Book Review: In That Endlessness, Our End by Gemma Files | More2Read
 

In That Endlessness, Our End by Gemma Files


 


 

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About In That Endlessness, Our End:

 

COME CLOSER, FRIEND. LET ME TELL YOU A STORY.

Heard the one about the Airbnb that eats your dreams or the iron-crowned king who preys on his own bloodline from the air, still smoldering centuries after being burnt alive? How about the cloudy antique bottle you can wish your excess rage inside, or that crooked alley down which something waits to replace your disappointing child with a far more pleasant facsimile? We all know the truth, especially in times like these-in an anxiety-ridden, sleepless world such as ours, it’s only ever our very worst dreams that come true. Here streets empty out and people pull themselves apart like amoebas, breeding murderous doppelgangers from their own flesh; houses haunt, ideas possess and a cold and alien moon stares down, whispering that it’s time to spawn. New myths rise and ancient evils descend. From the seemingly mundane terrors of a city just like yours to all the most dark and distant places of a truly terrible universe, nothing is as it seems…not even that dimly-recalled cinematic memory you’ve been chasing all these years, the one you think might be just something you stumbled upon while flipping through channels after midnight. The one that still disturbs you enough to raise a cold sweat all over your body, whenever you try to will its details clear.

Hot on the heels of her 2018 This Is Horror Award-winning short story collection Spectral Evidence, critically horror author Gemma Files compiles fifteen more of her most startling recent nightmares-a creepily seductive downward spiral of dark poetry and existential dread, entirely suitable to the slow apocalypse going on all around us. So take your mind off your troubles and send it somewhere the rules still operate, if only to punish those who violate them.

 


 

Praise For In That Endlessness, Our End:

This electrifying collection of 15 horror shorts from Files (Spectral Evidence) seeks out the hidden pockets of terror in everyday life… Files maintains a sense of dread throughout with taut, unflinching prose sprinkled with touches of gore. Files’s monsters peer out from the periphery of reality, creating a sense of lurking horror and existential dread. This atmospheric collection will have even the most seasoned horror readers considering sleeping with the lights on.
Publisher’s Weekly, Starred Review

 

Praise For Gemma Files Past Works:

 

“Gemma Files’s stories are always so smart and humane, and overwhelm the reader with a true sense of wonder, awe, and horror. She is, simply put, one of the most powerful and unique voices in weird fiction today.”
—Paul Tremblay, author of The Cabin at the End of the World

“When we speak of the best in contemporary horror and weird fiction, we must speak of Gemma Files.”
—Laird Barron, author of Worse Angels

“Gemma Files has one of the great dark imaginations in fiction—visionary, transgressive, and totally original.”
—Jeff VanderMeer, author of the Southern Reach trilogy

“Nobody in a Gemma Files story puts a hand on a doorknob and opens the door they shouldn’t—these folks are already in the other side. And that’s to my taste.”
—Paula Guran, senior editor for Prime Books

“Horror, the way Gemma Files writes it—wielding her words and her images deftly as a straight razor, slicing so surely that the reader isn’t even aware that the protective skin of his imagination has opened into two neatly divided flaps, [with] a few seconds of red grace before the pain comes and the screaming begins.”
—Michael Rowe, author of Enter Night: A Novel

“Boldly, brazenly, Gemma Files pushes her hands deep into the red and seeping unconscious places and finds the bits of treasure worth pulling back out into the light.”
—Caitlín R. Kiernan, author of Houses Under the Sea

“Files’ prose is terse and muscular yet highly poetic. Her stories are equally full of pain and humanity, injustice and solace. And they enter your brain like a spike between the eyes.”
—Dale L. Sproule, Rue Morgue Magazine

“Gemma Files writes dirty, which in her deft hands is a good thing. At her best, she combines an intense, internalized narrative perspective with moments of jaw-dropping horror, perversion, or sexiness, and frequently all three in the one image or scene.”
—Mike O’Driscoll, The Fix

“Her work may leave you breathless. It could awaken realms within. At times you may sit stunned, wondering at the richness of writing, reconnecting to the reasons you have always loved to read.”
—Nancy Kilpatrick, author of Thrones of Blood

“Traditionally, those horror protagonists who catch sight even briefly of the naked malevolence of the world tend to die, go mad, or forget what they have seen. But Files offers a fourth alternative: meaningful survival, accepting responsibility for those around you, getting on with your chosen work. You might think of it as optimistic nihilism. This renewed sense of what horror fiction can do will resonate deeply for readers who find themselves overwhelmed by the increasingly prominent and disturbing images of the real world.”
—Helen Marshall, Los Angeles Review of Books

 


 

Review

 

Narratives edging on the periphery through fissures of existence.
Conjuring, communicating and translating the unfixed, the cosmic, and the terrifying, vivid interjections at intersections and further on. Gemma Files a very capable conductor of the uncanny and a cacophony of things, executing with intimate and ominous poetic prose, transmuting the myriad via a trajectory with a phantasmagoric experience.
All the right details no words wasted precision storytelling.

There was Shirley Jackson, there is Stephen King and now there is Gemma Files.
You may have watched a series of movies like Midsommar, Hereditary, and Mandy, shows like Haunting of Hill House and The Outsider. You are wondering which books or stories may evoke in a better way, this is you ticket to existential terror In that endlessness, be our end story collection.

 

The Stories reviewed briefly with notable excerpts:

 

This Is How It Goes

She has telemarketing job and loves to check out weird threads on a creeptracker website and then all matters morph into “Just agony, nightmare fugue, and then a corpse” kind of affair.
Fight or flight whole new overload with murder on the forefront of the mind, an adrenaline ride steering you into topsy turvy situation in Toronto.

“It was roughly twenty-four hours before the Split hit Toronto, and I was back online, where I spent most of my days then. I worked from home, my mom’s basement—a virtual telemarketing job, Skype-routed from my home number through a call center in New Delhi and back again.”

 

Bulb

 

Is the man crazy on a radio show on the call?
There is a problem with the bulb where he is calling.
He is off the grid, with anonymity, an alias, and burner phone.
He had his reasons.
Read this tale to find out.

“I cut my own firewood, I buy oil supplies for lanterns and candles. Reading is the only entertainment I have. And when I’m too tired to read, I shut off the lantern and I sit in the dark, and the quiet, until I can fall asleep. Because the grid is a web, a network of energies. Of ghosts. And things live in it, waiting for food. Hunting. Like spiders. I mean, maybe I’m being paranoid. Maybe that thing was as ass-dumb as a chicken itself. But if it wasn’t… if it remembers there’s stuff here to eat and at least one meal escaped… it might come looking.”

“If we do live in the bubble I think we do, then the single best thing I can do is not poke more holes in it than I have to. Maybe it’s temporary and futile; maybe the bubble’s going to collapse anyway, one day. Maybe we’ll all become nothing more than parts of the same EM spectrum we’re living off of, energy reduced to its lowest thermodynamic denominator, constantly preyed upon, consumed without ever being destroyed. And in that endlessness will be our end, an ouroboros knot, forever tied and untying—no heaven, no hell. Just the circuit, eternally casting off energy, the sparks that move this awful world.”

 

The Puppet Motel

 

Seen the strings and heard the beckoning.
Have you?
Loren, The teller of all in this narrative has.
Screams too, collecting and cataloging, so you are not alone.
Resonating at 30 Hertz catch if you can
Yes indeed everything I am reading of Loren’s words in “cursor-blinking, eyestrain-saving black on white”
may have taken place.
Book a night at the Puppet Motel where Loren worked as cleaner and keeper of keys.
Uncanny enthralling visceral enquiry on porous dark places, and The Puppet Motel.

“Sometimes, if we don’t watch out, we might slip inside a crack between moments and see that there’s an ebb and flow under everything we’ve been told is real, a current that moves the world—the invisible strings which pull us, spun from some source we’ll never trace. Sometimes we can be forced by circumstance to see that there’s a hand in the darkness, just visible if we squint, outstretched towards us: upside-down and angled, palm and fingers curved to flutter enticingly, waving us on. The universal sign for come closer, my darling, come closer.
And sometimes, when things get particularly bad, we may suddenly find ourselves able to hear the steady hum under the world’s noise, an electrically charged tone far too light to be static, yet too faint to be a crackle; a thin bone whistle reaching through the walls, almost too faint to register. Rising and falling like the breath behind words you can almost make out, if we only try.
That out flung hand, beckoning us on; that unseen mouth, smiling. All the while telling us, without words, its voice the merest whisper in our singing blood: come here, love—my sweet one, my other, come. Don’t be afraid. Come here to me, to my call.
That tone—that beckoning—is one I’ve heard far more often than I’d like to admit, mainly because I just keep on hearing it, even though I don’t want to. It’s louder than you’d think, especially once you’re no longer able not to concentrate on it… so much so it makes it hard to sleep or work or dream. Sometimes, it gets so loud I’m afraid I might actually start wanting to answer.”

“When people ask me what I do for fun, for a hobby, here’s what I often want to say: that there’s a scream that moves around the world, and I follow it. That it’s always been there, buried under everything else, all that static and noise and mess we call ordinary life—blowing high and dim, a wind no one else around me ever seems to hear.”

“And it’s like I’m mapping the edges of something invisible, something which exists on a completely different wavelength, an inhuman frequency; I’d never catch a glimpse of it otherwise, except through compilation, running the numbers.”

“That’s why telling the story or being willing to listen to someone else’s version—this story, or ones just like it—can sometimes feel like enough, though mainly because it has to be; because there’s simply no other option. Because what I’ve learned is that our world is far more porous than it seems… full of dark places, thin places, weak places, bad places. Places where things peer in from whatever far larger, deeper darkness surrounds us, whatever macro-verse whose awful touch we may feel on occasion yet simply can’t perceive otherwise, not while using our sadly limited human senses.”

“Like a spider’s web-filaments, tugged on from afar, tempting in a fly. Like some invisible puppeteer’s strings.”

 

Come Closer

A dream diary one keeps.
Not me.
Insomnia one battles.
Maybe.
She is an intern and telling the reader about a familiar weird house.
Ominous and unnerving tale with intimate prose on close things to be told.

“—the next room’s smaller, and the next, and the next. Smaller and more silent. You’re getting further, not closer. You can’t hear her anymore, or Joe. You can’t hear anything but your own heart, banging at your ribs like a crazed bird caged in bone. Feel its claws, it’s beak: that’s your fear, made flesh. It’s going to eat you alive, from inside-out.
You turn or try to. Fight your way from a room into a corridor, a nook, a cranny. Open the last knob onto what seems like barely a closet, then pivot to find the door has nothing inside it at all—that there is no door, no frame or hinges, barely a seam. The plaster simply sealed over behind you, around you, like a fold of scar, a cocoon.”

 

Cut Frame

One Dr. Tadeusz Jankiewicz of Toronto, a dentist, is being interviewed about his investment in a movie The Torc.
He is a fan of Tamar Dusk and as the transcript goes on he talks about his working with Tamar and the director and being involved with the movie.
“We should probably start with the basics. You’re the primary investor and only currently living producer credited on IMDb for The Torc, directed by Niall Quent and released in 1973.”
Before you look up Tamar Dusk there is no such noir or horror b movie actress.
No Dusk curse.
But Mr Dentist begs to differ.
There was the Exorcist curse and Poltergeist curse.

Many do not like moths, the description of one here might just possibly plague quieter minutes.
Beware, nightmares may be injected with whole new ingredient.
Actress with relation to cults, folklore and mythology contained.
Show me an altar then I will envision the flock.
Evidences presented point to disturbing goings on possibly passed.

 

Sleep Hygiene

Sleep problems and ways of fixing them with help of tablets and a map but there is something insidious intercepting her dreams down down down to something.
The main character tells of her time in existential terror.

“Anyhow. My doctor had told me I couldn’t go on much longer this way without damaging myself irreparably, and I agreed, having no other option. So off to Gracie I was sent, for lessons in what her employers at the Sleep Habits Clinic apparently called sleep hygiene.”

“Peering around, eyes narrowed; feeling the sun on my face, the wind at my back, a fresh cool breeze with the mounting chill of deeper shadow barely hidden underneath. And thinking, while I did: I know this place, though I very palpably do not know this place, not in any way, shape or form… feel deep in my soul that I’ve been here before, even as I know for a fact that I’ve never been here at all.
Ridiculous. No one had ever been there, I realized later, back in the waking world. Because that place didn’t exist, had never existed. I was—
—almost sure.”

“Could almost feel the words graze me all over like snakeskin or a poison tongue: a lack of voice, almost too alien to organize itself into words. Yet hearing them nonetheless, if only in some highly primitive way—tasting, smelling their most basic meaning, borne on a burnt-skin stink-wave. Reading them out loud and translating from a foreign language, even as they carved themselves, stroke by cauterized stroke, into my mind’s soft meat.”

 

Always after three

Pregnant and the apartment had a rancid peculiar smell certain time of the night always after 3 then follows,“First the smell, then the music. Now this.”
No one wants to be in same position as this couple with baby on the way and that smell to track it’s ominous source.

“There’s always a story if you stop to listen, always a thread winding around things if you stoop down to look more closely, trailing off into the distance, ready for you to follow. Always a hand just waiting to take yours whenever you reach out in darkness, to grab on fast and hold on tight, never letting go. To yank you headlong out of your comfort zone and strand you somewhere else entirely, forever.”

 

Thin Cold Hands

She tells of a memory distance but true and vivid when she was young involving a crawlspace and a coffin with bones.
Bones of a deadly creation that have once traversed the skies.
Reader is grateful they do not exist in our 2020 but may plague ones nightmares.
Terrible beauty of a short.

“Instead, night after night, I shut my eyes and drift off only to discover I’m back in the dark, the dust, that symphony of too-familiar noises: scratch of claws through wood shavings as my long-dead rat skitters around in his cage, exercise wheel whirring against the bars; weird clang and hoarse, throaty hum of the furnace starting up, down deep in the basement’s bowels. Hot air exhaling through the vents, rank as some sleeping monster’s breath.
It feels like being swallowed, always, still alive. Swallowed but never digested.”

 

Venio

Four people, writers and a blank page, and with drawing of closed door they draw they write what is behind it. What a great exercise. Let the challenge/ritual begin.
Thus is how it begins the voice in this tale tells: “Draw a door, a shut door, locked if it must be, and look at it. Look at it for as long as you must before you can write down exactly what’d be behind it, if it opened.”
And
“The door, and what’s behind it. What’s behind your door? See it, guys.
Write it down.
Write it down, then tell me.”

This ritual for these writers turns out to be a terrifying one and for the reader.
Something waits.

“WATCH OUT.
I’M going to tell you about something, and then… you’ll know. You won’t be able to un-know or forget why you should want to. And even if you decide you don’t believe it now, you’ll still have thought about it long enough to make that call, so it’ll still be too late. Because now it knows you know, it’ll be able to find you. To home in on you.
Just like it did with me.
Sometimes, a door is enough, open or otherwise. Or an empty moment, an empty page.
An empty head.”

“We were writers, you see, supposedly. Desperate to be. And yes, I know the received wisdom, thank you very much—how you can fix bad writing, but you can’t fix no writing. How nothing you put down in words is ever going to match that gleaming, awe-inspiring thing you glimpse at the back of your head, so you might as well just let it come as it comes and try to make it better later.”

“We’d all been there. We’d all spent most of our writing lives there, high school awards or university chapbook-publishing aside. And we’d still be there now, still stuck on the stories we weren’t qualified to wrestle from dream to page, if we’d never started playing that game.
Christ, how I wish we’d never started playing that game.”

“I’m talking about the ability to see something lurking inside a block of mental marble and free it with just a few pen-strokes. Craft a sentence clean as a bone over and over again, then hook them together into the skeleton of something never seen before.”

 

 

Look Up

 

A session of story-time with this kind of story told:
“Let me tell you a story, Youngest.
Once upon a time, long past, there was a land, my land. My blood’s hunting-ground. It was dark yet fulsome, cold yet high, well-stocked, and difficult to penetrate. The pine-trees grew everywhere, needles sharp-sticky, exhaling their scent into the air; the stars stared down, pitiless, bright pins in an endless black sky. No human maps could contain it. What was done there stayed secret, however bloody, unseen by any eyes but mine.
It was… beautiful, so very beautiful. My home, my treasure, my charge, and keeping. I gave it everything and took everything from it in return—this is the price one pays to rule. A true king always buys his throne with sacrifice, and gladly.”

Is it fake or truth telling the “fairy tales about shared dreams, their ridiculous outlaw-wizard-king-bat-bug-vampire stories.”
Heritage, Kings, kin, bloodline, land, sacrifices and preservation and an ancient evil, all in enthralling hypnotic telling.

“It’s not more than half an hour after that before you arrive, though even Fergus has to drive slower now, picking his way through the forest-shrouded dark. At last the gravel road dissolves into a flat, dew-damp field surrounded on all sides by trees, an angular black cabin of improbable size dominating its rough center, flanked by a sea of tents; two long, single-story wings spread out asymmetrically, windows ablaze with light. Something like two dozen vehicles scattered pell-mell all over, grass tire-tracked, ground here and there into mud beneath chained wheels. Off to one side, a beacon-size bonfire roars: black silhouettes circle it, a crowd you can hear from here—talking, laughing, singing, some barely-recognizable English woven in among a harsher, older tongue. Stars drown the sky overhead, the half-moon brighter than you’ve ever seen it back in Toronto.”

“Still, things change, no matter how long one fights them. Our kingdom vanished slowly, eaten away, piece by piece and bite by bite; I shrank with it, trapped by my own castle’s confines, its stones laid over what had once been my temple’s sacrificial altar. They lost all I had given them, these ingrates my spawn spawned; forgot their own heritage, what their blood once meant—and owed. Our kingdom vanished, eaten, forgotten. And I was lost as well, in turn.
I am still lost.”

 

The Church in the Mountains

Like in the first story in this collection This Is How It Goes there is mention of CreepTarcker.dot.org, strangeness and hauntings.
Mountains with churches near and terrible things occurring.
Had Sharla dreamed certain things occurred before or actually seen them happen, or was it just a tale told by another?
This she tries to decipher.
A Canadian film on video being studied by a few inquisitive souls including Sharla, with a ceremony taking place in a church with “black-robed worshippers.”
“But Sharla’s gaze is still locked upon the TV, her whole world dimming to that single point, this moment, those images—watching it finally all play out the way it always has, inside her head and otherwise. Watching things reach their climax.”
The dots connecting taking you by the hand to further nicely crafted creepiness.

 

 

distant dark places

Cosmic and cults, groups with armageddon mythology, there are manifestos, thesis, and theories, and one group, the narrative follows up with called the Theia Collect. Some answers lay in town called Croniston in search of answers. Are they possibly just a “half-baked occult astrophysics” kind of thing?
Nice little comic horror short.

“I want that, above all. To see and be destroyed by it. Find a hole and fall into it, go down deep deep deep, and never stop. Never stop falling. And in that endlessness will be my end, an ouroboros knot, forever tied and untying. No heaven, no hell. Just the circuit, eternally casting off energy, the sparks that move this awful world.”

 

worm moon

 

Splendid moon talk lay therein.

“Twenty-four hours before the Worm Moon’s arrival, you’ll already know it’s on its way. This will give you just enough time to gather all the bits and pieces of this life you’ve made for yourself here—amongst them, unseen, unheeded—and fold them up like a soldier’s coffin-flag. The knowledge will come to you at the height of an indrawn breath the very moment your throat turns hollow and starts to bell, a blown-into reed swollen with potential speech, too large for your own hand to fit around. Your larynx will vibrate, a struck skin. Then the note will sound in your gut as you force the air back out silently, biting down, creating an undertone rather than words or song. It will taint whatever comes out of you next, lending it a vile, hungry shade.”

“The Moon’s road isn’t perfect either.
Its elliptical path, the faintest degree out of circular true, sways it nearer and farther as it travels, like a pendulum. Humans have a dozen names for how these oscillations synchronize with orbital facings: supermoons, micromoons, blue moons, wolf moons, blood moons for the reddish umbra of a full lunar eclipse. All of it pointless, harmless poetry, you’d always thought.
But it means that not all moons are created equal.
And that every cycle has its reset point.”

 

halloo

What exactly has Isla done, what secrets are to return and where does the Jaundice Bitters bottle fit into it all.
Mental disturbances, anger,  and violence things at battle with, she is in some prism needing a release.
Mum thought it was just Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Daughter knows it is something else deep within.
Hypnotic telling again, reeling you on with some well crafted storytelling.

“A voice in the dark, that’s how it starts, when you don’t even think you’re listening – words breathed breathless into darkness, in a whisper, never returned. A voice made from your own blood’s secret echo, like waves: that endless hissing surf, the sea inside every shell. They disappear into its open, black maw, eaten alive, one by one by one.
Hello?
Are you there?
I can’t—
I need to talk. To someone.
Can anyone hear?
If you hear me, please say. Please.”

“There was a time in your life, and not actually all that long ago, when you didn’t want anything to do with darkness–you were raised in it, just like your mom and hers. All of you used to live there, both together and apart, as if it was your shared home address.”

 

 

Cuckoo

Talk of children, yours and others, and receiving them.
One has a task in this, collecting children, rejected ones.
There are wants, haves, and prices to pay.

“Down the crooked street, up the crooked stairs, then through a band of darkness and up once more, into the pallid light of flickering fluorescents—one for each door, dimming by degrees, like dying stars. Mine is two from the end on your left, next to the garbage chute. The address is accurate; you do not need to check. Knock, and I will answer.”

 


 

About Gemma Files:

 

Formerly a film critic, journalist, screenwriter and teacher, Gemma Files has been an award-winning horror author since 1999. She has published two collections of short work, two chapbooks of speculative poetry, a Weird Western trilogy, a story-cycle and a stand-alone novel (Experimental Film, which won a Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel and a Sunburst award for Best Adult Novel). She has two new story collections from Trepidatio (Spectral Evidence and Drawn Up From Deep Places), one upcoming from Cemetery Dance (Dark Is Better), and a new poetry collection from Aqueduct Press (Invocabulary).

 







Reviewed by Lou Pendergrast on 27 January 2021