Thursday, February 7, 2013

If you tell on me you're dead

So reads the secret message on the cover of Stefan Kiesbye's macabre short novel, Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone. The loosely connected stories that fill the book all take place in the sleepy German village of Hemmersmoore, which, following the Second World War, is home to Old World ritual, spooky superstition, and plain old human devilry. Heavy, heavy emphasis on the devilry. Don't believe me? In the first chapter, Helga Vierksen, a newcomer to the village, discovers this in the worst way when she wins the Thanksgiving Day stew contest only to be clubbed to death shortly thereafter on the accusation of flavoring her winning dish with human flesh. Though the narrator matter-of-factly says, "Hemmersmoore did not think fast on a full stomach," I think it would be a safer to say that the God-fearing folk of Hemmersmoore don't think at all, leading to further horrors. One seven-year-old boy is told by a sideshow carny that if he can capture the soul of his sister using nine magic words and bring it to the man, he'll be taken on a tour of "hell" itself. Leaving nothing to chance, the boy chooses a much more sinister means of delivering the goods to the carny and effectively paves his own road to perdition. In another chapter, a boy takes on a challenge from his fellows who bet him that he can't retrieve an axe tossed into the icy depths of the Droste River. He ultimately loses the wager, and the other boys throw his clothes (and the money) into the river, taking a solemn vow to never reveal what they have done. Oh, there's more, but I don't think I need to keep going. These people, these children, are horribly twisted, and the fact that they can commit such violent acts seemingly without so much as a twinge of guilt makes Hemmersmoore a place best avoided--except in the dark pages of Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone.

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