by Brian Keene
first published by Cemetery Dance (2010)
The river that winds up the valley where I live looks like a snake when seen from above, with one oxbow after another, and it has seen its share of strange creatures swimming through its waters. But it's never had something like what Brian Keene has concocted for this story, Scratch.
Evan Fisher is a comic book illustrator and devoted father to his son, Dylan, but his limitations in keeping his family safe are tested when the Susquehanna River floods during the spring. It's not so much the rising waters that creep along his backyard that test his mettle, but the tentacular impossibility he sees on the other side of the river. Old Scratch is supposed to be nothing but folklore, but it's hard for Evan and his neighbor to dismiss what they've seen reach out of those torrential waters.
In quick fashion, Keene captures Evan's fear and resolve when the flood comes. The guy has a knack for taking the most wondrously terrifying creatures in horror and shackling them to our mundane reality. The flood waters ought to be terrifying enough if your child has ever strayed to close to a riverbank, but throw in a slithering monstrosity and what should be cartoonish in some regard feels downright palpable. That said, the ending offered up feels a bit anticlimactic, though there is a piece at the end that spikes the tension right back up.
Along with Scratch, there's a short story called "Halves" that was as comical as it was creepy. If you've ever owned a cat that brought you "gifts" to your door of the recently killed variety, you'll know what I'm talking about. Throw in an afterword from Brian Keene about the stories, and this ebook is a nice little glimpse into the horror master's mind. It might not be the book I point to as a gateway for new readers, but they could certainly do worse when searching out something short and scary to read.