Mama's Boy and Other Dark Tales

BOOK: Mama's Boy and Other Dark Tales

Apex Publications, LLC

Copyright ©2008 by Fran Friel

First published in 2008, 2008

NOTICE: This work is copyrighted. It is licensed only for use by the original purchaser. Making copies of this work or distributing it to any unauthorized person by any means, including without limit email, floppy disk, file transfer, paper print out, or any other method constitutes a violation of International copyright law and subjects the violator to severe fines or imprisonment.

What Are We Witnessing?

For my dad, Casper





Orange and Golden

Under the Dryer

Close Shave

Connected at the Hip

Special Prayers: The Making of Mama


Spider Love

Fine Print

Black Sheep

Mama's Boy

Story Notes


About the Author

About the Artist

* * * *
Mama's Boy and Other Dark Tales
By Fran Friel

If you love something ... leave it alone!

Only disaster can come of the bonds that bind us to the world at large, be they the love of mother and son, husband and wife, dog and master, or a man and his work.

Walk the dark paths of attraction with Henry, a serial killer who just wants to bring home a girl his mama approves of. Plunge to the depths of nightmare as a man refuses to give up on his dream of making a new discovery. Settle into loneliness and fear as the sun goes down on an ever-faithful companion. Sift through the images of dreams and nightmares in search of the wording that spells release from a hellish contract.

Lusty pirates, evil dust bunnies, ancient bloodlines, and babies that rain from the sky bring terror and confusion in these fourteen tales of darkness, fatal beauty, and wicked humor from Bram Stoker Award-nominated author Fran Friel. Within this book are fourteen reasons to check the dark and dusty corners before you go to bed and fourteen lessons to teach you everything you never wanted to know about how terribly life can go wrong.

Her stories are well written, compelling, all with a muscular hard edge, with often surprising but very appropriate endings ... and always absolutely brutally chilling.

—Gene O'Neill, author of
Collected Tales of the Baja Express
The Confessions of St. Zach

Friel's in-your-face storytelling must command respect!"

—Weston Ochse, Stoker-winning author of
Scarecrow Gods

Fran Friel has a genuine gift for storytelling. Her highly adaptable prose boils over with emotion: love, guilt, fear, and the myriad shades between.
Mama's Boy and Other Dark Tales
marks the arrival of a stunning new talent.

—Michael McBride, author of the
God's End
trilogy and

Fran Friel's fiction is frighteningly fantastic.
Mama's Boy
is clever, dark, and infinitely satisfying ... in the best worst way!

—Elizabeth Massie, author of
Homeplace, Sineater
, and
Wire Mesh Mothers

Fran Friel
writes and blogs by the sea on the coast of southern New England where she lives with her wonderful husband and daughter, and a dog named Sandy. Fran is a 2006 Bram Stoker Award finalist and is currently working on a novel about scary things. Please stop by and visit her at and at her blog, Fran Friel's Yada Feast at

Billy Tackett
is a multi-talented artist living in Northern Kentucky. His skills as an artist drift into all things dark and ominous. Billy is also a talented musician, photographer, graphic/web designer, writer, and make-up artist. The self-proclaimed “Creepiest Artist in America,” he is all that and more.

His current projects include being the “Official Artist” of Shane Moore's Abyss Walker book series, creator and writer of the soon to be released graphic novel based on his series of paintings “Dead, White & Blue,” and designing a ling of T-shirts featuring his work.

This collection is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in these stories are either fictitious or are used fictitiously.


These stories first appeared in the following publications:

The Horror Library
, 2005; “Orange and Golden,”
Lamoille Lamentations
, 2005; “Under the Dryer,”
The Horror Library
, 2006; “Close Shave,”
Insidious Reflections Magazine
, 2006; “Connected at the Hip,”
Wicked Karnival
2006 Flash Fiction Calendar; “Mama's Boy,” Insidious Publications, 2006; “Beach of Dreams,” “Gravy Pursuits,” “The Sea Orphan,” “Special Prayers,” “The Widow,” “Spider Love,” “Black Sleep,” and “Fine Print,” are original to this collection.

Copyright © 2008 by Fran Friel

Cover Art “Mama's Boy” by Billy Tackett

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce the book, or portions thereof, in any form.

Published by Apex Publications, LLC

PO Box 24323

Lexington, KY 40524

First Edition: June 2008

ISBN HC: 978-0-9816390-7-9

ISBN TPB: 978-0-9816390-8-6

What Are We Witnessing?
An Introduction
Gary A. Braunbeck

"We enter, we find our way through. Maybe something we experience changes the way we look at the world."

—Robert Freeman Wexler,
In Springdale Town

I blame Peter Straub.

(I was going to blame Hemingway, but since he's been dead for as long as I've been alive, it hardly seems fair since he's not here to defend himself. The last thing I want is for Hemingway's ghost to come back from the Otherwhere and kick my ass, so the blame goes to Straub—who can also easily kick my ass, but I digress.)

Why blame Straub?

For the same reason that a lot of comics in the 50s and 60s blamed Lenny Bruce.

To whit: in the 50s and 60s, the club stages in Vegas and New York and Los Angeles were filled with comedians who'd cut their teeth in burlesque and on the radio, many of whom—like the late, great Myron Cohen (Google him)—came out onto the stage, said “Good evening,” to the audience, and then for the next 45—60 minutes, proceeded to
simply tell jokes
. The same kind of jokes we tell one another, those of the classic two-line setup, followed by the punchline: “A man walks into a doctor's office with a duck on his head. The doctor looks at the man and says, “Can I help you?” And the duck says, “Yeah—is there any way you can get this guy off my ass?” (Insert rimshot.)

Audiences loved it; a comic tells jokes for an hour, everybody laughs and tips their waitresses, a win/win situation all around.

And then came some Jewish punk named Lenny Bruce ... and nothing was ever the same again. Bruce was not only one of the first comedians to use profanity in his act, but he did so much more than just tell jokes. His routines would go on for ten, fifteen, even twenty minutes; he used different voices for characters in these routines; his routines often had
actual storylines
; he wasn't afraid to address the hot-button issues of the day, or satirize the political and Hollywood icons of the time in these one-man, multi-voiced mini-plays. Once audiences got over their initial shock, Bruce became, for a little while, the hottest comedian around.

And the old-school comics
him for it. In what seemed less time than it took for a joke to bomb, the traditional two-line setup/punchline gags were antiquated. If they wanted to stay in the business, the old-schoolers had to adapt or step aside. Some hoped that Bruce's style of comedy was just a flash in the pan. But by the time of Bruce's tragic death in 1966 at the age of 40, his influence had spread; young comedians like Bill Cosby, Richard Prior, and George Carlin had picked up on Bruce's complex, multi-voiced story routines and were running with it. Some worked “blue,” some didn't, but all were moving forward on the basis of Bruce's legacy.

What does any of this have to do with
Mama's Boy and Other Dark Tales
, and for what, precisely, am I blaming Peter Straub?

Easy: until the 1990 release of Straub's remarkable collection,
Houses Without Doors
, the genre writer was content to release his or her short-story collection with either A) Just a dozen or so stories between the covers, or, B) With newly-written Introductions before each story, discussing some aspect of the piece that was to follow (something Harlan Ellison has turned into an art form). On the surface,
Houses Without Doors
comprises three novellas, three short stories, and seven briefer pieces of short-shorts and what is now called “flash” fiction. But—like Hemingway's
In Our Time
(hence my almost blaming him) or Russell Banks’
—it was much more tightly focused and unified in theme than readers were accustomed to seeing in a genre collection. The “Interlude” pieces between the stories did not really stand on their own, but seemed more like smaller pieces of a bigger puzzle (which they were). And the stories themselves read as if they all sprang from a single core obsession, one that initially seemed to have little in common with the briefer pieces surrounding them. But as the reader delved further into the heart of the collection, the connections began to reveal themselves like fog-shrouded figures walking slowly into the glow of streetlight. The effect was (and still is) stunning. For all intents and purposes, Straub
reinvented the wheel of how a writer of dark fiction could go about presenting his or her stories in a collection. The template set down in
Houses Without Doors
remains unequaled. (And I say this as one who attempted to adapt that template for my first collection,
Things Left Behind
. Looking at that collection now, I think I was about 75-80% successful, though lacking Straub's profound subtlety.)

Which brings us to Fran Friel and her debut collection that you now hold in your hands.

Whether it was her intention or not (and part of me suspects it was), Fran, instead of endeavoring to echo exactly Straub's template (as I tried to do), has used it as a jumping-off point, and as a result made it her own, including not only stories and novellas, but short-shorts, flash pieces, and some truly exquisite poetry along the way. The end result is dazzling—and a little mystifying. Dazzling because she writes with the confidence of a seasoned author; mystifying because you can't help but wonder how such a vibrant, funny, compassionate, and lovely human being could create some of the
that's between these covers. (If you doubt that this books gets nasty, read “Close Shave” and see if you don't wince. In
55 words
she manages to hit harder than some writers can in five thousand.)

That's the thing, if you ever have the chance to meet Fran—she is one of the most
people I've ever encountered. Seriously. Her face actually
with her love of life, her love of reading, of writing, her love for her friends, a good meal, a good film, a certain passage from a piece of music. She's got a laugh that rings like fine crystal ... there ought to be a law against a person being

But it is, I think, this happiness, this total, passionate, almost evangelical joy for existence that fuels her fire; it is this very thing that makes her strong enough to access its darker and unsettling counterparts. Fran is a big believer that speculative fiction, in all of its forms, is the supreme mythic literature of our time, and that belief is on full display in
Mama's Boy and Other Dark Tales.

But seeing—or in this case,
—is believing, so I offer you what is to my mind the core image of this collection, taken from “Beach of Dreams,” a brilliant, hallucinatory, mesmerizing dark fantasy that could, methinks, hold its own in the company of an Ellison tale. The central character of “Beach,” Simon Rodan, an anthropologist who is living among the natives of an unidentified island, is taking pictures of mysterious, giant figures whose bodies have washed up on the beach:

"Fumbling inside his vest, Simon tried to protect his camera from the rain with a baggie. He ran up and down the spaces between the lifeless giants, snapping pictures, desperate to document the incredible images. He felt a strange split in his mind—focusing on the task at hand and an eerie concern for what he was witnessing.
What was he witnessing?"

Indeed that last line—
What was he witnessing?
—could very well be the reader's mantra as he or she moves through the singular, unified experience of this collection. Like the flashes revealed to Simon in the brief burst of camera-light—each small glimpse hints at the majesty of the unseen whole, and (as if to echo the quote from R.F. Wexler at the beginning of this introduction), they have no choice but to find their way through. Along the way, perhaps, something in or of their world-view will be changed.

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