Gordon B. White is creating Haunting Weird Horror(s)
It’s almost Halloween as I write this. The moon is full and the house is quiet, so let’s have some fun, eh?
It’s always ‘trick or treat’; it’s never ‘treat or trick’, right? It’s the essential Halloween phrase that sounds like it works only one way, like it has no choice but to follow the rule of ‘I’ before ‘E’ except after ‘C’. Of course, it also sounds ‘better’ the first way, the usual way, right?
“Trick or treat’ sounds gentler, more playful, less threatening. Perfect for strange houses. ‘Treat or trick’ sounds declaratively exploitive, a kneecapping demand for candy…or else. When true ghouls show up at the door, which way will they say it? And can you give them what they ask?
What does that have to do with Gordon B. White’s second collection of short stories, the curiously-titled Gordon B. White is creating Haunting Weird Horror(s)? A treat for the reader, a trick by the writer…or do I have it backwards? Either way: fifteen stories where White shows you so much of both that you figure it has to be some kind of holiday, so why not go with the one of All Hallow’s Eve, since it fits the subject matter? Not that these are specifically Halloween-y stories—weird horror is what he calls most of it, though when White goes Goth, as he does in the witchingly toxic “From October Vines,” you better clutch those funeral shrouds tight lest they be blown asunder.
‘Weird’, in this case, means both Twilight Zone-esque situation shifts but also White simply being himself, a writer who seems to know exactly how to aim with each story here. Does he want to haunt? To terrify? To gross the fuck out? To mystify? The inventive mode of the collection is set immediately with the title story, a second-person voiced fever dream of a reader’s haunting that perfectly exorcizes the modern scribbler’s hustling lifestyle, desperation shining from their Bluesky profile pic. White reels you in with jokes as carefully measured as the distance between burial plots, he also makes you a complicit witness to some pretty terrible suffering. That certainly doesn’t stop with “One of the Good Ones; Or, It’s a Gas!” which firmly plants a proud ACAB flag atop police union grievances from the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020. From there, things get really strange with the epic battles of “Godhead”, the eco-horror of “Dandelion Six”, and the other second-voice driven story of an overly possessive house in “The Forever Home”. White pushes on in his stories asking yet another what if? as his paragraphs build what this mad scribe desires: a joke worthy of a fable in “A Song like Laughter”, the hopeless optimism of “What a Piece of Work”’s Frankenstein riff, the hundred-word fairy tale nightmare of “Hearth and Home”. White writes them all, both tricks and treats.
I certainly read for both, so let me look at it another way, this time through the shiny wires that are hooked throughout the story “Junippy Paw.” Centered on a couple’s disintegrating relationship and family baggage with the added wrinkle of a cabin-in-the-woods setting, White fearlessly lays out both tricks and treats. The writing is assertive, the tone firmly cantering toward dread, and both characters are pushing the action; the wires of this folk horror tale are taunt and true.
So let’s follow one silvery strand and really dig into what kind of treats White’s designed with his tricks, eh? (MILD SPOILERS AHEAD) To begin on point, the flashing wires of “Junippy Paw” are steel fishing line tied to a barbed hook. As a tool of torment, it matches quite well with the Cenobite’s hooked chains from Barker’s The Hellbound Heart (1986). The riddle of Joe’s grandfather’s cabin is as impenetrable as the Lemarchand puzzle box, which means the solution is equally damning. White’s horror story features an implacable knot of co-dependancy, a trick and a treat in either order for the reader, and damaging for all by the story’s conclusion.
Whites does swift work in laying out the situation. He sketches a troubling relationship between the narrator and the melancholically attractive Joe while building the setting of the cabin in the woods and a mysteriously deceased grandfather. Horror story tropes challenged by unhealthy relationships. Things are dour enough, where violence could be a way of breaking up, but then White turns out the lights and opens the door for whatever lives in the forest. It’s a treat for horror fans, both new and jaded. The narrator of “Junippy Paw” discovers the limits of her knowledge on the couple’s first night at the cabin:
“I stood there, understanding yet still not comprehending what I saw. So absorbing was the sight that it took a moment to realize the prancing on the roof had stopped. It wasn’t silent, but after the cacophony from above, Joe’s whimpers were like the drips of rain from the eaves after a storm has moved on. Or, I later realized, when one is in its eye.”
Eye of the storm, eye of the fishhook. A Fisherman as well as a Fisher-of-Men. Food, but also the sport, eh? Will Graham in his endgame telling Jack Crawford, “I’m a pretty good fisherman,” while his mind palace carries corpses downstream. The hook of the fisherman Ben Willis, also seeing himself as a force of justice. From those hooked wires, we can look to the big bad fishing with them, a being just as profane as The Priest with as many connotations. Folk horror, after all, is a form of blasphemy that happens closer to the treeline instead of The Labyrinth, and this particular curse upon the land draws from the elemental terror of stories like “The Toe” from Alvin Schwatz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. One of the original oral jump scare stories with antecedents throughout the southeastern US as well as in the Brothers Grimm, “The Toe” works through repetition and escalation, exactly what our fracturing couple endure each night of their backwoods nightmare. Any horror story that works in those oral elements has to be bold in its storytelling to make them stick for the campfire listeners, and White’s ensured that this one easily works. Fans of Adam Nevill’s work, take note.
To start following the wire back to our setting (and an end to this tirade) the setting is another treat for the horror reader: the cabin in the woods, with all the verve of Evil Dead but this time tied with familial wires instead of occult chanting. Much like Deadites and Cenobites, folk horrors have their own set of rules tied to their location. “Junippy Paw”’s cabin acts as both an isolated and isolating location, it being where they sleep but also where unbelievable horrors occur—and the work must continue during the day, with all the complications of faded love.
In terms of that violence, asides from the Hellraiser chains (bravo 2022 version!) the wire trace through Saw 3D’s *gulp silence trap, but that’s a speedbump compared to the horror of Phil’s puppeteered body being strung along to its demise in Nightmare 3’s Dream Warriors. There’s certainly some folk horror elements to Freddy’s origins, despite the urban setting, and Jigsaw delighted in ritual cleansing. Their horror, like the folk kind found by our couple, is repetitively tormenting: teenagers will always dream, people will want to play games they’re destined to lose, and a large black dogs spell doom. Night after night White has his characters hear a sound, knowing what it is, terrified, and makes us feel the same, thanks to the spectacle of White’s weird horror.
Gordon B. White is creating Haunting Weird Horror(s)
From Gordon B. White, finalist for the Shirley Jackson and Bram Stoker Awards, come fifteen tales of evocative prose and unparalleled imagination. From spirit-possessed postcards in the award-nominated title story to the eco-terror of “Dandelion Six” and riot-fueled nightmare of “One of the Good Ones,” the armed invasion of a deity’s corpse in “Godhead” and a drink with the damned in “Devil Take Me,” these stories are haunted by weird ghosts and contemporary horrors.
“These are stunning and provocative stories, full of surprises.” —Brian Everson, author of The Glassy Burning Floor of Hell
“Gordon B. White is in a genre-genus by himself, unclassifiable, breathtaking and beautiful all at once.” —Clay McLeod Chapman, author of Ghost Eaters
“Absolutely one of my favorite horror authors working today; I’ll read whatever he writes.” —Keith Rosson, author of Fever House