JournalStone Publications, 2013
Reviewed by Michael R. Collings
Toward the end of Limbus, Inc., Brett Tally’s “Epilogue” describes a manuscript the character has read as “tales of sacrifices, of ancient gods, of unimaginable futures and beings that span time and space.” The stories are, of course, the five novellas of Limbus, Inc.,but the epilogue reminds readers that, as with everything in life, nothing is unconnected.
Benjamin Kane Ethridge’s “The Slaughter Man” demonstrates how precisely Limbus, Inc. matches candidates’ abilities to their destinations. The protagonist in the story is the “Sticker,” the member of a slaughterhouse team responsible for cutting the throats of doomed cattle, the final stage before processing. Out of a job and wanted by the authorities, he accepts an offer from Limbus…to travel untold distances over decades and perform precisely the same function, only this time in service of the Princess of Ganymede. At first his victims are aliens, often as well-armed as himself, then, as always in life, things change. And the Sticker becomes…well, read the story to find out.
Ethridge’s contribution to Limbus, Inc., is not for the faint-hearted. The Sticker wallows in blood from the first paragraphs, and the insistence upon graphic depictions of violence and pain continues through to the end. Yet it never feels gratuitous. His is a necessary service; he performs it well and as painlessly as possible. Even when his victims are….
It might be expected that the author of the remarkable That Which Should Not Be would bring a distinctively Lovecraftian darkness to the annals of Limbus, Inc. And Brett Talley does not disappoint with “The Sacrifice,” a tale that explored multiple meanings implicit in the title. Instead of transporting readers to other worlds and alien dimension, Talley moves adroitly through the shadowed landscape of backwoods Massachusetts—with a nod to another literary influence, Nathaniel Hawthorne—to explore labyrinthine structures, remnants of inhabitants before time and memory. Yet, as with the other stories in the anthology, Talley remains true to the fundamental premise: Limbus, Inc. hires the right person for the job. Though he may not recognize it in himself, Ryan Dixson is a hero; and heroes do whatever is needed…in this case, whatever is needed to save a world.
Not every company is free from corruption, and Limbus, Inc. is not the exception that proves the rule. In Joseph Nassise’s tale, Recruiter 46795 is highly ambitious, willing to do anything to move up to the Executive Level…but he makes a cardinal error. He chooses a former soldier, one of the despised veterans of the disastrous Faith Wars, as a tool in his climb to power. When the recently fired Nate arrives for his appointment at Limbus, Inc., it seems as if both men have found what they need. Nate is willing to do whatever is asked (although with certain mental reservations), and, as the recruiter puts it, his primary task will be to “solve problems.” Unfortunately, Nate is smarter and more alert than the recruiter anticipates, and he begins to suspect that the jobs are more than they appear on the surface. Someone is orchestrating the past…and he is part of it. Then he is sent on a final mission that turn out to be, as the title so neatly puts it, “One Job Too Many.”
Anne C. Petty’s “We Employ” begins with Dallas Hamilton at the nadir of his fortunes, unable even to sell himself in the restroom stall of a grubby bar. A college dropout, spurned by his parents for wasting thousands of their dollars, he is on his own, on the streets, until he finds a business card for Limbus, Inc., stuck like toilet paper to the bottom of his shoe. At his appointment with the company, he is met by Recruiter Rigel and offered a job…dog walking. For two weeks only. Although the job description includes a requirement that he must be “dependable and resourceful in life-threatening situations”—surely some kind of joke—he accepts it, starting immediately. After several false leads, he finally meets up with Charlotte and her Jack Russell terrier and discovers that…well, that things are not at all what they seem, and that the life-threatening situation” was not at all a joke, and that much more is at stake here than the continuing good health of a dog. Charlotte’s life is in the balance…and so is his.
Jonathan Maberry’s “Strip Search” is in some ways the most enjoyable—although arguably the most horrific—of the five. It begins in the first-person narrative style of noir detective novels. Sam Hunter, a jaded, down-on-his-luck PI with three ex-wives is in his office, sipping beer, when she walks in. The Dame. The perfect woman. With a job-offer he can’t refuse. A girl is missing, and Hunter must find her within two days or she will join sixteen other young women…dead, skin removed with coldly calculating, surgical thoroughness. When he sees the pictures of the victims, he has no choice but to accept Limbus’s offer. There is one thing he hasn’t mentioned to the woman, however, one thing about himself that makes him uniquely capable of tracking the girl, one thing that he has told almost no one—and the revelation of that tiny detail creates one of the most entertaining, and bloody, moments in the story.
Five stories, no two alike in any specific way other than that each posits the existence of a shadowy corporation, Limbus, Inc., that knows more than it should about its job applicants, that places each person in precisely the right job for his talents, and that somehow seems beyond the usual constraints of time and space.
Yet there is a sixth story, woven through the other five and tying them together into a frame narrative. Brett Tally introduces readers to the owner of a used bookstore who receives a hand-bound manuscript from a mysterious stranger and begins to read…the stories in the anthology. Interrupted several times, he discovers that just as the protagonists of the stories have been contacted by Limbus, Inc., at moments when their lives seemed to have struck bottom, so has he! He is given the opportunity to work with Limbus, to publish the stories, and to be able to keep his lifelong dream alive, his store. “Are the stories true?” he asks; he is told, “To a measure. They are visions, you see. Visions of things that have been, things that are, and things that are yet to be. They are truth, to the extent that truth exists in this world.”
Stories within stories, truth within truth…even truth within lies. Everything from aliens to ancient gods, time-travel to space-travel. All fascinating tales and, within the purview of art, true.