by J. T. Glover
Late in 2013 I sprained my back, and several months passed while it healed. During the period when my spine looked less like a straight line and more like a question mark, I wrote “Mercy’s Armistice” for The Big Bad II. Most of it was dictated using speech recognition software, because sitting down for long periods was out of the question—standing was only somewhat less painful, but lying down actually worked all right. Things came together, I submitted the story, and John & Emily took it.
What does my tale of woe have to do with the evolution of evil? Just this: by the time I actually started writing, the pain was large enough that I was distracted. Decayed noblemen with fangs and capes seemed patently ridiculous, and the same went for most everything else from the canon of Big Bads. The zombie apocalypse is a very distant concern when you’re dropping mugs, showering is a fraught activity, and getting into a car involves an IKEA-like diagram of turns and shifts.
One afternoon in December I wound up re-watching The Godfather for the nth time, and something clicked. The world that Mario Puzo described and Francis Ford Coppola immortalized is made up of those who are family, those who are not, and those who wish they were. What, I started to wonder, about the people who weren’t part of any of that, or of the square world? What about the true outsiders—skip the heroin chic, dodge the beautiful gutters—what about the truly desperate?
And then, as often happens for me, I put two and two together. What happens when hit men get old? Luca Brasi wasn’t a young man when he went to sleep with the fishes, but we saw little of his mundane life. Everyone ages, contracts this or that illness, eventually dies—but most of that doesn’t happen on screen. “How” I asked myself, “would it work for a couple of aging supernatural predators who had to take care of a sick relative?” That was the point at which the engine actually turned over and the Muse took the wheel.
I like the tight, well-plotted headliners of horror that sweep me along, but I also like the quiet and mundane: Caitlín R. Kiernan’s “Standing Water,” T.E.D. Klein’s “Growing Things,” David Searcy’s Ordinary Horror, any number of stories by Shirley Jackson. The empty spaces between the evisceration of hapless victims and the howl of the Beast can be horrifying, too. In those moments, I think it’s easier to look past the fur and the fangs and see the so-familiar face that hides underneath the mask.