"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Crown Jewels: The Valancourt Book of Horror Stories: Volume 3 ​Edited by James D. Jenkins and Ryan Cagle

The Valancourt Book of Horror Stories: Volume 3
​Edited by James D. Jenkins and Ryan Cagle

Absolutely first-rate. It is such a pleasure after forty years of reading horror to open an anthology and find that all the stories are new to me.

    The collection gets off to a ghoulishly roaring start with "Don't Go Up Them Stairs." I had always been of the received opinion that Chetwynd-Hayes was a mediocrity. One of the many benefits of these Valancourt collections has been to correct that opinion.

Forrest Reid COURAGE
    A lovely story about a boy having to grow up too soon. Which has been one of the genre's major motifs. Reid handles the material with a fine-tuned chilliness.

    A well-turned story about madness on the Canadian plains. The element of coincidence is nicely disguised.

Steve Rasnic Tem THE PARTS MAN
    My encounter with Tem has been delayed for three decades. But after reading "The Parts Man" I can see where his reputation for excellence comes from. The protagonist's emotionally charged and physically devastating reckoning with a lifetime's habit of inflicting pain on others is unforgettable.

   The position of women in society is mirrored in horror. Mathers' story, a puzzle-piece, might outwardly resemble drawing room melodrama, but there is a steel spine here.

Charles Beaumont THE LIFE OF THE PARTY
    "The Life of the Party" is a perfectly engineered mousetrap. It waits for the reader, who begins tinkering with it out of arrogance.

    Short, but not slight. Edgar Allan Poe strenuously edited by Gordon Lish.

    Hartley is always a pleasure. The plain hard work required to create stories that strike the reader as effortless apologues is cause for thanksgiving. "Monkshood Manor" is pure Hartley: inevitable doom expressed as individual psychology.

    Two women make their way in the world. One works, the other survives as a social  parasite. Each faces a different reckoning.

James Purdy MR EVENING
    Purdy is new to me, and "Mr. Evening" is a weird and unsettling masterpiece.

Elizabeth Jenkins ON NO ACCOUNT, MY LOVE
    Jenkins, like Hartley, is a jeweler. Every story element is brought together to make something sublime.

    The biter bit.

    Keir Cross' collection The Other Passenger gave me a more than a few unsettled days. "Mothering Sunday" is filled with the same smothering level of dread. And the best snowman this side of Ramsey Campbell.

Simon Raven THE BOTTLE OF 1912
    A postwar family reunion. (As written by His Satanic Majesty).

Ethel Lina White 'WITH WHAT MEASURE YE METE . . .'
    I assumed White would be a writer of "Had I But Known" material. But in this story the atmosphere of confusion and the author's crafty indirection result in something very modern.

Robert Westall BEELZEBUB
     The perfect complement to the Chetwynd-Hayes story that opened this collection. Superb comedy, genuinely disturbing.

30 September 2018

Monday, September 24, 2018

Face of fear: The House with the Brick-Kiln by E. F. Benson

....there came a crisp step on the gravel, a rattle at the front-door, and Jack came in.

“Good sport,” he said, “you gave up too soon.”

And he went straight to the table above which hung the picture of the man at the brick-kiln, and looked at it. Then there was silence; and eventually I spoke, for I wanted to know one thing.

“Seen anybody?” I asked.

“Yes. Why do you ask?”

“Because I have also; the man in that picture.”

Jack came and sat down near me.

“It’s a ghost, you know,” he said. “He came down to the river about dusk and stood near me for an hour. At first I thought he was real — was real, and I warned him that he had better stand further off if he didn’t want to be hooked. And then it struck me he wasn’t real, and I cast, well, right through him, and about seven he walked up towards the house.”

“Were you frightened?”

“No. It was so tremendously interesting. So you saw him here too. Whereabouts?”

“Just outside. I think he is in the house now.”

Jack looked round.

“Did you see him come in?” he asked.

“No, but I felt him. There’s another queer thing too; the chimney of the brick-kiln is smoking.”

Jack looked out of the window. It was nearly dark, but the wreathing smoke could just be seen.

“So it is,” he said, “fat, greasy smoke. I think I’ll go up and see what’s on. Come too?”

“I think not,” I said.

“Are you frightened? It isn’t worth while. Besides, it is so tremendously interesting.”

Jack came back from his little expedition still interested. He had found nothing stirring at the kiln, but though it was then nearly dark the interior was faintly luminous, and against the black of the sky he could see a wisp of thick white smoke floating northwards. But for the rest of the evening we neither heard nor saw anything of abnormal import, and the next day ran a course of undisturbed hours. Then suddenly a hellish activity was manifested.

That night, while I was undressing for bed, I heard a bell ring furiously, and I thought I heard a shout also. I guessed where the ring came from, since Franklyn and his wife had long ago gone to bed, and went straight to Jack’s room. But as I tapped at the door I heard his voice from inside calling loud to me. “Take care,” it said, “he’s close to the door....”

"The House with the Brick-Kiln" 

E. F. Benson


Friday, September 21, 2018

Reading notes on N by Arthur Machen [1936]

I made the below notes/excerpts during my fifth rereading of Machen's sublime "N."  I did this to fix the sequence of events in my mind: the wonderful trio of punch drinkers; Rev. Hampole's memoir/guidebook of suburban exploration; the interview with the "lunatic"; and the pub scene.

As with "The Great God Pan," "The Three Imposters," and "The Terror," Machen here employs multiple viewpoints to pull together the fragments of a supremely uncanny tale.  

I have many favorite Machen stories, but this one is something special.


21 September 2018


Reading notes on N by Arthur Machen


Chapter One

….Perrott's rooms, Mitre Place

….Harliss; and he was supposed to have something to do with chemicals and carboys and crystals.

….third friend, Arnold

Chapter Two

....between the third and fourth filling, the talk drew away from central London and the lost, beloved Strand and began to go farther afield, into stranger, less-known territories.


...."I once knew a man," said Perrott, "who knew all about Stoke Newington; at least he ought to have known about it. He was a Poe enthusiast, and he wanted to find out whether the school where Poe boarded when he was a little boy was still standing. He went again and again; and the odd thing is that, in spite of his interest in the matter, he didn't seem to know whether the school was still there, or whether he had seen it. He spoke of certain survivals of the Stoke Newington that Poe indicates in a phrase or two in 'William Wilson': the dreamy village, the misty trees, the old rambling red-brick houses, standing in their gardens, with high walls all about them. But though he declared that he had gone so far as to interview the vicar, and could describe the old church with the dormer windows, he could never make up his mind whether he had seen Poe's school."


....'But upon my word I don't know. I went once, I think, about 95, and then, again, in 99—that was the time I called on the vicar; and I have never been since.' He talked like a man who had gone into a mist, and could not speak with any certainty of the shapes he had seen in it.


....' he said to me, 'have you ever been in Stoke Newington?' I confessed that I hadn't, that I had never had any reason to go there. 'Exactly; and I don't suppose you've ever even heard of Canon's Park?' I confessed ignorance again. He said it was an extraordinary thing that such a beautiful place as this, within four or five miles of the centre of London, seemed absolutely unknown and unheard of by nine Londoners out of ten."

"I know every inch of that neighbourhood," broke in Harliss. "I was born there and lived there till I was sixteen. There's no such place anywhere near Stoke Newington."


..... But it's all quite ordinary; there's nothing beautiful about it."

"But my cousin said it was an amazing place. Not a bit like the ordinary London parks or anything of the kind he'd seen abroad. You go in through a gateway, and he said it was like finding yourself in another country. Such trees, that must have been brought from the end of the world: there were none like them in England, though one or two reminded him of trees in Kew Gardens; deep hollows with streams running from the rocks; lawns all purple and gold with flowers, and golden lilies too, towering up into the trees, and mixing with the crimson of the flowers that hung from the boughs. And here and there, there were little summer-houses and temples, shining white in the sun, like a view in China, as he put it."

Harliss did not fail with his response, "I tell you there's no such place."

And he added:

"And, anyhow, it all sounds a bit too flowery. But perhaps your cousin was that sort of man: ready to be enthusiastic over a patch of dandelions in a back-garden. A friend of mine once sent me a wire to 'come at once: most important: meet me St. John's Wood Station.' Of course I went, thinking it must be really important; 'and what he wanted was to show me the garden of a house to let in Grove End Road, which was a blaze of dandelions."

"And a very beautiful sight," said Arnold, with fervour.


....they had felt for some time that they had gone too far away from their known world, and from the friendly tavern fires of the Strand, into the wild no man's land of the north.


....there was something in the tale of this suburban park that remained with Arnold and beset him, and sent him at last to the remote north of the story.


....A London Walk: Meditations in the Streets of the Metropolis. The author was the Reverend Thomas Hampole


....The accustomed scene has lost its familiar appearance. The houses which you have passed daily, it may be for years, as you have issued forth on your business or on your pleasure, now seem as if you beheld them for the first time.


....mysterious change, into something rich and strange


....that in his opinion that which we now regard as stubborn matter was, primally, to use his singular phraseology, the Heavenly Chaos, a soft and ductile substance, which could be moulded by the imagination of uncorrupted man into whatever forms he chose it to assume. "Strange as it may seem," he added, "the wild inventions (as we consider them) of the Arabian Tales give us some notion of the powers of the homo protoplastus. The prosperous city becomes a lake, the carpet transports us in an instant of time, or rather without time, from one end of the earth to another, the palace rises at a word from nothingness. Magic, we call all this, while we deride the possibility of any such feats; but this magic of the East is but a confused and fragmentary recollection of operations which were of the first nature of man, and of the fiat which was then entrusted to him."


....After mutual expressions of polite regret, I rose from my chair, and was about to make my farewells, when I observed that Glanville was gazing at me with a fixed and singular regard.

"One moment," he said, beckoning me to the window, where he was standing. "I want to show you the view. I don't think you have seen it."

The suggestion struck me as peculiar, to say the least of it. I was, of course, familiar with the street in which Glanville resided, as with most of the S.N. streets; and he on his side must have been well aware that no prospect that his window might command could show me anything that I had not seen many times during my four months' stay in the parish. In addition to this, the streets of our London suburbs do not often offer a spectacle to engage the amateur of landscape and the picturesque. I was hesitating, hardly knowing whether to comply with Glanville's request, or to treat it as a piece of pleasantry, when it struck me that it was possible that his first-floor window might afford a distant view of St. Paul's Cathedral; I accordingly stepped to his side, and waited for him to indicate the scene which he, presumably, wished me to admire.

His features still wore the odd expression which I have already remarked.

"Now," said he, "look out and tell me what you see."

Still bewildered, I looked through the window, and saw exactly that which I had expected to see: a row or terrace of neatly designed residences, separated from the highway by a parterre or miniature park, adorned with trees and shrubs. A road, passing to the right of the terrace, gave a view of streets and crescents of more recent construction, and of some degree of elegance. Still, in the whole of the familiar spectacle I saw nothing to warrant any particular attention; and, in a more or less jocular manner, I said as much to Glanville.

By way of reply, he touched me lightly with his finger-tips on the shoulder, and said:

"Look again."

I did so. For a moment, my heart stood still, and I gasped for breath. Before me, in place of the familiar structures, there was disclosed a panorama of unearthly, of astounding beauty. In deep dells, bowered by overhanging trees, there bloomed flowers such as only dreams can show; such deep purples that yet seemed to glow like precious stones with a hidden but ever-present radiance, roses whose hues outshone any that are to be seen in our gardens, tall lilies alive with light, and blossoms that were as beaten gold. I saw well-shaded walks that went down to green hollows bordered with thyme; and here and there the grassy eminence above, and the bubbling well below, were crowned with architecture of fantastic and unaccustomed beauty, which seemed to speak of fairyland itself. I might almost say that my soul was ravished by the spectacle displayed before me. I was possessed by a degree of rapture and delight such as I had never experienced. A sense of beatitude pervaded my whole being; my bliss was such as cannot be expressed by words. I uttered an inarticulate cry of joy and wonder. And then, under the influence of a swift revulsion of terror, which even now I cannot explain, I turned and rushed from the room and from the house, without one word of comment or farewell to the extraordinary man who had done—I knew not what.

In great perturbation and confusion of mind, I made my way into the street. Needless to say, no trace of the phantasmagoria that had been displayed before me remained. The familiar street had resumed its usual aspect, the terrace stood as I had always seen it, and the newer buildings beyond, where I had seen oh! what dells of delight, what blossoms of glory, stood as before in their neat, though unostentatious order. Where I had seen valleys embowered in green leafage, waving gently in the sunshine and the summer breeze, there were now boughs bare and black, scarce showing so much as a single bud. As I have mentioned, the season was early in March, and a black frost which had set in ten days or a fortnight before still constrained the earth and its vegetation.

I walked hurriedly away to my lodgings, which were some distance from the abode of Glanville. I was sincerely glad to think that I was leaving the neighbourhood on the following day. I may say that up to the present moment I have never revisited S.N.


Chapter Four

....Arnold was generally known as an idle man; and, as he said himself, he hardly knew what the inside of an office was like. But he was laborious in his idleness, and always ready to take any amount of pains, over anything in which he was interested. And he was very much interested in this Canon's Park business. He felt sure that there was a link between Mr. Hampole's odd story—"more than odd," he meditated—and the experience of Perrott's cousin, the wheat-breeder from the west country.


....at its best, there could not have been anything in its aspect to suggest the wonderful vision which the clergyman thought he had seen from Glanville's window. And suburban gardens, however well kept, could not explain the farmer's rhapsodies. Arnold repeated the sacred words of the explanation formula: telepathy, hallucination, hypnotism; but felt very little easier.


....the appearances ascribed to a telepathic agency were all personal; visions of people, not of places: there were no telepathic landscapes.


....You had to accept it; but there was no rationale of it. It was a problem that had to be given up.


[Pub scene]:

—"Canon's Park was quiet enough in our young days, wasn't it? It would have suited this gentleman then, I'm sure."

"Perhaps so," said Mr. Batts. "Perhaps so, and perhaps not. There's quiet, and quiet."

And a certain stillness fell upon the little party of old men. They seemed to ruminate, to drink their beer in slower sips.

"There was always something about the place I didn't altogether like," said one of them at last. "But I'm sure I don't know why."

"Wasn't there some tale of a murder there, a long time ago? Or was it a man that killed himself, and was buried at the crossroads by the green, with a stake through his heart?"

"I never heard of that, but I've heard my father say that there was a lot of fever about there formerly."

"I think you're all wide of the mark, gentlemen, if you'll excuse my saying so"—this from an elderly man in a corner, who had said very little hitherto. "I wouldn't say Canon's Park had a bad name, far from it. But there certainly was something about it that many people didn't like; fought shy of, you may say. And it's my belief that it was all on account of the lunatic asylum that used to be there, awhile ago."

"A lunatic asylum was there?" Arnold's particular friend asked. "Well, I think I remember hearing something to that effect in my very young days, now you recall the circumstances. I know we boys used to be very shy of going through Canon's Park after dark. My father used to send me on errands that way now and again, and I always got another boy to come along with me if I could. But I don't remember that we were particularly afraid of the lunatics either. In fact, I hardly know what we were afraid of, now I come to think of it."

"Well, Mr. Reynolds, it's a long time ago; but I do think it was that madhouse put people off Canon's Park in the first place. You know where it was, don't you?"

"I can't say I do."

"Well, it was that big house right in the middle of the park, that had been empty years and years—forty years, I dare say, and going to ruin."

"You mean the place where Empress Mansions are now? Oh, yes, of course. Why they pulled it down more than twenty years ago, and then the land was lying idle all through the war and long after. A dismal-looking old place it was; I remember it well: the ivy growing over the chimney-pots, and the windows smashed, and the 'To Let' boards smothered in creepers. Was that house an asylum in its day?"

"That was the very house, sir. Himalaya House, it was called. In the first place it was built on to an old farmhouse by a rich gentleman from India, and when he died, having no children, his relations sold the property to a doctor. And he turned it into a madhouse. And as I was saying, I think people didn't much like the idea of it. You know, those places weren't so well looked after as they say they are now, and some very unpleasant stories got about; I'm not sure if the doctor didn't get mixed up in a lawsuit over a gentleman, of good family, I believe, who had been shut up in Himalaya House by his relations for years, and as sensible as you or me all the time. And then there was that young fellow that managed to escape: that was a queer business. Though there was no doubt that he was mad enough for anything."

"One of them got away, did he?" Arnold inquired, wishing to break the silence that again fell on the circle.

"That was so. I don't know how he managed it, as they were said to be very strictly kept, but he contrived to climb out or creep out somehow or other, one evening about tea time, and walked as quietly as you please up the road, and took lodgings close by here, in that row of old red-brick houses that stood where the technical college is now. I remember well hearing Mrs. Wilson that kept the lodgings—she lived to be a very old woman—telling my mother that she never saw a nice-looking, better-spoken young man than this Mr. Valiance—I think he called himself: not his real name, of course. He told her a proper story enough about coming from Norwich, and having to be very quiet on account of his studies and all that. He had his carpetbag in his hand, and said the heavy luggage was coming later, and paid a fortnight in advance, quite regular. Of course, the doctor's men were after him directly and making inquiries in all directions, but Mrs. Wilson never thought for a moment that this quiet young lodger of hers was the missing madman. Not for some time, that is."

Arnold took advantage of a rhetorical pause in the story. He leaned forward to the landlord, who was leaning over the bar, and listening like the rest. Presently orders round were solicited, and each of the circle voted for a small drop of gin, feeling "mild" or even "bitter" to be inadequate to the crisis of such a tale. And then, with courteous expressions, they drank the health of "our friend sitting by our friend Mr. Reynolds." And one of them said:

"So she found out, did she?"

"I believe," the narrator continued, "that it was a week or thereabouts before Mrs. Wilson saw there was something wrong. It was when she was clearing away his tea, he suddenly spoke up, and says:

"'What I like about these apartments of yours, Mrs. Wilson, is the amazing view you have from your windows.'

"Well, you know, that was enough to startle her. We all of us know what there was to see from the windows of Rodman's Row: Fothergill Terrace, and Chatham Street, and Canon's Park: very nice properties, no doubt, all of them, but nothing to write home about, as the young people say. So Mrs. Wilson didn't know how to take it quite, and thought it might be a joke. She put down the tea-tray, and looked the lodger straight in the face.

"'What is it, sir, you particularly admire, if I might ask?'

"'What do I admire?' said he. 'Everything.' And then, it seems, he began to talk the most outrageous nonsense about golden and silver and purple flowers, and the bubbling well, and the walk that went under the trees right into the wood, and the fairy house on the hill; and I don't know what. He wanted Mrs. Wilson to come to the window and look at it all. She was frightened, and took up her tray, and got out of the room as quick as she could; and I don't wonder at it. And that night, when she was going up to bed, she passed her lodger's door, and heard him talking out loud, and she stopped to listen. Mind you, I don't think you can blame the woman for listening. I dare say she wanted to know who and what she had got in her house. At first she couldn't make out what he was saying. He was jabbering in what sounded like a foreign language; and then he cried out in plain English as if he were talking to a young lady, and making use of very affectionate expressions.

"That was too much for Mrs. Wilson, and she went off to bed with her heart in her boots, and hardly got to sleep all through the night. The next morning the gentleman seemed quiet enough, but Mrs. Wilson knew he wasn't to be trusted, and directly after breakfast she went round to the neighbours, and began to ask questions. Then, of course, it came out who her lodger must be, and she sent word round to Himalaya House. And the doctor's men took the young fellow back. And, bless my soul, gentlemen; it's close on ten o'clock."


....he wondered whether Mrs. Wilson's lodger was a madman at all; any madder than Mr. Hampole, or the farmer from Somerset


Chapter Five

....in a cool breeze, that wafted a vague odour of hayfields far away into the very heart of London.


....I felt as if I would like to have another look at this singular park, and I went up there one dark afternoon. And then and there I came upon the young man who had lost his way, and had lost—as he said—the one who lived in the white house on the hill. And I am not going to tell you about her, or her house, or her enchanted gardens. But I am sure that the young man was lost also—and for ever."

And after a pause, he added:

"I believe that there is a perichoresis, an interpenetration. It is possible, indeed, that we three are now sitting among desolate rocks, by bitter streams . . . And with what companions?"

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Review: No Sharks in the Med and Other Stories by Brian Lumley

No Sharks in the Med and Other Stories
Brian Lumley
Subterranean Press

This is consistent, competent artistic talent displayed to best advantage.

When I read in the introduction that "This current volume has no Mythos stories" I wanted to weep with gratitude. Lumley's Cthulhu pastiches twist his own narrative voice and inclinations - his strengths as a writer - into a cocked hat.

No Sharks in the Med and Other Stories is filled with characters in tough situations. Several are coming-of-age stories that intersect with grisly events. Others are tragedies or grim comedies of professional men whose tranquility and sense of social stability are cut away.

Several stories - which must give Greek tourism officials heartburn - display a sense of location and landscape reminiscent of works by stronger writers: Ramsey Campbell's Thirteen Days at Sunset Beach and Simon Raven's sublime masterpiece Doctors Wear Scarlet.

The tales are full of boys whose mothers died too young, and find they grow up quick if they survive their ordeals.

Lumley's landscapes are filled with slag-ruined beaches and undermined cemeteries, with decay and collapse, rot, devolution, and some very human monsters.

And one lust-stone, too.

I enjoyed Lumley's novels Necroscope and Demogorgon, also mercifully free of Lovecraftism (well, Derlethism). No Sharks in the Med and Other Stories gives us a dozen solid stories, each different from the other, even if some share the same locales.

Lumley's energy and the obvious pleasure he takes in creating these modest gems clearly demonstrate they were labors of a craftsman's love.

15 September 2018

*    * *

Some notes and excerpts:

Fruiting Bodies (1987)
Matt Cowan recommended this powerfully poignant story, and after reading it I kept going until I read all twelve stories. An ocean-undermined seaside town was a Jamesian donné, but Lumley abjures buried whistles (and crowns). An all-too natural and material antagonist takes center stage, instead. Our narrator is not obtuse, he simply waits to act until it is too late.

The Sun, the Sea, and the Silent Scream • (1988)
[A Greek holiday nightmare.]

"What do you mean, you can't help? No phone? Are you actually telling me there's no telephone? Then how are we to contact civilization? I have to speak to someone in the town, find a doctor. My husband, George, needs a doctor! Can't you understand that? His lumps are moving. Things are alive under his skin!"

The Picnickers • (1991)
An austere Northern coal-mining region tale that takes place in the interwar period. Sandy spends the summer with his Uncle, the local doctor. Motherless, Sandy is spending his time working up the nerve to cross a local mine's railroad viaduct. Until his uncle and several other local officials are forced to deal with something out of nightmares.

The Viaduct • (1976)
Two young boys decide they will cross the local mine's railroad viaduct hand-over-hand. Too bad they first antagonized the "village idiot."

The Luststone • (1991)
Lust indeed. Procreative lust. Tribal warfare lust. Lust for the blood of invaders. It's a slingshot tale of one scrap of land over ten thousand years, culminating in an orgy of vigilantism and agape. (The kind of story Clive Barker might have written thirty-five years ago.)

The Whisperer • (1976)
Our protagonist's comfortable middle class life devolves into nightmare in four black comedy encounters with a whispering hunch-backed dwarf. Not to be missed.

No Sharks in the Med • (1989)
Monsters met on another Greek vacation of the damned. Newlyweds menaced, then fight back.

The Pit-Yakker • (1989)
Teenage boys. Northern mining region. Slag-ruined beaches. After such knowledge...

The Place of Waiting • (2008)
A superlative ghost story set among Dartmoor's tors and quags. An artist who has recently lost his mother seeks her spirit while sketching at Tumble Tor. Looking hard, he sees another figure. Who also sees him. Simply perfect.

The Man Who Killed Kew Gardens • (2006)
They used to be called "cozy catastrophes" before J.G. Ballard and John Christopher turned them inside out and exploded the rules. UK pluck and comradery were at the heart of battles against Triffids and awakened Krakens. Lumley gives us a perfect x-ray of that early type, but ends with the tenor of the later model. It also has me hunting for my copy of "The Saliva Tree," too.

My Thing Friday • (2005)
The only survivor of a rocketship crash finds himself on a planet whose humanoid inhabitants live in a period of primitive communism. Nothing goes to waste. Nothing.

The Disapproval of Jeremy Cleave • (1989)
This would be a perfect twenty minutes in an Amicus portmanteau. If you studied voodoo, then died, why not use your artificial leg and glass eye against a cuckolding spouse? Brutally hilarious.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

From the Lower Deep by Hugh B. Cave.

On a small unnamed island off the coast of New England, something has happened.

…."What happened here last night to put the fear of God into everyone?" Zandor was at least intelligent—give the devil his due—and was the right man to put that question to.

The swarthy man impatiently flapped a hand. "Oh, hell. You know these people. The water began rising. The night was black as Brucker's Cave. Imaginations started working overtime, and some of our weaker minds claimed they heard things. Before the night was over, the whole stupid island was in a panic."

"Heard what?"

"Footsteps, whisperings, all that crap. And said they saw weird shadows prowling about...."

"From the Lower Deep" by Hugh B. Cave.
The Year's Best Horror Stories Series VIII (1980).

*     *      *

For an easily distracted reader, choice of text often flows from arbitrary decisions or passing comments by other readers. "Way leads unto way," as Frost wrote.

Yesterday, halfway through a collection of Washington Irving stories, a friend mentioned an anthology he just got in the mail. I looked it up on ISFDB, and recalled owning it twenty-five years ago. But I could only remember reading one story out of it.

The great thing about clicking around on the ISFD is that in one or two jumps you are orbiting another book (in this case another anthology) entirely.

All of which lead me to the good old stuff: The Year's Best Horror Stories Series VIII (1980), selected by the peerless Karl Edward Wagner. 1980 was quite a year for the genre.

I selected "From the Lower Deep" by Hugh B. Cave.

I have never read Cave before, though I remember his Zebra paperbacks from the 1980s. "From the Lower Deep" is an absolutely pro horror story. Cave shows off his mastery of ellipses and a deft handling of setting and pace.

....he had heard it.

At the far end of the room stood the huge walnut desk of which the writer was so proud. Behind that were French windows opening on the now-flooded yard. Between desk and windows something had been feeding.

Yes, feeding. An animal of some kind, breathing noisily in a wet, bubbly way while sucking and tearing at its prey. More than one such animal, perhaps.

The silence now was deafening.

Matthew overcame a desire to cry out and took an irresolute step forward, straining to see in the dark. Why in God's name hadn't he foreseen how long this business would take and snatched up a flashlight before leaving home? The breathing sound began again. A dark shape, ill defined, came twisting out from behind the desk and seemed to study him as it halted. Others came in its wake, stopping the same way as though deciding what to do about his intrusion.

Shapes—that was all they were. Big blobs of darkness, though in some mind-warping way their indistinct outlines suggested the forms of monstrous frogs. A kind of whispering came from their midst, seemingly angry and menacing.

There was a smell that offended....

Go find this story!

13 September 2018