Patient K (Short Sharp Shocks! Book 1)
As part of #DemainDecember on this blog, I’m reviewing as many titles from Horror publisher Demain Publishing as I can in the first week of December. Because, quite frankly, nothing typifies the spirit of Christmas more to me than seven days (at least!) of high-quality short-form Horror fiction encompassing a number of different subgenres. So over the coming week, as well as any other reviews I manage to write up, I’ll be reviewing some of the Horror, Sci-Fi (and Crime) novellas recently released by Demain, as well as a number of titles in their excellent Short Sharp Shocks! imprint.
By the time that I’d finished reading it, I’d realised that Barbie Wilde’s Patient K perfectly encapsulates the concept of Short Sharp Shocks!, and demonstrates just what Demain Publishing are going for in terms of the titles in the imprint. Here we have a piece of short Horror fiction that pulls absolutely no punches, and instead delivers a plot that rapidly escalates into a shocking, gut-wrenching and incredibly compelling narrative that is disturbing in its actions and consequences. Fascinatingly, it couldn’t be more different to Dean M Drinkel’s Dirty Paws, Book 0 in the Short Sharp Shocks! series; where that was very much a murder-mystery with horror undertones, with a measured pace that focused on evoking an atmosphere of corruption and decadence, Patient K is a lightning-quick tale of sexual assault, a disgusting and immensely degrading form of intimate violation, and a kind of revenge that borders on Splatterpunk and even Extreme Horror. I was interested to learn from the Biography section that Ms. Wilde is known for playing the Female Cenobite in Hellraiser II and more recently for writing very well-received Horror fiction, including a short story portraying the Female Cenobite. I can certainly see those early influences coming into play with Patient K, with certain acts of vengeance taking place that feel like things cut from one of the earlier Hellraiser scripts.
While staying vague to save spoiling the excellent plot, Patient K follows Karla, the titular patient, who lost her left eye in a childhood accident involving her brother, a BB gun and some very poor timing. Unable to ever have a permanent ocular prosthesis, Karla was instead forced to endure a series of removable artificial eyes that have to be removed occasionally. When her ocularist retires, he’s replaced by the charismatic Dr Markham who tells her of a wonderful new ocular prosthesis he can fit for her. But when she’s sedated, instead of immediately fitting the prosthesis, Markham violates her in a deeply nauseating manner that I found difficult to read about; much of the horror here comes from Karla’s complete lack of control, and Wildes’s descriptions of the act and the immediate aftermath are both stomach-churning and depressingly plausible in regards to Markham’s reaction and denial afterwards. It isn’t a pleasant scene, to put it lightly, and it left me unsettled for some time afterwards. Yet it never for a moment felt written purely for shock value, instead bringing me to intensely empathise with Karla, which is surely a mark of Wilde’s skill as a writer.
As if that wasn’t enough, it becomes apparent that Karla’s new prosthesis is no ordinary artificial eye, but instead is inhabited by something that lurks just at the edge of her sight, disappearing when she looks for it. Eventually its secrets are revealed, and Karla is able to take vengeance on Dr Markham in another sequence that had me squirming at times – though in this case, I had no empathy with the victim. Ultimately, Patient K is an intense, driven and repeatedly shocking piece of short Horror fiction that is incredibly well-written and one of the best titles in the Short Sharp Shocks! series that I’ve read to date. In fact, the only Horror short story I can think of that surpasses it, in terms of writing skill and the ability to evoke emotional reactions, is Bracken Macleod’s seminal Back Seat from Crystal Lake Publishing’s Lost Highways anthology. I look forward to seeking out more of Ms. Wilde’s writing, and would hope to see another title from her published by Demain Publishing in the not too-distant future.