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Short Stories 365/200 | N.S. Beranek

“The House by the Park” by Lee Thomas from Wilde Stories 2012 (Lethe Press). Edited by Steve Berman.

This is it, right here; the entirety of what is wrong with the human race is rendered in these few (very entertaining) pages.

Right from the get-go a nameless someone, on what seems to be a beautiful evening, looks up into the night sky, sees something sinister looming, and slits his own throat.

Not far away, main character Denis has just entered a grocery store, because he is determined to cook an actual meal rather than microwaving another frozen one. This is a crucial moment for him: he’s taking back his life following the sudden death of his partner of six years. He could easily have stayed home, again. He could have slit his throat. Instead, he’s choosing to go on. His reward? Almost immediately his gaze meets that of a handsome stranger, also shopping alone. They spot one another a few more times before the second man, Fred, takes the initiative and asks Denis to dinner.

What follows is a whirlwind, conflict-free romance. Denis and Fred are perfect for one another, so naturally, all hell is about to (literally) break loose and threaten them. They also aren’t hurting anyone, so naturally, they’ve evoked the ire of the character from the initial scene, whose suicide in reality was a ritual sacrifice meant to open a hell mouth and loose destruction upon humankind. And, happy-happy-joy-joy, he’s Fred’s neighbor.

It’s what I said at the beginning. This is the whole enchilada, everything that’s wrong, has been wrong, and ever will be wrong with the world. It’s not about the bad things that happen; bad things happen to everyone. It’s a person’s basic reaction to them that matters. There are folks who empathize with those around them, and pull together to make the best of it when the bad times hit, and there are those who feel threatened by everyone and every thing around them, and are in a perpetual kill-or-be-killed mode. Unfortunately, these basic outlooks seem innate. Institutions and philosophies can stoke or dampen them, of course, but we seem to be locked in this endless tug of war.

So, okay, Fred’s neighbor and the few others the hell mouth initially draws to him are people on the attack against enemies they imagine are plotting against them. And Fred and Denis are lovely people and therefore sitting ducks, because it turns out that the sacrifice Fred’s neighbor made is creating some sort of zombie-like horde, which is taking over the neighborhood. Still, the story has a something of an open ending, and I’m choosing to believe that, somehow or other, Fred and Denis are going to escape this nightmare.