Welcome to Week 67 of my horror short fiction review project! Some really good stories this week. While I really liked Brian McNaughton’s “The Doom that Came to Innsmouth,” my favorite was Ramsey Campbell’s “Baby.” When Ramsey’s on point, he’s amazing. Check them all out.
Alone with the Horrors, by Ramsey Campbell (Tor, 2004)
When Ramsey Campbell is on, he’s a really great wordsmith, and this is one of his better ones. A drunk named Dutton kills his downstairs neighbor, an old woman, because she has sneered at him and otherwise been antagonistic. She’s even odder than Dutton—who is chronically unemployed and spends most of his time in alleys getting drunk with other winos—because she’s always seen in public pushing a baby stroller around. After Dutton bashes her head in, he looks in the baby carriage to find it filled with vegetables, four odd snowglobe-type things that show odd images, and a depression where something else was. He also realizes that the woman was very visibly pregnant, which is odd because she was old. Some of his drunken cronies note that there had always been speculation that the woman had been a witch who gave away all of her wealth in exchange for…something. They also wonder where, if she was a witch, her familiar was. Dutton becomes increasingly paranoid, and discovers the answer to that last question. Very good stuff.
Black Wings of Cthulhu 4, edited by S.T. Joshi (Titan Books, 2016)
“Trophy” by Melanie Tem
An interesting story that was entirely off-topic for the collection, having nothing whatsoever to do with Lovecraft or the Cthulhu Mythos. This is the story of a quadriplegic hideously injured in a skiing accident who titillates himself by watching snuff porn. If that wasn’t sufficiently bizarre, he also believes that he has been impregnated by aliens and is about to give birth. I can’t quite make up my mind if he’s right or not. It’s a bizarre one, but there’s something about it that I liked—but once again, Joshi, why did you include it in the anthology?
The Yellow Sign and Other Stories, by Robert W. Chambers (Chaosium, 2004)
The Tracer of Lost Persons (excerpt: ch. 17-20)
This is not a stand-alone short story but rather a fully-coherent, self-contained, four-chapter excerpt from Chambers’ novel The Tracer of Lost Persons. A wealthy man named Jack Burke hires Mr. Keen, the eponymous tracer of lost persons, who apparently runs something like a private detective agency, to track down two men who stole the body of Samaris, a beautiful dancing girl from ancient Egypt. Burke discovered Samaris’ body in a dig in Egypt and was shocked to find her not just perfectly preserved via unknown means but incredibly beautiful; he immediately fell in love with her, of course, though two ne’er-do-wells spirited her away. Samaris is apparently not actually dead, but rather hypnotized and placed in suspended animation in such a way that her body’s functions are held in stasis and she has never aged. In addition to his other talents, Keen is also a gifted Egyptologist (extremely convenient) and translates a recovered papyrus that provides Samaris’ backstory. Samaris is revived, the two men captured, and we must hope that Samaris also falls in love with Burke because he’s certainly smitten with her. I also appreciate that initially Burke didn’t know that Samaris could be revived and was planning to murder the two thieves, and Keen seemed okay with that. A cool story, especially with the translation of the recovered papyrus—the reader is taken through the translation process in an interesting way—though it suffers from the convenient wrap-up of many pulp era tales. I’m kind of curious about the other cases that Keen handles in the full novel, though they apparently don’t include any weird elements or they would have also been included in this Chambers collection.
The Book of Cthulhu, edited by Ross E. Lockhart (Night Shade Books, 2011)
“The Doom that Came to Innsmouth” by Brian McNaughton
Remember the Deep One hybrid bus driver Joe Sargent from Lovecraft’s story “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”? By the end of that tale, Sargent and his fellow Deep One hybrids were presumably killed or captured by the U.S. government when the FBI and the U.S. Navy raided Innsmouth and ended the depredations of those foul beings. Here, the conceit is that a few managed to escape, though they became scattered over the country after Kennedy released them from their internment camps in the early 1960s. One of them was Joe Sargent’s nephew, the narrator of this story, who was raised by his mother in the Old Religion. He is lured back to Innsmouth by promises of a big reparations payment if his identity and heritage can be established. As it turns out those who show up for processing are experimented on and killed, rather than made rich, but that’s ok because the narrator is a ritualistic serial killer. A great depiction of Deep One hybrid culture after the Innsmouth raid. Good stuff.