The Books Of Blood Advent Calendar
KR: Door 22: The Last Illusion – Pete Mesling
“The night, which had always been a place of promise, belonged too much to the Breed, who had taken its name for themselves. And why not? All darkness was one darkness in the end. Of heart or heavens; one darkness.” – Clive Barker
While not part of the BOOKS OF BLOOD series in the U.K., “”Cabal”” was originally published in the United States as Volume VI of the collection. Living in the U.K. I first came across “”Cabal”” as a stand alone novella, and I am grateful to Kendall Reviews for allowing me the opportunity to present my favourite story.
I have read “Cabal” so many times since I first got hold of a copy in the mid-nineties I have lost count. My first impression of the book was discovering a simple tale of the macabre, a rallying cry for outsiders who live on the fringe. Its message is that it’s okay to be punk, goth, weird and different. I could identify with that. My little gothic heart leapt at the idea of safety in community, that there was a place for us among like-minded folk. We would band together against the cruelty of the outside world and defend our right to listen to non-mainstream music and wear a lot of black. I was very naive. Over the next thirty years I read it many times, watched the film repeatedly and it became a favourite familiar friend. Still, my understanding remained superficial.
Two years ago I decided to read it again after a long break. This time I read it in tears. A lot has changed for me since I first began reading the story; I married, I had a child and through my autistic child I discovered I am also autistic.
Now, a story about monsters living underground in an abandoned cemetery became much deeper. I had always considered the real monsters of the story to be the “Naturals” but now each tiny detail became focused and created truly terrifying implications.
In thirty years of reading this book I had failed to notice how each scene of tenderness and mercy among the Nightbreed was juxtaposed immediately by an example of cruelty, torture and horror from those who considered themselves to be normal humans.I had not previously felt such anger about Lori’s reaction to her first sight of the Breed, but now I was raging at her. The protagonist’s girlfriend showed such revulsion and disgust when she saw that Babette and Rachel were physically different to her. She escapes Midian, certain of their monstrosity and wickedness, but falls immediately into the confusion and terror of being attacked by the murderous Decker. It throws her assumptions about who is trustworthy and who is a real monster into chaos, yet still she thinks of the Breed as horrors. I was furious. How could she not see past the surface to the heart beneath? Even Lori’s interaction with the man at the gas station, who swears at and threatens violence towards his children, can be set against the tenderness and concern Rachel shows for her child, Babette, in the subsequent scene.
Reading “Cabal” now, as a newly-diagnosed autistic woman at 49 years old, was revelatory. What I had begun to learn about autistic masking—adopting and attempting to emulate the speech and behaviour patterns of others in order to fit in and avoid being singled out as weird and different—fitted well with the author’s description of the Breed. People with visible and invisible differences that set them apart from the rest of humanity but who were accepting of their variations. They had made peace with who they were and stopped wearing unhelpful masks that didn’t fit. Masking for autistics takes up a lot of energy and often leads to a breakdown or feeling burned out, but feeling confident enough to give yourself permission to unmask in public is hard. Many do not feel accepted unless among other autistics. I envied the Nightbreed for their freedom and their community even while they hid in underground catacombs.
In contrast to this is Decker. A murderer who wears a mask in order to be different, in order to become a killer. His mask isn’t there to protect himself but to embolden his violent persona. He isn’t trying to fit in with the rest of the world, he is setting himself apart with Button Face and elevating his psychopathy while never truly accepting the mask is his own self.
When cornered by Boone in the cemetery, Decker begs for his life and seeks common ground with his former patient:
“You must feel the same as me,” he said. “Behind that skin you have to wear.”
But Boone has discovered his true self among the denizens of Midian. As Nightbreed he has found the freedom to cast off the mask he used to wear in life:
“You don’t understand, ”Boone said. “I’m not behind this face, I am this face.”
Once Boone accepts his existence, both monstrous and human, he is free to be truly himself, to know love, ecstasy and purpose. The scene of Boone and Lori finding pleasure in each other, acceptance of each other, compares starkly with the very next chapter where Eigerman, his deputies, and the townsfolk he has managed to bring together in an angry mob take delight in burning the community of Midian. Eigerman finds his pleasure in the torture and murder of those he considers to be sub-human freaks. Parallels with totalitarian regimes of the past and even current incidents of hate crimes against the disabled, the LGBTQ+ community and racially motivated attacks can never be far from one’s thoughts on reading this chapter. It continues with the description that the deputies do not share their Chief’s relish in the task but they are afraid to disobey. Barker all but spells out ‘they are only following orders’. Horror is a superb vehicle for social and political commentary when so much of politics can be genuinely horrifying.
The Nightbreed are considered monstrous and evil, deserving of eradication by the mere fact of their physical appearance. The Naturals, those we would under other circumstances call normal humans, while appearing safe, behave in ways that show them to be wildly dangerous. Actions in this case speaking volumes about the relative characters and morality of each group.
So I cried. I read “Cabal” once more and cried. I thought of myself and how no matter what I did to fit in as a child, a teenager, even an adult at university and work, I always failed to live up to the unspoken rules of humanity. I cried for my son whose difficulties in navigating the neurotypical world are much more profound than my own. I cried for my brother, physically disabled with cerebral palsy and treated as barely human. I cried for my friends who have been assaulted, spat upon and abused for being gay, lesbian, trans, black, brown; different to the ones who think themselves “normal”. For a whole new set of reasons I identified with the Nightbreed.
In the end, the Breed become refugees, hiding in shadows to avoid further persecution and awaiting their promised saviour. Boone is re-baptised as Cabal and charged with the task of finding a place for them in the human world.
Those who see themselves as an outcast, an outsider, must also find their place in the human world; the world that thinks of anything which deviates from a narrow view of the norm as needing to be eradicated or fixed. We don’t want anything more than acceptance of our unmasked faces. In the absence of a saviour such as Boone/Cabal we must be our own redeemer.
Clive Barker offers no answers for us denizens of Midian in the real world. He merely holds up a mirror and says, “The world is like this and perhaps it ought not to be that way”.
I can only nod, wipe my tears away, and agree.
Jo Blair is a lover and writer of all things dark and weird from the industrial North East of England. Her passion for the gothic, local folk tales and lore of witchcraft seeps into the core of all she creates. She lives with her husband, son, cat and chooks and dreams of owning a secluded cabin in the woods (complete with broadband and a hot tub.)
You can follow Jo on Twitter @SynthAndStrings
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