It all promised a life far more exciting than what was available here. Of better worlds where mysteries were benign, and parents couldn’t be destroyed in one brief moment.
—Christopher Slatsky, The Immeasurable Corpse of Nature (Phantom Airfields)
I’ve been waiting to afford the paper back copy of Christopher Slatsky’s new offering The Immeasurable Corpse of Nature published by the good folks at Grimscribe Press. It arrived today and I’m relishing the moments ahead in which I will savor the dark and exploratory imaginings of these weird tales from a master who has been to the heart of darkness and back again.
I’ve written a short piece on his earlier work Alectryomancer and Other Weird Tales.
I was going to wait to work through all of these tales but on reading the first in the series Phantom Airfields I was so deeply impacted by its deft handling of a dark subject of grief that I had to get down in words what I felt, what memories it awakened in my own mind.
What does one do with grief so palpable that it takes over not only one’s mind, but one’s complete existence? A grief that slowly erodes the barriers between sanity and insanity, leaving one in a dark and surreal world of nightmares without end? In a world where coping is not an option, and the only path forward is a return trip to an old WWII airfield of phantoms and darker dreams? This is the world of a young father whose only son has suddenly vanished into the inexplicable and impossible landscapes of nightmare. In such a world facts no longer hold our attention, only the most outlandish theories and scenarios will keep us going. If the mundane truth is revealed to us, a truth so apt that it smacks us in the dark places of our souls we must not accept it. No. We cannot accept such truths where child rapists and murderers, sadists and psychos exists on the edges of awareness. We must seek out others, more impossible truths, fantastic tales of spacemen and alien abductions; yes, only the strange and improbable will keep us holding to a hope in our hopelessness.
On the surface we see the unraveling of a father’s mind, marriage, job, and existence slowly devolving into nothingness. But this is just the surface tension of the tale, the bare and minimalistic anchor of its narrative. It is the other tale, the tale of loss and tragedy, the undermining of both mind and landscape, the intermingling of those surreal breaks and psychotic interweaving’s that filter the world and our own thoughts and images in a realm in-between. It’s the place of no-place, this strangeness that brings with it a forbidden knowledge that no amount of therapy of common sense reasoning will ever touch.
Randall’s story of loss is our story as well. Have we not all lost something, someone? Have we not all clung to the desperate hope that we can reverse this dire process, somehow turn the clock back, retrieve the past from its cold recesses and lift it into our present moment. Regrets. Failures. The slow and methodical unraveling to our minds as we deny the present and seek out the temples of memory and desire. Sitting in his truck at the edge of an old airfield our protagonist ponders the world of pain: “Life doesn’t just pass from living to non-living; there were quiet moments in between, little snatches of sleep and dream and hope along the way. Such thoughts helped him get through each day.”1
Isn’t this what we all do? Seek out those few thoughts that will get us through each day? Otherwise we’d all end it right now, wouldn’t we? Certain landscapes become inscapes of our mind and memories commingle to shape our lives, give us back again certain indefinable thoughts. A geography of the imagination and imaginal: “This geography drew him in, spoke in a language that refused to be ignored. Here the ground kept luring him back, seducing him to walk among the broken buildings.” (ibid.) Randall returns again and again to this site, this place of no-place where his son vanished one day inexplicably into thin air. It’s the grief and madness of this loss that has left him in utter despair, ruined his marriage, his job, his life. Only this secret haven of snow and waste, a ghost world of phantoms and old WWII planes and buildings in disarray will serve his needs.
Filled with such grief he is tormented by aliens and spacemen, toys and children’s playthings. The real world of detectives, investigations, lurid photo books of dead children’s corpses, none of this will hold him anymore. Randall does not want the truth, he needs his fictions, anchors and supports of madness and insanity are the only thing that will keep him alive now. “He’d stopped returning the detective’s phone calls. Cooperating with the investigation meant accepting their interpretation of events. He was done sifting through photos of children’s corpses. Done with everything.” (ibid.)
In such states of mind reality is the last thing one wants. No. In the world of grief one only wants escape, fantasy, the drift of nonsense and sense commingling in the artifices of edge lands and ruinous landscapes, portals in-between worlds where the possibility of awakening that lost memory may be the only thing that can keep one alive. And yet even this will not hold, the world outward only brings knowledge of the impossibility of finding any comfort whatsoever. Randall while on one of his jaunts into the haunted landscapes of the airbase sees a Raven that reminds him of this stark truth:
A raven dipped its beak into a puddle of antifreeze fluid on the pockmarked blacktop that led to the trailer park. It shook its head. Feathers rippled like fur. Randall felt a pang of remorse. This creature meant no ill will, was only obeying its basic survival needs. But the poison would finish it off soon enough. (ibid.)
Maybe this is what Randall needed after all. To know that nothing matters, that in the end we will all drink the poison of life to the last dregs willingly or not. That nothing we do or say will make an iota of difference, change nothing of the past, nor bring our dead loved ones back from their dark places. In this tale of Christopher’s there is a subtle power of sublime terror and dread that leaves us in awe of this truth, but I will not reveal its nihilistic light here. You must read and ponder it yourself…
Randall even in the downward turn toward madness reveals a subtle irony and truth we should all ponder, a truth that even though on the surface trite and full of that home grown wisdom and custom brings out an ancient notion: “The haunted were capable of depths of compassion most were not capable of expressing. Those who’d suffered tragedy were less likely to trivialize the tragic.” (ibid.)
Maybe in the end this is the only wisdom for the grieved and mad in this world of horrors.
- Slatsky, Christopher. The Immeasurable Corpse of Nature . Grimscribe Press. (January 28, 2020) Find a copy on Grimscribe Press site: here.