Welcome to Week 31 of my horror short fiction review project. I enjoyed almost all of this week’s stories but my favorite was Richard Matheson’s short but very sweet “Born of Man and Woman.” Very creepy stuff.
The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories, by H.P. Lovecraft, edited by S.T. Joshi (Penguin, 2004)
“The Doom That Came to Sarnath”
Forgettable. Another Dunsanian piece, and not one I especially enjoyed. Great title though—one of Lovecraft’s best in my view.
The premise: A historical tale about a race of people who colonized a land called Mnar 10,000 years ago, building a civilization of several cities that grew wealthy and powerful. They eventually colonized the shores of a vast lake and built a city called Sarnath there. Across the lake was the city of Ib, which had been settled by race of mute, frog-like humanoids who had once lived on the moon. They worshipped a lizard-like god and had a great idol of this deity. The Sarnathians killed all of the inhabitants of Ib, destroying the city, and seizing their idol. The next night, the idol was gone and the Sarnathian high priest was found dead; he had scrawled the word “DOOM” before dying. A millennium later, Sarnath is a very powerful, decadent city-state, and strange lights and mists begin appearing over the lake. Many of Sarnath’s inhabitants die or disappear, with survivors reporting that they saw the inhabitants of Ib. Those who returned to the site of Sarnath found only swampland and the long-missing idol, which came to be worshipped as the chief god of Mnar.
Just kind of a weird pseudo-historical piece, where vague and unsettling things took place. Not very successful.
The Dark Descent, edited by David G. Hartwell (Tor, 1987)
“Born of Man and Woman” by Richard Matheson
Almost everything Richard Matheson writes is good, and this very short story is no different. The story is essentially the diary entries of a badly deformed child kept chained in its parents’ basement. The child is beaten and punished when it dares try to escape and venture upstairs. It’s a very brief story so I don’t want to ruin it by giving away the ending. All is not exactly as it seems here though. I will simply say that it’s a very nice little piece, and I’m kind of surprised that I’ve never run across it before.
Books of Blood, Volumes One to Three, by Clive Barker (Berkley, 1998)
“Confessions of a (Pornographer’s) Shroud”
A fun story, and a bit of a black comedy. I’m going to have to spoil the premise of this story to say anything meaningful about it.
Here goes: A strait-laced family man is the accountant for a man who he finds out is running a pornography business (sounds like this was seriously illegal in Britain at the time the story was written) and is an underworld kingpin. The accountant gets framed as being the leader of the porn business, which destroys his life and marriage, and then he gets tortured and killed so that he won’t reveal what he knows about the business. He “wakes up” in the morgue, and is able to move his soul out of his corpse and into the shroud covering his body. He figures out how to animate and control the fabric, then sets out for revenge. So he is a ghost, inhabiting a sheet, which he then forms into a sheet that looks like it is covering someone. He then systematically smothers or chokes the various underworld goons who killed him and destroyed his life. Probably the most absurdly unexpected revenge story ever written. Entertaining though.
Black Wings of Cthulhu 2, edited by S.T. Joshi (Titan Books, 2012)
“Casting Call” by Don Webb
A wacky and kind of fun story about a Mexican actor trying to break into Hollywood by auditioning with Rod Serling for the part of the ghoul in Serling’s episode on “Pickman’s Model” (which I’ve seen, and it’s a well-done episode). The actor gets in way over his head, meets super-sci-fi fan Forrest J. Ackerman, and discovers some uncomfortable truths about Lovecraft and Aztec deities. Very, very strange premise, but not bad.