There is another world, but it is in this one.

Paul Eluard. Œuvres complètes, vol. 1, Gallimard, 1968.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Nine stories from The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories (1995)


The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories edited by Michael Cox and.R. A. Gilbert (1995).


Bone to His Bone • (1912) • by E. G. Swain


Swain presents a modest, well-made tale here, almost an anecdote. But the end of this brief passage still for me packs a wallop.


....on Christmas Eye, in the year 1907, Mr Batchel, who would have liked to sleep well, in view of the labours of Christmas Day, lay hopelessly wide awake. He exhausted all the known devices for courting sleep, and, at the end, found himself wider awake than ever. A brilliant moon shone into his room, for he hated window-blinds. There was a light wind blowing, and the sounds in the library were more than usually suggestive of a person moving about. He almost determined to have the sashes 'seen to', although he could seldom be induced to have anything 'seen to'. He disliked changes, even for the better, and would submit to great inconvenience rather than have things altered with which he had become familiar.

     As he revolved these matters in his mind, he heard the clocks strike the hour of midnight, and having now lost all hope of falling asleep, he rose from his bed, got into a large dressing gown which hung in readiness for such occasions, and passed into the library, with the intention of reading himself sleepy, if he could.

     The moon, by this time, had passed out of the south, and the library seemed all the darker by contrast with the moonlit chamber he had left. He could see nothing but two blue-grey rectangles formed by the windows against the sky, the furniture of the room being altogether invisible. Groping along to where the table stood, Mr Batchel felt over its surface for the matches which usually lay there; he found, however, that the table was cleared of everything. He raised his right hand, therefore, in order to feel his way to a shelf where the matches were sometimes mislaid, and at that moment, whilst his hand was in mid-air, the matchbox was gently put into it!


***


The True History of Anthony Ffryar • (1911)  by Arthur Gray


Alone in the plague-evacuated Cambridge of 1551, Ffryar races against time to complete an alchemical experience to reveal the secrets of the magisterium. 


***


Fullcircle • (1920) • by John Buchan


A droll club tale of the Runagates. But it has something also in common with the Wodehouse of "Honeysuckle Cottage" or "Unpleasantness at Bludleigh Court." A married couple - emphatically do-gooder social democrats - succumb to the spirit of place.


....I observed that I had never seen a house so full of space and light. 


'Ah, you notice that. It is a curiously happy place to live in. Sometimes I'm almost afraid to feel so light-hearted. But we look on ourselves as only trustees. It is a trust we have to administer for the common good. You know, it's a house on which you can lay your own impress. I can imagine places which dominate the dwellers, but Fullcircle is plastic, and we can make it our own just as much as if we had planned and built it. That's our chief piece of good fortune.'


***


Old Man's Beard • (1929) • by H. Russell Wakefield


Wakefield is a master, and this tale is a masterpiece, recalling the fate of Lucy Westenra and - almost - Mina Harker. But for a self-sacrificing young suitor.


....Mariella didn't seem very flourishing. The family GP had described her as the most flawless physical specimen he had ever examined, and the sun and sea and air of Brinton should have put the keenest edge on this brilliant Toledo blade, and the close presence of her lover should have made her spirit leap within her. But the actual result was depressingly different. After the first few days she seemed limp and lethargic and 'snappy' in the mornings. She shook this off during the day, but began to droop again at sundown and showed a marked distaste for going to bed; not a distaste bom of overmastering vitality, but something less reassuring than that, something less readily explicable. Her mother had noticed it, of course, and was rather worried, had questioned her gentiy and been testily repulsed.


***


Mr. Jones • (1928) • by Edith Wharton


Another masterful "trap for the unwary," one to rival "Afterward." A woman inherits a benighted property.


She passed on to the entrance court, and stood at last at the door of her new home, a blunt tweed figure in heavy mud-stained shoes. She felt as intrusive as a tripper, and her hand hesitated on the doorbell. 'I ought to have brought someone with me,' she thought; an odd admission on the part of a young woman who, when she was doing her books of travel, had prided herself on forcing single-handed the most closely guarded doors. But those other places, as she looked back, seemed easy and accessible compared to Bells.


***


The Hollow Man • (1933) • by Thomas Burke


A man in London gets a visit from the man he killed in Africa years before.


....He had heard many tales 'out there' about the Leopard Men, and had dismissed them as jungle yarns. But now, it seemed, jungle yarns had become commonplace fact in a little London shop. The watery voice went on. 'They do it. I saw them. I came back in the middle of a circle of them....'


***


Et in Sempiternum Pereant • (1935) • by Charles Williams


My first reading of anything by Williams and I am enchanted.


....He thought, with some irritation, that he must be getting old more quickly, and more unnoticeably, than he had supposed. He did not much mind about the quickness, but he did mind about the unnoticeableness. It had given him pleasure to watch the various changes which age tended to bring; to be as stealthy and as quick to observe those changes as they were to come upon him—the slower pace, the more meditative voice, the greater reluctance to decide, the inclination to fall back on habit, the desire for the familiar which is the first skirmishing approach of unfamiliar death. He neither welcomed nor grudged such changes; he only observed them with a perpetual interest in the curious nature of the creation. The fantasy of growing old, like the fantasy of growing up, was part of the ineffable sweetness, touched with horror, of existence, itself the lordliest fantasy of all. But now, as he stood looking back over and across the hidden curves of the road, he felt suddenly that time had outmarched and out-twisted him, that it was spreading along the countryside and doubling back on him, so that it troubled and deceived his judgment. In an unexpected and unusual spasm of irritation he put his hand to his watch again. He felt as if it were a quarter of an hour since he had looked at it; very well, making just allowance for his state of impatience, he would expect the actual time to be five minutes. He looked; it was only two.

     Lord Arglay made a small mental effort, and almost immediately recognized the effort. He said to himself: 'This is another mark of age. I am losing my sense of duration.' He said also: 'It is becoming an effort to recognize these changes.' Age was certainly quickening its work in him. It approached him now doubly; not only his method of experience, but his awareness of experience was attacked. His knowledge of it comforted him—perhaps, he thought, for the last time. The knowledge would go. He would savour it then while he could. Still looking back at the trees, 'It seems I'm decaying,' Lord Arglay said aloud. 'And that anyhow is one up against decay. Am I procrastinating? I am, and in the circumstances procrastination is a proper and pretty game. It is the thief of time, and quite right too! Why should time have it all its own way?'

     He turned to the road again, and went on. It passed now between open fields; in all those fields he could see no one. It was pasture, but there were no beasts. There was about him a kind of void, in which he moved, hampered by this growing oppression of duration. Things lasted. He had exclaimed, in his time, against the too swift passage of the world. This was a new experience; it was lastingness—almost, he could have believed, everlastingness. The measure of it was but his breathing, and his breathing, as it grew slower and heavier, would become the measure of everlasting labour—the labour of Sisyphus, who pushed his own slow heart through each infinite moment, and relaxed but to let it beat back and so again begin. It was the first touch of something Arglay had never yet known, of simple and perfect despair.

     At that moment he saw the house.


***


An Encounter in the Mist • (1949) • by A. N. L. Munby


A perfect minor tale of open-air horror, something for lovers of Machen and Blackwood to treasure.


....It is a commonplace that a journey in hills takes longer than one anticipates, and it was after twelve o'clock when Giles reached his destination. The sun had come out and he was hot and tired, though much encouraged by the interest of the quarries he had come to see. So absorbing did he find them, and so full were the notes he took, that it was not until half-past three that he started on the return journey. By this time the sun had clouded over again and it looked like rain. As he reascended the track into the hills a fine drizzle began to fall, which increased as he reached the higher altitudes, and before he had climbed to the crest he was enveloped in a thick mist, which reduced visibility first to a few yards and finally to a few feet only. My uncle had carefully noted various landmarks on his path, and even in the mist was confident of keeping to the right track. The route, however, was ill-defined, being in places little more than a sheep-track, and when Giles found himself crossing an unfamiliar stream, he had to confess that he had strayed from the correct path. He retraced his footsteps for nearly half a mile, but failed to return to a point he had noted where the track ran between two prominent rocks. Then indeed he realised that he was lost in earnest.




Jay

29 May 2020




Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Six stories from Dead Water and Other Weird Tales by David A. Sutton (2015)





Dead Water and Other Weird Tales by David A. Sutton (2015).


***


Zulu's War


A soldier has returned home, haunted by memories of desert war atrocities in which he was a participant. The flashbacks center on a small trophy he took, and which something wants back.


***


The Fetch


An excellent story about an unbelieving college student who runs afoul of a classmate claiming uncanny powers.


....Finch munched down the hamburger voraciously. He realised that he hadn't eaten since lunch time. He slurped the hot coffee into his mouth, withdrawing the cup from his lips hastily as they burned. Several youths were playing the pin tables with a kind of dedicated fervour, the sound of the balls rolling and pinging against the buffers, the colours and glow of the lights, giving him a sense of assurance. An old juke box with a domed plastic top began to issue music. It was 'Strawberry Fields'. Jesus, Finch thought, how many years has that been in there? He got up and went to look at the selection of titles. The little, badly typed cards were yellowed with grease and age. He made out something he fancied. 'Mr Pleasant' by the Kinks drove away the fantasy world of the Beatles suddenly, and he felt alone. The song cut him with its allusions, its satire he used to love now grating on his nerves. It sacrificed people in song. It tore down solid thought-of walls. He hated those walls, those establishment niceties, but he didn't want them taken away.


***


Return to the Runes


The grown son of John Harrington meets a relative of Karswell named Adryan Marlowe, who fills him in on his father's death. 


Philip Harrington visits Lufford with Marlowe. Then:


....The next aspect of the story did not occur until some weeks later, it being of no import to relate the intervening period in the life of Philip Harrington, except to say that he returned to London in a cheerful enough frame of mind, with extra knowledge of the slaying of his father and, of course, with the complimentary copy of Karswell's book.

     He did not read History of Witchcraft immediately. Indeed, his business took up much of his time in the day, and a social life which consumed the theatre and the opera in the metropolis, his evenings.

     It was one such evening, after witnessing a particularly enjoyable performance of the final act of Wagner's The Ring, The Twilight of the Gods, that Philip returned home blissfully to his apartment in Olerenshaw Mews. He was glad to be out of his evening suit and able to remove his collar, which was new and had rubbed a small rash on his neck. He sat, kicking off his shoes while pouring out a large whiskey from a half-full decanter. As he sat, his eyes happened upon the book which Marlowe had given to him, which had lain in his bureau along with various papers on which he was working. He decided he would retire to bed with the book. It was about time he read it and wrote to Marlowe thanking him for the weekend he had spent in Warwick. Something, laziness perhaps, had held him back from writing. Perhaps the disquiet he had felt persuaded him to desist for the time being. Either way, if he read the book now, he would have no excuse but to respond by thanking his host at Fairholm.

     Philip had lapsed into sleep not long after he began to read. In fact, only four pages had been turned when the volume slipped from his hand on to the bed and fell shut. The next day he would not even be able to remember one word of those four short pages. Despite being very tired, Philip did not sleep peacefully all night. At three a.m. he woke to the foggy bells of nearby St James's. Outside his bedroom window was a stuffy, smog-cloaked night and the heat of it penetrated his room to such an extent that he found himself wet with perspiration. His pyjamas clung to him, leaving him with a distinctly un-comfortable feeling, so he decided to rise and change into a fresh pair. As he did so, the darkness about him and the cloying nature of the atmosphere wrought themselves upon his con-sciousness. For no sound reason apparently, he was aware of something in the room. Nothing moved to suggest that a presence lurked in shadow, but his instincts rose like bile within him.

     He shook off the sensation, moving towards the window where a glimmer of faint, sickly yellow light filtered up from the gas lamp outside. The cupboard was next to the window, its door opening against the frame so that the feeble light was all but smothered and, as he put his hand into the black pit of the cupboard to obtain his fresh night-clothes, his hand entered, as it were, a moist, fleshy mouth. He felt spiny, cold teeth begin to close on his wrist before pulling back with a frightened gasp. The cupboard door was slammed shut with a clatter and Philip, choking a cry, fought back for his bed and escape from the terrifying hallucination which he had experienced....


Sutton does a very good job with making this tale more than a pastiche. It may not attain to the level of Reggie Oliver's "Between Four Yews," but it is a brief and satisfying blade of nemesis.


***


Night Soil Man


A tale told in dialect about a chimbley sweep and excrement engineer sharing a special relationship with Saucy Jack.


***


Dead Water


A superb tale about old birding friends on vacation to the salt marshes in the south of France. Ghastly, ghoulish, and perfect.


....Earlier in the week, when the four of them had been touring the ancient fortress town of Aigues-Mortes, he had learned about the 'tower of the salted Bourguignons' and a horrific episode during the Hundred Years' War. Planting the bodies of the defeated Burgundians in the shallow, foetid swamp in the thirteenth century was not an option if the rest of the population wanted to remain in good health, so the Armagnacs stuffed the corpses in the tower and preserved them with layers of salt. But Brian never found out what happened to them later on. It was never explained, but at some point those bodies would have had to be removed from the tower and be disposed of. What if they were secretly deposited in the salt marsh? To be feasted upon by fish and birds and muskrats and flies... Getting rid of your enemies in the marshes seemed somehow the more sensible option to Brian. He could imagine that, down the centuries, enemies, robbers, vagabonds, murdered waifs and the politically assassinated might become the disappeared of their time. Rotting, stinking, maggot-bloated corpses, floating to release the multitude of flies, then sinking and decomposing, eventually providing nutrients for the swamp's flora. And so with that grisly image, Brian's day wound leisurely towards its end... 


Thankfully the magnificent sunset had diverted his thoughts....


***


Waking


The protagonist slips lives between the life in the everyday, as a sniper-shot G.I. in Vietnam, and a fate something worse.


....The cold air began to liven him up, even at six o'clock. Any moment now and the radio alarm would burst into life and the animated a.m. deejay would enact his rituals after the news broadcast. A minute or two passed in this way when he began to think that perhaps his alarm wasn't going to sing out after all. Notably, he thought, this usually happens after a Good Session. In a drunken high it was easy to scorn the radio's infallibility to wake him up. Easy to dismiss the inexorable onslaught of the next day, so why not put paid to the alarm and yank the plug from its socket? He'd done that often enough after a binge, and not quite remembered the next day.

     The silence finally ate at his thoughts, told him to be sensible; he couldn't afford to be late for work. He had a responsible career ahead of him. Just open one eye and take a peek at the clock. If it was earlier than six, fine, have another forty, fifty or sixty winks. If, on the other hand, it was around the half dozen since midnight, he'd just have to sigh and take it like a man; and get up!

     Finally he opened both eyes.

     And screamed.

     Shrieked!

     His sky was purple and there was no shadowed ceiling over his head. But he knew that he was encased in something. Perspex, a clear something through which no sound issued. In the intervening space between Richard and the puce sky several things paced. He wanted to describe those horrors to himself, those blubbering, drooling reptilian lips and sharp green eyes, narrow slits of hate. And hands that had evolved for millennia more than human hands, more dextrous in their capabilities to saw, slit and dissect what they held in them. The barbed hooks on their chests from which hung their prey whilst the vivisection went calmly ahead. The silent, screaming human faces above the red meat that hung below. Most of all he wanted to go back to another dream, back to the torment in the Vietnamese forest if needs must....




Jay

26 May 2020




Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Subletting of the Mansion by Dion Fortune (1926).

Readers of this blog know I have a love-hate stance toward some horror fiction, mostly Lovecraft pastiches. I have also noted a couple of times my hate-dislike stance toward a subgenre almost as popular today as the Lovecraft pastiche: the occult detective story.


Fighters of Fear: Occult Detective Stories edited by Mike Ashley brings together a bumper crop with generous historical helpings. (It is apparently only 1.99 on Kindle.)



The contents:


Green Tea, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

The Shining Pyramid, Arthur Machen

The Haunted Child, Arabella Kenealy

The Mystery of the Felwyn Tunnel, L. T. Meade & Robert Eustace

The Story of Yand Manor House, E. & H. Heron

The Tapping on the Wainscott, Allan Upward

Samaris, Robert W. Chambers

The Whistling Room, William Hope Hodgson

The Woman with the Crooked Nose, Victor Rousseau

The Sorcerer of Arjuzanx, Max Rittenberg

The Ivory Statue, Sax Rohmer

The Stranger, Claude & Alice Askew

The Swaying Vision, Jessie Douglas Kerruish

The Sanatorium, F. Tennyson Jesse

The Villa on the Borderive Road, Rose Champion de Crespigny

The Room of Fear, Ella Scrymsour

The Seven Fires, Philippa Forest

The Subletting of the Mansion, Dion Fortune

The Jest of Warburg Tantavul, Seabury Quinn

The Soldier, A. M. Burrage

The Horror of the Height, Sydney Horler

The Mystery of Iniquity, L. Adams Beck

The Thought-Monster, Amelia Reynold Long

The Shut Room, Henry S. Whitehead

Dr. Muncing, Exorcist, Gordon MacCreagh

The Case of the Haunted Cathedral, Margery Lawrence

The Shonokins, Manly Wade Wellman

The Dead of Winter Apparition, Joseph Payne Brennan

The Garden of Paris, Eric Williams

St. Michael and All Angels, Mark Valentine

Jeremiah, Jessica Amanda Salmonson


So far I have only read "The Subletting of the Mansion" by Dion Fortune, featuring her psychic Holmes and Watson: Drs. Taverner and Rhodes. Taverner runs a suburban nursing home, Rhodes is his medical superintendant.


"The Subletting of the Mansion" deals with a troubled married couple moving into a neighboring house. The husband, Mr. Bellamy, is an abusive drug addict. The wife is old before her time.


The wife catches the eye of nursing home resident Mr. Winnington. Winnington develops a plan of his own for subletting, but on the psychic plane.


....As usual he [Winnington] enquired for news of Mrs. Bellamy, and I told him that I had seen her, and casually mentioned that her husband was bad again. In an instant I saw that I had made a mistake and given Winnington information that he ought not to have had, but I could not unsay my words, and took my leave of him with an uneasy feeling that he was up to something that I could not fathom. Very greatly did I wish for Taverner's experience to take the responsibility off my shoulders, but he was away in Scotland, and I had no reasonable grounds for disturbing his well-earned holiday.

     About an hour later, as I had finished my rounds and was thinking of bed, the telephone bell rang. I answered, and heard Mrs. Bellamy's voice at the end of the line.

     'I wish you would come round, Dr. Rhodes,' she said, 'I am very uneasy.'

     In a few minutes I was with her, and we stood together looking at the unconscious man on the bed. He was a powerfully built fellow of some 35 years of age, and before the drug had undermined him, must have been a fine-looking man. His condition appeared to be the same as before, and I asked Mrs. Bellamy what it was that had rendered her so anxious, for I had gathered from the tone of her voice over the phone that she was frightened.

     She beat about the bush for a minute or two, and then the truth came out.

     'I am afraid my nerve is going,' she said. 'But there seems to be something or somebody in the room, and it was more than I could stand alone; I simply had to send for you. Will you forgive me for being so foolish and troubling you at this hour of the night?'

     I quite understood her feelings, for the strain of coping with a drug maniac in that lonely place with no friends to help her—a strain which I gathered, had gone on for years—was enough to wear down anyone's courage.

     'Don't think about that,' I said. 'I'm only too glad to be able to give you any help I can; I quite understand your difficulties.'

     So, although her husband's condition gave no cause for anxiety, I settled down to watch with her for a little while, and do what I could to ease the strain of the intolerable burden.

     We had not been sitting quietly in the dim light for very long before I was aware of a curious feeling. Just as she had said, we were not alone in the room. She saw my glance questing into the corners, and smiled.

     'You feel it too?' she said. 'Do you see anything?'

     'No,' I answered, 'I am not psychic, I wish I were; but I tell you who will see it, if there is anything to be seen, and that is my dog; he followed me here, and is curled up in the porch if he has not gone home. With your permission I will fetch him up and see what he makes of it.'

     I ran down stairs and found the big Airedale, whose task it was to guard the nursing home, patiently waiting on the mat. Taking him into the bedroom, I introduced him to Mrs. Bellamy, whom he received with favour, and then, leaving him to his own devices, sat quietly watching what he would do. First he went over to the bed and sniffed at the unconscious man, then he wandered round the room as a dog will in a strange place, and finally he settled down at our feet in front of the fire. Whatever it was that had disturbed our equanimity he regarded as unworthy of notice.

     He slept peacefully till Mrs. Bellamy, who had brewed tea, produced a box of biscuits, and then he woke up and demanded his share; first he came to me, and received a contribution, and then he walked quietly up to an empty arm chair and stood gazing at it in anxious expectancy. We stared at him in amazement. The dog, serenely confident of his reception, pawed the chair to attract its attention. Mrs. Bellamy and I looked at each other.

     'I had always heard,' she said, 'that it was only cats who liked ghosts, and that dogs were afraid of them.'

     'So had I,' I answered. 'But Jack seems to be on friendly terms with this one.'

     And then the explanation flashed into my mind. If the invisible presence were Winnington, whom Mrs. Bellamy had already seen twice in that very room, then the dog's behaviour was accounted for, for Winnington and he were close friends, and the presence which to us was so uncanny, would, to him, be friendly and familiar.

     I rose to my feet. 'If you don't mind,' I said, 'I will just go round to the nursing home and attend to one or two things, and then we will see this affair through together.'

     I raced back through the shrubberies to the nursing home, mounted the stairs three at a time, and burst into Winnington's bedroom. As I expected, he was in deep trance.

     'Oh you devil!' I said to the unconscious form on the bed, 'what games are you up to now? I wish to Heaven that Taverner were back to deal with you.'

     I hastened back to Mrs. Bellamy, and to my surprise, as I re-entered her room I heard voices, and there was Bellamy, fully conscious, and sitting up in bed and drinking tea. He looked dazed, and was shivering with cold, but had apparently thrown off all effects of his drug. I was nonplussed, for I had counted on slipping away before he had recovered consciousness, for I had in mind his last reception of me which had been anything but cordial, but it was impossible to draw back.

     'I am glad to see you are better, Mr. Bellamy,' I said. 'We have been rather anxious about you.'

     'Don't you worry about me, Rhodes,' was the reply. 'Go back to bed, old chap; I'll be as right as a trivet as soon as I get warm.'

     I withdrew; there was no further excuse for my presence, and back I went to the nursing home again to have another look at Winnington. He was still in a state of coma, so I settled down to watch beside him, but hour after hour went by while I dozed in my chair, and finally the grey light of dawn came and found his condition still unchanged. I had never known Taverner to be out of his body for such a length of time, and Winnington's condition worried me considerably. He might be all right, on the other hand, he might not; I did not know enough about these trances to be sure, and I could not fetch Taverner back from his holiday on a wild goose chase....


Taverner returns, and he and Rhodes figure out what Winnington has done"


'I cannot conceive,' said Taverner, 'how the etheric double, the vehicle of the life forces, could be withdrawn for so long a time without the disintegration of the physical form commencing. Where was he, and what was he up to? Perhaps, however, he was immediately over the bed, and merely withdrew from his physical body to escape its discomfort.'

     'He was in the dispensary when I first saw him,' I answered, devoutly hoping that Taverner would not need any further information as to Winnington's whereabouts. 'He followed me back to his room and I coaxed him into his body.'

     Taverner gave me a queer look. 'I suppose you took the preliminary precaution of making sure that it was Winnington you had got hold of?'

     'Good Lord, Taverner, is there a possibility—?'

     'Come upstairs and let us have a look at him. I can soon tell you.'

     Winnington was lying in a room lit only by a night-light, and though he turned his head at our entrance, did not speak. Taverner went over to the bed and switched on the reading lamp standing on the bedside table. Winnington flinched at the sudden brightness, and growled something, but Taverner threw the light full into his eyes, watching them closely, and to my surprise, the pupils did not contract.

     'I was afraid so,' said Taverner.

     'Is anything wrong?' I enquired anxiously. 'He seems all right.'

     'Everything is wrong, my dear boy,' answered Taverner. 'I am sure you did the best you knew, but you did not know enough. Unless you thoroughly understand these things it is best to leave them to nature.'

     'But—but—he is alive,' I exclaimed, bewildered.

     'It is alive,' corrected Taverner. 'That is not Winnington, you know.'

     'Then who in the world is it? It looks like it to me.'

     'That we must try and find out. Who are you?' he continued, raising his voice and addressing the man on the bed.

     'You know damn well,' came the husky whisper.

     'I am afraid I don't,' answered Taverner. 'I must ask you to tell me.'

     'Why, W—,' I began, but Taverner clapped his hand over my mouth.

     'Be quiet, you fool, you have done enough damage, never let it know the real name.'

     Then, turning back to the sick man again, he repeated his question.

     'John Bellamy,' came the sulky answer.

     

That is a strong, well-executed scene, and Fortune has a number of them. 


"The Subletting of the Mansion" gives no easy answers. Taverner assures Rhodes that the transference will not bring a happy ending for Mrs. Bellamy any more than the two men in her life.


Modest and well done.


Jay

24 May 2020


Saturday, May 23, 2020

"The Place of Revelation" by Ramsey Campbell (2003).

Ramsey Campbell never tires of creating hell for his protagonists. His stories and novels usually kick off with family and workplace hell, then move on to actual hell. 


"The Place of Revelation" is no exception:


At dinner Colin's parents do most of the talking. His mother starts by saying "Sit down," and as soon as he does his father says "Sit up." Auntie Dot lets Colin glimpse a sympathetic grin while Uncle Lucian gives him a secret one, neither of which helps him feel less nervous....


Colin and his uncle have a hidden aspect to their relationship, recalling Campbell's novel The Kind Folk.


An unsettling uncle-nephew tucking-in bedtime story commences:


"His uncle was always with him though, wasn't he?"

     "The boy couldn't see him," Colin says in case this lets his uncle realise how it felt, and then he knows his uncle already did. "He heard him saying you mustn't look down, because being seen was what woke up the god of the wood. So the boy kept looking straight ahead, though he could see the shadows that weren't shadows crowding behind the trees to wait for him. He could feel how even the water underneath him wanted him to slip on the slimy stones, and how the stones were ready to swim apart so he'd fall between them if he caught the smallest glimpse of them. Then he did, and the one he was standing on sank deep into the water, but he'd jumped on the bank of the stream. The shadows that must have been the bits that were left of people who'd looked down too long let him see his uncle, and they walked to the other side of the woods. Maybe he wouldn't have got there without his uncle, because the shadows kept dancing around them to make them think there was no way between the trees."

     "Brave boy, to see all that." Darkness has reclaimed the left side of Uncle Lucian's face; Colin is reminded of a moon that the night is squeezing out of shape. "Don't stop now, Colin," his uncle says. "Remember last year."

     This is taking longer than his bedtime stories ever have. Colin feels as if the versions he's reciting may rob him of his whole night's sleep. Downstairs his parents and his aunt sound as if they need to talk for hours yet. "It was here in town," he says accusingly. "It was down in Lower Brichester."

     He wants to communicate how betrayed he felt, by the city or his uncle or by both. He'd thought houses and people would keep away the old things, but now he knows that nobody who can't see can help. "It was where the boy's mother and father wouldn't have liked him to go," he says, but that simply makes him feel the way his uncle's stories do, frightened and excited and unable to separate the feelings. "Half the houses were shut up with boards but people were still using them, and there were men and ladies on the corners of the streets waiting for whoever wanted them or stuff they were selling. And in the middle of it all there were railway lines and passages to walk under them. Only the people who lived round there must have felt something, because there was one passage nobody walked through."

     "But the boy did."

     "A man sitting drinking with his legs in the road told him not to, but he did. His uncle went through another passage and said he'd meet him on the other side. Anyone could have seen something was wrong with the tunnel, because people had dropped needles all over the place except in there. But it looked like it'd just be a minute to walk through, less if you ran. So the boy started to hurry through, only he tried to be quiet because he didn't like how his feet made so much noise he kept thinking someone was following him, except it sounded more like lots of fingers tapping on the bricks behind him. When he managed to be quiet the noise didn't all go away, but he tried to think it was water dripping, because he felt it cold and wet on the top of his head. Then more of it touched the back of his neck, but he didn't want to look round, because the passage was getting darker behind him. He was in the middle of the tunnel when the cold touch landed on his face and made him look."


Colin is old enough to want to call a halt.


....Colin demands "What did I see?"

     "Not much yet. Just as much as your mind could take. It's like our stories, do you understand? Your mind had to tell you a story about what you saw, but in time you won't need it. You'll see what's really there."

     "Suppose I don't want to?" Colin blurts. "What's it all for?"

     "Would you rather be like my sister and only see what everyone else sees? She was no fun when she was your age, your mother."

     "I never had the choice."

     "Well, I wouldn't ever have said that to my grandfather. I was nothing but grateful to him."

     Though his uncle sounds not merely disappointed but offended, Colin says "Can't I stop now?"

     "Everything will know you can see, son. If you don't greet the old things where you find them they'll come to find you."


"The Place of Revelation" is a brief, elementary story of great skill. I was motivated to seek it out after reading James Rockhill's comment about it at the Friends of Arthur Machen Facebook group:


"And when he went outside he couldn't believe in the daylight anymore. It was like a picture someone had put up to hide the dark." -----"The Place of Revelation", Ramsey Campbell's  homage to "The White People".



Jay

23 May 2020



***


From Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories edited by Doug Murano & D. Alexander Ward (2016).



Reading five stories from The Second Cthulhu Mythos Megapack edited by Shawn Garrett (2016)



The editor of Second Cthulhu Mythos Megapack has spread their net widely, finding few gems but many competent attempts at cosmic horror.


The Isle of Dark Magic by Hugh B. Cave


....I have said before that the thing was a woman. It was. Now, as I advanced fearfully toward it, fascinated by the almost life-like manner in which it studied me, I could not repress amazement at the uncanny perfection of it. If Jean Lanier had made this, then Jean Lanier had been truly an artist! For the woman was a creature of marble, so delicately and expertly sculptured that every portion of her exquisite form could have been mistaken, even at close range, for living reality. Naked she was, and sitting in an attitude of meditation, with her extended hands holding the metal dish which I had seen before. And I knew intuitively, even as I wondered at the uncanny loveliness of her, that there was something terrible, something wrong, in the way she was sitting there.


***


Skydrift by Emil Petaja


Two small time crooks fight over found treasure of unknown origin. Petaja does a solid job here pushing the drama forward with dialogue. This is a slick, competent tale  ready for Night Gallery or Outer Limits.


"....What makes you think it ain't just another chunk of drift out of the sea, eh?" Aino's eyes approached the thing in Big Tom's hand timidly, but once there they clung, pupils dilating. His mouth curved and then he spoke, with a new dignity.


"It isn't drift, Tom. It came out of the sky, not out of the sea. It came down in the storm. Sometimes they send something down, or come down themselves in different shapes. Charles Fort calls the things from outside thunderstones. He knew about them, but he didn't know that—"


Big Tom interrupted with a snort. "So now you're smarter'n them guys who wrote them books, eh? Think you're pretty cute, don't you, jerk? Pretty smart, eh?"


***


The Intruder by Emil Petaja


A shopkeeper talks to a stranger on a park bench.


"Were you ever told, as a child, that you must not attempt to count the stars in the sky at night—that if you did you might lose your mind?"


"Why, yes. I believe I've heard that old superstition. Very reasonable, I believe—based on the assumption that the task would be too great for one brain. I—"


"I suppose it never occurred to you," he interrupted, "that this superstition might hold even more truth than that, truth as malignant as it is vast. Perhaps the cosmos hold secrets beyond comprehension of man; and what is your assurance that these secrets are beneficent and kind? Is nature rather not terrible, than kind? In the stars are patterns—designs which if read, might lure the intrepid miserable one who reads them out of earth and beyond…beyond, to immeasurable evil.…Do you understand what I am saying?" His voice quivered metallically, was vibrant with emotion.


***


Marmok by Emil Petaja


Verse whose anatomy of influence goes back to Tennyson's "Kraken."


***


The Terrible Parchment by Manly Wade Wellman


More fan-service than serious fiction. Narrator and wife receive a square of parchment in the latest issue of Weird Tales magazine. The parchment initially carries indecipherable script, but helpfully it soon turns into English: a formula to recite to recall Cthulhu & Co. to life.


"What if the holy water had not worked?



Jay

23 May 2020