Saturday, August 24, 2013

Countdown: The Top 20 Joe R. Lansdale Works of Short Fiction--#15

[For the previous entry on the Countdown, click here.]

#15. "God of the Razor"

Humor is an undeniable hallmark of Lansdale's fiction, but anyone who thinks Champion Joe is always in a joking mood needs to consider this 1987 piece of relentless sinisterness (collected in Bumper Crop).

Lansdale establishes an ominous atmosphere from the outset, as the antique-hunting protagonist Richards ventures into an abandoned Southern home.  The place is a "Gothic" wreck, covered in "dust and darkness"; strips of fallen wallpaper hang down "like the drooping branches of weeping willows."  When Richards opens the door to the basement, he's hit with a cold blast of air laced with "a sour smell like a freezer full of ruined meet."  Partial descent of a rotted, rickety staircase reveals a pool of floodwater filled with rats and curious volleyball-esque objects (that prove to be decapitated heads).

An even greater horror looms behind Richards, who suddenly spies a stranger standing at the top of the staircase.  The young man is an apparent psychopath, sharing a tale about an occult razor blade whose ivory handle is carved with designs and symbols "used for calling up a demon."  Allegedly the metal in this weapon "goes all the way back to a sacrificial altar the Druids used," and licks up blood "like a kid sucking the sweet out of a sucker."  The cut from this blade, when non-lethal, works "like a vampire's bite," trans-forming the victim into a vicious predator.

Unfortunately for Richards, the speaker isn't simply deranged but supernaturally possessed by the eponymous demonic deity.  The young man verbally depicts, and flickeringly embodies, a monster destined to become one of Lansdale's most iconic characters:
Tall and black...not Negro...but black like obsidian rock.  Had eyes like smashed windshield glass and teeth like polished stickpins.  Was wearing a top hat with this shiny band made out of chrome razor blades.  His coat and pants were made out of human flesh, and sticking out of the pockets of his coat were gnawed fingers, like after-dinner treats.  And he had this big old turnip pocket watch dangling out of his pants pocket on a strand of gut.  The watch swung between his legs as he walked.  And that plopping sound, know what that was?  His shoes.  He had these tiny, tiny feet and they were fitted right into the mouths of these human heads.  One of the heads was a woman's and it dragged long black hair behind it when the God walked.
The God of the Razor overwhelms not just poor Richards but the reader as well.  This ebon menace is every bit as visually arresting and effortlessly terrifying as Clive Barker's Pinhead.  Lansdale's devilish figure has subsequently manifested in the novel The Nightrunners and in other short stories, but the first cut is still the deepest-chilling.

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