“Full Moon Shindig” by Patrick C. Harrison III (2021 Splatterpunk Awards)

VsiceralFrom Visceral: Collected Flesh (a book that is also up for Best Collection) comes this story of a young army recruit, Travis, who returns home after months of training and revisits some old acquaintances. The friends in question are a hedonistic lot, sharing an existence of drink, drugs and sex, and their individual traits are sketched in with quick descriptions.

Chandler presides over the gathering at his home while his parents are out; Franco brags about sexual conquests that may or may not have happened; Stan is a stoner who masturbates to porn films in full view of the others; Sofia hangs around the house naked from the waist down; Britney, who enjoys filming the grosser goings-on; Lance is introduced snorting cocaine; and rounding off the group is Gwen, Travis’ old high-school fling and Chandler’s current girlfriend.

The story sets up a contrast between the discipline of Travis’ new army life and the aimless lives of his friends – although, since almost nothing of Travis’ experience at Fort Worth is described, the aimlessness is far more pronounced. He shows little affection for his social circle – white powder on their noses, white globs down their legs – yet still spends time with them in hopes of finding some sexual action:

I don’t much like Corona, but that’s the only beer they have, apparently. I pop the top on the edge of the counter and follow Franco down the hall. Gwen, Britney, and Sofia follow me. I wonder who fucked Sofia. And was it just one guy, or two or three more? If I asked, she would probably happily tell me, then maybe offer sloppy fifteenths to me. Maybe later.

The mood switches from listlessness to unease when Franco produces Chandler’s dog and begins playing with it in an overtly sexual manner while the others watch. In turn, unease gives way to outright horror when Travis visits the games room, where Chandler is keeping a naked teenage girl

bound to a pool table. Drunken partygoers male and female alike join in her abuse, motives ranging from lust to revenge. To Chandler, the girl is “just some chick”; to Gwen, she is a rival: “her name is Sara Hamilton and she thinks she’s the fucking homecoming queen.”

There comes a twist after this. It would be impossible to describe without giving away the story’s ending, but suffice to say that it involves adding not just more horror to the narrative but a different kind of horror, one that turns out to be diametrically opposed to the banal form of evil represented by the girl’s torture: the story climaxes with two varieties of horror to go head-to-head.

“Full Moon Shindig” captures both a very “now” sense of jaded nihilism and an old-school horror philosophy straight out of EC Comics. In doing so, it shows that even the most familiar horror standards still have life – rather more life than the mindlessly carnal world of Travis’ friends, in fact.

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