Black wings of cthulhu v.., p.1
Black Wings of Cthulhu, Volume 4, page 1
ALSO EDITED BY S. T. JOSHI:
Black Wings Of Cthulhu
Black Wings Of Cthulhu 2
Black Wings Of Cthulhu 3
The Madness Of Cthulhu
The Madness Of Cthulhu 2
Black Wings of Cthulhu 4
Print edition ISBN: 9781783295739
E-book edition ISBN: 9781783295746
Published by Titan Books
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First Titan edition: March 2016
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Previously published in February 2015 by PS Publishing Ltd. by arrangement with the authors. All rights reserved by the authors. The rights of each contributor to be identified as Author of their Work have been asserted by them in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Copyright © 2015, 2016 by the individual contributors
Introduction Copyright © 2015, 2016 by S. T. Joshi
Cover Art Copyright © 2016 by Gregory Nemec
With thanks to PS Publishing
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
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Also by S. T. Joshi
S. T. Joshi
Half Lost in Shadow
W. H. Pugmire
The Rasping Absence
Black Ships Seen South of Heaven
Caitlín R. Kiernan
The Dark Sea Within
Jason V Brock
Sealed by the Moon
A Prism of Darkness
Night of the Piper
Ann K. Schwader
We Are Made of Stars
John Pelan and Stephen Mark Rainey
Cult of the Dead
Lois H. Gresh
In the Event of Death
The Wall of Asshur-sin
Fear Lurks Atop Tempest Mount
“The one test of the really weird is simply this—whether or not there be excited in the reader a profound sense of dread, and of contact with unknown spheres and powers; a subtle attitude of awed listening, as if for the beating of black wings or the scratching of outside shapes and entities on the known universe’s utmost rim.”
H. P. LOVECRAFT,
“SUPERNATURAL HORROR IN LITERATURE”
IF ANYTHING HAS BECOME EVIDENT IN THE FIRST three volumes of the Black Wings series, it is that the Lovecraftian idiom is endlessly malleable, and suited to a variety of genres and subgenres. H. P. Lovecraft, although a strong proponent of what he called “weird fiction,” himself spanned a surprisingly wide spectrum of genres in his own brief career, starting out as a writer of relatively conventional tales of the macabre and gradually expanding his scope to embrace the literature of cosmicism—a distinctive fusion of science fiction and horror that has become his signature contribution to the field. Today, we can find Lovecraftian elements in stories ranging from hard-boiled crime to pure fantasy, and this volume displays the extent to which motifs, themes, and imagery from Lovecraft’s tales can infiltrate tales that would otherwise have little relationship to one another.
One of the central aspects of the Lovecraftian tale, however, is the quest for knowledge, especially knowledge of ancient cultures and objects. Lovecraft himself was focused on this theme because it allowed him to broach the “conflict with time” that he claimed was one of the most vital motivating factors in his own imagination. For Lovecraft, cosmicism was not only spatial but temporal; and the suggestion of immense gulfs of time beyond and behind the fundamentally brief span of human history was a powerful tool for the fostering of his trope of cosmic insignificance. In this volume, the diverse explorers in Fred Chappell’s “Artifact,” Richard Gavin’s “The Rasping Absence,” Lois H. Gresh’s “Cult of the Dead,” Ann K. Schwader’s “Night of the Piper,” and Donald Tyson’s “The Wall of Asshur-sin” find more than they bargain for as they probe the remote corners of the earth.
The cosmicism of time extends both into the past and into the future. Several writers, perhaps taking their cue from Darrell Schweitzer’s recent anthology Cthulhu’s Reign, have speculated on the dire consequences that would result if the Lovecraftian “gods” (really alien entities from remote corners of the universe) were to become dominant on the earth. Thus we have Caitlín R. Kiernan’s grim but cosmic “Black Ships Seen South of Heaven,” Cody Goodfellow’s disturbing “Broken Sleep,” and Melanie Tem’s cheerless and harrowing “Trophy.” Perhaps Will Murray’s tale of governmental espionage, “Dark Redeemer,” ought to be considered in this light. John Pelan and Stephen Mark Rainey transport us to outer space in their science fiction/horror hybrid “Contact.”
The sense of place was all-important to Lovecraft, because he himself recognised how much his own character and predilections depended upon the New England topography and history that gave him birth. W. H. Pugmire has made a specialty in evoking the constellation of Lovecraftian cities in New England, and “Half Lost in Shadow,” a perfumed prose-poem set in Kingsport, is no different. Jonathan Thomas uses Lovecraft’s (and his own) native city of Providence, Rhode Island, as the setting for the unnerving tale “We Are Made of Stars.” Topography figures in a very different sense as Jason V Brock evokes mediaeval Prague in “The Dark Sea Within,” while Gary Fry finds weirdness in the British countryside in “Sealed by the Moon.”
The Lovecraftian book—nothing less, indeed, than the iconic Necronomicon—is the basis for Darrell Schweitzer’s pungent vignette “A Prism of Darkness.” Lovecraftian “gods” lurk in the background of Stephen Woodworth’s “Revival,” and the dreams that were so essential to the igniting of Lovecraft’s own imagination are the focus of Simon Strantzas’s “In the Event of Death.”
The final contribution to this book calls for especial notice. We are in the midst of a renaissance of weird poetry, and much of the credit is owed to Lovecraft. He himself was only a middling poet, but his weird verse—notably the sonnet-cycle Fungi from Yuggo
S. T. Joshi
Fred Chappell is a distinguished American novelist and poet who has written extensively in the vein of weird and Lovecraftian fiction. His novel Dagon (Harcourt, 1968) was named the best foreign-language book by the Académie Française, and his story collection More Shapes Than One (St. Martin’s Press, 1991) contains several Lovecraftian narratives, including “The Adder” and “Weird Tales.” His novella The Lodger (Necronomicon Press, 1993) won the World Fantasy Award. An omnibus of his weird work appeared in Centipede Press’s Masters of the Weird Tale series in 2014.
“THIS ARTIFACT IS INCOMPLETE.”
Professor Henrik Olsen leaned forward over the table of our booth and tapped the photograph with his table fork.
“How do you mean?” I asked.
He produced a small, black leather sleeve from his jacket pocket, slid out a magnifier, and handed it to me. “See here on this side? The edge is jagged. It has been broken off.”
I turned the photo about. “You may be right.”
“I am.” He stared at me for a moment with his cool gray eyes. His tone was brisk. Olsen was an energetic, shortish man with a sharply tapered white beard and an eager attitude. His demeanor reminded me of a real estate developer I had known who seemed always to feel he was on the verge on closing a grandly lucrative deal on a project no one else had yet got wind of.
“You’re the expert,” I said.
He pointed again. “Here on the left side, the lioness thrusts forward with bared fangs, as if to attack, But then her form flowing backward morphs into abstraction. We may read these curlicues as hackles of fur along her spine, or as storm clouds or sea waves, symbols to suggest the harsher powers of nature. Then, tucked into the abstraction here and there, are other motifs or attributes.”
I put my speculation timidly: “I thought I saw something a little like an owl.”
He leaned back in his seat and beamed, as if I were a student who had contributed a bright remark in seminar. “That would be correct. The owl is important. There are astronomical symbols too. You recorded the dimensions of the piece. Seven and one-half centimeters long, averaging three wide. Weight four grams. It’s a wonder the carver was able to crowd so much detail into so small a space.”
“I have been poring over it, but it is mysterious.”
“Let us gather our provender to us,” he said. “I hope you will forgive me for ordering for us previously. I thought to save time.” He raised his hand to signal one of the tall blonde servers. The staff here at the place he had called The Low Dive evidently knew him well.
When I had suggested we lunch at the Queen City country club, he demurred. “Anytime I go there, some nice lady spots me and insists that I come to her house to appraise some gizmo she picked up at a yard sale. She’s always convinced that it is ‘ancient Egyptian.’ At the Low Dive, no one speaks of ancient Egypt. The bison burgers are hefty and the waitresses are tall blondes with soccer ambitions.”
“You must be describing Lowe’s Diner on South Main.”
“Yes. If we must be prosaic.” He had hung up.
So here we were, seated in a booth to which there now arrived a young lady of Valkyrie proportions bearing two misted, foaming steins. She smiled at me when she asked, “What kind of dressing on your salad?”
“I like the Italian, but the others are okay too,” Olsen said.
“Italian will do.”
He thanked the girl, calling her Olga, and we touched steins. “Highlander Ale. Local brew.”
“What else can you tell me?”
He leaned and drew his finger along the length of the object. “If it were not broken, the design would repeat in reverse from this midpoint. It has to be symmetrical to serve its purpose.”
“It is an object employed by the priest, or the priestess, in performing the rites. I call it an Opener, but that’s just my personal term. It would be rejected by most other archaeologists.”
“Is that why they call you Professor Nut at the college?” I asked. “By the way, I like this ale.”
“You’ll like the burger too. Yes, Professor Nut. And Prof Screwloose and Doctor Daffy, and so forth. I don’t mind. My credentials are sound, my publications well documented, and my on-site researches have been of recognized value. Modesty prevents my continuing in this vein.” His grin was fleeting but engaging. He seemed to enjoy his reputation for eccentricity and I suspected that he encouraged it.
“I attended one of the lectures you gave over at Hillman. You talked about the persistence of very ancient family lines and their distribution around the world. You said this research had drawn you to Queen City, North Carolina, where experts in ancient archaeology do not often alight. You didn’t say which particular families drew your interest.”
“If I mention the clan who call themselves the Choneys, would you be surprised?”
“Not really. Folks have been speculating about them ever since I can remember.”
Olga fetched salads and Olsen pitched into his immediately, munching rapidly. I could not help thinking of a billy goat wearing a tweed jacket and sporting a red bow tie, having at his crabgrass and horse nettles. The professor’s delta of white beard attracted the image irresistibly.
“Would you be surprised if I told you I thought there might be some connection between the Choneys and the artifact in your photo?”
I lifted my stein but set it down without a sip. “Yes. Very surprised. I took this ritual object, as you call it, to be very old.”
He nodded, munched, and pushed aside his empty salad plate. “If it is genuine, I would classify it as Babylonian and date it at 1900 BCE, give or take a few centuries.”
“You think it may be a fake?”
“Most small objects floating single about the world are reproductions. But I have never seen this exact design before, so a forger would have less motive than normal to produce it. I can probably tell when I see the Opener itself and not the picture. We are fortunate that the thing is broken. If it were complete, I might be alarmed.”
“My client would not be pleased to think I was walking around with the real thing in my pocket.”
“I’d prefer not to name him at this point.”
“Your client is Robert Pasterby the third. Most of those who know him call him Robbie. I’ve met him at a library reception at Hillman. He’s on the board of governors of the college. Reputed to be the wealthiest man in Windsor County. His family is an old one and his landholdings are extensive.”
“Is he a subject of your research?”
“In regard to his connection with the Choneys, yes. And now with the artifact. I need to know all you can tell me. I am not of a prying nature, except in my scientific capacities, but this is an important matter. Your client may be in danger.”
“If you will tell me how you—or he—came by it, I can explain clearly. Otherwise, my explanation will be a muddle. It has to do with an intra-continuum passageway.”
The sandwiches were placed before us, along with a fresh stein for Olsen. Mine was still half full. He went at his burger with fangs bared; he would do a lioness proud, I thought.
“I’ll have to be circumspect,” I said. “I am the Pasterby family solicitor. So were my father and my grandfather. He is my friend as well as my client.”
“Is he a warm personal friend?”
“No, but our relationship extends be
He nodded, as if he had foreseen my answer.
“The family papers have not been put in order since the death of Robbie’s father. He commissioned me to go through all the family records since the time of his grandfather. In doing so, I found a strange anomaly—”
I broke off, trying to think how to get my part of the story straight. I had not thought I would have to provide a detailed narrative and I wondered how much I was at liberty to say. My last meeting with Robbie had involved confidential information.
THAT MEETING HAD TAKEN PLACE ON THURSDAY, SIX days past, mid-afternoon, in his handsome office on the second floor of the Pasterby Building on Broad Street. This ruddy brick structure with its tall windows, had been converted some thirty years ago from a private dwelling to house the Pasterby enterprises in brokerage and realty and subsidiary ventures. Despite its capacious size, this room was cozy. An early December wind nudged the windows, emphasizing that quality.
Robbie pushed his magisterial chair back from his neatly ordered mahogany desk and smiled. “How goes the impossible project?” His tone was commiserating and condescending at the same time. He was unaware of the condescension. The Pasterbys had been landed gentry for a long time and, though his manner was casual, Robbie’s bearing displayed a patrician cast. Something in his features hinted at dissipation, a visual quality something like the craqueleur in noble ancestral portraits.
I was accustomed to his manner, so ingrained that it would probably be unnoticed by those who had not known him for a long period. We had been school chums many a year past and my father and grandfather had served as the Pasterbys’ private solicitors, so I had opportunity to observe changes in the men. The general demeanor had not altered in three generations. Their tacit attitude was that they were Pasterbys and the rest of us were out of the running. One got used to the attitude or did not. I found it both amusing and mildly annoying.
So the firm of Leveret and Leveret stood as family retainers in the old-fashioned sense, protecting the interests and keeping the secrets of the clan faithfully and scrupulously. I am Leveret and Leveret; that is, I am George Leveret, Jr., the sole remaining partner after the death of my father seven years ago. I keep the old name for the firm out of affection and respect for our twenty-one years of lawyering together and also in acknowledgment that the respectable citizens of Queen City do not like even slight changes in long-established institutions. Leverets go back a long way, as far as the Pasterbys, if one credits the genealogies offered on both sides. I have lately broadened the activities of the firm to include clients and corporations new to the area. Robbie was not entirely pleased with this development but seemed to think that if I had to do business with a parvenu class, that was but another sign of the degeneracy of our time.
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