Greenbeard by John Travis
Demain, ebook, £2.27
reviewed by martin willoughby
An interesting shortish story that’s at once horror and crime, with a dash of magic.
Miles is an old man who paints children’s faces, and he’s good at it. He carries a special tin of paint that he has never used as the time was never right. Dave’s life is falling apart. His wife has left him, his boss no longer trusts him, and he’s losing what’s left to alcohol. In the background is a boy, Daniel, who thinks he knows who’s killing the children, but fears telling the truth. When Miles and Dave meet, the magic begins.
Like the other works of Travis that I’ve read, the story is well written, while its sharpness and sparse style make it a story you want to read in one sitting. It’s uncomfortable, as all good horror should be. Although you know who the killer is halfway through, the story retains its interest as the magic takes hold of the two main protagonists.
So what’s the thrust of the story? There’s a child killer on the loose. After the latest death, the killer has kept a school tie, and the hunt intensifies. While this is happening, Ed welcomes Dave, an old friend, for the weekend partly so Dave can distance himself from the ongoing mess he’s made of his marriage and job. Maybe even make amends and improve his situation. Ed’s son, Daniel, is less enamoured with the guest.
At the same time, Miles comes to town hoping to make some children’s lives a little happier by painting their faces. He’s very good at it and has an ability to discern who’s good and who isn’t merely by their presence while enjoying the feeling of happiness that face painting brings to the children. The children’s parents, on the other hand, are less enamoured with Miles, fearing that he is the killer.
One evening, a child comes to Miles to get his face painted, and Dave offers to pay. By then, Daniel knows who the killer is, Miles thinks he knows, and Dave gets to feel the magic of Miles’ special paint.
This is an excellent story that not only leaves you feeling uncomfortable, but also shows some aspects of humanity that we wish didn’t exist, but we all know live within us. Highly recommended.