Cul-de-sacs can be strange places.
I know of which I speak; my family lived on a cul-de-sac for years. For a while, my world was confined to that small little corner of the neighborhood. I knew not to go past the streetlight that was halfway down the block. I knew that when that streetlight came on, it was time for me to come inside. I knew not to trade toys with the guy that lived on the corner of the entrance to our street – he didn’t have a problem taking advantage of a kid who was only six. I knew I liked it when all the kids came over to play, but I especially liked it when the little blonde girl who lived two houses over came with them (even if I didn’t understand why I liked it).
I knew that the man across the street didn’t like kids playing in his yard. He made that perfectly clear, with a loud voice and a shaking fist, on several occasions.
I knew that the person who came banging on our door late at night sometimes was the mom of one of my friends, but my parents were always careful to shield her identity from me. I didn’t know until later that she was going around to all of the houses, asking for whatever pills people could spare out of their medicine cabinet.
I loved that street and my time there, but it wasn’t until I watched The ’Burbs several years later that I really came to appreciate the eccentricity of the place. That movie took it over the top, of course, but it also captured the essence of living on a street that is, in part, closed in on itself. The rumors, the secrets that lurked behind closed doors, the strange alchemy of a group of personalities that didn’t choose to live next to each other, but just happened to end up there. The ’Burbs captured that unique feeling and turned it up to 10 for comedic effect.
Now comes Bentley Little’s The Circle, a novella coming later this year from Cemetery Dance (originally published in 2002 as part of the collection Four Dark Nights from Leisure). Mr. Little also captures the spirit of life on a cul-de-sac, but rather than bend it for comedic effect he’s warped it into a work of pitch-black horror.
This is William Tell Circle, home to several families living in neat homes with squared-away yards. Except the one house, of course, the one that every neighborhood seems to have; it’s a broken-down mess with a weed-choked lawn and piles of junk dotting the yard and porch. The lady who lives there is known to be a professor and believed, at least by the younger residents of William Tell Circle, to be a witch. It’s said there’s some kind of altar in her backyard, and that the right kind of ritual will make all your wishes come true.
On this night a couple of teenagers decide to give the ritual a whirl. Predictably, the results are disastrous, and soon most of the neighbors find their lives turned upside-down by the forces that are unleashed. Mr. Little echoes the title of the story by starting in the middle of things, moving back to the beginning and then catching up by the end of the piece. It’s a great method, and allows Little to tell this otherwise straightforward tale in a way that preserves the tension and surprises for even the most experienced readers of horror.
There are some truly awful, disgusting and shocking images in the story – for those who haven’t read much of Little’s work, be aware that he doesn’t shy away from, well, anything. The rather innocuous title, not to mention the subtly creepy cover by illustrator Steve Upham, do nothing to betray the graphic nature of Little’s work. The Circle is a fun summer read, digestible in one sitting and best enjoyed while sitting in a comfortable chair on your porch, enjoying a cool evening breeze and keeping one eye on the people next door.
Order The Circle from Cemetery Dance
Blu Gilliand is a freelance writer of fiction and nonfiction. He covers horror fiction at his blog, October Country, and contributes interviews to the Horror World website. Follow him on Twitter at @BluGilliand.