And when he’s not wearing his publisher’s hat, Kurtz is an author himself. His most recent release is Rust & Blood, a collection of nine short stories that are dark, daring, and most definitely not for the timid.
“How dark?” you ask. Well, how about a lovely little tale of cannibalism to start you off? “Hunger” is the story of an extremely overweight young man who, unable to satisfy his enormous appetite with food, hits upon a disturbing solution.
“Sinners” brings allegations of Satanism and ritual child abuse, as well as the devil himself to a small town, while “Slowpoke” shows how far one man is willing to go to ‘avenge’ a loss sustained betting on the horses.
“W4M” finds the tables turned on a man who uses online dating services to find his victims, and is followed by “Pearls,” an incredibly sick little number that will test even the strongest of stomachs. Seriously. Don’t read that one too close to eating, before or after.
“Roadbeds” is quick and satisfying take on the urban legend that the mob uses construction sites as dumping grounds for bodies, while “Earworm” takes the idea of an annoying tune being stuck in your head to an entirely different level. “Krampus: A Christmas Tale” closes out the collection with a Creepshow worthy story about young Jason, his Christmas hating grandmother and her “old country” traditions, and jolly Old St. Nicholas’s evil doppelgänger.
I’ve taken the story “Family Bible” out of order because it was by far the standout of the collection for me. The Durfee clan, currently only Ezra, his older brother and their father, lives in a house hidden away in a wooded corner of northwest Arkansas. There’s a family cemetery on the homestead, as well as a small tannery from which the Durfees make their living. An extremely religious family, the boys don’t attend school – “They don’t teach what’s really important.” – but instead stay home and learn the bible. It’s family tradition that each Durfee man create his own bible by handwriting a copy of the entire thing, with each bible requiring a ‘special cover’ in order to be considered truly complete.
Every story in Rust & Blood is well-crafted, but Kurtz has created something truly special in “Family Bible.” From the beginning you know there’s something not quite right about young Ezra and his family, but you’ve no idea just how not right until Kurtz slowly draws you down the exquisitely drawn path that leads to the Durfees’s door. The tension in “Family Bible” is downright palpable, and Kurtz nurses the sense of dread from a smoldering ember into an out of control bonfire. And while it is a self-contained story, there’s definitely room for more exploration of the decidedly creepy Durfee clan. A novella, perhaps? (You reading this, Ed?).
Rust & Blood is a collection of stories that push the envelope and aren’t afraid to go some very dark places, a collection that could only have been written by an extremely confident and talented author, which Ed Kurtz most assuredly is.