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Only the blood of a righteous man...

I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Dean Koontz fan.

Stephen King will scare the bejesus out of you, and your pants. After reading ‘Salem’s Lot the first time, that night I swapped all the light bulbs in my bedroom for 100-watt A19s (that’s five bulbs), and lemme tell ya, those things put out some serious heat. I closed all the windows. I lay in my bed, fully dressed, with arms straight and pressed tight against my body. Legs straight, too. Did I mention it was July, 85 degrees out, and we didn’t have air conditioning? I was sweating worse than a pig, and stared at the ceiling until the sun came up. I was so hot when I stepped out of my room that morning, the hallway felt cool. But them damn vampires weren’t gonna get me, no siree!

Koontz is different, though. He’ll scare you, but there’s something deeper to his stories, something King doesn’t have. Like Watchers. By the time you get a little more than three-quarters through the book, you realize although the antagonist is beyond redemption, all is not as it seems. The antagonist was created from a mish-mash of animals and had human intelligence. It was intended to serve in wartime as a super scary-looking super soldier. The protagonist was a golden retriever that looked like a regular golden, but it had human intelligence, too. And who can resist a golden?

Koontz’s Watchers is poignant.

The super soldier and the golden were created together. During their “childhood,” they were friends, watching cartoons and playing. Then it changed. The staff at the facility were obviously afraid of it as it grew up, and began treating the super soldier as the monster it was. The golden received all the love. The baboon-faced super soldier learned to hate the golden and the staff. When the two escaped the lab, the chase was on, with scary and ugly consequences.

But…if the super soldier had been treated as kindly as the golden, would it have become the monster? After all, it was supposed to be a weapon. And given the urges its makers instilled in it, it would have turned into a monster, anyway. Still, it makes you wonder if things could have turned out differently. Then again, if the super soldier hadn’t been a monster, there wouldn’t have been a story.

My favorite, though, is Darkfall. Vodou in New York City. That by itself is enough to grab your attention. And of course, this being New York, Jack Dawson, a detective, doesn’t believe the deaths were caused by Vodou. At first, anyway. But as Dawson gets deeper into his investigation, he begins to realize Vodou is not a fairytale to scare children, or the province of a bunch of crazy old women. It’s real, and it’s deadly. The bad guy is Baba Lavelle, powerful oungan or Vodou priest, out to avenge the death of his brother. As part of his plan, the oungan opens the gates of hell, and it’s up to Dawson, the righteous man, to close them before hell’s denizens get loose.

Not all voodoo is for tourists.

As always, there’s more to the story. When I lived in New York City, I was walking with a friend to her apartment in Queens. We cut through a park, and I saw this box at the base of a tree, covered with symbols, little statuettes, and a few other things I don’t remember. But I remember the chicken feet. Not scattered around, but carefully placed around the box. I turned to ask my friend what it was. She started walking faster and said “keep going.” Turns out, it was a Vodou shrine. She later told me there was a large Haitian community in the area, and it was probably where a ritual took place.

My second encounter was with Louisiana Voodoo. I was in grad school, and a friend took me out to the bayou where he grew up (he was Cajun). He took me to see a ritual. We get to this shack, and old woman who had to be 150 years old came out to greet us. She knew his family. So anyway, a bunch of people arrive and she gets going. I tell you, she was possessed by SOMETHING. I didn’t think a voice that deep could come from her throat. Or anybody’s throat. When it was over, we left and returned to New Orleans. Gotta tell ya, I was pretty shaken up by that.

So. Do I believe in Vodou, or voodoo? I don’t know. But it’s enough for me that they believe it.

I ain’t gonna mess with ’em.


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