Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Malpractice Revealed

Last Thursday evening, I turned on my television and got nothing. The book told me the blinking red light on the front meant I need to replace a bulb that lights up the LCD's. A visit to Amazon and $150 bucks later, I expect a visit from UPS before the week is out and I should once again have television.

But as Kismet would have it, I received my contributors copy of Malpractice: An Anthology of Bedside Terror on Friday. It's a sharp looking and well-put together volume, with a nice blurb from Tim Deal of Shroud Publishing on the back.

With plenty of time on my hands, I devoured the book and wrote down some thoughts about each story. But first, I thought it might be instructive to look back at the submission guidelines:

To many of us, a hospital may be one of the most frightening scenarios there are. It can leave you completely vulnerable and places your livelihood in the hands of complete strangers. It’s the perfect formula for horrific tales. All that’s missing is YOU; the ideal catalyst.

Stories must have some connection with Bloom Memorial Hospital. All genres will be considered as long as the finished product scares the surgical scrubs right off of us. Think Dr. Mengele meets Bedlam hospital and make it that much worse. No gore for the sake of gore. No sexual abuse or any abuse of children. If there’s sex, keep it subtle, and please, no true emergency room stories. Otherwise, get cracking and send us your best.

I am stunned at how the authors took these guidelines to heart . . . and then some.

I've focused my comments on the longer works of fiction, but all of the 100-worders are excellent in their own right. After recently having my own attempt at a 100-worder rejected from Necrotic, I understand just how hard they are to write well. Kudos to all the authors who contributed these.

Editor Nathaniel Lambert's brief introduction cleverly captures the tone of what is to come, and somehow works in the themes and plots of most all of the stories that follow.

Felicity Dowker's "Recruitment" gets things off to a rollicking start. Imagine an introspective and repentant Nurse Ratchid finding herself in the hospital from hell, with no idea why or how she got there. She will soon learn that perhaps not knowing is best.

Bruce Cooper's "The Cure" is written in diary format and a machine-gun style. Bloom Memorial Hospital has morphed into a specialized facility where folks requiring surgical assistance to begin new lives get -- of course -- more than they bargained for, and in this instance, most of what they deserve.

"All the Gifts of Life" is the offering by W. D. Gagliani and David Benton, and offering is the operative word. In this incarnation, Bloom Memorial Hospital takes root -- sprouts up, as it were -- in the place where years before, a nun named Sister Francine had a divine visitation. But with all things Bloom, things are not always what they seem, and the gift of long life is sometimes more curse than blessing. Extra points for being the first to use the phrase "Necrotic Tissue."

Paul Milliken's "Symbiosis" tells the tale of a young nurse who finds herself in the wrong profession, and of two brothers who are closer than brothers ought to be. It is horror of a different kind, the sort that might be found in tomorrow's headlines. The author dedicates the story to his own brother, for whom I have some advice: Watch your back.

We don't actually see Bloom Memorial in Derek Rutherford's "Special Delivery, Bloom." But of course it's there, looming over the protagonist and anyone who gets too close, in this case a young boy who was just trying to help. The story concerns an earnest motorcycle deliveryman and Iraq war vet who thinks he's seen most everything. He hasn't.

I confess the title of the next story, "Deep Kimchi" by Wayne Helge, has intrigued me since the Table of Contents was announced months ago. What could it possibly be about, I wondered. Well . . . it is about one of my own worst fears. And one of yours too. A beautifully written tale about a horrific subject, it's told in a kind of second person that really serves the story well.

Kevin Lucia's "Therapy" is a hypnotic, psychedelic cross between "Risky Business" and "A Clockwork Orange" with slithery tentacled creatures thrown in for good measure. Those of us who suffered through the embarrassment of junior high physical exams, or who ever had a party when their parents were out, will be relieved to learn that we survived relatively unscathed.

In "Available" by Horace James, a contractor suffers an embarrassing accident and finds himself in the Bloom Memorial emergency room. But he's not just any contractor. He has "family ties" to Bloom, as his mother once worked there. He soon learns that his fear of contracting AIDS is the least of his troubles. Extra points for being the first to introduce us to Dr. Bloom.

Alice finds herself looking through a different kind of looking glass in Catherine J. Gardner's "Cold Coffee Cups & Curious Things." Evoking treasured memories of favored "Twilight Zone" episodes, the story is about a woman locked in a small room with no memory of who she is or how she got there. I confess that after reading it twice, I'm still not sure who she is or how she got there.

But I read it twice.

Interestingly, Paul Harris's "A Kind of Living" is the first first-person entry in the anthology. This well-titled tale calls to mind some of the themes imagined by Philip K. Dick, telling the story of a cryogenically frozen cancer patient who when awakened, believes they have finally found the cure. Of course at Bloom Memorial, the cure is often worse than the disease.

I have no idea if the Hindu mythos plumbed in J. P. Wilson's "Heart Matters" has any basis in fact. But I recalled while reading that from Robert R. McCammon's "Baal" to Gore Vidal's "Kalki," the Hindu pantheon of Gods and Goddesses has provided plenty of chills over the years. The moral I took from this tale is that longing for immortality -- and taking steps to achieve it -- is often not all it's cracked up to be. It's sometimes a bitch.

Jeremy Kelly's "Post-Procedural Care on the Bloom Memorial Line" recounts the tale of a young couple who go hiking in the woods, off the beaten path, and encounter what they think is an abandoned railbed. The folks in Deliverance had it easy compared to these two. The most horrific tale in the anthology thus far.

"Prosthesis" by Daniel I. Russell gets the truth-in-titling award, as the story concerns an abandoned wing of Bloom Memorial that has been turned into a state-of-the-art prosthetics shop. As with all things Bloom, the patients hoping to be made whole again might have been better off with old-fashioned hooks and peg legs. Another horrific tale that ratchets up the gore. Extra points for using the phrase "aqueous humour."

By the time you get to Bryce Albertson's "Universal Donor," the hand of the editor and the placement of the stories begins to reveal itself. Like the previous two shorts, this one ratchets up the horror just a bit more, and it is here where the anthology becomes not for the faint of heart. The story details a perhaps not so futuristic scenario wherein criminals pay for their misdeeds with little bits of themselves. PS: I don't even want to know where or how the author came up with the idea for perhaps the most demonic use of hemostats imaginable.

I don't quite know what to say about Douglas R. Burchill's entry "7734" except that I want some of what he's smoking. Guy goes into the hospital for a simple appendectomy and all hell breaks loose. Literally. Bloom Memorial here is an organic thing, set in an in-between place and run by creatures whose motives remain a mystery. Still, it is the first hopeful story in the anthology, letting the reader know that -- setting aside what horrific thing you might have been turned into -- there may still be hope for escape.

Being of the male persuasion, I instinctively crossed my legs before beginning Jennifer Greylyn's "Snip." I was relieved to soon learn the subject matter was not what I assumed. The second first-person tale in the anthology, it begins on a slow evening at Bloom Memorial, when a man comes in with abdominal pain. Despite the carnage of the evening, this is the second tale in a row that ends on a hopeful note. Therefore, I find myself dreading the next.

Vince A. Liaguno's "The Night Nurse of Cobblestone" takes place in the nursing home adjunct of Bloom Memorial, where those who have lost their minds to dementia are luckier than Albert, who has merely suffered a stroke and is now a mute prisoner in his own body, forced to suffer the degradations of the title character. My dread was unwarranted. A beautifully written tale whose end left me smiling.

The next and last story in the anthology is my own, titled "Ohrwurm." Taking place in Bloom's Psychiatric Annex, the story concerns a detective investigating a suicide who comes away with perhaps more than he bargained for.

Understanding that my own inclusion no doubt shades my opinion, I am blown away by the quality of the stories, and can only imagine how good those stories must have been that for whatever reason were not included.

The book itself is carefully edited and remarkably free of errors or typos, the glaring exceptions that I caught being the misspelling of "Douglas" on Mr. Burchill's story and the Table of Contents error that attributes my story to another author. I figure I get credited where it counts, though.

Thanks again to Nathaniel Lambert and R. Scott McCoy of Necrotic Tissue for including me in this wonderful endeavor. I am honored to be in this great company of twisted minds.

Have you bought your copy yet?


Cate Gardner said...

I'm not sure who she is or how she got their either. ;)

Brendan P. Myers said...

Heh. Course, in the end . . . at Bloom Memorial . . . it doesn't really matter.

Curious if you chose "Alice" as the characters name on purpose. The "through the looking glass" analogy fits just too well.

Cate Gardner said...

I did choose the Alice name on purpose, I was going through a 'Wonderland' phase.

Brendan P. Myers said...

Ahh. Makes perfect sense. Subtly done, though. I didn't even pick up on it 'til I reflected back on the story before writing the blurb.

Unknown said...

Brendan, do you mind if I quote your review of "7734" of my author site? It made me laugh out loud and clap my hands. When I finished writing that story, even I asked myself, "What the Hell?"

Brendan P. Myers said...

Absolutely, Douglas! Feel free.

When you ask even yourself "What the hell?" after finishing something . . . you know you're probably onto something. Sincerely enjoyed the hell out of it.

And the . . . thing the guy turned into is one of those things I will no doubt keep with me always. Thanks for that.

I think.

Wayne said...

Brendan, sorry to be so late to the party. Thanks for the good review of the stories, and I'm so happy that you were intrigued by the title of "Deep Kimchi." -- Best, Wayne H.

Brendan P. Myers said...

Thanks for stopping by, Wayne!

Truly did enjoy your story, and wish you continued success.