by Richard Matheson
“You’re improving on evolution then.”
“Let’s just say cooperating with it.”
In his introduction Mr. Matheson makes it clear these were predominately earlier stories and that he tried over his career to maintain his distance from the horror and dread contained here. He never wanted these published, considering them too dark and having mostly forgotten about writing them, but relented for a 2004 Gauntlet edition.
“Revolution” – A very young boy is at the butcher’s with his mother and their pet dog Muggins when the boy questions the butcher about meat. He begins to understand meat comes from creatures that have been alive and enters into hysterics for Muggins’ life, thinking the dog will become food next. His horror spreads to his family.
The Puppy – One of two novellas, Sara is desperately trying to care for her young boy Davie and one night is startled to find a puppy in her apartment, one she is afraid might hurt her delicate son. She decides to get rid of it, a task more difficult that it might seem.
“Little Girl Knocking On My Door” – The crowning achievement here, a mother remembers when a disturbing child showed up at her door, asking the somehow chilling question, “please ma’am, may I play with your little girl?”
Cassidy’s Shoes – The second novella, a virtuoso lead in a troupe of dancers expires after a period of spiraling down into madness. While management figuratively scrambles to fill his shoes a cast member literally does so.
“The Hill” – A man is on his way to the post office when interrupted by another man who needs his help in keeping a lookout for a third party who will be along shortly. This is one of the best stories here.
“Intergalactic Report” – This one’s written as a kind of alien, computerized document concerning investigation of a slaughter that occurred at a temple containing The Ultimate Truth. This is another favorite, and basically just a single page.
Creature – A screenplay based on a John Saul novel that never made it into production (he explains why in his introduction to the script), this is the story of bio-engineering in a small town that’s working on producing the next wave of human evolution and is producing a current wave of super-athletes. But the price associated this kind of advancement is high. Creature makes up the bulk of the collection, about half of the book, and throughout the read conjures up images of 70’s style cutting-edge technology.
Overall this is definitely dark stuff, and from a master storyteller like Mr. Matheson you can’t go wrong if you like horror.
*There are a couple of typos in “Little Girl Knocking On My Door” (bands for hands and cheat for chest) that are enough to interrupt the flow, and another minor one a few pages later. Also the page numbers in the TOC don’t actually match the page numbers of the stories, becoming progressively more inaccurate—by the time you hit the introduction for Creature there’s a 12 page difference. It’s not the end of the world but unfortunate in an expensive book.
My copy, ordered from Gauntlet, did not come with the script page signed by Matheson as did the other lettered copies of Darker Places. I asked Barry about this and he sent the following as a replacement. It is a digital copy of a handwritten, signed document, but Mr. Hoffman assured me this (copy) was in fact the exact, original document he received from Mr. Matheson via FedEx when putting together the book in 2003 prior to its publication as the backstory to “Creature.”