Reader, welcome back. I’m so glad you could join me. I’ve something to show you, over there: Yes that cover. I’m referring to those empty eyes, pierced with an impenetrable blackness, and that pallid face like fossilized and hardened skin.
Now before you sit down, and I get to rambling off. Nowadays that’s really all I do anyway. I’ll tell you: quick and fast – that if you’re wondering if you should read this volume, Ugly Little Things: Volume One, written by that strange fellow Todd Keisling – then yes, you should. That Todd Keisling’s a brilliant mind. I’d put him right up there with the best, anyday.
In fact, now, I’ll do the nice thing right here, and tell you I rated this volume a 4.5/5. Aren’t I a gentleman? See here? Really reader, you’re too kind. You don’t even half to finish reading beyond this point if you don’t want to. And the reason for that is quite simple.
If you like horror, disturbed and captivating characters – and whether you’re a babe or an old-timer in the genre — you’ll treasure this here read. That’s all there is to it. Hey! Off with those shoes. I just shampooed the damn carpet!
Do I still have your attention? Let’s start with this here cover. Scroll back up if you have to. Look at it. Now…
Do you see what I see? the beauty of this ugly little thing? Look here. I’ve an excerpt for you, by the hearth: the story of those black and staring eyes. Even those eyes have a story, and those shadows looming behind them? Yes, they’ve a story too.
I should have known. How can I show you any words without my specks? It reminds me of someone’s father, though I’m failing to remember who exactly. He’d been talking to his little girl: a sweet and troubled little thing. I remember what they said like it happened just on yesterday.
A dull blade won’t cut anything, honey.
“We’ll see, Daddy.”
-From When Karen Met Her Mountain (sub-rated 4.5/5)
When Karen Met Her Mountain is the second story is Todd Keisling’s collection of short stories, Ugly Little Things: Volume One. It maintains the pace of the first story, and follows a woman walking through the Arizona Desert. She’s covered in blood and humoring the thoughts of her deceased Father.
What we see, walking with Karen, is a world blanketed in pale sun. Keisling follows her suffering and what it’s done to change who she is: how it’s taken her to blackened depths and left her sharpening her nails. I’ll be frank. Karen scares me more than her opposition.
But that’s enough about that. You didn’t come here to hear about Karen. You’ve come to hear about this book’s cover, am I right? Isn’t that a lovely picture? Look here, on this page. I’ve been wanting to read this to you since you came in. Listen:
The lake stretched out before them, its shores lined with the cars and trucks of other lucky listeners. The moon shimmered on those gentles waters, looking back at her like a single pale eye.
-From Radio Free Nowhere (sub-rated 4.5/5)
Radio Free Nowhere is the first story in the volume. And I’ll be goddamned if it doesn’t choke you for air early. Here we follow Ashely, driving down a lonely and quiet interstate. She has company, and maybe that’s half the problem.
The trouble starts when she hears a song: a song so beautiful it’s painful. Surely you can relate: when a song touches you deep inside: and its finger is cold and wet, yet you shudder to make it stop. It tears you apart, ripping you up the seam…
And yet you smile.
Look at me, rambling again. I see that look you’re giving me. Forget it. Maybe music only moves me, anyway. You’ve come here about the cover. How bout I make you a deal? And by God don’t say the devil made me do it. You know one time I was at a red-light, tapping Ring of Fire on the steering wheel. Next to me there was a boy and his grandma talking.
“Penny for your thoughts?”
“Still thinking about the Devil.”
-From Saving Granny from the Devil (Sub-rated 4/5)
Saving Granny from the Devil comes forward in black and white with burn-spots from the classical formula it was birthed from. It’s about a contract with Lucifer, and the darkness that comes with it, haunting Todd as he deals with his Grandmother’s deteriorating health.
From the beginning, and staring with a handshake between boy and demon, Todd’s life shifts as he questions what he knows about Christianity. But as his Granny slips away, the pact becomes something more insidious: something that gives the devil a face that looks like someone you might know.
Oh, so you’ve never thought about making a deal with the devil? not for money, or for booze or nothing? Fine. That’s all right. Frankly, I think you’re lying, but pick up that book. Bring it here.
That’s a doll on that there cover – and I won’t try to change your mind but look here. The man sold me that book told me this. He said:
You never know Mr. Proust. Dalton has a way of changing a man’s mind. Maybe Miss Maggie will make a doll just for you.
-From The Harbinger (Sub-rated 4.5/5)
As the final story in the volume, The Harbinger doesn’t stray away much; it stays put, in the same rank and putrid air as the other tales. It brings you to Dalton, West Virginia, where there are more dolls than children: where people amble on with lifeless and empty eyes.
Felix is our guide: a divorced man with baggage. He’s lost his appetite because the town’s within nose-shot of a pig farm. Year’s before he’d drink it off, drowning his misfortune in liquor. But he’s a different man: more in control, more responsible.
So responsible, in fact, he pushed himself deeper into Dalton. He needed to know why where there were dolls there was the stench of pig shit; he needed to know why the church was sealed up, and why the smell was so much worse there.
But of course, not before he bought his own doll.
Ugly little Things: Volume One single-handedly restored my faith for horror: not only as a genre, but as a literary vehicle of exploration. There is substance in each of these tales that clings to your skin in sticky clumps. It knows what disturbs you and compels you to press on anyway.
And despite its shortcomings, which are really too insubstantial to name, (and really more relative to each story’s plot anyway) Todd Keisling has crafted a gem I’d gladly place in the pantheon of masterpieces. This is no longer literature but heart-wrenching and impressionistic art.
So yeah, about that cover. Isn’t it grand to look at? Doesn’t it chill you and yet sooth you as you sleep? The cover by itself tells a more intriguing story than most of the horror I’ve read. So git on. Git, take it with you.
It’s too beautiful for me.
Final Rating: 4.5/5
About The Author: S.T. King is an aspiring novelist with a ravenous appetite for the dark, and an insatiable thirst for the ink of the fantastique. Currently he’s a mental health counselor, helping people purge the skeletons from their closets – though admittedly, he thinks it’s more fun putting them back in.