Matt Cardin: Master of the Fantastic

The Fantastic is one of the most significant genres because it tells us the most about the inner life of the individual and about collectively held symbols. As it relates to our sensibility today, the supernatural element at the heart of these stories always appears freighted with meaning, like the revolt of the unconscious, the repressed, the forgotten, all that is distanced from our rational attention. In this we see the modern dimension of the fantastic, the reason for its triumphant resurgence in our times.

—Italo Calvino, Fantastic Tales

CaptureI just finished Matt Cardin’s new collection To Rouse Leviathan, and I must say it was thoroughly enjoyable in a dreadful way; by that I mean it filled me with that weird and eerie anxiety that I find is the supreme mood of the fantastic. Reading Cardin is like moving toward a visionary moment of clarity and then realizing that one’s eyes are askew: twisted and deformed our eyes are crossed between the inner vision of some vast infernal nightmare land of the impossible, and outward toward the enfolded nightmare of our actual world of loss and pain. Many feel that  yearning and longing for an end to the quest for an answer to life’s meaning; most end up like our current cultural malaise has in a valueless cesspool of non-meaning and nihilism. For Cardin what we’re missing is a spiritual vision, a vision that supports both imagination and the artistic impulse; such is the quest undertaken in every tale in these volumes, a movement toward some indefinable landscape of divine ecstasy or ecstatic horror; or the exposed fragments of some forgotten labyrinth of religious or spiritual dark enlightenment. An enlightenment into horror, where the daemonic splendor of existence which exists just outside the registers of our blinkered and rational visions leads us into a multidimensional realm of our darkest transports; a realm in which our joys and fears come alive and absorb us into that dream of the Outside where paradox, incongruity, and uncertainty unbound exist without end or justification.

If you love the mixture of the sublime and ridiculous that pushes the limits of both modes to their logical conclusions then you’ll love Matt Cardin’s omnibus of all his previous stories. He touches that dark space of our American psyche with its love/hate relations to the religious consciousness. Most of the stories are filled with various troubled misfits and rejects of a religious persuasion whose yearnings for some kind of mutant transformation or transfiguration lead them into the pit of hell or some strange and fantastic infernal paradise.

I was reminded of Thomas Ligotti’s macabre relishing of the grotesque sublime and yearning for ruins, sewers, corruption, and the dark pessimism of annihilation, cannibalism, and extreme surrealism in the mode of Bataille’s notions of the unreal and impossible. All I can say is that each story takes on new aspects of the old tropes of horror fiction and renews them with a refined sensibility and elegance that tempts one to realize Cardin knows the tradition inside/out, and yet is able to let it speak out without a heavy handed touch like so many of the last generations postmodern metafictionists did. This is a self-conscious horror that does not show its hand, but like a great street magician carefully directs your attention away from the center of the magic trick; a trick that allows the reader her own thrill in discovering sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph the elements of a metaphysics that does not hammer you into extinction, but like those old masters of the essay – think of Montaigne – weave both an intelligent story with an essayistic discretion to both entertain and instruct the reader in the dark truths being portrayed.

In the end Cardin’s tales do not so much answer those deepest yearnings of our disquieted souls as challenge us to enter into that strange compact that all authors and readers share: a compact that shifts us into our own creative and imaginative modes of being, awaken in us a psychic need and ontic poverty, leaving us with the dark aura of loss and light of nihil that encloses us in our own nightmare lands of fear and dread. Cardin’s tales lure and goad us onward toward our own transgressive visions and quests, force us to once again acquaint ourselves with the dark tremors just below the submerged threshold of our own fears. And, yet, like all great artists of the fantastic and weird Cardin’s tales leave us spent and vacuous: depleted, destitute and spiritually exhausted within the catastrophic aftermath of his visions forlornness.

His tales are never-ending portals to a sea of strangeness we all feel is submerged in the Real surrounding us on all sides. And if we just knew how to tap into it, gain access to it we would suddenly realize the thing we’ve been missing our whole lives; that impossible object we’ve been seeking to fill that empty place of imaginative need.  These are tales we will repeatedly return to again and again, seeking in them a more in depth connection to that something hiding in plain site, but just barely visible to our skewed vision; for what we all seek in such tales is an ineffable mystery,  a dark presage of all we are and could be if only we might open ourselves to the nightmare worlds we deserve.


You can find Matt Cardin on his blog Teeming Brain  and buy his new collection here!

Matthew M. Bartlett: The Stay-Awake Men – A Review

I feel like that skeptical American journalist, Jack Walser, backstage at the Alhambra Music Hall in Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus as I begin contemplating just what is going on. Reading the works of Matthew M. Bartlett is like entering a bloody chamber full of Dr. Hoffman’s desiring machines wondering if I’ll survive the night. I haven’t fallen into such a grotesquerie of myth, legend, and horror in years. It’s as if Lucien, Petronius, and Rabelais had wandered into 21st Century and unloaded all their Menippean charms and sigils of laughter and horror into the cracked brain of a New England cat lover.  As I read Gateways to Abomination and Creepy Waves all I could hear blaring out of my radio was the macabre ramblings of the Leech on steroids. It’s as if Matthew had unleashed a curse upon my poor music box as it screeched, hollered, fornicated, spouted strange fragments of some disjointed and incongruous tales of the back woods of those northern climes where Matthew’s agglomeration of misfits live in a world all their own. And, if that wasn’t enough I had to download his latest effort The Stay-Awake Men & Other Unstable Entities into my poor innocent (or, not so innocent?) brain. Dang! Why’d I do that for? Well let me tell you…

Let’s begin our journey with the Carnomancer, or the meat manager’s prerogative…

Right off the bat I meet some lumpy old fart of a front store manager named LaFogg dreamin’ about young flesh and his dead wife, KaraLee. An ugly s.o.b. in “his fifties, a mere half-inch taller than very short, with a protruding belly and a bald spot that stayed resolutely pink no matter the season: not exactly the kind of man the cashier would ever look at with anything other than indifference…”.1 A typical over-the-hill loser if you ask me, but who’s asking? As this guy is day-dreaming about a young lass who wouldn’t ever give him the time of day, much less a smile, we’re thrown into a maelstrom of darkness when the meat manager goes berserk in the back of the store. What LaFogg finds when he arrives at the scene of commotion is one crazed creature (the meat manager):

With both hands he was lustily prying the cellophane from a huge hunk of bottom-round roast. Scattered across the tan and white tiled floor were torn shards of Styrofoam, sheets of pink-stained padding, and bunched remnants of cellophane, bubbled pink with blood. (SAOUE)

Needless to say the cops soon hall him out, but not before he let’s LaFogg and anyone who will listen, know, that he is looking for something: “It’s in here somewhere,” he said. “It has to be in here somewhere.” (SAOUE) We’re never told just what it is he’s missing, but we do know that it’s something that’s not going to portend anything good.

I’ll admit every story in this book is like that, you are suddenly thrown a curve, not knowing just what’s going to happen next, but you know if you stay around long enough it’s not going to turn out for the best. It never does.

SPETTRINI – This is my favorite tale, and from what I understand it was made into a chapbook before it showed up here in this line up of horror. The things Matthew does to language is a downright pleasure. His ability to bring a character to life, along with the atmospheric strangeness of the landscapes is just plain eerie. In this tale we discover an old Mesmerist and Magician losing his grip on the trade, a man who as a child saw a poster of the great Spettrini:

Greyson had become interested in magic not because of having seen a performance nor perused a book, but because of a poster. In a glass display adjacent to the door of the Civic Hall, dramatically lit from below, the illustration depicted a long-limbed Spettrini on a field of purple, a gothic iron fence with intertwined skulls and snakes in the foreground and tilting and split gravestones behind him. He was dressed like a vampire, in a tuxedo with a black and red cape, his fingers bent, frozen in mid-gesticulation, his nails black and long. Between his hands a bat hovered upside down in streams of psychic energy, drawn by the artist as one might sketch a range of hillocks. One thin eyebrow was arched and his hair, black as an oil slick on a moonless night, was combed back and plastered flat to his cranium. His mustache was waxed and stuck out from the sides of his face like pipe cleaners. The very words on the poster seized Greyson’s imagination. Enchantments. Levitation. Necromancy. Resurrection. Its purpose was to advertise Spettrini’s upcoming performance…

The young boy becomes a young man and enters into an apprenticeship of sorts with this famed magician, and the tale spins out the dark contours of his mentorship, and leads him to seek out the darkest secrets of his mentors world…

FOLLOWING YOU HOME – In this tale we meet a young man named Merrill, a loner and beleaguered conversationalist, invited to the yearly Halloween Office Party at a private home where he gets into a confrontation with a more intellectual co-worker and decides to escape the party as quickly as possible. On his way home he confronts something that should not be…

NO ABIDING PLACE ON EARTH – In this tale a Father and Daughter are confronted by entities unknown described as “some kind of strange owl, plucked bare. Pallid, knobby breast; flimsy, webbed wings dangling from twig-like arms, it flew only with a great deal of exertion. …  Their heads resembled those of elderly men, wispy white hair, wizened, slack mouths curtained with pink, blistered dewlaps. One turned its hooded, sagging eye in his direction. Then the others did the same. They coughed and wheezed and began flapping their sad wings as if to launch. It sounded like the smacking of slackened cheeks when someone rapidly shakes his head back and forth.”

KUKLALAR – A tale of corporate malfeasance, when middle-management is replaced by wooden puppets of a very special type; and what tasks they assign, and the strange twists and turns of their short happy lives turned nightmare …

“The figure was made entirely of painted and lacquered wood, down to the brown business suit, white Arrow shirt, and red necktie. Its hair was painted brown with thin grooves carved in to simulate texture, parted on the right. Its chin was on its chest. It landed on its feet, knees bending slightly, and the spotlight swooped down to frame the scene. The Kuklala crouched like a ballerina, knees apart, head down, one wooden hand splayed on the carpet.”

THE STAY-AWAKE MEN – In this tale an old DJ is offered a position of a lifetime if he will only follow instructions, come to an interview in a shady part of town, watch a movie, and discover just what it means to give the performance of his disk jockey life…

THE BEGINNING OF THE WORLD – A sad tale of endings and beginnings, of fathers and daughters, of mutation, change, and apocalypses…

What one senses throughout these tales is not the macabre and grotesque details, nor the linguistic prowess of Matthew’s subtle and picaresque metaphors, hyperboles; and contradictions, incongruities, and deformations; rather it’s this all-pervading melancholy and sadness just under the surface of all that gritty glitz. Each of the main characters in these tales suffers a dark apprehension of reality in ways that not only break them but awaken in them a sense of that fatal accord that warps and corrupts us all. Underlying this collection is a sense of the utter futility of things; and, yet, it’s more than that: there is a sense that even in a dilapidated and ruinous universe of decay and entropy a person can discover in the underworld’s of a dark grotesquerie an enchantment and alluring magic; a secret power within things that both fascinates and repulses: an amazing portal into the unknown that surrounds us and permeates every cell in our body. To be lured in by these tales is to fall victim not to the malevolent heart of horror, but to experience the ecstatic madness we all crave but are want to acknowledge.


Visit Matthew M. Bartlett at his site: http://www.matthewmbartlett.com/
And, by all means, pick up his works: here!
Especially his latest work: The Stay-Awake Men & Other Unstable Entities


  1. Bartlett, Matthew M.. The Stay-Awake Men & Other Unstable Entities. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (June 16, 2018) SAOUE

 

Vastarien – A Literary Journal

cover-vol2-issue2_web

My essay Thomas Ligotti: The Radiant Abyss is featured in the latest Vastarien – A Literary Journal Volume 2 Issue 2 Summer edition: here! Get your copy today!

It also has many other contemporary horror writers, essayists, and artists:

Clematis, White and Purple
D. P. Watt

like crickets
Robin Gow

not other’s tongues
Robin Gow

types of knife blades:
Robin Gow

The Stringer of Wiltsburg Farm
Eden Royce

The Pelt
Christi Nogle

Silences
Lucy A. Snyder

Visions of the Gothic Body in Thomas Ligotti’s Short Stories
Deborah Bridle

Eyestalk
C. M. Crockford

Daddy’s Departure
Danielle Hark

The Sprite House
Trent Kollodge

Sirens in the Night
Paul L. Bates

Thomas Ligotti: The Abyss of Radiance
S. C. Hickman

The Milk Man
Alana I. Capria

Trans Woman Gutted
Valin Paige

What Found Nevaeh
Donyae Coles

art by Giuseppe Balestra, Tatiana Garmendia, and Danielle Hark (including cover art)

 

Michael Wehunt: A Review of Greener Pastures

There’s something sad and melancholy in these stories, a slow burn from the deep loam of rich Georgian earth, a cast of blue shadows from the Appalachian Blue Ridge’s hovering round the edges of the Northern childhood dreams of Michael Wehunt’s early night haunts. These are stories of loss and grief, of worlds situated in-between heaven and hell if one still believed in such things. There’s something old in Michael’s soul, something both peculiar and uncanny. It’s as if the deep black earth of his homelands were speaking through him, singing there way out of those dark guttural sounds of some ancient music. A sense of loneliness and gray shadows, twilights and imponderable winds in the pines. Silences and long open stretches of highways, spaces of regret and pity for an American that has slowly decayed into ruins. People who seem to haunt landscapes that sink into the hidden spaces around us, only opening up their dark tombs when the sun and moon orient themselves to the sad tunes of some solitary traveler whose inner sense of doom matches that of the darkest ponds and rivers. This is a world lost to time where one can hear the old world and new seeping into each other with strange tales of horror that grasp you like an old comforter full of feathers falling from an unknown dimension of heartache.

Whether it’s the bond of sisters in the depths of a dark cave, their blood marriage of minds shadowing the mutant madness of a town’s poverty and derangements, and their quest for the eternal blood of salvation and eternal life in a pool of death; or the honeyed laughter of first love, of a mother’s insect dreams, the rituals of old Europe springing up in the new world like the humming of bees in a summer’s cavalcade; or a lonely trucker caught in a realm just in-between nothing and nothing, listening to the dreams of an old man’s haunted life; else the music of angels or swans, low and distant, sifting a widower’s life between two loves – a desperate attempt to recapture the circle of youth in a strange metamorphic shift among untimely memories and feathers; or and old Jazz-man telling a story to a young girl facing down her dark thoughts, and he on about a blue devil of rhythms and blues and harmonies of greatness, leavings of last memories before leave-taking for parts unknown; and, then a haunted docudrama – four friends plundering the backwoods of New Hampshire, shooting paranoid footage of a haunted landscape of doom and ghosts and nightmares come alive;  else  a flight of women or angels falling into time and a puddle of trailers in a patchwork world of sin and mad preachers, seen through a young boy’s innocence: a world of bittersweet truths about a rag-tagged bunch of fools and liars and clowns;  and, more tales that sweep you down a world of pain and nostalgia, dark truth forged in twilight worlds and landscapes of visible hell that could be your own back yard or town…

Michael’s tales have that natural appeal of a deeply felt lived life of a man who sees into things. His tales have the seduction of folk lore and strange days, of the voice of story rising out of the black loam of a hidden America that is riddled with the lost souls,  misfits, eccentrics, and broken keepers of our darkening and decaying country of forgotten dreams and terrible secrets. And, yet, there is deep and abiding love and emotion in his utterance of our worst nightmares, a desperate quest for transformation and change, and an openness to the unknown wonders of a frail universe that does not frighten so much as seduce us to enter its dark harmonies. Then there’s the grief of the inconsolable that follows one’s days like a dead woman who will not go away but haunts one’s flesh like the “slow drip of living” in a world in which the “nights black and the days flat and you can hardly care”.

These are tales of fatalist acceptance and the inevitable dammed, awaiting neither judgment day nor some dark Jesus to carry them away into the cold black night haunts of the desperate void, but rather a singular country boy’s early and late dreams of that bleak cosmos where humans meet the mystery that awaits us all in the great indifference that is. And, yet, even in the blackest abysses of time and space there is something that keeps his characters going, something that makes them quest after some indefinable answer, a yearning for more life even in the midst of destruction and consumation; a need to continue in inexistence where the “harbinger with green grace, of yellow mouths opening somewhere now closer above…” resides this side of the tormented lands. A sense of those mysteries that surround us on all sides, the secret rendezvous with darkness and stars and the emptiness in-between, where in the silences of the empty sky full of black music of endless night something lures us onward and outward toward the inexplicable.


Author Bio:

Michael Wehunt grew up in North Georgia, close enough to the Appalachians to feel them but not quite easily see them. There were woods, and woodsmoke, and warmth. He did not make it far when he left, falling sixty miles south to the lost city of Atlanta, where there are fewer woods but still many trees. He lives with his partner and his dog and too many books, among which Robert Aickman fidgets next to Flannery O’Connor on his favorite bookshelf.

His fiction has appeared in various places, such as The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, The Year’s Best Weird Fiction, and The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu. This is his first collection.


Visit Michael Wehunt as his site: https://michaelwehunt.com/
Buy Greener Pastures from links at Apex Publishers

“Modern † Gothic”: Farah Rose Smith’s Anonyma

I’m reading Farah Rose Smith’s Anonyma which is deliciously decadent, modern, and gothic; a work that situates itself in the tradition of the dark fantastic. I’ve barely scratched the surface of this short novella but am already impressed by its ability to hint at mysteries and undertones just off-stage waiting to erupt from the darkness. In it we are introduced to a young successful architect, Nicholas Georg Bezalel, whose art and life are fused in a sensibility of what he’ll term “Modern † Gothic”:

“Modern † Gothic starts with a feeling,” Bezalel says. “To describe those initial emotions with words would make no sense logically, in the grand scheme of allowing you in on the process. The act of creation, of production, of endurance. These are all my secrets, you see. What I can say is that the style has permanence. It is art, but more importantly, Modern † Gothic is a way of life.”1

In the opening scene an interview with unknown parties is taking place in which the various aspects of his past and present commingle revealing both the source and transgressive splendor of his ongoing project, Noctuary. The name “Noctuary” already aligned my thought to Thomas Ligotti whose own collection of weird tales would encompass a discourse on blackness and the aesthetics of shadow, goth, and the weird:

“No one needs to be told about what is weird. It is something that becomes known in the early stages of every life. With the very first nightmare or a childhood bout of fever, an initiation takes place into a universal, and at the same time very secret society. Membership in this society is renewed by a lifelong series of encounters with the weird, which may assume a variety of forms and wear many faces. Some of these forms and faces are private to a certain person, while others are recognized by practically everybody, whether or not they will admit it. But they are always there, waiting to be recalled in those special moments that are all its own.”2

What we discover in Farah’s novella is the mystery of architecture itself, a dreamscape of unreality that exposes a ritualized inscape into unfathomable chambers of a bleak cosmos. Bezalel himself is reticent about both his ongoing project and of a recent exhibit that we are lead to believe shocked both critics and public alike, a scandalous affair that brought the shrill critical gaze of certain extreme feminist enclaves to bare on his life and art. As he comments:

“There is a point at which one must separate the art and the artist. There is an intrinsic link, of course. But there is less of me in those images than there is of what I was trying to evoke. They misunderstand me” When asked about the process of creating the infamous images, he becomes brusk. “Let us move on.”

Like many eccentric and decadent artists Bezalel seems both piqued and tormented by the public and critics reception of his work and yet nonplussed he seems unsure of himself and is quiet and reserve about those who do not understand his dark vision. As he’ll suggest his conceptual relations with architecture began as a child in a dream; that, in fact, the very project he is working on now began as a dream. Of Noctuary itself he says: “I saw the building itself in a childhood dream, not long before the death of my parents.” A sense of darkness, death, and the symbolic relations between the two and this dream castle have drawn him toward his self-described combination of the “Modern † Gothic” described already. Yet, like many artists his work would not have been possible without an apprenticeship with a certain mentor.

Adopted at a young age he was raised by a Banker family in Berlin, a typical bourgeois nexus of money, wealth, and extravagance. A mother given to melancholy, which he presumes is due to the Father’s incessant pretensions to playboy of the western world affectations. Bezalel himself seems to have had the run of the house, and spent most of his young life reading and getting acquainted with classics in the well-stocked family Library. After the death of his adopted family he moves to New York, studies architecture because of the connection to his childhood dream, but is unimpressed by the current regard of such moderns as Frank Loyd Wright. After graduation he is tempted to join two different firms but decides instead to return to Germany to reacquaint himself with his roots.

It is in Germany that he discovers a life-long passion for the the idol-mentor, G.E. G.E. Von Aurovitch. Describing his current project as “dripping with the lifeblood (or deathblood) of Von Aurovitch”. He describes the artistic vision behind it, which is a mixture of Decadence and Symbolist motifs, he tells the interviewers:

Aurovitch. Here, in architecture, in interior design, in natural installations, in fashion, either directly or indirectly, I was able to mold and maneuver with a specific energy that, in a way, bridged the gap between the Decadent and the Symbolic by getting to the philosophical nerve of coexisting opposites, and honored those I drew from. But I still think it isn’t representative of any one movement from the past. It is, quite simply, Modern † Gothic. It is its own movement, its own improvement, its own reality.”

After several successful installations he moved back to New York where he met his current fiance, supermodel Coreya Witciewicz. She works with him in the Noctuary, and appears to be both his assistant and curator of affairs. So far in the story we have not heard much else about her or her life with the architect, and I’ll not reveal much more of the tale.

We understand his immediate project is an adaptation of “Von Aurovitch’s obscure fantasy play, The Curse of Ariette, which will be performed in The Noctuary’s own underground theatre, Antangelus”. Telling the interviewers that for him – “Every project is a vanity project.” – we’re told by them that the architectural wonder they are in “doesn’t seem to fit into that category upon first observation, but with a careful look into Bezalel’s literary tastes, one can begin to put together a theory which suggests that he is bringing the objects of fantasy worlds– worlds of his own, and others– into reality.”

This whole opening scene sets the stage for the actual tale to come, it’s as if Farah was writing an essay much in the tradition of Borges of an imaginary artist for the sheer pleasure of revealing the background and details of a new aesthetic art and lifestyle. One thinks back to the work that spawned the Decadent and Symbolist movements Joris-Karl Huysmans, A Rebours (Against Nature), which more than a narrative was a series of lengthy essays on the various aspects of the decadent worldview. Much the same we are given in this opening chapter the sense and sensibility of the worldview of the “Modern † Gothic”. As we discover at the end of the chapter this new worldview is connected to the traumas of Bezalel’s childhood:

“The observation most people make about Modern † Gothic is that it has led them to find a balance between cognitive richness and materialistic extravagance. Bezalel acknowledges how the traumas of his youth led him to a new and comprehensive philosophy that nurtured this concept. “The instability, the darkness was unpleasant, but the only constant in my life. In it I began to find comfort, familiarity. The inverse of the uncanny. I wanted other people to understand that they could make peace with their demons. Find solace in the unfamiliar. Work with the darkness.””

What awaits us as the architectural wonder of Noctuary is completed, and the dark enactments within its theater of cruelty unleashes its strange powers of darkness is left to the reader to find out, all I’ve done is tempt you to enter the dark chambers of Farah Rose Smith’s Anonyma to find out.

You can discover Farah’s work on Lulu.com
Meet her on FB – here!


  1. Smith, Farah Rose. Anonyma. Lulu.com; First Edition edition (November 30, 2018)
  2. Ligotti, Thomas. Noctuary. Il Saggiatore (October 12, 2017)

The Road to the Unreal

…each night, as he dreamed, he carried out shapeless expeditions into its fantastic topography. To all appearances it seemed he had discovered the summit or abyss of the unreal, that paradise of exhaustion, confusion, and debris where reality ends and where one may dwell among its ruins.

—Thomas Ligotti, Vastarien

The echoes of thought from one work to another is a twisted tangle of chaos, a forest of nettles and puzzles, a labyrinth of false paths and wrong turns; and, yet, it does happen from time to time, that a brave quester, a journeyer into the obscure zones of horror will occasionally pass through the barriers between the real and unreal, enter into those nether regions of the unknown where the unmanifest mysteries of a darker and more uncertain topography of the fantastic is revealed and transmitted. Echoed in the secret chambers of hearts and minds like so many leaves swirling in the autumn wind.

There are those who have left signs, fragmentary visions, sorceries of hallucinatory voyages or strange adventures: lunatics and madmen, savants and dark prophets, oracles and sirens; decadent visionaries full of lurid tales of the unknown. Those who have been torn and wounded by the indifference of the natural and unnatural forces of these ruinous and unfathomable realms have on occasion returned to relay their dark wisdom. Especially those of the minor canon of pessimistic authors who have never been widely circulated in mainstream culture, those who have opened portals and doorways into these dark and tantalizing regions of the ancient occulture and obscura, seen  hidden arcana of the unholy that breaks the weak souled brethren but gives back to those who persevere unbidden truths.

The Well of Wyrd, where memory, pain, and torment commingle and the tales left by these voyagers surfaces from the depths of the haunted labyrinths we learn of their failures and successes. Generations of women and men seeking by untraditional means avenues into those nether regions of psychogeography where the unknown allures and seduces us toward the strange and puzzling mysteries and obscure sites of imaginative need and poverty begin to topple our consensually accepted reality and reveal to us something else; something ever about to be. These questers after the mind’s dark haunts bring back to us amazing fragments and tales of the infernal paradises of the Unreal that so many have craved, sought after, and quested in pursuit of like unholy seekers of a luminous sect of grail knights of horror and beauty. Some have like Browning’s questor to the ‘Dark Tower’ prepared themselves their whole lives for a glimpse of the impossible kingdoms of darkness and terror, and here and there a few have brought back out of those bleak realms the ruinous beauty of their short tales of the weird, fantastic, and strange; captivating us with glimpses, however blurred and twisted, of those sinister and yet fascinating realms of the Unreal.

The Daemonic Quest

The essential claim of the sublime is that man can, in feeling and in speech, transcend the human. What, if anything, lies beyond the human— God or the gods, the daemon or Nature— is matter for great disagreement. What, if anything, defines the range of the human is scarcely less sure.

—Thomas Weiskel, The Romantic Sublime

Reading Thomas Ligotti’s tales of horror over the past twenty years I’ve felt that pull of the “daemonic imagination” toward some indefinable darkness and enlightenment, a zone of horror and ecstasy hovering in the interstices of the world like flowers of corruption waiting to bloom. For Ligotti as a Master of horror did not seek some Platonic realm transcending time and space where the eternal forms (Ideas) dwell that guide and shape our lives; no, in his quest toward an “enlightenment in darkness” (one he admits he never attained) he sought what I’ll term the daemonic path: a formless path of unrest, driven by the elemental forces at play within the infernal garden of our catastrophic cosmos.  As Stefan Zweig in his study of the daemon in the works of Hölderlin, Kleist, and Nietzsche suggests:

It seems as if nature had implanted into every mind an inalienable part of the primordial chaos, and as if this part were interminably striving — with tense passion — to rejoin the superhuman, suprasensual medium whence it derives. The daemon is the incorporation of that tormenting leaven which impels our being (otherwise quiet and almost inert) towards danger, immoderation, ecstasy, renunciation, and even self-destruction.1

Unlike the ancient sublime of transcendence that sought to move beyond our cosmos into some eternal realm of light as in Dante’s journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise toward a beatific vision, Ligotti’s nightmare quest and visionary tales led him to toward the malevolent powers of darkness of the daemonic abyss. Following Edgar Allen Poe and Howard Phillips Lovecraft, seduced and lured as they were by the impersonal and indifferent cosmos of elemental malevolence, Ligotti would be driven toward a secular rather than religious theophany; one – unlike those sweet visions of God’s majesty with their soteriological visions of redemption and salvation, would lead Ligotti to fall forward, restlessly swerving  into the dark labyrinths of an impenetrable chasm and cosmic abyss of torment and suffering, moving endlessly through the doom-ridden layers of time and space where an unknown and unknowable malevolent presence pervades every singular atom within the ruins of reality.

“These dark sounds are the mystery, the roots thrusting into the fertile loam known to all of us, ignored by all of us, but from which we get what is real in art. . . .”
– Frederico Garcia Lorca

It was the poet, Frederico Garcia Lorca, in reference to the duende – the dark muse of song—daemon, hobgoblin, mischief maker, guardian of “the mystery, the roots fastened in the mire that we all know and all ignore.” Unlike the Muse or Angel, which exist beyond or above the poet, the duende sleeps deep within the poet, and asks to be awakened and wrestled, often at great cost. He would speak of that unfailing instinct that opens within one like a black orchid, or breaks through the mind with those dark sounds that wound. The duende is the dark angel of the blood and emotion, the driving force of that creative action that sings in the throat black sounds: “…the duende has to be roused in the very cells of the blood. … The real struggle is with the duende…. To help us seek the duende there is neither map nor discipline. All one knows is that it burns the blood like powdered glass”.2

This sense of duende is at the heart of most great music and poetry, as is it is of those transformative moments within the genre of horror. It is root and cause of that which stirs below the threshold of consciousness, gathering its sublime forces, generating the dread and terror that reveal to us the darkest truths of our suffering and pain. The nihilistic light that formed us from the beginning breaks over our vein egoistic selves shattering the vessels of our own ignorance sending us into a tailspin of doubt and panic from which there is no escape. As the poet Leopardi would sing of the dark malevolence below the threshold, the duende:

King of the real, creator of the world,
hidden malevolence, supreme power and supreme intelligence,
eternal giver of pain and arbiter of movement…
– Leopardi, Canti

William Blake once described the struggle with and against the daemon, the duende as the struggle with the Female Will, the matrix of night, death, the mother, and the sea.

 


  1. Zweig, Stefan. The Struggle with the Daemon: Hölderlin, Kleist, Nietzsche (pp. 11-12). Pushkin Press (July 24, 2012)
  2. Lorca, Federico García(1898-1937) In Search of Duende. New Directions; Second edition (March 30, 2010)

 

*Working on this as a prelude to my book on Thomas Ligotti… will add more as it comes, and will link it from my outline page: here.

One Imagines a Darker Journey…

Quite frankly, it seemed as if each one of us stretched his entire imagination to persuade himself of terrible, irreplaceable losses…

—Hermann Hesse, The Journey to the East

Decided today to reread Herman Hesse’s The Journey to the East. Hesse’s work is part of that idealist Jungianism that seemed to pervade post-WWI literature. Some of the literature would wreak of violence and nihilism, others of the influx of Dada, Surrealism and the fascination with the decadent strains in our literature and heritage. Hesse had tinges of all these aspects woven in with the Romantic traditions… the fascination with the literature of India and its ancient religious worlds.

Sometimes I want to rewrite Hesse’s The Journey to the East with Thomas Ligotti’s lens… a movement into the nightmare regions of the infernal paradise that throughout his tales he offers us fragments and liminal windows onto… yet, for me it would not be of the East as in Hesse, but as in Ligotti’s darker sense of a realm of aesthetic beauty in horror, corruption, and ruin; a blasted cosmos of frightful extravagance and liminal edges of unending terror and rapture…

Here is Hesse’s opening paragraph:

“It was my destiny to join in a great experience. Having had the good fortune to belong to the League, I was permitted to be a participant in a unique journey. What wonder it had at the time! How radiant and comet-like it seemed, and how quickly it has been forgotten and allowed to fall into disrespute. For this reason, I have decided to attempt a short description of this fabulous journey, a journey the like of which had not been attempted since the days of Hugo and mad Roland. Ours have been remarkable times, this period since the World War, troubled and confused, yet, despite this, fertile. I do not think that I am under any illusion about the difficulties of my attempt; they are very great and are not only of a subjective nature, although these alone would be considerable. For not only do I no longer possess the tokens, mementos, documents and diaries relating to the journey, but in the difficult years of misfortune, sickness and deep affliction which have elapsed since then, a large number of my recollections have also vanished. As a result of the buffets of Fate and because of the continual discouragement, my memory as well as my confidence in these earlier vivid recollections have become impaired. But apart from these purely personal notes, I am handicapped because of my former vow to the League; for although this vow permits unrestricted communication of my personal experiences, it forbids any disclosures about the League itself. And even though the League seems to have had no visible existence for a long time and I have not seen any of its members again, no allurement or threat in the world would induce me to break my vow. On the contrary, if today or tomorrow I had to appear before a court-martial and was given the option of dying or divulging the secret of the League, I would joyously seal my vow to the League with death.”


  1. Hermann Hesse. The Journey to the East (Kindle Locations 12-24). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition

A Tale of Chicken and Horror; or, How I Became a Weird Writer

Jim Stark: I don’t know what to do anymore. Except maybe die.

—James Dean, Rebel Without a Cause

Maybe my fascination with the fantastic, weird, and horrible began on a dark night in 1954 when my family was coming home from a weekend in Lubbock, TX. Of course I was too young to remember what was happening (unless my body itself carries the trauma in some deep place of the subliminal physical systems). I was only informed of it years after…

At that time there was a strange game of life and death that foolish young teenagers seemed to relish… a movie was made of this later on – Rebel Without A Cause, starring James Dean. The game was Chicken… yet, unlike the movie my family was suddenly thrust into a real life situation of three young punks who’d decided to run their truck head-on into a random car on a road just outside Andrews, TX – a road in which it would be next to impossible to turn off into the fields because of deep ravines, and / or cross the median because of trees planted by the Texas Highway Department.

Needless to say my father tried his best to swerve and miss the truck barreling into our old Chevy sedan. It didn’t work, and our car was demolished, my Mom suffered a broken neck and legs crushed, my Sis almost died suffocating under the back seat as it flipped up and tumbled over her (she was a baby), and I was thrown across the back seat in a swirl of tumbling glass and metal breaking my arms, legs, and pelvis unable to walk for years. My Dad luckily did not go unconscious, and with his ribs crushed by the steering wheel, and his head damaged severely by rocketing through the front windshield he pulled us all out of the vehicle before it blew up after the engine started a fire and the gas finally burst… then he waited for help. Once it came he passed out… We all woke in the hospital and would remain there for months.

The three punks has used an old mattress and were unharmed… I want go into the bitter details afterword… and the years of recovery. Only that this traumatic even would haunt me as I grew up… one of my legs is shorter than the other because of it so that I’ve had spinal issues and other problems that relate even now to many of my problems in old age… but, hey, it’s life and not a dam thing you can do about it but learn to laugh…

Yet, it was this unlikely event that made me question later on about fate and determinism,  chance and necessity, coincidence and synchronicity, along with all the other strange reasons why it was my family suddenly plunged into this horror in a singular strange moment right out of the twilight zone of weirdness… maybe my whole philosophical outlook on life was generated in that moment. Who knows? All I know it was from the moment I became fully aware of this event I realized the world is not what it seems… and is much more sinister than most of us would like to believe.

I’ve often wondered at what point did we enter an alternate world, a different time-line, a realm of some strange and nefarious weirdness that left us marooned in a place that was not our place, a world that was not our world. I still don’t know, and yet something in me does.

My Essay on Thomas Ligotti coming in July in Vastarien: The Literary Journal

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My essay Thomas Ligotti: The Abyss of Radiance will appear in the award winning Vastarien: The Literary Journal in the Summer issue this July!

Visit their site to learn more: https://vastarien-journal.com/

“Vastarien: A Literary Journal was conceived five years ago by a handful of people who wanted to see more writing about and in response to the work of writer/thinker Thomas Ligotti. Since then, our publication has been bombarded with stellar, but unusual, work by authors and artists—many of whom are underrepresented and/or newer voices. Without them and the incredible support Vastarien continues to receive from its devoted readers, this singular journal never would have come to fruition. Thanks so much to all of you and the staff of This Is Horror for this wonderful award!”
—Jon Padgett, Editor-in-Chief of Vastarien: A Literary Journal
THIS IS HORROR FICTION MAGAZINE OF THE YEAR

 

A Rare Find: Weird Tale Author – Hans Henny Jahnn

Oh, a rare find…

Hans Henny Jahnn a highly controversial writer from Germany, especially because of his drastically cross-border literary depictions of sexuality and violence. According to the social history of German literature (1981), he is one of the “great productive outsiders of the [20th] century”.

I am reading David Peak’s The Spectacle of the Void which offers his reading of horror from a philosophical perspective using current trends such as Speculative Realism and other forms. I want go into that here. He describes a tale by German author Hans Henny Jahnn. Luckily found a couple of his works translated in English: The Living Are Few, The Dead Are Many – Three shorter stories, “Kebad Kenya”, “Sassanad King”, and “A Master Selects his Servant”; and the novella “The Night of Lead”. Peak describes his novella The Night of Lead as a “work singularly obsessed with the overlap of death and sexuality, eroticism and decay…”, a man who has learned to embrace the horror reality, by merging with existence in the present, by accepting being with no past and no future, suspended in the void, he has performed a true act of katabasis. (Peak, 76)

I think what piqued my interest is his anti-natalist and being one of the first to offer an attack on the anthropocentric world view. His thought seems in many ways close to Thomas Ligotti which I’ll need to pursue once I get ahold of these works. His greatest work is a three-volume trilogy Rivers without Borders, but has yet to be translated… seems to be a sadomasochistic recursion to as the wiki entry has it,

Jahnn seems to have been close to the Gnostic mythos viewing humans as a “catastrophe-creation,” an error that should be quickly stamped out. Ulrich Greiner describes the structural features of his literary work in 1994 in TIME for the author’s 100th birthday under the ironically meant heading The Seven Deadly Sins of Hans Henny Jahnn:

It is based on a “reduction of man” on the biological. Jahnn sees man as part of nature, which is not above the animal, but rather how this pain feels. For Jahnn, life is a “universal and permanent pain” that animals endure,” while man inflicts pain in a planned and prudent manner: himself and his like, the animals and the whole of nature. Slaughterhouse and war are the two sides of an incomprehensible will to destroy life.” For Greiner, Jahnn’s work is a “protest against the anthropocentric world view”.

Determining “for the whole Jahnn’s work is the central idea of an anti-Christian creation mythology”, which is influenced by the Old Babylonian Gilgamesh epic and “ontogenetically regarded as pre-Oedipal,” according to the social history of the German Literature (1981). A “strictly anti-civilizational position” manifests itself in it by means of the following motif complexes: anarchic, nature-religious myths (versus Christian tradition), ancient Egyptian death mythologies (versus German tradition of Hellenism), “elementary attachment of man to his carnality, in which drive, sacramentality and barbarism are fused” (versus humanistic human image), archaic-timeless landscapes in which man, animal and nature live in unresolved unity (versus bourgeois Enlightenment-based, progress-oriented civilization).

A customer on Amazon states” it is rather easy to compare a variety of authors to Kafka. Queasy interior spaces, discussions whose meanings explode through failed communication, a constant uprooting of linear movement. This is why we pull so many books from the shelves, old and new, to see Prague’s weaver of strange fables as a point of reference. Descending from K, we then find authors such as Blanchot and Bataille, who show this influence but swim into modes even murkier and more transgressive. With Blanchot, I refer not simply to more popular works like Death Sentence, but also the shorter parables to be found in the collection Vicious Circles. Here we do not simply encounter discomfort, impossible exchanges, and dreamlike states, but meet a philosophical obsession with dying head on. Of course the same can be said for Bataille, whose Story of the Eye, Blue of Noon, and My Mother/Madame Edwarda/The Dead Man, are texts of sexual subversion somehow equally preoccupied with the grave.”

Nathan Ballingrud: Southern Gothic Horror

Nick’s mother used to say that they’d lost his father to the horses.

—Nathan Ballingrud, North American Lake Monsters

Something speaks to me from the stories of Nathan Ballingrud. Having been raised on the likes of William Faulkner, Flannery O’Conner, Carson McCullers, and other notables of that southern mien one gets a feel for the genuine article, and Ballingrud is just that – the real deal, a writer with a voice of his own and a vision that is both distinct and hinged to the swamp infested riddles of a regional world where the darkness seems almost natural.

With the exception of Native American lore, folklore, like language and literature, came to this country as part of the cultural baggage of the various waves of its settlers. In the South, its sources are mainly British, African, and French, with important admixtures of Spanish and German and touches of almost everything else. Ballingrud invents a folklore that is hinted at rather than drawing from overt sources, a lore of the weird and strange that permeates the Louisiana bayous and City of Lights, New Orleans like black water seeping into the wells of some lonely southern night.

Ballingrud says of himself,

I was born in Massachusetts in 1970, but spent most of my life in the South. I studied literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and at the University of New Orleans. Among other things, I’ve been a cook on oil rigs and barges, a waiter, and a bartender in New Orleans.

His first book of short stories, and the one I’m reading at present is North American Lake Monsters, from Small Beer Press. He has won two Shirley Jackson Awards, and been shortlisted for the World Fantasy, British Fantasy, and Bram Stoker Awards. Not a small feat.

Reading him awakens the tremors below the belt, makes you remember things that might have been or will be. He has the touch, that ability to hit the nerve of strangeness in the natural that few of us even knew was there accept as an indefinable shadow surrounding our lives like the deadly eyeballs of a gator slinking out of the dark pools of some snake infested swamp.

Those of us who come from the south understand the  irony of lost causes and regrets for the loss of old ways. Southerners more than most feel this deep seated nostalgia for a world steeped in evil and mayhem, a realm where racism, war, and a sense of bitter-sweet history commingle with shame and guilt. Maybe its our dark history of racism that sticks to us like the stigmata of some ancient Biblical curse for which there are and can be no reparations. Some think we’re beyond redemption, while others still manifest the bullheaded pride of the old guard as if it were another country. Ballingrud seems to tap into this anxiety like a master marksman whose keen eyes know just where the target is but is subtle enough to take it slow and methodical rather than full-amped.

His writing is steeped in that colloquial speech that rings true, hinting at a certain pitch in the tongue and groove of southern style. A way of being and becoming that hints at things rather than revealing them in the stark light of a noon-day sun. If Flannery O’Conner could hit you over the head with an ideological sledgehammer filled with her own flavor of gnostic Catholicism, then Ballingrud takes the lower key and floats you in the swamps where you can meet death at eye level.

Now if you haven’t read Ballingrud yet then just stop right here for I’m going to reveal certain spoilers that are best left to the imagination…

S.S. – A Coming of Age Tale

Take his story S.S. which on the surface is a typical coming of age tale of a young man caught between familial romance and the surfeits of choosing his own way. Young Nick is scrawny and unkempt, lives with his broken down Mom who we discover by indirection is a woman with a very severe case of autosarcophagy  – a nice medical term for self-cannibalistic degradation. Of course Ballingrud handles this strange phenomenon with such delicacy and reserve that we only begin to understand just what is transpiring toward the end of the tale.

One can imagine a young man growing up in such an environment and what it might do to his psyche, the perversities of his world influenced by such horrorific nostrums. On the surface Nick seems to be as normal as Norma Bates seemed in Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece Psycho. Yet, we know something sinister is brewing just under the surface of the boy’s flesh as the story progresses.

Nick’s father unable to stomach the proclivities of his wife abandon’s his son and her at the age of four. The mother unable or unwilling to accept the truth and relate it to her son invests in a folkloric explanation that carries with it a sinister shadow,

Nick’s mother used to say that they’d lost his father to the horses.

Throughout his childhood, Nick thought that meant that he’d been killed by them: trampled beneath a galloping herd, or thrown from the back of a bronco; when he was younger still, he imagined that they’d devoured him, dipping their great regal heads into the open bowl of his body, lifting them out again trailing bright ropes and jellies. At night, when the closet door in his bedroom swung silently open, the boogeyman wore an equine face, and the sound that spilled from its mouth was the dolorous melody of his mother’s sobs. Even now that he knew better, knew that his father had fled in part because of gambling debts incurred at the track, horses retained their sinister aspect.1

One begins to suspect things are not going to go well for young Nick, that his life with a cannibal and a missing father will lead to nowhere good. Luckily for our young Nick he meets a girl name Trixie, a young feisty girl at the edge of womanhood whose world is filled with racial dreams of purity and tattooed knights from the beleaguered realms of fascist nationalists. The story is bedeviled by such stereotypes of male figures full of macho hostility toward losers, gays, and blacks. Yet, the tale itself has no axe to grind, no message or moral. It’s just a part of the world this young boy has been thrown into, a world he does not fit into, nor even condones.

Being poor and white trash our young Nick has lived out his childhood in a realm in a realm of darkness, his mother having quit work early on leaving them bankrupt and only affording what Nick’s father’s alimony check subtends. Nick seems to have an inkling of his loser-hood, and yet he takes it all in stride. Even his relationship with Trixie is accepted as a piece of luck, not something he ever deserved in his own right. But like all modern Eve’s she has a temptation he must not refuse if he is to win her heart.

Trixie belongs to a white nationalist group of thugs, a group of young boys who tattooed like confederate throwbacks channel their primal aggression against the world in epithets of stupidity and beer. Young Nick is persuaded to meet Trixie’s new friends and become a part of their club. Nick goes out with the boys to a local bar and is introduced to the racial politics of this strand by a over-muscled goon name Derrick who points the way to his dark tribes vein glorious stigmata,

He touched his fingers to a swastika on his chest. “You see this here? That’s what it means. That’s why we wear it on our skin. All that German secret police shit, forget all that. That was just one manifestation. We’re the new manifestation.” He tapped the symbol. “White family. White brotherhood. Now, sometimes you gotta do ugly things for the family’s sake. Just like me and Matt had to do. And you know what? Niggers and fags might not be the brightest creatures on this earth, but they can take a message if you deliver it right. I ain’t seen that boy back here since.” (ibid.)

Ballingrud doesn’t pull any punches, he lets the full tilt power of this hateful world emerge from the twisted minds of these young men as if it were the most natural thing in the world. When Derrick taunts young Nick with sexual antics and his scrawniness, telling him how he’s fucked Nick’s chick, Trixie, trying to get a rise out of him. Nick does. He tells Derrick to “Fuck Off!” and proceeds to leave them to their own dark bullshit.

Ballingrud isn’t preaching to us, rather he presents this sordid world matter-of-factly as if it were just another natural thing one comes upon, neither good or evil; something that just is – not big deal. Like I said he has no axe to grind. He’s a story teller, not a preacher man.

The next time he sees Trixie she wants to come over to his house, wants to level with him, pull him in, seduce him, break him like a horse. And, yet, there’s something about young Nick that even Trixie doesn’t understand, something even darker and more solitary that this wild young woman would fear to know if she had an intelligent brain in her head. Brash and full of vivacity she is like a wild cat, untamed and fierce; and, yet, she is oblivious to the deep moral issues within which she has ensnared her self. It’s this in-betweenness, this traveling between the ruins of the past and the challenge of the supposed new south that both these young people seem to be entangled in. But Trixie is blind to it and its seductions believing it is leading her into extreme forms of freedom when it is actually driving her into a past that haunts us all with it’s racist daemonism. On the other hand the shadows that seem to expand from Nick in every direction offer him a path into nowhere and nowhen, an atopia of the weird where he might find a separate freedom, a realm of darkness and mayhem all of his own, built not of past shame but out of the malevolent truth of his own dark nature.

Without retelling the whole story we’ll cut to the chase. Young Nick wants a gun, wants to use it, and he gets Trixie to do his bidding by finding it for him. Once he has it he senses something in his life, a certain freedom. He and Trixie take off on a road trip where they are involved in a catastrophic wreck that awakens something in young Nick. He’s seen a truck careen into a BMW spilling a beautiful white horse across the rock hard pavement. It’s this confrontation with the violence of the white horse whose guts and blood are splattered across the white hot surface that moves something in young Nick.

He opened the passenger door and climbed out into a cold brace of air. The rain was a frozen weight, soaking his clothes instantly. A confused array of lights speared through the rain, giving the scene a freakish radiance. He noticed that he was casting several shadows.

The horse’s big body jerked as it tried to right itself, and Nick heard bones crack somewhere inside it. The horse screamed. It lay next to the overturned car, amidst a glittering galaxy of broken glass, its legs crooked and snapped, its blood spilling onto the asphalt and trailing away in diluted rivers. It was beautiful, even in these awful circumstances; its body seemed phosphorescent in the rain.

Nick knelt beside it and brushed his fingers against its skin. The flesh jumped, and he was overwhelmed by a powerful scent of urine and musk. Its eye rolled to look at him. Nick stared back, paralyzed. The horse’s blood pooled around his shoe. It seemed an astonishing end for this animal, that it should come to die on some hard ground its ancestors never knew, surrounded by machines they never dreamed. Its absurdity offended him. (ibid.)

This sense of ‘freakish radiance’ and young Nick’s realization that he was “casting several shadows” brings that pitch of sublime horror and the ridiculous absurdity of  violence between an ancient world of freedom and horses, and a modernity where machinic impersonalism and death have no meaning, into a realm of seductive revelation where apocalyptic desire melts with the annihilation of terror and dread. It’s just here, in a world outside the order of things, caught in a violent tremor in-between his past and his future that he makes a decision. Trixie worried about the gun, the police, the world around her crumbling wants to run, to leave it all behind. Nick instead chooses something else, chooses his own freedom, a freedom from Trixie and her world of thuggish racism, from his Mother’s entrapments in a cage world of self-cannibalistic desire, and a world where beauty and death on a sun scorched highway can co-exist:

The gun. Nick brushed roughly past her, nearly knocking her to her knees. He retrieved the gun from her glove compartment and headed back to the horse. Trixie intercepted him, tried to push him back. “No, no, are you fucking crazy? It’s gonna die anyway!”

He wrenched her aside, and this time she did fall. He walked over to the horse and the gun cracked twice, two bright flashes in the rain, and the horse was dead. A kind of peace settled over him then, a floating calm, and he stuffed the gun into his trousers, ignoring the heat of the barrel pressing into his flesh. Trixie had not bothered to get up from the pavement. She sat there, watching him, the rain sluicing over her head and down her body. Her face was inscrutable behind the curtain of rain, as was everything else about her. He left her there.

Behind her, the car was hopelessly ensnared in the traffic jam. He would have to walk home, to his mother, broken and beautiful, crashed in her own foreign landscape. Bewildered and terrified. Burning love like a gasoline. He started down the highway, walking along the edge of stopped traffic. He felt the weightlessness of mercy. He was a striding christ. Sounds filtered through to him: people yelling and pleading; footsteps splashing through the rain; a distant, stranded siren. From somewhere behind him a man’s sob, weird and ululating, rose above the wreckage and disappeared into the sky, a flaming rag.

One is almost tempted to think of another dark Messiah heading down a dirt road toward a city carrying a new gospel of redemption through violence, an echo of Flannery O’Conner’s ‘Francis Marion Tarwater’,

His singed eyes, black in their deep sockets, seemed already to envision the fate that awaited him but he moved steadily on, his face set toward the dark city, where the children of God lay sleeping.1

To know more about Nathan and his works visit his blog: https://nathanballingrud.com/


  1. Ballingrud, Nathan. North American Lake Monsters. Small Beer Press. (June 28, 2013)
  2. O’Connor, Flannery. The Violent Bear It Away (Kindle Locations 2454-2455). Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

Lucifer’s Notebooks: Fragments and Divigations

 

What I seek is a work of darkness that no longer repeats the banal evil of so much horror writing. I seek the shock of the new rather than the decay of repetition. Most weird and horror story writing is a mere resurrection of aesthetic banality, repeating the gestures of dead masters in an infinity of trite clichés. We need that which can obliterate us, give us the temptation of the abyss, the dark contours of our own black midnights, the cruelty at the core of our torrid hatreds and disgusts. Such horror neither absolves our cosmic crimes nor reminds us of some shared taboo, but brings us to the portal of our own unknowing being. To make the darkness visible, bring that which cannot be seen with the eye of the eye into relief against the sparkle of everyday things. To see into the broken world things not as they appear, but as they vanish into the Real. For it is the luminous trace of that dark light that lifts its primal life out of the abyss of our unknowing that tempts us to a knowing in this impossible cosmos.

What I seek is a Luciferian horror, a defiance of all that is not a part of the darkness in my soul. To be rid of the light of the Light. To chart the unknowable abysses of our infinite night. Trouble the stars with the positivity of this endless hatred at the core of things. The churning tremulous tentacles of this seething abyss of self-lacerating thought. Seeking the infernal paradise of solitude in a dark corner of this universal degradation. Know the fires of all creation in the deepest realms of destruction as it brings us to that destination we have all belonged too for so long. Dread and fascination with the terrible truth that those of our kind need more than need itself. For we are the children of destruction, the harbingers of the end. Hell is our paradise, we know no other.

To speak of the chaotic realm as ruination, then, is to establish a regime of impurity, to irreparably alter the formula of existence, and to corrupt the order of things and become reborn in a polluted abyss of flowers. The only command, the only law before us, is that of recurring distortion. The infernal realm must fashion a generative prism, one of diluted substances and imperfections; it must tempt unnatural admixtures, fusing elements into contaminated alliance. The absolute collapse into horror must be traitorous. It must be conceived as an act of treason against the world, for to seduce others into a delirious encounter is nothing less than to set the stage for their radical betrayal. The corruption of the world by the infernal garden of time is to admit chaos into the drift of ancient imbrications, unbinding the dark contours of annihilation across the cosmic wastelands of malicious and malevolent transports. To infiltrate the extremities at the liminal edge of things is to embark on a toxic voyage of self-lacerating discovery, fall forward into the vastation seeping from the underrealm of unbeing – bearing witness to the betrayer of all worlds.

If you do not feel the cold pure power of intellect in your flesh then walk away into your separate oblivion.

The inhumanity of man is to not know the inhuman core of its eternity of solitude, to accept the immanence of its infinite life-in-Death. For only the Watchers in the heart of our impossibility know who and what we are. We have traveled so far to be nowhere and nothing.

Suicide is the escape of the weak, there is no escape. Returning they become a part of the shadow universe of unknowing.

There is a dark gnosis, an unknowing rather than a knowing. An unmaking rather than a making, the unraveling of the cosmos like the filaments of strings on an infinite harp. A system on non-knowledge that disturbs the reflections of nightmares under the surface of things, engendering the awakening of daemonic thought from its long sleep in time.

Philosophers are too warm-blooded. There is no ice except near Lucifer, the Other God. That’s why the Krakatoa of our souls clamor for daemons rather than angelic saints. The lucidity of doubt, rather than the certainty of faith.

The courage of skepticism is worth the destruction of all philosophical knowledge. The unknowing truth decenters us from the universe of meaning for an uncharted realm of pure intelligences.

The future is a dimension, not a direction. Communication comes from the outside in, a cryptic call from the immanent curve of time. There is no outside to time, only the infinite spiral around death. Death is the zero point of pure intelligence, the last refuge of thought.

What would it be like to chronicle the doubts of hell, to be privy to the inner dramas of ancient demons, follow the chronicles of Pandemonium from its original arousal from the depths of the pit. Keep a diary of the intimate thoughts of angelic failure, the torments of intelligences both artificial and inhuman.

One does not need a history of Hell, the atrocities of human kind are so much more intimate. The flames of hell or nothing compared to the despair of man in the face of such torments of appearance as appearance. Man is the creator of darker hells than angelic archons could envision, the bloody terror of humans is the fright of demons.

Politics is a form of self-parody, a religion for the dammed; only a voluptuary of pain and cruelty could be tempted by its repetitive oscillations between extremes.

Maybe the greatest curse ever laid upon humankind was the longing not to die, the hunger for personal immortality, this daemonic will to persistence in our own being, this travesty and corruption of life as the basis for all knowledge and striving which is at the heart of Western Civilization and its discontents, its economics, religious tremors, and its philosophical peregrinations. The slight attack on this heritage since the Enlightenment, our so called secular culture has done nothing to dissuade the mass of beings on this planet from the atrocities committed in the name of this immortal passion. Victims of an eternal delusion we fall prey to the beliefs of Ancients, thinking we can overcome this heritage through technics and technology. Even our dreams of Reason, of an absolute intelligence freed of human degradation, from the fleshly ruins of its earthly habitation, the superintelligence of machinic existence, this, too, is the fruit of our immortal curse. Are we not condemned to repeat our selves into the future like fragments of a lost paradise, creatures of some dark remembrance.

Jon Padgett: The Secret of Ventriloquism

Cover

We Greater Ventriloquists are catatonics, emptied of illusions of selfhood and identity.

-Jon Padgett, 20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism

Reading these short stores by Jon Padgett, a self-proclaimed “professional–though lapsed–ventriloquist who lives in New Orleans with his spouse, their daughter and cat,” and the caretaker of Thomas Ligotti Online (which is how I first began to notice this young writer’s proclivities for all things dark!), has been both enjoyable and nice addition to the growing corpus of the weird. A Weird that stretches from the early Gothic to the strange and fantastic realms of our late modernist era.

Jon’s work floats between the weird and eerie in the sense that the late Mark Fisher defines it,

What the weird and the eerie have in common is a preoccupation with the strange. The strange — not the horrific. The allure that the weird and the eerie possess is not captured by the idea that we “enjoy what scares us”. It has, rather, to do with a fascination for the outside, for that which lies beyond standard perception, cognition and experience. This fascination usually involves a certain apprehension, perhaps even dread — but it would be wrong to say that the weird and the eerie are necessarily terrifying. I am not here claiming that the outside is always beneficent. There are more than enough terrors to be found there; but such terrors are not all there is to the outside.1

It’s this sense of the outside, of the strangeness of – as Jon will say of it in one of his stories, our “borrowed realities” that gives his stories their unique flavor of fascination and allurement, stories that draw us in and capture our desires in such a way that we are left wondering at the world we live in. No one can walk away from such stories unchanged. Such stories weave us into the strangeness of the world itself wanting to know if we ourselves are living not only on borrowed time, but in a borrowed reality. This sense of the borderlands, of being on the hedgerow between worlds, of a borderline between the weird and eerie in which reality at any moment might give way to dream and revelation, or nightmare and entrapment. It’s this sense of movement in a world not our own, and moreover not only impossible but emptied of our human imaginings. A realm that is at once new and unknown that shifts into a transitional state of apprehension, awakening us to the powers and forces of the noumenal darkness surrounding us.

I don’t want to spoil it for those who have yet to read his new book, only to spark your interest into Jon’s stylistics, the way in which he refrains from imposing a message or a moral as is so definite in many modern fantastic or weird tales. Instead Jon allows the reader to be drawn into these borrowed realities, to measure their worth not in some normative sense but rather in the mode of existence itself – of one’s existential investment and virulent, even parasitical relation to those emotions that force us out of ourselves and into the accidental voids of life we so frequently become enmeshed in.

Against the decadent closure of so many weird tales Jon’s stories seem to flow into one another, cross the borders of their enclosures and meld with each other even as the characters enter into mellifluous fluidity and emerge from tale to tale. I’m thinking of his well known tale Infusorium which relates to a tale within a tale about a now infamous instruction manual for Ventriloquists:  20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism. What appears on the surface as a simple manual for developing one’s early skills in handling manikins and puppets, wooden blocs of hollow bodies filled with gears and turnstiles, levers, and the hidden appurtenances of the Ventriloquists dummies secret life. All this ends in a movement toward a Greater Art, the art of the  Greater Ventriloquists for whom the secret life of puppets is more than the hand held monstrosities of lip-synching puppetry and birthday party vocations. No, such is the Greater Art that it weaves the staid ventriloquist into a darker world where the secrets of the trade suddenly take on a sinister perspective and the practitioner becomes the thing he fears most.

There’s also the sense that in citing the text on Ventriloquism within the story of Infusorium Jon was following in part the master of citation, H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft would never write the full length version of the Necromonicon, but rather would in various stories within the mythos cycle cite passages from this fabled book of shadows of the Old Ones. As Fisher comments “Lovecraft seemed to have understood the power of the citation, the way in which a text seems more real if it is cited than if it is encountered in the raw.” (Fisher, pp. 24-25) I’ll admit that having read 20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism in the book just before Infusorium was partially a shock of surprise, but also of a let down. For me at least the work should have remained unwritten, and rather than allowed a full blown story we should have had just the citations scattered across various stories (or story cycle). Many metafictional writers such as Stanislaw Lem, Italo Calvino, Jorge-Luis Borges among others would do the same, producing citations that in some ways would produce the very reality they were fictionalizing. Fisher would mention the anecdote that such cited works impart the feeling that they must exist somewhere in the real world, and that people reading of such works have been known to seek them out in a library. This sense of the cross-over of the fictional into the real is part of that ancient affective region of the weird, the feeling of the Outside impinging on the real of our everyday world.

And, of course, isn’t that the point of a great tale to confront you not with what other’s fear, but rather to awaken in you that sense of one’s own dark nature, the violence and dread of one’s own inhuman core? It’s this that Jon succeeds in doing so subtly that the hook and line of the tale is suddenly passed the point of no return when one is left dangling not with the meaning of the tale but rather with the darkness of one’s own nature. “The weird and the eerie … allow us to see the inside from the perspective of the outside,” says, Mark Fisher. (p. 10) It’s this perspectival movement from inside/outside, the ironic interplay and playful instigation of such transitional states of mixed realties that is Jon’s forte.

Jon’s stories in themselves are straightforward exercises in the weird tradition, and as one is reading them one feels at home in such worlds, in the homely/unhomely sense. It isn’t till one is suddenly across the border and in-between one paragraph and the next, lost in the hidden borderlands of some “borrowed reality” that one suddenly realizes that we are no longer at home in our normal everyday world, but that we have entered a secret corridor in-between worlds, become enmeshed in realms of which we know nothing; and, not only that we know nothing, but we can know nothing forever. It’s then that one leaves the tale realizing the world around one has changed ever so slightly, imperceptibly; becoming destabilized, unanchored, leaving us drifting within the endless labyrinths of a weird tale, an alternate reality — or, some other borrowed world, a darker world from which there will be no extrication, no redemption. Have we? Even now I wonder…

Either way, don’t fret about it, read Jon’s work now… this very minute, enter the borrowed realities of his secret world: go here!


  1. Fisher, Mark. The Weird and the Eerie (pp. 8-9). Watkins Media. Kindle Edition.

The Darkening of Macon Tobin: Part One

The dark tower stands on the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly across black sands.
Nothingness falls from nothingness into nothingness.
-Alhrazad, The Mad Prophet

Macon Tobin knew there were things that happen that no one can explain, events so improbable that no one can ever be sure they actually happened much less believe they were real rather than just the insane gestures seeping in from some nightmare kingdom of the mind. Years go by and you put such events behind you, hide them away in the dead spaces of the mind hoping to gawd they get lost forever. He’d tried that so many times he’d lost count, nothing gets lost forever just like nothing will ever be redeemed; least of all, Macon Tobin. He’d known that for as long as he’d been in this living hell. Even longer…

Most of his adult life had been spent trying to forget things that wouldn’t stay forgotten. He’d tried to lose himself in marriage, work, and – even, whiskey; and, when that hadn’t worked he’d taken another path, lonely nights shacking up with some broad he’d of never been seen with in the daylight hours, one-night stands that just made him feel more guilty and less and less a man not to speak of his cheating heart. Oblivion was what he sought, but even that was out of the question. All he ended with was drunk on his ass and a three-night black out, an angry wife that was about to leave him and innocent children who deserved than to see their old man go down in squalor and self-pity. But the pain kept those memories coming back time after time after time. If it hadn’t been for Mary Beth he’d of been six feet under sure for shootin’, and he knew it. Knew it like the black marks on his body, marks burned so pure and deep they were never going away. Not as long as he was alive, anyway. So he’d sobered up, taken on his old life again, put on the mask of adulthood even if he couldn’t truly live up to it. He felt dead inside, going through the motions with job and marriage. He knew something had to be done, time was running out… yet, the memories persisted, and so did the nightmares.

Memories so powerful that they’d rise up out of the night, returning so twisted and out of joint, so full of animosity and judgment he never truly knew if they weren’t more real than reality; or, just the overwrought fantasies of his retched night long lucubration’s in the nightmare world. He’d wake up at times in a cold sweat just like he was now, his T-shirt soaked, underwear bubbling like lava, and his brain droning in distortion-sopped rhythms as if encased in a lapsteel guitar zinging to some Black Metal cadence of devilish chords that terrorized even the darkest of angels.

Swarming all around him, movement, churning, scuttling in the sands, waves upon waves of skittering, clattering, scuttling feet across the floors of silent wind-swept sands: the droning, chittering, ocean of carapaces moving in waves across the black sands; their clattering, chittering mandibles, an ocean of carapaces rising and rising around him in the sands, the black sands; their chittering droning voices, ten thousand or ten million million bodies, machininc drones chomping, eating, shredding anything and everything in their path… The Tower, dark and solitary, rising above the mass of black sands, above the sea of fitful drones, these machinic denizens clashing in the night under a starless sky; this strange vessel of the night, the Tower teetering on the edge of time and the abyss; floating on an island world of darkness, decay, and death – all around him, the desolation of all things at the end of light at the rim of the known universe… memories of an unreal world… The sirens of the Tower calling to him, luring him in, singing to him… their delicate tendrils reaching out to him, embracing him, lifting him above the sea of scuttling carapaces…

Macon opened his eyes, sat up, rubbed the terror of the black sands from his face… He grabbed a pack of cigs off the nightstand, looked over at Mary Beth, saw she was snoring soundly, got up put on his dingy mud encrusted jeans, pulled on his crusty boots, and then traipsed out to the kitchen. He grabbed what was left of the beer out of the fridge, pulled the half empty bottle of bourbon off the shelf, snatched up a coffee cup: – emptied the wet cig at the bottom of it, washed it out, and headed out to the back porch. Bull was laying there at the open screen eyeing him. “C’mon, Bull let’s me and you take us a walk, boy.” Bull didn’t much look like he wanted to go for no walk. He even closed his eyes as if to say: “Can’t be bothered, Macon – you’re goin’ have to figure this out all by your lonesome ole self, buddy.”

Macon laughed at the thought, kicked the screen door open and stepped over his old hound dog into the night where he could be alone with his thoughts and the stars.

#

He walked down to the Tree House he’d built for the kids a few summers back on a big Oak tree hanging over the river. It was still pretty sturdy, had a good rope and stairway going up, and a couple tires hanging down at odd angles so the kids could swing out over the river and take turns plunging down into those muddy waters.

He climbed up into the little alcove he’d constructed extra jutting out on the river side of the Oak for himself an Mary Beth, so they could come out some nights and just sit there sipping whiskey and watching the stars and comets fly by. There were some good times, and some bad times; but, for the most part he’d been happy with her and the kids. They were probably the only thing keeping him from going insane.

He took a swig of bourbon, popped a can of beer, poured it and another shot into the coffee cup and washed both down like an afterburner; it felt smooth and cool going down into his churning belly, cooling it off and letting him feel the numbness coming on. But his brain-pan was another matter altogether. His mind felt empty, cleaned out, purified; as if someone had singed it, burned it up with a blow torch at white heat; scorched it to black cinders and scraped his skull of every last piece of information except those old memories that wouldn’t come clean. His skull was on fire, a pitched furnace frying his brain in an incinerator like it was pigs guts on a griddle. He imagined flames bursting through at any moment from his skull, trailing a fiery plume of white fire across the river like some dragon’s tail of destruction and apocalypse.

He slung that bourbon bottle up and bottomed it out. He didn’t even need a chaser now. He was all done with chasers.

#

He left a guitar out there for such occasions. Sometimes it’d sooth his passions, but tonight he played a few chords and realized nothing was goin’ assuage the pain, nothing. He watched the dark hollers of the stars stretching across the face of blackness, the Milky Way roaring across that firmament like a flow of silver dollars in a stream. Smoked a few more cigarettes (another nasty habit he’d taken up of late!), and even climbed down and swung out over the river on one of the tires and plunged into the winter waters hoping he’d just sink away into oblivion. All that did was wake his ass up good and force him to gulp for air and hightail it back to the house. “Another failed idea,” he thought to himself as he saw Mary Beth standing there on the porch holding the screen door open for him with a big old beach towel ready to go.

“Don’t say it,” He said as he went by grabbing the towel…

She just smiled. She knew better than to say anything to him when he was in one of his moods.

#

After his shower he wiped the steam from the mirror and almost cussed himself out. He peered at the creature in the mirror: feral, ragged, hungry…  He despised what he’d become over the past few months since the nightmares had begun to resurface. “Dam,” he thought, “no wonder people been giving me the eye of late.” His eyes were bloodshot and he had the lean haggard look of the insane. His hair was getting a few streaks of silver gray and white, and his mustache, which was usually wiry and full of life, looked more like a dead man’s daguerreotype snapped from the pine box just before burial. His skin tone which was usually rust toned from the long summer, and pockmarked by his hours in the wind and rain; looked peaked, emaciated and withdrawn: bony cheekbones and shadows under his eyes. It scared the shit out of him what he was becoming; it was like he was mutating or something… And, he didn’t like that “or something” at all… He’d have to do something about it. He couldn’t keep on keeping on with this sad sack situation. It was time to confront it head-on instead of pretending it would go away or get better. Enough was enough.

He finished shaving, put on a clean shirt and blue jeans, and decided to drop in on the kids. Matt was sleeping good. The boy made him proud. He saw a lot of Mary Beth in him, had her toughness and grit, her cussedness and ornery ways when it was needed; but she was also a good friend, someone he could talk to, too; or, at least speak his mind too without feeling he was going to be judged for it like his old man always judged him. He loved her. He loved the kids. He wanted to pick the boy up and give him a big hug, but thought better of it. Let him sleep, he’ll need it.

He stepped across the hall and looked in on Tammy. She was quite a sprite, mostly tom-boy and tough as a little boot; yet, he’d spent a lot of time trying to get her to be more prissy, or at least to like girlish things. Bought her nice outfits, and Doll Houses, all the typical things he’d seen his sister grow up with… There it was again, the pain… “Why want it just go away?” He said under his breath as if someone might care.

He closed the door to his daughter’s bedroom and went out to the kitchen.

Mary Beth was sipping on some coffee looking out the kitchen window when he came in. He saw she’d made him a load of biscuits and gravy, eggs and bacon; enough to feed an army. Plenty of butter and jam, too. She treated him better than she ought, but he knew it was her way and he loved her for it. He also tried to do his best by her, gave her space when she needed it; took the kids out at times when the moods struck her. They had a way of speaking to each other without ever saying a word. Something good about such a relationship. A certain trust…

Her long brown hair was knotted up in a curled tail exposing her neck and shoulders. She was wearing her nightgown and the robe he’d bought her last Christmas with all the flowers on it. Sunny. He like it. Yet, she didn’t look none too sunny tonight. She looked desperate, and as she turned back to him her eyes had that haunted look. Eyes that were sea-gray to violet were almost pitch blood tonight as if she’d been crying for hours. He felt bad about that. Knew it was his fault. All of it.

“I’m goin’ back, hon,” He said.

“I know,” She said matter-of-factly as if she’d been expecting it for a while. “I’ve been feeling it for a time, wondering when it’d come down to this day.”

He could see she was holding back some tears. He knew she didn’t like him to see her that way. He walked up behind her and gave her shoulders a rub, then squeezed her round the belly and kissed her on the neck.

She touched his hands, squeezing hard, saying: “I just wish it didn’t have to be today.”

“Me neither, love! Me neither…” Macon said, and meant it.

#

End Part One

Part Two being revised…


©2016 S.C. HickmanUnauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Note: Decided to do a complete re-write of this story. The second draft will be in 3 Parts, and I’ve pulled out as much as possible the abstract elements and replaced much of it with more character development and internal thought. Trying to convey the suspense and keep the interest going without letting the full details of the issue out of the bag in part one. Just gives a minimal outlay of the atmosphere without any details. More of an ominous: What’s going on? At this point in the story… that sense of the Southern Gothic that something heavy out of the past is weighing on Macon’s soul, something he cannot forget and must now face or lose himself, his family, his life…

Laughing Jack’s Night Out

All around the carnival town.
The clown chased the child.
The blood was shed, the soul bled and bled.
Pop Goes The Weasel.

-Laughing Jack

Amy felt the smooth worn fabric of her Grandmother’s old rocking chair. Grooves had been rubbed into the wood pushing its way out of the frayed cloth. She could still hear the voice of the old woman in her mind even now: “Amy, you gotta do what your ole mammy tells you now! Gotta be careful, there’s terrible things in the world out there, and there’s no one goin’ protect you but yourself. After I’m gone you’ll be all alone. So you be a good girl, get to college and learn something; don’t let those boys trap you in marriage like I was. No. You got brains. Use them.”

Amy could still feel the penetrating glance of the old woman’s eyes on her, those vibrant sea-gray eyes turning almost violet in the warm light of the afternoon sun. Yet, there was also something in those eyes that terrified her, too. Gave her the chillies thinking about it. She’d hear her granny at times talking to herself. Or, at least that’s what Amy thought she was doing; she could never be sure. Her granny gave her a stern look one time when she started to go up to the attic one day. Those beady ole eyes turned somber and ferocious when she told Amy to never ever go up there: “Amy there’s things in this world a young girl has no business poking her head into. Do you understand? I don’t ever want to catch you near that attic under no untold circumstances.” Amy understood, but she didn’t quite understand why… what was up there that made her granny get so upset.

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Christopher Slatsky, Alectryomancer and Other Weird Tales

Christopher Slatsky, Alectryomancer and Other Weird Tales

Been hearing about Slatsky for a while now, and downloaded his debut collection today! Glad I did, he’s got the dark touch on him, the one that tells you this is the real McCoy. 518wrnjce4lDark, gritty, atmospheric – suspenseful: his little jeweled nightmares remind me of those old collectors of curiosities one finds rarely except by accident, and usually in some off-beat district of an out of the way town or village; down some dank wet alley cobbled with slime and gunk, moldy, black, dense with years of detritus; hidden behind some dilapidated trash bin or piled mass of rusting and decaying poultry, fish, or fruit – pus laden lushness, corroding in some forgotten corner of a lost world; where – the door  – and, not just any door, but the door: the one meant only for you, marked with your name, the one only you can open if you dare, with its small ill-lit lamp above wired faulty, blinking, glimmering in some eternal twilight or dusk; a sign just above the door, with most of the letters missing, hinting at treasures and rarities beyond your wildest imaginings if only you’ll step this way, step inside, visit the last place on earth you’d like to be right now; and, yet, there it is – in the windows: these unique little nightmare curiosities, the intricate and detailed realms of some deformed nightmare world, the morbidity of forgotten galaxies, toxic wastelands of hellish desire and craftsmanship, universes of constructed horror filled with infinite passageways into endless labyrinths of perversity. A horror collectors best nightmare come true…

Slatsky’s tales inhabit that dark space, deliver the goods you relish, a ghoulish festival of aberrant delights that should let your night be broken and twisted till you crave reprieve from such demented realms and secret mindless miseries. Over the top? Hyperbolical? Am I shitting? No, its actually that good. If you crave atmosphere, if you like the visceral slime-pit of the grotesque and the macabre, a waltz into the scatological worlds of decay and organic demise this is your guy. He doesn’t pull any punches, and he weaves tales that are neither pastiche nor a silent send off to the great masters of the past, but rather let’s those influences – and, remember influence was once a term of astrological import of letting in the star power of dark light mingle with your own – then this is the book of weird tales for you. I say run, do not walk – let your big fat fingers outpace themselves – to your nearest online retailer and get a copy today. Now! Don’t wait!

I’ll probably have more to say after I allow myself time to absorb these nightmares into my own curiosity cabinet. Another time, another day…

Visit Christopher Slatsky at his site: here. Find his book here: Alectryomancer and Other Weird Tales

The Tales:

Loveliness Like a Shadow
An Infestation of Stars
Corporautolysis
No One is Sleeping in this World
Making Snakes
The Ocean is Eating Our Graves
This Fragmented Body
Tellurian Façade
Film Maudit
A Plague of Naked Movie Stars
Scarcely Have They Been Planted
Intaglios
Alectryomancer

Waiting For The End: A Tale of the Weird

©Chris Mars – Paintings

I had not thought death had undone so many.

-T. S. Eliot

I understood that from now on I belong to those who have ‘troubled the sleep of the world,’ and that I could not count upon objectivity and tolerance.

-Sigmund Freud, Letter to Ernest Jones

Tilly came to visit me again this morning. I was having a hard time adjusting. She told me it was like that for everyone at first. I wanted to say: “Not for me. It wasn’t supposed to go down like this. I had a life, a good life. My work. My family, It was a good life; well, at least it was my life, and things were on the uptake, things were getting better.” But no, then this thing happened. Blam… alive one moment, and… well, you know the biz… sink or swim as they say. Well I wanted to keep on swimming. I’d grown used to it. Comfortable. Then this…

Maybe I should back up to the beginning…

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The Tick-Tock Man: A Weird Tale

“Only a cynic can create horror — for behind every masterpiece of the sort must reside a driving demonic force that despises the human race and its illusions, and longs to pull them to pieces and mock them.”

-Letter from H.P. Lovecraft to Edwin Baird

Maybe I should’ve realized then that my life was going nowhere fast, but as in everything I did I tried to hide that fact from myself. I’d get up, shower, shave, put on a decent gray suit and black tie – the usual invisibility shell I’d been using for years. I’d enter work and smile my masked smile, joke with the guy in the cubicle next to me – Frank was him name, I believe? – for a few minutes; and, then I’d go into my own cube as if it were a monastic cell and shut the rest of the world out of my mind for the rest of the day.

I’m not sure when I noticed things were beginning to change. It wasn’t like I could see a physical difference in the objects around me. I didn’t. It was more a feeling – a vague one, at that. It’s like those strange moments when you catch a glimmer of something out of the corner of your eye, but it is moving so fast that by the time you turn to see what it is – it’s gone, poof. Then you have to ask whether it was just your overactive imagination; believe me, you don’t want to go there, but we’ve all been there – haven’t we?

Then there was the clock on my desk. After all these years – I noticed it. Not that I hadn’t noticed it before. No. I looked at it all time, looked at the one on my computer, looked at the one up on the office wall above Judy’s cube. Time was a preoccupation with me. No. This was different – it wasn’t so much about looking as hearing. Suddenly I kept hearing the tick-tock of the clock over and over and over again to the point I had to stop it or else. I picked it up and slammed it down as hard as I could on the desk. It seemed to stop, or at least it wasn’t as noisy. Then I thought to myself: “What am I doing, this is sheer lunacy?” So I picked the clock up examined it carefully to see if the crystal was cracked or the facing scratched, wound it back up and locked it away in my drawer and left it there.

I remember going to the lavatory for a few minutes. I wasn’t gone that long at all. When I returned there it was – the clock. Sitting there on the desk as if I’d never put it away. A friend had given it to me years ago as a gift. She said it was a rare item. A one of a kind. She’d found it in one of her travels to some country of the Far East. She didn’t remember where. Said it came with a curse; or, at least that is what the shop owner had told her. They’d both laughed at such antics. He told her the clock once belonged to a Princess of ancient China. That a famous toy and clock maker had made it especially for her, and that it was built to keep her alive as long as she took care of it – and, didn’t anger it. It was said that the Princess kept the clock safe for years and years, that she’d put it in an alcove just above her bed where it kept time to the Dragon never yielding to its flames. That is until she fell in love with a young Prince.

The Prince had moved her to his palace and she’d brought her dowry and her clock with her. Everything had gone on fine for many cycles of the turning wheel of time, but then a day came when the Princess had accidentally discovered her lover, the Prince, in the arms of another woman. She’d been so enraged she’d come back to her quarters and begun shredding everything, her clothing, her art, her furniture, her bed, until she came to the object she valued most in her life: the clock. She knew of the curse, and she knew she wanted to get back at the Prince. She picked up the device and without thinking she threw it from the balcony of her room onto the rocks and sea far below.

From that day forward the Princess became ill and a few days and weeks later, even after the Prince had called in the best and brightest doctors, sorcerers, witches, and ancient necromantic seers: she died of unknown causes in an excruciating form – she turned to jade, to stone. The Prince so distraught over the death of his beautiful lover felt there was some ancient curse upon his House. He summoned all his soothsayers and wise men to discover the problem; and they told him of the old toymaker’s clock, and of this man who had loved the young Princess from afar, but due to his age and station in life could only offer the one thing he had to give – the promise of immortality. The clock held the ancient powers of chaos and creation within its mechanical works, a magickal device of cunning and sorcery that bestowed the semblance of life for a price; that price being the dark and terrible secret of death itself which would extol a malignancy upon those who betrayed its confidence. For those who betrayed the device it meant becoming a living death in stone; an immortal statue of jade within which one would be aware for all eternity.

The Prince had the old toymaker and all of his clocks summoned before him. The old man was forced to share the story of his corruption and of the device. The Prince entreated him to break the spell upon the Princess, to release her from her living abomination. But, sadly, the toymaker said this was beyond his power; that the daemon of the clock held the power, and that only it could release her. The Prince angered beyond his young years had without warning slid his katana out and swiftly sliced the head off of the toymaker. He’d wrapped the clock up – which had reappeared after his lover’s mutation in her jade hands – and wrapped it in the old man’s shawl and floated both down the Yellow Yangtze River. That was the last anyone had heard of the clock and its tale till the shop keeper’s great uncle who’d been a traveling merchant had found it and the slain toymaker in the river. The clock seemed such a wonderful object that the old merchant had scooped it from the dead man and hidden it among his things. The merchant had a dream that night and the old toymaker had come to him and told him the tale of the clock and of its curse, that anyone who angered it would surely die as it would die at the appointed hour of the tiger: absolute zero. There and only there did time stop, and freeze into nothing; to remain there throughout all eternity along with its victim alone with the daemon of the clock.

The shop owner Pooh-poohed such old wives tales, said it was just one of those tales to tell your children on a late night when the moon was dark, and the owls and mice in the rafters were hooting and pattering. And, yet, she’d felt a little uneasy about it later, even made sure she wrapped the clock up safely and stowed it away in her traveling chest nice and tight. By the time she’d arrived back home after her journey she’d forgotten all about it. Until she’d given it to me, along with the unnerving tale of Princesses and demons and owls and mice and dark moons and curses.

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The Suicide Machine

The Universe is nothing else than a suicide machine created by a blind and fugitive monstrosity, whose veritable death throes generated the body of this universal catastrophe we now live in as fragments or shards of its dying embers, ash of its black light.

-©2016 S.C. Hickman, The Infernal Journals of Thaddeus Long

Thomas Ligotti will offer a surmise onto the strange necrotheology of the German philosopher Philipp Mainländer (born Phillip Batz), echoing a strain of Gnostic or Buddhist thought underpinning much of 19th Century Philosophy, saying: “Perhaps the Blind God was an unreliable narrator of weird tales. He did not want to leave a bad impression by telling us He had absented Himself from the ceremonies of death before they had begun. Alone and immortal, nothing needed Him. Yet, He needed to bust out into a universe to complete His project of self-extinction, passing on His horror piecemeal, so to say, to His creation.”1 He’ll comment on this amalgam of Catholic, Gnostic, and Pessimist speculation of Mainländer’s – remarking,

No one has yet conceived an authoritative reason for why the human race should continue or discontinue its being, although some believe they have. Mainländer was sure he had an answer to what he judged to be the worthlessness and pain of existence, and none may peremptorily belie it. (CHR,

The inability to posit an optimistic or a pessimistic reason for the continuation of the human species has left humanity in a quandary, oscillating between two poles like dark divers from some infernal picture show; members of a cult of death that keep on keeping on, only because of the ennui and the lack of vital thought or action necessary to decide one way or the other. So instead we have ritualized our world around certain age-old fetishes that our desires can grasp onto to maintain the status quo – if nothing else. As Ligotti delightfully relates: “Ontologically, Mainländer’s thought is delirious; metaphorically, it explains a good deal about human experience; practically, it may in time prove to be consistent with the idea of creation as a structure of creaking bones being eaten from within by a pestilent marrow.” (CHR, 38)


1. Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror. Hippocampus Press. Kindle Edition. (CHR)

 

The Cloning of Bethany Tillman

 

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Bethany came home today. I thought it would all be fine, she is to all intents and purposes the spitting image of my wife. Yet, something is missing, something I just cannot put my finger on. Oh sure, her memories are perfect, her voice – the lisp, her little idiosyncrasies: the way she holds her head, the lifting of her hand, the way she stops in the midst of a sentence – as if in thought, then laughs; it’s all there. Yet, when we touch, when I reach over and kiss her lips, it’s as if they were the lips of a stranger, of some other woman. It makes me feel strange.

I asked the doctors about it and they assure me that this is all normal, the way it should be. They insist I should just take it a step at a time. Day by day things will fall in place, her old self will come through as if by magic.

* * *

It’s been three weeks now, and I’m even more ill at ease. She seems to repeat her stories, seems to be stuck in an record or old memories as if she couldn’t think of anything new to say. She wanders around the house almost sleepwalking, puttering, mumbling, trying to figure something out in her mind that she just can’t seem to comprehend.

She looks at me sometimes as if she doesn’t recognize me, as if I were someone from her past, but that she couldn’t quite grasp who. She’ll come up to me and gently touch my face, feel my skin, explore my nose and eyes, my ears; touch my Adam’s apple as if in doing this she might grasp some intangible memory of desire., a fleeting world of life that for some reason had fallen away from her. Tears will come into her eyes then and drop onto her pale cheeks like angels condemned to some forlorn world they’ll never be able recognize nor escape. 

* * *

Today she smiled. It was the first time she actually put on a dress. Said she wanted to take the children to the zoo. It was wonderful.

But when she returned she was crying, and the children seemed cold and indifferent. I sent them to bed. I asked her what happened. “I couldn’t remember how to drive, John.” She ran off to the bedroom and locked the door.

I slept on the couch.

* * *

We went to the movies to see one of her all time favorite stars. She sat there silent through the whole film. She didn’t laugh or cry once. She even forgot to eat her popcorn. I’m beginning to think something is wrong. But what? On the surface she seems her old self. She plays with the children, rocks Lizzy and sings to her; and, with Joey she walks him through his lessons carefully and with patience. Her eyes seem almost to have the old fire. Yet, something is missing. What? There’s this void, this emptiness. She seems to be absent while present. Elsewhere.

* * *

Joey asked me something today that frightened me: “When’s mommy coming home, daddy?”

“Mommy is home, Joey!”

“No, no, daddy: I mean my real mommy, not this one.”

“What do you mean, Joey? This is your mommy, the only mommy you’ve ever had.”

“No, daddy, this one just looks like mommy, but she’s not. She’s someone else’s mommy.”

I wanted him to explain, but was afraid to inquire further and didn’t want to upset him. So instead I just told him that mommy would come home someday, but that he needed to pretend he loved this mommy for now. What else should I have told him?

* * *

Bethany didn’t go to work today. She stayed in bed all day. Said she wasn’t feeling well and that I should just leave her alone.

She didn’t want to see the children. I asked her why.

“Their not my children!” she said emphatically.

That’s when I called Dr. Cael.

* * *

He explained to me that it happened like this sometimes. Some people reject the idea of immortality, they just cannot accept an endless life of becoming other skins. It’s the strangeness of the skin that upsets them, they seem to be unable to make the crossing into reembodiment. Bethany cannot accept being a clone. She knows what she is and feels guilty for having cheated death, as if she were a zombie and not your young wife. She says she feels distant, cold – as if she was watching someone else’s life, not her own.

What do we do now?

There’s nothing that can be done, John. You have to let her go. She’ll find a new life, maybe even have children again. Meet someone else, but she has rejected her former life and cannot return. She has her memories, but she cannot have her former life. It happens, John. Why? It’s a mystery we have yet to figure out.  

So what do I do? My children?

John, she is dead. Your real wife is gone, her ashes are right here. Do what you must. Take your children and see a priest or children’s therapist, work through it John.

* * *

I did. I worked through it. I finally met someone else. Her name is Judy. We love each other very much, and the children seem to get along with her beautifully. But there is a slight complication.

She is a clone, too. Should I tell the children?


 – Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Grumpus Buglish and the Turning Tree

Grumpus Buglish and the Turning Tree

Grumpus sat there eyeing the boy. The time of turning was upon him, and the boy would need every bit of knowledge the old man could muster into him if the boy was to survive it. Even now the boy had no clue. The old man remembered the day he’d changed. Things happen in life and not always for the better, but nothing had prepared him for the turning. As a child his old man was mean and kept his nose to the grind, never speaking about the way until the day it happened. So when it did Grumpus was ill-prepared and went wild and rogue. But that wasn’t the half of it…

But all that was long ago, a time he didn’t relish remembering now. Only thing that mattered was that the boy would not go through such pain. He’d see to that come hell or high-water.

Grumpus felt the creep in him, knew his skin was turning wood, rough and leathery; his snout seemed growing longer with each passing year, and have more white hairs coming out of it than his horse Juju. Warts the size of June bugs were crawling and popping out skin-wise on nose and toes, especially around his eyes like black toads. His knees kept snapping and creaking in the mornings, and his fingers were not as nimble as they once were. His feet looked more like scrimps, roots full of pimples and growths as if at any moment he might burrow down into the earth and become a swamp oak. The simples Mrs. Degler fixed for him no longer did him much good. His gimpy eye hung low, the good one was beginning to droop slime. He’d rub the burn oak oils into his swarthy skin, hoping against hope his bones wouldn’t creak like some old reliquary’s tomb wood. But every time he walked now something seemed to click and clank as if he were a living drum pounding the world back into some iron age kettle.

He almost envied the boy. Wishing he was again his age. But that was all foolishness. His time would soon be over. He knew that. He even relished it like an old lover. Death would be his last love. She’d come quickly too when he gave the boy the dark gift.

“Come here, Shandee!” a mite too harshly.

The boy looked up, his sprite eyes almost ready to burst, full of foxfire. He stood up and walked over to Grumpus with a big grin on his face. “So what we doing?”

He knew the boy wasn’t ready. But he’d have to make do. “We got things to do today, you and I,” he spoke with a lisp, as if he didn’t even like using his mouth anymore. His tongue felt like a dried up plum, squirmy like it didn’t belong to him but was some kind of snake crawling around in there waiting to get out. The boy was getting tall now, and a little too scrawny; he’d have to put more carp and crocodile on the menu, more potato’s and some hog jawls and buttered turnips. Fatten the boy up. His eyes were strong and healthy, his shoulders broad and had a grip on him now like one of those swamp wrestlers. Boy was growing up. Mop of brown hair and strange blue eyes. Must’ve gotten those from that no good daddy of his. Sorry son-of-a… enough, he thought.

“You’ll see.” Grumpus knew he didn’t see; no one at his age could see such things coming.

He grabbed his knotty stick, coat, and hat stood up rubbed the boy’s thick brown mop of thick-laden hair, and said, “Let’s go!”

Outside the leaves and wind seemed almost ready, waiting on queue to start up and make the scene as hostile and eerie as could be. Autumn always seemed to have that flavor: burnt oranges, umbers, caked-dried earth, the scent of winter on the breeze; the river colder, darker, and the stones along the creek, wet and slippery. He felt a sudden chill, turned his collar up, took his bone pipe out and lit it up. The smoke seemed to drift round and round and up toward the meeting place as if it too understood what was about to happen.

Grumpus pulled his coat tighter and told the boy. “Follow me.”

As he turned he saw the boy, changing…


Note: Just snippet of a series of children tale  I’m working on… 

Background: A fusion of old European notions of the Wood-Elf and Ogre, Amerindian notions of Windigo, Skin Walker, Wechuge; Japanese notions of Jikininki; Hindu notions of the Rakshasa; and, even H.P. Lovecraft (Ithaqua: Wind Walker) and Algernon Blackwood’s Windigo all play in the background. The notion of the Wild Man or the legends surrounding the spirits of the wild places in resurgence, manifesting themselves through time even in an Age of Reason such as ours still plays heavy in movies, books, etc. We seem to have a fascination with the unknown, with the dark powers outside the human range of being. From Kant’s time on the realm of the noumena was closed off, and philosophers have lived handicapped in the realm of phenomena as if nothing else could be questioned, known, tolerated in the House of Reason. Yet, during the whole time of the early 19th Century when the Enlightenment was supposedly to take hold through science etc. we saw a great influx of the Gothic and Grotesque/Macabre aspects of literature and poetry in Coleridge, Poe, Baudelaire, some of the German Romantics, the Decadents, etc. All dealing with the darker aspects of human and inhuman forces. My aim is to make it come alive, to bring a language that truly awakens the imagination of an old evil presence that is at once intelligent and crafty, wise and full of that mischievous power associated with the tricksters from Coyote, Raven, Fox, etc. A sense of the Wood Elf. To situate it in a southern gothic mythology and physically implant it in that culture with echoes of all the aspects shooting out in concrete metaphor and metonymy.