Dead men do tell tales

By telephone from his digs in nearby Antelope, author Nicholas Grabowsky sounded like a nice enough guy: soft-spoken, modest, self-effacing. There was nothing in the reserved tone of his speech to indicate anything abnormal. But then there’s Simon BoLeve, one of many decidedly bent characters in Grabowsky’s latest horror novel, The Everborn. For kicks, Simon enjoys tying people up and force-feeding them LSD before cutting their eyeballs out with a straight razor.

“It’s part of his quest to be born again,” Grabowsky said, reassuring readers that the novel, which took the 37-year-old a dozen years to finish, is only partially autobiographical.

Grabowsky grew up in the Los Angeles area and says he began writing stories by the third grade. He spent his teen years writing for the high-school paper and experimenting with Christian fundamentalism instead of psychedelics. A stint preaching and playing contemporary Christian music ended when the congregation took unkindly to Pray Serpents Prey, Grabowsky’s first novel (under the pseudonym Nicholas Randers), “an allegorical Christian story of demon-vampires invading a small town and a pastor who learns to use the power of God to cast them out.”

“Too worldly,” the flock is said to have commented, but Grabowksy, young and already published, was hooked. Another novel, Rag Man, soon followed, and then came his screen-to-book adaptation of Halloween IV, which he says remains one of his most popular works. The Everborn may be set to change all that.

The novel is narrated by a dead man, renowned UFO researcher Max Polito, who “awakens” in a motel room to discover he died six months previously. A gray-skinned alien known as a Watcher hovers over Max and commands him to start pecking away at a typewriter. In essence, the Watcher explains, Max can cheat death by using his knowledge of the past to change the present by writing a book and sending it back in time from the future.

It’s not a bad plot device; right away, the reader wants to know just how it is a dead man can still tell tales. Grabowsky exploits this curiosity to explore concepts such as being, death and immortality in a fabulist world where more than a half-dozen major characters shift identities with Cronenberg-like regularity.

These characters include the Everborn, immortal souls who have flitted from body to body for generations since first being planted on Earth by the Watchers thousands of years ago. They are unaware of their alien status and live out their lives as ordinary, if exceptionally talented, human beings. Spirits known as Watchmaids stand guard over the Everborn, protecting them from demons known as the Magdalene.

Writing from the future with special insight provided by the Watchers, Max slowly puts the pieces of the puzzle together, culminating in his own messy death at the hand of Simon BoLeve and a clever use of deus ex machina that, among other things, plausibly explains how Max manages to write the book despite technically being dead.

Like most self-published novels, The Everborn could have used a thorough going over by an experienced editor. Nevertheless, a solid story line, fresh ideas on everything from relationships to religion (what else is there?), and blood-chilling violence make Grabowsky’s latest offering a compelling read.

“I’m just glad the damned thing is finished,” Grabowsky concluded. He sure sounded like a nice guy.