For 1942's "The Creature from the Black Lagoon," whatever wasn't filmed on a Hollywood studio lot was filmed in the swamplands of Rice Creek, Florida. That creature-feature bridge between two states with a mythology of being swallowed by the ocean speaks a lot to Florida's sense of apocalyptic dissolution, only exacerbated by the pre-fab towns sprouting like pod people on the sides of its endless highways. A refuge for escapees from colonialism and slavery, slick redevelopment helps history's monsters pave over its victims, until the tides come up and swallow it whole.
Member of Locrian, solo artist, and occasional City Paper contributor Terence Hannum's novella "Beneath the Remains" continually intimates a Lovecraftian horror story born out of that Florida context, with cult-ish church groups, sociopathic jocks, and the various dangers lurking in collapsed townships. Respectably, Hannum keeps infrastructural neglect and the ensuing reverberations of communal and familial disrepair as the main horror here.
The story follows two timelines. One chronicles the relocation of two grade school-age brothers, smart misanthrope Spencer and inward narrator Galen, to the dredges of Central Florida in the wake of their parents' divorce and recoupling with unwelcome strangers. The other chronicles Galen's search for Spencer in the wake of the latter's disappearance. Over the course of 75 pages, Hannum performs a clever noir revisionism that, like the work of fellow musician-turned-author John Darnielle, finds the root of a teenager's genre enthusiasm in the dread of adolescence—the gravity of which only apocalyptic fantasy and the darkest of metal can find an epic enough scope to dramatize properly.
"Beneath The Remains" is short, but much like the suburban sprawl of its setting, each red herring opens up a loose end one would rather not tie up, providing a morbid relief when one can't see the grid for the cul-de-sac: A member at an eerie, revival-esque church service nearly mistakes Galen for his brother, and while a missing poster in the distance answers basic "who, what, where, and when" of the disappearance, the "why" stays up for debate, something exacerbated by a late night appearance from a lecherous Pastor; a particularly aggressive cop with a partner who looks like Stallone in "Cobra" disrupts a flashlight search by Galen and his friends, and their service to the community provides little comfort; a turf war with sociopathic group of high school jocks carrying out assaults in the same abandoned town the brothers hang out in offer another foreboding clue.
In Hannum's world, life lessons rarely come from adults; instead, teens learn haphazardly from each other. A friend named Aaron, forced to get in touch with his Jewish roots, shares a book given to him about the Holocaust, with photos featuring "eye sockets, bones, taut skin multiplied in plenum." Hannum realistically captures the way young conversation develops from reckless nihilism to chastened shame, as when Aaron blurts out something about the breasts of a camp inmate and they trade lines about what their grandfathers endured in the war as competing remonstrances. Aaron's older sister tells of gentrification by way of families living behind the Home Depot on a piece of land her step dad owns and plans on turning into a movie theater.
Painting every elder with suspicion is here both an outgrowth of rebellious distrust and genuine confusion, the anxiety born of learning about life from elders failing at living it. Smartly, this comes out of Galen's narration, sincere if fragmentary, and occasionally dipping into both succinct sociology and unreliable abstraction. Galen describes the abandoned town they hang out in as "suspended in a state of unfinished, ready to fall into legend. It was from here that boogeymen haunted school nightmares."
Hannum's architectural descriptions ring with the technical creepiness of Lovecraft's "At The Mountains of Madness" (with appearances by "stalactites" and "troglobites") and bizarre unrealities of metal album titles such as the Sepultura one the book takes its title from. An underground Virginia passageway Galen and Spencer wander around in contains "water dripped from the ceiling like some celestial gift to these chthonic depths." Hannum's prose goes on: "We entered a large rectangular room where multiple dark caves yawned before us in the sallow light. The walls of this vault were etched with mechanical petroglyphs when the cement was forged."
Although the passageway is near a pet cemetery and leads to a conversation about zombies, the "Tibetan Book of the Dead," and Florida Death Metal, the macabre is held at bay for another moment in which the disconnect between utopian city planning and dystopian dysfunction serves to discipline adolescent wonder with adult despair. Much like Harmony Korine transposed "Gummo's" ennui of broken homes and lives onto St. Petersburg for "Spring Breakers" and the first "Magic Mike" broke the spirit of Tampa strippers with recession-based woes, "Beneath The Remains" plays like Carl Hiaasen by way of Ken Loach and finds Florida's soul-crushing combination of false promises and infrastructural neglect. An illuminating extension of a hard knocked kid's fraught inner landscape.