cover image The Dark Walk Forward

The Dark Walk Forward

John S. McFarland. Dark Owl, $12.99 trade paper (170p) ISBN 978-1-951716-14-1

Monstrosity is in the eye of the beholder in this unsettling debut collection from McFarland (The Black Garden). Many of these 19 stories take place in the rural Mississippi River town of Ste. Odile in 1922, as the residents grapple with their inner demons. One of the town’s doctors gives in to the urge to self-mutilate in “Demiurge,” while another wrestles with his self-serving nature in “Placide.” “The Little Dead Thing” focuses on a scarred ex-soldier whose ostracism from Ste. Odile society leaves him at the mercy of a parasite, while “Porphyria” introduces a miner who contracts a disease that leads him to be accused of vampirism. McFarland roots many of his tales in real historical horrors, exploring the plight of WWI veterans in the title story and cancer-stricken factory workers in “The Radium Girls.” Wandering farther afield, “Saturn Devouring His Son” tells of artist Francisco Goya tripping over his child’s forgotten toys, and “Hakudo Maru” sees a Japanese fisherman atoning for his son’s neglected funeral rites. McFarland tempers his frights with the mercy of familial love and sympathy for outsiders and victims. Horror readers will be riveted. (Dec.)