Welcome to Week 106 of my weekly horror short fiction review project! This week we’re going to close out two of the collections we’ve been working through: Ramsey Campbell’s Cold Print and Lovecraft’s Medusa’s Coil and Others. Starting next week these two will be replaced, respectively, with Campbell’s Demons by Daylight and Joshi’s A Mountain Walked anthology. A lot of folks would probably say that “The Night Ocean” would be their favorite story of the week, but I’m just not that big of a fan of Barlow’s flowery language (there’s clearly almost no Lovecraft in this story). My favorite was “Engineered” by Ari Marmell, which has a really intriguing cosmic horror premise.
Cold Print, by Ramsey Campbell (Tor Books, 1987)
A Brit named Lamb is traveling around Bavaria and happens on a small village where he stays for the night at an inn; there’s also a semi-ruined church which seems to be the village’s central attraction. He eats in the inn’s restaurant and thinks that the pretty barmaid is trying to seduce him. It later becomes apparent that she is not, but rather attempting to set him up to be sacrificed (perhaps?) in the ruined church. Lamb is then chased by the townsfolk but manages to elude them. There’s no real sense of menace or clarity about what’s going on here, so the reader is left with a sense of pointlessness to it all.
Madness on the Orient Express, edited by James Lowder (Chaosium, 2014)
“Engineered” by Ari Marmell
Timothy is trying to locate his brother Harold, who has gone missing during the interwar period. Harold is a gifted mechanical engineer who seems to have gone mad, believing that the growing European telegraph and rail networks are part of some vast, malign entity. Harold is actually correct, and this entity can control machines to do its bidding; it will also be able to find Harold if he leaves the train. This story had an extremely novel premise at its heart, and a truly chilling ending when Timothy releases that he too is now unable to leave the train, and must serve as a porter forever, lest he be found and killed by the entity.
The King in Yellow Tales, Volume 1, by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. (Lovecraft eZine Press, 2015)
“Tark Left Santiago”
A man is on a roadtrip, with a kind of Groundhog Day effect seemingly going on. Sorry, this one was just too experimental and stream-of-consciousness for me to really get a sense of coherent narrative out of this one. For me personally, not a successful experiment.
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 Night Ocean” by R. H. Barlow and H. P. Lovecraft
One of the few pieces by Lovecraft (well, he seems to have written about 10% of this one) that I had not previously read. A misanthropic muralist has rented a seashore cottage for a month or two. He goes into the nearby town for dinner every evening, but otherwise spends the day longing and swimming, and then staring out into the ocean every night, which entrances him. (I’m not a big beachgoer but that actually sounds pretty nice.) There is a vague sense that there are some oceanic menaces present: there are a lot of swimmers nearby who have gone missing; he recalls a fairy tale of a human woman being loved by the king of an under water kingdom but she is kidnapped by a strange being with the face of a withered ape and wearing a mitre; he finds some flotsam washed up on the beach that may be part of a rotted human hand; he sees some dark figures near his cottage one night, then later sees a humanoid figure coming ashore carrying something over its shoulder. I think that the story strongly implies that Lovecraft’s Deep Ones (from “The Shadow over Innsmouth”) are involved but this is never resolved or brought to a head. There’s a small fraction of weirdness and a lot of an artist with clinical depression at the root of this tale. I can’t say that it’s one of my favorites, because it’s mostly a story of mood over plot with lots of flowery language that must be courtesy of Barlow because it’s atypical of Lovecraft.