"He Is What He Writes..."
The Weird Tales of:
Dennis L. Siluk
Review of his Books
by: Benjamin Szumskyj
Embarking on the critical study of author Dennis L. Siluk might be an endeavor
that would fall on deaf ears, rather than the applause of a receptive audience. I mean no disrespect by this comment. This
is because, despite dozens of published books and thousands of copies sold, Dennis L. Siluk’s literary career has been
virtually undetected by the community of the weird tale. However, being unknown is potentially more rewarding than being found
and forgotten, or worse still, ignored altogether. And being that none of Siluk’s many readers have chosen to study
his works of fiction, bar the flurry of positive reviews, any study of his work will be both deserved and enlightening.
Siluk has written several books outside the weird tale canon, such as of poetry (Sirens, The Macabre Poems: and other
selected poems), children’s stories (The Tale of Willie the Humpback Whale, Two Modern Short Stories of Immigrant Life:
The Little Russian Twins & Uni’s Street Car), travel (Chasing the Sun, Romancing San Francisco: Sketches of Life
in the Late '60's), mainstream (Perhaps It’s Love, Cold Kindness), non-fiction (A Path to Sobriety, the Inside Passage:
A Common Sense Book on Understanding Alcoholism and Addiction, A Path to Relapse Prevention), thriller (The Mumbler), and
pseudotheological (The Last Trumpet and the Woodbridge Demon).
fiction collection that best encapsulates the style, imagination and originality of Siluk is Death on Demand: Seven Stories
of Suspense (2003, iUniverse Inc). Though a relatively recent publication, it collects several stories written over a period
of years. In discussing the following stories, I may reveal the endings in order to illustrate a point.
on Demand opens with, what I believe not only to be one of Siluk’s best stories, but perhaps one of the most powerfully
written stories of the last decade ‘The Rape of Angelina’, a story which showcases the author’s background
in psychology and sociology within a historical context. The story begins with a well-read individual who has acquired a forgotten
poem written in 1278 AD entitled ‘The Lioness of Glastonbury’, whilst conducting research at an undisclosed university in England. Upon arriving in Glastonbury,
he meets a man named Arthur who is distantly related to Angelina and happens to possess a copy of her diary, written in 1199
AD at the end of the Crusades. As he states:
Chalice Well, you will see a Lion’s Head. Angelina was a lioness. Although people thought she was timid, and coy, she
was far from it. When she died, in 1221 AD, she left her diary, and the story of the three soldiers who wanted to rape her;
one did the other two… Well, that’s part of the story; no one ever found out what happened to them or for that
matter, how they died. But I know I got the diary. I found it in 1984, hidden in the old Abbey Barn, that place has a magnificent
roof, doesn’t it?” [DOD, p. 18]
story then changes to Angelina’s point of view, directly from her diary, as she recounts the events of that fateful
year. The third chapter is crisply written, particularly the first section, in which the 13-year-old details her dream of
finding a beloved knight and being married, her developing body, and the attention young boys give her. It’s an authentic
narrative, for Angelina comes across as a sensible, mature and honorable girl who idolizes the life of King Arthur, as well
as looking up to her grandfather. Soon enough, she is confronted by three wandering knights, who she believes to be visiting
King Arthur’s grave site. However, they advance on her and each of the men rape Angelina. After being raped by the third
attacker, who falls asleep (whom Angelina thinks is either English or Islamic-Arab), she picks up his sword and decapitates
his bag of coins (‘I took them for my torn dress’ [DOD, p. 41]), she buries him (‘about three feet deep,
and I rolled him into it just like mom puts in the ham during winter’ [DOD, p. 41]) and returns home, telling no one
what had happened. That night, she asks her grandfather about the Holy Wars and Islamic culture, particularly, towards women.
The next day, Angelina uses the remainder of the deceased rapist’s silver to buy a wolf, which she locks in a cage and
is determined to domesticate.
continues her plan of revenge when, upon seeing the other two in a tavern, she tells the soberer of the pair to meet her at
a disclosed location soon after. He agrees and upon leaving, Angelina buys some wine and quickly makes a visit to the local
herb dealer, buying strong sleeping narcotics. Later on, she meets up with the man, tricks him into drinking the drugged wine,
then releases the hungry wolf and he is mauled to death. Consider the macabre nature of the following scene, through the innocence
couldn’t talk or make anymore sounds the wolf had chewed his nose and throat off, and open. I thought people died easy,
but it’s not true. Sometimes they die slow. The wolf looked at me then went and started eating again, paying me little
attention; I think he was making sure his meal was secure.’ [DOD, p. 65]
third and final rapist is led to Chalice Well, where after passing out from drinking the same drugged wine, Angelina ‘tied
his hands over his head; then tied his two legs together’, then proceeded to chop off his hands with his own sword and
cast him down the well. The final scene is worth quoting at length,
I look down the well, the rope followed him like a snake. He has no hands to untie his feet, and he can not climb the 30-feet
to the top. And I know the well is pretty deep. I cannot see him, only hear his cries.
‘Now I put the top of the well cover back on; I will lock it now, so the
children will not fall into it. I can still hear his screams, barely, but I do hear them, he is begging me to open the well
door, and at the same time cursing me. He is not sorry for what he did to me, only sorry I could get revenge on him; now his
body will sink soon, and he will sober up, or wake up drunk in hell.
hear water splashing, he is lucky he is thin, not like the huge one, for he would sink if he was that big. He will get exhausted
soon. I must bury the rest of his things.
Mr. Knight, you are paying for your sins. But I will tell the world you were a great knight, for that is what knights are
created for; they are special. Thus, I will save you from disgrace. What would you do if you lived, just get drunk and rape
more girls like me. Now, that is not what a good knight should have to look forward to. GOOD NIGHT!!” I think he heard
me, I tried to say it loud enough through the locked well cover. Matter of fact he did hear me, he is saying “Come back…come
backkkkkk, ppppleaseeeeezzzzzzz.” [DOD, p. 73]
finish Angelina’s diary entries. Angelina tried to subconsciously forget her rape and murderous revenge, distancing
herself from the whole experience and erasing the whole series of events from her mind. The townsfolk don’t believe
she did it, nor would they desire to trial her for such atrocious crimes despite the evidence. Soon after, the Arthurian Green
Knight enters the town and when the two meet one another, they instantly fall in love. After marrying one another, Angelina
sadly dies in childbirth.
final chapter returns to the present, with a psychological explanation of how Angelina erased the rape and killings from her
memory. In reading this passage, one can begin to see Siluk’s knowledge in this area of psychology (in addition to the
‘Other’ voice heard by Angelina, throughout the story). The narrator ends up leaving Glastonbury, but the story remains there, for in leaving, he is unable to take away the story
and he begins to disremember Angelina’s tragic life.
What makes this story work is that unlike many female characters that are raped
in literature and extract vengeance, Angelina does not become a masculine force. Rather, she remains feminine and does not
adopt the traits or personality of a male. Like Michael Moorcock in Gloriana, or the Unfulfill'd Queen (1978), Siluk is careful
in his writing of one of humanity’s worst forms of violence. Angelina is such a likeable character who is able to remain
stable of mind through her horrible ordeal that her reaction of vengeance becomes more realistic.
Born Son’ is an intriguing story, surrounding the life of ‘Vlad Bran, otherwise know as Vlad Hoof’ [DOD,
p. 92], for he was born with a tail and hooves. Narrated by a ‘friend’ of Vlad’s, the story begins in Transylvania. What starts as a potentially clichéd story evolves into a cleverly crafted life story
of a figure cursed by his environment. The stigma of literature, in this case Bram Stoker’s Dracula, has constructed
a world to believe that Vlad’s hometown is a place of evil and vampirism. In deciding to leave the place he once called
home and travel to Wales, he soon begins
to think evil thoughts on killing other people. As a result, Vlad’s true nature begins to emerge as detailed in the
several months passed, he established himself as a serious manager in the food department, the headwaiter, with several under
him. And would attend weekly meetings concerning improvements, in which he gave good advice; never showing his discontent
for the world outside his mind, his damaged soul. It was justice he yearned for. When he walked by city hall, he spit at it.
When he walked by the National Museum he stopped and would always wonder if there were any misunderstood freaks of nature
like him in there. He liked walking the riverfront and watching the alcoholics get drunk sitting by the benches, overlooking
the Millennium Stadium. He felt if anyone knew what he was thinking – which was killing – and if they were half
sober, they would realize he could and would carry it out. And just what he was thinking was revenge. Yes, revenge on the
world. Anyone would do. But he was not a vampire like people thought him as. He was just misunderstood. He didn’t need
blood to cure him, only blood to wipe the dirt they threw on him away. And so, as spring came, he drew up his plan.’
[DOD, p. 94]
begins Vlad’s vengeful campaign. His first victim is a female whom he decapitates, the second victim is a priest lured
away from the police and stabbed in the back, the third victim is raped and then mauled by wild dogs, the fourth victim is
an old man pushed down a well, the fifth victim is a homeless man that is buried alive, while the sixth and seventh victims…are
Vlad himself. He commits suicide (the flesh), then rigs a trap that when the police break down his door (after being tipped
off by his ‘friend’), drives a stake into his chest, thus destroying Vlad’s spirit. All up, seven victims
are slain, just as Vlad had wanted it. It is a satisfactory ending to a story fuelled by bloody passion and the relentless
hatred of being a social outcast.
at the end of the story, we are never told in words as to whether there is any real supernaturalism in the story. We are made
to believe that this all happened, regardless of the preconceived belief that Vlad was a vampire. If we are to toy with the
belief that Vlad is capable of supernatural feats, say hypnotism (after his third victim is raped and simultaneously attacked
by dogs), then it the reader’s choice to do so, for the author has not indicated as such. ‘Seventh Born Son’
succeeds in being a suspenseful story in that it relies heavily on pseudo-supernaturalism, that being, the allusion of the
supernatural to mask realism. It is easily one of Siluk’s best short stories (1).
Dead Vault’ begins as a touching account of love and murder, set during the eighteenth dynasty of Egypt, 1570-1293 BCE (New Kingdom period). It surrounds two
lovers who partake in the murder of Tutankhamen,(2) but soon find themselves fleeing for their very lives, as ‘those
who hired us, betrayed us, used us as an escape-goat, they are the ones who have sent the bone collectors to find us, and
bring our bones back to them.’ [DOD, pp. 108-09] The lovers flee so far from their native Egypt
they arrive in the Americas (!) and build an underground mound, where they await a peaceful death (Ohio to be exact).
This story is, perhaps, the poorest of the collection, due to the impractical
choices Siluk constructs for his characters. Would a mound maker keep a diary? Why the Americas? Must they really die? Would an ancient Egyptian truly use the word ‘sidekick’?
And being that Hesmaglig was a former teacher of Tutankhamen, why would he need to use his wife as a sexual distraction for
the guards? Surely he would have access to the King’s chambers? Sadly, the story is full of weaknesses.
Senator of Lima’ is a suspenseful story that on face value appears to be the author’s
open discussion on the issue of terrorism in Peru.
Like many of Siluk’s stories, the character of Chick Evans is semi-autobiographical, an innocent author who happens
to be friends with the Senator of Lima. However, in his rise
to power, the Senator had made a pact with the very real terrorist group Movimiento Revolucionario Túpac Amaru (MRTA) and
the Senator is aware that his life is in danger, as he has been unable to pay back his debts. Locking himself in his hotel
room, the Senator asks his friend Evans for help, but no sooner is Evans confronted by members of MRTA and a verbal contract
is made between them, in a game of cockfighting, Evans must win three out of six to save the Senator’s life, but if
he loses, the Senator has to commit suicide. It’s a fulfilling ending and, I suspect, contains far more truths than
Siluk is willing to admit.
Old Man, and the Tides of Winter’ would have to be, for me, one of the most touching stories I have ever read. Set during
a typical Minnesotan winter, an ageing man dwells on his life between his regular visits by his son. During a harsh storm
one night, the old man comes across a young puppy and adopts it. However, soon after, the old man passes away and is found
by his son, though the puppy is hesitant to leave his deceased master’s lap. His son takes the puppy and looks after
it, on behalf of his father.
Old Man of Chickamauga’ is set in Virginia,
1861, at the time of the Civil War. The story opens to a distressed old man, who is agonizing over the destruction of his
land, property and death of his son-in-law. The Union soldiers are outside, preparing to burn down his house. History informs
us that in January 1861, Virginia threatened secession from the union known as the United States of America. Due to the old man’s resistance
to the Union soldiers, it would be safe to state that this is not West Virginia, for they did not wish to secede along with
the rest of the state and were admitted into the Union on June 20, 1863. The union soldiers end up burning down the house
with the old man inside, an action which later haunts Lieutenant Foremost. The story may have been written as a homage to
Ambrose Bierce’s ‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek’, when, towards the end of the story, Siluk has the Lieutenant
say, ‘Let’s eat breakfast men…and then we got to go build a bridge at Owl Creek.’ [DOD, p. 153]
Camel Market’ is a simple story, set in Troy (2900 BCE),
in which a man reminisces of his childhood, working with his (now deceased) father in the camel market.
ends Death on Demand: Seven Stories of Suspense. Siluk has crafted some powerfully written and imaginative stories here and
continues the testament by many that small press is the true sanctuary of quality weird fiction. In a purely complimentary
statement, Siluk shares the lust to write like the infamous Lin Carter, but I do wish he’d approach established markets
and anthologies to showcase his work, rather than a print-on-demand publisher. Nevertheless, Siluk seemingly enters himself
into every one of his characters, regardless of whether he has visited the locale of his story, or has experienced, in one
form or another, the character’s life. This semi-autobiographical injection brings more life to each of his characters
and narrators and builds Siluk up as being a Baron Munchausen-like character. Whether others feel Siluk’s work is deserved
of study remains to be seen, though if one is to acknowledge that he has written and sold over 30 books, one could say that
theoretically he must be doing something right as an author. Time will only tell.
Siluk, Dennis (2003), Death on Demand: Seven Stories of Suspense (Lincoln, NE. iUniverse Inc).
1 For some, what can only be described as bizarre reason, Siluk later expanded
and retitled this story as ‘Dracula’s Ghost’. However, I feel that the story is weakened in this later version
and do not recommend reading it prior to ‘Seventh Born Son’.
2 In the story, the narrator Hesmaglig stands by and watches
his friend inflict a head wound to the young King’s skull. For decades, scientists and historians have believed this
to be the sole cause of Tutankhamen’s death, but recently, debate has risen that the infamous pharaoh, in fact, died
of a disease-infected wound on his leg.