“The Hollow is Filled with Beautiful Monsters” by Lee Thomas from Night Shadows: Queer Horror (Bold Strokes Books, 2012). Edited by Greg Herren and J.M. Redmann.

I decided to review this anthology after reading the reprint of Steve Berman’s story from it over on the Chelsea Station website. In his link to that page the author said the book hadn’t been widely reviewed, which made me curious, so I checked it out online. The table of contents is like a Who’s Who of modern gay fiction, and I immediately decided to buy it. Fortunately, when I clicked on it, a little window popped up telling me I’d already purchased it, back in June of 2013.

This is why I had to stop buying physical books. I’ve done that with those, too. I’ll see something that looks intriguing, pick it up, add it to the pile, and then a year or two later see it again, and buy it again.

This is a great, very creepy tale. Rawley is a successful citizen of Manhattan. He’s having a drink in an Upper West Side bar when he gets a disturbing phone call from an ex-boyfriend, a much younger man named Zach. Zach is slurring his words, clearly intoxicated. Rawley tries to put him off but it becomes clear the other is in a bad, bad way. Also, that he is stationed outside Rawley’s doorman-protected apartment building. There’s no course of action but go there and deal with the kid.

Plus, Rawley’s not a heartless bastard like his ex-lover Lincoln Schon, the man Zach dumped him for a year earlier. Lincoln sounds like a lot like Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada. Zach left Rawley because he mistakenly believes his youth makes him special and powerful. He doesn’t realize he’s one of millions, or that Lincoln is chewing him up in preparation for spitting him out.

Rawley does realize it. More importantly, he realized it was happening to him when he was in Zach’s shoes, and he got away from Lincoln after only a few months. That was long before Zach was even born.

He finds Zach passed out, and reluctantly brings him upstairs for a glass of water. The kid sobers up with remarkable speed, so much so that Rawley wonders if he’s been played, but he keeps his distance and bids Zach goodnight.

That’s the beginning of a series of interactions between them that slowly draws Rawley deeper into a mystery. He finds the “Hollow” and the beautiful monsters of the title, and hints that Lincoln is more of a devil than he ever dreamed. The experience makes him confront aspects of himself he’d been avoiding, and gives the reader lots to think about.

I think my favorite take-away from this story is the theory Rawley has devised about why people allow melodramatic people to invade their lives. It’s based on an expression used by another of his ex-boyfriends, “God likes to shake the plate”. Rawley says,

At first I’d thought it was a quaint notion. Then I came to realize that God, however defined, had nothing to do with it, and neither did the people crowding that man’s life, for the most part. More times than not, a man tripped himself, shook his own plate, consciously or not. In the past year I’d managed to get my plate arranged. The carrots didn’t touch the rice; the meat and gravy occupied a solitary region. If anything happened between Zach and me, if the plate shook and the menu blended and became distasteful, I’d have only myself to blame.

That’s good advice for anyone to keep in mind.