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Dark Demons
Tales of Possession, Obsession and Unnatural Desire
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-132-5
Genre: Dark Fantasy/Supernatural/Horror
eBook Length: 255 Pages
Published: April 2004

From inside the flap

Dark Demons: Tales of Obsession, Possession, and Unnatural Desire

They are the places we refuse to visit, but can?t help but feel drawn there. They are the thoughts we avoid thinking, but in the end they take over our minds. They are the desires that unknowingly burrow into our hearts and infect the rest of our lives. They are the demons found in Dark Demons, a collection of sixteen stories that reveal the personal horrors of characters possessed by loss and obsessed by their own fears and failures. From the extremes of the overtly erotic and the savagely brutal to the subtleties of the melancholy and macabre, these stories offer up a glimpse into the darkest mirror possible: the human psyche.

Dark Demons (Excerpt)

Choking to Death:

Musings on Kurt Newtonís Dark Demons

Michael A. Arnzen

Itís inevitable.

Thereís a story in here thatís going to get you.  Its irony will be cruel and perfect and its violence will disturb you very deeply. And in the end, its dark lessons will unflinchingly confront the deeper truths about what it means to be human in a world full of lost angels and devils driven to find you.

Thereís at least one story in here that will catch you off guard and make you stand up and take notice of Kurt Newton.  I don?t know which one it will be.  It very well might be them all, knocking you against the wall in one tight shotgun blast.  After all, this book is filled to the brim with well-written horror fiction, crafted the way itís supposed to be crafted:  to get you.  Whether supernatural or psychologically driven, you?ll discover that a Kurt Newton story always gets you in the end.  All of the stories in Dark Demons have very tightly knit plots, each as well composed as a finely crafted noose.  And if horror is, as some have argued, a way of anticipating and preparing for oneís own demise, then this collection lays out such nooses like a fine tailor might hold neckties over his arm, giving ample time for you to sample your death.  As you read, you might feel a little bit like trying each one on for size, admiring the artistic coloring here, or the unique fabric choice there.  All of them threaten to choke you, but you like the way the rope burns your neck as you test each of them out.  The scratchy loops of the knot are tighter than your muscles and the hemp is just hairy enough to make you perfectly uncomfortable.  You think, ah, this one will do the trick, this is a fine device for strangulation, but then the thrill of trying out the next one is just too much, so you keep reading, you keep turning the pages, you keep testing out the tales.  During this bizarre shop visit, it is inevitable that one of the stories will open a trap door beneath your feet when you least expect it and snap your neck quicker than a Vlassic pickle.

Maybe it?ll be the surreal little number about the skinned face.  Or the supernatural yarn about the man who places cross ornaments at the scene of accidents before they happen.  Or the one about the, um, "starving" artist whose "materials" are rather unique and costly.  Maybe it?ll be the fantastically imagined torture device of "The Mole Trap" (somehow reminiscent of one of my favorite Kafka stories, "In a Penal Colony").  Or the sneaky delivery of "Puppies for Sale."

Oh, all right already.  I?ll confess.  For me, the tale that delivered the deathblow was the sadistic "Butter Red and Diamond Eyes."  This story really caught me off guard.  Like the rope on Farqhuarís neck in Ambrose Bierceís "Owl Creek Bridge," I didn?t see it coming.

"Butter Red" is an unflinching tale of torture that will leave even the most splatworn of horror fans feeling violated and disturbed.  Be warned: this tale is not for the softhearted novice horror reader, bred on R.L. Stine as a baby.  This is the stuff for kids who had Pinhead action figures, at best.  But, seriously, this is no-holds barred NC-17 horror fiction, the stuff the Moral Majority would warn people about.  You?ll be subjected to brutal images of torture and rape and piercing.  It will make you nauseous.  And then you will wonder why other writers working in the short story genre aren?t this freaking good at making you squirm.

"Butter Red" reminds me a lot of early Clive Barker ? back when he was making a name for himself as a short story writer.  I?ll never forget the delightful repulsion I felt when I read Barkerís story "Dread" ? or the insane "YES!" I shouted aloud at the scene where the imprisoned vegetarian succumbs to her progressive starvation and finally eats the steak thatís been sitting beside her, and slowly rotting into a fuzzy green piece of leather, all along.  A perfectly imagined horror scene.  My belly churned when I read it, because Barker caught me with the brutal irony of the moment, and I thought, "YES! This is exactly what horror is supposed to do!"  Thatís a feeling I haven?t experienced much since, but like all true fans of the genre, I always harbor a hope to re-experience it whenever I begin reading a new tale.  Recapturing that uncanny sensation is why I keep reading (and writing) horror after so many years.  "Butter Red" gave me one of those unforgettable moments in its climax.  Kurt Newtonís story is grotesquely perfect.  It horrifies the back brain.  Repulses the front.  It will offend everyone.  The grotesque, however, is but one element of the method of Newtonís madness:  no matter what story you?re reading, it all leads to the trap door, the one which gets the shockwaves bounding off the interior walls of your skull...not to stupefy you into braindeath, but to stimulate you into deep, significant thought.

Itís a brilliant technique.  "Butter Red" ? whose plot floored me even more than its brutal depiction of gory torture ? really got me thinking and rethinking about the story and my relation to the horror genre.  I don?t want to give it away, but when you?re finished reading it, and your heart has finally settled back down, I ask that you think carefully about the various positions that the narrator and the villains and victims occupy in relation to one another.  And then I ask you to think about your own position in the mix, if you haven?t already.  Who do you identify with the most?  Are you the victim, the bound witness, or the one behind the glass?  And who are you at the end of the story?  (For you certainly are no longer the same as you were before you entered.)

Another reason that "Butter Red" works so well is because Newton is a poet as much as he is a fiction writer ? and heís got the publications to prove it.  He has a way with words that is at once eloquent and ? again ? surprising.  And he can?t repress it.  His language pulls you in and makes you want to continue reading, despite any repulsion or apprehension you might be feeling.  Right from the get-go in "Butter Red," a manís bludgeoning becomes "an explosion of lights, a chrysanthemum shower igniting the back of his skull."  When he recovers, he awakens to "a door knocker throb" in his head, complete with "a matte of blood and hair and disrupted skin swell[ing] the side of his face like a heavy bandage."  These are the metaphors of a gifted writer, a dark poet, one who not only knows what pain feels like, but also how to make you feel it, too.  Through language alone.  That takes a lot of courage and talent.

I?m sure "Butter Red" will gross a few readers out so much they won?t bother finishing it.  But that would be a shame.  "Butter Red" is only one radical story among many true gems; the others are equally horrifying (if not so repulsive).  The important point I want to make about "Butter Red," though, is that it attests to Newtonís unflinching imagination.  He isn?t afraid to go there ? to that dark place where only the best of horror writers go.  Itís a place where the nightmare engine is fueled.  Itís a place deep inside, where mirrors and light and sometimes rusty scalpels are necessary equipment to stir the dark demons to unrest.  Itís a place where oneís hands get mucky and wet.  Itís a place as big as the universe shoved into a corner.  People get lost in there all the time.  But itís a place where the horror writer dances and returns afterward to tell his twisted little tales.  Newtonís been mapping out that universe for you for years ? this book is an early draft.  And there will be sequels to come, I am certain.

Newton pulls it all off even when you know how the story is going to end.  Thatís why I say itís inevitable.  Newtonís talent is keeping the reader pinned to the page, even if they know where itís going...or, sometimes, especially because they know where the plot is headed.  And itís usually headed straight into hell.  Destiny plays a huge role in the stories collected here.  Characters are set on a path that seems predetermined, whether by a supernatural agent, or by a madmanís punishment, or by a protagonistís own unhealthy obsessions.  The endings are ill-fated; the omens foreshadowing them everywhere.  We know whatís going to happen, even if it isn?t a conscious knowledge.  But we keep reading, holding out hope or holding out for that eleventh hour turn of the screw, where something new and unexpected pops up like O. Henry from out of a twisted bachelor party cake, wielding a chainsaw.  In Kurt Newtonís stories, that "something new" might be as subtle as a characterís epiphany and his subsequent acceptance of his fate. Or it might be as obvious (but unanticipated) as a sudden visit from the living dead, returning to exact a much-deserved revenge.

The story that really brings all this home is "The Pit" ? one of the best stories in the batch that ends in just the way I?ve been describing.  The story appeared originally in a book called Poddities, an anthology inspired by Jack Finneyís Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  But here Newton more properly approaches the style of Ray Bradburyís "The Crowd" in its progressive movement toward an inevitable conclusion, where one man succumbs to join the mass mindset.  Indeed, the storyís obsession with a gathering on the side of the road is straight out of Bradbury.  The narratorís compulsion to join the growing "crowd" of others is ill fated.  Once we?re a part of that crowd, though, Newton doesn?t stop:  he peers over the edge into the sublime pit of all of our destinies.  You?ll see.  You?ll know how itís going to end about three-quarters through, but the way that Newton pulls this number off is remarkably surprising.  Itís a wonderful allegory for the human condition.  And itís a beautifully creepy story.

Reading this collection, I am struck by the sheer range of Newtonís talent.  I?ve said he has the talent of a poet ? a mastery over language on its most fundamental and primal level.  But he can also weave quite a vast array of different story types ? from the novella length "The Bleeding of Mary Cross" (which builds tension supremely well) to the short surrealist piece, "The Face" (which uses sound effects interestingly and also manages to remind me of Borges for some odd reason).  A novel surely is in the offering from Newton in the future ? and when it happens, watch out.  He can write a supernatural story to rival the best of the classics (as in "Angels of Mercy, Angels of Grief"), a soft horror tale ("Puppies for Sale"), sadomasochistic fiction ("Butter Red"), erotic horror ("In the Name of Love"), and even dabble in new blended genres (like the hard-boiled crime/horror piece, "The Mole Trap" ? a "noirror" story at its finest, if such nomenclature exists). 

In all of these stories, whether supernatural motives are at work or not, Newton probes the psyches of his characters in deep ways, earning empathy and understanding, or hatred and loathing, at every turn.  "The Mothering Hole," for example, might offend some feminists ? but the longer one sits with it, the more one realizes that this story is an exposure of the conceits behind male fantasies.  Which is another way of saying that thereís a psychological depth to these tales which is fascinating.  In "The Banana Man" ? the least horrifying of the tales in this batch, but all the more disturbing because of this fact ? a man approaches madness in a way that anyone who grew up in the TV generation can understand.  And in virtually all of these stories, the primary motivation is loss:  mostly the loss of a loved one, but also the deprivation of identity, the waning of personal values or cultural morality, or the sheer depletion of faith in the face of so much artifice.  The symbolic loss of "Work of Art," should be self-evident; but it also stands as a way of understanding what it is that Newton is doing throughout this collection with his own artwork.  Heís depicting men who have reached the end of their ropes, and hopes, and in the process open a trapdoor into the realm of otherness.

Heís going to that dark place and getting his hands dirty again.

Heís busily tying knots in umbilical cords and intestine.

And heís gonna give you just enough slimy rope to hang yourself, too.

Itís inevitable.

Lean forward to get a better look.