Searchers after horror, p.1

Searchers After Horror, page 1

 

Searchers After Horror
 



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Searchers After Horror


  Searchers After Horror

  New Tales of the Weird and Fantastic

  Edited by S.T. Joshi

  Illustrated by Rodger Gerberding

  Copyright © 2014 by Fedogan and Bremer Publishing LLC

  Fedogan and Bremer Publishing LLC

  3918 Chicago Street

  Nampa, ID 83686

  208-880-7690

  [email protected]

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the written prior permission of the author.

  ISBN: 9781878252548

  Table of Contents

  Introduction

  Iced In by Melani Tem

  At Home with Azathoth by John Shirley

  The Girl Between the Slats by Michael Aronovitz

  The Patter of Tiny Feet by Richard Gavin

  At Lorn Hall by Ramsey Campbell

  Blind Fish by Caitlin R. Kiernan

  An Element of Nightmare by W. H. Pugmire

  The Reeds by Gary Fry

  Crawldaddies by Steven Rasnic Tem

  Three Dreams of Ys by Jonathon Thomas

  Willie the Protector by Lois H. Gresh

  Miranda's Tree by Hannes Bok

  The Beautiful Fog Ascending by Simon Strantzas

  Exit Through the Gift Shop by Nick Mamatas

  Going to Ground by Darrell Schweitzer

  Dark Equinox by Ann K. Schwader

  Et in Arcadia Ego by Brian Stableford

  The Shadow of Heaven by Jason V Brock

  Flesh and Bones by Nancy Kilpatrick

  The Sculptures in the House by John D. Haefele

  Ice Fishing by Donald Tyson

  Notes on Contributors

  “Searchers after horror haunt strange, far places. For them are the catacombs of Ptolemais, and the carven mausolea of the nightmare countries. They climb to the moonlit towers of ruined Rhine castles, and falter down black cobwebbed steps beneath the scattered stones of forgotten cities in Asia. The haunted wood and the desolate mountain are their shrines, and they linger around the sinister monoliths on uninhabited islands. But the true epicure in the terrible, to whom a new thrill of unutterable ghastliness is the chief end and justification of existence, esteems most of all the ancient, lonely farmhouses of backwoods New England; for there the dark elements of strength, solitude, grotesqueness, and ignorance combine to form the perfection of the hideous.”

  —H. P. LOVECRAFT, “The Picture in the House”

  Introduction

  The motif of the “weird place” is as old as the genre of supernatural literature itself. The early Gothic novelists were fond of portraying the untamed forests of the Apennines or the Rhine valley as a suitably grim backdrop for their tales of supernatural or psychological horror. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein opens and closes with vivid vistas of the Antarctic. Edgar Allan Poe found weird landscapes chiefly out of his own imagination, as the imperishable first paragraph of “The Fall of the House of Usher” testifies. J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s tales of the remote Irish countryside; Ambrose Bierce’s chilling depictions of the loneliness of deserted mining towns in the American West; Arthur Machen’s unforgettable images of the “wild, domed hills” of his native Wales—all these are permanently fixed upon our memories.

  Algernon Blackwood may be the master of weird landscape. Whether it be the remoteness of eon-freighted Egypt, or the lofty heights of the Swiss Alps, or the seemingly placid but throbbingly vital vistas of his native England, each one of his landscapes embodies to the full the mystic pantheism at the core of his thought. H. P. Lovecraft, as the opening lines of “The Picture in the House” suggest, may have felt that New England was a uniquely suitable backdrop for literary weirdness, but he was far from being the first to vivify that ancient corner of America: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, Sarah Orne Jewett, and others had done so before him.

  The trend continues to the present day. The increasing urbanization of our society may be reflected in the nightmarish New York of T. E. D. Klein’s best work or the seedy Liverpool of Ramsey Campbell’s; but today’s weird writers find an unrestricted fund of weirdness in landscapes from around the world, augmented by the fervor of their own imaginations.

  In this book you will find an updated but still haunted New England in Nick Mamatas’s “Exit Through the Gift Shop”; a spectral Midwest drawing upon the work of both August Derleth and Clark Ashton Smith in John D. Haefele’s “The Sculptures in the House”; the horror both in the landscape and in the denizens of rural Virginia in Steve Rasnic Tem’s “Crawldaddies”; the remoteness of a Pennsylvania highway in Darrell Schweitzer’s “Going to Ground”; the strangeness of the Pacific Northwest in W. H. Pugmire’s “An Element of Nightmare”; and the remoteness of a barren Colorado in Ann K. Schwader’s “Dark Equinox.” British writers Ramsey Campbell and Gary Fry draw upon the ancient heritage of their native land in “At Lorn Hall” and “The Reeds,” and Canadians Donald Tyson (“Ice Fishing”), Richard Gavin (“The Patter of Tiny Feet”), and Simon Strantzas (“The Beautiful Fog Ascending”) do likewise.

  Less precise topographies are at the focus of Michael Aronovitz’s complex, nested narrative “The Girl Between the Slats” and Melanie Tem’s “Iced In,” but they are no less vivid for all that. Hannes Bok’s “Miranda’s Tree” evokes the pantheism of Blackwood in a tale probably written in the mid- 1950s but first published here. The ancient catacombs of Italy serve as the eerie setting for Nancy Kilpatrick’s pensive reflection on death and dying, “Flesh and Bones,” while Jonathan Thomas’s “Three Dreams of Ys” takes Brittany as the backdrop for a tale deftly fusing fantasy and weirdness. Brian Stableford (“Et in Arcadia Ego”) reaches back to ancient Greece, with its nymphs and satyrs, for a tale whose classical setting gives way insidiously to Lovecraftian horrors.

  Weirdness of landscape can be utilized in all genres of imaginative fiction, and John Shirley (“At Home with Azathoth”) and Lois H. Gresh (“Willie the Protector”) draw upon it in vivid tales that fuse horror with science fiction. The paleogean horrors in Caitlín R. Kiernan’s “Blind Fish” and Jason V Brock’s “The Shadow of Heaven” are rendered more pungent by crisply realized settings.

  Weirdness of landscape is only one component in all these tales, which simultaneously succeed in the careful etching of the complexities of human character as well as in the evocation of terror in a multiplicity of themes, motifs, and images. Each one of these authors is searching after horror out of the depths of their own imaginations, and their readers will find themselves inexorably becoming the denizens of bizarre realms of fantasy and terror beyond anything they could have envisioned.

  —S. T. JOSHI

  Iced In

  Melanie Tem

  There was no snow. Things looked bare, and no more dangerous than usual, until daylight or moonlight made them glimmer. Everybody called it black ice, but that was misleading. Kelly was used to being misled, but it wasn’t fair.

  In truth, the ice was transparent, at least translucent, with little or no color of its own, black only where it turned roads treacherous, tree limbs heavy and fragile, roofs into mirrors reflecting the sky’s slate light. You could see everything on that mouse she’d found frozen in it when she was little—open puppet-like eyes, tiny tail. Stupid mouse.

  Absence of snow made all this feel like her fault, as if the problem resulted from a character flaw—incompetence, ignorance, tendency to dramatize. Feeling guilty about everything all the time was solipsistic and self-indulgent and egocentric and dumb, and it wore her down, but she couldn’t seem to stop it. Maybe s
omething bad being her fault was better than it being random, and bad things happened all the time. Maybe culpability was better than helplessness—not much better, and she couldn’t have said why, but better.

  Kelly had lived all her life in this house in this town out here on the Kansas plains. This wasn’t her first ice storm. So pretty to a child taken care of, so smooth and so quiet. Man-sized tree branches frozen to the driveway like dead soldiers, but because you knew they weren’t dead soldiers you could play that they were. Binding the star-pattern quilt with Mom, which didn’t make the long iced-in days go any faster but did give them edges and design; she still used the quilt, in tatters now because she hadn’t kept up with the mending. “Sorry, Mom.”

  The icicles growing from her house as she watched, or when she wasn’t watching, reminded her of teeth, swords, needles. Just what they were should have been plenty: giant icicles among all those that hung from power lines, fences, trees, buildings, nearly every other surface and edge in the snowless countryside. Eyelashes, hair. Bones. Growing the way they did—by melting and dripping in cold sunshine as if they were done, as if they would disappear now, and then at the next first light visibly longer and thicker—was enough to deal with. Too much. She shouldn’t have to deal with so much.

  As night came on again now, the wind was picking up, snaps and crashes all night long that might be things falling on the house or parts of the house falling off or icy sinkholes opening underneath. She wouldn’t know till daylight, if then.

  Denny used to say this house would kill her someday. Of course, she took that personally; who wouldn’t? It had started as one of his jokes that weren’t really jokes but sneaky ways to criticize her and then accuse her of having no sense of humor and taking things personally when she got mad or just didn’t laugh. Later he’d insisted his sneer was a smile—” maybe a worried smile because I love you, maybe a little put out because you make things worse for yourself”—when her foot had gone through the back porch floor, cutting her ankle. The hole was still there, bigger now in the rotted wood, and her blood was probably still there, too.

  He’d said it when she’d fallen down the stairs trying to maneuver around all the stuff she kept meaning to move off them; that time the faux joke had been a faux cover for how mad he was at her. Since then the stairs had gotten even more obstructed, and the particular clothes, newspapers, shoes he’d been complaining about were now near the bottom. Kelly just didn’t go up to the second floor very often anymore.

  He’d said it again when he left. “You’re going to catch some disease in here, Kelly! You’ve got to clean it up. I’ll help. We’ll get somebody to help.” Then: “Clean it up or I’m outta here. Do something!”

  She hadn’t told him to leave. It had been his choice. He hadn’t needed to go out in that weather. But the thought of getting iced-in together, maybe without power for days, had sent her out onto the frigid and gusty back porch looking for things she could break up into kindling in case she had to build a fire in the middle of the living room, since the fireplace hadn’t worked in years, and him out into the grey frozen noon pointlessly proclaiming, as people always did, “It doesn’t look that bad.” Days later, when the roads were passable again, they’d found him along the ditch bank a little closer to his house than to hers, his truck a few yards behind him by then in danger of getting stuck in grey mud instead of sliding on black ice.

  For a long time, especially when the forecast called for winter rain and sleet, Kelly had imagined how twilight must have accentuated the flatness of the plains, the horizon line over which you could not see and so had to take on some kind of faith wasn’t the end of the world. He’d made a choice: take the risk of walking home rather than the risk of waiting in his immobilized truck when nobody was likely to pass by any time soon.

  “You must choose,” some philosopher had decreed. “We are condemned to freedom of choice, and that is what makes us truly human,” or something like that. Turned to ice on the side of an empty road in the middle of nowhere: that’s where making decisions got you. Being fully human was overrated.

  Now, wind sliced through thumb-wide cracks in the bedroom walls and swooped from under the door. That room had been impossible to get into for years anyway, bed and dresser and lamp and desk and computer and who knew what else heaped over with stuff she couldn’t decide what to do with, couldn’t decide what to call, junk or keepsake, useful or trash, so she’d just kept the door shut and tried to avoid the strip of cold that seeped into the rest of the house.

  Just today she’d noticed a crack growing down the north living room wall, icicle-shaped, and she wondered what would work its way in, from inside the wall or from outside. The foundation had been crumbling for a long time; you could see it plainly, so she’d just quit looking at it. Snow might sift in, but not now, because there was no snow.

  The poor old house was cold. It creaked and groaned around her in the thick absence of electrical sound. The power company made a big deal about how civic-minded they were to turn service back on during the coldest spells for people who couldn’t pay their bills, but that didn’t do much good when nobody had heat or lights. How civic-minded was it not to have equipment that could handle something as basic around here as ice storms?

  Being so cold made her feel sorry for herself, and with good reason. She seemed to have used up all the heat that was going to be produced by her father’s two stocking caps, a pair of lined wool earmuffs, three coats from various phases of her life including Denny’s brown one, layers of sweats, as many pairs of gloves and mittens as she could wear and still use her hands, as many pairs of socks as she could stuff into her boots. Even when she tried to be responsible and resourceful and prepared, she wasn’t very good at it. Mom and Dad had always been prepared, but they hadn’t passed that along to her. It wasn’t fair.

  She could crawl back into the mound of blankets, towels, clothes, curtains, pillows in the space she’d managed to clear to sleep in between the collapsed bookcase and the unopened boxes from the Shopping Channel from back when she’d been able to afford such things. But it couldn’t be good to spend so much time under there, ice storm or not, and her sleep was fitful anyway no matter what time of day or night, no matter the season or weather.

  Outside there was a boom, close by. Kelly took a few startled steps backward, stumbled over piles of books and slippery stacks of magazines, made herself edge along the narrow path she tried to keep open to the front door. Maybe the noise had just been a knock, stylized by the ice. Maybe it was somebody come to help her, or just to check on her and then leave again, or somebody come back to try again to love her even though she’d let them drift away when she hadn’t known if she loved them enough. Abe, Chet, Stefan, even Bradley in junior high, with all their possibilities that hadn’t quite held Kelly’s interest. Carole and Pam and, in a way, Robin, until the friendship had started to make Kelly feel trapped. Denny.

  It wouldn’t be any of them because Denny was dead and the rest of them had left her alone when she couldn’t make up her mind. Maybe it was somebody come to do her harm. But why would any of those people bother, and in an ice storm?

  The inside door stuck when she pulled at it but finally moved inward, letting in a wall of cold through the screens always up because she had nobody to switch them out for the storm-door inserts she hadn’t seen around here in years anyway. It seemed to her that a miniature icicle clung to every hole in the screen—the tiny, neat, rusted ones that were supposed to be there because that’s what made it a screen, the fist-sized jagged ones that showed how old it was and how badly maintained. She did the best she could.

  It seemed to her that a face was pressed against the screen, bracketed by splayed hands. Someone was out in the cold. She’d have to decide whether to shelter them.

  She was thinking about demanding, “Who are you?” when she realized it was debris—maybe a piece of black plastic, a soaked and then frozen c
ardboard box, a man’s empty coat or a woman’s or child’s—blown up against the screen and stuck there with ice. After the ice melted, it would be on the porch floor, and it wouldn’t look like a person anymore.

  Finally managing to get the inside door shut tight and locked again, she made her way back along the living room path. Crisscross patterns of ice came into the house with her, sliding off but staying solid, not turning into water right away. Things fell ahead of her and behind her; she stepped away from and over them. The house was noticeably colder than it had been before she’d foolishly opened it to the outside.

  She was hungry and thirsty, as if in anticipation of being famished and parched. The grocery store should be open, if they cared about their neighbors, but without mail delivery, meaning no food stamps or disability check, there was no money. She shouldn’t have wasted $5.87 on that ice cream and chips last week.

  Although stuff piled and hanging and collapsed would prevent her from feeling her way, she’d expected the familiar stench to lead her to the kitchen. But the standing water in the sink, clotted with garbage, must be frozen. At least it didn’t stink now, she heard no scratching in the walls, the dribbles and piles of droppings would be like dust and pebbles, and the many-legged lines and blobs on the counters and floor would have stopped moving.

  Making her way in the general direction of the kitchen, she tried to remember what food she still had. About half a loaf of bread, she thought, maybe not completely moldy. A couple of cans of tomato soup she could manage to eat cold, a mushy and browning banana or two, part of a cucumber, food-bank rice she had no way of cooking but maybe the hard grain would provide some emergency nutrition if she could get it down. Some very old snack packs of cheese and crackers somewhere around here.

  That wasn’t much. Somebody needed to help her. Why didn’t anybody want to help her? So much for Midwestern neighborliness.

 
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