T.E.D. Klein’s “Petey”

No, this post isn’t about some dude’s body part. If you were directed here by some mischievous search engine…well, kick up your heels and stay awhile! I’m sure I’ll post about that body part one of these days (likely in connection to a Judd Apatow movie).

The name T.E.D. Klein is synonymous with three things: 1) Twilight Zone Magazine, 2) two amazing books, and 3) the fact that he’s only written two friggin’ books despite the fact that he’s one of the best writers of horror anyone’s ever read. Honing in on claim-to-fame number two (I could type a twenty-page tirade about how deeply I wish the dude would write more—yeah, he wrote some cool short stories, but we’re focusing on the two books people actually know about), the two Klein books I own, cherish, and generally obsess over are The Ceremonies (a spellbinding novel I’ll someday blog about) and Dark Gods, a collection of four novellas. While each of the novellas in Dark Gods is outstanding, my personal favorite is a spooky yarn called “Petey.”

You Write This Amazingly and Only Produce Two Friggin’ Books?!?

I’ll let Amazon or Paperback Swap or Creepy White Van Book Exchange Guy provide you with a synopsis; what I’ll give you are a couple salient facts about the plot (Why am I numerically outlining all my thoughts tonight?): 1) There’s a dude in a mental asylum who’s so spooked by something he’s seen that he’s trying to commit suicide, 2) George and Phyllis and thirty of their friends are celebrating G & P’s new home, an old place they’ve recently fixed up (more specifically, cleaned up), 3) The previous owner of the house was a bit…imbalanced (“Eyes like a sorcerer,” some of the locals claim), and 4) About twenty pages into the story, someone pulls out a very important deck of cards. Tarot cards.

To say too much about this amazing story would be spoiling it for those who haven’t read it, and one of my purposes, Dear Readers, is for anyone who hasn’t yet read it to order it tonight (along with a bottle of sleeping pills—you’ll need ’em). What I will say is this (Mustn’t numerically outline! Mustn’t numerically outline!): “Petey” is one of the five best novellas I’ve ever read. What makes it so incredible is the slow unfolding of the horror. It’s the kind of tale that will quickly exhaust the patience of the short-attention-spanned reader. It’s also the kind of tale that will reward you, the patient reader, and make you glance over your shoulder at the slightest noise and wish to hell you hadn’t sat down to read next to a window.

Please Scare Us Again!

The other day I wrote about Stephen King’s wonderful story “The Road Virus Heads North.” Like that tale, “Petey” involves a drawing that changes. I can tell you that ever since I first read this story a decade-and-a-half ago, I’ve pictured that drawing hundreds of times (both in its early incarnations and in its final, unspeakable reveal).

Which brings me to the ending. So much of true genius is about impeccable choreography. You see it in Inception when the dream within the dream within the dream within the dream all climax at the same moment. You see it when Juliet awakens mere moments after Romeo has guzzled his dram of liquid death.

And you see it in “Petey” when what’s happening inside the house connects with what’s happening outside the house.

Now go order “Petey.” Then picket T.E.D. Klein’s house and demand he get off his duff, carry his damn coffee and tattered bathrobe over to the word processor, and crank out some more amazing prose.

9 thoughts on “T.E.D. Klein’s “Petey”

  1. Jonathan: As you know I heartily agree with your praise of PETEY. I love all four novellas in
    DARK GODS. But i think my personal favorite is CHILDREN OF THE KINGDOM, that spooky opening ride back into NYC is so well done. I’m a big King fan, but Klein’s THE CEREMONIES is my favorite horror novel. Obviously I think you have good taste, Jonathan.

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  2. Grace: Awesome!

    Gene: CHILDREN OF THE KINGDOM is indeed outstanding. I need to go back and re-read that scene so I can remember what you’re alluding to. BLACK MAN WITH A HORN is another shiner. It reminds me a lot of Arthur Machen’s best stuff.

    And regarding THE CEREMONIES…a thousand times yes. Easily one of my top ten horror novels ever. That it’s your number one isn’t surprising. It’s a mesmerizing descent into evil and chaos. What an amazing book!

    And thank you, by the way, for the comment about my taste. Obviously, I feel the same about yours (not to mention my extremely positive feelings about your own writing).

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  3. Dark Gods is the finest collection of novellas I have ever read and Klein my favourite writer. All four tales are astonishing, my own personal favourite being Nadelman’s God. The sad thing is that so talented a writer is so unproflific! Three books since 1984…

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    1. Mark, I am SO SORRY I didn’t see this reply until now–how could I have missed it back when you wrote it in 2011???

      Anyway, I’m delighted to hear you’re a fellow admirer of his work. Nadelman’s God is indeed awesome. You have wonderful taste, Mark! 🙂

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  4. You want to know something?

    I’m thinking our breed is coming to a sad end, even in the time of all being accessible via internet: the horrors of the Cthulhu Mythos have been translated into silly visions of possible movie fodder, money making ideas that slap the face of horror, and yet terrifying flickers of a reality we should be able to relate to, but we are not allowed. The gateway, or perhaps the curse, is mundana- the pablum of modern life, and the greatest medium was T E D Klein and his brethren – writers who saw the possibility of horror in a shifting shadow, even if it was a weird flicker in a in a phone booth or a dodgy parking garage. Ramsey Campbell tried to warn us with his murky blobs and muddy entities, but no one hit it quite like T.E.D.Klein. his prose was the best homage to Lovecraft cast in an uncaring capitalist light that has ever been written, in my humble opinion. The terror of the old ones- Lovecraft, Algernon, etc. given a modern veneer- just what the last of the reading generation needs to keep us fearful of their return.

    For those who haven’t read the greats like the above mentioned, I’m just expounding on what I consider to be some of the best horror writing of the last quarter-decade.. For those who have read the authors, or who want to, know that there are some who love this shit, think if it was real we’d be doomed, and wallow in that vibe, that well versed knowledge, in the back of our minds!

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    1. Sorry for the woefully late reply, Greg. I somehow missed this, but I love that you appreciate the masters. Blackwood, Lovecraft, Campbell, Klein…just amazing artists who did (or do) things that none can replicate. Thank you for stopping by, and I hope you do again soon!

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