Damn, but I liked this! Creepy and paranoid, dark and disturbing, The Sleeping Dead
reminds me of an old episode of Tales from the Darkside
- so much so that I could actually hear Donald Rubinstein's theme song running through my head as I read it.Richard Farren Barber
(who is definitely going on my list of authors to watch) has crafted a simple tale that is as relentless as it is unforgiving. All Jackson Smith wants to do is get away from the crazy man on the bus and get to his job interview on time, but a traffic snarl up ahead prompts a change of plans. When he gets out to walk across the bridge, Jackson finds himself drawn to the dark waters below, nearly seduced into leaping over the rail into their cold embrace. Up ahead, at least one other person has heard the same siren call, and not even the police seem able to motivate themselves to stop him from jumping.
When he arrives at the interview, Jackson finds one his future bosses rocking and moaning like the crazy man on the bus. Disoriented and off his game, he blows the interview and then is forced to watch as that very same man bashes his head against a window repeatedly until he falls to his death. After that, escaping the building is as much a matter of avoiding the other suicides as it is resisting his own. Fortunately, he finds one other woman fighting against the voices, and the two of them will drag one another through town, alternately trying to talk one another into and out of their own suicidal thoughts.
Like I said, this is a simple tale, but the dread is distinctly palatable. Barber gets deep inside our heads and makes us feel that same sense of hopeless despair as his characters. As much as we want them to succeed, to carry on and save the day, we can't help but feel they might be better off joining the piles of bodies that litter the streets and the river below. Instead, we get a journey that we have to be strong enough to see through, for there's no happily ever after here, no answers, and respite. It's a dark tale, but the courage of two strangers and the strength they take from one another is more powerful than any bonds of love or family ties.
We may never understand what drives The Sleeping Dead
, but that's fine, because some horrors can never be adequately explained. Instead, Barber leaves us to listen to our own voices, and determine for ourselves what dark truths they might hold.