"Ghostly Demarcations: Stories" By: Joe Taylor
“Ghostly Demarcations: Stories”
Author: Joe Taylor
Publisher: Sagging Meniscus Press
Joe Taylor has been for 25 years the director of The Livingston Press at the University of West Alabama, where he is also a professor of English.
Taylor has edited a dozen volumes for the press and written six volumes of fiction of his own.
Livingston Press books feature the off-beat, experimental, and Taylor’s own work such as “Pineapple: A Comic Novel in Verse” is certainly that.
And so are the 17 linked stories in “Ghostly Demarcations.”
These are in fact all ghost stories, the kind people used to tell around campfires to frighten one another. When reviewing any story collection, I strongly suggest taking one a day, like vitamins, and usually before retiring. In this case, if you are a highly suggestive or sensitive soul, read the stories in broad daylight, not just before retiring.
These are Steven King–like stories. The imagery is meant to be shocking, with gore galore, blood on the walls, corpses buried and unburied, strange music, odd smells, faces in the window and angry menacing spectral creatures returned from the dead to create mayhem.
In many ghost stories—most famously in a story such as Henry James’s “The Turn of the Screw”—there is always the possibility that the visions are the product of a single deranged mind.
The “reality” of the supernatural or spectral figure is established if more than one person sees or hears the ghost—always allowing for collective hysteria.
In Taylor’s stories, the ghosts are real; lots of people see and hear and smell them. One fellow is even shot by a ghost.
All are set in and around Lexington, Kentucky. The protagonist of all the stories is a rather shy young man who means to be an academic one day but, for the time being—that is several years—works in the university bookstore.
He has an older best friend, Galen, named, I presume after the second century A.D. Greek physician and philosopher who performed early dissections, even vivisections on monkeys and was famous for his study of anatomy.
Joe Taylor’s Galen is a highly successful womanizer whose specialty is, not coincidentally, the female anatomy.
In the first story, “Galen’s Mountain Child”, the speaker and Galen, both teenagers, are in a spooky house near where, legend has it, a boy chained up in the basement perished in a house fire. They hear through the heating pipes “help me” in several languages. They think at first it may be a cat calling. Then the spectre of a little boy appears in the kitchen, then outside. When they check out the basement, matters get more frightening.
“Opening the furnace door a low droning roar emitted from the exposed bed of coal, and a child sat in there –yes!—a child sat inside, atop those live, softly burning coals–keeping its back to us.”
“Ms. Sylvia’s Home Cure,” 31 pages long, is nearly a novella.
Our narrator is older now, and with a buxom companion, Sylvia, spends the night in her family’s abandoned farmhouse. No one will live there, because it is haunted, even thought to have been inhabited by cannibals.
This building is overloaded with the paranormal. There is even an odd, pervasive unpleasant stench of country ham. As the evening progresses, there are faces in the window, windows open and close mysteriously, the couple are attacked by a dozen or so ghosts, including old Civil War portraits come to life. They survive the old-fashioned American way, by shooting the spectres with handguns. When hit, the ghosts form a puddle of steaming tar.
Like fantasy or other varieties of speculative writing, this kind of fiction has its fans. You know if it’s for you.
Don Noble is host of the Alabama Public Television literary interview show “Bookmark with Don Noble.” His most recent book is Belles’ Letters 2, a collection of short fiction by Alabama women.