It was the seventeenth of February–1990, and as my brother and I stood in the small ICU room of Saint Mary’s Hospital in Tucson, Arizona, the man lying on the gurney looked dead. He looked as dead as anyone I had ever seen. Used up. Worn out. Finished. Bloated, yellow-tinged. Hardening. Pupils glazed over and fixed–staring into an eternity the living couldn’t see.
He was our Father. He had survived emergency aortic aneurysm surgery, only to die of a heart attack a few hours later–his tired old machine of a body finally run out of gas. Dad never liked to do things the easy way. His end was no different. The Reaper had to drag him into darkness, fighting all the way.
Three days later I closed his casket. I will remember until my own last breath the soft ‘snicking’ sound the latch made as the lid settled into place, obscuring a face that I had known for forty years. A face I would never see again. Because death was final. Forever. Irrevocable. Irreversible.
And yet, as the quarter century between then and now has played out, I have often met the man–visited with him, sat with him, talked with him. Laughed and cried with him.
In my dreams.
In the dreamscapes of Jason Mott too. He and his dead mother reunited. One again. Whole again. A reckoning. A repairing.
Time out of sync.
But what if it were not a dream? What if the dead could actually return for a time? Just as they were when they left us. Healthy. Alive–clear eyes and beating hearts. Vibrant again.
Jason pondered this question–and The Returned was born.
The dead are returning to the earth they once knew . . . remembering nothing of their time away from life. They are returning to the places, and to the people they loved.
And they are returning in droves.
Thank you Mr. Mott, for delivering a horror story without Zombies, Ghosts, Hobgoblins or any other such nonsense. No scenes of empty tombs, or any other such foolishness. He doesn’t even speculate on how all those deceased folks might be coming back. They just are. A miracle. One of either God . . . or Satan.
Those horror-story standards aren’t really very scary anyhow. What is scary, is the monster within each of us. And it is an age-old story. When I was just a child, way back in the fifties, I remember a most remarkable television series called The Twilight Zone. One night the episode was entitled The Monsters are due on Maple Street. Even at that young age, I watched and learned that the scariest monster in the whole entire universe, was, well . . . me.
Or rather what I might be capable of. Or you. Or you. Or you over there . . . that guy hiding in the bushes with the high-powered rifle, and the righteous, if vastly misplaced, indignation. That’s a bad combination. And a perfect prescription for disaster, either in fiction, or in real life.
It’s the man in the sixth-floor window–come to the streets of small-town rural America. This is the stuff that real nightmares of made of. The kind of national nightmare Germans lived through in the age of the Orcs. Excuse me–I meant the Nazis.
But then, it’s all really the same, isn’t it?
Jason Mott understands this, and that is what his most excellent novel is all about. He tells it with raw power and nearly perfect prose, introducing a cast of unforgettable characters. Simple folks, with their world turned upside down. Unable to decide if the beautiful and vibrant eight-year old boy standing on their front porch is their long dead son . . . or an it.
Miracles of God are pretty hard to ignore, deny, or reject. But things–its . . . well, maybe not so much. Maybe even not so hard to want to kill.
And that’s where my own personal nightmare began. My own sleepless nights pondering The Returned. Pondering life and death. God and Satan. What I know. What I don’t, What I believe. What I want to believe.
What I fear.
And I ask . . . what if my own beloved dad, dead and buried these twenty-five years, were standing at the front door, seeking entrance and welcome. Would I consider him to be my father–or an it? Would I believe he was the same man who had held me as a child, comforted me when I was sick or injured, helped me with my homework when I was in school, watched with pride when I graduated, and been there for me in all and every way a father can possibly be?
Or would I think he were simply a phantom. A photocopy. Not the real thing. Would I welcome him? Would I fear him? After all, he is my father. I have dreamed of this moment for years. Why now, does my skin slightly crawl when I look into his eyes?
And how would the government react? Take him away? Hide him away? To be poked and prodded and asked a lot of questions. Would they want to confine him? Make him into a prisoner? Perhaps perform experiments on him.
Perhaps they would want to kill him–just to see if he would stay dead, or come back to life once again. And what does the government do when the dead return by the thousands–and then the millions?
When the dead . . . begin to outnumber the living.
Welcome to the twisted and upside down world of Jason Mott. Welcome to your own sleepless nights. I have had more than a few since I read this most excellent and thought-provoking book. I have rehashed most of my relationships with my nearest and dearest departed loved ones. I have placed myself into scenes from The Departed.
And I have wondered . . . Is the monster at the door?
Or. . . is the monster me.
For those interested in a fascinating read, I provide a link to Mr. Mott’s book on the Great Reads page of this website.
Thanks for visiting this site, and for reading my blog. Until the next time . . . have a wonderful night.