Welcome to Week 103 of my horror short fiction review project! We were blessed with an abundance of great stories this week. On an ordinary week, Joe Pulver’s “Yvrain’s ‘Black Dancers’” would have been the best story of the week (it’s a great one), but this week Ramsey Campbell’s “Before the Storm” was even better. Treat yourself and read both.
Cold Print, by Ramsey Campbell (Tor Books, 1987)
“Before the Storm”
Great. A newspaper-seller has made a bargain with a Mythos entity of Campbell’s creation, Eihort, who has granted the newspaper-seller the ability to send his consciousness into other (non-human) beings’ bodies and experience the vastness of the universe vicariously. The newspaper-seller has viewed this as an amazing gift. But now the bargain that was struck has come to an end, but the newspaper-seller is resistant to completing the bargain (it will presumably lead to his untimely demise), and so Eihort has the man’s consciousness experience various deaths in other beings’ bodies, and he has also sent his minions to essentially re-possesses the man’s body. A fascinating concept in itself, but we also get to see what the newspaper-seller’s experience looks like from the perspective of outside observers. To them (mostly, petty bureaucrats who work in a tax assessment office), he simply appears to be a deranged homeless man ranting and raving about nonsense. A few of them do, however, get a glimpse of what he is experiencing at some cost to their sanity. Really interesting and cosmic ideas here.
Madness on the Orient Express, edited by James Lowder (Chaosium, 2014)
“La Musique de l’Ennui” by Kenneth Hite
Kristie is a Canadian super-fan of The Phantom of the Opera (I didn’t realize there was such a thing, but of course there are) who has taken a modern-day Phantom-themed excursion on the Orient Express. It soon becomes apparent that the Phantom has or is becoming blended with Robert W. Chambers’ the King in Yellow here as things become unreal and frightening. Hite is probably inflicting a bit too much of his research on the readers here—who knew there were so many different versions of the Phantom?—but there are some interesting ideas here, and I’m always open to new iterations of the King in Yellow.
The King in Yellow Tales, Volume 1, by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. (Lovecraft eZine Press, 2015)
“Yvrain’s ‘Black Dancers’”
This was a story that could have been conceived of by Clive Barker, and I mean that in the best possible way. It’s short but it packs a powerful punch. The artist Boris Yvraine, at the behest of Dr. Archer—you will recognize these characters from Robert W. Chambers’ work—has sculpted a pair of demonic, rutting statues that drive their viewers insane in an orgy of lust that rapidly descends into frenzy, torture, and murder. This is very powerful stuff, despite the brevity of the story. Some of Pulver’s best short work.
Medusa’s Coil and Others: The Annotated Revisions and Collaborations of H.P. Lovecraft, Vol. 2, edited by S.T. Joshi (Arcane Wisdom, 2012)
“The Disinterment” by H. P. Lovecraft and Duane W. Rimel
This is a pretty straightforward mad scientist tale involving a head/brain transplant. The narrator contracts leprosy and begins to live in seclusion at his friend’s home, the friend being an experimental surgeon. The physician approaches the narrator with a proposition: he has perfected a chemical that can allow him to mimic death (by placing him in a deathlike comatose state), which he will use to have the narrator buried and then disinterred sand revived so that he will not have to be sent away to a leprosarium. When the narrator is revived, he eventually learns that his head has actually been transplanted onto someone else’s body, which causes him to fly into a murderous rage. Very Frankensteinian. Though it doesn’t tread any new ground, it’s not bad.