by Brian Keene
Cemetery Dance (2010 limited edition hardcover)
In the back of an independent electronics store, Big Bill's Home Electronics, there is a cage. A lot of these stores have a cage, I guess, where they keep the little expensive items like iPhones and cameras and tablets and such. It ain't much, but the cage is apparently big enough to hold six employees prisoner with a psychopath armed to the teeth waltzes into the store at the end of the day and takes the employees hostage. A cramped little prison for these six men to stew and guess why this stone-faced lunatic targeted their store, why he doesn't seem interested in robbing them, and why he's dragging them out of the cage one by one and not bringing them back.
The plot is as simple as the title, and with Brian Keene's ability to create some pretty deranged villains, you're left as bewildered and imprisoned as the victims. The story unfolds through the eyes of Jeff, one of the guys who has been working at Big Bill's for a while and has seen it all when it comes to the business. With him in the cage are Jared, Scott, Roy, Clint, and Carlos. All of them shell-shocked to some degree after seeing a coworker's head blown off and their boss meeting a similar fate, then forced to empty their pockets and file into the mesh-wire cage in the warehouse. The gunman says he "only needs six," which initially has the guys thinking he's talking about a cash amount, but then realize they're the six. And when the guy starts dropping hints about what he's there to do, they figure they need to get out of that cage before he kills them all.
This is one of those stories that keeps you engaged as much with the mystery and tension from the villain as it does with the relationships and emotions that unfold between the six men. These guys aren't heroes and precious few of them are out to be when push comes to shove. I mean, if you've ever had one of those weekday grinds and all you want to do is go home, have a beer, and try not to think about all the depressing shit in your life, the last thing you need is a guy with a shotgun and machete making your uneventful life flash before your eyes. And you definitely don't want to be the guy who has to keep everyone else's heads on straight when their worlds come crashing down, too.
There's definitely a rawness to the writing here, an unvarnished, unwavering style that puts you in the cage with these guys. The scope of Brian Keene's vision may have expanded through his novels, but a sharply-focused slice of horror like this shows he can scare the daylights out of you when he's only got a few pages to do it. I believe Deadite Press has re-published this story as part of a collection, so I may have to look that up. In the meantime, I may have to pass this along to someone who wants to spend a night in The Cage.