Sunday, August 5, 2012

THE CENTURY'S BEST HORROR FICTION #90: A review of "Stephen" by Elizabeth Massie

Here we have another example of vulgar horror, but it doesn’t seem to be so, not at first. When we first meet Anne, she’s a volunteer who wants to help disabled patients overcome the mental blocks that prevent them from rejoining society. She is assigned Michael, who has no legs and no hands. She quickly determines that he’s got a comedic streak through him that puts the rest of the world a good distance from him. He strafes her with sexual comments and asks for her to sit on his face, but it seems to be a defense mechanism to help him avoid interacting with people. He turns especially sad when he asks her to scratch his ass, as he can’t do it himself. It’s a very salacious thing to do, and she turns him down. Then, he gets desperate. He wants her to scratch his nose, but only because no one wants to touch him anymore.

But even sadder than Michael is his roommate Stephen. Anne is shocked to discover that he is only a head, a neck, and enough of a chest to house a heart and a single lung. He is hooked up to tubes and machines, all of which barely keep him alive and in a coma.

Or so the institute believes. You see, Stephen’s been playing possum. He doesn’t want to deal with the world, as he was a master pianist who no longer can practice his beloved art, so he pretends to not be a part of it. However, he finds interest in Anne, and before long, he has become her shrink as she confesses all of her dark secrets.

People who want to help people are usually deeply wounded individuals. Anne is no exception as she relates a truly nasty story of how her brother Phillip used to fuck her when she was just a kid. It didn’t help that he was really well hung, because a lot of damage got done to her Down There. Things got worse as she grew up and started defying him. Finally, he lost his shit and started hurting her in other ways. He tied her up and cut off a few of her toes. He carved a devil’s face into her stomach and the words DON’T FUCK WITH ME into her breasts, and then he finished it off by rubbing ink into the wounds, permanently marking her as his.

When their mom found out about this, Phillip murdered her and tried to kill Anne by dropping her into sewage at the local plant. Every time she tried to swim up, he’d knock her head below the surface with a broomstick.

Fucking hell, right? The next time you start complaining about your childhood, maybe think about this scene, one of the ugliest ever to be put to paper.

Someone catches Phillip, and he does his time before leaving the country. Anne gets the tattoos removed, but she’s left with horrible scars. And now she wants to help people as no one helped her when she was a kid.

SPOILER ALERT: She finds a great deal of kinship with Stephen, and when she offers her help in any way she can, he says two simple words: LOVE ME. This is when she snaps. She does the one thing she wouldn’t do for Michael: she touches Stephen. She feels his heart beat. And she climbs into bed with him. They start making out, and still he wants more. She pulls the tubes out of him and moves what remains of his body all over hers. Finally, she puts his face down by her damaged pussy and feels his tongue inside of her, driving her to one of the most satisfying orgasms she’s ever had.

And when she puts his head back on the pillow and starts talking to him, he realizes that he’s dead. Any hope she’d had of being happy is gone. She then walks down to the pond just outside the institute and throws herself in, where she presumably drowns. END OF SPOILERS.

This is a deeply sad, deeply fucked-up story, one of the most fucked up in the anthology by far. While it shares a lot in common with the other vulgar horror story, Lansdale’s, there is something that sets this one apart from the other. This comes from an emotionally warped place. Massie laid waste to all of her competition for this year.

[This story first appeared in BORDERLANDS (an excellent anthology), and it cannot be read online at this time.]

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