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Short Stories 365/247 | N.S. Beranek

“Capturing Jove Lunge” by Steve Berman from Night Shadows: Queer Horror (Bold Strokes Books 2012). Edited by Greg Herren and J.M. Redmann.

After the reminiscence during the last entry about my love for the movie Fright Night, it should come as no surprise that I enjoyed this story very much.

There’s an over-the-top quality to the storytelling that establishes right off that this isn’t a realistic tale. It gives the reader license to enjoy what normally would be horrific.

The main character, Gus, is in a taxicab that reeks of stale cigar smoke; the driver is taking the turns too fast, making the tires squeal; and Gus’s arms are so muscular that he’s bursting the seams of his thrift store suit. Larger than life and slightly comical, it puts you at ease.

Gus is heading to the estate of a fine arts painter named Nestor Moiren because he thinks he might find a missing heiress there. His job is to bring her back home, which is a noble mission (provided she isn’t there of her own accord), but Gus isn’t doing it because he’s a concerned citizen. He’s a mercenary. His boss has a contract with the girl’s father, who wants her returned to him. It’s business, plain and simple.

Moiren thinks Gus is there as a life model for his latest artwork. He paints the covers for a series of books about a character called Jove Lunge, the Man of Daring. He’s brought in two other models for the session. There’s a kid named Carl, who’s there to play Jove Lunge’s pseudo-nephew Timmy. And of course there’s Samantha, the missing heiress, who may (or may not) fulfill the ingénue role.

That’s the basic setup. After that it’s just fun. The estate is wild and Moiren is even wilder. He makes his entrance on a scaffold in the greenhouse wearing a smoking jacket and a fez, for cryin’ out loud. It becomes clear by degrees that he’s just-this-side-of insane, but he’s also charming and successful, and has a great house and a faithful servant (who has one of the best lines in the piece). Plus, Moiren seems able to read Gus’ soul. He puts him into situations that cater to his deepest desires.

I did say Moiren’s insane, though, right? And just as with the last story, this isn’t a romance; you know it’s all going to go to hell in a hand basket. While it lasts, though, it’s a whole lot of fun.