Burnt Black Suns: A Collection of Weird Tales

BOOK: Burnt Black Suns: A Collection of Weird Tales
11.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
Burnt Black Suns
W. H. Pugmire,
The Fungal Stain
Uncommon Places: A Collection of Exquisites
Franklyn Searight,
Lair of the Dreamer: A Cthulhu Mythos
Edith Miniter,
Dead Houses and Other Works
The Village Green and Other Pieces
Jonathan Thomas,
Midnight Call and Other Stories
Tempting Providence and Other Stories
Thirteen Conjurations
Ramsey Campbell,
Inconsequential Tales
Joseph Pulver,
Blood Will Have Its Season
Sin and Ashes
Portraits of Ruin
Michael Aronovitz,
Seven Deadly Pleasures
Donald R. Burleson,
Wait for the Thunder
Peter Cannon,
Forever Azathoth: Parodies and Pastiches
Alan Gullette,
Intimations of Unreality
Richard A. Lupoff,
Richard Gavin,
At Fear’s Altar
Jason V Brock,
Simulacrum and Other Possible Realities
S. T. Joshi,
The Assaults of Chaos
Kenneth W. Faig,
Lovecraft’s Pillow, and Other Strange Stories
John Langan,
The Wide, Carnivorous Sky
Simon Strantzas
Foreword by Laird Barron
Hippocampus Press
New York
Copyright © 2014 by Hippocampus Press
Works by Simon Strantzas © 2014 by Simon Strantzas
“Dig My Grave” © 2014 by Laird Barron
Acknowledgments: See p. 308.
Published by Hippocampus Press
P.O. Box 641, New York, NY 10156.
All rights reserved.
No part of this work may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the written permission of the publisher.
Cover art © 2014 by Santiago Caruso.
Hippocampus Press logo designed by Anastasia Damianakos.
First Ebook Edition
ISBN: 978-1-61498-096-4 (Kindle)
ISBN: 978-1-61498-097-1 (EPUB)
Dig My Grave
A couple of years ago I spent the end of winter in the mountains of western Montana. Even at the close of March, snow piled among the pines hip-deep to an elk. At night the wind moaned through the canyons and the forests and played a ghostly melody on the chimes. Out there in the dark, the coyotes chorused as they prowled. Around the witching hour on the bitterest nights, the old Siamese barn cat would cry in that hair-raising note only felines can hit as she ghosted toward the light in my cabin window. If I could perfectly describe the tenor of this new collection by Simon Strantzas, it might be something like that. This is a book that resonates with familiar themes and classical tropes and reintroduces them as feral changelings.
Some ask, what is the value of horror literature? Of what profit to the mind is the weird? I say, here it is, Exhibit A, in your hand or transfigured upon a screen. Here is a mirror, a microscope, a soot-blacked canary at the bottom of the shaft. Here is the morality play and the cautionary tale. Here is the delivery mechanism for that jolt of frisson that does more than stimulate the primitive self. It is the very signal that alerts us to our atavistic stirring. The human primate has evolved, but we still grow canines, we make fire, and keep our weapons and our dogs close to hand. We dread the unknown and in so doing attempt to make sense of it.
This is the dawn of a new golden age of dark literature. Horror, dark fantasy, neo-noir, and the weird have proven not only resilient, but resurgent. The trend isn’t always reflected by the
New York Times
bestseller list, but it’s been in progress since the new millennium and Simon Strantzas has carved a significant niche in recent years. A great deal of his power lies in accumulated effect, and as with the best artists, he is relentless, a shark constantly in forward motion. That’s an admirable quality in a horror writer, especially one who is rooted in the classics. His early stuff was a bit of Ligotti, a dash of Aickman, some classical weird cross-wired to the postmodern. Austerely ornate. Elliptical. His tales spoke of ague and estrangement, urban derangement of a crumbling empire and a jaded commonwealth.
Burnt Black Suns,
Strantzas continues a trajectory into deeper darkness like that probe sailing out of the solar system into the gulf of night, and in some respects the odyssey has brought him closer to the primal core of the tradition and its rawest, purest essentials. I’m a sucker for the natural world in literature—whether it is Blackwood’s “The Willows,” London’s
Call of the Wild,
or the Yukon poetry of Robert Service, give me a glimpse into the primeval landscape, a life-or-death struggle upon the tundra, or a scorching trek through badlands, and I’m hooked. Strantzas’s wilderness doesn’t discriminate. It swallows up doomed Arctic expeditions, weekend mountaineers, forlorn suburbanite wanderers out of their depth, and it waits with implacable hunger in the caverns beneath cities. To this mix of pulp and brutal naturalism there’s a prevailing undercurrent of his trademark weirdness, a gradual raveling of the threads binding prosaic reality, the disintegration of social bonds, the map of the known world blurring into terra incognita.
But there’s another striking mutation in evidence—an unsettling foray into the realm of body horror that echoes the decadent phantasmagoria of literary master Clive Barker and filmmakers such as Takashi Miike and David Cronenberg. Strantzas has incorporated miserablist sensibilities and honed them into a steely edge encrusted with the verdigris of tradition yet possessed of real cutting power.
Burnt Black Suns
is an altogether menacing experience, much more visceral than his previous offerings. What you get with these new stories is a shovelful of dirt to the face.
As I write this, it’s winter again and I’m in the Hudson Valley as far eastward as I’ll ever come without falling into the Atlantic. This room is cold. My window overlooks a gray wood. The ground is silver from last night’s hard freeze. Snowflakes skate across the glass, forerunners of a storm rolling out of the north. Recently the sun wobbled and reversed and stood upon its crown. Soon the planets of our solar system will align in a conjunction. Physicists chuckle about the possibility of five minutes of zero gravity on earth. Cattle mutilations continue apace. A devil-painted clown stalks the highways and byways of Massachusetts posing for photos before vanishing into the underbrush. The Smiley Face Killers remain at large and largely unremarked.
These items are fitting, evidence of synchronicity, tendrils of the cosmos insinuating themselves between the bricks and sending a shiver through the foundation. Each represents another microfracture in the smooth eggshell barrier between us and the dark. The fractures occur everywhere all the time. Journalists record these phenomena in articles of science and crime. Most of us nervously chuckle or scoff over drinks. The numinous and ineffable can be dismissed by the simple act of toil. Each day we trudge through factory gates and lean into our traces and forget. Death and worse are easily dismissed over dram and darts while the lamp shines warm and cozy. It’s only at night during the small, desolate hours that the phantom groans of our subconscious gain primacy, only in that wasteland do we acknowledge the pitter-pat of feet trampling our graves. Then we fall through the trapdoor into the oblivion of sleep and forget why our hearts are troubled, why the flesh between our shoulder blades tightens, why we fear the shadows and the dark.
Let these stories be a kind of alarm, let them bridge the dusty spectral light of dead stars and the false permanence of our waking selves. Stoke the fire and shutter the window. Pour yourself a glass. I find that bad news is best taken with a dose of scotch. Charles Simic once said that when you lean over to lace up your shoes, you “look into the earth.” Simon Strantzas knows the truth of it. He’s come with shovel and pickaxe to show you the way.
Rifton, NY
February 1, 2014
Burnt Black Suns
On Ice
The bearded Frenchman landed the plane on a narrow sheet of ice as expertly as anyone could. It wasn’t smooth, and the four passengers were utterly silent as the hull shuddered and echoed and threatened to split along its riveted seams. Wendell closed his eyes so tight he saw stars, and clung to what was around him to keep from being thrown from his seat. When the plane finally slid to a stop, part of him wanted to leap up and hug not only the ground but the men around him. He didn’t, because when he finally opened his eyelids the first thing he saw was the thuggish Dogan’s disgusted smirk, and it quickly extinguished any lingering elation. Isaacs, for all his faults, was not so inhibited. Instead, he had his hands pressed together in supplication and whispered furiously under breath. It caught Dogan’s eye, and the look he and Wendell shared might have been the first time they had agreed on anything.
“The oil companies have already done a survey of Melville Island, so there shouldn’t be too many surprises ahead,” Dr. Hanson said. “However, their priority has never been fossils—except, of course, the liquid kind—and it’s unlikely they saw much while speeding across the ice on ATVs, doing damage to the strata. So we have ample exploring to do. We’ll hike inland for a day and set up base camp. From there, we’ll radiate our dig outward.”
Gauthier unloaded the plane two bags at a time, and his four passengers moved the gear to the side. They packed light—only the most essential tools and equipment—so the hike would be manageable, but seeing the bags spread across the encrusted surface, Wendell wondered if he were up to the task. It took too long to load everything on his narrow shoulders, and when he was done he suspected the pack weighed more than thirty pounds. Dr. Hanson looked invigorated by his own burden, his face a smiling crimson flush. Isaacs was the opposite, however, and visibly uncomfortable. Wendell hoped the goggle-eyed boy wouldn’t be a liability in the days ahead.
They walked across the frigid snow, and nearly an hour went by before Dr. Hanson turned and looked at the breathless entourage behind him.
“So, Wendell,” he called out, barely containing his anticipation and glee. “Have you noticed anything peculiar so far?”
Wendell glanced at both Dogan and Isaacs, but neither showed any interest in Wendell’s answer. Even Dr. Hanson seemed more concerned in hearing himself speak.
“For all the research the oil companies did here, it looks as though they made a major error in classifying the rock formations. It doesn’t really surprise me—you said they weren’t here looking for rocks. Still, they thought all these formations were the result of normal tectonic shifts—that these were normal terrestrial rocks.”
There was a pause.
“And that’s not the case?”
“No, these are aquatic rocks. The entire island is full of them.”
“And how do you account for so many aquatic rocks on an island, Wendell?”
BOOK: Burnt Black Suns: A Collection of Weird Tales
11.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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