"The corpse plants are blooming," yelled our groundskeeper, Pretorius.
It was a rare day when any one of our amorphophallus titanums bloomed, and to have them all opening their fetid inflorescence at once is quite a red letter day.
Zombos poked his head out of the window. "I thought I detected a whiff of their potent fragrance. Excellent." He took a deep breadth. "It will make a perfect centerpiece for our Fourth of July party."
He noticed I was still in my doldrums.
"Haven't you finished it yet?" he asked.
"No. Lost, lost, simply lost. I'm not sure why I've been so writer's blocked on this."
"My word, this is the longest time you've spent hemming and hawing on a simple review."
"That's the problem," I said. "It's not that simple."
"Well, then, perhaps if you think it aloud, that would help." He sat down by the window, closed his eyes, pressed his fingertips together, and took a deep breadth.
I looked at my empty cup of coffee with a sigh. Times like these required strong coffee, and lots of it. I sighed. "Well, after reading Amy Grech's thirteen-story collection, Apple of My Eye, I can safely say she has a fetish going for coppery-tasting, bright red blood, shiny sharp implements in dangerous hands, and bad relationships built on—usually terminal—masochistic tendencies. I can best describe her approach if I liken it to walking down a Brooklyn tenement alleyway late at night. Lined with shaded windows, I imagine her standing tiptoe on shaky garbage cans to peak into the rooms beyond. Not all of her clandestine observations are as clear as we voyeurs would like, but there's a hint of the darker side of human nature in many of her stories that makes reading them an unsettling experience. Her characters tend to act a little out of kilter with our reality, giving them a dreamy, or nightmarish tinge of behaviors that don't quite make sense if you only take them at face value." I paused.
"That's good. Make sure to write that down," Zombos said without opening his eyes. "What else?"
I thought about it. "Her work is somewhat vexing because she has a habit of ending her stories much too soon."
"Like waking from a dream without getting the full sense of what it was about?" Zombos observed.
"Quite. That's a good way of putting it. I find her dialog a little off, too. Sometimes it's too pat in places," I said.
"I sense another thought on the verge of discovery," Zombos said quietly.
"I'm not sure what...well, now that you mention it." I picked up Apple of My Eye and paged through it while I collected my thoughts. "I'm not really into very adult dark fiction. Her stories can be erotically-charged. Take the lead story, Apple of My Eye for instance. The main character is a nightmare in red heels, cruising the darker watering holes of Greenwich Village. She hooks up with some schlub who's looking for a good time in private, but she has ulterior motives that are unsavory."
"And you were aroused by Grech's prose?" Zombos asked, rather astutely I might add.
"Why, yes, I found the story very effective in that regard. But it's a weird vignette. Why would any man go back to her apartment knowing her daddy's a psychotic, mother-killing, incestuous fruitcake who doesn't like seeing her with other men?"
"But you did find the story evocative?"
"It's creepy as hell, yes. Just out of kilter with my normal expectations for—"
"But dreams and nightmares have no expectations, do they? They just create a mood which can often be disturbing, but rarely does any of it make sense at face value." Zombos crossed his legs and leaned further back in his chair.
"I suppose that's true," I said.
"Which story is your favorite?" he asked.
"It's a close call between Rampart and Damp Wind and Leaves. Rampart reads like some P.G. Wodehouse's evil doppelgänger's bizarre sense of humor. It's a Tales from the Darkside-like episode about a very rich man going very very bonkers as he's trapped in a castle whose walls are not content to remain still. The narrative is cucumber sandwich-flippant, and the characters and tone light and breezy. The story reminded me just a little of Charlotte Gilman's more serious The Yellow Wallpaper. In Damp Wind and Leaves, which is also available from Amazon Shorts, Grech uses a masterful touch of understatement to describe one very special Halloween in a horror fan's life. It's a precisely measured story of loneliness and love, and like a soft gust of cool air on an Autumn day, that rolls over your cheek, it's there and gone in a moment; but the feeling lingers. The imagery is vivid, as are the characters and their feelings.
"Then there's Ashes to Ashes," I continued. "A story that's reminiscent of Bradbury's Dark Carnival in tone and imagery. The very idea of a husband's ashes no longer silently resting in his burial urn is wonderfully Gothic, but she writes it with a modern touch. The story seems to end too soon, but the mood it leaves you with, like many of her stories, is similar to the feelings you have after waking from a dream as your dream-emotions linger, leaving you with a curious feeling that's hard to describe.
"I also have a soft spot for Raven's Revenge. How can you not love a haunted Brooklyn apartment with a restless spirit looking for revenge? I'm not sure about Snubbed, though. It reads more like a woman's revenge fantasy rather than a realistic portrayal of a woman's revenge on her ex-boyfriend now rapist. Say, you know, this has helped me a great deal in..."
Zombos started snoring. His head had sunk to his chest, but his fingertips remained steadfastly pressed together, and his legs still curled tightly around themselves. I stood up, stretched, and finished my review. It was getting late. The guests for our Fourth of July party would soon be arriving so there was much to do. As I picked up my empty cup of coffee, looking for a much needed refill, I thought about Sanchez in Perishables, one of Grech's very short stories that didn't need any more words to convey its horror. Funny, I thought to myself, as I wondered what perishables we had in our pantry as I bounded down the stairs. Our guests would be hungry.