First published back in November of 2013, US born author Pat Cadigan’s story ‘Chalk’ formed the fifth offering in the ‘This Is Horror’ quarterly chapbook series. The chapbook was limited to just 125 signed and numbered copies.
What brought Mary and Dee together was that they each had the one thing the other didn't have. Mary’s mother had split with her husband following years of abuse. Ever since, they had been shunned by what was left of their family. And day-after-day Mary would return to their house to be left on her own for hours on end. It was a quiet and lonely place to be.
Whereas Dee came from an incredibly large family. A family that was constantly growing, with more members brought into the already bursting household all the time. But they always found room somehow. And because of this cramped, hectic and boisterous home life, all that Dee craved for was a little time of her own. But she was always being summoned to do chores or babysit for one of the many youngsters in the house.
This difference is what undoubtedly brought them together as best friends. They loved to spend their time together. But it was becoming increasingly hard to with Dee’s bothersome brothers always tracking Dee down to get her to go home for more chores or babysitting. So they set about finding spots in their local neighbourhood where they could safely sit and hopefully not be seen. Not hiding places as such – because if they were found they would be in even more trouble. But spots just out of sight. Spots where they could sit, and hopefully not be seen by those around them.
And so, using a stick of carpenter’s chalk, the two ten-year-olds marked these spots with symbols, stating if the spot was good, possible or no good. Those that were good were given the symbol for infinity.
But as the two young girls were to find out, their hopes with finding a way to be out of sight from everyone else had proven to be too successful. Together they had found a way to hide from everyone else. Together they found a way to sit invisibly in their little infinity chalked spots, and watch as people got on with their everyday lives. But they didn’t once think of the possible repercussions. They didn’t once think how this could all turn so very badly wrong…
Writing about hazy-days as a youngster, where their close-knit neighbourhoods are given as much life and character as the actual characters in the story itself, is often a winning formula for a heart-wrenching horror tale. It draws us into the story, often reawakening our own personal memories of our childhoods; building bonds with the characters and the hazy-days spent just in the company of your best friend.
The vast majority of the chapbook is spent in building up the backdrop, premise and the characters of Mary and Dee. Here Cadigan interweaves layer upon layer, to construct a wonderfully believable and somehow alluring inner-city American life. And the end result is something closely-akin to an enchanting read – where the reader is sucked into these bygone days of their youth.
With the scene so perfectly set, Cardigan starts heading towards the girls’ miraculous ability to vanish. In a similar way to Stephen King’s ‘The Tommyknockers’ (1987), this strange disappearing sets off an instant feeling of unease, which quickly escalates when things start to go wrong.
The chapbook is a quiet but ultimately unsettling and tragic read. Behind its wistful backdrop and the two young and adventurous friends, is something cold and deeply unnerving. It’s every parent’s worst fear given a child’s inner-perspective. And it chills you to the core.
The chapbook runs for a total of 28 pages.
© DLS Reviews