The Beast You Are: Stories
By Paul Tremblay
William Morrow; hardcover, 368 pages; $30.00
Paul Tremblay has won the Bram Stoker, British Fantasy, and Massachusetts Book Awards and is the author of Growing Things and Other Stories, The Cabin at the End of the World, The Pallbearers Club, Survivor Song Disappearance at Devil's Rock, A Head Full of Ghosts, and the crime novels The Little Sleep and No Sleep Till Wonderland. Brooklyn Digest reviewed Growing Things and The Cabin at the End of the World in 2019, and please click here to check it out. The latter was adapted into the recent motion picture, "Knock at the Cabin," from M. Night Shyamalan, and it starred Jonathan Groff, Dave Bautista, and Rupert Grint.
Tremblay's new book, The Beast You Are, is a haunting collection of short fiction, a masterpiece of literary horror and psychological suspense. There are fifteen pieces about monsters of all kind, ready to loudly, as well as lovingly, burst through your head and into your head.
The novella that gave this book its title, "The Beast You Are" is a mini epic in which the destinies and secrets of a village, a dog, and a cat are intertwined with a giant monster that returns to wreak havoc every thirty years.
In "The Dead Thing," a middle-schooler struggles to deal with the aftermath of her parents' substance addictions and split. One day, her little brother claims he found a shoe box with "the dead thing" inside, but he won't show it to her and he won't let the box out of his sight.
"The Last Conversation" starts with a person waking up in a sterile, white room who begins to receive instructions via intercom from a woman named Anne. When they are allowed to leave the room to take on a task, what they find is as shocking as it is heartbreaking.
This excerpt comes from "Haunted House Tour: 1 Per Person," and Tremblay writes: I was such a loser when I was a kid. Like a John-Hughes-Hollywood-'80s-movie-typecast loser. Maybe we all imagine ourselves as being that special kind of ugly duckling, with the truth being too scary to contemplate: maybe I was someone's bully or I was the kid who egged on the bullies screaming. 'Sweep the leg!' or maybe I was lower than the Hughes loser, someone who would never be shown in a movie.
When I think of who I was all those years ago, I'm both embarrassed and look-at-what-I've-become proud, as though the distance spanned between those two me's can only be measured in light years. That distance is a lie, of course, though perhaps necessary to justify perceived successes and mollify the disappointment and failures. That thirteen-year-old me is still there inside: the socially awkward one who wouldn't find a group he belonged to until college; the one who watched way too much TV and listened to records while lying on the floor with the speakers tented over his head; the one who was afraid of Jaws appearing in any body of water, Christophe Lee vampires, the dark in his closet and under the bed. and the blinding flash of a nuclear bomb. That kid is all too frighteningly retrievable at times.
Now he's here in a more tangible form. He's in the contents of a weathered cardboard box sitting like a toadstool on my kitchen counter. Mom inexplicably plopped this time capsule in my leg on her way out the door after an impromptu visit. When I asked for an explanation, she said she thought I should have it. I pressed her for more of the why and she said, 'Well, because it's yours. It's your stuff,' as though she were weary of the burden of having had to keep it for all those years.
Catherine is visiting her parents on the Cape, and she took my daughter, Izzy, with her. I stayed home to finish edits (which remain stubbornly unfinished) on a manuscript that was due last week. Catherine and Izzy would've torn through this box-of-me right away and laughed themselves silly at the old photos of my stick-figure body and my map of freckles and crooked teeth, the collection of crayon renderings of dinosaurs with small heads and ludicrously large bodies, and the fourth-grade current events project on Ronald Reagan for which I'd earned a disappointing C+ and a demoralizing teacher comment of 'too messy.' And I would've reveled in their attention, their warm spotlight shining on who I was and who I've become.
I didn't find it until my second pass through the box, which seems impossible, as I took care to peel old pictures apart and handle everything delicately as one might handle ancient parchments. That second pass occurred two hours after the first, and there was a pizza and multiple beers and no edits in between.
The drawing that I don't remember saving was there at the bottom of the box, framed by the cardboard and its interior darkness. I thought I'd forgotten it; I know I never had.
The initial discovery was more confounding than dread-inducing, but hours have passed and now it's late and it's dark. I have every light on in the house, which only makes the dark outside even darker. I am alone and I am on alert and I feel time creeping forward (time doesn't run out; it continues forward and it continues without you). I do not sit in any one room for longer than five minutes. I pass through the lower level of the house as quietly as I can, like an omniscient, emotionally distant narrator, which I am not. On the TV is a baseball game that I don't care about, blaring at full volume. I consider going to my car and driving to my in-laws' on the Cape, which would be ridiculous, as I wouldn't arrive until well after midnight and Catherine and Izzy are coming home tomorrow morning.
Would it be so ridiculous?
Tomorrow when my family returns home and the windows are open, the sunlight as warm as a promise, I will join them in laughing at me. But it is not tomorrow and they are not here.
I am glad they're not here. They would've found the drawing before I did."