By Nancy Springer (Axolotl Press; 1992)
A decent but unremarkable publication from the late Oregon-based Axolotl Press, a division of Pulphouse Publishing that back in the early-to-mid nineties specialized in limited edition novellas by well known horror and science fiction scribes, marked by distinctively indistinct no-frills packaging. The 79 page DAMNBANNA is far from great (ditto the majority of Axolotl’s other publications, which explains why it folded in 1996), but does have a compellingly dark trajectory.
The author was the prolific fantasist Nancy Springer, whose early nineties output often leaned toward the frightful (a trend that culminated in the powerfully macabre BLIND GOD IS WATCHING in ‘94). Here she delivers a story that these days can be said to read like an outré riff on the TWILIGHT books, focusing as it does on a nice teenage girl in love with a supernaturally endowed hunk from the wrong side of the tracks.
The heroine is the appropriately monikered Angel, who is saved from a vicious dog one day by a mysterious boy the neighborhood kids call Damnbanna. The name comes from the fact that he’s always wearing a bandanna, to hide the scars left by his asshole father’s abuse.
Angel is of course immediately smitten with Damnbanna–real name Deil–even though he’s an outcast among her classmates and her parents disapprove of him. He gives her a red stone (his “heart” apparently) that can wreak magical changes in the fabric of reality; the stone comes in especially handy when a lecherous driver’s ed instructor tries to make Angel’s life difficult. Angel also meets Damnbanna’s deceased mother in a dream, wherein the woman, sporting angel wings, sternly warns her not to hurt her son. As it turns out, Damnbanna is in for plenty of hurt, though not at the hands of Angel.
There are some surprises in the final pages, especially in regard to the ending. To be sure, the conclusion threatens to be nauseatingly sentimental, but there’s a macabre final twist that closes things out on a memorably horrific note.