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A new shift is about to start and the warden is…
Photo Credit: Red Wall Photography
Matthew R. Davis
The Shining by Stephen King
Well, if you’re going to play caretaker to a place that’s filled with lingering ghosts, how could this book not be your first choice? You could see it as a cautionary tale or an aspirational one, depending on how much of a dull boy you felt that night. And thematic relevance aside, this has always been one of my very favourite King tomes, which makes it one of the best books of all time in my humble estimation. This is prime Steve, firing on all cylinders and serving notice to the world that no matter your opinion on horror, you better sit up and start taking him seriously – turn your nose up all you like, literary snobs, but the shadows are rising, and they want the world as much as it wants them.
Alone with the Horrors by Ramsey Campbell
First off, perfect title for the situation. Secondly, it’s a grab bag of Campbell classics that covers three decades, which saves me having to pick a book from a single era of his storied career. Now that I think of it, we’re well overdue for a follow-up collection that cherry-picks some of his very best from the ensuing thirty years – since this volume covers 1962-1992, maybe we’ll only have to wait two more years for the next book. Now there’s a thought to keep me warm through those cold, dark nights alone with the horrors, wishing I hadn’t read his chilling tales in a graveyard but perversely relishing the way it’s convinced my imagination that the door to my hut needs to be locked from the inside at all times, just in case…
Two Worlds and in Between: The Very Best of Caitlín R. Kiernan, Volume One by Caitlín R. Kiernan
To be fair, you can’t go wrong with any of her collections, but like the previous entry, this volume would provide me with a selection of greatest hits and fan-favourite deep cuts. Kiernan’s work is vast in its imaginative scope and conjures up worlds far wider than most could ever imagine, and that would be a boon when all alone in the cemetery – her stories never plump for the old tottering skeletons, staggering zombies, and swooping ghosts that more classic weird tomes might provide, and really, those are the last things you want to be thinking about in a graveyard anyway. In her introduction, she disputes the notion that an author’s prose should be functional and nothing more, merely a window through which the story is seen, and claims that her own would be made of stained glass – you know, like the ones in that church out there at the edge of your new workplace.
The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All by Laird Barron
Running with the theme of authors who have multiple stellar collections to choose from, how about some Barron to keep those chills creeping your flesh? His style leans on the measured, verbose style that classic authors propounded, in case you miss your Lovecrafts and Jameses, whilst injecting enough pulp verve and bracing modernity to keep things very interesting indeed. The wind whistling through the keyhole of my hut door would summon a different kind of unease after reading this. Who needs those old standbys zombies and ghosts when you can face the terrifying idea that the cosmos is a cold, unfeeling place just seething with inimical forms of life that see us only as mildly amusing provender to be seasoned and devoured at their leisure?
Eating Fire: Selected Poetry 1965-1995 by Margaret Atwood
Time to break things up a bit with some poetry, and while Poe might seem the obvious choice for this position, I’ve never been a fan of the well-trodden path. You’ve got to love a bit of goth, sure, but let’s not play into its stereotypes, okay? You’re more likely to find Atwood in a pair of orthopaedic Crocs than buckle-bearing big black boots, but that’s not to say that her work is anything less than incisive, assertive, and fiercely intelligent. (Apologies to any Crocs wearers reading this.) Also, her writing comes from a place of determined feminism that you’ll never find in the wan, grave-pale ladies that crowd Poe’s poems, so there’s that. She can see the universe in a falling leaf or a puddle of polluted rainwater, which would be a great relief when all you’ve got to look at is tilting gravestones and claw-fingered trees.
Jerusalem by Alan Moore
Not only is this book a testament to Moore’s fiercely individual talent, encompassing everything from mind-bending fantasy to laugh-out-loud wit, but it’s fucking loooong. Those endless eerie nights aren’t exactly going to fly by, so you need something that’s going to engage you like a weirdo who corners you at a party and just won’t stop talking but who is nevertheless ceaselessly interesting (like no-one you’ve met at a real party, ever). It will take you weeks of close reading to get through this tome, but it’s packed so full of interesting characters, fascinating concepts, and intricate detail that it won’t truly begin to make sense until you’ve read it over again. And while starting this book a second time has proved a daunting prospect to me so far, the total lack of social intercourse and personal responsibilities involved in the caretaker job would make it the perfect time to dive back in.
Tomie by Junji Ito
It only makes sense to include a book that contains repeated resurrections, and since they all feature the same woman, this kind of makes up for my spurning of Poe. Despite Tomie’s recurring return from death, graveyards don’t figure at all in Ito’s eerie and surreal manga, which doesn’t mean that these scenarios wouldn’t play on the mind late at night. If you met this strange creature, would you be able to resist her allure when almost no-one else can? Would you join the ranks of her murderers, killing her in a possessive rage, and if so, would you go even crazier when she returns to taunt you as if nothing happened? Maybe you’ve taken on this lonely job as a way to deal with a relationship ending, in which case it might make your solitude easier to endure if, when you’re craving female company to light your desolate life, you think of the horrors that men can inflict upon women and the way that they can haunt you even unto death.
Ghastly Beyond Belief! by Kim Newman and Neil Gaiman
Working alone in a graveyard means you’re going to need some comic relief, and there’s only so many times you can pop a loose skull on one hand, wiggle its jaw, and pretend the jokes it’s telling aren’t ones you’ve heard a dozen times before. This book is a collection of movie quotes, poster taglines, and speculative fiction excerpts that run the gamut from ridiculous to pithy, from cringeworthy to truly witty and back again, and the droll commentary by our thrusting young authors (before either hit the Big Time) only highlights the hilarity. And because it quotes so widely, it’s almost like cheating the eight-volume limit a little, bringing in bits of hundreds of books and movies between just two covers.
Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me by The Cure
If I had to pick just one album – a cruel choice to push upon someone like me – then I’d want one that covers as much ground as possible. The Cure is my most beloved band, and while I could just as easily plump for Pornography or Disintegration, their unremitting bleakness might be a bit much in such grim surroundings. And so I’d prefer Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, which touches on the darker and weirder aspects of the group but also includes swathes of bright colour and romance to remind me that, outside the cemetery, life and love are blooming. And how could I pass up the chance to twirl among the gravestones with my shovel as a dance partner, drunk on cheap hooch and singing along to “Why Can’t I Be You?”…? They’ll say I’m mad, but we all go a little crazy sometimes. Haven’t you?
Assuming that the traditional accoutrements of a graveyard caretaker are provided – food, an old naval cap and dirty coat, plentiful spirits of the liquid kind, that sort of thing – then I’d have to plump for my acoustic guitar. Bass is my main axe, but six strings would give me more range when strumming mournfully along by lantern light, and I could play all those beloved songs that aren’t on the one album I’m allowed. When I’m not reading, digging graves, warning foolish trespassing kids that they’re doomed etc, maybe I could write a concept album about mortality and life in the midst of death… that is, when I’m not penning new terror tales on the back of graveyard stationery instead.
Photo Credit: Red Wall Photography
Matthew R. Davis is an author and musician based in Adelaide, South Australia. He’s had a variety of crappy jobs, but at least none so far have involved dead people. His first collection of horror stories, If Only Tonight We Could Sleep, was released by Things in the Well in January 2020.
Find out more about Matthew by visiting his official website www.matthewrdavisfiction.wordpress.com
If Only Tonight We Could Sleep
If Only Tonight We Could Sleep by Matthew R. Davis collects thirteen heartfelt and haunting horror tales, including the Australian Shadows Awards-recognised “This Impossible Gift” and “The Heart of the Mission”, each illustrated with darkly beautiful images by Red Wallflower Photography.