Things You Need – Kevin Lucia
(Crystal Lake Publishing)
I enjoy collections and anthologies but with so many available these days, it takes something special for a new publication to rise above the herd and Lucia has achieved that. By cleverly intertwining the individual stories with the thread of the tale of a traveling salesman, he effectively creates a story within a story which ends with a twist I did not see coming.
Johnny is a sales rep, disillusioned with his life, despairing of his future, ready to turn his .38 on himself; however, before he can commit this act, he finds himself browsing the shelves of Handy’s Pawn & Thrift in the town of Clifton Heights. This shop gives you what you need – although this might not necessarily be what you want. Each item he handles – a tape player, an old Magic Eight Ball, a phone, a word processor – takes him away to other lives, all featuring characters who are trapped in one way or another. A ghost haunts his old den in The Office, the nightmare of being trapped in rooms and hallways continues in Out of Field Theory, Scavenging and A Place for Broken and Discarded Things. In each, the main character has to face up to, or accept certain truths, much as the character of Johnny is forced to do, each tale taking him nearer to his own truth.
Johnny too is trapped, he is locked mentally into his own depression and physically in the store, with no apparent escape from either. The shopkeeper has disappeared and, between the tales, he finds himself facing never-ending corridors and suddenly-appearing trapdoors, all the while feeling an increasing desire to kill himself. This parallels the stories he reads or hears, an overarching theme which makes sense when you read Almost Home, the tale of Johnny himself, and which delivers an unexpected, and wonderfully conceived, twist.
This is Death of a Salesman written for the horror market. The stories are flawless and original, avoiding the usual, hackneyed tropes, with no weak links between them. A thoroughly enjoyable read for the longer autumnal nights.