Black wings of cthulhu 6, p.1
Black Wings of Cthulhu 6, page 1
S. T. Joshi
Ann K. Schwader
The Girl in the Attic
The Once and Future Waite
William F. Nolan
On a Dreamland’s Moon
Caitlín R. Kiernan
You Shadows That in Darkness Dwell
Mark Howard Jones
The Ballad of Asenath Waite
Missing at the Morgue
The Mystery of the Cursed Cottage
To Court the Night
K. A. Opperman
To Move Beneath Autumnal Oaks
W. H. Pugmire
Steve Rasnic Tem
Jason V Brock
D. L. Myers
About the Editor
Also Available from Titan Books
BLACK WINGS OF CTHULHU 6
EDITED BY S. T. JOSHI
AND AVAILABLE FROM TITAN BOOKS
Black Wings of Cthulhu
Black Wings of Cthulhu 2
Black Wings of Cthulhu 3
Black Wings of Cthulhu 4
Black Wings of Cthulhu 5
Black Wings of Cthulhu 6
The Madness of Cthulhu
The Madness of Cthulhu 2
OF CTHULHU 6
TWENTY-ONE NEW TALES OF
EDITED BY S. T. JOSHI
Black Wings of Cthulhu 6
Print edition ISBN: 9781785656934
Electronic edition ISBN: 9781785656941
Published by Titan Books
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First Titan edition: October 2018
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Previously published in November 2017 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 © 2017, 2018 by the individual contributors.
Introduction Copyright © 2017, 2018 by S. T. Joshi
Cover Art Copyright © 2018 by Gregory Nemec
Caitlín R. Kiernan, “Ex Libris,” first published in The Yellow Book by Caitlín R. Kiernan (Subterranean Press, 2012), copyright © 2012 by Caitlín R. Kiernan 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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“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”
THE INFINITE MALLEABILITY OF LOVECRAFTIAN motifs, as exemplified by the contents of this volume, calls for some discussion. Why has H. P. Lovecraft’s work been such an inspiration to writers of weird fiction over the past century or so when other meritorious writers—ranging from the “modern masters” identified by Lovecraft himself, Arthur Machen, Lord Dunsany, Algernon Blackwood, and M. R. James, to such recent luminaries as Stephen King and Ramsey Campbell—failed to do so?
The history of Lovecraftian pastiche would make an interesting study in itself, and I have attempted to do so in my treatise The Rise, Fall, and Rise of the Cthulhu Mythos (2015). That book shows that, once writers put aside the mechanical imitations—which in many cases extended merely to the invention of a new “god” or new “forbidden book,” even if the overall theme of the story was anything but Lovecraftian— practised by such writers as August Derleth and Brian Lumley, a new era emerged. Writers now began searching more deeply into what exactly went into the making of a “Lovecraftian” story—and came to the conclusion that a multiplicity of motifs could be drawn upon, in contexts Lovecraft himself would scarcely have recognised, with the result that writers could infuse their own personalities into a work that nonetheless draws upon themes pioneered by the dreamer from Providence.
The central message of Lovecraft’s work, to be sure, is cosmicism—the depiction of the infinite gulfs of space and time and the concomitant insignificance of the human race, and all earth life, in the overarching history of the cosmos. In his earlier stories, Lovecraft used the figure of the “god” Nyarlathotep as a symbol for this cosmic menace. Archaeological horror was also a powerful means by which Lovecraft conveyed the essence of cosmicism, and Ann K. Schwader (“Pothunters”), Lynne Jamneck (“Oude Goden”), Don Webb (“The Shard”), and Stephen Woodworth (“Provenance Unknown”) have followed this methodology.
For Lovecraft, the sense of place was supremely important. Here was a man who spent every spare penny in exploring havens of antiquity from Quebec to Key West, from Marblehead, Massachusetts, to Charleston, South Carolina. He enlivened his native New England with an entire constellation of imagined cities where anything can happen; and in this volume, Tom Lynch’s “The Gaunt” takes us to Lovecraft’s Arkham, while Aaron Bittner (“Teshtigo Creek”) duplicates Lovecraft’s regional horror in North Carolina, and veteran W. H. Pugmire (“To Move Beneath Autumnal Oaks”) etches new lines of terror in his carefully crafted Sesqua Valley in the Pacific Northwest. Darrell Schweitzer does much the same thing in the rural Pennsylvania setting of “The Girl in the Attic.”
Alien creatures—whether it be the fish-frog entities from “The Shadow over Innsmouth” or the inbred gorilla-like monstrosities of “The Lurking Fear”—are ever-present in Lovecraft, signalling his fascination with the anomalies of hybridism and the potentially loathsome mutations of the human form. It is this motif that animates such variegated tales a
Caitlín R. Kiernan takes Lovecraft’s “forbidden book” theme and turns it into a means for probing the psychology of fear in “Ex Libris.” In their various ways, Mark Howard Jones’s “You Shadows That in Darkness Dwell” and Donald Tyson’s “Missing at the Morgue” make use of Lovecraft’s recurrent theme of other worlds lying just around the corner from our own. David Hambling’s “The Mystery of the Cursed Cottage” performs the nearly impossible by fusing the locked-room detective story with Lovecraftian elements.
This volume includes not one but four poems in the Lovecraftian idiom—a testament both to the renaissance of weird poetry in our time and to the felicitous adaptability of Lovecraftian motifs in the realm of verse. Ashley Dioses, Adam Bolivar, K. A. Opperman, and D. L. Myers have all distinguished themselves as poets of technical skill and emotive power, and their verses exhibit the quintessence of terror while adhering to the strictest standards of formal rhyme and metre.
There is no reason to believe that Lovecraft’s dominant role in the creation of contemporary weird fiction will end anytime soon, and the future should reveal still more innovative treatments of the themes and imagery he fashioned out of the crucible of his imagination.
S. T. JOSHI
ANN K. SCHWADER
Ann K. Schwader’s most recent fiction collection is Dark Equinox and Other Tales of Lovecraftian Horror (Hippocampus Press, 2015). Her most recent poetry collection is Dark Energies (P’rea Press, 2015). She is a two-time Bram Stoker Award Finalist, a two-time winner of the Rhysling Award, and the Poet Laureate for NecronomiCon Providence in 2015. Schwader lives and writes in Colorado.
WHATEVER WAS IN THE PACKAGE, JUPE AND JUNO DIDN’T like it. Instead of begging shamelessly for biscuits from the carton Cassie had just brought back from Sheridan, the Rott siblings were pacing around the kitchen table, whining.
She ignored them until she’d put away the groceries. No matter what was going on, Twenty Mile wasn’t doing nearly well enough for her to waste frozen food. Not with this fall’s two-year-olds still to ship.
It took her a good ten minutes to finish, but the dogs never let up.
As she checked through the week’s mail on the table, a too-familiar chill traced her spine. Aside from that box addressed to C. BARRETT, there were only magazines, bills, and junk mail in the pile. Nothing else they’d be likely to react to. Nothing she’d better figure out before a few years’ worth of bad memories kicked in.
Cassie picked up the shoebox-sized parcel and checked the rest of the address. Then she headed straight out to the front porch, where her foreman was waiting to talk chore lists.
“Frank, why is somebody with your last name sending me stuff from Santa Fe?”
Frank Yellowtail looked up from his coffee and scowled. “Probably because I told him not to.” The scowl deepened. “Joshua’s got a stubborn streak a mile wide. Thought the Army might fix that, but it didn’t.”
Her own jumbo mug o’ sanity suddenly seemed like a great idea. Handing over the package, she went back inside to pour herself one—and quiet Jupe and Juno, now whuffling anxiously through the screen door.
By the time she returned, Frank had the box unwrapped.
“Sorry,” he said, passing it back. “After the emails I’ve been getting from that kid these past couple of weeks, I wasn’t sure what he might have sent.”
He glanced past her at the Rotts. “And when those two started in—”
He didn’t need to finish. The early September twilight suddenly felt colder—in a way that had nothing to do with thermometers.
But everything to do with what Frank’s grandfather, a Crow “man of power,” had called frostbite: that sensation you got when the Outside touched your smug little reality, and you knew right away because you’d been there before. Or almost there, because folks who went all the way there didn’t come back.
“So who’s Joshua? And what’s he been telling you about this package?”
Frank didn’t answer immediately. Pulling tape from the box’s lid, Cassie lifted it off to reveal wadded newspaper with a couple of envelopes on top. A smaller box nestled inside.
And I’m not digging in until I get some answers.
“He’s my youngest brother’s boy,” Frank finally said. “Went to Afghanistan, went to Iraq, then figured he’d had enough. He’s been working security down in New Mexico for a few years now.”
Cassie kept waiting.
“Last fall, there was some serious rain around Bandelier. Afterwards, the park service found a small side canyon the flood waters had unblocked. There were caves dug into the canyon walls—”
“Cavates?” Cassie leaned forward. “Like an Anasazi site?”
Frank’s tone had changed, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to know why. Southwestern archaeology was a long-term fascination, but after Zia House—and a certain “Chacoan outlier”—two years ago, she’d learned to look beyond ancestral mysteries of kivas and cavates and petroglyphs. To recognize them as faint shadows of something other—
“So what’s this new site got to do with your nephew?” she asked at last.
“After the park service roped off that canyon entrance, they got the state university involved right away. Didn’t want the risk of looters—or lawsuits—if human remains turned up. The anthropology department got all excited and sent somebody out.”
Frank took a long pull on his coffee.
“The idea was to investigate quietly. Maybe there wasn’t anything to find. Maybe there was, but some local pueblo had to be consulted. Everything went fine over the winter: site approval got hustled through; grants got written. Come spring, the real work started, and then—”
“The media found out?”
“Something like that.” Frank hesitated. “Joshua thinks they were tipped off by someone at the site—at least, that’s what he was told when the university hired him. After the trouble started.”
Cassie frowned. “Pothunters?”
“Right away. Like they knew what they were looking for, or at least where to find it.”
Her frown deepened. Pothunters were archaeological vermin, and the rural Southwest made an ideal habitat. The region’s meth plague only added to the problem: artifacts became a handy source of cash for addicts, so long as they found a buyer who’d ask no questions.
Or, better yet, swap finds for drugs directly.
“Sounds like Joshua’s got himself a steady job for a while.” She looked down at the box in her lap, suddenly suspicious. “Want to tell me the rest?”
Frank picked up his coffee again. “Not really.”
The smaller of the two envelopes in the box held a letter addressed to her—a long one, with handwritten annotations in the margins of the printout. Cassie paged through it quickly. And set it aside even more quickly.
The second envelope was filled with newspaper clippings, photocopies, and a few photographs. Most of the clippings were from the Santa Fe New Mexican. A few came from the Albuquerque Journal. The photographs were digital images run on a home color printer.
All but one showed pots, most of them in situ and vaguely similar. They were large containers—canteen-style rather than flat seed jars—and looked to be a version of black-on-white. On some of the photos, the jars’ mouths had been circled with red felt-tip.
Cassie picked one up to examine closely. Then another, frowning.
Setting the photos aside, she dug out the smaller box. It was simple white cardboard, its lid taped down securely.
Jupe and Juno started whining before she even got the tape off.
The potsherd inside looked like a piece from one of the photographed pots: black-on-white, with fresh broken edges. What she could see of the dark clay itself told her nothing, but a grayish sticky tangle marred the sherd’s design.
She wrapped her fingers with a tissue before picking it up. A closer look revealed more of the not-quite-spiderwebbing.
Replacing the potsherd in its cotton, Cassie closed the box and dropped it back into the wadded newspapers. Both dogs quieted down. Gathering up the clippings, photographs, photocopies, and letter pages, she tipped them all back into their envelopes and took a deep breath.
“Anything else you don’t want to mention? Like why your nephew wants me involved?”
The old kitchen chair Frank sat on creaked ominously. “It’s all in the letter.”
Cassie sipped at her cooling coffee and waited, trying not to think about the one photograph that hadn’t been pots. It had been dated on the back (about two months ago) and showed crime tape around a patch of sparse grass and red soil. A sheet mostly covered a long lump inside.
“Joshua’s got a big mouth,” Frank finally said. “And his cousin down there’s got time on her hands lately. She told you about that, right?”
Julie Valdez was Frank’s favorite niece. She was also a dedicated anthropology grad student at the U. of New Mexico. This past spring, her Northern Tewa husband had finally made her choose between Taos Pueblo with him or “wasting her life” on Ph.D. work.
Last Cassie had heard, Julie’s wasted life was going just fine. Unfortunately, an earlier part of it involved that summer field school at Zia House—and some, though not all, of what had happened there. Although Julie’s research skills had proven invaluable since, Frank was never glad to see her get involved.
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