‘The being brought me this far, now it was up to me to decide. I pressed the broken seal of the vacutainer to my lips and sucked. The blood felt like mucus on my tongue. I jerked my head back and sucked harder, like a sorority girl downing a Jell-O shot’ 28%.
From Siphon by A.A. Medina Hindered Souls Press, 2017.
Orphan Dr Gary Phillips is a resident hematopathologist at Claybrook Medical Center. He lusts after his colleague Wendy, whose eyes with their murky-pond depth conjure fantasies in his mind of what life could be. He lives in a house that is not his own, he works in a job he never chose, all because of his abusive, Vietnam-veteran grandfather Francis. Then he begins to hear a voice. There is an urge inside of you...Shortly after this first encounter, he discovers his deceased mother’s manuscript, which is full of bloodlust, sexual fantasies and incantations. Very soon he begins to lust after blood himself. As Gary begins to experiment with this new need, he begins to ask why his parents died, why does he have to put up with being second-best and why can’t he just take what he wants?
While in college, I explored the winding towers and haunted mansions of the Gothic genre. We were asked to read Dracula by Bram Stoker for our exam text, but I wanted to go beyond that and unearth the origins, dig up a few empty graves, trace back the blood ancestry of vampires and monsters. Behind the most famous vampire novel, a story we’ve seen adapted time and time again for screen, lies many bloody forefathers, most notably Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu and The Vampyre by John William Polidori. In A.A. Medina’s Siphon, we can see traces of these two stories. I would hesitate to label Siphon as a vampire novel, it is certainly more an underlying interpretation than an outright nod to the toothy-pegged canon, yet it kept reminding me of those two early texts. The draining of blood, the upturned hierarchy, the visions of an altered reality or suppressed past and the monster beneath the human guise are all tropes linked to the genre. This isn’t a run-of-the-mill horror story, despite all its respectful nods to vampires and serial killers alike. I find if I can interpret a text like this, then it’s the sign of a damn good story.
There pacing of this story is expertly done, ranking up the tension bit-by-bit so not to overpower the reader with full-on gore. In this novella, we gradually see the deconstruction of Gary Phillips, slowly dropping the façade he has been forced to adopt for most of his life: the pathetic joke of a man, the second-best and second-rate. There is even a physical representation of this expulsion: he suffers severe diarrhoea and vomits up everything inside of him, wrecking his clothes, like his new self must repel the old and its contents. We see Gary gain confidence and reach out for what he most desires by asking Wendy on a date. But by then his desires are dual and it is a question of which need is greater: acceptance or blood.
At first I worried about the language, as the first chapter came across a little clunky and I feared that our narrator’s voice would continue speaking in long, round-about sentences. These fears were quickly put to rest as the personality of Gary took a firmer hold. This story is clearly written and tries to keep classy, even when dealing with sexual gore and menstrual blood. On that note: there are two scenes where I had to cross my legs and focus on keeping my lunch down!
A.A. Medina doesn’t spell things out for the reader, which I respect and ultimately prefer than ‘exposition dumps’ where we are told everything in one go. Even after the last page, the reader is left to wonder. Was Gary’s bloodlust the result of his own psychosis or an evil force passed down? Was there another being, a God, that Gary believes possesses him, or is that merely an excuse of a broken man’s mind? Mundanity kills, we know this from books like American Psycho, We Need to Talk About Kevin, The Shining and other works where someone is bored with their daily lot and tries to break out. Horror often uses monsters and gore as illustrations of social anxiety, where internal anxieties manifest externally. Gary wants what other people have, he wants lives that aren’t his own, and so he drinks their blood. He meets a prostitute and drinks her, possibly so he might obtain some of her sexual flare. Gary is the underdog who wants to be on top and will wreak revenge on anyone who wants to keep him there.
There are plenty of environments here to suggest a cage or entrapment: hospitals, snowdrifts, tiny bedrooms and seedy hotel rooms. Other than being tropes of horror landscapes, these are all locations where a character can feel both caged and isolated. The perfect locations to drive Gary Phillips over the edge. In both his mother’s case and Gary’s, they want to break away from the rational, from married life and working life. Society is the sickness that sends them after blood, a raw animalistic rebellion. The good thing for society is that such characters know they can’t – and won’t - return to normality, the mould pre-set for them. The idea of being caged again doesn’t enter Gary’s mind, only the kill or be killed rule of nature.
Overall, I really enjoyed Siphon, it is a quick, compelling read and I would gladly recommend it to anyone who wants to be thrilled by the depravity of Gary Phillips. My only other recommended to boys and girls alike: don’t read it while you are eating!
Note: I was sent a free kindle copy of Siphon by M.R. Tapia of Hindered Souls Press so that I might provide an honest review.