Written by Lee Thomas
Published by Telos Publishing
The vampire is one of the most recognizable icons in the horror genre and, as such, is often the central figure in horror fiction. There are probably millions of stories out there having to do with vampires, vampirism, or the granddaddy of all bloodsuckers, Count Dracula; and if you had asked me a year ago, I would have told you that the vampire angle had been done to death. I would have been wrong… (Lucky for me, finding this out is one of the pleasant perks of this job.)
Parish Damned is the story of a small coastal town, Coral Point. Inhabited mostly by fisherman and their families during the off season and teaming with tourists the rest of the time, Coral Point is home to something very dark. Every four years many of the elderly or infirm residents are stricken with a strange sickness, known locally as “the Crud.” After a lingering illness, the unfortunate souls seemingly surrender themselves to the waves and wash up on shore, becoming the titular “parish damned,” a phrase taken from sailor lore.
Thomas tells the story of Coral Point and its inhabitants from the point of view of one of the locals, a strong man of few words who captains his own boat, mostly running the rich tourists out on charters. It seems that the whole town knows there’s something more going on than just sickness every four years, but no one mentions it. Except that this year, something’s different. The victims of the Crud are being found dead in their homes, not washed up on the beach. Doesn’t seem like much of a problem … but it is.
The story that follows is both new and fresh and yet comfortably familiar. The characters Thomas introduces us to are all distinct and individual despite the limited amount of time we’re given to get to know them. Now, don’t get me wrong; there’s no big twist here, no Sixth Sense type ending, just damn fine storytelling and some genuinely creepy moments.
We learn the truth about the Crud and Graham, a well-to-do tourist who docks his boat (named The Sunseeker, in a tastefully tongue-in-cheek moment) in Coral Point every four years. During the journey Thomas introduces us to something more frightening, more elemental than the romantic European vampires we’ve become used to. Graham may be an old-school bloodsucker, but this year he’s not the one menacing the small town. No. This year they’re falling prey to a more voracious kind of fanged foe, one that lives beneath the waves.
This is not just the story of a town, but of a man and his choices. It’s bittersweet, and really rather touching, despite the terror of the tale. And there is terror and gore enough to satisfy horror fans. Yet, Parish Damned is very subtle and grounded in humanity.
This is an immensely satisfying story that is well worth the read. My biggest complaint is that there are only 79 pages. It might not quite be on par with killer sharks and salty sea captains singing “Spanish Ladies,” but Lee Thomas has still given us another reason not to go back out on the water.
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