by Hope Madden
I imagine a lot of people have thought about getting out of a bad marriage and wondered, What’s the worst that could happen?
Those people should talk to Samantha Kolesnik and Bryan Smith. Or maybe they shouldn’t. The duo’s unusual A-side/B-side horror tale Beleth Station is like a premise wrapped in a dare that really digs into What’s the worst that could happen?
Both writers take the same set of characters, same basic idea of being trapped in a dying town off the Pennsylvania highway, and then each sees how bad it can get.
Kolesnik’s take, A Night to Remember, comes first, following Krista and Nick as they flee Krista’s stultifying marriage. They find themselves in need of roadside assistance in an isolated stretch – a common enough beat in horror, but one that Kolesnik takes in depraved and alarming directions. What follows is an experiment in degradation.
There is a deep hopelessness in this story, a kind of grim poetry that’s so beautifully written you commit to the long, bleak, terrifying haul. You will want to look away, but Kolesnik’s prose compels you.
Both stories explore the primal terror of helplessness, each wallowing in the evil that men do, each almost mocking the naivete of faith in the human condition. Still, they are vastly different tales. Smith’s The Gauntlet feels more cinematic, like Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Two Thousand Maniacs meets Stephen King’s The Running Man.
Conspiracy, brutality, revolution all fuel a tale that drops you in the middle of the action and never lets up. Two desperate pairs – young townies dying for escape, new lovers lured in from the outside – commit increasingly horrendous acts to garner freedom.
For Smith, the question isn’t how bad can it get as much as how far will you go, and what will you be when it’s over? He has a flair for both imagery and pace that makes The Gauntlet all but impossible to stop reading.