“I’ve been having this dream lately.
In this dream, I’m traipsing through the aisles of that big bookstore in Portland, Oregon.”
~ from “Aromageddon” by Jason Squamata in City of Weird
I have never been to Portland. But City of Weird, with its “30 Otherwordly Portland Tales,” offers a view of the Oregon metropolis (and its famous bookstore)–in slant. A collection of imaginative, surreal, and (at times) sardonic stories, Forest Avenue Press’ newest release makes for a perfect Halloween read, especially for the faint of heart like me.
When I was seven years old, I went against all reason–and my parents’ stern command–and watched Salem’s Lot when I was supposed to be in bed. I watched it only in bits and pieces, first because I was afraid I would get caught then later because I was afraid.
I would tiptoe up to the small TV in the playroom, turn the knob just past the hard click to power up the screen, stare wide-eyed and wild-eyed at the current scene for two minutes, then promptly turn the knob to OFF (!), run back to my bedroom and hide under cover. A few intermittent peeks like this as the movie played out were enough to sear my mind with vivid, terrifying images of vampires. All of them bald, with gray faces, and teeth in need of immediate dental care.
So I appreciate a book like City of Weird, with stories packed inside that let me dip my toe into “fanciful, sometimes preposterous archetypes of weird fiction” (as editor Gigi Little says in her introduction), stories that touch on such things as my permanent bias toward vampires and flip them on end. I mean–sure, bloodsuckers are scary, but Justin Hocking turns them into sympathetic characters in his story, simply titled, “Vampire:”
The vampire has figured out that he can take a photo of himself with his cell phone, stare at his image for a long time, in a way he never could with mirrors. He looks for hours at his widow’s peak, premature baldness scratching its talons further and further up his scalp. He wonders, since he’s 382, if ‘premature’ is the right word.
This fragile fiend could easily be that frump, middle-aged man you pass on the street who, like you, worries about the effect so many years can have on a body, even if he is immortal. Poor guy. It must be tough. Bless his heart (at a distance).
Then, there’s Leigh Anne Kranz’s “Orca Culture,” the story about killer whales, which aren’t really killers when it comes to you and me. Except Kranz again leans on common knowledge just enough to push the question, “what if.” In her story, the “Seattle pod” has developed a keen taste for a certain species–misbehaving men–and swallows them whole:
She felt it was the natural order of things. The world was changing. If humans were to survive, men like him must go extinct.
You’ll have to read the story to find out why such men might need to be snatched from the shoreline. In any case, it’s an interesting perspective, predator eating predator (oops, did I just give something away?).
One of my favorite stories is Mark Russell’s “Letters to the Oregonian from the Year 30,0000 BC,” which sets up Portland in ancient times as a mirror to Portland today, a teasing reminder that humans haven’t really changed all that much.
We read of one letter to the editor written by a caveman millennial of sorts, who downplays the newest invention (and current trend) of fire, until using it for cooking proves advantageous:
In fact, we found cooking with fire so rewarding that we opened a mommoth-fusion food cart just west of the burned forest. We’ve taken to calling this area West Burnside.
We read the opinion of the Paleolithic conspiracist:
Personally, when someone says “fire,” I hear “gentrification.”
And last, but not least, a plea from the Peacemaker:
I like charred lizard as much as anybody. And carrying torches around at night, well, it just makes me feel important. But I’m afraid of what fire will mean for life here in Yak Village.
In the Village, as in Portland (& probably the metropolis closest to where you live), strange characters abound. And as Grub the peacemaker from Yak Village says, the “strange” are “treasures,” lost when we try too hard to conform to normal.
There’s more. A hefty book of sci-fi and speculative fun, City of Weird is chock-full and available for purchase in all markets, independent and other. If you live near Portland, stop in at one of the upcoming book events, like Pop-Up: City of Weird (with Stevan Allred, Jonathan Hill, and Karen Munro), November 5th.
* On images above, cartoon TV photo credit: Candyland Comics via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC; orca photo credit: Mike Charest via VisualHunt.com / CC BY