The poet laureate of everyday terrors returns with a baker’s dozen of deliciously sinister tales.
Novelist and short story writer Hill (Strange Weather, 2017, etc.) is, of course, the son of Stephen King, with whom he collaborates here on two stories, including the title tale. As ever with King, the stories have ordinary settings with ordinary people doing ordinary things until something extraordinary happens, in this case involving the familiar King nightmare of menacing vehicles (“Could you supercharge a goddamn semi?”). If one bears in mind that in his last collection Hill posited that near-future rainstorms would shower down steel daggers instead of water, some of his setups seem almost logical. The most memorable comes in “Late Returns,” in which an out-of-work trucker (there’s that semi again) finds himself behind a bookmobile delivering volumes to denizens of the afterlife, most of whom owe late fees; as one such fellow tells him, the service he offers is something of a reward “for returning overdue books in spite of the inconvenience of being dead.” There are other benefits: In the weird chronology of the other dimension, those who are about to enter the great beyond get previews of books that haven’t even been written yet—including, perhaps the most frightening moment in the entire collection, “The Art of the Presidency: How I Won My Third Term by Donald J. Trump.” Hill plays with form; one story, “The Devil on the Staircase,” is told in triangles of carefully arranged prose, a storyline worthy of Poe unfolding with eldritch intent—and a nice punchline to boot. In yet another story, this one of a more satirical turn, Hill depicts a world in which the zombie apocalypse and addiction to social media are hard to tell apart. In a series of tweets, the narrator recounts a zombie being hauled before a human audience and a box of hatchets. “Don’t like where this is going,” she says. Exactly.
Miniature masterworks of modern horror proving that life is hard, weird, and always fatal.