The Attraction (2004) by Douglas Clegg

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The great unspeakable mystery! The dark wonder of the ancient world! The small, mummified corpse of an unknown creature with long sharp nails in the back of a rundown gas station is the Attraction of the title, a roadside display meant to draw hapless tourists and separate them from their nickels. In 1977 a bunch of students on a road trip to California stumble across the venue and in a moment of lunacy steal the withered remains, pop them in the trunk and soon run out of gas in the middle of a desolate stretch of a desert. And then the creature wakes up and begins scraping their flesh off, one by one.

The Leisure edition also includes another novella, The Necromancer, to bulk up the book closer to Leisure’s usual format, but The Attraction is the main attraction here. It’s a short, sharp piece the length of a novella and it’s a good one. Sure, the characters are stock horror figures, familiar from any horror movie, but Clegg infuses them with life, for want of a better word. None of them feel extraneous, everyone plays a part and there are minute details which elevate them from their sordid genre brethren. Their inevitable deaths feel like they count.

Josh the narrator is a lovelorn everyman, destined to become something more, while Tammy the campus floozy just wants to have a little fun before turning into her own mother. Griff the ladies’ man and Bronwyn the cynical smart girl round out the lot with Ziggy the stoner, whose laconic declarations become almost prophetic as the true nature of the unstoppable monster is revealed.

And Scratch, as the little bugger is known, is a marvel, a creature made of layers of skin, the skin of ancient human sacrifices. It’s an enjoyable little fellow with long sharp obsidian nails, doing little rain dances and whispering sweet nothings with the voices of its victims.

Clegg’s writing has some lovely punch and muscle to it, elevating what’s ultimately a basic storyline of survival into a small epic. The story has some nice heft to it and seems to weigh more than it does. It’s very easy to imagine the same characters and the same story as told by someone like Richard Laymon, lacking all wit and skill and basic understanding of human behaviour. With Clegg, one is in much better hands.

***** (5/5)