The collection begins with its best-written story (and most acclaimed, as it was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award), “A Song Left Behind in the Aztakea Hills,” which is about an artist who guides a mathematician to a secluded location in the forested hills, where he and beat writer Jack Kerouac witnessed an unworldly performance from a psych-rock band. The story accomplishes so much; it acts a companion story to Investigation 37 (which appeared in Chambers’ novella collection, The Engines of Sacrifice) which in turn acts as an offshoot of H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Dreams in the Witch House,” while also exploring beat writing via capturing the voice of Kerouac and maintaining Chambers’ own distinctive voice. Trying to incorporate so many elements into one short story would be doomed to failure in many other authors’ hands, but Chambers flawlessly pulls it off. The story is not only a unique tale, but it builds upon Chambers’ own Knicksport universe (his fictional city located in Long Island, New York, and his answer to Lovecraft’s own Arkham universe). In a way, “A Song Left Behind in the Aztakea Hills” pulls double duty; it doesn’t just invite readers to explore the rest of the stories in the collection, but teases readers to dive into Chamber’s own universe that he’s been building over the years.
Another unique story in On The Night Border is “The Many Hands Inside the Mountain” which is about a young mechanic who seeks revenge against the wealthy man who not only runs his town, but is responsible for his father’s death. Per the author’s notes in the back of the collection, this story aimed to capture the feeling of the old Tales from the Crypt comic, which it does remarkably. Bad people trying to take revenge against worse people and failing in a spectacular, ironic, and gruesome fashion was a trademark of the Tales from the Crypt HBO program, and this story recreates that pulp-horror feeling found in both iterations of Tales from the Crypt. With the Shudder streaming service having recently resurrected Creepshow, it should seriously consider looking at “The Many Hands” for adaptation; it would work remarkably.
There’s no shortage of other unique offerings in the anthology. “Living/Dead” breaks from overt horror and embraces romantic comedy. In this story, dead folks can come back to life for true love, of course. The perpetual hypochondriac Gustav is taken to a bar to partake in a dating service by his best friend to unexpected results. “A Wandering Blackness” is a pleasant surprise, as it captures that ol’ Lin Carter magic that connoisseurs of fantasy and horror seem to have forgotten about as of late. Though Carter didn’t use his occult detective character Anton Zarnak much during his time (opting to write in other pastiches), Chambers does show respect to the character while also bringing him into contemporary times. “The Driver, Under a Cheshire Moon” is one of the more sombre tales in the anthology while managing to pull off a great bait-and-switch of character motives.
The entire collection, published by Raw Dog Screaming Press, greatly underscores Chambers’ short story career up to this point, highlighting his abilities to play in other writers’ sandboxes or to create his own tales, be they standalone stories or ones that expand his ever-evolving micro universe. From elements of dark-pulp-comedy, to vengeful, to outright horrifying, Chambers juggles the spectrum of subgenres, showing his prowess as a contemporary horror master.
Creative Team: James Chambers (writer)
Publisher: Raw Dog Screaming Press
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