Today’s Short Story: Michael Montoure’s “Counting From Ten”

Halloween finger cookies on wooden table. Halloween party.

Pseudopod has been good to me over the years. But before I was ever one of their authors, I was one of their listeners, and one of their earlier stories is still one of my favorites. Michael Montoure’s “Counting From Ten” is a pretty direct tale centered around a gruesomely, cruelly injurious series of “accidents” that are, of course, not actually accidents at all.

To an extent, it has a bit of the old EC horror or Golden Age of Radio “supernatural poetic vengeance” vibe going for it, except it has a lot more heart–and therefore heartbreak–than the similarly styled Vault of Horror or The Witch’s Tale stories had. Its secondary protagonist and primary victim, Tommy, isn’t the total bastard that so many Tales From the Crypt villainous agonists were. Yes, he’s brought the misfortune that maims him onto himself, but he’s more of a hapless shlub, albeit a criminal.

His close friend Jack, the primary protagonist, helps us sympathize with Tommy. It’s a simple but wise decision by Montoure to not place us in Tommy’s head for the duration of the story. We’d probably feel less kind for the guy who’s losing pieces of himself one horrible incident at a time if we had to endure his pitiful and self-pitying thoughts for the bulk of the narration. Instead, we’re with Jack, first through the annoyance of Tommy’s arrival, then through his impatient concern for Tommy’s injuries, and on then through his disbelief and conversion to understanding Tommy’s unbelievable circumstances. Jack’s a good friend, which makes the story considerably more horrifying, because it isn’t just about physical pain and loss, it’s about the difficulties and even impossibilities that sometimes come with being a good friend to someone who seems incapable of even being good to themselves, much less others. It’s about the horror of trying to help someone who can’t be helped, for one reason or another, and coming to terms with having to make a terrible decision, or take certain actions, that will permanently impact someone else’s life.

You can listen to “Counting From Ten” for free here. Although I suppose I should warn you (in case the image above didn’t do the job) that if you’re particularly squeamish about finger-damage, you might want to sit this one out.