“Black Man with a Horn” is the third novella in Klein’s Dark Gods collection, though you will find it reprinted in many other collections as well.
The most explicitly Lovecraftian novella in the collection, and one that is explicitly tied into the Cthulhu Mythos. This is the story of an elderly man who, in his youth, was a correspondent and friend of the much older H.P. Lovecraft. Our protagonist is now a lonely old man living in New York City who seems to have spent most of his life as a writer of weird fiction who is likely still trying to find his own authorial voice, remaining as he does in Lovecraft’s shadow. The novella opens with a scene in which the writer is returning to New York on a plane and meets a very strange missionary who has been living in Southeast Asia for years, where he encountered and ran afoul of the abominable Tcho-Tcho tribe (you will recall them from several stories written by Lovecraft and August Derleth, and later enlarged upon). In this conversation we learn of one of the Tcho-Tchos’ practices: their ability to plant a kind of seed in a victim that somehow spawns a kind of black humanoid with an elephant trunk that they use as an assassin. (I actually really enjoyed this scene as a sociological blast from the past because I am just old enough to remember when you could smoke on airplanes—among other differences from the air travel of today—and this scene captures some of those differences very nicely.) All of this is uncomfortable for the writer: not only because the missionary is clearly unhinged and more than a little paranoid but also because he knows that the Tcho-Tchos are simply a literary creation, which places him in the awkward position of seemingly being aware that he is now living out some sort of Lovecraftian tale. Despite these misgivings, the writer gives the missionary his elderly sister’s address in Florida because the missionary is going to be staying down there coincidentally. (Ah the ‘70s, when you’d give out a relative’s address and phone number to a stranger you meet on a plane…) When the writer’s sister begins telling him about a series of mysterious deaths and disappearances in the area, he suspects that there is likely more going on than can be comfortably explained away.
The horror is subtle, but ominous throughout; I think that having an elderly and not particularly physically capable protagonist helped a great deal in highlighting the menace. It doesn’t take much to pose a potentially lethal menace to a handful of retirees. I liked the story a lot while at the same time I wanted more from Klein on this one. I wanted to know more about the narrator, his life, and his motivations for investigating the matter. What we got is very good—I enjoyed the commentary on living life in the shadow of Lovecraft as a writer who knew him—I just wanted more. Still, a very entertaining story.