Jessica Burke and Anthony Burdge
Myth Ink Books, 2013
Trade paperback, 146 pp., $12.00; eBook, $2.99
By Michael R. Collings
This small collection of eight Lovecraft-inspired tales is an idiosyncratically appealing homage to things dark and horrible. Unusual for a horror collection, it begins with two long-ish free verse poems, one by each of the authors, followed by a story/non-story with the intriguing title, “A Guide to Acclimating New Felines to their New Homes—Best done with Kittens under the age of 10 months, Can be Adapted with Ease**.” The note indicated by the double asterisk reads: “**Can be adapted for older cats, but be aware, after 10 months, they can transmute. Older cats should, unfortunately, be implanted with a locator chip which would help them beam their way home, Scotty. More about that in chapters 12 through 16.” The text then begins with “Step 3: Preliminary Introduction” and ends with “Step 4: More Proper Introductions and setting Boundaries.”
Direct storytelling begins with the innocuously titled “A Daddy & Me Day,” featuring a father and son traveling by train for a visit to Dad’s workplace. All normal and happy. Then, small details begin to intrude and set the reader wondering…such as the two small lumps that are forming on little Stevie’s head. And his too-long-for-his-age fingernails. And then there’s old Chary and the boat that they will have to take across the river to get to Dad’s work place. Ahh…at last the penny falls.
“Hungry Snow,” “Keepsakes,” and “Concerning the Storm” provide a solid core for the collection—stories whose titles lead inevitably into anatomies of horror—drawing them out to their graphic, highly uncomfortable conclusions—aptly preparing the way for the pièce de résistance, the eponymous concluding tale, “The Friendly Horror.”
Here Burke and Burdge demonstrate their full imaginative powers, in a novella based on—you guessed it—a Lovecraftian ice-cream shop. Oh, you didn’t guess it? Well, probably no one would. And that is what makes “The Friendly Horror” so fascinating. It is a multigenerational tale about an insidious plan to convert much of New England into Cthulhu-worshipping Innsmouthian fish-people…by way of carefully balanced recipes contrived by and sold at the Maxfield Ice Cream Parlor. In its own way, it is a delightful romp; at the same time, it is a neatly structured tale of slow, inevitable transformation and horror.
Ultimately The Friendly horror and Other Weird Tales is a bit uneven—and occasionally a little rough in language and grammar—but the final story makes up for a great many small false steps and makes the collection memorable.