DUSTED OFF: T.E.D. Klein's Dark Gods

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DUSTED OFF: T.E.D. Klein's <i>Dark Gods</i>

If you’re scared, say you’re scared.

Horror stories happen in the wilderness.

This seemed like storyteller’s gospel when I was young. Whether it was H.P. Lovecraft’s doomed towns or Shirley Jackson’s lonely, looming The Haunting of Hill House, the boondocks had all the fun. As a black kid in Queens, New York, I couldn’t have felt more removed. To make it worse, I lived in a two-bedroom apartment with four other people. Who ever heard of a haunted rental unit? While I lost myself in King’s hamlets and Lansdale’s rural nights, I longed for an abyss of my own. A nightmare I recognized.

Dark Gods, T.E.D. Klein’s book of four novellas, felt like a godsend—even if it came from a deformed god, one that lurked beneath our sidewalks. You could see such a thing in “Children of the Kingdom,” the ?rst story of the Klein collection.

Set in New York, in 1977, “Children” gives us an unnamed narrator, a man who moves his grandfather, Herman, into a retirement building in upper Manhattan. The narrator lives nearby, but that doesn’t soothe him; this retirement house is on a block full of ethnic Puerto Ricans and Blacks. Herman doesn’t share the narrator’s prejudices, however, and roams the neighborhood freely, befriending an old Costa Rican priest who tells of an ancient race, God’s ?rst attempt at human beings, who so displeased the Lord that he turned them into blind, white, worm-like creatures that must make their home in the dark. In the shadowy sewers of New York, for instance.

The narrator won’t believe a word of it, of course, until the famous citywide blackout of June 1977. Then, for the ?rst time in centuries, the Children of the Kingdom are free to roam.

This kind of thing just made me giddy, and it still does. Klein not only captured geography, he portrayed the essence of New York life: ethnic con?ict! Even as a kid, I preferred this over the veiled prejudice rampant in so much of the horror I loved (Lovecraft, King, I could go on). More importantly, it shows that Klein weaves both real and unreal horrors into his novellas: Racism and slithering abominations. The terrors of aging. A “pet” named Petey.

Like all great horror, these tales advise humility. Modern Man believes he’s done away with God, but great artists like Klein despair over what may now hobble or ooze or rush in to take God’s place.