Welcome to Week 71 of my horror short fiction review project! While I really enjoyed “The Fairground Horror” by Brian Lumley (and Lumley’s work in general), I would have to say that my favorite story this week was Ramsey Campbell’s “The Voice of the Beach” because it genuinely made me think. I suspect this one will reward a future re-reading.
Alone with the Horrors, by Ramsey Campbell (Tor, 2004)
“The Voice of the Beach”
A very long story that simply went on too long to be entirely worth the payoff. Having said that, the story contains some fascinating elements and very subtle creepiness, and I suspect it may warrant a re-read down the road. I simply wish I understood more of what was going on here. Two men (the narrator and his widowed friend Ned) are staying in a beach bungalow near two deserted villages. They explore the villages and discover some papers left behind by an obvious madman. The longer they remain in the area, the more convinced they become that perhaps the writer wasn’t mad at all, but that our reality has somehow “over-written” the original reality of this area—not destroying the original reality but causing it to somehow withdraw and bide its time while leaving behind some traces of its existence. There’s a fascinating premise buried here, I suspect.
Black Wings of Cthulhu 4, edited by S.T. Joshi (Titan Books, 2016)
“In the Event of Death” by Simon Strantzas
A struggling horror writer (why do so many modern horror stories employ a horror writer as protagonist?) tries to cope with his mother’s death and learn more about his own origins, such as why was his father never around? He has two potential sources of information: his religious whackjob of an aunt who only wants to revile him, and his mother’s diary which he has instructions to inter with her body, unread. I think that the implication was that his father was a demon, but I can’t be sure; Strantzas is simply too coy about the central mystery. If so, the story was out of place for the collection. It’s not a terrible story, just an unfinished one—it doesn’t end, it simply stops.
The Yellow Sign and Other Stories, by Robert W. Chambers (Chaosium, 2004)
“The Bridal Pair”
Another fairly poignant tragic romance story with a supernatural element from Chambers—seems to be his particular niche with many of his stories in the collection. A young doctor returns to the inn where he visited three years previously on a hunting trip. He encounters Rosamund, a young woman who had been his childhood sweetheart; in the intervening years, he has caught glimpses of her around the world while on various travels but has never had a chance to interact with her. As it turns out, she died three years previously on her nineteenth birthday. They declare their love for each other, then he visits her tomb before joyfully joining her in death.
The Book of Cthulhu, edited by Ross E. Lockhart (Night Shade Books, 2011)
“The Fairground Horror” by Brian Lumley
This was a well done story that was lots of fun, as is typical of Lumley’s work—you don’t read Lumley because you want to wrestle with deep philosophical questions, you read him because he’s just plain entertaining. Anderson and Hamilton Tharpe are brothers who own a carnival freakshow in which they mostly display pickled fetuses and cobbled-together taxidermies, though they have a few genuine treasures in the back for discerning visitors. Hamilton, you see, travels the world periodically and brings back artifacts with genuine Cthulhu Mythos significance. Along the way, he has come to sincerely believe in the Mythos and worship Cthulhu in particular, even making periodic human sacrifices to him. During a confrontation, Anderson accidentally kills Hamilton and covers it up, though he is increasingly troubled by eerie dreams after he begins to use his brother’s occult knowledge and trappings to seek power rather than to worship the Great Old Ones. Cthulhu doesn’t appreciate this and sends another of his priests to seek revenge. A nice little tie-in with Lumley’s Titus Crow stories as well. Recommended.