Welcome to Week 125 of my horror short fiction review project! This week we have a new entry: Ramsey Campbell’s The Inhabitant of the Lake & Other Unwelcome Tenants–just don’t get too used to that collection, as it only contains two stories I haven’t already reviewed, so we’ll cover one this week and one next week then we’re onto a new collection for that slot. I had a really tough time picking out a favorite this week: I was really torn between “I Dream of Wires” by Scott David Aniolowski and “Altar” by Philip Fracassi. I think “Wires” might win out by a hair, but I’m beginning to see that there are few authors who can beat Fracassi on characterization.
Made in Goatswood: New Tales of Horror in the Severn Valley, edited by Scott David Aniolowski (Chaosium, 1995)
“I Dream of Wires” by Scott David Aniolowski
Fascinating. Christian is a seemingly ordinary college student living in a dorm with his roommate Brian. Christian begins having increasingly surreal experiences and starts losing his memories. He also starts dreaming about man-machine interfaces and cyborg-like elements. These experiences are inherently interesting, but the story’s ending suggests that Christian may be volunteer test subject in an experiment designed to contact/communicate with a (sapient) artificial intelligence. If so, I suspect the AI is probably colonizing Christian’s consciousness. Very interesting imagery throughout. I will likely re-read this one at some point.
Behold the Void, by Philip Fracassi (Lovecraft eZine Press, 2018)
The power of this story stems from Fracassi’s ability to write ordinary people—in this case, two teenage siblings, 12-year-old Gary and his older sister Abby, and their mother Martha—so well. These are ordinary people: the family is going through a divorce, the teens are wrestling with the petty problems that teens have, and they are headed to a community swimming pool one ordinary summer day. Gary is our primary viewpoint character—there is a younger boy who pops up a couple times a viewpoint character as well, and that feels awkward—and the thoughts he had about how to behave, his interest in finding someone to pal around with, how he interacts with his family are all thoughts I had when I was Gary’s age. This is Fracassi’s genius manifesting in the same way that Stephen King can bring ordinary people to life. But of course this is a horror novel, so something horrific must happen. A lot actually happens within a short period of time. On the mundane level, a bully terrorizes those smaller than himself, and he and a friend assault Abby. This is horrific enough. But a kind of interdimensional sinkhole opens in the pool, sucking swimmers into another dimension where they seem to be sacrificed on an altar by an insectoid horror. I’d have liked the supernatural elements to be expanded on just a bit but this was a very well-written story with photorealistic characterization and an interesting mix of mundane and supernatural horror.
The Inhabitant of the Lake & Other Unwelcome Tenants, by Ramsey Campbell (PS Publishing, 2018)
“The Plain of Sound”
A Lovecraftian pastiche to be sure but a fascinating one nevertheless. Three college boys get lost while on a hike and come upon an abandoned home in an area where there’s a strange, constant buzz with no discernible source. They discover a disgraced professor’s diary and experiments in the home and learn that he was in contact with beings from another dimension; in our work they manifest purely as sounds (and they perceive matter as odors). They are interested in coming through to our world, thought the professor learned from his research that they are likely not to be trusted, and developed a kind of sonic weapon that could be used to repel them. The boys, of course, contact the sound beings—wouldn’t be much of a story if they didn’t, would it?—and quickly get spooked when it becomes apparent that the sound beings are indeed not especially benign and interested in coming through to our dimension. They repel the beings but not before one of them is driven mad. I really like the idea of different types of matter/beings/perceptions operating on entirely different principles interacting across dimensional lines. Good stuff.
A Mountain Walked: Great Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, edited by S.T. Joshi (Dark Regions Press, 2015)
“The Wreck of the Aurora” by Patrick McGrath
A remote lighthouse on Barbary Rock suddenly went dark one night during a storm, which in turn led to a shipwreck that left four dead. There’s also a missing ship’s logbook, but the relevance of that remains unclear to me. A young woman seeks answers to the mystery of why this happened but ends up not finding any answers. Literally. No resolution whatsoever to the story. No apparent supernatural elements either. I am hard-pressed to understand why this story was included in the collection. There are a few bits of decent atmosphere but that’s it.