Saturday, March 4, 2017

A minion of Tlaltechuhtli: David G. Rowlands' story Wyntours


David G. Rowlands' story "Wyntours" is available in volume ten of Wagner's Year's Best Horror Stories. It is also available here for purchase as part of a collection by Rowlands.


It's a story that begins with fascination for real world locations recreated as part of model railroad displays, and slowly and wonderfully evolves into a tale of crime, curse, and unearthly retribution for any who shared in the Spanish plunder of the Americas.


One section, recounting the origins of a family curse found in an old diary, is very strong:



…."Of the doom of the Wyntours it is now time to speak, shameful though it be; for I am the last of the line, and my time too, is at hand. It all began with my great-great-grandfather, Capt Royston Wyntour, master of the smack 'Judith Lee'. He was a fisherman of some repute and import in the 1800s, but, like many others of his ilk, he was carrying out more profitable trade after dark, notably trafficking between the Channel Islands or Brest. From his private diary it is clear that in May of 1802 he was contacted at the 'Running Tide' in Poltrepen and paid well to collect a nameless traveller from Brest, who was desirous of reaching these shores without attracting too much attention.


"That the priest seemed on edge, and to be perpetually looking about him, was not perhaps to be wondered at in the circumstances, though later it took on other significance.


"Once aboard" (I continued reading), "it was a simple matter for my great-great-grandsire and his Mate to slit the unfortunate Cardinal's throat. Such deeds were clearly, I regret, not uncommon to my kinsman at that period, and he was disconcerted more by the priest's demeanour, than by the murder. 'The Frog saw death coming, but he died laughing', recorded the old seadog's diary. 'He muttered something in French'—that I have deciphered as probably 'et sur votre heritieres', which I take to be the origin of the story of our family curse. The Captain and Mate broke open the chest. As they suspected, it was full of richly-jewelled church furnishings and gold-embroidered vestments; candlesticks, plate, chalices, urns, reliquaries and the like. These they appropriated and thought it a rich jest to bundle the murdered man (after some necessary mutilation) into the chest for delivery; sure that the illegality of the original operation would screen them from retribution. They divided the spoil into three sacks and the Mate took one to the crew as a price for silence; the other portions were to be his and the Captain's. My kinsman locked the door and sat at the cabin table, gloating over the loot. In one of the old gold reliquary boxes he found, not the expected fragments to tip on the floor in disgust, but a piece of gutta percha, or similar fabric, on which was crudely delineated a menacing beast; presumably heraldic and from Neptune's realm—for it resembled a crayfish more than anything else, and the artist had, despite his poor materials, somehow managed to convey a sense of menace, which the line 'Punitor sum' did nothing to dispel.


"The Captain turned abruptly at a touch on his neck and saw (well I have now seen the thing myself and can understand his horror ...) in the corner of the cabin, big as a man, the grey crayfish-like creature crouching; one of its long hair-like feelers actually reaching out to the Captain's neck; the very creature of the parchment drawing. Despite its air of menace it did nothing ... then; but thereafter was always to be reckoned with.


"He became a haunted man, forever looking around—never seeing it, except when least expected, and more often at night when it had a pale phosphorescence. That was the last voyage for the Captain. Instead of delivering the chest and its gruesome contents, the Mate and he put it over the side. In the morning the Mate had vanished too—it being surmised that he had gone overboard. There was general unrest and further depletion among the crew; something uncanny was aboard, of that all were sure. The Captain retired to his riverside villa with his family. One night, six months later, he apparently cast himself from the upper window to the river below, striking the landing stage and dying there. The Coroner's court brought in a verdict of suicide. Of the religious booty taken by the Officers and crew there has been no subsequent trace; none of it turned up in Poltrepen. That the ship's log showed a detour off-course to Sark may have some bearing on the matter.


"The tale of the doom is handed down from father to son, and is often discounted and laughed at (as I did, heaven help me!) since the danger does not become apparent until about middle age, and has something therefore of a mythical quality. However, in my unhappy position I can affirm the reality of the successive deaths of the heirs, and of the creature's existence. It has been with me these ten weeks past; always behind me. I feel its touch, though I see it but rarely."



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