Responsibility. Withdrawal symptoms. Owning up to their past mistakes.
One of the recovering addicts in Matt Hayward’s creep-fest What Do Monsters Fear? sums up the plot in a few well-chosen words:
“Three strung-out fucks are gonna stop an ancient evil god?”
Hell, yeah, they are! Because the ancient evil god—a body-snatching baddie called Phobos—has underestimated the drive and determination of men with nothing left to lose.
There’s a claustrophobic quality to this novel comparable to the trapped arctic explorers in John Carpenter’s The Thing. Tensions ratchet up by as Phobos picks off victims and terrifies those that remain. Like Freddy Krueger or Pennywise, Phobos knows what scares you, and takes perverse pleasure in torturing victims with their own deepest fears and phobias.
Hayward’s writing engages the senses and propels the story forward, like when he introduces the shifty doctor:
“A waft of aftershave drifted from him, tainting the honest smell of raw wood.”
Or describes the death of supernatural beings:
“Unlike in the movies when a supernatural entity died, the cat didn’t dissipate into nothingness with a sizzle. Instead, it burned and burned, the smell of charred flesh and singed hair filling the space. Dark smoke packed the room.”
Hayward employs the same multi-sensory technique even when the scenes get visceral:
“Shelly’s body slopped from the table and splashed to the floor.”
Poor liquified Shelly makes another appearance later on:
“He stepped in Shelly Matthews. The liquefied blob of flesh quivered like a fried egg beneath his heel. One eye blinked within the mess and stared back at him.”
Yuck! Sucks to be Shelly! Beyond the blood and monsters, What Do Monsters Fear? tackles the issue of addicts in recovery, and the way they view themselves as they attempt to turn their lives around.
“Peter hated to admit it, but for the briefest moment, he related to the monster.”
But men and monsters alike get second chances. Seeing elderly drunk Henry’s redemption is perhaps the novel’s most triumphant moment.
“I was useful for once in my miserable piece of shit life… My actions meant something.”
That’s the kind of validation we all seek, both addict and non-addict, man and monster alike.
Hayward has a great sense of pacing and a cinematic writing style that makes What Do Monsters Fear? a fast, fun read! He leaves the door open for potential sequels, and implies that the worst kind of monsters don’t live in alternate, cosmic dimensions but inside the hearts of men.
(And women. Chill out, ladies. You’re evil, too.)