Clive Barker had done it again in the short story “The Yattering and the Jack.” I loved it! The story appears in The Book of Blood, Volume I. From the first paragraph, Barker captivated me and pulled me into the narrative. The Yattering is a low-ranking demon tasked to drive Jack mad and win his soul.
Until this semester, I have not read anything from Barker. In fact, I didn’t think I read much horror at all. At least, not adult horror. Middle-grade and YA stories about creepy crap, ghosts, goblins, demons—I love those, but failed to realize they were considered “horror” again illustrating my complete misunderstanding of the genre.
But back to Barker. “Rawhead Rex” was my first introduction to this author and I realized then I stumbled upon a writer that I would be very interesting reading more from. Now, comes “The Yattering and Jack,” which is such a completely different story from “Rawhead Rex,” but no less engaging and enjoyable. I have a think for human vs. demon stories to begin with —coupled with my giant obsession—I think I will continue to read Barker’s work.
So the Yattering being a the low-level demon it is, presents Jack Polo to the audience. Jack is the human the Yattering is tasked with destroying. The story begins from the demon’s perspective (reminding me a little of The Screwtape Letters from C.S. Lewis). From The Yattering’s perspective, Jack is a loser.
Jack is a borrow, oblivious man who doesn’t seem to care what goes on around him. He has the emotional constitution of the gherkins that he sells. Nothing seems to phase this guy, and it drives The Yattering a little batty.
As the story progresses, we see that Jack’s wife is unfaithful. She confesses but he does not respond in a way she thinks he should. Jack brushes it off as these things happen. Then the wife kills herself. The story suggests, perhaps The Yattering had something to do with this—driving her mad, but I unsure about it.
The Yattering kills three of Jack’s cats! The demons wants to be sympathetic. Poor little demon stuck as the low man, bound to this house, and this annoying human. But when he goes after the cats—all bets are off buddy! I do think at this point in the story world though Barker confuses me slightly. The Yattering cannot “touch” Jack, that is against the rules (more on that in a minute) but he can drown, or make a cat explode. Yeah, I don’t know. I’d like to see the cat claws a demon eyeball out personally. I might do that in my story!
Back to Jack. It is not until the third cat explodes and Jack comes home to have to clean it up, that we glimpse a piece of Jack he is hiding from The Yattering. Jack does have emotions, and he is not oblivious. He needs to beat this demon in a very specific way.
The final confrontation happens over the Christmas holidays in a very Poltergeist, Exorcist-type fashion. Jack’s two adult daughters visit and The Yattering begins his havoc causing. Spinning Christmas trees, knocking the daughter out of bed, locking the front door so Jack can’t get out. The little demon does everything he can to drive Jack crazy—and may or may not have succeed in driving the younger daughter mad.
Ultimately, Jack turns the tables on the little menace and gets him to break rules. Rules that if broken would bind The Yattering to Jack—enslaved. First, Jack must get the demon to leave the house. Second, he must get the demon to physical touch him. Pretending to need to take a walk, and ignoring the horrid psychological state of his youngest daughter, Jack succeeds is frustrating the demon to the point enslavement.
I enjoyed this story immensely. Clive introduced briefly the idea that Jack’s mother promised her son’s soul to the devil, but then died in the “arms of a priest” and went to heaven leaving her bargain unfulfilled. This is the reason given for The Yattering’s assignment to Jack. I thought this was interesting, and liked how Barker introduced that element of free-will and power of these dark forces. I think sometimes the scariest of all things are the ones that we cannot control—and the idea that we can do something about things as evil as demons is comforting.
Overall, this was a great read. When I have time (don’t know when or how that is going to happen) I will continue to read Barker’s short stories in the volumes of the Books of Blood that I own. Perhaps, I will even explore some of this author’s other works!