“Where is Abby?” & Other Tales
by Lee Brown Coye
Read by Robert Coye
The last remnants of the recent snowfall are outside, gently melting away. The sky, while not smothered by night just yet, is starting to darken. And “Where is Abby?” & Other Tales, an audio production from Cadabra Records, is playing on my record player in the corner.
Oh! Lee Brown Coye! What an amazing artist, one who perfectly captured the essence of nightmare in black-and-white! That seems to be the best descriptor: the pieces of artwork created by Lee Brown Coye are nightmarish visions, straight out of the depths of dream. They feature grotesque people and fearful shadows and distorted proportions.
But what’s this? Coye, a writer? Yes, my friends: Lee Brown Coye, famous illustrator of pulp horror stories, did indeed write stories. From 1964 to 1970, a series of short stories entitled “Chips & Shavings” were published in the Mid-York Weekly. They were peculiar and disturbing vignettes, one that left indelible impressions on the mind long after the paper was put down and the fire had burned out.
The stories have been difficult to find for so long, but Cadabra Records has unearthed some of the finest tales from that wonderful series and has recorded them for audio, read by none other than Coye’s son, Robert.
And how successful it is! The majority of the stories are not necessarily supernatural, but starkly and unblinkingly disturbing, with a gruesome vein of humor reminiscent of the EC Comics. Take the grisly yarn of “What Remained of Margaret Rogers”, about the burial of the fattest woman on Earth, or the poems “…and Portions of Hannah” and “The Undertaker”, two tongue-in-cheek shorts with endings that will certainly bring a dark smile to one’s face. Coye retells the actual legend of the Lincoln Train, and though the story has been done to death, his eloquent language made it seems original. “Where is Abby?” (the entirety of which you can listen to here) is the perfect tone-setter for the record, a nasty tale of winter nightmares and what could be lying under the snow.
My personal favorite of the record, “The Cradle”, is not supernatural at all, and does not have any supernatural elements, yet it manages to disturb me incredibly deeply. This is my first day with the record, so I shall not be surprised if I suffer from nightmares tonight. There is a particular image which has been sticking with me since I first heard it, and it certainly ties in with Coye’s fascination with the grotesque.
That’s a theme that runs through the stories – the grotesque. The record runs amok with exaggerated characters: the obese, the senile, even the short. This is not a disadvantage; it in fact assists the nightmarish quality of the stories.
Robert Coye does not fail to impress. His voice is plain, casual, warm, as if he were relating these horrific tales sitting next to the fire. It is thus appropriate that there is no music or sound effects on the record – these tales are meant to be stark and unelaborate, as opposed to, say, the neo-Gothic extravagances of Lovecraft. This is more Bierce than Lovecraft – uneasy curiosities and macabre local legends. This is not the drama of Andrew Leman; this is the voice of an old-timer telling you something that happened many years ago in a small town. This, again, works to the record’s favor: not just because of Coye’s excellent narration (I am very glad that they include signed prints with their orders!), but because of the stark sound design. It is, perhaps, best appreciated on vinyl (normal or special edition), but one is also available to grab a CD if one wishes to do so. Either way, it is a must-have for any horror fan.
The sky is completely dark now. Coye is relating the ghastliness of obese Margaret Rogers’ death. The snow outside is pale and frozen, and, if I squint my eyes, I can almost see a slick, damp shoe, just rising out of the icy white.