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Short Stories 365/251 | N.S. Beranek

“Filth” by ‘Nathan Burgoine from Night Shadows: Queer Horror (Bold Strokes Books 2012). Edited by Greg Herren and J.M. Redmann.

This review has vexed me for days, because this story caught me off guard. That’s not to say I didn’t like it. I did. And it’s not because it’s a dark story, because most of ‘Nathan’s stories start from a pretty dark reality. I like that, actually. There’s still a lot of darkness in the world. The battle is far from won, and that should be acknowledged. It’s just that this story, probably because it’s a true horror tale, never seems to get much lighter.

Maybe it’s that in his novel and the other stories of his that I’ve read so far (Short Stories 97, 124, and 170, plus his contribution to “Touch of the Sea”, which is next on our hit parade) all deal with people who are adults. Those stories are about people who got away from their monsters and ultimately won by becoming happy. Noah still lives with his monster – his father, called “The Judge”. The Judge beats Noah for being gay and terrorizes him using the Bible. Noah tiptoes around him and manages to make contact with a local LGBT support group. In particular he’s drawn to Rory, but it isn’t as if anything can happen between them, because The Judge has a strangehold on Noah’s life.

Obviously, the reader wants the father to be stopped and Noah to be free. Thankfully, there’s a trademark ‘Nathan Burgoine bit of magic to accomplish that. I was glad for it, but not as relieved as I normally am at the end of one of his tales. Maybe I need that distance from the terrible events to prove that the protagonist is going to be, well, not truly okay, but better? With this the terror is still so fresh and raw at the finish that I’m just out and out worried for him. He’s so young and now he’s all alone. Will the support group really be enough to allow him to survive?

Maybe what really unsettles me is that the awful way The Judge characterized Noah seems to be borne out in the text. He contends that there is filth—evil—in Noah’s blood, and that turns out to be true. This isn’t beams of white light descending from heaven, being refracted by the main character’s aura into a beautiful rainbow, to save the planet from Satan’s minions masquerading as men of God. This is things rising up out of Noah’s blood for the purpose of revenge. Justified, yes, but still very dark.

All of that means, of course, that the story was successful. I was terrified for Noah, and am still upset about his prospects for a happy life.