“The Frolic” by Thomas Ligotti
Card picked: K♣
David felt his own words lingering atmospherically in the room, tainting the serenity of the house. Until then their home had been an insular haven beyond the contamination of the prison, an imposing structure outside the town limits. Now its psychic imposition transcended the limits of physical distance.
David is a psychologist at a prison hospital. Over after-dinner drinks, he tells his wife about one of his patients, a child killer known only as John Doe who claims to have let himself be caught.* Doe won’t give his real name and claims that he has many names, thousands even (or maybe legions?). While Doe’s case is interesting, David has decided he needs to leave the job, especially considering what John Doe said to him at the end of the day’s interview.
I’m not sure this story really worked for me. The dialogue has a stilted, heightened feel to it that takes away some of the story’s tension. I haven’t read any Ligotti before despite his reputation in the horror community. I don’t know whether that’s indicative of his style or only this story.
* This was six years before the movie Seven in which a serial killer known as John Doe lets himself be caught. As far as I can tell one was not an inspiration for the other. They are fairly different stories, but I found it interesting in light of the controversy over season one of True Detective: it seems possible that the writer of the show lifted some of Ligotti’s bleaker ideas.