Title: Fit for Consumption: Stories Both Queer and Horrifying
Author: Steve Berman
In Berman's newest short story collection, the phrase "you are what you eat" is taken to heart; these are stories of men facing strange appetites within their own physicality, within a lover or, perhaps, a stranger's hungers. A young athlete attends an exclusive wrestling camp, but some of the campers are more focused on the unwelcome boys they claim lurk inside their bellies. A fixit man on a mission to retrieve a runaway finds himself forced into impersonating a pulp hero by her captor. Life as a pledge at a New Orleans fraternity is made all the worse when a magical—perhaps cursed?—flask that fills with whatever the bearer desires, yet also causes the drinker to desire the pledge. With stories inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, and Ramsey Campbell, the menu has thirteen tales that range from the weird to the humour noir to the monstrous. No digestif is necessary.
Black wolves aren’t supposed to be the size of Packards.
A hand reached in through the cracked doors and pulled Gus back into the open. The shivering butler held a lantern. Moiren, dressed in a heavy fur coat, cradled an elephant gun in his arms. He wore another ridiculous hat, a tricorn, the sort you saw in a Wyeth pirate illustration, and a tremendous smirk.
“So, Mr. Lunge, would you say this night is fit for neither man nor beast?”
“What is that thing?!”
The butler shut the doors behind them.
“A lusus naturae. A fantoccini created especially for my art.” Moiren looked over his shoulder at the house. “Shall we head back, or would you prefer to re-enact something I painted ages ago?”
Gus nodded. He glanced back at the barn and wondered what other horrors Moiren kept under lock and key.
As they trudged through the snow, Moiren rested the rifle against his shoulder.
“Are you a good shot?” Gus asked.
“I’ve studied the male anatomy all my life. There are entry wounds that will never heal properly, leaving a man crippled for life. I suppose I could aim to be kind, but what sport is that?”
Gus’s guts told him that Moiren wasn’t boasting. He no longer seemed like the silly fool Gus thought he was. The danger level just made the job a hurdle race. Gus paused and turned back to the barn. “How many Lunges have there been?”
The other two men stopped. The butler began counting on his fingers.
“I mean, have you ever used the same fellah twice?”
Moiren wheezed that awful laugh. “Twice? My good man, I’d be astonished.”
“Sir, might I recommend some brandy and Benedictine to warm us?” said the butler.
Gus thought a stiff drink might be the only thing sane waiting for him back at the house.
“Were you frightened?” Moiren asked as he sipped his drink from a flame-warmed snifter.
“I think when you see a wolf the size of a city bus, you’ve every right to sweat a little.”
“Well said. You are not only a man of action—scaling walls and trudging through my backyard tundra, but also a man of sense. Both admirable qualities in a hero.”
“Heroes are short-lived.”
“Oh, no, Mr. Lunge. You’ve faced some terrible things—the Hindoo Rahu, Captain Dream and his Zeppelin Marauders, even the Sons of Caqueux in Brittany … a favorite of mine, I must admit. Just picturing their weaving nooses from the sleeves of condemned criminals leaves me quivering.
“But they’re only stories.”
“Only? Your modesty is a disservice.”
“But you know I’m not really this Lunge fellah.”
Gus looked at the butler, who gave a tiny nod of disapproval. No, of warning. Too late, because Moiren threw his snifter against the wall.
“You are Jove Lunge!” Moiren ran a hand through his hair, dislodging his tricorn hat. Expressionless, the butler picked it up and brushed the felt with his sleeve. “Don’t you see … I need you to be him.”
But Gus didn’t see, didn’t follow him … because the edges of his vision had grown cloudy. He looked down at his own glass and fell forward off the chair.
The headache, the awful dryness in his mouth, the reluctance of his eyes to open wide enough to see right, all told Gus he had one mother of a hangover. Only, he couldn’t remember having more than a glass of the strong juice that could strip varnish with its fumes. Guess his only inheritance from his old man wasn’t proof against something slipped into his drink.
He groaned and rolled over, felt someone warm next to him, cracked his eyes again. Some young guy, dressed like a boy scout, started rubbing Gus’s chest and stomach.
“Please tell me you didn’t help me cross the street and into a bar.”
The kid’s hand drifted lower than Gus’s waist. “I did my good deed. Twice last night. But today….”
Gus wiped his face with one hand. Despite the way he felt, the kid was managing to wake the rest of him. “Carl, right?”
The kid nodded. Looked even a bit hurt.
“Nice rags. Why are you dressed like that?”
“That butler knocked on the door an hour ago and brought us our costumes for the greenhouse.”
“Any chance he brought a cup of joe?” Gus sat up and winced. “Or, even better—a beer?”
All the memories from last night came back to him. Sneaking outside. Seeing the largest mutt in the world chained up in the barn. The mickey in his drink. The butler must have carried his unconscious body back to bed—not that the guy looked like he could handle a sack of potatoes, let alone a dead weight of over two hundred pounds. Maybe he had help.
He wanted to wring Moiren’s neck.
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Kirkus Reviews gave this collection a star, saying: “The horror is initially psychological, building through allusion and rumination to sudden eruptions…. The result is a satisfyingly weird and icky read with serious literary chops.”
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Steve Berman has been writing weird fiction since he was seventeen. He has been a finalist for numerous awards, including the Shirley Jackson Award. Writing by night, his days are spent working at one of the most prominent American boarding schools. He resides in Western Massachusetts.
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