The Books Of Blood Advent Calendar
The Yattering And Jack
The Yattering And Jack
“The demon was utterly stumped. If the man could not raise more than a flicker of concern when his cat was exploded in the dining-room, what chance had it got of ever breaking the bastard?” – Clive Barker
The Christmas Story You Didn’t Know You Needed
Okay, hear me out: “The Yattering and Jack” is the perfect holiday story.
Sure, it’s about a lesser demon trying to drive a man insane so his soul can be collected by the powers below. But the other main character is a widower who just wants to be loved by his daughters, have a pleasant home, and (of course) be moderately successful at his off-page gherkin importing business. If there was a romantic subplot, we’d be squarely in Hallmark territory.
Clive Barker’s 1984 short story “The Yattering and Jack” follows an unnamed Hellspawn (aka the Yattering) who has been assigned to torment Jack Polo into losing his mind. Failure is not an option. But unbeknownst to the newbie demon, Jack is well aware of Hell’s plans and has a strategy in place to subvert the Yattering’s efforts.
It’s one of my absolute favorite shorts in the history of horror. I’m not sure which character to love more, or which to root for most. Barker created them in perfect balance. The Yattering’s boredom, frustration, and cabin fever are utterly relatable (especially in the Covid era). Meanwhile, I’m honestly in envy of Jack’s ability to act completely calm and nonplussed in the face of the most heartbreaking, absurd, and terrifying things the Yattering puts him through (I seriously need to channel that zen facade the next time the internet goes out right when I need it).
There’s so much to love in this story, from the wasp/elephant hybrid that is Beelzebub to the fact that Christmas proves to be the perfect opportunity to make someone lose their grip on reality. Barker gets a lot of mileage from combining Christmas traditions with the idea that a Yattering is essentially a demonic poltergeist, resulting in spinning trees, exploding decorations, and a possessed turkey. It’s pretty zany, but that’s what makes it so fun. And Barker knows it, poking fun at the ludicrousness with meta lines like, “He seemed to live apart from his experience, living his life as an author might write a preposterous story, never involving himself in the narrative too deeply.”
The one thing I don’t love is what the Yattering does to Jack’s cats. Trigger warning: there is some violence toward animals, but it largely occurs off the page and isn’t graphic or prolonged.
All in all, in the absolute gold mine that is The Books of Blood, “The Yattering and Jack” is my particular favorite. The climactic scenes happen on Christmas day, so it’s a great choice for reading aloud with the family over the holidays. Just cover your kitten’s ears.
Caryn Larrinaga is a Basque-American mystery and horror writer. She has won multiple awards for her work, including the League of Utah Writers Silver Quill and the Cat Writers Association Muse Medallion. In 2021, she was named Writer of the Year by the League of Utah Writers. Her debut collection of short horror stories, Dread Softly, is available now wherever books are sold.
Caryn lives in Utah with her husband and their clowder of cats. She is an active member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, the Horror Writers Association, the Cat Writers Association, and the League of Utah Writers. Visit www.carynlarrinaga.com for free stories and true tales of haunted places.