Written by: Matthew J. Barbour
Brian Keene is among the most well-known and respected horror authors writing today. He has been compared with legends, such as Stephen King and Jack Ketchum, for good reason. His writing is both accessible and fast-paced. Some have placed to Keene within the subgenre of splatterpunk, but to classify him as such, is to ignore the broad array of stories the author is known for. He does it all: cosmic horror, erotic horror, creature features, coming of age… etc.
The Cage is a novella sold by Deadite Press with the addition of three short stories: “Marriage Causes Cancer in Rats,” “Lest Ye Become,” and “Waiting for the Darkness.” All four of the works have been previously published. Most, however, are no longer available.
The Cage begins with a lone gunman walking into a big box electronics store at closing time. He kills two. Then gathers the staff together and locks them in a cage at the back of the storeroom. Strangely, the gunmen sets all the electronics in the store to broadcast an AM station before pulling the store’s employees out of the cage one by one to join him in the show room. Those who remain are left to question what happens to those that are taken, as an alien noise begins to fill their ears.
The Cage is a bit Bentley Little and a bit H. P. Lovecraft. It is cosmic horror with elements of splatterpunk. While brevity of the story limits character and story development, nuanced references to Keene’s other works make the tale feel a part of a much larger narrative. Some familiarity with Keene’s pantheon of thirteen is recommended, but not required, to appreciate the novella.
Do not expect a nice and neat conclusion where everything is explained. There isn’t one. As is typical of cosmic horror, terror is built through fear of the unknown. Here Keene does an excellent job of building the horror. It provides a truly engrossing read for admirers of the subgenre, but may not appeal to everyone.
The remaining three short stories are also a mixed bag. “Lest Ye Become” is one of the author’s earliest works and by his own admission “not very good.” However, some of that is the author failing to fully appreciate his own writing prowess. For the work of an -at the time- unknown author, it is quite interesting and hints at talent which was not fully realized or developed. The worst of the lot is the predictable “Marriage Causes Cancer in Rats.” Yet, it has references to several other Keene stories making the story a must read for the rabid fan.
The Cage, and other stories within the collection, are not Brian Keene at his best. The lack of a more detailed conclusion hurts the novella. This is not atypical within the subgenre or Keene’s other works, such as The Rising or Darkness on the Edge of Town. Moreover, the tale does come to a conclusive albeit unsatisfactory end. Still for those looking for a more substantive narrative that delves deeper into the pantheon of thirteen, A Gathering of Crows might be a better fit.