The Black Maybe, by Attila Veres

I first encountered the work of Attila Veres in the first volume of The Valancourt Book of World Horror Stories, which came out in late 2020. The series, now on volume 2, collects the best works of foreign horror authors from around the world, and brings their works together for an English speaking audience, often for the first time. The collection is fantastic all the way through, but the story of Hungarian author Attila Veres stood out to me as “one of the most impressively horrific and nasty things I’ve ever read.” Evidently many people agreed, because Valancourt Books has published the first English edition of the short stories of Attila Veres, The Black Maybe.

The full collection does not disappoint. Veres’s stories are disturbingly imaginative, impressively dark, and utterly unique.

The collection includes ten of Veres’s stories. A short description of some of them is given below.

  • To Bite a Dog. In an impulsive effort to break up a dog fight, a woman bites one of the dogs. This act leads her, and her boyfriend, down a dark path.
  • Fogtown. A curiously convoluted tale, in which bloggers, in their last post, describe their research into the never completed book The Unpublished Books of Hungary, which led those authors to investigate the never completed book On the Stage Tonight — Local Rock History. This earliest book became an obsession for the author, who went on a hunt for a band known as Fogtown, that lots of people had heard of but nobody seems to remember having heard play.
  • The Time Remaining. A man recounts to his therapist the trauma of his youth, when his mother wanted him to stop playing with his stuffed animal and told him the toy had a terminal illness. The man’s increasing obsession with saving his beloved toy goes to quite horrific places.
  • Multiplied by Zero. A man describes online his recent experiences with a travel company that takes people to places overseen by horrific and unfathomable gods. Imagine a tourist trip to visit Cthulhu, and you’ll have a bit of the idea.
  • Walks Among You. Scenes from the lives of people who belong to a cult worshipping cosmic horrors, a cult that has become mainstream and publicly acceptable, at least legally.
  • The Black Maybe. A family spends a season as tourists working on a farm whose crops are of a supernatural nature, and they are willing to do anything to fit in.

It is impossible to do justice to the weirdness of the stories from just these descriptions, but almost all of them represent really unique and imaginative takes on horror.

One recurring theme jumped out at me while reading: what I might call the “commercialization of horror.” Many of the stories involve people adapting to the horrors around them and accepting them as part of life, even profiting off of them in one way or another. Examples include “Multiplied by Zero,” about the cosmic horror tourist travel, “Walks Among You,” about a murderous cult going mainstream, and “The Black Maybe,” in which farmers of a monstrous crop bring in tourist helpers to pay the bills. There are other examples, and I can’t help but wonder how much these stories reflect current political and economic situations in Hungary. Regardless of their context, the stories pack an incredible punch and are usually filled with unexpected surprises.

It is worth noting that although there are graphic scenes in some of the stories, they are not overly graphic and nowhere near what people occasionally describe as “torture porn.” In fact, I was particularly impressed by the fact that “The Time Remaining” is a story that has almost no blood or violence in it at all yet is one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever read.

On their web page, Valancourt advertises The Black Maybe as “a book that is so dazzlingly original, so bone-chillingly terrifying, that it instantly alters the landscape of contemporary horror fiction.” Upon reading the collection, I would say that this is not hyperbole. I highly recommend The Black Maybe for those who want to read something groundbreaking in horror fiction.

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