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The Punitive City (Inferno, Canto V)

S A L T C I T Y S H I V E R S

Sing me a song, you’re a singer…do me a wrong, you’re a bringer of evil,” Dio yowled, the shrill tang of his voice resounding off the scorched black walls of Dis, the City of Damnation and walled circler of the coils of Nether Hell. “The devil is never a maker,” he sang apace, his voice now warming to his words, but at this last I hushed him with a wave.

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The Borders of Hell (Inferno, Canto IV)

S A L T C I T Y S H I V E R S

“…and that,” finished Ronnie James Dio, “is why I would have made a kickass professional basketball player.”

“Uh huh,” I responded. For lo, though I had dozed my patchy way through Dio’s ramblings, our boat had crossed the flaming river Phlegethon and bumped up on the rocky beach of Sai no Kawara. There we trudged past the souls of countless children, all clad in rags. As we watched, they stacked upon themselves small stones in paltry piles. “What are they doing?” I asked. “They are trying to build towers to climb to Heaven,” answered Dio. “The poor fools. They brought their parents grief in life, and thus they are excluded here upon the shores of Hell. Much like myself.” He paused. “I’m keeping a spot all warmed up for Meat Loaf,” he added. As we left the beach, the terrible Datsue-ba, a dreadful, haglike creature, flew at child after child. Each one in turn endured the iron club of Datsue-ba, who perpetually beat them and tore at their rags. “This seems,” I said, “unfair, to say the least.”

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Nicolas in Wonderland

S A L T C I T Y S H I V E R S

“Once upon a time, a little mouse moved into St. Marinara’s orphanage. He loved to play games with all the other orphans. But most of all, Chuck E. loved learning to play music. He especially loved the song ‘Happy Birthday.’” – The Story of Chuck E. Cheese

“We’re all mad here.” – Alice in Wonderland

On a recent episode of Wandering Monster, John, Lemons, and I had one of our many discussions regarding monsters – specifically, in this case, monsters from video games. On this occasion, I happened to bring a game to the conversation called Five Nights at Freddy’s (FNAF). For those who have not had the pleasure, FNAF is a game in which one plays as a security guard who keeps tabs on the security cameras in, essentially, a haunted Chuck E. Cheese in which the animatronic performers have come to life and will do creative and terrible things to your body, given the opportunity. The point of the game is to use security doors and your watchful eye to prevent this outcome. FNAF was a monster hit for an indie game, and went on to inspire so many sequels that the creator held the Gunness World Record for “Most Sequels Released in One Year.” I’m sure this was a proud achievement for a guy who launched FNAF based on the spectacular failure and frighteningly bad character design of his previous games. Those game also happened to be exclusively Christian, and thus did not center on homicidal automatons.

I mention this because there’s a great deal of FNAF in the DNA of a truly delightful film – starring Nicolas Cage in full badass mode, no less! – called Willy’s Wonderland.

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Masks (Part Three): The Mask Behind the Face

S A L T C I T Y S H I V E R S

The second post that I ever wrote for Madness Heart Press, way back in March of 2019, was a review of The Best Horror of the Year, Volume 10, edited by Ellen Datlow. It’s an excellent collection that is well worth picking up, and is the venue in which I first encountered a short story called “West of Matamoros, North of Hell,” by Brian Hodge. There were many top-notch exercises in horror in Best Volume 10, but “West of Matamoros” is the one that has stuck with me the longest – haunted me, you might say. In particular, I often think of one sequence in which a very frightening, violent fellow (I won’t spoil the story for you – you ought to read it for yourself) has a calm conversation with another fellow about, and I quote, “the mask behind the face.”

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Masks (Part Two): Stone and Wood, Bone and Blood

S A L T C I T Y S H I V E R S

The human species as we know it is about 200,000 years old, give or take (although our ancestors in a recognizable form go back 6 million years, and “we” have been banging on rocks for an astonishing 3.3 million years). Depending on how one defines an artifact, human material culture dates back at least tens of thousands of years. In the grand scheme of things, this makes masks a relatively recent innovation. The oldest mask we currently know of is made of stone and dates back 9.000 years, to the Neolithic period. Archeologist Dr. Omry Barzilai, of the Israeli team that found the 9,000-year-old stone mask, observed that:

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Masks (Part One): Plagues

Yersinia pestis doesn’t look like much. Actually, to the naked human eye, it doesn’t look like anything, but even under the cold electronic scrutiny of a scanning electron micrograph, it is a modest little fellow, its bodies clustered like algae-shrouded aquarium gravel. Tiny but enthusiastic, these lively pebbles hitch a ride in the foregut of a flea until they have a chance to really stretch their cytoplasm in a human host, where they are better known as bubonic plague, or the Black Death. There, they play merry hell: the bacterium is fatal in 30-90% of untreated humans who contract it; it’s even fatal in 10% of cases where people are treated by modern medicine. Between 1346 and 1353, between 75 million and 200 million lives were snuffed out by the tiniest of enemies, an infiltration carried out by the most miniscule of smugglers.

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Horror, Existence, and the ‘Truth of Meat’

Why do people love horror? It seems like a banal enough question; we might as well ask why people like kimchi, or ghost peppers. Humans are endlessly delighted by stimulation, and as even a casual fan of BDSM will tell you, sometimes pleasure is sweeter when it’s been spiked with a little pain. Is that all it is? Are fans of horror indulging their taste for having their neurons flogged, folks high on adrenaline the way an extreme sports enthusiast or roller coaster fanatic is? Or is there a deeper attraction – cold metaphorical bones beneath the twitchy flesh of scares-as-thrills?

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The Horror of the Howling Mob

1/6/2021 is a date that no American will ever forget. Not even during the Civil War – not since the War of 1812 – did any foe or force manage to penetrate the capital of the United States. Where Robert E. Lee, Adolf Hitler, and Nikita Khrushchev failed, Donald J. Trump succeeded. Like many, I watched events in Washington D.C. unfold that day live on my screen. First there were the machinations of democracy, boring but not as boring as they should have been. Without much in the way of warning, a recess was declared and then NPR’s feed of the proceedings was immediately cut off. I switched to a live news feed and watched as a mob of howling cultists and Confederate-flag-waving white supremacists stormed my country’s seat of government. They met little in the way of resistance. “The capital has fallen!” was how this was ecstatically reported by Harrison H. Smith, fill-in anchor at the loathsome Alex Jones’ InfioWars. While Smith’s enthusiastic exclamation would prove to be a premature ejaculation, for that brief moment he was correct.

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