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"The Wheel" and "We" / Bentley Little

from Cemetery Dance / Issue 64
Reviewed by: Daniel R. Robichaud

Cemetery Dance's 64th issue is a Bentley Little Special, which includes reviews and appreciations for Little's work and features two new stories: "The Wheel" and "We."

"The Wheel" is a gruesome piece about innocence destroyed. The premise is straightforward enough: three young friends visit a widow for a chance to spin a game wheel mounted to her apartment wall. The choice prize on this cheap bit of construction is "Collect $100." Acts of racially motivated violence fill the remaining slots — things like "Kick the Kike" or "Choke the Chink." Should the needle land on one of these, the spinner must perform the deed. Avoiding this duty results in an undeclared punishment. The unnamed narrator soon discovers evil can be quite seductive. The opening line tells us: "I wanted to spin the wheel again." And so he does.

"We" begins on a highway outside Las Vegas. A routine speeding ticket acts as the doorway to oddity. Had the woman in the red Sentra not been attractive, Officer Ed might not have stopped her. When he steps up to her door, she begins apologizing immediately, taking responsibility as opposed to behaving belligerently. It's only after she's received her warning and driven away that Ed realizes she said "We" instead of "I" though she travelled alone. Ed soon discovers this woman was his first encounter with a mysterious phenomenon sweeping Vegas: People communicating with unseen Others. This is not simple hysteria, but a disquieting invasion.

Little's prose is both lucid and dreamlike, giving readers a view of the real world skewed. Here, Little's brand of surreal horror, where nearly absurd situations turn suddenly and convincingly horrific, reveals ugly truths underlying the everyday blasé.

With "The Wheel," Little delivers a horror story with no overt supernatural trappings but plenty of subtle supernatural implications. If taken at face value, the story offers the same kind of real world evil populating Jack Ketchum's works. In fact the use of a young, arguably innocent protagonist invokes both Ketchum's The Girl Next Door and "The Rifle." However, an air of mystery hangs over this story. Who made the wheel? Who enforces its unspoken rules? While the story supplies suppositions and dark conspiracies, it offers few reliable answers, making each spin a gruesome act of faith. It is no stretch to read an otherworldly menace behind this device.

In direct contrast, the supernatural presence in "We" makes itself quickly apparent. In short order, the story moves from the everyday into unsettling territory. The supernatural element spreads like a highly communicable disease (as contagious as The Stand's Captain Trips, say). While this sickness does not leave its victims dead, Ed does not want to be its next victim. Little's knack for ramping up suspense makes the story intense and engaging. Though the plot culminates in a not terribly surprising ending, the story delivers its goods through Ed's compelling emotional journey.

If a gripe can be made with "We," it's one of scope. The cast of characters and the situation are all a little too large for the number of words given. This material could easily expand to fill a novella or complete novel. Little drops plenty of names and relationships, but Ed is the story's only real character and though his story is complete, "We" leaves plenty of questions unanswered. It reads like a fragment from a larger work. Though "The Wheel" is also somewhat ambiguous, this reviewer found its conclusion more satisfying.

Gripes for "More, please" aside, "We" and "The Wheel" demonstrate Bentley Little's talent for penning chilling short fiction.

Purchase Cemetery Dance #64 featuring Bentley Little’s “We” and “The Wheel”.

Posted on Sunday, March 13, 2011 at 11:18AM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

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