areas on interstate highways.

A cautious person, in an age of what I remember as less reliable and comfortable cars, a cautious person might do what our protagonist McClay has done: pack a number of emergency supplies and provisions.

Etchison’s story is full of details: the tires heating up on the pavement and their constant flexing sidewalls pushing them closer to failure and the bug covered radiators and windshields. I don’t know if he invented the whole roadside complex of restaurants and hotels that cater to people who take the safer and more comfortable course of traveling this area at night. But it seems plausible.

The trip back home to San Bernardino for McClay and his wife, asleep in the back seat, has the air of desperation. Has something awful happened on the trip? Is his wife sick? Are they running from something? Have they killed someone? Committed a crime? 

But, it seems, it’s just a vacation trip that turned into an ordeal, a car trip extended way beyond plans. Wife Evvie just wants to get to a hotel and sleep. McClay doesn’t want another argument so doesn’t tell her that’s a two hour drive away.

Continue reading

A Book of Horrors

Just finished listening to the most recent episode of the Coode Street Podcast.

Much more interesting than their usual talk about awards. It featured a interview with Elizabeth Hand about her most recent book, Wylding Hall, the influence of Arthur Machen on her and many other writers, and her interest in depicting artists and the numinous in her work.

It’s just possible I’ll give her Cassandra Neary mysteries a try since it sounds like the series will start to involve matters of the arcane, occult, and ancient sort as it progresses.

My exposure to Hand is pretty perfunctory. I found her “Chip Crockett’s Christmas Carol” pleasant enough, but, not having any childhood memories of a beloved children’s tv show, there was nothing in my background for it to resonate with.

I was unaware, until I looked at her Internet Speculative Fiction database entry, how much critical work she had done since I’m not a regular reader of the Washington Post or The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

The only other fiction I’ve read by her is “Near Zemnor” … and that’s why you get a retro review, from September 18, 2012, of the book it appeared in.

Review: A Book of Horrors, ed. Stephen Jones, 2012.

Book of HorrorsYou can ignore the short introduction which claims this anthology is out to reclaim the label “horror” for scary stories. Not all the stories here are scary. Some aren’t even dark fantasy. And some left me somewhat unsatisfied.

But they all kept me interested. Continue reading

The Future Is Now; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax


I was beginning to question my taste, my abilities as a “critic”.

Do I just like anything I read? Sure, I read slow and not as much as I like so I’m somewhat careful what I chose, but still …

The Future Is Now has reassured me that I have retained some powers of discernment. Its execrable collection of stories cleared my palate and reminded me what crap tastes like. Continue reading