The Card: ♦7♦ Seven of Diamonds
The Suit: For 2016, Diamonds is my suit for “contemporary Indiana authors”
The Selection: “What Happens in Hell Stays in Hell” from the short story collection, “Ghouljaw and Other Stories” which I purchased at Bookmamas Bookstore in Irvington. I picked this story because I was intrigued by the title.
The Author: Clint Smith of Indianapolis. I’ve previously read his work in Punchnel’s “Mythic Indy” series (which have now been collected in a hardcover anthology). I’ve also explored some of the other stories in “Ghouljaw and Other Stories” with the “title track” being my favorite thus far. You can find him online at clintsmithfiction.com
What is Deal Me “IN” 2016? Before the start of each year, I come up with a list of 52 stories to read and assign each of them to a playing card in a standard deck. Each week, I draw a card and that is the story I read. By the end of the year (52 weeks), I’m done, and ready to start a fresh deck. (For a more detailed explanation of the Deal Me In challenge, see the sign up post. For a look at my deck of cards/story roster click here.) Since 2016 is my home state’s bicentennial, in this year’s edition of my annual Deal Me In challenge, I’m reading only stories that have an Indiana “connection” of some kind. Deal Me “IN” is now also officially endorsed as a “Legacy Project” by The Indiana Bicentennial Commission.
“What Happens in Hell Stays in Hell”
This was an effectively terrifying story. It begins with the reader learning that High School Principal, Mr. Wilkinson, only has two hours to live. Or, as the author puts it, “two hours left of as an independent functioning organism existing as something other than food.” How will his end come about? Surely it has something to with the urgent calls and emails he’s been getting from an Afghan war veteran, one who seems to clearly be suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Both PTSD and school violence are, sadly, facts of life in the 21st century. When the two are mixed together – along with a touch of the supernatural – the resulting story can hardly be other than horrific right?
After inexplicably – and irresponsibly! – ignoring these calls and emails for several days, principal Wilkinson finally opens the latest email. It’s a warning from one veteran, William Craft, about a former comrade in arms, Lonnie Meadows, someone who he urges “you must stop from entering your school.” Of course, on the day he reads this email, two army recruiters are visiting his school…
The rest of the email, however, contains excepts from Craft’s wartime journal when he and Meadows were on a tour of duty in Afghanistan, they were friends beyond the basic “comrades in arms required” level, and Craft has genuine concerns about Meadows’ mental health. Who wouldn’t be after listening to the following:
“There was a time” -he swiveled his head, glancing around- “that I thought being a soldier was the best way to show my family I wasn’t a total fuck-up.” He ran his fingers over his forearm, tracing the scar that’d been camouflaged by a swirl of tribal tattoos. “How are we supposed to go anywhere, let alone home, after seeing the things we’ve seen?”
Their tour included a night mission to a remote village nestled against the mountains and “docked” with one of the cave entrances common to the area. After a brief, creepy meeting with a village elder and his entourage of unnaturally tall burka clad “women” they head inside and we learn just how Meadows came to be so dangerous…
I usually include an image of the card selected, but I varied from routine when I saw the ‘devil mug’ and included it instead. Indeed, I count 7 visible diamonds in that picture so… (Devil mug image above from https://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/26607595_beer-mug-devil-and-card-royal-bayreuth-bayreuth)