New Reviews

The Pines (Cabin in the Woods’ish) Review


Written by S.T. King

“Lucky you,” he says. “I’ve commandeered a portable chair for such occasions as these. It’s guaranteed to be your favorite color.”

The way he speaks is careful and intentional, almost artificially so. He holds up a carry package that’s covered on one side in mesh. Then he takes it by its rounded center and pitches it through the air. For some reason I’m petrified to miss catching it. And I’m watching it, as it seems to float in on a curious and predetermined arc. Finally I’ve got it and it sticks stiffly against my shirt-pocket. It’s dusty. But it’s white. My favorite color has always been red.

The room that he and I share – it’s simple enough to describe: its cubed, with walls and ceilings made of glass. The floor is cream-colored, freshly polished. A single camera looks upon us like the single eye stalk of a plastic slug. It makes me long for the night sky.

The sky between dissolving stars grew colorless.

— From The Pines, written by Robert Dunbar.

Isn’t the writing journey as such? A man who raps against lettered keys without regard to morality or care; and this isn’t to say he’s neglectful. Take The Operator, for example (though he could also be Robert Dunbar – yes, the writer) – the experience concerns him much more than the conclusion. Indeed, everything he does is in support of this very fact. It’s because he’s the one, whose worked the farthest into the night. And each of these trees he’s planted here: the pines, the quiet watchers – the dusty, white sand from whence they came, all deliberately considered and placed.

It takes me longer than I care to admit. But eventually I’ve managed to unfold and set the chair properly. And I lean into it, throwing my weight into my hands. I sometimes look over nervously, wondering if he’s regretting allowing my company. But his attention to his work is impassive and machinelike. I’m not sure what to make of that. I give the chair a final inspection, and, when I’m satisfied that it’ll hold, I place it in front of the Operator’s desk. On his spotless, white table-top is a dry erase board and markers. “Those are for you,” he says.

Without averting his gaze he goes on, “Jersey Devil, please.” I hesitate for longer than he or I expect, “Write it down please? on the board? Jersey Devil?”

“Right — okay,” I say. That’s my job, after all. I pick up the black marker and lean over the desk and write Jersey Devil on the top in big block letters. The Operators has prepared numbered lines that run in two columns the entire height of the dry erase board.

Her legs and arms ached with the sudden pressure of blood, and her bladder voided as, with agonizing slowness, she turned.

The darkness moved.

— From The Pines, written by Robert Dunbar.

The Operator (who again, may or not be Robert Dunbar) whose created this world, The Pines, in the Pine Barrens – I’ll tell you about what he’s done well – if I can assume correctly what he set out to do in the first place. And I’ll guarantee you this in the process. If you look around the dusty roads and wet bogs, the worn farmhouses and shacks good enough, I’m sure you find that hope doesn’t live here. From the very beginning, as a matter of fact. And doesn’t it make for good pacing? That’s what it’s about: death at the speed of life.

A room, the size of this one, it’s carried along by great links of chain: then another – along robust steel rails. All around us too, I notice. Even above our heads: other bright rooms identical to this one, whisked around each other tirelessly.

In one of those rooms is what? A horse? And on the crown of it’s nose is a hard, bone horn. And that room there, another one, it seems to be falling, jerking side to side as if along roughly placed pegs, there’s a corpulent gristly body that seems to cover it’s floor: an enormous snake and a patterned hood like two black tear-drops.

The room that carries the Jersey Devil, which I’m only vaguely familiar with, it’s raised up from below and behind us. Then all of the shifting rooms stop and sway on their chains. It’s done. And then a corridor that’s opened up before the room. The winged monstrosity rattles along the walls and flies into the darkness. The room shuts. There’s only quiet after that. Not for long. The Operator is on to the next chapter.

“Rabbid dogs,” he says.

I pop the top of the marker and, aside Jersey Devil, it seems proper, in the same block letters I put, rabid dogs.

“I’ll tell you what I’m trying to do. Those dark and stormy nights are what I’m after. You ever been lost?”

I nod my head. “Sure.”

And, by now again, there’s a pop like a blown motor and the rooms around us, they sway and amble along again.

“I want Athena to be lost, my main protagonist here – so I put her in this farmhouse. And I gave her a retarded son.”

Glaring headlights held the cobbled-together structure in cruel scrutiny: clapboard walls beneath phantom paint; boarded first-floor windows she couldn’t afford to repair; collapsing front porch propped up with old bed-slats and cinder blocks. She switched off the engine, got out, and night fell on her.

— From The Pines, written by Robert Dunbar.

She’s alone there, you see?” Then he sighs and opens a drawer.  I can’t see what he’s taken out of it. “But I’ve done so much more than that.”

The Operator goes on then, at length: he tells me about the Pineys and the inbreeding, the dangers hiding in the muggy night. And that’s when I’d finally seen the dogs: almost a couple dozen of them bouncing around in there: one or two of which had been already been dead. But it was more than enough, I suppose. The most of them had cleared out before the door had risen a quarter ways up on its tracks.

“Athena is lost for too many reasons to name: because she’s a woman and she’s black. She’s handi-capable. And we’ve already talked about her son, haven’t we? He’s retarded, did I tell you? But it’s not all bad that he is. He’s afforded, through his – issue – the golden highway to their salvation.

“He’s connected to it,” he says. “And look no further for the foreboding. That’s with the Pines. I handpicked each of these myself. As many as you see in this story, the trees are the great watchers. Can you imagine if it’s your blood on those trees?

“The dark, it isn’t safe – that’s the moral to the story, young man.”

He finally takes the plastic bag he’s reaching in and puts it on the desk. “I don’t have any for you,” he says. There are shreds of baby-carrots stuck in his small, perfect teeth. He makes a swishing gesture with his mouth that doesn’t do it. Then he finds them with his fingers instead, and takes them out and flicks them in the wastebasket.

What the Operator has done with the story, and this space in which all these monsters are floating around – the Pine Barrens, where there are others like Athena — others lost for their own reasons — oddly, I find I can appreciate it for what it is: a lowly tangle of small-town life and death, and the cold, forgetful nature of the later.  But it’s on the other hand, really, the reason why I can’t work here with the Operator any longer (though I certainly don’t mind reading his books).  It’s because of how quickly it becomes mundane. And maybe i’m too jaded, but there’s nothing new here to see.

Here and there are pockets of uninspired writing. And, within these pockets, you can expect to find the men and women who are fighting their own demons (and a larger majority of which, who aren’t); but the complacency of the lot of them, while human, at first, at the length the Operator takes it, it depersonalizes them as a whole – unifies them, makes them homogenous. Who’s who? Who knows? that sort of thing. In the end, what I find, is more than a bite-size of depravity. It sweeps through the writing and washes away what might have been, endearing characters.

I still visit the Operator from time to time. I do because I appreciate his craft: that he’s somehow taken a handful of the universe and blew it up, made it humongous — and he takes as much as he can. Then he squeezes it together and binds its pages. There’s only so much he can fit, but he works with what he has. That’s admirable.

Order it Here

Final Rating: 3.5/5




About The Author: S.T. King is an aspiring novelist with a ravenous appetite for the dark, and an insatiable thirst for the ink of the fantastique. Currently he’s a mental health counselor, helping people purge the skeletons from their closets – though admittedly, he thinks it’s more fun putting them back in.

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