Rats and Wyrms

Death Drives a Semi by Edo van Belkom, containing the following stories: The Rug; But Somebody’s Got to Do It; Death Drives a Semi; The Basement; Mother and Child; Mark of the Beast; Scream String; S.P.S.; The Cold; Blood Count; Ice Bridge; No Kids Allowed; The Piano Player Has No Fingers; And Injustice for Some; Roadkill; Lip-O-Suction; Afterlife; Family Ties; Rat Food (with David Nickle); and Baseball Memories (Collected 1998): Prolific Canadian writer Edo van Belkom’s first collection of short stories is terrific, a fine assortment of horror stories from the first ten years of his writing career.

Robert Sawyer’s introduction strains a bit in its attempt to compare van Belkom to too many disparate writers. The range of stories here, in terms of style and approach, probably most resembles the early stories of Richard Matheson, or Robert Bloch after his initial Lovecraftian pastiche stage, or even New England horror writer Joseph Payne Brennan. Van Belkom is very much plot-oriented, and very much a writer in the plain style favoured by so many genre authors.

Van Belkom has a droll, black sense of humour that suits some of the stories, and his attempts to breathe new life (or unlife) into tired horror tropes such as the Vampire reflect that sense-of-humour, as we encounter vampires in the professional wrestling circuit and in the weight-reduction business. While many of the stories are gruesomely graphic, others are more traditional suspense (“Ice Bridge”), science fiction (“S.P.S.”), or plain-style Bradburiana (“The Basement”) with a touch of the gentler Twilight Zone episodes.

Some stories would make fine tales in the old E.C. horror comics of the 1950’s, centered as they are around ironic supernatural revenge (“The Rug”, “Roadkill”). Three of the best stories — “The Rug,” “The Basement,” and the award-winning “Rat Food” — sympathetically portray the plight of the elderly. “Rat Food” is one of those horror stories that may not be horror at all: I guess it depends on one’s tolerance for rats crawling all over one’s body. In summation, a collection that any serious reader of horror fiction really should pick up. Highly recommended.



The Wyrm by Stephen Laws (1987): Page-turner of a horror novel in which a terrible Something (the eponymous “Wyrm”) escapes from centuries of imprisonment to takes it vengeance on the small Northern English bordertown whose residents defeated it in the early 17th century.

While The Wyrm doesn’t have the depth or complexity of similar novels of the 1980’s that include Stephen King’s It and Ramsey Campbell’s The Hungry Moon, the novel nonetheless kept me reading quickly through to the end. The characters are sympathetic if a bit flatly drawn at times.

The Wyrm itself is an interesting creation, though as with other such super-monsters (such as Pennywise in It), it talks too much and the novel reveals too many of its thoughts, making it less terrifying than a more silent creature might have been. Still, a worthwhile light read. Recommended.

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