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Black Static

New Horror Fiction BLACK STATIC 82/83 OUT NOW

The Late Review: Creeping Stick

6th Feb, 2023

Author: Peter Tennant

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Creeping Stick by Liam Ronan was the last book out of the gate from Pendragon Press before it closed for business in 2017. Produced in a limited edition, the book now appears to be sold out, but e-books are still available on Amazon

The story is told by a man who was formerly the rector of Hafoc Village, a small community in an isolated area of Wales. A shipwreck brings to the village Razael Menelaus Spindle, a man whose intellectual achievements are equalled only by his hideous deformities. Called Creeping Stick by the village children and mocked behind his back, Spindle nonetheless finds Hafoc very much to his liking and establishes the R. M. Spindle Home for Progressive Youth, using his great wealth to fund the project. Initially welcoming, the community is alienated by his use of strange, foreign workmen and the exclusion of Christianity from the curriculum. A lynch mob burns the home to the ground and a badly beaten Spindle is left to die in the flaming ruins of his dream. Except Spindle doesn't die and his revenge on the people of Hafoc and their children, stretched out over the years, is truly terrible.

This is old style horror, the kind of thing that Hammer would have done proud in their heyday. In Spindle we have a memorable monster, one for whom the reader initially feels some sympathy because of his outward appearance and the ways in which it prejudices the world against him. And in his desire to have religion excluded from his vision of progressive youth, we can also feel that he is entirely modern. The man's hubris lies in thinking himself immune to the prejudices and mores of his time, and this is what costs him so dear. While the punishment meted out seems horribly unfair, Spindle's own reaction is equally disproportionate. We finally see him in his true colours, an occultist willing to do anything to prolong his own unnatural existence. The later scenes in Spindle's House of Perpetual Lament are truly infernal, giving us a vision of Hell on Earth that is rich and varied, the stage set for a grotesque game of stalk and kill, and the House itself seems to be alive courtesy of the lifeblood flowing through its pipes, while Spindle is the monstrous spider sitting at the heart of this web and bringing everyone into his orbit.

With Creeping Stick Liam Ronan has produced a gripping and memorable horror story, and though he gives us leave to dismiss it all as the febrile fancy of the narrator's tormented mind, a narrator wracked by guilt at his own culpability in what has happened, in our hearts we know better, that everything took place exactly as described. There's an epilogue to the story which, like the 'surprise' ending to a horror film, suggests that this won't be the last we hear of Spindle and his hideous progeny.

Ronan gives us a bonus short story, "Scaring Crows" in which a farmer looking to turn a handsome profit through modern methods and untested crops, finds out to his cost that the old methods are the best, that there are ways of doing things for a reason. While it's entertaining enough, told through the eyes of a young and impressionable narrator, and Ronan adds some intriguing touches of detail to the text, by and large this went pretty much as I expected, despite a shoal of red (blood-soaked?) herrings to suggest otherwise. It was good fun, but definitely not the main attraction in this book.

Finally, just to make the volume even more appealing to collectors, there's a gallery of "Creeping Stick" artwork courtesy of Adam Blandon, eight wonderful black and white illustrations that bring the story to vivid life on the page and complement the text supremely well.




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