TERROR INCOGNITA

Jeffrey Thomas

Delirium Books / 158 pages / 1st edition (2003)

ISBN: 1929653492

A shout may catch your attention for a moment, then you tune it out. But there is something infinitely more dangerous and more hypnotic about a whisper. The hushed tones draw you closer. You strain to catch every word, searching the near-silence for a threat. Jeffrey Thomas speaks in a whisper. And the repercussions are lethal.

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Thomas’ voice is a whisper from a dark corner and it can lead you into the strangest, most shocking places. And, just as often, it can reveal lingering sorrows.

A touch of humour — dark, very dark — flits about some of the most macabre tales. Not that a grim chuckle lessens the horror; it’s nervous laughter, at best. Take the bizarre “Coffee Break.” Funny how people run into old friends in the oddest places. Funny how little comfort friendship can provide in these places. “T-Shirts of the Damned” takes a stab at the shock industry. Remember those repulsive serial killer trading cards? Oh, how I long for those days of innocence! The herd mentality of the public takes a direct hit in “Disfigured.” You’ll wish this felt more far-fetched. If you recognize a bit of yourself in these characters, get help.

Even that old saw, the ghost story, takes on fresh… well, life… under Thomas’ control. The tale of a restless spirit and intense loneliness, “Elizabeth Rising” is told in vivid hues of emerald — not for jealousy this time, but for longing. A theme that returns in “Adoration,” “Empathy,” and the sad, enigmatic “The House on the Plain.” The last story probes the allure of mysteries that can never be solved, much less understood. The images on that thirsty planet are near impossible to shake.

But, it is “John Sadness” that surpasses even these powerful stories.

Blame it on the child, the children, in this heartbreaking masterpiece of horror, superstition, and love. The suffering of children is the most agonizing image to be borne for many people — me, for one. Thomas’ personal connection to the subject matter provides an insight into the anguish that cannot be reached by a simple telling of the theme; this aching closeness to the characters adds an almost voyeuristic observation of the pain that can connect parent and child.

Will this lesson of “John Sadness” make a marked enlightenment in the way “normal” people treat those who are somehow different? Probably not. For most, it is easier to act out of fear and ignorance than to actually learn something. “Children can be so cruel,” you hear constantly. Not quite. People never outgrow that sadistic stage; it’s not a phase, but a human characteristic just waiting to find a victim.

That sounds a bit too deep for your liking? Maybe. But Thomas’ seductive whisper will have you entangled before you even realize that you have entered the undergrowth. From there, turning back is not an option; the only way out is the path Thomas opens for you. On the other side of Terror Incognita is a chance to change. Take it.