Hell Spring… Only God Has to Know
The first time I figured that I had committed a sin was in a Blockbuster. There was a small dish that was wedged between a colorful box of Nerds and a Shrek bobblehead with beady little eyes. There were pennies in that dish and the small voice in my head told me that I needed one. So, as my mother argued a late fee on a DVD, I pulled one from the dish and shoved it in my pocket- my little secret.
Of course, the second the car pulled from the parking lot of the Blockbuster, my thievery caught up with me and I realized that I had done something wrong. By the time we pulled into our driveway, I was a sobbing mess. It was just a penny, my mother said. But to me, it was so much more. To me, it was a little copper disc of guilt.
In Isaac Thorne’s bottle novel “Hell Spring” Pastor Mark MacDonald struggles with the same tribulation that six-year-old me had a meltdown over in a Toyota Corolla. The man of God skimmed two dollars from a partition plate after serving a Church in the small town of Lost Hollow.
In fact, each of our key players in this novel grapples with some form of sin in the eyes of most Biblical literature; whether that be impure thoughts, homosexuality, greed, or murder. All of these sins, these impure thoughts, swirl around the small convenience store named Beards during a flood that traps a group of mismatched people inside.
Throne makes it clear from the beginning of this novel that this won’t end well, because something is hunting them, and it feeds on the very things that they’re so desperate to hide.
Hell Spring is your classic Southern Gothic novel that expertly pulls you into a world where the air is prickingly hot and religion lurks around every corner with its judging, and comprehensive stare. Dramatic? Yes. But Throne does a fantastic job of setting the scene in the town of Lost Hollow.
It’s evident from the start that this is a town that’s been hit heavily by the Great Depression, but in an isolated, darker type of way that breeds sin and then the evident rush of forgiveness. While the town itself is interesting, the most interesting part of this novel is the setting of Beards General Store.
When a storm rolls through the town and the rivers rise to flood-like proportions, a cast of characters decide to take shelter in the store run by Kathy Beard and her son Jerry Beard. The point of views shift from character to character as they embrace their situation and the choices they made that landed them here.
There’s Eli Wynn, the orphan who has taken up residence at the Blalock farmhouse.
Pastor Mark MacDonald who is barely scraping by while playing by God’s rules.
Donna Gilliam, a battered mother to a newborn who lives in constant fear for her life.
Peter Mayberry who struggles with his religion and his sexuality.
And of course, there’s Marilyn, the main temptress and catalyst for the story. She’s a creature that is from another world, one that plays by different rules. It’s easier to feed there, but when she escapes onto our plain, she must draw the guilt from those trapped in Beards in order to sustain herself.
Marilyn models herself off an idea of a naked woman that she pilfers from Eli Wynn, a small photo that is shoved in the base of the cash drawer of Beards. She infiltrates the General Store, she toys with those inside it.
We Have to Address It…
Okay, I know that some of you are going to ask, so we’re going to get this out of the way front the start: The first chapter is bizarre. It describes the hellscape that Marilyn is privy to, including a Giant creature that ejaculates an acid-like substance. It’s all Marilyn has ever known, and it’s a strange existence to say the least.
When I first started this book, it took a bit of an iron stomach to get through this chapter in order to get to the meat of the story, but it is something that is necessary to understand Marilyn’s motivations. Though – the general consensus among readers seem to be: What the fuck did I just read?
While I was entirely jarred by the journey that the first chapter took me on, I will say it was like landing on a soft pillow once you get to chapter two. There, it spins into Eli Wynn’s journey, and what a journey it is.
Thorne shocked me with those opening pages, but his writing is brilliant, and most importantly, it’s believable. Which is important when we’re talking about hellscapes filled with hypersexualized behemoths.
The Body Horror
There is an entire sub-genre in the horror community that thrives on gross-out horror that’s meant to twist the mind and run wild. It’s not something I’m privy to, not past werewolf transformations and the occasional sawing of arms. So, suffice to say as soon as a nail pierced genitals I was reeling.
But here’s the thing about Isaac Thorne- I was very glad that I was introduced to the bloodier side of body horror through his lens. He’s, dare I say, gentle about it. It wasn’t outlandish, it was a real mix of religious trauma that led to actions that seemed justifiable within Peter Mayberry’s story.
“Margaret pressed the point of the nail into the median crease of her only son’s tongue, pinning it in place on the table without breaking the skin.”
I’ll leave the rest for the reader to decipher, but Thorne goes into expertly written forays of broken shards of glass, and the Catholic guilt that comes along with growing up in a small, sinner-heavy town.
There are many things to love about Isaac Thorne’s continuation of the haunted town of Lost Hollow. He is an expert at character development, and this is what really sold me on this novel. Despite some long-winded prose, within just a few chapters Thorne had me rooting for every single character that graced the pages.
They were all deemed sinners, yet, who isn’t? Who doesn’t take a little extra for themselves? Who doesn’t allow themselves to fall entirely into love? Who doesn’t strive to protect themselves? Anti-heroes or not, there was a pang each time a new trial presented itself, a hope-driven desire for everything to work out for everyone trapped within the walls of Beard’s General Store.
If you can look past some extra fluff, and the motif of the monster taking the form of Marilyn Monroe (I get it, I do) I would say that this is a perfect Southern Gothic horror novel for you!