Il Posto Nero presenta oggi un viaggio alla scoperta dei grandi talenti emergenti della narrativa horror internazionale, tramite la presentazione e pubblicazione di alcuni brani dei due romanzi vincitori (ex aequo) dell'ultima edizione del Bram Stoker Awards, nella categoria miglior romanzo d'esordio (First Novel), The Castle of Los Angeles di Lisa Morton e Black and Orange di Benjamin Kane Ethridge. Due autori già ospitati dal Posto Nero, che hanno contribuito con racconti inediti e dedicati alla rubrica Queen Anne's Resurrection.
Nell'articolo troverete una mia descrizione e commento di entrambi i romanzi, insieme a un profilo degli autori. Per The Castle of Los Angeles di Lisa Morton potrete leggere online il primo capitolo, mentre per Black and Orange di Benjamin Kane Ethridge è disponibile per la lettura il prologo del romanzo. Gli autori non sono ancora stati pubblicati in Italia, fatta eccezione per un racconto di Lisa Morton, Occhi Dorati, pubblicato nell'antologia ebook Arkana - Racconti da Incubo (Il Posto Nero Free Ebooks, 2011) curata da me e Daniele Bonfanti, e per i racconti Un Messaggio dal mare (L. Morton) e Il Pezzo gettato giù (B.K.Ethridge) pubblicati all'interno della rubrica Queen Anne's Resurrection del Posto Nero.
The Castle of Los Angeles di Lisa Morton
Descrizione e commento
Il romanzo The Castle of Los Angeles racconta la storia di un giovane regista che apre un nuovo teatro in un edificio chiamato The Castle. Lisa Morton riesce ad assemblare in questa opera elementi a prima vista diversi e inconciliabili, come la Kabbalah e la mistica ebraica, il teatro, il mondo della prostituzione minorile e i riferimenti al cinema asiatico. L’autrice rielabora il classico spartito della storia gotica di fantasmi, riuscendo a offrire una moderna e originale interpretazione. I personaggi del romanzo sono molto ben delineati e caratterizzati, e infestano l'immaginazione del lettore, proprio come le presenze nel Castello. Queste caratteristiche della narrativa di Lisa Morton, le scene vivide e fotografiche dove vengono magicamente calati gli attori delle vicenda, evidenziano l'esperienza dell’autrice come produttrice e sceneggiatrice per il cinema e il teatro. Quest’opera ha vinto l'ultima edizione del Bram Stoker Awards come migliore romanzo d’esordio, che segue e si aggiunge a diversi altri premi internazionali già vinti in precedenza. Lisa Morton, tra i protagonisti della nuova generazione della narrativa di genere, è tra gli autori più talentuosi sulla scena internazionale. L’eterogenea preparazione, l’esperienza con diversi media, la capacità di approfondimento e di ricerca, mostrate ampiamente dai suoi lavori di saggistica di genere, con particolare predilezione per le storie e leggende popolari, ci offrono un nome da seguire con grande attenzione, sia per il presente, già molto brillante, che per il futuro.
The Castle of Los Angeles di Lisa Morton
Primo capitolo (Chapter One)
Beth huddled in the brick-lined entrance, listening to the susurration of the light rain against the turrets and gargoyles overhead, feeling the bulk of the Castle both holding out the night and pressing down on her, and she felt not unease but a strange comfort.
I could belong here, she thought.
A few blocks away the 5 freeway funneled traffic through Los Angeles, creating a perpetual roar, but tonight it blended pleasantly with the sound of the falling water. She knew the L.A. River was just beyond the freeway, efficiently channeling the rainwater through its manmade troughs until it reached Glendale, where a few short sections of nature had been negligently allowed to intrude, mud and wildlife replacing concrete. Although she couldn’t see downtown from this - the northern - side of the Castle, the skyscrapers’ lights reflected off the drizzle and clouds, turning the night from black to deep gray. The sound, the smell of wet pavement, the glint of red stoplights on the streets, the feel of the cool moist May air on her skin, all combined in Beth to elicit a tremble of pleasure.
Here she was at the Castle - that great brooding testament to the fact that Los Angeles actually did have a history – and Beth felt more at home here than she’d ever felt anywhere else in her life. She realized now that she’d never thought of her aunt’s sunny little two-bedroom house in Pasadena as home, even though she’d spent most of her life there. She knew that house as intimately as she knew her own eyes in the mirror, but she’d always felt somehow that the place didn’t fit her, perhaps because her eyes weren’t the blue or green or gray ones of her neighbors. Her skin was a half-shade too dark, her hair a glossy ebony, her last name Ortiz, and she sometimes felt just tolerated among the Carters and Johnsons and Smiths.
But here…the Castle felt like an extension of her.
Her attention was pulled away from the desolate, rainy, late-night industrial street in front of her as she heard two male voices raised in laughter, inside the Castle. Beth smiled, and turned away, letting the security door close behind her, sealing the night out. She headed back down the short common hallway, around the corner, and through the open doorway into the small theater-nee-artist’s loft.
In the far back corner, Terry and Eric were bent over the dimmer board in the makeshift tech booth, giggling like schoolboys. When they saw her, they each raised a half-empty beer bottle in salute.
“Are you kids done yet?” Beth asked. “It’s almost one, you know.”
The two men laughed again, then Terry turned the dimmer board off as Eric sauntered up to her. At six feet, with auburn hair and straight, dark brows, he was handsome enough to be an actor, but instead had felt directing was his true vocation. His eyes flashed, whether from drink or mischief or both, as he swaggered up to her, his charisma preceding him like a wave before a storm.
They’d known each other since college, and she’d been his friend and confidante as he’d slept his way through a profusion of actresses, wannabee-actresses, waitresses, and non-thespians. He’d had beauties, he’d had minor celebrities, and he’d had some who weren’t as attractive as Beth…but he’d never so much as flirted with her.
Beth was content with the situation. She saw how the women Eric slept with quickly drifted out of his life, while she’d been one of his best friends for nearly ten years. She’d had her own affairs, of course, a few brief entanglements that had simply faded rather than truly ending, because ending them would have required more energy than she was willing to offer. Beth left her small loves knowing little more about her erstwhile partners than she had before she’d met them, all while knowing Eric intimately. Beth liked being the woman he always came back to; she enjoyed subtly desiring him, and understood that the desire was probably far more pleasurable than the actual having would have been.
Yet she couldn’t help but wonder…if he ever did proposition her (or, as Beth’s friend Miki had suggested, if either of them “ever came to their senses”), would she turn him down?
She couldn’t answer that.
So here he came, and she saw that he was very drunk from the after-show party, and his smile was a little broader than usual, his walk closer to a stagger…and he stopped just before her as the grin fell away, revealing something more serious underneath.
Beth held her breath, suddenly nervous.
“We need to talk,” he said. “I’ve got a big question for you.”
“Uh-oh,” Beth answered, trying to sound amused. “Should I gird my loins?”
Eric looked away, and Beth suddenly saw that he was unhappy. This wasn’t about her, then, and she felt both disappointment and relief.
“It’s my dad. He’s had a stroke, and he’s going to need full-time care.”
“Oh, God, that’s terrible. I’m sorry.”
Eric’s whole body suddenly sagged like a broken-stringed marionette. “Beth, I’ve got to go.”
“For how long?”
“For good. I’m moving back to Michigan.”
Beth’s mouth worked silently for a moment, then managed a single, “Oh.”
She looked around the little black-box theater, with its forty-nine seats and tiny raised stage and muslin-covered flats lining the back wall, and she felt the loss as a physical thing, a blow. She’d been ecstatic when Eric had moved into the Castle two years ago and used his artist’s loft to set up his own small theater. She’d directed two of her best shows there, including the production of Sarah Kane’s Blasted that had closed its successful run three hours ago. She’d grown to love the absurdly small space Eric had dubbed the Lofty Repertory Company, and she’d already been planning future productions there.
And Eric would be gone.
“Are you sure?” she asked, hopefully, already knowing the answer.
“There’s not really any choice. Bethy, my dad’s really sick, mom’s not there to take care of him, my brother won’t help, and I…well, I just don’t know how long he’ll last. It could be two months, it could be ten years. He won’t let us put him in a home, and I can’t say as I blame him – ”
“No, no,” Beth cut him off, “you’re doing the right thing. Only…what about the theater? It seems like it was really starting to do well, the houses have been so good, the reviews…”
Beth trailed off helplessly, her hands fluttering until she forced them to stop.
Eric glanced back over one shoulder, and for the first time Beth realized Terry was still waiting back there by the tech booth, in semi-darkness.
Eric turned back to Beth and said, “Well, that’s why we were hoping…you might like to move in.”
“With Terry?” she asked. In the far corner, she saw Terry’s dim form execute a tentative wave.
“Yeah, with Terry. That way you could afford it. The lease is actually in Terry’s name, so you don’t have to change that. You know it’s usually a five-year wait to get in here…”
“I know,” Beth said, and looked back to see Terry sauntering forward, looking expectant and anxious.
She hadn’t known Terry all that long, only since he and Eric had opened the theater two years ago. Terry was what Beth thought of as a “theater nerd”: A tech guy who was great with lights and sound, and (thankfully) had absolutely no aspirations to act, direct or write. Terry even looked the part: Rail thin, frizzy brown hair, glasses, a hint of moustache, rumpled t-shirts sporting logos for computer games or bad rock bands. She liked him, although she’d never exchanged more than fifty words with him that weren’t dedicated to spotlights or gels or creating sounds.
“You’d have your own bedroom, of course,” Terry said, then pushed his glasses up his nose as he added, “we’d have to share the bathroom, but I’m clean.”
I’d be in Eric’s bedroom, Beth thought, with more than a little irony.
“Well,” she said, drawing out the suspense as dramatically as possible, before adding, “I think that could work.”
Eric and Terry shared a grin, then Terry thrust a hand forward, and Beth took it. “Welcome aboard, partner.”
She released Terry’s hand, then turned to Eric, who swayed slightly as he looked down at her. “Shit, Beth, I can’t tell you how scared I was you’d say ‘no’.”
“But you knew I wouldn’t, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, I did.” He suddenly danced backwards, swinging both arms and hips. “Hey, let’s go out and celebrate. Get drunk.”
“You’re already drunk,” Beth told him.
“Drunker, then.” He clapped his hands and did a clumsy little jig that set Beth to laughing.
“Okay, great god Pan, let’s go celebrate. But let’s get food instead - The Pantry’s still open, and I’m driving.”
Eric suddenly pointed at her dramatically, ala Elvis. “You wait there – I’ll be right back. Just need a jacket.”
She laughed again as he ran off. Terry wasn’t around, and she assumed he’d already gone back to his own room.
She turned away, eyeing the Lofty Repertory Company theater with new eyes.
It’s mine now.
She nodded, pleased, took a step forward – and then stopped as she saw something:
One of the stage lights was on. She thought she’d seen Terry turn off the entire dimmer board, but one was definitely lit. It was a low light, positioned unseen just behind the flats to cast dramatic silhouettes onto the side wall.
Like the one there now.
A man’s shadow jittered slightly in the bright light. I didn’t see Terry go back there, Beth thought.
“Terry?” she called.
There was no answer. The figure moved only slightly, and Beth felt the damp night air suddenly roll down the hallway and into the theater.
“Hello?” she asked, taking a tentative step forward.
The light went out, and the shape disappeared.
The front part of the theater was plunged into darkness, and Beth realized the house lights weren’t on. Hadn’t they been lit for the after-show party tonight? When had they been turned off? The only light came from the rear of the space, a 25-watt desk lamp in the tech booth and spillover from the hallway.
“Terry?” she called, louder, hoping he’d appear and turn on the lights.
I just have to find the house lights, Beth thought. She knew the switch for the overhead fluorescents was just behind her, next to the main door, but she was too intent on listening to move. Was someone in the theater with her, someone who had perhaps hidden behind the flats and waited until the space was empty…except for her?
She made her way to the hallway door, painfully banging a shin against a theater seat on the way. The switch, the damned light switch was here by the door, wasn’t it?
She felt along the wall on either side of the doorway, but her groping fingers found nothing. She almost stepped into the hallway, then instead followed the desk light to the tech booth. From there she could turn on the dimmer board, fill the stage with light - then she heard the distinct sound of clothes rustling, and realized she absolutely was not alone.
She froze in place, every sense straining against the darkness around her. The cold night air had found her, in the theater, and she shivered, fighting it down to concentrate on listening, looking. She thought she could make out a shape near the front of the stage now, moving forward, slowly, so slowly. She lurched towards the tech booth and then her fingers scrabbled over the dimmer board, frantically trying to find the main power switch -The house lights came on.
Beth jumped, her heart slamming, and whirled to see Terry standing by the main door, his fingers still on the light switch there, the one she’d somehow missed.
“Why were you here in the dark?” he said, half-laughing.
“Terry, there’s somebody in here.”
Terry went pale, his hand falling limply away from the switch. He looked around, saw no one, and turned back to her, puzzled.
Beth walked out of the tech booth and told her feet to do the work of taking her up the central aisle of the theater to the stage, the empty stage, then around the edge of the flats, to …nothing.
There was no one there.
She looked around the theater a last time, then turned to the bewildered Terry. “There was somebody in here. The light behind the flats came on – ”
“Number six?” Terry asked, then shook his head. “But I turned off the whole board.”
Beth leaned over the light and waved her fingers around it. It was a work light that had been ingeniously framed to create a circular spot – and it was still steaming.
Beth pulled her fingers back and leaned around the edge of the flats. “The light’s still hot.”
“I don’t know how it could be. Huh.”
Beth considered pursuing it, but realized Terry was now her roommate and her business partner, and she didn’t need to begin their new relationship by trying to solve something that was probably a one-time freak occurrence.
“Oh, well,” she said, and then smiled broadly at Eric as he re-entered the space, hoping his company and a late-night meal of pork chops and eggs would make Terry forget what had happened.
Even if she wouldn’t.
Lisa Morton: Scrittrice, saggista e sceneggiatrice horror statunitense, ha vinto quattro Bram Stoker Award, oltre a vari altri premi e nominations: tra le sue opere The Castle of Los Angeles, Tested, A Anthology Hallowe'en, The Lucid Dreaming, The Samhanach, Monsters of L.A. Ha vinto inoltre per due volte il premio Richard Laymon della Horror Writers Association, della quale oggi è Vice Presidente. Per il Posto Nero l'autrice ha pubblicato il racconto inedito e dedicato, Un Messaggio dal mare per la rubrica Queen Anne's Resurrection e il racconto Occhi Dorati, tradotto da Alberto Priora, pubblicato nell'antologia Arkana-Racconti da Incubo (Il Posto Nero Free eBooks, 2011). Web: http://www.lisamorton.com/
Black and Orange di Benkamin Kane Ethridge
Descrizione e commento
Tutto ha inizio durante la notte di Halloween, quando i membri della Chiesa di Mezzanotte sacrificano una persona alla Chiesa del Mattino, che si trova in una terribile dimensione conosciuta come il "vecchio dominio", nel tentativo di unire le due chiese. Il passaggio interdimensionale che collega le due Chiese si apre ogni anno il 31 ottobre, ed è questo che ha sembra aver dato luogo alla tradizionale festa di Halloween. Martin e Teresa, i cosiddetti "nomadi", non riescono nel loro compito, affidato da un certo “Messaggero”, di proteggere la chiesa dai sacrifici. Si tratta di una storia costruita su una originale mitologia, ben delineata dall’autore all’interno del romanzo. Martin e Teresa vivono per strada la loro vita, per avere più probabilità di ostacolare i piani della Chiesa di Mezzanotte, che ormai sembra essere sul punto di raggiungere il suo obiettivo di unire permanentemente le due Chiese. I prossimi sacrifici riguarderanno quattro bambini e bambine, è Il Messaggero a guidare Martin e Teresa verso di loro attraverso delle lettere.
La Chiesa di Mezzanotte tenta di raggiungere telepaticamente i due nomadi, di collegarsi, ma la loro capacità funziona solo con la luce, il chiarore, per questo Martin e Teresa cercano rifugio nelle località più nuvolose. Ma anche i “nomadi” possiedono delle capacità psichiche e sono in grado di evocare strutture invisibili, chiamate “manti”, per proteggersi dagli inseguitori. L’autore anima il suo romanzo con personaggi molto caratterizzati, tra i quali emerge il terribile Cappellano Cloth, che vivono tra le pagine grazie a dialoghi agili e incisivi. Il ritmo avvolge e tiene strette le vicende, portando il lettore a un finale insolitamente forte e vibrante. Un romanzo che nasce da un grande immaginario creato dall’autore, ben costruito, una storia che può definirsi dark fantasy, che però non manca di ironia, di elementi eterogenei e dispositivi di altri generi che tendono a rendere Black and Orange un opera “trasversale” e affascinante. Black and Orange ha vinto l'ultima edizione del Bram Stoker Awards come miglior romanzo d’esordio.
Black and Orange di Benkamin Kane Ethridge
Prologo - 31 ottobre dello scorso anno (Prologue October 31st of Last Year)
Where was Tony Nguyen? Where was the Heart ofthe Harvest?Martin couldn’t answer that. He’d lost his gun, his mind could not conjur e another mantle — he was powerless. The answers he desperately needed escaped him. He just ran. Teresa wove through a field of tall grass and he followed. The brittle blades swept across his face, snapping and hissing as they went. The children flooded into the field, their dark orange jaws snapping in concert with the disruption in the grass. Martin could hear Teresa wheezing. Her pace slowed. He had to match it; she wouldn’t be left behind, not like —
Where was Tony?
Thousand of little fiends chomped hollowly, hungry to fill that hollowness — instinctively Martin attempted to throw a mantle and dissect the crowd, but his brain had gone completely dry; he’d overdone it. There was no mental power left. He’d failed Tony. They both had. Now the Church of Midnight would have their sacrifice. The same realization flooded into Teresa’s cold face as she sprinted through the darkness ahead. He’d wasted his power, she was ill and the Church was too damned powerful now.
Chaplain Cloth was too damned powerful. And he took Tony. Somewhere along the line Martin and Teresa had lost the Heart of the Harvest, Tony Nguyen, that single soul that was theirs to protect from sacrifice.
The nightscape sloped. One of the children clamped onto Teresa’s leg with its serrated teeth and twisted its head to rip at the tendons there. Martin brought down a boot on its pumpkin shaped skull. The head trauma forced the jaws open. Martin jumped forward to crush it. The thing growled and jumped to meet him. Teresa swung around and stopped the creature midflight with the butt of her handgun. Her frayed jeans grew dark with blood but she ran on. The other children gained. Colorless trees flooded past, the open field turning into dense forest.
Maybe Tony had gotten away somehow. They couldn’t loseanother Heart of the Harvest. The gateway grew too wide already — another sacrifice would bring the other world too close to theirs. Goddamnit, where was Tony Nguyen? Did he trip and fall somewhere? Martin’s foot hit a root. He tumbled sideways,
landed on his elbow in a wet bed of leaves. Teresa took his hand and ripped him to his feet. But it wasn’t Teresa. Thisperson wore a new face and new eyes.
Martin twisted away from the old monster. The shark-belly skin, the night black suit and orange tie. Trees exploded behind Martin in a rush of splintery debris. He found his strength, forced on a path of adrenaline, and brought up a mantle that moment. The invisible shield wrapped around his body and deflected the attack. Martin’s heel caught mud and he slid fast into a black ravine. He lost hold of the mantle when he splashed down. His protection vanished. Where was Teresa? Where was Tony? Martin was alone.
His legs slopped through a waist-high stream. Chaplain Cloth hadn’t come down after him and as much as that might have been a relief, it meant his direction had turned elsewhere. Martin couldn’t let that happen, not to Tony, not to Teresa. He charged hard through the cold stream and broke out of the arresting water onto a steep embankment. The memory of Cloth’s face burned in his mind: needles of pitchy hair swinging over
one black eye, and the orange eye engulfed in hate. His teeth were raw pink like flayed muscle, colored from past harvests, colored with those Hearts that never saw another November.
Screams echoed from a bubble of light somewhere north. Martin’s legs burned red-hot. Can’t stop. He focused to build another mantle. The cold spot in his brain, where mantles were drawn, bloomed with power. The light in the forest intensified. Shadows became more distinct. A voice yelled for him.
“Martin! Here!” Teresa peered out between some stunted trees. Her face was streaked in dirt and dried blood. “Get over here.”
He dove into the hiding place and sidled up next to her. Her words came out between gulps of air. Her wheeze sounded dry, but he knew it’d get worse soon in this dampness. “We have to get back to the van. We’ve lost him Martin. They have Tony. Tony’s gone! Let’s go.”
“How do you know? Did — ?”
She guided his face over, leaving dank mud on his chin. In his confusion he’d overlooked a nearby ledge over a washout. Pine trees wreathed the area in a nighttime vertigo. At the other side of the washout stood an old brick structure, a primary school left to ruin. A gaping mouth opened through the bricks. The gateway leading to the Old Domain stretched forth impatiently, power-starved. At the other side of the bilious corridor,human arms pushed and pulled and wrenched to open a fistsized hole separating the worlds. The arms withdrew a moment and a woman’s face filled the hole. Smiling. It was a lovely face with corpse cold eyes.
They shrunk back as Chaplain Cloth strode from the gathering of trees adjoining the school. Tony Nguyen’s furrowed body hung limp in Cloth’s arms. He was alive, but Martin knew that wouldn’t last long.
“We have to do something,” he whispered.
“You know there’s nothing we can do now,” said Teresa.
“We can only hope the gateway will shut again. This was bound to happen again.”
“We can try — ”
“No,” she said, firmly, “I’m calling this one.”
Tony wasn’t scared, although the abrasions from Cloth’s children had almost bled him out. So very brave — thought Martin. How had they let this happen? They were too slow. Without warning, the boy’s torso twisted back; the spine snapped in three places. The Chaplain rested his hand on the damp white shirt and it jumped apart at the poisonous touch. Through Tony’s abdomen, the ribcage surfaced through the skin like the hull of a sunken ship. Once each bone was exposed, they shattered in succession. Cloth blinked back at the chalky discharges. Strands of muscle and skin ignited and burst into tiny organic filaments. Cloth worked a pale finger around the densemuscle in the cavity. Pulled the heart free from Tony’s chest.
The Heart of the Harvest didn’t glow, or shimmer, or change colors. It looked like a human heart, like any mammal heart, a tough piece of bloody flesh. But then Martin saw — everything for miles around had been deprived of color. Teresa’s face looked gray beside him. Even Cloth’s black and orange eyes were two smoky discs. Yet the heart had a burgundy hue so ferocious it looked like something from a surreal dream, an apple galvanized with cinnamon steel.
Tony’s jaw clicked as his body met the forest’s carpet of twigs and leaves. He was carrion now because of them. This kid, this great kid that once explained in detail how he planned to code videogames after college, and once he mastered that, wanted a large family — he wasn’t one of those guys who hated the idea. Becoming a good father someday was his ultimate goal, because his own father left so much to be desired. Tony had wanted to have a life after this Halloween. And now he would be fertilizer for the forest. Dust.
The heart was placed outside the gateway. The arms inside thrashed frantically as the brilliant red lump boiled. A swarm of children attacked the organ, taking measured bites of the fruit. Their bulbous bodies fled inside, charged with radiant power. Hundreds detonated. Through the eclipses of darkness and light, layers of the hole collapsed into soot. The opening widened and a slender arm, the woman’s arm, came through
with her head. She moved quickly through, for the gateway would repair and soon.
“They’re coming through.” Teresa swallowed the words.
“I don’t think it will stay open forever,” Martin told her.
They’d lost Hearts before, but he still wasn’t sure.
Laughter scaled the peaks of the hovering pines. More Church members clamored through the forest toward the new arrivals.
Teresa tugged at him, but Martin couldn’t move. All he could do was think about the end. His body came off the ground with a surge of strength. “This is done, Martin. We have to go!”
Thousands of demented orange faces exploded around them. Teresa flung a mantle and it powered through the children like a cannon ball. Martin followed her through the maze of twisting trees, trusting her to lead them to the van.
Chaplain Cloth’s laughter followed them all the way back.
Benjamin Kane Ethridge: Scrittore statunitense di narrativa horror, ha vinto il Bram Stoker Award con il romanzo Black & Orange. Ha scritto diversi racconti, pubblicati su magazines e antologie, tra i quali: From the Bowels, Surgeon Delta Gorgon, Chortle, Copse of Elms. Per il Posto Nero l'autore ha pubblicato un racconto inedito e dedicato, Il Pezzo gettato giù, per la rubrica Queen Anne's Resurrection.Web: http://www.bkethridge.com/