Welcome to Week 64 of my horror short fiction review project! There was a very clear “best story of the week”: Ramsey Campbell’s “Call First.” Almost anything involving libraries and creepy occultists is going to be fun and when Campbell is on, he’s a really great writer.
Alone with the Horrors, by Ramsey Campbell (Tor, 2004)
This one was very short but I enjoyed it nevertheless. Ned is a library porter (an attendant of some sort; he seems to man the front desk) and he’s a bit of a brutish thug, trying hard to be liked by his fellow porters, but seems to be more than a little slow. Every day an old man who visits the library and seems to have occult interests uses the library’s phone to call his home and say simply “I’m coming home” before hanging up. Ned is intrigued by this and ends up breaking into the old man’s home at lunchtime while the old man is still at the library. Ned discovers that those calls were far more important than he realized because that’s what disarms the man’s magical(?) home security system. I won’t provide any more details than that, but it was definitely a satisfying ending.
Black Wings of Cthulhu 4, edited by S.T. Joshi (Titan Books, 2016)
“A Prism of Darkness” by Darrell Schweitzer
Darrell Schweitzer is normally an extremely reliable author who has contributed some of the best stories in past Black Wings of Cthulhu collections, but he let me down here. His premise has a great deal of potential: Elizabethan occultist and alchemist John Dee is translating the Necronomicon (or maybe it is translating itself….) While that idea has a lot of potential—I’d love to see a full-blown take on a Lovecraftian Elizabethan England—but sadly nothing much happens in the story. Great premise, boring execution.
The Yellow Sign and Other Stories, by Robert W. Chambers (Chaosium, 2004)
In Search of the Unknown
–The Sphyx (ch 13-17)
The fourth of six linked stories collected in the novel In Search of the Unknown. Professor Farrago is back in charge of the zoo and summons the narrator to join him in the Everglades as he hunts for a mysterious group of invisible creatures or humanoids. The narrator does so, bringing along a plucky female stenographer because no men are willing to join him. He also ends up bringing along a cowardly hunting dog and an assortment of odds and ends that the professor has asked for, all of which ratchet up the absurdity of the situation. As it turns out the invisible beings really like apple pie and have the appearance of beautiful naked women (one is briefly made visible by a chemical dye). When last sighted, Professor Farrago was being dragged off deeper into the Everglades with a big smile on his face by the beings…. Pretty silly (these stories seem to have gotten more absurd as they’ve gone on), but still kind of enjoyable.
The Book of Cthulhu, edited by Ross E. Lockhart (Night Shade Books, 2011)
“Jihad over Innsmouth” by Edward Morris
A really silly story that was clearly a reaction to the September 11 attacks. Here’s the set-up: A Muslim assassin has been hired by Nyarlathotep to kill the Reverend Waite, head of the Esoteric Order of Dagon (from Innsmouth). He turns out to be on the same plane as the assassin. Waite attempts to hijack the aircraft with a fellow Deep One hybrid, and they are stopped by the assassin along with a young man who grew up in Arkham, and who is therefore (1) utterly unfazed by any kind of weirdness, having seen it all while growing up and (2) a master of hand-to-hand combat (why?). They kill the hijackers and the assassin is also a pilot, so no big deal, and he’s fulfilled his contract. What the actual f***?