Artist: Lou Rogers

Monday, October 23, 2017

Unending Night: With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa By E.B. Sledge

....we rarely ventured out of our foxholes at night unless to care for wounded or to get ammunition. When a flare or star shell lighted the area, everyone froze just as he was, then moved during the brief periods of darkness. When the area lighted up with that eerie greenish light, the big raindrops sparkled like silver shafts as they slanted downward. During a strong wind they looked as though they were being driven along almost horizontal to the deck. The light reflected off the dirty water in the craters and off the helmets and weapons of the living and the dead.

I catalogued in my mind the position of every feature on the surrounding terrain. There was no vegetation, so my list consisted of mounds and dips in the terrain, foxholes of my comrades, craters, corpses, and knocked-out tanks and am-tracs. We had to know where everyone, living and dead, was located. If one of us fired at an enemy infiltrating or on a raid, he needed to know where his comrades were so as not to hit them. The position and posture of every corpse was important, because infiltrating Japanese also would freeze when illuminating shells lit up. So they might go unnoticed among the dead.

The longer we stayed in the area, the more unending the nights seemed to become. I reached the state where I would awake abruptly from my semisleep, and if the area was lit up, note with confidence my buddy scanning the terrain for any hostile sign. I would glance about, particularly behind us, for trouble. Finally, before we left the area, I frequently jerked myself up into a state in which I was semiawake during periods between star shells.

I imagined Marine dead had risen up and were moving silently about the area. I suppose these were nightmares, and I must have been more asleep than awake, or just dumbfounded by fatigue. Possibly they were hallucinations, but they were strange and horrible. The pattern was always the same. The dead got up slowly out of their waterlogged craters or off the mud and, with stooped shoulders and dragging feet, wandered around aimlessly, their lips moving as though trying to tell me something. I struggled to hear what they were saying. They seemed agonized by pain and despair. I felt they were asking me for help. The most horrible thing was that I felt unable to aid them.

At that point I invariably became wide awake and felt sick and half-crazed by the horror of my dream. I would gaze out intently to see if the silent figures were still there, but saw nothing. When a flare lit up, all was stillness and desolation, each corpse in its usual place.

At that point I invariably became wide awake and felt sick and half-crazed by the horror of my dream. I would gaze out intently to see if the silent figures were still there, but saw nothing. When a flare lit up, all was stillness and desolation, each corpse in its usual place.

Among the craters off the ridge to the west was a scattering of Marine corpses. Just beyond the right edge of the end foxhole, the ridge fell away steeply to the flat, muddy ground.*

Next to the base of the ridge, almost directly below me, was a partially flooded crater about three feet in diameter and probably three feet deep. In this crater was the body of a Marine whose grisly visage has remained disturbingly clear in my memory. If I close my eyes, he is as vivid as though I had seen him only yesterday....

With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by Eugene Sledge (1981 Presidio Press).

Read the full book here:

https://www.amazon.com/Old-Breed-At-Peleliu-Okinawa/dp/0891419195

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Who can tell the difference? The Missing Girl by Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson's 1957 story "The Missing Girl" is a perfectly modulated horror comedy of manners.

Martha Alexander walks off into the night from the Phillips Education Camp for Girls Twelve to Sixteen. She is never seen again. And by the end of the story, no one at the camp is sure they ever really saw her to begin with.

Local police chief Captain Hook does the interviewing:


....A careful checkup of Recreational Activity lists showed that while she was listed for dramatics and nature study and swimming, her attendance at any of them was dubious; most of the counselors kept slipshod attendance records, and none of them could remember whether any such girl could have come on any given day.

“I’m almost sure I remember her, though,” Little John, an ardent girl of twenty-seven who wore horn-rimmed glasses and tossed her hair back from her face with a pretty gesture that somehow indicated that winters she wore it decently pinned up, told Chief Hook. “I have an awfully good memory for faces, and I think I remember her as one of Rabbit’s friends and relations. Yes, I’m sure I remember her, I have a good memory for faces.”

“Ah,” said the librarian, who was called Miss Mills when she was secretary to Old Jane, and the Snark when she was in the library, “one girl is much like another, at this age. Their unformed minds, their unformed bodies, their little mistakes; we, too, were young once, Captain Hook.”

“Hell,” said the muscular young woman who was known as Tarzan because she taught swimming, “did you ever look at fifty girls all in white bathing caps?”

“Elm?” said the nature study counselor, whose name was Bluebird. “I mean, wasn’t she an elm girl? Did a nice paper on blight? Or was it the other girl, Michaels? Anyway, whichever one it might have been, it was a nice job. Out of the ordinary for us, you know; remember it particularly. Hadn’t noticed either of the girls to speak of—but if she’s really gone, she might be up on Smoky Trail looking for fern; want the girls to make a special topic of fern and mushroom.” She stopped and blinked, presumably taking in a new supply of chlorophyll. “Fern,” she said. “Pays to know plenty about fern.”

“Few of them have any talent, anyway,” the painting counselor said. “In any of the progressive schools this sort of thing—” She gestured tiredly at the canvases propped up against tree stumps or stacked upon a rock, and moved her shoulders nervously under her brand-new blue and yellow checked shirt. “Interested psychologically, of course,” she added quickly. “If I remember this girl, she did sort of vague stuff, almost unwilling. Rejection, almost—if I can find a picture you’ll see right away what I mean.” She poked unenthusiastically among the canvases stacked on the rock, pulled her hand back and said, “Why did I ever—” wiping wet paint off on her blue jeans. “Funny,” she said, “I could have taken an oath she had a canvas around here somewhere. Sort of vague stuff, though—no sense of design, no eye.”

The story is available in the collection Just an Ordinary Day: Stories

Friday, October 13, 2017

"Whatever cries there...."

A Neighbor’s Landmark by M.R. James

....‘I asked her if she never thought she saw anything to account for the sounds she heard. She told me, no more than once, on the darkest evening she ever came through the Wood; and then she seemed forced to look behind her as the rustling came in the bushes, and she thought she saw something all in tatters with the two arms held out in front of it coming on very fast, and at that she ran for the stile, and tore her gown all to flinders getting over it.’

Full story here:

www.thin-ghost.org/items/show/147
http://www.thin-ghost.org/items/show/147

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Late magic: The Children of the Pool and Other Stories by Arthur Machen

....There was one circumstance which I failed to mention, when I consulted the friend who wrote me the letter of advice. I am not sure why I left it out of my story; possibly from a whimsical dislike of making the case too complete, possibly from a feeling, equally whimsical, that it was as well to keep one card at least safe and secret in my own hand.

"Out of Picture"

                                   *


The Children of the Pool and Other Stories by Arthur Machen

1936: Hutchinson

Tartarus Press edition

This collection of Machen's late career short stories does not stint. Each is richly imagined, complicated, and deftly presented. Like his late novel The Green Round, sniffily dismissed by some, Children of the Pool contains stories as powerful as any he wrote. The fact that most are presented in a collagist's rhetorical format, back-to-front, replete with sideways interjections, makes them all the more arresting. Machen's authorial voice reassures us, and we are always confident the big picture will snap into focus in the end.

"The Exalted Omega" was the hardest story to really grip and hold. Machen lives to employ the high-wire art of coincidence, but here coincidence seems powerless to cement two hemispheres of a tale into a really satisfying unity. 

Still, the portrait of J.F. Mansel, occupant of rooms in London's Gray's Inn, is a compelling depiction of human self-isolation. After his death, Mansel's profound misanthropy still haunts his apartment, and this is succinctly conveyed. The journalist narrator's attempts to rationalize earlier manifestations of the supernatural at a seance underscores the absurdities most armchair skeptics go to (speaking as one myself).

"Children of the Pool" is in a long line of sylvan vacation horror stories that UK writers have always excelled at. It features a compelling evocation of setting. 'There is such a thing as a “sad” landscape, even when we who look at it are feeling jovial; and if we think it is “sad” only because we attribute to it something derived from our own past associations with sadness, Professor Koffka gives us good reason to regard the view as superficial. That is not imputing human attributes to what are described as “demand characters” in the environment, but giving proper recognition to the other end of a nexus, of which only one end is organised in our own mind.'

The success of the story rests on how convincing Machen is at a rational explanation for the uncanny visitations experienced by Mr. Roberts.

"The Bright Boy" is to me a stunning display of Machen's skills as a writer. Who would dream of writing, in the modern world, about a corrupt and criminal man who is what used to be called a "midget"? Yet Machen accomplishes this, and the final revelation fits snugly into place.

Machen's reputation today rests on horror stories, whose titles are too familiar to rehearse here. But the Machen stories which mean the most to me are his works of un-horror, of uncanny human or supernatural goodness. "The Tree of Life" is one of my favorites of this style; I have read it several times in the last few weeks. Machen builds up an unbearably suspenseful atmosphere in both halves of the story, and we are convinced (this is Machen, after all) that the final revelation will be grimly heartbreaking. I won't spoil the actual climax, but encourage you to read the story today.

"Out of the Picture" will please readers who prize Machen's weird horror stories.

Avant-garde painting and psychopathology are here braided perfectly together. "M’Calmont had depicted open spaces in the midst of mysterious woods, narrow valleys edged with grim rocks, paths that wound in and out by lonely lands to shattered walls on a far height, trees of strange growth hanging over a well, glades glooming with twilight and the coming storm. There was an enchantment; but the incantation was of oppression and terror. There were three things that I noticed as curious: the first was that in every picture M’Calmont had introduced fire: logs burning under a broken wall, flames breaking out of yellowish smoke in the forest clearing, a fire by the well, a fire on the far hill-side. Water, also, was represented in each canvas; well, or brook, or pool in the woods; and in every one of them there was the figure of a man, the same man, so far as I could judge. The figure was roughly dressed in the costume of an eighteenth-century countryman, in ragged clothes, with a scarlet cap on his head. He was depicted as tending the invariable fire, perhaps, or leaning on his staff, or half-hidden behind the trunk of a tree, or crouching among thorns on the border of a broken road. As I passed slowly from picture to picture, I noticed that the figure became more prominent. At first, it was barely seen in the background. Then it came forward into the middle distance, and at the end of the tour, the recently painted pictures, as M’Calmont told me, it was prominent in the foreground. In one picture he led a procession of torch-bearers into a wood as the night came on; but mostly he was alone in these desolate places that M’Calmont had made."

"Change" is another vacation horror story, the superb tale of a changeling. Of course with Machen such a bald statement of plot is pointless. The magic is all in his presentation.

***

Jay


12 October 2017

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A Mountain Adventure: The curious epilogue to The Green Round by Arthur Machen

The Green Round by Arthur Machen 1933


The Green Round is an unconventional novel. But that is night to dismiss it. I finished it for the first time a week ago, then immediately scrolled back and started from the beginning. I've never done that with a book or a writer before.

At first The Green Round seems to be a supernatural thriller: Mr. Hillyer goes to the Welsh coast for his health. He takes a liking to a spot traditionally referred to as the Green Round. There, to the horror of fellow hotel guests, he picks up a vile companion, which others can see and Hillyer cannot.

So I settled back for what I thought would be a series of Job-like horrors visited upon Mr. Hillyer, who goes fleeing back to London. But this is where Machen begins turning the tables on the reader, not unpleasantly thwarting our preconceived notions about what makes a horror novel. For instance, there is a psychohistorical digression of great interest about a book by a Reverend Hampole called A London Walk: Meditations in the Streets of the Metropolis.

In the end, Mr. Hillyer"s torments could be written off as delusions accompanied by a series of banal and accidental experiences inflicted on his fellow boarding house renters and their landlady, Mrs. Jolly. And a man whose green house now has a hole in it's roof.

Mr. Hillyer, who has lived alone in a room for thirty years in near-complete isolation from humanity, goes into the sponge trade in Aleppo. A far healthier choice than studying "the relation between the legends of the Seven Sleepers class and those that tell of mortals who have dwelt for a while with the Queen of the Fairies; to query the identity of the Fairy Queen with Tannhauser’s Venus, to determine the exact shade of guilt imputed to personages like Thomas of Ercildoune and the British King in the Mapp story."

Even when Hillyer's adventures are over, Machen gives us an essay as his epilogue, detailing what he calls the "lacunae of theory." He defines it as being "our entire ignorance both of the nature and of the laws of the power that for a time at least had its centre in [the Green Round]. We cannot pretend to determine, for instance, why one man was subject to the influence, while another was immune."

Machen gives several other examples of this type of experience: the human encounter with seemingly supernatural events of ultimately banal character, which pitch their experiencers into a carnival of confusion, horror, and disorientation while happening.

Here is the example Machen ends on, and it is fine tale in and of itself:

....the following experience, which appeared in Light — issue of May 23rd, 1931 — which is quoted here, in extenso, by the kind permission of my friend, Mr. David Gow, Advisory Editor of Light. It is entitled “A Mountain Adventure”. “J.C.P.”, the author, is stated to be a woman in a responsible and dignified position. Her story, like the story of the ladies of Versailles, gives me the impression of absolute and scrupulous veracity.

“About the twentieth of July, 1929, while climbing the mountain, Nephin, in the weft of Ireland above Lough Conn, we had the following curious experience.

“The six, who climbed the mountain on one of the clearest of July days, consisted of three women and three men; one of the party — a girl — had an injured knee, and so did not go further than the place at which we stopped for lunch.

“The ascent was started about eleven o’clock. After climbing for an hour, through very heavy heather, we stopped beside a burn for lunch. After lunch we continued up the mountain, the girl with the injured knee going back to the cottage at which we had left the car, to wait for our return. We reached the top of the mountain about a quarter to three, and sat for a while looking at the surrounding country.

“We started down at about three, or a little after, in groups and singly, my husband by himself, F.H., James and myself together, and the other man quite a bit ahead of us. Suddenly F.H. turned away, and vanished over the shoulder of the mountain. Little was said, for she often took her own way down the various mountains we climbed during the summer. James and I continued our way for a while, then turned to each other and said: ‘Something has happened to F.H.!’ We felt so sure of this that we called to the other two men, who returned. We agreed that they should go back to the mountain to where she was last seen, and search for her, while I should continue down and meet them at the cottage.

“Now this I did not know till afterwards, but F.H. does not know, cannot possibly imagine, what happened to her. She can only say that it was as though she had lapsed into complete unconsciousness, and all the while thought she was walking beside us. She was in reality walking straight away from us. She does not know what it was that ‘took’ her suddenly; she said it was as though there were no Time for a moment, and some strange force were pulling her away. Then she realised that we were not there, and heard the crying of voices. She went in the direction of the sound, thinking she would find someone; on crossing a ravine the voices were still audible, and she heard someone blowing a horn, but no one was in sight. Then she thought she saw a small person beyond and below her, possibly a child; she went down towards it, but on crossing another ravine, found no one, though the voices still continued. After this she realised she was lost, and headed for the white roadway below her, and walked about eight miles to a police-barracks, where we later found her.

“Now, when I left the men I went down the mountain. When I was half-way down I decided to look for F.H. on my lower level. I walked along, falling twice up to my waist into caves that were hidden beneath the heather. Presently I sat down and had no sooner done that than I heard crying behind me — a funny kind of crying, like a child that was lost — very distinctly. Looking around I saw, a long distance above me, someone I took to be James, waving. I waved back, got up, crossed a couple of hillocks, and looked for James again. No one was there. I sat down again, and was admiring the view when, directly behind me, someone laughed. Looking around I saw no one for a moment; then above me in almost the same place, I thought I saw James again.

“Getting up once more, I went straight up the mountain in his direction. In crossing a small burn I lost sight of him, and when I came out of the stream-bed I found no one. After this I went down the mountain to the cottage, expecting to find the girl with the injured knee there, but the cottage people told me she had not been there all the afternoon. Presently she came in, very angry, saying that early in the afternoon I had come down the mountain and waved to her, but had not waited for her to come up. (She had not gone up very far as she stumbled into a bog, and found the walking too hard.) Obviously I had not done any such thing.

“By 7.30 p in the men came back, exhausted, and without F.H. James had a curious story.. Twice he had seen, out of the tail of his eye, a club coming down on him. So strong had been the impression that he had jumped considerable distances down the mountain on each occasion. We were very worried by this time about F.H.’s disappearance. I asked the man of the cottage what there was to fall into on the mountain.

“‘Quarries?’ I suggested.

“‘Nothing,’ he said.

“‘Children on the mountain?’ I asked.

“‘No, they’re in school,’ he said.

“‘What about the Little People?’

“He became very severe, and turned to go out, saying:

“‘We do not talk about that.’

“We now took the car to search along the roads at the foot of the mountain, and so came upon F.H. at the police station.”



***


Jay


10 October 2017

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Bridegroom and the Bride: Change by Arthur Machen


There was one thing called “The Lesson”—heaven pity me, that I ever saw it! Listen—can you fancy a squatting circle of nameless dog-like things in a churchyard teaching a small child how to feed like themselves? The price of a changeling, I suppose—you know the old myth about how the weird people leave their spawn in cradles in exchange for the human babes they steal. Pickman was shewing what happens to those stolen babes—how they grow up—and then I began to see a hideous relationship in the faces of the human and non-human figures. He was, in all his gradations of morbidity between the frankly non-human and the degradedly human, establishing a sardonic linkage and evolution. The dog-things were developed from mortals!

     And no sooner had I wondered what he made of their own young as left with mankind in the form of changelings, than my eye caught a picture embodying that very thought. It was that of an ancient Puritan interior—a heavily beamed room with lattice windows, a settle, and clumsy seventeenth-century furniture, with the family sitting about while the father read from the Scriptures. Every face but one shewed nobility and reverence, but that one reflected the mockery of the pit. It was that of a young man in years, and no doubt belonged to a supposed son of that pious father, but in essence it was the kin of the unclean things. It was their changeling—and in a spirit of supreme irony Pickman had given the features a very perceptible resemblance to his own.

"Pickman's Model" by H.P. Lovecraft

                                ***



An excerpt from Arthur Machen's 1936 short story "Change," included in the collection I am currently reading: The Children of the Pool and Other Stories (1936).

"Change" is a strange story indeed, and takes place in Western Wales.

***

....It all came to a dreadful end. One morning when I had come out on my usual morning stroll from Porth, and had got to the camping ground of the party at the edge of the dunes, I found somewhat to my surprise that there was nobody there. I was afraid that Brown had been in part justified in his dread of concealed epidemics, and that some of the children had “caught something” in the village. So I walked up in the direction of Govan Terrace, and found Brown standing at the bottom of his flight of steps, and looking very much upset.

I hailed him.

“I say,” I began, “I hope you weren’t right, after all. None of the children down with measles, or anything of that sort?”

“It’s something worse than measles. We none of us know what has happened. The doctor can make nothing of it. Come in, and we can talk it over.”

Just then a procession came down the steps leading from a house a few doors further on. First of all there was the porter from the station, with a pile of luggage on his truck. Then came the two elder Smith children, Jack and Millicent, and finally, Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Mr. Smith was carrying something wrapped in a bundle in his arms.

“Where’s Bob?” He was the youngest; a brave, rosy little man of five or six.

“Smith’s carrying him,” murmured Brown.

“What’s happened? Has he hurt himself on the rocks? I hope it’s nothing serious.”

I was going forward to make my enquiries, but Brown put a hand on my arm and checked me. Then I looked at the Smith party more closely, and I saw at once that there was something very much amiss. The two elder children had been crying, though the boy was doing his best to put up a brave face against disaster—whatever it was. Mrs. Smith had drawn her veil over her face, and stumbled as she walked, and on Smith’s face there was a horror as of ill dreams.

“Look,” said Brown in his low voice.

Smith had half-turned, as he set out with his burden to walk down the hill to the station. I don’t think he knew we were there; I don’t think any of the party had noticed us as we stood on the bottom step, half-hidden by a blossoming shrub. But as he turned uncertainly, like a man in the dark, the wrappings fell away a little from what he carried, and I saw a little wizened, yellow face peering out; malignant, deplorable.

I turned helplessly to Brown, as that most wretched procession went on its way and vanished out of sight.

“What on earth has happened? That’s not Bobby. Who is it?”

“Come into the house,” said Brown, and he went before me up the long flight of steps that led to the terrace....

....“Yesterday at lunch they were talking about some caves at a place called the Darren, about two miles away. My children seemed very anxious to see them, and Mrs. Probert, our landlady, said they were quite safe, so the Smiths and Robinsons were called in, and they were enthusiastic, too; and the whole party set off with their tea-baskets, and candles and matches, in Miss Hayes’s charge. Somehow they made a later start than usual, and from what I can make out they enjoyed themselves so much in the cool dark cave, first of all exploring, and then looking for treasure, and winding up with tea by candlelight, that they didn’t notice how the time was going—nobody had a watch—and by the time they’d packed up their traps and come out from underground, it was quite dark. They had a little trouble making out the way at first, but not very much, and came along in high spirits, tumbling over molehills and each other, and finding it all quite an adventure.

“They had got down in the road there, and were sorting themselves out into the three parties, when somebody called out: ‘Where’s Bobby Smith?’ Well, he wasn’t there. The usual story; everybody thought he was with somebody else. They were all mixed up in the dark, talking and laughing and shrieking at the top of their voices, and taking everything for granted—I suppose it was like that. But poor little Bob was missing. You can guess what a scene there was. Everybody was much too frightened to scold Miss Hayes, who had no doubt been extremely careless, to say the least of it—not like her. Robinson pulled us together. He told Mrs. Smith that the little chap would be perfectly all right: there were no precipices to fall over and no water to fall into, the way they’d been, that it was a warm night, and the child had had a good stuffing tea, and he would be as right as rain when they found him. So we got a man from the farm, with a lantern, and Miss Hayes to show us exactly where they’d been, and Smith and Robinson and I went off to find poor Bobby, feeling a good deal better than at first. I noticed that the farm man seemed a good deal put out when we told him what had happened and where we were going. ‘Got lost in the Darren,’ he said, ‘indeed, that is a pity.’ That set Smith off at once; and he asked Williams what he meant; what was the matter with the place? Williams said there was nothing the matter with it at all whatever but it was ‘a tiresome place to be in after dark.’ That reminded me of what you were saying a couple of weeks ago about the people here. ‘Some damned superstitious nonsense,’ I said to myself, and thanked God it was nothing worse. I thought the fellow might be going to tell us of a masked bog or something like that. I gave Smith a hint in a whisper as to where the land lay; and we went on, hoping to come on little Bob any minute. Nearly all the way we were going through open fields without any cover or bracken or anything of that sort, and Williams kept twirling his lantern, and Miss Hayes and the rest of us called out the child’s name; there didn’t seem much chance of missing him.

“However, we saw nothing of him—till we got to the Darren. It’s an odd sort of place, I should think. You’re in an ordinary field, with a gentle upward slope, and you come to a gate, and down you go into a deep, narrow valley; a regular nest of valleys as far as I could make out in the dark, one leading into another, and the sides covered with trees. The famous caves were on one of these steep slopes, and, of course, we all went in. They didn’t stretch far; nobody could have got lost in them, even if the candles gave out. We searched the place thoroughly, and saw where the children had had their tea: no signs of Bobby. So we went on down the valley between the woods, till we came to where it opens out into a wide space, with one tree growing all alone in the middle. And then we heard a miserable whining noise, like some little creature that’s got hurt. And there under the tree was—what you saw poor Smith carrying in his arms this morning.

“It fought like a wild cat when Smith tried to pick it up, and jabbered some unearthly sort of gibberish. Then Miss Hayes came along and seemed to soothe it; and it’s been quiet ever since. The man with the lantern was shaking with terror; the sweat was pouring down his face.”

I stared hard at Brown. “And,” I thought to myself, “you are very much in the same condition as Williams.”

Brown was obviously overcome with dread. We sat there in silence.

“Why do you say ‘it’?” I asked. “Why don’t you say ‘him’?”

“You saw.”

“Do you mean to tell me seriously that you don’t believe that child you helped to bring home was Bobby? What does Mrs. Smith say?”

“She says the clothes are the same. I suppose it must be Bobby. The doctor from Porth says the child must have had a severe shock. I don’t think he knows anything about it.”

He stuttered over his words, and said at last: “I was thinking of what you said about the lighted windows. I hoped you might be able to help. Can you do anything? We are leaving this afternoon; all of us. Is there nothing to be done?”

“I am afraid not.”

I had nothing else to say. We shook hands and parted without more words.


The next day I walked over to the Darren. There was something fearful about the place, even in the haze of a golden afternoon. As Brown had said, the entrance and the disclosure of it were sudden and abrupt. The fields of the approach held no hint of what was to come. Then, past the gate, the ground fell violently away on every side, grey rocks of an ill shape pierced through it, and the ash trees on the steep slopes overshadowed all. The descent was into silence, without the singing of a bird, into a wizard shade. At the farther end, where the wooded heights retreated somewhat, there was the open space, or circus, of turf; and in the middle of it a very ancient, twisted thorn tree, beneath which the party in the dark had found the little creature that whined and cried out in unknown speech. I turned about, and on my way back I entered the caves, and lit the carriage candle I had brought with me. There was nothing much to see—I never think there is much to see in caves. There was the place where the children and others before them had taken their tea, with a ring of blackened stones within which many fires and twigs had been kindled. In caves or out of caves, townsfolk in the country are always alike in leaving untidy and unseemly litter behind; and here were the usual scraps of greasy paper, daubed with smears of jam and butter, the half-eaten sandwich, and the gnawed crust. Amidst all this nastiness I saw a piece of folded notepaper, and in sheer idleness picked it up and opened it. You have just seen it. When I asked you if you saw anything peculiar about the writing, you said that the letters were rather big and clumsy. The reason of that is that they were written by a child. I don’t think you examined the back of the second leaf. Look: “Rosamund”—Rosamund Brown, that is. And beneath; there, in the corner.

Reynolds looked, and read, and gaped aghast.

“That was—her other name; her name in the dark.”

“Name in the dark?”

“In the dark night of the Sabbath. That pretty girl had caught them all. They were in her hands, those wretched children, like the clay images she made. I found one of those things, hidden in a cleft of the rocks, near the place where they had made their fire. I ground it into dust beneath my feet.”

“And I wonder what her name was?”

“They called her, I think, the Bridegroom and the Bride.”....

***

The full story can be read here:

Friday, October 6, 2017

The net of language: Notes on Holy Terrors by Arthur Machen

Holy Terrors by Arthur Machen

1946

The Bright Boy (1936)

"The Bright Boy" is a strange crime/mystery story, though the protagonist only realizes it late in life, long after the events. 

At first we assume we are reading a tale about a valiant tutor (a bright boy himself) preparing to rescue a gifted child from dangerous and morally corrupted parents. But then the tutor deserts his post, like Bertie Wooster running for the pre-dawn milk train after Bobbie Wickham has made things too hot for him at a country house.

This double-axis of the "The Bright Boy," the prospect-retrospect framing, strongly underscore Machen's profound strength as plotter and organizer of what could be, in other hands, only a pot-boiler in bad taste.


The Tree of Life (1936)

As with "The Bright Boy," "The Tree of Life" gives us the illusionist's trick, then reveals the secret. Both portions of the story are perfectly pitched. "The Tree of Life" is a powerful story of goodness, much as "The Bright Boy" is a mystery revealed as abominable crime.

Opening the Door (1931)

Here we are back in the world of Machen's reporter narrator in the 1916 novel The Terror: a man with a curiosity for out-of-the-way enigmas. He relates a few minor ones before the main course: the tale of a Celt scholar timeslipped and retuned out of synch with our mundane world after using the door in his garden wall. (Today we would call such a man an "experiencer.")

The Marriage of Panurge (1922)

Pantagruel's factotum Panurge weds, and weds badly. His new spouse forces upon him chastity and sobriety. Can he break free?

Machen might have been a High Church hater of everything that came after Luther's 95 Theses, but he was no teetotal schoolmarm, and Panurge is a wonderful rascal.

The Holy Things (1924)

Cacophony of a city street in broad daylight is transformed, each bit of noise joining in unity to form a song of praise. A morose artist's changed perceptions alter his mood and his day.

Psychology (1897)

"....we lead two lives, and the half of our soul is madness, and half heaven is lit by a black sun. I say I am a man, but who is the other that hides in me?"

The Turanians (1924)

A brief, but not a slight, anecdote. A teenage girl stalks the forrest camp of a band of itinerant tinkers. "They were people of curious aspect, short and squat, high-cheek-boned, with dingy yellow skin and long almond eyes; only in one or two of the younger men there was a suggestion of a wild, almost faun-like grace, as of creatures who always moved between the red fire and the green leaf."

The Rose Garden (1908)

Another young woman liberated by her intersection with sylvan ecstasy. "Herself was annihilated; at his bidding she had destroyed all her old feelings, and emotions, her likes and dislikes, all the inherited loves and hates that her father and mother had given her; the old life had been thrown utterly away."

The Ceremony (1897)

A young woman performs "the immemorial rite" at a stone in the forrest.

The Soldiers' Rest (1914)

One of Machen's war fantasies. It achieves greater emotional resonance than "The Bowmen." very moving, and skilfully told in sharp, telegraphed style.

The Happy Children (1920)

A too-too-much contribution to Hun war atrocity stories interwoven with Machen's evocation of Whitby's topography.

The Cosy Room (1929)

A killer suffers the torments of the damned trying to outwit the law.

Munitions of War (1926)

A naval companion piece to "The Bow-Men."

The Great Return (1915)

"The Great Return" is an incredibly ambitious story. It is un-horror, and no less moving for that.

The action is presented in a "reporter's notebook" format. The narrator is piecing together disparate events in a localized portion of the Welsh coast. Considered individually, each event is startling and uncanny; when pieced together and placed within the region's history, they are life-altering.

Along with A Fragment of Life,  I would place "The Great Return" at the top of any list of Machen story recommendations.


Jay

6 October 2017