Welcome to Week 22 of my horror short fiction review project! Of this week’s four stories, two were excellent: Theodore Sturgeon’s “Bright Segment” and Clive Barker’s “Pig Blood Blues.” I’d be hard-pressed to select a favorite, but Barker’s story would probably win out by just a bit.
The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories, by H.P. Lovecraft, edited by S.T. Joshi (Penguin, 2001)
“The Quest of Iranon”
Probably my least favorite Lovecraft story and that’s because of its prose style: this is a very faithful mimickry/homage of Lord Dansany, and I don’t like Dunsany. Not one bit. If you like his work, then you’ll probably like this story far, far better than I did.
This is the story of a golden-haired young man—Iranon—who claims to be a prince from the city of Aira, though he doesn’t know where this city may be located. Along the way Iranon picks up a companion, who travels with him looking for this lost city. They settle in another city; over the years, Iranon’s companion eventually grows old and dies, while Iranon remains the same golden-haired youth. After his companion’s death, Iranon resumes his search. He eventually meets an old shepherd, who asks him if he has ever heard of Aira. The man tells him that long ago there was a beggar boy who claimed to be a prince from there before he was mocked by everyone who heard his story. Once he knows that Aira has just been a figment of his imagination, Iranon loses his eternal youth, grows old, and wanders off into the wilderness to die. Pretty melancholic, with a nice, creepy Lovecraftian twist, but the Dunsanian language of the story really bugs me. This one is just not for me.
The Dark Descent, edited by David G. Hartwell (Tor, 1987)
“Bright Segment” by Theodore Sturgeon
If you’ve ever read Misery (or seen the film) or Boxing Helena, or similar media, you know the premise of “Bright Segment,” but given that it was published in 1955, I have a sneaking suspicion that it all began here. By the way, I think the story’s title is terrible and entirely unrelated to the actual story, but that’s neither here nor there. Here’s the premise: A physically deformed man, of demonstrably low if not subnormal intelligence, witnesses a beautiful woman get hit by a car in a hit-and-run accident. Rather than summon help or get her to the hospital, he takes her home and slowly nurses her back to health. Eventually she recovers with his help and is ready to go home. He doesn’t want that to happen. It’s a decidedly effective horror story.
Books of Blood, Volumes One to Three, by Clive Barker (Berkley, 1998)
“Pig Blood Blues”
Now this is vintage Barker. We’ve got a medically discharged/retired cop who takes on a new job as a woodworking teacher at a juvenile detention facility that is practically a prison farm. I’ll just set up the premise but not reveal how things progress too much. The ex-cop, Redman, tries to befriend a boy named Lacey there, who is being badly bullied. It soon becomes apparent that aside from the physical torment he’s receiving at the hands of his fellow inmates, he’s also being troubled (haunted?) by his former friend at the facility, who seems to have escaped somehow. There’s also something…awful going on in the facility’s pig sty, where there resides an extremely large, ill-tempered sow…. I think you can begin to see where this is going. An excellent story.
Black Wings of Cthulhu 2, edited by S.T. Joshi (Titan Books, 2012)
Introduction by S.T. Joshi
Brief, forgettable introduction that mostly just makes a few brief remarks about some of the stories. No great shakes.
“When Death Wakes Me to Myself” by John Shirley
I’ve read some of Shirley’s longer works before and he’s a good writer. Those skills are certainly on display here. We have a psychiatrist who has moved his office into an old house in Providence that has a long history—and his own family history is even involved, as he eventually learns—plus there’s a young man who seems mentally ill who keeps breaking into the place. I have to provide you with some spoilers to be able to say anything meaningful about the story. As it turns out, the young man is probably not mentally ill, per se, but is either being occasionally inhabited by the spirit of H.P. Lovecraft or Lovecraft has been reborn as the young man with some flashes of his past life. It’s all interesting as far as it goes, but I just wish the story had led to some bigger development at the end. There was a lot of run-up for not all that big of a payoff.