Black wings of cthulhu v.., p.1
Black Wings of Cthulhu, Volume 3, page 1
Also Edited By S. T. Joshi
S. T. Joshi
Dimply Dolly Doofy
Donald R. Burleson
The Hag Stone
Underneath an Arkham Moon
Jessica Amanda Salmonson & W. H. Pugmire
Spiderwebs in the Dark
One Tree Hill (The World as Cataclysm)
Caitlín R. Kiernan
The Man with the Horn
Jason V Brock
Hotel del Lago
Mollie L. Burleson
The Megalith Plague
Down Black Staircases
Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.
The Turn of the Tide
Mark Howard Jones
About the Editor
Also Available from Titan Books
ALSO EDITED BY S. T. JOSHI:
Black Wings of Cthulhu
Black Wings of Cthulhu 2
Black Wings of Cthulhu 4 (March 2016)
The Madness of Cthulhu, Volume One
The Madness of Cthulhu, Volume Two (October 2015)
Black Wings of Cthulhu 3
Print edition ISBN: 978-1783295715
E-book edition ISBN: 978-1783295722
Published by Titan Books
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144 Southwark St, London SE1 0UP
First Titan Books edition: March 2015
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. 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 © 2014, 2015 by the individual contributors
Introduction Copyright © 2014, 2015 by S. T. Joshi
Cover Art Copyright © 2012, 2015 by Jason Van Hollander
With thanks to PS Publishing.
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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”
IF WE HAVE LEARNED ANYTHING IN RECENT YEARS, which have seen a tremendous outpouring of excellent neo-Lovecraftian fiction from a wide array of writers, it is that the Lovecraftian idiom is capable of almost infinite extension and adaptation. The core elements of Lovecraft’s fictional universe—the cosmic insignificance of all human life in the wake of the spatial and temporal boundlessness of the universe; a keen sense of the wonder and terror that lurks in obscure locales that the centuries have lashed with age; the suspicion that horrors from “outside” can easily be transmogrified into horrors that infest one’s own mind, body, and spirit; and, in general, a disturbing sense of parallel worlds that lurk around the corner, just out of sight—are inexhaustibly malleable and transmutable, so that they can serve as the foundation for tales that, on the surface, seem anything but Lovecraftian.
And so it is that this third volume of Black Wings features everything from Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.’s impressionistic prose-poem set in Kingsport (“Down Black Staircases”) to Don Webb’s half-comic tale of terrors in the dusty plains of Texas (“The Megalith Plague”). Topography, indeed, was a central concern of Lovecraft; and although we are given piquant flashes of Lovecraft’s own Providence in the tales of two contemporary Rhode Islanders, Jonathan Thomas’s “Houdini Fish” and Sam Gafford’s “Weltschmerz” (not to mention Brian Stableford’s “Further Beyond,” which reminds us that the early tale “From Beyond” is also set in Providence), we also see glimpses of the Southwest in Mollie L. Burleson’s potent vignette “Hotel del Lago” and roam as far as China in Peter Cannon’s “China Holiday.” Lovecraft’s own constellation of invented New England towns continues to inspire weird writers today, as witness Jessica Amanda Salmonson and W. H. Pugmire’s “Underneath an Arkham Moon,” which uses one of Lovecraft’s lesser-known tales, “The Unnamable,” as a springboard for a narrative whose sexual grotesquerie might have caused the Providence writer to faint right away.
It is, however, that unnerving sense of inscrutable worlds impinging on our own that frequently evokes the acme of terror in Lovecraft, and it is this motif that Donald Tyson has employed in vivid fashion in “Waller”—as, in a very different way, has Darrell Schweitzer in “Spiderwebs in the Dark.” Jason V Brock’s “The Man with the Horn” (which not coincidentally echoes, in its title, the great neo-Lovecraftian tale “Black Man with a Horn” by T. E. D. Klein) remarkably fuses cosmicism with psychological aberration in a manner that dimly recalls “The Shadow out of Time.” Another Lovecraftian motif, that of the ghoul, has been utilized in a number of impressive works of fiction in recent years, and Simon Strantzas adds his own distinctive variation on it in “Thistle’s Find.”
If there is one drawback to Lovecraft’s writing, it is perhaps in his general absence of characterization. Lovecraft justified this deficiency, after a fashion, by declaring in the early essay “The Defence Remains Open!” (1921): “I could not write about ‘ordinary people’ because I am not in the least interested in them… Man’s relations to man do not captivate my fancy. It is man’s relation to the cosmos—to the unknown—which alone arouses in me the spark of creative imagination.” As an exercise in making a virtue of necessity, this is undeniably clever; but today we expect weird fiction to shed light on the human condition as well as the condition of the infinite cosmos. It is the great triumph of neo-Lovecraftian fiction that it can fuse these two seemingly incompatible veins, as testified here from stories ranging from the brooding melancholy of Caitlín R. Kiernan’s “One Tree Hill (The World as Cataclysm)” to the domestic tragedy of Richard Gavin’s “The Hag Stone” to the emotional intensity of Mark Howard Jones’s “The Turn of the Tide” and Lois Gresh’s “Necrotic Cove” to the pungent cynicism (reminiscent perhaps of John Collier if not of the pioneering writer of satirical horror, Ambrose
It is safe to say that we have entered something of a golden age of neo-Lovecraftian writing. Gone are the stilted and mechanical pastiches that sought merely to drop the name of some new god or place into a story that is otherwise antipodal to the essence of Lovecraft’s vision; gone too are those unduly slavish imitations that seek merely to rewrite Lovecraft’s own narratives. What we see in the work of contemporary writers is a profound appreciation of the uniqueness of Lovecraft’s literary achievement melded with a desire to use that achievement as the springboard for strikingly original work that infuses Lovecraftian themes, imagery, and conceptions in tales whose vitality and distinctiveness are evident for all to see.
S. T. Joshi
Jonathan Thomas is a native of Providence, R.I., whose story collections include Stories from the Big Black House (Radio Void Press, 1992), Midnight Call and Other Stories (Hippocampus Press, 2008), and Tempting Providence and Other Stories (Hippocampus Press, 2010). Arcane Wisdom has published his novel, The Color Over Occam, and more recent short stories have appeared in Black Wings I and Black Wings II (both from PS Publishing), A Mountain Walked (Centipede Press), and Nameless (Cycatrix Press).
Catch me, find me, see me if you can I am the guilt of an honest man.
AS A RULE I WASHED UP BEFORE LUNCH, ESPECIALLY after handling the luminous machine parts. Departmental men’s room was all mine, aside from the mild funk of previous tenant. Something that swam in circles troubled the surface of pink liquid soap, about due for a refill. I pushed up on the nozzle of clear plastic dispenser. Into my cupped palm dropped a gob of fragrant goo and then a thrashing Houdini fish, of brighter pink than its medium.
It was the length of two knuckles and stick-figure thin, eel-like but for the flaring dorsal fin and tail that folded flat along slippery skin, virtually disappearing, to let it shimmy through the teeniest circumferences. Hence the allusion to Houdini.
Not so long ago, the discovery of a fish in liquid soap would have qualified as miraculous, but this was the third in two weeks for me. I acted humanely and unscrewed the dispenser’s metal cap and tipped critter back into its habitat, and made a mental note to ask the janitor to please add more soap. Some people would have rinsed squirmy varmints down the drain, but that was callous in my book. Whatever lived and breathed in soap was unlikely to survive in the same squalid conditions as a goldfish. The present specimen just needed an inch more wiggle room to be content, I reckoned.
And why not be nice to the implausible fauna? None of it, on anecdotal evidence, had attempted even trial nibble at human flesh in lavatories across campus. Its proper diet defied speculation, unless soap were food as well as home. The dispensers never used to deplete so soon, to that much I’d testify.
How vagrant exo-species had infiltrated them in the first place was no less mystifying. Custodians swore they poured nothing “foreign” from ponderous feeder jugs into de facto fishbowls, and 24/7 racing round and round never churned up rosy gunk till days after a refill.
A thousand associated questions went begging. But to me, this mere slip of a fish, steeped in a pint of soap and a Sargasso of riddles, was foremost incredible for the lack of inquiry it aroused. I couldn’t be alone among the faculty in wondering about its geographic range, or could I? The news media, university publications, myriad blogs, and the City of Providence website were uniformly mum on the subject of pink anomalies.
Today, moreover, was like any other in the refectory, where I overheard no mention of said anomalies while nudging my tray through stop-and-go lunch line or dining solo at underlit corner table. Not that people were in denial. The Houdini fish met with bland acceptance as if it had always been there, had maybe dropped off our radar awhile, but wasn’t worth fussing over just because it was back.
To the best of my knowledge, nobody debated whether biologic upstarts were the product of genetic tampering or a breach between this world and elsewhere. Outlandish theories, yes, but this was an outlandish animal. Nor had anyone, in earshot or in print, expressed surprise that these creatures rated such meager curiosity, which was as perturbing to me as the creatures themselves.
My own pet theory contended that the fish had always been here, and only our power to perceive them had changed, coupled with the mindset that since normal perception now included them, it was ergo normal to perceive them. In this, I had what we scientists call “parsimony” on my side, i.e., I was positing simply a shift in people, and not in people and nature and/or the laws of physics.
But what had triggered this no less outlandish reboot in our brains? I believed the answer was literally under my nose eight hours each workday, though I had nothing stronger than coincidence and gut instinct to support me. And embarrassingly, weeks went by before it dawned on me that Houdini fish had appeared right after I’d supervised the exhumation of glowing smithereens.
Going into that project, I hadn’t banked on raising more than potsherds, peach pits, and rusty nails, and I’d intended nothing more than teaching the rudiments of excavation to undergrads who’d never touched a trowel. The courtyards of the freshmen dorm complex West Quad were due for a reseeding, and the drainpipes under them needed replacement. With all that dirt slated for upheaval, what harm in letting Anthro 101 delve into it first?
The Quad had gone up in the 1950s at the expense of two historic blocks on Benevolent Street, between Benefit and Brown. With permission from University Hall and Buildings and Grounds, I had a week during spring semester to sink a trench and reclaim anything the Eisenhower-era bulldozers hadn’t pulverized, before modern backhoes wrought their own havoc.
According to the deed in university files, the kids had dug their shovels into the site of the former Crawford Tillinghast house, which a photo at the Historical Society depicted as a plain, snug domicile of bricks and black shutters, a product of the lull between Greek Revival and Victorian pretenses. It had huddled at the end of a narrow cobbled lane, behind a pair of Federal mansions that fronted the sidewalk. How sad that such venerable charm had bitten the dust for the sake of nondescript, hulking barracks, as it had all over College Hill. My wife would have told me yet again to get over it or go work for someone else, but she was too often out of town for Ivy League depredations to weigh on her.
From the tidbits I gleaned about Crawford Tillinghast, his relative seclusion within a crowded neighborhood must have suited him well. City Archives, the Office of Vital Statistics, and tax rolls portrayed him as an unmarried homebody, with servants for company and no conventional employment. Several volumes of the House Directory and Family Address Book list his occupation as “philosopher,” before he vanished from that and all other public annals after 1920. His was one of those founding families of Providence that had fanned out into every stratum of society, from statesman to hit man, and “old money” sustained his proverbial “shabby gentility.”
A modern kinsman characterized him as an “eccentric inventor” but, in keeping with fabled Yankee reticence, demurred from further comment on Crawford’s personality, as if another century’s black sheep were still a family embarrassment. During that phone interview, my request for access to a picture of Crawford was also handily rebuffed with the patrician drawl, “I’ve no idea where such a thing might be.” Dead air followed as I cast about for a seemlier topic. He also pleaded ignorance regarding the balance of Crawford’s life post-1920, and no paperwork or microfiche at City Hall or the Providence Journal enlightened me, as if the records were defective or had been expunged through familial clout.
After Crawford’s departure from the House Directory, his property stood derelict for decades till the Tillinghasts bequeathed it to the university, which apparently didn’t have to ask twice. In their correspondence to the Office of Gifts and Endowments, Crawford’s heirs professed an enthu
True to New England form, everything of value down to doorknobs and light bulbs had been stripped before the house changed hands. Or so I gathered during the dig down to Crawford’s cellar floor that unearthed little beyond the typical bottlecaps and hambones and shirt buttons. That little, however, was more confounding and compelling than a truckload of the usual detritus.
The shale foundation of the house had caved inward, back when heavy equipment had dumped and graded tons of fill, the blank canvas on which to create the Quad. On top of and among the fieldstones, and therefore previously entombed behind them, were brass and steel fragments of some custom-built machine, neither tarnished nor rusty. And plainly these remnants were all of a piece, based on weak but perturbing purplish glow from each least wringer and rivet divested of dirt. I sent someone to the Geology Department for the nearest Geiger counter, and it picked up nary a roentgen. The scraps moreover gave off no static charge or heat, though to judge by their hue, they might have been the remains of some economy-size violet-ray generator, still shedding wan residuum.
Those gizmos, basically elaborate joy buzzers, had captivated health faddists of a century ago, who bought into claims that tinted currents cured a range of ailments from cancer to frigidity. The fragments that my sophomores bagged and boxed and toted to the anthropology lab, though, were too numerous and miscellaneous to jibe with any online illustrations of patented snake-oil mechanisms. I imagined this debris would add up to some brainchild of the “eccentric inventor,” but hadn’t the foggiest why it had been hidden, and by whom.
Whenever I didn’t have classes to teach or office hours or other obligations of untenured faculty, I’d tinker with my fluorescent jigsaw of a device, premising I could divine what it did and why it glowed if I could reassemble enough of it. A hundred percent restoration was impossible because several baggies contained slivers of glass, sorted by color, of deficient quantity to guess their original shape and dimensions. Nonetheless, undeterred by lack of aptitude, I’d refit roughly ten percent of the coils and baffles and cogwheels in a couple of weeks.
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