In the quiet backwaters of Connecticut there is a small train station. And every day, as his father and his father’s father have done for decades, Chief Stockton sits and sees every person that disembarks the train, waiting to catch something that isn’t a person at all. It’s a nice atmospheric piece of a man doing the necessary thing long after everyone else has forgotten what he does; a lone man silently saving the world.
And then half-way through the story reveals what he’s waiting for: monsters. What follows is a longer quote than I prefer, but there’s no other way to do this cavalcade justice:
The Amazon Manfish, broken out of a research institute in ’56, gulping air through gills unequipped to process anything but warm water, shocked dead or comatose by a plunge through ice into Williamson’s Kill. The madman’s brain, disembodied in its jar, bubbling and flashing party lights as its mentacles kept the humpbacked surgeon in thrall, using his rheumy eyes to see and his warty hands to throttle. The roadhouse singer who exactly resembled a great-grandmother whose picture lay forgotten in the Herald archives, and whose bell-clear high notes stayed in the minds of men who found themselves ageing decades overnight. The long-nailed Chinaman with his platoon of silent servants, hatchets inside their sleeves, and his hothouse menagerie of exotic and deadly fauna. The slithering stretch of rancid greenery which sometimes took the form of a man of muck and root and opened huge, lucid eyes in its face of filth. The quiet, violet-eyed Christian family who spoke in even monotones and kept to themselves until someone noticed that if you told one of the children something then its parents – all the way across town – suddenly knew it too. The travelling freakshow and its too-tall, too-clever ringmaster. The lights in the sky and mysterious livestock fatalities. The experiments gone wrong in neglected houses outside the town limits. The grey-faced motorcycle gang whose fingers clicked to a rockin’ beat as they tore apart the succession of ugly fast-food outlets thrown up on the site of the diner where they were ambushed and apparently wiped out in 1965, whose arrival was always prefaced by teenage death songs of the ’60s coming unbidden from every radio and jukebox in town. The gentle murderer whose skull was swollen with acromegaly and whose heart pulsed only for the beautiful blind piano virtuoso whose short-tempered teachers tended to show up with their spines snapped. The extreme aesthete who could only paint masterworks if his subjects were beautiful and bloodless. The sheeted ghosts who were really scheming heirs, or vice versa. The neon-eyed swami who was always in plain view of a dozen witnesses, performing his mind-reading act, as the professors who once profaned a temple in a far-off land were struck down one by one with distinctive wavy daggers in their chests. The clever ape.
All of these have passed through the train station, and Chief Stockton and his forefathers have sent them to the cemetery. At the time of the story, no monster has appeared in a long time. But Stockton isn’t ready to end his vigil just yet; his instincts tell him there’s one monster he hasn’t yet encountered.
Someone online calls this story “a tribute to Charles L. Grant’s ‘Oxrun dead’ paperbacks.” While I don’t know the work to make that comparison, what I can say is it’s a satisfying epitaph to all those classic larger-than-life horror movie monsters; I enjoyed looking through the litany of creatures quoted above to see how many I could recognise. And even without that subtext, it’s an effective tale about the last secret protector of the village finally meeting with the last threat he’ll ever have to face.
The Chill Clutch of the Unseen by Kim Newman
Availability: print only
Word count: 5,000
First published: Quietly, Now, edited by Patrick Burke, 2004, Borderlands Press
Where to find it: The Mammoth Book of Monsters, edited by Stephen Jones, 2007, Carroll & Graf