ARTICLE – REVIEW (April 2018)

A Machen-Inspired Skin-Crawler

Creep by Jon Gower

Reviewed by Brian Manton

Jon Gower is no stranger to the uncanny and unsettling. His previous short story collections, Big Fish and Too Cold for Snow, contain stories that play in realms of the weird and the gruesome. Jon has also written a number of Welsh language story collections, for which I am patiently awaiting translation. One of these stories is translated here in Horla: It Didn’t End at Dinner (previously published in Welsh as ‘The Last Vampire of Clydach’). I was happy to see this quiescence of Jon’s English language short fiction punctuated by his new chapbook, Creep; the first of the Wentwood Tales published by Three Impostors—a new series of limited edition short stories by a number of different authors, taking inspiration from the writing of Arthur Machen and from the landscape of his early life. The booklet is a handsome design, with its yellow buckram cover and befitting font choices, textured paper stock, and endpaper illustration by John Selway.

“When they said that Hubert Moyle, Cold Blow made your skin creep what they really meant was that his own skin crept. Crept away from him. And it was as terrifying an apparition as it sounds. The unpeeling of him.”

The towns and villages surrounding Wentwood forest are a Greek chorus of concern. There is an uproar and a panic about wrongskins. Young Billy Vaughan was struck dumb by what he saw happen to poor old Hubert Moyle, and since that night bodies are showing up, glistening without their skin, while unsettling remnants are being happened upon in the countryside—the shuck of an arm and hand, snagged on a gorse bush like a discarded glove, or what’s left of a face hanging from a hanged man. The woe and the worriment is getting all up inside of people. Some, who’ve encountered the leftovers of the wrongskins, have been left broken, disjointed from their old selves and searching for purchase on a world that used to make sense. 

Others have been feeling unexplained urges, a drawing towards—towards strange old books that might give some enlightenment, some hope.

Hope, such that it is, arrives in the form of Inspector Royce of Scotland Yard. A deductivist. A man who might share with you details of the best cigar to light, so to mask the smell of a cadaver that died from this or that particular unpleasantness. But the man who brought down the dwarf murderers of Epsom forest and uncrucified the false-messiah of Hounslow has not before encountered a case such as this, where the otherworldliness defies his ability to explicate and handcuff it away. Can he solve the case of the Wentwood wrongskins?

In Creep, Jon Gower creates that palpable sense of the unknown, the otherside, that Machen too was known for. The characterful upside-left sayings and metaphors of the townsfolk make the real world real, just as the wrongskins creep all over it, leaving a trail of forbidden knowledge in their wake. As with Mrs. Richards’ horrific story-within-the-story (which perhaps wears the influence of Caradoc Evans), it is not clear whether this tale takes place a long, long time ago or if Jon is telling a story about now. It feels older, but the threat still feels present, creeping in the dark. The climax builds to a tense and gruesome scene reminiscent of Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses.

Read Creep, preferably before darkness falls, and you may be granted a glimpse, at the end, of that other shore where Machen and Lovecraft and Gower have dared to venture and return with tales of the unknowable.

Limited copies of Creep are available from Three Impostors here: http://www.threeimpostors.co.uk/CREEP

Future Wentwood Tales releases, featuring the work of Matthew G. Rees, Catherine Fisher, Horatio Clare and Tom Bullough, are in the pipeline.

Follow Three Impostors on Twitter for updates: @ThreeImpostors

Reviewer Brian Manton is a writer and short film maker from the Viking-settled city of Limerick in Ireland. His writing has appeared in Opposum Magazine, Caught by the River and Chester University’s Flash magazine. He has a background in printing and design, has taught film and creative writing and currently works in higher education supporting literacy skills.