We’re halfway through the Dark Arts Books Sins of the Sirens roundup, but there will be no intermission and no reprieve for the weak. Moving right along into Mehitobel “Bel” Wilson’s world, we are challenged with the most emotional and heartwrenching stories of the lot thus far. Among her four tales, one is more disturbing than sad, and another is an exciting, sexually tense cat-and-mouse game, but there is a common thread of loneliness and isolation in her characters.
Before we get into Mehitobel’s stories, I’d like to share a few tidbits about her career. I feel like a record on repeat, but Mehitobel, like all the other women we’ve featured this month, has an eclectic resume. If she only mentioned her non-writing work, she still has a laundry list of unique experience. She’s had every job from dog groomer to model, cigarette girl to factory worker. I’m not sharing exclusive information here, though. That info is immediately mentioned on the welcome page of her website, but nonetheless it’s still fascinating and worth mention.
In the literary world too, Mehitobel carries impressive credit to her name. Of course, she’s one of four exceptional talents handpicked by John Everson for the hauntingly beautiful collection of short stories, Sins of the Sirens. Just like her cohorts Loren Rhoads, Maria Alexander, and Christa Faust (who will be featured tomorrow), Mehitobel can’t be classified simply as a horror author. Well, I guess you could classify her anyway you want, but it wouldn’t be right because she exhibits skill beyond just the ability to elicit fear. She cuts to the bone, digs in deep for that which we want no one to find; our dirty secrets and haunted desires.
Mehitobel also worked alongside Sirens Loren Rhoads and Maria Wilson at Gothic.net where she acted as editor and book reviewer. Her editing at the webzine garnered a Bram Stoker Award nomination in Superior Achievement in 2000. She also has a non-fiction story in Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues called “Thanksgiving at Bels,” which collected some of Loren Rhoads’ favorite true tales from the Morbid Curiosity magazine’s 10-year run.
Moving onto her fiction you’ll find almost all her work is included in several editions of Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. I will have to seek these stories out because now I have an itch that can’t be scratched and it’s name be Mehitobel!
From what I can tell, Mehitobel’s first story, “Heavy Hands,” is a Sins exclusive, so you better pick up a copy here (or here) if you want to read it. The story follows a quirky, isolated young fellow, Jason, who works a tedious day job, enjoys periodic smoke breaks with his only friend Gemma, and contemplates maybe one day having a barbeque. Gemma, an outspoken, cursing sailor of a woman, is the yin to David’s yang (or is she the yang?). Gemma does her best to rip Jason from his shell like a newborn baby from its mother’s womb (Gemma was never one for subtlety), but he’s struggling with more than social awkwardness and a lonely disposition. Jason is accompanied, every so often, by phantom hands. At first, it’s a light caress that wakes him from his slumber, another time a more intrusive squeeze of the shoulder. Until the climax of the story, it doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. But this isn’t a fairy tale and there is no happy ending (actually, there is one, but you’ll have to read “Heavy Hands” to find out what it is). You remember how those Tales from the Crypt shows where our protagonist would discover or acquire something that seemed positive, but it would end up being a terrible curse? That’s “Heavy Hands.” A Tales from the Crypt story, a right gone wrong. Happiness almost within reach only to be thwarted by a darker fate in the end.
Mehitobel’s second entry is a spine-chilling, disturbing lil’ piece called “Close.” We’re introduced to a creepy bastard Thad who has a strange sexual obsession. He’s a voyeur that likes to feel and hear, not necessarily see. He’s addicted to eavesdropping on couples in the hotel room above him, listening to “heavy breaths laced with groans, as if her voice would never breathe silently again.” As the title suggests, Thad can’t get close enough. His obsession overpowers any logical thought as he progresses toward the ultimate satisfaction, the climax. When listening from the room below isn’t enough, he fashions a hiding place to get as close as possible to the couple.
“Then new ideas occurred to him. He brought foam, pillows, and sleeping bags, and he built a little berth beneath the bed, to raise him closer to the box spring. He wrapped it in a black cotton flat sheet, one he’d washed well to remove any sheen, and tucked the matching fitted sheet alongside it, to bag himself, to darken himself, to join with the blackness under the bed.”
This story is like a home invasion movie set to paper. For a reader who travels often, it will have added significance. “Close” is deeply unsettling and will send shivers down your spine.
The third story is the exciting cat-and-mouse game I mentioned earlier, “The Wild.” We meet my hero, “Cath Catheter, the girl with the iron roar, the monster queen of the death metal scene.” But by the time we find Cath she has regressed into a nervous hermit, relegated mostly to her apartment, office, and fast-food joints, wondering “how long it had been since she’d broken a pool cue over an opponent’s head.” Cath makes a concerted effort to break free from this anti-social slump. She ventures out to a gallery, gets dolled up for Kink Night at a bar, even hangs at a hip coffee shop. Still, something keeps her from connecting with the people around her. Almost everyone, that is except for a mysterious and handsome rockabilly dude. Will this rockabilly hottie finally liberate Cath? You’ll have to read to find out! I can tell you this isn’t a love story and there’s an unexpected twist at the end I’m dying to tell you about. It’s requiring a great amount of restraint on my part not to spoil it for you! So please, for my sake, just read it!
“The Wild” is juxtaposed dramatically by Mehitobel’s closing story, the terribly heartbreaking “Parting Jane,” about a young girl who is prisoner of a hospital. The drastically different tone of the preceding story makes Mehitobel’s finale especially jarring to the system. This story is all dark. There is no humorous undertone or flirtatious prose, just institutionalized childhood innocence, pain, anguish, and abandonment. Written in first person narration, “Parting Jane” is told though the diary entries of Jane, who is nine years old when the story opens. Her only outlet, her only freedom is her diary. As the story progresses we find out why Jane is hospitalized and it’s more frightening than any cancer, more horrific than any disease, and just plain sad.
To say much more than that does the story a great injustice. That’s really the case with all the stories in this collection. In fact, I think I’ve said too much already. Like Gemma from “Heavy Hands,” I was never really one for subtly.