Books are like time machines to me. I think back to when Brian Keene's Terminal was first published. I bought the limited edition novella published by Bloodletting Press in 2004. It seems like yesterday and it seems like several lifetimes ago. As moderator of the extremely popular Shocklines Message Board, I was one of the most visible fans in the genre. The small press was thriving, and it was a very different environment than the current world of independent publishing. I was a voracious reader, a collector of DVDs, and a harried blue collar worker.

Terminal was an early work by Brian Keene, and it was the first, in my opinion, that really displayed his personality in the writing. The story concerns a foundry worker named Tommy who is having a very bad week. The bills are overdue, he has lost his job, and to top it off, he received a diagnosis of a terminal disease. The shock and stress result in an unwise act of desperation on Tommy's part.

Terminal is a story of suspense and a meditation on the nature of existence. For me it is a metaphor for the life of a blue collar worker. Having toiled in the industrial world all my life, I understand the mindset and the stigma.

The life of a blue collar worker is defined by desperation. It's dirty, nasty, and often dangerous. I know from bitter experience that workers receive precious little respect. We have dirty hands, dirty clothes, dirty mouths. We are often impolite. We limp in and out of our jobs, breathing things we should not breathe. Our bodies hurt all the time. Our vision, our hearing, our nerves, and our spirits suffer. We are underpaid, underappreciated, and often ridiculed. Though not to our faces.

I don't like a lot of the people I work with. I don't hang out with them and I don't join in the bitch sessions. But the truth is, I am one of them. Brian Keene sings their song in Terminal.

Robbing a bank may seem like an irrational, despicable act, and it certainly is, but when everything has broken down and someone feels like they've been trodden upon all his life and there is nowhere to turn and no options in sight, it's almost understandable. The fat cats have made their money while the workers' souls have been ground down into fatalistic despair.

I'm lucky. As a tool-and-die maker, I am near the top of the blue collar food chain. I make pretty good money. Plenty of people, such as Terminal's Tommy, do not.

Terminal goes into the realm of the metaphysical, and I may have liked it more had it been a straight suspense story. Brian is a horror writer, and with few exceptions his work has dealt in the supernatural. I've always liked Terminal. It is an honest look at an essentially decent man driven to a foolhardy plan to help his family. Any reader will see disaster ahead for Tommy and his two accomplices.

Tommy is far from perfect. The sixty-year-old me disapproves of him drinking in a bar when his bills are overdue. Then I think back to the twenty-five-year-old me, when I was raising a baby in impoverished conditions. I remember numerous occasions when I would sneak away with my buddy, buy a case of beer and head to the drive-in, when I should have saved my money and been home with my family.

Brian is one of the lucky ones. I believe he worked in the same type of conditions as his Tommy character. He got out and achieved his dream of becoming a professional horror writer. He did this through hard work. The same ethic instilled in him as an industrial worker. Most of us have a terminal sentence to serve in our harsh workplaces.

This new iteration of Terminal, the Author's Preferred Edition, fleshes out the characters and changes the dynamic of previous publications of the story. Brian explains the gestation of Terminal in an Introduction.

I'm not sure if Terminal is Keene's best work, but I'd put it in at least his top five. It's certainly one of his most honest and personal pieces of fiction. Twenty years is a long time, and the world of his characters seems like a foreign land from the current one. It's a candid snapshot of a time and a mindset that is largely gone. I'm honestly not sure if we are better off or in worse shape than we were back then.

Written by Mark Sieber

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