Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The Cancer Cowboy Rides by John Connolly

“The Cancer Cowboy Rides” by John Connolly, Nocturnes - A Collection of Short Stories, Atria Books, Trade Paperback, $12.95

This novella is straight horror, mostly consisting of a subtle duel between the Easton, New Hampshire, chief of police, Jim Lopez and Buddy Carson.

Buddy woke up in the Nevada desert one day without any knowledge of who he was or how he got there. He did know that he was sick, badly ill. But not from dehydration and exposure. There was something inside him that made him cough up black blood. Soon he discovers, very graphically, that if he touches someone else they get sick and die quickly. Meanwhile his pain and sickness are alleviated.

Buddy travels around feeding the malevolent black worm inside him by infecting others. Until he hits Easton, he has never infected more than a couple of people in any one place, fearing discovery. Easton is a small town about to have a community gathering that will have most of the people in town in one place at one time. Buddy believes that if he can infect the whole town, his illness will go away for an extended period of time allowing him to take some time off and rest. Infecting people is hard work.

Chief Lopez notices Buddy early on and instinctively dislikes him. After Buddy leers at the Chief’s girlfriend, Lopez tells him to leave town. The rest of the story is a race to see who will triumph. How many people will Buddy kill, and can the chief stop him before Buddy gets the whole town?

This is a very graphic and disturbing story. Who among us doesn’t fear cancer? We call it “The Big C” in order to avoid naming it and thus take away some of it’s power. Mr. Connolly takes this very real fear and takes it to an extreme.

Along the way Mr. Connolly draws some very real characters. All of the major characters and even some of the minor ones feel real. At times he can even make you feel just the tiniest wave of sympathy for Buddy. After all he didn’t ask for this role in life.

The plot line is logical (at least as logical as a horror story can be), and he ratchets the suspense up throughout the story to an action-filled climax.

In short, if this story doesn’t creep you out, you’re not human.