D. Alexander Ward, After the Fire
reviewed by Danielle L. Parker
After the Fire
Publisher: Dark Hall Press, 2013
Length: 56 pp.
Something about the South nurtures ghost and supernatural stories more than other climes. Outside of Maine, the South has the most fertile soil for growing tales of terror around. My mother brought us tales of haunts she heard as a child in Louisiana and Arkansas. Some of her stories were as old as the New Orleans she lived in.
But the supernatural bent below the Mason-Dixon line isn’t merely a thing of the past. Years ago I worked briefly for a cigarette manufacturer, an inappropriate and unhappy choice for a lifelong non-smoker. In that North Carolina town, reeking of the honey scent of raw tobacco, we rented a historic house on the market after the deaths of its two elderly Moravian owners.
The stand-offish neighbors were not easy to get to know, but one day a woman came across the low stone fence that marked the boundary between our back yards and the old cemetery with its live oak trees. “What did you do to them?” were the first words out of her mouth. Her eyes were wide.
“What do you mean?” “The people who lived here before,” she whispered. How could one reply to such a question? We told her the truth: we’d never so much as met the former residents. But she didn’t seem convinced.
What a shock to discover you, the stranger in the midst, have become an unwitting urban legend in the making. Could something like that happen in a brand new shiny suburb of, say, Seattle? Somehow I don’t think so.
Perhaps it was the proximity of that old graveyard behind the cobblestone street. I never saw those graves as anything but peaceful, shaded with huge old live oaks and green winter grass. But others may have felt spirits. Or perhaps her imagination was the old dark side of human nature that has always pinned doubts and suspicions on strangers. Whatever it was, the experience wasn’t comfortable.
D. Alexander Ward’s novella “After the Fire” begins with such an event. A reclusive widow living in a grand old house is an urban horror legend in the imaginations of two gleeful boys. What the boys find when they sneak into the old house, half-terrified and half-thrilled, is worse than their immature minds are prepared to cope with.
But I wouldn’t classify “After the Fire” as a work of horror in spite of that light spattering of gore. Though fairy tales — which is where I’d categorize Mr. Ward’s story — may have horror elements, they always have satisfyingly just conclusions.
Horror, on the other hand, exists for entirely different purposes than justice. It is there to riffle the hairs and disturb our comfort. In the most disturbing form of horror, the protagonist becomes a monster instead of triumphing over one. For a while, I thought the protagonist’s sympathy for the devil would lead us right in that direction. But no, “After the Fire” is a tale of redemption. Justice gets done.
But fairy tales provide their own satisfactions. You can check out Mr. Alexander’s stories at www.wyrdtales.net or from Dark Hall Press. Enjoy!
Copyright © 2013 by Danielle L. Parker