Harrison was the Monster Detective, a storybook hero. Now he's in his mid-thirties and spends most of his time popping pills and not sleeping. Stan became a minor celebrity after being partially eaten by cannibals. Barbara is haunted by unreadable messages carved upon her bones. Greta may or may not be a mass-murdering arsonist. Martin never takes off his sunglasses. Never. No one believes the extent of their horrific tales, not until they are sought out by psychotherapist Dr. Jan Sayer.
What happens when these seemingly-insane outcasts form a support group? Together they must discover which monsters they face are within—and which are lurking in plain sight.
Daryl shoved this book into my hands one day and man, is it great! A support group for survivors of horror movie scenarios, this is gruesome and hilarious in turns, and it was no wonder Wes Craven picked it for a TV adaptation. – Lavie Tidhar
"[STARRED REVIEW] This complex novel—scathingly funny, horrific yet oddly inspiring—constructs a seductive puzzle from torn identities, focusing on both the value and peril of fear. When enigmatic Dr. Jan Sayer gathers survivors of supernatural violence for therapy, she unwittingly unlocks evil from the prison of consciousness. Harrison, a cynical monster-hunter, wallows in lethargy. Suicidal Barbara burns to read the secret messages inscribed on her bones. Cantankerous Stan is the lone survivor of a cannibal feast. After paranoid Martin sees slithery spirits lingering around volatile Greta, a powerful young woman decorated with mystically charged scars, ancient evils usher the rag-tag survivors to a battle with the Hidden Ones, exiled deities trapped in prisons of flesh. Gregory's beautiful imagery and metaphors bring bittersweet intimacy and tenderness to the primal wonder of star-lit legends. Isolated people, both victims and victimizers, are ghosts in a waking world, blind to their encounters with living nightmares. Blending the stark realism of pain and isolation with the liberating force of the fantastic, Gregory (Afterparty) makes it easy to believe that the world is an illusion, behind which lurks an alternative truth—dark, degenerate, and sublime."– Publishers Weekly
"Clever, and filled with the creeping dread of what's in the flickering shadow next to you and what's just around the corner that suffuses the best horror. I loved it."– Ellen Datlow, Bram Stoker, World Fantasy, and International Horror Guild award-winning editor of The Best Horror of the Year series
"Charming and horrifying—you won't be able to stop reading it."– Tim Powers, award-winning author of Declare and The Stress of Her Regard
"Daryl Gregory is a writer I would happily follow into any dark place he wanted me to go. This is a labyrinth of a story, intricate as a spider's web—and like a spider's web, each piece informs the whole. Beautiful."– Seanan McGuire, author of the October Daye series and Half-Off Ragnarok
There were six of us in the beginning. Three men and two women, and Dr. Sayer. Jan, though some of us never learned to call her by her first name. She was the psychologist who found us, then persuaded us that a group experience could prove useful in ways that one-on-one counseling could not. After all, one of the issues we had in common was that we each thought we were unique. Not just survivors, but sole survivors. We wore our scars like badges.
Consider Harrison, one of the first of us to arrive at the building for that initial meeting. Once upon a time he'd been the Boy Hero of Dunnsmouth. The Monster Detective. Now he sat behind the wheel of his car, watching the windows of her office, trying to decide whether he would break his promise to her and skip out. The office was in a two-story, Craft-style house on the north side of the city, on a woodsy block that could look sinister or comforting depending on the light. A decade before, this family home had been rezoned and colonized by shrinks; they converted the bedrooms to offices, made the living room into a lobby, and planted a sign out front declaring its name to be "The Elms." Maybe not the best name, Harrison thought. He would have suggested a species of tree that wasn't constantly in danger of being wiped out.
Today, the street did not look sinister. It was a sunny spring day, one of the few tolerable days the city would get before the heat and humidity rolled in for the summer. So why ruin it with ninety minutes of self-pity and communal humiliation?
He was suspicious of the very premise of therapy. The idea that people could change themselves, he told Dr. Sayer in their pre-group interview, was a self-serving delusion. She believed that people were captains of their own destiny. He agreed, as long as it was understood that every captain was destined to go down with the ship, and there wasn't a damned thing you could do about it. If you want to stand there with the wheel in your hand and pretend you were steering, he told her, knock yourself out.
She'd said, "Yet you're here."
He shrugged. "I have trouble sleeping. My psychiatrist said he wouldn't renew my prescriptions unless I tried therapy."
"Is that all?"
"Also, I might be entertaining the idea of tamping down my nihilism. Just a bit. Not because life is not meaningless—I think that's inarguable. It's just that the constant awareness of its pointlessness is exhausting. I wouldn't mind being oblivious again. I'd love to feel the wind in my face and think, just for minute, that I'm not going to crash into the rocks."
"You're saying you'd like to be happy."
She smiled. He liked that smile. "Promise me you'll try one meeting," she said. "Just give me one."
Now he was having second thoughts. It wasn't too late to drive away. He could always find a new psychiatrist to fork over the meds.
A blue and white transit van pulled into the handicap parking spot in front of the house. The driver hopped out. He was a hefty white kid, over six feet tall with a scruffy beard, dressed in the half-ass uniform of the retail class: colored polo over Gap khakis. He opened the rearmost door of the van to reveal an old man waiting in a wheelchair.
The driver thumbed a control box, and the lift lowered the chair and occupant to the ground with the robotic slow motion of a space shuttle arm. The old man was already half astronaut, with his breathing mask and plastic tubes and tanks of onboard oxygen. His hands seemed to be covered by mittens.
Was this geezer part of the group, Harrison wondered, or visiting some other shrink in the building? Just how damaged were the people that Dr. Sayer had recruited? He had no desire to spend hours with the last people voted off Victim Island.
The driver seemed to have no patience for his patient. Instead of going the long way around to the ramp, he pushed the old man to the curb, then roughly tilted him back—too far back—and bounced the front wheels down on the sidewalk. The old man pressed his mittened hands to his face, trying to keep the mask in place. Another series of heaves and jerks got the man up the short stairs and into the house.
Then Harrison noticed the girl. Eighteen, maybe nineteen years old, sitting on a bench across from the house, watching the old man and the driver intently. She wore a black, long-sleeved T-shirt, black jeans, black Chuck Taylors: the Standard Goth Burka. Her short white hair looked like it had been not so much styled as attacked. Her hands gripped the edge of the bench and she did not relax even after the pair had gone inside. She was like a feral cat: skinny, glint-eyed, shock-haired. Ready to bolt.
For the next few minutes he watched the girl as she watched the front of the house. A few people passed by on the sidewalk, and then a tall white woman stepped up to the door. Fortyish, with careful hair and a Hillary Clinton pantsuit. She moved with an air of concentration; when she climbed the steps, she placed each foot carefully, as if testing the solidity of each surface.
A black guy in flannels and thick work boots clumped up the stairs behind the woman. She stopped, turned. The guy looked up at the roof of the porch. An odd thing. He carried a backpack and wore thick black sunglasses, and Harrison couldn't imagine what he saw up there. The white woman said something to him, holding open the door, and he nodded. They went inside together.
It was almost six o'clock, so Harrison assumed that everyone who'd gone in was part of the group. The girl, though, still hadn't made a move toward the door.
"Fuck it," Harrison said. He got out of the car before he could change his mind, and then walked toward the house. When he reached the front sidewalk he glanced behind him—casually, casually. The girl noticed him and looked away. He was certain that she'd been invited to the group too. He was willing to bet that she might be the craziest one of all.