Mama Cushing’s Short Story Society: Discussion of Jack Ketchum’s “Gone” (Part 1)

Jack Ketchum (Photo Used With Permission of Kevin Kovelant/ JackKetchum.Net)

Author: Jack Ketchum

Originally published in: October Dreams: A Celebration of Halloween (Cemetery Dance hardcover edition, 2000; Roc trade paperback, 2002)

 Reprinted in: Peaceable Kingdom (Subterranean Press hardcover, 2002; Leisure Books mass market paperback, 2003; Leisure Books ebook, 2011)

 Awards: Bram Stoker Award for Short Fiction for the year 2000 (presented in 2001); part of the collection Peaceable Kingdom, which won the Bram Stoker Award for Fiction Collection for 2003 (presented in 2004).

 Commentary on this story appears in: To Each Their Darkness by Gary A. Braunbeck (Apex, 2010)

 Spoiler-free synopsis: Our protagonist, Helen, decides (after some emotional struggle) to give out candy to trick-or-treaters for the first time since the kidnapping of her three year old daughter five years ago. She finds her house shunned by the neighborhood children. However, a trio of kids from outside the neighborhood show up at her doorstep. As a result of the brief encounter, Helen’s life descends into an even darker chasm of grief and loss.

 Why this story is important to the genre:

 “Gone” as an Example of the Power of Subtext

 In his nonfiction book on the horror genre, To Each Their Darkness, Gary Braunbeck devotes several pages to “Gone”, citing it as an example of the power of subtext in horror fiction, as well as an example of the “after the fact” story.

 To the uninitiated, Braunbeck describes an “after the fact” story as a short story in which “the main action of the story has already happened before the first these stories you’re presented with a situation that, nine times out of ten, is in no way connected to what actually happened; you have to piece together the events by what is said and done by the characters.”

 Braunbeck makes a convincing case that “Gone” is the type of story the genre could benefit from seeing a lot more of, a story in which the horrific effect is magnified by having the horrific events deduced by the reader (much as the protagonist in the story also pieces the puzzle together, herself). It’s the sort of tale that works because of the power of understatement and suggestion. The general outline of the conclusion can be pieced together by the reader (which is disturbing, in its own right), but the ending is open-ended enough to leave the reader unsettled by considering a handful of alternate specific scenarios, leaving the ending hurtfully ragged and raw.

 Braunbeck refers to “Gone” as “one of the most elegant, chilling, and genuinely disturbing” stories Ketchum has ever written.

 “Gone” as an Example of Effective “Escapable Horror”

 I’m kicking around a hypothesis that horror stories can be divided into two categories: those in which the horrific is inevitable, and those in which the horrific is escapable.

 Fine examples of inevitable horror abound. Cosmic horror falls into this category. In the work of Lovecraft and Thomas Ligotti, horror is sewn into the very fabric of existence. But there are other examples of this sort of horror. I would argue that both Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild” fall into the category of inevitable horror. (Digression – Yes, Butler is typically classified as a SF writer; ignore that classification. “Bloodchild” is one of the more disturbing pieces of fiction I’ve ever read. It’s horror set on another planet.)

 In both Jackson’s and Butler’s stories, horror may not be sewn into the fabric of existence, but it’s built into the social compact and is thus almost-equally inescapable.

 “Gone”, however, is an example of a case in which the horror is derived from missed opportunities. The horror of “Gone” is partially derived from how our protagonist could be spared her suffering if events had occurred just slightly earlier or later. While Jackson, Butler, and Ligotti invoke dread, “Gone” induces a sort of tragic agony because of all the near-misses involved.

 (Readers Beware: Beyond Here Be Spoilers)

To start off with, there’s the near-miss that happens before the story even starts. Helen refers to the kidnapping of her daughter as “the three minutes that changed everything.” If not for “an inconsequential event” (forgetting the newspaper and going back into a 7-Eleven for it, leaving her daughter in the car), the kidnapping may not have happened in the first place.

 The reader gets a sense of the guilt Helen feels about this, the torture she inflicts on herself, the rumination on how things would have been much different had she not gone back for the newspaper, or had gotten in and out of the store quicker.

 This initial near-miss is mirrored by the final, devastating one. Another three minutes that change everything. The trick-or-treaters reveal that they’re aware that Helen is “the lady who lost her baby” and that her child was a “little girl”. Then, just as she’s closing the door, Helen is given a clue about the possible whereabouts of her daughter when one of the trick-or-treaters says to the others “too bad they wouldn’t let her out tonight, huh? too bad they never do…”. Yet she is unable to piece together the meaning of this until it’s too late.

 (“…but at first it didn’t register, not quite, as though the words held no meaning, as though the words were some strange rebus she could not immediately master, not until after she’d closed the door and then when finally they impacted her like grapeshot, she flung open the door and ran screaming down the stairs and into the empty street.”)

 It’s a tragic near-miss. A second tragic near-miss and, arguably just as devastating as the first. I don’t use the word “tragic” loosely. This is a story of connections between mother and daughter lost by a matter of seconds and inches. As Braunbeck says: “This is what turns ‘Gone’ into the stuff of classic tragedy. Helen’s closing the door before the kid’s words finally register is akin to Romeo walking past the nurse who carries Juliet’s note, and like with Romeo, by the time Helen realizes what it means, it’s too late; the kids are nowhere to be seen.”

 In “Gone” the reader is left with a sense of horror because both the initial trauma and the new trauma are escapable, but aren’t escaped. Both the initial loss and the re-experiencing of loss could have been avoided had the timing been different (had Helen not gone back into the store or had gotten out of the store sooner, had Helen pieced together the meaning of the trick-or-treater’s statement early enough to demand further answers). This double-dose of tragedy twists the knife into the protagonist, and reinforces the theme of guilt. In this case, I think that it’s possible for the reader to come away from the story knowing, intellectually, that Helen’s guilt is inappropriate. That she’s not to blame, but the kidnapper is. But Ketchum deftly sucks us so deep into Helen’s point of view that this isn’t immediately obvious. We’re left at the end with a belly full of guilt, soul-sick, regretting the missed opportunity.

 “Gone” in the Pantheon of Great Halloween Stories

 Lots of horror stories are written about (or at least set during) Halloween. In my reading experience, very few of these stories excel. “Gone” is, in my opinion, among the top-tier of Halloween stories.

 It’s not a supernatural horror story, but like Ray Bradbury’s “The October Game” it’s impossible to imagine a scenario in which “Gone” was set any other night of the year. The plot relies on children who would not ordinarily visit Helen coming to her house while wearing disguises that render their physical description (let alone their identities) a mystery.

 This underscores another theme that runs throughout the story, the tension between closeness and boundaries in a community. Helen’s initial, basic trust (that no one in her community would steal her child outside of the 7-Eleven) is betrayed. In response, she builds emotional walls to keep the community out and the community seems to also build walls to keep her at a distance. Conversations come to a halt when she walks by others in the grocery store. The loss has stigmatized Helen. While Helen’s descent into depression may be one reason the community keeps her at arm’s length, another may be that she’s living proof that the community is not as safe as it would, perhaps, like to imagine itself as being. The community has stopped seeing Helen, the individual, a long time ago and now only sees in Helen the ugliness of loss. It’s as though there’s an understanding that if they marginalize her, they can ignore the reality that their connection with their children is every bit as fragile as Helen’s was to hers.

 Halloween is a time when neighbors who would not ordinarily mix lower the boundaries, if only a little. “Gone” works, in part, because it exploits the pre-existing tension between trust and suspicion that seems to run through Halloween these days. We see that theme also touched on (in a much different style) by Thomas Ligotti in “Conversations in a Dead Language” (another top-tier Halloween story, in my opinion).

 Okay, so this is the point where I stop blabbing and try to get some discussion going.  Feel free to post any thoughts you have about “Gone” as a comment to this blog entry.  In the spirit of a “book club” sort of discussion, I’m offering a couple of questions here in the spirit of stimulating discussion.  But those questions are just intended to get things started.  Feel free to ask questions or make comments of your own, apart from anything I’ve written.

Questions for Part One

1. In To Each Their Darkness, Braunbeck writes: “At least one-third of the Ketchum fans I have spoken with are wary of ‘Gone’ for one simple reason: they don’t understand the ending.”

 I know a few readers went out and read “Gone” for the first time as a result of it being featured here at Mama Cushing’s. I’m curious – did anyone here have a hard time understanding the ending? Is there any feeling that it’s too suggestive/not concrete enough?

2. Do you agree that “Gone” ranks in the top-tier of Halloween horror stories? What other Halloween stories do you enjoy?

I’m looking forward to at least one (possibly two) additional Mama Cushing’s posts on “Gone”; one in which I discuss some of what a newer author can learn by looking at the nuts and bolts of “Gone” and another in which I’ll post an interview  where Jack Ketchum responds to a few questions about the story and his writing in general.  Keep watching Laughing at the Abyss for updates.

Posted on October 21, 2011, in Gary Braunbeck, Jack Ketchum, Mama Cushing's Short Story Society. Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. By total coincidence I read ‘Gone’ last night — my copy of ‘Peaceable Kingdom’ just happened to arrive in the post yesterday.

    1. I certainly found the ending ambiguous at first but after re-reading the last couple of paragraphs I got it — although with a certain sense of unease that maybe I was being really stupid and the story actually ended completely differently to how I thought it did. On my initial reading I thought the line “too bad they wouldn’t let her out tonight, huh? too bad they never do…” was referring to Helen herself and that the trauma of losing her child had left her in a mental health care home (this interpretation was probably influenced both by the fact that I recently watched a Night Gallery episode where the protagonist ends up in a mental hospital and that I myself work in a care home.) Thinking the kids were referring to Helen obviously threw me off a bit with the last few paragraphs.

    2. I’ve not read that many Halloween stories but I can see ‘Gone’ appealing to people who liked ‘The October Game’ or Ramsey Campbell’s ‘Apples’. I’m not sure how well it would do with fans of The Simpsons Halloween Specials.

    • Stuart:

      Thanks for stopping by and contributing to the discussion!

      I hate to keep going back to Braunbeck’s discussion of “Gone” (I’ve quoted him so often I feel like he deserves double-billing on the byline of this feature)…but I will anyway. At least one more time.

      He says that if readers don’t get the ending, it’s not Ketchum’s fault (because he plants more than enough clues in the subtext), and it’s not the reader’s fault. He blames the prior generation of horror fiction authors. He says horror has rarely offered this sort of story, so horror readers aren’t sure how to approach it.

      I think he may be onto something.

      As for your second comment…I was a fan of the Simpson’s Halloween specials (back when I used to watch them, about 15 years ago). Please don’t tell me I have to choose between Homer and Ketchum!

  2. I’m waiting for The Simpsons version of ‘Gone.’

  3. Have to admit I didn’t get the author intended ending until I read this blog discussion. I thought the kids knew something she didn’t — that all the kids thought she still had her daughter locked away in the house somewhere, that some kind of urban legend had created an alternative to actual events.

    So I got a completely different story to you, Nicole. I was left wondering why you liked it so much. The second loss gives it a pleasing roundness that was missing from my ending.

    Whose fault is it? Well, I could accept I should have picked up on ‘they’ wouldn’t let her out, as opposed to ‘she’ wouldn’t let her out, but we all know kids aren’t particularly careful about their choice of words. The word ‘they’ can be all-encompassing.

    If the whole story hinges on this one word, and we know lots of people don’t get the ending, (with the greatest of respect for the author) perhaps it’s time for an edit? Just one more word, a change in the kids’ dialogue, maybe?

    Would you change it, or leave it?

  4. Ed:

    First off, thanks for stopping by. Glad to have you here.

    Me? I wouldn’t change a single word of the story. I think this is about as good it gets. That’s why I chose it for Mama Cushing’s Short Story Society. As an author, this is the sort of story that inspires me to try new things. (Honestly, this story — along with John Cheever’s “The Swimer” — probably changed the course of my career). As a reader, this is the sort of story I want so much to see more of.

    I hate to keep quoting Braunbeck (I’m starting to feel like he should share the byline on this blog), but I think he sums it up nicely when he wrote:

    “…you may have to read the closing passages slowly, with a greater attention to detail than you’ve become accustomed to, but everything you need to know about Helen, those three kids, and the fate of her lost daughter is right there in front of you. If, after re-reading ‘Gone’ you still don’t get it, it’s not necessarily all your fault…it’s not that you’re stupid or a slovenly reader; it’s because, since the 1980s, a growing majority of both horror writers and horror readers have become deadened to, respectively, the use and presence of subtext in the field.”

    (For Chrissake if you haven’t already bought Braunbeck’s TO EACH THEIR DARKENESS,do so. It’s wonderful).

    I agree with Gary. The story doesn’t hinge on a single word. There’s an entire *layer* of implication and suggestion built in that steers the reader to the actual ending. But if you haven’t had a fair bit of experience with subtext before, you may not recognize it.

    In the spirit of Braunbeck’s “it’s not that you’re stupid” explanation, I want to gently point out some of the subtext that veers the story away from your original interpretation.

    If the “urban legend” ending was correct, why would she frantically consider going to the police, why would she be groping desperately for a physical description of the kids to give to the police? Why would she describe them as:

    “Out of nowhere, vanished back into nowhere.

    Carrying along what was left of her.”?

    Backing up a little bit, Ketchum reveals, in unambiguous terms, that the parting statement by the trick-or-treater is:

    a. is a little inscrutable at first,a puzzle, and takes a while to noodle through;


    b. something shocking, something that when she *does* finally “solve” it “impacted her like grapeshot”.

    So the reader finds him/her self right there in Helen’s shoes, sitting behind the just-closed door, trying to solve the puzzle. Ketchum essentially conscripts the reader into solving the puzzle along with Helen.

    We solve the puzzle by interpreting her actions at the end of the story.

    Note the sense of urgency — “she flung open the door and ran screaming down the stairs”.

    She considers going to the police, she desperately tries to come up with *some* sort of description of the kids, and slams into the wall of reality that due to their costumes, she’s not likely to have any real description and realizes that, if anything, she’d probably come off as looking a little nuts if she did go to the cops.

    To me, that *alone* leads us to the inference that what she’s just experienced is a clue in the disappearance. Which brings us back to “too bad they wouldn’t let her out tonight…”, which brings us back to an aching, reverberating sense of loss hammered home once again by the story’s last word (and a repetition of the title).


    (And I’ve only touched on about 5% of the subtext that leads the actual ending; because addressing the other 95% would require at the very least an additional — and very long — blog entry).


  5. Thanks, Nicole.

    I noticed the subtext, but assumed she was unhinged, along the same sort of lines as an unreliable narrator. I suppose I was looking for something supernatural, or at least very wrong, something more abnormal and out of the ordinary — I’m not saying it’s ordinary, as in boring, just that this kind of thing actually happens to people.

    It probably does come down to the expectations I had when sitting down to read the story, when I think about it. This is a lot more literary than the horror we’re used to seeing. If this was a Stephen King story, for example, it probably would have gone off the rails into something weirder towards the end. He often uses twisted normality.

    I haven’t read anything by Jack Ketchum before, so I didn’t know what to expect.

  6. Ed:

    “This is a lot more literary than the horror we’re used to seeing.”

    I think that nails it on the head.

    In TO EACH THEIR DARKNESS, Braunbeck makes a convincing argument that horror fic needs to explore territory that is now considered to be more literary. In my own work, I’m increasingly interested in the gray zone in-between the quiet, literary stuff and genre fiction (and this is coming from me, mind you, a former Bizarro author).

    I’ve read a fair amount of Ketchum’s fiction before (his novel, RED and several of the short stories in PEACEABLE KINGDOM). As a writer, Ketchum is really all over the place. Some of his tales are quiet and unnerving, like this one. Some of them are, it seems, quite violent. If you’re interested in reading more of him, I’d check out PEACEABLE KINGDOM. Nearly all of the stories I’ve read so far are exceedingly dark, but some of them are not as quiet as “Gone”. Some of his work falls more into line with what present-day genre readers expect. He really does have an admirable range as an author, and that’s something I think I’d like to emulate.

  7. Only just realised that the Braunbeck book you keep quoting is a revised edition of A Handful of Dust, which I already own. Will take a look to see what it says about ‘Gone.’

  8. Stuart:

    Yep. I think the actual title is FEAR IN A HANDFUL OF DUST: HORROR AS A WAY OF LIFE (Wildside Press, 2004). I wasn’t really all that active in the genre community in ’04, so my point of reference is always the revised edition.

    Enjoy reading that section. It’s one of my favorites in the book.


  9. I agree with everything Nicole has said. I’d like to add, that the layers of tragedy that progress through the story make the ending pretty clear to me. What Ed picked up on–with regard to the unhinged narrator POV–was actually the perception that the woman was so desperately trying to overcome. Let’s go through the layers of tragedy.
    1) Through no real fault of her own, her child was kidnapped.
    2) Her husband left her.
    3) People treated like she was a crazy lady.
    4) When she tries to overcome this, first nobody comes, then when they do come she finds out her daughter is still alive and being held captive, just a little too late (masterfully accomplish by Ketchum IMO)
    5) But there is no way to find her, or even explain to the police–after several martini’s all those old feelings rushing back–what had happened in a believable way. At least partially because of the perception she already has in town of being a crazy woman.

    There is really a critique of society going on here. The woman’s initial behavior was perfectly normal given the circumstances (even if she did appear crazy and her husband couldn’t stand her anymore), but her actions were perceived by society as abnormal (societies fault, not hers). Then, when she finally steps up to the plate and tries to rejoin society in this Halloween tradition, she is placed in the exact same position again, and society, we know, given her state of mind and lack of evidence, will fail her again.

  10. Sadly, I must admit that I too did not immediately grasp the ending of the story. I jumped, as some others here did, to the conclusion that Helen was crazy and may have been in some kind of institution. Albeit, I didn’t stick with that assumption for more than a paragraph. By the time she runs out of the house I started to assume she was going to inflict bodily harm on the children for making a snide comment in reference to her mental state, not her daughter. By the end I really didn’t know what to think.
    I certainly don’t blame Ketchum. Considering your (and Braunbeck’s) analysis, I do feel everything there in the story is sufficient to explain the meaning. But there are two reasons I can think of why myself and others were slow to grasp this meaning.
    First: As readers from a generation where subtext is largely absent for horror fiction, we all too often expect a literal meaning to jump out at us without having to piece it together ourselves. Reading stores like “Gone” can make us feel the way we did when we watched The Sixth Sense for the first time.
    Second: There are so many stories where the protagonist turns out to be crazy, we almost always jump to that conclusion.
    When I was in film school, and attempting in vain to create artsy horror films, my fellow students always assumed the horrors must have been in a character’s head. I believe too many people are unwilling to accept that something that terrifying (even if it is realistic) could really happen. This may be society––like the community in “Gone”––trying to distance itself from the reality that bad things can, and often do, happen to good people.
    I’m glad that “Gone” isn’t one of those “in the main character’s head” stories. Such works are usually extremely dissatisfying and extremely clichéd. Dare I say it, I cringed while reading the last fifty pages of Dennis Lehane’s “Shutter Island,” knowing that he was going to ruin an otherwise good story with a character’s cookie-cutter delusions.
    I can’t say I feel insulted by “Gone” being so subtle. Any story that makes me think is a good one in my book. Even Richard Laymon’s “The Cellar,” which I felt was flawed, had an ending that knocked my socks off. But there is nothing flawed here. “Gone” is, as others have pointed out, more literary than most horror stories. It reminds me of Theodore Sturgeon and Raymond Carver in some ways, in that it exudes a mysterious intelligence that requires deeper thought despite the fact that it may not be immediately comprehended.
    Plenty of fine horror stories fall into this category, including Richard Matheson’s “Through Channels” and “Blood Son,” Ketchum’s “The Box,” and to a certain extent Ramsey Campbell’s “The Man in the Underpass.”
    Unfortunately, these stories can also lead us into believing that the author has intentionally left the story open to multiple interpretations. Some authors of course do this, but as a writer myself I believe that all authors have their own preferred interpretation and will consciously, or unconsciously, include enough information for that conclusion to be drawn.
    I would definitely have to say I agree with Braunbeck in that horror is lacking a more literary edge these days. This may be in part due to the fact that so many young authors feel the need to write what they believe will sell rather than what they feel. This may also be due to a lack of young authors reading widely. Most of what I read from age 11 to 17 was Stephen King, and not surprisingly what I wrote always elicited the comment, “Oh, this is like Stephen King.”
    If was one bothers to read interviews with authors, they usually discover that their favorite writer has eclectic tastes in reading, which accounts for an individual style. There’s a part in King’s “On Writing” where he mentions that when he read Bradbury as a boy everything he wrote became nostalgic, and when he read Lovecraft everything became grandiose and Cyclopean, and when he read James M. Cain everything became stripped down and terse. He points out that eventually these various styles merged into one and he further formed as a writer.
    It’s good advice. When I started reading a wider range of work, my writing became my own––at the worst compared to many writers rather than just one.
    Unfortunately, I believe there is a fear on the part of young writers to be literary. The term literary is, of course, very broad, but I take it to mean “something that does not readily fall into a single genre” or at least something that can’t be written off as exclusively pulp.
    When I started reading the works of Raymond Carver, Andre Dubus, Russell Banks, Tobias Wolff, Joyce Carol Oates, and other literary authors, I honestly didn’t know where to put the influence I felt. My only answer was to write literary stories under a pseudonym because I was afraid I would be called inconsistent by readers and publishers alike. This actually backfired because as I wrote dozens of “literary” stories––stories that weren’t overtly pulp––I began to realize some of these stories fell into an odd gray area, one where I didn’t know whom to attribute them to. They were literary and pulpy at the same time. They read like the bastard child of Raymond Carver and Jim Thompson, an unholy union of T.C. Boyle and H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen Crane sparring with Stephen King.
    But, if anything, this struggle for identity has made me a better, more confident writer, and a more open reader.
    I welcome the return of this literary form of horror. We haven’t seen it all that much since Poe, Bierce, Machen, and Lovecraft. Although Theodore Sturgeon, Richard Matheson, and Shirley Jackson certainly exercised the literary in their work.
    I certainly agree that “Gone” is in the top tier of Halloween stories. Albeit, I must admit I haven’t read that many. The other Halloween stories I enjoy are “Something Wicked This Way Comes” and “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”

    Would you agree that there is a stigma (both inside and outside of the literary community) about writing that bends genres? “Gone” could easily stand alongside anything in The Paris Review, yet I doubt the editors are planning to shoot Jack an e-mail asking for a story.

  11. I sought out this discussion having just read “Gone”, and I’m glad I’m not the only one who had to really think about the conclusion. My first interpretation didn’t sit still (as a round-botttomed container will not sit still), and after several more careful rereadings of the ending, I became increasingly sure as to what must be the intended ending. This one sat solidly. In light of this, what does it say that I took time out of my overly busy day to search around online for support? It seems many of us don’t trust ourselves as thinking readers. I for one look to be fed the unequivocal, and this skill of interpretation is as invigorating as it is frustrating.

  12. Discovered Ketchum and have been enjoying what’s available at the library.

    Read Peaceable Kingdom and was riveted by the first two stories, The Rifle and The Box. Wasn’t surprised to learn that the latter had won an award. Found your article as part of a random search about Kethcum. I couldn’t remember Gone and since it also won an award-winner I reread the story.

    I agree with much of your analysis, particularly that “we’re left at the end with a belly full of guilt, soul-sick, regretting the missed opportunity.” It’s very potent.

    I hate to criticize an author I like, but I think the story isn’t as successful as it could have been, particularly the confusion about its meaning as expressed in the comments. You cite Braunbeck’s assertion that it’s not Ketchum’s fault because he plants more than enough clues in the subtext.

    However, if it’s supposed to be clear to the reader, we are left to wonder why it’s unclear to the character. People are frustrated by horror movies when someone behaves in ways that don’t make sense. We yell at the screen when they place themselves in jeopardy. So why does it take her so long to react? Initially, I wondered why she couldn’t just look in one direction and then the other to spot the children. But we’re told the street is empty by the time she’s out the door. A long time has passed.

    Ketchum tries to explain this by saying she almost didn’t hear the children, and that the words didn’t register at first. Of course, we’ve all had moments where we reflect back on something and figure out its meaning afterwards. But within the context of the story I think these are cheats. This is particularly a problem with literature. All this transpires within one paragraph. Mere sentences separate the children’s words and her reaction, yet apparently hours have elapsed.

    I think the story would have been stronger if Ketchum had played with the confusion experienced by readers. Have the character be confused by what the children said. Say that she wants to leave the house but feels trapped by the opinions of others…only to realize later what they were actually referring to. This would justify the delay.

    Just my thoughts. Wish The Rifle had won an award. I think it’s perfect.

  13. I just read it and I loved it. It was like an experiment in exquisite suffering, far beyond any banal physical torture or death. The repetition of the word “gone” is what did it for me.

    “Her three-year-old daughter, gone.”

    “Witch, werewolf, alien. Of this age and that height and weight.
    Out of nowhere, vanished back into nowhere.
    Carrying along what was left of her.

    The three minutes, the three children, one for each year she had her daughter—gone. Gone where her daughter had gone.

    The commenter above says the delay between her hearing what the children said to the realization of what they meant and then the mad dash to find them are cheats. I don’t think that’s the case. I think the idea is that she relives directly the trauma of the kidnapping. Notice the way she describes finding her daughter missing and how this parallels the end of the story: “[The kidnapping] occurred with the impact of a bullet or head-on collision and nearly that fast.” And then, at the end, when she understood what the children meant, it “impacted her like grapeshot.” The experience of time for both incidents might not be literal or accurate at all, but, to me, the point is that she is reliving that trauma. The children disappearing quickly is no more a cheat than her daughter’s seemingly instantaneous vanishing. There found “no soul in the lot”; she ran screaming “into the empty street.”

    To be “gone” in this story is a poignant, almost metaphysical, experience where a child and hope leave almost no trace in the world.

  1. Pingback: Horror as the Literature of Loss: An Interview with Jack Ketchum « Laughing at the Abyss

  2. Pingback: How Reading Jack Ketchum’s “Gone” Changed My Writing « Laughing at the Abyss

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