Pandora by Joanna Parypinski
This just-published horror novel was a great warm-up read for me as I prepare for my traditional October foray into readings that feature horror, the macabre, and the supernatural. Probably everyone is familiar with the story of “Pandora” from Classical Mythology, the poor unfortunate who – through curiosity rather than malice – releases a plague of evils upon mankind after opening the box wherein they were contained. The author of this book, via several “interlude” chapters, gives the reader a glimpse into the history of “the box,” peering further and further backward into human history. The last of these deals with a “brief history” of ancient Greece and ends – with great effectiveness, I think – “The box came before this.” (One of my favorite glimpses of the box’s past was the story of Eliza, who brought it to America. In her case, the box “consumed her” – in a way my imagination made similar to Tolkein’s “The One Ring” and its pernicious effect on the creature Gollum)
When we start the story, however, the box has taken up residence in the basement (buried hidden behind a wall, naturally) of a house in the town of “Sickle Falls.” A young couple, Maria and Chris Vakros, is just moving into the house, unaware of the tragedy that marked the end of the last resident’s ownership.
Maria quickly senses the presence of something evil in the basement, while young Benjamin Behren, a fourteen-year-old neighborhood boy plagued by bullies and by the awkwardness of that age, has personal experience with the basement from previously being dared to go into the house and basement while it was unoccupied.
We meet other residents of Sickle falls including writer Edna Murphy, struggling to retain her grasp on her sanity as she writes about a character who has lost his. There’s also Father O’Clery, who somehow knows something of the precipitant evil that the town unwittingly awaits. The loathsome bully, Rocco, and his sidekicks give us a sufficient dose of non-supernatural evil too. And then, there’s also “The Reaper”…
In addition to “interlude” chapters that detail fragments of the history of the box, there are also interludes that tell the story of The Reaper, a self appointed avenging angel who murders the impure while traveling the country. The Reaper’s weapon of choice? Not the familiar scythe we’re used to seeing the fabled “grim reaper” depicted as carrying. No, this reaper uses a razor-sharp sickle. And guess where The Reaper’s headed now? Why, Sickle Falls of course. Lots of work to do there. I should mention here that Parypinski pulls off a nice “twist” involving this character, one I didn’t see coming, anyway.
Overall, I enjoyed this book, much more than I did a “more credentialed” ‘horror in the basement’ novel by Chris Bohjalian (The Night Strangers) last year. It’s worth a read and perfect for October…
(below: a “scythe” – the traditional implement of the grim reaper. I’ve held one before – I think it was on my Granddad’s property in West Virginia – and remember thinking, “this could do some damage if wielded maliciously.’ The handle on his did not look like this one, though. It was that classic ‘weathered gray’ look that tools take on once they’ve reached a sufficient age. The smaller implement, the “sickle,” a hand held tool that can be used for smaller jobs, like weeding. I think my mom has one of these for her garden. Coincidentally. I’m currently watching season 3 of the tv series “Breaking Bad” and some of the bad guys left a chalk drawing next to one guy’s car as their calling card. The DEA agent called it a scythe, but it could also be a sickle, maybe. Oh, well. Guess I went a little overboard on the sickle/scythe thing there, but that’s me being me!)