Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion, by Margaret Killjoy
NYC, Tom Doherty Associates/TOR Books, August 2017, trade paperback, $14.99 (127 pages), Kindle $3.99.
The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion is the first novella in the new Danielle Cain horror series, “a dropkick-in-the-mouth anarcho-punk fantasy that pits traveling anarchist Danielle Cain against vengeful demons, hypocritical ideologues, and brutal, unfeeling officers of the law,” as a blurb says. #2 will be The Barrow Will Send What It May, to be published in April 2018. This is not a furry series; #2 will pit Danielle against zombies. But this #1 is fantasy-animal-related, although not anthropomorphic.
Danielle is the foul-mouthed narrator, a late-twenties now-cynical anarchist, no longer looking for the idealized commune where everyone loves everyone else and anarchy really works. As The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion begins, she is hitchhiking in rural Iowa to such a rumored commune, and she has to pull a knife on the car’s driver who does not want to let her out in the middle of “nowhere”.
“Ten years of putting up with shit like that from drivers. It was getting old. Hell, at twenty-eight, I was getting old. Ten years ago I’d talk to drivers about anything and love them for it. I loved the nice ones for their kindness, I loved the crazies for their stories, and sure, I hated the racist pieces of shit, but if nothing else I got to feel like I had the pulse of this racist, piece-of-shit country. But a decade is an awfully long time, and whatever shine I’d found on the shit that is hitchhiking had long since faded. Still, it got me where I wanted to go.” (p. 12)
Freedom, Iowa is a commune of about two hundred squatters and anarchist activists in an abandoned ghost town. But why Danielle wants to go there is:
“It was the last place Clay had lived, the last place he’d spent much time before he’d found his way west and his hand had shown his razor the way to his throat. No warning signs, no cries for help.
I had a lot of questions. If there were answers, I might find them in Freedom, Iowa.” (p. 13)
Danielle encounters the first horrific animal near the town right away.
“After a hundred yards and a couple turns, when the trees were getting thick enough to cast the whole of the road into shadow, I saw a deer on the shoulder ahead, rooting at something on the pavement. The beast was crimson red. Bloodred. I didn’t know deer even came in that color.
I crossed to the far side of the street so I wouldn’t disturb him, but I couldn’t help staring. A rabbit was dead on the ground beneath him, its belly up, its rib cage splayed open. The deer looked up at me then, his red muzzle dripping red blood.
On the right side of his head, he bore an antler. On the left side of his head, he bore two.” (ibid.)
Freedom, Iowa turns out to be the kind of deserted Midwest small town that you would find in a Stephen King short story. Houses’ roofs have fallen in. Cars are rusting at the curbs. It’s quiet. Too quiet. When the punk and hippie squatters appear, they’re all friendly but afraid. Clay had talked about her while he lived there, so they welcome her. They have names like Vulture, Doomsday, Thursday, Eric Tall-As-Fuck, and Kestrel. Danielle’s name is also her own adoption, but it’s not weird like that. She sees that one has a tattoo of a stylized three-antlered deer head on his neck.
“I was about to ask about it, but a sudden fear shut my mouth. There was something more to Freedom than I knew, and as much as I wanted to feel right at home, I didn’t.” (p. 21)
Okay, it’s a horror novella, so you can expect something grisly. It’s all animal-related.
“The sun sat fat and low on the western horizon, at the top of the street, and the last light of the day lent everything vivid faded colors. White lambs, dappled with red and purple wounds, paced a circle around both lanes of the street, not twenty yards from where we stood. Geese dodged in and out between them, and a regal goat oversaw the parade. Each creature had only a gaping wound where its rib cage had been, yet they lived. They opened their mouths to bellow and squawk and bleat, but their organless bodies let out only strange rasps.” (p. 24)
The ghoul animals are controlled by the deer.
“‘The deer’s name is Uliksi,’ she [Doomsday] told me again. ‘An endless spirit. A demon. A creature of vengeance hat walks these woods, swims in this river, watches this town. He’s been a guardian spirit, until tonight.’” (p. 28)
Why, if Uliksi has begun killing them, do Freedom’s hippies want to stay? Because they’ve finally gotten an anarchic community that works. A community of free-living friendship that’s worth fighting for, from The Establishment and from Uliksi’s ghoul animals. But the community’s defense leaves something to be desired.
“‘What do we do if we see anything?’ I asked.
‘Oh, right,’ Vulture said. He unslung a hunting horn from his belt. An honest-to-god hunting horn, like the kind that comes off an animal, with the tip cut off so you can blow through it. ‘Blow this. Or, you know, call someone. There’s decent cell signal everywhere in town and on this side of the hill. Maybe do both. I would do both.’
‘Okay,’ I said.
‘You’re looking for cops on the highway, large gatherings of undead animals, or I guess in this case very tall figures running around with my no-good ex-boyfriend or especially making their way toward the house.’
‘Got it,’ I said.
Vulture put his arm around my shoulders. ‘Did you floss?’ he asked.
‘Flossing is super important. Some people say it’s more important than brushing your teeth. It’s easy to forget to floss at times like this, but you’ve got to live today like you’ll survive till tomorrow.’
He was being serious. Kind of scarily so.
‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘I floss.’” (pgs. 62-63)
There turns out to be three forces, not two, menacing the anarchist commune: The Establishment/police, Uliksi and his undead/ghoul animals, and a cabal within the commune-where-everyone-is-equal who secretly plan to seize power over the rest. The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion is more of a detective novella than a horror novella. Danielle must figure out who the true enemy is.
The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion (cover by Mark Smith) is full of suspense and fear – but more because it tells you that it is than because of anything that happens.
“He lit a second cigarette with the end of the first one. He wasn’t smoking as an affectation, he was smoking because he was scared as hell and trying to keep his cool.” (p. 46)
But the scenes with the ghoul animals are creepy:
“Animal eyes turned toward us with mute curiosity, which turned to malice as we tried to rush past them. A silent mess of geese got underfoot and lunged for my hands. I started swinging. It wasn’t animal abuse. They were dead already. Some of the ones I hit didn’t get up again.
Brynn was almost to the gate when the goat ran at me. Someone or something had sheared off the beast’s horns, presumably before Uliksi had stolen the creature’s rib cage. Not an easy life, or unlife or whatever. I pulled back and swung from the hip, like a one-handed batter, and hit the goat in the skull with all my strength.
I must have grown up watching too many zombie movies. Hitting that thing’s skull was like hitting a boulder, and I probably hurt my hand more than I hurt the goat. Still, the blow seemed to have stopped its charge. It was still in my way. It tried to bleat, but had no lungs.
I heard a low rumble like distant thunder and turned in time to see a demon bull crash out of the trees and barrel toward us.” (p. 77)
The ghoul animals may not be anthropomorphic, but The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion is a good Halloween read.
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