Untcigahunk: The Complete Little Brothers.
Crossroad Press & Macabre Ink Digital, 2012
Reviewed by Michael R. Collings
The other day, I found myself wanting to read something. Not that I don’t spend half of my time reading, and the other half writing; but I wanted something particular this time. I’d just finished editing two novels, writing a series of articles about horror for Collings Notes, and reading several collections of short fiction (mostly quite good), but I wanted something different.
So I decided to delve into my own past and into Kindle’s increasing stock of ‘older’ books—some I remembered reading with great pleasure; others were tantalizingly familiar (probably because of the authors’ names).
Then I spotted one that looked just right.
Untcigahunk. I’m still not certain how to pronounce it, but I recognized it from some years ago, when I read the original novel, Little Brothers (1988).
Oh, yeah, the little brown things that erupt from underground tunnels every five years and consume whatever they find. At least, that’s what I remembered from the book (I have a strange memory; I can recall any trivia I’ve read about the Seventeenth Century but have trouble with the plot of the novel I read yesterday.)
Anyway, I thought I would give it a try.
What a great idea. Because there significantly more to Untcigahunk than the original novel, and the newer material is quite fascinating.
Of course, Little Brothers, the opening salvo in the collection, is itself remarkable. It is indeed about little brown creature that literally rip people to shreds, only to disappear for half a decade. Five years before the novel opens, they had surged from an abandoned cellar hole that Kip Howard’s mother had begun working in, preparatory to the family building a new house on an old site (Always a dangerous thing in horror fiction).
Kip saw his mother being torn apart…but could not accept it and retreated into denial, nightmares, and unspeakable terrors. His father, not knowing precisely how his wife died, can only watch with uncertainty as his younger son deals with his grief by turning inward; his older son, however, turns outward—to drugs and alcohol and sex. In essence, because of their loss, the entire family disintegrates, individually and as a unit.
It a sense, that is what lies at the core of Little Brothers. The little brown things—the untcigahunk—function as much as a stimulus for recovery and redemption as they do as objects of horror. They are terrifying enough, of course, but through their depredations, something emerges, a kind of strength and understanding and…and forgiveness among the survivors.
In addition, there is the old Indian, Watson, who alone carries any knowledge of the untcigahunk, yet as an outcast crippled by his own burden of guilt, he is almost incapable of sharing it. Only when he and Kip meet, understand each other’s loss, and forge a bond of friendship is it possible to take action against the little brothers…and in doing so reforge the bonds of family for Kip, his brother, and his father.
All in all, a complex novel, well worth reading.
But I already knew that. That was not why I purchased the Kindle edition.
In addition to Little Brothers, Untcigahunk contains two sets of stories—treasures, really—that make the original novel that much deeper and that much more compelling.
The first contains “The Untcigahunk Myths,” a series of stories that re-create the ancient world of the Micmacs and of the Little Brothers. “Little Brother” is a straight-forward creation myth, told convincingly, with the cadences and intonation of a long-remembered story being chanted over a communal fire, sharing with the audience the secrets of Old One and his ways. This is followed by “Little Brother Speaks,” and “Redman,” detailing how Brother Wolf fell from the graces of Old One and brought with him the Little Brothers, and how they became the mortal enemies of Human Beings.
I’ve read a fair number of myths—both in verse and in prose—including a number from the pre-Columbian Southwest. There is a specific tone, a way of dealing with abstracts as concretions and concretions as abstractions, that Hautala captures perfectly. In their own way, the Myths are as fascinating and as revealing as Little Brothers itself.
They follow a series of modern-day (more or less) stories, beginning with “Chrysalis,” set in 1972, and concluding with “Oilman,” set in December 1992. Each of the intervening tales is set at a five-year interval…meaning that readers can see how, when, and why the Little Brothers emerge, and what different paths their destructive natures might lead them to.
One of the mysteries of Little Brothers is why, if this same rampage happens every five year, no one—of at least very few—seems to be aware of it? Each story details a different landscape, a different set of characters (ranging from an escaped criminal to a small girl) who must confront the Little Brothers…and how circumstances blend so that no one, not even the investigating officers in the instances where human remains are found, ever suspects anything but man’s inhumanity to man.
The possibility of tiny, ravenous creatures never survives beyond the final pages. Well, in one story it does, but that is only because the true villain of the piece actually uses them to his own advantage and scrupulously keeps his secret.
What emerges, then, is an entire set of potential stories, initiated by a tale of beginnings and continuing through to end inconclusively as a single survivor shivers in the cold and waits for dawn.
I didn’t buy Untcigahunk, as I noted, merely to re-read Little Brothers, although that alone would have justified the cost. I bought it to see whether Hautala could continue the same high level storytelling, using the same core monster, and treat each tale in such a way that each created and maintained interest.