Thursday, May 31, 2012

Short Story Spotlight: "Heaven of Animals"

From Joe R. Lansdale's Dead in the West and Steve Vernon's Long Horn, Big Shaggy to Roland gunslinging against "slow mutants" in "The Little Sisters of Eluria" and Sheriff Rick riding his horse into the hostile territory of Atlanta on The Walking Dead, zombies and the Western have proven to be an excellent mix (perhaps the seamlessness of the genre blend stems from the technological rollback that is a corollary to apocalypse, and the sense of a re-opened frontier created by the collapse of civilization).  John Horner Jacobs is the latest writer to join the Weird-Western wagon trail, with his story "Heaven of Animals" reading like a cross between Lonesome Dove and Night of the Living Dead

In the piece, Jacobs details a splattery version of a cattle drive, as cowboys in a post-pandemic Arkansas round up and lead a "herd" of shambling revenants from the wilds and into modified slaughtering pens.  The author does a fine job of building a new-world variant of the Old West, complete with ambushed caravans and seedy saloon scenes.  There's plenty of suspense and bloody gunplay, but the most entertaining aspect of the story might be the banter between grizzled herder Jake and his mystic-minded, "phony Indian" sidekick Red Wolf (whom Jake sardonically dubs "Tonto").  "Heaven of Animals" (collected in the Kindle ebook Fierce as the Grave: A Quartet of Horror Stories) is a quick, vivid read that dispels the romantic aura of the cowboy lifestyle with haunting horror.

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