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Copyright © 2008 Gary A. Braunbeck
All right reserved.
"My quiver is once again empty ..."
This may seem a bit helter-skelter at first, jumping around like water on a hot griddle, rolling like leaves across an autumn sidewalk, tumbling about like a paper cup caught in the wind; but just as the millions of meaningless individual dots in a newspaper photograph will merge into a single, identifiable image when viewed as a whole, everything will gradually be connected. It has to be. The dead demand it of us. And they must not be ignored.
They will not be ignored. That's been tried before. Didn't exactly work out.
Around here I'm know as "The Reverend," and I need for you to come along with me for a while.
Admittedly, that doesn't quite have the poetic punch of such classic attention-grabbers as, say, "Call me Ishmael," or "My name is Arthur Gordon Pym," or "I am by birth a Genevese, and my family is one of the most distinguished of that republic," so let's establish right off the bat that I know it's not what you'd call a literary stunner, my introduction, but you work with what you've got.
Around here I'm known as "The Reverend." I run the CedarHill Open Shelter on East Main Street, just over the bridge that leads into the area known as "Coffin County." It wasn't always called that, just as I wasn't always called "The Reverend." Both it and I had another name at one time-in my case, I've had several names, at least one of which you'll learn in a little while-but before I tell you about that, and before we step through the gap to experience the night of an appalling slaughter that took place in this town that likes to call itself a city, we need to look a little closer at the place itself; for, like sins of omission, it shares a measure of responsibility.
There was a book written by a man named Geoff Conover, who once lived here, albeit briefly, and in this book-presented ostensibly as fiction, but we who call this place home and who have read it know better-he offers what is to my mind the most accurate description of Cedar Hill that one could possibly hope to find. Not being foolish enough to try to improve upon precision, I submit that description to you now:
If it is possible to characterize this place by melting down all of its inhabitants and pouring them into a mold so as to produce one definitive citizen, you will see a person who is, more likely than not, a laborer who never made it past the eleventh grade but who has managed through hard work and good solid horse sense to build the foundation of a decent middle-class existence; who works to keep a roof over his family's head and sets aside a little extra money each month to fix up the house, maybe repair that old backdoor screen or add a workroom; who has one or two children who aren't exactly gifted but do well enough in school that their parents don't go to bed at night worrying that they've sired morons.
Perhaps this person drinks a few beers on the weekend-not as much as some of their rowdier friends, but enough to be social. They've got their eye on some property out past the county line. They hope to buy a new color television set. They usually go to church on Sundays, not necessarily because they want to but because, well, you never know, do you?
This is the person you would be facing.
This is the person who would smile at you, shake your hand, and behave in a neighborly fashion.
But never ask them about anything that lies beyond the next paycheck. Take care not to discuss anything more than work or favorite television shows or an article from this morning's paper. Complain about the cost of living, yes; inquire about their family, by all means; ask if they've got time to grab a quick sandwich, sure; but never delve too far beneath the surface, for if you do the smile will fade, that handshake will loosen, and their friendliness will become tinged with caution.
Because this is a person who feels inadequate and does not want you to know it, who for a good long while now has suspected that his life will never be anything more than mediocre. He feels alone, abandoned, insufficient, foolish, and inept, and the only thing that keeps him going is a thought that makes him both smile and cringe: that maybe one of his children will decide for themselves, Hey, Dad's life isn't so bad, this 'burg isn't such a hole in the ground, so, yeah, maybe I'll just stick around here and see what I can make of things.
And what if they do? How long until they start to walk with a workman's stoop, until they're buying beer by the case and watching their skin turn into one big nicotine stain? How long until they start using the same excuses he's used on himself to justify a mediocre life?
Bills, you know. Not as young as I used to be. Too damn tired all the time. Work'll by God take it out of you.
Ah, well ... at least there's that property out past the county line for him to keep his eye on, and there's still that new color television set he might just up and buy....
This is the person who would look back at you, whose expression would betray that they'd gotten a little lost in their own thoughts for a second there.
It happens sometimes.
So they'll blink, apologize for taking up so much of your time, wish you a good day, and head on home because the family will be waiting supper. It sure was nice talking to you, though.
Meet Cedar Hill, Ohio.
It is a place that you would immediately recognize and then just as quickly forget as you drive through it on your way to someplace more vibrant, more exciting, or even just a little more interesting. It is filled with houses like every other house, on streets like every other street, and if you lived here, and if you could, you'd burn rubber on your way out, making damn sure the tires threw up enough smoke to hide any sight of the place should you cave and glance in the rearview for a last nostalgic look at this seemingly unremarkable white-bread Midwestern town.
However, as you'll realize quickly enough, this place is far from unremarkable; in fact, we have a local saying that often draws chuckles from visitors passing through, but isn't nearly as tongue-in-cheek as these outsiders think: "This is Cedar Hill. Weird shit happens here. Get used to it."
We'll come back to that soon enough, you and I. Right now, we need to look at some things; the pages, ghosts, people, places, what-ifs, wherefores, and whys that make up what is known for lack of a more accurate term as "history": imagine all of this history as being the light trapped by early cameras, the illumination carried to obscuras where chemicals in trays will summon forth the scenes, the memories, the moments, the forgotten faces, the locations once treasured by those long gone that are now empty lots of dust and detritus where children sometimes play in the noonday sun, all of it surfacing out of time and memory to meet us where we are now, on this page, in this paragraph, at this sentence where these things are once again given life, given an identity, given back the warm flesh and bright sparkle in the eyes that sang of life and hope and meaning; and perhaps if all goes well, these phantoms will fully emerge to find their voices once again, still waiting in the place where they spoke their final words, and these spirits will whisper: Here is our story, the story of how it all began; if you listen carefully, at the end, you'll be someone else....
Excerpted from Coffin County by Gary A. Braunbeck Copyright © 2008 by Gary A. Braunbeck. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted October 28, 2008
This being my second time reading Braunbeck I would have expected to be used to his lyrical and poetic style of writing but it still shakes me. His writing is different, more philosophical than your average horror stories; his thinking dissects ideas to the core and reaches deeper levels of emotion while still giving the reader a fantasy like story where the reality blurs with magic. <BR/><BR/>Cedar Hill, Ohio is the fictional place all his books take place in. A place that has murders, terror and non stop violence mixed in with a heavy duty dose of the supernatural, now call me crazy but I don't know how this place still has any residents. They are sitting ducks waiting to be taken out by their own family members and neighbors in this novel, a new twists that the author ads for a new measure of terror. In Coffin Country mass murders take stage and the killer seems nonchalant about it, informing the police about his actions, playing with their minds and planting a seed of destruction in randomly - or so it seems - people to do his bidding. When a police officer who lost his family to a random act of violence feels the murders are starting to get personal his life reaches levels of hell no one could have imagined possible. The hunt is on to find the killer who finger prints defy logic and sanity. I won't say anymore because the real beauty of any book is finding the juicy bits on your own. But be prepared to be mad and outraged at the ease with which gruesome acts happen, as if it really was another layer of life and part of our existence which we can't escape and are destined to experience. <BR/><BR/>The only thing that bothered me about the book was the drawn out police procedures, at one point, Stanley - the finger print guru - gets to involved in explaining how tracking of criminals is done that it was throwing my concentration off and forcing my brain to adapt to new terms that were lightly explained yet they spanned some good amount of pages. There was too much technical info on the procedures of different sorts and it slowed me down to the point where it took me longer than usual to get through the book. And the book is short, 270 pages yet it felt extra long. <BR/><BR/>The best part was the ending, totally crazy and shocking, it made me say "No way!" when I got to it, I can see how it made some readers mad, it was pretty arrogant and selfish of a certain character, almost unbelievable in why he would act in that way with his background but it ended the book with a bang and earned it's 4th star in my review. If you want a creepy story that touches on human madness and it's repercussions of trying to save man kind in the wrong way then this is it, a heavy book with a bite. <BR/><BR/>- Kasia S.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
Cedar Hill, Ohio has seen more than its share of violence over the two centuries since its foundation. In fact the small town was built on the blood of mass murders. Several decades ago, a mob lynched a man. Recently, the casket factory exploded before burning down the surrounding neighborhood. --- Violence is the periodic norm. The townsfolk believe the ancient tree contains demons locked away for eternity as long as no one slices a limb. When murder arrives, everyone knows the tree is not containing a demon. When murders begin that puts Cedar Hill on the national news beyond being known as the Coffin County, the police investigate. The Reverend who runs the Cedar Hill Open Shelter will tell you more than you want to know he is even writing the events down. The police detectives are not as forthcoming with the truth as the clues of the homicides lead back to an abandoned cemetery besides which everyone especially Sheriff Jackson is watching Ben Littlejohn whose wife and son were killed. --- With two Cedar Hill short stories on top of the full length novels, fans of small-town horror thrillers will appreciate the aptly named COFFIN COUNTY. The prime tale takes its time as Gary A. Braunbeck establishes the atmosphere with a unique strangely different style, a personalized account by people like the Reverend and Ben reacting to the serial murders that seem impossible to have occurred by a mortal. Fans must peruse deep into the novel before beginning to understand the cause, but most readers will enjoy the slow simmer leading to learning what is going on in Cedar Hill while wondering whether a grieving Ben will only watch from the sidelines. --- Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 20, 2009
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